As children we tend to believe adults know everything. Parents and teachers perpetuate this myth as it benefits their objectives of control and nurturing. I mean this in a positive sense - I have the best of intentions for my stepkids but they need the stability of my authority being unquestioned (something achieved by my being in cahoots with their mother and father). But as we grow up, we begin to appreciate the shortcomings of those that once dictated to us with ease.

I’m fairly rare in that I never really argued with my mother. For me, the mother-daughter relationship was largely peaceful and from a very early age we’ve done lunch, gone shopping and taken trips. My teenage angst was directed almost entirely at my father who as a little girl I hero worshipped to the extent that I struggled to adjust to him being a typically flawed individual. I owe a lot to my father, he was the one that pushed me so hard to achieve, but as I get older I appreciate more and more the lessons I learned from my peaceful mother. My mother is the kind of person that will sit somewhat in the background in order to obscure the fact she rules the world.

For a long time I didn’t realise she was a feminist. My parents were a little bit Mad Men with my dad the exec type that pursued, seduced and married one of his secretary’s. I loved that story as a kid and dreamed of inspiring the adoration my dad held for my mother until his death but given the choice I wanted his career success not the rich husband.

My first true lesson in fighting my corner related to school uniform. My high school had a rule that girls couldn’t wear trousers or long skirts. Long skirts we accepted but trousers seems utterly unfair in the freezing Northern winters where we were forced to endure break times locked out of the main building. So we planned a protest but I had no black trousers and it needed doing right. So my mum wrote me a note and instead of taking me to the dentist took me into Harrogate to go clothes shopping. She took my side and made me feel my views were important.

Feminism is about choice and equality. I wear a dress and heels every day, I pride myself on cooking for and caring for my family and I don’t think I could be truly happy or fulfilled without a man in my life. But I’d fight to defend my right to wear less girly clothes, to cater via microwave meals or be a completely relevant and important member of society as a single woman. I won’t be dictated to and I owe that to my mother.

So take ecstasy.

That’s a context leap even for me but one that is highly relevant. In one of the largest studies of the effects of the drug it is claimed that there is no evidence that ecstasy causes brain damage. Now there are plenty of reasons not to take the drug, my personal one being that I like to know what I’m taking (the label on my bottle of wine says Chardonnay-Voignier). Call it the marketer in me but I like packaging; I’m not such a fan of unidentified substances.

But even acknowledging the contaminants in the tablets, it seems that ecstasy isn’t so bad after all. If we could clean up distribution we could enter a brave new world of population control; so far so soma. So what’s preventing this? Oh, something or other.

Do I sound blasé? Well that’s my point. Going back to school for a moment, I remember realising I was smarter than most of my teachers. There were two ways to take that knowledge; I could stop learning from them or I could learn an important lesson about the world. With the exception of the needy Biology teacher who flirted to bolster a fragile self esteem and who I was horribly cruel to through a combination of boredom and a fragile ego of my own, I recognised that life isn’t about what’s right or wrong but about power. My teachers had power over me so I obeyed them, worked the system and moved on.

So too with the government. This isn’t about the powers being right. On the topic of ecstasy it seems they’re probably wrong. But they are in power. The issue is whether or not they are right but how you want to react to it.

It seems to be a big idea for some people as there is a notion that somehow if the truth is know, good will prevail even among those who have outgrown their god delusion. Truth has little to do with it, it’s about agendas.

Everything is about agendas. Again this needn’t be a bad thing. My personal agenda is to own a great house (remember Who and how to judge? Today is day 40!) and promote my centre of employment. I do things that aren’t totally nice - I badger my mortgage broker and coin terms like mobrocide (the murder of one’s mortgage broker) to deal with my frustration and I focus on narrow aspects of a fantastically diverse visitor attraction based upon what elements I can sell to editors. These are largely good things, I’m not giving up on something a bank has no grounds to deny me and I’m doing pretty well at work.

It’s big picture stuff and agendas are funny things. Our parents had them, our teachers had them, our employers have them and the government has them. But so to do our friends have them and our partners have them and when my stepkids say they love me I know they mean keep the chocolate and the cartoons coming.

I think the ecstasy question is interesting and I’ll follow any developments with interest but keep it in context. There will always be many factors at play.

I had a bit of a blast from the past when a friend posted this video to his Facebook this week. A number of years ago now I was a moderator on a “pick-up site” and was familiar with this kind of whining bloke who clings to his world perception to reassure himself that it is the world that is wrong and not him. The forum members were pretty evenly split between those that appreciated the fresh perspective that, as a single woman, I brought to the site and those that hated me, largely on the basis of my gender.

I have long maintained that there are two types of straight men; those that like women and those that don’t like women. Of the men that like women, most understand this immediately. Of the men that don’t like women, they immediately disagree and argue that it makes no sense. What determines the kind of man a guy is largely depends upon whether he sees women as the enemy. The guy in the video doesn’t like women because he sees them as holding back the goods (sex, companionship, affection) and he’s deaf to feedback because he’s angry about this. If he could let go of his anger and appreciate that women just operate differently he’d develop the qualities he is so bitter about lacking.

The sad this is that if I were to advise him, I’d probably say the things he’s ranting about. Or perhaps I’d tell him to just grow up.

Owning your feelings is a rather abstract idea. We are so attuned to them being an intrinsic part of ourselves that it can be difficult to view them how others might but this is an essential step towards being a desirable human being whether that be desirable as a friend, a lover or an employee. It’s not so much about changing yourself as having empathy for others. When we hold our feelings as being responsive to external factors we lose control and are weakened by them. The guy in the video is a perpetual victim of his experiences. That’s not to say I’m unaffected by the world around me but I can at least recognise that I take things personally which are not meant personally. Rather than deal with his feelings, he is externalising them as a problem with society. When I’m upset, I know it is about me and not society (mostly).

It’s about denial of culpability. Owning your feelings requires responsibility and the guy in the video is too much of a coward to do that; far easier to blame women en masse for their rejection of him.

I found it strange that so many people will struggle to take ownership of their feelings and yet take ownership of something that arguably doesn’t belong to them. I’m talking of course about our Forests whose proposed sell-off was abandoned with an apology by Caroline Spelman.

What makes people feel our woodlands belong to them?

We live in a material world where property and land reign above all other goods. Strange that given our obsession with marking out our territory we subscribe to a larger ideal of shared ownership. Yet somewhat accidentally I chanced upon my answer this week.

I had reason to head into the Forest. Not the Forest in the sense that every day I get into my car and cross the threshold to the Forest of Dean by road but rather that wearing my hiking trainers I left my office and headed out from the Centre’s grounds into Forestry Commission land to make my way to a coppicing project. Armed with a notebook, I questioned the project manager about scope and objectives but found myself entranced by the scenery. Particularly the veteran trees.

Veteran trees are fascinating and can make you feel remarkably humble. Veteran trees are big picture stuff and when you look at them and take in their age and how they’ve shaped their surroundings, the concerns of a government seem rather silly and surface level. I had got it wrong I realised, the people campaigning to save our forests weren’t claiming ownership, they were claiming that our forests are beyond ownership.

So I’m delighted that they won’t be sold off. I’m glad that the value of the veteran trees near my office won’t be valued solely in financial terms. Their value is too abstract.

So if I was wrong about people feeling ownership of our forests, was I wrong about my angry little Youtube poster? Did he have a point to make?

My conclusion is no, based upon the trees. What the response to the proposed sell-off demonstrated was that not everything in life can be equally traded. It simply isn’t right to trade our trees for money (there’s a certain irony in that) and equally I’d say we shouldn’t trade our souls for validation.

I have admitted to validation whorery several times (as the results for “validation whorery” in Google show!) but not at any cost! The price of gaining approval ought never be more than the value we place on what we give up in the process. If we don’t know our value, if we aren’t in touch with ourselves how can we know what it right to give away?

I think people who are openly insecure about their value make us uncomfortable. We value secure people as we feel we can trust them and rely on them; by my definition they are less reactionary to external factors and are therefore more stable. We know where we stand. With insecure people we cannot trust or rely on them because they are more reactionary to external factors and are therefore less stable. When it comes to weathering the storms of life, we don’t want partners who’ll buckle at the first whisper of wind.

Own your feelings and hug the trees.


I’m reluctant to rant, given the disdain I had for Andrew Hankinson last February but I’m having a hard time of things I don’t feel are my fault. I had hoped to add a jaunty little afterword to this thread about buying a house but that battle is still ongoing. Still, I shall begin as originally intended with Steve Coogan who this week laid into Top Gear.

Who better to criticise posh white guys who think they’re funny than a posh white guy who thinks he’s funny? It’s great as a piece of peer review as Coogan can’t be accused of so many of the things that less similar peers get accused of. If he was a woman he’d be setting himself up for male eye rolling at his sensitivity and told to get back to the kitchen or if he was a nondescript blogger he’d be setting himself up for accusations of jealousy. Coogan is great because he’s identikit; he even shares the bad haircut and ugly clothes so favoured by the Top Gear lads. 

It’s a crap review as it happens. Coogan manages to sound petulant and pompous at the same time and frankly his writing is tedious. Still, I’m judging him on what he says and not his motivation. I judge him on descending to ‘frenetic arguments about comedy and taste’ because he has now had enough of the defence of things ‘just being a laugh.’ The fiancé maintains that he will never engage in debate in our local press because then he’ll be the kind of person who writes to the local press. It’s the adage of never arguing with a fool lest onlookers be unable to tell the difference. No matter how insightful his words, as soon as the fiancé gets involved he will be cast as a cider drinking West Country boy with a strong moral code (the fact he is a cider drinking West Country boy with a strong moral code is rather beside the point).

I’ve nothing against people who wish to write to their local press (good on them in fact) but it is nevertheless taking a position and Coogan is taking a position here. Coogan is saying his moral code outstrips his ability to let things lie. (Well, either that or he wanted the no doubt juicy pay cheque from the Observer and the notoriety of writing something a bit counter culture yet totally without originality). It’s a slip over the slope that begins somewhere around the time you start to appreciate Radio 2.* 

Coogan is now officially a grumpy old man and not a funny one. Defending himself in advance by saying he’s not a vegan or wears sandals (except the ones he deems acceptable) he actually falls into the same category he accuses the Top Gear boys of as he joins their ‘lazy stereotype’ as to the definition of people who know little about comedy which he clearly doesn’t fit as someone who knows ‘something about comedy.’ I don’t buy this column any more than I would the BNP suddenly announcing plans for their Eid ul-Fitr celebrations. Clarkson’s probably outselling him in the non-fiction chart and nothing more.

Still, he’s qualified to peer review.

Deeper into the paper, a fantastic piece by the delightful Victoria Coren highlights the absurdity of judging people for copy. It’s possibly a little unfair to count Coren in the same breath as a writer for the Mirror but in the grand scheme of things they are industry compatible so I’ll continue with this one.

Basically the tabloids are horrified that Kate Middleton’s parents who sell party goods will be continuing with their day jobs through 2011. Yes, how very dare they? Must be a conspiracy!

It can only be a good thing when the likes of Coren pull their contemporaries up on such absurdity. Such claims are lazy journalism aimed at consumers who love anything touching upon the sanctity of the royals. As with the qualification of Coogan above, best that one of their own (albeit in a far superior league) be the one to criticise.

She’s qualified to peer review.

Now once upon a time this column was quite possibly headed in an entirely different direction but infuriating hoop jumping at the bequest of The Abbey rules that out. 

Day One: We see a house we love
Day Two: We go for a second viewing to confirm our first impressions
Day Three: We put in an offer
Day Four: Our offer accepted, we call the broker who pre-approved our mortgage

Today is day 26.

The case is open. Information is requested and then supplied but along the way We’ve had our finances pulled apart, essentially been accused of money laundering and I’ve needed to take a HIV test! (Ok so the HIV test relates to the critical life cover I’ll be taking out but I’m trying to make a case for being under scrutiny so give me this one).

I’m exhausted and increasingly angry. The fiancé and I are both employed, with good financial records and a large deposit. Our broker has made it clear, it isn’t about us. A few years ago and banks were fighting over people like us and there lies the rub.

We’re not being judged on who we are but on who others have been.

At least the Top Gear boys got to be insulting and the writers for the tabloids to be stupid. Museum girl and accountant boy with their wildness extending to a few adventures in the Far East and a penchant for Italian motoring are frankly rather dull. The kind of dull where a day spent drinking cider in Gloucester with my brother nevertheless ended with me baking sea bass in salt with fresh bay picked from the garden. If we’re going to be scrutinised to such ridiculous degrees why not count the fact that Sunday lunch with the extended family happens on a monthly basis?

I’m not against being judged (per se) but someone is getting it wrong. The fiancé is picking names for kittens and I’m menu planning Easter lunch. He’s not mocking Mexican’s (although interestingly is cooking fajitas as I write this) and I’m not trying to milk the Royal Wed... *ahem* I’m not writing lazy copy about the Royal Wedding. We’re just two people with two part time kids wanting a couple of cats and a house big enough to host family parties.

Judge us on being dull but please let us have a mortgage. Much as money laundering sounds fascinating, we’d rather watch Mad Men and eat Kettle Chips.

* This was in the last few months for yours truly when I heard Graham Norton and realised that old age was when the people you think are funny move to Radio 2 which has the upside of me moving seamlessly into my appreciation of gardening as a relation aid days.

We are currently recruiting at the Dean Heritage Centre and as a member of the interview panel was reading through applications we had a brief discussion about what kind of person we were looking for. What I found interesting was why this person had selected me as the successful candidate for my job (they had also been on my own interview panel). It seems it came down to my ability to talk to people. The main negative was that I was very young but the panel ultimately decided that I could learn people skills (this is my first management job) but that a warm approachable personality was an intrinsic thing. “You always make eye contact” she said simply.

Clearly there were other factors at play but it felt strange to hear that this is how I come across. You see, with very few exceptions I struggle enormously with eye contact. I’m very uncomfortable with anything I see as intimate until I’m comfortable with a person. I once screamed at a customer in Jessops for grasping my arm to get my attention. I slapped him away and told him it was not acceptable to grab at people. I fled to the bathroom to wash my arm. Personal space is a big OCD trigger for me and fortunately one that is generally respected in the UK. Because I’m fully aware of my feelings, I have rationalised my way to general social acceptability. I’m happy to shake hands and while I go wooden if someone air kisses me, I at least no longer flinch. Eye contact has been my big compromise; the way I see it, if I make eye contact I cannot be accused of being rude.

But every time I do it, it’s something I’m making an effort to do. Even with the fiancé I have what is like a backing track playing on a loop (You’re with someone so look at them. You’re with someone so look at them. You’re with someone so look at them). In my interview I had to give a fifteen minute power point presentation. I looked at the screen then two of the three interviewers in turn and this was on a pattern such as first and second, first and third, second and third. When asked a question I looked at the person asking the question then glanced at the other two to see whether there were any visual cues to pick up on. Oh and I smiled. A lot.

I always think I must seem like an idiot but clearly the patterns to my behaviour pass unnoticed and I come across well. Perhaps the fact that everyone in that position is nervous obscures any tension I have. Upon reflection, it struck me that actually this is why I’m a warm approachable person much of the time. I don’t feel warm and approachable so I try extra hard to seem that way. As a result, my constant efforts render me scoring higher on this than people less concerned about how they come across. Because it is so at odds with my nature, I never forget or get lazy when it comes to eye contact.

I’ve been looking at other people more closely (my obsessive compulsions make me disgustingly self centred) and I’ve noticed how few people do make eye contact. While this suits me fine, I can appreciate that people comfortable with general social intimacy might find it rude. When we have visitors at work who have a problem or query that the front of house staff can’t immediately answer, I go to talk to them. Usually I find that people just want a few minutes of someone’s time where they feel they are being listened to. They want their wants and needs taken on board, to feel valued. Almost all visitors who have (for example) a card from a certain visitor scheme that we don’t participate in pay admission nevertheless. The vast majority just want recognition that the situation is frustrating but a genuine apology and a quick chat about what makes the Dean Heritage Centre special sees them decide to come in anyway. It helps that I take a positive from this, sometimes I hear about a scheme that would be good to participate in and I can gain valuable insights by asking people to tell me about it. If I didn’t make eye contact, they’d not only be less likely to take away a positive experience of the Centre but I wouldn’t get their helpful feedback.

For me eye contact is an active choice and I suppose the OCD which makes me hyper aware of my surroundings gives me the advantage of always being tuned in. Still, every day we make choices about our mood. I was once asked by a co-worker at Jessops how I was able to be so cheerful at work. My response was that my smile was my defence in a job where we got a lot of grief for things that weren’t our fault. Much as I hated the printed strap I was meant to wear around my neck (and refused) that stated “Choose your mood and make their day,” I agreed with the sentiment. My job was easier when I chose to be smiley and cheerful. Most people appreciate a bit of banter in the workplace and I suppose my attitude to work is to extend that to the customers and visitors I come into contact with.

I’m not saying you have to make eye contact but it is a wonderful social lubricant. I find it a truly challenging thing to do but I get more out of it than I put in. Sure it can be hard work to slap a smile on your face and start each work day with enthusiasm but it’s harder to make it through eight hours where you’re keeping your barriers up.

Believe me when I say I hate making eye contact but I am always glad that I have.