Thursday, 17 November 2011

Dear Wannabe Well Knowns

So you want to be famous. For many young women, thoughts of singing, dancing, acting and entrepreneuring their way to the top are common routes, but for others among you, although these careers have all flashed through your mind, it seems that you might be tempted to settle for just, well, flashing. I guess this might link in with your body and what you think of it. You may think that it's not perfect; but somehow, if everyone is phwoaring over it, then it must be alright. Or you might think that it's just about flawless, so everyone should take a look.

But it's not everyone looking, it's mostly men, and regardless of how dog-eared the third page is on the papers you appear in, those men don't really care about you, or like you, or come anywhere near respecting you. They don't often think of you as a real person, you're just a bra size on a page.

I know you'll have heard in the news about women stripping/posing/glamour modelling their way through university and how this makes them "empowered women". I also believe that in your private moments, unfilled with noise and devoid of delusions, you know this is wrong. There are women who say that although they are removing their clothes and come-hithering the camera that this is their choice and that they have the last laugh. And, for some, they are certainly laughing - at least on the outside - all the way to the bank.

They stress the difference between selling photos of their bodies and selling their bodies - and there is indeed a difference. There are millions of women around the world who are forced to sell their bodies - or more accurately, that someone else sells their bodies - and you can bet your g-stringed backside that they know the difference. The fact that you would choose to show your intimates (and then some) to the nation is incomprehensible to them when you have other options. Taking your clothes off, whether for the camera or for punters at a strip club isn't something anyone should have to do to make a living.

Of course there are women who have successfully shed the shackles of their racier pasts and when asked they always say that they wouldn't change it. Fame and fortune is seductive; don't be fooled, those baby blues or the Bambi brown eyes aren't trying to ensnare you, oh centre-fold worshippers; it's the cold hard cash that magazine purchases bring. So yes, everyone is being played to a certain extent. But the forfeit paid for the money in the bank and the column inches is dear.

Many people want to be famous; if hairbrushes could talk, they might reveal unrealised dreams of Grammy winning performances. Or maybe Mum's best Lladro figures would let slip of your Oscar acceptance speech. And that's fine - it's more than fine, it's healthy. If you want to be famous - be famous, or at least try your damndest. But be famous for something, and by something I mean not just getting your kit off.

Most of us are lucky enough that we aren't forced to do anything in order to make money or escape persecution. Our minds are free to dream, our bodies are free to do and act and be, and our souls are ours to keep. Don't sell yours.

Quick quick slow

For the last month or so, life has been pretty frenetic; work has been cranking up again as the world and his wife comes back from holidays, I’ve been travelling a lot on various trips and the calendar is so full that I’ve had to resort to uttering the horrifically pompous, “Ok, I have a space on January 3rd.” But lo and behold, last Monday I spotted something peculiar in my diary…the lesser spotted gap. And not just any old gap either – a weekend shaped gap. For the rest of the week if I was asked to do anything between 6am Saturday and 11pm Sunday, I responded with a vague, “I’ll get back to you” and then didn’t. So what did I do with my precious weekend?

This weekend I was mostly…in the kitchen. I baked and cooked myself into oblivion. It wasn’t for a dinner party, I wasn’t bribing people I work with to sponsor me (it’s been known to happen) and I wasn’t trying to apologise to my husband for breaking anything. I was simply enjoying the buzz of creating something with my own fair hand. I tried new recipes, I trotted out old ones. I measured. I stirred. Mixed. Kneaded. Iced. Tasted. I also burnt some stuff, but only a few bits and they were nicely crunchy rather than carcinogenic. I watched in awe as the row of ingredients in front of me came together into gooey, drippy mixtures, then with the magic of heat transformed into something not only edible, not only moreish, but something that ensures that next weekend’s activities will be sponsored by Spanx.

But impending obesity aside, I loved the fact that in an age where everything is immediate – from the information we search for, to the food we order, to the decisions we make and the photos we see - that this act of creation (if you’ll forgive the religious overtones) could not be rushed. Like many people I used some fancy-schmancy kitchen gadgets - my KitchenAid, for example, which is functional, gorgeous and makes my life easier (much like the ideal man) and some of the recipes I used were ones I’d found on the internet, which actually took less time than a blink of an eye. (It did, I Googled that too.) But for the actual magic to happen – and by that I mean the rising, the goldening and the cooling down enough to devour – could not be rushed. And that’s probably what I loved most about it.

I also loved making something. When we’re kids, we make things all the time. Whether it’s rocket launchers out of toilet rolls and Fairy bottles, pictures of the house which our parents hold upside down or whether we decide to paint the dog, we’re being creative and making things all the time. I’m not sure when that stops – and for some people it never stops – but this weekend I felt its loss and decided to do something about it. As I sat cross-legged in front of the oven with a cup of tea, watching the cupcakes rise, my heart lifted too. Not just because our oven is a bit unreliable and I needed to make sure they did rise, but because I was actually producing something myself. And it wasn’t a report, it wasn’t a presentation – it was an actual thing that had a purpose. Granted, that purpose was short-lived as said cupcake was inhaled as soon as it wouldn’t cause third degree burns, but still.
Next weekend I shall return to back-to-back activities; I’ll be rejoicing once again in settling arguments in 0.15 seconds courtesy of Wikipedia and I’ll be glad when someone else does the creating – but I hope I’ll also remember that sometimes slower is better and that our time, ultimately, is what we make of it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Happy Birthday To Me!

Wow! It's been a looooong time since I last wrote but I haven't forgotten about it - just been busy.  Thought it would be appropriate to write today as it's my birthday!  21 again!  Okay, 25.  Alright alright. I'm 29.  And I'm fine. Honestly I am.  I haven't spent the morning with a magnifying mirror in one hand and the number for a Botox clinic in the other. Nor did I die a bit on the inside when I was called "Señora" instead of "Señorita" on my recent holiday.  I am completely embracing my older self and am eagerly awaiting maturity and wisdom. I'm sure they'll be along soon.  With my bus pass.

In the interests of proving that I'm not forgetful in my old age, I wish to do two things today: No.1 to say a huge THANK YOU to all of you who voted for me in the Cosmo Blog Awards 2011 - unfortunately I didn't get shortlisted this year, but there's always next year and in between now and then I will be making my blog even bigger and better, as it really was amazing that you all took the time to vote.  I plan on having a few different sections in here - some reviews (as people have started to send me free stuff - AWESOME!) as well as some photos and musings on places I've visited and some notes on what's on in the news.  Feedback and ideas welcome as ever.  No.2 on my list is to say thank you to those of you who entered the Amazon competition!  The winner will be announced and will receive their voucher this week - apologies for the limp of an excuse is that I was on holiday!  There's a runner's up prize too actually (and yes, I did get sent it for free, but who's complaining?!)

So, this is the end of my birthday blog post, though I should be on later doing some updates to the site.  If anyone needs me I'll be in the corner with two great friends of mine who, inspirationally, just get better with age....Monsieur Vin and Madame Fromage.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Having your Cake & Baking it Too

I had an interesting conversation this weekend (and by interesting I mean exasperating) with a friend of a friend. Having recently had a baby, she’s been at home for the past few months, settling into motherhood. She was talking about the meals she had been cooking up for her little one, now that he is able to manage solid foods. The conversation moved on to general cookery and I enthusiastically imparted a tip on the perfect mashed potatoes I’d been given. Her eyebrows instantly merged with her hairline. “You cook?” she asked, eyes widening to the approximate size of a baking potato. Apparently, I found out, this was a real revelation – “But you have a career, and you do all that writing stuff. Isn’t cooking a bit…anti-feminist?” The word feminist was whispered, the way one might say “sex” at a tupperware party. It was my turn to stare, agog. I tried to explain that having a career and being a feminist weren’t necessarily related; I gave her the speech (albeit ineloquently as I was rather irked) on how feminism, at its heart, is just equality and that it wasn’t all bra burning and man hating. All this resulted in was a protective arm over her bosom and a fearful glance at the Yankee candles.

After that we were at something of an impasse – our opinions were so dramatically different that the conversation faltered; I didn’t want to shove my opinions down her throat, it would hardly help if I started lecturing her on modern feminism. I feared that my earlier speech had already alienated her and that further attempts would just compound her already negative image of myself and “the sisterhood”. So I changed the subject to something safer; the weather.

But I’ve kept thinking about it – I can’t help it, women’s roles are always in the news. I’ve decided that I can understand the confusion – it seems like we feminists (I do wish there was a different word) want it all. And we want it now. Let’s just run through the options: there’s university, a well-paid career, the perfect man, children who grow up to be well-adjusted, decent adults and great, loyal friends. Oh, and a soufflé that doesn’t sink. So what did you choose? I’m guessing it wasn’t just one item. It’s this idea of wanting it all that is, I think, alarming for many people. We bang on about how feminism is about sharing, about equality, but in the next breath we talk about having it all, doing it all, being it all. Forgive me, but I’m pretty sure that a basic premise of Sharing 101 is that if someone has all of anything, they ain’t sharing.

So what do we do? Do we accept that we can’t have everything on our wishlist, no matter if we think we deserve it? Maybe we need to realise that for centuries, it’s been those with the XY chromosome who have been running the countries, marching to war and cashing the paychecks; so they’re used to it and they like it. For us to suddenly the storm the field with cries of “Unfair!” and “Gimme!” must be a little startling. It’ll take a while to get used to it and both sexes need to compromise – we can’t just take the bits we like and put men on nappy duty for all eternity.

Another step in the right direction might be admitting that each of us has our own talents, and these talents may or may not “match” those traditionally ascribed to someone with our reproductive systems. We live in a society where equality has the potential to take over in a negative way, where we give someone a job, a bursary, or a salary that they don’t merit, just so our equal opportunities stats stack up. Equally we run the risk of blasting each other for our jobs, hobbies or actions because they’re not deemed appropriate for either our beliefs or our sex.

I guess what I’m saying is that we are complex creatures; women can like to cook without being branded traitors to the cause, and men can too without being “girly” Perhaps it’s time for us to play to our strengths, whatever they may be and realise that nobody should be defined by what resides in their underwear.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Reading, rioting and WINNING

Greetings loved ones! As many of you know, regardless of how hard I try to disguise it with my attempts at cool music and occasional forays into fashion; I am, at heart, a geek. Although I do try to name drop cool bands casually into conversation, it’s quite obvious that I have no idea who they are, usually because I get their name mixed up – my incredulity at PJ & Duncan being on the Mercury Prize shortlist this year being a classic example. (For any fellow geeks out there, it was PJ Harvey on the shortlist, as I wouldn’t wish those howls of laughter on anyone.)

So I may not know too much about music, or fashion, or have my finger on the art house film pulse (Dirty Dancing rocks in my opinion) but I don’t think that makes me completely out of touch with current events and culture – my secret? I’ll whisper it. I read. I know, I know – it’s controversial. It’s old fashioned. Except it’s not. I think the art of reading books is the key to our past, it’s the way we make sense of our present and how we’ll forge a better future. I don’t think it’s a small coincidence that the rioters, thieves and arsonists who attacked our cities last week left the bookshops well alone.

There has been so much speculation as to the “type” of people who were raiding the proverbial cookie jar of our high streets – black, white, poor, uneducated, children of single parent families…the list goes on. The uneducated label strikes a chord, but somehow I don’t buy it – it is a right in this country to have an education up to at least the age of 16, so that theory doesn’t really stand up. The majority of the rioters will have received some kind of formal education (obviously the nine year olds who were lobbing missiles were at a slightly…ahem…earlier stage in their school careers) so where does that leave us? I feel that because everyone has the right to education and most children between the ages of 5-16 “have” to go to school, it is forgotten that this right is also an immense privilege; and one not enjoyed (or endured, if you’re that way inclined) by children worldwide.

Phew. Rant over – be honest, you missed it, didn’t you?

The point of this rant post was not to read the riot act on the youth of today (or to sound like I’m 87 years old) but actually to talk about something else that I would happily protest about (I said protest, not riot) – the closure of our libraries. I read a terrific piece by Caitlin Moran via the site Nosy Cow at the weekend which tackled the issue in a fair bit of detail; have a read if you fancy it. Naturally, I agreed with pretty much everything that was said, not just because I worship every genius syllable she utters, but because I feel that by closing these institutions we are opening ourselves up to more events like the ones we all witnessed last week; not because the lunatics who attacked our communities will themselves be up in arms because they can’t have free access to Dickens and Tolkien – but because other people, other readers, other literary explorers won’t have access. And it’s these people who we rely on; to learn the lessons, to spread the word, and maybe, letter by letter, chapter and verse, to change the world.

For that reason - and to give something back to you guys for reading my drivel - I’d like to offer up a little reading related competition – with a prize and everything. It can be a recommendation for a book (with a mini-review if you don’t mind), a little comment on why you like to read or perhaps, to share a memory (OMG this is turning into a self-help group) on reading as a kid; it could even be your favourite author. Perhaps you see your childhood through Enid Blyton-tinted spectacles – personally mine was a bit more Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, but hey. Either way – the prize is a £50 Amazon voucher for the winner to spend however they wish (you don’t have to spend it on books!) so just enter your reading related entry in the comments section of this post - you could even sign up to the blog at the same time (just click on the Join this Site button on the right sidebar), though that won’t necessarily help your chances of winning – yeah right. Happy reading!

PS Closing date for the competition is midnight, Monday 29th August.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Art of Being a Wingwoman

Women like to do things together – go to the bathroom, try things on, drink wine, hunt. We’re pack animals – always have been, always will be. When it comes to pursuing potential mates though, it’s best to employ the services of just one or two focused, highly trained professionals. Daring, ruthless and equipped with X-ray vision, these individuals will build you up, knock them down and have you tête-à- tête with the man of your dreams before you can say “No Mummy’s boys please.” Their work is difficult, it’s dangerous and it’s done in the name of love – these are The Wingwomen.

We are the HTC riders to your Mark Cavendish, the blocker to your running back, the Girls Aloud to your Cheryl Cole. We take the hits of the poor chat up lines, the bum pinches and the appalling personal hygiene in order to secure you the prize of the night. Wingwomen never outshine their charge; but we do need to look well-groomed and as attractive as we can – after all, he’s not going to pick you if we look like we’ve gone nineteen rounds with the ugly tree. It’s about picking our good little black dress but not the little black dress, the flattering pants but not our lucky pants. We need to ensure that we nab the best spot at the venue for seeing and being seen. Tales abound in the WI (Wingwomen’s Institute, that other WI is just a cover) of the operative who picked an elevated position in a rooftop terrace bar – all the better to survey the offerings, I can see what she was trying to do there – but had catastrophically forgotten to get the meteorological reports for the evening or to choose her companion’s outfit. Wind. Short summer dress. Control pants. Tears. Needless to say the agent in question has now been retired from active duty.

As for our duty to select the finest male in the room for our chaste chum, this is where it gets really tricky. Months of preparatory work is required; the ideal man is an ever-changing beast after all. A few years back there was a rise in the demand for the metro man; you know the type - well groomed, didn't turn into a monosyllabic brute when the football came on. This didn’t last long though – once women realised that they had to hide their GHDs and open their own jars Metro Man was discontinued. We’ve seen a recent resurgence in requests for the macho man – bag carrying and piggy backs are tempting….but the hygiene issue is a stumbling block - it seems simply turning his boxers inside out by Thursday is no longer acceptable in our anti-bacterial handwashed lives.

Usually though, after detailed research a picture does start to emerge, so by D-Day we are able to reject on sight – Mr. Hollister by the bar may have had the height, the skin tone and surprisingly good shoes, but his dentistry made me think I’d seen him before…on Jeremy Kyle. If a man does manage to pass the visual test we are trained to ruthlessly rebuff those who do get to utter a pleasantry. For the record; talking about the weather, how much you earn or how your bedpost is toothpick thin from notches are all unacceptable topics. Equally if your first words make me think of Joe Pasquale on helium you've batted your last, buddy. As for the lucky few who manage to pass all the tests (I haven’t even touched on the verbal reasoning paper, the wolf whistle test and the ability to gate-hop in a manner befitting Matthew McConaughey) – they are then free to approach with care, respect and a Cosmopolitan. As is the case with all good back-up, we Wingwomen will then retreat to a safe distance to observe, drink cocktails and talk into our sleeves. Our work here is done.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Make mine a Cosmo

As those of you on Twitter and Facebook know - Friday was a mucho exciting day for me....Cosmo blog award nomination!  Obviously, it's a very, very long shot to make the shortlist, but I'm chuffed to bits about even being in the competition.  Some of you have voted already which is just fantastic - thank you so much.  For those of you who haven't, the cheque should be along shortly.  

A few friends have asked me how the voting works and from what I understand August is the month for nominations, after that a shortlist is decided and then the winners are judged from that.  I think it's 50% panel, 50% voters decision.  I am nominated in the "Lifestyle sponsored by Handpicked Media" category, so you need to select that from the dropdown menu, as well as sticking in your email and the reason why you like my blog (not sure if you should mention that I'm bribing you.)  The link is here or you can click on the big ignorant button on the right hand column.  

Thank you again for those of you who have voted already - please do tell friends, family and enemies (if you really don't like my blog) to come on here and have a read.  For those of you who do read regularly and have a Google, Yahoo or Twitter account you can become a "member" (I'm working on the badges) and enjoy a 10% discount with whoever I bribe to sponsor / advertise here....I'm thinking of either a pants company (Bridget Jones style) or a manufacturer of stress balls to counteract the ranting.  Thoughts, ideas or addresses of unsuspecting companies welcome!