Category Archives: Blog

Pink and Blue jobs

Presumably Theresa May is spend this Sunday whipping up a fresh batches of cookies, doing the Shake n Vac and frantically ironing shirts, while outside her husband Phil chops some logs. For this week Ms May revealed that in her quaintly traditional home, “there’s boy and girl jobs”. Phil’s macho housetasks include taking out the bins. “I do the traditional boy jobs”, he boasted, as they appeared together on The One Show.

 

What exactly the Mays meant by ‘boy and girl jobs’ they never explained. Still their comments have been jumped on like the row over pink and blue toys, with more grown-up stakes. Is May (despite allegedly being our busiest Prime Minister) really so devoted to her pinny that she believes there are gendered household tasks? That girls ought to stick to faffy things like dusting and baking while boys should to have all the fun fixing toilet seats and unblocking the drains. (Which, actually sounds like quite a good deal to me).

 

One complication here that May has overlooked is the generation gap. Modern households have changed. Now people flatshare as grown-ups, yet May didn’t explain how are three women living together supposed tackle taking the bins? Maybe wait for a Tinder date to show up? Or how LGBT households should cope. Not to mention how we work out who should take on the gender-neutral jobs like cancelling the Netflix account, cleaning the fridge, buying the gin and washing the dog.

 

I suspect Phil’s pride over handling the bins might have been a feeble attempt to dispel any misconception he was a househusband, although actually it only serving to remind us how much like Mr. Muscle he looks.

 

Some studies show men who do more housework have less sex. Others show men who don’t do housework’s wives cheat on them. In your correspondents own home we balance gender equality with sluttishness by getting a male cleaner in. Meanwhile when I try to get my boyfriend to assemble Ikea furniture he hires a woman to do it.

 

Perhaps, like Margaret Thatcher before her, Theresa was trying to suggest what a great homemaker and wife she is. Or – I hope – she was misunderstood. And what she really meant was that men should put out the rubbish because running the country is a girl’s job. After all Phil confessed that being married to her “if you’re the kind of man who expects his tea to be on the table at six o’clock every evening, you could be a disappointed man”.

The Sunday Times: Women combat soldiers: the inside story

Women are finally going into close-combat roles in the British armed forces. About time? Or political correctness gone mad? Katie Glass reports.

The female warrior has always had a mixed reception. GI Jane is both a heroine and joke. In the Middle Ages, Matilda of England commanded armies, but, rather than celebrate her, people complained about her wilfulness. Eleanor of Aquitaine joined the Crusades with her husband, Louis, reputedly leading her women bare-breasted, dressed as Amazons, so chroniclers wrote her off as a slut. Elizabeth I, wise to the problems of being a female commander, pandered to her troops, assuring them she might “have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king”.

Now, for the first time, women in the British armed forces will have the opportunity to fight in close quarters with the enemy. And as usual, opinions are divided. David Cameron lifted the ban on women serving in close-combat ground roles last July, after a two-year review by the Ministry of Defence. The report focused on three risk factors: muscular injury, psychological health and impaired reproductive health. Now, women will be able to serve in positions from which they were once excluded: in the infantry, the Royal Marines, the Royal Armoured Corps and the RAF Regiment.

Last November, the Royal Armoured Corps began admitting women interested in the new roles. The first female officer graduated from Sandhurst 10 days ago and will go on to train as an RAC troop leader. All other ground, close-combat roles will be open to women by the end of 2018.

In other countries, women have been fully integrated into the armed forces for years. Norway has had women in all combat roles since the mid-1980s, Denmark since 1988, Canada since 1989, and the United States since 2013. Yet in the UK the move remains controversial.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British troops in Afghanistan, was among those angry at the decision, which he called “dangerous PC meddling” and a “foolish move” that will be “paid for in blood”. “The infantry is no place for a woman,” said Colonel Tim Collins, a former SAS officer who commanded the Royal Irish Regiment during the invasion of Iraq. “Pure politically correct extravagance. No one pretends that allowing women onto the front line enhances the army’s capabilities. [This] inevitably will cost lives on the battlefield.” But what do women currently serving in the armed forces think?

The corridors of the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton, Somerset, are decorated with endless pictures of men. There are blown-up photographs of Our Boys in action, crouched beneath helicopters, wielding enormous guns. Posters show sweaty chaps pummelling weights, advertising the Royal Marines Ultra-Fit Championships. There are lads in rugby kit promoting the Royal Navy Rugby Union. There are also jokey photos of men wearing dresses or hula skirts on nights out. Down one corridor, frame after frame shows male soldiers assembled proudly in their squadrons.

“I guess it does affect you,” says Lieutenant Natalie Grainger, 28, a pilot in the elite Commando Helicopter Force. “Because you think: why aren’t there more senior women around? I want to change it.

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“What annoys me is when people say, ‘Women are being allowed on the front line,’ ” she continues, sweeping back her blonde fringe (women are not compelled to have short back and sides). “When people were shooting at me in Afghanistan, wasn’t that me on the front line? We have been there a long time.” She has served with 846 Naval Air Squadron through two tours of Afghanistan, providing aviation combat support to the Royal Marines.

About 10% (15,280) of the British armed forces are women. Hundreds have served in front-line roles in Afghanistan and Iraq — as fighter pilots, in submarines, and in ground-support roles as medics and bomb-disposal experts. Four women received the Military Cross for their bravery on those battlefields. Nine lost their lives.

The new positions open to women differ because their primary purpose is to close in on and kill the enemy over short range on the ground. Entry requirements will be the same as for men, which Grainger approves of: “I can pass the boys’ level, so why can’t everyone else?” It is estimated that only 5% of women currently serving in the British Army could meet the basic infantry fitness test, which requires a soldier to march eight miles in under two hours, carrying 25kg of kit.

I shadowed Grainger through a day of exercises, flying her Merlin helicopter around Somerset. As we pulled on our uniforms, she was pragmatic about the one-size-fits-all male kit. “It’s all money at the end of the day,” Grainger shrugs. For women that means ballistic underwear with a flap at the front, waterproof suits with a front-to-back zip underneath — no good if you need to pull down your pants — and specially ordered combat boots, because the standard sizes are too big.

Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/operation-glass-ceiling-qm3lzczzr 

The Sunday Times: Torch £20? It’s worse pretending you don’t have money to burn

Watching a Cambridge student in white tie trying to set fire to a £20 note in front of a homeless man is hardly heartwarming, but the rage unleashed against 18-year-old Ronald Coyne for raising his lighter to some crumpled cash has left me feeling oddly sorry for him.

After Coyne was filmed burning money, he was promptly forced to resign from Cambridge University Conservative Association. It branded the student’s behaviour “disgusting” and “abhorrent”.

A petition now threatens to remove Coyne from university, as students clamour to be the most “shocked” and “appalled” by his actions.

Meanwhile, his poor mother was left desperately stammering, “We’re just a normal family. We’re not toffs,” which is probably true, because no one posh ever uses that word.

“He’s been a hard-working student who is very, very lucky and aware of the privilege he has to study at Cambridge. He spoke to us after the event and said he’d done something very stupid and felt really bad about it.”

Of course, Coyne is a fool. But then he’s a fresher and all kids do stupid stuff. It was especially idiotic to upload his actions to Snapchat so that hundreds of people could watch.

But there he joins a wider social media trend for conspicuous shows of wealth, the most extravagant of which are the Rich Kids of Instagram, who post pictures of themselves spraying bottles of Cristal around private jets and fanning themselves with £50 notes.

Such cash-flashing looks pretty trashy, especially if it is done right in a homeless man’s face. I certainly wouldn’t condone such cruel behaviour, but I don’t find it nearly as annoying as the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley billionaires such as Mark “Fifty Shades of Grey” Zuckerberg, whose normcore wardrobe — worn by the world’s greatest capitalists — is designed to show a lack of interest in money.

Coyne’s pathetic delight in having a £20 note to burn isn’t as irksome as listening to Gwyneth Paltrow trill about how “incredibly close to the common woman” she is while recommending $300 (£240) T-shirts, or seeing Kate Winslet brag that she’s “working class”.

Old money has always been falsely modest about its wealth — wearing holey cashmere sweaters in unheated stately homes. Now the same poorgeois aesthetic has spread to the middle classes, who have developed a taste for poverty-chic: buying expensive eco-rags that make them look as if they’re sleeping rough; spending five times the price of a supermarket shop on dirt-covered vegetables at their local farmers’ market and forking out £600 on washing in a tin bath on a “luxury” glamping holiday.

Such conspicuous displays of poverty from the wealthy feel more offensive than Coyne’s stupidity because they insult not our pockets but our intelligence.

It feels worse to pretend not to have money, because it also means lying about how much money matters and how much it helps. To conceal the significance of money is to deny the realities that keep poor people in their place.

It is telling that it is young people — a generation more cash-strapped than their parents — who are so keen to show how much they have.

 

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/torch-20-its-worse-pretending-you-dont-have-money-to-burn-9n93r9b55

The Sunday Times: Harry and Meghan musn’t shack up. Not because it’s sinful; just unromantic

Sometimes I wake up with my boyfriend, trip over a mug, note the boxers he’s left on the floor and pass a pizza box on the way to the kitchen, where I’m met with the despairing sight of the washing-up. Then I close the front door behind me and cheerfully skip back to my own flat.

I cherish each moment I don’t live with my boyfriend. Why would anybody live with somebody if they could afford their own space? Why — more to the point — would a woman with the kind of career and money that Meghan Markle has want to move into Prince Harry’s place? Even if it is a cottage at Kensington Palace.

He may be a royal but I’m amazed that there’s any whiff of scandal in Harry shacking up with Meghan before marriage. If anything, it’s their decision to move in together that seems so very old-fashioned. Why would any modern couple move in together when living apart makes so much sense?

In the first flush of our romance my boyfriend and I fantasised about how much money we could save by sharing a flat. But we decided nothing would be enough. There is no price you can put on never having to have a conversation about who did the washing-up. By not cohabiting, we are free to argue about Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Russia but never the loo seat.

As Virginia Woolf said: a girl needs space. How else would I gather my thoughts or dance around to 1990s music wearing only a face mask and pants? Besides, my other half is as interested in spending nights drinking prosecco with a gaggle of screaming girls and gay guys as I am in eating beef jerky while watching Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts.

I’m sure not living together is why, after two years, we are still enjoying the honeymoon period in which we each deny the other has flaws. It’s because we don’t live together that I still feel so excited when he turns up at my door, drunk, at 2am. It’s fun pestering each other to take midnight Ubers across town. Besides, we spend four nights a week together and share a dog. And I recently made the commitment to let him have a drawer at my flat. For now surely that will suffice.

There’s a name for this trend of couples like us “living apart, together”. We are Lats, which sounds unfairly unsexy, given that I bet we’re getting more of it. It helps to keep things exciting that we never have to go to Ikea or discuss who ruined the non-stick pans.

Lats are a symptom of a society in which people get together when they’re older, having already established houses and jobs. Now we’re used to a single way of life. So much so that we’d rather flat-share with our mates well into our forties than cohabit. For women, independence has particular appeal. Friends claim Markle has already started cooking for Harry, which just proves that no matter what kind of money — or humanitarian career — they are juggling, women never escape the second shift.

I’m sure dating Harry is a barrel of laughs — it’s probably a weekend in Vegas at his house every night. And as his Kensington cottage is being renovated, she can surely look forward to a hot tub, a wide-screen and a stripper pole in the basement.

Most couples live together because they can’t afford to rent — let alone own — separate homes. Harry must have access to countless beautiful properties, so why do he and Meghan need to move into just one of them together? He must be able to drum up a peppercorn-rent flat somewhere for her.

To me, such separation makes perfect sense. I don’t think a palace, a ring or a baby would make me give up having my own place. Besides, together-apart is so romantic. The way things are going, I’ll be stuck with my boyfriend for decades yet, so why rush into anything?

Don’t be so pally, Pammy 
You have to be clever to play “high camp” as perfectly as Pamela Anderson. I’ve always assumed that, behind the bleached blonde hair and boobs, she was bright. Hugh Hefner teased her for being the only Playboy Bunny who knew enough about art to tell the mansion’s Dalis and Basquiats apart.

She has transformed her red Baywatch swimsuit into a career as an ethics campaigner. Still, if once Pammy appeared clever, her love affair with the self-serving narcissist Julian Assange suggests otherwise. Publishing a letter online declaring Assange a hero who has “sacrificed so much — to simply share the truth” is not very bright.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/shacking-up-together-is-so-yesterday-harry-and-meghan-should-try-lat-love-z5wk8gdsj

The Sunday Times: Sob, sob . . . if only I had suffered, I’d be a star like Kate Winslet

Poor me! I wasn’t bullied as a child. Except for the usual: I was called a “lezza” once for hugging my friend and stabbed in the arm with a compass in maths. But never any really decent bullying. If only there had been, by now I’d be more of a success. A bit more thwacking in the playground and today I could be sashaying down red carpets or reclining in my penthouse giving interviews about “my struggle”. No such luck.

By contrast, Kate Winslet hit the jackpot. Last week she gave an Oscar–worthy performance about the torment she endured at school. Adorned with plain Jane specs, she regaled an audience of adolescents with tales of how she’d been called “Blubber” as a kid.

Not because of her ability to blub about anything — see her cri de coeur about the agony of being called middle class when in fact she was brought up on “dreadful second-hand cars” and holidays in Cornwall — but because she once had some puppy fat. Her suffering was such that her acting dreams were almost ended. At best, she was told, “I might be lucky . . . if I was happy to settle for the fat girl parts.”

This was a shocking revelation. Not least because this is the same Winslet who landed her first commercial at 11 and became head girl of her theatre school, where she won a run of lead parts in their shows. By 15, she was starring in a BBC series; at 17, she was cast in her first film. With such a packed résumé it’s not quite clear when her teenage dreams were crushed.

After two decades of Hollywood adulation, you’d think Kate, now 41, would have better stories to tell instead of revelling in a lame insult. Except, what would be the point? These days being bullied has more cachet than success. Which celeb didn’t suffer as a kid? Every supermodel was awkward, every actress an outsider, every pop star anxious and depressed. It’s surprising Oprah Winfrey finds room on her couch for all the sob stories. What seemed like a promise to destigmatise “issues” has turned into a celebration of suffering — as if it is trauma, not talent, that gives stars their X-factor.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sob-sob-if-only-i-had-suffered-id-be-a-star-like-winslet-gn0c3qfnw

The Sunday Times: Party till the floor caves in

Students are turning humble digs into nightclubs for super-parties, but there are hazards, writes Katie Glass.

Once, all you expected from a student party was paint-stripper wine, a flatmate with aspirations to be a DJ and whoever turned up from halls of residence. But now students are trouncing such feeble efforts with a new strain of super-party.

A cross between US-style frat parties and 1990s raves, the super-party phenomenon sees students compete to transform humble digs into mini nightclubs.

What distinguishes a super-party — besides super-strength drugs — is ambition and scale. Inspired by a generation who came of age with Project X parties (named after a Hollywood film about three Californian teenagers throwing an epic bash while their parents are away), super-parties feature professional sound systems, lighting, security, smoke machines, photographers and famous DJs.

Fuelled by social media, word about such parties quickly spreads. Two years ago police broke up 1,000 students raving at a gathering in Fallowfield, Manchester.

At another super-party in Jesmond in 2014, the student ghetto of Newcastle, police found 250 scantily clad ravers crammed into a terraced house for an S&M-themed bash.

At Miskin Street in Cardiff, a party last year saw 200 students dancing in a three-storey house kitted out with a ball pit in the living room. The kitchen was fitted with a dancefloor, lasers and decks. DJs included Maxxi Soundsystem, who has played at Glastonbury. “The atmosphere was brilliant!” one attendee grinned.

If this sounds like the stuff of student party dreams — and a respite from students moaning about cultural appropriation — not everybody is thrilled.

Last week a multi-agency taskforce was launched in the northeast of England to tackle problem parties. Newcastle city council has teamed up with Northumbria police, Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service and the North East ambulance service and claimed it had dealt with 136 such events in the past eight months.

“Up until this year we’d never seen anything like it,” said Inspector Steven Byrne of Northumbria police. “These houses are converted into almost nightclubs . . . packed wall to wall, smoke machines, fire alarms covered, mattresses against the windows. It’s incredible.”

A big concern was homes collapsing under the weight of ravers. “The buildings were constructed in the 1930s; they’re not designed to hold the weight of 200, 300 people,”said Jade Makarski, a Tyne and Wear firefighter.

At one party in Handsworth, Birmingham, the living-room floor gave way, sending up to 100 guests crashing 8ft into the basement. In a similar incident at a three-storey house in Manchester 300 revellers were forced to end their party when the lounge floor caved in.

Worryingly, there are signs of increasingly pure club drugs, including MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine, being taken, along with nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.

Perhaps the rise of super-parties is inevitable in a climate of closing nightclubs with cash-strapped students living 10 to a house. Yet perhaps most shocking about the parties isn’t their Young Ones-style anarchy — it’s how corporate they are.

Super-parties are often run by student promoters and sponsored by drinks companies.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/party-till-the-floor-caves-in-l68msxghv

The Sunday Times: Interview: LS Hilton: Filthier than Fifty Shades

Venice is the perfect place to meet Lisa Hilton. It is a city of contradictions, where visitors humbled by icons in St Mark’s Basilica then pop to the Gucci store to buy a handbag, or condoms from a vending machine in the street. It is also where Hilton’s latest novel, Domina, is set.

As a novelist, she appears similarly double-faceted. An established historian, who studied at Oxford University then in Florence and Paris, Lisa Hilton wrote books about formidable, if tantalising, women: Nancy Mitford, Françoise-Athénaïs — Louis XIV’s mistress — and Elizabeth I. Then, last year, she ditched dead queens and, as LS Hilton, penned a crime-smut art world thriller, Maestra, starring a nymphomaniac psychopath with a taste for sex clubs and a Prada shoe fetish.

Filthier than Fifty Shades — and, more shocking still, with a plot — Maestra sold to 43 countries, with Hollywood producer Amy Pascal acquiring the film rights. The sequel, Domina, released last week, is every page as murderous, shag-tastic and provocative.

“What really gets on my nerves”, says Hilton, twisting a blonde hair as she considers straddling the worlds of historical biography and erotica, is “the assumption you can’t do both”. She was infuriated by some “c*** in The New York Times who described me as a quondam historian who’d discovered her inner babe”.

If anything, her historian’s eye for accuracy has been a great help; she researched her first book by trying to suffocate herself with a sanitary towel (to check whether her protagonist, Judith Rashleigh, could kill someone with one) and attending a Parisian sex club: “and jolly surprising it was!”

For Domina, she travelled to Serbian art squats and asked three friends to act out a gay S&M murder scene, with her playing the corpse. “It’s a bit like writing a battle scene in a history book — you have to be really aware of where everyone is.”

In photographs, Hilton can seem cold: ice-blonde hair, Arctic blue eyes and Evian skin (she’s 42). She arrives for dinner with “Josh” — a gorgeous, well-spoken chap who appears quite a bit younger then her, wearing an elegantly cut suit and a giant shiny watch.

Hilton, meanwhile, is glamorously intimidating in spiky Saint Laurent stilettos and a strapless black Anna Valentine dress, cut low across her cleavage, accentuating her tightly toned arms and back (she runs daily and boxes). Still, a few glasses later, she’s giggling, swaying through cobbled streets with me at midnight, in her socks.

I think any frostiness might be shyness, although she is rather guarded. I ask if Josh is her other half. She demurs: “I wouldn’t call him that.”

The next morning, she is in soft navy cashmere and Topshop jeans. She is not a label-whore like Judith, who obsessively recounts every designer she wears. That, explains Hilton, is because her heroine is a “Tinder-generation girl” for whom “brand literacy” makes sense. It is also a nod to the great 1980s bonkbusters when Jackie Collins’s protagonists were defined by their shoulder pads. “When I was a teenager I didn’t even know how to pronounce Versace but I knew I wanted a Vesayse jacket,” she grins.

Now she is loaded, Hilton could have all the Versace she wants. She was a struggling single mother when Maestra landed a $1m advance in America.

Still, unlike her mercenary Judith, Hilton does not own a TV, car or flat. Her greatest extravagance was a sailing holiday in Croatia with her 11-year-old daughter Ottavia and “a really ridiculous Yves Saint Laurent dress”.

French journalists ask about the philosophy in her erotica, Italians discuss class, the British obsess on the sex. Hilton, who finds the term “mummy porn” patronising, doesn’t use euphemisms — “no washing machines on the spin cycle” — or shy away from the C word. Judith is also an occasional lesbian which, I discover, Hilton was herself. This is despite her three marriages: the first to a hot Frenchman she met at 19 on her gap year and married in a denim bikini on a beach; an American advertising executive a decade older than her whom she wed at 23; then the Italian composer Nicola Moro, with whom she had her daughter.

She is amazed anyone is shocked by her books. The scandalous thing, she considers, is that in literature “you can cut a woman up and stab her eyes” before you can show her orgasm.

In contrast to the quivering Anastasia of Fifty Shades, Hilton’s Judith is sexually confident, which Hilton considers standard for modern young women: “It is completely normal for 20-year-old women to send sexually explicit videos of themselves . . .

“Women are completely down with the idea of meeting someone on Tinder and having a f*** . . . When I was at school, if a girl had come in with a Polaroid of herself in a bikini and gone around the boys saying, ‘Do you like this?’, it would have been psychotic behaviour — but effectively that’s what teenage girls do on Instagram.”

She rejects the charge that she encourages such sexualised behaviour: “I don’t think it’s fine — but it’s normal. Do I like it? No . . . But if one is trying to write something which is realistic then one ought to be responsive to what is in the culture.”

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/filthier-than-fifty-shades-katie-glass-ls-hilton-c7njx785h

Image: GETTY