Comic Women

Last week, news broke that the BBC is cracking down on the gender imbalance of comedy panel shows – from now on, according to Danny Cohen (head of the BBC’s TV output), there will be no more all-male panel shows. All new episodes of series like QI, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You will have to include at least one woman.

This is something of a victory, but an interesting situation for funny women to find themselves in. Will they want to be a ‘token’ woman, at risk of mockery from some of comedy’s most cutting men? Will they be able to find enough women willing to step up and take a seat on such shows?

The first is a question that is up to individuals to answer. (Jo Brand has already publicly said she won’t accept invitations to appear on Mock the Week because of its culture of having to “bite off someone’s foot in order to say something”.) The second though, surely shouldn’t be an issue. The world is full of funny women – the producers of such shows may just have to put some work into finding them.

It’s strikingly similar to the situation in the church regarding women speakers at Christian events. So often the excuse for all-male line ups is “we didn’t know of any women who could do it”. Just like the church, on the comedy circuit, there are far more men than women. Women get stereotyped as only being relevant to other women (although, even if this were the case, that’s still 50% of the population). There is a bizarre, yet widely held view, that women just aren’t funny.

In my humble opinion, this is ridiculous. I was once part of a conversation involving two (respected) male friends, one of whom – very sweetly – insisted that I was a funny woman. But, he also insisted that I was a very rare instance of such a creature. The other friend, while accepting that I was amusing, could not name any women he genuinely found funny on TV. We were en route to a pub and once we got inside, the debate continued, involving more people. I know that some of the guys were deliberately playing Devil’s Advocate, but it goes to show that the belief is a widespread one.

But, to get back to the BBC. It’s a good decision. In the whole intentional versus token debate, while some might argue it smacks of tokenism, I’d argue it’s actually a great example of intentionality. People have been complaining about the lack of women on theses shows for ages, but little has changed. Now that they have to have a woman (or more!), they will be forced to get out there and find them. In the process, hopefully lots more opportunities will open up for female comics.

Female QII think, but am not certain, that this is the only majority-female line up QI’s seen. 

Personally, I think some of the funniest QI’s have been when Stephen Fry and Alan Davies have been outnumbered by women. (Such as Kaleidoscope, featuring Toksvig; Calman & Tarbuk.) In fact, one of my all-time favourite QI’s saw a balance of genders amongst the panel  (Alan Davies, Revd Richard Coles, Sue Perkins and Victoria Coren-Mitchell in Knights & Knaves) which was only marred by Coles’ regular use of the term “clergyman” when a non-gender specific term could have been used just as appropriately.

HIGNFY could do better, but at least does a good line in having some excellent female hosts and regularly utilising Coren-Mitchell to great effect. As for the radio, I think the News Quiz does a pretty good job of being representative as far as gender goes, but there’s always room for improvement. The biggest improvement of all would be getting beyond the usual female suspects and discovering some new talent – as I’m sure they themselves would agree. I’d be happy to volunteer my services…

Camilla Long HIGNFYOne lovely Twitter friend suggested last week, when this episode of HIGNFY was shown, that I was Ian Hislop’s desk-mate. Apparently, Camilla Long is my doppelgänger…

Baking – with added vitriol

Last night was not a great night for our student group to be doing the second week of an all-church Bible study that has to be done at the same time as everyone else. Several guys arrived at my flat wanting to know if we could have the Arsenal match on ‘in the background’ (everyone knows there is no such thing as ‘in the background’ when it comes to football); I, on the other hand, was in a state of frenzy at the fact that while I was leading a meditation on Genesis 37, anyone not watching football was watching three women bake cakes and pies.

This year’s GBBO final is the most watched of all the series – 8.4 million people watched last night (that’s more than X Factor apparently). It’s also been fiercely debated in the media and on social media. I had at least two fierce debates with people on Facebook yesterday about who should win – nothing terribly unusual about that, in competitive arenas people are always going to have their favourites. Just as the guys were desperate to see an Arsenal victory last night, I had strong views about who should win a national amateur cake baking competition.

I’d had strong views last year too – I’d loved the work of John & James and therefore I wanted ‘anyone but Brendan’ to win. I wasn’t out to destroy Brendan, I just liked the other two more. That’s how life works. [I’ve been re-watching that series recently and it is a classic. James and Sue need their own baking show!]

GBBOFinalists2013Ruby, Kimberley & Frances.

This year, I wasn’t overly keen on either Kimberley or Ruby – if pushed, I’d take Kimberley on her consistent technical skills – but I loved Frances’ creativity. One friend argued that she wanted Ruby to win ‘because she was so vulnerable and pocket-sized’, but last time I checked, vulnerability wasn’t a way of avoiding a soggy bottom. I wanted her to gain some confidence in her skills – to apologise a couple of times for what you think are terrible bakes (but it emerges aren’t) is fine; to do it consistently is not. Friends debated whether Kimberley appeared smug thanks to editing – but is simply saying that “I’ve baked this before” during a technical challenge really a sign of smugness? Surely it’s just stating fact?

Opinions are fine – but not when they cross the line. What got interesting about this year’s competition is that so much of the criticism was in relation to the finalists’ gender and size. Last year, I don’t recall sexuality being used in such a way, even though 2 of the 3 finalists were openly gay. Why should female bakers still attract such ridiculous interest?

Ruby puts it brilliantly in a column for the Guardian:

Raymond Blanc waded in on the commentary to so helpfully deride the “female tears” on the show. (What are “female tears”, anyway? Are they more fragile and delicate than male tears? Do they wear pink?) Kimberley’s self-assurance – a character trait so lauded in men– has been rebranded as smugness, cockiness and even malice.

It’s a culture of frilly baking versus macho Michelin stars, of real chefs versus domestic goddesses. Food has become divided and gendered, torn between the serious sport of haute cuisine and the supposedly antithetical world of women pottering around in home kitchens.

I saw one male friend complain that the presence of 7 women to 1 man in the semi-final (that’s 1 male judge, 1 female judge, 2 presenters & 4 female contestants) was indicative of the assumption that baking was a female activity. Has he not seen the prevalence of male finalists in previous years? That the series is gender balanced to begin with and baking is judged on talent alone? That seeing women outnumber men on a prime time TV show is still a flipping rarity in Britain??

Another friend posted a link to Ruby’s column this morning, with the comment “now to face up to this in the church too”. I couldn’t agree more. If the world of food has become gendered, how much more is the church? Are “female tears” derided? Is self-assurance seen as smugness or malice? Is there still the assumption that if there’s food to be cooked, women will do it? I’m sure you can come up with your own answers…

Great-British-Bake-Off-2165415Farewell, class of 2013! (Incidentally, did anyone else notice Deborah’s brilliant new hairstyle in the final?) 

Back to the Bake Off. I have a suggestion for the BBC (well two, see above idea of the James & Sue Baking Show). The Bake Off moves to BBC1 next year, now that it’s considered to be mainstream enough. So, how about we make a bit more of the final? This year, there was a rumour that the winner had been leaked – so avoiding a repeat of this would be ideal. A good way to do this would be to make the final a live one.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but actually perfectly doable. Have the same tents in Somerset, broadcast the day’s baking (perhaps just the showstopper) via the BBC’s red button so you can dip in and out whenever you want to. A friend even suggested multiple ‘oven cams’ so you could choose which cake you wanted to watch rising. Then at the end of the day, BBC1 could broadcast the judge’s decision live. Fabulous. What do you think, BBC?

Oh, and for those who don’t know, my favourite won. Frances made a gorgeous wedding cake and looked stunned when she received her celebratory cake stand. There were audible whoops of joy from my living room. Until next year, Paul & Mary…

To at or not to at…

I have a few pet peeves in life. Just a few…
People walking too slowly (or in crowds) on London’s streets. Trolley cases. Improperly made tea. People who click ‘reply all’ when it’s really not necessary. You know, just the day to day issues of modern-day existence.

On Twitter, I have one major pet peeve: the use of ‘@’ at the beginning of the tweet when it’s not actually intended to be a message to that individual.

For those not familiar with Twitter , a brief explanation: on Twitter, your username begins with an ‘@’ – e.g. @lizclutterbuck. When you want a specific person to receive your tweet, you mention their username and the person in question will see it listed under their ‘connect’ tab. [Most people also opt to receive a notification when this happens, unless you’re a celeb tweeter…] You can put someone’s name anywhere into a tweet, but often if you’re having a conversation with a specific person, you’ll begin your tweet with their name. For example:

Twitter chatA Twitter chat with one of my favourite soon-to-be lady vicars – obviously making a massive presumption that we’ll have good reason to be watching the men’s final on Sunday! 

The key thing to understand is that when a tweet begins with someone’s username, only people who follow the author and the recipient will see it in their timeline. In this case, that probably means a load of fellow ordinands and mutual friends. [As an aside, I often forget to think about who follows who, which has resulted in some slightly awkward Twitter moments. All tweets are public, unless they’re Direct Messages. It’s good to remember that!] This fact hilariously means that a number of people were privy to the Clutterbuck family annual Christmas decision making process last week – you learn a lot of useless info via Twitter sometimes!

Anyway, my pet peeve is when people begin a tweet with an @, but actually intend it to be seen by all their followers – because they seem to be completely unaware that in including the username at the start, they’ve actually limited their audience!

Unfortunately, it’s often churches that fall foul of this – especially when tweeting about Sunday sermons. [I should say straight away that St George’s has never made this mistake!] To illustrate, if a church tweeted: “@lizclutterbuck preached on forgiveness last Sunday. Listen to it here…” only people who followed both the church account and me would see it – which rather defeats the point of the exercise as presumably the church would have wanted all their followers to see it?

But it’s not just churches. Here’s an example from the esteemed BBC…

Radio 2 tweetI feel that I need to clarify that I don’t actually follow Radio 2, nor have I checked to see what kind of a lemon posset accident this was.

What amazes me is how few regular Twitter users realise this. Last week, I was particularly incensed by an example of this from Lambeth Palace, featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Interestingly, when I went searching for it just now, it had disappeared and recent evidence suggests that they’ve realised the problem.] I tweeted something about the issue and had several replies of surprise from other Tweeters.

Tweeting etiquetteThis blogpost is a direct result of that tweet as I’ve discovered it’s a phenomenally difficult issue to fit into 140 characters!! I was struggling to find a way of saying ‘accounts that ought to know better – i.e. verified ones’, but could only come up with ‘big’ to fit into a tweet! 

This is in NO way an attack on accounts that have fallen victim to this! Like I said, many people are totally unaware of it. What annoys me is that it means that their tweets aren’t getting the audience they deserve!

So, what’s the solution? Well, the easiest and least expensive in terms of characters is the full-stop – simply placing it before the @ will ensure that all your followers will see it. However, I personally try not to use it because I like tweets that are a little more poetic! You can re-work your sentence to ensure that the mention comes mid-way through the tweet rather than at the start. Or, you could put some kind of title in – which is the line Lambeth seems to have taken as their tweets often now begin with: “Archbishop @ABCJustin…”. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you realise that it needs to be done. Spread the word!

Twitter – a great tool, as long as you know how to use it!

Tea tips

My name is Liz and I am a tea-aholic. It’s under control and I have no need of an intervention. Honest.

Obviously, this means that discovering the BBC was showing a two-part documentary on the history of tea was greeted with much joy – coupled with rejoicing at the news that Victoria Wood was presenting it. Tea and one of Britain’s funniest women? Yes please!

A Nice Cup of Tea

The documentary is worth watching (you’ve got a few days left to catch it on iPlayer). True, the first part – exploring the role of tea in the empire – did lack some of the finer nuances of imperial history and Britain’s relationship with the people it governed. [Thus speaks the imperial historian…] The second part looked at the role of tea in British society, revealing who it was who came up with the concept of afternoon tea (the Duchess of Bedford) and why tea is now under threat from the rise of coffee. [Coffee will never overtake tea in my world. Love the smell, hate the taste. I thank my superior taste buds.] I made a categorical error in my watching of the second episode. It accompanied a long bubble bath and stupid me didn’t think to make myself a cuppa before lowering myself into the water.

Essentially, the message was that for Brits especially, little competes with “a nice cup of tea” and that the ritual of making such a beverage – the boiling of water; warming of the pot; brewing of leaves; correct ratio of milk to tea; and the process of consuming it – are a centrepiece of society. Plus, tea-addicts will go to great lengths to get the ‘right’ tea. I don’t have a particular brand loyalty (shocking) but I have had to carry PG Tips half-way across the world to satisfy the cravings of my American Anglophile friend Ian.

As you may remember, prior to travelling to France for Chateau Duffy #4 I was wrestling with the conundrum of how much tea to take with me for 20 people (including 6 Americans and 4 children). You’ll be pleased to hear that not only did we have enough, we also converted an American child to the wonders of tea. Austin returned home to Texas with a spare pack of tea (yes, we even had spares) with which to continue his habit. I suspect, should I make a return trip to Texas this summer (here’s praying) that I’ll need to pack some tea in my luggage for him. Tea bonded several of us while in France, and sparked an interesting tea-themed dialogue on Twitter with our English plumber last week (post the documentary). He was looking for tea recommendations in London (as in places in which to drink it), and I was racking my brains for my favourites. Having come up with some, I thought it only fair to share it wider…

Tea ShotsTea photography…

My basic tea criteria is that tea needs to be respected and understood. Places like Starbucks and Nero do not understand it and do not respect it. There are bags and hot water – not blends and teapots. Yes, it will do when the need strikes, but they are not places to ‘take tea’. I also like a good atmosphere and nice receptacles. This is how the following list should be understood:

Drink, Shop, Do
It’s kitsch, it’s almost try-hard retro and it can be pricey (for this reason I’ve never partaken of their cake) but it has a marvellous tea-list, terrific motley china and has fun activities of an evening. (I went there last year for an alcoholic beverage and ended up making and decorating a cardboard 2CV while drinking a glass of wine. Awesome.) Plus, its proximity to King’s Cross makes it an amazingly convenient location for meeting people and it’s where I have as many of my meetings with one of my favourite student work colleagues as possible.

The Coffeesmiths Collective
Now found in four locations (Leather Lane, Chancery Lane, Carnaby St & Bishopsgate), it is a mecca for true coffee lovers, as you might expect from a company owned by two Kiwis. But it also respects and understands tea. There’s a list of great blends which always arrive with guidance on how long to brew it – the leaves come separately from the pot and it’s your responsibility to put them in and take them out. I’m a particular fan of their Earl Grey…

The Tea Box
In picturesque Richmond, this is the place to do tea. An amazing tea list and a genius device with which to time brews – it’s worth a trek out there for a visit alone.

The Orange Pekoe
If Richmond isn’t quite posh enough for you, head to nearby Barnes. The Orange Pekoe has an even longer tea list (I think) and a fabulous atmosphere. Tea connoisseurs rate it highly.

Finally, if you can’t make it to any of the above, treat yourself to some decent loose-leaf stuff and recreate the experience in the comfort of your own home. My top-tip is Suki Tea – a company that first sold its products at a stall in St George’s Market in Belfast, from which my mother would buy supplies to send to her tea-aholic daughters. Delightfully, this is now available in cafes in London (I’ve discovered it at the lovely Tinderbox on Upper St, where I drank their Earl Grey Blue Flower this very evening) and online. Hunt it out!

It’s also worth seeking out Flint Tea, partly because it’s the creation of a member of clergy at my previous church and partly because their ‘normal’ tea bears the name ‘Our Daily Brew’ thanks to the wit of one of my fellow ordinands. Oh, and their tins look pretty…

Our Daily Brew

Let this be an encouragement to you to re-examine your tea drinking. Take time to make your daily brew in the proper fashion. Try a different blend or tea-drinking establishment. Buy yourself a decent teapot. Most of all, enjoy it.

Keep on running

Or, in fact, get running in the first place.

This April will mark a decade since I took up running. I had decided to get fit and my next door neighbour decided we would sign up for a Race for Life 5k and she’d train us (i.e. me and my sister – I had significantly more training to do than she did). I had long believed that Clutterbucks did not run, but over the year and a bit that followed, I discovered this wasn’t true. In fact, learning to run became an instrumental factor in my subsequent loss of 5 stone (there’s a story there, but for another time). We began alternating running and walking between the lampposts of Gloucester park, adding in longer runs as the weeks went on. When the 5k came round that July, I ran/walked it. A year later, I ran the whole thing in around 25 minutes. Two months later, I developed severe tendonitis in my ankles and running was a no-go.

Yesterday, I went for my first outdoor run in over two years. (I vividly remember the last one as there was an unfortunate underwear related tweeting incident as a result…) Over time, I’ve discovered that I’m someone who needs to exercise very regularly in order to stay in some kind of shape and to keep myself generally cheerful. When I had a decently paid job, I had an indecently priced gym membership and went regularly. I became a pilates devotee. I swam. I cross-trained. Since starting vicar school, that’s had to stop. Instead I’ve walked insane distances across London (Monday afternoon’s post college stroll from Gloucester Road to Bloomsbury is a favourite), but it’s not enough.

So, I did what any logical 21st Century person would do – I bought an iPhone app. There are myriad options, but I went for the Get Running couch to 5k one (it had the best reviews). It works on the lamppost principle of old – mixing walking with running and gradually increasing the latter while reducing the former. You can play your own music and your instructions simply fade in and out, which is an awful lot easier than having to keep checking your phone (or digital watch, as was the case back in the day).

However, it took another two days and some motivation from Twitter for me to actually get my trainers on. Twitter really is wonderful in such situations. Yes, I’d already had my friends Shannon and Abi urging me to get going, but Twitter pushed me into it on Wednesday afternoon and subsequently cheered me on from the sidelines:

Twitter Cheering

It was fine. There was a rough patch in the middle, but ultimately it was ok. I didn’t bump into anyone I know (flipping miracle these days), although I did nearly get locked in the square – how was I supposed to know that the ringing of a bell in full daylight (at 5pm – hoorah!) meant the gates were being locked?

I’m going to have to hold myself accountable to Twitter. Tomorrow morning should see run 2 of week 1 – I’ll then obviously have to have a bit of a break while in Uganda, as there’s no way I’m going running in 30+C heat. If you don’t hear me mention my running exploits again, feel free to take me to task. I’ll appreciate it. Honest.