kay scorah.

If you're being yourself, you can't be an imposter..

The chef, the vulnerability box and the elder microbiome

Another type of diversity conversation. And a call to action.

Alongside the wonderful Paul Loper, I’ll be heading back this time next year to the beautiful Mexican Pacific coast as guest faculty at the Modern Elder Academy. I’m looking forward to learning more than I teach (as always) and in particular to enjoying the work of the most important faculty member at MEA, the person whose contribution has the potential to make the greatest difference in the lives of those attending…yes, I’m talking about this guy: Tony Peralta. Chef.

team-bio-tonyperalta

But for now, I’m still in London Covid world, with stern warnings everywhere I turn that elders like me are more at risk than younger people of serious illness and even death if we become infected by the virus. The message is one designed to evoke passivity and fear; I’m being told what to avoid and what not to do.

It seems to me to be dangerously superficial as well as offensively ageist to throw all elders into the same box. I’m not alone. A paper in the international journal of the British Geriatrics Society states:

  • The public discourse during COVID-19 misrepresents and devalues older adults.
  • The ageist attitudes circulating during COVID-19 make some people think that the pandemic is an older person problem. (Ageist attitudes include the belief that ill health is inevitable, intervention ineffective, and improved outcomes inherently not valuable to society).

The same paper goes on to say that it doesn’t have to be this way; that there is substantial untapped potential to modify the relationship between chronological age and health, and to relieve the so-called burden of ageing on individuals, families and society.

One of the fundamental reasons why some older people can be badly affected by Covid is a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome. In case you didn’t know, your microbiome is made up of more bacteria and fungi than you have cells, and diversity in its composition protects us from disease, affects our metabolism and weight, our inflammatory response, cognition, appetite, mood….

Over the age of 40, the diversity of these bacteria in our gut tends to decline. The reasons for this are many and include diet (many people slide into habitual and unhealthy eating patterns), hormone levels, diabetes, use of antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants, and drugs such as statins which are used to manage blood lipids.

At a time when we are being advised to wash our hands and stay away from other people, the risk of reducing the diversity of our gut bacteria is even greater – cutting down on opportunities for the virus to enter our system also means that we’re preventing bacteria getting in, so we need more than ever to protect and boost the ones already in there. In this necessarily disinfected environment, we need to do even more to sustain the diversity of our microbiome and thus protect ourselves from those dangerous inflammatory infections caused by Covid.

This is where our hero, Tony, comes in. One way to slow the age-related decline in microbiome diversity is by changing our eating habits to something more like a Mediterranean (or what I tend to think of as a Pacific Mexican) diet of the type served up by Tony and his team – plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables, grains, fresh fish, some fermented foods (and, yes, the occasional glass of excellent Baja California wine). It helps also to snack less, taking long pauses between meals to give your gut a break. Exercise has also been shown to support microbiome diversity.

To learn more about this, Prof. Tim Spector is definitely worth a follow, and this article of his on how to boost your gut microbiome is very helpful. I’m looking forward to his upcoming book, Spoonfed, on diet myths which I’ll feature here when it comes out in a couple of months time.

I’d love us to turn Covid19 from a reason to hide away into a reason to act. To take this opportunity to do 2 things:

  • as individuals, rather than allow ourselves to be wholly dominated by the vulnerability narrative, take action and start to re-build the diversity of our microbiome so that we improve our resistance. In short, “Cook like Tony.”
  • as a movement, start to draw attention to the fact that the medicine business and pharmaceutical trials have historically and shamefully under-represented older people, black people and women.[1] A paper by multiple academics from London, Shanghai and Mexico written in 2014 decried the under-representation of older people in research and healthcare thus, “effective (healthcare) intervention in older people is complicated by ageism, complex multimorbidity, and poor access to age-appropriate care…older people tend to be excluded from clinical trials that would generate specific evidence to inform their treatment, even for drugs that are mainly prescribed in older age.”

Worth reading:

[1] The burden of disease in older people and implications for health policy and practice
Martin J Prince, Fan Wu, Yanfei Guo, Luis M Gutierrez Robledo, Martin O’Donnell, Richard Sullivan, Salim Yusuf

Missing Microbes. How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. Martin J. Blaser.

 

 

Not sure if you’re an immigrant or an expat? Take our simple test to find out.

If you’re one of the *232 million people living in a country that you were not born in, then you’re probably wondering where to draw the line between “ex-pat” and “immigrant”. (Unless you are a British person living anywhere overseas, or a French person living in South Kensington, in which case you have never even considered yourself to be anything other than an ex-pat). So we’ve developed a simple 2-minute quiz to help you out.

First, find photographs of the people running the country you’re currently living in. By this we mean politicians, business leaders and media owners. In reverse order.

_90165273_govejohnsonmaycomposite

Now, take a look at our handy skin colour chart, and find **your skin colour.

felix_von_luschan_skin_color_chart

If you are the same colour as, or paler than, the ruling elite in the country you are in, CONGRATULATIONS!! You are an ex-pat.

If your skin is darker than that of the ruling elite then you’re an immigrant.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. If your skin is the same colour as or lighter than the ruling elite, AND you speak or attempt to speak the language of the country you are living in, then I’m afraid you’re an immigrant. Ex-pats know that they do not need to learn other languages because they only ever hold conversations with other expats, and don’t all the locals speak English/French/Dutch/Spanish anyway? (It has come to our attention that some expats do make the mistake of learning how to instruct the staff in the local language. This really isn’t necessary, and in our view is a rather vulgar show of sycophancy or condescension.)

There are also some rare instances (for example if you are an Irish person living in England) where you don’t need to decide whether you are an immigrant or an ex-pat, because most people in the country in which you reside don’t realise that the country you come from doesn’t belong to them.

Next week: Not sure if you’re racist or xenophobic? Maybe you are one of those lucky people who are both! Take our simple test to find out.

(*Daily Mail stat., so who knows what the real figure is.)

(** If you are Donald Trump or a member of the Simpson family, we’re sorry but your skin colour does not appear on this chart. We’re still working on the section for fictional characters.)

Staying strong, fit and balanced over 65

Latest lockdown rant

Mature reflections and existential questions. Yeah. Right.
References to any crime that may or may not have been committed are for comic effect. Honestly, officer.

#invisiblewomen #uninvisibility

BAN THE BIG *BAME BOX

First, some recent history (at least, I like to think of it as recent): I was born in 1954. 4 days before Ruby Bridges. In 1960, at the beginning of the desegregation movement and when we were both 6 years old, Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child in Louisiana to be bussed to a white school, escorted in and out of the building by white federal marshalls.

I questioned when I was 6 why it was that the brown girl was bussed to the white school, yet we saw no photographs of white children being sent to schools in predominantly black neighbourhoods, much less of them being escorted into those schools by black police officers.

rubybridgesfull

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3908

 

 

 

 

 

Until I was in secondary school, people of colour were not allowed to sit downstairs on a double decker bus, and they could work on those buses as conductors but not as drivers. I used to wonder, as a child living in a diverse inner city neighbourhood, at what point on the colour chart a person could sit downstairs or in the driver’s seat.

60 years on: In spite of some legislative progress to end discrimination in the UK and most NATO countries, the recent gathering of NATO leaders in the UK looked like this:skynews-nato-leaders_4855948

I don’t need to get out my colour chart to know where they would have been permitted to sit on the bus in 1960.

A Diversity and Inclusion conference held in the UK in November 2019, on the same day as our Turning the Tables conference, featured just 3 BAME speakers in its line-up of 13.

60 years on I’m tired of waiting for the promised change to happen. I wonder if Ruby is too?

Thanks to the BAME box, it is possible to argue that there is evidence of considerable positive impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives in education and business, with BAME 16 to 30-year-olds having narrower pay gaps than older ethnic minority groups.

When we open the box, and look into the numbers in more detail, we see that, yes, progress has been made in the inclusion and income parity of Chinese and Indian employees, who tend to have income parity with, or even higher incomes than, the White British and White Other groups. However, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and those of African and Caribbean descent have much lower than average incomes. (Source: ONS Ethnicity pay gaps in Great Britain: 2018)

London, with the highest proportion and greatest diversity of minority ethnic workers in the UK, has the largest pay gap, with ethnic minority groups earning 21.7% less than white employees on average

The very existence of the BAME box helps perpetuate a system in which white is default, and non-white is other. BAME is simply and ironically too diverse, making it possible for us to claim progress in minority ethnic representation in influential positions while, in fact, continuing to discriminate and exclude.

In the years that I have been immersed in D&I conversations, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the word “inclusion” in the context of equality. I find it implicitly hierarchical and patronising; a promise that, if we all behave ourselves we may be admitted to the club where the “insiders” go.

Perhaps because of the big box nature of the BAME category I feel that the word “diversity” has become devalued and is also patronising, assuming white as the norm, non-white as “other” and with more than a hint of the assumption that everyone in a given category of so-called diversity is the same.

Of course, there is so much that we, that I, need to do to end inequality. As a small step, can we please stop hiding behind that big BAME box?

(If you’d like to read all of my paper on D&I just ask and I’ll send it to you.)

* BAME = Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic.

The Hula Diaries

Taking my own advice from “Being more cell” I decided to spend more time doing fun stuff, and facetiously posted a video of myself on LinkedIn standing on one leg while hula-hooping, along with a caption which explained that I was too busy perfecting my hula-hooping on one leg to bother with building my business.

I soon followed this with a video of myself drinking wine while hula-hooping.

And today, inspired by the Rohan Candappa’s Zoom satsuma game, I have mastered (mistressed?) the art of peeling and eating a satsuma while hula-hooping. All 3 of these mistresspieces can be seen below.

In the past, my posts on LinkedIn have attracted at most a few hundred glances, and about as much engagement as a Jehovah’s Witness at a bat mitzvah. In contrast, these few seconds of pointless silliness have been seen over 4000 times and generated hundreds of reactions.

I gather that I’m supposed to take some valuable, revenue-generating lesson from this. Or perhaps extract some painful life-lesson metaphor from the happy smile of pointless fun. But I won’t. Instead, my learning is as follows: if people would rather watch a 65-year-old woman making a complete fool of herself for a few seconds than read her advice on leadership and teamworking, then I shall just keep hula-hooping.

Please post your suggestions for additional hula challenges in the comments.

 

 

 

On being more cell and less balloon.

(Bear with me, here, while I wring every last drop out of my metaphor, and shamelessly anthropomorphise basic structural and functional units.)

Screenshot 2020-03-22 at 21.04.17

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (look very closely at the date on that paper), I was a biochemist. Lately, I’ve found myself a little wistful about that, but that’s another story. Were I to go back now, I’d have a hell of a lot of catching up to do. Since my days in the lab with Jack, Hugo, Hermann et al at the Max Planck Institüt in Frankfurt, understanding of the mechanism of transport across the cell membrane has moved on. But as far as I know, the basic functions of the cell membrane remain the same; there are the passive functions; to let things come in to the cell, and, equally important, to let things go, and the active functions; to select and carry inward across the membrane what is needed, and to energetically eject what is not.

The cell doesn’t give its contents away without taking in something in exchange. If it did, like a punctured tyre, it would soon collapse. And it doesn’t absorb more and more content without letting something go. If it did, like a balloon, it would soon burst.

The cell membrane is selective about what it takes in and lets go (although it is sometimes fooled into taking in things that are not good for it, it learns from that and builds immunity). And it knows that some compounds and particles require help to cross the membrane, and some drift effortlessly and passively across.

I hope, when this weird pause ends, that I will remember that I don’t need to exhaust myself by giving everything I have, and collapse in a deflated heap at the end of the day, the week, my life. That doesn’t serve anyone.

I hope that I will remember not to be pressured into “delivering content” in my work but choose to let others be more cell. I will facilitate selective and consensual exchange of wisdom between others. I will help them to notice and value what they already know, and make their talents, skills and accumulated wisdom available to themselves and the group in which they find themselves.

I have no doubt that some people will still expect me to have a handout, a set of slides, a book of my own accumulated wisdom, and I hope to be brave enough to disappoint them.

I hope that I will be smarter and more considered about the responsibilities, information and people that I let into my life, and that I let go of those that are just taking up space within my membrane, or even worse, stifling the more valuable content.

I hope to be more cell, and help others to do the same.

To let the easy things in and out like a deep breath.

To find catalysts and vectors to help me move the harder things in and out; to absorb the brilliance of those in whose company I am lucky enough to find myself, and to notice when I am full and need to let something else go.

I look forward to getting back to my roots and observing the transport of knowledge across this elder cell membrane.

 

Hugging meditation.

I was live on Instagram with the wonderful Crystal Marshall today. A broadband fail meant that our chat was cut short, although she was totally unfazed by that and continued to read my messages and keep the flow going like the gifted improviser and presenter that she is.

One of the things I had planned to share was my response to hugging withdrawal, the Hugging Meditation.

So, I’m posting my answers to Crystal’s questions below, and, if you scroll down (or even read it!) there’s a video of the Hugging Meditation for all those of you who, like me, can’t wait to get hugging again.

Love. K

C: Name, age,where you’re from and what is your passion?

K: Kay, 65, born in Sheffield, have lived in London, Germany, France, Los Angeles, Ireland and part time in Mexico. Currently London. Which feels like home.

The question about passion was a really good one, it made me realise that my passions exist on so many levels. My big, existential passion is equality. Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be heard. I believe that everyone has something to offer that we can learn from, and the more diverse the voices we listen to the more we will learn. That’s what drove me to start the Turning the Tables project.

I think I’ve had this since I was very young – it was a family thing.

But I’m also passionate about more tangible things, science, dance, music, theatre and food.

C: How are you handling this isolation?

I’m up and down. Some days and moments I get really depressed and other times I rather enjoy the solitude. Noticing that I’m not as productive as I usually am, which I think is down to not knowing when it will end.

Having lots of Zoom calls with friends and family.

Cooking a lot – my freezer is packed!

C: What advice would you give to people to make this experience more manageable?

Advice that I’m not that good at taking myself!

Which is; try to have a routine not a list, appreciate beauty, stretch yourself to do a couple of small things every day that you find difficult – might be touching your toes, singing a song… .

Try not to leave things unfinished.

C: What are the benefits of mindfulness?

K: For me there are 3 types of benefit: mental/emotional, physical and creative.

Taking my mind off the things I can’t control and the anxious spinning of “what if” scenarios in my head .

Noticing places in my body where I’m holding tension and releasing that tension.

Leaving space in my mind and body for new ideas and new ways of moving.

C: What have you learned from isolation?

K: To hold on to that smile. When something makes me smile, like hearing my neighbours’ kids playing in the garden or the banter between the shopkeepers in my street, or watching my nieces amazing dance routines on TikTok (ScorahSissies), I hold on to that smile for a little bit longer than I usually would.

To say hello whether people are looking at me or not.

That I’m really am an introvert, even though no-one would believe it. I like living on my own.

C: Have you picked up a new hobbies/thing you’ve always wanted to do?
K: No. And I feel as if I’m supposed to have, but I’ve always had a bit of a reputation for doing the opposite of what I’m supposed to do!

I’m lucky that I took up running relatively recently, and that is really helping me to deal with the isolation.

C: What makes you happy if you’re feeling down?

K: Music. Even if it’s sad music, the very act of feeling sad makes me happy.

Having feelings that I can’t control is the only kind of lack of control that I like!

Looking at old photographs. They remind me that I have had a wonderful life with beautiful people.

C: What could we all do to make this experience better for everyone?

K: Make art and cake, not lists

Let people know that you appreciate them.

Notice beauty.

Look after ourselves and be considerate of others.

Join in the neighbourhood clap (here in the UK) for NHS and other essential workers at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, not only for them but also for the sense of community it gives us all.

C: What are you going to do after this isolation?

K: Invite people to dinner and hug them.

Visit my 90-year-old mum and hug her.

Go to as much live theatre, music and dance as I can possibly afford. This feeds my soul, it’s one of the reasons I love living in the city and our creative communities are suffering a lot, not only financially but in terms of loss of purpose. So many of them live to perform and co-create and this is especially hard for them.

Get back to planning the next Turning the Tables conference.

C: Do you think society will change for the better?

K: I hope so. I hope that we will have learned who really is essential to ourselves individually and to society, and that we will value them more.

I hope that we’ll be able to lose our attachment to possessions and shopping and learn that we are defined not by what we own but by what we do, what we create and how we treat others.

C: What is your favorite music to listen to around these times?

K: I’m working my way through my vinyl collection, I bought my first record in 1961 so that’s quite a spread! It also means that I have to get up every 20 minutes to turn the record over.

I’m loving anything that I can’t sit still to –  today that was Gilles Petersen’s Tam Tam Tam Re-imagined.

Sometimes, I move spontaneously, and then I choreograph it. Just before this whole thing kicked off I was lucky enough to attend an improvisation-to-choreography course with Seke Chimutungwende which gave me the idea to choreograph my spontaneity during lockdown – it makes my dancing more mindful.

And here is your Hugging Meditation. Enjoy!

A virus, a bacterium and an allergy…

…walk into a bar.

The bacterium says to the barman, “I’ll have a Corona”.

The virus gets really close to the bacterium and shouts in his face, “Are you taking the piss?!?!”

The allergy says to the virus, “Leave him, mate, he’s not worth it.”

The bacterium says to the allergy, “That’s rich coming from you, you’re always over-reacting!!”

They start to fight.

The barman says, “Come on lads, calm down, you don’t want me to have to call the anti-biotics, now do you?”

The virus reaches over the bar, grabs him and says, “Fuck off, you ignorant racist. All us diseases look the same to you, don’t we?”

Just then, an auto-immune disease walks in and blows up the bar.

The End.

 

I’ve been gender stereowiping nursery rhymes. You’re welcome.

Please feel free to add your own in the comments below.

In case you are not familiar with ye olde nursery rhymes of the British Isles, the titles in bold are almost identical to the originals, so you can look them up

Jill and Jack,
just for the craic,
went off to climb a mountain.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
and Jill called 911 before administering essential first aid.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
The queen and all her ladies in waiting spent the afternoon rebuilding him,
kintsugi style,
and when they’d finished he looked absolutely beautiful.

Sally Ann Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Drank plenty of fluids on Friday,
Felt better on Saturday,
Went clubbing on Sunday,
That was the end,
Of Sally Ann Grundy’s mild throat infection.

Ride a fine mare to Banbury cross,
to see a cute guy upon a white horse….
….Hmm….
…in spite of his 6-pack and fine biceps,
he has no sense of humour.
So, I’ll just turn this mare around and head back to the pub with my mates.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,
this was just the beginning of her PhD in nutritional biology

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain;
She stepped in a puddle,
Right up to her middle,
And yet continued to make her way through the flood waters to rescue drowning residents.

Little Ms Muffet
sat on her tuffet,
eating her curds and whey,
when down came a spider,
who sat down beside her,
so she ate him; because she, too, was a nutritional biologist.

Elle MacDonald had a farm,
Ee i ee i o,
And on that farm she grew some weed,
Eei eei o
With a toke toke here and a toke toke there,
Here a toke there a toke everywhere a toke toke…
..Um……
…..Sorry…….
….What was I saying?

Mary had a little lamb,
its fleece was white as snow
and everywhere that Mary went
she sold unique handmade organic wool sweaters at an enormous profit.

“Baa baa blacksheep,
have you any wool?”
“Yes ma’am, yes ma’am, 3 bags full!
One for the master and one for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.”
So the dame, Mary, bought the bags intended for the males,
and invested them in her high-end organic wool sweater business.

“Mary, Mary quite contrary,
how does your garden grow?”
“With silver bells and gold bullion and bitcoin all in a row.
All purchased with the profits from my designer woollens business.”

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many architectural awards for designing this unique structure that she found it quite difficult to find space for them all.

“Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at her knee:
She’ll come back and marry me –
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,
Panning out her yellow hair….”
…..”Forget it mate, she’s not giving up a life of travel for a loser like you!”

“It’s raining, it’s pouring.
Me old man was snoring.
He bumped his head and went to bed
And he couldn’t get up in the morning.
I swear that’s exactly what happened, Your Honour.”

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep
And can`t tell where to find them…
I’m fairly sure that bitch Mary has nicked them.

Little Jackie Horner sat in the corner eating her Christmas pie,
Having been told that the pie contained plums, she was not in the least surprised to find one therein, nor did she expect praise for happening upon the obvious.

Old Queen Cole was a merry old soul.
And a merry old soul was she,
She called for her pipe, and she called for her bowl
And she called for her fiddlers three.
All of which explains why she was so merry.

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
A complex combination of elements,
forming compounds and sub cellular structures.
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
A complex combination of elements,
forming compounds and sub cellular structures.
That’s what little girls are made of.

Take care of the roots, and the fruits will take care of themselves.

A few years ago I wrote the poem “Each year the tree” (see below) and as *we re-visit the design of the weeks that I will co-facilitate in June and July at Modern Elder Academy, the tree metaphor has been front of mind for me once again.

Re-reading the poem, I noticed that I had placed the emphasis on the tree as giver; giver of leaves, shade, blossoms, seeds and fruits. In contrast, I now find myself focused on the tree as taker; on what is below ground rather than what is above.

Without roots, the tree is nothing. Without taking, a tree cannot give.

I don’t think that I’m alone in having consciously or unconsciously neglected my roots for much of my life. I overlooked or even rejected my ancestry and inherited values in favour of creating a version of me that was as far as I could get from previous generations of my family. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a family where equality and respect for others were everything, where deeds were above words and craft was respected more than cash, and then rebelliously stumbled into a successful career in advertising in the 70s and 80s, where the car I drove and the designer clothes I wore defined me.

It took a very long time and not a little psychological trauma for me to learn that, along with my ambitious and successful uprooting of myself, I had sacrificed my source of energy and power. When I appeared to the outside world to be at my most dynamic and powerful – dutifully conforming to the business success stereotype and giving in to society’s expectations – I was in fact rootless and dying.

And so now, at last, I am taking time to nourish my roots, and get back in touch with that which truly inspires and ignites me. I’m finally letting the real me back in; that creative, joyful, fierce yet vulnerable and compassionate shero, who is securely rooted in the knowledge that her way has value. The above ground part of “tree-me”, the part that others see, still reaches for the sky, and cannot help but provide sustenance and shelter, but from a much healthier, deeply rooted place.

This feels like real liberation. Better for me. Better for others.

(*Gratitude to my colleague Paul Loper and the faculty and comadres/compadres that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at MEA for illuminating yet another path for me!)

(Turning the Tables is one example of which “real me” is extremely proud!)

Each Year the Tree

Each year the tree gives blossom’s brightness to burst winter’s grey bubble.

Fierce and piercing beauty, soon scattered in the damp, dappled grass.

Each year the tree gives spinning seeds, whose helicopter journey to the ground

Has, since childhood, held me spellbound.

Each year the tree replaces flowers with fruits, which bend its branches

But do not break them; and even if they do, new shoots burst forth.

Each year the tree gives footholds in its cracked and furrowed bark to scampering squirrels

Gathering autumn’s bounty for winter’s larder.

Each year the tree gives shade in summer and a leafy palate

of infinite, imperceptibly changing colours to remind me of time’s passing.

Each year the tree lets fall crisp leaves. The children kick and fall and throw.

The dogs delight. The gardener rakes and rakes and rakes.

Each year the tree, in silence and unseen, grows larger, puts down deeper roots

Adds inner rings of wisdom, becomes part of earth, of you, of me.

The real truth about the gender pay gap.

balance-scale-isolated-icon-design-vector-9656446I’ve always been a bit of a data nerd; weighed down by my insistence on differentiating between coincidence, correlation and cause. So, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all those newspaper editors and journalists who have liberated me from my pedantry, and shown me that the only questions that I need to ask are, “Does this data fit my previously held prejudices?” and “Can I use it to scare the shit out of my readers?”

In case you are in any doubt as to the expertise of media folk when it comes to the interpretation of data, a quick look at the list of editors of the national press here in the UK reveals that 90% of them are white males. So, if this is how they use and interpret data, it must be right. Right?

Two real Daily Mail examples of this are as follows;

Headline: “Bacon kills”. Data: some people who once ate bacon were also found to have died.

Headline: “Cancer link to oxygen in air”. Data: people diagnosed with cancer were found to have breathed air containing O2.

(And from this, I think we can also apply reverse causation to conclude that if you do not eat bacon you will never die, and if you don’t breathe that nasty oxygenated air, you won’t get cancer. The latter is in fact true. Think about it.)

Liberated by these media heroes, I have now applied their method to the contentious issue of the gender pay gap. I am so glad that I did, because now I can put to rest all my girly swot, embittered old hag rage about the issue. Allow me to present to you the real truth about pay and gender:

The gender pay gap in the UK is 18%. Men earn on average 18% more than women.

The gender weight gap is 19%. Men weigh on average 19% more than women.

Is it a co-incidence that these 2 numbers are almost identical? Of course not! It is clear that humans are, quite rightly and justly, paid according to their weight. After all, you wouldn’t expect to pay the same for 100 grams of cheese as you would for 118 grams, now would you?

Now that we know how the system works, and I think that we can all accept that it is perfectly fair and equitable, all we need to do, girls, to achieve pay parity is simply stop whining and eat more.

I admit that there are a few little wrinkles that we will need to iron out within the data. For example, is it enough for a little old thing like me to add 19% or 10 kilos to my weight? Or does every one of us women have to achieve average male weight (83 kilos)? In my case, this would mean gaining 30 kilos.

We must also ask if the measure is sector sensitive. For example, were I to work in finance I would need to gain considerably more weight than I would in any other sector; HSBC has a gender pay gap of 61% or 32 kilos, Barclays 48% or 25 kilos.

Sadly, since applying this formula I have been forced to accept that I will never make a go of it as a comedy writer and performer, an occupation where the highest paid man earns 11 times more than the highest paid woman. To make as much as Ricky Gervais I would need to gain 550 kilos

And so, rather than pursue that impossible dream, and being the entrepreneur that I am, I’m about to launch SEEP – the Salary Equality Eating Plan. Subscribe to SEEP and we will deliver to your inbox daily diet tips for a fatter, wealthier you. With just 2, 2 litre bottles of Coke a day, 6 burgers for lunch and a dozen doughnuts for breakfast we can promise that you will wipe out that gender weight gap and get equal pay in just a couple of months. You’ll wonder why it took those lame feminists hundreds of years to get nowhere!

There’s an added bonus, too. If we’re successful in our campaign for weight equality, we will take another positive step towards gender equality. All that extra weight makes it likely that life expectancy for women will drop to about the same as that for men. No more hanging around pointlessly for 3 or 4 years after the men have popped their clogs; now we can reach the grave at exactly the same time.

Finally on this subject, I would like to point out that we girls are guilty of shocking ingratitude for those situations where we have been granted equality without even trying. Yes, I’m talking about luggage. How can it be fair that the heroically obese man who is invariably seated next to me on a plane has the same paltry baggage allowance as I do……  ?

Hold on. Wait a minute..

.

.

.

there’s another way of looking at that, isn’t there?

Turning the Tables. Turning the Tide.

As we step into the 10-day countdown to Turning the Tables conference, the inspiring and thought-provoking conversations continue: conversations with our 10 young speakers, with my network of extraordinary collaborators, and with new people I’ve met as a result of starting this journey.

I’m grateful to Canon Ed Newell, CEO of Cumberland Lodge and author of “The Sacramental Sea”, for quite accidentally helping me to realise why the Turning the Tables Conference is so important to me. As our wide-ranging conversation the other day turned to the magical and profound effect that the ocean can have on our physical and mental health, Canon Newell referred to “turning the tide”. Exactly. I’m hoping that Turning the Tables will be the start of turning our sea of troubles into waves of opportunity.

I’m also grateful to Camilla Parker of Just Equality for informative and inspiring conversation around the rights of all young people, and to artists like Elizabeth Arifien who fiercely and beautifully continue to remind us of all that we can gain from granting equal respect to all types of intelligence and expression, not just the intellectual and verbal.

It has seemed to me for some time that the role of our governments and organisations has been reduced to a clumsy, resentful patching up of holes in dysfunctional systems, only to see another hole appear as soon as that repair is done.

I’m impatient for more fundamental change. Smarter people than I, Albert Einstein for one, have expressed this more eloquently, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Also smarter than I, my friend and colleague the extraordinary Lucy Taylor recently asked if perhaps the concept of sustainability sets too low a bar, it implies maintaining the status quo, when our aim instead should be regeneration. We need not better repair kits, but to build something new out of the remains of the old.

We continue to complain that nothing seems to work, and the evidence for this is right there under our noses; from homeless people on the streets to electoral corruption to 6 week waits to see a GP, yet like an addict returning to the drug dealer, we keep looking for help in the wrong places. This is not least because we keep bringing our problems to those “excellent sheep” described by William Deresiewicz, the graduates from establishment schools and top universities who have achieved their status by performing so well within this broken system.

Because of my own steep learning curve in the last few years, I have come to believe that it is never too late to really listen to and learn from those that we have previously placed on the outside. If we help them to belong, we will all benefit. I am emphatically not asking for intellectual colonialism at Turning the Tables; our role as the audience is not to listen to these young people and tell them how we will help them to be more like us. No. Our role is to have enough humility to listen to them, and, based on what we hear, co-create with them the new ways of working and playing that we so badly need.

 

TtTimagesupdate

Threadmash. November 2019. The Gift.

With thanks to the Threadmash Crew, especially Rohan Candappa, and to fellow Threadmasher Ian Louis Harris for featuring this on his OgBlog

The subject for our latest gathering was “The Gift” Here is my contribution. Or gift, if you like.

The Gift. Bobo

The Holme Lane Theatre Company – HLTC – specialised in Dickensian tales of poverty and suffering. Inspired by…

…well…

…Charles Dickens’ tales of poverty and suffering.

Their performances always featured a fierce heroine; Olivia Twist or Nicola Nickleby, who overcame tyranny and liberated the oppressed. This heroine was always slight of build, sharp-witted and fleet of foot. Uncannily like a certain small, skinny girl who always came top of the class and had to run fast to escape the thick bully boys in the neighbourhood.

The cast of HLTC, a motley collection of dolls and soft toys, would rehearse in my attic playroom in Hillsborough, Sheffield, and then head out on tour, which involved moving the entire production down to the living room to play to a captive (as opposed to captivated) audience of long-suffering grown ups, or GUs as we shall call them.

Bobo joined the cast in September 1961. A birthday gift from Granny. The first black doll in our company. She turned out to be the Russian doll of gifts. Which is weird because you don’t come across many black Russians….not outside of a cocktail menu, anyway.

Bobo the doll was just the wrapper around the gift of layers of learning.

Bobo gift 1: Golly has to go. With her movable arms, head and legs and her eyes which closed when she lay down, Bobo was a far more versatile performer than Golly, who just flopped about the place with a fixed grin. And, to be honest, in spite of being rocketed to stardom after having been featured on the side of a jam jar, Golly’s place in the company had been uncertain for some time. Some of our audience did not approve, even threatened to boycott performances, and with Bobo’s arrival… things became very awkward. No. Bobo most certainly could not be expected to work alongside Golly. This was perhaps the only time in history that a black female was given precedence over a male of any hue.

Bobo gift 2: Fluidity in representations of gender.

With Golly gone, there were no male cast members. So we became an all-female theatre company. Male characters, if we must have them, were played by girl dolls. In 1961. Yes, The Holme Lane Theatre company was way ahead of its time.

Bobo Gift 3. Questioning the concept of gendered naming:

Bobo arrived on a Tuesday. In conversation with Mr Baidu down the street, I learned that Bobo was Ghanaian for “Tuesday child”. I didn’t know that it was Ghanaian for “boy Tuesday child”. Nor did Bobo.

Bobo Gift 4. Heated debates on colonialism, cultural appropriation, integration, assimilation, ancestry, origin, custom. And more:

Some of the GUs argued that Bobo should have an English name, like the other dolls – Wendy, Susan, Lorraine, Katy. “She needs to feel that she belongs.” “Just because she’s black doesn’t mean she isn’t English.” Others defended her right to claim her ancestry….
It could be hard to get their attention back to the play; to Olivia Twist MP’s fight for workhouse reform or Dr Nicola Nickleby’s courageous work among child polio victims.

So, here’s to Bobo, probably the first black female to play the lead in a stage adaptation of a Dickens novel, who, 5 years before the race relations act, called out racism and reclaimed African culture from the colonial Brits, and who, decades ahead of the LGBTQ+ movement gave rise to an all-female, gender non-conforming, cross-dressing theatre company.

Not bad for a doll.

Turning the Tables Conference November 29th 2019

*Standard diversity conference agenda:

Opening address: Trevor Philips or Trevor McDonald

Speakers:

1. middle-aged university educated white person without disability

2. middle-aged university educated white person without disability

3. middle-aged university educated white person without disability

4. middle-aged university educated white person without disability

5. middle-aged university educated white person without disability

6. middle-aged university educated white-ish person without disability

7. middle-aged university educated white person without disability

etc. etc. etc. etc.

Closing address: Trevor McDonald or Trevor Philips

Turning the Tables Conference line up:

Opening address:

Old white person. (Kay)

Speakers:

This inspiring selection of young thought and community leaders:TtTimagesupdate

Closing remarks:

All of the above.

If you want to learn how to do things differently, come and listen to 10 people aged between 16 and 26 whose lives have given them no choice but to do things differently.

At the Tabernacle Theatre, Notting Hill. November 29th 2019. Click here to read more or contact Kay.

* I kid you not. The speaker lineup for an upcoming high status “diversity” conference in London includes:

  • 5 white males
  • 8 white females
  • 1 white trans female
  • 1 anglo-asian male
  • Trevor Philips

Speaking up, dressing down

 

I’m just writing about me.
Wearing a dress.
A coral pink, lace, above-the-knee cocktail dress.

A woman writes about a dress. Nothing new there. But if you know me, it’s probably not exactly what you’d expect. And, no, I’m not going to draw parallels between the lacy-ness of the dress and the fragile state of the world, or tell you the deep and meaningful life lessons that you can learn from the colour of coral. You can do that if you want. This is not a “how to” blog, nor is it or a self-help piece. These are not the words of a wise leader. This is just a 64-year-old woman writing about a coral pink, lace cocktail dress the wearing of which almost made her cry.

In a shop in London a couple of weeks ago, walking rapidly past the “things I would never wear” rails, the dress caught my eye.
A dress designed with a slender-limbed 20-something in mind.
In my size.
I didn’t even try it on.
I just picked it up, took it to the counter and paid for it. (The assistant probably thought, hoped, that I was buying it for a grand-daughter.)

The first time that I put it on was to wear it to dinner on Wednesday evening with R and T at Carlito’s Place. Pink above-the-knee dress, bare legs and strappy sandals. I smiled to myself, and this is also when I almost cried, when I realised that this was the first time in more than 30 years that I’ve worn a short skirt without hiding my legs in leggings and ankle boots.

Going back even further, though, when I was young it was made very clear to me by pretty much everyone in my life that I was no oil painting. Whenever there was a conversation in school or college about which celeb each of us most resembled, I was usually assigned Robin Gibb from the Beegees, Buster Keaton or Donald Duck. I dressed and developed a personality to draw attention away from my flat chest, flat bum, thick legs. (My ankles are pretty much the same thickness as my thighs. In my stand-up comedy act I have a whole routine about how every time I lose weight I lose it from my tits, and every time I gain weight it goes on my ankles. If this goes on, by the time I am 70 I will be indistinguishable from a traffic cone.)

Between the ages of 27 and 32, I enjoyed a brief window of career-success-fuelled, delusional confidence in my appearance. I drove a Porsche 911 Targa, and because of that, I told myself, I could wear anything. After all, everyone was looking at the car, not me. And so in those years I shopped in Issey Miyake, Vivienne Westwood and Joseph, wore extravagant shoulder pads, short, tight skirts, leather trousers and parachute silk boiler suits. But when I left that life, and with it, the Porsche, I had a feeling that people’s gaze might have returned to me.

I have never allowed anyone else’s opinion to make me think I’m stupid, or stop me speaking out. Most of my friends and family will wince as they agree with that one. So why did I allow the opinion of others, or at least what I imagined to be their opinion, to so influence my physical self-image and what I wore? I think I know the answer; I have always spoken up because I have nothing to lose. I’m a woman – so the chances are that no-one is listening anyway. I have dressed down, because I’m a woman and the chances are that everyone is looking.

But now that I’m a single, 64-year-old woman, I’m truly invisible. I don’t need a Porsche to be sure that no-one is looking at me. And they’re probably still not listening. So I’ll continue to say what the fuck I want. I’ll wear the coral pink, lace, above-the-knee cocktail dress because no one but me is looking. And even if they are, I don’t give a shit. I love this dress. Even if it makes me cry.

You may ask, if no one is looking, and no one is listening, what does it matter what I say or what I wear? It matters because true, open expression is everything to me now. That true expression, beyond just words, makes me who I am. It is that, not the dress per se that moves me to tears. If impact on others follows, then that is their choice, not my job.