On #OverweightHaters Ltd

You can’t have spent any time on Twitter in the last couple of days without seeing reference to #OverweightHaters, an organisation which is apparently going up to overweight people and handing them cards calling them fat, lazy porkers (I paraphrase).


I’m writing this as someone whose BMI is in the overweight range, and thus probably qualifies to receive one of these cards (note for anyone that tries it, I hope you’re not too attached to your fingers).

At the moment, I’m convinced it’s either a one-off by a thoroughly nasty individual, or some sort of publicity stunt, guerrilla marketing campaign, or similar. It’s all a bit, well, odd. Circumstantial, circular references abound.

Only one person has actually posted about receiving one of these cards. A second person has tweeted about seeing someone else being given one of them, but if it were a sustained campaign of fat-shaming, I think Twitter/Facebook would be full of “some bastard gave me one of these cards,” posts, rather than circular references to the same person being given a card.

The person who tweeted about receiving the card last tweeted in 2012, and hasn’t tweeted since, despite half the world trying to get in touch with her. It seems unlikely to me that your first action on receiving a card calling you names would be to post about it on a social platform you’ve hardly ever used before. Maybe I’m wrong, but…

OverweightHaters Ltd has no internet presence that I could find. No Twitter account, no Facebook page, no website. I ended up on page 17 of Google results looking for anything other than a link to news stories about this one event, and we all know that page 17 of Google is the pit of desperation. [The website overweighthaters.com was registered by someone with no purported connection to this group whilst I was drafting this]

The name of the website the images are being hosted on seems a bit to coincidental for someone who’s saying they’ve been fat-shamed. Slimg? Really? And that background image on the home page…



The website seems mainly to be used as an image hosting service for things posted to Reddit and similar sites, for what it’s worth.

The card has no contact information on it, and is full of grammatical and spelling mistakes. If it were an actual entity, you’d hope somebody in it could spell and proof-read. If the organisation had any web presence, this would be listed on the card, if only so they could get off on the messages telling them how horrible and upsetting they are. Bullies rarely bully in a vacuum, they bully to get a result. If you don’t leave any way for your victims to get in touch with you, how do you know how upset they are?

This one’s a bit of a stretch, but there is no entity called “Overweight Haters Ltd” listed on Companies House.


If this organisation is real, they’re probably not paying attention to the finer points of company law, but you can’t call yourself “Ltd” unless you’re a Limited Company and registered as such on the Companies House website. Yes, if that was my only bit of evidence, I’d be on distinctly thin ice, but taken in conjunction with everything else, it’s making me think it’s some sort of publicity stunt, a wind-up from a site such as 4Chan, or some other exercise in watching the Twitter mob work itself into a fury and let rip over nothing.

That is, I think, the great weakness of Twitter – that if most people in your Twitter bubble are saying how terrible something is, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the mob because it’s easy to miss the dissenting voices saying “um, hang on a second.”

I know there are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in this post, and very little that’s concrete, but then it seems to me that there are an awful lot of ifs, buts and maybes in the whole story, with very little that’s concrete.

If it is true, it’s properly awful and I’m really sorry for any innocent person that it’s happened to, and I hope everyone who thought it was a good idea gets septic paper cuts, but, at the moment, it all seems circumstantial, vague and unconvincing.


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On the tampon tax and the law of unintended consequences

I haven’t blogged for ages, so I thought I’d break my duck with something nice and uncontroversial, like the tampon tax. Snort.

Whilst I’m writing this as an accountant, I’m not a VAT accountant and the laws of VAT are complicated. I apologise in advance for any mistakes, please point out any howlers in the comments. I am fully in agreement that VAT on an essential item is an injustice; however, it may not be quite so simple as people seem to think to get it removed…

I’d like to start by correcting a misconception. Razor blades are not zero-rated for VAT. The law is that unless there is a specific VAT notice changing the rate of VAT for a certain item, that item is subject to VAT at the standard rate currently in force (at the time of writing, 20% in the UK). There is no VAT notice relating to razor blades, and this page (referring to import/export tariffs), specifically says that VAT at the prevailing rate applies. I suspect that the price differential between Gilette Fusion razors (marketed at men) and Gilette Venus (marketed at women), is down to the usual “pink it and shrink it and double the cost”.

An idle perusal of the full list of exemptions reveals that nappies are not exempt as medical supplies but under the childrens’ clothing exemption. Here is the VAT notice for sanitary protection showing it at 5%.

The definitions of what is a luxury and what is not a luxury date back to the time the UK first joined the EU, when certain items were negotiated as being exempt from VAT as essentials, or not exempt from VAT because they were seen as luxuries, and VAT is intended to be a tax on luxury goods. I do not know why it was initially decided that sanitary protection was deemed to be a luxury. However I suspect that similar logic to the distinction between cakes, which were usually made at home, from “wholesome ingredients” and therefore not a luxury, and biscuits which were usually shop-bought, and therefore a luxury, was applied. Home-made sanitary protection, made from flannel, washed and re-used, not a luxury. Shop-bought, one-time use sanitary protection – a luxury (waits expectantly for the social historians to call me an idiot and explain that shop-bought sanitary protection was the norm in 1970).

It is important to note that as the relevant EU-wide law currently stands, everything is subject to VAT with the exception of previously-negotiated exemptions. VAT rates can be set individually by EU member states, and you can have more than one rate.

So, sanitary protection was originally subject to VAT at the standard rate, and the rate was lowered to 5% (the minimum VAT rate in the UK) by the Labour government of 2000, following a campaign.

This means that of the price of a packet of sanitary protection, approximately 8p of a £1.70 packet of tampons is VAT. I’ve done the maths, workings available on request, and I reckon that the average woman will thus be charged approximately £160 in her lifetime of unjust VAT on an essential item.

Now, let’s say that the VAT was abolished.

Hark, I hear the approaching thunder of a whole herd of unintended consequences…

Firstly, does anyone seriously imagine that the cost will go down? Because I don’t. I think somehow, mysteriously, the price will remain the same. So instead of paying an unjust £0.08 per packet in VAT, profits to the manufacturers and retailers will go up by the same amount.

Actually, I think the end price to the consumer will go up. Retailers and manufacturers incur costs in relation to the production and sale of these items – manufacturing costs, research and development, advertising, the costs of running a shop, etc. Where the end product is subject to VAT, the VAT on these costs is recoverable by the manufacturer or retailer. Where the end product is VAT exempt, these costs are not recoverable. So an item which currently costs a manufacturer £100 because they can recover the VAT on a £120 invoice will suddenly cost £120 because they can no longer recover the VAT. Note that I don’t know if the rate you can recover the VAT varies based on the VAT rate of the end product, so it may be that they are already unable to recover 15% of the VAT they are charged.

Multiply that up by all the costs incurred by all the manufacturers and retailers, and that’s a fairly hefty hit on various bottom lines, and I am almost entirely certain that said retailers and manufacturers won’t go “oh, fair enough, we’ll take that hit,” but will load the costs onto the end product, and so whilst there may be a reduction in the price for the VAT saving (although as previously mentioned, I doubt the saving will be passed on), the end result will almost certainly be that the cost to the consumer will go up in order to account for the increased costs to manufacturers and retailers.

Be careful what you wish for…


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Circular knitting needle case instructions

Between the last post and this one, I had an unfortunate encounter with someone cycling where they shouldn’t have been (no, the irony is not lost on me either), resulting in a broken rib and quite a lot of pain whenever I tried to pick up my sewing machine. This is why I have only just finished mum’s Christmas present. Sorry mum.

It’s based on one on Princesspea’s site but Princesspea seems to have vanished off the internet, and also mine has some significant differences so I’m not in any danger of infringing copyright.

I cut all my pattern pieces out of dressmakers’ squared paper first, so, you will need three pattern pieces:

Main pattern piece: 77cm by 50cm

Pocket pattern piece: 36 cm by 18cm

Buttonhole pattern piece: 15cm by 6cm

For the fabric, you will need:

Outer fabric: I used denim, in a dark blue, washed and ironed first.

Lining fabric: I used plain pale cream cotton poplin.

Pocket fabric: I used Liberty lawn in  Mauverine, but not in that colourway, the one I used was green and purples.

You will also need

Iron-in or sew-in fleece

2 buttons


Using the main pattern piece, cut 1 each from the lining fabric, the sew-in or iron in fleece, and the outer fabric.

Using the pocket pattern piece, cut eight pocket pieces from the pocket fabric.

Using the button fastener pattern piece, cut two fastener pieces from the outer fabric.

If you’re using something less substantial than denim for the outer fabric and button loops, you may want to interface them.

2014-02-15 11.50.57

Sew the fleece to the wrong side of the outer fabric. If using fusible fleece, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, if using sew-in fleece, use a 1/4″ seam allowance.

For each of the pocket pieces:

1) make a hem along one long side by turning over 1.5cm, pressing, turning over another 1.5cm. Press and sew. This will be the top edge, so watch the direction if you’re using a directional print.

2) Press a 1cm hem into each short edge of each strip, but do not sew.

3) Press a 1.5cm hem into the bottom edge of each strip, but do not sew.

You should end up with eight pieces which look like this:

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Position one pocket so one short edge is 4cm in from the short edge of the lining fabric and the ironed hemline of the bottom long edge is 4cm in from the long edge of the lining fabric.

Join the pocket to the lining fabric by sewing along the ironed hemline on the bottom of the pocket.

Position another pocket so it is underneath and 2.5cm higher than the first pocket. Join to the lining fabric as above.

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Repeat this for the remaining six pocket pieces, so you end up with one set of double-layered pockets in each corner of the lining fabric.

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The tops of all the pockets should face towards the centre of the lining fabric.

Pin and sew the short edges of the pockets to the lining fabric. Measure and mark to divide each pocket into three, and sew down the marking line. Sew from the bottom of each pocket to the top, to prevent the fabric buckling.

2014-02-15 17.17.09

Fold the lining piece with the attached pockets into four. Mark the centre of one long raw-edge side of one of the quarters, and the same on the short raw-edge side.

To make the button loop, fold it in half lengthwise and press, then fold the outer edges into the crease and press it flat again. Fold along the first crease and iron flat once more. Sew the open edge closed, with approximately 1/8″ seam allowance.

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On the left is after pressing but before sewing, on the right is after sewing.

Pin one of the loops at the centre point marked on the long edge, and one at the centre point on the short edge of the pocket fabric, with the raw fabric edges all lined up together and the loop to the right side of the pocket fabric.

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With right sides together, sew the lining fabric to the outer fabric, leaving a 6” gap to turn it right side out. Clip the corners, and turn it right side out, pushing the corners out with a point turner. Press thoroughly. Pin the gap closed, then top-stitch all round the edge.

Fold into quarters, mark the button positions, unfold and sew on the buttons.

2014-02-15 16.48.38


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Peg bag instructions

Mum uses a plastic carrier bag to keep her laundry pegs in. The bag gets scuffed and ripped, pegs go everywhere, drives me spare whenever I’m down and doing laundry.

“We can do better than this,” I thought. “And it’s nearly her birthday.” All the patterns I found online were the ones with the coat hanger in that we made at school (mine was dark green with rick-rack in red and varying shades of blue, I seem to remember). I knew I didn’t want that sort of design, but couldn’t find anything else. So I designed one. And it looks like this:
2013-10-12 16.07.49

Yes, the strap is in two parts with a buttonhole, it’s so you can button it over the washing line.

You will need:

1/2 metre of exterior fabric (I used a denim)
1/2 metre of lining fabric (I used some coordinating quilting fabric)
1/2 metre of fleece (either the fusible sort or the sew-in sort)
30cm by 75cm fusible interfacing
A button (I used a large plain navy blue one)

The pattern pieces:

For the body: A rectangle 60cm long by 26cm high (cut one of these out of the exterior fabric, the lining fabric, and the fleece – three pieces)
For the base: A circle of 19 1/2cm diameter (cut one of these out of the exterior fabric, the lining fabric, and the fleece – three pieces)
For the straps: A rectangle 75cm long by 15 cm high (cut two of these out of the exterior fabric and interfacing – four pieces)

2013-10-12 11.26.11

Seam allowance is 1/2″ throughout except where stated. I apologise for the mix of metric and imperial measures – the drafting paper I use is cm squared, the sewing machine was my grandma’s and so has imperial seam allowances marked on the footplate.

1) Iron the interfacing onto the wrong side of the fabric for the straps, and press in half, longways, right sides together.

2) With wrong sides together, sew down one short edge and the long edge, so you end up with an open-ended tube. Trim the seam allowance to about 1/4″, clip the corners. Turn right side out, poking the corners out (a knitting needle is a very present help in times of trouble). Press, mercilessly. You can top-stitch all the way round as well. I meant to, but I forgot.

3) Attach the fleece to the exterior fabric, both body piece and base piece. If using fusible fleece, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, if using sew-in fleece, use a 1/4″ seam allowance.

For the exterior

4) With right sides together, sew the side seam down the short side.

5) With right sides together, pin the exterior body to the exterior base, easing fullness if required. Sew.

For the lining

6) Sew the side seam, and sew the base to the body, in the same way as for the exterior.

7) With the exterior body inside out, drape one of the handles inside the bag and pin the short end to the exterior body fabric (so the handle is on the inside of the bag). Repeat with the other handle. Sew in place using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

8) Insert the lining into the exterior, with the right sides together, and pin in place. Sew around the top edge, using a 1/2″ seam allowance, and leaving a 4″ gap somewhere in the seam for turning.

9) Turn the bag right side out through the opening you left in the seam, topstitch all around the top edge to close the gap and reinforce the top edge.

[Optional: discover that the large navy blue button you thought you had is actually two smaller ones which wouldn’t have suited at all, realise that this means a trip to Westfield shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, sob gently, go to Westfield, buy button, don’t kill anyone].

10) Put the buttonhole at the end of one of the straps, sew the button on the other strap.

11) Beam with pride.

2013-10-12 13.49.22

This is the first sewing pattern I’ve ever written out, if I’ve made any particularly glaring errors, do point them out in the comments.

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On sewing and cheap clothes

Sorry, I haven’t blogged for ages. I’ve had very little to say, so I’ve said it, at length, on Twitter.

One of the things I’ve been doing is sewing. Grandma left me her sewing machine in her will, “to keep or dispose of as I saw fit.”

So I kept it. It’s lovely. Not pretty to look at, but it’s bombproof.

2013-04-13 08.13.54

It had previously been living at my parents’ in Hampshire, which seemed sensible while I was first learning how to use it, but once I had cleared out the Cupboard of Doom by the front door so I had somewhere to keep it and the associated paraphernalia, I brought it up to London.

Have you ever tried taking a metal cased (and therefore heavy and awkward to carry) sewing machine anywhere by public transport? It’s do-able, but you will find a wheeled tote bag extremely handy.

I live in sure and certain hope that we will have a summer this year and so have been making floaty skirts in Liberty lawn.

I think I was cutting out a pattern when the news broke of the factory collapse in Dhaka, and it started me thinking. Vague, fumbling thinking. I’m not sure where it’s going, but we’ll see.

I know the work that goes into a skirt. This one took me most of a day.

2013-04-27 20.17.19

It’s sort of middling complexity, as skirts go. It’s lined, has six panels, a waistband facing, and a zip. It would have been quicker if I hadn’t lined it, but lined skirts drape better and Liberty lawn is so fine that it either needs lining or you end up with the national collection of nude-coloured underskirts, which are disastrously unattractive garments, invariably just the wrong length.

I know that industrial garment production is not the same as domestic sewing. That if you’re chained to a sewing machine in Dhaka, you get provided with pre-cut pieces, and your job is to turn those pre-cut pieces into a garment. That you will make the same thing day after day after day, and the more you make of anything, the faster you get (the last of the aprons that every toddler of my acquaintance got for Christmas took me an hour and a half from pinning out the fabric to stitching on the neck strap. The first one took me about three hours). If you’re paid piece-rates, you won’t stop to unpick mistakes or carefully press seams.

But still. There is work involved in a skirt.

The things I do. I set foot in Primark without benefit of ear defenders, gin, or a sharp stick, looking for something comparable. Other cheap clothing stores are available, but I was on my lunch break and I only had an hour.

You can buy a long skirt for £12, a tailored pencil skirt for £7, tailored trousers for £5, a t-shirt for £4, and a dress for £20.

I don’t think that’s right.

I know, wages are lower in Dhaka, and economies of scale mean that industrial quantities of fabric are cheaper than my waltzing into Liberty’s and handing over £24 a metre for cotton lawn (and, furthermore, that I can buy Liberty lawn elsewhere for cheaper than £24).

But if I can buy a skirt for £12, and a t-shirt for £4, and that £16 covers a proportion of Oxford Street rent and rates, utilities, staff wages, shipping, and the costs of manufacturing, such that Primark and everyone involved in the chain makes a profit, there is a little voice at the back of my mind saying “someone, somewhere, is being shafted.” Corners are being cut. Wages are inadequate. Safety inspectors are being bribed to ignore cracks in factory walls. Fire doors are chained shut. Buildings collapse and people die or are trapped in rubble and have limbs amputated without anaesthetic so that I can buy a t-shirt for four quid.

There is blood on our cheap clothes.

I can hear the shouts of “check your privilege!” from the back, so I’ll try and address those.

I work full time, and I earn a decent wage. I have the money to buy expensive fabric, woven in Italy and printed in Lancashire, which I then have the time, the patience, the knowledge, the equipment, and the interest to turn into clothes.

I have internet access so I can go looking for cheaper fabric than Liberty lawn, or fairly-traded fabric, or fabric which is woven and dyed in the EU, with its more stringent workers’ rights and safety requirements. I can have that fabric delivered to work, so I don’t have to troll down to the parcel office on the bus to pick it up. I am not scrambling to make ends meet, working two jobs, with children to look after.

I am not saying that everyone should make their own clothes. Apart from anything else, if everyone could do it, I wouldn’t get the massive ego boost from all the “oh, you are clever,” comments I get, but it would add seven pence per garment to fix the buildings in the Dhaka garment district.

Seven pence.

I know it’s complicated. Is it better to be campaigning for change from the inside, being able to write to the chairman of Primark as “a loyal customer who has shopped in your stores for the last X years, spending £yyy in the process, I am appalled that…”, or am I enjoying the view from up here on the moral (ish) high ground too much?

I don’t know.

But this I know.

Depriving the labourer of his wages is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. Presumably depriving the labourer of her limbs is likewise.

The “it’s better they’re paid something,” argument is rubbish. It leads to a race for the bottom where that “something,” gets smaller and smaller every year because “there are plenty of other people who want your job.”

A £4 t-shirt, which falls apart on the second wash and goes to landfill, is clearly more disposable than something which I have spent time and effort in making. Clothes which I make will be taken up and taken in and altered and worn until they collapse in shreds around my ankles.

It’s a subset of Sam Vimes’ “boots” theory of socioeconomic injustice. When we meet Vimes, in Men at Arms, he earned thirty-eight dollars a month as a Captain of the Watch, plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots, the sort that would last years and years, cost fifty dollars. This was beyond his pocket and the most he could hope for was an affordable pair of boots costing ten dollars, which might with luck last a year or so before he would need to resort to makeshift cardboard insoles so as to prolong the moment of shelling out another ten dollars. Therefore over a period of ten years, he might have paid out a hundred dollars on boots, twice as much as the man who could afford fifty dollars up front ten years before. And he would still have wet feet.

I can spend £4 on a t-shirt, which is so cheaply manufactured that it falls apart within the month and doesn’t fit for the month that you get to wear it, so I then have to keep spending £4 on t-shirts. Or I can spend £26 on two metres of organic, fairly traded cotton jersey plus another few quid for thread and a pattern, and make two t-shirts well and sturdily, which will last two or three years. In three years, I’ll have spent £144 on £4 Primark t-shirts, or (including the cost of my time) about £60 on making my own. This leaves £84 to spend on gin and frivolity, and I won’t have had to go to Primark, which I have a sneaking suspicion is not a shop at all, but a portal to Hell.

I’m not perfect – I don’t think anyone can be this side of the Parousia – but I’m working towards doing the best I can. I’m sure that if anyone went through my wardrobe and my food cupboards the list of things which would show me up as a raging hypocrite would be a mile long.

I haven’t been dressmaking for long enough to have a wardrobe full of hand-made clothes. I bought my last duvet set in Debenhams. But I find that I am more thoughtful about the clothes that I buy now, as I am aware of the work that goes into them, and the price that I should be paying. I am also thoughtful about the things that I make – it is a thing which concentrates the mind wonderfully, handing over a small fortune for fabric which you still have to take home and do something with.

Costings for approximate equivalent hand-made items to the Primark items mentioned above:


This will never be a fair comparison – as several people pointed out to me, I’m too much of a perfectionist to make things badly and out of horrible materials, so the fabrics were organic and/or fair trade where possible. The fabric for the pencil skirt and trousers is a wool/polyester blend. The £92.72 for the long skirt includes the £7.60 for the lining. Notions are things like thread, interfacing, and buttons (this cost is very much a guess. There is always thread left over, which you use up the next time). Patterns are a one-off cost. I have deemed my time to be worth £10 an hour (don’t tell my boss, I don’t need a pay cut), but, realistically, I don’t include my time in the cost of making things – it’s something I enjoy doing and I don’t count the cost of going to a museum, either.

So, some fumbling thoughts. I think all I can do is buy (or make) the best I can afford. I am lucky enough that I can afford better than Primark, or similar “pile it high and flog it cheap” vendors of highly seasonal fashion. I am also lucky enough that I am not interested in the whims of seasonality, and so I will wear things I like regardless of whether they are in fashion or not, and until they fall apart.


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Letter to Alec Shelbrooke

Dear Mr Shelbrooke

I am writing to you with feedback with regard to your proposed cash card system for benefits. I will be open with you, I have a number of problems with your proposal, which seems to define the term “nanny state,” and which I believe is deeply un-Conservative. However, leaving that particular issue aside, my problems are:

My local market is cheaper for staples (meat, vegetables, toilet paper, tinned goods), than the local supermarkets. None of the stallholders take cards.

The local supermarkets are mostly of the Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local variety, which sell a smaller range of goods at higher prices, so people who currently shop at the market would have to pay more for a smaller range of food, with obvious nutritional disadvantages. People on benefits are already living on a tight budget, this would make their budget even tighter.

By forcing people to shop in certain places, this would skew local economics. It would unfairly deprive local traders of sales, possibly driving them out of business, and increase the profits of large multinationals, one of which already gets approximately 1 in every £8 spent on the high street. The administration of this scheme would presumably also be handed over (for a price) to Visa or Mastercard.

This doesn’t seem right to me.

Even in this electronic age, there are still some transactions which need cash. As an example, many large supermarkets are not easy to get to on foot, and are a bus ride away. My highly scientific survey (a question asked on Twitter at 7:20pm), reveals that there are many places where cash is the only way to pay for occasional bus trips, meaning that a cheaper shop which takes cards becomes inaccessible when people have no cash to pay for the bus.

This also has implications for people who are unemployed and looking for work. If they need cash to pay for their bus fare to the job interview, how can they get to their interview if all their benefits are paid onto a card which they cannot use for bus fares?

I can easily see a “black market” situation arising, where benefit claimants who need cash (to pay for school trips for their children, or the bus to job interviews), buy “approved” groceries for people in exchange for cash, the “exchange rate” to be determined by the person with the cash.

I am also concerned by the definition of “luxury,” and “essential,” purchases. Who gets to decide if a foodstuff is a luxury and not allowed, or an essential and permitted? How finely-grained will it be? What about low-alcohol wine? A diet of white bread and chips and limited vegetables due to restricted access to shops, is probably worse for you than the odd glass of wine on a Friday night – will the card monitor this? Are books and toys for children luxuries or essentials?

You said yourself in your speech that this is a measure aimed at “alter[ing] the spending habits of a minority who for far too long have taken advantage of the system,” and that “strivers and low-paid workers most need a supportive society where they are given the respect most deserve in trying to make work pay.” However, by putting all benefits onto this cash card, you will be penalising the low-paid recipients of benefits by removing from them the ability to chose where to spend their money, and stigmatising them as scroungers who cannot be trusted to spend their money without the dead hand of the State controlling them.

[I didn’t send this next paragraph to Mr Shelbrooke. I thought it might be too emotive and not helpful].

Someone smuggled a large crate of red lipsticks into the convoys carrying aid to the survivors of Auschwitz. When the military and Red Cross discovered this, they were angry that the cargo space needed for food and medical supplies had been taken up with something so ridiculous as lipstick. Starving, terrified women who had been living under sentence of death immediately began to paint their lips, which was a first step towards feeling human again. It is the “luxuries” which acknowledge our humanity. By saying to people that they do not have the “right” to buy lipstick or a packet of cigarettes, you are denying a part of their humanity.

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The Bucket List

I’ve done one of those bucket lists, which I am anticipating will keep me busy for the next fifty years or so, given that I have no intention of shuffling off this mortal coil quite yet.

If I’ve been clever, you can see it here.

Some is fairly close to home (Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church is embarrassingly just down the road and I’ve never been in), some might be a bit harder to achieve (there’s a reason Inaccessible Island isn’t on the list).

Some will be grouped together, such as cycling along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Bath and spending the weekend there, and by walking the South West Coast Path I’ll have covered the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site.

Someone saw the list and said it looked a bit keen and healthy. I’m staying in a four-poster bed in York, and the first thing I’ll be doing when I’ve cycled to bath is crawling into the Thermae Spa, so it’s probably not all jolly hockey sticks and keenness.

There’s a map, with little flags stuck in it.

Anyway. Come along for the ride…

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I’ve had a reply from my MP

In response to this letter.

23rd February 2012

Dear [rosamundi]

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding road safety for cyclists and the related Times “Cities Fit for Cycling” campaign.

I appreciate the importance of encouraging more people to cycle and to cycle safely and I agree that the Government and local authorities should consider ways to help improve cycle use and safety.

I welcome The Times’ “Cities fit for cycling” campaign which has been very effective in highlighting the importance of improving road safety for cyclists and I hope that MPs have an opportunity to debate the issue and The Times’ eight point manifesto in the House of Commons.

The previous Labour Government also looked very carefully at this issue and introduced a range of measures to improve cycle safety and cycle use including a national cycle strategy, the introduction of local cycling plans and dedicated funding and resources for cycle training and safety, especially among children. Indeed, in the last decade casualties have reduced by 17% while cycle use grew by 20%.

I agree, however, that more needs to be done to further improve safety for cyclists and I am concerned that this may be hindered by the Government’s decision to cut local authority funding by 27% over the next four years, as local authorities play a particularly important role in ensuring local road safety.

I welcome the “Cities Fit for Cycling” campaign and I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to improve cycle safety and use.

I have therefore written to the Transport Minister Mike Penning MP to raise your concerns and to ask for further information on the Government’s plans in this area.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me with your concerns. If you have any further concerns about this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Yours sincerely

[proper signature in pen]

Lyn Brown
Member of Parliament for West Ham

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I knew it would happen sooner or later

Alarm went off at oh my word it’s early o’clock this morning, and I stumbled to the kitchen for coffee, morning prayer, and chocolate porridge, it being too cold for my usual breakfast of a fruit/milk/oats/banana smoothie. (Chocolate porridge is normal porridge with slightly too much Waitrose seriously chocolatey chocolate spread stirred in at the end, if you were wondering).

Porridge consumed, Sub tuum praesidium prayed, I heaved the bike out of the shed. I was riding Felicity, the nearly-sensible mountain bike hybrid with 21 gears, since I had booked it in for a service at my friendly local bike shop this evening.

This turned out to be fortunate.

I made it safely through Bow Interchange and onto Mile End Road, bimbling along, full of porridge and early-morning goodwill to all mankind.

This didn’t last.

I was waiting in an advanced stop box on a red light when a van pulled up next to me, on my right. A fairly common occurrence, this, so I checked to see if he was doing any of the things that would indicate a left turn at the junction, such as using indicators, position of hands on wheel, looking left, looking at his sat nav. All the indications were that he was going straight on.

The lights changed, we set off, and he immediately did a left turn directly across my path.

That wasn’t very nice of him.

He hit the bike’s front wheel, and the laws of physics being unbending when you don’t have a Large Hadron Collider about your person, I promptly fell off and landed on my bum in the road with a slightly-mangled bike on top of me.

Fortunately it was early in the morning and there was nothing behind us, so I didn’t have to worry about being hit by the car behind, and since we were both pulling away from the lights we were moving quite slowly.

I was picked up off the road and dusted down by another cyclist, who walked me to my friendly local bike shop, who took me in, made appropriate cooing noises, gave me a cup of tea and a sit down and took the bike downstairs for its service.

And then I stood up and very, very nearly screamed out loud.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Perhaps a trip to casualty would be advisable after all? It’s not far, I’ll walk.”

Yes, I am an idiot.

Off I staggered to A&E, I narrowly escaped being strapped to a backboard, was told sternly to put my phone away and not tweet, and they nearly took my eReader off me as well until I persuaded them that it wasn’t a wireless one.

I was thoroughly poked, prodded and X-rayed, told that I hadn’t broken my neck or my head or my hip or anything, that I was just bruised and had sprained my wrist, and next time I’m knocked off just down the road would I mind awfully calling an ambulance instead of wandering into the NHS walk-in centre two hours later going “err, got knocked off my bike, can you tell me where casualty is please?” because it’s a lot less hassle that way?

So, the bike needs a new front wheel, I need to buy a week’s season ticket for the Tube and a new cycle helmet, just to be on the safe side. Could have been worse. The moleskin skirt took the brunt of the road, which is a bit rough on the moles, but less rough on my legs, my gloves are wrecked (but my hands aren’t), and I was riding the mountain bike hybrid with the cheap and easy to replace front wheel, rather than the Pashley with the awkward and expensive to replace one.

I’ve reported it to the police as a failure to stop at the scene of an accident, I await developments.

While you’re here, do you mind signing The Times’ Cities fit for Cycling petition and the London Cycling Campaign’s Love London, Go Dutch one? Thank you.


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A letter to Lyn Brown MP

The Times Newspaper has today launched its Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, calling for our streets to be made safer for all road users. I don’t agree with some of their points, and I think some don’t go far enough (yes, I know, my middle names are Ungrateful and Never-Satisfied), but it’s a start. The campaign is outside The Times’ firewall. I urge you to go and read it and sign up.

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to my MP Lyn Brown today. Bow Interchange marks the western boundary of her constituency, which is partly why I keep banging on about it. Also I have to cycle through it twice a day and it scares me witless.

As a constituent who commutes by bike from Stratford to Green Park most days, I urge you to support The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, and to urge the Mayor of London and the Minister for Roads to take notice of the deaths and serious injuries taking place on roads they control.

There is nothing that would make me feel safer on London’s roads than properly thought-out, segregated cycling infrastructure. Blue paint costing between two and four million pounds per mile, four times as much as New York’s recent (and much better) scheme, does nothing to reduce accidents; and has made road safety worse at Bow Interchange.

Only investment in real infrastructure will make a difference. The changes happening on this city’s roads may well “smooth traffic flow”, but they are both objectively and subjectively dangerous for vulnerable road users, and relegate cyclists and pedestrians to a poor second and third place behind cars and lorries.

It is not right that the Mayor of London is deliberately endangering your constituents by this policy, which is shortening pedestrian crossing times, removing pedestrian crossings altogether, and refusing to put them in at Bow Interchange despite consultants’ reports saying they were necessary, because it would “introduce significant delays to traffic.” That junction is so dangerous that vulnerable road users, such as the elderly, those with small children, and the disabled, take the bus one stop to avoid having to negotiate sixteen lanes of speeding traffic on foot.

Sadly, this is not really an option for cyclists, which is why two people were killed at Bow in the space of three weeks in the latter part of last year.

Having vulnerable road users deliberately placed in a position of danger as they share the road with vehicles weighing many tonnes is a recipe for disaster. All it takes is a moment of inattention from a lorry driver and the cyclist suffers catastrophic injuries which, if not immediately fatal, are devastating and life-changing, leading to months in hospital and permanent disability.

The Times’ eight-point manifesto is:

1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.

2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.

3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.

4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.

5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.

6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.

7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.

8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

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