Have I told you how great Costa Coffee is?

I may have mentioned a couple of times that I’m a fan of romantic comedies and although the genre has been through a lull for much of this century, there is still the odd delight, one such being “Up In The Air” starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.

Despite it turning the traditional formula on its head somewhat, it is one of my all-time favourites and is definitely up there with “The Holiday” at the top of the “Romcom of this Millennium” rankings.

George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, an HR consultant who specialises in laying off employees and he spends his life in the air traveling across the US from one corporate to another with only a cloak and scythe in his hand luggage.

He is a bit of a lone wolf; however, on one such trip, he falls for a fellow frequent flier, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, although it transpires (SPOILER ALERT) that Alex is actually a married mother and just when George is ready to change his life and settle down with her, the door is literally slammed in his face.

It is much deeper, and darker, than the normal romcom as it paints a rather bleak picture of Bingham’s life and there is no happy ending either with more questions than answers for Ryan; however, as a feminist, it is great to watch a film which puts the power in the hands of the woman for once.

The plot line of relevance to this rambling blog though is that Clooney is striving to become the youngest person to reach ten million air miles with American Airlines and receive lifetime platinum status, presumably as some sort of external validation of his rather sad life. He finally achieves this feat towards the end the film when he gets a tap on his shoulder from the pilot on one particular flight, not that it actually provides him with the satisfaction that he craves.

So why am I warbling on about this?

Well, I think I’ve got a nasty case of the Bingham’s.

Whereas Ryan Bingham spends his life on various American Airlines’ flights, I spend my life in Costa Coffee. As someone who is self-employed and ‘works from home’, I find that Costa has become my office of choice, largely because it doesn’t have the obvious distractions of Sky Sports and Netflix and it is a mere 500 yards from my house.

I’m a big fan of Costa, partly because I like the fact that it was established in the same year that I was, namely 1971, but, more importantly, the coffee’s good and I have to say that the one I frequent at the bottom end of St Leonard’s Road, Windsor, is without doubt the best coffee shop I’ve been in over the last 20 years.

Great coffee, extremely spacious, excellent service by an always friendly staff, managed admirably by Ava and supported brilliantly by Charlie, Aga and Romy, among others. They even gave me a free brownie on my birthday – what more could I ask for?

[If that positive review together with the headline doesn’t get me a damn retweet and a lifetime platinum card or its equivalent, I don’t know what will!]

However, I have become slightly obsessed, as is my wont, and in the same way that Ryan Bingham was waiting for that “Excuse me, Sir, may I have a word” when he finally reached ten million air miles, I’ve got my fingers crossed for that moment when I reach the 10,000 Costa Coffee points mark (no mean feat, I hate to think how much I’ve spent here over the last couple of years) and Mr Costa pops in to show his appreciation and hand over that rare beast, the Black Costa Coffee card. [Don’t tell me they don’t exist!]

To be clear, I’ve largely played by the rules and haven’t made bulk corporate purchases to boost my points tally. There was a rather generous bacon roll offer recently that got me thinking about clearing out the bacon rolls in every Costa in Berkshire each morning to aid my quest, like the Tesco’s banana loyalty scheme debacle in 1997, but I kept to just the one a day.

I reckon I’ll reach the grand landmark in about two months’ time, so that should give enough time to schedule something appropriate in Dominic Paul’s diary and get the local TV crew ready; just give me the nod and I’ll make sure I’m “working from home” that day.

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After all this time, it’s got to be better than the “Second Coming” surely!

As someone who went to University in the late 1980’s, I’ve always felt that people were largely split into two distinct groups. Those that thought The Stone Roses were the best indie band coming out of Manchester at that time and those who preferred Happy Mondays. Everyone was allowed to have any of James, The Inspiral Carpets or The Charlatans as their second favourite but they had to pick one of the big two as the one to back through hell or high water.

For some reason, I always thought that the Happy Mondays clan seemed a bit cooler; a bit more druggy; and a lot more successful with women, but perhaps this was more about my own insecurities at that age than anything else.

Anyway, as a natural Inbetweener, I was obviously a huge Stone Roses fan. In that slightly obsessive way that only an 18 year old boy can be as he goes on that journey from adolescence to, er, being slightly less adolescent. I had the eponymous debut album, all the CD singles, the “Made of Stone” and “I Wanna Be Adored” t-shirts and even the US version of the album which included “Elephant Stone” and “Fool’s Gold”.

Loved them….and I wasn’t the only one.

That album was in the charts for years and appears to have become even more popular over time, always being included in the “Greatest Albums Ever” lists much loved by Q (does that still exist?), NME and Channel 4.

Like many, I waited expectantly for the “difficult second album” only to be hugely disappointed when it finally turned up over five years later. The “Second Coming” got generally “mixed” reviews, which just means poor reviews, but why the hell did it take so long anyway?

Well, with the wisdom that comes with age, I now have a bit more sympathy for Ian Brown and the gang as I feel that with F fast approaching her third birthday, people are starting to tap their watches and wonder when we are going get off our arses and make a follow-up to our beautiful “27th best album of all time”.

I would love to say that I have spent the last couple of years just being too busy being an absolute rock legend, playing concerts to millions, getting high on drugs, having sex with hundreds of groupies and generally larking about with my mates but the reality is a lot more mundane.

Like The Stone Roses, perhaps it is the weight of expectation after producing such a delightful, cute, bundle of laughter that is causing issues but I doubt that. I guess the reality is that a mixture of tiredness, the busy nature of modern life, and the fact that my swimmers aren’t getting any faster is delaying matters.

Life isn’t always straightforward either; sometimes you can spend months in the recording studio laying down what you think is the perfect concept album and the producer from up high just thinks the idea stinks, tells you to throw it in the bin and you have to start all over again.

Sad…..but that’s the way it is.

As a family, I think we’ve reached that same realisation that Brown, Squire, Reni and Mani much have reached in early 1994 after five years on the piss. I doubt you’ll find this in the official band biog but I am led to believe  that Ian called the band to the studio in Manchester one snowy winter’s morning and came out with the now immortal battle cry:

“Right guys, from here on in, I’m going to wee on a stick around the middle of the month and you’re going to have to just get the job done when I tell you to regardless of whether you’re halfway through an episode of House of Cards or on an important work call, OK?”

Anyway, Mum, Dad, Gran, in-laws, friends, please stop clock-watching, we’re working on it – it’s not easy to just create musical genius like “Nevermind” on a rare, lone night away in the New Forest, you know!

 

 

 

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Shock exclusive: Google tech employee has sexist views

I had great intentions of getting back into this blog quite gently with some cheery updates on F in terms of age, height, weight, amount sleeping/eating, potty training progress and talk about a few of her escapades but I’ve got to get a rant off my chest first and take a look at this Google thing.

I’m slightly late to the party so won’t repeat the facts about James Damore and his internal memo about the biological differences between men and women but I have found some of the debate on the topic quite dispiriting.

Let me make a couple of clear points upfront so that I am not lynched by Maitlis on Newsnight when I am interviewed on the topic (assuming her useless agent has actually got of his arse and sorted out a proper contract for her like he should have done ages ago).

  1. I don’t think there are these sorts of biological differences between men and women from birth. I believe the main scientific study on the subject has been discredited and until I see proper evidence to the contrary, my starting point is that men and women are born equal;
  2. For the avoidance of doubt, I think equality is a good thing (I accept, Emily that you’ve probably got better things to do than trawl through the nonsense on this blog); and
  3. Although I’m not 100% convinced that someone should be fired for trying to open a debate on the topic, I think he went about it in the wrong way and the memo is indicative of an inherently sexist view and, accordingly, I think Google had to sack the guy, particularly once the Twitterstorm had started.

By the way, Google, let’s be clear, this was a sexist view and not a “conservative” one. There is talk at Google now about how one should allow “conservatives” to have a view. What on earth are you taking about? Would it be “conservative” to talk about the differences between those of different race or different sexuality?

Of course not. It is not a conservative view, it is just a sexist view and should be quashed.

OK, hope that’s clear.

What I do find a bit dispiriting though is that the the commentary is largely one-dimensional along the following lines:

– The tech community is sexist;

– There’s not enough women in tech or STEM professions generally;

– EVERYONE IN GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK SHOULD DIE!!

That sort of thing.

None of this surprises me and doubt it surprises many women in tech either. However, I am yet to read (and I’ve read at least five different articles – how much research do you expect??) a piece exploring why tech giants are filled with so many men that think this way in the first place.

I should note that there is at least one notable exception; I like Zoe Strimpel’s take in the Telegraph who provides more balance but she is more the exception than the rule.

The whole thing takes me back to my earlier piece in which I felt we needed to set up MILDEW for boys and young men as this problem is not going to go away by simply telling people and companies to “Be Better”. If anything, by quashing any sort of communication on the topic, it will have short-term negative consequences and act as a catalyst for an ‘alt-right’ tech community to prosper.

By the way, a slight aside, when did ‘alt-right’ become a thing. It always looks like a keyboard shortcut to me. I feel a bit sorry for ‘Alt-J’ as I feel they may get caught up in a protest at one of their concerts, like that unlucky pediatrician from Paulsgrove during the anti-paedophile riots!

Anyway, back to the matter in hand – I think we should be looking at the causes of the behaviour in the first place. In the same way that I don’t believe that boys and girls are different biologically at birth (other than the obvious), I don’t believe boys are born with an inherent love for computer games, old Heavy Metal band t-shirts, unkempt facial hair, the thought that BO is an attractive natural musk, or that a life as a tech geek in Google is the dream job. Accordingly, I do have a bit of sympathy for James Damore, not because I think there is merit in his 10 page sexist tome, although I accept it has been written quasi-professionally, but because he believes that it does have merit and he can’t see what he has done is wrong.

There are probably hundreds of James Damores in Google and the other tech giants around the globe right now, many of which agree with his views. I believe we should be doing more to ensure that we help boys and young men in the first twenty years of their life to stop them becoming like this. Hence MILDEW – can’t believe it hasn’t taken off yet, perhaps I should set up that website.

I would like society to be asking the following questions: why do young men become this way – why aren’t they more empathetic and socially aware? Why have they stopped wanting to become lawyers, doctors and vets and become tedious tech geeks instead? What is actually happening during childhood to cause these differences between adult men and women?

And then let’s do something about it.

Anyway, that’s all a bit serious and ranty; here’s that quick F update:

Age – Two and a half-ish (think we’ve moved past the “quote age in months” stage now right?)

Height – As tall as the sharp corner of our kitchen table

Weight – No idea but her cheeks are an equal for her Dad’s hamster-esque efforts so doing ok

Sleeping – Not bad but, rather annoyingly, she only needs ten hours so it’s a toss-up as a family – do we want an evening or a morning to ourselves? Netflix or lie-in, decisions, decisions?

Potty training – No interest but why would you when you can just crap in a nappy? I mean, if I had a choice….

General demeanour – All good – love her!

 

 

 

 

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The One Where D Carries On As If Nothing Has Happened

Sorry about that, I really needed a shit. Now where was I?

I know, I know, the blog just ended all rather abruptly and on such a high too with a winning Gold Cup tip. It’s actually slightly disappointing that there was no global outbreak of concern that I had taken my ‘Stan’ references to their logical conclusion but I guess the reality is that I pretty much explained myself to my one loyal reader, Mx36, so not sure who was going to start the man-hunt.

The truth is though that I found it hard to juggle writing about being a feminist dad as well as writing financial analysis on dodgy companies and crooked CEO’s, especially as proper work got busier. As the financial fraud-busting journalism actually pays me enough to cover my ridiculous monthly Costa Coffee bill and, as I’m yet to put up a paywall on here or even a Guardian-esque begging message, I thought I’d focus on the paid work and, you know how it is, once one stops it’s so hard to start again; it’s like going to the gym.

After an 18-month break though, I started to miss this old blog and re-reading it over the last week or so has made me smile and reminisce fondly. Also, it seems to me that the world of equality is still some way off and as my ramblings are read by, er, a handful of people, I feel like a have a moral duty to persevere and make change happen….or something.

More importantly though, F is growing up fast and without these written memories, it’s all going to become a blur very quickly. So I’m getting back on the treadmill and seeing how far I can run before my back gives out again. As a betting man, I doubt I’ll make the end of the year!

I guess I’ve got a couple of options now. I could just crack on as if nothing has happened and pick up with the equivalent of the Bobby Ewing shower scene in ‘Dallas’ at the end of the 1985-86 series despite the fact that he had been killed at the end of previous series with the plot line that the whole year had all been a dream. Those from the Midlands, and that is most of you, may prefer a ‘Crossroads’ reference here, where the whole bloody show was a dream – obvs!

Possible I guess but that will mean that you will miss out on my razor-sharp commentary on F and all things feminism-based that have taken place over the last year and a half and how would you cope? Accordingly, I think I will just crack on from here but intersperse the blogs with flash back specials a la ‘Lost’ or the whole of ‘How I Met Your Mother’.

I have to recognise that the world has changed somewhat though in the intervening period. Now that everything is binge watched on Netflix, I feel an obligation to load ten blogs at a time just to give people what they want and satisfy the millenial ‘I just want it now’ craving.

Let’s not get carried away here, that’s not going to happen but, if forced to provide the producers with my Season 1 plan, I think the flash backs and flash forwards (was anyone still watching ‘Lost’ at this point?) would cover the following:

‘The One Where The World Collapses in Disbelief When Finding Out That Alan Shearer is Worth Three Emily Maitlises’

‘The One Where The Industrious Miss Rabbit Finds Love”‘

‘The One Where Google Shoots Itself In The Foot Again’

‘The One Where Mr Costa Gave Me THAT Tap On The Shoulder’

‘The One Where F was Invited To The Wrong Party’

‘The One Where I Made Friends With The Future Leader of The Free World, Well The Lib Dems Anyway’

‘The One In Which The World Comes To The Shock Realisation That “Unicorns” and VCs are Run by Sexist Pigs”

‘The One Where Iggle Piggle Loses That Fucking Blanket Again!’

‘The One Where Andy Murray Showed The Old Cricket Boys How To Be A Feminist’

‘The One Where The Actual Leader of The Free World “Grabs Pussy”‘

‘The One With F Still Wearing Nappies At School”

‘The One Where Scumbag College Beat The Footlights’

It’s good to be back – see you again in 2019!

 

 

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Back The Don – you know it’s the right thing to do

I understand that the title of this blog is rarely seen in the UK at present but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and have decided to follow my head rather than my heart. 

I could go on with some really tenuous stuff to try to make you think that I really am a Trump supporter but I don’t have much time for reasons that will become apparent so I’ll bring the fun and games to an end and get to the point. 

I’m off to Cheltenham today for the Gold Cup and although Cue Card won me a few quid on Boxing Day, I can’t see it beating Don Cossack today. 

So to the loyal reader(s?) out there who get to read this before 3.30 today you know what you’ve got to do. 

Lots more to say as has been a great week for a number of reasons but will save that for the moment,  although it will probably be Sunday before I’m sufficiently recovered to write anything legible. 

Good luck!

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“We have become cheap, shit-heel butchers, selling hearts for meat”

Gary Larson

Had a great day with F on Thursday as she was in super-cute mood which was nice as sometimes I get to the end of a Thursday and I think she’s just looking  at me grumpily thinking: “Hmm, it’s more fun at nursery, Dad, bit of feedback for you – be better!”

The day was enhanced further by my lunch-time companion Lauren Laverne being joined by my hero and inspiration, Caitlin Moran, who was plugging her new book, Moranifesto, in which she pulls various recent columns into a unifying political thread and urges other ‘ordinary’ people to throw caution to the wind and come up with their own political treatise.

I felt empowered.

I thrust F into the buggy and headed off in search of the opus. Unfortunately the library’s copy doesn’t arrive for a few weeks and as I haven’t yet fully trained F in the art of “leaning over, picking up a massive hardback and hiding it under her blanket while Dad pretends to be interested in the romantic fiction section of Waterstones”, I had to fork out £17 for the bloody thing.

Not to worry as I’m a pretty careful reader and reckon I’ll be able to gift it on when I’ve read it as a belated Mother-in-law Day present. I’ll take off the discount sticker from the front and she’ll think I spent £20 on it too – bonus. [You’re not still reading this nonsense are you, J?]

So I speed-read it (should that be sped-read it? I think “sp-read it” sounds better, almost onomatopoeic, I’ll go with that).

It didn’t take long to sp-read it to be fair as I’ve read most of Caitlin’s columns before so was just flicking through trying to find the new bits. Took me back 30 years in a flash when, as a 14 year old boy, I sp-read James Herbert’s “The Rats” to get to the ‘good’ bits (pages 96 and 189 from memory).

So what do I think?

To be honest, it’s slightly dispiriting as an amateur / amateurish writer. I feel like a young 100m runner who’s just broken 11 seconds for the first time, watching Usain Bolt in training waltz past me without breaking a sweat. It all feels a bit unattainable.

Since I’ve started  writing a bit, I’ve viewed opinion and comment pieces through a slightly different lens, thinking to myself “Oh, I like what they’ve done there” and even occasionally, “I wouldn’t have done it like that.” Some give me hope that I’m not THAT bad.

Ms Moran on the other hand is like Beiber’s last album – all killer, no filler – laugh out loud funny, smart as you like, often emotional and always thought-provoking (I still have her ‘life-hoarders’ piece from about a month ago running round my head.)

[If that review doesn’t get me a retweet nothing will!]

Dispiriting but still inspiring. It’s only words on a page after all and my spelling’s pretty good! An infinite number of monkeys and all that.

So I listened to her call to arms and have developed my own political plan.

In keeping with the (inappropriate) thinking from my most recent blog, I have called it:

THE STANIFESTO

In the same way that Caitlin believes that capitalism needs an upgrade, I believe that the gender equality debate needs one too as the key messages haven’t really moved on since the days of Pankhurst other than it’s now a lot easier for loads more people to shout about, and get angry about, those same old messages on Twitter.

Step 1 – Engagement 

First, I reckon it’s going to be easier if everyone’s behind the cause rather than merely some of half of the population, and the occasional oddball like me.

We need to learn the lessons from the chuggers and purveyors of random products on high streets up and down the country and start the conversation by asking a question that one is likely to say yes to.

By way of example, these are questions I have been asked wandering through my local town centre this week:

“Sir, do you like cats?” “Er, no, more of a dog man actually ”

“Fancy coming in for coffee, Sir?” “I don’t like coffee, I’m afraid”

“Does your son dribble much?” “SHE’S A FUCKING GIRL, I JUST DRESS HER IN BLUE!”

“Excuse me, do you want to be happier?” “Um, I guess so, but I’m picking up my daughter from nursery.”

“Do you want  to be able to fly….fly I say, fly like a bird?” “WTF!? Sorry, would love to help but I have a train to catch.”

In my view, as I’ve wanged on about for a while now, I believe gender equality is key to improving society in many different ways but I feel that the “feminist” debate is stuck in a rut – standing still outside a train station rattling a bucket. They may get the odd male contribution (I signed up for #HeforShe for example) but it will be limited.

I fear that most men, and some women, upon hearing the increasing feminist noise from social media and the more mainstream press about how one “must engage, contribute, be better etc for the good of society and for women’s rights” no longer hear the words and, like the dog in the famous Gary Larson cartoon, actually just hear “Blah,blah, blah, blah, women’s rights, blah” and come out with the standard Pavlovian response of “Sorry, would love to help but I have a train to catch”.

Men need to be engaged and the Stanifesto reaches out to to male half of the population by asking the following questions:

“Do you want this country to have faster economic growth?”

“Do you want to spend more time with your family?”

“Do you want better sex?”

“Do you want to reduce the chances of you killing your wife or committing suicide?”

“Do you want to be able to fly….fly I say, fly like a bird?”

Then come with me, let’s have a chat, join my gang…..there’s free coffee too.

Step 2 – The plan

If it’s good enough for Moran, then  it’s good enough for me, so I’ve rummaged though my blogs to-date to pull together the key points of my Stanifesto – even added handy links in case you missed the full genius (sic) of the arguments first time around:

  • Make childcare cheaper, enhance paternity pay and please give the “Breast is Best” malarkey a rest (HERE)
  • Journalists – don’t ask a question of a woman that you would not ask of a man….or face being punched in the face (HERE)
  • Don’t call your mum a racist (HERE)
  • Sport stars, actors, musicians – don’t flirt outrageously with your interviewer, they are just doing their job and it makes them uncomfortable….unless it’s Steve Jones – he likes it (HERE)
  • Head teachers and others in positions of influence – stop telling girls that they can’t have it all (HERE)
  • Solobromance is not a euphemism for masturbation (HERE)
  • Clifford Chance – get a grip – the target for female partners in law firms should be 50% not 30% (HERE)
  • Guess Who is a great game but being female isn’t the same as having a beard! (HERE)
  • Perseverance is the key – keep hassling people to try to make a difference until you’re left with no option other than to drive off a bridge with your girlfriend tied up in the back of your car (HERE)

That should be enough to be getting on with.

There’s obviously  loads more to cover as I haven’t touched upon many of the darker recesses of the gender equality debate around domestic violence, rape, porn, FGM etc but I don’t want to scare off all the new guys immediately.

However, there’ll be plenty of that to come and if you can’t be bothered to read this week-in, week-out, them just wait a few months and I’ll pull it all together in a handy Stanthology.

Won’t cost you £17 either!

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Right, I’ve made a cassette and cleaned out the boot, what’s next?

With last week being the ‘Mum’s birthday / Mothering Sunday’ double, I couldn’t help but contemplate what a genius Adele is.

Obviously she is a pretty good singer, but she’s no mug either. She’s realised that she has sown up the answer to the two tough, existential questions that keep many a teenage boy awake at night:

“What shall I get my Mum for Christmas / Birthday / Mothering Sunday?”; and

“I’ve just got to second base with that girl down the park, what shall I get her for Valentine’s?”

Just look at the release dates of her three albums:

“19” – Jan 2008;

“21” – Jan 2011; and

“25” – Nov 2015

Adele realises that her core season is mid-December to early-March. Releasing an album in May might get her a few sales for the odd birthday but she could be trumped by a new Coldplay album nearer Christmas if she’s not careful.

Granted, she didn’t have the confidence with her first two albums to tackle Christmas head on and it was left to Leona Lewis and Take That to mop up those respective festive seasons, but she made no mistake with “25”.

I appreciate that she’s sold gazillions of records but she’s just Dido for this generation of acne-ridden boys.

Anyway, the brilliantly named Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong (surprised she changed her name!) has been on my mind a bit recently for other reasons too as the song that helped to launch her career has been running round my head in the context of me trying to do a bit of pro-bono work in the “feminist” sector.

I have now contacted four different individuals/organisations that operate in that space and offered my services for free.

Nothing in response. Nada. Zilch.

Now, I appreciate that my limited skills of romcom knowledge, dancing at weddings and the missing vowels round in Only Connect are not obviously massively helpful towards achieving the aim of UN Women’s critical mission of planet 50-50 by 2030, BUT I AM OFFERING THEM FOR FREE!

Accordingly, I’ve started to have some sympathy for the eponymous star of Eminem’s massive 2000 hit. I’m not giving up though and I’m going to send each of them another message to double-check whether I can be of any assistance; something along the following lines should do the trick.

“Dear X,

I wrote you but you still ain’t callin’

I left my cell, my pager and my home phone at the bottom

I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not’a got ’em

There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin’

Yours sincerely,

D”

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