Away…But Not For Too Long

Things are going to be a bit quiet on this blog for the time being because all of the activity is moving across to my travel blog. Please have a look to see what we have been up to on our trip, and check back here soon for new articles when we return in April.


How do you like your politics?

If you are a woman, popular opinion would have it that you prefer it alongside your regular gossip fix.

How do the sexes compare in their political reading habits?

Governments are always subject to flux in the opinion polls and this month it’s the Conservatives who have suffered from a drop in support shortly after their party conference. According to a discussion on Wednesday’s Woman’s Hour part of this fall in support is due to a shift in the number of women voters, as found in a recent YouGov polling report.

I was surprised to hear that, had it not been for female voters, the Labour Party would have won every election since the Second World War. So, it seems, despite the impression that Labour (or, should I say, the left wing of the spectrum) is generally more forward-thinking in those areas typically associated with ‘women’s policy’ such as childcare, working flexibility and government-controlled measures to ensure pay is more fairly distributed (to varying degrees of success I might add) women vote for the Conservatives in larger proportions.

The Conservatives fall in popularity amongst women is also seen by many as a direct response to the public’s general impression of David Cameron as well as his ‘Calm down dear’ put-down towards Angela Eagle in the Commons, amongst other gaffs. This is also coupled with some high-profile attacks on the government’s strategy of cuts, which are seen as disproportionately affecting women.

The Woman’s Hour discussion then moved on to the way in which parties can attract/make women aware of their policies more effectively. One respondent commented that many women are unaware of policy directly and that parties need to get this information into the hands of OK readers.

I am sure this ignorance and unavailability of political discourse is a problem. But this perception that women necessarily need politics in their gossip mags for them to be informed is also, on first glance, a patronising one. An image of an upper-middle class man with a monocle studying The Telegraph and guffawing about the Tory’s newest childcare strategy whilst his down-trodden but servile wife serves him a cup of tea before settling down to her copy of Closer, because she doesn’t care a thing about real politics being a woman and all, springs immediately to mind.

It cannot be the case that men read serious news whilst women read gossip mags and so therefore have no idea about policy, can it? Or, if there is ignorance it’s not just confined to one of the sexes. I would have thought it’s just as patronising to say that for women to know more about politics we need to get it into OK as it is to say that men would be more aware if Nuts regularly discussed the worldwide increase in the cost of cotton which was thereby having an implication for the Page 3 girls’ ability to stock up on lacy underwear, and what was the government going to do about it?

But, to be on the safe side, I thought I’d look at the numbers a bit more closely. A rough, and albeit not entirely scientific, search of divide in readership of a range of newspapers, from the serious to the questionable, came up with the following proportions:

Daily Mail:

Male – 47%

Female –  53%


Daily Mirror:

Male – 57%

Female – 43%



Male – 53%

Female – 47%


The Independent:

Male – 59%

Female – 41%


The Sun:

Male – 56%

Female – 44%



Male – 53%

Female – 47%


Although this is not the most scientific or strictly accurate way of establishing how information about politics is disseminated, I was surprised (and slightly disappointed) to find that things are not as 50/50 as they should be. However, the differences between the sexes are not as different as some comment makes out and I think it does show that getting information on policy to women is possibly just as big a problem as it is getting it to men. I agree that policy and the current cuts affect the sexes very differently but is the perception that women need politics in their gossip mags really helpful? Perhaps this is one aspect of political spin for which gender should be left to one side.

How do you think politicians could communicate with the public more effectively?

Is it time for a career break?

What should you be considering if a career break is on your mind? And some questions I maybe should have thought about too…

It’s possibly a stupid idea, and the timing is only just a bit better than if we had decided to go in the winter of 2008 immediately post-crash. Yes, after a lot of talking, thinking and saving up, I have given in my notice at my job and we are leaving the UK for a round the world trip in November.

Why now? Deciding on the timing

I didn’t have a gap year before or after university which may explain the overwhelming desire do this trip.  Similarly, the stagnating world place seems to be encouraging this sort of reckless (sorry, well thought-out) behaviour as people either decide to step away from their current jobs, risking an unknown once they return, or starting to work for themselves in an effort to hold some sort of control over their own progress.

Sabbatical or Quit overall? How to approach your employer

It depends upon your position within your company, and your personal feelings about returning. Some companies will be willing to negotiate a sabbatical period of, say, six months. If this appeals, give it a go but don’t expect your employer to be overly enthusiastic in this sort of climate. The best scenario may be that you are able to use them as a contact in future so make sure you are on good terms.

What to do? Where to go?

My budget is tight so sadly a volunteering project is off the cards, I can’t go

Just the thought of it...

anywhere near the edge of anything above the height of your average front garden wall so it’s not going to anything ‘extreme’ in terms of jumping off stuff, and my negotiation skills leave something to be desired so our trip’s not going to be an exercise in wandering markets to purchase exotic furniture to furnish our [10 years in the] future house.

Probably the primary reason that we’ve gone for the route we have is for food, cities and landscapes, It probably started with us saying we really want to see Melbourne, San Francisco and NY and then ended up as it is.
Of course, others may have a slightly less chaotic approach. But there are myriad options which can include progressing your career even!

• Volunteering
• Teaching English abroad
• Learning another language
• Taking permanent work with a charity

It might be a bit of a leap of faith but, let’s face it, it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to get to a bungee jump…

Tweets/Comment/News: Are they interchangeable?

In Sunday’s Observer main section, Victoria Coren’s piece on the, as she phrased it, ‘Colegate’ saga (Cheryl Cole no longer being on X-Factor, etc), made a sideways swipe at a phenomenon which seems to grow week on week but which few question. Discussing the news which certainly filled all of our conversations in the office, on the phone, even over dinner last week, she writes:

‘One newspaper quoted a tweet from “fan” Nigel Stoneman (following the worrying new media trend for reporting public opinion based on random internet posts, which I’m not sure is entirely scientific), asking: “Am I the only one who has twigged that the whole Cole X Factor carry-on is one massive PR stunt?”‘

It might not be entirely ‘scientific’, as Cohen comments, but some may argue it is more democratic. No more do we minions need to listen just to the Oxbridge snobs (?!) which our country’s key papers choose as mouthpieces for the nation. By following a hash for a few hours it’s pretty easy to glean a sense of ‘What the nation [of Twitter users] is thinking’ without having to leave one’s desk.

Guilty of changing 'news'?

Guilty of changing 'news'?

However, I wonder if this so-called litmus-test really works, or if it actually makes for interesting comment at all? When browsing a newspaper or magazine becomes more of a run-down of what your current favorite/former favorite/new favorite celebrity/politician/sports star/journalist (it becomes self-referential!) [delete as appropriate] thinks is that really particularly interesting? Why pick up a paper at all?

An example could be Tanya Gold’s piece from this week’s Stylist. Point taken, I most definitely agree with her argument. But when the article launches head-first into a reference to a twitter conversation, before quoting it excessively in upper case in the second sentence, it doesn’t make for the smoothest of reading!

I’m not trying to say that we should never hear references to social media in our old-fashioned media; things have changed from the 90s and will never be the same again. Now we are all able to shape our own slice of cyberspace. But there has to be some vetting system when it comes to the proportion of an article devoted to a momentary social media storm (in a teacup); do the nutter opinions really matter as much some commentators give credit for?

What’s on your bookshelf?

Finishing reading a book which you have loved every minute of is a bitter-sweet moment. You know that you will never again experience reading it for the first time, no matter how many times you return to re-read in future.

I suppose one of the best ways of countering this is by staying faithful to a list of favourite authors to whose books you immediately approach when visiting a bookshop. You can be (almost) sure that their other work will give you something new to think about, whilst picking up similar pleasurable (if that’s the best word for it) threads as their other writing. Whilst browsing my bookshelf for the next book to begin, it really hit me that I am incredibly guilty of this habit.

Not only does my collection feature groups of books by the same authors, Barnes, Carter, Darrieussecq, Kingsolver, Orwell, Woolf (yes, in alphabetical order) I realised that these groups of books are, for the most part, written by women.

As we fast approach the June announcement of the Orange prize for Fiction is there an especial resonance to considering the sex of the authors we generally read?

The shortlist was announced just last week and a (female) friend noted that the Orange prize winners tend to follow similar themes, in line with their ‘feminine’ authors and (perhaps more dangerously) audience.

So, it has to be asked, does the Orange prize really cater only for women, following a series of themes only of interest to half of the species? What’s more, do reading habits follow gender lines overall? Although it looks like I’ve run out of time to finish the shortlist, perhaps it’s something to bear in mind when we begin this year’s winner?

Why can’t I lie to save bit of cash? And is it ok to do it anyway?

Now, I know that lying is generally socially unacceptable, at least that’s what we are led to believe from a young age. From the moment we can talk we are told that honesty is the best policy; that it will help us come out on top: ‘Be honest,’ we tell the guilty child. ‘Own up and you will be rewarded.’

So what puzzles me the older I get is that lying, albeit in a somewhat ‘being ambiguous or vague about the truth’ sort of way, is deemed ok. You are even, perhaps, deemed a fool if you do not partake.

For example, via the rather unreliable source of the careers networking site Linked In, you are able to publically observe the glowing terms in which people describe their previous roles. A summer of work experience half a day a week at the local t-shirt printing shop (predominantly creating sets of co-ordinated pink hen-do kits for Newquay trips) becomes a three month placement for a boutique designer emporium, with an active input into the design and implementation of bespoke pieces.

A Saturday job at the local chemist becomes a make-up and perfume consultant with buying responsibilities: ‘Sharon, we’ve run out of the sparkles lip gloss in ‘pearl pink’ shade. Betta order some more.’

So, when my boyfriend and I decided to spontaneously shop around for flights in preparation for an up-and-coming trip, he presumably assumed I knew the subtext without having to brief me on the unwritten rules. We’d already had a quote from another competing company and, when asked the competitor’s price, he gave a ‘rough’ (and this is where he wasn’t really lying, I suppose, in his emphasis on the roughness) estimate (within about £100). I promptly corrected him to the exact number (say £50 higher) and also kindly corrected his misremembering when he couldn’t quite recall if this also included visas. ‘No,’ I confirmed, ‘they definitely weren’t included.’

It reminded me of an episode on a Sicilian beach a year before. We had unfortunately been caught in a severe storm the night before and all of our things were soaked. My boyfriend decided to buy a towel from one of the slightly dodgy looking sellers on the beach. When told his chosen design was €15, he asked would the seller accept €10 as that was all he had in his wallet at the time.
I piped up, helpfully: ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got the extra five.’

The man looked confused, obviously unfamiliar with this eccentric and inconsistent manner of bartering.

Handicrafts? They ain’t so daft!

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get fidgety in my swivel chair; my arms ache and I’m craving a bit of natural light, or face-to-face conversation.

According to some mumblings, it isn’t just me. This week’s Stylist magazine features and article about The Life U-Turn, why some people are doing it and why it could split up long-established friendships as one friend reassesses previously shared career ambitions, life goals and social viewpoints (and other such trivial and insignificant factors).

The article claims that some women are reassessing the career goals which they previously made central for more ‘worthy’ work, which makes me think of living in the country and opening a farm, working for a charity or retraining as a nurse or teacher.

Studies, it seems, have shown that many of us need more than just cerebral work to keep us happy. And I agree completely.

For the past few months I’ve been going to a printed fabric class at my local college and it’s an activity that seems to have benefits beyond the two hours each week spent there. Not only does it provide a solid period of creativity, it also allows an outlet for other inspiration which all of us see each day of our lives, but which we fail to notice when we are so caught up in our routines.

Cutting out intricate paper patterns for screen prints on school nights certainly beats switching off in front of the television. And it’s incredibly absorbing.

Arts and crafts aren’t for everyone, and some would find my chosen activity painfully dull, humdrum and thrill free. But I wonder if we need to think again about how we treat our working lives; is the nine to five it? Or can we change our lives and work to encompass more?

Miner Miracles? and the Tabloid Press

The eyes of the country have swivelled to Chile this week and the rescue of the 33 trapped miners. Newspapers, conversation and twitter pages have been alive with tearful Britons watching the events unfold online as the heroes emerge (largely) unscathed, considering their horrendous ordeal.

Predictably, ridiculous PR stunts have ensued; the tabloid press leading the way. As one radio presenter, rather cynically, commented, we shall all look forward to the ‘Based on Real Events’ film in time for Christmas 2011. Steve Jobs will give each an ipod, ‘Trapped Miners Invited to Old Trafford’, The Sun reported, The Daily Mail told readers of the Eastender’s-style extra-marital affair of one naughty miner.

It got me thinking of how events are perceived in history. We’ve all seen The Sun’s ‘GOTCHA!’ headline of the middle of the Falkland’s crisis, widely referred to as a turning point for the previously unpopular Maggie Thatcher. It is just this sort of cultural symbol which comes to symbolise a moment, when its effect on people’s daily lives at the time could well have been minimal.

Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole (the ever-reliable commentator) sums it up:

‘Woke up my father to tell him Argentina has invaded the Falklands. He shot out of bed because he thought the Falklands lay off the coast of Scotland. When I pointed out that they were eight thousand miles away he got back into bed and pulled the covers over his head.’

Thus some tiny islands, previously geographically ambiguous, came to be seen as a political turning point of a decade.

I myself wonder how the Chilean miners’ crisis will be similarly adopted by history. I can imagine the narrative potential, already, in history lessons of the future. ‘In post-recession, pre-cuts Britain, where things had been bleak for quite some time, and people had been greeted with the news that house prices may drop even more (!), one event gave the country hope, pulled the population together. In a previously ignored part of the world, 33 men became the focus of the world’s media, giving back the faith in humankind for thousands…’

Time shall tell if it will be the case. As Hayden White writes of the story-making instinct of history: ‘The events are made into a story by the suppression or subordination of certain of them and the highlighting of others’, the media, and our history books, come to purport this on a daily basis, more than we realise.

The Definitely Not David Cabinet: Gender Representation in Labour’s New Cabinet

The much-awaited revelation of Labour’s shadow cabinet, under the leadership of Ed Milliband (about whom the media and commentators do not seem to have made their mind up about yet, beyond establishing that he’s Definitely Not David), is due to come on Thursday next week. Questions are springing up already: will he pick the most talented contenders for the positions, or go for his (supposedly more left-wing) supporters?; does his standpoint really give favour to Unions?; and, a more back-burner issue, how much of his cabinet will comprise of women?

Time will tell. But, it seems, there are implications involved in each of these questions which will need to be faced in the following months, by all parties, and onwards to the next election.

Marriage Material

Why did Peggy Olson’s ‘you’re old fashioned’ rant strike such a nerve when her colleague suggested that ‘Use Pond’s and you’ll get married’ was a suitable tagline for her Pond’s Cold Cream campaign? It’s the first series of Mad Men which I’ve watched, but I’m hooked already…