2015

A year when he stopped working, his mother died and it turned out to be not too bad a year anyway.

01 January: Born Idle

So my problem with the founding of the Welfare State is a fairly personal but entirely fundamental one.

I was born idle.

Bone idle.

IMG_0399This isn’t a boast so much as a plea for understanding. Given a choice between working hard and not, I will choose not.

According to the Beveridge Report the cure for all societal ills lies with full employment, the cure for idleness.

My entire life has been driven by a series of very logical decisions, carefully weighing up effort and reward. I believe strongly in the capitalist principle of minimum cost for maximum return. I am not now and never have been interested in over-performing. I have always aspired to idleness.

And whilst I have never been able to look more than a year or two ahead in time, I am more than capable of looking around and not liking what I see. Being unemployed without money is hard work, hard, miserable work making ends meet and worrying, continual worrying.

As a child looking around at a pretty miserable, poor and depressed area of the country, it was very clear that staying would involve hard back-breaking physical or mind numbingly dull repetitive work for very very little financial return.

Or I could go to university and escape. Academic success was a ticket to an easier life, not a better one.

Even so, not for me the joy of working, the losing oneself in a task or subject. Like the supposed joy to be had from an endorphin high at the end of a workout – joy of work has never been my thing. I worked just hard enough to get the required grades, no more and no less. The marks required were unfortunately high but not as high as the cost of a  life spent scrubbing floors or answering phones in a call centre.

Sadly, looking around at university, it became clear that the life of a female academic would be made miserable and second class, for not that much money. If I was going to be miserable and second class, I wanted to at least be paid a lot of money for the privilege.

The expansion of the middle classes opened up the professions for me and my peers. Accountancy beckoned. I ran for the money.


At a time when women were only allowed into the profession on sufferance, with dress codes and attitudes, when the male partners seemed to take their pick of bright young things to screw around with before dropping for the next year’s recruits, accountancy could have been a disaster but ofcourse financial deregulation was exploding and a life in investment banking was calling.

Just as there were a surprising number of stupid but well eductaed people at university, there turned out to be a surprising number of bankers who couldn’t count.

It was therefore incredibly useful to have basic financial skills and knowledge available to offset my unfortunate gender. And whilst idleness probably isn’t high on the list of skills they interviewed for, the accompanying efficiency and competency should be.

I made money. Efficiently. I retired young.

Now I play tennis and bridge and make the occasional buy/sell decision. I travel and take endless photographs, some beautiful but most mundane. I potter about. I am exceedingly idle. Life is sweet.

 

But  seriously what is the value in hard work for hard work’s sake? My Scottish Calvinist BF2 would be horrifed by a life of leisure. My daughter’s father can barely sit still over the Christmas break before finding a job or useful task to complete. They run from checklist to checklist, continually ticking off the next completed item.

I am bemused by their never-ending activity.

My children have always been much more focused on long term targets than I ever was or will be. Their schools try to direct them to make useful career choices, even though they’re just young teens. The value of hard work and diligence is repeatedly  stressed. My own scepticsm is only slightly offset by the true believer I share a home with, plus the Asian mothers busily managing my daughter’s best friends. I am a slacker in a busy world.

I once listened to a TED talk about children asking themselves “what shall I be when I grow up?” It suggested that a better question might be “What kind of life do I want to lead?” If you can answer this question, then that informs the career choices that must be made.

Do my children want to live in London? Life here is expensive, almost unaffordable so will require some serious cost/benefit decisions on the professions they might choose to follow. Safest routes would be financial services (still) through accountancy or law.

If they want to lead a fulfilled creative life, they could look to fashion, theatre or the media. Living in London (at least independent of the parents) would be difficult but probably necessary in those fields so they would have to resign themselves to living off the bank of mum and dad for a long time, maybe forever. I’m basically ok with that choice.

If they’re happy outside of London then the life of a doctor, dentist, teacher, civil servant, company middle manager all beckon. They’ll have to work for a long time, but the commuting will be shorter and at least some of those professions have societal value that they might find rewarding in and of itself. They are not me.


The hardest lives seem to be those driven by a dream or innate skill or aptitude. My heart goes out to the parents of professional musicians or artists. Maybe it’s even worse to want to be a “good” person. Teaching school in a poor deprived area must be soul destroyingl, certainly learning in one turned out to be brutal.

And social workers deserve praise just for trying.

Ironically the laziest options over a lifetime (ie. mine) require the greatest upfront investment through academic achievement, a life owned body and soul by bank or partnership until finally stepping off the treadmill.

The trick seems to be knowing when to stop and maybe refusing to buy into the idea that work is anything more than a means to an end, a way of affording the life that you want to lead.

02 January: Forget the Evidence

On New Year’s Eve I sat at a dinnert table and was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sometimes of course, it’s true. We all occasionally wander into topics where we have strong opinions and no evidence to support them.

But it’s a bit rich to be told that you don’t understand the problem, despite being able to provide numbers and references to support your argument by a man whose answer is simply “I know the COOs of three major constructions firms and therefore…”

Well, I guess if three or four white middle class men get together and agree on something then it must be right. Really?

 

Around the table it was agreed that in the UK immigration leads to lower wages. Whilst generally a good thing in terms of richness and diversity of life, and whilst everyone around the table had only good things to say about their own experiences with immigrants, it was agreed that immigration remained a problem for “other” (poor?) people.

Immigrants in the UK take British jobs for lower wages.

There is no evidence of course, but since when did that ever stop a good paranoia. There is an entirely unfounded consensus developing within the media and major political parties that immigration is a problem, much to the benefit of UKIP.

This is despite a wealth of empirical evidence and academic research on the effect migrants have on Britons’ wages that contradicts the idea.

The UK Government’s own reply to a House of Lords Committee  in 2008 * stated that research “continues to find no significant evidence of negative employment effects from immigration”.

Yet both Cameron and Miliband have given interviews expressing solidarity with British-born voters dispossesed of jobs by pesky foreigners.

One wonders whether they were similarly sympathetic to the British born candidates who they rejected for the top job at the Bank of England recently, or do they not mean that type of “foreign-born”, the rich, white type?

The numbers are pretty clear-cut. As per leading economist Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, said: “EU migrants don’t appear to have a negative impact on the employment prospects of natives – several different studies have failed to show any link.

A 2009 study by labour market expert Professor Danny Blanchflower, a former Bank of England rate-setter, and Bank of England analyst Chris Shadforth  found that any negative impact on wages is “staistically insignificant”

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Evidence rather than anecdote shows that there is little impact from immigration on the wages of the Britsh born.

Averages can ofcourse hide soe distortions that offset, especially if you pick and choose the times studied. There is some evidence that there may be a slight negative impact at lower wage levels which is offset by benefits at the higher end. Once again it turns out to be pretty bad luck to be poor and unskilled.

& ofcourse the people most likely to be both poor, unskilled and  suffering from an influx of immigrants and the resulting competition for their jobs are other migrants rather than the ‘native’ workers UKIP champions**

As the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory points out “this is because the skills of new migrants are likely to be closer substitutes for the skills of migrants already employed in the UK than for those of UK-born workers.”

It also found that the effects are likely to be temporary as the workforce adjusts to the influx of additional workers. The time taken to adjust is likely to be impacted by the economic cycle. In times of recession there may be periods where the negative impact is exagererated because it takes longer for the market to adjust. It is therefore possible (as Theresa May did recently) to cherry pick the periods reviewed to show a temporary adverse impact on wage levels

But there is no consistent evidence that any negative impact is anything other than temporary. The market will adjust over time. Immigrant workers unable to find work will return to their country of origin whilst those able to work will continue to pay taxes.

Win-win.

Except the fear that drives the underlying paranoia doesn’t easily respond to facts and figures. When people are scared that they’re goingto lose their jobs, they look for scapegoats. People who look and sound different have always been easy-targets


And rather than addressing the underlying issues and concerns with facts and figures, it has become easier for politicians to go along with the trope.

Sound bites on television do not lend themselves to a reasoned debate.

Thankfully people are smarter than media and political manistream allow. When asked whether immigration is a problem, people almost always distinguish between local (not a problem – accurate reflection of reality) and somewhere else (a problem for someone else – a reflection of media hype).

Most people vote according to their own self-interest and the economy is by far the most pressing issue, followed by the NHS and education, services the majority of households use and are familiar with in everyday life.

* THE GOVERNMENT REPLY TO THE FIRST REPORT FROM THE HOUSE OF LORDS COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC AFFAIRS SESSION 2007-08 HL PAPER 82 The Economic Impact of Immigration Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department

** The Labour Market effects, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford

03 January 2015: Parenting

“… Before you have children, it’s imperative that you ask yourself whether or not you’re able to truly love your child unconditionally.

Whether your child is straight or gay, cisgender (non-trans) or transgender, you need to understand that this is not something you can change about them.

No amount of wishing, praying, or punishing can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity; it only inflicts harm. If you conclude that you would be unable to love a trans child, it’s your responsibility to understand that you are not fit to be a parent.

To be a parent is to be able to offer truly unconditional love. If you can’t do that, I suggest that you get a goldfish, instead”.

Parker Malloy, Daily Beast 01.01.2015

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04 January: Old Tropes Revisited

Every so often the question of young kids and teens’ sexual awakening is raised on the website dodsonandross.com. Sooner or later the tired old  trope appears suggesting that the best possible introduction to sex must be with an experienced older man/woman, preferably someone that they know well and trust.

This is wrong on so many levels. It takes the questioning of societal rules and taboos a step too far and risks providing cover for abuse and abusers.


In part there may be a special sensitivity in the UK to the idea of a predatory adult after the Saville scandal. There have been a plethora of court cases recently in the UK where men have been tried and mostly convicted of grooming and molesting young girls and boys, usually from a position of trust, power or authority.

There can be no tolerance for the idea of a predatory adult grooming and abusing young teens and children and sadly this kind of abuse is largely carried out by adults the child loves and trusts. The damage caused by child abuse was so well described by Rosie O’Donell in an earlier post.

Children need adults to be adult with adult roles and responsibilities. They need parents to parent, not be a new best friend. They need grown-ups to take responsibility for carving out a space for young children to grow and explore.

Because children growing up are natural explorers and clearly one of the things they’re interested in exploring is their own bodies and their burgeoning sexuality. Almost inevitably there is some kind of inadvertant sexual play or exploring between children, siblings or friends that are close in age. It usually doesn’t mean much, no more than the latest game of football or tag.


It isn’t something to be hugely upset or outraged about but nor is it a great cause for celebration. It’s part of growing up and learning about ourselves and our boundaries. As a parent, part of my job is to ensure that my children grow upwards and outwards, ready to explore the world and able to negotiate the rules of our society.

We had an early conversation about public versus private behaviour and what might fit into one place but not the other (and why). having the conversation long before it became relevant helped.

Aside from the the obvious incest taboos designed ultimately to pevent genetic disorders, we want our children to understand how their bodies work, but we want them to look outwards to explore life and have adventures, not fixate on their nearest and dearest.

Societal rules concerning privacy and appropriate behaviour need to be learned. Some will have to be accepted. Some may be challenged. All have to be recognised and dealt with one way or the other.

An example might be masturbation taboos. Although almost beign in it’s beginnings,  there are strong societal prohibitions around public masturbation.

This became abundantly clear the afternoon I sat through the school nativity with a furiously masturbating donkey – that boy must have been rubbed raw with nerves by the end of the play. His nickname became and remains (more than 10 years later) rub-a-dub-dub.

I’d be interested in hearing where other parents have drawn the line.

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05 January 2015: Oranges and Lemons

I’m looking for a strategy or maybe a plan or an excuse to take pictures around London and thought of the old nursey rhyme and playground game “Oranges and Lemons”

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It’s funny how persistent these songs remain, even whilst playgrounds are sold off by the Government and electronic gadgets and games have some to dominate. Like me, my girls played the catch game with the couple forced to run through a longer and longer tunnel of their peers to avoid capture.

From a tourist point of view, what’s interesting is how using the extended verses, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey (St Margaret’s Church) and the Tower of London (St John’s Chapel) would both be included.

The churches of London are amongst the oldest and well-maintained buildings remaining. A few  have been entirely destroyed by either the Great Fire, the Blitz or the IRA bombings and at least one of the possible St Anne churches in the extended version (St Anne’s and St Agnes) is no longer a functional church but rather a Music Centre.

But most have been rebuilt, restored or redesigned and quite a few remain vibrant places of worship.

Maybe I should start at St Paul’s and work my way outwards.

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Two Sticks and Apple,
Ring the  Bells at Whitechapple,
Old Father Bald Pate,
Ring the Bells Aldgate,
Maids in White Aprons,
Ring the  Bells a St. Catherines,

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,  
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.  

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch. 

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

or

When I am Old,
Ring the Bells at Pauls.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head

(Versus in Italics sourced from :Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book c. 1744) 

Additional Versus sometimes include:
“Bullseyes and Targets” say the Bells of St. Margaret’s
“Brickbats and Tiles” say the Bells of St. Giles
“Pancakes and Fritters” say the Bells of St. Peter’s
“Maids in white aprons” say the Bells at St. Katherine’s
“Pokers and Tongs” say the Bells of St. John’s
“Kettles and Pans” say the Bells of St. Anne’s 
“You owe me Ten Shillings” say the Bells of St. Helen’s 

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06 January: Oranges

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

St Clement’s Church could either be St Clement Danes or St Clements Eastcheap. Since the former is closed until March 2015,  I decded to visit Eastcheap.

Both churches are near the river, so near to the wharves where citrus fruit would have been landed but in modern London, both were rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire in 1666  but they’re now very different faces of the Anglican church.

St Clement Danes is the official church of the British Royal Air Force, a vibrant well-supported church, large and prosperous.

DSC_0005But St Clement Eastcheap is tiny, huddled away in the City in St Clement Lane just off King William Street. It’s entranceway is so small, surrounded by the offices and cafes of the working City, that it’s surprisingly easy to overlook for a Wren church.

250px-St_Clement_Eastcheap_01It’s first possible mention is in  in a charter of 1067 given by William (1028–87) to Westminster Abbey, but the earliest definite reference to the church is found in a deed written in the reign of Henry III (1207–72), which mentions ‘St Clement Candlewickstrate’.

St Clement’s survived the culling of City churches as the population living in the City moved out to the suburbs and was renovated by William Butterfield in 1872. Work done included removing the galleries; replacing the 17th-century plain windows with stained glass; dividing the reredos behind the altar into three pieces and placing the two wings on the side walls; dismantling the woodwork to build new pews; laying down polychrome tiles on the floor and moving the organ into the aisle.

DSC_0020In 1933 thelayut was further revised when Sir Ninian Cooper  moved the organ to its original position on the west wall and reassembling the reredos behind the altar, although before he did so, he had the reredos painted with figures in blue and gold.

DSC_0025St. Clement’s suffered minor damage from bombing by German aircraft during the  Blitz  in 1940 during the Second World War. The damage was repaired in 1949-50, and in 1968 the church was again redecorated.

Today St Clement’s is the home of the Amos Trust, a Christian charity which uses half of the nave as it’s office space. It holds weekly services, every Tuesday and is starting to build a community of worship from the people working inand around  the City.

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You can find most of the pictures of the church with my other photos:lookalong the pages of the website for

Gallery> Places> London> Oranges and lemons.

07 January: Portraits

We have all been entertained by the Sky Arts Portrait of the Year Competition shown on TV, culminating with the commission to paint Alan Cumming, shown over the Christmas break.

It was amazing to see all of these artists putting together such good likenesses in just four hours, or even finding a likeness in a drawing, losing it as they start to paint and then bringing it back to life.

I popped into the National Portrait Gallery whilst wandering around London Churches to see the three finalists’ commissioned work. It’s amazing the difference between viewing pictures from a distance or through a screen, and seeing real-life.

The skill of all three finalists is astonishing.

Christian Hook

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Christian Hook

Aine Devine

DSC_0064DSC_0065and Laura Quinn

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08 January 2015: Diagnosis

My baby has been officially diagnosed as a teenager ie. someone who likes a long lie-in and rarely sees the morning light. Technichally she’s been diagnosed by the doctor as having a Vitamin D deficiency (surprisingly common in the UK especially in Winter) and prescribed supplements to rebuild her Vitamin D levels.

Since most of us get our VitD from sunshine I’m going with the diagnosis of teenager (possibly vampire in training).

To everyone who suggested that her aching bones were “growing pains” (and there were lots) it might be worthwhile having your teenagers tested as well. An annual subscription to netflix may be recorded as a contributory factor.

Fay Weldon might well have been on to something with her advertising copy “Go to work on an egg” as it turns out that eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D for vegetarians (mainly oily fish). Since she doesn’t eat cereal and we make our own bread rather than shop bought, both of which are  fortified with vitamin D (and others) in the UK, we’re a bit doomed. In kids the main result of a deficiency is rickets. In adults in usually presents as “aches and pains”.

She was tested for everything when we went in for blood tests and strangely, the first thing that everyone says to vegetarians “what about iron?” turned out to be entirely fine.

She is very slightly low on serotonin which obviously has links to mood swings, another teenager trait. Boosting serotonin which is manufacteured in the brain is slightly problematic. Raising tryptophan levels which is used to make serotonin is associated with carbohydrate high meals. Vitamin B6 is useful because it improves the rate of conversion to serotonin – more marmite basically.

So we’re popping vitamin D tablets once a day for the next month, to repeat if we can bear it. The alternatives seem to involve an injection, a 6 month booster so I’m betting the tablets will be bearable.

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09 January:  Trafalger Square

Wandering around London, looking in at churches I found myself in Trafalger Square.

Trafalger SquareIt was a fairly typical London Winter day, grey and dull yet there were still tourists out in force. It also gave a great view of St Martin-in-the-Field, the parish church architecturally copied widely in America and only slightly spoiled by all the traffic lights – urban photos are never pretty.


It’s home to the National Gallery and just around the corner, the National Portrait Gallery. The permanent exhibits (vast displays of wonderful art) are free and since it almost always rains during a visit to London, well worth spending an afternoon wandering around.

Nelson's Column, Trafalger SquareTechnically the Square is owned by the Crown whilst the roads around it are owned by Westminster Council. It’s a great gathering place for a sunny day, created as part of the clearances around Charing Cross Station by John Nash on the authority of George IV and completed in 1845.

The focus point is Nelson’s column, surrounded at it’s base by four lions, always with a child on at least one of them having their phot taken. Their are plinths with various commemorative statues and sculptures, with the fourth being left empty since the start and now used for temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. When I visited, it was home to a bright blue cockerel, a great foil to the lions but art?

Trafalger Square

10 January: Shadows

Who knew feathers could be so much fun?

Playing with shadows and light sensitive paper was very entertaining. Even in the middle of a British Winter it only took a couple of minutes for the blue paper to fade-out and then washing it off in either slightly acid or alkaline to bring out the shadow.

DSC_0011Turns out that the feathers that the cats have been playing with make great shadows

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Even when the result hasn’t quite worked, playing around with photoshop can make the image interesting.DSC_0005DSC_0006DSC_0007

Alkali turns the image whiter (above) whilst adding a tablespoon or so of vinegar to make the wash acid, turns it blue (below).DSC_0008 - Version 2

DSC_0009 - Version 2  Weirdly,  an orchid flower looked less interesting than a spider plant offshoot.DSC_0002DSC_0003But all of them looked better than my attempt to get the process to “copy” a sketch of mine. Cyanotype paper like this was used to make copies of technical drawings originally, hence the term “blueprints”.

Either my drawings have to get better, or I’ll have to find plenty of objects with interesting shadows.

11 January 2015: Timely

When I was around 16 sitting my O levels, one of the topics was a series of character studies under the title “Ahead of their time” We studied people like Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Owens, Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale.

Looking back at the various exhibitions that I’ve been to this year, I was reminded of the Constanble and Turner shows just coming to an end. They were very much peers, very competitive members of the Royal Academy and opinion at the time was very much divided as to who was the “best”.

ConstableThe late Turners were on display in part because the curator wanted to demonstrate how his art was essentially figurative, to dismiss the creeping modern belief that Turner’s art could be viewed as abstract. And it’s clear that many of his works continued to be highly figurative and realistic right to the end of his career.

Those aren’t the pictures that captured my imagination though.

Looking through the exhibition reinforced my view that many of his works could easily be described as abstract suggestions rather than figurative, factual accuracies at least from a distance. And it is his ability to take you from an abstact impression as you approach the picture, to the factual detail when you are close, that is so remarkable .

IMG_0425Constable has a reputation as a chocolate box, jigsaw scene artist which is unfair. He has fallen out of fashion with the crowds.

And it’s true that his paintings are largely representations of a time and place, a pastoral idyll, about to be taken over by the Industrial Revolution. But even here there are hints of stylistic change in the way he captures and paints the clouds swirling across the sky.

DSC_0010It’s probably fair to say that Constable was the better “technical” artist and Turner the more emotional one.

And because we are now so much more concerned with feelings, especially our own, rather than actions, it is Turner who would be described as ahead of his time simply because he engages a modern audience more than Constable.

Taken to it’s extreme, this priority of engagement, of emotional, physical or visceral reaction from the audience leads directly to modern experiential art. Yet I am struck by how unengaging I found this year’s Turner Prize contenders with their video installations.


It just required far too much hard work from the audience, from me.

This year I’ve been given membership of the Royal Academy as a Christmas present and will no doubt wander into the Summer Exhibition to see the shape of living breathing current artists in the UK. I’ve renewed my Tate membership as well.

It looks like a bumper year of exhibitions – Goya (two exhibitions, Courtalds, National); Rubens (RA); Sargent (National Portrait); Marlene Dumas, Sonia Delauney, The World Goes Pop Alexander Calder(Tate Modern).

All kicked off with a gift pack from the RA inculding a tea towel designed by Grayson Perry and not a video in sight.

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12 January 2015: Farthings

You owe me five farthings, 
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

St Martin’s Church in the old nursery rhyme, might well be St Martin’s Orgar Church or jus be referring to St Martin’s Lane, a London Street  on the edge of Covent Garden which runs from St Martin-in-the-Fields Church to Long Acre.

St Martins Lane, LondonSince St Martin Orgar was mostly destroyed in the Great Fire (1666) with only the tower remaining (rebuilt 1851) for use as the campanile for St Clements Eastcheap, I decided to visit St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Whilst there has been a church on this site since Medieval days, the present building was constructed in a  neoclassical style by James Gibbs in 1722–1724.

The west front of St Martin’s has a portico with a pediment supported by a giant order of Corinthian columns, six wide. The order is continued around the church by pilasters. In designing the church, Gibbs drew upon the works of Christopher Wren, but chose to  integrate the huge (192ft/59m) towerand spire into the church.

St Martin-in-the-FieldIt is an elegant looking church, sitting on Trafalgar Square so quite an easy one to visit along with the National Gallery. It also has plenty of (usually) free lunchtime concerts that people can drop in and enjoy.

The church is rectangular in plan, with the nave divided from the aisles by arcades of Corinthian columns. It has galleries over both aisles and at the west end. The nave ceiling is a flattened barrel vault, divided into panels by ribs. The panels are decorated with cherubs, clouds, shells and scroll work, by Giuseppe Artari and Bagutti. It is the strangest mix of plain white and ornate plaster work with no stained glass to distract the eye yet plenty of gold trimmings.

St Martin-in-the-FieldThe design was criticised widely at the time, but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied particularly widely in the United States.

And despite being a regular visitor to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery and the occasional visitor to the church cafe in the crypt, I had never been inside before.

It is a busy church community, often redefining what it means to be a church in the modern world. It has opened it’s doors to the sweep of immigrant communities within London including the newly forming Chinatown in the 1960s. Today, the Ho Ming Wah Chinese People’s Day Centre still  provides essential services for the Chinese community in London.

St Martin’s fight against homelessness was formalised with the foundation of the Social Service Unit in 1948. The work continues today through The Connection at St Martin’s, which cares for around 7,500 individuals each year.

Throughout the 20th century, St Martin’s has also looked beyond its own doors and played an active role in wider social, humanitarian and international issues. St Martin’s was involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the founding of many charitable organisations, including Amnesty International, Shelter and The Big Issue.

Architecturally, spiritually, culturally and socially, St Martin’s has helped to form the world around it.

St Martin-in-the-FieldMore pictures can be found in the Gallery.

Just look along the website pages for

Gallery London> Oranges and lemons.

14th January: Coercion

A twitter friend pointed me in the direction of an article in the Daily Beast as part of a discussion as to whether or not male rape should have been included in a Guardian  article dismissing common rape myths.


The article calls into question the idea that it is always the male who acts as the aggressor in sexual situations

“Can boys be coerced into sex?”

with the headline grabbing suggestion that in one study 43 % of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor.

The article also refers to a clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg (nothing to do with the underlying report) who told the Daily Beast “This is such an under-discussed topic.”

Well maybe thee’s a reason for that.

As it happens, I quite enjoy looking through technical reports and especially the numbers so I looked up the original study.

There is a vast difference between this article and the findings of the underlying report that it refers to ie. Bryana H. French’s latest study, Psychology of Men and Masculinity

https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/men-a0035915.pdf

It should be said upfront (and isn’t in the article) that the study is small and the sample self-selected Psych and Ethnic Studies students.  Whilst it’s true that in the study, 43% of the young men and boys say they have experienced coercion of some sort, mostly from girls, very few actually went on to have sex (21%) despite reporting coercion.

So to answer the question headlined in the article  the answer seems to be very clear

“No, boys cannot be coerced into sex”.


And as if to reinforce this conclusion, the actual examples of coercion given within the report are mainly examples of coercion failing to work.

Verbal coercion: “A girl wanted me to do oral sex to her. And begged. But I didn’t do it.”

Physical coercion: “. . I was pushed into a bathroom by a girl and she started kissing me until I made her stop and explained that I didn’t like her like that . . .”

Ignoring the actual report, both the article and Dr Greenberg  conflate a number of “hot” topics.

The article notes that mostly the assumption is made in society that “coerced sex” is violent or forced sex but that this report finds only a minority (18%) of respondents reported physical force. As if this in some way disproves the commonly held view.

In fact, since only young men and boys are asked, and young women and girls are typically weaker physically,   it isn’t surprising that physical force is not a characteristic reported.

It just isn’t possible to extrapolate and draw any conclusion as to whether male sexual coercion of women, or indeed of other men would include physical force or violence.

And Dr Greenberg strays  even further when she says,  “I really do believe that girls are more aggressive sexually today than they were ten years ago.

There is absolutely no evidence for this in the report which does not date incidents over time but simply asks whether they have experienced any coercive incident at all, during their lifetime.

Using this study to suggest that forced sex is not typically violent is disingenuous. Using it to suggest women are becoming more violent towards men borders on a lie.

Dr Greenberg  extends her comments to include older women preying on young men and boys:

““It’s usually a girl that’s a little bit older and the boys feel embarrassed to say no because they feel their friends will make fun of them,” says Dr. Greenberg. “And they have a lot of shame about it because they weren’t ready for it and they feel cultural pressure that they should have been ready for it.”


Well anecdote is always interesting but not necessarily anything to do with reality. The report looks only at peer sexual coercion and makes no comment whatsoever about childhood sexual abuse. This article was referenced in a discussion about rape, yet quite obviously is totally off-topic.

Any discussion about violence against women, inevitably ends up with countless tiny challenges about the quality of the data, the Government published facts about crimes such as rape and sexual abuse.

It seems shocking that the idea of female violence towards men should be exempt from even the most basic of factual checks and balances in this report and that it should be picked up and reference widely in the media as “evidence” of a rising problem, with no basis in reality.

Sexual violence on men and boys by men and boys is a serious issue where victims are stigmatised.

If there is any convincing evidence of significant sexual violence on men and boys by women and girls, I haven’t seen it here.

 

 16th January: Forgive and Forget

Ched Evans is a young (26) man, former premier league footballer, convicted rapist who is currently unable to find a job.

Evans and another footballer, Clayton McDonald were tried after being indicted of the rape of a 19-year-old woman, who was deemed too drunk to consent,at a hotel near Rhyl ,Wales in May 2011.

Evans was convicted on 20 April 2012 though McDonald was cleared. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment and eligible for release after serving half of that sentence. He was released on 17 October 2014, although he remains on the Violent and Sex Offender Register indefinitely.

In August 2012, Evans was refused leave to appeal against the conviction with the full details to be found here:

Evans continues to maintain his innocence and in November 2013 recruited a new legal team to attempt to clear his name. Following his release, the Criminal Cases Review Commissionannounced that they were fast-tracking a review of his conviction

Why should we care?

DSC_0028Well, at least two football teams have shown interest in hiring Ched Evans since his release on parole and have seemingly been scared off by public reaction, in the latest case including threats made to staff at the football club that they or their family members would be raped themselves if the club were to go ahead with the deal.

And I’m wondering why it is so difficult for me personally to forgive and forget. There is merit to the idea that this man has paid his “dues” to society for the crime he’s convicted of and much like any other criminal, should now be allowed to get on with his life unimpeded.

Ofcourse most aren’t allowed to slip back into society quite that easily. Most criminals return to their original communities where although they may find family and social support networks, their crimes are likely to be well known. It is notoriously difficult for ex-convicts to find work. No one wants to employ a rapist if there’s an alternative.

And so maybe what is happening to Ched Evans is just the prejudice against all criminals that our society feels and acts out but made visible because of his fame.

It’s been suggested that as a public figure, he should be held to higher standards. But do we really see footballers, or indeed any sportsperson as role models that children should aspire to imitate? Not really. Does the fact that he’s behaved in such a loathesome manner,  impact me or my family at all – no.

He still maintains his innocence.

Part of my problem is that Ched Evans still denies fault. He hasn’t accepted that what he has done is a crime for which he has been rightly punished by society.

Until he’s ready to accept what he’s done, to recognise the crime and the damage resulting from that crime then society is entitled to remember and hold him accountable.

And what he did is just abhorrent.

He does not dispute the fact that after a phone call from McDonald saying he’d picked up a girl that he came back to the hotel room with mates. He doesn’t dispute the fact that the girl was falling down drunk, high as a kite on alcohol and drugs. He doesn’t dispute the fact that he had sex with the 17 year old whilst his mates took photos from a window and presumably his fiancee back home slept soundly.

He maintains his innocence, that he believed (and that it was reasonable to believe) that this girl consented.

His conviction is under review.

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17th January: Bad Luck

On Jan 2, a research paper published in Science by Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein concluded that most individual cancers, 65%, could be attributed to “bad luck”—random events such as errors in DNA replication—rather than to environmental or inherited risk factors.

Southwark CathedralThe report message is clearly at odds with current public health evidence and thinking – there has been something of an outcry,  that journalists must have misinterpreted or over-stated the report, that it couldn’t possibly be taken seriously, etc etc.

But the report does basically make the claims attributed so should we throw out the exercise dvds and take up smoking, eat and drink excessively through life?

The story of cancer is essentially the downside of a great success story. We’re all living longer. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, global life expectancy for both sexes increased from 65 years to 71 years over the period 1990–2013.

But living longer brings with it an increased risk of cancer. Why?  Because every time our cells divide to replicate there is a random chance that something will go wrong in the replication process and the cell produced will be faulty ie. cancerous. The more times our cells replicate ie. the longer we live, the more chance  that the process  goes wrong.

The study quoted is essentially based on a mathematical model, looking at how often the cells in an organ are likely to divide to replicate, and of those replications, how many are likely to result in cancerous cells assuming everything else works perfectly.

There are limits to the model. The report can be criticised, partly because of the inbuilt uncertainty in the study’s methods and headline estimate (95% confidence interval of 39–81 ie. could be as few as 39% or as many as 81% with a random cause).

But if we were to live forever, the study does suggest that 65% of cancers people die from  would be due to plain random chance.


The only certainties in life are death and taxes: we all die.

And maybe if we were all living to our maximum limit, whatever that might be, the idea that 65% of cancers are due to bad luck might have some relevance, some usefulness, but half of all deaths from cancer worldwide are premature, in people aged 30 – 69 years.

World Cancer Day, which falls on Feb 4 and this year is themed Not beyond us, highlights the 8·2 million people expected to die of cancer, worldwide somore than 4 million people are dying ahead of their time.

And a large part of the problem is causal, that is, people who develop cancer because  of behavioural and environmental risk factors, including tobacco smoke, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, and cancer-causing infectious diseases.

But part of the problem is also due to clear differences in treatment. Disparities in cancer outcomes between developing and developed countries are very pronounced: of the 236 000 women estimated to have died from cervical cancer in 2013, most lived in low-income countries.

Even within wealthy countries such as the States, there remain significant disparities in cancer outcomes between socio-economic groups. Poor people die of cancer. Wealthy people get vaccinated, screened and treated, and are significantly less likely to die as a result.

So the recent study is interesting in terms of what we might expect if we lived in a perfect  world, where everyone lived forever and screening and treatment were available routinely to everyone at no cost.

Until then, the exercise plan and the healthy diet should stay.

 

18th January: Typical

Great meal out with friends last night. Good company. Good Food. Great wine.

Far too much. Diet blown.

Roll on February.

DSC_0028

19th January: Can a woman raoe a man?

Rape is a vastly under-reported crime, notoriously difficult to prosecute and convict. The pictogram below shows annual rates  for 2009/10 and 2011/12 :

Rape crime punishment

Rape is often regarded as a gendered crime where men are always the perpetrators and women are always the victims. As though everyone of the figures above was a woman. Yet of the 78,000 rape victims estimated above, 9,000 are male.

In many countries, the legislation was originally written such that only women could be raped in law. But things change. Many jurisdictions, such as Canada. several US and Australian states, have abandoned the term ‘rape’ altogether and moved to the use of terms such as ‘sexual assault’, ‘sexual intercourse without consent’, ‘criminal sexual conduct’ etc.

In  2012 the FBI changed it’s definition of rape to the following:“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Whilst in the UK  male rape would once have been recorded as non-consensual buggery, this has now been amended: the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that penetration of the “mouth, anus or vagina” is sufficient for rape at s.1(1)(a), R v Ismail [2005] and extended the definition of rape to include “sexual assault by penetration” to allow for forcible penetration of any orifice (mouth, vagina, anus) by any object and by any gender with a maximum life sentence.

In 1978 in the UK, Joyce McKinney was sentenced to 12 months in prison for forcing a man to have sex with her while chained up. Now she would be probably be charged with rape.

The new definitions allow for  non-gendered reporting to include men being raped within official statistics.


But if men are raped, who are the rapists?

There has been something of a media circus surrounding the idea of women raping men recently. After a CDC report in the US, the term “made to penetrate” has been used where men are forced to engage in penetrative sex with a woman without proper consent. The male victims are generally described as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol or are being held in life-threatening positions.

A US national headline case frequently quoted involves a woman, Cierra Ross, picking up a man and forcing him to have sex with her friend in the back of their car before robbing him. In 2013 she was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and armed robbery. In the media (Time Magazine, Huffington Post etc) she is accused of being a female rapist though not convicted as such.

Yet despite the media interest, data from official sources on offender populations in the US, UK and Canada support the idea that female sex offending in total is rare, and female rapists rarer still.

Per US Dept Justice (2002) in the US 2001 only 1.2% of those charged with forcible rape & 8% charged with sexual offences were female. Statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2001) reveal that in 2000 only 1.5% adults convicted of sexual assault were female. There is no suggestion that the victims of these female offenders were male but rather other women.

The US Bureau of Statistitcs (1997) stated that 91% of US  people whose rape accusations resulted in convictions against the accused were female and 9% were male. It also stated that 99% of the people convicted of and imprisoned in response to rape accusations were male, with only 1% of those convicted being female

It’s not physically impossible for a woman to rape a man. The case of James Landrith waking from a drunken stupor to find a pregnant woman on top of him having sex is entirely plausible ( though obviously not proven in court). Through the use of drink and drugs it would seem possible for a woman to overcome the inherrent physical problems in “forcing” a significantly stronger man to engage in penetrative sex.

It’s also entirely believable that men can at time feel coeced into sex as per the recent study on young men and boys. Because they want to please their partner, or live up to some virile male ideology, or stop the whining/nagging/hassle,  though interestingly the study (Bryanna H French et al) also went on to show that despite the coercion, most men and boys didn’t go on to have sex. Most felt able to say “No”.

But the scale of women raping men is so tiny compared to the number of men raping other men, and so infinitesimal compared to the numbers of men raping women that each case seems to get it’s own headline on arrest (though not necessarily convicted) and then usually fade from view.

In the 2013 UK official statistics from the Ministry of Justiceand the Scottish Government** record more than 86,000 rapes each year, more than 235 per day, it’s difficult to imagine what a newspaper or journal would look like if it reported each and everyone of those rapes  as a headline every day. It’s difficult to conceive of even a list being included within our daily newspapers.

Clearly, the idea of female/male rape makes a good headline because of it’s rarity.

What is perhaps most shocking about the media reaction, is it’s willingness to write headlines about almost non-existent female/male rape whilst entirely ignoring the more significant incidents of male/male rape within society.

Research suggests that the notoriously low report rate (typically 15% for male/female rape)  is particularly true among male victims.

The first successful prosecution for attempted male on male rape in the UK was not until 1995.


The failure of the media to report accurately on rape is disturbing. It perpetuates the gender stereotype that men cannot be victims except under the most extraordinary curcimstances. It totally disregards male/male rape as an issue and instead promotes the straw horse that women are increasingly forcing men to penetrate them or forcing men to receive oral sex through coercion.

Can we really equate rape convictions with the number of times men self-report having sex that they didn’t really want? At best this would be taking numbers from the top of the pictogram for men, and attempting to compare them with female numbers from the bottom of the pictogram, ignoring the fact that only 1 in 70 actually make it that far? Really?

Women can rape men with the use of drugs and alcohol.

They just never do –  where never means rarely ever or in vanishingly small numbers.

Men rape women. Men rape men.
Men rape other people so often that we have become inured to the numbers. It is not news. We have a problem with male violence. It isn’t headline news but it remains the truth.
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports can be found at
http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf

***Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking …

21st January: Old Bailey

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.  

 St Sepulchre-without-NegateThe bells of the Old Bailey most probably refer to the bells rung at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate which is a five minute walk from St Paul’s Tube station on the Central Line. It’s the first church that wasn’t open when I randomly dropped by one Monday, so I’ll have to go back to a service (Tuesday, 1-2pm) if I want some internal photographs.

There has been a church on this site from around 1137 when a charter records that Rahere (the founder of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital) appointed ‘Hagno the Clerk’ as priest of St. Sepulchre’s.

The current building dates from 1450 though the interior was completely gutted in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and had to be totally re-built.  Since then the interior has been substantially changed a number of times in the 18th Century; in 1834 and again in 1878. There are also two significant chapels in the church, the Musician’s Chapel and the Royal Fusiliers Chapel.

Famous people associated with the church include: Roger Ascham, Thomas Culpeper, Sir Henry Wood (founder of the Proms)John Rogers (English Reformation) and captain John Smith (Pocahontas etc) which is all very interesting but on a cold frosty morning the best idea seemed to be to turn around and head over to St Paul’s instead.

Although no photography is allowed in St Paul’s itself, you are allowed to climb the Dome and take pictures of the panaromic views from the top.

I love London.

Starting from the East looking towards canary WharfView towards Canary Wharf from St Pauls

View south-east across the Thames towards the ShardView towards the Shard from St Pauls

View south across the Thames and Millenium Bridge towards Tate Modern

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Looking west along the ThamesView west along Thames from St Pauls

22nd January: Clogs

I love everything about living in London, even the weather but increasingly when I visit friends or family living outside of the M25, the motorway circling my city, I feel as if I’m visiting another country.

I first moved here more than 25 years ago and despite a few years spent overseas,  North London has always felt like home. I arrived here straight from university with the country recovering from a serious recession, desperate for a job, a safe, secure well-paid job. Accountancy followed by a career in investment banking ticked all of the boxes. It also allowed me to ride a dramatic expansion in the financial services sector in the UK,specifically in London.

I got lucky along with every other young person making my way to the big city. Timing is everything.

View from Monument Tube StationFrom the early-1990s there have been two significant economic changes in the UK,  a huge improvement in London’s growth performance; and at the same time, a progressive falling behind in growth of much of regional Britain north of a line from the Wash to the Severn. Looking at the graphs, London at the top of the charts and Wales at the bottom, I’m really glad I didn’t stay in Wales.


During the 1970s and much of the 1980s, London actually fell behind (in output terms) almost all of the rest of Britain, losing most of it’s manufacturing industrial base. It was more like the North than the rest of the South of the country.

But in 1986  with the financial deregulation and liberalization of ‘Big Bang’, London’s economic fortunes turned around dramatically, with the longest boom in the city and country’s history. It was by far the fastest growing part of the national economy, and propelled the superior growth of the South as a whole.

The bulk of London’s output growth came from finance, banking, insurance and related services, and the capital dominates this sector of the economy still. Just as London and the South East captured much of the ‘new economy’ of mass consumer goods industries in the 1920s and 1930s, so in the 1990s and 2000s these areas triumphed in the extraordinary growth of the new ‘finance-led economy’, or rather what turned out to be an unstable and unsustainable financial bubble.

View to Canary Wharf from St Pauls
View to Canary Wharf from St Pauls

But even when the bubble burst, London was relatively lucky with the government feeling obliged to bail out the very institutions that caused the problem. The UK dependency upon the financial sector seems to have put it beyond harm.

There have been repeated calls by governments over the last 20 years to try and rebalance the country’s economy geographically. But whilst the political talk is consistent, no government seems willing to actually spend the money required. For decades, the UK governments of various political persuasions have failed to nurture, invest or support Brtish industry, to re-industrialise outside of London.

The closest attempt to develop a coherent regional plan was made by Lord Heseltine (a Conservative politician and then peer) for devolving some £50 billion of public expenditure annually to the regions and cities outside London (proposals that echo his earlier complaint in the 1980s that the sums devoted to regional assistance were dwarfed by London’s and the South’s share of public expenditure). Although approved (in theory) by the Chancellor, it looks like the actual sums devolved from central government are likely to be closer to £2 billion than £50 billion. It won’t be enough to make a difference.

Despite talking a redistributive story, the truth is that successive governments have all spent more money supporting the “success” story in London and the south-east than the regions and they look likely to continue doing so, whatever political party wins out in the coming election.

Detail Borough Market, London
Detail Borough Market, London

It’s important to recognise that the economies of London and the South East are not simply driven by market forces. London’s success has not been inevitable in any way shape or form. It’s success has been heavily underwritten by the State. It’s important to acknowledge that this part of the country enjoys preferential access to finance; that it is able to exert a disproportionate influence on government economic policy; and that in London it has a city which has a degree of political and economic autonomy not found in other UK cities. Being closer to the seat of polictical power has tangible benefits.

Debates on regional policy are hamstrung by a belief that the economies of London and the regions are essentially in a zero-sum competitive game, so that any moves to support the North’s cities and economies are too easily dismissed as harmful to London. There is ofcourse no hard evidence to suggest that improving the economy in Leicester will harm the economy in London.

An economy so highly reliant on London and the South East is wasteful and unstable. Maybe stronger regional government is the answer. If only politicians could be persuaded to give away real power to the regions, the money might follow. Wales doesn’t seem to have benefitted greatly so far.


But in the meantime, what happens to the indiviuals living in the vastly unequal society?

A divide is opening up between my children and their cousins living out in the sticks. In part, the division is one of expectations. but also of safe middle class knowledge.

I expect my girls to go to university, good universities. I know what makes a recognisably good university to people like me who are the ones involved in recruiting for safe middle class jobs. And I know what doesn’t. My daughter might go to Bath University but we probably wouldn’t spend the money on a course at Bath Spa where her cousin is about to study English and Journalism.

My girls might study English (one almost certainly will) but she won’t waste time on Journalism. The media sector is contracting. Jobs in the media, especially print newspapers but also tv, are harder and harder to come by. The sector is being squeezed worldwide by the rise of social media. To get a job as a journalist is tricky, and doesn’t need a degree in journalism.

Better to have a well-respected academic degree like English that lends itself to lots of professions than one that is specific to a declining sector, that if stretched outside of that sector requires an explanation.

“Why journalism if you’re now looking for a job in marketing/ banking/HR etc? Did you fail at journalism? Are we your second choice?”

They’ll have to decide for themselves whether they want to stay living in London. It will determine a lot of their life choices but it will also allow them more choices further down the line.

DSC_0024If I were making my choices now, it isn’t clear that I would still choose the high stress City lifestyle, even though it’s been incredibly financially rewarding. And then I think about all the marvellous places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the things that I’ve seen all of which would have been missed if I’d led a quieter life outside of the South East. Having dragged them around the world already, maybe my girls will value those experiences less. Maybe they will want more time to themselves to actually live their lives and relationships more fully.

I love living in London.

Maybe after the Scottish Referendum, there will be a real increased devolution of power and money to local government but I’m cynical. When have people or institutions ever voluntarily given up power? More than fifty years after various equal rights amendments, and we have yet to see wage parity in the workforce, yet to see equal outcomes by gender, race etc.

My children might choose to leave London and live gentler lives. The tricky bit will be trying to make sure their children, my grandchildren will be able to have the choice to come back.

Clogs to clogs in three generations. Our parents were definitely clog wearing working class. What will our grandchildren wear?

 

23rd January: Offensive

I was struck by the Radio 4 “Thought for the Day” this morning. It remembered fondly times when people marched in protest against the actions of their Government, whether agitating for rights for women, for minority groups or marching against nuclear weapons, against Cold War confrontation.

Nowadays, as with Charlie Hebdo, the Govenment or Governments from around the world,  join with the crowds on the street to protest against the actions of some of the citizens.

Trafalger SquareIt seems clear that no matter how offensive I find something or somebody to be, I have no right to shoot them dead, or indeed to harm them in any way. I can report or refer them to the proper authorities, who may look into whether they have broken the law but I cannot take the law into my own hands.

But it has been a long time (if ever) since freedom of speech included the right to say anything at any time to anyone. The UK doesn’t have a constitution detailing what can and cannot be said, though our common law (the law built up through the years of litigation in courts) does allow for freedom of expression.

There are a huge range of limitations and exceptions, however, including threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour intended to cause distress or cause a breach of the peace. In general, it is unwise and probably illegal to publish indecent or grossly offensive articles. Incitement to racial hatred, to terrorism, treason, defamtion, corruption of public officials, prejudicing or interfering with court proceedings or communicating privileged material is clearly illegal.

It’s important to recognise that the UK has some of the most stringent laws relating to defamation placing the entire burden of proof on the defendant. Only very recently has the House of Lords revived the Reynold’s Defence whereby journalism undertaken in the public interest shall enjoy a complete defence against a libel (Jameel v Wall Street Journal, Oct. 2006). We cannot say or tweet anything to anyone without considering conequences and perhaps that is not unreasonable.

CCTV everywhereBut whatever the law says, there are still taboos alive and kicking in Europe, just not the same ones as in the rest of the world maybe.

With the decline of organised religion, we have seen the rise of the cult of the individual. We can say almost anything we like about religion or religious groups and figures. There is very little about sex or adult sexual activity that would be deemed grossly offensive.

The British Board of Film Classification decides which movies may be shown to those under 18. It’s list of criteria is long , but the section on “language” is a single short phrase: “repeated/aggressive use of ‘cunt’” is the only language that will get a movie slapped with an “18+ only”.

But we still have our taboos.

Taboo words have moved from the religious through the sexual and excretory. In the modern West, the last truly shocking words are those that refer to disadvantaged groups: women, gays, members of racial minorities and those with disabilities.


The liberal newspaper editors who proudly reprinted offensive Muhammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo out of solidarity with their dead colleagues would never dream (quite rightly) of using the words that slur people from Muslim countries: towelhead, camel jockey, Paki or (pause and breathe out) sand nigger.

Western taboos respect neither god nor sex, but only the individual.

And perhaps that is a fair reflection of the society we want to live in, one where a person can be blamed for being a fool, but not for being the child of a foolish family or culture, however we choose to define foolishness.

And if there are words or images we won’t say or print for the sake of decency, are there also words that won’t be said or printed out of fear?

Amongst the journals that did not reprint the offense causing cartoon, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were explicit, explaining to it’s readers that this was a simple and clear security judgement.

How many of us hide behind the idea of sensitivity to minorities and the disadvantaged, a peaceful acceptance of cultural difference and the prioritisation of good manners above the right to free speech?

Peaceful acceptance of cultural difference cannot be achieved when one group reserves the right to shoot the other if offended.

The common distaste for imagery in both Islam, Judaism and Christianity derives from it’s inadequacy in capturing the numinous. In Islam as with Judaism, it simply isn’t possible to capture the perfection of God. There is a huge anxiety at the attempt only where the image may be worshipped in place of the God it seeks to capture, through the veneration of icons etc.

Southwark CathedralIn many ways, by poking fun through images, by capturing the hypocrisy of organised religions, the satirists are showing themselves to be far more in tune with the religious precepts of the Abrahmic faiths, than our secular world could possibly allow. They highlight the inadequacies of the human when faced with the divine. They show so clearly how we fail, how organised religion fails.

People will be offended.

I could choose to be offended at the the idea of the artwork Immersion (Piss Christ) by Andre Serrano where a crucifix is photgraphed submerged in urine. Like Islam, the Anglican Christian Church has had an uneasy relationship with depictions of God, never mind images soaked in human pee.

Instead I choose to regard it as a question on how society views God, how we seem increasingly uncomfortable with both the idea of bodily fluids and deity. It seems that we can no longer reconcile the physical with the spirit or soul and so must dismiss one or the other.

tumblr_nia3uci5XB1qd65vgo1_1280

24th January: Shadows

My youngest girl took a pack of cyanotype paper into Art class but came home disappointed. “It doesn’t work” So without any great hope I opened up the second pack and started to lay out some objects to make shadow pictures or blueprints.

DSC_0145On a Winter morning there isn’t a great deal of sun about so the minutes and then hours passed by without the paper turning white.  It was difficult to tell whether the problem was with the paper or the sunshine so I headed out to the shops. The sun came out, and eventually I made my way home only to find white paper waiting. A quick wash and a few more objects laid out and suddenly all is well with the world of cyanotypes.

She’s not going to be happy at my success.

I’ve ordered more and will make some shadow pictures with her one weekend so that she has the confidence to stick with it in the class room. Like everything in life, you have to trust that it will work eventually, and not care too much if it fails.

 

Now all I have to do is decide what to do with all of these prints.

Detail shown below:

Orchid
Orchid
Cutlery
Cutlery
Feather
Feather

26th January: Life Sucks

My oldest daughter is a very smart, very academic, straight A student or at least she was until I f*cked it up.

St Pauls stairs to Whispering GalleryAt 16 children in the UK sit their GCSE exams, usually 8 or 9 in the State schools, usually around 10 in the private schools around here. All schools have to include English and Mathematics. Most private schools make you take English Literature (as well as Language) three science subjects (physics, chemistry, biology) at least one modern language and at least one of the humanites. So in the end, there feels as if there is very little choice. There’s no benefit to sitting more than 9 subjects other than the child’s own interest and keeping options open until she’s found her “thing”.

My baby sat 10 CGSEs and scored 8A*s and 2As. So far, so brilliant.

The UK system requires a child to specialise quite early. Immediately after GCSEs you choose 4AS  subjects, with a view to dropping one after a year and continuing with three subjects only to A levels at 18 years old. The system will change for my youngest (no one is quite sure how the abolition of AS levels will work out) but for the oldest, this is the system we’re living with

Choosing three subjects was relatively straightforward: English History (20th Century) and Philosphy. The fourth subject was the best of a bad job.

My baby would have liked to study Politics or Drama but I wasn’t happy with those choices: too woolly, too liberal arts heavy. She rejected Spanish, Economics and all three sciences. Maths was the compromise.

St Pauls stairsSo of course in her recent mock AS exams, maths was a disaster. For the first time ever my baby got a C and I feel as if it’s all my fault. My baby is crying with stress and it’s all because of my interference.

AS level marks are important for entrance into Cambridge, which is where she’d like to study Philosophy or English. Oxford has a more traditional sounding English course or the combined degrees PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics. And whilst there is clearly life outside of Oxbridge, and some excellent courses in Russell Group Universities, this is the first time that my girl has faced the fact that she might not get what she wants.

And whilst it’s a lesson that we all have to learn at some stage, along with the fact that there are people out there who are simply more clever, more beautiful etc I can’t help feeling that this is all my fault, my f*ck up.

Life sucks.

Southwark Cathedral

27th January: Thames

It’s surprisingly easy if you live in North London to ignore the fact that London is built on a river. I’d heard about the commuter boats that now run up and down the Thames and decided to have a look.

Shard over Catamaran
Shard over Catamaran
On the Catamaran, Thames
On the Catamaran, Thames

Since I wanted to chug past the Houses of Parliament, I needed to pick up the boat at Vauxhall (or further west down towards Putney) and change at Embankment.

View from Vauxhall west to Battersea
View from Vauxhall west to Battersea

There is something marvellous about messing around on boats even on a dreary grey day in London.

Houses of Parliament, Rainy River Day
Houses of Parliament, Rainy River Day
Globe Theatre and tate Modern, from the Thames
Globe Theatre and tate Modern, from the Thames

And it was a revelation to see how many of my favourites places were stops on the route, I guess because for a lot of the historical sites the river was the easiest way of getting around.

HMS Belfast, east to Tower Bridge
HMS Belfast, east to Tower Bridge
Shard through Tower Bridge
Shard through Tower Bridge

Every city seems to have one building there’s no getting away from and suddenly for London that seems to be the Shard.

Tower Of London from the Thames
Tower Of London from the Thames
Greewich from the Thames
Greewich from the Thames

Further west and the banks of the Thames become a more mixed up collection of Thames’ industrial past and new housing developments springing up.

And then you hit Canary Wharf with it’s financial towers dwarfing the riverside.

 

O2 Centre from the Thames
O2 Centre from the Thames

Buying a Roamer ticket on the commuter catamarans seemed a lot more sensible than the “official” tourist boats. Youn can spend a whole day wandering up and down the river, stopping off at the various sites and just generally getting a feel for the old and the new of the city.

I’ve added a whole series of photos from the Thames in the Gallery>London>Thames.

28th January: Losers

It’s the last week of January which means that all of those people who needed to diet have just fallen off their treadmills and are about to abandon all hope. Suddenly the gym will start to feel empty, with fewer and slimmer bodies left behind.

Northern Line, Londom
Northern Line, Londom

Given how many of us are overwieght or obese, it continues to amaze me how judegemental society is towards those extra pounds, how much we blame the individual for a society wide problem.

Assume you’re an average,  middle aged woman, say 45 years old and feeling slightly overweight weighing around 11 stone (about 70kg) and about 5ft 5ins (1.65m). You’ll use up around 1850 calories just living and breating your way through the day. Every pound of fat on your body contains around 3000 calories. To lose a pound of fat  you have to reduce your weekly calorie intake to around 1300. To lose 2 pounds of fat a week, you have to cut your calorie intake to a minimum 1200 and exercise to spend 1450 more calories. each and every week until the pounds have gone.

A brisk walk for 30 minutes uses up just 133 calories. The same time spent cycling reasonably fast will use up 245 calories. Running (at 5mph) will use up 280 calories.

So you can walk for an hour a day, 5 days a week, cycle for 30 minutes 6 times a week or jog 30 minutes a day (plus a bit) for 5 days a week.

Sound like hard work? Ready for a bar of chocolate?

Cutlery
Cutlery

Because the unspoken truth about exercise is that we all feel hungry afterwards, and the temptation to splurge those calories because we’ve earned them, we’ve been “good” is hard to refuse.

Slim people eat less.

They always eat less. Day after day, year after year, they eat less food. They are not better people, not more disciplined necessarily. Who knows whether they all simply never got interested in food, never got caught out by cream cake comforts? They are stuck in a repeating pattern that works out slim.

They eat less.

They tend to have really dull, but healthy meal plans that they repeat week after week. You may think that you have an interesting and exciting diet but most of us settle into a rut after a while. Slim people settle into a lower calorie, healthy rut. The “secret” to dieting success is to accept that you need to switch your long term eating habits from it’s current rut, to a healthier, lighter tread.

Abandon “treats”

Orchid
Orchid

Eat breakfast. Toast + marmite/Porridge + honey/ Eggs scrambled, poached or boiled. Coffee or Tea. Small fruit juice

Eat a lightish lunch: Soup/salad

Eat your dinner, and stop. Do not snack. If you are the kind of person who really feels incomplete without a desert, allow yourself a kitkat.

Snack on stuff you don’t really want but know you should – apples, oranges, even vegetables if you can be organised enough to cut them up and carry them around.

Don’t drink.

This is the way slim people eat for all of their lives. You may only see them when they’re snaffling a packet of crisps and a fat coke, but that’s probably because they weren’t feeling hungry at lunch. Maybe the last two lunches.

My oldest girl is a UK size 8(US 4?). Like every mother alive in the Western world I’ve always worried that she might be underweight, feel the cold, develop eating disorders etc.

She is the only person I know who can stop half way through a chocolate eclair because she’s had enough, genuinely enough. There’s something uncanny about that kind of food attitude.

“It was lovely, but anymore and it will all be too sweet, too much”

She eats breakfast, lunch and dinner. Finishes her meals, asks for extra vegetables and occasionally fills her boots on pasta or sushi. She loves maltesers which is to say will snaffle a handful occasionally when she gets home from school. But honestly, she just isn’t that into food. She has other things she wants to spend her time and energy thinking about.

The secret to being slim isn’t really a secret – eat less, do more. The problems begin once you’ve put the weight on already, once your body has lost the snap in it’s appetite control elastic (the hormone leptin in fat cells).

Whatever their current size, fat people know they’re fat. We are sold an image in the media of an endless eat-all-you can-carry buffet. And as long as fat processed food is easier and cheaper to buy, prepare and eat, we will continue to fall off the diet treadmill.

DSC_0072

29th January: Diversity

IN 2015 the reality of gender equality seems further away than ever, despite the brouhaha on new media.


A new report by the Pew Research Centre shows that the majority of Americans think women are just as capable of being good political and business leaders as men. Are we supposed to applaud ?

Research consistenly shows that firms with more gender diversity have more customers and profits—but the numbers have not changed corporate behaviour.

A recent article in the FT bemoans the continuing lack of women in the City in the Financial Sector, despite apparent desperate need from top management. One of the banks my BF1 is in dispute with over is listed as a company whose senior management team is desperate to improve the number of women in authority – I’d laugh if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

The company that allowed a male director to terrorise a woman for pointing out his breach of policy (having an affair with a line report and promoting her shamelessly as employee of the year) that told my BF to “hush up” this woman and is now trying to work out how to keep my BF quiet rather than dealing with her boss or the original bullying director. This is supposed to be a company that believes in promoting women into positions of equality authority. Really?

Even the ones they’re not screwing?

A woman quoted in the FT article finally makes the heretical point “Why not quotas? We’ve tried leaving it to the market to sort itself out, and very little has changed. Why not try quotas for a fixed term say 10 years, and see if that makes a difference?”

The idea of quotas is only an anathaema if you genuinely believe that currently the best people get the best jobs. They just happen to all be white middle class middle aged men.


Or maybe you believe that women are voluntarily choosing to exclude themselves from positions of wealth and power because… Well, to be honest I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would choose to impoverish themselves so words fail me there.

Or maybe you think it’s because women prioritise their children? WTF. It takes at least two people to make a baby, at least one of which is a man and I don’t see any male parents being excluded from power or wealth because they care about their kids.  In fact, when I look at the people leading our country, the government, the judiciary, army chiefs and captains of industry, I am overwhelmed by the numbers of parents occupying those roles.

Most if not all positions of wealth and authority seem to be parents. One could almost imagine being a father was a pre-requisite. In a world where the best person did the job, then either mother or father might compromise their paid employment to satisfy the parenting needs. In a fair world, no one would be required to be an absent parent to be a good employee.

In an equitable world, roughly equal numbers of each gender might choose to prioritise parenting or paid employment because one of the other would be better at either child care or paid employment. It would become a rational rather than forced choice.

If the best people get the best jobs, then quotas would involve “settling” for poorer quality people. Does anyone really believe that this is true?

Does a woman with less experience or confidence or chutzpah than her male counterpart deserve extra credit for surviving in a male dominated workplace. Does being a woman and having to dig her way through the stereotypical sh*t she’s been dealt because she has a vulva instead of a dick, mean she should be given some additional points when up for the big jobs.

And let’s face it, giving her the job doesn’t mean that she’ll keep it for very long if she turns out to be totally crap so it isn’t that great a risk.

We have had a long wait in expectation that the market would sort itself out, that men would voluntarily share the power and authority invested in them unfairly.

At every stage of the employment process, men are given an unfair advantage if only because their face fits ie. is most similar to the person who is interviewing them. Adding back a few points to women’s scorecards by insisting on women at least being part of the shortlist, making the interviewer think twice at least, doesn’t seem such a bad idea.

 

 

 

3rd February: Snow

A smattering of snow and suddenly London seems magical, maybe just because blink and it’s gone. By 11am I’m playing tennis outdoors on cleared courts in bright sunshine. By mid-afternoon, it’s all fizzled away and the cats are wondering where all the white stuff has gone.

Pretty though.

Snow Hampstead Heath

Snow Hampstead Heath

Snow Hampstead Heath

Snow Hampstead Heath
Snow Hampstead Heath
Snow Hampstead Heath
Snow Hampstead Heath

4th February: Practice makes Perfect

“Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first. Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions.”

women are safe in the home, by Pamela Shifman, Salamishah Tilletfeb , NYTimes, 3 Feb)