“Man up, sit down Chin up, pipe down Socks up, don’t cry Drink up, just lie Grow some balls he said, Grow some balls..”
Powerful lyrics by IDLES on the topic of toxic masculinity. They make me think about the impact that language like this has and it’s why I’m supporting Emma-Jane Taylor by compering her event on male mental health in aid of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.
I discovered yesterday that this month is not only ‘Veganuary‘, ‘Dry January‘ and ‘Tryanuary‘ it’s also ‘Januhairy‘. Being claimed by women who want to challenge expectations that they should be hairless from the neck down, it reminded me of a dilemma that many of us women face and how our brothers don’t seem to come under quite the same scrutiny – something I captured in a poem called ‘Bush Issues’.
Wear yours however you like, I won’t judge. Just don’t tell me how to wear mine….
You know how it is when you want to go for a swim
You look down below….and the bush, well it needs a trim
You think to yourself, would this look ok?
If I stuffed it all in, or would hair start to stray
From the minute I set a foot into the pool
If I put on some board shorts, do you think I could fool
People into thinking I was a surf chick?
I could have a quick shave, but then I might nick
That delicate skin and come out in a rash
And I’d rather have hair than spots round my gash
If I pulled down the front, do you think it might hide
My topiary? But if I go down the slide
It might ride up and show, I’m too busy relaxing
Than to spend my time plucking and tweezering and waxing
And then I see blokes with big hairy guts
All covered in pubes from their throats to their nuts
Who don’t need to be shaved, but when it comes to my bits
They must be so carefully managed and it’s….
Very unfair and a little bit weird
That my foof must be manicured, but not a man’s beard
The filter gets clogged up with the hair from their backs
The pool would be cleaner if men all got waxed.
Featured in my book – ‘I Need a Wife’, I performed Bush Issues at the ARISE2020 Summit and would like to thank the audience and fellow presenters for their good humour – especially the gentleman who went on after me who said, “As a bearded man, I’m not sure how I can follow that.”
Want to inject some humour into your next summit or kick off? Book me to perform by emailing me at email@example.com.
I love the WI. Having performed for dozens of groups and with bookings stretching out to 2021 (know this if you know nothing else, they are organised) it has been my absolute pleasure to meet hundreds of women who are hell-bent on supporting not only their fellow members, but fellow human beings too.
Since its inception in the UK 105 years ago, its members have campaigned against FGM, for equal pay – back in 1943 – and resolutions under consideration this year include whether to place pressure on the government to legislate for female crash test dummies (women are significantly more likely to die in a car accident) and how to protect our non-renewable helium resources which are at risk thanks to our reliance on it in the medical industry (see – it’s not just used by ravers).
It’s all about singing Jerusalem isn’t it?
No. I’ve only ‘known’ the WI for a few years but in that time I’ve performed for a wide range of groups and while some do sing Jerusalem, there are probably more that don’t. And whether they do or not, they will all join in with a song about your dog humping your leg if you ask them to.
I’ve performed for groups that meet in the day and those that meet in the evening. There are those who drink wine and those who prefer tea and cake. But, until last night, I hadn’t met a group who class themselves as ‘New Wave’. I knew they existed, because I’ve been on Twitter and found groups in London and Manchester like ‘Shoreditch Sisters’ and the ‘Social Lites’ but until, this year, I hadn’t been invited to speak at one. So I thought I’d go and find some by hopping on the WI website and searching for interesting group names that were near to me. Which led to a booking from Thame Belles who most definitely fit the New Wave bill.
What makes them New Wave – and what’s it got to do with being relevant?
1. They ‘get’ social as a means to attract and engage members.
Thame Belles are on Insta. And they’ve got more followers than I have. I need to tap up their social media person 🙂
2. They know good design is important to make you stand out
Getting people off their sofas and out into the real world – especially when you want to attract a demographic that is typically juggling career + family life + wanting a social life – takes skill and persuasion. They’ve created some very cool flyers that are on-brand with their banner and list out the year’s speakers. For once in my life I got top billing 😀
3. They know the power of a free sample
The reverse of the flyer had the offer of a free meeting – nice work!
4. They don’t compromise on the core WI values
Being New Wave doesn’t mean having to rip up the rule book. At the heart of the WI is fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. Its campaigns and mandates focus on serious stuff: climate change, mental health, ending violence against women. To call them “Jam & Jerusalem” does them a disservice that undermines their value as a campaigning organisation that is practical, ambitious and doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.
In meeting Thame Belles I not only got a warm reception, an excellent night out and the opportunity to perform a poem about intimate grooming under the watchful gaze of a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, I also got to witness how an organisation that has been very much part of the British landscape for more than 100 years will continue to be relevant long into the future.
The set I performed for Thame Belles was ‘I Need a Wife’ – an hour of comedy and poetry that takes in some of life’s really big issues like how ashamed I am of my glass recycling bin and why I have totally had it with thongs. If you’d like to book me for your group or organisation – get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
A few years ago I sat down and wrote a poem that reflected the frustration I was feeling with combining a career with parenthood. Before I share it with you, I should state that Mr Kent does his fair share of heavy lifting when it comes to family life – I definitely don’t have to go it alone.
But….but. There are just some things that seem to fall to a woman to do. And I’ll be honest, there are some things that I quite like to do. When it suits me. Having worked as a cleaner between the ages of 14 and 16, there are times when I love a bit of hoovering or scrubbing the grouting on our floor tiles. However, show me a toilet seat that has piss on it for the fifteenth time that week (par for the course with a boy in the house) and I am going to get very angry indeed.
And given that I’m self-employed, and work from home, it makes sense that I am the one who is there when the children are ill. Part of my reason for leaving corporate life was to be more available for the kids but it doesn’t mean that I always want to do it. When the children were much younger, it seemed like they were ill every other week – our nursery seemed to have a policy of checking the children’s temperature at the door. How I longed for the slap-dash parenting approach of my childhood where digital thermometers didn’t exist.
There was also the small matter of nursery and school assuming that everything should come to me first – why do I get top billing? Then there’s organising play dates which in my experience is almost exclusively a mum-to-mum conversation. Same goes for taking them to parties (oh the horror of having to hang around in a hot soft play), completing permission slips and sewing on badges.
It’s small stuff, I know, but bloody hell it’s wearing. Parenting is relentless, marriage is compromise and maintaining a sense of yourself without being a selfish arsehole can be a tricky tightrope to walk.
So I wrote the poem. And it opened up doors for me. It led to the publication of my book and dozens of paid stand up performances. My initial print run of 500 copies is almost sold out and the tally of people I’ve performed to now runs into the thousands. Not bad for something that was designed to help me let off steam.
You’ll find the poem below. If you want to book me to speak, perform or would like to buy a copy of the book, drop me a line at email@example.com
I Need a Wife
I need a wife
Someone to organise my life
To do the shopping, pay the bills too
Someone to clean around the loo
Someone who remembers when term ends
When homework’s due. Someone who sends
Completed forms, and makes dates to play
Who never forgets an inset day
Someone who remembers all the clubs
Who does the washing, the drying, the washing again
What a week to be a working parent. The children are hanging on by their fingertips to get to Friday when 1.30pm brings the end of school and the official start of Christmas.
They are puffy-eyed, over tired and bordering on hysteria in that unique ‘it’s nearly Christmas’ way. At school, the curriculum has gone out of the window to be replaced with DVD-watching, clearing out cupboards and a nativity that for all its beauty (and the best camel outfits ever to grace a church) will have sounded like a doctor’s waiting room thanks to the level of coughing. Book bags spill over with Christmas cards and sweet wrappers as the healthy eating policy gets crushed under a sea of Quality Street.
Patiently waiting port
And while the kids are at school I’m working to pre-Christmas deadlines whilst accepting deliveries, sending cards and adding ever more to the festive food list. The closer we get to the ‘Big Day’ the bigger our appetites get. We are wolves, salivating at the thought of turkey and gradually upping our cheese intake to make sure our systems are ready for the dairy-binge that accompanies the port that’s patiently waiting in the cupboard.
Wearing ‘Sunday Best’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner
I am trying so hard to be focused but there is part of me wishing these next couple of days away. I’m eager to join the children in their revelry, up for letting my hair down and dreaming of those few days when I point blank refuse to do any washing. Let the jeans and t-shirts fester in the basket, we shall wear our Sunday Best to breakfast, lunch and dinner!
I can’t wait until nothing matters but the next game of UNO and finding tree chocolates. Or to savour that moment of giggling and shushing on Christmas Eve when we sneak the presents under the tree. A tree which now lives on the landing beyond the stair gate thanks to our puppy who thinks that baubles are dog biscuits.
And it’s not just the children who are tired – we parents are absolutely knackered. Just as puffy-eyed and bordering on hysteria as our kids, we too are hanging on by our fingertips before we can take time off.
After school and down the pub, we empathise and encourage each other to give it one last push before we can run out whooping and yelling into the December air – we can taste time off and it Tastes. Like. Christmas.
So if you’re feeling the strain this week, just know you’re not alone. Take a pause and take a deep breath – together we’ll get through this – let the countdown begin!
You know when you think you’re just going to hear a few Christmas carols being sung by your child’s class and it turns out to be a full blown church service? That’s precisely what happened to me recently. Perhaps the fact it was held in an abbey should have alerted me, but I couldn’t help but feel unprepared for ‘what I was about to receive’.
It wasn’t all bad though; the singing was great, the abbey was awe inspiring, I didn’t go up in flames and I learned a very useful lesson – some things never change when it comes to carol services. I’m willing to bet you’ll find the same things too:
1. There will be a child who actually sounds like an angel
To the boy who sang the first two lines of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, on his own, in the abbey, in front of hundreds of people – thank you, your voice is a rare and beautiful thing.
2. Two things about ‘We Three Kings’
i. The alternative version
If the person next to you also knows the “one in a taxi, one in a car, one on a scooter beeping his hooter” version it will offer you a wonderful moment of bonding. It will also offer you the opportunity to pass on a tradition when you teach it to your children later on that day.
If you’re really lucky, your child will later furnish you with the following bonus lyrics:
“Star of wonder, star of light, star that set my knickers alight. Westward leading, still proceeding, fill my pants with dynamite.”
ii. There is a pause
Don’t rush into “Oh star of wonder” – oh no. It actually goes “Ohhhhhhhhhhh (wait for it) …… star of wonder”. The woman next to me said it reminded her of the punk version of Nellie the Elephant. Which means that I now have two reasons to giggle my way through the carol. And two ways in which to get it wrong.
3. ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ sorts out the regulars from the visitors
Doesn’t matter how many times I sing this, I always forget that “How silently, how silently” should be sung quietly (shhhhhhhhh).
4. You will revert to childhood at some point
I found myself raising my eyebrows at the re-telling of the immaculate conception and associated on/off/on again of Mary & Joesph’s marriage, especially as it was being read by a child. So when I heard a man behind me say, “Oh, isn’t the text wonderful”, I presumed he was joking. But as I turned to him in shared mirth I discovered that he was in fact A MONK. A monk that was stood next to A NUN. Neither of them were laughing. Oh the hot flush of chastisement coupled with wanting to cry with embarrassed laughter. Such. A. Child.
5. ‘Silent Night’ is best left to the children
Even the nun didn’t try “sleep in heavenly pea……..eeeeeeeeece”. Too high. Best sung by six year olds.
6. Two things about ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’
i. It’s that volume thing again – the choruses start quietly. ii. It contains the line, “He abhors not the virgin’s womb”. And there’s no way I’m singing it. Update it to “he didn’t doubt for one second that there wasn’t a reason to totally love and respect that woman’s womb” and I’ll consider it.
7. You’ll probably cry at some point
For me it’s all about ‘Away in a Manger’. Can’t help it.
8. ‘Sing Hosanna’ – still challenging
When I was at school the infants used to add an extra “of kings” right at the end of the chorus. I went to one of my daughter’s first carol concerts and guess what? It happened then, and it’s still happening today.
9. You should shake hands with the vicar on the way out
Whether it’s “thanks for the carol service”, “Merry Christmas” or “that’s out of the way for another year”, it seems a fitting way to finish.
I’ve been a freelancer and a homeworker for nine years now. It has saved my sanity, whisked me away from a corporate life gone sour and significantly improved my health and family life.
If you’re a freelancer or homeworker, you’ll recognise the kind of benefits that come with this lifestyle:
Less time travelling (saving time, money and earning you eco brownie points!)
Incredible flexibility – work when it works for you!
More time to get on with the task in hand. No queuing for coffee, meetings about meetings or time thieves hanging about your desk.
And if you’re running your own business, there’s the sense of accomplishment that comes with earning a living that isn’t dependent on you fitting a performance bell curve or a compensation system that has been created by a data wizard. A data wizard that hates people.
Why you need to get out
There is plenty that can go wrong in the life of a freelancer. You can spend waaay too much time on your own. And when you spend too much time on your own. Stuff like this happens:
You will live in your dog walking clothes
This look is fine for walking the dog in wet weather. It’s not fine 10 days on the trot. You don’t want your only change of clothes to be out of a wet set of ‘leggings and a hoodie’ into a dry set.
You will get distracted by housework
How many conference calls have you been on where you can hear a washing machine whirring away in the background? I rest my case.
You’ll get bored
And we all know what happens when people get bored. They start wearing elf hats. Or even worse, trying on the dog’s ‘cone of shame’ to see what it’s like….
The benefits of getting out more
Having realised that I’d reached peak ‘working from home’ I made a conscious decision to get out more and what a REVELATION it has been! Here’s what you can look forward to:
Wearing decent clothes
I took this photo in a service station car park – so thrilled was I to wear clothes that were neither waterproof or incorporated a hood.
Wearing impractical clothes
These shoes are Gucci – I bought them second hand from Vanilla Essence Lodge. My son says these make me “a Flexer” I say they make me a fabulous sustainable fashion eco-warrior.
Time spent with interesting people
In the past two weeks I’ve participated in two workshops in beautiful shiny offices where the coffee is great and the people are engaging and nobody has dog hair or mud on their clothes. I’ve talked tech with men and women who are twenty years younger than me and fresh in their corporate journeys – so vibrant, so free of cynicism! We ate mince pies from West London and I learned that cropped jeans and ankle boots are now ‘a thing’. When you live in the sticks there is NO FASHION. Unless you count Jack Wolfskin and Dubarry as fashion.
Time spent showing off your skills
As well as feeling like I made a proper in-person contribution to the the clients I met, I also got to perform for a fantastic WI group. They plied me with Christmas cake and proved to be especially well-educated on gangsta rap. One lady told me how her brother was ‘born in the same month and the same year as Dr Dre.”
I love ‘the deal’ I have – but noticed a real boost in my creativity and energy levels from having spent more time than usual outside of my four walls. This led to finding an excellent webinar hosted by Ginger Public Speaking, securing a preliminary conversation with a speaker’s bureau and a call with a very interesting organisation that I hope to work with in the future.
How to get out more
When I started as a freelancer, my children were very young and needed a huge amount from me at the end of the school day. In the past nine years this has changed and yet I hadn’t rethought my working pattern. Something that I now realise was a little bit nuts!
If, like me, you’ve been doing the homeworking thing for a while, I’d recommend taking a fresh look at where you’re spending your time. And if you’re almost always indoors, perhaps it’s time you got out more.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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 email@example.com . Or, if you want to get digital, download a copy from Amazon.