Audiobook review: Sarah Millican’s Support Group

Sarah Millican, straight talking with a side helping of daft

Looking for a laugh, I downloaded Sarah Millican’s Radio 4 series Sarah Millican’s Support Group. She talks relationships, heartbreak and how to navigate both with a sprinkling of daft and liberal amounts of Northern no-nonsense.

Opening with Fix You, Coldplay, Sarah recounts her divorce 2004, moving back in with her parents to her Dad singing “Another One Bites The Dust”, and how popular she was when she took up work with The Samaritans, the number of calls had never been so high!

Geordie on the airwaves

When I used to work in call centres, I learnt that certain accents are more favourable. According to Reuters the Geordie accent is the third most popular after RP Queen’s English and the broad-term “Scottish”. I do love a Teeside lilt in an accent, but the Edinburgh and Glaswegian accents are worlds apart, although James McAvoy, David Tennant, Ewan McGregor are very listenable…., I digress. 

Basically right, Sarah is a pleasure to listen to, unlike Brummies like me. And, she offers the kind of straight talking you need if you’re a bit wet after a break up.

Like your gran, but better

Sarah Millican advice is warm but not cuddly, she’s straight talking and won’t take any mess from her guests, who are a bit wet. She had a fall last week after misjudging the pavement because she’s slightly overweight. She would use the cross trainer but it makes you feel sick when you’ve eaten biscuits. Besides, have you tried chocolate?

She’s the kind of woman who wouldn’t leave anyone sat on their own feeling miserable, she’s more likely to cook you a roast dinner with gravy, and remind you that while Christmas pudding is nice, you only want it once a year. One of the many relationship metaphors this show excels at.

With a little help from my friends

For impartiality with her guests, she has Mariam the professional and highly non-maternal but it’s not about me counsellor.

Terry, a thrice-divorced London taxi driver is on hand to offer wisdom too. Sarah is perhaps the relationship Allen Key couples need, whereas Terry knew a bloke called Alan Key. He died in a bath.

He offers therapeutic bunk ups too.

This show is a good laugh. Available on the Audiobook App via Amazon.

Book review: My first little book of intersectional activism, Titania McGrath

Titania McGrath gives it some tits

Le plume de ma tante

While I’m not strictly the demographic for this satirical text, I am concerned my nephews are growing up sexist because they play football and objectify Little Mix. Having read this book to check it isn’t too offensive for preteen boys who have access to the internet, I think it’s safe to buy them a copy and let Titania, in her humble wisdom and sincerity, explain the gender pregnancy gap and why white people are so fragile about being called racist, far more eloquently than I possibly could.

Political satire

This book is a hilarious, fast-paced take on the burning issues of today through the lens of a poetry slam champion, gender polemicist, willing to take on the patriarchy and the endemic racism in white people. “ I have always found white people to be completely unnecessary”.

Titania is delightfully earnest in sincerity, idolising Joan of Arc- a feminist, a child drag artist, badgers, Greta Thurnburg, and the satorial choices of Prince Harry’s stylist, Megan Markle, although Titania’s “inclusive” plan of “transitioning to obesity” might be tough on her strictly vegan diet.

The nom de plume de ma tante

There are so many jokes packed into this book it’s difficult to know where to start. Some of Titania’s claims are hyperbolic, some are just daft, but she knows her public figures and uses facts to win arguments, it’s just her facts are always through the lens of comically progressive politics. I could disappear down a feminist rabbit hole now as I tell you the book is written by a man, but I won’t. Well maybe.

In my hometown, a 19th century writer called Mary Ann Evans had trouble finding a publisher until she adopted a male nom de plume, George Eliot. People read her books under the impression a man wrote those novels, and enjoyed them. Similarly, I think there is nothing sexist about a man writing with a female pseudonym, if anything I think Titania would heartily approve, although she would probably prefer if author Andrew Doyle was further marginalized, perhaps if he was a refugee, or “retarded”, a word that cringingly the earnest Titania is “reclaiming”.

Feminist hero

The sincerity of Titania is one of my favourite things about her, even if half her ideas are completely barmy. I recommend the audiobook because of the stereotypical Kensington-white-girl narration by Alison Marshall, who should get equal credit as Doyle, in my opinion, for her comedy timing and intonations. The slam poetry that closes the book left me breathless, sincerely, my tea came out my nose!

Titania is a wonderful womxn! Hear her roar! She is also a good reminder to not to always take myself too seriously, especially around sensitive topics like gender politics and race. After reading two books on race recently; addressing modern day anti Semitism and Nation of Islam-a-phobia, Titania McGrath is the perfect tonic.

Book review: Jews Don’t Count, David Baddiel

David Baddiel’s Book is an exploration of modern Anti-Semitism

Anti Semitism is “the original racism”, and this book made me wonder, are we as a nation now blind and tone deaf to racism towards Jewish people, and if so, how can we root it out?

Football terraces

I knew racism still existed in football. This week Championship football clubs Birmingham, Swansea and Scottish League team Rangers did a social media boycott because of racism towards footballers online. I’ve joined in part way through in solidarity, because I think it’s important, regardless of your political views. I don’t even watch football and Villa are better than Birmingham anyway. I digress.

Surely no one would be racist towards David Baddiel at a footy match? 3 Lions Baddiel who with Frank Skinner, launched *the* football anthem of Euro ‘96, and every subsequent international football tournament?

David Baddiel, England football’s mascot and hero? The reason my brother and all his mates had fantasy football teams in the 90s? That David Baddiel?

Depressingly, David was present while some dunderhead started chanting “Yid” and “Fuck the Jews” at a Chelsea v Villa match at Stanford Bridge, at an admittedly dull juncture in the game. 

I didn’t know “Yid” was still in circulation, and I was wont to say “poppy-cock old bean” but this is Baddiel’s point. White cis (fe)males like me have a blind spot to the racism encountered by the middle class modern Jewish citizen, so now I was all ears. 

Fight them on Twitter

DB draws a large crowd on Twitter, where he valiantly takes on and exposes those with anti-Semitic views. He wades into political discourse with the intellectual aplomb of a civil rights activist. I knew he was smart ‘cause he always wins at House of Games on BBC2.

DB says “Twitter is not the real world, but it does politically refract a version of the real world, and the arguments that define it”. 

Wait, hold up! *needle scratches off the vinyl* DB did a ‘black face’ in Fantasy Football League like Bo Selecta’ of Nottingham Forest’s Jason Lee? What was he thinking? What were we all thinking? DB owns this lapse of judgment and has openly apologised. This is the difference between a right winger and progressive, those who apologise and make amends and those who intend to harm. “Those whom among us have never….”

Regardless of this Twitter Albatross around DBs profile, he has important points to make. 

Anti Semitism is a comedy vacuum. It sucks.

A comedy vacuum

“Schrodinger’s Whites” in when the whiteness of a Jew is in the politics of the beholder. DB puts it this way: “Racists say Jews aren’t white, whereas progressives think Jews are white, therefore, not deserving of the protection progressive movements offer to non-white people facing racism”.

The idea that Jews are not white is central to the ideology of white supremacists, and the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory that Jewish people want to wipe out Aryan whites. 

Sticks and stones

As a graduate of English language, I was fascinated by DB’s exploration of the term “Jew” compared with “Jewish”. DB’s Twitter profile famously says merely “Jew” because it’s funny, and because it’s a reclamation of the word used as an insult. No really, it’s subtle but listen to this.

The word “Jew” has strange status as a ‘bad’ word. People not seeking to cause offence tend to say “Jewish people” even about atheist Jewish people. Consider a ‘Jew’ banker compared with a “Jewish banker”, or a “Jew woman” compared with a “Jewish woman”. 

Now consider these words in another book by DB, where a Nazi female character writes: 

“I would much rather share my quarters with Aryan men than Jew women”. 

It certainly packs more of a literary punch, and hopefully that’s not trite to say. 

The world is full of actors

The acting world is beset with issues around actors playing the part of minorities. E.g. Halle Berry was admonished for taking the role of a transgender individual. Having a white man play Othello is unnecessary.

DB has similar issues with non-Jewish actors playing *stereotypical* Jewish roles – he comically calls it “Jew Face” like the “Black Face” of the Minstrels of the 1970s – “the stooped and shrugging body.” A bit like the 1950’s Negroe who scratches his head deferentially deferring to the intelligence of white people. 

I think this debate boils down to respect and stereotypes. No one wants to see stereotypes in film or theatre, it’s cringeworthy. Then there is the legacy of fewer parts for minorities hence the reason it’s more important those parts go to those actors. DB parallels “gayness” and a “gaydar” to his “Jewdar” when it comes to actors, and doesn’t shy away from revealing how many Jewish people he has spoken to who have kept their heritage “in the closet”, to avoid Anti Semitism.

Check your blind spot

Reading David Baddiel’s take on modern anti Semitism has given me the confidence to recognise and call out passive Anti Semitism when I see it. However, I am a cis white female, and DB says only the people experiencing racism get to say how it effects them, rightly so. 

As a final thought, I’m reading the Malcolm X autobiography concurrently. Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam for a decade, and thought of white people as “the devil white man” for years. In fairness he met some really bad white people and was in the shadow of WW2. Later in life, on a pilgrimage to Mecca, he realised he likes all Muslims of all colours, even whites, because he experiences a “brotherhood” of those who share his faith.

Brotherhood

This got me thinking about the difference between “creed” and “race.” For example, DB sees himself as a Jew but also British, and he doesn’t consider himself white, perhaps because of racism he has experienced at the hands of racist white people. 

I would love to see more of a brotherhood among men and women of different creeds and faiths and no faith at all. Where we can find common ground of what unites us, not what divides us. I think DB feels the same, which is probably why he loves football.

And after reading this book, before I post anything on Twitter, like any good driver, I’ll try and remember to “check my blind spot”, but I’m a female driver so yada yada yada ….

Autobiographical: Stress Awareness Week, I prescribe exercise

This week is Stress Awareness Week on social media. If you haven’t experienced stress, are you even alive? Stress can act as a motivator, but too much stress impedes performance and can cause physical symptoms.

Metaphorically speaking, your stress levels are a bucket filling with water. At some point that bucket is going to overflow, so you need to empty your bucket from whatever is stressing you out. You with me?

Exercise can help reduce stress

Exercise is a proven form of stress relief. I went to my GP with stress last year, and was prescribed the book “Spark” by Dr. John J Ratey and Eric Hagerman I’m not an affiliate marketer. This book explains how physical exercise can cure the mind of many ills, such as stress and insomnia- often co-existing.

If you suffer with stress, give exercise a try, or one of those walks in the park the government keeps banging on about. Or you could walk the length of the Debenhams sale queue in my hometown yesterday. It would take you a while.

Autobiographical: During Food Waste Action Week, my mind is on Yemen

This week until 7March is #FoodWasteActionWeek, a campaign to reduce food waste by asking us all not to throw away edible food. 

The campaign is part of the Love Food Hate Waste brand and fronted by Great British Bake Off former champion-y Nadiya Hussain, a woman who knows her way around a kitchen. 

In the UK, we produce £14 bn of food waste from households per annum according to figures from Defra 2019. What a shame we are so wasteful. 

Environment minister, Rebecca Pow, rightly points out the impact on climate change and the environmental impact of wasting food that has used carbon and water in production. With the UK signed up to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, this is important.

Personally, I can’t help but think about Yemen and Syria, the refugees that are going hungry, and the lack of food in East African nations. How can we, in clear conscience, throw away food? 

Or, not buy food close to the sell by date in a shop, because (insert reason) that will inevitably  go to waste?

The UK has just cut aid to Yemen, The Guardian goes into more detail. Essentially refugees are facing famine. 

This week, for Food Waste Action Week, I pledge to buy reduced price food, use up what food I have in and I’m donating to UNICEF Refugee fund, a registered charity working in Yemen to bring relief to refugees. I’ll be mindfully eating too, or you may choose to say Grace.

If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d have any appetite, and that would be a waste. 

Food Waste Action Week is a time to mind what you throw away

Book review: The Handmaid’s Tale – Take 2

My reappraisal of The Handmaid’s Tale

I first reviewed The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, here.

It was a difficult read so I gave the novel a bad review. In hindsight, I can see how good this novel is. Why?

A whole new world – Aladdin

The society Offred lives in, the house servant who’s imposed role is to have a baby with the Commander, the master of the house, is a fundamental Christian version of a near-future-US undergoing a fertility and population crisis.

State imposed breeding must happen under conditions as un-sexy as those sex-Ed videos you watched at school. In Offred’s case, it is a delicate power dynamic, between Offred, the Commander and his infertile wife. Who has the power?

You could argue the Commander does, yet he is vulnerable because he craves intimacy and tenderness from Offred. His wife has some power, as Mistress of the house, but she cannot conceive and must allow her husband to penetrate another woman. Offred has zero choice in the situation and is entirely at their mercy. She tries to claw back some power by acquiescing to the Commanders requests for intimacy, as a means of bartering some liberty.

Religion

The novel is certainly a comment on religion. The society is a Christian, Fundamentalist theocratic regime in a future with a fertility crisis. What would really happen if this came about? 

When there was a population crisis in China, the one child policy in 1980, led to abortions and abandoned babies in orphanages. It isn’t so far-fetched to imagine a government intervention in the reproductive rights of the population.

In 1985, the year this book was written, EMILY’S List was founded, with a manifesto to elect pro-abortion female Democrats to office, for example.

Punishment for non-compliance

Offred was married to Luke, who she met while he was still married and their subsequent daughter is taken from them and given to a good Christian couple who cannot conceive. Offred is stripped of her job, her bank account, her husband, even her name and is essentially sold into sex slavery by the state.

It is Christian moralizing that I believe is the crux of The Handmaid’s Tale. If you do not follow a very strict and narrow Christian path, you will be punished, in Offred’s case mentally and physically. Public hanging is brought back as a deterrent. Again, this isn’t so far fetched. In 1985, 258 people were sentenced to capital punishment in the US

Religious Symbolism

Offred is synonymous with the Biblical maid to Rachel, Bilhah who bears children to Jacob when Rachel cannot. Offred’s husband is called Luke. The Book of Luke teaches sinners how to pray for repentance with The Lord’s Prayer.

Luke 11:2 “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us….thine is the Glory”

Indeed, “Blessed be the fruit” and “praise be” are two of the acceptable phrases to utter in public. Their everyday language – like their civil liberties – are stolen, a similar conceit used in Orwell’s 1984, and Dalcher’s 2018 novel Vox.

Reproductive rights

In the US and UK alike, certain sections of faith communities are in direct opposition to campaigners for women’s right to abortion for unwanted pregnancy, contraception and even in some cases, the right to say “no” when someone grabs you by the p***y, for instance.

This dystopian future with a very narrow margin of error for expected conduct is a society where no one wins, and everyone is unhappy. 

In the decade that began with Lady Diana removing the verb “obey” from her wedding vows to Prince Charles, and ended with the US banning all abortions in public hospitals, this is an important book that was crying out for progressive conversations around the reproductive rights of women, nearly 40 years ago.

Copywriter: How to have fun writing a character reference

What a man

You could be asked to write a character reference for a friend for their employer, landlord, the police, or MySingleFriend.com.

Given that a character reference can make or break your friend’s application, let me offer my advice.

Highlight their travel experience to demonstrate their broad mindedness

He is a cultured man who is a prolific traveler. He enjoys regular trips to European cities such as Amsterdam and Prague where he is a patron of local trades. He has ambitions to travel to Asia because he finds Asian women attractive and would like to teach them how to speak English.

Demonstrate that they are in touch with global events

He has a keen interest in politics and enjoys frequenting bars where he can educate his friends on the virtues of his beliefs. He believes the US should be more like the Canadian government with their progressive gun control, and seal clubbing, for example.

Mention their hobbies, such as gardening, sport, and any responsibilities they have

He is a keen gardener with a great sense of humour. He especially enjoys lighting a bonfire in his garden when his neighbours are hanging out their laundry in their futile efforts to minimize global warming.

He captains the Tamworth Arms’ Tarts Darts Team and selflessly manages the kitty too, all while valiantly refusing to undergo gender reassignment or dress as a woman, because that is his right. He is the team’s second-highest scorer to Geoff, the landlady.

Highlight their good qualities

There’s nothing he likes more than blood sports, fox hunting, bare knuckle fighting and the annual Gloucestershire hill cheese rolling festival. He doesn’t actually participate in any of these sports, because his strengths lie in observation, and offering words of advice on areas for improvement.

As a member of our team, he was the single-most generous contributor to our three nominated corporate charities, owing to his contributions to the office swear box.

Highlight any fun anecdotes

He once went on a date with a former glamour model and she invited him to her property to sample coffee beans from a Fairtrade Kenyan plantation. While they didn’t pursue their relationship, he did discover he prefers tea bags to Fairtrade.

Don’t forget to mention any charity work they do

He once bought a copy of The Big Issue, but he doesn’t like to talk about it, much.

Copywriter: Blog like an SEO pro

An analogue form of SEO

Your title will be the H1 on the page, so include a keyword, preferably at the start.

E.g. SEO blog tips every writer needs

Then consider the tone of voice of where the blog will appear, and make it sound interesting.

Blog like an SEO pro

Seasonal vegetables that fly off the plate

Pet care for superdogs

Weight your content to the start

People often won’t read it all.

Get your facts straight and source from reliable, trustworthy sources. E.g. those with domain authority i.e. doing well in the Search Engine Results Page SERP, or the horse’s mouth.

Don’t use idioms like ‘the horses mouth’ that can be confusing.

Use subheadings

  • People scan read on computers
  • Break up long body copy with subheadings are H2, H3, H4, etc, so include relevant keywords within the subheadings.

Metadata

A meta-tag is a short precis of the blog that will appear in the Search Engine Results Page SERP. Make it good.

E.g. Discover the essential SEO skills you need to write an effective blog post here

Or

Discover SEO secrets of master bloggers in this five-minute read

Timing is everything 

The deadline is your friend and motivation.

  • If it’s a newsworthy press release, include the embargoed until date and time, and release up to a week in advance to the press.
  • Schedule blog posts for the same or similar times each day if producing regular content.
  • Consider the popular times of users on the social platforms you share on.

Autobiographical: Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award

The teenage Lucy Louise is like the Lulu song Shout. Alan Partridge was big then, a tragi-comic character whose finished TV career sends him into a tailspin. The lads at school loved Partridge and we enjoyed joking about Alan’s music taste.

My Dad, with the same initials, coincidentally was going through a similar Alan Partridge experience. Dad worked in London, and would be away Monday to Friday. He worked for an international steel trader, I think it was called Léopold Lazarus.

His office was in Docklands, London and it was bombed by the IRA in 1996. They phoned it in and it was on a Saturday, so fewer casualties. I remember going into school on the Monday and telling the class that luckily there was only one casualty, and I was duly admonished by a supply teacher of the Ba’hai faith. I have never felt so ashamed.

When the steel industry started to go belly up in the 90s, dad was let go after more than 20 years’ loyal service and as far as I am aware, zero time off sick. We were privately devastated, although I laughed along with the Alan Partridge jokes publically. These days I vibe with Alan’s music collection, especially ELO and “Best of the Beatles.”

When I was 15 I did the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award at school, where you complete a series of activities over time to earn the award. I had started wearing flares outside of school and was having guitar lessons on a road called Abbey Street. I was hiking with my group in DoveDale when a bomb went off in Manchester 1996. My sister was living in Manchester at the time, at University. Again, the IRA. 

We were eating snacks by a shop when we heard it on the radio of a nearby parked van. There were no mobile phones back then, so we carried on the hike but took a detour to a public phone box so I could phone my mum. Four years later, I would go to University in Manchester, and found that the city had been attractively rebuilt and heavily invested in, but the old battle lines remained in many places, and I was a target in my flares, not to the IRA, but to people who don’t and won’t give peace a chance, in more respects than one.

Today, on the day the Duke of Edinburgh died, I remember my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, and I’m grateful for how far the peace process has progressed since those dark times, and I’m grateful to the Duke of Edinburgh for helping me to grow up a bit.