The mysterious case of the vanishing women…

We are mid-way through the Rio Olympics. So far, I have watched approximately 10 hours of gymnastics; two Murray matches that have aged me considerably; a few cycling victories; and two rowing golds for Team GB which I observed while getting sweaty on a cross-trainer and feeling very despondent about the intensity of my workout!

Artistic Gymnastics - Women's Team FinalOne woman who has *not* been invisible in Rio! 

A couple of times now, while watching the BBC’s coverage (which is excellent, incidentally – God bless the myriad live streams available!), a short film has been shown on the topic of the ‘greatest Olympians’. It’s narrated by Michael Johnson – himself a contender for that accolade – and features archive footage of great athletes going back decades. Many of the usual suspects feature: Muhammed Ali, Jesse Owens, Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, Emil Zatopek, Steve Redgrave, Chris Hoy… I could go on.

On my first viewing, I noticed that the athletes were predominantly male. The second time it appeared on the screen, I made a point of counting the number of women who appeared. Out of a total of 21 athletes [working on the basis of presuming an individual was the focus of group shots – e.g. just Steve Redgrave rather than the whole boat crew] just four were female. They consisted of: Fanny Blankers-Koen; Kathy Freeman, Mary Peters & Nadia Comaneci. Only Comaneci and Freeman get name-checked, in contrast with the majority of the male athletes.

The first woman appears 1 minute into the 2min 16s film. Comaneci appears twice – leading me to initially believe five women appeared. Several of the men appear more than once. Some of them even speak. But not the women.

BBC Greatest Olympian?

Looking up the video on the BBC website, it becomes clear that these are apparently Michael Johnson’s choices. In which case, perhaps fair enough – it’s a matter of personal opinion. But that isn’t clear in the video itself. A video that’s being shown at regular intervals on broadcasts being watched by millions of people, including many who may need a bit of inspiration from seeing something of the history of inspirational women that have been part of the Olympics! To be honest, the BBC should know better. Especially after the Sports Personality of the Year debacle from a few years ago.

Even the article that goes with the video makes it clear in its first paragraph that if you measure ‘greatness’ based upon number of medals won, then the top contender is a female gymnast – Larisa Latynina (18 medals, nine of them golds). Did she feature in the video? No. It then goes on to suggest another measure: medals earned over several Olympiads. Again, the ‘greatest’ in this category is a woman – Birgit Fischer who won 8 golds over 6 Olympics in canoeing – admittedly someone I’d never heard of, but did she feature? No, but Steve Redgrave (5 golds in 5 games) did.

In fairness, it does highlight the achievements of Fanny Blankers-Koen (one of only two mothers ever to have won Olympic gold) and Nadia Comaneci (scorer of the first perfect gymnastics score). But there really is so much more that could be said!

So I did my own research. (Hello Google.) I discovered some brilliant un-sung stories, including…

Dawn Fraser (Australia, swimming). Won 8 medals in total (4 gold, 4 silver), in the 1956, 60 & 64 games – including winning the 100m freestyle three times. Only one other woman has done that in swimming. Brilliantly, after playing a series of pranks at the Tokyo games in 64, she was banned from the Olympics by Australia’s national committee, meaning that she didn’t get the chance to defend her title a third time.

Valentina Vezzali (Italy, fencing). Won 7 medals (5 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) over four Olympics (96, 2000, 04 & 08). With a maximum of two medals available in foil fencing in any one games, that’s pretty impressive.

Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc (Romania, rowing). Winning her first gold aged 19 in 1984, she then won a medal at every games up to and including 2004. Twenty years!

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA, athletics). Won 6 medals over 4 games – including back-to-back heptathlons in 88 and 92, followed up with long jump bronze in 1996!

Krisztina Egerszegi (Hungary, swimming). 7 medals over 3 Olympics (1988, 92 & 96) and is the only other woman to have won gold in the same swimming event in three consecutive games.

Apart from Joyner-Kersee, I’d not heard of any of these women – yet (on medal tally & longevity) they rank amongst the top 10 female summer Olympians. In comparison, I could probably have told you something about every single one of their male counterparts – those are stories I’ve heard re-told again and again every time the Olympics comes around. Treatment of women in sport is bad enough (I presume everyone’s seen the terrible reporting even in this year’s games?!?), without forgetting the stories of those who went before.

Come on BBC. We know you can do a lot better than this.

Great Olympic women...What Google brings up if you image search ‘great Olympic women’…

An alternative church

There is an alternative church. One which is global, diverse, and to which all are welcome. One that upholds a code of behaviour, as determined by its leaders and members. Occasionally, it claims the credit for miraculous healings. There are rituals and language incomprehensible to the uninitiated. It meets on a weekly basis, but its teaching permeates the day-to-day lives of its congregants too. 

Unlike the Body of Christ, its leaders cannot said to be God (nor do they aspire to be). It doesn’t offer the forgiveness of sins, nor does it hold the imbibing of certain substances to be holy. But there is a warmth of community, and a sense of communal purpose. 

The church is actually not so much an alternative as a complementary one. In a venn diagram of the members of the church of Wittertainment (founded by Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo) and those of the venerable Church of England, a not inconsiderable number would be in the overlap.

I over-egg the comparison somewhat, but the Church of Wittertainment does have its similarities to the church that ordained me back in July. And it was that ordination, and an email I sent in, that has brought out these characteristics in recent months…

My earlier blogpost chronicled the immediate aftermath of my moment of Wittertainment ‘fame’ (someone else’s word, not mine!) six months ago. I thought things would die down after the initial flurry of new followers on Twitter from the congregation; the random tweets from random people; and messages from friends of friends on Facebook, including ‘Colonial Commoners‘ far away in New Zealand.

The first weeks in my new clergy role (having tried to explain the saga to my rather baffled training incumbent) elicited some classic Wittertainment responses on Twitter – particularly on the day I was asked in a staff meeting if I knew how to do a baptism. Cue multiple responses of “How do you do a baptism? You just do a baptism!” [It’s an in-joke. This kind of explains it.]

At church (my actual church), congregants would occasionally sidle up to me after a service and divulge their Wittertainment status via some form of code-phrase, like a Hello to Jason Isaacs or, in one instance, the bemusing “It’s a honour to meet a legend of the church…the church of Wittertainment that is!” 

Clergy corner is a thriving niche of the Wittertainment congregation, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that clergy (or soon-to-be clergy) would continue to come out of the woodwork as fellow Wittertainees. I’ve met them at Chapter, Post Ordination Training, on Twitter and at assorted other clerical gatherings. However, I never thought I’d see the day when a Wittertainee in training for clergy corner status explained my appearance on the show to both a Bishop and the wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury. That was the very definition of a surreal moment and one in which I think the church of Wittertainment would appreciate!

Then, last Sunday, I took myself off to the BFI for an evening’s entertainment where everything got a little bit dead amaze and totes emosh all over again…(and I’m not even joking!)

canongate-the-movie-doctors-banner.1024x500.mz

The leaders of the church, the self-styled Good Doctors, have written a book together and have been on tour to promote it. Miraculously, despite it being that most wonderful time of the year when all clergy are working their socks off, I was free on the Sunday night that the tour came to London. An alarm was set and a ticket acquired. 

The show was great, and from an initial flick-through, I highly recommend their book too. However, the real highlight was afterwards, when a book signing took place. I joined the queue just ahead of a girl in a Mary Poppins t-shirt who’d been an audience participant that evening. We chatted on and off (a friendly bunch these total strangers who belong to the same church!) until someone from the publishers came to sort out our book dedications. I felt that my whole name needed to be given (as it is in Clutterbuck that the humour lies), so gave it and then dashed off to buy the book. When I returned the ladies either side of me were chatting to each other and immediately greeted me with “I’m sorry, did you say your name was Liz Clutterbuck? Are you THE Liz Clutterbuck??” Much more conversation ensued, until we reached the front of the queue.

I’ll confess that I had hoped when purchasing my ticket that I would get to meet the Good Doctors, but that was pretty much the limit on my expectations of the evening. To quote myself as I emerged onto the South Bank later that, “Well, *that* exceeded expectations!” [Because I often talk to myself in such a way.]

When Clutterbuck met the Movie Doctors

Did I expect an exclamation from Dr K on realising who I was? No. Did I anticipate a kiss on the hand from Dr M? Most certainly not!! Was I expecting them to request a photo with me? Errr….NO!!

God bless the Clutterbuck

I left the BFI in a little bit of a daze, clutching both book and phone, lest a mugger rob me of my precious cargo! At Waterloo, I bumped into the girl ahead of me in the queue and we chatted all the way home to Stratford – another indication of just how warm and friendly this church of strangers is. It was thanks to Debbs that the following morning I joined the Mark Kermode Appreciation Society on Facebook (she’d been showing us it in the queue and it seemed a good place for film banter). When my request was approved, I received a special welcome…

MKAS Welcome

 Within a matter of hours, this had evolved into a multi-comment thread, in which it was pondered as to how one ‘does the Clutterbuck’. Chuckles emanated from my office during the course of the afternoon…

My reflection? The members of the church are only so nice because their leaders are – it sounds a bit soppy, but genuinely, that signing was one of the most authentic and positive I’ve ever witnessed. [I’ve worked in a bookshop, I’ve seen many!] It wasn’t a production line, and despite having been there for nearly an hour, they didn’t look as frazzled as any self-respecting person would have the right to be! 

So, good on you Good Doctors, thank you for being your fabulous selves and bringing much joy to discerning podcasters!

Postscript:

This post has been in draft for a couple of days (thanks to seasonal obligations). I meant to post it on Friday morning, but forgot, and then the lovely Doctors proved every word of this post to be true by mentioning our meeting (1:27 in) in the show. (Possibly the only time my name will be mentioned in the same show as JJ Abrams & the cast of Star Wars!) 

Thank you doctors (although, not to play favourites, especially Mark for your excitement & enthusiasm!), it was a delight to meet you both. You helped make an already memorable 2015 even more memorable! 

All I did was send in an email…

At some point over a year ago, I had an idea of something I would do to commemorate my final day at theological college. Then it turned out that I was going to have a year longer at St Mellitus than I’d anticipated, so I filed the idea away. Miraculously, exactly a week before I had my actual final day, I remembered this idea and put it into action. Little did I know what the ramifications of this simple idea would be…

Long term readers and Twitter followers may be aware that I consider myself a Wittertainee – aka a dedicated listener to the Wittertainment podcast featuring Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. A fan from my very first podcast (in which Kermode renamed Eat, Pray Love: “Eat, Pray, Love, Vomit”), just months later I found myself reviewing a film live on BBC Radio in their Christmas special. Thanks to them, I also spent a few minutes in the same room as Robert Redford back in 2012.

The beauty of Wittertainment isn’t so much the films, but the chemistry between Mayo, Kermode and their listeners. Each podcast features a sizeable quantity of ‘parish notices’, with emails from listeners featuring highly. Rarely are these missives much to do with film – more often, they’re to do with what listeners have been up to while listening (running marathons; treating Ebola; working on the Hadron Collider; up mountains; in submarines; and, most recently, having surgery performed upon them) or how the show has healed them miraculously, or caused them to suffer a WRI (Wittertainment Related Injury). There is a plethora of in-jokes, by which any discerning Wittertainee can easily be identified. Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is that it regularly features communications from assorted church leaders, who gather together in ‘clergy corner’.

It was this last point, combined with the fact that Wittertainment has been the audio accompaniment to my weekly walk home from college for four years, that resulted in my idea. I’d email in, in order to mark the occasion of my final Monday afternoon walk home from St Mellitus:

Wittertainment Email

To be honest, I wasn’t sure it stood much chance of being read out. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been, had the events of that Friday not resulted in the show going off air and being podcast only. My friend Phil (a member of Clergy Corner thanks to an email a couple of years previously) alerted me to its broadcast – and then followed this up with a couple of tweets that suggested that a little more had happened than just a simple read-out.

A Wittertainment realisation

Despite being determined to hold off on listening until my Monday afternoon, I was greatly intrigued and even more so when I searched Twitter and discovered that the week’s hashtag rhymed with my name – the hitherto meaningless “Hucklebuck”. So, 1am saw me fast-forwarding through the podcast to the relevant bits. [20mins in and around 5mins from the end, to be precise.]

Oh. My. Goodness. All I’d wanted was a bit of a shout out and instead, as Hoylus observed, it was ‘like a Clutterbuck special.’ And the Hucklebuck? Turns out it’s a very catchy 80’s tune that has a dance routine to it. Over the top of the song, Kermode & Mayo talked about me in my vestments dancing at the cathedral, singing “Do the Clutterbuck” over the original lyrics. Wow.

The next morning there were tweets from total strangers, and a Facebook post from a dear Wittertainment ally:

Stop what you're doing...Posting a link in the podcast resulted in requests for a Hucklebuck flash mob at the cathedral, and a fabulous Twitter exchange:

It was a surreal few days. At college, on my final day, a MA classmate greeted me with “I hear you’re famous now!” – as someone at his church had asked if he knew me (recognising the ‘radical’ vicar school in question). That afternoon, an emotional end to my last day of classes was eased with the podcast. By the time my email was read out at 20mins in, I’d already forgotten that it was coming and stopped in my tracks when my usual routine suddenly featured my name! A few extra people followed me on Twitter. A singer I’ve had a little bit of a crush on for a while, tweeted me in congratulations. (Cue much giggling.) Friends who were hitherto unaware of the Church of Wittertainment listened in and liked what they heard. Oh, and it turns out St Paul’s Cathedral is a Wittertainee…

St Paul's Tweet

St Paul's Tweet responses

And on the day itself? Well, despite being a fan of the show, The Hucklebuck wasn’t played at the cathedral. But it was played at the post-service party, and I did dance, while robed. Plus, a number of cards arrived bearing a certain hashtag.

Hucklebuck Cards

Today, two weeks on from the show airing, I sent in another email. Just an update, saying (more succinctly) what’s been said in this post. It made it into the pre-show podcast extras – complete with a chastisement from Dr Kermode for looking at Twitter during my silent retreat. I think it’s going to be a while before I email in again.

As I wrote in this week’s email:

“All I’d wanted was a distraction on an emotional walk home. I did NOT expect to acquire my own theme song, and a peculiar level of (as someone tweeted me) ‘Wittertainment fame’… Ordination was always going to be dead amaze & totes emosh, but thank you for adding a level of utter hilarity to it too!” 

As for the events of July 4th – that’s a whole other post that’s yet to be written.

Lessons we’ve learned from GBBO 2014

Tonight it ends. We’ll be left with another 10 month gap in competitive baking scheduling. (Aside from that all too brief week in January when celebrities take up the challenge.)

But this year’s Bake Off will become legend in the history of TV baking – what with bingate, THE pencil and a prodigious 17 year old.

Bake Off 2014

Over the last two months we’ve learned a number of valuable lessons which are worth remembering as we prepare to bid the tent of baked goods a fond farewell…

1. Pesto is exotic and a lovely Scot called Norman was the perfect antidote to a fiercely fought Independence campaign. (See Buzzfeed for more reasons why Norman was brilliant.)

2. The BBC has discovered the loveliest teenager in all of the UK. Martha Collinson not only bakes with a skill way beyond her years, has an excellent sense of humour, did her AS levels during filming, and is a campaigner for Tearfund! All time favourite Martha moment? When she looked into the oven and uttered the words: “I could have practiced this”. Twice.

3. The Guardian could do with improving the quality of its Bake Off reporting. Now, I appreciate that there are bigger issues going on in the world right now, but the Guardian has set itself a high standard to meet with its consistently excellent live blog of every episode. [Hats off to you Heidi Stephens.] It’s just a shame that the side was let down by not one but two articles.

The first, an interview with the “russet Gandalf” (we’ll be returning to him, have no fear), included a piece of utterly bizarre logic regarding last week’s semi final. Apparently, star baker Richard had ‘come second’ and Luis had come first. I may have tweeted my quibble to the article’s author…


Several friends & family members have assured me that I was right, so I’m feeling ok about it. I just wish my first Twitter discussion with Zoe Williams had been about something a little more worthy!

The second article is a delightful run-down of all the Bake Off contestants ever. As with so many countdowns, the most recent series is too fresh in the memory to be objective about. Thus we have the tragedy of Jordan placing above my all-time favourite baker ever – fair isle devotee James Morton (12 to 13). A travesty!!

4. Always make your own fondant!

Mary Berry death stare

5. Howard (from series 4 and custardgate fame) needs his own baking show, stat! His two appearances on Extra Slice were a delight to behold – the world has a new talent and his name is Howard. [Incidentally, well done BBC for Extra Slice – that was a brilliant decision!]

6. No one’s worked out how to pronounce ‘baklava’.

7. Some people don’t understand that Bake Off isn’t Bake Off without the innuendo. Honestly, there’s a reason I don’t watch Masterchef (actually, there are several…) – what makes this show the genius it is is Mel & Sue’s endless punning and the way Mary & Paul knowingly join in. John Whaites (winner, GBBO 2012) wrote brilliantly for The Telegraph on the subject of essential innuendo“innuendo only enters the level of lewd when it is endorsed with a response”. The whole point of the baking double entendres is that they’re not deemed worthy of a retort!

8. Doughnuts can be turned into cocktails. (And this is when all Mary Berry’s baking dreams come true.)

9. A cake made up of several pancake layers with no icing or ganache in between really doesn’t look that attractive. Also, there’s no point making your own Princess Cake when Ikea serves it in their cafe.

10. Always label your creations when placing them within a communal freezer. Always check when moving tins around in a communal freezer that the owner of the tin you’ve removed knows that it’s no longer in the freezer. When a bake fails, don’t throw it into the bin. The British get VERY upset when they perceive that a baking injustice has taken place.

BBC Complaints AugustCredit. Honestly, when I saw this I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

Incredibly, this is the first time bingate’s been mentioned on this blog (it’s been a tough summer/autumn). I have very strong feelings about it, not least because Iain of the beard was one of my favourite contestants this year. (Beard + NI accent + baking skills = highly desirable man.) Yes, Diana’s actions may have been exaggerated thanks to the editing, but really, did he deserve to go? Especially given prior mistakes (John Whaites nearly cutting his finger off and custardgate) which resulted in fairer judging or no one leaving. I felt so, so sad for poor Iain – not least because throwing a failed bake into the bin is totally something I’d do. [I once threw a lemon drizzle that had got stuck to the tin onto the floor and stamped on it in a rage. True story.]

At this point in the series the winner almost becomes irrelevant. For the first time, this year I don’t have any terribly strong feelings about it. (Unlike the previous three series when I had definite ‘I don’t want them to win’ feelings.) I’ve liked Richard and his pencil from the start; Luis has real skills; and quite frankly, if Nancy can win after her microwave antics the other week, then excellent! (Although what ‘the male judge’ will think is another matter.)

Mary, Paul, Mel, Sue, the GBBO 2014 contestants and everyone on social media who has made this year a delight – THANK YOU! Let’s do it again next year.

The quirks of regional programming

[Another brilliant example of my ability to completely forget to publish something, even though it’s finished. Pretend this was published a week ago, it’ll work much better…]

The UK comprises many parts – as we are increasingly aware as September 17th and the Scottish referendum approaches – but it can be the most mundane things that highlight that it is not simply one, monochrome whole. Travel into Wales and immediately road signs are twice the size and only half as comprehensible. Go north of the border or over the Irish Sea and the currency stays the same, but the notes change colour. Even within the entity that is ‘England’, things are different – try buying the humble bread roll in 5 different counties and you’ll probably need 5 different words in order to manage it. [Bap, barm, cobb, bun, muffin…]

As a child, one of the most obvious differences whenever away from home was on the TV. Regional news bulletins involved unfamiliar accents and places I’d never heard of. Holidays in Llandudno provided The Smurfs and Superted in Welsh, which was rather disconcerting to a 6 year old. When we moved to Gloucester, we discovered that our house (thanks to an aerial on a building over the road) was alone amongst our friends in that it picked up BBC South West and HTV as opposed to Midlands Today and Central. [It might not seem like much of difference, but it did mean that we got classic NZ hospital soap Shortland Street, which wasn’t shown on Central – it’s the little things!]

Fast forward to 2004 and my parents’ move to Belfast. Move to another province within the UK and things change considerably. Many Brits of my generation will remember with fondness the Broom Cupboard of CBBC which was the lynch-pin of weekday evening TV. A daily feature, before that day’s Neighbours was shown (an essential part of 1980’s/90’s TV viewing), was the presenter bidding Northern Irish viewers goodbye several minutes before Neighbours started. I didn’t give it much thought at the time (I was more concerned with what Brad had been up to in Erinsbrough), but once subjected to TV in Northern Ireland on a regular basis, I wondered what they were watching when we were indulging in Ozzie high jinks…

[I’ve just Googled it. According to this interview with Andi Peters, they had Neighbours an hour later than us. At 5.30pm they had local news instead. Who knows why!]

BBC1-2012-XMAS-ID-TREE-2-NI-1

There are a lot of differences in the scheduling of TV in Northern Ireland. It becomes a bit of an issue at Christmas, when the rest of the country is watching something significant – one year it was the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special – and instead, viewers in NI are treated to a local comedy like The Folks on the Hill. (That’s not to say that this satirical cartoon isn’t quality entertainment – it is – it’s just that I’d rather have been watching a keenly awaited show that everyone else was enjoying!) Regularly, Mock the Week is shown over an hour later in the province, a fact that led my mother to inadvertently tweet a celebrity for the first time. [Chris Addison had tweeted something witty about the time of that night’s episode, which I had retweeted. My mother (thinking that the ‘Chris’ in question was my friend Christopher, not an award-winning actor/comedian) tweeted back: “…except in Northern Ireland, when it’s on at 10.40pm – it takes longer for the boat with the tape to get here”.] 

I’ve been over in Belfast for most of the last week and spotted a trailer for some interesting looking drama on BBC1 (it’s got Olivia Colman in it, so it’s got to be good) but noticed that they were being shown at 10.40pm. Lauded new dramas are not broadcast at that time of night – they’re on at 9pm. What was Northern Ireland getting instead? On Monday night, I experienced the schedule shift for myself. While the rest of the country was (potentially) enjoying New Tricks (can’t see the point myself), we settled down to a BBC documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire.

I was rather surprised that such a programme wasn’t on the national schedule. [You can catch up with it on iPlayer – there’s a dedicated Northern Ireland section there.] When I was growing up, and for decades before that, the Troubles were usually the top item on the news. Living in London, I experienced at first hand some of the effects of the IRA’s actions – feeling the tremors of a controlled explosion of a bomb in John Lewis Oxford St during my first term at secondary school; being prevented from taking my usual route to school because of overnight bombs; the secret service protection of a neighbour who worked in the NI Office; not to mention the shock and horror everyone felt at the atrocities carried out by both sides over the years. Without the ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and everything else that has paved the road to peace, I wouldn’t now be travelling to Belfast on a semi-regular basis.

The Troubles were not solely a Northern Ireland issue, they were a national issue – an international one in fact. This documentary was an important reminder of how far things have progressed in a comparatively short space of time and thoroughly deserved a national airing. But as I watched, I realised that it was far more detailed than most of the programmes I’ve ever previously seen on the conflict. It was made with those who had lived in and with it year after year after year in mind. For a population where everyone knows someone who has been directly affected by it. Maybe it wouldn’t have made much sense to the typical 9pm BBC1 audience?

As a result, I’ve been somewhat reconciled to the peculiarities of regional scheduling. Clearly, Northern Ireland deserves programmes that cater to their knowledge and experiences, that would probably go over the heads of many people in England, Scotland and Wales. They deserve to watch them at a sensible hour and on a ‘normal’ channel. But, we need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the nation. What happens in one province doesn’t leave the others unaffected. We are – for now – a United Kingdom.