The Current UK Cabinet: Part 3/3

You may also be interested in Parts One and Two.

The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP: Leader of the House of Commons, Lord President of the Council
Grayling has two jobs here, and they’re both internal governmental things that most of us never need to think about much: Lord President of the Privy Council means that he’s in charge of arranging a monthly meeting wherever the Queen happens to be and telling her what’s going on, and Leader of the House of Commons means that he’s one of Cameron’s three principal cat-herders (the others being, of course, the Speaker and the Whip). This means that he is massively important and influential if you happen to be an MP and largely irrelevant to most of the rest of us. Which is probably for the best, as he was so bad at his last job that a High Court Judge had to overrule his policies as unlawful not once, not twice, but three times, not counting all the times they got pissed off with him without ruling that he was actively trying to break the law. For what it’s worth, his own party don’t seem to like him all that much either.

The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP: Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Alright, so dear Lancaster, why the fuck should we care. It’s a tiny job, a one-day-a-week deal that gets a little pro-rata salary, and it’s usually given to someone who works in one of the ministerial departments but whom the PM would like to have a seat in the Cabinet anyway. I’m vaguely concerned about this in Letwin’s case, because his other job is looking after the Cabinet Office from an administrative and managerial perspective – a role that specifically doesn’t entitle you to be a member of said Cabinet. Letwin himself has the dubious honour of having been the man whose bright idea it was to use Scotland as a kind of guinea pig for the Poll Tax, and he appears to remain a devoted Thatcherite and austerity peddler to this day. Austerity does not begin at home, though: it seems that on the four days a week he’s not worrying about Lancaster he still works as a merchant banker. Additionally, he has really weird eyebrows.

Mark Harper: Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
Ahh, yes, the Chief Whip: the man whose job it is to make sure that everyone else in the House is toeing the party line as is good and proper. I can’t quite help but be endeared by the fact that he once broke his foot by falling off a table on which he had been dancing in a pub in Soho, but that doesn’t exactly put the lie to his long history of hypocrisy. So far he’s been an Immigration Minister who employed an illegal immigrant to clean his house and a Disability Minister whose office wasn’t even remotely accessible – with a bit of luck he’ll have the whole Conservative party voting to the left by Christmas.

The Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP: Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General
Hancock is likely to find the second half of his job becoming less and less onerous as time passes, because looking after the bank accounts of centralised services is lot easier when all the centralised services have been sold off. Hancock is a proper Tory’s Tory: he did PPE at Oxford and then Economics at Cambridge, he lives in Suffolk, and his hobbies include cricket, horseracing and writing books about how capitalism turns him on. His voting record backs all this up: the man in charge of most of the public money wants to increase the taxes that disproportionately affect the poor and leave those that would hit the rich instead untouched. He’s also predictably harsh about the welfare state, toeing the party line that benefits should be crushed and pensions should be ringfenced. The role of the Paymaster General is not as influential as those held by Osborne or IDS, but rest assured his voice will be heard.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC: Attorney General
Wright was first appointed to the post of Attorney General last summer, and back then it was a bit of a surprise. Prior to his promotion, he’d just sort of pootled around the House doing a bit of this and a bit of that. He got a bit caught up in the so-called Expenses Scandal, which is a shame because it’s mostly his job to rule on that sort of thing, but there were no duck ponds involved and I’ve never been able to find it in myself to get too exercised about that anyway. Presumably he’s spent most of his time over the past couple of years trying to keep Chris Grayling from pissing off any more High Court judges.

Priti Patel MP: Minister of State for Employment
The only woman of colour in the current Cabinet is the daughter of two Ugandan-Asian refugees, and I really really want to like her. She doesn’t make it easy, though: she’s a major spearheader of the idea that destroying the benefits system and tidying people away into zero-hours contracts is the same thing as fixing the unemployment rate, and she seems to be a supporter of the death penalty.

The Rt Hon Greg Hands: Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Ostensibly, Hands is here to play Bursar – but the truth seems to be that Cameron wants him on-side for dealing with the EU referendum. He apparently speaks German, French, Slovak and Czech, as well as having “working knowledge of three other Slavonic languages”, and he has close ties with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. His website makes it clear that he will be “backing the Prime Minister’s commitment to change the basis of Britain’s EU membership”. Presumably he’ll do something with some money or whatever as well? I dunno. I expect so.

The Rt Hon Baroness Anelay of St Johns DBE: Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
The F&C Office is the one in charge of Migration, and on the surface of it she seems like one of the good guys: she’s a staunch advocate for religious freedoms, and she seems to have some alright things to say about the UN Human Rights Council. She has a rather patchy and inconsistent voting record, though; the left will be pleased to note that she comes down “moderately against a stricter asylum system” and “very strongly against introducing ID cards”, but sadly she is also “very strongly against equal gay rights”. Does she give a shit about GBLT asylum seekers fleeing persecution in the countries they were born in? Why on earth does Cameron, who seems himself to be pretty much on the side of light about this, think it is acceptable to flood his cabinet with so many bloody homophobes?

Robert Halfon: Minister without Portfolio
We’re nearly at the end here, and you might have noticed that I haven’t listed a Minister for Disabilities – because there isn’t one. Halfon, though, is our current Minister Without Portfolio (“Do take a vote, old chap! What’s that you say? You expected an important job to do? Never mind, never mind…”) and is also the only serving Cabinet member who has a disability himself. You’d be forgiven for thinking that he might therefore stick up for the rights of the disabled in a parliament that seems to want to forget that those people exist – but sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. He has voted “very strongly against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability”, and in general his voting record is pretty contemptible – he’s definitely to the right of the party line. This is kind of weird, because it’s not at all what he sounds like – he’s been quoted as saying this: “In many ways Ukip have done us an enormous favour because they’re cleansing people from the Tory party that had these kinds of views, which is great because I don’t want people who have those kinds of views in my party. So good luck to them, really.” Such a sentiment is all well and good, but I’m pretty sure you couldn’t get a fag paper between his politics and most of theirs anyway. The one saving grace is that he does seem to back an increase in the minimum wage, which he might get a chance to make some noise about now that he’s comfortably installed within the Cabinet.

Anna Soubry MP: Minister of State for Business and Enterprise
Soubry is probably most famous for that one time she might have called Ed Milliband a ‘sanctimonious cunt’ and that other time she most certainly did say that Nigel Farage “looks like somebody put their finger up his bottom”. Interestingly, however, she seems to be somewhat to the left of her party: she’s excellent on GBLT issues and decent on equality and human rights in general, and she’s not at all a frothing right-winger about migration or the EU. She’s shit about benefits, of course, but find me a Tory who isn’t?

So there we have it, folks: thirty cabinet members, thirty Tories, thirty voices unanimous on the subject of crushing the welfare state and selling off huge chunks of the NHS. There’s also a distinctly concerning anti-GBLT sentiment amongst these politicians, presumably as part of Cameron’s desire to sew together the split he made in his party by not being completely evil on the subject. It’s not quite all bad – I have some hope for Amber Rudd and Anna Soubry, and I remain fond of Baroness Stowell – but I’m not going to tell you it’s particularly optimistic either.

This post contains public sector information, including images, that is licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.


The Current UK Cabinet: Part 2/3

You might also like to look at Part One.

The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP: Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Clark actually wasn’t a bad choice for this job: he’s been a member of the ministry looking after cities for a while now, and he’s certainly a great deal milder and less objectionable than his predecessor Eric Pickles. The Tories as a whole have some pretty terrible policies about housing and local communities (mostly thanks to their peculiar conviction that the way to deal with poor people not having enough places to live is to sell all their houses to the ‘aspirational’ middle classes, or something), but Clark himself…he’s a Tory and he clearly votes in a Tory way, but I have no particular reason to hate him yet. I suppose I shall just have to wait and see which bits of the family silver he decides to sell off, as part of his bag is ‘localised decentralisation’.

The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP: Secretary of State for Education, Minister for Women and Equalities
The best thing I can say about Nicky Morgan is that she isn’t Esther McVey, who was touted for the position but thankfully lost her seat before she could get it. Morgan’s oft-cited homophobia is a serious problem: she is effectively now Minister for Straight Women, and I’m not sure how much use there is for one of those. Just as worrying is her determination to tighten restrictions on access to abortion – precisely the sort of thing we have a Minister for Women to prevent. Thank heavens for small mercies, though: this is the first time since Cameron has been PM that he’s bothered to have a dedicated Minister for Women at all, having previously just lumped it in with something else. Once he gave it to the Home Secretary. I mean, this girly stuff can’t possibly need much time or attention, right?

The Rt Hon Justine Greening: Secretary of State for International Development
International Development deals not only with foreign aid but also with a variety of other international concerns, and is one of those weird Ministries that nobody entirely understands. Amongst the people who don’t appear to entirely understand it is Justine Greening, who once “reportedly told the prime minister she had not come into government to distribute money to poor people”. She’s a former accountant, and seems to quite enjoy being compared to Thatcher – neither of which are traits likely to endear me to her. The real problem, though, is that she is effectively a colonialist: she’s heavily invested in the privitisation of aid in all manner of scary ways, and her whole approach smacks of white saviorism.

Amber Rudd MP: Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Given our anti-abortion Women’s Minister and our pro-capital-punishment Justice Minister, I was half expecting this one to turn out to be a climate change denialist or something. Thankfully, though, we’re not quite in America just yet. Rudd’s not bad, actually, as Tories go – she’s said some pretty dreadful things about benefits claimants, but she at least has some sensible opinions on sex education in schools. Honestly, I think she’d be a good choice for Women’s Minister herself in an all-Conservative cabinet – but she does at least appear to be highly qualified for the job she’s got, which is more than I can say about several of the ministers here. Both The Guardian and the Solar Trade Association seem to think so, anyway, and I’m prepared to take their word for it.

The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP: Secretary of State for Transport
McLoughlin is now the boss of the Ministry he worked in for Thatcher’s government, which makes him one of the clearest indicators of Cameron’s belowdecks Thatcherism. He’s not a new appointment – he’s been in this job since 2012 – and he took over from Greening (who you may remember from such shitshows as “our current Minister for International Development). It’s been widely speculated that he was given the role because Greening is vehemently opposed to the new runway at Heathrow, which McLoughlin is not. Honestly, though, transport is not one of the things I’m particularly worried about the Tories buggering up: that blow was dealt back in 1993 (the year after McLoughlin left the Ministry, though I don’t suppose that means anything) by the previous Conservative majority government, with the privatisation of the railways. The H2S thing is a bit of a clusterfuck, but in general the Tories are being relatively unobjectionable about transport infrastructure.

The Rt Hon David Mundell: Secretary of State for Scotland
Oh, here we go. Mundell bravely battled his way to the top of a shortlist of one to be made Scottish Minister, but you’d be mistaken to think that’s as a result of the SNP: he’s actually been the only Tory MP in Scotland since 2005. So far as I can tell, he’s hung on to his job mostly by not being a very good Tory: he’s emphatically not a Thatcherite, having defected from the Conservative party to join the SDP for most of the eighties and nineties as a direct result of his opposition to her, and he served as MSP in Edinburgh for a bloody long time before shunting over to Westminster instead. He criticises the Tories frequently, and his occasional flashes of soft leftiness have earned him the nickname ‘Fluffy’ amongst his colleagues. The biggest problem I have with him is his apparent conviction that Scotland should join England in scrapping the Bill of Human Rights – which, what the fuck, frankly. Mundell is as Scottish as they come, though, which is apparently saying something given several other appointments on this list.

The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
I should make a confession about these next two: I know bugger all about Ireland or Wales. I’ve lived in Scotland and I visit friends and family there frequently, but the rest of the Union has far fewer links for me. Northern Ireland is, of course, a special case – there’s still a feeling of touchpaper about it, and I imagine that many of the politicians who work there have very difficult jobs to do that the rest of Parliament cannot truly understand. My main problem with Villiers, then, is that she isn’t even remotely Irish: she’s never lived in Irelend, she’s never worked in government for Ireland before, and she is in fact a solidly blue-blooded member of the English aristocracy whose constituency is in one of the most suburban-London-fringe places imaginable. I do not have the slightest clue what qualifies her for this job. Alright, so there isn’t a single Tory MP anywhere in Ireland, as it happens – but even George Osborne has better Irish roots than Villiers, for god’s sake.

The Rt Hon Stephen Crabb: Secretary of State for Wales
Crabb is a Welsh MP who grew up in Wales, which is a start, but it’s not really backed up by the fact that he apparently “doesn’t appear to believe in devolution at all and thinks his new job is empty and meaningless”. There are plenty of ways that working-class Wales can identify with him, but it seems he’s all mouth and no trousers when it comes to actually changing the things he clearly got into politics to fight. There’s a bit on his campaign website that says “Click here to tell Stephen your voting for him” and that made me wince, but maybe all the best proofreaders are on the left or something.

John Whittingdale: Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
The big news about his guy is that he’s a homophobe, which obviously doesn’t matter because there are no GBLT people in media and the arts, right? I can’t put it better than Ashley Cowburn did in the The Independent yesterday: “But what’s much harder to deal with is when brutal homophobia isn’t just at the bottom of society, but also at the top. Having a straight male in control of the UK’s Culture Department, who once expressed that same-sex marriage would bring “distress for many”, is hardly filling me with confidence that the Tories are willing to undertake the hefty task of tackling homophobia in all other areas.” As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got it in for the BBC – another great British institution near and dear to my heart – and, in a fantastic display of Thatcherite insensitivity, has been widely quoted as saying that the licence fee is “worse than the poll tax”. With this “free market” capitalist at the helm, it’s not looking good for Aunty Beeb.

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss: Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Truss is an advocate of the repeal of the fox hunting ban, because of course she is: so is David Cameron, so he was hardly going to give Rural Affairs to someone who didn’t agree with him. I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn that she’d also like to murderise the badgers, promising that “we will not let up, whatever complaints we get from protesters groups. We are in it for the long haul and we will not walk away”. At least she’s not a climate change denialist, I suppose – the bloke she took the role over from was.

This post contains public sector information, including images, that is licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The Current UK Cabinet: Part 1/3

I should maybe subtitle this “in which I spend an entire evening obsessing about how scary our current cabinet ministers are so that you don’t have to”. There are thirty of the buggers, so you’re getting ten per post. Enjoy?

The Rt Hon David Cameron MP: Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service
I am increasingly concerned that our esteemed Prime Minister is in fact turning into a Marvel supervillain. You’ve all seen that image of a recent quote of his Photoshopped into a couple of frames of Dr. Doom, right? I saw it before I read about Cameron’s remarks, and my initial assumption was that it was a real Dr. Doom comic that someone was comparing to Cameron’s remarks as a sort of entertaining allegory. Sadly, I was wrong. I fear that Call-Me-Dave’s transformation will soon be complete. Just look at this glare+fists combo.

The Rt Hon George Osborne: First Secretary of State, Chancellor of the Exchequer
I’m not sure how much I need to say about Osborne, either; this is a familiar face and his is a familiar evil. His politics are responsible for so many illnesses, mental health crises and suicide attempts that even the Daily Mail admits it. Cameron has left him in charge of the money, which strikes fear into my heart, and let him have William Hague’s shiny honorary title to boot.

The Rt Hon Baroness Stowell of Beeston MBE: Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Privy Seal
Privy Seal is an honorary position these days; it’s pretty much the same kind of deal as a Minister Without Portfolio, which basically means “we’re not putting you in charge of anything but you can still have a special Cabinetty vote”. She’s…alright, actually. I mean, maybe there’s just something I don’t know, but I really quite like her; she was a proper northern working class girl who joined the Civil Service in a general making-the-tea sort of capacity and rose up right from the bottom to be literally the leader of the House of Lords. She’s never been married or linked to any kind of relationship, and quite often says things I’d call “feminist”. She’s also a huge supporter of GBLT rights, and was *highly* influential in successfully getting the equal marriage bill through the Lords. If I was ever going to fangirl a Tory peer, it would be her. I have no idea why she is a Tory at all, really. I expect she currently feels a bit like her entire party have suddenly turned as one to face her while hissing “WE HAVE ALL LAID ASIDE DISGUISE BUT YOU”.

The Rt Hon Theresa May: Secretary of State for the Home Department
Fuck Theresa May. Her entire job as Home Secretary seems set to be devoted to metaphorically waving around brushes loaded with bright red paint while screaming GO HOME at random passers-by. Her immediate reaction to finally shaking off those pesky Liberals was to immediately revive the massively unpopular Snooper’s Charter they squashed. I’m also a bit worried that she’s currently trying to sneak in the introduction of thoughtcrime through the back door created by Islamophobia. This woman is an old-fashioned Nasty Party-style Tory of the highest order, and I can barely even summon enough of a sense of sisterhood towards her to be pleased that she’s boosting the number of women in this Cabinet.

The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Blah blah Foreign Secretary blah blah “the promotion of British interests abroad” blah: basically, this is the dude who is in charge of all the spies. That’s what’s cool about this job, right? I wish it was all he did, actually, because he’s a determined Eurosceptic whose job it is to look after our relations with Europe, and that does not ring hopeful to me. To make matters worse, he has a massively homophobic voting record – he voted against equal marriage, against adoption by same-sex couples and against equal age of consent. He was in the news a while back for saying that he was “disappointed” the Conservative party were discussing equal marriage, because it is “too controversial” and would be “damaging” to the party’s values. The Shadow Foreign Secretary put it best in the Pink News last summer, but the last paragraph of that article makes me so sad: there she was hoping this man would uphold basic human rights, and little did any of us know he’d be part of a shock movement to scrap them.

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP: Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Having noted that Gove has done everything in his power to fuck up our schools, Cameron has clearly now decided he should be set to the task of fucking up our courts and prisons instead. He was honestly probably the worst Education Secretary this country has ever had: he was eventually given a vote of no confidence by every single teachers’ union, something that is I believe utterly unprecedented. Interestingly, he seems to have been a real human being once – I have no idea what changed. My assumption is that he plans to bring the sense of corporatisation, red tape, bullying and fear with which he flooded the nation’s schools into the penal system, though this has yet to be proven. Here’s a fun fact, though: he is genuinely in favour of the death penalty, which is a remarkable extreme even for a Tory. Yes, folks, you read that right. The minister in charge of the justice system is pro-capital-punishment. Well done, everybody.

The Rt Hon Michael Fallon: Secretary of State for Defence
Interestingly, Cameron has picked someone for Defence Secretary who has a strong history of being all for the European integration of the UK – which could give those of us who would like to remain within the EU a faint glimmer of hope. He has, however, never made a single vote that would be of help to a poor person, seems to be alarmingly pro-our-soldiers-hitting-stuff and is generally kind of a dick. So, you know, there’s that.

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP: Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade
This guy is the local MP for a friend of mine who is generally a bit left of centre, and this mate told me he was one of the good guys. I was all set to have some time for him, then, only for him to completely fuck the unions over within three minutes of being given his job. I feel somehow betrayed. I suspect that we’re reaching the point where unions are going to need to start instigating mass illegal strike action just to remind the bastards that the balance of power is not as squarely with them as they seem to think it is.

The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Oh, Iain: I doubt that I would piss on you if you were on fire, and I’m usually the sort of person who tries to be vaguely nice to almost everybody. I’m not convinced it would be all that hyperbolic to call IDS a murderer. Cameron has seen fit to let this particularly nasty piece of work continue his reign of terror over the DWP, for some reason that nobody can work out. It’s not just that his policies are evil, it’s worse than that – they’re also incompetent. Universal Credit is a fucking shambles and it’s apparently now looking like it was rolled out so cack-handedly that they might not be able to implement it properly after all – thank heavens for small mercies, I suppose. I’m still baffled and appalled by his vile assertion that another £12bn can somehow be cut from the welfare system – not even the Financial Times understands where he’s going to find all of it. Both The Mirror and The Independent have put together terrifying run-downs of why there is such a lot to loathe about this man, and I suggest you read them if you fancy a good scare. Not even his own party’s supporters like him.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP: Secretary of State for Health
Take a good look at that photo, people, because you might very well be staring at the face of the man who is going to systematically undermine and destroy this country’s single greatest asset. As far as I can tell, Jeremy Hunt basically hates the NHS or something? This is a subject particularly near and dear to my heart because I adore our NHS: I have often said that I am “actually very patriotic, in my way” and the National Health Service is the first thing I’ll mention if you press me to talk about that more. Hunt is particularly bad when it comes to mental health, which he seems to mostly think isn’t a real thing. That’s not even the scariest thing about him, though: he seems to want to reduce the abortion time limit to twelve weeks, a point at which many women don’t yet even know they’re pregnant. His are not a safe pair of hands in which to leave something as precious as our healthcare provisions.

This post contains public sector information, including images, that is licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

In which I am not a very good mythological being

Today, I had a small timing accident at Surrey Quays overground station. It’s happened to everyone who lives in London: the person in front of you has some kind of problem with their ticket but you don’t notice in time to fall out of rhythm, so you swipe your Oyster card anyway and then they go through on it, thinking the problem is solved, and you’re stuck on the other side unable to get out. Resigned to a dull conversation, I went to explain my predicament to the nearest guard.

“I can let you through”, he says, “but first you have to answer three questions. You answer my questions, I let you through. Okay?”

Oh god, I think, I’ve found a jobsworth. I sigh internally and prepare myself to justify my entire journey to him so he knows I’m not trying to jump.

“First question: why are you so beautiful?”

My heart sinks even further. Not this again, for fuck’s sake. I muster a smile and shine it at him brightly. “Thank you”, I reply. “That’s very sweet.”

“No, no! Don’t just say ‘thank you’. Answer my question: why are you so beautiful?”

“Um. Good genes, I guess.” I wonder if I should be telling him how inappropriate this is, but the truth is I just want to get through the barrier and go home. My bag is uncomfortably heavy and my boots are hurting my feet. He would, technically, be well within his rights to make a fuss: check the CCTV, go through my Oyster card history, blame me for not paying enough attention at the barriers.

He laughs. “So you get good genes and I get bad ones, is that what you mean?”

“No! Aha. Oh. No. Um.” My heart is hammering a little because I feel trapped, obliged, and I don’t like it. The balance of power here is not in my favour, and not just because he’s clearly stronger than I am.

“And your eyebrows. I love your eyebrows. Do you shave them off?”

They always talk about my eyebrows, for some reason. I nod. “Yes. Yeah, I draw them on.”

He grins broadly at me and leans in closer. Our faces are far nearer to each other than I want them to be, now. “Next question: how many boyfriends have you had? I am sure you must have had…a thousand.”
Somewhat against my better judgement I seem to be playing his game, so I answer without thinking: “Oh, five or six.” This is bullshit, of course – the true answer to that question is a hell of a lot more complicated, but I don’t fancy getting into a debate about the definitions of a relationship with this man. Nor do I fancy coming out and having to explain that some of them were girlfriends instead.

“You are lying! A woman as beautiful as you, she must have had a hundred boyfriends. So then, my last question.”

I briefly contemplate pointing out that he’s had three already, but come to the conclusion that it would probably just prolong the experience even further. I’m feeling deeply uncomfortable at this point. But I nod anyway, and wait for him to continue.

“How many boyfriends do you have right now?”

I laugh, a little nervously. “Just the one”, I say.

“How long have you been with him?”

Are follow-up questions fair game? This man has clearly not read very much mythology. I kind of wish I was a dragon or a sphinx or something so that I could actually do something useful about this. All I say, though, is the truth: “A year. It was our first anniversary yesterday.”

He shakes his head. “I want to kill him so I can be with you”, he says. He’s smiling to show that it’s a joke. The only think that surprises me about this ‘joke’ is that it is by no means the first time someone has made it to me.

“On balance, I’d rather you didn’t”, I say. “I’m rather fond of him.”

“I could buy you so many more beautiful dresses, so much more jewellery than he does! I would treat you so well.”

Unconsciously I find myself checking my ears for earrings: the ones he gave me for our anniversary yesterday, the ones he gave me for my birthday last summer, the ones he gave me for Valentine’s Day this year. I adore all three pairs, and am forever obsessively checking to make sure they’re secure and aren’t going to fall out. I consider making some kind of slightly underhanded joke about how I’m quite sure that TfL doesn’t pay him more than my boyfriend earns, but it’s both irrelevant and bitchy so I refrain. “I’m very happy where I am, actually”, is what I say out loud, “and I’d quite like to go home.”

He leans in again, thwarting my attempt to take a step or two toward the barrier. “Can I come with you?”

I twitch a little. He’s actually getting slightly sinister now. “I’m sure that’s at least six questions”, I blurt out. “You said three, remember?”

There’s a horrible pause where I try not to think about all the things he might be about to do, and then he laughs loudly in my face. “Funny and beautiful!”, he says, and finally swipes the nearest barrier to let me through.
I stammer out a thanks and try to leave the station as quickly as possible. “I will see you again soon!”, he calls after me, and unfortunately he’s right – we’re at the station I use the most often.

This broad category of thing happens to me at least once a week, but it only gets this bizarre on about an annual basis. Sadly, today I didn’t manage to acquit myself quite as well as I feel like I did with the creepy Tesco employee back in 2010, but you can’t win them all.

They’re slightly radioactive, you know.

This was a LiveJournal post that I made all the way back in 2010. But I wanted to link to it from a post I’m about to make to this blog – and really, who uses LJ these days? – so here it is, for your edification &c. I promise you that my father doesn’t pay my bills any more [grin]

“Excuse me, ma’am”, says a cheery voice in a navy blue uniform, “but do you have a Tesco Clubcard?”

“Yes,” I reply, trying not to break my stride. “I do.” I’m distinctly relieved that for once they’re touting something I can truthfully say I already use.

“Do you use Clubcard Vouchers to pay your gas and electric bills?”

Reluctantly, I give in and stop walking. “I don’t, no.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t pay the gas and electric.” This is also true, but I know as soon as I say it that I should have gone with ‘I don’t spend enough in Tesco to cover them’ instead. Which is no less true, and would have ended the conversation faster.

“Who does?”, he asks. “Your husband?”

“My father”, I tell him. This too is a mistake. I’ve shared a personal detail. There’s no going back now: we’re in this for the long haul.

“Lucky you!”

“Yes”, I agree, hurriedly. I fear I am in for a jovial ‘youth of today’ rant. “I’m a student.” This detail usually ameliorates some of the embarrassment of the previous revelation. Everybody knows students are broke.

“Oh! What are you studying?”

“English Literature and Creative Writing”, I reply. I know what’s coming next.

“Are you a writer, then?”

“Well – I write, yes.”



“How many have you got published?”

“Er. None. Yet.”

“Oh. You’re not very good, then?”

I stammer something nonsensical with a lot of ‘um, er, ah’-ing.

“I’m only joking with you!”, he laughs. “What sort of novels?”

“Fantasy, mostly.”

He looks shocked. “What, like” – and here his voice drops to a whisper. “Dirty books?”

“No, no”, I smile. “Magic. Time travel. That sort of thing.”

“Oh!” He looks a little disappointed. “Like Harry Potter?”

“Er. Um. A little bit like that, I suppose. But for grown-ups.” I avoid the word ‘adult’. That way madness lies.

“You look a bit Harry Potterish.”

I smile again, feigning ignorance of his point.

“I knew a gothic once. He had a coffin instead of a bed. I thought, that’s a bit weird, innit? Isn’t that a bit weird?”

“I have a normal bed”, I assure him, and instantly wish I hadn’t.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes”, I reply, with ringing certainty. It’s the first out-and-out lie I’ve told him, but I refuse to break the golden rule of women conversing with strange men. When that question comes – which it inevitably does – always, always say ‘yes’.

“Alright, alright!” He throws his hands up in mock surrender. “I weren’t offering.” There is an awkward pause.

“I really must be going,” I say. “I need to find the baked beans.”

“Black ones?”, he asks, grinning broadly. I don’t get it for a second. “Is everything you eat black?”

My basket is full of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables. “Um. No, I just eat…you know. Normal food.”

“Why do you draw your eyebrows on like that?”

“I like the way it looks.”

“Why not just pluck them really thin?”

“Er. Um. I like them like this.”

“Do you need help finding the baked beans?”

“Oh, er, no, thank you. I know where they are. Thank you.”

And then comes Inevitable Question #2: “What’s all them scars on your arms?”

I look down with an expression of surprise, as though I’d forgotten they were there. Which I do, most of the time. “Oh, those”, I say. “It’s a very long story, and it involves a porcupine and a banana.” He looks at me as though I’ve gone utterly barmy. “Trust me”, I continue in darkly confidential tones. “Porcupines really don’t like bananas. They’re slightly radioactive, you know. The bananas, not the porcupines. Not unless they’ve been eating bananas. And then…” I gesture to my forearms with my eyebrows raised ruefully.

In the ensuing confusion I smile apologetically and take my leave, to spend the rest of my time in the supermarket carefully taking circuitous routes through aisles so as to stay out of his line of sight.

In which I attempt to explain what is is like having grown up in a recession.

The friendly middle-aged woman who runs the Student Support Centre – which used to be a music room, and has ceilings held in place by stacks of boxes you must remember not to touch – rolls her eyes at me in kindly exasperation. “You’re lucky to be growing up now”, she chides me gently in an Essex accent. “When I was your age, I may as well not have bothered going to school. Why would a girl like me want to go to university for? I only got a job at all after my husband left me. You, you can be anything you want. They say your generation is going to be the richest and best-educated ever.”

I nod uncertainly, and thank the Lord God I didn’t have to be a teenager or young adult with Margaret Thatcher in charge. The past is a foreign country, after all.

I was eighteen in 2007. I’d dropped out of sixth form because my mental health was in tatters and I wasn’t going to university because I didn’t have any A-Levels. When the economy collapsed, I had nothing: no experience, no qualifications, no way of proving my worth over the millions of other people born in the late eighties and early nineties who had to somehow carve out a life in this brave new world of cuts and austerity measures.

Someone with a million pounds of assets and a million pounds of credit card debt once leaned toward me across her glass-topped kitchen table and whispered in scandalised tones: “Do you know, most people are two months away from destitution?”

I was shocked. Two months? Who the hell has that kind of money put away? Most of the people I know would be lucky to keep their home and their lifestyle if they didn’t get paid for a week or two, let alone two entire bloody months.

I know a couple of trust fund kids. Not related to each other – two entirely different people from two entirely different families. Neither of them work, but they both volunteer while living off trust fund payments in flats bought for them by their families. “I have a lot of respect for that”, I said to my best mate the other day. “They’re doing something good and worthwhile for the world. We need more volunteers.”

She wrinkled up her nose. “It’s laudable to try to make your own way, though”, she said.
I was a little surprised. “It’s better that they volunteer – we need volunteers desperately, charities can’t run without them – than that they selfishly take a paying job from someone who can’t afford to go without one, surely?”

That hadn’t even occurred to her. The other point of view hadn’t really occurred to me. My best friend is ten years older than I am.

I have five jobs. I work ten or eleven hour days. They’re jobs that I have chosen, jobs that I wanted, jobs that I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for my skills and my talent and my determination – and, most importantly of all, my friends. I got three of them directly because someone I know recommended me to the employer and did most of the hard graft of securing the position for me, and the other two because I was pointed in the right direction first by one of those same people.

My income totals less than the lowest tax bracket. I’m just about still eligible for the lowest rate of housing benefit, I think, but it’s such a soul-destroying nightmare that I’m trying to get by without it. They cut me off, anyway, because it’s so incredibly difficult to sufficiently prove my often-casual and frequently-fluctuating income. I live off Tesco Value food and the generosity of my friends, and round about the 2nd of every month I cry myself to sleep at night trying to figure out how to pay the rent. I always manage to scrape it together in the end, often with help from my family.

I’ve never in my life applied for a job in a supermarket, and when I was on the dole – a period of more than six months – I mostly did the minimum required to not have my payments suspended. My mental health was a mess. Nobody seemed to want to give me a job interview.

Am I a Striver yet, Iain Duncan Smith?

Some friends of mine are planning to see the musical version of Matilda at the theatre. I’m able to go, because my wonderful boyfriend – also ten years older than me and possessing of an Actual Career – has very kindly paid for my ticket. It starts with Tim Minchin’s rather cutting description of being born to a middle-class family in the so-called “noughties”:

One can hardly move for beauty and brilliance these days.
It seems that there are millions of these one-in-a-millions these days.
Special-ness seems de rigueur.
Above average is average – go figure.
Is it is some modern miracle of calculus,
That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?

Later in the play, Miss Honey swings in dim lighting and echoes the hopeful refrain of her young students.

And when I grow up, when I grow up
I will be brave enough to fight the creatures
that you have to fight beneath the bed
each night to be a grown-up…

I cry and cry and cry.

They say this will all be over by the year 2016. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. After just another three short years, we’ll all be free. I’ll be twenty-seven when that happens. Someone pushing thirty with a solid work history behind them is a much better bet than a teenager with no experience or qualifications – but an 18 year old with a clean slate and a bright future is far more appealing than a 27 year old whose CV is riddled with blank spaces and poorly-fudged gaps.

I wish David Cameron would tell me what I’m going to be when I grow up.

In which I fret that my heroes think I’m a useless layabout

I absolutely adore Jack Monroe. She’s one of my personal heroes, and her recipes have saved me a great deal of stress, time and money during a period of my life when all of those resources were severely taxed. Sometimes, though, even our heroes get it wrong – and I honestly think that her latest post is an example of just that. I’ve worried in the past – thankfully without actual evidence – that Jack is perhaps not entirely on the side of light when it comes to weight, fat and obesity, and was saddened when this post turned out to prove it.

“Don’t blame poverty for your child’s obesity”, she says, explaining that “your kids aren’t fat because you’re poor. I could make your kids thinner and you financially better off, but you have to be willing to make the effort to learn.”

First of all, of course, there’s barely any chance at all that she really could “make your kids thinner” – because nobody knows how to make a fat person thin. But we’ll gloss over that for now; it’s a bigger topic than such a brief comment really warrants. What’s really bothersome here is the ‘fat shaming’ – the quiet undertone of ‘being fat is a Terrible Bad Thing and you should be Ashamed Of Yourselves’ that this post is full of.

It’s all so simple – and maybe if, as a nation, we stopped buying the plastic boxes that you stab and put in the microwave, maybe if we made a commitment to feeding our children good, nutritious food instead of the inedible equivalent of factory floor sweepings, then maybe we wouldn’t have a nation of obese children.

Would that it were so simple, Jack. Sadly, there’s no way that it is – no way that it can be. And in precisely what way are we helping those ‘obese children’ (of whom I was one, incidentally – and a very severely bullied one at that) by sending them the message that they ought not to exist?

It’s not just fat people who Jack seems to think need to be shamed into repentance, either. There’s also the way that she doesn’t seem to understand how some of our society’s strictures affect the likelihood of her suggestions being carried out – many people have never been taught how to cook, for example, and it may not even have occurred to them that they could in all seriousness learn. Poverty is strongly associated with the kinds of physical and mental health problems that can make it nigh on impossible to spend time shopping for and cooking the kind of food Jack makes so well, but she doesn’t seem willing to accept that that might be the case. In London, pretty much everyone has a large supermarket within easy reach of their home – but in other parts of the country it might not be possible to get to one without paying for public transport or petrol. The icing on the cheap-yet-fattening cake is that those who are ‘cash poor’ are very likely to also be ‘time poor’ – meaning that after a long day of hard work for little pay they simply don’t have the energy to then cook a ‘proper’ meal.

I said at the start of this post that I absolutely adore Jack, and I do. I’ll be eating a modified version of her ridiculously delicious Best Ever Chilli for dinner later tonight (oh my god you guys it is SO GOOD) while watching a film on the £4.99-per-month Netflix subscription that I can only afford because of all the money that she’s saved me. I just wish I could shake this sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t approve of me, or my body, or the days when my brain, health and energy levels mean that ‘a full complement of cheap healthy meals’ turns into ‘three bags of crisps from the corner shop and half a tub of Tesco Value ice cream’.