Saturday, 20 August 2011


I've recently joined weight watchers, a relatively sensible weight loss plan with the emphasis on gradual weight loss, sensible eating and getting your five a day.

It's something I can live with. In the sense of being able to actually stick to it without dying of hunger and giving it all up in despair. And also and in the sense of being able to reconcile it with my  shaky, but still existent  feminist principles.

The written matierals,the website and the plan itself, are pleasingly free of judgement. There are no good or bad foods and you are not made to feel like eating is "sinfull" or "naughty" or shamefull in any way.
Instead there is a workable system calibrated to allow you to eat just under the amount of calories you use each day, losing a sensible maximum of 2lbs per week. So far, so good.

Encouragement and peer support is important so every week I go for a weigh in and a little meeting which is  both deeply naff and oddly heartening. Yesterday I got a little round of applause for losing my 2 lb and felt surprisingly proud despite myself, my secret belief in participating "ironicly" suddenly and joyfully in tatters.

Here's the thing though: at the same meeting several people lost 3lb or even 4lb, And they got a round of applause as well.

"Hang on", I thought, "they're cheating: they're not sticking to the plan. The only way they could have done that is to eat much less than they're supposed to".

 If the plan is designed to be healthy, then we should be encouraged to stick to it, shouldn't we? And if we do encourage people to eat even less, don't we set up a dangerous atmosphere of competition?.

I was waiting on the group leader to gently put them right or to remind everyone to eat a healthy and balanced diet and of course it didn't come. Because, silly me, no matter what sensible plan we follow, we are women after all and eating is always shameful and weight loss is always good.

We take that into the meeting with us, and any group leader who starts pulling us up on it will lose our custom

Friday, 19 August 2011

Snobbery in Recruitment

I've been applying for a lot of jobs lately.

Mostly very similar posts, involving similar tasks and needing similar attributes.
Mostly very similar to jobs I've done before.

Whats interesting, given how similar are the jobs, is how different the person specifications can be.

Here's one I just applied for. The job involves giving legal advice to univeristy students

These Attributes are "Essential":

  • Ambitious
  • Graduate
  • Must present a professional image
These attributes are only "Desirable":

  • Knowledge of the principles of advice, information or advocacy work
  • Knowledge of Student Funding System
  • Knowledge of Welfare Benefit System
In other words, this employer thinks it is more important to recruit someone middle class than someone who can do the job.

Incredible isnt it?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Running Away to Join the Hippies

The reason I became a homeless 16 year old hippy was that I was desperate, just desperate for somewhere to fit in. I was sick of being misunderstood and rejected and attacked. I was fed up of being hated and lonely and messed about.
Several years earlier: the antipathy that was like a background noise to my life had spilled over into mob violence on the estate and something crystallised in my understanding of the world. 
My burden was not manageable after all. I was the centre of a dangerous vortex that would engulf those I loved as surely as it could me. I was not going to be able to handle it by myself. Not with stoicism or backchat or violence or with any resources I was capable of drawing on. My parents couldn’t protect me, they couldn’t even protect themselves. I was fucked.
I’d felt like an outsider and a freak all my life and could point to no end of incidents and anecdotes to prove it. Never mind that every incident was different. They all involved me and they all pointed towards my utter social unacceptability.
Never mind that the child who teased me school is responding to the difference of my second hand clothes whereas the child who throws stones at the house is acting out the trauma of her home life,
And the Jehovah’s witness neighbour who  broke my bike, throwing it across the length of the cul de sac believes that respectable children aren’t left to play in the street, whereas my own vicar who won’t let me shelter from the rain in his porch may just want some privacy to counsel his flock.
Never mind that the parents who disapprove of me as a friend for their children are annoyed that no one taught me the etiquette of middle class homes except for the others who are just unnerved by my intelligence and then oh, and the other Mum who was just a smack head and no one knows why she does or says anything.  
Never mind how different each situation was, never mind how little of it is directly about me. I’m in no mood to untangle these strings. I just know I want out.  
This is a picture of me just before I left home. I'm the one with tufty litte suede head cut eating a bag of crisps. I’m on a school skiing trip to Austria which I saved up for, for over a year, out of the wages from my first job. It was completely ruined for me by another girl who consistently bullied me until the last day when we came to blows and I finally beat her in a fight.
During this holiday I asked my then best friend what she thought was wrong with me that made me so unpopular. “I can’t put my finger on it” she said “But there definitely is something” I could only agree with her.
The hippies were my last hope. I’d seen the late 90’s road protests on TV and observed the crazy hairstyles and clothes, the freewheeling life.  These were my people.  They were freaks just like me and would surely welcome me into their lives.  We would band together for mutual protection in a hostile world.
Some people tried to point out that University might be a good place for freakishly intelligent working class kids to find a sense of belonging. I dismissed them out of hand. University would be just like school and work would be just like that again. Mainstream society had spoken. It had rejected me and I had little choice but to reject it in turn. The hippies it would have to be.  
To Be Continued

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Berwick Street Memories

Dirty Hippy
 When I was 16 I was a little hippy. On the left is a picture of me at my hippiest. As you can see I'm laughing hysterically in a supermarket while wearing an ambulance-mans hi viz jacket (as was the fashion for little hippies at the time.) Also I'm very stoned.

I was a happy little hippy and I lived with a lot of hippy friends in caravans and boats, derelict warehouses, abandoned buildings, all sorts of funny places.

We knew a lot of tricks for survival and it didn't matter that we never had any money because there was always some new scam to get by and besides we had each other which was great because we were all a lot of fun to be around.

So one day, someone had told me that you could pick up a lot of fruit and veg off the floor at Berwick Street market at the end of the day. Berwick Street would definitely be the best place to go, because a lot trendy rich people like to hang out in Soho and that means that they sell a lot of exotic fruit and veg that you don't get anywhere else. This seemed like a great idea, so off I set, on my own, into London's infamous red light district after dark.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

I'd only been in Berwick street a couple of minutes, when i was predictably approached by a creepy man and when I say creepy, I mean really creepy.
I will point out here that I totally understand that sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes and that most appear completely normal at first. This being so overwhelmingly the case, it almost seems irresponsible to point out that this particular guy was not just creepy by obviously, stereotypically so.

He had greasy hair, greasy skin and fishy eyes, I even think he had a grubby rain mac on. Although, come to think of it I had a grubby rain mac on. It was the same one you can see in the picture.  

He fixed me in his primordial gaze and he starts up:

"Hey, are you hungry? I can give you some food? have you got a boyfriend, you need a boyfriend, I can look after you"

I didn't like this at all. But, even though I was a dirty hippy, I was also a nice girl and so I decided to try to be nice.  It is, of course, a well known feature of nice girls that they will continue their niceness regardless of personal danger to themselves. So I looked up from my place on the pavement where I had been busily stuffing guava's into my rucksack and i said:

"No thank you I'm fine"

"You can't survive out here on your own, come with me, I'll look after you"

"No thank you" standing up now and trying to avoid eye contact while shuffling away.  

"Don't be silly, come with me"

 This was too much for me and something in me switched. I spun around, looked him square in the face and spat the words out at him:  

"Look, Just because I'm picking up food from the street, doesn't mean I have to sleep with you. It doesn't work like that!" 

And the words hung in the air between us, crackling with teenaged snap and sarcasm.  Fisheye responded with one long appraising look up and down. Then:

"Your a clever girl. You'll be alright"

As if I'd passed some kind of test.
And then he walked away.

I stood for a moment, digesting what had happened and feeling the adrenalin drain quietly out of my veins. Then, test passed with flying colours, i picked up my rucksack, swung it over my shoulder and got out of there as fast as I could.

Berwick Street Market, Soho

Its been a long time since then and I still go down to Berwick Street occasionally. I browse the sex toys with my husband or visit the silk shops with my Mum and if i want a guava, I'll just buy one from that stall over there, thank you very much.
Nothing like the fish eye man ever happens  to me now. I'm not a homeless teenager anymore and I walk the streets with an air of entitlement I didn't have before. 

The atmosphere of danger and exploitation is still there though, readily misinterpreted by monied interlopers as seedy adventure and adult fun. I experience it that way myself because, much as i know I shouldn't, I do forget.

I forget, like many of us do, that the world only feels so safe and accommodating and easy because I have money now. And that every danger I once faced is waiting still for someone else.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Thoughts on Etsy's "Hobo Wedding"

It seems like this couple: have the internet up in arms after over their cultural appropriation of depression era poverty as their wedding theme.  

Kenwood House: Dream Venue

This reminds me of something that happened when I was planning my own wedding.

 Hampstead Heath is a beautiful big park in London, which I just adore. At the top of the park is Kenwood House, an old manor house which is now run as museum and restaurant.  Kenwood House is licensed to perform marriages and I loved the idea of having my wedding there. I could picture myself coming out of this big white building, family and friends around me and looking out over rolling parkland at all the families picnicking and the kids running around. I just thought it would be perfect.  

Hiring a manor house does not come cheap but I was encouraged to see that they also do a reception package in the kitchen, which is a good sized room, and can be decorated in something called “shabby chic”: which seems to involve a lot of meadowy flowers in mismatched vintage milk jugs and oldie worldie style table cloths and doiles and so on.  

The Old Kitchen
Pleasant but visibly "Below Stairs"
 I checked the prices on the kitchen wedding and predictably it was still way out of our budget so I put the idea aside, set myself down to organise something more realistic and thought no more about it.
No more that is, until my Mum mentioned that she’d seen the package advertised with the slogan “Have your wedding below stairs.”  She was genuinely freaked out by the idea and literally could'nt imagine why anyone would find the idea attractive. Her exact word were: “My whole life is about trying to get away from life “below stairs!” I never want to go back.”
I should point out here that my Mum is from the post war baby boomer generation and benefited from the social mobility of that period. She has never worked as a servant and, given the times she grew up in, it would have been deeply surprising thing if she had.  

Her own mother however (my grandmother), was “in service” from the age of 12 and clearly, the experience has cast a long enough shadow that the idea of celebrating anything “below stairs” still carries with it a sense of horror and shame. Even for the next generation. Even 70 years later. And yet this response had not, for a second occured to me.

In case you were wondering: this is how it turned out in the end!

What’s interesting to me here is the difference made by that one additional generation, that can transmute a grossly insensitive act of cultural appropriation into a perfectly acceptable wedding theme. An object of aspiration even.  You really have to laugh at capitalism sometimes.  They would have had me break the bank to buy a sanitised pastiche of my own family history.  

Instead of which, we had a quaint registry office ceremony and pub reception, encorporating all the authentic customs of the 21st century white working class. It was just just so cute. I can't wait to see a knock off version at 4 times the equivelent price in 70 years time.