Covid19 (To the tune of Dolly’s 9-5)

Posted in Opinion, Personal
on March 18, 2020

For anyone else like me who might need a bit of entertainment. Or, if you just want an insight into how my self-distancing is going, I present to you my reworking of 9-5…. Covid-19.

Luckily for me, there are lots of karaoke videos, so I am keeping myself entertained. Luckily for you, I haven’t quite got to the stage of recording me singing it yet.

(Obviously I own no rights to the musical masterpiece that is 9-5. I just wanted to have a bit of fun).

Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen 
Pour myself a cup of ambition 
Yawnin’, stretchin’ reaching for my phone
Look outta the window, it’s really something
Out on the street the traffic ain’t jumping
Cos folks like me are all staying right at home

Working from our homes – it’s the way we are now living
Not spreading our germs, no, no virus here we’re giving
We’re all stuck inside, for everybody’s benefit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it!

Covid19, it’s got you where it wants you
Self quarantined, and hoping that it’s ‘just flu’
Want to see my friends, but the Gov won’t seem to let me
Think I’ve watched everything that’s on the TV

They’ll shut the pubs and close the borders
Don’t even think about a Tesco order
If you’ve got a cough they’ll lock you all away.
14 days with family – no friends
Is this how the world really ends?
How many games of cards can you really play?

Covid 19 – It’s got you when it wants you
Self quarantined and hoping that it’s just flu
We’re all stuck inside, for everybody’s benefit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it!

Toilet rolls, we’ve got them by the thousand
Twenty seconds plus, that’s how long to wash your hands for
Tell your parents no, they really mustn’t go out
If they bend the rules, you’ll definitely find out. 

Covid19 – It’s got you where it wants you
Self quarantined and hoping that it’s just flu
Want to see my friends, but the Gov won’t seem to let me
Think I’ve watched everything that’s on the TV

Praise the NHS who are working through disaster
An uncertain time, who knows how long it’ll last for
We’re all stuck inside, but we’ll make the best of it
Rediscover a hobby and have time to master it

Covid19 – It’s got you where it wants you
Self quarantined and hoping that it’s just flu
Want to see my friends, but the gov won’t seem to let me
Think I’ve watched everything that is on the TV

A Keeper by Graham Norton – Review

Posted in Five Star, Reviews
on November 24, 2019
A Keeper by Graham Norton

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for the ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

I think most people come to a book written by a celebrity with more than a little scepticism. It’s easy to see why – there’s a lot of tripe written and published because the person who wrote it is already famous, and the publishing houses know it will pretty much sell itself. 

However, don’t make the mistake of putting Graham Norton into this category. The man can write. 

It was actually going to see Norton talk about his first novel, Holding, that sparked off this blog in the first place. (Take that as you will). I had toddled to the local theatre with my mother to see him be ‘interviewed’ by a local radio host (I think, does it matter?). Alas, the interviewer was rather poor, but Norton himself still came across well (he really does seem as lovely as he is on TV), exceptionally well read, knowledgeable about literature and intelligent. I read Holding in one sitting, remembered what I liked about reading and decided to set up a book blog….where I never did quite get around to reviewing that particular book. Whoops.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the topic (book) on hand. 

A Keeper follows Elizabeth Keane as she returns to Ireland following her mother’s death to oversee the sale of her home and wrapping up of her estate. While clearing her mother’s house, she comes across a series of letters that lead her to the identify of her father and the truth about her – and her mother’s past. 

While Elizabeth sets about unravelling the mystery that she’s uncovered, her life as she knows it back in NYC is unravelling in an eerily similar way. The present, past and future weave together in a cleverly written novel.

Graham Norton knows people. Of course he does – he’s made a career out of knowing how to get the very best out of people when he interviews them. His biggest strength as a writer is his characterisation. He really gets underneath the skin of his characters: they are real, they are visceral, everything they feel, say, do, or act like feels so very true. He draws in his reader’s empathy from the first page – and this is as true for A Keeper as it is for Holding. There is never a moment that you don’t believe a character would have acted in the way he’s written; you understand exactly why they react as they do, and why they think, feel, speak in a certain way. It’s magical.

Which isn’t to say that all the characters themselves are nice. But they’re real; they’re tangible and you can understand why they’ve done what they’ve done. 

It’s also why I’ll forgive the moments of the plot which get a little bit far fetched, or dramatic. Norton is such a good storyteller that you believe them. You want to get to the bottom of the mystery; you want everything that’s happening back in NYC to work out for the best; you want – somehow – for Elizabeth to be able to have that final, impossible talk with her mother where she tells her the full truth. You don’t, of course, get that. 

A Keeper is quite a dark book, full of suspense and at times unsettling.There are elements of The Woman In Black – just without the supernatural aspect.  It’s skillfully written and paced – slow enough to draw you in and make you wonder, but not drawn out so long you lose interest. Told in flashback and in present day, it weaves a generalised feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction with life, with real tragedy, exceptional circumstances and an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Norton is a skilled writer; you can certainly see that he’s someone with a real passion for literature and storytelling. There is an enjoyment for the written word that comes across clearly on every page. While, personally, I found the ending was a little bit too over dramatic, I can see why he chose to include it as  it did fit well with the overall story arc – so perhaps I’m just being picky. (I had to find something!).

I would absolutely recommend to anyone. This is not a book by a celebrity; this is a book by a gifted novelist, who also happens to be a chat show host. (Those that know my opinion of celebrity writers will know that this is an accolade of the highest honour!). I can’t wait to see what he writes next. 

Five stars. 

What To Read Next?

Posted in Books
on June 8, 2019
my-reading-list

It’s been a funny old time of late. There’s been a lot going on recently – it’s been the sort of time where a lesser person (okay, me) might curl up into a ball and stop functioning. But, for once, this time I haven’t.

And I think a large part of that is down to the fact I’ve been reading way more than I have for a long time.

I’m behind on reviews (I need to sit down and just blitz them all out, I have the notes all ready to go, I promise!), but recently I’ve enjoyed Invisible Women, Graham Norton’s A Keeper, the To All The Boys I Loved Before trilogy (honestly, judge away, they’re fantastic and I devoured them), countless articles and ahem, fanfiction, as well as some other books that are firmly in the ‘I gave them a go, but I won’t be rereading’ category.

And, in amongst this topsy turvey world, which seemed, at times, pretty dark, these have been what’s carried me through. (Alongside my friends and my endlessly patient fiance* and family).

Now things are a lot calmer – and should stay that way, I’m starting to think about what I want to read next.

There was a time that I wanted to set myself the challenge of the BBC’s Big Read. These days, however,  it’s a little outdated – there’s a lot of popular books very of its time and there’s at least one Jeffrey Archer book on there which I don’t think I could bring myself to read. So, I did a bit of googling and found the Penguin list of 100 Must Read Classics. You can find the list here.

To flatter my ego, I’ve gone through and counted all the ones that I’ve read and can actually remember reading/the bulk of the plot.  And frankly, considering I did an English Literature degree, and then Master’s degree, I really should have read more than, um, 34.

There are some (Catch22 and Catcher in the Rye, I’m looking at you) that I am pretty sure I’ve read, but I’ve not given myself the benefit of the doubt, so I plan on re-reading.

I’m not setting myself the challenge of reading the whole list, that’s a touch overambitious, plus there’s a few things on there I have no desire to touch with a barge pole. (I just don’t get Victorian literature…mmkay?). But I will give it a good stab and I’m going to make myself attack some of the books that I’m not so keen of the sound of.

I’ll also keep reading all the non-classics that I can lay my hands on. This list should, at the very least, save me scrolling through page after page on the Amazon kindle store trying to find something that sounds like it might be okay. (I specifically call out Amazon’s Kindle store because I still have not forgiven it for the amount of times I’ve been caught out and accidentally bought self-published books, thinking they’re normal ones. Editors exist for a reason, people.)

I’ve also really enjoyed some non-fiction recently – a phrase I never really thought I’d say – except maybe about history books. But there’s not a scrap of history on this list, no… I mentioned Invisible Women above – I’ve just bought Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, started Bella Mackie’s Jog On, been recommended Love is Not Enough: A Smart Woman’s Guide To Money and then have How Brands Grow and Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete to get through on the recommendation of an exceptionally good Brand Marketing course I attended for work. It’s a lot of reading – and I’m back to my good/bad habit of being a book tart (picking up different books at different times, flitting between them and generally being a flirt).

Reading is my utter joy – It’s the reason that I set up this blog and it’s why I love writing reviews. It’s also the thing that I’ve got a bad habit of abandoning when everything is going tits up. (Please tell me I’m not the only one that’s such an nonce?). But recently, by putting reading back as my priority, I feel hundreds of times better. And it’s only taken me twenty-odd years to work this out.

Now, I’ll have to leave you here because I’m just about to receive a job lot of 42 vintage penguin books to work my way through, which Nick believes I have solely ordered for the purposes of table decorations at the wedding. Ahem. Poor, poor, naive, Nicholas.

*Wahay, he’s been upgraded. At, well, his request. You just wait until I start telling you all about the book themed wedding I’m planning.

International Women’s Day 2019

Posted in Opinion, Personal
on March 10, 2019

It was International Women’s Day on Friday, and of course, I have feelings.

Firstly, before anyone whinges – 19th November is International Men’s Day.

Now we have that over and done with, let me get on with the important stuff.

I work for a company that, unironically, had an International Women’s Day event chaired by a man, and with more male speakers than female – which probably tells you more than I could articulate about what it’s like to work there. What’s more, the majority of the talks focussed on the issues of having a family and work – as if that is the only difficulty facing women in the workplace.

I’m not saying that it isn’t great that my company has men that want to support women. Of course it is – but surely, of all days, International Women’s Day is the time for men to listen to women, to understand our experience, and take that on board when you’re dealing with female colleagues.

It says a lot that my company thought they needed to have male hosts and speakers in order for this day to have a pull, or enough gravitas to go.

It says a lot that no males from my department attended; and even more that most of those males manage females.

Women have been telling men for years that we do not need you to speak for us. You can’t speak for us. You don’t know the ways in which we’re judged that you’re not. And most of you aren’t even aware of the unconscious bias that you show to us. Women are, factually, held to account for a lot more than men are. We are expected to behave a certain way, look a certain way and communicate in a certain way. When we don’t, our behaviour is held up to much higher levels of scrutiny. And it is exhausting.

A lot of men seem to only discover women’s rights when they have daughters. Indeed, yesterday, that is what most of the men that spoke concentrated on. Yes, it’s absolutely fantastic that you want to change the world for your daughter – but what about your wife? Your sisters? Your mother, your female cousins, your friends? They’re all going through the same thing, and they’ve all had to prove themselves again and again, while men are judged on their potential. It is not acceptable to be ignorant to the inequality that women face, until you produce your own little female.

I grew up in a household where my parents, both teachers, never made me feel that as a woman, I couldn’t do anything that I wanted. My mum was a deputy head, while my dad preferred to be a class teacher – so my household was unusual in that my mother was in a senior position to my father. However, I never really saw it like that – I saw both my parents working just as hard as each other. I saw my father’s passion for classroom teaching, and my mother standing up for other teachers in her school. From them, I got the message that as long as I worked hard, I could do anything I wanted.

And then I went to an all girls school. While these aren’t a perfect solution, I never for a moment thought that there were things I couldn’t do just because I was a woman. Again, here the message was that if you work hard you’ll do well. And this was the message I took with me through school and university.

Then I arrived in the world of work, and the full force of what the world is really like hit me square in the face. It is exhausting to be a woman in the workplace. My experience, and the experience of many of my colleagues, is that men are judged on the best of their results, the things they have achieved and the positive leadership skills they possess. Women are judged on the things they don’t do, their personality – being too soft or not soft enough – their achievements are balanced out with criticism of what they could have done better. Women receive the message that in order to achieve they have to adapt their personality to be more like a man’s – and yet, when they do this they’re judged for not being soft enough, gentle enough… I could go on.

I’ve listened to men explain feminism to me one day, but go on to invite me to calls because they ‘need the female touch.’

I’ve mentioned before that my no always seems negotiable, but my male counterparts is not – but this goes further. I adapted the way I communicate in emails after reading advice from female leaders in the workplace (‘take out the fluff, and be more direct’) only for my male managers to have a problem with this. I don’t know any man who has been told to be softer, friendlier, or chattier in emails. It wouldn’t be appropriate. When a man is assertive it is celebrated. If a woman is…. Well, she’s a bitch and she needs to work on her people skills. If you’re independent as a man you’re showing initiative. If you do that as a female, then you are dragged back down and because you need a man to show you how to do it.

I wish I was exaggerating – but this is the experience I’ve had in many different workplaces. It’s the experience many of my friends have had. It’s the experience we need to change.

The double standard perpetuated by men that think they are feminists astounds me. These are the men that I find more dangerous than the dinosaurs that think a woman’s place is in the kitchen – because they at least are shouted down. The men that I’m talking about cannot see how they treat females differently to males, and do it in subtle, but career blocking ways. They try to tell you that standing up for yourself is wrong, that not acting in the way that they believe a woman should is wrong, that all the good work you do doesn’t count because sometimes you’re a bit grumpy.The idea that men behave perfectly at work is a myth, yet I have never spoken to a male who has been reprimanded for it in the way that females are.

Hell, I’ve seen men that shout at women be promoted, while the women are held to account for not being particularly willing to be in meetings with those shouty men again. Because for that man the ‘work’ they do is apparently so much more important than the way they act. But for women, the way they act is more important than the work.

Is it any wonder women are burning out at work much faster than men? Is it any wonder that so few women reach the top leadership positions when the standards are held so much higher?

Some companies are better than others, some men are better than others. I’ve met a couple of men who really do champion the women they work with – and when I work with them it’s amazing how much easier I find every day. It doesn’t take much to change, but it does require you to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask yourself some difficult questions.

One final thought – I read recently an article that argued that asking women to lean in was bad advice, because that’s asking them to emulate male behaviour – which is not necessarily the way to get the best results. It argued that most managers are incompetent (I wish now, I had the link) because people tend to get promoted due to their overconfidence in their ability, not because of their work standards. Promotions based on this overconfidence are not good promotions; confidence is not the trait that we should be celebrating. We don’t want more incompetent managers – male or female – we need to look more objectively at what talents people do actually have. I think once workplaces start doing this and stop only appreciating ‘male traits’, women will have a much easier path at work.

Until then, I will keep being a difficult woman, who points out when I am treated differently to the males in my work place.