“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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org . Or, if you want to get digital, download a copy from Amazon.
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.
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:
Stab yourself in the hand, ankle or thigh every five seconds with a fork to emulate a puppy’s teeny tiny teeth.
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!”
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.
Make a cup of coffee. Slosh it liberally across the table.
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.
Steam clean your floor.
And again – your virtual puppy has just wee’d in the hallway.
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 🙂
“Love the ultra-local stand up – that takes a double serving of courage!”
That quote was my coach’s response after hearing that I’d performed stand up at a beer festival in a local village. And that the material featured said village (as well as my own – I like to be even handed with these things). It was a risk, but one I was willing to take because, well, sometimes we need to take a look at our reflection and have some fun with it.
I also covered cervical screening, grief, childbirth, intimate waxing, drugs, social mobility and the sense that ‘making it’ can leave you feeling like you don’t belong. Sometimes the weightiest topics benefit from the lightest of touch. And sometimes what is terrifying to one person will leave another feeling like they’ve had the chance to truly be themselves.
Performing stand up offers the opportunity to tell my story, connect with others and represent what many people are afraid to share or reveal. We build lives and personas, (rightly) modify our behaviour as we raise our children and for some of us (certainly me) we can find ourselves wondering where that part of us that leapt around in a moshpit went to. We become afraid to say what we think in the workplace, at home, in front of new friends. It helps when a comedian tells it like it really is.
Courage? Yes, I think so. But on the part of the venue – they knew what I was going to talk about – I’d like to thank them for having the courage to book me 🙂
As a writer, I bring humour and humility to what business leaders want to say.
There are times when you’re offered a gig and you don’t have to think twice about it. The same goes for a piece of work or a project – something in your gut that tells you it’s the right thing to do.
This time, the call came from the incredible Aduke Onafowokan. Aduke is a woman who uses her skills and talent not just to further her own career, but also to inspire other women to “build bridges” so that we might all help one another along the path to success. What I love about this attitude is it demonstrates that growth is not all about climbing upwards, sometimes we just need to help people make it across.
The Perfect Brief
Aduke’s question to me was whether I’d be willing to perform at Arise 2020. It’s a summit that’s designed to help women and men step into leadership by providing inspirational, high impact content from respected, relatable speakers. The brief is to deliver stand-up content that reflects on the female experience to a crowd that is there to learn while having a good time. As briefs go, it was a perfect one for me.
A Values-Based Judgement
What made it so easy to say yes? First of all it was truly a values-based judgement. Aduke and I have a shared passion for social mobility and shared experiences of what that really entails. We both care about encouraging women to explore their talents fully and we both believe in networks and helping other people. It’s what sold me on performing at Arise 2019, where I was bowled over by the power of the truth in the room. It’s something you can read about in this blog post.
The second part is it plays to what I love to do and what I’m good at. It’s the right audience, the right theme and the right kind of forum in which to showcase my skills. Do I want to perform in a pub full of well-oiled punters who are desperate to ‘join-in’? In short – no. Those kind of gigs can be fun, and they’re great for honing my audience participation skills, but they don’t give me the same buzz that I got from Arise 2019. It was a great gig – the audience response was awesome and I learned loads too. I came away with a far better understanding of where my style and material works best.
Ready to Arise?
Arise 2020 promises to help people answer the following questions:
What does it really take to lead?
What can we still learn about our individual power and abilities?
How can we bridge the gap between where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow?
How can we pay it forward and unlock opportunities for others?
If this speaks to you, you can find more details and buy tickets here.
I perform stand-up and compering services that go down brilliantly at women’s networks and events focusing on leadership, diversity and technology. Want to book me for yours? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
In visiting a client’s LinkedIn profile today as a means to help accurately capture her voice, I’m told that she hasn’t yet written any articles. But it’s ok because LinkedIn has suggested that in the absence of her writing, I might like to read what some ‘Influencers’ have to say.
I wonder which influencers I might be offered and, naturally, I get the ‘most followed’ on LinkedIn. Tony Robbins – eeew -, James Caan – meh – and don’t even get me started on Richard Bloody Branson. The list continues with more of the same old same old. The same old men with the same old yachts and the same old dentist.
It prompted me to think about the people who are true influencers for me and how they differ from LinkedIn’s list.
They have directly inspired me to take action
They do things that make a positive difference to other people’s lives
I can go to them for advice without fear of judgement
We have shared experience and/or shared values
There’s no BS
It can be easy to think that only those people with the greatest number of followers have something worthwhile to say, but I’ve found my influence and inspiration a little closer to home.
So, in the spirit of celebrating the real influencers, I’d like to say thanks to #smartworksreading#sistersisternetwork#athenanetwork, and all of the smart, funny, inspiring people that I work with and know. They influence and inspire me way more than LinkedIn will ever know.
Who influences you?
NB: This post was originally written by me on LinkedIn. Want to connect? Head on over to my profile.