Tuesday, 29 September 2009


In a desperate attempt to attract more readers, I've resorted to sexy title tactics. Considering that my most-read entry has the word "tits" in the title, I'm going with the formula "If it's not broke, don't fix it." Just don't expect anything remotely sexy about this article. It involves an entire 45 minutes of my life where I wore a swimimng hat.

I’ve been frightened of swimming pools for nearly seven years now. It’s not an irrational fear – I like to think that anybody with any sense of self-respect and common sense would feel the same way about a huge body of water with grimy members of the public floating about in it. I just don’t like the idea of having water sloshing around my eyes, ears and mouth that has previously been spat out or worse by at least one other person. It might stem from snobbishness, sure, but aside from anything I just can’t help but think that it’s extremely unhygienic, even with all those chemicals and chlorine. In fact, especially because of all the chlorine. It makes people cough and get teary eyes. More fluid for the pool.

Despite my fears, however, I used some awful clich├ęs and took the plunge, right in at the deep end. Actually, I stepped gingerly in off some steps at the shallow bit to accustom myself to the water and to scout out for any plasters that might be languishing near the filters. Masking my distress was hard, especially considering that I had paid for the privilege to be splashing around in public in an outfit that covered less of me than my underwear would have. Swimming costume manufacturers, have some shame. So, blubbery and frightened, I began a tentative front crawl towards the markedly less-cluttered deep end, which seemed to be a lot more difficult to achieve than I remembered. The lifeguards watched in amazement as a young and seemingly not-that-unfit-really person struggled to make it to the edge of the pool. I blame an increased heart rate due to anxiety.

It hasn’t always been this way. As a child I loved swimming, and I used to go to lessons every Friday in a pool the length of your average garden shed. Teamed with extremely hot water and enough chlorine to kill off the SARS virus for good, I was happy with this set-up. I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer when I grew up, and won badge after badge for my diving efforts. Clearly I had something wrong with me. Sporting achievements? Aspirations to appear on behalf of my country? This is everything I stand against. Something should have been done. Somebody should have said something. The lust for sport-based glory died though, thankfully, when I moved house and couldn’t find a swimming trainer as ruthless and unforgiving as my previous one had been (once while practicing an exercise which involved picking up weights from the bottom of the deep end, I nearly drowned. When I eventually surfaced, I was told I had been too slow, and needed to do it again. Tough love. Obviously it worked, I mean, look at how much I love the water now). I stopped going to pools and developed a fear of them. This is the weird thing – I love swimming in the sea, and surely that’s far more dangerous?

What it all boils down to is a general fear of other humans, I feel. At least in the sea you aren’t going to accidentally tag another swimmer and cause a fuss. The chances of coming across an old bandage are minimal (unless you are swimming in Morecambe). Fish and whales wee in the sea, which is absolutely huge, so it barely matters. In my mind, every person in the pool is weeing, all the time. Disgusting. It is off-putting and makes me scared to put my head below the water. People are disgusting. I don’t want to be in water that has been soaked in their hair and feet and bathing suits. I don’t want to see people flailing weightlessly in their underwear. My local pool is a garish nightmare filled with people in their twighlight years, and it scares the fuck out of me. Still, in a pool, nobody can tell you’re struggling. It’s called “pacing yourself”. Which is why I’ll be going back three times a week for as long as it takes to stop me from morphing effortlessly from Pilsbury Dough girl to “I wash myself with a rag on a stick” woman; just as soon as I can use my legs again. Stretching did nothing to avert next day exercise pain. Who can I sue?

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Age of Consent

Usually I look to The Times for my bi-weekly (come on, I don't have that much free time) dose of broo-hah-hah after finding a certain story in the Daily Mail. I like to think that even in this day and age, The Times can be trusted to take a wholly exaggerated subject matter and approach it with a sort of confused dignity. Like a much-loved older uncle - if your uncle was Brian Blessed - trying to explain to a complete know-nothing about what on earth is going on with all these teenage pregnancies. No real prejudice or sweeping generalisations, just good old fashioned facts jumbled with old principles, things you heard on Newsnight, superstitious beliefs and a good dollop of wildly flailing ad-lib. In other words, it's the paper version of how I imagine I'll turn out in 40 years time. Uncy Bri-Bri would be so proud.

This time, however, a story leapt out from The Times' homepage at me without my snide search bar titterings. I was informed brusquely that music teacher Helen Goddard who worked in a private school had been jailed for having a - ahem - lesbian affair with one of her pupils. The pupil in question was 15, and obviously cannot be named, along with the school. Obviously for a teacher to be having any kind of relationship with their pupils is a complete abuse of trust on their part, not to mention that it's completely illegal and immoral. That the pupil she was apparently dating and taking on holiday (a romantic weekend to Paris no less - I don't even get treats like this. Perhaps it's time for an illicit affair...) was a year under the legal consenting age made it that much worse, because of course in this country to have sex with an underage individual it counts wholly as statutory rape. It didn't ever look good for poor lovestruck Miss Goddard.

Before we chat about the bad bad ways that adults abuse their powers over kids, let's have a look at that last sentence. It was said in the court where this trial was being heard that both parties believed themselves to be in love with the other, showing that statutory rape probably just might be a bit of a harsh judgement to preside over the doomed teacher - after all, some countries have decided that 15 is a perfectly good age to start making your own decisions. In France it is the age you can legally say "er...alright then" to sex. So why such a difference between our country and theirs? What happens in a year that changes a person's ability to know right from wrong? Comments on the story itself have revolved around these questions more than any other factor of the case, and so they should. How can any adult decide how old a child has to be before they can decide for themselves? 15 seems extremely young, but when you actually are 15, things might seem a lot different. Obviously if I had my way, you'd be forced to remain a child with no control over your own life until the age of 17 at least, but that might be due to the vast array of poor judgements and general messes I made as a teenager when I fully (and wrongly) believed I was old enough to look after myself and run away to London. Or whatever I'd decided to do that week. What I'm trying to say is that it's very probable that the girl in this story completely believed that she was in love with a clever, attractive and generally interesting teacher who had a lot of time for her. At that age, especially if you deem yourself "more mature than most", this would make total sense. None of the kids your age 'get' you. They're all stupid. I understand the girl's argument completely - she was silly and naive, yes, but she is undoubtedly extremely upset at the moment, and won't realise the true crashing idiocy of her actions until a good 3 years time when she starts university and meets people her own age who are intelligent, funny, attentive and most importantly, not her teacher.

Helen Goddard clearly made some bad decisions. We could look into the possible psychological reasons why she might have fancied her pupil; an enjoyment of her feeling of power, perhaps, or even just the fact that it was wrong. She stated in her case that she loved the pupil, and that was why she risked her job for her. Unfortunately for her, life isn't all Hollyoaks and happy reunions. Life doesn't even really involve Real Love if you think properly about it. You can be completely happy with a person, of course, but as for all the souls-uniting fluffy hearts and one true love stuff goes, it probably isn't real. Think about it. I'm not saying love isn't real - of course you can love people, it's a real feeling and all that jazz, it's what kept us alive in the olden days. If our parents didn't feel that bond back in the caves, we'd have been eaten in a stew along with the cat. Alls I'm saying is that to believe wholeheartedly that you are meant to be with somebody NO MATTER WHAT THE COST because you were MADE FOR EACH OTHER is probably pretty stupid. You've got to be rational about these things. If you're a teacher and you fall for one of your youngsters from the music class, you should probably spend an extra day at your therapist's figuring out what's up with a different aspect of your life, rather than decided that yep, going out with a 15 year old is definitely what you need to be happy. Don't be ridiculous. Hormones and similar interests, that's all it is and was. You'll survive without her. That would be my advice. Shame I was never asked, huh?

The best aspect of the story, however, is the empahasis (or should I say the extremely exaggerated non-emphasis) on the pair's sexuality. It would appear that in this kind of circumstance two females good, two males extremely bad. It reminds me of two things: that South Park episode where the kindergarden teacher runs off with Kyle's baby brother Ike and none of the authorities care because they're too busy being jealous, and the time my old music teacher was fired and placed on the sex offenders' register for a similar offence. Claiming true love and a fault with the system, he too ruined his life for the sake of a young musically-talented strumpet under his care. He ended up leaving his wife and child to live the rest of his days as a shelf-stacker at the local Asda Plus, because once the shit hit the fan, his pregnant teen-love didn't want him any more. Or so the local press said, by this time I was no longer a pupil at the school. People were outraged and there was for a while a witch hunt on the local news where anybody who knew him was doorstepped, and there were a few pieces on the telly where his Torry front door was wedged open by a reporter's foot while he repeated the words "no comment". Would he have been treated differently if he was a woman? Possibly. Maybe his house wouldn't have been subjected to repeated vandal attacks had he been. It just seemed a shame to me that such a nice man wasn't able to draw a line between professional interest and seriously unacceptable behaviour. Such a waste of such a great teaching talent. What bothered me more was that after two years of schooling at that particular high school, with private bass guitar tuition from that particular teacher, not once was I hit on. More recently still, I found out that a previous maths teacher of mine from yet another High School was found guilty of getting rather carried away with after-school tuition. I saw none of this. Maybe my pity for these people stems from some sort of grotesque feeling of rejection. I must have been a very un-sexy child.

In all seriousness though, adults taking advantage of their respected positions is something that can never be acceptable, no matter how much the respective parties claim love and infatuation. As harsh as I might sound, a person who simply can't stop themselves from acting upon urges they know are wrong shouldn't let themselves work in a position where respect and trust are needed from them at all times. A person who is willing to let themselves believe that they have fallen in love with a child is not fit to work as a teacher anymore. As for jail, I'm not a fan of incarceration as punishment, but then again I have been called a "sucker" before for really believing that rehabilitation and re-education works. I wouldn't know where to start with regards to punishing adults who take kids along on their fantasies (please be aware that I am talking about the specific few who believe they were in love and not the evil that is the kiddy fiddler - chemical castration is my awful but ideal draconian punishment for that) but giving them help to see that this romanticised "love at all costs" theatre of catastrophe will do them and those around them nothing but serious harm.

Sometimes it pays to be a total cynic.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Soap and Water, Soap and Water, Soap Soap, Water Water, Soap and Water

So you're not a DJ Assault fan then? (1'52" if you can't be bothered listening to the whole song) Well, in amongst his chauvanitic rap-house he has some good advice to share. Mainly, that if you're a filthy broke-ass ho, you probably couldn't go wrong by having a nice wash once in a while. It's pretty valuable if you think about it - you could solve a lot of nasty viral problems if you just had a little scrub-a-dub every now and again. He should do public service announcements.

These announcements would come in extremely handy at the moment, what with the ongoing Swine Flu fiasco on top of what's soon to be Cough and Cold season (come on, every year we get Fresher's flu up to wazoo, no matter if you're a student or not) and now with the constantly unravelling story of a happy family trip gone horribly wrong at a place called Godstone Farm. According to reports and the beginnings of an investigation, there are now 36 people infected with the most dangerous strain of E Coli after a group of children caught the bacterial infection from petting animals at the open farm on a family trip. It's thought that the resulting number of cases has come about through contact between the people, and not from extra exposure to the farm. So, let's be different, and look at this rationally then shall we?

Everyone knows that petting zoos are dirty, no matter how new and clean the facilities look. But this is fine. Animals don't exactly lather their hands in antibacterial gel every 20 minutes and take regular baths. They are animals. They roll in mud for fun. To be fair, if you're that bothered about your kids catching something you probably don't let them out of the house that much, let alone allow them to touch animals in a real-world environment. I know that this outbreak of a possibly deadly disease shows exactly what the dangers are in situations such as this, but there also is a lot to be said for using your common sense and letting your kids play out and get dirty. They need to build up their immune systems, for one thing. Four children are now critically ill and being taken care of in an ICU, which is scary and immediately makes people want to wrap their kids up tightly in blankets and bundle them off to the relative safety of a Dettol Protected home. E Coli is a serious illness, and needs to be dealt with fast in order for the symptoms to be caught at the earliest possible moment. A mistake some parents are making, however, is asking their doctors for antibiotics “in case” their children have the disease. As the supremely professional doctor who appeared on BBC’s Breakfast this morning said, not only do antibiotics not work against this particular bacterium, you would simply know that your child was sick with it. Becoming hysterical because of this outbreak will not help matters. Over 200 people die from E Coli every year – one in every four cattle are suspected to have it. To animals, it’s like meningitis, they carry it all the time, and in most cases it never flares up. “Frankly,” said the guest celeb doctor reassuringly “it’s surprising there aren’t hundreds more cases every year!” He’s tight you know. He’s right. Do you know why there aren’t more cases of E Coli outbreaks every year? Well, it comes back to DJ Assault’s sage advice – soap and water. Simply washing your hands after handling animals or while you’re cooking can rid yourself of the unwanted transition of the virus.

Unfortunately for the owners of the petting farm, these cases are more tragic as now more and more children are coming down with the illness that can cause, amongst other nasty things, kidney failure, which can lead to death. Shutting their business down has so far been the only thing they could actively do to hold their hands up and apologise. For some, this is not good enough. “Why was it not closed sooner?” asks Liberal Democrat spokesman, Norman Lamb, wondering whether closing the farm earlier would have made a difference to the amount of people who became infected. Perhaps, but because most of the cases have come about due to contact between the patients after visiting the farm, more people would have been struck ill either way. I have nothing but sympathy for the owners of Godstone Farm – had they known about the infection they would have certainly not allowed people to visit, and it was because of advice given to them by the environmental health agency that they kept their farm open despite cases of the illness beginning to be traced back to them. Sadly, E Coli is a more common virus than people are aware of – it’s simply the nature in which it has been covered by the press that lets people believe that every few years there are a few outbreaks. 200 people dying a year from this illness may not be a lot, but until last week when this story properly broke, I was still under the impression that E Coli and Mad Cow’s Disease were left behind in the nineties. I’m fairly sure that most parents thought this too. This is not a re-emergence of a dormant disease – it’s simply a tragically high number of people being diagnosed with it in a small area.

[Picture courtesy of The Guardian. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA]

All that needs to be done to try to combat the deadly illnesses that still roam around our society is the simple things. Cook your food thoroughly. Keep your house clean. Wash your hands. Stop acting in the extremes when a disease rears its head; be sensible, and stock up on medicines. You’ll need them for winter anyway – don’t worry, no matter what over-hyped virus you’re choosing to ignore there’ll still be normal flu to worry about, which still kills hundreds of vulnerable people every year. Wrap up warm, kids.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Don't leave him out in the cold - un-freeze his wintery rodent heart

There have now been three days in a row of lovely Indian summer in Leeds, and while it's been too late in coming to save my poor runner beans, the sun has brought out a nice sense of happiness to everybody. Even the faceless shoppers crowding the market seemed to get in my way more playfully yesterday. It's this type of spring in the trudge that people need at this horribly transitional time of year. Even for those not about to set off on yet another year of education, September the First always reminds you with a jolt that 1. Winter is "just around the corner" and 2. in a month you'll have to start worrying about moaning that the council's Christmas decorations have been put up Far Too Early. Winter is depressing.

What's worse than a British winter though? Our fascination with the weather must give us some small amount of enjoyment out of the frankly schizophrenic way the rain turns to sheets of ice and back to rays of blinding sun fourty times a day. Revelling in how shit it is that the sky treats us like it's bitch for most of the year unites the nation. "Miserable outside, isn't it?" "Oh yes, awful weather". We fucking love it really. The grey sky matches our secret desires to never have our Scorcher of a Summer expectations met perfectly. We love to be proven right much more than sunbathing or going for a nice walk or generally having a nice life. What we wouldn't like though, is having to spend winter alone if we could help it at all. Which is why from here on out this post will be concerned with finding a lovely date for a certain Lord Rattington-Smythe. Bear with me, this is a brilliant idea, masked as shambolic ramblings. That's my charm, see?

Yesterday I was staggering (not stumbling, which is quite something else altogether) through the burnt-out cars and graffittied railway bridges of Gumtree looking for a kitten to add to my family (Incidentally I found an amazing one...unfortunately we can't afford a pedigree, as heartbreaking as it was to say no) and I came across this little gem of an ad. A person's love for their pets knows no bounds, and this witty lady has decided to hunt high and low for the perfect mate to provide love, affection and babies to the handsome Lord RS, to make him feel like a MAN, in ways that she (legally) can't. And so I pass you into the capable hands of Miss Angelina Summers, to explain the plan in full.

Some people get left what remains of a packet of biscuits. Or maybe a jar of coffee…no-one wants to carry around a jar of coffee when they don’t need it any more do they? Well I got left a rat. I think that probably says a lot about me although I’m not entirely sure what.

Lord Rattington-Smythe arrived as a 5 day holiday booking for a quick £5, all alone in a small hamster cage mourning the death of his bessie mate Bacardi just the week before. You see Rattington used to be called Coke and although this made for ample photo ops with me posing pretending to snort him up my nose or rub him in my gums it just wasn’t GRAND enough for such a handsome and charming rat as the Great Man himself. We clicked instantly. Here was a rat with personality. Here was the sort of rat that got picked for unmanned trips to the moon.

Anyway, 5 days turned into 10. 10 days into a month. Being rather vacant and easily distracted it was about 6 weeks later that I realised no-one had returned for this devilish little raconteur. So I decided to marry him. Well no-one wants to be alone do they?

It was a low key ceremony. I gave him some sausage and a mushroom. He pissed on my sofa and bit the dog. We spent the night watching Conan films and sharing cheap cider. I have to say, it’s my most fulfilling relationship this year….but I can’t give him what he really needs. To empty his enormous aching balls and have a family. There are laws.

So if you know anyone who has an equally enigmatic lady rat who fancies a bit of rumpypumpy from the suavest Norvegicus in town then please contact me….full parental responsibility is a guarantee. This aint no Darren Day kind of rat. Girls for you, boys for me if you like...or I'll take them all for my Hellish ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Did I say that out loud?

If you know of any female ratties who are in the mood for lurrrve, please email me on k.taylor.cronshaw@gmail.com or leave a comment below, and let's see if we can't create something beautiful, huh?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Averagely Unnacceptable

Models have to be thin. This is the conclusion I've made after years of looking at fashion magazines and clothes catalogues. Models have to be thin and blank, so that the clothes can do the talking. I have never had a problem with models being thin - I never wanted to be a model as a kid, and to be honest, clothes always look better on thin people anyway. It would be nice to see more "normal" people striding down a catwalk, sure, but it wouldn't really make much difference to me. I see a waif wearing a jumper I want, and it makes me want to be a waif for almost 3 seconds. And then I eat a bacon sandwich. I like food too much to ever want to be size 0. I look at thin people with pity more than envy - which is seriously condescending and awful, I know. I just want to feed people roast dinners and stews until they look rosy-cheeked and cuddly. It's in my rustic nature. A hundred and fifty years ago I'd have been a Rubenesque farmhouse type, with flour on my hands and consumption in my lungs. Steak and kidney puddings and apple pie. That's the type of thing I like. Sometimes I fanatically try to lose some of the podge that's built up over the years, and sometimes I decide I actually really like exercise and recipes involving cottage cheese, but it nearly always ends in fudgecake squirty cream disaster. I'm a female cliche.

The thing is, I'm more or less consoled by the fact that I can't be thin AND eat everything with cream and pastry. I wish more people could be happy like this. It would solve a lot of eating disorders. Being thin might make clothes look really really nice, but that's all. You miss out on marscapone and lasagne and pies and cheese and scrambled eggs and cake. What's the point? But then, we're missing a very important point according to activists in this area - why can't people enjoy food and still be classed as beautiful? A somewhat patronising point, I find, considering that there are many people in the world who are over a size UK 10 who are very easy on the eye indeed. Claiming that we all have pre-fabricated views on how we see "normal" or even "fat" people seems to defeat the object, to me. "We're all disgraceful humans - why don't we fancy fat people?!" is exactly what this point of view seems to say to me. Which is rubbish. Squashing anything together in a forced generalisation like this helps nobody. This week, Glamour magazine apparently caused a "stir" by daring to have young model Lizzie Miller get her kit off and be pictured in their pages at a *gasp* size 12/14. Ho-ly crap. It's the beginning of a new era. Boundaries have been smashed! It's ok to be normal! Etc etc woo! This is the picture in question, so you may make up your own thoughts on the subject, before I share mine.

[Lizzie Miller photographed by Walter Chin as pictured in the September issue of US Glamour Photograph: Walter Chin/Glamour - Courtesy of Guardian.co.uk]

As you can see, she's lovely, and not very fat at all. In fact, she's fairly average-sized. Thinner than me. If I was of a weak disposition, after all the fuss, I'd be feeling fatter and more disgusting than ever. How ridiculous. What irritates me is not the definitions the media and the fashion industry itself has for fatness vs thinness, but the fuss that gets made every time somebody tries to do something to change the way we think about weight and beauty. If you ask me, there is something vaguely point-destroying about photographing a normal model and then declaring how normal she is to all the world at every given opportunity. "She's a bit fat! Isn't that BRILLIANT! She's tubby, and she doesn't care! And she has a pretty face! WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT!!" It all got fairly hysterical. I just don't know why it matters so much. There seems to be a more vindictive way of viewing models now, in this post Bridget Jones age of "I eat ice cream, and I DON'T CARE" women (who clearly do care very much, or they wouldn't mention it quite so frigging often) where it's apparently alright to look at a girl on the catwalk and say "urgh, she's so thin...look at her stick legs...I bet she hasn't eaten in days...and I bet she's on crack". I know a few people who remain skinny no matter how much they eat, but rather than being overjoyed about this, feel they get more abuse from the media and the people around them than overweight people. One has actually been told to "get down the chippy" by a stranger on more than one occasion. So how is it ok to take the piss out of thin people, but doing the same to an overweight person is not acceptable? Looking at a model and assuming they are anorexic just isn't fair, just like putting an "average sized" model in a 3" x 3" picturebox with a neon sign that says "LOOK! SHE'S FRICKIN' AVERAGE! EMPOWERMENT!" isn't proving anything. Other than the fact that we are all idiots for falling for it. So what? I see average people all day long in the street.

Here is why I think we see more thin people in our everyday consumer culture. Skinnyness is something aspirational. There are very few of us who are naturally skinny, and so if you want to be, you have to work for it. So being skinny is seen as "special". It's pretty simple, if you think about it. You can rant and rave about "malnutrition" and "unnatural-looking" all day long, but clothes will always look better on a person who's job it is to be a clothes hanger. That's why its their job. They are good at showing the clothes off, without overpowering them. Fashion fans might have a favourite model (mine, of course, is Agyness Deyn) but a good model will have the ability to show their own personality and style without shouting over the style of the clothes they are wearing. It's a talent - at least, I think it is. It's possibly a lucky talent that you can only be born with, but not everybody can do it. I just wish for once in a while, people would stop worrying about the models and just focus on clothes. Because at the moment we're looking at a season filled with shoulder pads and leggings, and I for one, am terrified.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A Small Dab of Self-Promotion. Just a small one.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you'd allow me to briefly divert your attention to a lovely beauty blog by a similarly lovely lady called Lauren. Now, perhaps you don't necessarily read about beauty and things of this girly nature. That's fine. What I'd like you to do, however, is make a small trip to Lauren's blog "Lauren Loves" and here you'll find - along with a constant stream of interesting articles and interviews - a guest post by yours truly.

Which explains my small absence quite adequately, don'tcha think?

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