Youth and young manhood… Or how to silence the doubters

In world which values youth above most other things, it seems odd that Luke Thomas has come up against such criticism in his so-far short career.

lukeThe 20-year-old chef from North Wales became the UK’s youngest head chef at the age of 18, and by the account of many of the country’s top chefs, he is the real deal.

But still there are comments from all sorts that he’s too young to handle it, he doesn’t have what it takes.

When I spoke to him, he was very sanguine about the support or otherwise of people in his industry, showing a mature attitude which one might not expect from one so young.

His stance, really, suggests that there will always be people who support you and you must value them, and there will always be those who doubt you, so you must learn to challenge them through your actions.

Not a bad rule for any of us.

Read the piece here.

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I am woman, hear me roar… Or tackling the ‘f’ word

Feminism turns out to be an incendiary topic.

It’s difficult to imagine that one little word which asserts that equality across genders is only fair can create such a gulf of opinion, but it does.

headWriting about the equality illusion was a really exciting prospect for me – firstly because I identified quite strongly with the story I was trying to tell and secondly, because there really was an intake of breath from so many who assumed that it had been won.

Equal pay, equal rights, everyone’s treated the same, that’s what I was told.

It’s not the case, says Kat Banyard from UK Feminista, an inspirational woman who helps people learn about activism and opportunities that enable a push for change.

The stories from Laura Bates at Everyday Sexism weren’t just about inequality – they were about harassment, assault, rape culture and victim blame.

All the more chilling as Laura’s work identifies links between this sort of behaviour in the developed world and the use of rape as a weapon in war zones.

Finally, I had a word with The Slits’ Viv Albertine.

As much a force of nature as a musician, mother, icon of our times and, of course, woman, she was clear that she believes in feminism, but she’s wary of putting herself in the ‘f’ box because then detractors can sneer.

Perhaps I didn’t convert anyone new to understanding the issues,  but I had some great feedback on sharing the wise words of these women, so I’ll keep talking about feminism until gender is no longer an issue.

Read the piece here.

The write stuff… Or how even a dream job might not be for you

We all have dreams.

Perhaps you want to sing onstage with The Boss; or tour the Amazon; or write a bestseller.

Maybe all you really want to do is master a Sunday roast.

Writer Marina Fiorato is a woman who has woken up to a fair few ‘dream-come-true’ moments image.phpby my estimation.

Firstly she is from an Italian family who have their own wine, but she was brought up in glorious Yorkshire.

Then she went to study at Oxford University with a stint at the University of Venice – sounds pretty idyllic.

But after that, she worked as a stage designer for rock stars including but not limited to U2, Travis and Queen.

It was all pretty special – until she took maternity leave and decided to make the leap into writing historical fiction.

Six books on and she’s still going strong.

And all because she took time to think about what she really wanted.

I think that’s probably a sign that we should all make a pledge
to dream some more.

Read the piece here.

Positive role models… Or how a politician learned from his inspirational parents

Some stories have so much humanity and bravery it seems like they must be a fiction.

I felt that way when I spoke to Peter Hain and his mother.

The Labour minister was well known for his activism in his youth, campaigning against apartheid in his birth country of South Africa, but his awareness and bravery is traceable back to the actions of his parents Ad and Wal Hain.

Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, Biteback Publishing
Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, Biteback Publishing

In his book, Peter details the fight they had with the powers that be in a country where people were judged to be lesser because of the colour of their skin.

To us, it defies logic that the couple were banned from speaking to groups of people, a practice which saw Ad miss a daughter’s birthday party.

We cannot imagine a world where Ad resolved to be in attendance in court to help young black men gain justice after being picked up without their family’s knowledge.

But we are all too aware of the demonisation of people who are different to ourselves, and the book struck me as a real warning of that sort of thinking.

The book is subtitled ‘Values, duty, sacrifice in apartheid South Africa’, but when I spoke to Ad about her experiences, it struck me that there was little in the struggle that Ad and Wal spearheaded that should be seen as ‘duty’, simply because there were many South Africans at the time who didn’t do their ‘duty’ to fight for freedom, merely toeing the party line.

Ad also went to the Nelson Mandela trial which saw him sent to Robben Island, and was proud to mention the affection that the former South African president had expressed for Ad and Wal and their family.

One more piece of the story that’s almost impossible for us to imagine, but to Ad and Wal, it was just part of real life.

Read the piece here