The Sunday Times: Katie Glass: This #MeToo stampede threatens to bury the most serious sex allegations

The shadowy world of sexual harassment has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks.

What began with the outing of Harvey Weinstein as a Hollywood sexual predator turned into a wider conversation about sexual abuse in all walks of life. As more disclosures of sexual impropriety have been made, however, what they have led to is not clarity but more murky confusion.

As the roll call of Weinstein’s alleged victims went on, the actress Alyssa Milano suggested on Twitter that all women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted should tweet their experiences using the hashtag #MeToo, to give people “a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. It went viral. #MeToo was everywhere. Stories tumbled out from normal women, every voice making the last feel less alone.

Initially, I found #MeToo moving. Some of the things friends shared were more upsetting because I had never heard them. It prompted me to look back in anger at my own uncomfortable encounters. I thought about the editor who drunkenly shoved a clammy hand on my thigh, lunging at me in a cab, when I was a cub reporter; about the married lech who hassles me so aggressively at industry parties that I’ve avoided them, and warned other women about him.

I understand why #MeToo feels empowering to women whose sexual boundaries have been trampled, but I also feel cynical about it. Like the slogan “Je Suis Charlie”, which became the hashtag for comments on the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, #MeToo risks reducing a serious issue to a social media trend. I worry, too, that while the case against Weinstein seems black and white, in the tsunami of sexual experiences now being shared online things have become a grey swash.

The #MeToo hashtag has been used both by women telling stories about serial and serious sexual abuse, and about what might sound to some like ham-fisted passes or dysfunctional dates.


The Sunday Times: A personal battle against an invasion of mice

Of all the embarrassing articles I have written — the confessional columns about my relationships, my break-ups, my sex life, that time I admitted fancying Russell Brand — none has felt as humiliating as this: confessing that I have mice.

No one admits to having rodents. I ask friends. I ask neighbours. They are all in denial. Perhaps mine is the only flat they ever visit? Perhaps they really love the interior design?

If anyone does acknowledge a past problem, they always start by insisting how spotless their home is. “The man from Rentokil said mine was the cleanest place he’d ever seen,” one person, unprompted, begins.

So perhaps I should start by breaking the mouse-shaming taboo. Anyone can get mice. Especially in autumn, especially in London, and especially when you live in a period property on a busy street crammed with pizza places and chicken shacks, as I do.

I first hear the scratching at night. I know immediately that it’s mice and my breathing stops. I don’t like to think I’m a coward, but I am petrified by the thought of small paws creeping around me at night. I wrap myself in my duvet, praying that they can’t gnaw through 10.5 togs, and frantically begin googling solutions.

The mouse is the pest equivalent of the common cold or hiccups. Everyone has a theory about how to get rid of them; few of them seem to work.

I start by scrubbing the flat from top to bottom, then buy my first line of defence: peppermint oil (£15 from Amazon). This gets mixed reviews. Some claim mice are repelled by the smell, others suggest that, being inquisitive, they are drawn to check it out. Still, I take my life in my hands and douse the whole flat in it. That evening, surrounded by the stench of toothpaste, I hear rustling by the bin.

Then I try psychological warfare, ordering electric buzzers (£17), which emit a sound so high-pitched that only vermin can hear it. (Apparently, as an added bonus, they repel teenagers, too.) For two days the mice disappear, but my paranoia only grows. The problem with mice is that even knowing they — with their tails, downy feet and sharp teeth — are near sets me on edge. Every shadow becomes a furry threat; every squeak evokes panic. I start sleeping with the bedroom light on and the radio playing.

Then — nightmare of nightmares — lying in the dark, I catch sight of a brown blur darting under my bed. I flee to the living room and jump up onto the highest thing in the room: the desk. I consider checking in at a hotel, but instead I curl up there and give up hope of ever sleeping again.



The Sunday Times: Former Man United star Rio Ferdinand on his wife’s death, fatherhood and new beginnings

Rio Ferdinand is not an emotional man — which is not to say he is not friendly or kind.

He is sweetness from the moment I arrive: making me coffee in a magnificent kitchen he seems unfamiliar with; worrying where we’ll be comfortable to chat — “Is here OK? Would you prefer there?”; offering me a lift to the train station afterwards, and nattering on the way about his girlfriend’s dog. It’s just that those “touchy-feely kind of soft emotions” have never come naturally to him. As he states plainly in his book: “People have called me cold all my life.”

This makes it especially startling that he has written (with the help of the journalist Decca Aitkenhead) a book that is an achingly raw and emotional account of his grief after losing his wife. Rebecca Ferdinand was first treated for breast cancer in 2013. It returned aggressively in 2015, metastasising to her liver and bones. She died within weeks, aged just 34, leaving Ferdinand behind with their three children: Lorenz, Tate and Tia, who were then nine, six and four.

The BBC documentary that he made about her death, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, was watched by 6m people when it aired in March and has been seen by millions more on catch-up. I imagine, like me, everyone cried. There is something uniquely devastating about watching a man known for his tough sportsmanship howl like a wounded child. The book is equally unbearable at times. Ferdinand recounts how he told his children their mother was not coming home and tears streamed down their faces as they wailed: “Why? Why? Why?” He tells how, paralysed by his inability to help them, he looked out of the hospital window begging the universe: “Could someone please help me?” And how he held his wife in his arms as she died.

Worse is hearing how Ferdinand’s children tackled grief. He buys them bottles of Rebecca’s Hermès perfume, which Tate drenches his bedroom in. When they chose Rebecca’s favourite songs to play at her funeral, they asked if they could dance along in the church, like their mum would have. “If Rebecca’s death had been my loss alone, I think I could have found a way to cope,” he writes, but “when I watched my kids lose their mother, and was helpless to comfort them or know what they needed — that was more than I could bear.” Against his instinct to retreat into himself, he forged his way through the documentary in order “to help me help them”.

The Ferdinand family lives hidden at the edge of London. “A gated community inside a gated community,” the taxi driver says, dropping me off outside a vast modern house worth millions. It is both indicative of the privacy Ferdinand values and testament to the success of a boy who grew up on a Peckham council estate and become one of England’s greatest footballers. He is a former England captain, and was the world’s most expensive defender when Manchester United signed him, at 24, for £30m.



The Sunday Times: Russell Brand interview: My journey from sex addict to spiritual messiah

The comedian once hooked on drugs, fame and romping has been reborn as a self-help guru, writing a guide to enlightenment. Oh, and he’s loving being a new father.

It is surprising to be meeting the hippie hero of an anti-capitalist revolution amid the grand oak-panelled surroundings of a five-star English country hotel. But then nothing about Russell Brand is as I expected. Gone are the jeggings, the nest of hair and kohl-eyed Jack Sparrow look. Today he is wearing a scruffy tracksuit pushed up at the elbows to reveal scribbled tattoos, a T-shirt and man bun. He looks older than I’d expected, with wisps of grey in his hair and beard. And he’s still attractive at 42.

Perhaps I had Brand imprinted on my brain as he was when he first appeared, a frenzied MTV presenter and stand-up comedian who took drugs onstage. He has had more than a decade since then to upcycle through Hollywood star, to Mr Katy Perry, to activist with his book Revolution and online politics show The Trews. Now with his new book, Recovery, he has been reincarnated. This time as a spiritual self-help guru, which explains the man bun.

His manner is calmer. He’s lost the frenetic, rapid-fire speech and verbose, saucy, Victoriana babble that once characterised how he spoke. Though, thankfully, not the Essex accent. Perhaps he is exhausted. He has a 10-month-old daughter, Mabel, and when we meet he has been married (again) for just two days.


“Thank you.”

It’s exciting!


Shouldn’t you be on honeymoon?


I hope I’m not getting you in trouble?

“Oh no.”

Compared with his six-day wedding to Perry at a tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan featuring elephants, horses and 21 camels this was a quiet affair. Guests floated down the Thames on a Mississippi-style-steamer called New Orleans. Brand got a nose wax especially for the day.

He has known his wife, Laura Gallacher, for more than 10 years. She is the sister of Sky Sports host Kirsty Gallacher, and daughter of golfer Bernard Gallacher. Can Brand play golf? “No, I can’t, but blessedly it’s not expected of me.”

Does being married a second time feel different? “Every moment is different,” he says philosophically.

Brand’s latest transformation is the culmination of an addict’s journey. Having been dry and off drugs for more than 14 years, he’s undergone the process of tackling his other addictions (to food, sex, money, love, fame) on a path to enlightenment.

His qualification for writing is “not that I am better than you. It is that I am worse,” he writes. “I am more addicted, more narcissistic, more driven by lust and the need for power and recognition. Every single pleasure-giving thing that’s come my way from the cradle in Grays to the Hollywood chaise longue has been grabbed and guzzled and fondled and f*****, smoked and sucked and for what? Ashes.”



The Sunday Times: Jeremy Corbyn’s talk of ‘kinder politics’ isn’t matched by Labour’s actions

I would rather spend a night with the Mogginator than endure a soy latte with Laura Pidcock. Most of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s voting record appalls me, but at least he’d be a laugh and rather more charming than the Labour MP Pidcock.

She informed us last week she had “absolutely no intention of being friends” with Tories because they’re “the enemy”. Which sounds like the ridiculous fighting talk of someone who’s been playing too much Call of Duty rather than the sentiments of an elected MP.

Pidcock, the member for North West Durham, says she would never “hang out” with Conservative women, who are “no friends of mine”. She followed this up by tweeting the message that “it’s visceral. I’m not interested in being cosy with Tories”. Well, that’s going to disappoint her local WI.

I’m not militant about who I’ll hang out with. I’m as easy with leftie, lentil-munching fake hippies as with blue-blood Tory boys. I’m as comfortable at the Glastonbury festival as at . . . well, other parts of the Glastonbury festival.

Still, hearing Pidcock reminded me why I’d rather be friends with Conservatives. Tories always get their round in and are much less judgmental, partly because they are so much more confident about their own views.

Right now I’m staying in the house of a One Nation Tory who bakes bread for me every night in his Aga. It sure beats the time I went to stay with my “leftie” mates and they spent the whole week slagging off my job, even as they suggested I “expense” the drinks.

I feel increasingly alienated by lefties who call themselves liberal, but refuse to listen to different opinions; who claim to be compassionate, but use the smallest political difference — or none at all — as an excuse to resort to personal abuse.

At its “funniest” it’s hearing people joke about dancing on Margaret Thatcher’s grave or finding T-shirts with the Nye Bevan quote about Tories being “lower than vermin” for sale on leftie websites such as RedMolotov, with text in the shape of a rat. At its worst it means watching the hard left viciously troll the soft left on social media, particularly if their targets are female and Jewish.

It is no less distasteful when their victims are unappealing, as when Owen Jones, a Guardian columnist, tweeted “few things more beautiful” alongside a video of the US alt-right activist Jason Kessler being swung at violently by a mob.

How would Pidcock respond to someone spouting such offensive nonsense towards any other group? She’d (rightly) call it hate speech. Yet look how Amina Lone, a Muslim Labour councillor in Manchester, has been treated by her own side after daring to speak out against the abuse of children by grooming gangs. She has been barred from standing for re-election after seven years on the council because of her “outspoken” campaigning for gender equality within the Muslim community.


Image: Baby Rumours at Edinburgh Zoo

The Sunday Times: St Martin: the French Caribbean island with a party vibe

It’s French, it’s fun — and it’s now home to the Caribbean’s coolest music festival. J’adore, says our writer, as she orders croissants and a passion-fruit rum.

I’d never been to the Caribbean before, and my assumption that it would be something like a Malibu ad turned out not to be entirely wrong. There were, as expected, bright-coloured buildings under blinding sunlight. There were milk-powder beaches with dazzling blue seas, and the tin drum of reggae on streets lined with mango trees. There was the easy attitude and the ubiquitous smell of frying plantain and weed.

Yet what was this? A restaurant filled with slim waiting staff gliding between white tablecloths, serving foie gras, Roquefort and veal chops, pouring chilled Chablis and calling me mademoiselle. St Martin is the French Caribbean, which is a brilliant combination. It’s as beautiful as the Côte d’Azur, but nobody is rude to you.

It doesn’t feel particulièrement French when you land on St Martin, mind you. That’s because the airport is in Sint Maarten, the southern, Dutch half of the island. The first thing you notice about St Martin/Sint Maarten is the sea, which is full-on brochure cliché: cerulean at its depth, cyan in the shallows. You can’t help but notice it, because it feels as if your plane is going to splash right into it on the sharp descent to the runway, narrowly missing the sunbathers on Maho Beach below.

This hellish final approach has given rise to the island’s unofficial adrenaline sport, jet-blasting, which involves people clinging to the fences surrounding the runway to feel the rush of the planes’ engines. The tourist board allegedly once tried to ban it, but they’ve only managed to get as far as putting up some warning signs that everybody ignores. Instead, people gather at the Sunset Beach Bar, where waitresses wear skintight pink T-shirts, the Delta Airlines pizza costs £10 and arrival times are listed on a giant surfboard. As the planes come in, spring-breaking Americans put down their frozen margaritas, rush across the beach and cling to the airport’s fence for dear life as the backdraught sweeps them off their feet.

Jet-blasting feels typical of the Dutch side of the island. But you’re not stuck here. You can drive round both territories in an hour, and you don’t need a passport to travel across the border — though phoning over requires an international dialling code, and you’ll need a different plug adapter and different currency. I mistakenly withdrew guilders at the airport; everyone on the French side looked at them blankly. (They take euros.)

The most startling difference between the two sides, though, is the atmosphere: the difference between an afternoon in Toulouse and a night out in Amsterdam. In Sint Maarten, Yank tourists roll off cruise ships to visit white plastic stores on sanitised streets, casinos and Captain Morgan cafes. I couldn’t walk five paces without being asked: “You want your hair in braids, beautiful? You need a beach chair? Hey, baby, you got an island boyfriend?” I spent approximately two hours enduring Sint Maarten, then fled to St Martin and never looked back.

The French Caribbean is as wonderful as France could be without the French, an intoxicating mix of Gallic chic and West Indian warmth. So you can buy perfect millefeuille and tarte aux pommes, then eat them on a flour-soft beach. You can order a glass of sauvignon blanc, then float in warm sea the colour of a Tiffany bag. You can shop at serene boutiques, while outside a carnival howls down the street. You can pass lime-green houses springing with pink bougainvillea like a rainbow-splashed Nice, on streets where Buffalo Soldier plays on repeat. It is the Creole Riviera, with all the elegance and the sparkling sea of France’s south coast — but none of the arrogance.


The Sunday Times: Book review: You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Princesses, Trainwrecks and Other Man-Made Women by Carina Chocano

A film critic takes aim at the poor diet of female role models we have been fed.

How do the “girls” in pop culture influence the women we become? This is the question the former LA Times film critic Carina Chocano takes on in her study of how women have been portrayed in the media over the past four or five decades.

Although it’s billed as “part memoir”, You Play the Girl doesn’t, in fact, contain many personal details. Instead, Chocano, who wrote the book after becoming concerned about the role models that were influencing her daughter Kira, uses her own life as a way of analysing the fictional women who affected her coming-of-age. The result takes in everything from the dumb Bunnies that she saw as a child in her grandfather’s copies of Playboy; via Bewitched’s Samantha, who has her magical powers suppressed by her husband; to Flashdance, Pretty Woman, and Chocano’s more recent frustration with the self-imposed limits of Amy Schumer’s film Trainwreck.

You can’t fault much of her snappy criticism. At her best, Chocano draws out brilliant insights from across the decades — exploring, for example, how The Stepford Wives morphed into Desperate Housewives, then into modern reality shows such as The Real Housewives and The Bachelor.

Her essays are generally witty and sharp, too, and she weaves her observations into a fascinating history of women’s economic and social progress. But, natty as the writing is, at times it can all feel a bit predictable. Is there anybody, for instance, who doesn’t know by now that Hollywood has a woman problem? Who didn’t realise that the women in Playboy were objectified, or that Eat Pray Love is a terrible film?

In particular, Chocano never satisfactorily addresses what seems to be a blind spot: the fact that some women still find their idols in pop culture’s girls, despite their obvious flaws. At one point, she finds herself watching Pretty Woman with several women who are enjoying the film. Chocano is not, and she explains that she couldn’t sit back and enjoy it because she “couldn’t un-see the message of Pretty Woman. I couldn’t un-know what I knew.”

This is remarkably patronising. Her assumption is that whatever she knows about Pretty Woman, the women enjoying it don’t. I think she is wrong. I suspect that many women see the same sexism that she does, but deliberately choose a different reading. Whatever a film’s “official” message, and however sexist its characters and reductive its plot, most women are more than capable of skimming the details and enjoying a chick-flick just for fun, or even reshaping a character’s qualities into an acceptable role model. Such alternative readings are especially easy in an age where we dissect shows and films on Twitter as we watch.