May 5, 2024

Stop press: Woman discovers that the world is an unfair place

I got my first proper job in 1992, as a trainee manager for a catering and facilities management company. I had a degree, no experience of anything, and a series of poor decisions behind me. My salary was £10,500 and I thought that was really rather impressive. It was enough to pay rent, eat nice things, buy better clothes, and save into a Personal Equity Plan that I held on to until I started maternity leave in 2006.

I hated that job, and moved quickly into a career in administration, which is much less exciting than it sounds. I was reasonably successful at it, though, and while I can’t remember exactly what I was earning as Business Manager for a small automotive chemical company in the midlands, it was in the region of £30k, and that’s the most I’ve ever earned. I left that job in 2003, and it’s all been downhill from there.

However… the work has got more interesting, and more valuable to the world. I moved from that role, to toy safety testing, to workers rights’ auditing, to admin in an adoption charity, and then to the charity I’ve been working for in various different roles since 2007. I’ve reduced my employed hours all the way down to zero at one point, developing various self-employed roles in interesting things like podcasting and being a doula, and I’m currently tutoring on a course that was, when I first started, really well thought out and delivered transformational learning for the majority of our students. It’s 20 years since I was earning £30k and feeling quite happy with it, and that’s still precisely what I’m earning (or it would be if I worked full time). My non-salaried working hours are spent doing my PhD, volunteering as a breastfeeding counsellor, running the occasional antenatal class, parenting, and managing a household.

This is all starting to sound like a job application, but what I’m really thinking about is how Pete’s salary has gone up and up, while mine has gone down and down. His work, I hope he wouldn’t mind me saying, adds nothing of value to the world. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a lovely bloke and he knows his stuff, he’s great at what he does. But what does he do? Make apps work better, or something. Nobody really knows.

I absolutely love the work I do, but why do I have to do it either completely unpaid, or for what actually works out as only just a living wage? How is the world so broken, that helping people to feed their babies is worth next to nothing? And don’t tell me it’s pointless because they can just use formula, you capitalist swine.

The average man would earn £166.63 more per week if his unpaid work was paid, whereas the average woman would earn £259.63.
So not only do women do an average of 60% more unpaid work in terms of hours, they also tend to do the work that has a higher value.
Office of National Statistics 2016

Women not only do more unpaid work, but their unpaid work has higher value than that of men. This doesn’t even start to unpick how the important work of caring, teaching, supporting parents, and doing research that will make people’s lives better, is unpaid or paid much, much less than the work of making apps better, or whatever it is.

Meanwhile, Pete’s salary basically makes it possible for me to do this sort of work, making up for two things:

  1. My inability to fully commit to a Proper Career; and
  2. The world being so broken that important things are not worth paying for.

I am quite aggrieved by all of this.

February 25, 2024

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: October

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost September on our first attempt and won it on our second
  • We reconned East Asia
  • We gained the ability to build shelters in cities

October (First Attempt)

The legacy deck reveals some new twists and turns. We now have just two mandatory objectives for the month, and no optional ones. We must build the three supply centres as usual, but our other objective is to coax three hollow men into havens at which point we can induce them to defect. To do this, we are given the ability to spread information which will cause the hollow men to move to an adjacent city.

The new “broadcast misinformation” action

Our two objectives

And a bit of bonus lore (click on the image to view it full size)

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February 12, 2024

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: September

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost August on our first attempt (by a sliver) and won it on our second (convincingly)
  • We gained the “monitor” action which can be carried out at satellite towers and allows us to potentially skip epidemics, if timed right
  • We built a permanent supply centre in Tehran
  • We spot a lost haven from New Mumbai, but don’t have a link to it yet
  • We built a permanent satellite tower in London

September (First Attempt)

Setting up for September, the “Recon 1 new area” optional objectives has been destroyed and replaced with a “Recon East Asia” mandatory objective. This is fine by us, as we were planning on doing that anyway.

Our objectives for this game (two mandatory, two optional, and we need to complete three in total)

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January 26, 2024


Earlier this week I decided to listen to every Beck album through in order, inspired largely by reading this article: Beck’s greatest songs, and partly by the discovery that there are half a dozen of his albums that I’ve never heard before. A chronological listen-through seemed like a good way to refamiliarise myself with the albums I already knew, have a listen to the new ones, and also get a sense of the overall context and evolution.

The first couple of albums (which I’d never heard before) were a fairly impenetrable mess of noise, much as I’d been expecting. At that time he was young and full of punkish bravado, wanting to turn the music world on its head with his own original sound, and throwing novel and challenging concepts out to see if he could catch some attention. After that, I entered the realm of things that I already owned on CD – everything from Mellow Gold (1994) to Sea Change (2002), all of which are brilliant albums in their own ways. After this must have been about the time that I became aware that Beck was a scientologist, and I’m not really the kind of person who finds it easy to separate the art from the artist, and so I drifted away from his music for a while.

That said, I must have drifted back at some point, as Guero (2005) and The Information (2006) are both albums that I had heard before on a few occasions. But my drifting was apparently only temporary, as all four of his albums since then were completely new to me.

Now, I’m generally reluctant to form an opinion on an album based on the first listen, because with a few exceptions, I find that familiarity has a huge impact on my relationship with a piece of music. But I could see why Morning Phase (2014) was so positively received, and I also really digged the disco pop of Colors (2017) which reminded me a lot of Two Door Cinema Club, who have a sound that fills me with great joy. That said, the whole project came to a bit of a disappointing conclusion with Hyperspace (2019). While I hate to be the person who uses the phrase “selling out”, this album did feel like the absolute antithesis of his early material. No innovation or originality here, just tedious recycling of the mainstream music of its time. I found it hard to believe that he could listen to it and think “yep, perfect. Ship it.” I think I might try to pretend I never heard it.

  • Comments: 2
  • While I concede that it is not a word used in modern English, I think my meaning was perfe... - Pete
  • "digged"? - Karen Hall
January 15, 2024

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: August

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost July on our first attempt and won it on our second
  • We gained the ability to build satellite towers which can be used to send city cards to other players
  • The Hollow Men have arrived – their presence in a city makes even passing through it dangerous
  • We added a permanent supply centre in Buenos Aires

August (First Attempt)

Since we forgot to check Maggot for exposure at the end of the previous session, we start by doing that today. Sadly, he gains a scar. Of the available options, a slightly increased cost to chart a sea lane seems like the most innocuous, so we choose that.

Maggot now requires one more supply cube to chart a sea lane

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January 3, 2024

2023: Best Books

A pile of books

Books purchased in 2023 but largely not read yet

You are, I am sure, stamping impatiently as you wait for my annual review of books. Last year, I promised I would not be able to read so much this year, owing to the PhD; it turns out that I read exactly the same number (59) but also have a couple of unfinisheds on the list. I won’t even bother to tell you what they were, our time is too precious, isn’t it my lovelies?

So in no particular order, here are the ten best books I read or listened to over the last 12 months:

Lowborn, by Kerry Hudson
Kerry Hudson was born into extreme poverty, and was homeless through most of her childhood. In her late 30s, now living in stability and love, she spends a year revisiting the towns and the B&Bs and council flats she lived in as a kid. Through the book you see her come to terms with her horrifically traumatic upbringing, writing and acting with confidence and a real sense of belonging in her world by the end. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this, it was a real antidote to Shuggie Bain (featured on last year’s list).

A Short History of Queer Women, by Kirsty Loehr
This was an entertaining read, which I finished on a train heading towards Leamington Spa one Friday evening. The girl sitting next to me plucked up the courage to ask me about it, and as I’d finished it, I gave it to her.

Front page of a book, signed by Jeffrey BoakyeI heard what you said, by Jeffrey Boakye
I had this as an audiobook, read by the author, and it blew me away – this is purportedly a book about racism in the education system, but it says so much more about society as a whole and I think everyone should read it. I saw him speak at the Also Festival, bought the book in hard copy, and crept up to him like a lil fangirl and asked him to sign it. Then I pushed it heavily at all of my colleagues.

Bibliomaniac, by Robin Ince
This was a birthday gift in 2022, which tells you how long my to-read shelf is. I got so swept away in his lovely accounts of speaking in bookshops up and down the country, that I now cannot leave a bookshop without having acquired at least one book that I didn’t even know I wanted (see illustration above).

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

Far and away the best fiction book of the year, which I had on audiobook and then bought for Pete for his birthday. It is an epic love story set in a world of videogaming. Sam and Sadie are friends from childhood, and their relationship is stormy but creative. I loved the geeky detail, the wonderful, flawed characters, and the amount of time spent telling the story through the medium of a co-operative online farming simulator game. If you’re a gamer you’ll really love it, but it was recommended to me by non-gamer Lisa, so there you go, it’s just a wonderful book.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
I do not normally find JP’s books particularly appealing, but this was recommended by colleagues and is very relevant to my work, both in anti-discriminatory practice, and working in birth/parenting. Having that background certainly added layers to my reading of it, and it was a well-told story that kept me glued to it throughout.

Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart
This was an audiobook, and I took a while to warm up to it, but when it did kick in (about half way), it kicked hard. A less traumatic read than last year’s Shuggie Bain, with a similar gay Glasgow poverty porn setting, engaging characters in shitty situations, and a surprise redemption for the horrible older brother. I went straight into this from Fern Brady’s memoir, which was also excellent, and basically the non-fiction version of the same story.

After Birth, by Elise Albert
This has been on my to-read pile for a very very long time, and was another case of “why have I left it so long>” I thought it would be all earnest and birthy, and there were some elements of that, but in fact it was such a strong insight into the head of a new mother, her need for connection, and the warping of her identity in the first year after the birth of her baby. I want to give this to someone else to read, so let me know if you want it.

Ticket to the World, by Martin Kemp
A free audiobook, sadly not read by MK himself, but I really enjoyed the immersion in the 80s pop scene. So much glamorous name-dropping, without being nearly as annoying as Dave Grohl; and I loved how honest he is about his own vanity. Nice insights as well into the Wham! backstory, as well as how it felt to be a musician who just wasn’t a great musician. Made me listen to a lot of Spandau Ballet, and then read Tony Hadley’s memoir, which was bitter and badly written, and mainly consisted of stories about how he got shitfaced and fell over.

Hallucinating Foucault, by Patricia Duncker
Finally a rather random little book which I loved more and more as it went on. A literature student rescues the writer he is studying from an asylum in France, and they fall in love. It is deep and moving, with a lovely exploration of the power dynamics between the two men. One of those books that leaves you bereft that it is over.

A stack of copies of my book: Why Mixed Feeding MattersAnd not forgetting that my own book was published in September. If you’re reading this blog then you are probably not the target market for it, but if you know someone who is expecting or who has just had a baby, you can buy a signed copy from me and I will be so chuffed.

January 2, 2024

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: July

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We won May and June, on our first attempt at each
  • We didn’t really achieve much in terms of reconning new areas
  • There were no significant game-altering rule changes

July (First Attempt)

Upon turning over the top card of the legacy deck, we discover that our opportunity to recon Africa of our own volition has expired, and it will now be done for us. As a punishment, it will not count towards our game objectives, and the unrationed event that we would have received will also not be awarded. In the box are six little brown satellite towers.

Africa is being reconned for us.

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December 12, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: May / June

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost April twice in a row, both times by a whisker
  • We discovered a lost laboratory in Buenos Aires
  • We explored a lost haven just off the coast from Peru
  • We reconned from London and discover Europe
  • We gained the ability to fast travel between havens and supply centres

May (First Attempt)

It’s only two weeks since our last play session, so we are able to go into this game with a bit less of a feeling of “so what was all this about then?”
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