Sunday
06
April
2014

The View from Londongrad

 

 

From the cover of today’s Observer magazine: “Since the Ukraine crisis, London’s growing Russian population has been faced with a major identity crisis… “There are two sides to this story. And they are both right.” Galina Pentecost sighs. People like clean-cut, easy-to-follow narratives. This isn’t one.”"

Well, that’s certainly an understatement. Over 300 comments and counting… A hard-won cover story for the Observer magazine on the view on the Ukrainian situation from Londongrad and the 150,000 Russians who have made Britain their home. Obviously there’s a nod to the situation involving the high-profile incomers who are often in the headlines (like Abramovich and Usmanov). But I really wanted to make this story about the cultural effects on Russians who have been here a long time (many who are married to Brits and hold British passports). It wasn’t an easy story to tell and I’m really pleased with the response.

The 150,000 figure is the best estimate around. Fox TV’s reality show Meet the Russians put the estimate up at 300,000 but I couldn’t find anything else that backed this up so I stuck with the more conservative estimate.

I really wanted to get in a mention of Vitali Vitaliev’s new book for children, Granny Yaga, based on the old Slavic fairytale — but it didn’t make the edit. Shame because it’s a great parable: in the original story Baba Yaga “may either help or hinder travellers” and it is hard to work out whether she is heroine, villainess or just ambiguous. Sound familiar? A situation where it’s hard to work out who is evil and who is going to save you? For a lot of the people commenting, it’s obvious which way round it is. But for Russians, it’s not so clear-cut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday
30
March
2014

Mommie Dearest and the other side of Mother’s Day

 

Interesting response to these two pieces on Mother’s Day. In the Times on maternal guilt — are we the most guilty generation of mothers ever to walk the earth? I suggested that possibly we are. And Professor Tanya Byron cautioned that over-guilty parenting can, ironically, have a detrimental effect on children — so that the very thing you’re working hard to avoid (damaging your kids) becomes the thing you cause. Didn’t want to think too much about that in case I felt guilty. (Joke. I generally don’t feel guilty.) Twitter response: “Totally agree. ‘Guilt is just your ego’s way of tricky you into thinking you’re making progress.’” “I resist the G word and agree with Tanya: if felt, do something to nip it in the bud and squash it.” “Hear, hear. As a mum on the road, I’m not even at home for Mother’s Day. How much guilt does that involve?”

And in the Guardian on mothers and criticism, I wrote about the strange, passive-aggressive things that mothers and daughters say to each other. “One thing you could try is not sleeping with everyone.” That’s probably still top of the list (from a US-based blog post). Mostly people identified and had their own horror stories (and were glad of the opportunity to move away from the saccharine image of Mother’s Day). But there was some feeling that this idea was “anti-feminist” (i.e. women should support each other and not be bitchy to each other — the trouble is, in real life it is not always thus…).

And a couple of commenters wondered where the dads were in this. I put in some comments about fathers in my original copy but it was felt (by the editor) that this was a piece about Mother’s Day and so it should centre on mothers… I’m intrigued that some people are uncomfortable with the idea that mothers and daughters say nasty things to each other. I know they don’t *all* do this and this is not everyone’s experience of life. But it is a thing that most people recognise and that’s why I wanted to write about it. Also otherwise I would never have heard (via Twitter) of the mother who said, whilst looking at a photo of her daughter as a teenager: “You look like Meatloaf.”

Thursday
13
March
2014

Toca Boca and kids’ apps

 

 

Cover pic by Katherine Rose for the Observer.

I went to Stockholm for the Observer with my seven-year-old to test-drive the world’s best-selling kids’ apps for three- to five-year-olds, Toca Boca. It’s a pretty impressive outfit, run by a publishing house set up in 1804 and with an eye on the long-term – instead of on a fast buck. I’m still not convinced they have any educational merit but they definitely match with Google’s aim – “do no harm”.

Extract: [Company founder] Jeffery explains that it is just supposed to be fun. Nothing more, nothing less. Toca Boca divides children’s activities into five categories: active play (sport), make-believe, manipulative play (building stuff), creative play (drawing) and learning play (books and games). “Most children like all five types of play. But then you look at the app store and think: ‘How is it addressing these types of play?’ Everything in the app store is in the last category – games and books. But that’s how adults play. It’s Candy Crush, basically.”

Thursday
13
March
2014

Interview with Siri Hustvedt

 

 

Thrilled to interview Siri Hustvedt (over the phone from New York) about her new novel The Blazing World. It tells the extraordinary story of a woman artist who achieves acclaim by posing behind the personae of three male artists. As a woman she is ignored. Once people think she’s a man, she’s the toast of the Manhattan art world.

This is a brilliant companion piece to one of my favourite novels of all time, What I Loved. Hustvedt: “Harry – the artist Harriet Burden – is right that there is a “masculine enhancement effect”. The arts are often thought of as “sort of feminine” and science as masculine. These divisions are underlying our perceptions. There are a number of other positions and perspectives that are meant to complicate the reader’s understanding of this story. There is no message. There is nothing simple about this.”

See also this review of The Sorrows of an American. And The Summer Without Men.  

Sunday
19
January
2014

A ban on affairs!

 

Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday about why people should never have affairs in the first place. 

“Is it unrealistic to suggest that people just shouldn’t have affairs? Really, is it that outlandish an idea, to just keep your pants on when you’re with someone who is not your partner? 

I am trying to avoid shouting here. Because it feels a bit like telling off a toddler. Don’t pick your nose. Don’t draw on the walls. No, you can’t have a fourth Frube. And no committing adultery. I have no sympathy. It’s childish. 

I am not talking from personal experience. Yet. Just keeping my husband of 14 years on his toes there. Only joking. Because the thing is, I would not have  an affair. Ever. And I know this. This is why I am married. 

If I wanted to have an affair, I would stop being married.”

Sorry to anyone who was hoping to have an affair with me. *sound of George Clooney wailing and gnashing his teeth*

Sunday
12
January
2014

#TeamEnoughAlready

 

Covering for Liz Jones on the Mail on Sunday while she’s in the Big Brother house. On David Cameron’s £90 haircut (OK for women, never OK for a man — my only concession to inequality). And on Charles Saatchi. Who just won’t let it go, will he?

“This man has devoted his life to collecting beautiful things. And yet he has no taste or grace. I don’t say this because I am #TeamNigella. I am #TeamEnoughAlready. The curtain has come down on the pantomime, Charles. Let it go.”

Sunday
12
January
2014

Sugar, I’m divorcing you

 

 

Illustration by Mark Long in the Independent on Sunday 

“What happened when sweet-toothed Viv Groskop swore off ‘the most dangerous drug of the times’?”

Hmm. Well, I lost five pounds in four weeks, discovered falafel and felt better than I had in years. 

I had been wanting to write this piece on giving up sugar for a long time — because it was the only way I could force myself to do a sugar detox properly and document it.

Thursday
26
December
2013

Downton Christmas Special

 

 

 

Downton Christmas Not-Very-Special. No? Review here. Warning: spoilers. Not that anything happened.

Thursday
28
November
2013

Femen’s Naked War

 

Picture by Paris-based photographer Ed Alcock (for ES magazine), whose book Hobbledehoy is out now. 

 

I loved interviewing Femen co-founder Inna Shevchenko in Russian (and a tiny bit – troshki – of Ukrainian) in Paris for ES magazine for the London Evening Standard. I have mixed feelings about Femen and the point of what they’re doing. And, as I stated in the piece, I worry for their safety: they are extremists and that attracts the attention of other extremists. But Shevchenko is a fascinating and intelligent young woman with her heart in the right place. I was sorry she had not heard of Germaine Greer.

Hilariously, a picture of me with Femen got me a warning from Facebook. (You’re not allowed to publish pictures of nipples.) And when I posted the link to this piece on the Standard website, I was banned from Facebook for 24 hours. I daren’t risk putting this picture there again…

Sunday
24
November
2013

Mail on Sunday column: the regeneration of Posh

 

Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday (“Rachel Johnson is away”) about the remarkable regeneration of Victoria Beckham (“Posh in Not-As-Objectionable-As-You-Once-Thought Shocker!), Susanna Reid on Strictly, the critic who attacked Sarah Silverman and the UK Twerking Championships. All the most important global news stories, basically. 

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