It’s time for equality

Every now and then my anger rises as something else happens to highlight how little movement has been made towards women being treated as equals. Yesterday it was a Twitter conversation and I was reminded again about the blog post I’ve had bubbling in my brain for a very long time. It was time to dump those thoughts and get them down, so here goes…

I’m old enough to remember the growth of feminism in the UK, with the rather bizarre strap line of ‘burn your bra’, which unfortunately just meant swathes of women going bra-less thinking they were making a point about equality, and men being drawn to commenting on women’s breasts far more than ever. Not exactly the hoped for reaction.

Equality over the past 40-50 years has moved very little; women are still not paid equal wages to men for doing the same work and the lack of women in positions of power is still sadly lacking. Watching competitive series on tv such as Masterchef Professionals highlights how few women are either chefs, or, far more likely, chosen to appear on such shows. The way women’s sport is showcased differently to men’s, the women’s football World Cup coverage is indicative of this at the moment. The disparity of showcasing women’s skills is enormous.

Women have to fight to achieve, far more than men. We are ruled by our bodies from early teens. The monthly periods that can often be extremely painful, cramping stomach pains that can be debilitating at times but through which we continue to function and function well. Menstruation does not diminish ability in the same way getting an erection at an inappropriate time doesn’t stop men from doing anything.

The silent judgement passed on younger women when they apply for jobs or promotions on whether they’re likely to get pregnant and can the business sustain that ‘interruption’ or the perceived cost? Whereas any employee can choose to leave a job at any time and recruitment to fill that vacancy can often be more expensive and difficult to manage than a planned maternity break.

Oh and once a woman has had a child the rolled eyes when the child is unwell and they have to take time off/work from home/leave early. Whereas men can and do take time off/work from home/leave early without question or challenge.

And women can often be as harsh to other women. I’ve worked with women who have tried to discount applications when shortlisting for vacancies because”she’s likely to go onto maternity leave” or “she’s got young children” as though it’s an affliction and refusing to see the contribution these women will make and the skills they will bring. As you will expect I overruled these ridiculous reasons.

But all of these things still don’t compare to the gross inequality of pay or opportunities for women. I cannot think of a single area of work that I’ve experienced where women are treated equally in those respects. Pay scales in the public sector are an attempt to apply equality however I know of far too many occasions where decisions to start a man at a higher rate or to jump up the scales are taken all too frequently. Where it’s still considered that if a meeting needs note taking, a woman in the meeting will be expected to do it as well as organising the tea and biscuits. I remember joining a team and was asked to be part of a monthly meeting only to be taken aside by one of the senior (male) members of the meeting and asked, quite forcefully, if my role in the meeting was just to take minutes. He was put in his place by mine and his (female) manager but that didn’t stop him not listening to my views in those meetings.

Recently I found an article on the success of my daughter at an awards ceremony, she and two male colleagues had been recognised for their work and she had received more awards than her colleagues had, however she pointed out to me that she received the least amount of quotes and was last to be mentioned in the article. Subtle but powerful ways to diminish the success of a woman.

There are far too many instances of that kind and I could write a book about them. The recent #metoo campaign highlighted how women are treated as sex-objects by men. This too enforces inequality. The drunk boss at a Christmas party saying to me “come to my office, we can discuss a promotion for you” is another example of how men assume power over women. Luckily I was able to ignore him but how many young girls would feel unable to just laugh in their bosses face, give a look that said “in your dreams mate” and walk away?

Comments made, very sadly by women as well as men, on how a woman’s choice of clothing can invite men to abuse women, make my blood boil. My clothing choices have never been about how men should treat me, I have always worn clothes that make me feel how I want to feel; powerful, smart, sexy, comfortable, relaxed etc. Those are my choices. I don’t look at a man wearing a tight pair of trousers and see that as an open invitation to grab his arse or fondle his penis and I don’t expect men to see any woman’s clothes choice as a similar invitation.

I worry that there’s a generation of young women who will see and hear the stories of men abusing women and not feel able to make the clothing or style choices, career decisions, life choices because they fear not being taken seriously. It’s not about females it’s about males being taught that being male doesn’t give them rights over women, that we are all equal and that respect should be automatic (enduring respect is earned but everyone should respect their fellow humans).

I’m curious as to what part of the evolutionary process was it where men assumed the role as being better than women. Gender doesn’t determine anything about character, intelligence or worth just what bits your body has.

After 50 years of no appreciable change it’s time for action not platitudes, it isn’t open for discussion, it’s the right of all to be treated equally without question. Stop talking, just do it.

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Let the sunshine in

One of the first things we did when we moved to the South of France was invest in Solar Panels to heat the water for our house and apartment. With sunshine in plentiful supply it was a no-brainer. There were also financial incentives for switching to greener sources of energy which made the idea even more attractive. And we’ve certainly reaped the rewards, even with 9 guests staying we solely rely on the solar panels to provide the hot water.

I’ve frequently wondered why more properties don’t use solar energy and I am a strong believer that EVERY new build should come with solar panels as standard. Why wouldn’t that be the norm? The installation costs would be significantly lower, the benefits to the home owner would be immense and best of all the world would benefit.

All well and good in these sunny climes I hear you say but what about places where there’s more cloud than sun?

Well a recent chat with a friend who lives in the uk has enlightened me further on the benefits of solar energy. He installed 4 panels on his home in the uk and has not only not paid for electricity since then he’s even selling unused power back to the grid and making a small profit each year.

So I repeat my belief. ALL new homes, wherever they are in the world, should be built to include solar panels. There’s absolutely no reason not to and every reason why it’s beneficial across the board.

And no I don’t own a solar panel company 😂

Road trip

My husband suggested a few months ago that we take a road trip to Switzerland and Italy. As is often the way we did little prep until a couple of weeks before we set off. The original idea was to go via Grenoble to Lake Lugano, taking in Como then heading home. The reality was that our criteria for locating places to stay ruled out Grenoble as we struggled to find accommodation there that included both car parking and breakfast (why so difficult?). So Grenoble will wait another day for us.

Our first night was in the French Alps close to Gap (no one had written ‘mind the’ in front of the town name) and it was beautiful, such a lovely area with stunning scenery.

The next day we headed to Italy and based ourselves at a rather lovely hotel close to the Swiss border. From this base we were able to easily get to Lugano and Como as well as exploring the local area.

Our final destination in Italy was a couple of nights in Genoa staying in a rather unusual B&B (our private bathroom was through the breakfast room and reception; a tad interesting for my night-time trips to the loo) but which did fit the car parking and breakfast criteria.

So what were my biggest learning points from this lovely getaway?

Switzerland:

  • Beautiful countryside.
  • Clean.
  • Drivers who stick to the speed limit but who expect you to let them out of side roads without a thank you wave or acknowledgement (rude).
  • Car park attendants who let you out of the car park without paying because you’re too stupid to locate the pay station before you try to drive out.

Italy :

  • Appalling driving. Italian drivers drive as fast as humanly possible and a hairs breadth from your rear bumper.
  • Few speed limits identified on any roads, so it’s a guessing game what the limit is.
  • Road surfaces almost as bad as in the UK.
  • Cars parked on pavements so there is not even room for a fag paper to slip through in safety.
  • Pedestrians who wait until the little green man shows before crossing the road even though there are no cars for miles around.
  • The rudest café owner I’ve ever met who pretended not to understand a basic order of coffee and chocolate spoken in good Italian by me then insulting me to a fellow customer (I walked out, gesticulating wildly, telling him to forget it and giving him a classic Wendy withering look).
  • The majority of other Italians we dealt with were absolutely wonderful, helpful and very friendly.
  • Incredible ancient buildings left to deteriorate but still looking beautiful (please protect your heritage Italy).
  • Beggars everywhere in Genoa including a rather large (overweight) man with a sign saying hungry next to his begging bowl whilst he sat reading a book.
  • Canolli is delicious but different in every single patisserie. (Thank you Montalbano for introducing this delight to me).
  • Every other person on the street has a gorgeous dog with them.
  • Pizza is as cheap as chips and sometimes cheaper and about three times the size of pizza everywhere else.
  • The most churches per square mile as well as every church being huge and overly ornate.

But overall what I learned was everywhere we go there’s lots of new things to see and learn. Travel definitely does broaden the mind.

Here’s a few more photos from our little jaunt….

The not so social side of media

Social Media. What a strange and frequently misleading name that is.

I often think that social media, and twitter in particular, is like being in a busy local pub, with a cross section of people all having opinions, some more vociferous than others, having a laugh, chatting about the telly and listening to songs on the jukebox.

The twitter I inhabited from around the time of the referendum until recently was like going into that dodgy pub down the road where everything you say could potentially, and often did, cause a punch-up.

Since the disastrous Brexit vote, using social media has really shown its nasty side. Initially the divide was between brexiters and remainers with point scoring on ‘facts’ being the main topic of interaction (and yes I hold my hand up for frustrated tweets and Facebook posts). However as time has evolved not only has the war continued between these factions but increasingly there has been a rise in demonisation within the remain camp of those who don’t share the same political views. To be part of the remainer ‘clique’ it appears that you must only support the Lib Dems and/or attach yourself to a centrist group to defeat Brexit (at any costs, without any manifesto and led by someone with an interesting political past).

To be clear about my position I have always been a Labour supporter, never waivering but recently have found the political leadership and manifestos of the Green Party growing in appeal. My voting constituency of the past 30 years has more often than not, not had a Labour candidate stand, so limited options have led to voting tactically for Lib Dems despite not feeling confident of their ability (borne out in their appalling coalition behaviour in my view). My initial joy at the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, someone who I thought would put Labour back on track to their ethos of a party representing the left of politics, has subsequently wained as he pursues a stance on Brexit that I believe is more about appeasing and attracting ukip supporters than actually representing the many he purports to be representing. So I’m red with splodges of green and I wear my political heart openly.

A visit to twitter whilst being open about your politics was no longer a fun way to while away some time, no longer could you assume that like-minded folk would happily debate stuff and put the world to rights with you….. a visit to twitter was filled with trepidation.

After a lot of thought about whether to give up on twitter I finally took the decision to unfollow some people who were making a visit there less pleasant than it should be (along with others who never interact or only tweet misery). As for Facebook well I keep my friends there to a minimum and tolerate the odd one or two who hold views that I find unpalatable so that’s manageable and serves its main purpose (for me) of sharing and seeing family photos. And Instagram is just a fun way to show off your life in photos and never, in my experience, crosses the barrier to nastiness.

The result has been a better experience of social media, with Twitter in particular harking back to the good old days of fun banter with a balance of opinion on everything from politics to tv, food and clothes.

From now on I’ll stick to my local, it’s much more sociable.

The art of communication

When I first moved away from home at the age of 18 I stayed in a hostel in Knightsbridge, a wonderful location which I never took advantage of but at that age I wasn't interested in history or culture. I've made up for it since.

I had two options for contacting my family, a telephone box in front of the Albert Memorial or writing letters. As my parents didn't have a home phone at that time it was always the latter but I'd use the phone box to call my boyfriend back in Suffolk. The first time I did this I'd splashed out on false nails earlier that evening (clearly I was going for the sophisticated look) and as I settled into the phone box and put my fingers in the dial I realised I couldn't actually move the dial as I had only nail in the hole. I had to rip the false nails off before I could call him. End of sophistication.

The weekly letters I used to receive from my Mum were a joy. It was like having a chat with her, she wrote about exactly the things she'd have said to me if I was sitting in the kitchen with her. I still have those letters and occasionally I read them, they're a great way to keep her memory alive for me.

Now 40 years later and living away from my family, technology means instant communication and this is what makes the distance away from them so much easier. I dread to think now how my Mum must've felt when I moved away. Now it would be awful for me if I didn't have the ease of communication with family.

The joy of receiving a WhatsApp message or a video call is wonderful. The ping of the incoming message must the the equivalent of my Mum hearing the thump on the doormat of a letter arriving. Now instead of eagerly ripping open the envelope to devour the latest news from home it's a quick swipe of the phone screen to reveal the full message before I reply.

Occasionally I still send snail mail to my daughters, just a few silly words in a card and sometimes I receive the same from them, there still is nothing quite like a handwritten note, however short.

I hope the art of writing notes or letters never dies, re-reading them gives a thrill that re-reading WhatsApps could never recreate, although trust me I do keep all my electronic communications with my family.

Today so far I've chatted with one daughter in Vietnam, the other daughter in London, a nephew and two of my sisters in Suffolk and lovely friends in Northumberland and Bristol. All from the sunlounger on my terrace in France.

Technology is pretty good isn't it?

You say tomato, I say tomato

Our neighbours, and friends, have a rather large collection of animals so when they wanted to take a few days away we offered to look after the menagerie for them. Once they were certain we were serious and had fully briefed us on what to do when with the dogs, cats, rabbits, macaws, parrots, goats, chickens, tortoises and various assorted other birds, off they went with the instructions that any eggs, fruit and veg we wanted we could have rather than leave them to waste. And so we very quickly amassed a huge supply of the best tasting tomatoes we’ve had for a long time.

Salads ✔️

tomato pasta sauce ✔️

grilled tomato ✔️

I then thought of making a curry and wanted a vegetarian recipe. Poring over recipes on my ipad I saw a couple that looked interesting so decided to use parts of both and combine to make my version, a tomato, aubergine and chickpea curry.

As with all recipe experiments the proof really was in the tasting. And it was a huge hit with both of us so here’s what I did:

Ingredients

2 large tomatoes (and I mean large these were each the size of small plate) chopped into bite sized pieces.

1 small aubergine chopped into bite sized pieces

2 onions chopped

4 garlic cloves chopped

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 can coconut milk

1 jar of chickpeas

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon mild chilli powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons turmeric

Method

Heat oil in saucepan and sweat onions on low heat for 5 minutes, add chopped garlic, tomatoes and aubergine. Stir to amalgamate. Add all spices, stir and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Add coconut milk, bring to boil, reduce heat add chickpeas and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until sauce is rich and thickened. Serve with basmati rice.

Trendsetter, moi?

A flying visit to the UK last weekend for some much needed family catch-up time was lovely. It literally was a flying visit as we got the plane (those drugs are still coming in handy see previous blogs). A bargain fare with Ryanair was too good to ignore. 

We also hired a car to get us to Suffolk, London and Oxford. The hire company tried to persuade us to upgrade the car we’d ordered, we had typically chosen the cheapest vehicle to save money but also we didn’t need that Qashqai we were being offered, only for the company to give us a free upgrade anyway. My advice stick to your choice they often don’t have the cheapest vehicles as they are the most popular choice so you’ll be quids in.

A visit to London is always an opportunity to visit Pappagones Italian restaurant, the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy I think, always good quality food. A slight mistake to visit on a Friday night though, it was understandably busy to the point of being overwhelming which unfortunately took the edge off the experience. My advice of visiting this fab place is to choose wisely so you’ve got room for their amazing Banoffee pie. (Lots of advice in this blog you lucky lot).

Oxford was beautiful as ever, I never tire of seeing the colleges and yes it’s busy but worth it, especially when you’ve got great company. It was definitely a day of fun and giggles and more importantly time with my daughter.

An early start on Sunday as we headed back to Stansted airport and the flight home. Doom laden Facebook posts telling of 100km winds in our area sent my anxiety levels sky-high. I duly took my calming tablets but they seemed to be taking their time to work. Fortunately and another piece of advice; don’t believe Facebook posts, it was a calm flight with no turbulence and definitely no gales to greet us on our landing in Perpignan.

Anyway the real point of this blog was really about picking up a Sunday newspaper on our way home, we haven’t read the Sunday Times for nearly 3 years and yes I know we shouldn’t be lining Murdochs overflowing wallet any further or reading such biased papers but we did. I finally got to read Style this morning. It was always my go to section of the paper so I was looking forward to browsing the pages, but yes you’ve guessed it, what a load of tosh. With fashions that no one in their right mind would wear, to a ridiculous article claiming you should adjust your beauty regime to match your menstrual cycle (seriously WTF) and a suggestion to part your eyebrows (yes you’ve read that correctly) so you can make them look like a feather (easier to stick a feather above each eye if you really want to look a fool). But there was one tiny snippet that shows I’m still ahead of the game, palm painting, this is where the hairdresser freestyles putting the highlights in your hair with his/her hands and my lovely French hairdressers have been doing that to me for the past couple of years. So I’m still trend setting from the sunny slopes of the Pyrenees Orientale.