Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Family Christmas Party

There was a moment on Sunday, at the Family Christmas Party, when my brother turned to my fiancĂ© Mark, and said “It’s not too late”.

Every year, my mother’s family get together – a request made by my late Nan, which the family have admirably honoured year in year out. In the olden days, it was at an aunt’s house – a packed, boozy, children running wild affair, and everyone had a good old catch up. As the year’s went on, and, Irish Catholic as they are, the numbers increased rapidly, we moved to the local Church Hall. And thus, the games began – musical chairs, pass the parcel, and the obligatory sitting on Santa’s lap no matter what age you were. I once took a friend who was performing in a show in Birmingham. I think she appreciated a family gathering whilst being holed up in digs, but she did look slightly traumatised post Santa’s lap.

It was all manageable until last year, when they decided there would be an additional “Britain’s Got Talent” element to the Party. How bad can it have been, you wonder? Well, pretty bad. There were some highlights. My uncle got up and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone a capella and revealed a rather wonderful voice. My nephews got up with my brother and his wife and did a dance routine. Others played the guitar. It was clear some of the elder relatives had gone to a lot of effort. They had the wigs, the costume, the make up. Alas, they just hadn’t learnt the words or had any intention of singing them. And trust me, Islands in the Stream goes on an awfully long time when the dance routine is uncoordinated, and they are holding a piece of paper with the words in one hand, and still miming them incorrectly.

I sound horrible don’t I? Don’t get me wrong, it’s highly entertaining. For a while. And hats off to them for not giving a shit. And they clearly love it. And I love them for it. And I guess that’s what Families and especially families at Christmas, are all about, right?

I felt my Mark was ready for the Christmas party. He was prepared – he’d met them all at my Brother’s 50th, and he’d been pre-warned about the entertainment. I had forgotten to tell him there would be games. He tried to get out on the first round of Musical Chairs, but Mother kindly replaced a chair for him. Bless. Then there was some food , and then about a 20minute wait before the first act came on. I was expecting costumes. What I wasn’t expecting, was 3 of my aunts to emerge Blacked up to the music of Baby Love. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mark’s jaw drop before. But then I did. Again, they all held mikes. Again, they all mimed. But they did say they’d taken my note from last year and not brought the words on with them. Thank heaven for small mercies.

We had to leave to get our train, so we didn’t get to see all the acts. My Aunt and Uncle has told us they were doing Ashleigh and Pudsey, with my Uncle as Pudsey. I asked my mother on the phone how the rest of the afternoon went – she said my Uncle was dressed up as a cat. Enough said.

But this is life. This is reality. A big blurry mess of relatives, embarrassment, inappropriate comments, too much food and drink, laughing till you’re crying, and desperately trying to remember the names of all your second cousins. This is family. This is Christmas. And you know what, I hope that as you’re reading this, you’re thinking, well, mine ain’t gonna be as mental as that. And you’re probably right. And we have the whole Church Hall, so if you fancy coming next year, give me a shout – maybe I’ll start selling tickets ;-)

Merry Christmas one and all xxx

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

What happened to Sisterhood?

I’m going to have to write this blog quite carefully, in that, my issue is women attacking other women. And thus in talking about it, I must err on the side of not attacking those who should know better. Namely, other women.

Let’s start with the women who have come out against #teamnigella. There’s  one that really springs to mind, and I’m not going to give her more publicity by naming her, but she appears to be making a living out of attacking other women – for being fat, for not bringing up their children in the way she thinks is correct, or indeed, for leaving a millionaire who was probably abusing his wife emotionally and mentally as well as physically. It upsets me and angers me that anyone would think this is a good way to earn a crust. It especially angers me when it’s a woman. Because we need all the help and support we can get. And we need it most from our fellow women.

I had to think back – have I been one of those women in my time? And honestly, my answer is probably yes. When was that? When I was young. When I didn’t know better. When I was insecure and defensive. As we all are at some point right? And it manifests itself in different ways. We are critical of other women’s appearance (to be fair, I still am on occasion. Though usually when they are on the telly, which I think to some extent makes all people, male and female, fair game), maybe because that makes us feel better? We monopolize or manipulate friendships, or indeed isolate others, through fear and jealousy and all those weird emotions that make friendships, in our youth, almost as important as love affairs. We will do almost anything to be the chosen one by the desired male. ‘Chicks before dicks’ is a phrase that I think only really starts to take hold, in reality, once we’re at least mid twenties, if not later. 

So, when you grow up, when you’ve sorted your shit out a little bit, when you’re a tad more secure and settled, then you should have the capacity, the empathy, the foresight, to be a proper woman. And by a proper woman, I mean a woman who has other womens’ backs. Who recognises that for all our progress, we still live in a fairly patriarchal world, and we have to fight. Fight for survival, fight for recognition, and fight for the greater good. Because I fundamentally believe that ultimately, when we are properly equal, it will be better all round.

Which brings me back round to the woman who shall not be named. Who tweeted a couple of days ago ‘Sisterhood? Don’t speak to me of this thing you call the sisterhood. Stand at any school gate and you will learn it is entirely contrived’ and today that ‘If I was a man people would not be offended by me’. You’re right Miss. I wouldn’t be so offended. Because sadly, I still expect that of men sometimes. But not from women. 

Sisterhood comes from being happy with your lot, and thus being happy for everyone else that has theirs. So it takes work – on yourself, and on your relationships with others. Which means that I look at a woman who is constantly putting down other women, and I surmise that she isn’t very happy or secure, and I wonder why that is. I think Sisterhood is inbuilt, in our DNA, but that we’ve somehow forgotten about it. A woman I met many years ago said that our modern conveniences have made us forget our support of each other. She talked about the old ages when women would go the lake and fetch water and wash clothes (I’m aware the men should have been doing that too J) and they’d have a natter, they’d listen to each other. There was a daily gathering – a support network like no other. But I fear we’ve got too fussed about designer clothes, and house prices, and X Factor and all the daily crap that surrounds us and takes us away from what is important. 

But that doesn’t mean our sisterhood is lost. It just means we have to find new ways to reinvigorate it, within a modern world and to pass that on to our kids. And we have to avoid the media that perpetuates women attacking other women. And we have to make a concerted effort to be nicer and kinder to each other.  And, alas, understanding of those women who aren’t quite there yet. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

It's a Man's World.....

There’s the old adage, that when a male comic takes to the Stage, the audience sits back and relaxes, but when a female one appears, there’s an element of ‘ok, show us what you’ve got’. That’s not the case with all female comics by any means, and I hope that in time, it won’t be the case for any, but it’s an uphill struggle. 

A female friend of mine recently said she just thought men were funnier than women, and it made me want to cry and scream at the same time. When probed, she said her female friends often had her in stitches, but she just meant there were lots more male comics on the telly. Now, I’ve written before on the life of a comic being generally more suited to men than women, so I won’t harp on about it. But I fundamentally don’t think men are funnier than women. I believe that the majority of my generation were still brought up thinking that men like beauty in women, and women like humour in men. A generalisation I know. And we’re not all like that. Some prize money in men, and the ability to cook in women.... you get my gist. But I think we’re somehow pre-disposed, and that alas includes many women, to just think men are funnier. And we have to work hard to dispel that myth.

But it got me thinking. It’s that element of trust, or relaxation, that you sense when the audience are presented with a male comic rather than a female one (I’m obviously not talking about the lauded ladies of comedy, who have a steadfast following). And it strikes me that that element of trust, or rather, that inequality of trust, based on gender, is omni present. I fear I’m guilty in some respects. If we get a female bus driver in rush-hour, I inwardly groan a little. Because, 9 times out of 10, the journey takes a tad longer. Because the female bus driver is just a bit nicer about allowing more people on the bus, and giving right of way to more cars. Whereas the guys just plough on through. I know. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking Bugger, I’m totally not a feminist. BUT I THINK I AM ;-) I guess I’m just being honest about stereotypes, or just alas, giving weight to some that should be dead and buried by now.

So, the trust thing. I think it’s huge in the workplace. I see guys going in and asking their boss for more money, or for another member of staff because their team is overworked. And often the men get what they ask for. And the women don’t always get so lucky. So why is that? Is that because women ask in a different way? In a ‘well, it would really help us if we could have some extra support, but I’m sure I can manage without if there isn’t any budget’ way? I’m guessing, obvs. But given that women tend to try and accommodate more so than men, I think there’s probably an element of the way we ask for things, that is predicated on not having the same sense of entitlement. So, it could be the way we ask. Or maybe it’s back to the trust. Is it that man’s world of where the guy goes in and asks his boss for something, and the guy trusts the other guy, whereas the female team member has to prove it, has to be on the floor, sunken by a heap of deadlines, before the boss will say ok?

I know what you’re thinking. What about female bosses? And I’ve had a few. From my experience, the men still often get what they ask for from a female boss, more than the women do. Because, women know women. We know each other wiles. There’s many a married woman dying to offer you her pearl of wisdom which, for each woman is the same: get him to think it was his idea. Women have to be wily. They have to connive. They have to flirt sometimes. They go via the back door. Not in that way you, you dirty mind, you J So if a woman is trying to get something out of a female boss, she might employ any number of tactics, but she might already be busted because her boss knows them all. But when the boss is male, that’s when the female arsenal comes out to play. Because it has to. Because that is the only way to milk the cow.

I don ‘t agree with it. It frustrates me hugely. Many years ago my female boss told me I was clashing with a male colleague because I was forgetting he was a man. That if he came and presented me with a problem and asked for my help,  I wasn’t meant to offer him a solution, even though one was blindingly obvious, because he was a guy and he had to work it out himself. Apparently I was to guide him to finding a solution without him realising. And I was like WTF? I don’ t have time for that. Do you have time for that? It worked for her, but I’m not convinced I agree, or that that’s the way all female bosses manage their male staff. If they do, it’s highly depressing. Maybe successful, but still, highly depressing.

So, where do we go from here? Well, a very funny lady called Deborah Frances-White, runs a workshop called ‘How to be Charismatic in a Man’s world’ – teaching women how to use their feminine charms to get what they want, and how to do so in an empowered way . So, we have that option – to continue to use the full spectrum of female wiles and ways to get the right answer or action. Or we become a little more staunch about it. We go in a little more ballsy. We don’t ask for things but follow it up with a ‘I can manage’. We be more male about it. Maybe we be a little more selfish. Though alas we’ll always hit that other problem of a forthright male being considered strong and decisive, and the forthright female being thought of as the ball-breaker. But maybe we have to go through that to come out on the other side in a few generations time, smelling of roses. Because as we all know, all women smell of roses... of sugar, and spice and all things nice. Don’t we??

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Nicknames and Multi-tasking

I’ve been called many different things  in my lifetime. It’s par for the course with a surname like Goggin. The amount of post that used to come through at work addressed to Miss Doggin became embarrassing (ah the joy when I discovered the NATO phonetic alphabet could be used by mere mortals in real life, not just on The Bill). Or Miss Goggins. “Like Postman Pat without the s” I used to say. Which, with hindsight, sounded like I was just a little too desperate for them to get it right. And let’s be fair, if they weren’t of a certain age, they’d just think I was slightly mental.  I’m not sure why everyone always likes whacking on an ‘s’ at the end, but there we go. Goggins has become a nickname of sorts. And there were and still are, many others: 

Jim Jam. Goglet – sounds a little too like a piglet admittedly, but I take it as a term of endearment. Goggles – a gift from friends when my boyfriend at the time, suddenly and mysteriously lost all power of aim, and got me in the eye, rather than on my boobs. Ah those heady days of young love and misplaced semen. 
I could go on...

But I thought I’d heard them all. Until I got together with my chap. Who is called Mark, but whom I call Bob. And he calls me Gog. But we don’t just have one. We have lots. In Paris, we spotted a stop called Bobigny. So when in France, he becomes Bobigny and I, Goginy. In Italy, we came Bobbalino and Goggalino. We’ve recently become Goggabubba and Bobbabubba, and I’m sure there will be more to come.

I find nicknames interesting, because they grow out of nothing almost, and yet, they become part of you, and they represent different parts of you. BUT, and it is a big but, they don’t cross all spheres. I am unlikely to call him Bobbalino in a moment of anger, or at the moment of climax. I think we would both burst out laughing. It’s as if nicknames form part of a personal little dialogue that takes place 90% of the time, but doesn’t quite cross the border into the highly emotional states. So why is that? Is that because we step out of ourselves when we’re highly emotive so the nickname feels too personal, too real, or because we step into ourselves so much that at that subconscious moment of choice, that the nickname feels too puerile?

And why is that some nicknames can transcend more barriers that others? I’ve called him Bob when I’ve been annoyed, but never in the throes of passion. I think there’s a wider discussion which I hope to explore more in the coming months, to do with all those different facets of ourselves that we utilise or drop at a moment’s notice. How we sweep from role to another without a thought, and if we as women, do that more easily than men? And if we do, how are men affected by that? By the woman who tells them to clean the dishes one moment, and emerges from the bedroom in a negligee five minutes later. Because to me, to us (if I may be so bold as to group all women together!), it’s seamless, natural, part of who we are – multi-tasking goddesses, no?? J And for men, I just don’t think it’s the same, and I sometimes think you can see the wash of confusion as the man tries to interpret the shift in gears that has just taken place before his very own eyes. Sexist as ever, I know. But, to be continued......

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Marriage and Babies

It’s a funny old world. You spend your heady 20’s leering from one unsuitable man to the other, with no care for marriage or children, and then you meet the one who lights all your fires, and you gradually become overwhelmed by the desire to become his wife and bear his child.

I know that isn’t the case for everyone – some never want to get married or have kids, and some have been wanting those things since the year dot. But for those of us who have steadfastly ignored such notions for the first 30 odd years of our lives, the shift in attitude is both odd and terrifying. And that’s just my side. Imagine being on the receiving end!

I’ve consulted with my female friends on this, and whilst a few weren’t really all that fussed about marriage (I reckon there’s something in the disinterest that provokes the proposal….), the majority of women I spoke to, took the lead. Some issued ultimatums, some deadlines, some opted for a lengthy period of hints and then more forceful persuasion. And interestingly, in a lot of these cases, I genuinely had no idea – I thought the guy had just one day decided the time was right and made his move, not that he had been given a gentle nudge or an almighty prod.

So, why is it that we are so keen to get married, and they are a little sheepish about it all? Is it the thought of only having sex with one person? The weight of responsibility? I think perhaps for all our equality, we women underestimate the male need to be able to provide, to be on a more secure financial footing. Is it the colliding of worlds that the wedding day brings? Friends and family, all together under one roof? Is it the fear of the actual day - of standing up in front of everyone? For me, as a performer, that’s the least of my worries. I’m more concerned with how I’d afford a Vivienne Westwood dress and keep my boobs in it, and avoid my mother trying to cover them with a veil, or her hands (it’s been done before. I have the pictures to prove it).

But for those who aren’t used to poking their head above the parapet, the wedding day can be a terrifying experience. And then there’s the expense. The average wedding nowadays costs 20K plus. Which means that unless your parents have a secret wedding fund or you’ve been saving for an awfully long time, you’re left choosing between a new bathroom and kitchen, or a fuck off ceremony and party for your nearest and dearest. Or maybe putting it in a savings fund for a boob lift post the babies....

I’m selling it aren’t I? But, as a believer in marriage, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. I can’t speak for the men, but all the women I know who are married, have a certain something about them. In most cases it’s an aura of calm that they didn’t possess to that extent before. I guess there’s something about feeling settled which marriage brings. And I know loads of people will tell me you have that without marriage, but I think if you want marriage, you associate it with a stability and commitment that doesn’t come from living together. 

The other thing that strikes me about all of this, is that we don’t really talk about it. I mean yes, there are books about it, magazine articles and the like. But women don’t tend to talk to other women about it. All the female friends that I spoke to, have spoken to me post getting married. They didn’t come and chat when they were desperate to get engaged and the ring wasn’t forthcoming. Why is that? Why is there such a stigma? Why are we afraid to say what we want, and talk about the fact that our partners don’t necessarily want it, or don’t want it at the same time? I guess it’s embarrassment. For all our modern equality, I think (and I’m open to correction) that women want the guy to want to marry us, to take ownership in that way, to make us their wife. Which then makes it even worse, because then not only do you want to get married, but you want the guy to want to marry you, and if they aren’t keen, that’s sort of a double whammy of doom.

My mother said to me that I should never bring up marriage – “it will scare a man off”. She may yet be right. Though she did date my Dad for 11 years before they got hitched, so I’m not sure she’s the best person to follow in terms of timing. But I think if you love someone, you probably want the same things. He just doesn’t know it yet :-) I’m kidding. But you get my drift. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. We’ve had the chats, my partner and I. He’s not a marriage enthusiast, I am. I’m hoping I’ll win on that one.... And we both want a child in the next few years. And I think that sort of dialogue is important. It’s not the stuff we should avoid talking about, because they are some of the most crucial decisions you’ll ever make. Why shove them under the carpet and hope for the best?

I think we should be more open about it all, because that’s the only way the supposed stigma will be decimated. Women are the socialisers in relationships most of the time, and we’re also the planners. So why wouldn’t we be planning emotional stuff as well as the more mundane items like the weekly Tesco food shop? Men tend to be a little more laidback – they need reminders to book hair appointments, send birthday cards, have a shower. That sort of thing. And they’re not all like that, but I’d hazard that the vast majority are. Every now and then they need a kick up the arse. Sexist I know, but there, I’ve said it.

Now, in the spirit of honesty, I should say I began this blog post a few months ago, and I finished tinkering with it at the end of June. And that’s when I should have posted it – I should have practised what I preach and posted before my man proposed. Which he did, a few weeks ago whilst we were on holiday. And I’m over the moon. But I’m annoyed with myself for not posting this earlier. Because that’s what it is all about isn’t it? About putting yourself out there and on the line when it is most risky, most difficult. Not when it’s easy. Not now when I’m basking in the betrothed glow (there’s no such thing, but you know what I mean). But better late than never I reckon. And I’ll try to do better.... x