What’s wrong with being woke?

Friday 26 November 2021

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Don’t call young people ‘woke’ or ‘snowflakes

Samantha Price November 2021

It is a headline grabbing moment from headteacher Samantha Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, at a conference in Manchester this week. Reading various reports of her speech, I don’t think that she objects to the word ‘woke‘ itself, rather that the ‘older generation‘ now use it as an insult to ‘sneer‘ and ‘dismiss’ the views of young people on issues they care deeply about such as: climate change, Black Lives Matter and gender identity.

Well climate change terrifies me; racism sickens me; gender identity, I’ll confess that still baffles me, mostly because I know far less about it. So, whilst as a parent and teacher, it is a cardinal sin for me to even contemplate ‘getting down with the kids’ it makes me ask myself,

Am I a little bit woke too?’

But firstly, what exactly does it mean?

Although its origins can be traced back hundreds of years, woke first appears in the OED in 2017, where it is defined as ‘originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’. While the Urban Dictionary entry reads, ‘being woke means being aware… knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)’. Simply summarised, woke means consciously awake.

And what, I would ask, is wrong with that? Shouldn’t we all be on board? Clearly not; for in certain circles of society there is now a vehement ‘anti-woke‘ movement. John McWhorter writing How ‘Woke’ became an insult in the New York Times, suggests that this reflects a certain inevitability in language and evolution within the very communities who first adopt it; a ‘euphemism treadmill’ if you like,

A well-used word or expression is subject to ridicule or has grimy associations. A new term is born to replace it and help push thought ahead. But after that term spends some time getting knocked around in the real world, the associations the old term had settle back down, like gnats, on the new one. Yet another term is needed. Repeat.

Others, point to an anti-left wing agenda, who articulate a weariness with the judgemental and preachy tone of woke advocates. The Metro reporting,

“‘Woke’ has dethroned ‘politically correct’ and ‘snowflake’ as the insult du jour for many internet … wishing to mock the hypersensitivity of the left”

And indeed, there are long list of famous names outspoken on the need to crusade against ‘political correctness’, waving the flag for the ‘Anti-Woke’, even portraying the entire movement as ‘anti-British.’ Notable faces including: Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage and, self appointed anti-woke warrior, Laurence Fox.

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And here is it that I pause to decide which side of the balance I land on; Woke or ant-Woke? I could search on for ‘the truth’ but, in today’s society that would be be a very long quest. Statistics, politics, new stories, values… in the right hands they can all be spun to suit any purpose. In consequence, whenever I think about voting, for example, I look at the people behind the policy and ask myself ‘Who do I trust the most?’ . If I apply that decision making strategy to this scenario then, it appears to boil down to whether I see myself in Team Greta and Team Malala, or … choose to line up behind Messieurs Farage and Fox.

Well … that took me under 30 seconds to answer and it will be woke for me! But I respect that for many of you it may take longer and it may be a different verdict.

Additionally, it is not only the faces of this generation of youth activists that sways me. No, I think it is also Samantha Price, who concludes her speech by reminding us that, whatever our grown up beliefs, it is the youth of society who will be the future and that to deter them is to “risk the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality“. So I resolve to avoid the clamour to join the grumpy oldsters when I hear views that sound new and challenging and hark back predictably to comfortable yesteryear. No, I shall aim to chime with Ms Price who states, “I am weary of hearing the older generation say, ‘you can’t say anything any more’…. The fact is that times have changed, and we simply need to keep up with them.”

It is, of course, true that no decision comes without its costs; the lovely Laurence Fox once decreed that he would not date woke -women. So I guess he’s off the dating list for me?

I think I can probably live with that….

Reading week…

Sunday 14 November 2021

The university term reaches a ‘reading week’ for my Eldest and she finds time to pop home for a few days. What an unexpected treat …

Reading week, whose purpose universities inform us is “time to catch up on reading, do more in-depth reading, or prepare for coursework ” but often, according to, Eleanor Doughty writing in The Independent is “nothing but a poorly disguised trip home for a visit to Mum’s tumble drier…” was off the agenda in Autumn 2020. Fears over the rapid spread covid-19 cases a year ago lead to higher education institutions urging students to stay on campus throughout the term. Whereupon, as all ‘teaching and learning’ was online and ‘in your student room’ anyway, there was little to distinguish it from the normal working week.

Whatever its purpose, I am delighted to see the brief pause in lectures and seminars return and to have a couple of days with my lovely girl. We launch the weekend with the return of ‘Friday takeaway’, movie and wine. The following morning, after prepping her brother for his Chemistry mock exam next week, lunching with a friend and going shopping with her nana, my daughter announces that:

“We should do something on Saturday night!”

And so that is exactly what we do. My son already has plans with ‘the boys’ and so ‘we girls’ do cocktails, do food and do lots of chat. I drink far too much and find myself, I think for the first time I can recall, very publicly, ever-so slightly squiffy … on a night out with one of my children!!

I may have a banging headache on Sunday morning and I may resolve that I am never ordering a Negroni again…but it was very much worth it. As I wave my Eldest off on the train back to University land, I hope that she has had a bit if a break from the stresses and strains of term time because a weekend not spent cleaning, ironing, shopping and worrying about work has without doubt been a fantastic break for her mum! Do you know what… I might even forget the lesson plans this afternoon, open up my kindle and treat myself to a bit of reading too!

Going a bit greener …

Tuesday 9 November 2021

COP 26, the UN’s conference for tackling climate change, puts a time frame on the impact of ignoring global warming that really hits home and I find myself feeling …. genuinely terrified.

Cop 26 (Glasgow 2021)

The end of the century

The end of the century to unleash the catastrophic effects of allowing the world to warm by over 2 degrees: ecological destruction, rising sea levels and immeasurable loss of human life, plant and animal species caused by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires and heat waves. The changes we are already starting to see foreshadowing a far bleaker and more devastating future.

The end of the century? That’s less than 80 years away. Clearly I will not be around to see it, but my children could be… and their children definitely will. Suddenly it all seems very real.

Now, of course, we need action on a worldwide scale but I cannot see a way to influence that. What I can do, however, far more than I do at the moment is to take small personal steps to be ‘a bit greener’.

Where to start?‘ I ponder

Well back in 2019, a friend of mine, in an inspirational new year resolution, went entirely plastic free for the 31 days of January. I, alas, am a very long way from this. In fact, as I trundle it out on bin day, I cannot hide from the reality that my blue plastic bin is a truly revolting sight. Right there and then, I decide to mend my ways. One new environmental move per month for me and, for November, I choose to remove some plastic items from the house. My grimy garbage points clearly in one direction – the shower gel needs to go!

Yes, it will be ‘adios’ to the overpackaged, perfumed nonsense of liquid body wash. I am going to buy soap instead. It is an easy swap to make and probably why it is already a popular one, the Friends of the Earth in their excellent article ‘Beauty and the beast: plastic-free bathroom ‘ finding that,

By far the most suggested tip … was to steer clear of liquid shower gels and hand wash. Instead switch to solids, replacing these products with bars of soap.

In terms of carbon-footprint, there is little contest between liquid and solid soaps. Per wash, the footprint for shower gels and hand washes is 25% larger than their solid counterparts. Liquid soaps also need 5 times more energy to produce, can use 20 times more packaging and do not last as long as the trusty solid bar.

Unfortunately, I don’t do all my research before hitting the supermarket aisles and, triumphantly, adding two bars of Dove soap to my weekly shop. It turns out that, due to its ingredients (animal products plus the dreaded palm oil), over zealous plastic wrappings and various other crimes that the Ethical Consumer, in their guide to ‘Ethical Soap‘ actually grade my initial choice of product as zero out of 20. Yikes!

Well, on the positive side, at least some plastic bottles have gone from the bathroom. Small Boy is on board and, at work, one pupil tells me that I can also buy solid bars of shampoo. Now there’s food for through for December. In the meantime, I’m off to scour the list of more ethical soap choices. Perhaps I’ll put Lucy Bee soap bars on my Birthday list … by then we might have used up the dreaded Dove…

From humbug to hot tub!

Saturday November 2020

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheeks, stiffened his gait…”

Oh my word… am I looking in the mirror?

Dicken’s brilliant description of Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’, this month’s Book Club read, leaps off the page, as I lounge in bed with my Kindle, enjoying the luxury of a lazy Saturday morning. It actually is me. I’ve spent so many weeks grumping and grouching about in the punishing world of corona virus life, that you probably can see misery etched onto my face and could re-christen me Ebeneezer! Well enough is enough. Before I hear clinking chains lumbering up my staircase, I’d better channel my inner ‘Tiny Tim’ and start spreading some festive cheer!

Mum is already in our bubble, so I call to confirm her for Christmas dinner and then I extend my invite to a couple of others who might also be on their own. Everyone is delighted and I do start to feel much more positive.Buoyed with success, I text ex-Hub and by noon, he too is booked in for a stay during the travel window. Next I finally sign up for my very patient brother’s Mid-december trip to Lightopia

Mum…calm down”, cautions Prom-dress Daughter

But I do the very opposite.

Pottering out to put some recycling in the bins, I hear splashing noises and lots of giddy laughter coming from next door. Peering over the fence I see the entire family… in a hot tub! It turns out that they have hired, not bought it, from someone on our estate who has a veritable fleet of the rubber pools, complete with gazebo and prosecco! It sounds like the perfect addition to my yuletide plans. All three teens, on the family WhatsApp, are keen and I boldly contact the company owner.

Armed with prices and dates I do now take a moment to pause. One false move on the booking day and I could find myself sharing the hot tub with either my 80 year old mum, or my Ex-Hub! I look carefully at the calendar over a large coffee, take a deep breath and then … take the plunge!

Well it all certainly lifts the mood. And here’s to plenty more Christmas spirit! In the masterful words of Dickens,

I believe that it (Christmas) has done me good, and will do me good; and I say , God bless it!

Blinkin’ Technology..

Friday 13 November 2020

As we sink onto the sofa to enjoy Friday night’s takeaway, I feel a sense of harmony return to the household after a week of technological dramas …

The xbox is the first casualty, exiled to the boot of my car on Wednesday evening, as Small Boy, in obnoxiously rude mode, finally pushes me over the edge. My response, in trusty parent fashion, is to go for his most prized possession! He boldly eyeballs me to shrug this off, but his mood quickly blackens further. I leave him stabbing angrily at his homework on the PC and steel myself for a tense few days.

Next day, the Fifa 21 (for xbox) guys and I head out to work. A hectic morning only gets more frantic as I pop back to the office at break to discover that my work laptop is gone. The bag is there, the charger is there, the xbox (thank the Lord) is there but, mysteriously, the old battered computing machine is not.

A hasty retrace of many steps proves fruitless quest and I resolve to face the music and report it missing. (My files are all backed up and password protected, they do store a lot of data.) The boss mutters about; times being ‘hard‘ and ‘hungry kids in search of a quick bit of gear to sell’ . My work besties are less convinced,

I don’t mean to be rude Becky’ laughs one, ‘but this is you! You’ll have left it somewhere crazy!’

It’s a fair point and after asking the site staff to keep their ‘ears to the ground’, I carry on with the day.

At 2:30pm, as my Year 10 class are discovering the delights of the ‘magic multiplier’ in compound interest calculations, one of the cleaners sidles into the room looking excitedly conspiratorial.

A laptop … ” he hisses through his face-mask, “….has been seen in the Reprographics room’

And there I find it, sitting innocently on top of a photocopying machine. I apologise, thank all concerned and beat a rapid and sheepish retreat.

By the time I make it home, cook a meal, lock horns with an unrepentant son and devote 2 hours to some school work, I am exhausted. At 10:30 pm, one hand on the whisky bottle, I am poised to tune into ‘Corrie‘ on playback when a whirlwind of weeping hysteria bursts into the room. It’s Prom Dress Daughter, holding a very broken laptop in her shaking hands.

The screen – it’s all multicoloured. My EPQ! My History coursework! All my Lockdown lessons! My UCAS form! What am I going to do…?”

I try to think of something positive to say but we’ve all been there, sobbing in despair as years of our life’s work vanish into the electronic ether, before we finally learn to save and back up every thought, deed and word in least 3 different places. In frantic denial, we turn the sorry machine on and off endless times and scour the internet for crumbs of advice and salvation. At midnight I put in a call to the PC world help -line. The advisor only appears to be concerned with wriggling out of any warranty, joyfully informing us that a ‘screen mishap‘ is not covered. But when I do press him on the issue of rescuing the files he actually sounds confidently optimistic, outlining a plan involving, the laptop, a HDMI cable, the TV screen and a memory stick.

You can see the light of desperate hope in our eyes as we race around the house to gather the parts. If only one of us knew a how to hook the whole ensemble together? Well we may not … but we know a man who does! At half twelve, a dazed, groggy Small Boy is dragged from his bed into the lounge and in a matter of minutes his abandoned xbox cables now attach his sister’s laptop to the TV screen and … boom! We are in business. Hordes of files are triumphantly transferred to portable hard drives and any, indeed, functioning machine in the house. We are all ecstatic… and, moreover, a team once more.

No-one gets much sleep and the morning arrives far too soon, but before I head off to work again, I do find time to get the xbox out of the boot. And when I get home, my son gives me a hug and, with a smile, announces that curry (which he doesn’t like but knows is my favourite) is on its way. And so the week ends, all crises solved, olive branches exchanged and, for the moment at least, a happy homestead again …

Feeling Grinchy…

Friday 6 November 2020

I have no doubt that people will be able to have as normal a Christmas as possible..”

Boris Johnson November 2020

Oh do ‘Shut up!’

Stringent covid -19 restrictions are imposed nationally across England for the second time this year. Tier 1 residents, after 5 minutes of social isolation, flood media channels with their motivational messages, cheery Dunkirk spirit and ‘top tips‘ for ‘surviving lockdown‘. I am sure they are well intentioned, but for this North West mum, after months and months of this misery… I’m just not feeling it.

What am feeling, driving home to a radio coverage of the PM bumbling his way through a Press Conference, is growing fury. The Home Nation plan to ‘Save Christmas‘ finally tips me over the edge! Oh do stop central Government treating us all like 5 years old? Rules. Nursery Rhyme slogans. The Naughty Step of Tier 3. And now, if am am a ‘good girl’ Papa C will still bring me presents? It is simplistic. It is patronising. It is, quite frankly, an insult to suggest that so many weeks of; rudderless leadership, emotional hardship and at times sheer despair can be balanced out by the chance to pull a few crackers with the in-laws on Christmas Day.

At work, this week we send a further 5 cohorts of pupils home. Around 200 young people, completely devastated, faces etched in panic and often close to tears

Please no, Miss. This is the third time I’ve been sent home this term!”

My mocks … what about my mocks?

“I was off for the last 2 weeks I’ve only been back a day”

“Miss, I’ve has Covid already!”

Next week, to reduce pupil bubbles, we shall cancel PE lessons …

What am I supposed to say? (I shriek at the radio)

Hey, your education’s in ruins but don’t worry, we’ll all be able to have a fine Christmas dinner together!’

What is an appropriate response to the frantic parents who call, in ever increasing numbers, weighed down with concerns about their children’s anxieties and well being?

Oh never mind any of that. Ho ho ho! Santa Claus is coming to Town’

What utter crap!

Or am I wrong? Christmas is a great thing after all and usually my favourite time of the year. Perhaps some twinkly lights and a few glasses of egg nog is just what we do need in these grim times. Let’s face it, without a festive fortnight, the months ahead look relentlessly bleak. In the unforgettable lament of C.S Lewis’ Lucy Pevensie,

Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” “How awful!”

Source: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Perhaps a better response is to ease up on Christmas … and just turn the radio off!

Its beginning to look a lot like….

Saturday 30 November

Love, love, love the season of goodwill. Sparkly lights. Christmas coffees. Everybody keen for a meet-up, a catch-up and a get together. Today, even though it is technically still November, heralds my first festive outing, and I just can’t wait!

My tram delivers me to Victoria with forty minutes to spare. Feeling ready to get straight into the party spirit, I opt for the warmth of a station bar and order a glass of Malbec. I fish out my Kindle and for about 5 minutes, attempt to look the very picture of sophistication, reading my novel and sipping my wine. But it’s Mansfield Park. I’ve been struggling with it for weeks and this afternoon the torturous timidity of Fanny Price just doesn’t hold my attention. Instead my mind turns to recent events.

It’s been quite a week! Mum has been in, and thankfully, out of hospital. My work run-buddy has suffered a nasty car accident but, in her inimitable cheery fashion, seems to be coping with the bruises and severe whiplash. And my eldest has made it through a first University interview. That was quite an ordeal. Much has changed since I journeyed off, 30 years ago, to impress admissions tutors with my abilities to solve mathematical problems. For the 2019 interview, we prepped for days on medical ethics, NHS hot topics and our insights into life a doctor. My eldest then had to survive the MMI (Multi-Mini Interview) with 7 stations of challenging questions and the occasional role play. By the time she eventually made it home, following a 3 hour inter-city train journey and 2 hours of Mancunian tram delays, she did just burst into tears. Hopefully the interviews will get better with practice!

Phew, no wonder I’m ready to let my hair down. I savour the final moments of my Malbec and then step out. Not sure if it’s because of Black Friday or Pay Day but the city is packed and pulsating. I make my way through the throngs to find my friends and together we dive into the merriment and madness ….

Baroque n roll !

Sunday 25th November

I arrive home from a film music concert…where I’ve had to dress as a pirate! As ever, at the end of a concert, I need a drink. And as I sink down onto the sofa, almost-festive Bailey’s in hand, I realise how tired I am.

I have done concert after concert this month, which has meant rehearsal after rehearsal, which has meant late night drink after late night drink. And it has taken its toll. A ‘baroque n’ roll’ lifestyle when you are the only adult in the house isn’t always the wisest choice.

I think the problem for a single parent is this. When you take on a hobby, which is essential to your well-being I might add, there is no-one else at home to take up the slack . So on top of all my rehearsals and concerts, I am still doing all the cleaning, cooking and ironing for four. I am doing the bins. Doing the tax return. Raking the leaves. Helping with homework. Helping to prep for GCSEs, UKCATS, driving tests (and next week Uni interviews.) Sorting out asthma checks and trips to the orthodontist (I am so often at the local hospital, I actually have a loyalty card for the WRVS cafe!!) Oh and did I mention I also hold down a pretty demanding full time job.

I’ve always said that I fear boredom more than fatigue but I’ve reached the point where I am really struggling to get up in the morning and I am very snappy and irritable …with everyone…most of the time. Something’s gotta give and I resign myself to the fact that, for December, this is my music. In my inbox is an invitation to play for a Christmas concert in 2 weeks time. It even has a fee. I push away angry and resentful thoughts about the life my ex-husband leads these days. I blink back a few self-indulgent tears and start to type a polite decline…

What’s worth fighting for…

Wednesday 20 November 2019

As part of my working week, I am sent on a course that involves a ‘cultural tour’ of Manchester.  What a memorable day! It showcases the industry, the creativity and the inspirational spirit of equality that has shaped my home town. It also challenges my thoughts about the sort of future I want to fight for. Not so much for the teens, their futures seem full of excitement and of endless opportunities … but for me.

We start at the Whitworth Art Gallery, deep in University land. There is gallery upon gallery of stunning displays: photography; textiles (in honour of the proud industry of “Cottonopolis“);  a Cezanne exhibition… but the gallery that really blows me away  is “The Reno“. This celebration of the famous Moss Side club, not only charts some significant shifts in societal attitudes during the 1970s, but also sums up the journey we all make from youth into adulthood and responsibility.

“What was your club called?.… Where it mattered if it rained cos your hair wouldn’t hold up.   And what was his name?   Before your wage.   And the person you became.  That bears no relation to the person you were then. When you believed in magic. Ours was called The Reno “

Well mine was called The Hacienda or The Cellar at Uni. And I was a very different person back then. But gosh … do we really stop believing in magic… do we really give up on happy endings…. is our teenage self really lost forever?

My mind is still whirring with this one as we stride off to visit other Mancunian treasure. The Manchester Art Gallery, the  National Football Museum and finally The People’s History Museum.  We see great objects, some beautiful, some innovative, some highly emotive. We watch film archives and listen to iconic commentaries. We relive the struggles of women, of working men and of ethnic minorities for acceptance and equality.   It’s a  treat for our eyes, our ears …. and our hearts.

At the People’s History Museum, exhibitions are united around the theme of ‘Ideas worth fighting for’ and the contribution that ordinary people have made to building a fairer world where all are valued . It’s inspiring and very much epitomises Manchester and these streets that have seen PeterlooEmmeline Pankhurst  and the founding of the Co-op Group.  For a Mancunian, there can be no better way to close our cultural tour.

And so  ends a lovely day.  But in a few weeks it will also be the end of a decade. As we welcome the start of a new one; and one in which my role as the primary carer for 3 children will end, I ask myself ‘What will I be fighting for?’ And I just don’t know. But I am sure that I want to make the most of the time I have left and try to make a story…. a story about ideas worth fighting for or just a story about making mischief? I really cannot decide. But I do want a story worth telling. In the words of  ‘The Reno’,

“We are all pages in the book of our time on earth.”

The wonder of a Wall

Saturday 9 November 2019

Today marks the 30 year anniversary of the  fall of the Berlin Wall. What an iconic event it was; the lasting symbol of a wave of revolutions that swept the Eastern Bloc in Europe at the end of the 1980s,  whilst in China, by contrast,  the popular demonstrations demanding greater political freedom were crushed by the authorities in Tiannamen Square.  And all of this  happened in my lifetime. Thirty years, gosh these were such moments of living history, that I still can remember where I was.  I heard about the events in China in a Youth Hostel in Singapore,  backpacking across SE Asia. (Here are some of the (many) pics!) By the time the Berlin Wall fell, I was back at University, watching the incredible images on the TV, feeling stunned, scared and inspired by the power of people to change the world.

And I’ve been privileged to walk this earth at the same time as other hugely significant people too. I also remember where I was the day Barack Obama was elected and the day the first TV pictures appeared of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Unthinkable drive and determination, resilience and resolve to fight on and make this world a better and fairer place. It is awe-inspiring. 

When I was a teenager, trekking and travelling and exploring new places,  life felt fantastic; exciting and full of promise. Faced the challenges of growing up, shouldering responsibility and the daily grind of working life, I have sometimes felt a little lost however. So it’s good to pause and be more outward looking. Because today, the remarkable people in this world and the momentous events I’ve witnessed, make this  seem like a wonderful and precious place to be.  I  cannot wait to see what the next few decades bring … and to play a part in it…