Liverpool Echo

Why, even at the loo, it’s a man’s world

Sights you never see … a queue for the gents. Picture: Levi Jones/Unsplash


SO, there I was, heading to the ladies during the interval at a London theatre when something astonishing caught my eye. It was a queue. For the gents.

I was so stunned to see blokes lining up outside a lav that I took a photo. I know. I too am amazed security didn’t ask me to leave.

Anyway, the point is: men queuing for toilets. I mean, wow!

I’m not having a go at men – it isn’t their fault they’re made the way they are. But the oddity of that scene illustrated the disparity between the sexes when it comes to spending a penny.

Why? Well, welcome to gender bias in architecture.

Like many other things we live in a world designed by one sex but used by everyone.

When it comes to loos women usually have more clothes, more bags and sometimes small children to deal with.  But toilets are designed to be of equal size when, actually, ladies need a third more cubicles.


And it doesn’t stop with lavatories.

The formula to decide a standard office temperature was developed in the 1960s around the resting rate of the average bloke. But a recent study found the resting rates of women is lower. That means most offices are five degrees too cold for women and explains why we sit in scarves while men are in shirt sleeves.

Ever struggled to reach the Weetabix on the shelf in the supermarket? Yep, designed for the taller sex.

Ever decided to do a spot of DIY? Chances are, if you’re a woman, your hand won’t fit around that wrench. Too small, you see. Too feminine.

And should you ever feel the need to don a stab vest, perhaps as a female police office, be prepared to be jolly uncomfortable. And not entirely protected.

If these seem like trifles then perhaps, taken individually, they are. But they all add up to a serious issue – that the world in which we all live is not fit for purpose for around half the population.

Never mind the gender pay gap, what we have here in 2019 is a gender data gap; great, yawning chasms of information about how everyday things and everyday life affect women.

It’s the result of centuries of it being “a man’s world”; of designing around “the average man”.

And it has to stop.

International Women’s Day fell this month and it feels this year it’s more important than ever to mark it.

Yes, it should be a celebration of the achievements of women.  But it must also be a platform to say “we’re not done yet”.

The truth is, compared to my mum’s era – when it was still ok for girls in bikinis to be used to flog cars – we’re writing and taking about feminism more than ever.

And that’s a great thing. The fact that we’re still doing it, however, is a bad thing.

There is clearly so much more that needs to be done.

And if you’re a fella? Well, don’t feel left out. Campaign on behalf of your wives and girlfriends and daughters and sisters.

It’s not your fault the system is as it is.

But it is your fault – it is everyone’s fault – if we don’t strive to change it.


IN the list of things to look forward to in life having a cervical smear ranks quite low.

And I get why. They take up precious time. They’re invasive and a bit embarrassing.

And trying to make small talk during one is about as comfortable as piles which, come to think of it, is often another reason not to expose your nethers to a stranger. 

So, I’m not surprised at the sharp decline in women going for the test – now at a shocking 20-year low.

Shocking because to willfully ignore something that may save your life is madness.

Now the government is launching a campaign to bust some of the myths surrounding smears.  

The fact that this is the first national drive of any kind tells its own story. This is a public health emergency which should have been tackled years ago.

But something is being done so now it’s our turn girls. We must take advantage of what’s on offer.

After all, nobody ever died of embarrassment.  


Liverpool Echo, sex

Bananas! And I don’t mean that classroom condom talk either

Picture: Anna Sastra/

SO, let’s be clear from the get-go: we are long past the point of arguing about whether there should be sex education in schools.

Or at least we should be.

I mean, have you seen the rate of teenage pregnancies in the UK? Have you checked out the high numbers of STIs in school leavers? LGBT hate crime is on the rise and don’t even get me started on the porn images our kids can now access for free online.

No, it’s a no-brainer that our kids must be equipped with the knowledge to navigate their way through growing up.

Except if you’re a member of certain parenting groups who are fighting to prevent sex education becoming a mandatory part of the curriculum.

They’ve mobilised in the wake of an announcement by the Government – taking time off from the Brexit farce to do something sensible – surrounding a package of proposed changes to sex education in schools.

New items on the agenda, as well as the banana and condom talk, will include sexting, domestic and honour-based abuse, trans issues and cyber safety.

“Almost 20 years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on,” trills the Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

I’ll say.

And yet we have a protest lobby urging MPs to offer parents the ability to withdraw children from sex education classes, arguing mums and dads have a “fundamental right” to decide when their offspring have the birds and the bees talk.

Oh, come on people.

The birds and bees aren’t the half of it. If you feel able to talk about female genital mutilation as you cook the fish fingers, then good on you. I’m not.

Do these people want a return to a cosy past when sex ed consisted of some dodgy anatomical drawings, a frankly laughable animated film and a flustered biology teacher?

If so, they’re mad. It was flawed then and that was before the internet with its twisted take on porn and how women “should” behave, and its mixed messages about sex, love and respect. No social media in the 1980s with its potential for bullying on the basis of how you look or who you fancy. 

Here, in 2019, sex and relationships are more complex, more varied, more inter-connected with identity and mental health than ever. A chat about mummies and daddies and how they make babies just won’t cut it any more.

So, new items on the curriculum will include sexting, domestic and honour-based abuse, trans issues and cyber safety.

Not a moment too soon.

Of course, parents should play a part in helping their kids understand their bodies. In an ideal world we’d all be equipped to have “the conversation” with our offspring and answer any question they throw at us.

But this isn’t an ideal world and many adults simply aren’t comfortable chatting about sex, let alone the law on consent.

Which is where schools come in. They must fill that vacuum.

I understand why there is opposition to these sex topics being introduced.

But keeping crucial information away from the very people who need it most is a fast track to disaster.

IT BEING spring and all, I decided to clear out what estate agents might call our spare room but which is actually just a holding area for where memories go to die.

Every family has one. Under the stairs, in the loft, stacked in a cupboard. A place where pieces of our lives, no longer current but somehow too important to throw away, are stored.

Too important, that is, until you start to fear you’ll feature on the next series of The Hoarder Next Door and are forced to take action.

And so it was on a sunny Saturday afternoon when I opened the door, a pile of bin-bags in hand, to begin the purge.

First up, drawers with enough princess ballgowns to dress the set of the next Disney blockbuster. Then it was the bags of teddies, consigned for too long to a life of vacuum-packed hell (I’ve seen Toy Story, the guilt kills me), old clothes (mine), old school uniform (the kids) and old crockery (my mum’s.)

People, I managed to discard a whole carrier bag-full. The rest is still there, just slightly rearranged.

That’s the trouble with hoarders. They’re sentimentalists too.

Liverpool Echo

The ugly truth about Meghan

DO you remember when Meghan Markle was just the kind of breath of fresh air needed to sweep through the musty old corridors of the Royal Family? 

Oh yes, we had Kate and Will but they had become a bit, well, staid what with his bald patch and her tan tights.

Meghan, however, was something different.

She was new and glamorous and American. A woman of colour, a Hollywood star, a charity worker and a gal used to running her own, highly successful life.

Meghan hadn’t snagged a prince – he’d snagged her. What a coup for Harry! And The Royals! And Britain!

And the wedding! Didn’t she look fabulous? Didn’t she handle those difficult relatives well? And those photos of her and the Queen giggling together – even the monarch loves her. Get her face on the tea towels and key rings quick.

A giggle with the Queen on a recent royal visit to Widnes. Picture: Colin Lane

But that was last year and if a week is a long time in politics, then six months is a lifetime when it comes to Royalty.

Now, Meghan is that new friend we all loved in the beginning and have gone off; the colleague who was welcomed with open arms at the office but who is now gossiped about at the kettle or in the ladies.

She’s difficult, they say. Demanding and haughty and prone to self-pity. Staff at the palace have quit, others keep out of her way.

She is conducting a “feud” with Kate, they say, and has driven the two Royal brothers apart by insisting on moving home.

Meghan keeps cradling her bump in a “funny way” too – obviously trying to draw more attention to herself.

Her handwriting has been analysed – prone to “anger and self-pity” was the conclusion – and she has now had the temerity to “change” the way she speaks to sound more British.

Manipulative, you see. We knew it all along.

Except we didn’t and we don’t.

All these stories, leaked by palace “insiders” or people “close” to the Royal household and merrily seized on by some parts of the British press, are hog-wash.

Perhaps she was demanding about her wedding. Show me a woman who isn’t.

Maybe her and Kate aren’t best mates but so what? They are very different people.

She wanted her own home. Why is that a crime?

And, of course, she’s changed the way she talks. She’s living in London, not LA, and is probably trying her very hardest to blend in.

What we’re seeing here is the peculiarly British sport of building someone up, placing them on a pedestal and then delighting in knocking them off.

And it’s very ugly.

You’d think we’d have learned our lesson after the treatment meted out to the woman who would have been Meghan’s mother-in-law, Lady Di, ultimately destroyed by the speculation and scrutiny which marked her life as a princess.

Here in 2019 nobody is pursuing royalty on bikes or hiding in bushes but, thanks to social media, what’s being done to Meghan is just as bad.

Her every move, style choice and word is picked over and attacked. What starts as a half-baked snippet of gossip solidifies, gets amplified into the “truth” and before you know it is all over the web as fact.

This is psychological warfare against a woman about to give birth whose only crime was to marry into a famous family.

Meghan has a public role but she isn’t public property. She’s just a human being who deserves better.

LAST week I wrote about how cross people seem to be these days. Happily, many of you disagreed and gave me examples of random acts of kindness which had touched you.

My favourite was a bloke who wrote about how his 16-year-old daughter had been taken for a meal on Valentine’s Day by her boyfriend. At the end they asked for the bill only to be told it had already been paid, the waitress wouldn’t say by whom.

Being kids they were perplexed and a bit flustered. And then they remembered an elderly man who had been in the restaurant with them, dining alone with just a book for company, who had looked over once or twice and smiled at the pair.

Had it been he who had settled the bill, a small act of generosity to acknowledge his own past love on the most romantic day of the year?

I’d like to think so.

Liverpool Echo

Why it’s good to give people a piece of your heart – not a piece of your mind

HAVE you noticed how cross people are these days?

I don’t mean punch-you-in-the-chops cross – that’s just what happens in town centres on Saturday nights thanks to low-grade booze and high-grade testosterone.

No, it’s more a widespread, festering fury among the general populace. A quiet rage among the usually placid.

It’s mostly kept on the down-low, like a pan of stew on a low heat, but at certain points you will notice it boiling over, manifesting itself suddenly in supermarket queues, car parks and cafes where there aren’t quite enough chairs.

There’s no violence involved. Nobody has their teeth knocked out or a machete waved in their direction but there is a lot of tutting, eye rolling, huffing and muttering.

Occasional clipped words, regular in-your-face rudeness. Sometimes even some shouting.

And frankly that’s no less unpleasant.

I don’t know quite what’s gone wrong because this isn’t who we are. We’re a nation of bus-stop conversationalists, pass-the-time-of-day smilers who hold doors open for others and make brews for the bloke cleaning the windows. Or at least we were.

Somehow here in 2019 we’re all a lot less kinder than we used to be. 

This week alone I got an earful about press standards from a middle-aged bloke in a trilby when I mentioned I worked for the local newspaper, an unsavoury hand gesture from a woman in a Citroen Berlingo and outright trolley wars when I parked mine in front of the pate selection in Tesco. I have the bruise to prove it.

Perhaps it’s the uncertain times in which we live. Let’s face it, stockpiling tins of beans while watching the raging bin fire that is the Westminster political landscape is enough to make anyone grumpy.

Life in general is pressured, too. Time is short. Demands are long. Sometimes it’s hard to be cheery when there’s nothing in the fridge and the kids are playing up and you’ve just finished a 12-hour shift.

But here’s the thing. It only takes a teeny, tiny effort to make it significantly better.  

And I have a plan.

Random Acts of Kindness Day is now a thing and it’s happening soon. Usually, I roll my eyes at these made up “days” – whoever invented National Multiple Personality Day needs to have a word with any one of themselves – but this day might just be what we need.

Think about it. One act of random kindness each in one 24-hour period.

Compliment the first three people you talk to – even if one if your boss or the bad-tempered bus driver. Let someone into the traffic queue despite it being rush-hour and every fibre of your being is screaming: “No! This is MY space!”.

Bake treats. Pay for someone else’s parking. Take the neighbour’s bins out.

You get the drift.

I’m not advocating a return to the Britain of 1954.  Who needs rationing, smog and the Cold War?

But wouldn’t it be nice if, for just one day, all the fury died down?

IF THERE’S a teenager in your possession you will be familiar with many things.

Having no food in the fridge or towels in the cupboard for a start. Finding your keys or your mascara missing – not to mention a chunk of your money – is a regular occurrence too.

And then there’s trying to get the little beggars out of bed when apparently superglued to the mattress.

Now a petition calling for the school day to start later in order to help “tired” teenagers is gathering pace, the idea being that a 9am kick-off is out of sync with kids’ natural body clocks.

I can see the merit in this but here’s the snag: the rest of society needs to run on the same rhythm to make it work.

Good luck to all of us in persuading the boss that rolling into work at 10am is about increased productivity rather than a nice lie-in.

It’s Friday, it’s five-to-five, it’s back, it’s Crackerjack

I SEE the BBC is to revive the kid’s show Crackerjack 35 years after it last aired. “It promises to usher in a new era of frenetic family fun and whizzbang audience antics,” commented a breathless BBC chief.

Hmmm.  That’s as maybe but will there still be Crackerjack pencils for prizes?

brexit, Liverpool Echo

Brexit and the Blitz: the good old days that really weren’t

SO FAR I have resisted writing about Brexit, a subject which for many is about as welcome as the norovirus and just as messy.

Let’s face it, it’s a tricky enough topic among friends let alone strangers particularly if you’re unsure which side of the line people sit. One word out of place and that’s you off a Christmas list for life.

But this week I have found myself shouting at the telly too many times to ignore the madness.

You see I’ve detected an unpleasant shiver of anticipation among some Brexiters of late; a gleeful girding of loins ahead of the catastrophe that a no-deal Brexit will bring. And it’s all deeply unpleasant.

Incredibly as it seems, there are those who appear to be actually looking forward to the chaos of March 29, seeing it as a way for the nation to test its collective mettle.

After all, we haven’t enjoyed a proper battle in decades. Brexit is a great opportunity to bait Johnny Foreigner across the Channel, engage in a tussle and damn the hardship.

Food shortages? Rubbish piling up on the streets? Lack of medicines? Civil unrest?

Pah! The thinking among these crazy fools seems to be “we’ve lived through a war and we’ll survive”.

Except “we” haven’t lived through a war.

It was our parents and grandparents who endured it. It was they who put up with the bombs falling and the lack of food, the enforced separation of families and the constant fear of a telegram with the worst possible news arriving at the door.  

To invoke that kind of suffering – other people’s suffering – and fetishise it as something to which to aspire is deeply offensive and shockingly flawed. 

I’ve heard a great deal too about the “Blitz spirit”, this idea that in the darkest of times Brits pull together – usually with the aid of a nice cup of tea and a jam sandwich.

But here’s the thing. The Blitz wasn’t a great jolly jape. It was awful.

Tens of thousands of people died, homes and lives and businesses were destroyed and people suffered for years afterwards.

It was terrifying and unrelenting and far from bringing people together in many instances it tore communities apart. In some cities crimes such as looting – even from the bodies of the dead – and theft flourished. Black marketeers took advantage of the situation and of the most vulnerable. The blackout was the pick-pocket’s best friend and prostitution went through the roof.

Yes, there was courage and stoicism.

But there was also hardship and loss. Society, while not exactly collapsing, was placed under the most incredible strain.

Why would anyone but a dogmatic fool crave that again?

And here’s the rub. We went to war in 1939 and suffered as we did to stop a Nazi invasion.  

Here in 2019 we have people in charge who want suffering just to prove a point.

A WORK colleague has a theory our phones are listening in to what we say.

He tested this by explaining to a friend over a pint – with the phone on the table – about how he had forgotten to buy dog food and would need to call into a shop on the way home. 

He’s never owned a dog yet, sure enough the next day, his social media feed had adverts on it for dog food.

Intrigued, I conducted my own experiment, telling a chum on a night out about my wish to visit Japan.

Two days later – nothing. No holiday ads had targeted me.

But then the same mate phoned to ask whether I’d had a look at the fashion website she’d told me about – did I want the details again? 

And then I realised. I didn’t need the details. It had been the first post in my Facebook feed that morning.

Coincidence or technological spying?  Either way it’s spooky.

PAUL McCartney has been awarded a gold Blue Peter badge for services to song-writing.

As someone who never got her hands on one – despite years of trying – I’m unimpressed. 

He might have written Eleanor Rigby but can he make a nice picture out of gluing bits of pasta to a piece of card?

social media

Molly’s legacy should be tighter regulation

Last week, if you had asked me about Instagram, I would have said it was harmless enough.

A social media platform where people who regard Facebook as something only their parents use go to upload their fashion choices or record their big night out and where “influencers” – whatever they are – post images of themselves on a beach with the tagline #livingthelife.

In short, not really a platform for grown-ups.

But that was before news of the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell had it the headlines.

And now Instagram feels very adult indeed.

You’ll have seen Molly’s picture a lot these past few days. Her photos have been used widely across the media. There she is, a shyly smiling teenager in her school uniform, then as a little girl on a family holiday and again, younger still, cuddling a toy dog.

She could be anyone’s daughter, yours or mine, gazing out of those photos at the bright future before her.

Except her future is over.

It came to a sudden and heartbreakingly premature end when she took her own life after viewing content about suicide online. She had showed no signs of mental illness. It was only after her death her family found she had been watching material linked to self-harm and suicide.

Put simply, her dad Ian believes Instagram helped kill his daughter and it’s hard to argue.

Social media has now become a necessary evil. Society now cannot live without it and, while it’s responsible a great deal of good it also accounts for a great deal of misery.

And that misery can be most acute among children.

At best it peddles the myth that everyone is having a better time than you. Everyone is thinner, has more friends, goes on more holidays. It’s nonsense of course but it’s hard not to swallow the message, especially when you haven’t the life experience to see those posts for what they are – fiction.

It can also be a portal for bullying. When I was a kid if you were having issues in school they were generally confined to the classroom or the bus stop; home was an escape.

These days, thanks to mobile phones, the bullies can follow you all the way into your bedroom.

And now, having long suspected the unregulated, darker side of social media can be as harmful – perhaps more so – than drugs and booze we have the proof in Molly.

And she’s not unique. Papyrus, a youth suicide prevention charity, has been contacted by around 30 families in the past week who believe social media had a part to play in their children’s suicides.

Think about that for a moment. If this was a pill which was killing our kids it would be banned outright.

But what do we get? Health Secretary Matt Hancock “warning” warned social media firms they could face a ban if they don’t remove harmful material.

I don’t think they’ll be quaking in their cyber boots – his actions are too little and too late.

As parents we should be demanding that these firms are held to account for the material their sites host – and turn a blind eye to – and face immediate, punitive action.

Nothing will bring Molly back but if by her tragic death comes tighter regulation and stronger laws governing social media then it won’t have been in vain.

Every grown-up knows that water-slides, while on the face of it are great fun, should be avoided after the age of 25. Sadly, the message didn’t reach Jemma Joslyn who is suing Thomas Cook after she was crushed by an obese woman on a hotel pool slide in Turkey and ended up badly hurt.

My husband learned his lesson when, on a family holiday, his swimming trunks split as he whizzed down the slide resulting in fellow holidaymakers getting an eye-ful – and him feeling a right arse.

Medics are warning that increased use of Fitbits could lead to the NHS becoming overwhelmed by people who are wrongly being told by their devices that they’re ill.

This proves two things. One – if you want to check whether you’re poorly, you might as well just feel your forehead and, two – exercise really is the work of the devil.

Liverpool Echo, shoppping

Shopping for the human touch

‘I’m am an ad man’s dream. If shopping was a Mastermind topic I’d be reigning champion.’

I love shopping.

I don’t mean the dreary what’s-for-tea trail around Tesco. I mean the bright lights, big city kind of experience that involves department stores and boutiques.

I love the pursuit of it all. There’s nothing like finding those perfect shoes or browsing the rails to unearth that ideal dress.

I adore the buzz of the bargain, the endorphin release of spending my hard-earned money, the changing room conversations with like-minded souls, the chit-chat at the till and then coming home with armfuls of bags to explore my purchases all over again.

I am an ad man’s dream. If shopping was a Mastermind topic, I’d be reigning champion.

But last Christmas – when I usually reach joyful maximum retail – something very odd happened.

Weeks before the big day, when I’d usually be limbering up for a marathon spend-a-thon, I abandoned the high street for my laptop and bought at least three-quarters of my festive shopping online.

The reason? I simply no longer had the time to trawl the shops.

Life – as it is for so many of us these days – was just too busy and, for the first time, the idea of spending hours in John Lewis had lost its appeal.

I know. It came as a revelation to me too.

I couldn’t face battling to park and then battling the crowds. I didn’t have the room in my day for wandering around shop floors stacked high with stuff and then standing in huge queues for the privilege of handing over money for it – that’s if I found anything in the first place.

The alternative – sitting at home, brew in hand, I’m a Celeb on the telly and hopping virtually from store to store – was too tempting to pass up.

Was it a bland, soulless experience? Yes, it was.

Did it save me a mountain of time and shoe leather and stress? Absolutely.

Now if a stalwart like me can turn turtle on a lifetime habit is it any wonder the high street is in such turmoil?

Last year saw a slew of big brand names disappear. House of Fraser, ToysRUs and Maplin all collapsed. A host of others began contracting.

The picture hardly looks rosier for the coming 12 months. Only days ago, the retail giant that is even Marks and Spencer announced further store closures in addition to ones slated only months ago.

Of course, we can all blame the internet for this state of affairs but there’s more to the collapse of our high streets than that.

Up and down the country town centres have been allowed to fade away while the big-wigs wring their hands and ask what can be done.

Well, I’ll tell you. Shoppers like me need to be incentivised to return to town centres, starting with re-opening so many of those banks and post offices which have been shut.

We need to get there easily and cheaply – improved bus services and cheaper parking would help.

It needs to be an “experience” complete with the opportunity for coffee or a movie or even street entertainment.

And stores need to work harder at offering what online can’t – a friendly face to talk to, to engage with, to care, to say thank you to.

We live in an age where we can buy literally anything online except the human touch.

Shops need to capitalise on that hole in cyberspace – and quick.


VEGANUARY. I can’t even say it let alone know for certain what it is.

As far as I can make out it’s a bit like Movember but with less hair. It’s also apparently the on-trend fashion in food.

Now I’ve never really understood how the contents of your fridge can be subject to the whims of style. Jeans, bags makes-up? Yes. But beans? Not so much. 

Veganism seems to be everywhere – despite the fact you can fit the number of vegans I actually know in a phone box and still have space to eat a Big Mac.

Still, at least they’ve taken the heat off the vegetarians.

Published Liverpool Echo 20th January 2019