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I wrote about the milk crisis for MUNCHIES

Last weekend I went to Wensleydale to write about dairy farming. You can read my report online here.

Or the unedited version below…

My grandmother was crowned Dairy Queen of Cockshutt in 1938. My mother grew up under the udders of her neighbour’s dairy farm. My father used to drink a cold pint of milk every Friday night with his dinner. In short, my family feel about dairy the way the yakuza feel about tattoos and sake, or the mafia feel about garlic and respect.

So it was inevitable, while running over the hills and along the rivers of the Yorkshire Dales this week, that my thoughts would turn to dairy. More specifically, to our danger of losing it.

According to the Harrogate Advertiser, 48% of dairy farmers in North Yorkshire have left the industry completely. The combination of ferocious price cuts, fluctuating commodity prices, a Russian import ban, the drop in demand from China, payment delays (up to four weeks in the case of First Milk) and some less-than-brilliant British weather means that many dairy farms are running at a loss, unable to pay back the money they’ve borrowed from the bank. And all the while, Tescos and Morrisons are selling a pint of milk for just 49p, ASDA for just 45p. As the NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison said in an interview earlier this year, “Being a dairy farmer at the moment is like being a boxer – on the ropes and taking body blow after body blow – there’s only so much you can take before throwing in the towel.” (Continued)

I wrote about global menstrual inequality for The Debrief

It’s not often I get to talk to a doctor from the World Health Organisation from my own front room. But when The Debrief commissioned me to write about periods, it seemed important to cover such a big subject properly. I hope you like it. You can read it online HERE.

Or an unedited version below…

I broke the floodgates of my own personal period, or menarche as they say, while beachcombing on a windswept beach in Cornwall in an ill-fated pair of baby pink jeans. It was the 90s. I was 12. And, while I knew all about menstruation, the arrival of a gusset full of rust still made me worry, for a second, that I’d shat myself.

But I, of course, am one of the lucky ones. The world of menstrual bleeding differs wildly depending on where you happen to have been born. Two years ago state troopers confiscated tampons but allowed guns into the Texas Capitol. In 2013 Taiwan passed a law allowing all female workers three days of menstrual leave a year. Last year, Ethiopia held its first National Menstruation Hygiene Day to draw attention to the fact that girls in education on average miss 10-20% of school days due to their periods? In the UK today sanitary towels and tampons are taxed at 5% while edible sugar flowers and razors aren’t taxed at all. In short, it’s a bloody mess.

‘The realities of a woman in Switzerland or Britain are very different to the woman in rural India,’ Dr Venkatraman Chandra Mouli of the World Health Organisation tells me on the phone from his home in Geneva. ‘My focus is on Tanzania, Azerbaijan, India; that’s where the real need is.’ You may think that need is purely physical – the need for affordable, safe and hygienic sanitary wear to stop women having to use inadequate and unhygienic alternatives like newspaper, leaves, dirty rags and even sand. But, while that is of course a huge issue, I was surprised to hear Chandra talking first of the social and psychological impact of menstruation in low and middle income countries. ‘Menstrual problems don’t kill, but self esteem is key,’ says Dr Chandra Mouli. ‘Self esteem is one of the key pillars of health. When you feel good about yourself you can get a job, get a partner, negotiate a contract with a landlord. So imagine what happens to girls five days of every month when they think they’re spotting, think they’re smelling, think they’re unclean. The girl with the period is the one who hangs her head in shame because she’s using newspapers or dry leaves to mop up her blood. Of course it leaks and it probably smells. And so her self-esteem drops. The important thing is to give women control – and that means control of your periods.’ (Continued)

Oh my, I’m in Vogue

This is very, very exciting. Not to mention strange. I was commissioned by Vogue to write a feature about gourmet cocktails for their March issue. And just look at the photo they chose for the contributors page. I am so pleased.

Pick up a copy today, of course, or read my initial draft below…

Oh for a glass of lichen, as Keats never said. Or the distillation of flint stone. Or a clay-aged glass of tequila. Perhaps a capsule of paprika and citric acid cracked into your beverage, or some canal-foraged nettles and a dry frozen fig leaf.

Something has happened to cocktails. Over the last few years, fruit syrups, beaten eggs and lip-kicking spirits have given way to an altogether more sophisticated, more interesting landscape. Men like Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrook Row and Luis Simoes at Chiltern Firehouse are taking the ingredients, equipment and processes of gourmet food and flowing them into drinks. Cooking spirits sous vide, dispersing flavour through foam, ageing ingredients in leather, diffusing drinks into powder and sourcing fresh, locally-grown herbs are all part and parcel of your quality snifter. It’s a long way from the sticky gin and orange bottles of our Abigail Party past.


I wrote about Staying Power: Photographs of the Black British Experience for VICE

I interviewed the V&A’s Curator of Photographs, Marta Weiss, about their new exhibition, in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives, for VICE.

Read it online HERE (you really should – the photographs are amazing)

Or my original draft below…

High Waists and Wide Hair: Photographing The Black British Experience 1950s-1990s

As anyone who has ever had to clear through a suitcase of curling snapshots left on top of their divorcing parents’ wardrobe will tell you, photographs can be both objects of beauty and portals to a lost moment. A moment that, without the photograph, would have been wiped from history altogether.

The V&A became the first museum in the UK to collect photographs, way back in 1952, a mere 13 years after the introduction of the daguerreotype and the accepted ‘birth’ of photography. And yet despite this, a few years ago they realised that there was a gap in the collection; black people. Both as the subjects of photography and the photographers themselves, black British people were under-represented in the collection. So in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives, the V&A launched Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s, a project to fill that gap, raise awareness of the contribution of black Britons to British culture and celebrate the art of photography. The result, as seen in the two new simultaneous displays open at the V&A and BCA, is a celebration of Black British culture in all its high-waisted, high-combed, hi-top glory. We spoke to the V&A’s Curator of Photography, Marta Weiss, about the project, music, studio photography and Eton suits… (Continued)

I wrote about bouldering for The Metro

A man once described me as ‘handsome and outdoorsy’. I was furious. And yet…. I’ve been recently commissioned by The Metro to try out a whole load of adventure sports for their new Renegade series. It’s been brilliant. This week they published the bouldering one. You can read my original draft below…

Bouldering, I know, sounds like 50s schoolboy slang for slipping your hand up a girlfriend’s jumper. But the truth is far, far sexier. Well, if by sexy you mean it’ll make you sweat, your muscles shake, your breath will catch in your throat and sometimes halfway through you’ll have to shut your eyes and wait for your heart to stop racing.

What bouldering actually involves is climbing, without ropes, around little routes or ‘problems’ no more than about 20 feet off the ground. We’re living in an amazing time for outdoor climbing; Alex Honnos just climbed up El Sender Luminoso in Mexico – a 2,500ft vertical cliff – using nothing but chalk, boots and muscles like steel. I, on the other hand, was heading to Tunbridge Wells. (Continued)

I wrote about Valentine’s Day for The Debrief

Nick once gave me a bunch of oranges for Valentine’s Day. Anyway, the Debrief asked me to write something about how the day was marked around the world. Read it online HERE.

I wrote about Friday 13th for The Guardian

I still remember the day that my friend Fia’s mother told me not to be afraid of Friday 13th – that it’s a women’s day. Kerstin Lindley-Jones this one’s for you. You can read it online HERE.

Or read my original draft below…

I don’t want steaks and blowjobs; done badly both are a waste of half an hour. I don’t want tampons and cupcakes; both all too often end up in landfill. But I would like Friday 13th to stop being considered unlucky.

Not because I’m a diehard rationalist. My grandmother’s cure for warts was to ‘steal a bit of bacon and bury it in the garden’; I’ve spat at more magpies than you’ve had chicken dinners; I touch wood like Apprentice candidates touch base. No, my problem with Friday 13th is that it feels like a huge waste of an opportunity.

Friday is the only day in the British week named after a woman; Freyja. The Anglo Saxon goddess of fecundity shares the rest of the working week with a veritable sausage fest of gods; Thor, Woden and Tyr. And while yes, I know about those 13 superstitions – Judas was the 13th guest at the last supper, there were 13 steps to the gallows, it’s the shit roll in a baker’s dozen – haven’t we moved on just a little from fearing a group of 13 women is, in fact, a coven? (Continued)

LTOTBH: Dry Ski Slopes

I had such a fun time at the Bowles Outdoor Activity centre that I decided to write something all about the strange, sewage-smelling, skin-grating world of outdoor ski slopes for Josie Long’s lovely Lost Treasures of the Black Heart club this month.

You can either listen to a shit iPhone recording here: Dry Ski Slope

Or read some of what I said below…

I am here, tonight, not to celebrate the fact that I am dressed as the unexpected lovechild of Macho Man Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels and Brutus The Barber Beefcake during their prodigious Wrestlemania careers. I’m not even here to talk about wrestling at all. I am here to pour out a filth-flecked ode to dry ski slopes. Specifically, the glorious tradition of turning abandoned British gasworks and slag heaps into arse-strafing, chin-grating, elbow-blitzing outdoor ski slopes that look like nothing more than a half-furled roll of loo paper dropped down a forgotten mud-brown hill.

Last weekend I had the unfettered pleasure of visiting the Bowles Outdoor Ski slope. Imagine, if you will, a sanitary towel made of wire wool, laid across the gusset of the Kent countryside, just five miles outside of Tunbridge Wells. Now, I don’t want to tell you how to get laid over here, but Valentine’s Day is coming up and Bowles has a wooden boot shelter overlooking the slope. You know what to do. It was one of the most gloriously dismal skid marks I have ever seen. From the empty log cabins to the nylon curtains that specific UKIP shade of maroon, I felt like I’d wandered into a North Sussex remake of The Wicker Man. There was, of course, absolutely nobody there. The cheese coloured bristles thrust up at nobody. The skis laid silent at the side, like chopsticks at an over 60s all you can eat pan-Asian buffet on the outskirts of Barnsley. (Continued)

I wrote about being LGBT in the countryside for VICE

Seven years of listening to The Archers each and every day, and I finally get to write about the countryside. Read the proper edited version online HERE.

Or my first draft below…

During her childhood, deep in the hills of rural Shropshire, the gay postman from my mother’s village hung himself. This was the 1950s, when homosexuality was still illegal; when love had to be hidden behind the sexless screen of a sham marriage and the shame of your heart’s desire ended up tied around your throat like a rope.

Little, you may think, has changed. While shows like Cucumber or The L Word celebrate the heady, sweaty world of urban gay culture, the lives of young LGBT farmers, herdsman, gamekeepers and shop owners seems as silent as a stillborn lamb. Oh sure, The Archers has one gay couple. And Clare Balding strides around the highways and byways of Britain on Radio 4. But young, sexually-active, ambitious gay people living in the countryside? Not that you’d notice.

And yet, they exist. How could they not? “We have always had lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans members on the website since we launched in 2007,” says Heather Brown, from the dating website Muddy Matches. “At the moment, we have almost three times as many gay and bisexual men than we do lesbian or bisexual women. But that matches up with statistics from the Integrated Household Survey, which found that 1.5% of men and and 0.7% of women identified as gay or bisexual.” (Continued)

I wrote about talking to strangers for The Guardian

I got a message from one of my editors at Comment is Free yesterday, at about 12. Did I have anything I’d like to write about that day? I had just pulled out of Bournemouth, sitting beside a man with a neck tattoo. Would she like 750 words on talking to strangers on trains? Cut to an hour and a half later and I was filing this, from a Wetherspoons in Weymouth. Never a journey wasted. Read the edited (better) version online HERE.

Or you can read my first draft below…

A Catholic priest once slept on my shoulder for two hours as we rattled through northern France. A lavender-coloured woman once talked to me the whole way from Edinburgh to London, before handing me a small book of prayers and her postal address. I am writing this sitting next to a man with an Only God Can Judge Me neck tattoo who just spent the last 10 minutes telling me about the cat he wants to buy as we speed towards Weymouth. When it comes to transport, I am a magnet to the lonely, a beacon to the weary, a siren to the recently-released. (Continued)