Showing posts with label David Cameron. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Cameron. Show all posts

Monday, 6 August 2012

Louise Mensch steps down

The news that Conservative MP Louise Mensch is stepping down from her parliamentary seat will reignite the “can women have it all?” debate.

I’ve long thought that the answer is probably “no,” and I reckon that Mensch, the mother of three young children, has decided the same.

A hugely successful chick-lit author before winning the Corby and East Northamptonshire seat for the Tories in 2010, Mensch has had to juggle her family life, parliamentary work (including a prominent role on the Commons Culture Committee inquiry into phone hacking) and marriage to her second husband. He’s the New York-based manager of Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so Mensch has spent much of her time jetting back and forth across the Atlantic to see him.

In her letter of resignation to PM David Cameron she wrote: “As you know, I have been struggling for some time to find the best outcome for my family life, and have decided, in order to keep us together, to move to New York. With the greatest regret, I am thus resigning as a Member of Parliament.

‘It is only through your personal intervention, delivered quietly and without fanfare, that I have been able to manage my duties for this long. Your allowing me to work in Corby and East Northamptonshire each Thursday and Friday has enabled me to do weekly surgeries while Parliament has been in session, and to visit many more people and places in our local area, whilst still spending time with my children. Unfortunately, it has not proved to be enough. I have been unable to make the balancing act work for our family.”

It sounds as though David Cameron did all he could to make Mensch’s juggling act possible, but most women don’t have such helpful bosses. And in the end, she found that even that wasn’t enough. She simply couldn’t have it all.

When I look around at my contemporaries the most successful women either don’t have children, have wall to wall childcare or stay at home partners.

As a lifelong feminist I hate saying this, but we still haven’t found the answer to how women can combine the best of both worlds. In lots of ways Mensch is lucky because she’s talented, feisty and has a successful second career. I’m sure that once she gets to New York she’ll write another cracking bestseller – and maybe even get snapped up by a US TV station. One thing’s for sure. We definitely haven’t heard the last of Louise Mensch.

PS. We arrived back from the sun-baked south of France (above) to encounter grey skies and torrential rain. How can this be August? 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The night I left my son behind

I’m not David Cameron’s number one fan but I do feel a bit sorry for him and his wife Samantha right now.

The papers are full of the day the couple left their eight year old daughter Nancy behind at a Buckinghamshire pub. Speaking of which, take a look at the brilliant Matt Pritchett’s cartoon in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Actually loads of parents have made similar mistakes – me for one. In fact I did it just two years ago, after a party at my sister’s one snowy night in December.

My husband had driven to the bash straight from his office and, tired after a long week, left earlier than me, saying he’d give our two children a lift back with him. So at 11 pm, I said my farewells and drove the 45 minutes home through the ice and snow.

As I tiptoed into our sleeping house, a text lit up my phone. Puzzled, I glanced down and smiled. It was from my son, who was then 15. “You have forgotten me!” he’d typed. Very funny, I thought, and began making my way upstairs to bed. Then suddenly the awful truth dawned. What if he wasn’t joking?

Sure enough, when I woke my husband he muttered that he had brought our daughter home, but not our son. So yes, he was stranded at the party forty miles away. He’d apparently decided to go and watch YouTube videos with his cousin – but no one had thought to tell me. There was only one thing for it. I wearily swapped my high heels for a pair of comfy Converse, shoved my coat back on and grabbed a bottle of water in case I broke down in the middle of the snowy Oxfordshire countryside. Then I set off across the county to collect him.

The upshot was that our son got loads of mileage out of the night his parents went home without him. I couldn’t help laughing when I logged on to Facebook the next morning and saw his new status. “Can’t believe my mum left me behind. Top parenting job there...”

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Texting etiquette

My English teacher at secondary school was a stickler for doing things by the book. She was called Miss Milner and she spent hours drumming letter-writing etiquette into my class. In fact she was so thorough that all these years later I’m certain none of us ever use “yours sincerely” when it should be “yours faithfully” – and vice versa.

But after reading in today’s Mail on Sunday that texts and emails sent between David Cameron and former News International boss Rebekah Brooks will be revealed at the Leveson Inquiry this week, I’ve been wondering about text and email etiquette.

“Hi” is the universal form of address these days – and that’s fine. But what do you say when you sign off? It’s easy if you’re emailing family and friends but I’m less sure about work contacts, editors, my children’s teachers… “Yours sincerely” is ridiculously pompous, “kindest regards” doesn’t sound quite right to me and “love” is way too forward. In the end I usually settle for “best wishes” - slightly feeble, but I can’t think of anything better.

And that’s not the only conundrum. What about xs? I sign off text messages and emails to virtually everyone I know with an x or two. And when it’s my family I just hit the x button so they get a random number of xxxxxxxxxxxs.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned but it doesn’t feel right in a work context (I’m terrified, incidentally, that one day I’ll forget who I’m emailing and send an editor a long stream of xxxxxs by mistake!)

PS. How impressive is Samantha Shannon? The 20 year old Oxford undergraduate (above) has combined studying for her English degree with writing a series of futuristic adventure novels. Now she’s landed a six-figure book deal with Bloomsbury, the publisher of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, with the first novel due out in September 2013.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The days when everyone had their own train

Travelling is an expensive, stressful business these days. Fuel costs are sky high, train fares prohibitively expensive and I was stunned when I drove to Manchester recently to find that using the M6 toll costs £5.50 each way. That seems an awful lot for just 27 miles of road…

The news didn’t get any better this morning when I opened The Times to discover that David Cameron wants to kickstart the economy by allowing private companies to build, operate and maintain motorways and trunk roads. Hard-pressed motorists apparently won’t have to pay to use existing roads but firms could charge for new routes or new pay-as-you go lanes.

As I read all this doom and gloom I wondered what Princess Alice, the Queen’s late aunt, would have made of it all. Over the weekend I was sorting out my embarrassingly cluttered office and discovered the transcript of a speech my mum once made.  She’d interviewed Princess Alice at her Kensington Palace home and they talked a lot about her childhood.

“As the daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch Princess Alice spent a childhood travelling from one ancestral home to another,” wrote my mum. “Whenever a journey was imminent, the children, servants, horses and luggage would be loaded on to the family train. ‘How extraordinary, Ma’am,’ I said, ‘to have your own train.’ ‘Oh, in those days,’ she said, ‘everybody did.’”

PS. I spotted this leopard-print Beetle in east London recently and still can’t decide whether it’s super-hideous or super-chic!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Iron Lady - a tough film to watch

The Iron Lady should come with a health warning. Yes, Meryl Streep gives the performance of a lifetime as Lady Thatcher (all other contenders for the Oscar might as well give up now) but if one of your loved ones has dementia it’s a very tough film to watch.

“That was a bit hard to cope with,” whispered my husband as he left the cinema at top speed. I looked at him more closely and saw he had tears in his eyes. My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s and Streep’s performance, such an acute portrayal of this horrible illness, was simply too painful a reminder. I’m not in the least surprised that Margaret Thatcher’s family turned down an invitation to see the film. 

That said, Streep is quite extraordinary in the film. Everything – her steely gaze, deep voice, mannerisms, walk, even the way she carries her handbag – are uncannily true to life. Watching scenes of her at the dispatch box in the House of Commons is like hurtling back 25 years in time.

Incidentally, the hero of the film is Denis Thatcher, brilliantly played by Jim Broadbent. In yesterday’s Financial Times, businessman David Tang called him “the greatest non-royal consort of our age” and that’s exactly how he comes across in the film. Convivial, loyal and ever supportive, Denis was clearly the rock that Lady T depended on throughout her career and beyond. A letter he sent to my mother after she requested a newspaper interview with him in the 1980s sticks in my mind. It was charming, ultra-polite and ended with a very firm response. “The answer,” he’d written, “is, of course, ‘no.’”

Monday, 21 November 2011

Twitter helps writer Maria Duffy get a book deal

I love Twitter. It makes me laugh, recommends everything from books to blogs to recipes and keeps me up to date with the news on a minute by minute basis. The only drawback is that it’s so addictive that hours can fly by without getting a stroke of work done. Lots of writers say they have to switch it off altogether between nine and five-thirty. Otherwise they wouldn’t write a word, let alone stand a hope in hell of hitting their deadlines.

But yesterday, thanks to a fascinating post by Chick Lit Club, I discovered that Twitter can even help writers get book deals. Dublin-based Maria Duffy explained how she got a message on Twitter from Curtis Brown literary agent Sheila Crowley.

“To cut a long story short, Sheila loved my Twitter voice and told me that if I could get that down into a book, I’d have something special,” said Maria.

The upshot was that Maria wrote the novel, Sheila sent it out to publishers and within a few weeks it had been snapped up by Hachette Books Ireland. Any Dream Will Do, the story of a group of people who meet (how else?) through Twitter hit the shelves earlier this month.
So next time you’re on Twitter, write the most superlative tweet you can. You never know, it could be the first step on the road to publication.

PS. Tom Stoddart, one of the best photographers in the business, was granted “exclusive, unprecedented access” to David Cameron and his family for a week. He snapped the PM sitting round the No 10 breakfast table with his family, poring over his red box, striding through rain-soaked Cannes at the G20 summit and being interviewed by BBC political editor Nick Robinson. But my favourite image by far was the picture on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine. It showed the PM strolling at Chequers, his country retreat, with his baby daughter Florence strapped to his front. Somehow I can't see Nicolas Sarkozy following suit...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

David Cameron on doing the school run once a week

Soon after the coalition government was formed David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced their intention to delay morning cabinet meetings so they could help with the school run.

But in this week’s Grazia interview the PM said he doesn’t take his two school-aged children to school as much as he used to, though he does try and do it once a week. “...every morning there are priority meetings and phone calls,” he told interviewer Jane Moore, “so you’re endlessly being squeezed...”

Well, welcome to real life. David Cameron is far luckier than most of the working population because he lives “above the shop” and can dash upstairs to the flat above No 10 for a cuddle with baby daughter Florence in between meetings. If you’re running a small business or working as a teacher (don’t forget, it’s the last episode of Channel 4’s fantastic Educating Essex tonight) there’s no way you can break off during the day and pop home.

For most of us, working means a lot of hard graft and endless compromises. Six years ago my husband was working on his computer in our freezing cold attic. He was in between jobs at the time and suddenly came rushing downstairs at top speed. He’d had an amazing new idea for an ingenious hi-tech system that helps to reduce water leakage. Not the glamour end of the market, but pretty damn smart all the same.

All this time later, his eureka moment has resulted in a fully-fledged company 70 miles from home that’s helping to save vast quantities of water around the world. There’s still a long way to go, but to get this far at all he’s had to work flat out seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. He’s missed parents’ evenings galore, cancelled holidays at short notice and hardly ever took our children to school. But then again, if he had helped with the school run, his company wouldn’t exist at all – let alone be employing anyone or making a major contribution to saving water.

I’m sure he’s not the only parent who’s made sacrifices. In fact he’s probably very typical of so many working parents.

Nick Clegg said last year that children often miss out on time with their dads and highlighted research showing that “where fathers are involved in their children’s lives they develop better friendships, they learn to empathise, they have higher self-esteem, and they achieve better at school.” Well yes, but this isn’t something you can fix through legislation or by insisting fathers (sorry, but it is usually the dads) get home in time to put the children to bed. Working parents simply have to make time for their children when they are at home.

PS: After reading my blog about the forthcoming RCA Secret exhibition yesterday, a reader asked what I’d bought in previous years. I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who the artists are but the two prints we bought are pictured above, in their full glory. Sad to say, they are not by Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

From Victoria Beckham to David Cameron - the new Grazia

Tuesday is my favourite day of the week. Why? Because a loud thump on the doormat signals the arrival of the latest issue of Grazia. I subscribed to the magazine a few years back, ostensibly for my student daughter. But in truth I love its heady mix of news, reviews and fashion just as much as she does.

I’m supposed to be writing a book review right now but couldn’t resist a sneaky look at today’s edition. It’s a cracker, featuring news that Victoria Beckham’s “in torment” over David’s possible move to play for Paris St-Germain (what are you thinking, Posh, Paris is the most fashionable city in the world), claims that the scar on Kate Middleton's head was caused by a sporting accident at school and an exclusive at-home interview with David Cameron.

The chat with the PM, conducted at No 10 by Sun columnist Jane Moore, is clearly designed to head off criticism that he’s sexist following his “calm down, dear” remark to shadow treasury chief secretary Angela Eagle during a House of Commons exchange. Not only that, a recent YouGov poll found that one in three female voters regard him as the “greatest male chauvinist” of the three party leaders.

Today’s interview runs to five pages but I’m not convinced it will make much difference. Revelations include the fact that romantic dinners with wife Sam are tricky when the protection team is sitting close by, that Sam often tells him to “calm down, dear,” that the couple’s elder two children like taking Fox’s Glacier Mints from the cabinet table and while his daughter Nancy loves The X Factor he tends to wait till near the end of the series because he “can’t be dealing with the man in the silver suit.” Does he mean Johnny Robinson? I’m not sure...

The most touching disclosure is that whatever differences the PM has with Nicolas Sarkozy, he’ll always be grateful to the French president for his kindness before his father’s death on holiday in France last year.

“We didn’t really know how bad it was,” says Cameron. “I was going to do PMQs, then get a flight a bit later, but in the meantime someone told President Sarkozy I was coming to France, and he’d got his own doctor to call the hospital and had found out things were really bad. So he rang me in the car to say ‘you must get on a plane now.’ So I did, and when I landed, he got me to the hospital... Whatever row I ever have with President Sarkozy, I will always remember that he got me to my dad before he died.”

PS: It’s probably mad, but I’ve signed up to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), which challenges bloggers to post every day for, yes, a whole month. Can I do it? Watch this space!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Tikka masala cheese, anyone?

Alex James’s hilarious account of life behind the scenes of Nineties’ Britpop is one of my favourite non-fiction reads of recent years.

In Bit of a Blur the irrepressible James (above) recounts how he was catapulted to fame and fortune as bass guitarist of the rock band Blur. One minute he was a university student living in a slug-infested squat in Camberwell. The next he was living the high life – hanging out at the Groucho Club, driving around in a cab festooned with spots painted by Damien Hirst and generally being, as he describes it, “the second drunkest member of the world’s drunkest band.”

Those days are long behind him now. He’s moved to the wilds of Oxfordshire, where he lives with his wife and children, waxes lyrical about the countryside and makes cheese. But I think his latest creation could be a step too far. His Alex James Presents cheese range goes on sale in Asda on Monday (August 22) and boasts flavours like cheddar and tomato ketchup, cheddar and tikka masala and cheddar and sweet chilli. Are you convinced? No, me neither.

PS: David Cameron has just set off on his fifth holiday of the year. After a jaunt to Granada in April to celebrate Sam’s 40th birthday, an Easter trip to Cornwall, a week in Ibiza in May and a recent holiday at a Tuscan villa (cut short when he flew back following the riots), he's heading to Cornwall again with his family.

Even though lots of families can’t afford to get away at all this year, I don’t begrudge the Camerons the occasional break. But five is overdoing it – and sends out a terrible message to the millions struggling to make ends meet. Long hours and interrupted holidays go with the territory when you've got a high-powered career. If you want an easier life and a job that gets you home by 5.30 every night, then top-flight politics probably isn’t the right choice.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

How to dress in summer

Looking summery and stylish when the temperature soars is a tricky feat to pull off.

Suddenly exposed to a few sunrays after months of drizzle and cold, most of us look as though we’ve never encountered summer before. Apart from a handful of style icons like Alexa Chung and Natalie Portman, we haven’t got a clue what to wear during the summer months. I certainly haven’t. I’ve worn black tights till the end of July, horrified at the thought of exposing my pale legs.

When I headed into London recently I looked around at my fellow commuters and realised I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a clue. Some were in skimpy frocks more suited to Ibiza nightclubs, some had opted for those horrible flouncy skirts that don’t look good on anyone and a few were still buttoned up to the neck in winter outfits.

Judging by this week’s pictures of David Cameron and George Osborne, it’s doubly hard for holidaying politicians. Forced to cast aside their slick city suits and polished brogues, their attempts to go into relaxed mode go horribly wrong. First the PM was snapped sipping cappuccino in a Tuscan café wearing wintery black loafers and no socks. Then the Chancellor was seen in LA sporting loose-fitting jeans, grey jacket and a very unchic red and black mini-rucksack.

But the worst offenders in hot weather are the men who emerge in too-short shorts, open-toed sandals and beige socks (a combination that should have been thrown in the bin years ago) and pudding-basin sunhats that even David Beckham would be hard-pressed to look good in. The British as a nation, I reckon, are in need of an urgent summer makeover.

PS: If, like me, you dream of escaping to a new life in France, do read Karen Wheeler’s accounts of her decision to hang up her high heels and move to rural Poitou-Charentes in western France. Or as she calls it, “the land of the long lunch." When I reviewed her first book, Tout Sweet, a couple of years ago, I wrote: “I’m loving former fashion editor Karen Wheeler's new book... If she can do it, I keep thinking, then so can I.” I still stand by every word. And today it’s being published in the US (the American cover is shown above), so I hope it sells stack-loads of copies.

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