What every woman wants for Christmas

Darling, don’t buy me a Dyson

When you’re out Christmas shopping this year

There’s something else I’ve got my eyes on

But it seems that my hints are not clear


Sweetie, do not buy me saucepans

I don’t care how special they are

And I would think twice, if you think it is nice

To buy anything that’s “for the car”


Lover, do not buy me lingerie

That is tacky, or lacking in taste

Yes to knickers of silk, or a similar ilk

But not with holes “strategically placed”


Honey, if you buy me bathroom scales

You may find them wrapped round your head

I don’t want to measure the price of food pleasure

I’d like something special instead


Something that’s unique and fabulous

Something to take my breath away

Something that’s killer, as my stocking filler

To give me the best Christmas Day


But don’t expect me just to tell you

What I want, or which shop to go

If you want the surprise to light up in my eyes

I expect you to simply just know.


Like this? I regularly perform stand up and poetry for a wide range of audiences. To book me, email toni@tonikent.co.uk

You want to live like common people?

When the Welfare Reform Act was introduced, Iain Duncan Smith was famously quoted as saying, “I could live on £53 a week if I had to“.  A petition was set up to see if he would like to prove it but of course he could live on £53 a week ‘if he had to’.  We all could, because in a situation where you have no choice, where you have little income and are reliant on the state to support you to some extent, or totally, then you just get on with it.  Many families already do.

This is not about to become a tirade against people who rely on benefits, nor a lengthy defence.  It is simply requesting a little more understanding of how bloody hard it can be to work your way out of that situation.

When I was growing up, both of my parents had low-income jobs.  Dad got home from work in the late afternoon and immediately took the parenting baton from mum so she could go to her evening job at a shampoo factory.  Our family was ‘dual income’ but we had bugger all to show for it.  No holidays, just hand-me-downs and great smelling hair – thanks Alberto Balsam! 

We did, however, have an appreciation of the importance of work because during the periods when my dad didn’t have a job (it was the 80s, redundancy was ‘a thing’) it massively impacted our household budget.  This was to become permanent due to his ill-health and subsequent death – without the benefits system I have no idea how my family would have survived. 

Now, when you are poor and a teenager, and wishing that your dad wasn’t dead, and that you had enough money to get the bus instead of walking to town, and that you didn’t have to wash your clothes in the sink because the washing machine is broken, and that your clothes didn’t smell because you try drying out a pair of jeans that haven’t been through a proper spin cycle, and that you didn’t have to keep asking the neighbours for bread and sugar, and all the other stuff that goes along with living on almost nothing and everybody knowing about it, you are in quite a precarious position.  You really are only a couple of choices away from being reliant on benefits for the rest of your life. 

But, if you can see through the grief and the shame and the sick and tired feeling that comes from relying on hand-outs, it might light a fire underneath you that makes you work like crazy to get out.  Which is what I did.

And because of that I know how hard it is to leave home at eighteen with no safety net. To decide that you cannot afford to go to university despite the college telling you that you’d earn a place. To leave behind friends, family and siblings that need you and to spend 90% of your wages on rent and train fare which means you have to live off Marmite sandwiches. 

I understand the difficulty in making friends when you’ve moved to a place where you don’t know anybody, of feeling out of place, lacking confidence, not having the right social skills and struggling to shut away the part of you that thinks you don’t belong. 

I know what it’s like to rent a room in a house that seems fine then the landlord starts telling you that you are, “not permitted to bring boyfriends round” and invites his friends from work over who knock on your bedroom door and ask if you’re naked, so you don’t feel safe and end up jamming your bedroom door shut by putting a chair under the handle. 

It is far, far easier to not do this stuff, to ‘stay put’ where you feel more comfortable and are among the people you grew up with. 

But I’m so glad I didn’t go back because every minute of effort was worth it. Not just for the incredible achievements that I have made in my professional and personal life but also for the evening when I was introduced to the man that is now my husband. I cannot overstate the value and importance of having a partner who has truly ‘got your back’ when you don’t have the benefit of the family safety net that many of us think is a given.

So far, so heart-warming. See kids – getting ‘on your bike’ works! But my point is this. Finding the strength to invest that kind of effort and cope with the moments of loneliness, being broke, and generally feeling like you’re dragging the weight of the world uphill on a sledge is just about do-able when you’re young, single, healthy, positive to the point of naivety and have a couple of A-levels. But to find yourself in that position in your forties, with a family, or because your partner has died, or because you are ill, or if for whatever reason you came out of school without an armful of qualifications. How much harder is it then?

The Government wants people less reliant on benefits and more inclined to work and of course I agree. There is pride and fulfilment in going to work, bringing home a wage and feeling that you have made a contribution. It gives you confidence when you have your own money and feel in control of your circumstances. It feels incredible to achieve the goals we set for ourselves but what if something happens that takes those things away or knocks you so far back that you wonder how you’ll recover? Could you just ‘snap out of it’ then?

To our MPs I say yes, help people to make changes, find a way to bring more work into families and make more choices available to young people who aren’t starting out from a solid foundation. But do it with a little more understanding and perspective and don’t think that platitudes like those once offered by Iain Duncan Smith work when delivered by someone with a basic salary of close to £80,000 a year. 

We could all live off £53 a week if we had to, but we sure as hell wouldn’t choose to. 


The original version of this post is featured in my book, Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One. You can order a copy in paperback or as an eBook via Amazon.

Want to get your pupils or employees thinking about social mobility? I regularly deliver talks about my experiences in schools and as part of diversity programmes. Drop me a line at toni@tonikent.co.uk to find out more.

Black Friday – a poem

For some, Black Friday is a shopping idyll
Where you can buy everything that you ‘need’
When the whole world turns into a Lidl
And we follow like dogs on a lead

Every advert tells us: “slashed prices”
Every promise: “save 80 percent”
You can go get an asbo in ASDA
Queues form early – you may need a tent

You can fight over TVs in Tesco
Maraud for mascara in Boots
Or if you’re a bit more upmarket
Go to Harrods and fight over suits

You can head out to Next as the dawn breaks
Shout at strangers “that tank top is MINE!”
Park your car like it’s just been abandoned
Say a prayer that you don’t get a fine

Or give all your money to Amazon
And have the stuff sent your house
You can shed your entire month’s salary
With one little click of a mouse

These bargains won’t be there tomorrow
These deals, they will not exist
These items, they won’t buy themselves you know
But this shopping tale comes with a twist

You know when Black Friday is over
When your cupboards are bulging with stuff
When you think “yep, that’s Christmas sorted
I’m certain that I’ve bought enough”

There’ll be an email in your inbox
A pop-up that will make you wail
And an ad on the TV announcing
“Good news people – we’re having a sale!


Like this? Why not book me to perform. Or you can order a hard copy of my poetry book ‘I Need a Wife’ by emailing me at toni@tonikent.co.uk . Or, if you want to get digital, download a copy from Amazon.

Check out my next performances here.

How to work from home when you’ve got a new puppy and a dog

What do you do when your dog gets a little bit easier to manage? You get a puppy – that’s what you do! And so it was that our family recently welcomed young Luna to join our 2 1/2 year-old Vinnie – completing our family (hopefully) for once and for all.

Having written previously about what having a dog does to your life, I thought now was a good time to update you if you’re wondering whether to add a puppy to your brood.

1. Wake up. A lot.

You know ‘Rock Around the Clock‘ – where Bill Hayley sings “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock”. Having a new puppy is a bit like that, except those are the times you’ll be waking up as your puppy decides:

  • One o’clock: She doesn’t want to be in a crate
  • Two o’clock: She needs a wee
  • Three o’clock: She needs a wee
  • Four o’clock: She wants a cuddle

And let’s not forget the times in between when your dog gets annoyed with the puppy cuddling up next to him. Or hears a noise. Or thinks that there may be a cat within 15 miles of your home.

2. Feed the dogs

While you have trained your dog to sit patiently and wait for his food, your puppy still needs to learn. Until she does, she will shriek like a banshee and pogo like a punk. You will regret the open-plan extension you built and wish for the cosy sound-absorbing kitchen you used to have.

3. Go for a walk

Now with one dog that is fully mature (although robbed of his knackers – poor boy!), and one puppy that cannot go on long walks, you have the following dilemma. Do you…..?

A. Walk the dog, crate the puppy, then walk the puppy later.

B. Walk the dog and the puppy together, but put the puppy in a rucksack on your front once she’s had her requisite mini-walk.

I went for Option B, because I thought it would be fun. And she would look cute. It was, and she did, but my puppy weighed close to 7 kilos. That’s is a lot of kgs to carry on your front. Especially when your dog likes a good three-mile stroll to start his day.

4. Hop on a conference call

All I can say is thank christ I am freelance. And that working from home is the norm for most of my clients. And that most of them have dogs. One call involved four attendees with five dogs between them. The person who didn’t have a dog was under pressure from his wife to get one. I’m unsure whether the assorted yipping, whining and barking from everyone’s hounds convinced him.

WHAT I WILL SAY IS……despite all the distraction – including my colleague’s dog barking because she heard me say “postman” (!) – we managed to hold it together enough to conduct a detailed discussion on virtual desktops. Perhaps having that level of distraction sharpens your game. More likely we’re all so bloody desperate for non-canine contact that the call was like a lifeline to the outside world and we devoured those technology words like a meal at Le Manoir.

5. Try to write something

A call is one thing, getting into “flow” is quite another. If you don’t have a puppy, you can have an immersive, ‘virtual puppy’ experience by doing this:

  1. Stab yourself in the hand, ankle or thigh every five seconds with a fork to emulate a puppy’s teeny tiny teeth.
  2. Go and stand in your garden every ten minutes to experience the joy of ‘encouraging’ your puppy to have a wee or poo. This can be made even more realistic by squealing, “Wee-wee – good girl!”
  3. To mimic a dog clambering onto your laptop while you’re trying to work, press the palm of your hand firmly onto your keyboard. Then swipe your hand across like Little Richard giving it the full Tutti Frutti. For an enhanced effect, lick your thumb and wipe it across the screen.
  4. Make a cup of coffee. Slosh it liberally across the table.
  5. Depending on the breed of virtual puppy you have in mind, trim an appropriate amount of hair from your head and sprinkle it on your clothes / in your keyboard.
  6. Steam clean your floor.
  7. And again – your virtual puppy has just wee’d in the hallway.
  8. Give up on the idea of writing then notice your puppy is sleeping. Write like a demon.

6. And finally…

Book a meeting for the following day. Announce to your partner the moment they get through the door that tomorrow it’s their turn 🙂


Want more puppy dog tales? Try these:

What to expect when your dog has been neutered

Doggy style

Or you can buy the books.


Want to hear some of my material? Book me for stand up or come along to one of my performances.

Why Our Girls Need a Break from Inspirational Quotes

Sometimes we need to give our kids a break from inspirational quotes and just let them have a laugh. My 13 y/o daughter in particular is bombarded with ‘you can be/do anything’ messages:

Are you on your period? Why not ride a bike in tiny shorts! (Here’s an old favourite featuring a soundtrack by Dr Alban. He’s not a proper doctor).

Are you a girl? Declare yourself a goddess! And a scientist. And a philanthropist. And a footballer. All while demonstrating heightened levels of wokeness and self-care and an ability to raise up your fellow goddesses.

I will admit to being complicit in this. I keep an especially watchful eye out for my daughter and ensure she has a ready supply of kick-ass role models whether it’s in print or repeatedly pointing out to her that there are women we know who are scientists and sensei’s and generally all-round awesome human beings.

The worry I have is that by constantly pointing out to our girls “they can be/do anything” and that they must accept themselves fully, we’re building in a sense that the world at large doesn’t accept them in the first place. And then there’s the question of being even-handed with our boys… My son doesn’t have a book of inspirational ‘man quotes’.

As a family, we point out inequality, call people out when they make generalised statements and demonstrate to our children how fortunate they are to have the number of opportunities they enjoy. They understand the lottery of where you are born and under what circumstances you come into the world. But it can get a bit well, you know, earnest. And it leads me to believe that sometimes we need to take a break from all the #inspo and let our kids have a bloody good laugh.

This need was beautifully illustrated today when my daughter presented me with her art homework.

The brief: Use words that are meaningful to you to create a typography portrait of yourself.

Her response: “Hello all” – the catchphrase of the marvellous, misguided, bewilderingly off-kilter Jim in Friday Night Dinner 😀

Picture of Hello All homework

I regularly perform stand up about family life (much to my children’s horror). Want to book me? Get in touch at toni@tonikent.co.uk.


Update! Having tweeted my daughter’s work, the creator of Friday Night Dinner, Robert Popper, retweeted it to his 50k+ followers. In doing so, he absolutely made my daughter’s day. Something that wouldn’t have been achieved had she used an inspirational quote for her homework 😉

What does a compere do?

Comperes just rock up and introduce people right? Wrong!

A big part of making sure everyone gets value out of an event (and a sign that you’ve got a great compere) is to interview people beforehand.

Today I had the pleasure of quizzing Health & Hart Founder and nutritionist, Joanne Hart, and CEO & Founder of the Cooking Academy and food scientist Kumud Gandhi, on their top wellness tips. This included:

  • The best first step if you want to make a change
  • Nutritional no-no’s
  • Wellness on a budget

I also happen to know now the most important five spices you should have in your kitchen. Happily, they are all ones I know how to use, rather than the myriad of exotic ones my husband has bought – Sumac anyone?

And why was I speaking to these two incredible people? They’re going to be panellists at the next Smart Works Reading Smart Talks: Wellness event. You can get a flavour of what these events are like from the picture at the top of this post – they’re focused whilst also being frank and funny.

From what I know about the Smart Talks: Wellness event so far, it’s going to be awesome. Want to come along? Buy a ticket!


Want a compere who knows what she’s doing, is a safe pair of hands and can bring great energy to your event? Get in touch with me at toni@tonikent.co.uk

Chortle!

I have been trying for some time to figure out where I might be able to pitch content that talked about my experiences as a stand up performer. I can’t believe it took me so long to consider Chortle. Having thought that they only focused on reviews, I had that preconception completely challenged when they published a report about the care home performance.

So I put fingers to keyboard and dropped the news desk at Chortle a line and ta-da! Last week they agreed to run my piece about performing at Sue Ryder. It feels like a fitting tribute to Bel and Paula.

Read the full article

Snip of the Chortle news article

Stand Up for Sue Ryder

It was my absolute privilege to perform stand up at the Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent day hospice in Newbury yesterday.

The decision to do so was inspired by the care that the hospice services in Berkshire showed my brother-in-law’s wife, Paula (pictured left with her daughter, Alice), and my beautiful friend, Bel (pictured right with one of her trademark mischief-making faces), throughout their illnesses.

Witnessing first hand how the Sue Ryder team focus on making you feel like a person, not a patient, is a testament to how important these services are. We joked about living in the bubble that is rural West Berkshire, the challenge of disguising the contents of your recycling ‘bin of shame‘ and the terror of men in extremely tight Lycra.

If you like the idea of stand up as part of diversion therapy, please consider sharing this post or, even better, make a donation to the Sue Ryder team. I’d like to thank Alison, Lucy, Rachel, Chrissie and the rest of the team for the incredible service they provide, and for trusting me with their audience 🙂

Thanks Alison & Lucy!

Comedy and Palliative Care

“What we’re going to do”, said Bel, “is put the FUN in fundraising!” Corny, yet memorable words from a friend who coupled living with an incurable form of cancer with raising money for the charities that were caring for her. It is something I have never forgotten and her legacy lives on not just in the smile of her son and her husband’s stories, but also in the way her attitude to life impacted everyone who met her.

She prompted people not to shy away from what is most painful and to face difficult circumstances head on. She encouraged me to make the leap from corporate life (and to sing a Rod Stewart number in public, but that’s another story). She also made me think differently about fundraising; as I have no business going near a mountain or a triathlon, I instead put on comedy & curry nights and an indie disco which led to fantastic results without the need for Lycra or medical attention.

And so, it is in that spirit that I am going to perform a stand-up & poetry set for staff and patients at the Sue Ryder Day Hospice in Newbury’s Rosemary Unit on October 15th. Part of the Duchess of Kent Hospice family, it offers people living with cancer the opportunity to remain in their home for longer by providing specialist services on an outpatient basis. This extends to a wide variety of complementary therapies, as well as emotional and practical support. If you live in or around the #Newbury, #Reading or #Wokingham area, chances are someone you know has benefitted from the services of the Sue Ryder team.

But where’s the fundraising in all this? Well, that’s where you can help. Typically, the cost of a ticket to a comedy show is in the region of £15 (I’m talking Jongleurs here, not Jimmy Carr 😉) so if you support the idea of taking a comedy performance to a place of palliative care, why not make a donation of around that size to the fantastic Sue Ryder team. Like Bel said, let’s put a little ‘fun’ into fundraising – simply head to https://www.sueryder.org/donate, decide how much you want to donate and select ‘Duchess of Kent Hospice’.

Donation page for Duchess of Kent

A one minute story

What story would you tell if you only had one minute? This was the challenge last week when I participated in the regional heats for BBC Radio’s New Voices. The temptation was to go for something funny but this time I went with my heart, telling the story of my beautiful friend and a memorable walk to school.

A one minute story about a walk to school

If you’d like to hear the longer version – here’s the original:

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the judging panel said ‘yes’! Round two beckons but so far, no-one knows what it will entail….