Monday, September 29, 2014

Full length version of my column for The Teacher this month

As some of you know I write a column for The Teacher magazine (the magazine of the NUT, the National Union of Teachers). This month due to space issues they cut my piece down quite a lot which is fair enough and very much within their rights to do but I thought I'd give you the full length version here, maybe also interesting to those of you who wouldn't get to see the magazine...

Last month while I was appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe David Cameron was in Westminster putting together a hilarious little skit of his own. My favourite of his jokes was “sometimes politicians shy away from talking about the family”.

No they don’t. Politicians love talking about the family. They think it makes them seem less like swollen corrupt egos in sweat-creased suits and more earthy and wholesome. Given the chance they would gladly wrestle one another to the ground to get their puckered lips on a photogenic baby. Posing on the school run and being interviewed by MumsNet are rites of passage for the ambitious modern politician as much as pretending to be working class or explaining away photographs of dominatrices.

Family is also a great subject on which to show a little stage-managed weakness, an exercise overpaid PR consultants probably call "humanising". The kid with the gappy teeth, the tussle for the remote control, airbrushed into adorability by the same PR egos. Ooops! Mum’s dropped the Christmas turkey! But they muddle on ignoring Granny's snoring and rolling their eyes at Dad's dodgy jokes like the Waitrose Waltons.

Sure enough for his next punchline Comedy Cameron pretends to be self-depreciating. “I am far from the perfect father and husband”. 

He'd never say "I'm far from the perfect economist" because it's true. He stupidly quotes the long-disproven pseudo-economics that is the Laffer Curve and insists that trickle-down economics is a real thing. The best way to get money to poor people is by giving it to rich people? What next, help the hungry by feeding the obese? Improving health by operating on the fit and well?

The flip side is that while he did leave his daughter at the pub that one time and you or I shiver at the thought of waking up next to his smug doughy face, in many respects he is the “perfect” father and husband. He’s loaded, well-connected and even takes them on loads of fancy holidays.

Teachers know that most families in Britain are nothing like the Camerons. The prime minister’s family probably haven't noticed the child benefit freeze, the bedroom tax, the cut to the childcare component of Working Tax Credits or the fact that you now have to work an extra eight hours a week to even qualify for them. They could always balance out the shortfall by christening their new yacht with a jeroboam, rather than a methuselah, of champagne. (And, yes, I've won a lot of pub quizzes!)

And another thing. Let's be frank - some families are rubbish. Some too busy and stressed out to care, and some who just downright don't care. Heartbreaking, yes, but utterly unsurprising as the only qualification required for parenthood is leaving your condom in your other coat.

The group of people who have qualifications to support young people is of course teachers. [Insert your own snide remark about unqualified teachers and bear in mind that it’s unlikely the very worst of them could be as dangerous in their job as one M. Gove. Good riddance.]

What we can't do is guarantee every child a top-of-the-range family but we could guarantee them a good teacher. A fully qualified teacher with a class size small enough to spot those who are struggling, the resources to support families falling through the gaps and the back-up to intervene where families are failing.

And the joke is ultimately on him because that's exactly the sort of thing politicians like Cameron do shy away from talking about.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

STOP PRESS: Woman gets into boat

From todays MailOnline website: EVEN when she was climbing into the speedboat, Amal managed to stay composed.

This is definitely NEWS. Personally when I get into a speedboat I just stand on the dock and fall forwards onto my face. That's probably why I'm not married to George Clooney.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

How disappointing you are Kelly Brook.

Kelly Brook has "opened up" to the Daily Male about "her relationship with her breasts". I didn't read the article - I hope she says "they're attached to the front of my chest, which is good cos it'd be awkward if they were on my elbows".

In the process she mentions - and headliner-writers leap on the fact that she is a bra size 30FF. Her IQ is not published, presumably because she's smart enough to know there's no point issuing a press release about that.

The trouble is this. Her range of underwear at New Look doesn't include ANY bras in a 30 back size or ANY bras in a FF cup size. So NONE of the underwear that bears her name in the high street would fit her.

And this is an issue, because thousands of women struggle to find affordable clothes that actually fit. Dress sizes are a total nonsense. I don't know anyone who just "is" a dress size, everyone is one size on the top half and another on the bottom half or needs extra width in the arms, or the legs, or the bust, or whatever.  We all make do and adjust and end up paying over the odds. I'm not asking Brook to become some sort of ambassador for body confidence - I'm saying did it not occur to her during her intensive hands-on participation in the design process to say "could the range of sizes include my size?"?

It also means (in case it wasn't obvious) that EVERY SINGLE PHOTO OF HER MODELLING HER COLLECTION IS FAKED ONE WAY OR ANOTHER...
...in this case also because no-one has ever been THAT happy about squatting in uncomfortable shoes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Daily Mail - this is a new journalistic low EVEN FOR YOU.

***What the f*ck? In the hours since I wrote the piece below rather than take down the awful piece, the Daily Mail have "updated" their article to name her and un-pixelate the photos of her, and add more photos of her in swimwear and a quote from her Dad (saying she is devastated and didn't bully anyone). Sick.***

In the wake of the Santa Barbara shootings lots of people are talking about the extent to which the killer was involved with online "men's rights" groups and the extent to which exposure to "pick-up artist" communities and online porn had influenced his expectations about relationships and attitudes towards women and men around him. As has been widely reported, he left a video on YouTube and a "manifesto" in which he said he was angry that women were not interested in him and planned violence in reaction to this. Having written a piece myself on how sinister the pick-up artist movement can be I was interested to see what links others were drawing. Perhaps I should have known better, Daily Mail, but I clicked a link to your page... (I've done a screen grab because I don't want to publish a link)

Firstly you're using the occasion of a horrific mass murder as an excuse to print sexy pictures of a very young woman who has not consented to appearing in your newspaper. AND you're pointing the finger at this woman as if somehow the killings were her fault. Sick sick sick.

You claim the moral high ground by not printing her name. Obviously a slightly pixellated photograph is going to leave her completely identifiable to anyone who really knows her. AND you printed details of work that she's done and details about her family and their jobs. Frankly you would not have to be Sherlock Holmes to fill in the blanks.

And lets look at the details. You claim that Elliot Rodger was teased by this woman leading to him developing a hatred of all women. On that, three things:

(1) Where is the evidence that any teasing took place? In a video made by a man who overtly hates women. Is that a reliable source of evidence? Of course not. In fact it seems clear from his actual words (if you had bothered to listen to them) that in fact he had a crush on her and felt teased because she wasn't interested. THAT IS NOT TEASING, WOMEN HAVE A RIGHT TO NOT BE INTERESTED IN GUYS WHO FANCY THEM.

(2) One woman being mean to you (which all the evidence suggests she wasn't) is not a good reason to hate all women. Generalising based on one individual is one of the most basic forms of bigotry. Why haven't you mentioned this (other than by doing it throughout the rest of your paper)? Otherwise one guy shooting people would be a good reason to lock all men up (not just Daily Mail journalists).

(3) When did this awful alleged teasing take place? When she was in seventh grade (age 12 or 13). Yes seriously. YOU'RE BLAMING A TWELVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL FOR A MASS MURDER AND PRINTING HER PHOTO.

And you repeatedly mention the killer was a virgin and was angry about being a virgin. Could you perhaps explain WHAT YOU EXPECT A 12-YEAR-OLD TO DO ABOUT THAT?

Perhaps the most sickening sentence is this one "MailOnline has approached the girl for a comment but she has yet to respond.". You rang her up? What did you say??

"Hey really sorry to hear about people in your community being brutally murdered by someone you were at school with. Yeah you probably heard about it because he mentioned you in a video. Yeah, yeah, that guy. On the news, yeah. Stop crying. So we're going to write a piece about you on the world's most-read news website and print some sexy pictures of you we stole off Facebook in which we're going to be, erm, pondering the theory, that maybe the multiple horrible murders were actually your fault. We were wondering if you'd like to make a statement about... Why are you screaming at me? I'm a what? ... A sick, disgusting, immoral asshole? Yeah I get that a lot, it's kindof in the job description. So any statement from you or shall I just say you have yet to respond?"

New low, even for you Daily Mail. New low.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Look at this AMAZING and HILARIOUS advert!

"Bit of a mix up?" LOL "However carefully you plan, things can go wrong." I know the feeling!

As you can see this poor man's glad he bought flexicover (TM) travel insurance because he's been left with a PINK suitcase.

As we all know it cannot possibly be his. No man would ever own a PINK suitcase. Or borrow one off their wife. Or boyfriend. Or just buy one in the shops because it's a nice bright colour and he figures it will be easy to spot at the airport. That would NEVER happen because as we all know...

MAN + PINK SUITCASE = HUMILIATION

Ha ha ha. Who comes up with this stuff? HILARIOUS.

Note: Do not adjust your screen - it is still 2014.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Racism and abortion

I always enjoy being on The Big Questions and today was no exception (you can watch here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007zpll for the next seven days). As usual I spent the whole time with my hand in the air trying to deal with just a few of the obnoxious things people were expressing from all sides (don't even get me started on the man who thinks children can be possessed by the devil!).  There was one point I didn't get to respond to on air which I really really wanted to (unsurprisingly) ... the allegations that my views on sex-selective abortion are somehow racist  or culturally insensitive.

The claim (for those who missed the show) is that some women from certain cultural groups - India was mentioned - are under great pressure from their families to have boys and therefore we should ban doctors from telling women the sex of their foetus in order to make it harder for them to be forced into having abortions.  It was also claimed that women from these communities are at risk of domestic violence if they give birth to girls.  So...

1. As it happened both the Asian women on the show agreed with the claim. This doesn't mean all Asian women agree, nor does it mean that I shouldn't express my differing opinion out of "respect". In fact it would be disrespectful to (a) not represent the views of Asian women not included in the show's line up and (b) act as though these women are incapable of dealing with debate or holding their own. [And for note I have no idea in advance about who will be on the show and no control over it.]

2. A foetus is a part of a woman's body while it is growing. She should have the right to know any information she wants to about it. Or not if she doesn't. It's her body.

3. I would rather a woman have the freedom to get an abortion if she wants one than that she be put at risk of domestic violence. Obviously.

4. If a woman feels she wants to continue a pregnancy but knows she will be at risk of violence or other abuse if she does (for any reason) she should be offered a place in a refuge and support to rebuild her life away from the people who are threatening her. Also obviously.

5. The alternative is this. A white woman says "I wanted to be pregnant but now my partner's ill and I've just lost my job, I'd like an abortion." And I say "ok, that's your choice". A brown woman says "I wanted to have a baby but now I've discovered it's a female foetus and this could put me at risk of violence, I'd like an abortion". And I say "no, your choice is not valid". Guess what that would be? Racist.

In fact no-one has an abortion for a single reason. And no-one has an abortion purely because of the sex of the foetus. These cases (and in the UK, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who perform a third of all abortions say they are not aware of any ethnic groups seeking sex-selective terminations) in fact are about women choosing abortion because of the combination of the sex of the foetus, the cultural norms of the community and family they live in and the alternative support options open to them.  We should be focussed on changing the cultural norms and giving these women a better and wider range of support options.

Otherwise we effectively turn to women who have been deprived of the understanding that girls can have successful careers, make money, achieve great things and make families very proud and tell them that since they're deprived of that knowledge we're going to deprive them of some other knowledge too. Welcome (back) to the dark ages!!

Of course we also have to consider the other likely consequences. If these families are so determined to force women to abort female foetuses what is to stop:

1. Dangerous, illegal backstreet scans and abortions?
2. Women being sent to other countries for scans and abortions (including places where maternal death rates are much higher and women's rights - for example to seek help if they experience violence - are not well enforced)?
3. Women claiming to have a family history of breast cancer or other gender-specific illness in order to create a medical reason for being told their foetus's sex?
4. These unwanted girls being cruelly mistreated?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Daily Fail vs Fat Thuts line-by-line

Did you make a new year's resolution? Maybe to quit smoking or make time to visit an elderly relative? The Daily Fail have resolved to keep finding more reasons for women to hate their bodies.  Perhaps you don't have cellulite (normal legs), skin blemishes (freckles), muffin top (not a problem for those of us who wear onesies all day), side boob (or is that a good one? I prefer mine on the front.), cankles (no idea but apparently Cheryl Cole's got one so probably anger management issues and a tendency to racism), crow's feet (these are considered very sexy on crows though), witch's hands (probably caused by choking journalists to death). Fear not, you too can hate your normal natural body thanks to the Daily Fail's pioneering efforts to rebrand your it as a source of shame and horror.

To which end may I present ladies and gentlemen: The THUT!!  Allow me to explain, one line at a time...

"Fitness experts have claimed that our sedentary lifestyles mean more women are losing the definition between their thighs and their butt than ever before."

Than ever before? Can someone show me the graph of this? How many women were losing butt-thigh definition in the 1860s? We need to know. That's probably why they all wore those big hoop skirts. Aha!!

"The ‘thut’ as it was coined  by NYmag.com, is when the muscles on the back of a woman’s legs are undeveloped – leading their butt and thigh to appear as a single piece of anatomy."

Yes ladies and remember your bodies must always be made up of separate anatomical items so you're nice and easy to objectify. For more info see our celebrity pages (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 in today's issue).

"According to experts, the issue is caused by a lack of targeted muscle tone and does not reflect the physical anatomy for a flat derrière."

Who are these "flat derriere experts"? How do you apply for that job? What is going on?

"‘It’s not the same thing,’ Cynthia Shipley, an instructor with True Pilates told MailOnline. ‘You have to look for definition, if the hamstrings are developed and if the buttocks is lifted.’"

How ironic for the Daily Fail to quote a woman from an organisation with "True" in the name. But she's not an expert, she's a gym teacher, with classes to sell. That's like saying the "nutrition experts" at Cadbury's think we should eat more Creme Eggs. Mind you, the Daily Mail would probably publish that story too.

"The thut's muscular origins are part of a postural support group that help dictate standing, lifting, and walking movements."

Yes the third year of a medical degree involves an in-depth study of the thut. You'll often have heard medical experts refer to Daily Mail journos as "a bloody great pain in the thut".

"The grouping's lack of development can be attributed to a shift in working culture, where many Americans sit in a desk chair all day rather than working in manual-labor-intensive occupations."

Is the Daily Mail an American paper now? But don't people in sedentary jobs also not exercise their legs and torsos much? Did the Daily Mail only just notice there was something between?

"Circles of online writers have thus begun referring to the issue as 'blogger butt'."

Could that be the word of 2014? And isn't the word "thut" enough? Do we need more made-up nonsense words? Or as I like to call them Turdinologies.

"Valerie Samulski, the Pilates coordinator for YogaWorks in New York further emphasized the thut’s muscle tone quotient. ‘It just makes it look like your but has dropped down into your leg, you lose that lift – it looks like mush and in fact it is,’ she said."

Sorry the "muscle tone quotient" - a quotient is the relationship between two numbers. Which two numbers are we talking about here? And no part of a woman's body is made of "mush", you might legitimately use the term as an analogy, but to describe it as "fact" is definitely nonsense.

"Ms Samulski says the thut ‘is not genetic – it’s really just a product of muscle tone and definition. It may be harder for someone to shape their muscles because of genetics, but mostly this is a problem of tone and proper use.’"

Body shape is a mixture of genetics and training? STOP PRESS!! Why has this never bee mentioned before?!

"While NYmag widely introduced thut terminology to the fitness-obsessed earlier this week with an instructional article, many fitness experts admitted to MailOnline that they had not yet heard of the word (though Ms Samulski admitted that, until now, she has referred to it as the butt-leg)."

No way - so a made-up word that was made up this week hasn't yet been adopted by everyone? And thank goodness! I wasn't happy with just the words "thut" and "blogger butt", I also need to use "butt leg" to insult myself.

"Research shows, however, that the thut has been included in fitness vernacular for at least the last three years."

Quit the etymology and get on with telling me how to hate myself already!

"Its mention began appearing in TRX-workout-centric articles circa 2011, and the first Urban Dictionary entry dedicated to the thut was created in 2007."

Commit this stuff to memory - you know it'll be on QI next week. (Also note that earlier in the same article they claim the word was "coined" by NYMag. BY their own admission, a lie.)

"In conversation, though, experts found the term superfluous and representative of 'another aesthetic obsession that people are latching on to because it is another way of judging if you are fit,' says Annie Mulgrew, the director of programming at City Row – New York City’s first-ever interval rowing studio, which opened just this week."

"Interestingly the Daily Mail journo googled "superfluous and judgemental" to come up with the idea for the article" says Kate Smurthwaite who is appearing at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley tomorrow.

"HOW TO LOSE YOUR 'THUT'"

Hang on - I only just got it. Let me enjoy it for a few minutes first ok?

"Om Factory's Michelle Velasquez says that practitioners should focus on ‘squats and lifting’ as a solution."

Practitioners of what? Self loathing?

"Annie Mulgrew of City Row pinpoints rowing as a feasible fix. The exercise has recently come to the fitness forefront for its ability to work the legs with minimal joint impact, ‘toning and lengthening them very quickly,’ she says."

Aha - the woman who runs the rowing gym thinks the best exercise is rowing. And now over to Jim at Squat-U-Like...

"And YogaWorks Pilates coordinator Valerie Samulski offered that any floor exercise ‘where the legs are behind the body and you are working at raising them in gravity,’ like the yoga poses dhanurasana and shalabhasana, will help."

Hello? Is that The Times? I've got a story for you, hold the front page. Yoga teacher reckons you should do yoga. Thank me later.

"But if a thut does create aesthetic-related anxiety, gravitational exercises involving leg lifts, squats, and isolated weight training can help alleviate the issue."

A thut doesn't create aesthetic-related anxiety. Articles in national papers telling me what's "wrong" with my body do that. Here's an exercise you can try. Bend at the waist and throw the paper in a dustbin.

"Ms Mulgrew says that ‘your legs muscles, your quads, hamstrings, calves, and your gluts can all be toned and in doing so you can absolutely create definition so that your butt appears lifted and firmed.’"

Muscles can be toned. Other things that will make your butt appear lifted and firmed include holding it with your hands, balancing it on a small ledge and having it photoshopped.

"She cautioned, though, that while thuts are fixable, ‘people have different body types and they have to respect that. Men and women also tone very differently.’"

My body type is "gets angry near patronising yoga teachers".

"Michelle Velasquez, a yoga instructor at Manhattan's Om Factory says that ‘when it comes to butt definition you can grow a butt. You won’t be a big booty chick, but you can grow muscle. You will get a little bump or something,’"

Scientists have been trying to grow a butt in the lab for years. I think maybe everyone involved in this article has already had a little bump. On the head.

"She was also careful to note that tight denim pants are likely the only article of clothing in which a thut would prominently appear."

I'm glad she was careful to note that, you wouldn't want her just flippantly saying any old nonsense. Otherwise she'd never make it as a yoga instructor - she'd be snapped up by the Daily Mail's editorial team.

"Thut or no thut, Ms Samulski says that the area’s overall health is important for its role in the postural support group: ‘It should be toned because it helps you stand properly.’"

Great advice. I remember only the other day seeing a man lying limply in the street and shouting "call a pilates instructor, quick!".

In next week's news: How can you lose your armbow? Can't wear min-skirts because of your knalf? Considering surgery for your heck? Why not have your unsightly brain removed and replaced with some expert-approved mush? It worked wonders for our house writers.