Because We’re Worth It!

I’ve never knowingly been paid less than my male counterparts, but the thought I might have makes my blood boil! I turned on the news this morning to hear that women earn 80p for every £1 earned by men.

Is the Equal Pay Act worth the paper it’s written on? It’s a disgrace that in 2014 most women working full-time are effectively working for free for the next two months. Of course that’s just half the story as women at the top of their game try to break through the glass ceiling. So what are we going to do about it???

Is the gender pay gap a symptom of a more widespread prejudice towards women in the workplace? In my working life, I’ve been asked at a final interview if I was thinking of getting pregnant as the other strongest candidate was a man and therefore couldn’t!

I’ve discovered having a baby can be tantamount to committing career suicide. A friend whose baby was 9 months old was asked at interview what she’d been doing in her time off. When she explained she’d just had a baby the panel expressed disappointment that she hadn’t done any courses.

While working freelance, I was amazed as a male colleague daily shouted “part-timer” at a female colleague leaving the office at 5pm to collect her children from out of school clubs. As if it isn’t hard enough trying to find a balance working full-time while keeping up with the domestic chores and having some time left over for the family without comments like that!

Women have proved themselves to be just as, and in some cases more than, capable and hard-working as men. We are tenacious, resourceful, incredible multitaskers and facilitators…and unequivocally worth more than we’re getting!

La Dolce Vita

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There is no where as beguiling as the relatively unheard of village of Casperia or, Aspra Sabina, as it was known pre 1947.

Just 60 km north east of Rome Casperia is a world away from the frenetic streets of the Vatican city. Nestled high in the Sabine hills this walled village is a medieval relic born out of necessity for the agricultural community’s need to defend itself from the Saracen raids in the 9th cenury. _DSC0126

The reason for my incursion was a four day Pilates retreat led by my wonderful London based teacher Suzy Mitchell. My temporary home was a renovated part of the 15th Century Forani Palace the former residence of the Count and Countess of Casperia. _DSC0039
Every morning began with a 90 minute pilates class with the car-free labyrinth of cobbled paths and stairways as an added work out.

I’m told that fewer than 350 live in Casperia but during my stay I only saw maybe a dozen locals. However, laundry left billowing from bedroom windows, strains of overheard effusive Italian banter, the chink of crockery and delectable smell of cooking drifting through the air hints at life behind closed doors.
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The village was the perfect setting to try and get to grips with the manual settings of my DSLR camera and armed with an “idiot’s guide” with assignments at the end of each chapter my camera excursions enabled me to see my surroundings through very beady eyes!
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The most surreal moment of the trip was during a hack organised by Sunflower Retreats in the local countryside, when we tethered the stallions to some railings in a supermarket car park in order to buy water. I have to say this didn’t sit with my London sensibilities and can’t imagine our four legged friends would still have been there if we’d done the same at Tesco Brent Park!

What an exhilirating ride we had and there’s no greater incentive to grip with your inner thighs than the vision of spending the rest of my time in Italy in A & E.

And what better to soothe the saddle soreness and aching limbs but with a few glasses of Prosecco at the Friends Cafe on piazza Umberto I or UK ex-pat Johnny Madge’s bar on Via Garibaldi.

La Dolce Vita! Ciao for now!
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Ebay it!

Make no bones about it money’s tight at the moment! It’s what comes of being part of “The Squeezed Middle”. But in these times of state imposed austerity where would we be without Ebay?

I discovered it in 2009 after my first son was born. Maternity pay had come to an end. A conversation with a coffee swigging, dopey looking nursery nurse about how she’d record my son’s first word in a tatty lever arch file put the kibosh on me returning to work full-time. Nevertheless bills needed to be paid and the thought of not having any cash of my own made my blood run cold.

So I found ebay…My first sale was a pair of unused red sequinned nipple tassles bought for me by a Director I worked with on a documentary in Manchester just before I got married. Inappropriate? At the time that was exactly what I was thinking as I opened it in full view of the office but that’s tv for you, dahling! However, with their Agent Provocateur packaging still in tact they went for £25 – air kisses all round! Suddenly, clutter became cash in disguise.

I’ve often thought ebay is missing a trick by not doing a timeline for sales and purchases like Facebook. Mine would tell my life story – from those carefree days of tassled pasties to the BabyDan sling in vgc to maternity clothes bundle after baby number 2, armfuls of recycled toys and now salvaged bath taps after our bathroom refurb (19 hours to go and 32 watchers).

My highs have included managing to sell a used breast pump; turning a profit of £30 on a second hand chair I bought for £45 and making a quick £13 on a Bumbo seat I bought for a song at a charity shop (the Portas effect is yet to reach the Samaritans in Willesden Green).

Thankfully, I’ve only had a few bad experiences in my 4 years of ebay buying and selling. Most farcical was a John Lewis mirrored chest of drawers which arrived (eventually) smashed to smithereens in a courier’s van worthy of a bank job that ran out of petrol 300 yards from my front door.

The seller refused to help me get compensation and instead started sending me abusive emails claiming that I led a “charmed life”. After doing a bit of research I discovered she ran a hydroponics shop and I learnt the valuable lesson of checking feedback on sellers before hitting the “confirm bid” button.

I think there comes a point in every ebay user’s life where shopping habits are influenced by a purchase’s resale value. My kids are constantly asking if I’m going to ebay this or that and it has been used as an effective threat to curb bad behaviour!

Next time you’re tempted to read one of those “How to make money in your lunch hour” articles use the time more productively to research the completed listings on ebay and sell your unwanted stuff.

I find the item that went for the most and figure out why…what was the starting bid, how long did the auction run for, when did it end, what does the description say. Another tip is never underestimate the postage. If you can’t stand the idea of queuing in your local Post Office use a courier like myHermes. They’ll pick up from you direct and they often work out cheaper.

It never fails to surprise me what sells from used perfume bottles to this season’s Primark must have…the possibilities are endless. So get selling everything, including the kitchen sink!

Plucking Ukulele

My attempts at playing this four stringed instrument would have George Formby turning in his grave! I may be northern but being born on the other side of the Pennines means I must have missed out on George’s innate sense of rhythm.

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I’ve always been a sucker for a new fad and for the past few years the “uke”, as it is affectionately known, has been growing in popularity. So when my eldest son was given one for Christmas and I stumbled across Lorraine Bow’s Learn to Uke website I hastily signed myself up for the beginners course.

Four Tuesdays in a pub learning how to strum a few pop classics and the chance to make new friends to jam with along the way. What could be more fun?

To break the ice our teacher Lorraine came up with a novel way for us to introduce ourselves. We simply had to come up with an adjective to describe ourselves beginning with the same first letter as our names. So my first lesson began in the company of “Menopausal Mona”, “Patient Peter” and a French man dubbed “Juicy Julian” by my neighbour (hoping to get)”Lucky Louise”!

I found myself in a mental abyss fighting to find a fitting prefix to Rachel. In the end I settled on “Raring to go” which was the best I could do under pressure. Also infinitely better than “Raunchy” or “Ravishing”, which after my tube journey and with the smell of the kids’ tea clinging to my scruffy outfit I was anything but.

That first dalliance with the uke was exciting and great fun. I learnt how to hold it, tune it and strum with it. In no time at all – with the help of some coloured stickers on the fretboard – we were playing “Every breath you take” and “With or Without You”.

All week, as suggested, I dutifully practised for fifteen minutes every day. I even felt quite smug when asked at the second session who had done their homework.

However, it soon became clear my efforts fell short as the second lesson went at a pace I struggled to keep up with. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the banter and “Dunkirk spirit” of the less able in the group.

In the week that followed my enthusiasm began to wane. After that “second date” with the uke, I found myself thinking of reasons it wouldn’t work in the long run. I realised this was the first course I’d been on which wasn’t going to pay for itself. This time I wasn’t honing my writing skills or recording an oral history interview. There was no way I could see myself ever busking.

By lesson 3 I was being taught the chords for “I Will Survive” but I was floundering. A competitive edge had developed in the group and I felt I had been planted for comedy value in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

So my final lesson came as something of a relief. I went along with being filmed with the group for a You Tube video bluffing my way through a rendition of “Iko Iko” but little did I know worst humiliation was round the corner. Breaking with the format, Lorraine decided to teach us Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” without the “aide memoire” of the printed sheet.

I knew I was in trouble from the get go. I’m short sighted and wear glasses only in extreme emergencies. I find my myopic world far more bearable. This proved a huge handicap as from my seat in the corner I just couldn’t make out the position of her fingers.

Seeing my ineptitude, Lorraine strongly suggested I sit next to her and then to add insult to injury she expected me to remember four chords in a row!

No amount of repetition made this task any easier for me…At one point Lorraine remarked, “I teach kids with really severe learning difficulties and they can manage this”.

I left with my uke firmly between my legs so to speak! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I received an email the other day advertising a “slower course”. Whether its remedial enough for me is another matter…

Sugar, spice and all things toxic!

Last Thursday night, I got to taste history at a talk by food historian Tasha Marks at the House of Wolf in Islington.

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Arriving as instructed at 7pm in the upstairs Apothecary bar, my friend and I were given black and white candy striped bags printed with the words, “NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL INSTRUCTED”.

The venue was packed with N1 London types sporting gelled quiffs, vintage clothes and cultured smirks. We managed to find something resembling a blanket box to park our rears on and settle in for a rather cosy presentation on the unsavoury history of London’s food.

Tasha, clad in white and black treggings reminiscent of our bag of goodies, spoke knowledgeably about food adulteration down the ages, with the odd joke about the present horse meat scandal thrown in for good measure.

At certain points we were asked to delve into our bags and try the “toxic treats” Tasha had rustled up in the Animal Vegetable and Mineral boutique food events kitchen.

Chocolate covered chicory beans illustrated how easily fooled the public were into believing this cheap substitute was coffee.

My personal favourite was the Milk Sherbert dib dab to compliment the part of the talk on how chalk was added to milk and a whole host of other nasties like copper and lead were added to food to make it more attractive or bulk it out.

After the glow in the dark sweets, the last mouthful was sugar paper etched with the sketch of the great lozenge maker in edible ink (pictured above).

I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to consume this after hearing the story behind it. The cartoon is a gory reminder of how a confectioner in Bradford managed to use 12 lbs of arsenic in a preparation of sweets, instead of gypsum. The resulting sweet was so deadly 18 people died, and more than 200 became ill.

To find out more about Tasha Marks and her business Animal, Vegetable and Mineral visit www.avmcuriosities.com.

If you feel uncomfortable leave this space…

Light Show

reads the caption on the wall of the Hayward Gallery ahead of the black curtain shielding Olafur Eliasson’s installation at the “Light Show”. A young woman emerges from the dark blinking wildly and muttering, “it makes your eyes go all funny after a while”.

Once inside I’m pleasantly surprised. “Model for a timeless garden” is the piece de resistance of this mesmerising exhibition. Eliasson uses strobe lighting to illuminate 27 different fountains. The effect is stunning! Droplets of water turn into exploding fireworks, icy frothing jets dance like tireless ravers and mist looks like diamonds hanging in mid air.

The experience is disorientating not least that it feels like being in a nightclub without the alcoholic haze of one too many snakebites and black. The sound of running water is quite deafening and out of sync with the spectacle.

There’s also a magic in this work and a familiarity that harks back to those Sundays spent as a child visiting the musical fountain at Stapeley water gardens or the dancing fountain shows of package holidays in Salou.

The beauty of this exhibition is that each work involves you as the viewer exploring light and its medium as art. There’s a lot less pretension than other exhibitions I’ve been to lately and brings out the playfulness and a sense of camaraderie with other onlookers. This is particularly true of Ivan Navarro’s mirrored phonebox where grown men queue jump to experience the illusion of the one way mirrors without derision from patiently waiting mothers and small children.

I loved Bill Culbert’s Bulb Box Reflection. Simply it’s a light bulb and its reflection in a mirror, except for the bulb in the reflection is illuminated while the bulb itself is not. But how?

Another highlight was Conrad Shawcross’ claustrophobic Slow Arc inside a Cube IV. A light moves inside a cage and projects a shadow on the walls that puts you in mind of the pattern teachers would hand out to colour in the absence of a lesson plan!

I particularly liked the attention to detail in the toilets on the mezzanine floor which appeared to be an extension of the exhibition with three cubicles illuminated and two not.

The shop is also well worth a visit. I bought three of Herve Tullet’s children’s books with cut outs that can be used to project shadows on walls and ceilings. The light bulbs shaped post-its were very tempting, although I managed to resist.

In the midst of my “should I spend £3 on post-it notes” dilemma, I overheard a very amusing conversation between two other shoppers disappointed not to find any moonlight light bulbs a la Katie Patterson’s installation. Are the Hayward Gallery missing a trick? Perhaps, they’ll be coming to a shop near you, alongside a very nice line in chocolate teapots!

The Light Show is on until 28th April 2013 and, in my opinion, one not to miss. southbankcentre.co.uk/lightshow.

Let’s get this blog started!

Back in my twenties two things were unthinkable – having babies and growing old in London. One down and one to go!

On the eve of my fortieth birthday, I’ve decided to blog my way out of the boredom of domestic chores and child rearing. I can vent, pontificate and muse to my heart’s content.  I’m brimming with the excitement of leading a double life – virtual and real!

The big plans I’m hatching for this blog will materialise in the fullness of time, but for now it’s just me “under construction”.

Surely the beauty of blogging is spontaneity and impulse. So I’m hoping this blog will evolve and take on its own personality. I see it as a sort of voyage of blog-discovery. My passions are writing and researching. I intend to indulge both here!