I’d like to begin by stressing my credentials. I took a GCSE in religious studies which covered the two modules of ‘Ethics’ and ‘Islam.’ I cared so passionately about the subject that I changed school at sixth form in order to take an A Level in religious studies and covered modules in ‘Ethics’ and ‘Philosophy.’ It was my favourite subject and I became fascinated by how society ought to be ordered. I took a BA in politics and sociology at Durham University and revelled in political philosophy. I moved to single honours politics and found my niche in international political economy but it always came back to how society ought to be ordered. I did an MA by research looking at confidence and perception and came full circle for the PhD where I look at rentier state economies (which are often Islamic). I spent a year living in a Muslim country and ‘enjoyed’ the casual racism to be expected of a white whore wilfully ignorant of the greatest of all sky pixies...

I don’t expect this to count for much but at least I can say I’ve been thinking about this stuff for some fourteen years. The scary thing is how the more I read, see and experience, the more passionately I believe in the absolute necessity of separation of politics and religion.

In this week’s Observer there was a piece on a Dr Hans-Christian Raabe who argues that society is in danger of believing “that if you are a Christian you are not fit for public office or you are biased or a bigot.” Incidentally, he is a member of the Council for Health and Wellness which seeks to highlight that “the homosexual lifestyle is associated with a large number of very serious physical and emotional health issues.” Naturally, Raabe argues that his views on homosexuality are irrelevant to his ability to discuss drug policy.

I’m gnawing my knuckles in frustration but at least that distracts me from the stomach curdling fear that not only does this awful person believe what he says but that it might sound reasonable to some. Let us be clear, the reason he doesn’t like gay people is because someone wrote a story about a sky pixie saying being gay was bad. Of course he isn’t fit for public office – he has an imaginary friend!

But let’s put that aside for a moment. Let’s imagine that in Sky Pixies Dancing on Ice (Global edition) the Muslims were able to use their vigorous conversion methods to win and have Allah crowned the spangliest sky pixie to ever smite infidels in spandex. Then we’d at least have consensus and I for one would have to duly concede that when it came to sequins, yes Allah was the one true God. It might be a touch controversial but it has been demonstrated that phone votes reflect what ought to be (with the exceptions of the Jews who you just know would be complaining that they were robbed).

Yes I’m joking! I’m deliberately writing for effect but my point is that religion is better suited to Deities got Talent than the grown up stuff of government. I’m all for people watching what entertains them but Gillian McKeith is better suited to being bullied in the jungle than being taken seriously in anything bordering on health advice. I’m just saying that the Christian god is better suited to chilly churches than Whitehall. Sure, feel better with your fairy stories but please don’t force them on those that don’t need them. More significantly, don’t use them as justification for you being a weak nasty person seeking vindication to put others down to bolster your own self esteem.

But back to the point which is that matters of faith are down to interpretation. I could well be wrong but more importantly, going by their own “pitch” (eg. vote Yahweh, we have bagels) the pantheistic god’s are all about them being the only one (a curious argument given that saying they are the only god raises the question of other gods – no wonder the poor religious types are so confused!). So, a whole load of people are wrong.

What better reason to take it out of the equation? From sheer uncertainty, lets just keep it separate.

Because I am the work of the devil is probably the argument. With my logic and reason I am trying to take you to the dark side (for the record, there absolutely are cookies when you’re with me – this week I made Linge di Gatto). How then can I defend my godless stand point.

I vote consistency. So if I’m speaking on behalf of the devil (I cannot honestly tell you that the younger stepchild has no arrangement with the dark lord, the pitch at which he can shriek has hints of the inhuman) at least I’m on the same wavelengths for all religions that have sky pixie mortal enemies. You don’t need to be a Time Lord to not like daleks. Bottom line, nobody seems to argue over who has the worst sky pixie nemesis.

It’s all theoretical (there are no sky pixies - you do know that right?) but the separation of politics and religion at least works somewhat if taken from a negative.

Incidentally the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev John Pritchard has a point of sorts to make this week as he argues for religious studies to be a core humanities subject although he rather misses the point that while religious studies is as academic and rigorous as other humanity subjects (for the record I got an A in history as well as scoring the highest grade in the school in religious studies) it doesn’t create good little followers. I’d argue the opposite that nurturing an understanding of religion is important so that the atheists have the necessary tools to discredit the mental illness going by the name of religious faith. 

 
I rather enjoy house hunting in theory but the reality is rather like dating. You take your raw material be it yourself or your money and see what it can fetch on the market. Just as Elle McPherson circa early 1990s is unavailable to the fiancé so too is the kind of house we dream of owning. But just as the fiancé recognises that time travel logistics and his capacity to woo supermodels mean yours truly makes for a more realistic significant other, so too are we willing to adapt our ideals in making a house purchase.

The crucial thing for me however, is that our raw material and money is of our own making and if we are able to attract desirable partners or purchase nice homes then that is all right and good. Of course good genes play a part but Vanessa Paradis undoubtedly works hard to look as good as she does and women ought not begrudge her ability to make Jonny Depp dote upon her. Likewise, help from our families either financial or the nurture that led us to forge good careers plays a part on our ability to buy nice homes but the bottom line is that you get a mortgage based upon your job and to keep a job you have to work.

A proposed academy in Wandsworth, London has come under criticism for being located in an area that means it will provide free education to wealthy families and exclude poorer families. I’ll not go into the left-wing rant of The Observer as I’ll just annoy myself but it’s here for those wanting to read it.

It’s a topic close to my heart at this week the fiancé and I put in an offer on a house. Just as Rowenna Davis describes Wandsworth as a leafy family friendly suburb, so too is the Gloucester suburb of Linden where we hope to move. I sympathise with families that cannot afford to live in Wandsworth or Linden but equally feel that there is nothing shameful about my ability to purchase a house there.* Likewise it’s unfortunate that not everybody can send their children to the school they want to but it makes sense for schools to operate catchment areas and this will understandably affect house prices. It’s tough on poorer families but I see no reason for me to be penalised especially when the fiancé and I pay higher tax due to our higher income.

The argument seems to centre on a philosophical argument. I think I should be allowed to buy better state funded education for my children as my taxes pay for that education and I am the kind of person that will lend my skills and money to supporting the school (ie. I will attend all fairs, buy raffle tickets and sit on the PTA). In short, I see people as self deterministic and believe I should be allowed to influence both my future and that of any children I may have. A key motivation for working is the lifestyle that my salary can fund.

The alternative philosophical argument rests on the notion that there is an external standard of fairness and that individuals should be limited from manipulating the playing field to suit their own purposes. Personal responsibility is set aside as wealth and success are considered based upon good fortune rather than hard work and it is thus unfair for these “virtues” to gain advantages. Crucially, children ought not have their futures determined by their parents’ wealth but instead have the same opportunities irrespective of background. The first argument rests upon fairness to the parents, the second upon fairness to the child.

The problem is that the people we are is largely determined by the care we receive in our early years. The nature versus nurture debate is increasingly leaning towards nurture being the key element (genes are important are far less influential on our personality than was thought a few years ago) and as such the social classes largely replicate. This is not because successful wealthy people create genetically similar children but because successful wealthy people nurture and raise similar children. Thus you are more likely to go to university if your parents did. Creating equality requires supporting poorer and less educated families and Sure Start programmes seek to achieve this but regularly face criticism.

This is absolutely crucial stuff and I wholeheartedly support empowering all children irrespective of their background but I cannot help but feel responsibility ultimately lies with the parents. My upbringing created the view that the world is there for the taking and hard work can make anything possible (and so that we’re clear, my father was emancipated from his family for much of his twenties so everything he did, he did alone) whereas there are plenty that are quick to complain about fairness of the high salaries of those in economic classes above them. This is what limits people. Of course realism is important (I was never going to be a supermodel for instance) but passion and optimism are what carry us. Take your raw material and run with it and if you want a good school for your kids then find a way but more important than their schooling is fostering their self belief. I want a house near a good school but it’s the wanting it that will stand my potential child in good favour far more than the schooling itself.

Take that attitude and you are fair to the parent and the child and rather than grumble about new schools in nice areas, you put that energy to something more valuable.

* Fingers crossed! It has been an enormously stressful week and until the keys are in my hand I’ll be stressed as hell.

 
Well hasn’t twitter got its knickers in a twist over @MrKennethTong? The phenomenon is quite bizarre as I don’t see what is quite so horrendous but then perhaps my friendships are misplaced - I do after all have a male friend who once voiced an idea for a new product aimed at bulimics; a tube that would facilitate vomiting whilst protecting their teeth from the oh so damaging stomach acid. The curiosity for me is why this guy’s views are so threatening. Now I don’t refer to the likes of @SIRJoshuaToThee with his moving letter about his daughter’s anorexia nor to the various celebrities who Mr Tong has associated with his messages and have rightly been angry but instead to ordinary people so extraordinarily threatened by a single person’s rather pathetic viewpoints.

My general viewpoint is that men who objectify women and rate them solely upon their physical appearance have serious intimacy issues and for the most part are to be pitied. His exchange comes down to his wealth for a woman’s physical beauty. If it sounds like prostitution then how else ought I describe his view of women as commodities and him valuing himself on his financial status? Clearly he lacks warmth, humour and kindness which would allow true engagement with women (whatever their size) but enough about him. He is a sad, strange little man (as Johann Hari reveals in his interview with Tong) who is only useful in highlighting yet again the size zero debate.

The problem with the debate is that we often aren’t clear about what a size zero is; it is based upon American sizes and the UK equivalent is a size four (sources vary but Wikipedia says a difference of four between the two countries sizes). The way the British media reports, you’d think they were referring to what in America would be a size minus four. American and UK numbers get used interchangeably so you hear size zero being discussed against the average British woman being a size 16 which is really very unhelpful.

Furthermore, we are rarely even clear about how big dress sizes are as different shops vary widely and vanity sizing is surely now undeniable. At New Year I was a size 10-12, the same as when I was 18 and yet there is not a cat in hells chance that I could wear the clothes I had then. Incidentally I still have an evening dress I wore to a ball in 2000 and it did not look pretty on my twentysomething frame.

So what is a size 4? Wikipedia states that it can be anything from a 22 to a 25 inch waist. General consensus and the number in my jeans is that a size 4 has a 22 inch waist, a size 6 a 24 inch waist, a size 8 a 26 inch waist and a size 10 a 28 inch waist. I have a pair of jeans with a stated waist of 29 inches that was sold as a size 10-12 but actually measures several inches wider. This is fairly consistent across my wardrobe. Far from being a generous size 10, I was a small size 14. (And oh how it pains me to say that!)

And apparently it isn’t just women’s clothes so handy with the tape measure I checked the fiancé’s trouser waists and they came in at an inch larger than their stated measurement. My issue with this is that if you ask a bloke what his waist measurement is, he’ll tell you the size trousers he buys. The NHS says that men should have a waist smaller than 37 inches to avoid a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes or heart problems. Now if all measurements are only an inch or so inaccurate that isn’t a problem but what if vanity sizing worsens to the extent that people are thinking they’re an ok weight when they’re actually at risk. Also, my jeans say their wearer fits a 29 inch waist but her actual waist is a few inches bigger based on the tape measure. That is still in the healthy range according to the NHS (women should have a waist smaller than 32 inches to avoid a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes or heart problems) but what about the woman buying 32 inch jeans who hasn’t measured herself?

My personal politics regarding responsibility mean that while I’d like to see clothes to be the size they are advertised as being, ultimately I see the situation as being down to the individual. It doesn’t make for enjoyable discovery but at least you’re honest with yourself. Still, the good news is that the flapping over size four is that rather than being so oh shock horror tiny, it is more likely to be a petite but not scary size 6-8.

Could Tong have a point then? No, absolutely not. But there is a point in there. We are getting bigger and we are getting defensive about it. We prefer to talk about the ugliness of skeletal women whilst denying that for the most part, slimmer people are more attractive. There are extremes (Angelina Jolie springs to mind as I saw her in The Tourist recently and her shoulders are taut skin over bone) but the vast majority of actresses and models look good to my eyes.

The observant amongst you may have noticed I used the past tense in this column. That is because since the New Year I have lost half a stone and two inches from my waist. I lost weight because I felt I needed to. As (it turns out) a small size 14, I wasn’t excessively overweight but my BMI placed me in the overweight category and I was just tipping the scale of NHS guidelines on maximum waist measurement. That was bad. Research has been done for a reason and unless you disagree with the findings (and have research showing different results) if you care about your health, such figures should matter to you.

Of course that’s not the whole story and vanity plays a part but for the time being I am seeking thinspiration. The main thing I’ve done this week is find a dress for my best friends’ wedding. It’s gorgeously flamboyant and a great motivation. I just hope online shopping doesn’t replace the glass of wine and some peanuts habit as things could get expensive!


 
Oh woe is me! After feeling ever so quietly smug about being just about the only person in my address book (metaphorically speaking – I um, didn’t send any Christmas cards this year) to avoid catching the flu, as I drove to work what I had dismissed as the monthly super fun happy time began to feel more like impending death. Still, lets not exaggerate; if I had flu I wouldn’t be tucked up in a blanket on the sofa picking my way through a box of Hotel Chocolat’s finest and writing my column. But there is a dragging ache in my lower limbs and you could fry eggs on my forehead (as my temperature is rising and with it the skin that I’ve been winning my continual battle against eczema with it getting greasy).

And so time presses on. The fiancé is out – not at work I hasten to add; the clever man has got himself a new job and because he’s a super top secret spy (he says he’s an accountant but I think he’s just modest) he’s serving his notice for the old job on gardening leave – which means I need to get the column cracked if I’m to swoon and look helpless while demanding that he brings me tea and sympathy. It’s less convincing if I’m merrily typing away!

Speaking of time, Happy New Year!

It’s that heinous time of year when you feel bound to do something, to change something. Subtle forces at play make us feel that the personal flaws and unfulfilled aspirations that we can ignore at other times of the year must not be permitted to slide yet further. The guru types talk about not making resolutions but instead making meaningful long term change and with that kind of packaging small wonder we’re all feeling irritable. We’ve (I use the term collectively as Gloucester’s bin men are great*) only just had the piles of gift wrap removed due to snow still being used to excuse council tardiness, the last thing we want as we make our resolutions is more fluffy branding – we’ve already got enough food adorned with snowflakes to last us to Easter, we want our resolutions plain and simple.

My resolution is to lose weight. I do not however wish to make significant long term change. I want to lose a few pounds and then return to being joyously Nigellaesque in my attitude. I lost a lot of weight around the time I left my ex-husband (few things beat divorce for weight loss!) and some of it has crept back due to less walking and more driving, a desk job and various other factors. My plan is a fairly drastic diet that I will absolutely not stick to long term but which will nevertheless get me back into my thin jeans. Once there I’m generally more motivated to stay there. Post dramatic diet, smaller portions seem more palatable than immediately post Christmas smaller portions. 

Will I be in the same situation next year? Probably, and frankly I’m ok with that. Last night required a little light corsetry. I took the fiancé for a meal to celebrate his new job and assistance was required. Of course when you slip into a basque that’s half a size too small, the result is that you look half a size smaller with an absurd cleavage. Unsurprisingly the fiancé sees no problem with this scenario. However, as I generally need to do more than vaguely resemble Christina Hendricks (very very vaguely), corsetry is not the answer.

But the bottom line is that I’m not deeply unhappy with my appearance. Where I was unhappy was a year ago when I began my blog as a quest for change in my life. That was truly desired change and as such I made it happen. Of course, the life coaches know this (I should know, I qualified as one!) and I think what they’re asking now is that those who are unhappy take charge of their lives for it is possible to change and find joy.

So while I feel a little woeful at feeling poorly and don’t exactly relish the prospect of a diet I do at least have the advantage of being in a better place than this time last year. I have read a few witty comments on twitter recently regarding people being unfair to the past and only looking forward and there’s an important message in that which the guru types have hinted at but (from what I’ve read) failed to adequately capture. 

If you examine your life as occurring in stages (childhood, adolescence, early adulthood and so forth) then look at further breakdowns, one begins to better see the important areas for progression. Losing a few pounds starts to seem insignificant compared to say, an inability to hold down a job for more than a few months. When we look to the bigger picture of our desires we see the roots for motivation. Hence you may find the drive within yourself to train sufficiently to climb a key mountain but ultimately never finish War and Peace.

There are many traits and achievements dictated by society. You surely don’t want to smoke or be fat or be single or never own property says the majority. But what do you want? I’m sure I succeeded in certain resolutions last year because the results were what I truly desired and where I failed was where I set my goals by external standards.

If you’ve already broken yours then perhaps your heart isn’t truly in it yet. If that’s the case then I leave you with a favourite quote of mine.

I cling to my imperfections as the very essence of my being (Anatole French)

It’s a view I generally hold but for now I’d like to be a slightly thinner imperfect me. Also, I’d like not to develop full flu!

* Please don’t post our rubbish back through our letterbox.