Thursday, 3 July 2014

When dressing like a tart is ok. Apparently.

Before I moved to the country and became Secret Housewife I lived in London and worked in a Mayfair casino. I wasn't what you might imagine a croupier to be, sadly. I was a tad serious and took my job seriously too. That's not to say I didn't have fun, but I wanted, at the same time, to be respected as a professional. Each day I was dealing with very wealthy businessmen, making complicated calculations and negotiating with them so that the casino ran smoothly. The casino business is full of very bright women who work hard and run the businesses, multi-million pound businesses, very professionally.

I was incensed when my club director chose some of the female staff to dress up in Santa mini dresses to have their photos taken for the club Christmas photo. I remember making my views known and one of the women told me that I was just jealous that I hadn't been chosen. NO NO NO!! The reason I was cross was because they were allowing themselves be manipulated by the man running the place, to assume the image of .... tart. How could they be respected by the clientele if they were seen on the front of a Christmas card wearing a low cut dress that skimmed their bottom cheeks as they leaned seductively over a roulette table ?

And now, nearly 20 years later I find myself furious again. Of course I still know lots of people in the casino business and today, on my Facebook feed, up popped the photo below. I am apoplectic. It is possible to be an attractive woman without draping yourself over a dice table wearing only a bra, some shorts and a pair of stockings. What image do these women send to the outside world? Do you look at them and think " Ah, yes. Intelligent women, brimming with intellect, proud of their professionalism" ? Or do you think that they look like they're up for a  good time ... to put it nicely?

The thing that really gets to me is that they allow themselves to be used like this. Have we learnt nothing over the years? I am not saying that we all need to burn our bras, wear no make up and wear shapeless dungarees, but for God's sake!!! Clientele will not look at this photo and think that the casino in question is staffed by strong professional women. 

People, and I include women when I say this, tell me that I need to lighten up, but why should I? How many men do you see behaving in this way? Do you see Donald Trump or David Cameron behave like this? Is it "just a bit of fun" or is it hugely damaging to the image of women? What does it achieve?

I am sure that the 3 women above are just as professional and good at their jobs as croupiers as I was, but when you look at them do you really think that? Or do you think ... sex? Are they trying to get punters into their club by making them think that they can get a cheap thrill? Maybe a quick feel? Because that's what it looks like.

I am so frustrated by this. I am frustrated that nothing has changed. I am frustrated that this is seen as fun and acceptable by people in the industry still. I am frustrated that women think they have to do this to be successful. I am angry that anyone would ask a woman to dress like this and that the women would feel that they should or that it was in anyway ok. A casino is a place to gamble. It is not a whorehouse, but that is what this photo implies.

I have discovered that the women in the photo above are not croupiers but dancers who work in the casino.  The casino PR department is still using the image to pull men into the premises and, to be honest, I think my point still stands.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Like a Girl .... what does that mean to you??

I saw the video above for the first time today. My friend had posted it on her Facebook page and I watched it without really thinking. When I had finished I felt quite upset. When did doing something "like a girl" become so derogatory?

Its true though isn't it? If you say to someone that they throw "like a girl" or run "like a girl" its not a compliment.

I tried it on my boys.

I said to them - "Throw like a girl. Run like a girl. Fight like a girl." Without fail they imitated the actions of a person who was weak, a bit pathetic ... Where did I go wrong?? Do they not realise that I'm a girl? I am feminine but strong. The two positions do not rule each other out. I have run a marathon, raised a family, fought for my rights and those of others. Do they really think that girls are so weak? So namby pamby?

In the film the thing that made me go watery eyed with pride was the sight of young girls who were confident, proud, unquestioning of their ability to be anything they wanted to be. Where do we lose that pride and that belief? When do we start to believe that girls are weak?

The film above is an advert, and a clever one at that, but it raises an interesting and powerful point. The language we use every day can make or break. Its important that girls and boys are given positive messages. Girls and boys can be strong and successful.Your gender should not define how successful you are. To use "like a girl" as an insult is as bad, to me, as using "gay" as a derogatory term, as using a person's colour or faith as an insult.

I am loathe to put free advertising on my blog, but this is about more than a cheap plug. Its about realising that we need to nurture, support and encourage, not put down, denigrate or belittle. "Like a girl" should mean " like a tiger" "like a warrior" ... "like something damn good".

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Body and Void Exhibition at The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green.

Last year, on its last day, I went to see the Rodin Moore Exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. I loved the exhibition and wrote my review with enthusiasm. I realised, however, that it might have been a better idea to visit the exhibition on the first day so that my review could be read by other people in time for them to be able to visit Perry Green! This year when I heard of the Body and Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art Exhibition, again at Perry Green, I decided to go early and write my review in plenty of time! So ... this is it.

My husband and I tootled off through the Hertfordshire countryside of high hedgerows and picturesque villages last Friday. The skies were grey, but, to be honest, whatever the weather the Henry Moore Foundation is always a treat to visit. Its like stepping back in time, to a place where the world is quiet apart from the gentle hum of bees and the rustling of the wind through leaves.

We bought our tickets in the little shop and were shown where to go by the very friendly lady behind the counter. You will find, if you visit, that one of the best things about Perry Green is the staff, largely volunteers, who man the galleries and workshops. They are all friendly, enthusiastic and endlessly knowledgeable about the art on display. They are eager to share their joy, which I find infectious!

We wandered off around the beautiful gardens of Hoglands, Moore's home, where his and other artists sculptures are installed. The Body and Void Exhibition is a celebration of Moore's work and legacy. Artists such as Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Richard Long have been invited to contribute work to the exhibition, alongside work by not only Moore, but Thomas Schutte, Paul Noble, Antony Gormley and a host of others. It is fascinating to see how Moore has influenced and inspired a whole generation of artists.

Rachel Whiteread's Detached 3 2012
One of the first pieces we came across was Rachel Whiteread's Detached 3. At first glance, walking across the grass, you think its just a shed, one of many buildings scattered around the grounds, but then you realise that this is a concrete cast of the inside of a shed. It is the hidden space, the void, which is usually never seen. There is something brilliant about this idea to me. I loved the idea of making solid something that is normally hidden and unconsidered. As we went into the Body and Void gallery we saw another Rachel Whiteread work which, again, cast the void in solid form...

Rachel Whiteread Pink Torso 1995 ( photo courtesy of

Can you see what it is? The space inside a hot water bottle ...  a space you would never normally see. I loved that idea!

The theme of the void is something that Moore explored and with Reclining Figure: External Form 1953-54 he combines this with another of his favourite subjects, the reclining female figure. The form is hollowed out to show not only the voluptuous curves of the body, but also the interior spaces. As with many of Moore's works I just feel compelled to touch the surfaces, explore the curves and textures. Beautiful!


I think that another thing I love about Perry Green is the continuing inspiration Moore gives to up and coming artists and students. As we walked around the grounds there were, and always are, people sitting on the grass or standing near the sculptures, sketch books in hand, drawing. The calm is captivating.

Henry Moore Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut 1979-81

For me, one of the strongest images, and one that had not struck me so intensely previously, was that of the void between two forms. Above you can see Moore's figure cut in two. The void between the two pieces is as powerful, if not more so, as the bronze pieces themselves.In my opinion there is an energy between two forms that used to touch and no longer do, or almost touch and never will. This theme is seen again and again, not only in Moore's work, but that of others too ...

Henry Moore's Working Model for Oval with Points, Michelangelo's Adam, Des Hughes' One Thing Leads to Another, Damien Hirst's Mother and Child (Divided),
I think my husband thought I had lost my mind, but I could really feel the energy in those spaces. I love that something that is not actually 'there' can be so powerful! When we visited the Body and Void gallery and saw Damien Hirst's Mother and Child (Divided) I just couldn't bring myself to walk between the two halves of the animals. It seemed somehow wrong - a space between two halves that should never have been separated. Again the space was very powerful - the act of separation intense.

As always I loved visiting Perry Green and its treasures. We visited the gallery, but also the workshops and here the staff were keen to give us insights into the works displayed. Their nuggets of information are so fascinating! If I was more knowledgeable I would love to volunteer there! They manage to share what they know without making you feel like an ignoramus - rather that you are part of an excellent adventure into the world of Art!!

The Body and Void Exhibition is on all summer until 26th October 2014. I really recommend it for an inspiring day out. Let me know if you go!!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

This Month I Read ...

This is the second month in which I am joining with Muttering Mummy to share the books I have been reading over the last 4 weeks. If you follow the link to her page ( after you've read my post obviously!!! Don't go yet...) you will see reviews of what she's been reading and also links to the reviews of other bloggers too. What's not to like??

So, my first book this month was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

This is a book that reminded me very much of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight and I read it because I had read Muttering Mummy's review last month. It follows the life of Matthew Homes, a young man whom, we gradually realise, is suffering from schizophrenia. The author manages to convey the disjointed and disturbed thought processes of the schizophrenic without allowing the storyline to become disjointed or confusing.
It is not a book that I can say I loved reading as it is so desperately sad to witness the hopelessness of family breakdown and grief, but it is well written and, in my opinion, well worth reading.
Written in the first person by the character of Matthew it becomes clear, gradually, that he is an unreliable narrator. The reader slowly realises that Matthew's truth is not necessarily "the truth". An air of melancholy is all pervasive as the reader witnesses the effect of mental illness and loss on an entire family. 
This is an interesting book which has left me, I hope, with a greater understanding of mental illness, but not a book that has left me with a great sense of happiness or satisfaction.

My next read was Love! Laugh! Panic! Life with my Mother by Rosemary Mild

I was given this book to review and I'm afraid to say I didn't like it at all. It is the memoir of Rosemary Mild and her mother. It is a series of anecdotes strung together in a rather disjointed way which might have been amusing if related in person, but on the printed page just didn't work. I couldn't wait for it to be over, sadly.

The next book I read was A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. This was a book that I read for my Book Group and, to be honest, I really didn't know what to expect.

Published in 1934 A Handful of Dust follows the fortunes of a group of London Socialites, particularly Tony and Brenda Last. From the very beginning though I loved this book. It was like a combination of PG Wodehouse and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I found it easy to read and absolutely compelling in its portrayal of society at the time. Without giving anything away the ending gave me shivers with its twist. I will remember this book for a long time and would thoroughly recommend it! Excellent!!

I am currently reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell and am about halfway through so I won't review it until next month!

If you would like to join in with this linky then do have a look at Muttering Mummy's blog. She sets up the linky at the end of each month and quite a few people join in. Its an interesting way of reading reviews and getting ideas of books to try.

I hope you will join in and if you have read any of the books above, do let me know what you thought of them!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Michael Gove removes To Kill a Mockingbird and other classics from the GCSE syllabus.

I read today that Michael Gove has decided to cut such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible from the GCSE syllabus from next year. According to the exam board OCR the works have been removed because the Department of Education wishes the exams to be more "based on tradition". By this they mean that students will now study at least one Shakespeare play, the Romantic poets, a 19th century novel from anywhere (US, European,British), a selection of post 1850 poetry and a British 20th century novel or drama. According to Paul Dodd, the OCR's head of GCSE and A Level reform another reason was because Michael Gove, who studied English at Oxford, had "a particular dislike of Of Mice and Men".

I am sitting here at my laptop somewhat lost for words ... I understand that change is inevitable and necessary. The education system has to change and move with the times, but the changes being made here seem, at the least, short sighted. To remove such inspiring classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men and replace them with a narrower choice of work just seems ... wrong.

I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird when I studied for my O Levels and I have re-read it several times. It inspired me. I have always enjoyed reading and devour books at a rate of knots. My degree was, for the most part, English Literature, and we covered a broad range of work - from the 19th century novel to Aphra Behn,from Shakespeare to Children's Literature. By the time I started my degree I had followed a path that led me from Black Beauty to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, from Treasure Island to The Count of Monte Cristo and from To Kill a Mockingbird to Our Mutual Friend.

I was fortunate that our house was full of books and I had access to them all. For many students their first brush with classic literature is through their GCSE. Therefore GCSE English Literature needs to be inspiring, moving, exciting. It is the gateway to the world of literature for many.

Bethan Marshall, chair of The National Association for the Teaching of English and a Senior Lecturer in English at Kings College, London, has said that the new curriculum is far from inspiring. She, in fact, goes as far as to say that the choice of work will "grind children down". Rather than being forward thinking, imaginative and modern the syllabus ( rumoured to have been designed by Gove himself) is like something "out of the 40's" according to Marshall.

If you are studying a course that "grinds you down" how can you be inspired? And how many will continue on to A Level and Degree English Literature if they are uninspired by their GCSE? Gove wants students to study Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Keats and, of course, I would say that yes these works should be studied, but the GCSE needs to be tailored to suit and to inspire today's 16 year olds. It is a gateway to literature and if they are crushed by a dry diet of heavy duty classics will they want to carry on to A Level?

There needs to be a balance of work that appeals to the students. The new curriculum is heavily biased towards British writers and because of the focus on "tradition" there is little scope for inclusion of more modern work such as those of Harper Lee, Steinbeck or, indeed, Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

The thing that shocks me the most about all of this is the fact that one man, Michael Gove the Education Secretary, can have so much power. His "particular dislike" of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men means that he can arrange for its removal from the syllabus. His desire for "tradition" means that GCSE students are given a syllabus "from the 40's" which will "grind them down". His desire for "tradition" means that there will be no course work, but instead two exams at the end of the two year period.

There is a place for tradition. I love tradition. But there is also a place for understanding that GCSE should inspire students to further study. Literature does not rest solely at the feet of Dickens and Shakespeare. The US classics are equally as important and in many ways are far more accessible to teenagers. When faced with Our Mutual Friend or To Kill a Mockingbird which one is going to inspire a teenager to study and enjoy literature? Of course both are incredible books, but Harper Lee's classic is, in my opinion, the one that will touch a nerve, light the flame of love for literature. And when that flame is lit there will be no stopping a student.

I fear that Gove's obsession with an age gone by, an old fashioned ideal of education where children sit in rows of desks chanting " amo, amas, amat" and learning Shelley by rote, is an obsession that is both dangerous and wrong. It is an obsession that will result in fewer students being inspired by a love of literature and more and more turning away from something they consider dull and dry.

I still cannot help the tears springing to my eyes when I recall excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird and it planted the seed in me that I should always do the right thing. The right thing is to fight this decision and to fight Michael Gove's narrow minded destruction of our education system.

Since writing this I feel the need to clarify. Michael Gove's new syllabus, in my opinion, narrows the choice of books eligible for study. It seems a shame that there are no fresh voices. The only chance for any literature from overseas is if it is a 19th century novel. Anything more modern has to be British. I don't understand why To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men are to be removed and yet not replaced by books which cover themes which will appeal to teenagers, themes which are immediately relevant in today's world. It will be interesting to see the choice of 20th century work chosen for the syllabus. I am not against change at all and I agree with one commenter that a rotation of work would be a good idea so we don't get bogged down with the same books for 30 years. I think that Gove's syllabus seems to be based very much on works that are pre 20th century, very traditionalist and I wonder if there should not be more scope for the study of more modern work. We shall see.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

London Bloggers Afternoon Tea at the Milestone Hotel

I have been very lucky, over the last few months, to be one of a group of bloggers who get together for afternoon tea in some of the most lovely hotels in London. Today it was the turn of the Milestone Hotel - a 5 star boutique hotel in Kensington. I prepared myself for a sumptuous tea and headed off on the train ...

Walking into the luxurious surroundings of the Milestone I was greeted with smiles and friendly staff who directed me to our private room - The Windsor. I knew that I had come to the right place because of the hubbub of blogger voices and friendly laughter! Although a tad hot and flustered from my journey I soon relaxed when met by the smiling face of Selena from Oh, the places we will go! and of course the chilled champagne helped too!

We were looked after by a couple of very helpful staff who came round offering us either Earl Grey or English Breakfast Tea. I chose the English Breakfast, but it would have been nice to have rather more of a choice and I prefer to have my own pot rather than be served. At other places we have had a choice of all sorts - Assam, Darjeeling, Chamomile, Peppermint and so on, but the tea was hot and wet so that's fine. I'm sure if I'd asked for something else it would have been available.

I had tried to download the Afternoon Tea menu from the hotel website, but had been unable to do so, so I was excited to see what delights would be on offer. There was no menu on the table, but when asked the waiter told us about the sandwiches and cakes on offer.

The tea was very traditional. On our three tier stand were crustless finger sandwiches with various fillings - smoked salmon and cream cheese, egg and cress (delicious!), cheese and tomato and ham and mustard. They were very tasty, but if I'm honest nothing to really write home about. The bread, in places, had the very slight dryness about it that told me it wasn't absolutely fresh. I also prefer my ham cut from a joint as you can see in the ham gougere from a visit to a different place - rather than "plastic ham" found in the sandwiches today. This really disappointed me. I certainly wouldn't buy ham like that and I was surprised to find it at the Milestone.

The Milestone ham sandwich

Ham gougere from ... another hotel. 
Next we began the homemade scones with jam and clotted cream. They were warm, which is lovely, and quite crispy on the outside. I'm not sure if the hotel quite realised how much we bloggers like our jam and cream as we ran out a couple of times and had to ask for more. Even then I felt a bit cheated. 

The cakes on the top tier looked gorgeous - pretty and dainty.

Our favourites were the lemon meringue mille feuilles and the cheesecake with mango. I couldn't resist the pink macaroon with vanilla filling either!

Sadly the chef did not come out to meet us, which was a shame. It has always been a real highlight to meet the team who have worked to create the food and some chefs continue to tweet our little team as we do our best to sample every tea in town!! Its a good idea to meet us because we are writing about their service and any info they can give to impress us is great, after all we are potentially giving a hotel free publicity!!

 I wandered off for a nosy at one point and saw the main hotel tea rooms which looked gorgeous. It would have been lovely to sit in such beautiful surroundings, but the Windsor was very smart and comfortable and we did need a private room for our group.

All in all I left the hotel having had a nice time. It was good to see the girls again and the tea was pretty good. But it wasn't great and it certainly wasn't outstanding. I hate to give negative reviews, but I like to be honest and although I received a discounted rate I still paid £30 for my tea. I think that if I had paid over £40 which is what they usually charge I would have been very disappointed. The tea lacked imagination, fell down on quality in places and the service was good, but not excellent. One shouldn't have to ask for more milk, more jam, more cream (and I am not a greedy person, let me point out) and there should be a menu available so you can see what's on offer. I still can't open the  one on the hotel website.

I would rate this Afternoon Tea at 6/10.