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.