Funny Women

I watched Newsnight (BBC2 last night) conclude with a discussion on the insistence of Danny Cohen (head of BBC TV) that more women be included in panel shows such as Mock the Week and QI.

Now, I’m all for equality, but is this a good way to tackle the problem of imbalance?

Let’s take QI – chaired by the lovely Stephen Fry with teams of mainly male competitors and an esoteric scoring system. Undoubtedly a testosterone-rich environment, this is blokey comedy at its richest, not feminised by having a (whisper it) homosexual presenter. And there are women who thrive on the show – Sandi Toksvig (hey – is homosexuality compulsory here?) gives the male panellists a run for their money, whilst Jo Brand could almost be Les Dawson reincarnated as a woman. That’s two females who do well, in part because they behave in a mannish manner by standing up for themselves when necessary, but without trying to be men. They are women – and they are funny.

So – does a policy of increasing the number of female panellists mean we need women to act like men? Or should we change the format to be more feminine? Stephen – time to camp it up.

No, I can’t believe this would work. I applaud both Sandy and Jo for being entertaining women in a man’s panel game. And make no mistake – it is a man’s game. Not only are the panellists mostly men, the whole idea was created by a man (John Lloyd) specifically for Mr Fry and Alan Davies. I don’t know if they ever thought about including women or if we snuck in afterwards. It’s a big boys’ playground game. That’s why it’s fun to watch.

I worked for many years in male-dominated environments and I know how much it takes for a woman to get any respect. I’ve been told on many occasions that I was thought of as “one of the boys” and other, less printable, terms. I’ve worked in teams where there was more testosterone than oxygen in the air – and it isn’t healthy. Groups of men will act in ways they know will cause problems, but no-one is prepared to say anything in front of the rest. And so…

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve worked in all-female offices, too. And it can get so bitchy that I sometimes wondered if I should keep a note of who’s not speaking to whom and who’s staking a claim on which fellas…

Danny Cohen is correct that we should have more women on panel shows. But shoehorning females into the boys’ own world of most TV panel shows won’t work. You’ll annoy the fans by diluting the male hormones, which will change the feel of the shows they love. And the poor token women will know they’re included because of their gender, not because they’re likely to be funny.

Tokenism doesn’t work. If a panel game has to have a women in front of the camera, what about someone from an ethnic minority? Or a disabled person? QI, at least, is already in the clear on the LGBT front – should we insist all other shows toe the line, too?

Imagine the advert:
Panellists wanted for new quiz show. Successful applicants will have appropriate qualifications or be able to demonstrate proficiency in at least two of the following areas:

Visible Disability
Over 50 years of age

GSOH desirable but not essential.

No – this isn’t the solution. For women to be entertaining and successful in panel games, we need to involve them from the start. We need female designers and writers, as well as males. Perhaps in a few years we could all be enjoying panel games where men and women compete on an equal footing – and they can all enjoy being themselves. An entertaining panel of people.

Read more here:

Feeling Good Alone

January: a dark month to be alone.

You’re stuck in the house – haven’t left it for days. The last conversation you had was with that weird guy who tried to sell you a dodgy-looking Blu-Ray last week and you’ve started talking to the house plant. And that’s been dead for years.

Whether through illness, career choice, retirement, a baby, personal circumstances or something else, you may find yourself entirely on your own for days on end – even months. But we are gregarious animals, we need to be part of the herd. So how does a solitary human cope on their own?

Many writers spend the working day on their own, a lot of people with chronic illness barely leave their home and an increasing number of single people have little reason to leave an empty house. There are many of us living alone with no real interaction with the outside world – and that number looks likely to increase.

I’m luckier than many stay-at-homers, I have my Hubby to keep me sane. Or is it conversations with the cats? Anyhow, my disability makes it hard to leave the house and go somewhere, while my writing work keeps me chained to my computer. But I’ve found a few little tricks to stop me going stir-crazy.

Don’t be Alone All Day

For a long time, I used to make a point of getting out of the house and having a conversation with someone – even if it was only the person making me a coffee. But between worsening health and the closure of my nearest café, that isn’t realistic any more. But there are still options. There are friends I can call – or they may call me. I have some good friends I can connect with online – real friends, not just social media contacts. One way or another, I can interact with another human being.

But not everyone is so lucky.

Yes, there are organisations who will listen if someone is desperate, but they aren’t much help if you’re just feeling a little lonely. The internet is a great resource, with chat rooms and social media, free phone calls to be made and a worldwide community where someone is always online. Many of my social media contacts are also friends, but you can’t beat the face-to-face conversation for making you feel human.

There’s a lot to be said for shopping from home. Whether it’s the postman ringing your doorbell with a parcel from an online retailer or a uniformed man bringing a week’s shopping from a supermarket – it’s human contact and that’s a bonus that comes with the free delivery service offered by many retailers.

If you can get out of the house, take a walk when the dog-walking brigade are out, visit a café, a church or your local library. Many clubs are free – it doesn’t have to cost anything to socialise.

Love Yourself

Not leaving the house isn’t an excuse not to make yourself respectable. Many stay-at-homers report living in their pyjamas, not bothering with personal hygiene and generally letting things slip because no-one’s going to see them. I don’t agree – you will see yourself. Aren’t you worth getting dressed for? Is your life so busy you don’t have time to wash and dress?

Yes, I have days when I’m officially “ill”, worse than just the usual disability problems. And I’ll spend a day or three in bed when I need to – not dressing, even not brushing out my hair. But as soon as I feel that bit better, I behave as if I’m going back to “work” – as myself. Someone who has a bath, gets dressed and wouldn’t have to apologise if the doorbell rings and there’s a hunky young man come to deliver a parcel.

I go further. And these are some of the things that make me feel human when I’m on my own all day. I wear perfume every day, just for myself. It’s a luxury, but it doesn’t cost much for the number of days’ wear in each bottle. Sometimes I wear a necklace or a pair of earrings, just because I can. I’m not one for makeup even when I go out, but if I was…

Or for the blokes – why not shave each morning? Or keep the facial hair trimmed, as you prefer? Assume you’re going to open your door and see someone so fanciable you’d regret not having made an effort.

Create Something

I know my books aren’t great literature, my knitting isn’t going to win any fashion awards and I’ll never be a Celebrity Chef. But people appreciate my writing, my jumpers and the food I make – people including myself! The feeling I get from baking a loaf of bread is completely disproportionate to the small effort that goes into it. Even doing a craft I’m useless at is fun (I can’t draw for toffee, but my notebooks are littered with sketches of machines / clothes / maps I’d be embarrassed to show anyone!) One of the benefits of giving up work is having time to make stuff and I only wish I had more time to create in my life!

Look After Yourself

Cooking for one is such a hassle. It takes so long to prepare food. It’s easier and cheaper to eat ready meals that will poison me. Or nothing at all. I mean, I don’t have time to peel veg!

Wanna bet?

There are myths in the media about how difficult it is to eat properly. How expensive fresh veg is – and that there are no greengrocers anywhere. Programmes on telly give the impression only celebrity chefs can prepare food that’s fit to eat – so buy their latest book and drool over glossy photos of five-star cuisine while you stuff your face with greasy takeaway food full of salt and sugar.

Or buy some good old-fashioned veg from a supermarket and cook it for yourself. It doesn’t have to be exciting or exotic – it doesn’t take much effort to wash a carrot. And if your experiments don’t always work, is it really a disaster? It’s probably edible – and you’ll do better next time.

Endorphins are Your Friends

Big word – tiny chemicals. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones generated by your body. They are the way your body is programmed to reward you when you do something right. From the happy feeling when you eat a good meal to the warm afterglow in the bedroom, we should all take time to get a little of this legal and safe “high”.

Yes, even stay-at-homers have sex drives.

Research shows your body will produce endorphins when you eat a good meal, meet someone you fancy or go shopping. But also when you meditate, exercise, talk to someone or make something. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!

The Little Things

One of the greatest perils of the stay-at-home life is the blandness of daily existence. Don’t let yourself be shut in like a cockroach in a tiny cupboard. Open the curtains and look out at the world. If you’re down – have a good cry. Get it out of your system and step back into the world. Treat your life like a job – something you have to make an effort for.

Because YOU’re worth it.

If you really can’t cope with being alone, there are many organisations to help. On a really bad day, there are always The Samaritans on 085457 90 90 90 (UK) for anonymous, non-judgemental listening.

Disability and London Theatres

In planning a recent trip to London, I wanted to incorporate a little culture by watching something at a theatre. After all, the capital of Great Britain is renowned for its theatres and shows of all types. Like any other theatregoer, I began with a list of what shows were running and would be open on the dates we could attend. I setup a shortlist of possibles, decided which was my favourite and went onto their website to book tickets. There was no button to click for accessible seating so I worked my way through multiple layers of adverts and information in search of their accessibility details. Apparently, I have to phone them to make arrangements. A premium rate number, of course.

I rang and was told that I was speaking to a booking agent and would have to phone the theatre directly. She gave me another premium rate number. This went on until I eventually got through to someone at the venue itself. She informed me that they only have one truly accessible seat – and that it’s booked for every performance for several months, although there are “normal” seats available for the majority of dates. I asked why they don’t make some of that clear on the website and she told me they prefer to speak to disabled customers individually, so as to offer the best service they can.

At, of course, the customer’s expense.

It took me a whole day of internet use and expensive phone calls to find out that none of my shortlist could offer me a ticket for the week in question. Several of the theatres don’t have any accessible seating at all. A few of the comments I received:

There’s no call for wheelchair seating.

We’re an old building, we don’t have to comply with the regulations.
Our fire officer says we can’t have wheelchairs in the auditorium because they’d take too long to get out and be a hazard to “normal” theatregoers.
(My quotation marks.)

We have to take out a dozen “normal” seats for every wheelchair space we create – it’s not cost effective.

Several people told me they had to speak to each disabled person before allowing them to book a seat, with a variety of reasons, none of which convinced me. If it’s so important for me to be asked in person what my requirements are, why don’t they pay for the call by providing a freefone number? Or even a straightforward geographical one?

In the course of all this, I did come across one website that provides much of the information in a handy downloadable form:


Which is very helpful, but quite shocking in terms of equality for the disabled. The theatres which have accessible spaces told me they’re booked up long before the auditorium fills. If I want an accessible space, I need to book as soon as a show goes on sale – months before I’m actually going to be there.

Needless to say, we didn’t get to see a show.

If I try to do this again, I’ll start with the list of theatres from the above link, so that I don’t waste time and money on the ones who have no accessible spaces at all. I have a suspicion that my choice of shows is the last thing I’ll be able to decide.

Malingering and Munchausen’s

My name is Meg and I have a disability.

A simple statement, but how do I prove it? Well, I can point at the medical evidence, which clearly shows that there are physical problems with my body that can be seen and measured. So there’s obviously “something wrong with me”. But there’s no test that can measure the amount of pain, fatigue or difficulty caused by those flaws. You just have to take my word for it that I’m as disabled as I say I am.

I think most people realise I’m honest about my symptoms. If anything, I tend to keep them to myself rather than inflict them on everyone else. One friend commented recently that he doesn’t associate me with hospitals. I was touched.

But with the current changes in the benefits system here in the UK, there are many accusations that the disabled are “faking it”, exaggerating their symptoms and generally malingering. Whilst their opposition point to individuals with clear disabilities who’ve been assessed as making it up. Both sides cite anecdotal evidence to make their case. In my opinion, both are correct. There are plenty of people with chronic illnesses that don’t show.

And there are also those who claim there’s something wrong when there isn’t.
I know I’m walking a tightrope here and this isn’t meant as a political statement. I’m not coming down on either side of the benefits debate, just commenting on my own observations.

Firstly, there are people who claim illness they don’t have or exaggerate symptoms for a specific gain. This can be as simple as phoning work to say you’ve got flu to get an extra few days off. Or saying you’ve got a migraine when it’s really a hangover. That’s malingering and there is documented evidence it’s been going on for thousands of years. The Romans knew that people would fake illness to get out of work! Nothing new here.

But there are also people who fake or exaggerate their symptoms for less obvious gains. Presumably for sympathy or attention from others.

One man I knew was openly jealous of what he perceived as the special treatment I got for my disability. He was fond of making statements that began “It’s alright for you, Meg…” when he’d had to walk 20 yards from the car park and I’d been able to park close to the door so I didn’t have to push myself so far in my wheelchair. He clearly thought I was lucky to have a disability because my life was so much easier as a result.

Then there are those who elicit details about medical problems and later claim the same symptoms. A relative asked for details of how my fatigue affects me in a way that didn’t feel like sympathy. A few months later she told me about her own problems – using my exact words about fatigue and then embellishing the problem in ways that sounded unlikely. I can only assume she’d been telling so many people about ”her” problems that she’d forgotten when she got the information from in the first place.

There have been many such incidents over the years – and I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m pleased to see this recent report: here which recognises Munchausen’s by internet – people who fake illness online because it’s easy to get away with lying. The full report here is a dry read, but there’s a list of characteristic behaviours which can give the game away.

Malingering is obviously part of the human psyche, whether we approve or not. People have been faking it for centuries and will keep doing so. But current patterns of individuals feigning illness for less tangible benefits are more worrying. It’s no wonder people and societies are suffering compassion fatigue when there are so many claiming sympathy they may not deserve.

Leaving those with genuine problems to take the “blame”.

Remploy, Royalty and a Nurse

Remploy, the company that has an active policy of employing disabled people to manufacture equipment for use by the disabled community, is losing its government support. They employ people in areas where unemployment is a significant problem for everyone, providing much-needed income and self-belief for people whose disabilities make it doubly difficult for them to find another job. I have a Remploy-built wheelchair (if you see me on my electric buggy, it’s the one I carry on the back). It’s a great wheelchair, better designed and far better built than the NHS-type I had previously. I had a chat with one of their designers at a show at the NEC a couple of years ago, and he was the only representative of a wheelchair company I met who was interested in what I liked and what I’d improve in their product, rather than trying to sell me the latest model.

The Government is saying the money spent in supporting Remploy can be spent more effectively. I would like to believe that this means their budget for disabled employment services would be used to facilitate the employment of more disabled people by non-specialist companies. But I am not aware of any plans to do so. I’m not being party-political about this – successive governments of different colours have cut disabled services on many occasions. As someone who was still in full-time employment under the previous regime, I know from personal experience how little support was available, both from my employer and any official body. The accessibility changes that were promised by Transport for London as part of the Olympics bid didn’t happen either – they were conveniently forgotten long before 2012. The bottom line is that it’s expensive to offer disabled people the same facilities as our more able-bodied peers. And our elected representatives like to make promises before they look into the costings. Then they’re faced with the difficult decision of admitting that they’re making a U-turn on their promises, or trying to sweep the inconvenient truth under a handy rug. It’s a hard life being a politician.

Speaking of a hard life – is it common for healthy young women to be admitted to hospital for a few days for morning sickness? That’s a serious question – I’ve never heard of this before. I appreciate that pregnancy seems to be viewed as an illness more than it was when I was the Duchess of Cambridge’s age. But this is genuinely the first time I’ve been aware of morning sickness being so severe that the sufferer had to spend a couple of days under medical supervision. I’ve been sent home from hospital after an operation when I really don’t think I was well enough (and was advised that my GP felt that I should have been kept in for much longer), which I believe was due to the pressure on hospitals. Are we now freeing up NHS beds for women inflicted with the terrible illness of hyperemesis gravidarum?

And a couple of Australian DJs think it’s funny to make a prank phone call to the hospital and see what they can find out. I’m not going to name them, they’re getting plenty of publicity already from their irresponsible behaviour (which it would have been illegal to broadcast if the call had been to a number in their own country). But I will mention the nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who took their phone call. It was 5:30 am here in the UK when the phone rang and she answered the call, putting the supposed members of our royal family through to another nurse to ask their questions about their patient’s condition.

And now she’s dead.

The Police are not treating Jacintha’s death as suspicious. So we assume they’re treating it as a suicide.

Meanwhile the press and bookies are taking bets on what the new royal baby will be named. Personally, I’m hoping it’s a girl and they name her Jacintha out of respect for an innocent victim of a cruel hoax.

Please note: Replies to this blog are moderated before they’re posted. I’m working hard to avoid getting party political or saying anything too offensive and comments will only be displayed if they show similar restraint. Please feel free to have your say if you’re happy with this condition.

Greetings, Universe

You can never have enough hats. Or purple.

So, after being a blog-avoider for years, I’ve finally succumbed to the lure of the blogosphere. Did I jump or was I pushed? More about that at a later date…

I’m a creature of simple habits. I read and I write. I create other things too, but the writing is my most important creative avenue.

To date, I have self-published four books – three collections of short stories and the autobiographical The MonSter and the Rainbow: Memoir of a Disability. By a combination of hard work and being in the right places at good times, I have sold enough of the first three to cover my costs – getting close on the fourth, too. I am currently working on my first novel, which I hope to publish early in 2013. Entitled Chrystal Heart, it’s a Steampunk novel about a Victorian lady who’s still alive in the 21st century, due to having a Chrystal heart. More about that later, too.

I have a husband and we are owned by two cats. We all live in Chepstow, South Wales. I am a founder member of CRAG, a local co-operative of writers working on novels and planning to publish within the next six months.

I will be blogging on an irregular basis about reading, writing, other creative pursuits and miscellaneous other bits of my life.  Expect plenty of book reviews and writing-related stories.