kay scorah.

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

Getting some work done.

I recently posted on social media that I’d been advised by a recruiter to “get some work done”. This was not, as far as I know, meant as a criticism of my work ethic or performance. No. They were advising me that, if I wanted to be considered for a particular role, I would need to invest in Botox, fillers or even facial cosmetic surgery.

To be clear, I’m not looking for a job, but I am open to non-exec directorships, and this recruiter had messaged me wanting to have an initial conversation about such a role. When we took the step from message to video, they were clearly rather surprised, nay, shocked to see my face.

(*I know how they felt. Whenever I look in the mirror on the morning after one too many glasses of red wine, I wince and reach, without delay, for the tequila.)

I reacted to their suggestion with my customary aggressive politeness, and informed them that, whatever the role, I wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation. Wishing them “a very nice day”, I clicked emphatically on “leave this meeting”. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I knew immediately that I didn’t want to be a member of a club that will have me only if I conformed to their warped aesthetic.

I found it hard to put words to my reaction, so simply posted this image which summed up how I felt, and stepped back to see if the response from my friends and associates would help me to match that feeling with some kind of logic or reason.   

I grouped the responses into 3 categories (of COURSE I did – after all, I was a researcher for about a hundred years, as is evident by my brain wrinkles) and then drew my conclusions.

Response type 1. “REALLY?!?!? Are you fucking kidding me!!??”

Those who made their responses public tended to share my rage, disappointment and exhaustion that older women still have to play male or play young to be seen. It’s acceptable to be angry about this, hence these replies tended to feed the conversation, rather than popping into my private inbox.

Many of you wanted me to out the recruiter. But I won’t. I won’t because I don’t believe that removing the symptom will change the system. The ageism and sexism may be pushed a little further underground if we silence one or 2 culprits, but the problem won’t be solved that way. The cosmetic surgery and filler industry (much of which is not regulated) is worth an estimated £6bn a year in the UK alone, so I’m pretty confident that there are people out there able to pay whatever it takes to persuade our legislators to protect this expression of ageism.  

Response type 2: “Get real, girlfriend!”

Several private messages were from well-meaning friends who agreed that this shouldn’t be a thing, but nonetheless told me that the recruiter was right; if I ever want to be seen in public again, and taken seriously in the business world, said work has to be done. Some of these friends are themselves filler addicts or have had some kind of cosmetic surgery (in case you don’t know, once you start down the filler route you can expect to need top-up injections every 6 months or so – it’s a very profitable business model). I should also add that most of them have had such subtle work done that you might not even notice until they start to cry when you thought they were smiling. Some of them had already told me that I should join the movement (or lack of movement). They find some interesting ways to express their support for me, “You have such lovely, expressive eyes. It’s a shame to have them hidden by all those wrinkles.”  

Response type 3: “U OK hun?”

The response that surprised me the most, and that really made me think, was the pity response. Variations on; “You poor thing”, “That must be so hurtful”, “Are you OK?”.

You see, it never crossed my mind to be hurt or offended by this. In my (wrinkle shrouded) eyes, this is not about me. It’s about a sexist, ageist society that doesn’t want to know about your skills, talents and ideas unless you pass the looks test. It’s about a world where some people can’t concentrate on what I have to say because they are too distracted by my lines and wrinkles. (In the same way that, when I was a young woman, some people couldn’t be expected to concentrate on what I had to say because I have breasts – even though those were, and still are, barely noticeable.) That’s not my problem, it’s theirs.

In closing, I have a confession to make. I’m a hypocrite. I too am sometimes guilty of allowing someone’s appearance to affect my opinion of them, or to undermine my faith in their expertise. For example, when a privileged, obese, white male looks to camera and tells me how to look after my finances and my health, I admit that I find it hard to take him seriously. So maybe I should get that work done after all.

(*For those of you who don’t know me, I’m kidding. Those of you who do know me know I’m not kidding)

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.

 

 

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.

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.)

What not to wear over 60. The ranteuse returns.

It has come to my attention that there are internexperts out there keen to help me to save myself from the utter humiliation of dressing in a manner inappropriate to my advanced years.

According to one of these, “Your main aims are to create stylish, smooth, lines using contemporary clothing styles that flatter your body shape and coloring..”

Strange as it may seem, dear, my main aim is NOT to “create stylish smooth lines using contemporary clothing styles that flatter my body shape and coloring”. Rather, my main aims, in no particular order are a) to smash patriarchy, b) to help develop an alternative to corporate capitalism that enables peace and equality and c) to have witty and charming people enjoy good food and conversation around my dinner table. And, by the way, I believe that the word you were looking for is “colouring”.

Let’s move on to this gem: “Looking at a full-length mirror after 60 is like running a gauntlet filled with emotional traps, irrational comparisons and destructive media messages.”

A gauntlet cannot be “filled”, you twit. The word “gauntlet” used in this context refers to 2 lines of soldiers, not a bloody glove. Poor literacy aside, looking at a full-length mirror after 60 is like, well, looking in a full-length mirror. If you once looked in a full length mirror aged 19 and then didn’t look again until you reached 60, I can imagine that your reflection might come as a bit of a shock. But then I suspect if you’d spent the last 41 years in a place that doesn’t have mirrors you’d have other things on your mind.

Now to these 2 examples, from completely different sources, which give us some insight into the type of person so selflessly giving of their valuable time in order to help those of us who are in real and present danger of committing serious style faux pas:

“(Over 60) ..there is one person in the fashion industry that should be your best friend. ..I’m talking about your tailor.“ and

“The most important thing in my ­wardrobe is my seamstress”.

The latter commentator presumably goes on to say that the most important thing in her kitchen is her cook, and that she has had her carpenter build a simply perfect bijou residence under the sink for her maid.

Unfortunately, my tailor and seamstress appear to have eloped to Narnia through the back of my wardrobe, and thus I find myself pitifully reduced to breaking some of the most fundamental rules of how to dress over 60 (my italics).

La Ranteuse.

WEAR ANKLE BOOTS ONLY WITH TROUSERS. This will ensure that your legs are protected from any unsightly blood splashes resulting from using said ankle boots to kick 7 kinds of shit through anyone who tries to tell you what to wear.

KEEP LEGGINGS FOR THE GYM, and even then, please wear them pulled way down over your head so that the rest of us don’t have to look at your hideous face and neck. We all know that NO-ONE wants to look at the neck of a woman over 60.

STEER CLEAR OF MINI SKIRTS even when worn by other people. In particular, try not to sit next to anyone on the 38 bus who is wearing a mini-skirt.

STICK TO SKINNY BELTS. It doesn’t really matter who is wearing them, but stick to them at all costs. Superglue can be helpful in this regard.

DON’T WEAR T-SHIRTS WITH ANYTHING WRITTEN ON THEM unless the t-shirt says, “don’t you dare fucking tell me what to wear, you supercilious motherfucker.”

DON’T WEAR LEATHER JACKETS unless you are also wearing a motorbike crash helmet so no-one can see your hideous, wrinkled over 60-year-old face and neck. Or wear leggings as advised in point 2.

AVOID BIG JEWELLERY, if tempted to wear your big jewellery, make it easier on yourself by placing it well out of reach, perhaps in a safety deposit box in Hatton Garden. Or not

P.S. There will be an award to the first person to correctly name the chap that should not be illustrating my t-shirt.

The Holme Lane Theatre Company. 1961.

Thanks to Kath Chapman I discovered this recent re-take on the Clark Doll Test, which has prompted me to make public here a piece I wrote for my supportive and talented writers’ group, Threadmash (brainchild of Rohan Candappa), in November 2019. This true story is about a doll that I was given for my 7th birthday, and as I approach my 67th birthday, my impatience at our lack of progress on equality is turning to rage.

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; 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 the day after my birthday, a Tuesday that year. In conversation with Mr Baidu down the street, I had learned that Bobo was Ghanaian for “Tuesday child”. I didn’t know that it was Ghanaian for “boy Tuesday child”. Nor did Bobo. She didn’t need to.

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

I wonder where you are now, Bobo? And are you as angry as I am?

It’s time to start listen-switching.

September 1965. “You sound really stupid and common. You should speak properly”

I am just 11 years old and having spent those first 11 years in Sheffield I find myself at boarding school in Hertford. Most of the other girls are southerners.

I am not one of them. Not in any way. But if I just change the way I say the letters “u” and “a” maybe I can fit in…

So, I begin to say “barth” instead of “bath” and “fuhnee” instead of “funni”.

December 1965. “Listen to her, lah-di-dah! “Larst Suh n day”. Think you’re better than us, do yer?”

I’m back in Sheffield for the holidays. I now sound like a snob, a fake. I am not one of them. Not any more. Even my family is laughing at me. So after a few days at home I manage to get my hard “a”s and “u”s back. Then, back at school, I go posh again.

I was doing a version of code-switching. I didn’t know it at the time. At least, I didn’t know the term for it. It was one of the many ways that I had to change myself to fit in and get on in the world. Pretty soon, my English accent was [1]RP verging on posh. I couldn’t do a Sheffield accent any more, even if I tried.

I often wonder how much more I might have said, how much more passionately I might have expressed myself had I not been so concerned about how I sounded.

Eleven years later, having just arrived back in England after a year living in Germany and France, and not spending much time in the company of English speakers, I was on a bus in West London and I distinctly remember how it felt to be surrounded by English speakers again. So relaxing not to have to try. A certain tension that I had carried in my body for a year was released. A reminder of how tiring it is to speak another language.

These experiences gave me a glimpse of the tension and inhibition that code-switchers carry with them most of the time.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who have to code-switch at work or in college, either because they are not speaking their mother tongue, or because of the region, neighbourhood or family in which they grew up. I used to try to help them to sound more RP. I’m sorry I did that, because now I realise that expecting people to code-switch is a kind of accent colonialism. Implicit in it is the belief that there is a right way. And that right way is invariably the way of the establishment, the ruling class.

Now I believe that there is more to be gained for all of us if, instead of asking others to code-switch, we make more of an effort to listen-switch. I believe that people express themselves more fully and authentically if they’re not struggling to adjust their speech patterns and accent. They have the right to feel safe and to be heard if they speak in the way that comes naturally to them. So, instead of listening with the critical voice, assuming that the little girl is thick or common or lazy because of her accent or the way she speaks, why not get over yourself and work harder at listening to what she is actually saying. If you don’t understand, check in with her that the meaning that you are taking out is that which she is putting in.

The way to have good and different conversations, conversations that might give us new ideas and ways of thinking, is to stop being a lazy listener, stop expecting everyone to speak like you and not hearing them if they don’t. Don’t ask others to speak like a boss, but listen like a boss… and learn.

https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-costs-of-codeswitching


[1] Received pronunciation

The pizza box and the fridge.

(This written to follow 3 Bubbles, in case you were any doubt that serious and silly co-exist in my mind…..)

Never mind this “covid vaccines are a way for Bill Gates to inject microchips into you” nonsense. This is the real conspiracy that no-one is talking about.

 What do you do with leftover takeaway pizza? (I know that for some of you the words “leftover” and “pizza” have NEVER appeared in the same sentence, but bear with me here, I’m a small person.)

In conversation with the always thought-provoking Izzy Gesell the other day, our conversation turned to pizza, as it is wont to do. Specifically, to the annoying mismatch between the size of a pizza box and the internal dimensions of a refrigerator. 

There are those of us, believe it or not, who can’t manage an entire pizza in one sitting, and like to keep it for breakfast – or what I like to call, more correctly, “frühstuckspizza”. 

And so, the obvious and easy thing would be to pop the box in which the pizza was delivered into the fridge until the next day. Here begins the problem. That box is always just a tiny bit too big. Or the fridge is just a smidgen too small. Hence we finish up devouring the whole pizza or wrapping the leftovers in tinfoil and throwing away the box. 

We wondered, Izzy and I, why the fridgemakers and pizza box creators had not co-operated over such an important issue. 

Then after our call, I set out with my measuring tape to measure the fridge and pizzas. Of course I did. And I uncovered the horrible truth. The diameter of an average pizza is 12 inches (when it comes to pizza, I’m afraid even I don’t do metric). The width of my fridge is 18 inches and the depth 13 inches (15 inches if you include the extra bit of depth in between the shelves in the door). So there need be no barrier to pizza boxes in the fridge.

Proof, if proof were needed, of an evil and elaborate conspiracy involving the pizza makers, tin foil manufacturers and the diet and fitness gurus. They have not only co-operated, they have collaborated. 

This evil triumvirate clearly came together in a deliberate plan to increase our pizza consumption, our weight and/or our tinfoil consumption, by bribing the fridge manufacturers and box makers to make the fridge interiors just that little bit too small, and pizza boxes just that little bit too big. 

The very same kind of devilish coalition that has wine makers instruct cork makers to design corks to expand immediately on leaving the bottle, so that they cannot be re-inserted and you simply have to finish the contents of the bottle or it will go to waste, and sock retailers donate billions to washing machine brands to build in their “one sock eater feature”. 

Your own examples of such nefarious behaviour are welcome. 

3 Bubbles: billable, deliverable, valuable.

J is speaking to me from her home office in a beautiful property in one of the best neighbourhoods in the Bay area. She has already warned me that she will need to leave our session promptly to help Casper, their eldest, with his online *math class.

In the background, a substantial mortgage and at least 7 years of school and college fees to come snuggle together comfortably under the luxurious cover of J’s salary – a salary that will continue to keep pace with her lifestyle IF she continues to deliver results that are deemed billable by her firm, and demonstrably deliver bottom line value to clients.  Sales, profit margin, shareholder return. These are the billables and deliverables, and therefore they are also the tangible valuables. (Ooops! A fourth bubble.)

In our conversation, J, a young (to me, at least) and very successful executive, responds to my question about the people in her life that she most admires: about those that have taught her the lessons she values most. She has tears in her eyes.

I notice that she is not talking about these heroes in terms of their contribution to her billable rate per hour, shareholder value delivered or business won. Instead she is recounting small and preciously detailed examples of kindness, curiosity, persistence and patience. Of time spent on the non-billables. Time spent caring for, listening to and speaking out on behalf of others.

This talented and compassionate human tells me also of the non-billable support that she receives every day from members of her work team and her family. J would love to be remembered in the same way that she remembers each and every one of her inspiring and attentive family members, friends, teachers, colleagues.

Her cast of heroes and supporters are truly diverse and come from all walks of life. They have surfaced when most needed, often without being asked.

As our short time together comes to a close, we move on to talk about the next step – J’s transition to C-suite. Standing on the threshold of the boardroom that she is about to enter, J cannot help but notice that the ones who supported and formed her are not represented in there. Those invaluable humans and their immeasurable contribution may be praised in inspirational TED talks, or quoted on the freeby t-shirts handed out at corporate teambuilding events, but they are nowhere to be seen in the boardroom. The system that calculates the value of an employee and paves their way to the top doesn’t have a box for “kind”, for “supportive” or for “good listener”. I hear her resigned acceptance that, in order to take that step, J must pay more attention to the “deliverable billables”, to networking with others who look remarkably similar to existing board members, and less time delivering true value to their colleagues….and to young Casper who is now standing at her shoulder waiting for support in his math class.

I thank J, click on the red “leave” button on my screen, put the kettle on and ask myself, not for the first time, when will we discover a way to place a value on that which is truly valuable?

(*Not a typo. J speaks US English, in which there is only one math. In which case, I should probably have written neighborhood. I digress.)

The day before I published this, the extremely valuable Paul Gilbert posted similar thoughts. I considered binning mine. On reflection, I decided that it’s important that as many voices as possible are heard on the subject.

Eye health

It’s been a while since my last over 65s health and fitness video, but here it is at last. No matter what your age, if you’re spending too much time looking at a screen, this one is for you … You’re welcome.

On dealing with bullies

I am often and increasingly asked to help teams to deal with a bullyboss…. …and much less frequently asked to help bullies to change their behaviour. Which in itself is interesting.

And so I would like to offer the following short and foolproof questionnaire as my generous gift to any management team wondering how to deal with this issue in these difficult times:

You’re welcome, Mr Johnson.

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

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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.