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)