Thursday, 16 December 2010

12 Days of Christmas or the 2010 highlights

I meant to be organised enough to be able to blog 12 different things that have been the best bits of my 2010. Alas, time and December appears to have evaporated. So instead, you’ll get the best bits in nice bitesize chunks.


Highlight number one: Hope Not Hate and keeping the BNP out of Barking and Dagenham

One of the proudest moments of this year was election results night. Every marginal seat I campaigned in regained the majority and in many cases grew it.

But nothing came close to the announcement that the voters of Barking had loudly and clearly made their voices heard against fascism in the shape of BNP leader Nick Griffin. And the icing on the cake was the announcement that they had also lost all of their council seats. I haven’t cried at an election result before (unless it was one of mine!). The relief, the pride, the restored faith in the area I was born and brought up in; it was all just too much.

The incredible result was in no short part down to the hard work and commitment of Hope Not Hate organisers, volunteers and supporters. I have never seen organising like it. The sheer numbers of people from all over the country, of every age, that came together and worked unbelievably hard. There were pensioners, trades unionists, teachers, doctors, babies, Billy Bragg, Eddie Izzard, and so many more besides.

I was massively proud to have been a part of that.


Highlight number two: Getting tattooed and my Skunx family

This year I got more tattoos. Three more in fact. And they are amazing. I have absolutely fallen head over heels for the tradition, history and artistry of the industry.

And I couldn’t have been luckier than to have met and become part of the family at the incredible Skunx Tattoo studio. You crazy lot make my weekend amazing, without fail, every week. And I love ya! You are amazing artists and I’ve been so lucky to be around you all and to have learnt so much. And not just about tattooing! You’ve made some of my goals achievable. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me this year. You truly are my family and you’re not going to get rid of me that easily!

Highlight number three:  falling in love

I’m not going to get soppy or go into detail. You know who you are. It’s just been possibly the best thing about 2010. Fact.


Highlight number four: Being a fairy godmother again

I now have three beautiful godchildren; Calum, Isobel and Aysha. The twins are growing too quickly! It feels like every time I see them they’ve become even more grown up with their own personalities and opinions. They are intelligent, polite, curious little monsters and I don’t see enough of them. Aysha is a little bundle of terror and joy. At the grand age of three and a half, she loves dancing and stories. She’s still not a fan of my mum (possibly the only child in the history of children who is immune to Auntie Wend’s charm). She’s got a filthy giggle.

And last year for my Christmas present, Aysha asked me if I would be her godmother. In September this year, she had a dedication service, I read a Dr Seuss poem and then we went and partied. And so another parent entrusts me to be a good influence on their child. It’s a real honour to be asked and I do my best. As long as she wears other colours than pink I’m happy.

Having spoken at my nan’s funeral earlier that week, and then doing the reading during the service for the dedication means I’m fairly sure I’ve filled my quota of having to be or speak in a church for at least the next decade. Sound fair?

So that’s it for the minute, four reasons why 2010 has been a fairly brilliant year. There have been some devastatingly sad moments as well, lots of good people are no longer with us. But on reflection, the happy times have outweighed the sad. More highlights when I get another spare 5 minutes!

Monday, 6 December 2010

How to organise a John Doe Club meal

This weekend, my wonderful friend and ally Cat Smith, hosted a meal for people we didn't know. Or at least hadn't met before.

It all started with a random conversation on Twitter about food, more to the point, how hungry we were and what we wanted to eat. As is the nature of Twitter, there were other people who joined in. We made the decision to co-host a meal for anyone who wanted to come, as a way to primarily eat good food, but secondly to meet interesting like-minded people.

As a Londoner, I'm lucky to have an immense network of friends and family to call on in times of crisis, but for someone moving to a new city, I can imagine it would be a very lonely place. This was just another way we thought of connecting people who might become friends.

So we decided on our criteria; anyone coming had to be of left-wing persuasion, a feminist, into punk and either a vegetarian, vegan or prepared to bring veggie food. Within an hour of us both tweeting the invite for people to contact us if they were interested, we were inundated with positive responses. No one really fit all of the criteria, most were just interested in the experiment. So we set a date, privately messaged the details to those who had contacted us, and then sat back and wondered if anyone would turn up.

And turn up they did, with a plethora of food. We asked people to only cook for two as we didn't want an abundance of food or to waste any. Aside from that we didn't put any stipulations on what we asked people to bring, and were lucky to avoid any duplications. As it was, the dishes people bought actually complimented each other really well. An American friend of mine who was staying with me for the weekend and so was also there, said that when she holds dinners like this there is usually an abundance of sweet dishes - we had some tasty biscuits, but everything else was savoury.

The food aside, the best thing for me was meeting new people with similar interests. There were 9 of us in total, from three different countries and many different parts of the UK. We found out that two people went to the same university and knew some of the same people. There were shared loves of cricket, discussions about the EU working time directive and general good chat. By the end of the evening, new friendships had been formed and everyone was interested in participating in a similar event in the future. The next step is to encourage these people to go off and organise their own meals.

My advice to anyone thinking about doing a similar event is firstly, go for it! It takes practically no organisation, little work on behalf of anyone in particular and an open mind. In exchange you get amazing food, good company and a very interesting evening. I wouldn't do it on a Sunday again, purely because I was knackered and so flagged towards the end of the evening. I would also have started earlier than 7.30, as even though we ate by 8.15, the conversation was so good that no-one left earlier than 11. But aside from that, you just have to take a deep breath and get on with it. Simples.

And for those of you who didn't get the blog title reference, I would encourage you all to watch 'Meet John Doe', the 1941 Frank Capra classic starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Getting to know your neighbours breaks down barriers, and really shows that ordinary people have a lot more in common than the things that divide them, be it race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, you name it. Those neighbours don't have to be the people on your street. In a city like London you can find neighbours anywhere.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Book Sale – every book £2

Lovely blog readers, I’m having a clear out and all the following books are up for sale. Either comment or email me ( if you fancy any of them. They are in good nick but have all been read and loved. I’ve categorised them into Classics, Modern Classics, Thriller/Psychological, Modern Fiction, Chick Lit, Non-Fiction.


Thomas Hardy – Return of the Native (x2)

Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist (Penguin Popular Classics)

Frank McCourt – Angela’s Ashes SOLD

Alexandre Dumas – The Man in the Iron Mask

John Milton – Poetical Works SOLD

George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia SOLD

Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison SOLD


Alexander McCall Smith – The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Played with Fire

Ben Elton – High Society

Andrea Levy – Small Island SOLD

Mark Haddon – A Spot of Bother


Tom Clancy’s Net Force – Night Moves

Jeffery Deaver – The Empty Chair

Jeffery Deaver – The Vanished Man

John Katzenbach – The Shadow Man

Paul Britton – The Jigsaw Man

Patricia Cornwell – Black Notice


Colin Bateman – Turbulent Priests

Colin Bateman – Maid in the Mist

Anchee Min – Red Azalea

Carl Hiassen – Hoot

Julia Blackburn – The Book of Colour

Philip Pullman – The Shadow in the North

Ben Okri – Astonishing the Gods

Eion Colfer – Artemis Fowl

James Hawes – White Powder, Green Light

Adeline Yen Mah – Chinese Cinderella

Alan Paton – Cry, The Beloved Country

Marianne Frederiksen – Hanna’s Daughters

Caro Fraser – A Perfect Obsession

Caro Fraser – An Immoral Code


Rebecca Wells – The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Marian Keyes – Under the Duvet

Marian Keyes – Angels

Arabella Weir – Does My Bum Look Big In This?

Suzanne Portnoy – The Not So Invisible Woman


Geoffery Hosking – A History of the Soviet Union SOLD

Bill Bryson – The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America SOLD

The Observer Book of Film

Michael Nicholson – International Relations: A Concise Introduction

Stuart Maconie – Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North SOLD

Martin James – Dave Grohl: Foo Fighters, Nirvana and other Misadventures

The Weakest Link quiz book SOLD

Jane & Mike Tomlinson – The Luxury of Time

Rachel Walker – Six years that shook the world: Perestroika the impossible project

Stephen Fry – Moab is my Washpot

Russell Brand – My Booky Wook

Geir Lundestad – East, West, North, South: Major Developments in International Politics since 1945 (Fourth Edition)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Getting it off and keeping it off

Those of you who know me will know that I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past few years. I was talking to someone last night about how I’ve kept it off, and was trying to convince them that quick fixes are never the answer. I did Weightwatchers, I did Slimming World, all they do is make you talk about nothing but points or sins, plus put the weight back on as soon as you stop following their plan. Healthy eating and exercise is the only way to do it. Or at least the only way that I’ve kept off the 5 1/2 stone that I’ve now lost.

One of the changes I’ve made is to always take my lunch into work, and my colleagues laugh when I have the same lunch as the day before, however I’m just about to knock up a batch of my super-high protein fat-free chilli, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you. It’s dead easy and really good for you.

What you need:

- 2 large onions plus some garlic – chop it up into reasonably small pieces

-handful of dried chillies; crush them and DON’T wipe your eyes afterwards

- 4-5 tins of various beans, usually whatever Sainsburys have on offer, I like kidney, haricot, aduki, black eyed and butter beans, but use whatever you fancy

- 2 tins of chopped tomatoes plus some tomato puree or passatta

- some veggie mince if there’s any in the freezer, it’s not essential

- some mushrooms and red peppers if there are any in the fridge

It couldn’t be simpler:

Throw the onions, garlic and chillies in a massive pan with either some olive oil or water, depending on how completely fat free you want it. Cook until soft and see though.

Add the tomato puree. Give it a stir.

Add all the cans of beans, plus the tins of chopped tomatoes. Cover and leave for an hour. Turn the heat down to low-medium heat.

Give it a good stir every 20 minutes or so (usually during the commercial break). I sometimes throw in some black pepper and paprika at this point but it’s up to you.

Throw in the veggie mince and diced red pepper. Cover and leave for half an hour.

Give it a good stir. Throw in the chopped mushrooms. Leave for another half an hour.

Turn off and let sit for a couple of hours. Turn the heat back on low for another hour. Repeat.

And bob’s your uncle. Super high-protein fat free chilli. Freezes really well so perfect for taking to the office. Simples.

And as a treat for reading all the way to the bottom, you get treated to a photo of me at my heaviest, a size 18 and pushing 15 1/2 stone, and a photo of me now, and yes I am holding a home made chocolate cheesecake...

Monday, 8 November 2010

The birthday card conundrum

Choosing a suitable birthday card is hard, much harder than it should be. Choosing a birthday card for the first birthday into a new relationship is nigh on impossible. I've just had to choose a birthday card for my boyfriend and literally spent almost an hour staring at the selection in Clintons a few weekends ago, before giving up and walking out without a card.

Maybe I'm reading far too much into it, but a birthday card generally says a bit about the person who's sending it, the person who's receiving it and the relationship they have. I have the same crisis when having to choose cards for my immediate family. So much so that my brother and I have given up and now send each other cards intended to be from the cat, for the best teacher or my particular favourite, to our local priest.

So back to my little Clintons breakdown. Firstly I was never going to choose one that had 'To my lovely boyfriend' written on it, or was covered in pink hearts or whatever. I'd scratch my eyes out with a rusty spoon before buying one of those. It's just not me. Never has been and probably never will be.

What about the supposed humerous ones? Well they are never funny really, not as funny as they think they are. The current trend for captioning old photos with something funny is the closest I'd get, but none of them were right. Plus some of the cards are very English-centric humour, which is dodgy territory when you're wishing birthday love to someone across the pond. So that ruled most of them out, along with the singing Cliff Richard, which although I think are hilarious, I'm not sure translates all that well.

So what did that leave me with? The general happy birthday ones, the 30th birthday ones or the ones with just a photo on the front. Ugh. What a decision.

In the end I got one from the garden centre across the road from my office. I'm not telling you what it is because I posted it late and I don't think it's arrived yet (I know, I'm such a good girlfriend), I had a much narrower selection to choose from and ended up quite happy with my choice. But surely it shouldn't be this difficult? Or I shouldn't care so much? Answers on a postcard, and remember I'll be judging you on your choice of postcard...

Nadine Dorries is playing a clever game

I wrote this article for Labourlist last week, but had some computer problems so we decided not to post it because the version I sent in was missing the references. But I quite liked it, so I'm posting it here instead. Enjoy!

Nadine Dorries is playing a very clever game, so clever in fact that I debated not writing this piece. But the more I researched what she’s actually been saying, the more I’ve come to admire the sneaky, manipulative tactics she’s using to confuse the debate about what advice women should be legally obliged to be given when they request an abortion.

Her argument is ironically enough based around ensuring women have all the information to make the most appropriate decision for their lives at that time. This means making it a legal requirement that women who are considering terminating a pregnancy are made to listen to information on adoption in equal measure to information on abortion. So really let’s face it, if you are pregnant you have a limited number of options and a limited time frame to make them in. You can choose to terminate the preganancy – obviously if you are aware that you are pregnant before the current 24 week time limit (something Dorries believes should be lowered). You can choose the carry the pregnancy to full term and find an adoptive family to become parents – but only if you are a heterosexual couple (according to Dorries). Or you can choose to raise the child yourself and make the life changing decision to become a parent. Not a decision to be taken lightly.

Now this isn’t really the clever use of language that I admire in her press release and tweets on the subject. Stealing the language of campaign groups who oppose your stance is an old trick, one used to simply muddy the waters and confuse the debate. Now Dorries has based her press release around three different statistics. The first is a classic demonstration of this tactic. Beginning by maintaining that these are very simple questions, insinuating the simplicity of the answers, the language used in the questions is usually associated with pro-choice organisations. Not the ones which would invite Nadine Dorries to sit on their boards.

And this is where she gets particularly clever. The focus of her argument is that women should be informed of all the possible risks of all the options facing them, whether they be physical or psychological. So far so good. But the reality would be that women would have to be told of situations which rarely occur, giving them added concern and worry.

As a penal reformer, I’m concerned generally about how this would be enforced. Are we going to criminalise overworked doctors and nurses by making them read through crib sheets and mass produced leaflets or face punishment?

The final twist in the tale is a requirement borrowed from the American pro-life lobby. The obligatory cooling off period between diagnosis and decision. Making women who have already made a decision wait even longer before being able to go through with their choice. And this is what makes me really angry. She talks about it being about choice, and respecting the choices that women made. And then patronises them by making them wait, not actually respecting their decision at all. Using the word ‘bullied’ really irked me – women are not victims, we can make the right decisions for our own lives and these should be trusted and respected.

Women who have made the decision to seek abortion have already considered their options. In fact they would have been given information at the time of confirming the pregnancy, they don't need it again when at the point of seeking an abortion.

If you need confidential non-judgemental advice on pregnancy or safe sex, visit any one of these organisations:
Marie Stopes International:
Abortion Rights UK:
NHS Direct:

Friday, 22 October 2010

Jock Sparrer

This afternoon I’m leaving on a jetplane. Admittedly I’ll be back on Sunday but you know how I like a cold open… Tomorrow night Cock Sparrer play my family ancestral stomping ground. The haggis jokes have been flying round, I spent a lunchbreak looking for a kilt in Dalston (needless to say I was disappointed), yes people, tomorrow night we take over Glasgow.

I’ve been to the city a few times to visit friends who were at university there and to see my nan. If I had to live in another city in the UK, it’d be Glasgow. I think it’s because it reminds me a bit of East London. Either that or after a few whiskeys I automatically feel at home…

REBELLION 1397 The gig should be a blinder. The invasion of my punk and skin community to the city coincides with the local Rangers Celtic derby. Timing couldn’t be better. For this reason there is a 10pm curfew on the gig. I’m not entirely clear on the reasons for this. I’m not sure letting our lot loose at 10pm as a collective is the best idea if they are trying to minimise drunken shenanigans. I have a feeling that lots of pubs will be designated drinking holes for one team or another, and not belong to either tribe could lead to a lot of disappointed punks and skins. We’ll have to see.

We’ve got lots of family and friends coming with us, some of which have never seen Sparrer play before. They are in for a treat. This week I re-read parts of Steve Bruce’s brilliant book ‘The best seat in the house’. And I started getting excited. Now the day is here I’m practically beside myself with excitement. The last gig I went to was when the band recently played Pilsen, which resulted in me having the best and biggest collection of bruises since Punk and Disorderly 2009 in Berlin. And I didn’t even see Sparrer from the pit that night!

I’ll try and remember to write a review of the weekend when I get back, but Saturday night, about 9.45pm I want you to imagine something for me. I want you to imagine a couple of thousand Scottish punks singing their hearts out. A few thousand Scottish punks singing England belongs to me. The thought of which is making me laugh already. Like I said, it’s going to be a blinder.

(photo from the marvellous Dob Morrison, Rebellion, Blackpool, August 2010. L-R Brooke, Dad, me, Daryl)

Friday, 10 September 2010

False nails, vanity and identity

Today I got in a row with someone I don’t know over Twitter. As 140 characters isn’t enough for me to articulate my thoughts on the subject, I thought I’d expand on them more here.
It started when a friend of mine re-tweeted a comment from one of her contacts, a comment which he now admits was both superficial and ‘knob-y’ (sic). The gist of the story goes that he was in a sandwich shop, when a woman with long, red, false nails went to pay at the counter. His original tweet was that he would never take seriously a woman with false nails.

My friend responded with the initial reaction that he should be less concerned with her appearance and more concerned with what she had to say and who she was as a person. And whilst this sentiment is something I wholly support – I believe that you should be able to dress in any way you choose and not be judged pejoratively for it – I’ve blogged here in the past about the complex relationship between appearance, expression and identity, and know that it isn’t that simple.

I was genuinely interested to find out what he thought the woman’s choice to wear false nails said about her, and what she was expressing. He said that it expressed vanity. So, I thought I’d lay out a few of my thoughts on the subject.

I was asked today if there wasn’t a bigger feminist issue that we should be ‘getting het up about’, but I firmly believe that this isn’t just a gender issue. It is a class one. Implicit in the statement that he wouldn’t take seriously a woman wearing false nails were also assumptions about the sort of woman she was. The best equivalent I can draw is if I’d come out and said that I’d never date a man who wore Reebok Classics - both these and false nails are predominantly (not always) a form of personal expression displayed by the working class. By stating that he’d have trouble taking seriously a woman who wore false nails, the Twitterer displayed class based elitism that shocked me, especially from a fellow Labour Party member. It’s as if her false nails betrayed her class and thus allowed for all of the lazy assumptions that are made about the working classes to speak for her; lack of education, lack of ambition etc.

I would say it has less to do with vanity in the dictionary definition sense, and more about displays of wealth. Historically it was the ruling classes who used their material possessions to show that they had control and power. ‘Look at my yacht, my clothes with their designer labels on the front and my cellar of vintage Chateau Neuf De Pap.’ It was a visual reminder of who had and who didn’t. And the things that showed that you ‘had’ were expensive. Personalised number plates are not cheap. They are also not called vanity plates for nothing.

I would posit however that the dichotomy of vanity has changed in the last 10 years. It is now seen as trashy or vulgar to display your wealth. In fact those who are titled ‘classy’ are not those carrying Louis Vuitton bags with the logo printed on the leather, but those who carry the bag with no logo at all. Carrying that argument through to my daily life, living in Mile End I see a lot of personalised number plates, but the cars are souped up Fiestas and the kids driving them are not to be considered wealthy. Why then do I think his argument about vanity is a sham? Because false nails amongst the working classes are an expression of aspiration of wealth, rather than a true expression of wealth. The same as having to have Reebok Classics. That’s how you show that you’re achieving, that you’re not struggling and that you have enough cash to cover getting your nails done. Whenever West Ham played away at a ground in the North, my Dad and his mates would always buy a new pair of trainers. When I asked him why, he explained (in a very tongue in cheek way) that you had to have new trainers to show the Northerners you were richer than them. It didn’t matter that the jeans were 10 years old, or that the rest of his outfit was equally of questionable age, but there are certain symbols which denote wealth, and I would argue that both trainers and false nails are such symbols.

Now it has to be stated that the catalytic tweet has been profusely apologised for, saying that it was a knee jerk reaction and superficial, and I firmly believe that he regrets the comment (not least because he then had to spend the next couple of hours explaining himself), and the point of this blog isn’t to attack him any further, or demonise what I think was an ill-thought tweet. It’s a good job people don’t pick up every tweet I make and scrutinise them in this way! But I think it further lifts the lid on some of the issues that the left has to address if we are to truly regroup, batter the far right and make Britain the socialist ideal we all believe in (!) The identity of the white working classes (and I have no idea if the false nails in question were on a white hand) is something which is just beginning to be talked about. I was lucky enough to be shown this amazing speech from Tim Wise of AWARE (Association of White Anti-Racist Educators), which I think everyone should watch. It’s one of the most intelligent pieces of analysis on issues surrounding race, class and identity that I’ve seen in a while. Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Whilst I am waiting for more intelligent minds than I to check my new post (I expect it to cause a stir and I want to make sure it’s an argument, not just incoherent ramblings), I thought I’d share a picture I took yesterday with you. Just reason #542 why I love living in E3. I dare to find another area of London where you could take this photo.

Much love to the Bow Massif.



Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Is a clitoris a fish in the Amazon?

I was recently asked by Labour Uncut to write something for them about women under the ConDem government.

I asked them if I could write something about sex and relationship education and how the academies act will screw over the next generation of young people (no pun intended).

They said ok.

So here's the post. Your comments are always appreciated...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

How women respond to advertising

I’ve just seen an offensive advert. I know, I know. I rant about advertising all the time. But this one has infuriated me.

A cereal company has launched something which is solely aimed at women. And perpetuates so many stereotypes that I don’t know where to start.

Ok, how about here:

1. It’s set in a shopping centre. Because that’s where all women congregate. As if we were under the influence of George A. Romero.

2. Fronted by a woman from a soap. Because all women love soap operas. Gives us something to talk about.

3. When given any opportunity, women in a crowd adore shouting ‘Woooooo!’. And waving our hands about. We get special training.

4. It’s all about getting enough fibre. Really? How about encouraging women to eat a balanced diet?

5. The only way women are capable of doing this, is if it’s covered in chocolate. We can’t eat anything unless it’s covered in chocolate. FACT. We’re like babies. And we obviously need guidance.

6. O M G!!! It’s low fat as well? But it’s covered in chocolate (see I remembered!). Are you saying I need to eat low fat? How did you know I’ve been thinking about a diet? That was what I thought about yesterday. The day before it was aqua aerobics. The day before that it was that vampire from True Blood. We can’t handle more than one thought per day.

7. We can all try the bar at the same time? Oooh I love feeling like I’m included in something.

8. Mmm, it tastes like sawdust but it’s good for me. A scientist told me so, and who am I to question a scientist? If the hairdresser from that programme says it, then that’s practically the same as a scientist right?

9. I’m so happy that I’ve found this miracle. I’m now going to go and buy Tampax Pearl and get that hair dye that the other woman off the telly says is good.

10. Oh where was I, oh yes mocking this stupid advert. See, typical woman, can’t concentrate on anything…

Ugh. Why can’t we have a little bit more respect for women than cheap, outdated ad campaigns. Did they commission Sterling Cooper on this one? If I’d been one of the women in the crowd, there’s no way I could have waited until being told to eat. Plus, if I want to cover things in chocolate before I eat them, I’ll dip kitkats in nutella, like I did when I was younger, which consequently ended the presence of both items in our house.

What the hell do any of these former soap stars know about the products they are promoting? Yoghurt that’s good for you, a premise I can accept. Tiff from Eastender telling me that she cares about my digestive system is one step too far. Why does she care? I don’t really trust her medical knowledge on this one.

To finish on a high note, have you seen the advert with the cow running down the beach? Makes me die laughing everytime.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Walk Towards The People

When friends or family members are in a band, you have to go and support them at gigs. You have to download their tracks. You have to vote for them in competitions. You have to act as if you are their biggest fan, even if you're not. There's a certain pride that comes from seeing someone you know up on stage, putting their music out there for judgement and appreciation. Having many friends who are as fanatical about music as I am means that I have a lot of bands to sit through. Some of these bands are rubbish.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, you can't have failed to notice that I've recently been supporting a band called The Jons in the Live and Unsigned 2010 competition.

Sometimes, the band turn out to be good. Sometimes you find yourself singing their songs in the shower; songs you weren't even aware you knew the words to. And on very rare occasions, your friends surprise you by writing a song that grows in your esteem until it joins your top 10 favourite songs of all time ever. Walk Towards The People is one of these songs. What started off a big-sisterly pride is now fully fledged fandom.

You can check out the video on YouTube here, but before you do that, let me tell you the top three things I love about the track. Firstly, it's a sing-along, as most of The Jons songs are. I'm never happier than when I'm singing, especially in a big crowd. When the crowd (and band) proclaim 'But we absolutely love to shout', there's not a louder voice without a microphone than mine. That one line has made me stop and think. I'm proud to announce that I have come to the conclusion that yes, I do indeed love to shout (and don't do it often enough).

My second reason for loving this song is because the music truly is superb. The guitar and bass lines wind around each other, building to one of the best guitar solos to be recorded in recent years. The song writing is truly solid. The band understand how to create atmosphere and anticipation, juxtaposing passages of hands-in-the-air, head-banging craziness, with subtle, beautiful quieter moments. It really showcases their talents as musicians.

Finally, my third and final reason for recommending you all buy a copy of the single (on vinyl, no less, exclusively available from the band), is that I still can't find a way to describe the song or the band without reverting to cliche. Yes, they are a rock-beat combo, as my nan would say. Yes, they are a bit like the Faces, a bit like the Libertines and a bit like (insert name of other guitar-based all male indie/rock band here). But more importantly, they and this song in particular, gives me goosebumps. Still. After hearing it probably a million and seven times.

So join with me, and together, let's walk towards the people...

Friday, 30 July 2010

Does wearing make up make you any less of a feminist?

I've just read this post by comedian and writer Mark Watson, whose thoughts on women wearing make up got me thinking. My relationship with my appearance has been an ongoing conversation over the last 15 years. In that time I've had 47 different hair colours and styles (just approximately), been at least 5 different dress sizes and have gone for periods of time where I wear make up every day and other times where I don't wear any for months.

I have an ex-boyfriend who argues that all make up is deception and you can't trust a woman who wears it because you're essentially being presented with a lie. We disagreed on this. Massively. At the moment I'm pretty happy with my appearance, not massive amounts of make up but it's there just the same. Am I giving people a false impression of who I am as a person, a professional, a friend or a girlfriend, because I'm wearing eyeliner and mascara?

When I was at school, we had very strict rules about the make up that could be worn (ie none) and the girls who did plaster it on were referred to as 'cake girls', because it looked like they'd caked it on with a shovel. I judged them for it then, much in the same way that I still today am exasperated by the women who plaster it on. It upsets me the amount of time and money women spend on their appearance. The one line I particularly liked from Mark Watson's piece was this: If all the women who spend half an hour "making up" every morning did something else with that half-hour, the results would be startling. In a society where 24 hours is not enough to fit everything in, does this time spent on our appearances have greater knock-on effects? If women spent half an hour reading the papers everyday, or a book, or talking with their families, or whatever, would we be closer to equality?

I have younger twin cousins, one of whom was suspended from school for wearing too much make up on a regular basis. I spoke to her then about how beautiful she is, and how she doesn't need to wear it every day. During these discussions she asked me how I could be a feminist and wear make up? She was under the impression that this would leave me in massive conflict, which leads me to today's topic of discussion: does wearing make up make you any less of a feminist?

At the moment, I choose to wear make up on a regular basis. It makes me feel more confident (I hate the word empower, but I suppose that is what it does), and means that my appearance is something I don't have to worry about. Maybe because I don't wear a lot of it, I don't obsess over it, but I do question why I feel the need to wear it, or why it makes me more confident. Does it change my views on fighting for equality? Not in the slightest.

A spoon full of THC helps the medicine go down...

I've been promising blogs on various topics for a while, so over the course of the next few days I'm going to try and get them all committed to paper/screen.

The first is about the trip I took to visit the Harbourside Health Centre; a medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland CA. Also known as the most amount of weed I've ever seen in one place at one time.

Through my contacts at the UK arm of Students For a Sensible Drug Policy, I was lucky enough to have a tour arranged for me of one of the country's 'model' pot clubs. And to be honest it blew my mind.

Once you get over the security on the door and at the gate, and the fact that on the site at any one time, the club holds over 150 lb of graded, sorted and tested cannabis, you can start to appreciate what the club is doing for its members.

"Harborside Health Center is dedicated to healing the pain that stems from these destructive attitudes and feelings by providing a sensible alternative to the hysteria surrounding cannabis and by honoring you as a progressive and courageous force of change." Their website makes a clear case for the medical use of cannabis, and the need for members of the club to act as ambassadors for the cause. In fact, if any of the club members volunteer at the centre; writing letters, researching new developments across the world etc., they are rewarded for their activism with 1g of 'medicine'. Drugs in exchange for activism; maybe not a model that we could replicate in the UK!
My tourguide was excellent and outlined all of the different free services that the club offered to its members; hypnotherapy, chiropractic services, naturopathy, yoga, reiki along with Grow Classes to teach you how to grow the best, purest and cleanest medicine and finally Substance Use & Misuse Clinical Services - for patients who feel they have a substance misuse or dependence issue and who want to expand their knowledge and skills to help reduce harm from behaviors.
The one thing that struck me the most was that whilst the medicinal benefits of cannabis are documented, tested and still under debate, there are still a massive number of people who smoke cannabis recreationally. The club is very careful to always refer to the cannabis as 'medicine' and its members as 'patients', but there is no recognition of the number of people who ride the system in order to receive legal treatment. Despite me not having my documentation from a doctor (which you need to join the club), not being a Californian resident, and not being in the city for very long, my tourguide still asked me if I wanted to join the club! A massive contradiction in approaches some might say.
The need for cannabis to be legalised for medicinal use is something I have believed needs to be seriously explored for a long time, however, whilst we continue to bury our heads in the sand about the recreational side of things, I fear we undermine the medicinal argument.

Friday, 2 July 2010

You know you've seen a Californian ska band when...

This is an opportunity to give you a taste of not just the London punk scene, but the others I encounter on my copious travels around the world. You may or may not have noticed that I am currently in San Francisco, on what has proved to be the holiday of a lifetime.

When I get home I'll have the opportunity to reflect on the trip properly and really give you my impressions of the city, but for the meantime, let me tell you about a night which started with the immortal words, 'not going to have a big one tonight'. Needless to say it ended with a lift home and lots of giggling.

At the Pirates Press birthday party in November, the warm up show was at a club called Thee Parkside (nope not a typo), which I thought was amazing. A dirty little bar, with an outside courtyard and slices of orange in their Blue Moon beer, served in plastics. I sort of expected Bottom of the Hill to be similar, but after a short space of time was massively enamoured with the venue, (and this is before I even start talking about the music and the bare jokes of an evening that ensued).

The failures most venues have either revolve around their smoking facilities, their lack of opportunity to sit and have a chat, or the fact that you feel removed from the action. This place covered all of those and did it in style. Plus there's a window at the back of the stage so when you're outside smoking you can see the drummer. Like I said; enamoured.

We were there to see a band called The Re-volts, who are on Pirates Press Records. If you like your punk music melodic, passionate, really well played and intelligent, not just in the lyrics, but also in the music, I recommend you check them out. Plus they have the added advantage of being possibly the best looking band I've ever seen in person. I kid you not.

Gigs are always prime locations for some epic conversations, and this one was no exception. From great tales of punk days gone by in San Francisco, to hilarious anecdotes containing not just our friends, but also our acquaintences, it was definitely a night of good banter. There were drunk guys passed out in their seats, and me climbing a metal staircase to put a Skunx Tattoo sticker on it after Jack Daniels number 5.

And to conclude, you know you've seen a Californian ska band when the entire set, aside from the cover of The Clash's Revolution Rock as an encore, was in Spanish. And the crowd knew every word.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Take me out to the ballgame

Today’s musings come not from the usual E3 massive, but from beautiful, sunny San Francisco. So part of the current epic holiday has been an introduction to the game of baseball; thrown in at the deep end watching two Boston Red Sox vs. San Francisco Giants games at A&T Park. Plus a host of other Red Sox games on the TV.

It’s a fun game and once you get into it I can see the attraction (although I was disappointed with the distinct lack of nacho hats, as the Simpsons would have me believe existed).

Yesterday’s game also brought the highlight of almost catching a foul ball. I say almost because I was actually ducking trying to avoid getting hit in the head Fever Pitch style. The ball bounced out of a guy’s hand behind me, and ended up in my bag. He then proceeded to launch himself over the seats, landing on me and grabbed the ball out of my bag. What he didn’t realise is that we were a pretty large group.

When I say pretty large, I’m not just talking about the number of us, but in fact the composition of the party included a high proportion of men who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley (pussycats the lot of them).

As his eyes travelled down the row, you could actually see the moment that he wished he hadn’t been quite so eager to claim the ball for himself. What he opened himself up to was a stream of constant banter for the rest of the game, which whilst was good-natured, I’m not entirely convinced he was aware of that!

So to sum up my baseball experience thus far; hitting anything is unusual, getting to first base even more so. There are adverts everywhere, especially when you watch on TV. It’s a long game with exciting moments; try not to be in the bathroom when these happen. And if you happen to have the opportunity to catch a foul ball, be careful who you’re squashing, unless you want 2 hours of teasing and banter. It was all good natured I promise…

Thursday, 10 June 2010

One hot meal a day... not much to ask?

The government has announced that it is dropping plans for primary school children from low income working families to receive free school meals. In the same letter, Education Minister Michael Gove also announced cuts to pilot projects to provide free school meals to every primary school child in five local authorities.

About a 18 months ago I joined the governing body of Ferry Lane Primary School, which is based on the Ferry Lane estate in Tottenham Hale. The school is racing up through the results and ratings, after a dismal Ofsted report a few years ago. Most of our kids speak English as their second language; we have huge Turkish and Somalian communities on the estate, which is where most of our kids live. Most of our kids also recieve free school meals.

I was elected Chair of the Curriculum Committee about a year ago, and consequently have responsibility for the oversight and implementation of how and what the kids are taught. There is often such an emphasis on statistics and results that you can be blindsided and forget to look at the children and families behind the numbers. With our school, statistical anomalies can often be explained by the teachers because they know the children, the families and the communities, which is one of the reasons I love being involved. The school engenders a real sense of community, and the facilities are used by a wide number of different groups from the estate.

I know first hand how important it is for the children to be guaranteed one hot, healthy meal a day. It not only allows them to concentrate better, but also provides them with a sense of security. They know their school is looking after them, as well as just being somewhere they have to attend. Now that school meals meet the new nutritional standards, ensuring that children eat them has a number of health and education benefits. These include improving classroom behaviour, helping develop healthy eating habits and encouraging children to try new foods. These benefits are particularly important for children from the most disadvantaged homes.

For years, campaigners including the Children’s Food Campaign have been highlighting the injustice that many children living in poverty fail to qualify for free school meals. The decision to extend eligibility for free school meals to primary school children from low income working households, announced by the previous government in December 2009, went some way to addressing this. This change in policy represents a backwards step.

Poverty in working households is a big problem: currently, 60 per cent of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work. Abandoning plans to provide free school meals to these children, will have consequences which we will see reflected in the results and statistics.

All of these reasons are why I'm asking you to take five minutes and send an email or letter to Education Minister, Michael Gove MP, in opposition to these cuts, which will see some of the UK’s poorest children losing out.

You can send your message by email to, or by post to:
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street

Template letter (from the Children School Meals campaign)
Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to ask you to reconsider your recent decision which drops plans to extend free school meal eligibility to primary school children from working families with a household income of less than £16,190.
There is good evidence of the health and educational benefits of school meals, including improving classroom behaviour and helping children develop healthy eating habits which will stay with them for the long term.
Sixty per cent of children that live in poverty have at least one parent in work. Failing to provide these children with a free healthy school meal is very likely to discourage parents from getting work, as school meals currently cost families around £300 per child each year.
Going ahead with the planned extension of eligibility for free school meals to primary school children from low income working families would have lifted 50,000 children out of poverty, and made a significant contribution to reducing health and educational inequalities.
While I am well aware of the pressures to reduce public spending, I urge you to reconsider these cuts in the light of your government’s promise to protect the country’s poorest families from their worst effects.
Yours sincerely,

Friday, 4 June 2010

Going the whole hog...

In the pub beer garden opposite my office they are currently roasting a hog. A whole hog and nothing but the hog. I've been a bit upset by it all day, mainly because every time I leave the office I'm confronted with it, in addition to the fact that it's all we can smell today.

I've been a vegetarian since I was about 10, and in that time have never been tempted to eat meat. There was one occasion when I bit into a scampi thinking it was a breaded mushroom, but it was quickly spat out and I spent the rest of the evening feeling pretty sick. We were on holiday the summer when I told my parents that I no longer wanted to eat meat, but it was hard because they kept cooking my favourite meals. They supported me by only cooking veggie dinners for a whole month when we got back, which gave me the kick start I needed. I'm eternally grateful to them for this.

I have lots of friends who are vegetarians and vegans based on animal rights arguments; which whilst I respect, don't form the underlying basis for my personal choice when it comes to eating meat or not. My parents have just given a home to three ex-battery farmed chickens; called Paulo, Di and Canio. The state of these poor birds when they arrived really shocked me. I have other friends who are vegetarians because they are aware of the environmental impact of the meat industry. Again whilst these a valid reasons, they aren't mine.

I've never been particularly preachy about my vegetarianism. For me, the idea of eating something that used to be alive, running or swimming around, talking to its brothers and sisters, completely turns my stomach. And as soon as I was conscious of the fact that meat comes from animals, then that was enough for me.

What I can't abide is people that eat meat, who don't face up to where their meals are coming from. The people that say, oh I couldn't eat it if I saw its head, or eyes, or tail, or whatever. At least understand that you are killing an animal to eat it. If you can face up to that and either not care or choose to eat it after that, then fair play. That's your decision. The same as choosing not to eat meat is my decision.

And whilst the hog roast is making me feel uneasy and uncomfortable, in some aspects I'd rather the pub was doing that then just BBQing sausages. At least the customers will see exactly where their dinner is coming from.

PS The hog is now wearing a fetching jacket of silver foil. Not unlike our new Home Secretary...

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Chronicles of a Bootcamper

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few days, and considering my recent criticism for not basing my argument in numbers, I now have the numbers. Temery, keep bugging me, I’ll get it right.

So those of you who know me, will know that I’ve always battled with my weight, which over the years has ranged from the concerning to the given up. I’m not going to dwell on who I was then – it’s made me who I am now, and I’m much more excited about that! Anyway, to cut a long story short, it’s been lifestyle changes, healthy eating and exercise. There’s been no easy fix and you shouldn’t look for one. I’ve tried it; it never lasts.

So I still have my vices, and my ability to eat cheese and crackers at an alarming rate, but after a couple of years of hard work, I’m finally reaching a sense of achievement. The most recent experiment has been the enrollment in an exercise bootcamp. It’s not one of the army-stylee ones. We train next to them. They are definitely not having fun.

I’ve attended three sessions so far, in the past 6 days, and have struggled to walk downstairs the following mornings. Remember those PE lessons when you were 11 and the teacher was bored? It’s a lot like that, but instead of being state imposed, you actually pay for the privilege of being humiliated in a park near your house, where you might actually know someone.

My brother threatened to sit nearby, with a beer and a cigarette, to take pleasure in our humiliation. To be fair, if the roles were reversed I’d probably have something stronger than a beer. Luckily Victoria Park is a big place.

As cynical as I am about some of the aspects of this current regime, (primarily being asked about my piercings, and told that ‘if your piercings interrupt the meridian lines you were destined to be overweight’ – um, not so much, show me the science…?), the edge is beginning to come off my doubt.

After only 135 minutes of exercise, I’m actually starting to prove their adverts. Following the recommendations, I have taken measurements of various bodyparts at regular intervals – just to reassure you, I had to actually buy a tape measure - this is not normal Hannah practice!

So far I’ve lost almost an inch from practically every point measurable. Of course it’s possible that I’m just rubbish with a measuring tape, or it could be that I’ve lost the back of one of my earrings and realigned my chakra. Or in fact it could be the bootcamp working; I’ll base my hypothesis on the facts. And nothing but the facts… (love James Ellroy). I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, 28 May 2010

What came first, the women or the sex work?

A thoughtful and balanced blog from my boss, Frances Crook, the Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. She comments on the recent media coverage of the trial of Stephen Griffiths, accused of mudering three women in Bradford, in particular the choice of language. She hypotheses that it is not the fact that the victims were sex workers that caused them to be targets, but the fact that sex workers are more vulnerable to such attacks. I would recommend you read it.

The debate around sex work is perhaps the only area of feminist debate that I honestly do not know where I stand on. I do, however, know the following:

1. No little girl dreams of growing up to work in the sex industry.
2. Sex work is one of the oldest professions in the world, indeed some concubines at Chinese courts were held in esteem.
3. The relationship between the women who enter sex work and social deprivation has been well proven.
4. The relationship between sex work and drug and/or alcohol dependency is also well proven.
5. There are some women who choose to enter sex work and control the relationships and power. I can't for a second imagine that they constitute more than a tiny majority of those in the industry.
6. There are supply side factors which influence the number of women recruited to work. The number of women and girls who are recruited against their will far outnumbers those who have made a choice. Shifts towards criminalising those who pay for sex is something that have worked in other countries, particularly in Scandinavia.
7. The buying and selling of human beings is an abomination, and the fact we allow it to continue is a blight on our collective conscience. Concerns about the rise in human trafficking around the World Cup and Olympics have sparked campaigns - make sure you have a look.
8. If buying and selling human beings is deplorable, isn't there an argument that exchanging the most personal connection you can make with another human, for a sum of money is equally as deplorable?
9. The promotion of the PlayBoy brand to children encourages little girls to aspire to material and shallow perceptions of adulthood. Why aren't we encouraging our daughters to be astronauts or writers or politicians?
10. We have to find a way to help those women who want to leave the sex industry to do so, without judging or criminalising them. This has to include drug and alcohol treatment, education and training, both medical and pschological treatment, free childcare, a feeling of safety. These have to be our starting point. We have to regulate and make it safe for the women who do want to work in the industry. We have to insist on contraception and regular testing. We have to be better at preventing the sale of young girls from around the world and allowing them to be repeatedly raped, introduced to smack and held against their will.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Roll up, roll up, get your abortions here...

Over the last week, I've had a number of conversations with friends, colleagues and Facebook acquaintences about the Marie Stopes International advert, which aired for the first time on Channel 4 last night. Many of them had been taken in by the way the controversy had been reported by the press, and fully believed that the advert would be pushing abortion as the only option. One went as far to say, "I don't understand how showing abortion on TV is going to promote it, surely it'll be too gross to come across in a good light". This follows the news today that the number of abortions being carried out in the UK has fallen for another year.

Cath Elliot's post on Comment is Free outlines many of the points I wanted to raise with regards to the way the story was manipulated by the press; "rather than the "Oh-my-God-they-want-to-kill-all-the-babies! shock fest" the likes of Christian Concern for our Nation (CCFON) and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) had been hyping it as, what we were presented with instead was a completely innocuous ad for a women's support service that didn't even mention the word abortion once."

The reaction from my friends has merely highlighted to me something I have believed for a long time - we don't talk about sex education enough in the UK, and when we do, we don't talk about it in the right way. The focus is on how to have safe sex alone, which fails to address the underlying issues of whether or not it's right to have sex at that point in your life, or with that person. It doesn't even begin to address issues of self-respect, body image or even how to talk about sex with your partner or your family. Never once was it mentioned that sex is more than just pro-creation and that sex is actually lots of fun when you do it right!

Sex was never a taboo subject in our house. With my Mum as a Youth Worker, we always had boxes of condoms under the stairs, which used to be doled out whenever any of our mates asked for them. But even with all the information at my fingertips, a supportive family and the freedom to ask any questions I wanted, I've still found myself in some questionable situations. I have been able to make the choices that suited me best, because I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to make those choices. So many women and girls aren't lucky enough to have what I had. That's why adverts on TV which promote the places you can access unbiased and factual information are vital.

I've never found myself in the position of having to decide whether abortion is the right choice for me. Friends have, and I've seen the anguish they've gone through. Maybe because I had enough of the right information, I could make the decisions about the type of contraception was right for me and feel confident in my decision to have sex (or not as the case often was...)

My plea to you today is, please continue to support the sharing and promotion of information about sex, relationships and reproduction. Please don't let avenues be shut off before women and girls have been able to consider whether that option is right for them. And please, please, please let's keep pushing for better compulsory education in our schools - not just the 'passing round a Femidom and everyone laughing at it' sort of education, but the type that empowers our young people to say no, to feel good about themselves having sex and to be fully prepared for it.

If you need impartial and confidential advice about any aspect of sexual activity, please contact Marie Stopes International

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Pretty Fly (For a White Girl)

My obsession with punk music started with a double tape best of The Clash. It was red, with each cover having a black and white photo of one of the band on it. I listened to it continuously; in the car, in my bedroom, on my walkman. Wherever I went, you could guarantee I had it with me. I was about 11.

For my sister, it began with Americana, the 5th album from the Offspring, released in 1998. I was too caught up under the Westway to even remember how she came across the album. I’m not sure she even knows. All I know is that within a year, it had become a family staple.

It may not surprise you to find out that my family has incredibly bizarre choices of playlist for what may be considered run of the mill family situations. I’ll give you such an example: we usually spend Christmas with my mum’s side of the family, which really warrants a post of its own, however on occasion, we celebrate the birth of pointless consumerism with my Dad’s siblings. That’s when we tone it down and stick to reggae.

So there are certain albums which frame my childhood. Ones which I only have to hear the opening bars of before I’m transported back to being three kids squashed in the back of a car, singing all the words at the top of our voices. That too warrants a post of its own.

But Americana became one of those, and was subsequently usurped by the far superior Smash. By this point the entire family was hooked.

The only reservation any one of my family came from my mum, who thought my siblings’ exposure to some of the language slightly too much. So she tried to minimise the exposure.

But in reality, her efforts acted to highlight the very thing she was trying to avoid. Those of you familiar with the work of Dexter, Noodles et al (coincidentally the names of two of my brother’s gerbils), will know the part of Bad Habit I’m about to relate to. The particularly abusive, sweary, shouty bit in the middle. The bit that still tickles the 13 year old anarchist inside of me.

Mum used to turn the volume down to avoid a particular phrase, and attempt to turn it back up after that passage was over. But the timing was never right, and on each occasion without fail, she’d turn it up for us to joyfully join in with the last line. Even now I can’t hear it without gleefully shouting “stupid dumbshit goddamn motherfucker”, with a 13 year old’s grin on my face. It never gets old.

Tonight I discovered Spotify and as such, have been listening to a lot of the old family staples.  I’m sure there will be more on this theme to come, but for the meantime, join in with me on a chorus - ‘so live like there’s no tomorrow…’

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The best of a bad bunch?

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Jon Cruddas MP. I spent a fair amount of the election campaign in Dagenham; not just campaigning for Hope Not Hate, but also doorstepping alongside JC and the other #ninjasforCruddas

Along with many others on the left of the Labour Party, I hoped that he would stand in the leadership race. He has important things to say about the future of our party, and I hoped he would use the platform to raise the issues that no-one else would. He certainly would have done it in a way that no-one else will. Rather than harp on too much about this here, I'd encourage you to read his statement on why he's chosen not to stand, and whilst I respect his decision, it now leaves me a complete floating voter.

Which left me in a bit of a quandry. Did I want to support one white, middle-class, Oxbridge educated New Labourite man, or another one? (I was never going to support Ed Balls; despite some great work at the DCSF, I can't be convinced that he can lead us back into Downing Street. The Stilettoed Socialist has made the case for supporting him, but I don't agree with her).

Until this morning, I have to admit I was leaning towards supporting Ed Miliband, or Miniband as we've always referred to him, but in all honesty it was by process of elimination rather than actually supporting his ideology or policy proposals.

My problem was that none of them really excited me. I've only been a Labour Party member for 18 months. I resisted joining for so long because I couldn't justify being part of a party with whom I disagreed fundamentally with on so many issues (the war, civil liberties, nuclear power, higher education funding etc.), but with a General Election on the horizon, I couldn't stand by and do nothing. Now I have a part to play in shaping the future of the party and returning it to its true socialist roots. Hence me not being massively excited by the candidates who had declared thus far.

Much has been made of the fact that we couldn't find a woman to put herself forward, and whilst this has obviously been a factor in my disappointment, I just didn't think the candidates who had announced were reflective of the movement or the party that I had got involved in. Yes, there are a lot of white men in the Labour Party, but there are also lots of activists who aren't. This is the Labour Party for me; diverse and proud of it. How would we convey to the voters who see us as 'the same as all the others' that we truly are a broad and wide collective, if we can't even offer a wide range of candidates for the leadership? (and by wide ranging, I don't just mean in terms of sexuality, race and gender, but also in terms of their politics)

However, as of this morning, the race has got a lot more interesting. We have another right of the party, white, middle class man announcing his candidacy (yawn - really Burnham? Those eyelashes are convincing no-one), plus an announcement that a 'leftie' claims he can get enough nominations to stand. Whilst I support John McDonnell in much of his campaigning work, I want to get behind a candidate who could actually be leader and PM one day, and I'm sorry, but it's just not him.

Which brings me to the surprise announcement that Diane Abbott, television pundit, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and first black woman in the House, is planning to stand. I'm not going to support her just because she's a woman. I'm not going to support her just because she's got a high enough public profile to actually connect with the public. I'm not going to support her just because she's a straight talker.

She's not convinced me yet, but at least it means that there will actually be a debate and a contest. I'm off to Google her voting record...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Inky fingers

I've just finished reading an excellent article in this month's issue of 'Skin Deep' about workplace prejudice in relation to body art, which I would recommend people check out. This comes hot on the heels of a friend of mine losing marks during an assessed presentation for having her tattoos on show. Apparently tattoos do not convey a professional image and demonstrate a lack of business acumen. This is clearly rubbish. Some of the most successful business people I know are covered in ink.

It's got me thinking about tattoo prejudice, and there have been many excellent articles already written on the subject which I won't rehash here. When I started working at Skunx, there were certain members of my extended family who were horrified, who couldn't understand why I'd chosen to work 'in that environment'.

Now I've never hid my tattoos from anyone, I don't just get to see these family members very often. I've met people who are heavily tattooed and who live with their parents, but keep themselves covered up even in the summer, for fear their parents might discover their 'little secrets'. When I was planning my latest backpiece, my mum begged me to 'think of my wedding dress', a sentiment I didn't understand then and even less now. I'm buying dresses that showcase my tattoo, not cover them up.

The majority of customers I've seen during my short time here, have seriously considered their lifetime commitment to the artwork they are undertaking. They trust the artists to implement their designs and wishes through the medium of tattooing. They are making a conscious decision to express something about themselves through the medium of ink. Of course you get the odd idiot who wants their boyfriend's name permanently written on their wrist, even though they've only been together a month. Those are not typical Skunx customers and we refuse to do it.

As far as the prejudice displayed by members of my family; leave it with me. I'm working on it.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Pulling mussels from a shell

Having been in my new house for 4 months now, I felt it was time to reorganise the record collection, not autobiographically I might add. Amongst the Johnny Cash and Connie Francis oddities, were nestled almost the entire Squeeze discography, most of which I'd forgotten I had.

For the past few weeks I've been rediscovering them one by one and reminding myself why Tilbrook and Difford were lauded over by the music press. I'm not convinced by the Lennon/McCartney comparisons, but maybe that's because I don't like much of the Beatles... I digress

Squeeze were my first ever live gig. It was a Tuesday night, the Southend Cliffs Pavilion was the most impressive venue I'd ever seen and I was 11. I sang every word to every song. It formed the benchmark for all gigs to come: do I love the band? Do I know every word? Can I sleep in the car on the way home? If the answers to all three are yes, then I know it's been a blinder.

From early Jools-included incarnations, to later albums with Mike Rutherford, the stories the songs tell have always been at the heart of what the band have been about. Troubadours, social commentators, write-about-what-you-know advocates, whatever. From pulling women you know are going to nick your wallet and doing it anyway; to fatherhood and crumbling relationships; to celebrating your freedom; the people are vivid, the feelings are real and the tunes stick in your head. I'm not sure I've looked for anything else in a band.

And with that note, I return to a world where the past has been bottled and labelled with love.

The joys of the Roman Road

For the uninitiated, Bow's famous Roman Road is the home to a weekend market, various pound shops, a Wetherspoons and 17 different variations of Krispy Fried Chicken.

If you Google Roman Road, as I did looking for an interesting fact to work into this blog, the first thing that comes up is a clip from YouTube. Shot on a mobile, it is an undercover expose on the market practices from two hapless Watchdog wannabes.

They've accompanied their footage with this:
"Tower Hamlets Market inspectors are not STUPID, they are CRIMINALS. They run the markets to line there own pockets. BRIBE the Inspectors and you can do as you like."

Excellent tourist board advice you must agree.

You can always guarantee Roman Road to provide some form of entertainment. In the last few weeks I've seen a family of five trying to fit themselves and a sofa into a Fiesta, met the same group of 15 year olds three times (we're friends now, they've got me apparantly) and quotes from the Life of Brian graffitied on the side of a shop.

Despite, or maybe because of, these enlightening encounters, the Roman Road epitomises East London for me. Loud, a bit grubby and the cashpoint is probably out of order. Lively, colourful and going about its day. There's no pretence. Roman Road can't be what its not. Maybe that's what I love about it.

Losing the V Plates

Ok hands up, how many of you thought this was going to be revelatory story about sex? Well unlucky my son, this is the first entry of An EastEnd Girl: musings from E3, and thus my blogging virginity has now been taken. But who knows, keep reading and you might learn something.

It's a pretty strange world that we live in. We've just entered into a new era in government; a coalition no less, of two parties who have completely opposing views on key areas of policy. No matter what the next five years are, I can guarantee they won't be boring. Having lived my political life firmly under the auspices of a Labour government, life in opposition will take an adjustment. As a relative newcomer to the Labour Party, and indeed party politics, I'll be hopefully be able to share an insight not entrenched in HQ rhetoric. That's the plan anyway.

I also plan to lift the lid on London's punk scene as I know it; the music, the politics, the lifestyle. I'm not proclaiming to be an expert, or even a representative; as Sid once sang it, I'm doing it My Way. I tend to go to a lot of Cock Sparrer gigs, not only do I love the music but the band are my family. Literally. Thought I'd get that front and centre as you'll see a fair amount of references to them. I also want to give you an insight into the Oi!, Skinhead, punk world - and more importantly, show you that not all punks and skins are racists.

I spend a lot of my non-work time engaged and involved in campaigning for things I believe in. I'm going to use this blog as a way to showcase different activist groups and the things they are fighting for. Pay attention, you might learn something.

So to finish the first ever musings from E3, here are 5 random facts you might not know about me:
1. At one point I had 93 pairs of trainers. Then I got a conscience.
2. I can do the splits.
3. I won the Weakest Link, despite not knowing what 444 divided by 4 was.
4. My childhood hero was Miss Piggy.
5. Untuned radios drive me crazy, and not in a good way.