A Letter To… An Old Friend

Christmas is a good time for reflection, though in truth there are plenty of other times throughout the year that I think of you. Often because something reminds me of you, and occasionally you just pop into my head for no apparent reason. We haven’t spoken for over five years now; I wonder if you ever think of me. I ask after you where I can, but our mutual friends have dwindled since we grew up, moved out, and moved on. I think you’re happy.

We were an odd pair right from the start. You were outgoing, gregarious, and girly; I was quiet, socially anxious, and forever attempting to reject the obvious aspects of my femininity. (You may smile to know this is pretty much still the case.) You were also one of the warmest people I had ever met. You took me under your wing when I found myself, after a certain turn of events, alone and isolated, and you accepted me wholeheartedly.

It wasn’t long before we were inseparable. I will give you all the credit in this instance, as lord knows that I always have been, and probably always will be, hopeless at picking up the phone. You coaxed me out of my shell and planned things for us to do, to go, to see. We spent many nights sitting on each other’s sofas in sweatpants or our pyjamas, stuffing our faces and watching some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But it was such good fun. I’ve never found anyone else to do it with.

As I got to know you, I discovered that underneath your confident demeanour ran an insecure streak that I always sought to erase. I couldn’t understand it. You were always the one the boys fancied; I was who they came to in order to ask you out. I had my own worries to begin with (you found me friendless, remember), and overtime, watching you charm a room while I hung back, and picking you up when your bold surface threatened to give way to your inner fragility, I became utterly dependent on you, and I think you did on me.

I may have felt isolated before I met you, but there was also a sense of freedom in not having to answer to anyone. With you, I think I became isolated in a different way. I felt I couldn’t hang out with other people in case it upset you. I wanted to expand our circle of friends – of course, we’d still be each other’s BFF – to reduce our reliance on one another somewhat, but you were largely against this. Our once brilliant friendship started to feel a bit unhealthy.

I said earlier that you are one of the warmest people I’ve ever known, and it’s true. You have a heart of gold. There have been so many occasions that I wish I could have confided in you, because I know I can trust you, and you’d know what to say. There were also times during our friendship, though, that I felt I didn’t really get a chance to speak. Your issues were always our issues: boys, family, school; and I was more than happy for the focus to be on you – I hate being in the spotlight, even in a circle of two.

But as time went by, there were occasions when I couldn’t help feeling resentful. It was made worse by the fact that I internalise everything. You knew more than most, but you didn’t know everything about me. There are some things that I can only bring myself to say to the wind. So I cannot begrudge you for not acknowledging the changes in my mood and not being sympathetic on particular days. I just wish – I don’t know really. That you were more perceptive?

During what was to be the last year of our friendship, something happened that turned my world upside down and made me re-evaluate everything in my life. At first, you were great. You gave me space, as you knew I wouldn’t want to talk. I withdrew into myself, and shut you out because I didn’t think you could understand.

I remember sitting down with you one day and apologising, and told you I was willing to continue as we were, if you still wanted to. I was relieved that you agreed, but something nagged. It didn’t feel the same anymore – didn’t feel the same anymore. And as I started to slowly unfurl from the tight knot I’d wound myself into, you carried on as if nothing had really happened. The conversation went back to you, only this time, I wasn’t listening anymore. I was too filled with rage, too hurt that you couldn’t see there were more important considerations in life than which boy to go to the cinema with.

I feel bad at how our friendship ended. I basically shut you out again, but for good this time. I didn’t have the guts to tell you how I felt, so I just let you interpret what you wanted from my silence. You swapped seats to move away from me in class; I deleted my social media account so I wouldn’t have to see any of our old messages.

I understand that you were horribly betrayed and hurt by my actions, and I can only apologise. I was young and angry, and blamed you while you were blaming me. For a while after our ‘separation’ I felt free again. I was back to only having myself to answer to. You soon enough found people to replace me, but I never did the same with you. I don’t know how you feel about me now; I have made peace with our situation, but I understand if you don’t or can’t forgive me.

I hope you have a great life and meet some wonderful people. You deserve it. Love, Izzi.

Is a Woman’s Place Really in the Kitchen?

chef hat

Even though I can’t properly cook an omelette to save my life (or, less dramatically, to provide myself a decent lunch), I love cookery shows. Can’t get enough of them. I’ll be any channel’s audience statistic for a shot of a mixing bowl.

previously posted about my newly-discovered adoration for The Great British Bake Off, which was far more tense and emotionally draining than the bunting and cute marzipan shapes suggested. Similarly, I recently became hooked on Masterchef: The Professionals during its six-week run. Where Bake Off featured talented amateurs, Masterchef: The Professionals (from hereon in ‘MasterPros’) saw 32 professional cooks battling it out for the distinguished honour of appeasing the taste buds of, surely the biggest wide boy on TV, ‘fine diner’ Gregg Wallace.

There was something that struck me about MasterPros, and I mean something other than Monica Galetti’s eye expressions (if eyes are truly the window to the soul, then I can only deduce that Monica’s is a cross between Captain Hook and the Chesire Cat) – that is, that there was a distinct lack of female contestants. Out of the starting line-up, just four of the chefs were women. And they all left within the first week, thus paving the way for a testosterone-fueled final. (And semi-final, for that matter.)

To restate my opinion on this issue, I do not believe women should be selected for their gender or to cover some nervous Executive from claims of sexism. The female presence on MasterPros is only slightly lower than the per cent-age (20) of professional female chefs working in the UK, so the show is a fair representation of the situation nationally. What I am interested in is why, given the old adage that ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’, there so few employed in a professional cooking environment.

Bake Off finalist, Ruby Tandoh, wrote a piece for the Guardian shortly after the show’s finale that addressed the uncharacteristic vitriol aimed at the most recent series, specifically the misogynistic remarks directed towards the three female finalists. They were criticised for seeming either too assertive, attention-seeking, or manipulative, and even accused of being too thin to be any good at baking!

Ruby says, and I agree, that ingrained attitudes and gender politics pits “a culture of frilly baking” against “macho Michelin stars” and “real chefs versus domestic goddesses”. Women have Cath Kidston ideals to live up to; men get to watch the likes of Jamie Oliver and The Hairy Bikers making their fortune being laddish (and hairy). When thirty of the country’s best chefs were gathered to sample a menu by the three MasterPros finalists, it appeared only one woman was in attendance.

flour

So are societal pressures to blame? The kitchen in which women are supposed to remain is crucially within the home, where they feed their families and act out the vision of the perfect housewife; whereas a chef in a professional environment needs to be confident and assertive to make their mark. These traits, so lauded in men, are viewed unfavourably and with suspicion in a woman, as Kimberley over on Bake Off found out after she was targeted for appearing ‘cocky’ and ‘smug’ for having belief in her own ability. If women are repeatedly reminded, unconsciously or not, that speaking up often results in negative attention, it is not hard to understand why the thought of commanding a station in a kitchen and barking orders seems alien and unappealing.

Stresses of the job could also be a factor: judging by what I have seen on the show, professional kitchens are hotter and more pressurised than an Italian pizza oven. There is scientific research to suggest that women are more susceptible to stress than men, with the female brain proving more sensitive to a hormone produced during times of anxiety. This biological predisposition is not a weakness or necessarily a disadvantage, but whether it is always suited to the scenarios presented by a professional kitchen is another matter. Having said that, I could only gaze in awe at the all-female team in my local Costa yesterday lunchtime, as they dealt calmly, efficiently, and humourously with a queue that snaked out of the door. Perhaps we need to see more women showing that it can be done: many of the female chefs on television are not shown, or do not work, in service environments. Emulating Nigella Lawson seems almost unobtainable, bar the fact that she does everything in the comfort of her own kitchen.

And while it seems tired to play the family card, it is a valid point. The female contestants this year were still in their twenties, and I can’t remember any of them mentioning that they had children. Some of the men of a similar age did, and praised their wives for holding the fort while they took part in the competition. Arguably there are gender expectations here at play again. I believe it is still the case that a woman who leaves her children for long hours is more harshly judged than a man, with the idea of the father going out to work early and getting back late still a common conception of ‘normal’ family life.

The hours in a professional kitchen are long and demanding: one of the finalists said that he had been getting into work at 5AM to practice his dishes for the show, and then staying on to work a 15-16 hour day. Would a woman with young children be afforded this opportunity without anyone passing comment? Would she want to?

There is proof that it can be done: the aforementioned Monica Galetti is the senior sous-chef at Le Gavroche and quite possibly the best thing about MasterPros. She can most certainly cook; doesn’t bite her tongue when it comes to critiquing the contestant’s meals; and has a young daughter whom she clearly adores. She is fearsome, fun, powerful, and talented. I just wish there were more of her.

My Year in Music

CDs

I went through a messy separation earlier this year. It was a relationship that existed on the basis of convenience and ease. Unfortunately, I have not been able to make the clean break that was perhaps required by the situation.  I keep going back; I keep trying to find a way to make things work. To paraphrase Joey’s wonderful agent in Friends: “I always come crawling back to iTunes”.

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Even before I left my job last month, I had already had to un-sync my debit card from my iTunes account. I have an iPod Touch that makes it so easy – too easy – to hear a song on the radio, decide I like it, and download it without a thought. Because my details were already saved I missed that crucial step in online buying: when you type out your card number, and are thus granted that final chance to ask yourself whether your bank balance is strong enough to withstand the forthcoming assault.

With a few careful taps of my podgy fingertips I could have a brand new song playing through my headphones in under a minute. But I knew it had to end when I became prone to “The Impulse Buy”. My new rule is that I now have to have listened to a something at least twenty times on YouTube before I allow myself to download it (this is also a good test to discover how quickly you can become sick of a song). 

Despite our issues, I still love iTunes. Music vouchers are the only thing I can ever think to ask for when it comes to Christmas and birthdays. I thought I’d look back over my purchases from the past twelve months and assess the decisions I have made.

(NB – I will only recap albums; I bought too many singles. Some too embarrassing to mention.)

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KANYE WEST PRESENTS: GOOD MUSIC CRUEL SUMMER

Various Artists

I ask you: is there a better way to ring in the New Year than listening to a nice young man telling you “One piece of this sh*t/You won’t feel your legs”? If there is, I can’t think of it; evidently, given that this was my first purchase of 2013.

It bugs me that I’m still not sure if I am enjoying these songs ironically or not. I mean, Mercy.1 is kind of ridiculous, right? But it is also a song that I never skip when it comes on shuffle. There are some classic Kanye lines elsewhere: “I believe there’s a god above me/I’m just the god of everything else”, and yet I am able to overlook it because – despite (or in spite of?) everything else about Kanye West – he always picks interesting, obscure samples and a good beat.

Due to my ambivalence towards this record, I’m going to score it 6/10. It picks up a bonus point for featuring an artist (Marsha Ambrosius) that sounds like he named himself after his favourite brand of custard.

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ALL SAINTS

– All Saints

Ah, my favourite girl band, EVER (sorry, En Vogue). I think behind my love for All Saints is the fact that they remind me of a simpler time: a time when a pop star could turn up on Top of the Pops in cargo trousers and a denim jacket; a time when they didn’t give their fans a collective moniker that usually results in tears before bedtime on Twitter; a time when you didn’t even have to bother whether you came across as remotely “likeable”.

All Saints were moody, broody, cool. What I enjoy about this record is the fact that they don’t make it “easy” to like. It feels like they put it together with the attitude that people could take it or leave it. As a listener, it’s the equivalent of being the slightly nerdy kid on the playground trying to get the cool girls to like her.

I don’t enjoy it quite as much as Saints and Sinners, and the ‘Under the Bridge’ cover was horribly misguided. However, this album is home to one of the best pop songs of the last twenty years (that’s as far back as I can really talk with any authority) in ‘Never Ever’ – So. Good.

This album gets 7/10.

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FIVE: GREATEST HITS

– Five

This album. This is why I can’t have nice things. This is why I had to stop my unthinking download purchases.

Overcome with nostalgia thanks to The Big Reunion on ITV2, which reformed some nineties – I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say – supergroups, I went and bought a compilation of Five’s biggest hits.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even preview the songs before jabbing the screen. Caught in the sweeping tide of childhood/early teen sentiment, I forgot a very important detail: Five don’t really have any “greatest hits”. The best reaction you can hope for with this album is internal cringing, and the worst is a full-blown body spasm of painful embarrassment.

Not one song on here was worth the £4 I paid for it. The worst thing about downloading music is that you can’t even palm off naff CDs to a charity shop and pretend to yourself that you’ve done a good deed. Instead, I just had to delete the whole thing from my device. What cannot be so easily erased is the black cloud that remains heavy over my heart.

This album scores a generous 2/10. I don’t know whether to deduct or add a point for the line “Wiggy wiggy, I’m getting jiggy”.

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COLLEGE DROPOUT

– Kanye West

A substantial showing from Kanye West on this list so far. I’m not sure if that could be twisted into some sort of metaphor for the year I’ve had. Or perhaps I should start living by the acronym ‘WWKWD?’ Whenever I am plagued by self-doubt or lack of confidence, I shall simply ask myself what or how Kanye West, self-styled god on earth, would respond to such feelings.

In fairness he has some right to feel a bit smug with regards to this album. Some songs are better, I think, than some artists could hope for across several records.

Although I feel that Late Registration (follow-up to College Dropout) is more accessible in terms of the individual tracks, College Dropout works really well as an overall idea. It’s a bit darker, a bit less mainstream than its successor. And I like albums like that. Perhaps this is the true metaphor: I enjoy albums as awkward and difficult as I am.

It gets a grand total of 8/10.

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CHANNEL ORANGE

– Frank Ocean

This list so far makes it seem that I am a bit of a hip-hop connoisseur. I can assure that this is not the case. It made me interested to go back and find out what sort of list I would have compiled last year, which I can reveal would have included One Direction, N*Sync, Bee Gees, and the Lion King soundtrack. So not the most credible twelve months in my music repertoire.

Channel Orange should more than make up for those past transgressions. (Shouldn’t it? DOESN’T IT?) I mean, *what* *an* *album*. 

There isn’t a particularly dominant track (although my favourite, hands down, is ‘Super Rich Kids’); Channel Orange is about the idea of the album overall, rather than a home for a couple of chart friendly singles. Anything that makes it worthwhile to buy the whole shebang than to just cherry-pick a few decent songs, as downloadable music has made it so easy to do, cannot be faulted in my book.

Having said that, nothing is completely perfect so this album gets 9.5/10.

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DRIVE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)

– Various Artists

Drive is one of my favourite films of the last two years, and, more than many films I can remember watching, the soundtrack was a big part of that enjoyment.*

This record largely instrumental, bar the odd collaboration with the likes of Lovefoxxx and Electric Youth. Already it should be evident that this is a super cool album. Cliff Martinez’s score is chilling and emotive and I honestly don’t think Drive would be half the film it is without his contribution. ‘Tick of the Clock’ is one of the best pieces of music I have heard this year.

Drive‘s soundtrack – and Ryan Gosling’s abs (sadly hidden in the film) – get a combined total of 9/10.

(*NB: I don’t necessarily mean I “enjoyed” Drive in the typical sense; it’s not exactly a heartwarming or life-affirming affair…)

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AM

– Arctic Monkeys

I broke one of my own music rules with this album: I pre-ordered it. I mean, what’s up with that. I have never understood the point of buying something you haven’t even heard. It’s insane. And insane I was, and too impatient to wait the extra five minutes it would take me to download this on the day of release. I wanted it on my iPod as soon as I woke up!

‘Do I Wanna Know’ made me too excited to wait, and I knew I’d probably end up buying the whole thing anyway, which led me to break one of my own cardinal rules.

It is a much more laid-back affair than the first two albums, which felt like a frantic rush at times. But I love that Arctic Monkeys don’t try to replicate the same magic from album to album, or keep trying to reproduce the same spark that initially made them popular and merely producing pale imitations (cough, Oasis). 

I love the direction of AM, but I do miss the lyrics about waiting in line to get into a dingy Sheffield club. Although I guess that discredits what I’ve just said above. It’s just that I found the topics for much of AM a bit ‘samey’. Surely there must be more in Alex’s superstar life for him to write about other than his attempts at ‘wooing’.

Arctic Monkeys get a toasty 8/10.

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MECHANICAL BULL

– Kings Of Leon

Because of my rash pre-purchase of AM I punished myself by not allowing myself to buy Mechanical Bull, which came out about a week after. I had to put it on my birthday list instead. 

IT WAS SO WORTH THE WAIT. Kings Of Leon are, without doubt, my favourite band. I don’t care how douche-y they are sometimes, I love everything they release – including Come Around Sundown, which even Caleb said he didn’t care for much.

I saw them at the O2 Arena in London earlier this year and it was probably my highlight of 2013, excluding McBusted announcing their formation, but that’s another story. They are so incredible live, and I got to see the first (well, second: there was a show the night before as well) performance of lead single ‘Supersoaker’. (AMAZING!!!!)

I think I love this album too much to properly describe it. I will say that it is more like their first couple of releases than it is the later two, but with added maturity, a bit less screaming, and not quite so impressive headbanging. The latter I believe due to a combination of older age and decent haircuts, folks.

This album gets a totally unbiased score of 9.5/10.

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THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP

– Eminem

2013 was truly the year that I found my inner, repressed street kid.

The Marshall Mathers LP was the only Eminem CD I didn’t have, so, you know…I couldn’t leave it on its own…

The reason I love Eminem’s music so much is for similar reasons that I get excited over Arctic Monkeys, and that is because they deal in damn good lyrics. Songs with pointless or nonsensical lyrics are my biggest pet peeve. I love that Eminem’s songs all have such long verses because he actually has something to say, and isn’t just sending the musical equivalent of a Topshop dress down the production line, so to speak.

I haven’t had this album all that long so haven’t listened to it as much as some of the others, but what’s not to like about cocky, angry, bleach-blonde phase 1 Marshall?

It gets a respectable 8/10.

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So, there we have it. There have been highs, and exceptional lows. And an awful lot of rap. In fact, my iTunes history is a bit of a microcosm of my year in general, really.

“The Time Has Come,” The Walrus Said…

This is not a blog post as such, just an added note.

Since I started my blog over I have been publishing my posts with a quote instead of a title. I have been choosing them from a notebook filled with lines that I have come across and wanted to remember.

I have tried to match the quotes to the theme of my writing, but some have been a little obscure or tenuous!

Someone pointed out to me that it’s probably better to at least give some idea of what will be in each post, and so from now on I shall properly title everything.

It has been nice to hide behind other people’s words; and, so that I still have some outlet for all these quotes I have written down, I shall occasionally upload them as individual posts.

In every end, there is also a beginning.

“The Moment You Doubt Whether You Can Fly, You Cease Forever To Be Able To Do It”

While I coo at babies looking over their mum’s shoulder in shopping queues and risk questioning looks and/or sectioning, my sister does everything possible to avoid coming into contact with kids. We’ve always joked that we didn’t get a 50:50 split of the genes – it was a case of all or nothing. So I’ve got my mum’s gaga-ness over any and every child, whereas my sister is as baffled as my dad by this obsession with little people.

I have gone out of my way to work with children in the past: I’ve been a nursery attendant, a classroom assistant, and a swimming instructor. I spent more weekends between the ages of 15-18 in other people’s living rooms than my own, having managed to sell babysitting services to just about every young family within my postcode.

What I love most about kids is their total honesty. I think some parents would be horrified if they knew what their children repeat, rephrase, or just come out with on their own merit. If you ever want a straight answer, ask a child. They see things much more clearly than jaded teenagers and disillusioned adults, and aren’t worried about such trivial considerations as sparing your feelings/dignity/sense of self-importance.

I have been subjected to some painful observations and crushing remarks from the mouths of babes over the years. They are also freaking hilarious. Here are some of my favourite child-uttered truth-bombs:

                                                                                                          

Having never had to deal with many pimples during my teen years (I thought it was god’s way of making up for the fact that I was small and frizzy-haired with a high-pitched voice), I suddenly became prone to breakouts at 21. I managed to look in the mirror each morning and convince myself it wasn’t as bad as I suspected, and my friends told me the same.

One morning I went round to pick up the little boy I was dropping off at school. We were sitting eating breakfast and he came out with:

“Why have you got so many spots on your face? Don’t look at me! I don’t want to catch them.”

I was momentarily unable to respond, before I told him that wasn’t very nice to say and if he didn’t hurry up I’d dunk him in his cornflakes (said with love, obv). He was just being cheeky, but actually he told me what no one else had been willing to. So I booked a doctor’s appointment that afternoon, and found out I had developed adult acne. I then went to the hairdressers and asked for an emergency fringe cut to cover half my face. Thanks, little boy!

                                                                                                        

fangs

I also have what I’ve termed “Twilight Teeth”: basically fangs instead of incisors. Whenever I have pointed this out my dad has always responded, “no, no no! They’re supposed to be a bit pointy. Everyone’s are like that.” I remained unconvinced that mine aren’t gnash-ier than your average ivory tombstone.

This was confirmed when a young boy asked me, just as I was about to demonstrate how to dive, if I came from Hull.

I stood upright. “That’s an odd question,” I said, “why do you ask that?”

“Well,” he replied, “I know someone from there who also has really pointy teeth. Maybe it’s a northern thing. Are you from the north?”

                                                                                                          

I have spent many recent years becoming expert in all the latest video games for children under ten. Well, I would have, if the boy who likes playing Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean stopped freezing me out of the action. Apparently I have inflated belief in my own ability and am in fact “rubbish and slowing up progress”.

                                                                                                          toes

My feet have always been a source of amusement among some friends. It’s cool, though, when you can joke about stuff like that with your friends, right? …Right?

In their favour, it did help to prepare me for the day when a girl turned up with new goggles for her swimming lesson. She proceeded to spend most of the time going under water to examine my trotters, resurfacing just to try to explain how weird my toes are.

                                                                                                       

Then there was the girl who told me that while I was good at colouring in between the lines, I was nowhere near as good at drawing as her mummy. And my attempt at Hama-beading wasn’t very impressive, either.

                                                                                                           aliens

Some children get really nervous about swimming on their back, which is understandable given that you’re asking a five-year old to trust that this clear, non-solid substance will hold them up. I get them to lie their head on my shoulder and look up at the ceiling, and have mastered some ingenious distractions to help them relax.

I then ask if they reckon the big grey pipe that runs under the roof is a spaceship, and whether they can see any aliens hiding inside.

The most frequent response is along the lines of “you’re so weird” and “no, it’s just a pipe”. Talk about not appreciating a true imaginative force. Kids can be so sassy.

                                                                                                           

Finally, in my experience, the one time a child is not telling the truth is when they claim to have stomach ache. Nine times out of ten they are just trying to get out of whatever fun activity you have set up for them.

But, there is the odd occasion when they are being genuine. Thus far I have yet to find a foolproof way to distinguish between these instances, and submit my jumpers that have been decorated with various regurgitated lunches as evidence. If anyone has this one sussed, me and my wardrobe would be ever so grateful for your wisdom.

“When You Get to the End of Your Rope, Tie a Knot and Hang On”

medalThe shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award was released today, and such are the successes among British sporting stars that poor old Mo Farah, despite having achieved the legendary ‘double/double’ (winning the 5,000m and 10,000m at both the Olympics and World Athletics Championships), is still not favourite to take home the accolade.

After becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, Andy Murray is expected to secure the top prize. Others on the list include Tour de France winner Chris Froome; Sir Ben Ainsley, credited with masterminding Oracle Team USA’s America’s Cup win; and Justin Rose, whose triumph at the US Open made him the first Englishman to win a golf major since 1996.

Astonishingly no footballers on the list, despite the fact that, given its extensive coverage in the daily newspapers, you’d be forgiven for thinking football was the only sport played in this country. Not even [Most Expensive] Footballer of the Year, Gareth Bale, made the cut. And Mark Cavendish has now won the points classification at all three major cycling tours following his success in the Giro d’Italia this year, but didn’t make the Beeb’s top ten.

Basically, this year is a long way from 1997 when Greg Rusedski got to take home the awkwardly shaped statue. His triumph came on the back of getting to the final (for the first and last time in his career) of the US Open. Not to demean Greg’s efforts in any way – lord knows I could never get to the top end of a ladder, let alone the top end of a tennis grand slam – but Andy couldn’t even win it last year after having reached five major finals, won the US Open, and beaten Federer to Olympic gold. Stakes are somewhat higher now.

There is female presence on the list in Christine Ohuruogu and Hannah Cockroft; the BBC wouldn’t be so daft as to submit itself to the uproar of 2011, a year in which apparently there was no female achievement worthy of note. The events of London 2o12 made it easy to draw up a shortlist that was an even split of male/female success.

A year later, is it truly the case that only two women’s performances are worth mentioning? Even with the increased competition for a spot on the shortlist, I don’t believe that for a minute. I also don’t think the blame for the frequent under-representation of women on the SPOTY list lies (solely) with the BBC. The real issue is a combination of lack of coverage and lack of opportunity for women in sport.

British Tour de France winners are like buses. You wait nearly a hundred years, and two come along in succession. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome are incredibly talented and driven, and rewarded with success in cycling’s biggest challenge. And they managed it without any “extra” help, if you get my drift. They deserve the attention and the plaudits directed their way, and I’m sure their wins have done wonders for young cyclists around the country. But what of their female equivalents? There are none, because even in the 21st century women are still not permitted to compete in the Tour de France.

It creates a vicious cycle (no pun intended): there are relatively fewer races for women to compete, therefore a significant lack of bikecoverage, and thus a dearth of sponsorship, making it a real struggle for women’s cycling to grow. Laura Trott defended her omnium title at the Track Cycling World Cup and was part of the winning women’s pursuit team, but for all her efforts, even the golden girl of last summer struggled to make the front of any sports pages.

I would not suggest for one minute that female athletes should be included on the list simply because they are women. That is a case of political-correctness gone mad. However, I do feel that more female achievements should be pointed out. The SPOTY event is a glitzy affair that draws a large number of sporting names, is televised, and receives significant coverage in the press. It offers a perfect opportunity to draw attention to the successes of women that have otherwise slipped under the radar.

In an ideal world, one night on the BBC would be enough to redress the balance and propel minority sports and participants into the headlines rather than a byline on a final page roundup. But in reality, there are multiple obstacles that must be overcome to achieve gender equality in sport.

The first of these is the sports governing bodies. To again use the lack of a women’s Tour as my example, this was initially prohibited because one of the purposes of the Tour de France was to celebrate masculinity. Women who wanted to ride were treated with suspicion. This may not be the case anymore, but the current rules still seem to suggest that women are simply not up to the rigours of long-course road racing. It still stands that women can only race a maximum of eight days and for stages of no more than 81 miles.

Women were only allowed to compete in the 10,000m at the Olympics 25 years ago, and 2012 was the first time women’s boxing discowas included on the programme. Female tennis players are still only required to go to a best of three sets, while men have to battle it out in five. The implication, always, whether intentional or not, is that women are too weak and feeble to take on the same challenges as their male counterparts. This needs to change.

So, too, does the appearance and visibility of women’s sports. La Grande Boucle Féminine was billed as the Tour de France’s female equivalent, but received minimal coverage and its demise barely registered when it eventually closed up shop in 2009. If news outlets aren’t interested, neither are sponsors or organisers.

Furthermore, young girls need a wide spread of female athletes that they are inspired to emulate. There also needs to be incentive. This BBC News article quotes research that found only 30% of teenage girls exercised regularly. It’s shocking, but not surprising. The various pressures on girls around the ages of 13-16 make it difficult to continue to get enjoyment out of sport. At the moment, I don’t think there is enough to persuade them that giving up a significant amount of free time is worth their while.

Sport should not be glamourised, but female success should be offered the same opportunities as men receive. Male sporting stars become legends – Lennox Lewis, the 1966 World Cup team, Sebastian Coe, Fred Perry – whereas Virginia Wade had to suffer the indignation of some reports declaring Andy Murray “the first British winner of Wimbledon in 77 years”, thus wiping her name from the history books in one sentence.

Female athletes are too frequently targets for ridicule. Paula Radcliffe still holds the world record for the women’s marathon, and yet this is often overlooked in order to sniggeringly remember her misfortune and bladder issues during the Olympic marathon in Beijing. Victoria Pendleton, only able to ride one race in Beijing while Sir Chris Hoy came home with three golds and hero status, was finally allowed the same opportunity as the men in London, but had to put up with comments about her personal life and being branded a ‘whinger’ after her responses to certain interview questions.

Who would want to deal with all that, on top of the relentless training and diet regimes of a professional sportsperson? You get the same amount of flack for appearing on a show like The Only Way Is Essex for less than a fraction of the effort – and you probably get paid more, too.

Certain sporting events – and specifically, the women’s side of these events – need to capture the imagination; to persuade the public to remain interested for longer than one glorious summer month every four years, and thus encourage regular attendance. At the moment, I still believe it remains hard to become fully invested in a sport if it does not receive an adequate level of coverage. This is the catch-22: press will not report on something if it little interest is displayed, yet it is difficult to remain aware of an event taking place unless it is publicised in a national paper.

In fact, all the aspects I have written about are interlinked: larger audiences will attract more attention from the media; this will influence funding, which can make the difference between someone reaching their full potential and not; this has a knock-on effect as to whether the athlete can secure a sizable sponsorship deal, which also depends on the publicity surrounding the event; more charlie brownpublicity will encourage a bigger following… and so on.

Ultimately, female athletes need equal opportunities and to be taken seriously for what they do. Their inclusion on the SPOTY shortlist should not be met with confusion as to what it is they’ve been nominated for, and should not be open to the criticism that they are a ‘token’ addition. Quarter of a century ago it was believed to be dangerous for a woman to run long distances. Now that she has proved that she can run just as far as any man, the next step is to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

“Think Not I Am What I Appear”

Against better judgement I have started watching the current series of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. I’m not here to defend this choice, as tempting as that is, but to write about some significant points that the show – in less than a week on air – has raised about appearance, achievement, and the media’s approach to the female body.

Rebecca Adlington is one of this year’s contestants, and a personal hero. When I was younger (I’m talking 14/15) it was my dream to be an Olympic swimmer. I blame some incredibly slow twitch muscles for my failure to succeed (if you can’t join them – blame your genes!), but would like to think I have a small inkling of the sacrifice and dedication it takes to make it to the starting block of an Olympic race, let alone finish with a medal.

That is why it has been particularly heartbreaking to witness, despite all her achievements, Rebecca’s deep insecurities. Earlier this week she was reduced to tears by what began as a discussion of Miss Universe winner Amy Willerton’s life as a model/beauty queen. Rebecca acknowledged in the privacy of the camp’s ‘diary room’ that she had spent almost her entire life dedicated to making her body perform in the most active sense of the word. Wiping away tears, she admitted, “It’s making me very, very insecure that I have to look [a certain way]. For me, I was an athlete.”

Would a male athlete have been reduced to tears in the jungle, comparing himself unfavourably to a male model? A large part of perfect bodyRebecca’s reaction stems from her own self-esteem (or lack thereof), but this has been compounded by the ideals of femininity presented in the media, coupled with targeted attacks on her Twitter account. The likes of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Sir Chris Hoy do not have to put up with relentless messages that tell them their thighs are too big, or that their ears stick out too much.

Men’s achievements are still taken more seriously in some quarters (I stress – in some quarters); the spectacle of the race is entertainment enough. The topic of outfits is another discussion entirely, but consider all the ridiculous commentary surrounding the women’s volleyball during London 2012. Women are expected to be able to perform and present an appealing aesthetic. In fact, it probably doesn’t matter if she comes last in her race, as long as she looks good doing it.

Really taking the biscuit has been the subsequent coverage of Rebecca’s upset. *Certain* media outlets – I am referring to the ones that perpetuate the idea of what constitutes female beauty and belittle any who fail to achieve it – have taken this golden opportunity to partake in their own favourite sport. That is, pitting women against each other. Yay! There’s a fun pastime, right there: highlighting women’s ‘flaws’ and ‘mistakes’ and then sitting back to watch as they tear each other apart.

The same paper that took such glee in reporting on the supposed “showdown” – it was a tetchy discussion! – between Amy and Rebecca, posted another article (for want of a better word) a day later blatantly squaring them off. There is a table of comparison and everything. You can have a look here if you have the stomach for it.

The tone is deliberately skewed to make those in the comments (oh god, the world of internet comments) pick a side. The same paper that has been salivating over pictures of Amy in her bikini since before the show even began has decided that women should hate her, because she represents an industry that makes women hate themselves. Amy is obviously beautiful: slim, tanned, long hair, the works, and she knows this. I mean, you don’t win Miss Universe and still question your own attractiveness. But why should knowledge of her own beauty be a Bad Thing?

In the bizarre world of tabloids, Rebecca’s pre-existing insecurities have been used to black mark Amy. The thought process is that tea“real women” (a phrase that deserves to be trapped in an eternal bush-tucker trial) must devalue Amy in order to empower all the women (probably, sadly, a majority) like Rebecca made to feel that they are not good enough because they cannot fit into a pair of size 8 jeans.

How, how, is this in any way a viable form of female empowerment?! Instead of dismissing Amy’s successes – pitted against a gold medalist I’m sure most of us would feel our achievements pale in comparison – why not celebrate both for rising to the top in their respective fields, no matter what your opinion of their respective career paths? By fueling these petty rivalries and playing on women’s self-doubt these media sites manage to distract from the real issues facing women both in the public eye and in ‘normal life’.

There was another significant moment during the week, which involved fellow camp mate Matthew Wright and a women’s swimsuit. For those who know anything about I’m a Celebrity…, Myleene Klass and the white bikini is folklore. Basically, by the simple act of showering under the camp waterfall everyday in a certain two-piece, former Popstars winner Myleene was able to successfully reboot her career upon leaving the jungle.

The “subject” of ladies in swimsuits has been turned into an annual competition; another classic divide and conquer tactic. Matthew, a television presenter and newspaper journalist, took the chance to poke fun at the tabloids’ barely contained excitement over who would provide the “Myleene Moment”, by donning the famous white bikini and taking the role himself.

It was funny, it was ridiculous, but it also made a point. The roles in the jungle are much more tightly defined for the female contestants than for the men. As fun as the show may be, I’m a Celebrity… is not immune to the frequent reality series’ pitfall that sees women compared and judged, not for what they can accomplish and overcome, but how they present themselves.

Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew’s joke (that I understood as poking fun at the sort of showbiz commentary he once wrote) has been misconstrued by some articles as his attempt to mock “attention-seeking” female camp mates. How reassuring to know that women will always be responsible for their own bad press.