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What I’ve learnt about austerity from teaching GCSE English Literature

Unfortunately for us it snowed on the day of the English Literature mock. This made our task of managing over 200 sixteen year olds through an early lunch and into an orderly line-up outside the exam hall considerably harder. Snow, you see, is irresistible. It makes even the most serious minded teenager revert to their anarchic toddler phase. I’m surprised that Freud never touched on it because the regressive power of a sprinkling of snow is something worth investigating. “Bollocks to the rules!” they yelled gleefully as they skidded past at breakneck speed, drowning out my threatening, “Put that snow down now or you won’t be sitting your English mock!”
(Promises, promises)
“Bollocks to the rules!” they continued cheerfully, perhaps believing that I’d be softened by this literary allusion.
“It’s not the message of the book!” I yelled after them, “You’re supposed to fear the beast within. Take responsibility. “Maybe it’s only us. Remember?”
The moral message was lost: Golding’s bea…

It's the Postgrad apocalypse

Last month I accidentally stumbled into the future and I'm almost sure it's a real place. If you're interested, it's a slick housing estate in North West Cambridge. Go and have a look. Then look at all the young people sleeping sandwiched between cardboard and greasy sleeping bags outside Superdrug and play join the dots.

I was there because of a surprise that came off the back of a misjudgement.

The misjudgement was unwittingly agreeing to participate in a piece of  conceptual art.

I'm actually allergic to conceptual art - maybe not allergic, I don't need insulin or anything - it's more an intolerance, a lifestyle choice if you will. I think I was over exposed to it in 1997 when I went to the Sensation exhibition and saw naked conjoined septemdecimtuplet mannequin children with no genitals between their legs and penises where their noses should be. It was moving, like drinking two thirds of a bottle of ouzo is moving, and it's left me with a deep and …


January is traditionally a month of self-improvement. Having left To the Lighthouse half read, spine cracked, pages curling on my nightstand for most of  2017, I pledged to mark Virginia Woolf's 136th birthday (thank you google home page) with my own personal version of Veganuary: Virginiary.  
As a literate feminist, I have a difficult relationship with Virginia Woolf: hitherto I have liked the idea of reading her books much more than the actual experience of reading her books. This troubles me. The full weight of the twentieth and twenty-first century's literary establishment leads me to suspect, that the deficiency lies with me rather than with Woolf's meandering stream of consciousness style and her frankly obnoxious use of the impersonal pronoun which makes my teeth itch. I had mostly enjoyed Orlando and The Hours had helped me fall in love with the idea of Mrs Dalloway. I like to believe I enjoyed reading that too.
So to mark Virginiary, last weekend I re-read A Roo…

Why the Jo Malone Advent Calendar means the Barbarians are at the gates

What is it with advent calendars for grown ups?  I remember my parents' tutting disapproval at the decadence of a waxy chocolate behind every door but now, those bastard capitalists have upped their game: the Jo Malone advent calendar retails at £300 (though it can be sold on Ebay for £500, so it's kind of an investment), there are cheese calendars, gin calendars, candle calendars, nail polish calendars. Why is this happening? And who thinks it's a good idea? Won't someone think of the children? What Would Jesus Do?

This hadn't really bothered me until last Tuesday when, plagued by a perennial bout of insomnia, I decided to throw all sleep advice to the wind (sucks to be you, cognitive psychology) by picking up my flickering, undimmed, blue-light emitting smartphone and paying a nocturnal visit to that place renown for its soothing somnambulist properties: the internet.

I rocked up to the Am I Being Unreasonable threads on Mumsnet, just past midnight, like the rep…

Evensong 18/06/2017: a parable for our times

Once there was a great city full of beautiful parks and palaces inhabited by a great people of beauty, wisdom and wit. The city was the marvel of the age with vast museums where the treasures of the world had been collected, where catacombs of books full of philosophy and science and discovery and stories wound through the city, there were tree lined parks with beasts brought from the four corners of the earth, where people could stroll and ride in carriages under cherry trees from Hiroshima and orange trees from Seville. It was a city of miracles. But as in any great city, there were the poor and the unfortunate, the dirty and the desperate and although the city was good, some of the good people lived in the bad places and some of the bad people lived in the good places. And as is the way of the world, when the good people in the good places looked for the good people in the bad places, they only saw bad people because how could good people be so dirty and poor when they were surrou…

A picnic in the park: Nigel Farage and swarms of children

We had just laid out our nutritious spread of salami baguettes, millionaire’s shortbread, ready salted crisps and token fruit (my picnics are like direct action against healthy eating) when a swarm of mini-migrants, led by fluorescent jacketed chaperones, flooded the park. My daughter, an imperious eleven year old protectionist, my own home-grown Nigel Farage if you will, surveyed the 86.18 hectares of park and declared flatly: “There isn’t room for all of us here.”

The parallel between the incoming play scheme and Farage’s notorious “Breaking Point” poster was irresistible. The children, almost all from ethnic minorities, invaded the playground with the cocky self-assurance of a slightly out of control mob. To be fair, their natural claim to the park was probably greater than ours: the real immigrants from Cambridge. We were meeting friends in Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, one of the great London parks, beautifully landscaped with excellent play facilities for children and a handy…