Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Something To Aspire To

Iceland has legalised gay marriage and on the same day their prime minister married her lesbian partner. That's cool huh? So...



(wait for it)

... I guess THAT'S why Mum's gone to Iceland!!

A Big Moan on Behalf of Lots of People

A friend of mine has recently been admitted to an NHS mental health unit. I went to see her yesterday. For someone who's not a healthcare professional I'm fairly clued up on good ways of addressing mental health problems. I think a healthy diet, gentle exercise, plenty of activities, regular counselling, advice about potential medication and a peaceful environment are the most obvious things that should be offered. My friend has so far seen none of these.

She described the food as "minging" but was told I couldn't bring fresh fruit in for her because "I might have injected it with alcohol" - the irony being that I did have alcohol in my bag when I went in and no-one even checked. At breakfast she was told she could have either butter or jam on her toast, but not both (while ketchup and mayonnaise are not rationed so it's not even a health or budget thing). She said very little food was provided and for instance she was required to choose between dessert and a piece of fruit and ended up having to choose the dessert because it was more filling. Vending machines with crisps and snacks are next to the place where food is served.

The only place to exercise is a tiny courtyard. There is a small gym clearly visible next to reception but no-one recalled anyone being allowed to use it and some people thought it might be for staff, not patients. She does not feel safe going out into the courtyard alone as she has already seen fights and staff do not maintain watch.

No activities offered except that she was told there would be karaoke at some future date (what about art, yoga, meditation, exercise?). She was told on admittance there was a DVD room but when she asked to use it they said there wasn't one (and then it emerged there was, and eventually they let her use it). There is one TV for around 80 patients and because most of the bigger, more aggressive patients are guys, the football is always on which she has no interest in but has been watching out of boredom.

No counselling. Nor any mention of when any would be provided.

One doctor's consultation during which she was asked to give a blood sample and asked if the TV talks to her and if she hears voices and basically nothing else.

The general environment ... where to start? Within ten minutes of arriving a man was stood with his face ten inches from mine shouting "There's mad people in here, I'm Adam, I'm Saddam, you wanna be careful you could meet a mad person in here, we're all mad". The same guy grabbed my hand and creepily kissed it, and stroked another visitors back uninvitedly. My friend is quite glamorous usually but had asked friends to bring in frumpy, longer clothing and stopped washing her hair and wearing make-up in a vain attempt to deter the other patients from a providing a constant barrage of sexual remarks and harassment. When an elderly female relative came to visit her, other patients wolf-whistled at her. Yes - at the elderly relative. Most of the abuse was sex-related although my friend said some patients were also on the receiving end of aggressive racial abuse. Staff did nothing to stop the abuse.

How exactly does anyone think this is helping? I'm not blaming staff, I'm sure they are overworked and ultimately willing to do the best thing. But surely we have to distinguish between patients likely to frighten and intimidate others and patients needing a peaceful supportive environment. Screaming sexual abuse at mental health patients just doesn't seem like it's going to solve anything.

A Quick Moan on My Behalf

Argh sometimes I hate living in Hackney/London/Earth. I get a box of organic vegetables delivered each week and it's supposed to come with eggs, some fish, cheese, milk, fruit juice and a few other basics. But within half an hour of it reaching my doorstep someone has stolen all the valuable stuff - eggs, fish, cheese, pate, pesto. I've only got four foot of front yard so there's nowhere to hide it and with all the different recycling bins there's no room for some sort of heavy lockable box or whatever. I've asked the drivers to knock when they deliver it but they usually forget or if they do knock it's not loud enough to wake me. And anyway who wants to get up in the middle of their sleeping pattern and move boxes of food around? Why can't people just not steal stuff that obviously isn't theirs? Grump grump grump.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Being Friends With Your Enemies

I found out today that Sebastian Horsley died last Wednesday. Sebastian was a tireless promoter of the sex industry. His death is not surprising, making it to 47 with a heroin habit is really quite an achievement. I first met him when we were pitched against each other for a Current TV debate called Sex and Money. Filming took a whole day and was dreadfully badly organised so we spent hours sitting around arguing between takes. After that I bumped in to him often around Soho and he even walked past Soho Comedy Club occasionally and exchanged a few words while I was waiting around outside. A couple of weeks ago a play about his life was opening at Soho Theatre where I teach stand-up and he asked me if I'd seen the posters and whether the actor playing him was better looking than him. I said "yes".

I wouldn't and couldn't defend his views on porn and prostitution or the adulation he received for them from the pimps who profit from the industry. His deliberate refusal to acknowledge and attack the human rights abuses he was well aware of being conducted by the sex trade is inexcusable. His death is excellent news for all those who support human rights but I personally am still a little saddened by it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Wifely Duties

Well I'm not the sort of woman who worries too much about darning my husband's socks or operating the mangle (unless Jeremy Clarkson's head is in it....). However I think I'm going to have to step up to the plate on this one. David (as many of you know) runs a comedy club in the west end called Soho Comedy Club which he gamely hands over to me whenever I want to run a big feminist benefit (that's a big benefit for feminists, not a benefit for big feminists). Anyway Westminster Council are suddenly and for no decent reason stopping his club and more than a dozen others from handing out flyers in Leicester Square. Well this is core to the business model, customers don't just magically show up... So he's having to cut pay and lay people off in the middle of, oh yes that's it, a massive recession.

If you want to really understand the situation please take a peak at this neat video (also featuring me!):

There is also an article about it in today's West End Extra here. And information on what you can do to help and a petition to sign on London Is Funny here. Another awesome way to help of course would be to come along and see a show some time! Tickets and line-ups here, I recommend next Saturday 3rd July when I'm on and so is one Ms Shazia Mirza who you may know/adore.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How Not To Parent Line-By-Line

The Times's family matter agony aunt "Professor" Tanya Byron (as far as I can tell her PhD is from The House of Tiny Tearaways ... only joking but I can tell you her PhD is about drug abuse and not about raising young children) needs stripping of her academic title and keeping away from children and families forever. And I will prove it. Exhibit A: Her response to a letter from a mother entitled "Why won't our daughter wear girl's clothes?" (you have to sign up to The Times now to read articles but I have pasted most of it below so I can critique it).

"We have a beautiful, bright nine-year-old who is taking being a tomboy to extremes and wears only boys’ clothes. What can we do?"

Do? When did "tomboy" become a bad thing? And not wearing dresses is hardly "extreme" is it? What about starting fights all the time, lying about her age and joining the military?

"When she was 5 or 6 she started to reject wearing dresses and skirts, which we were fine about, but for the past few years she has worn only boys’ clothes because, she says, they are comfortable and practical."

Well she's right. And how radical is it that your child wants to wear clothes that are practical and comfortable. Would you rather she wore clothes that hurt her and limited her ability to participate in activities with other children?

"I am concerned that she is taking this too far and now, probably because of arguments we have had, the idea of going clothes shopping fills her with dread and she can become hysterical."

Too far? Too comfortable and too practical? Yeah that could be an issue.

"Currently she has one pair of tatty ski trousers that she will wear and just a couple of tops. She finds only one pair of knickers comfortable, and buying school shoes is a nightmare."

How about buying her clothes that she feels comfortable in? Like some more of those comfy knickers? What are you trying to dress her in? Thongs?

"I have warned her that image is becoming more and more important to her peers at this age but, interestingly, she has made friends with a girl at school with similar “issues” about clothes. I am more than happy for her to be tomboyish but there are times when she needs to look smart — going out to dinner, for example — and every time a situation like this arises it causes big problems for us."

So she's not even the only girl at her school who likes to dress sensibly. How "extreme" is this behaviour - it sounds really smart and sensible to me. And I bet she hates going to dinner with her dreadful appearance-obsessed parents.

"Her hair is an unstyled mop and needs a cut but, after a dreadful experience for her at the hairdresser’s last time, the idea of returning puts her in a state."

Wow she does sound smart - she had a bad experience last time so she doesn't want to go back to the hairdressers. Who's fault that she had a bad experience?

"I am concerned at the problems this may cause in the long term, and confused about where these insecurities are coming from. She doesn’t seem to take any pride in how she looks, and reacts hysterically when her appearance becomes an issue. Should I seek professional help?"

Insecurities? She seems very secure and confident in her decisions. The insecurities are coming from her parents who seem to have confused "having a child" with "having a dress-me-up doll" and been caught out.

...No doubt Professor Byron will set them straight...

"When people want to wear clothes usually worn by the other sex, we call it cross-dressing. But this term comes laden with unhelpful stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation, and if used about children it often leaves the parents feeling very anxious."

Hold on. She's not trying to disguise herself as a boy. That would be different. She openly says she's choosing boys clothes because they're more comfortable. That's not cross-dressing, that's sensible, practical dressing. When I go skiing and I take my husband's waterproof trousers and thermal socks I'm not beginning a new life as a drag king, I'm wearing the most practical clothes for the situation.

"Children can feel deeply unhappy about being boys or girls. This can be a problem when a child continues to believe that he or she is, or wishes to be, the other sex. However, studies indicate that most children (almost 90 per cent in one study) who cross-dress and are unhappy with being their own sex do not want to be the other sex in adulthood."

How exactly does not wanting to wear uncomfortable and impractical clothes or go back to a hairdressers who was horrid last time make this child unhappy about her gender. Is she answering a different letter?

"There are many ways to think about this problem, and I want to begin by outlining some theories. As there have been arguments, I wonder if this issue represents a power struggle in which your daughter exerts her will (which reinforces her behaviour) and you, her parents, have been unable to keep authority and set boundaries. If so, a child clinical psychologist could help you (see"

Seriously - she won't wear dresses and you're advising taking her to a shrink? Go to your local high street now and see how many grown women are wandering about in dresses - very few. Are we all mentally ill?

"However, I think this is too limited an explanation in your case.Looking at family dynamics, maybe your daughter identifies strongly with her father and wants to emulate him. In families where the mother dominates, father and child(ren) may bond powerfully. This could be explored via family therapy (instituteof"

Ok so footnote to readers - three things to be avoided AT ALL COSTS in your family: (1) Mum is main family decision-maker, (2) Daughter wants to be like Dad, (3) Dad and daughter have close bond. So here's the solution - maybe if Mum acts like a total doormat and Dad stops spending time with his daughter? That will definitely lead to the well-balanced family you've always wanted...

"What particularly strikes me, though, is that your daughter becomes “hysterical” at the prospect of clothes shopping, haircuts, etc, and I wonder if some tactile sensations are uncomfortable for her. She may have what is known as tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivity."

Yes I reckon that's is - she has this weird and bizarre medical condition called "Not liking being manhandled or wearing frilly scratchy clothes". Call a medical team at once. Next she'll be telling you she doesn't like being shoe-horned into a corset.

"Children with tactile defensiveness have a range of reactions that can include: disliking being stroked; refusing to handle dirty, sticky or slimy substances; needing labels cut out of clothing; refusing to wear certain fabrics, such as “scratchy” wool; and hating to have their feet touched or their hair brushed."

I have all of these things. I also don't like: nettles in the face, scalding water on my knees and motorised vehicles approaching me at over 60mph.

"Touch-sensitive people appear to feel discomfort or even pain from sensations that most of us find non-threatening or even pleasurable. It is thought that their tactile sensory system isn’t working properly, so they are constantly on alert for sensations that they see as a physical threat and traumatic, such as having their hair washed or nails cut. Such sensations feel to these children like fingers being dragged down a blackboard."

But if you look at the original letter it mentioned not liking having her hair cut (by a hairdresser who had previously caused problems), nothing about washing hair or cutting nails - and it's not like the letter suggested the parents might have been unobservant about such matters.

"The condition can lead to difficulties in concentration. At school, these children may lash out if they are bumped into. Sitting on the carpet may make them fidget. A draught on the back of the neck can lead to extreme discomfort. At the same time, such children may crave calming sensations such as firm pressure (eg, being held tightly or rocked, or being wrapped up at bedtime)."

The condition that is that this child simply does not have. Stop medicalising her desire to wear clothes she can run about in. She's a kid...

"It is hypothesised that this condition arises from neurological disorganisation in the mid-brain region — responsible for filtering incoming stimuli — such that sensation is heightened and becomes overwhelming and distressing."

Oh good cos I'd like to hypothesise that Prof Byron is a total fraud and should be struck off (and professional registers, the academic roll of honour and preferably the planet.

I'd also like to hypothesise that the correct answer to the letter was: Dear parents, very very bad news I'm afraid. Did the hospital seem busy and crowded when you went in to give birth. Did the nurses look flustered and tired? Did they anxiously keep your daughter's identification tag out of sight, insisting you didn't need to see it? You see your daughter even at the age of 9 is a bout ten gazillion times smarter than you both and the odds of that happening if she really is your child are very low. Get a genetic test (look it up) and start looking in the paper for stories about two really smart parents whose nine-year-old has been asked to re-sit kindergarten.

I stopped line-by-lining the piece there cos the rest of it (another whole page worth) is about how to treat this "touch sensitivity" issue that the kid just doesn't have. I will mention though that it does say at the bottom "If you have a family problem, e-mail", so if for instance you and your family have a problem that you've read her piece and it made you all feel very angry and want to break things - do let her know!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Normal Industry?

Ok hypothetical question time. An employee of yours (you're the boss) is regularly coming to work clearly under the influence of strong illegal drugs. What do you do? It's difficult isn't it. On the one hand you want to warn them to stop or you may be forced to fire them, on the other hand they work for you - you feel a sense of responsibility. I think probably you offer to take them or refer them to medical support if they want and need it but warn at the same time that the situation needs to change very quickly if they want to keep the job. Maybe you contact a friend or relative of theirs in the hope that they can offer support where you can't.

Not so, we note, the pornography industry. Ami Jordan died on 11th June of a suspected drug overdose. She was nineteen years old. Her "agent"* Kevin Kline knew she was a serious drug addict but did nothing to stop her or help her.

What I find really cringeworthy about the report is that following her death this creep describes her as "She was a super sweet girl. Always a good girl." Hmmm, I think if you're old enough to appear in pornography you're a woman. I also think that "good girls" are probably not the ones with drug problems and "careers" in pornography. What he means by "good girl" is clearly someone for whom he has no respect whatsoever but over whom he is able to exercise a lot of power. Someone who does what he tells her to. Maybe he should have told her not to take so many drugs. Or shown her the tiny bit of respect it would take to ask if she needs to take a break from the industry and get some help.

*Really, I have an agent, who would be horrified to be associated with this sort of behaviour and who would willingly cancel my schedule, find me a rehab centre and drive me there himself if he thought I was addicted to drugs. In other words - he's human.

Footnote: I was going to use a photograph of Ami to illustrate this piece but when I went to search for one on the internet guess what? Yup, all the "Ami is a real life fuckdoll", "Ami loves to suck cock" links come up, rather than any information about her as a person or any significant coverage of her needless death.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bestest Bits

On the subject (see last post) of my stunt of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square last year (if you're new to the blog by the way you can read about it here). I discover the interview I did with BBC Radio Foyle while I was on the plinth has been selected as one of BBC Radio Foyle's "Best Bits" and put up on the web for all to hear. So if you'd like to hear it just click here (it's only three minutes long)!

Moving Images

I first met the photographer Guy Smallman when he arrived in Trafalgar Square to photograph me atop the fourth plinth impersonating the person who should have been there (badly) and waving a banner demanding that the 1967 abortion act be extended to Northern Ireland. We stayed in touch. He runs the a monthly benefit gig for various good causes called Acoustic Insurgency. It's mainly bands and poetry but I became the first (and so far as I know to date) only comic to take the stage and was very excited I got to share it with the fantastic political singer and songwriter Leon Rosselson.

Today I saw some new photos Guy had taken of Muslims Against The Crusades (extremist Muslim group who have been protesting at parades for returning military people from Iraq and Afghanistan) and the racist group English Defence League protesting again their protest. I thought these photos were very powerful. It's very frightening to think these things (on both sides) go on right here in the UK.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Amen to That

I was having a lovely browse on Facebook today when I noticed that in my sidebar was an advert for a missionary group called "Christ for all Nations". Naturally - being aware that Facebook advertisers pay per click for adverts - I clicked and I urge other NSS members to click early and click often in such circumstances. I was presented with the opportunity to ask them to pray for a matter of my choosing. I chose this:

I'd like to pray for an end to bogus superstitious charlatans offering false hope to people. I'd like to pray that people around the world will come to realise that while praying has no effect human efforts in helping others can have a real impact. For instance in developing medical science despite the violent opposition of a religious extremist minority. Also in working together and spending their time not kneeling but building, teaching, studying and caring, people can help one another. I'd like to pray for a world where instead of spending the money you raise on facebook adverts you spend it actually building the schools and hospitals that will prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths around the world each day. Amen to that.

And they wrote back (a generic form email) assuring me that not only they* but hundreds and thousands of Africans they reach on their missionary tours will soon be praying for my issues. Should other NSS members feel the need to have their own secular concerns addressed through the medium of mass missionary prayer tours to Africa they should do so by clicking here.

*Incidentally "they" includes their illustrious leader Reinhard Bonnke, pictured. Yes he's called Reinhard Bonnke. What a name...

See my new Edinburgh Show!

As most longer-term readers will know I take a new solo show up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival most years. This year will be the first time that my show has been significantly about feminism (though the subject has come up most years). It's called "The News At Kate: 2010" - though that's really just because last year's show "The News At Kate" did very well and people around me want to cash in on that. It's a whole new hour and I wanted to call it "Hot Baths and Cunnilingus", because in the show I talk a lot about how the pole-dancing, double penetration "sexual revolution" isn't really working for me...

Anyway if you're going to Edinburgh you can see it up there. If not then I'm doing a single preview under the title "Sneak Previews for Choice" in aid of Education for Choice, an organisation which supports fact-based, balanced sex education in schools. Very important stuff, especially with the rise in faith schools recently with the whole "don't touch it or you'll burn in hell approach". Tickets are strictly limited to 40 and priced at £10. It's 27th June (Sunday night) at the Round Table, St Martin's Court (near Leicester Square). There will be up and coming comediennes supporting me and chat and drinkies afterwards.

To buy tickets click here. See you there!

Monday, June 07, 2010

IVF and Abortion Daily Mail line-by-line

I'm already late - going to a little private Bachman Turner Overdrive gig thanks to my tip top celeb connections tonight but just can't leave without screeching through this one from the Daily Mail (author unknown):

"Dozens of women are aborting babies conceived by IVF because they have changed their minds about motherhood, figures suggest."

Dozens is really not very many in a country the size of the UK. Dozens of people in the UK regret having had their wisdom teeth removed but it's hardly expected to be added to the coalition agenda any time soon.

"Many are in their teens, twenties and early thirties, implying that numerous abortions were carried out for social reasons, rather than on health grounds."

Huh? So only pre-teen and late-thirties plus women can have medical complications to pregnancy? That's not even close to true.

"Relationship breakdowns, fears about motherhood and simple changes of heart are all likely to have played a part in the terminations."

Right, but as you'll be aware it's perfectly legal for a woman to seek a termination in England, Wales and Scotland for any of those reasons, regardless of how she got pregnant.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority statistics, released by the IVF watchdog through the Freedom of Information Act, have angered family campaigners who accuse the women of treating babies like 'designer goods'."

Well firstly cheese on toast angers "family" campaigners, who are constantly outraged by everything as a means of promoting their noxious agenda. And I'm IN a "family" but these people do not represent me or my husband, sister, nephews, grandma, etc so please stop calling them family campaigners, they're mostly either religious fundamentalists or general misogynists, or both.

"The revelation has also surprised fertility doctors who generally lose contact with patients after they become pregnant. Professor-Bill Ledger, a leading fertility doctor and member of the HFEA, said: 'I had no idea there were so many post-IVF abortions - and each one is a tragedy.'"

In a way Professor Ledger is right - it is clearly tragic when someone who has gone through such hoops to get pregnant finds themself unable to continue with that pregnancy. In fact it very much puts paid to two notions: (1) that women make the decision to have an abortion easily. Given how difficult and traumatic IVF can be, clearly these women would not go ahead with an abortion if they felt there were other options. And (2) the notion that women use abortion as a form of contraception. In these cases they could have used "not having IVF" as a much more effective contraceptive, much much more easily.

"He added: 'These women can't be surprised to be pregnant. You can't have an IVF pregnancy by accident.'"

But whoever said abortions only happen when women are surprised to be pregnant. I certainly didn't. That's your noxious assumption.

"The statistics show that an average of 80 abortions are carried out in England and Wales each year following IVF treatment."

Yes - against more than 10,000 IVF babies. So a tiny proportion.

"In 2007, the figure was as high as 97 - with almost a third of the women aged between 18 and 34."

Still that's against more than 10,000 live births from IVF. And what difference does the age of the mother make?

"Some of them would have had IVF on the NHS, while others would have paid thousands of pounds to private clinics."

Yes so again this proves they're not making this decision lightly.

"One woman told how she had an abortion after being pressurised into starting a family by her husband. Another opted to abort her much-wanted IVF baby when it became clear her marriage was breaking up."

OK. Am I supposed to start hating these women? I'm starting to hate their husbands but I figure the women have made difficult choices but choices that were right for them and their situation.

"Family planning experts estimate that every abortion doctor sees at least one patient a year requesting a termination after IVF treatment."

One a year...? Given that that's what they do for a living one case a year is very small numbers.

"Mohamed Taranissi, an IVF doctor whose clinic has the highest success rate in Britain, said: 'It is a matter that needs to be looked at. The HFEA should be more open with the data they have.'"

Looked at how? Are we to tell women that only pregnancies conceived through sex and rape may be terminated? And we haven't even mentioned the likelihood that many of these terminations are unavoidable due to medical complications (ectopic pregnancy, etc).

"Ann Widdecombe, the former Tory minister, said that women who ended pregnancies for non-medical reasons were treating their babies like 'designer goods'."

Ann Widdicombe is a religious fundamentalist who hates women and wants to ban abortion. We know this. She does't want to ban post-IVF abortion, she wants to ban all abortion. She should be more honest about this.

"She said: 'If the law was applied properly, people wouldn't be able to get an abortion just because they changed their minds.'"

No the law says that if two doctors agree the best course of action is a termination then a woman can get one on the NHS (outside of N. Ireland).

"Josephine Quintavalle, of campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said the welfare of the child should take precedence over the wishes of the prospective parents."

It's not a child - it's a foetus or an embryo. And the parents are human beings with rights.

"But Ann Furedi, head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said that some women could become so caught up in the IVF process that the realities of motherhood did not hit until they conceived."

Now this is a real issue - that women are told so repeatedly that infertility is awful and that they can and must validate themselves through motherhood. We should definitely look at situations where women feel pressured to go for IVF.

"She said: 'For infertile people, overcoming the problem becomes a goal in itself.
'Sometimes it is only when women get pregnant that they can allow themselves to ask the question about whether it is what they really want or not.'"

Yes Ann, I agree.

"The HFEA said that it does not regulate abortions but that the figures represent less than 1 per cent of IVF pregnancies each year.A spokesman added: 'All patients who undergo IVF are assessed, as are the implications for any child that might be born, in advance of the decision to treat.'"

Seems reasonable.

"He added that figures showing how many of the abortions were carried out for medical reasons will be released later this week."

Right so the comment earlier that these often represented a "simple" change of heart was total conjecture. Oh please - why not just write EXCLUSIVE: WOMEN ALL EVIL, SHOULD BE FORCED INTO CHASTITY BELTS as a headline and leave it at that?

Mrs Charles Saatchi

Waiting at the doctors today (bad news trolls - looks like I'm gonna make it!) I made the mistake of flicking through an old copy of Tatler magazine (I know, I know, they only put those there to push your blood pressure up and keep themselves in work year-round). There on page something was a picture of Nigella Lawson writer, chef, TV presenter, domestic goddess and well-known "thinking man's strumpet*". But of course this being Tatler she was not described as "Nigella Lawson", she was described as "Mrs Charles Saatchi". I hate that. I hate that so much. Nigella - love her or hate her - is a well known figure with a prominent career across a number of areas. Yet by marrying a bloke - any bloke - she loses the right to her WHOLE NAME and becomes known only as "property of" or "attachment to" her husband. I can forgive the odd person who calls me Mrs once in a while though if they persist in doing so after being corrected it does bug me, but if anyone ever ever EVER tries to call me "Mrs David Mulholland" I shall say now that I shall not be responsible for my actions. You have been warned.

*I like to think that a truly thinking man might have though about it long enough to have dropped the word "strumpet" from his no doubt extensive vocabulary.

The Shame!!

My TV just told me "Cracked heels can be SO embarrassing...". Really? I've never even thought about whether my heels look cracked or whether anyone else has rough-looking heels. And if I saw someone with cracked heels it really wouldn't affect my opinion of them. At all. Embarrassing? No - forgetting the name of someone you've slept with the night before is embarrassing, forgetting to wash off your fake tan and having it drip brown all over your mate's sofa is embarrassing, being caught reading anything by Jeremy Clarkson is embarrassing. Having cracked heels is nothing. It's neutral. It's a non-event. It's human.

But in case you're worried about those embarrassing cracked heels here's my little tip: wear a great big pair of DMs. Problem solved.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Criminal Waste of Time

So because of the voluntary work I do with WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) I was asked yesterday to attend an appointment to be CRB checked. For those from overseas or not familiar with the term it stands for Criminal Records Bureau and it's basically where they check to see if you've ever been convicted of a crime that might make you a threat to vulnerable people you might be working with.

Firstly it is downright insultory* to put obstacles in the way of people trying to help these women. I teach them as a class - if I were to try and do something dreadful to one of them (physically attack? extort money? they don't have any money, that's why the teachers are all volunteers) the rest of the class would stop me immediately. They nearly did throw me out one time when we were doing a class on beliefs and I said I didn't believe in God!

Most of these women live in homeless shelters. The other residents of homeless shelters are definitely not CRB checked. These women witness fights, screaming, abuse, extreme drunkenness and drug-taking on a daily basis and the government really thinks the voluntary English teacher is the biggest risk? If you're living on £35 a week (intended to cover both food and accommodation because you're not legally allowed to work) the woman who teaches the English class is probably not your biggest worry.

But anyway I understand that it does no harm for me to be checked out so I go along. They charge £10. The ask me to wait. Another woman goes in to the office. It takes about 20 minutes. They suggest all six WAST teachers go in together. I ask if this will save time and they say "no, you'll just be together", so since I don't want to be there for another two hours I suggest we go in in twos. Two of us are duly shown to the CRB woman's office. She fills in my paperwork first. It's a single A3 sheet folded in half (so effectively four sides of A4). I've brought three forms of ID. She looks at them but doesn't photocopy them or copy down any numbers (like passport number/driving license number or any security codes on them).

On page 1 of the form she fills in my name, address, when I moved there, phone numbers and asks for my NI number which I don't know or have with me. A couple of her colleagues come in and she has a 5-7 minute conversation about whether WAST is the same as Women for Refugee Women (which is obviously isn't if you look at the initials...). The she asks me what my name was before I got married (the same) so next to the box that says "previous name, if applicable" she writes "smurthwaite" again and next to "date of name change" she writes "2010". I don't understand why she does this. The other sections on the form include one for "additional info, optional but may help speed up the process" - stuff like bank account numbers and stuff. She leaves this blank and doesn't mention it. There's also a box (not listed as optional) for "name and address of referee". She ignores this too and doesn't mention it. Someone else comes in and asks her if she's seen another colleague, then someone comes in and tells her they're just popping out for lunch and they'll be back in half an hour and to give them a ring if they want a sandwich only there wasn't any egg mayonnaise yesterday and the other vegetarian options are always a bit uninspiring, especially the roasted vegetables which seem to be nothing but courgettes and never even any peppers or anything... And finally she hands me the form and asks me to tick yes/no to whether I've had any previous unspent criminal convictions, sign it twice and check the things she's written. It doesn't take long since she's written less than 30 words on the form, though it has taken the full 20 minutes.

Now here's the thing - I've only lived at my house since Feb 2004, and before that there was a four year period when I did not have a registered address in the UK. Now of course actually I was working in Japan in perfectly legitimate circumstances but if I was checking up on someone I'd definitely want to know where they'd been for those years. And I did know an ex-pat guy in Japan who was accused of drugging and raping a woman at a party and then the charges were mysteriously suddenly dropped (the rumour was that she had been paid off, certainly she did not drop charges against two other men who were accused of the same crime over the same incident) and he quickly left the country never to return. There is no way the information I gave to the CRB is sufficient to uncover whether something like this was true about me.

In fact there's very very little they can find out about me from only my current address and phone number (and bear in mind I was not asked to prove how long I had lived there, only to state it, as it happened my ID included my address but they accepted birth certificates, etc too so I could have made that up, they haven't rung so far to verify my phone numbers).

Which leads me to conclude that this system is a massive waste of time. Or maybe it's brilliantly clever - they make the whole process so excruciatingly irritating and exasperating that anyone with even the tiniest criminal inclination will flip out and headbutt someone.

*Apparently that's not a word - I've been using it for years...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Another Event for the Diary

So I'm hosting an event on 17th June for Wandworth Police LGBT liason team. It's a fundraiser and an awareness-raiser for issues around hate crime in the UK. Headlining are Topping and Butch which frankly for a tenner you'd be lucky to see just them let alone the rest of the line-up: Jen Brister, Luke Meredith, Jason Patterson and Toby French as well as some excellent theatre at the start of the night. Book tickets by emailing

Double Rage-Inducing Moment

Just slouched in front of the TV watching Comedy Central and on comes an advert for an upcoming show. Football commentary followed by a clip of Carrie falling over in Sex and the City - a joke about "diving" and an England flag waving in the background. Then it says "support the girls: Sex and the City". I can only assume it was made by someone who has forgotten that England actually has a women's football team (hint: Sarah-Jessica Parker isn't in it and they don't wear £400 stilettos).

The next advert is another "hilarious" football-related one. A voiceover asks if you've just spent 90 minutes watching grown men fall over and then suggests "watch real men stand up". The "real men" in question would be four straight white male comedians. Yes that's the choice - watch men playing sport or watch men doing comedy. Two classic professions where it's ridiculously difficult for women to get a look-in.

When can we watch "real women" actually "standing up"? I'll be doing some shows during the World Cup for people who want a real alternative to football. Watch this space.

Me and the Stylist

I'm quoted at length on page 7 of this week's Stylist magazine - talking about the Marie Stopes advert again. You can view it online here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Nudity At Work

Nudity seems to have become a running theme on here lately so let me cover another variation on that theme that is driving me up the wall at the moment: The Naked Office.

For those of you fortunate enough to have missed this televisual "gem" let me give you the brief synopsis: Seven Suphi, self-styled corporate business training guru, arrives at the offices of a company with falling profits and analyses the way they work in an effort to boost success. So far so good. The week of business coaching however is leading up to "naked Friday" when employees are encouraged to come to work in the nude. Apparently "if you can come to work naked, what can't you achieve?!".

Now I really do subscribe to some of this. I can really understand how pushing people out of their comfort zone and normal routine can be useful for struggling workplaces. However I am very very uncomfortable with the complete ignorance of two massive issues on the subject:

Firstly body image issues. One episode I saw the employees were challenged to try wrestling and one larger woman was unwilling to participate because she was uncomfortable in the tight lycra suit provided. Rather than allowing her to wear a tracksuit and join in - she was sent home and criticised for refusing to participate (can't wait for the episode set in the offices of a Muslim-run business where the women wear burqas). No mention was made of the fact that wandering about in front of TV cameras in a lycra bodysuit might draw a woman's (or a man's) attention to insecurities they have about their appearance. It is assumed at all points that fear is preventing participants stripping off rather than shame or bitter entrenched self-loathing. One woman even mentioned having been bullied about her appearance at school but apparently she just needed to get her clothes off to resolve that...

Secondly sexual harassment at work. Imagine, for a second going to work naked without TV cameras there. I know what would happen to me - I would be shouted at, touched inappropriately and finally asked to leave by upset senior staff. But somehow all the nudity in The Naked Office is entirely non-sexual. The fact is that women who go to work in trousers and loose-fitting shirts get sexually harassed frequently in the UK, I refuse to believe a woman who shows up fully nude will not find her male colleagues passing judgement. Presumably these bits are edited out. And at one point a woman says she feels intimidated at the thought of her male bosses being naked in the office. Some men (flashers/perverts) choose to show their genitals to women with the intention of frightening and upsetting them. Anyone with that behaviour pattern would be congratulated on their bravery in this show and their victim accused of failing to participate.

It would be nice to live in a world where stripping off was seen as simply a handy way to deal with hot weather. But we don't live in that world and it's just daft to pretend we do. There are real issues here - why won't Seven Suphi focus on them?