In his mini-Budget on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pulled a green rabbit out of his hat. The Green Homes Grant scheme will see thousands of households receive vouchers worth up to £5,000 to make environmentally friendly home improvements. The scheme will offer householders up to £5,000 to spend on energy efficiency improvements – such as insulation, low-energy lighting, double glazing and energy-efficient doors – which could help save up to £300-a-year on fuel bills. We don’t yet know the fine details of what measures will be approved under the scheme, but, according to the Treasury, the Government will pay at least two-thirds of the cost of the energy saving home improvements. So if giving your home a ‘eco-makeover’ costs £6,000, the Government will pay £4,000. Green buildings experts have cautiously welcomed the plan, which will start in the autumn. “This is a real opportunity to reduce thousands of homes’ carbon emissions,” says sustainable buildings researcher Kate de Selincourt. “But retrofitting older homes can go wrong in all kinds of ways, and simply throwing up insulation isn’t necessarily the right thing to do,” she says. “We have seen disastrous results where damp problems increased, and indoor air quality decreased after poorly installed insulation so it’s absolutely vital people get the right treatment for their home.”
Almost exactly a year ago, the popular YouTuber Emily Hartridge was killed in the first fatal collision involving an electric scooter in Britain. The 35-year-old was on her way to a fertility clinic on an e-scooter bought for her by her boyfriend. She died after a collision with a lorry at a roundabout in Battersea, South West London. At the time, it was illegal to ride e-scooters on public roads in the UK. But earlier this year, as the coronavirus pandemic raged and public transport use was discouraged, Government ministers announced they would bring forward trials to see how the vehicles could be safely introduced on British roads and streets. These trials began last Saturday, meaning people can now ride them in public legally for the first time, in designated test areas. Smart, whizzy, and with strong environmental credentials, e-scooters appear, on the face of it, an appealing, safer alternative to packing onto train carriages or buses. As many as 200,000 are estimated to have been bought already. But as Britain looks set for a new e-scooter boom, Emily’s older sister Charlotte sounds a note of caution. “I do really worry about the state of the roads, especially in London,” she says. “Scooter wheels are small and not a great combination with potholes and uneven surfaces. In fact, it was this very combination that caused Emily’s accident. Ensuring roads, particularly cycle lanes, are well maintained for use by bikes and scooters must go hand in hand with the new legislation in order to reduce the risk of more accidents and deaths.” It’s been a tough year for 38-year-old Charlotte and the other two Hartridge sisters, twins Alice and Jess, 32. In the preceding years they had seen their middle sister build an enormous social media following with her quirky, frank, occasionally crass and often very funny posts about modern life. Her 10 reasons why videos gained hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, with examples including: “Men are strange,” “It’s time to break up,” and “Why women cheat.” Coupled with an openness about her own mental health – she suffered from anxiety, had two breakdowns and spent time in rehab – this made her a hit with a largely millennial audience. Now, along with memories, they are all the surviving Hartridge sisters have left.
My mum likes to remind me that at my age, 24, she was already married, owned a house, and was thinking of children. Meanwhile, I am spending half of my salary on rent, nowhere near ready for marriage, and forever grateful to my period as proof that I am not pregnant. It’s no secret that women are having babies later than the generation before them. Over half of the babies in 2017 (55 per cent) were born to women in their 30s – up from 43 per cent in 1997, according to the Office for National Statistics. With women conceiving later, the number of women freezing their eggs is rising fast. Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show the number of embryo and egg storage cycles increased by 523 per cent between 2013 and 2018. There are longstanding reasons for this delay. As Counselling Directory member Fiona Mallin, who specialises in fertility issues, puts it, couples want to get things just right before they try for a baby: “It’s taking people a bit longer to get on their feet and do the things that their parents’ generation did earlier. Rent is high, making it harder to save a first deposit; and lengthy internships are often required at the start of the career ladder. But now there's a new factor at play. It seems the coronavirus pandemic has made young couples even more wary of starting a family. A recent survey from the University of Florence found that more than a third of people (37 per cent) who had been planning to try for a child have now put these plans on hold due to the pandemic. A US study from the Guttmacher Institute found 34 per cent of women were in the same position.
When I was told a simple 20-minute operation would solve my mild incontinence and prolapsed bladder, I felt like one of the chosen ones. The consultant told me it was a brand-new system with less recovery time, and it sounded like exactly what I needed. But just hours after the operation, when I was lying in agony on hospital sheets soaked through with blood, I realised I’d been misled. The operation I had was a ‘pelvic mesh implant’. More than 92,000 women underwent this procedure between 2007 and 2015 in England. I had my operation in 2007, and like thousands of others, it has ruined my life. It’s estimated that up to one in four of us have suffered complications. Many have described it as like having razor blades inside them. Others have constant pelvic pain and infections, and are unable to sleep. Some have suffered organ failure and died. One woman, that we know of, took her own life because she couldn’t live with the agony. This week an independent review chaired by Baroness Julia Cumberlege has finally been published. It looked at three things that have impacted the lives of thousands of women: the pregnancy test Primodos, associated with birth defects and miscarriage; the epilepsy drug sodium valproate, which can cause defects and developmental problems in children; and vaginal mesh implants like mine. Baroness Cumberlege said she was shocked by the "sheer scale" and "intensity of suffering". Her report calls the situation ‘damning’ and calls on the UK government to apologise. I was one of the 700 women who contributed to her review, and I’m pleased our plight is being acknowledged at last. Specialist centres are now being set up to help us cope. But I still can’t believe this was ever allowed to happen. I was 61 when I had the procedure, and the consultant didn’t even use the word “mesh”. I didn’t know it would have this impact. No one told me about the side-effects, and I was completely unprepared for spending five agonising days in hospital. When I was discharged I found myself in A&E; because it was already infected, and when I had my hospital follow-up months later, I was still in pain. The doctor didn’t believe me. He told me I was the only one complaining and there was nothing wrong with me. He wanted to refer me to a psychiatrist but I knew my brain was fine; it was my body that wasn’t. This is something that has come up time and time again during the review: that women weren’t believed when they said they were in pain, and their suffering was simply written off as “women’s problems”.
I open a video message on my phone from a client. It’s footage of her two rescue dogs playing happily in the garden together for the first time. When I met them, they were too terrified to come out of her utility room. They’d been found crammed into tiny boxes, covered in their own vomit and faeces. Watching them, I’m flooded with happiness at the realisation that I’ve helped them return to being joyful, playful dogs. Growing up, I’d always wanted to work with animals, and my plan was to study zoology at university, but first I wanted to experience London life. I spent a gap year interning in the Miss Selfridge press office and somehow that year morphed into a fashion career spanning two decades. My first proper job was as a press officer for the late designer Lee Alexander McQueen in the mid-1990s, and it was through him that I fell in love with rescue dogs. He’d adopted Minter, a mixed-breed, from Battersea Dogs Home. I’d look after him when Lee went away for work and I remember him giving me cash to buy Minter fresh chicken every day.
What I remember most about meeting my father for this first time was his opening gambit: ‘This pub is one of my favourites.’ He gestured to a picnic bench and asked me if I wanted a beer. I was conceived by anonymous donor sperm and for years I’d fantasised about meeting my biological father – in my head he’d loomed large, like an astronaut or Nobel laureate. The only things that my biological mother, Miranda, and her partner Dawn, knew about the donor was that he was green eyed and a medical student. Yet the man I met was an ordinary, unremarkable 50-year old who worked in human resources (turns out he actually had blue eyes and had studied economics), and the entire conversation – as we fished around for topics we might have in common and found very few – was crushingly disappointing. He chatted awkwardly about draft beer and football, while I told him about being raised by lesbian mums and my career, and by the time I left the pub in north London, I felt shaken. Far from making me wish I’d had a relationship with this man, the experience only made me miss Dawn, who I’d always seen as a parent figure and who had died two years earlier. I remember calling Mum and crying down the phone. ‘He’s a nice enough man, but he’s not Dawn,’ I admitted. And yet I decided to give it another shot and meet up with him again. I’d known I didn’t have a father for as long as I can remember and for years I’d felt OK about it. Back in 1992 when I was born, being conceived by sperm donation was still an oddity, as was being raised by same-sex parents. Our house in the suburbs of Bristol was in a traditional neighbourhood with 2.4-children families and I remember making up ridiculous stories, as a very little kid, to account for being fatherless: my dad being a sailor, for example, who had died at sea. But my creative lesbian home was a haven and we did lots of dressing up and art. When my mum split up with Dawn, when I was around six, and got together with Jayne, a woman who was visibly more masculine, and ‘loud and proud’ at the school gates, I started being bullied. I think kids picked up on the fact that there was something different about me from their gossipy parents. A Christian woman who ran the after-school club was especially cruel. I ended up moving schools because I was being picked on. There were plenty of upsides about having three mums. When I came out as liking boys at the age of 11, they were unsurprised and very supportive. And I knew how much they loved me. Yet there was always a niggling fear, when I was a child, about being incomplete: a fatherless boy without ‘dad’ to take me to football or show me the ropes. This absent biological father became a mythical godlike figure until my teens when everything changed. It was the 2000s and being from an alternative family was suddenly cool. When another boy with two mums joined my secondary school, I remember being livid: having two mums was my superpower. I always knew that at 18 I’d be able to write to the HFEA (Human Fertility and Embryology Authority) for more information about the man who had donated the sperm, but I didn’t hold out hope. Back then, sperm could be donated anonymously and only if the donor chose to waiver it could the child apply for the information once they’d turned 18 (although a change in the law means that children conceived after 2005 have an automatic right to know their donor’s identity). I’d read up a little on the statistics and found that only one in ten sperm donors waive their right to anonymity. I wrote off on my 18th birthday and discovered that although there was no news about my donor, I had five donor siblings, two of whom were happy to be contacted. Oddly however, I couldn’t get excited about this revelation, as the donor was the one who I’d fixated on. Even so, a few years later, when I was in my early 20s, I decided to track down my half-siblings, mainly as material for my work when I was writing a play about being a donor child. But as I set this up with the HFEA, they sent me the shock news that there had been a mixup and my father WAS able to be contacted after all. I felt a mixture of queasiness and excitement. It was a strange time to hear the news as Dawn had died of cancer a couple of years earlier. I’d dearly loved her and considered her a parent and now, suddenly, here was another parent figure emerging. Looking back, I should have let it all sink in before deciding whether to meet him but I went ahead immediately, after checking with Mum first. I was anxious: would it seem like a betrayal? She seemed excited but worried, though she put on a supportive front. Desperate to meet him, I carefully hand-wrote a letter to him thanking him for his involvement in my life, enclosing a photo and my email and tentatively suggesting we meet for coffee. It took him less than a week to email back - and it was a pretty nail-biting time. I spent it obsessively Googling him, looking into his career history as well as finding a small pixelated headshot. Mum helped with the research and I loved that she was so much a part of it all By the time we finally met, my nerves were still raw. I’d told friends in London about it and my then-partner, and they were all supportive. The problem was that they couldn’t really understand how it felt to meet this man that was so instrumental in my being, but wasn’t a ‘dad’. Mum advised me not to get my hopes up in advance of the meeting, adding ‘be yourself Jordan, that’s enough’. After the shock of discovering this man I had built up in my head was an ordinary bloke, it struck me that were were oddly similar in some ways, particularly our mannerisms like the way he moved his hands and gazed off into the near distance and his prominent nose that was far more like mine than my Mum’s dainty button one. I asked what compelled him to become a donor - he had donated five times - and when he admitted that it was for the money as he’d been a student at the time and that he’d only come forward because of his Catholic beliefs, it hurt. Happily he was very unjudgmental about my lesbian mums. It would have been tough if there had been any note of homophobia, or disapproval. We groped around for other things we might have in common: politics, work, social attitudes, and found very little. He was into money and cars while I had stayed true to my chickpea-eating hippy roots instilled in me by my Mums. We left it hanging but I could sense he wanted to meet me again. So we kept in touch and a few months later he suggested we meet again. By this point the swell of disappointment had subsided and I thought: why not? It made me even more grateful to my mum and Dawn for the way they raised me and how loving my upbringing had been. On some level, I thought that meeting him would heal the emotions around Dawn’s death, but instead it had starkly reminded me of what I’d lost. I became depressed and only got through it with the help of my mum and my two half sisters, conceived from the same donor. I’d met up with them in person shortly before I met the donor - they’d also met him in person - they were both thoughtful women, born within a week of me [same year] and we shared personality traits and understood each other like no one else could: we had been through the same emotional ups and downs, high expectations and crashing disappointments of meeting our sperm donor and they were extremely supportive. Looking back at it all, I feel conflicted. Being a sperm donor child is quite new and society projects all sorts of baggage onto us of being somehow lacking, and that can be tough. What does it mean if we don’t feel fatherless? And if we do, is that in some way a rejection of the parents who raised us? I’ve seen my donor a few times since that first meeting and we’re building a relationship, of sorts, at a distance. He’s part of the puzzle that made me but he’ll never be my dad, and that’s OK. I had all the parenting a boy could need. Meeting the donor has affected my relationship with mum in a lovely way: we were close before but now we share everything. Sometimes what we’re searching for is in front of us all along. His mother Miranda’s story
It wasn’t until arriving at Oxford, where I found myself surrounded by plummy-accented Sophies and Lavinias, that I first felt the subtle impediment of my moniker. Consonant-heavy and impossible to shorten gracefully (“Kaz” still makes me shudder), I’d never particularly been fond of the name “Karen”. My Eastern European immigrant parents picked it out of a baby name book in the mid-1980s because they thought it sounded English and thus aspirational; what they weren’t to know was that, in class-obsessed Britain, it was actually considered inherently ‘common’. It was during the whirlwind of new faces at Freshers Week that introducing myself as “Karen” first began to present a hindrance. Even before privately-educated peers had the opportunity to enquire “Where did you go to school?” as a means of quietly determining my social strata, my Christian appellation had already marked me out as Not One of Us. The fatal combination of my name and a comprehensive school education meant that on more than one occasion introductory pleasantries were followed by eyes drifting over my shoulder, in case there should be anyone more suitable to speak to, such as a Muffie or a Lettice. Still, even I couldn’t have predicted that, a decade and a half on, my name wouldn’t just put me at a disadvantage among the upper classes but also those who claim to stand for the under-privileged. Over the last year, the name “Karen” has become shorthand on social media for a stereotype of a certain type of woman, one who is often middle-aged, speaks her mind and, in the UK at least, happens to be lower middle or working class. It has also, inexplicably (since many Karens aren’t white, particularly in the United States), come to refer to white women, most of whom aren’t actually called Karen. Labour MP Jess Phillips has been called a Karen (a tweet mockingly labelling her “Shadow Karen Minister” has racked up thousands of ‘likes’), as has, unsurprisingly, JK Rowling, for daring to speak up about incursions on women’s rights. As is often the way now on the Marx-infused left, any protest about the misogynistic undertones of the trope only deems you to be even more of a Karen (one common theme in the “Karen” caricature is that she always demands to speak to the manager).
“Don’t touch that!” I yell at my four-year-old daughter for what feels like the thousandth time that day. “Did you just put your fingers in your mouth? Can you come here and use some hand sanitiser? No, don’t lick that!” My anxiety levels on even the most mundane outings have skyrocketed during the pandemic. And I don’t even have to be on the outing in question for something approaching hysteria to ensue. “Did you get within two metres of each other?” I’ll routinely ask my husband after his weekly tennis matches. “Did anyone breathe in your general direction while you were buying your coffee?” I am far from alone in having been driven to the brink of insanity by the coronavirus crisis. New research by Kantar that divides us into six different “tribes”, based on how we have responded to Covid and lockdown, suggests that women are far more likely than men to fall into a the category labelled “precarious worriers”. Such people are more inclined to worry about falling sick; are relatively scared about the situation; check on deaths and infections daily; and constantly seek out information about best practices. (If you remember the exact death tolls from last weekend, and washed your hands so much throughout March and April that your skin was bleeding and raw, you may well fit into this box.) As well as feeling anxious about their family’s health, these so-called precarious worriers are also more likely than others to be finding this a tough time, with worries about their children, home-schooling and finances high on their list, finds the research. That women appear to be experiencing much higher levels of anxiety around their finances compared to men is no doubt linked to the fact that 37 per cent of women have already seen, or expect to see, a negative impact on household income due to the virus, compared to 25 per cent of men.
It’s the day many women have been waiting for: the Government’s much delayed domestic abuse bill has cleared its final hurdle in the House of Commons, changing the landscape for victims. It’s a landmark moment because domestic abuse is one of this country’s most common crimes, yet the law in this area has been patchy and ineffective for years. When MPs voted to give the bill its third reading, they created a statutory definition of domestic abuse for the very first time. There are around 2.4m victims each year, according to the Government’s own figures, and more than one in ten crimes recorded by the police is abuse-related. Two-thirds of the victims are female, they’re more likely than men to suffer repeat offences, and their injuries tend to be more serious. The new definition has been welcomed because it’s so comprehensive, recognising emotional, psychological and economic abuse – forcing a woman to have her wages paid into her partner’s band account, for instance – as well as physical. The Government says it’s intended both to raise public awareness of the ‘devastating’ impact of the offence and to improve the way it’s handled by the criminal justice system. The bill has been in the works for a long time, first proposed by Theresa May when she was Prime Minister back in 2018. The bill was delayed by two general elections and the prorogation of Parliament, and it’s been amended in response to lobbying by individual MPs and women’s organisations. One of the most successful campaigns has been to outlaw the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence, which defendants have used to blame women for serious injuries sustained during sex – and even their own deaths. A group called We Can’t Consent To This highlighted cases such as that of Natalie Connolly, 26, whose partner John Broadhurst left her to die at the foot of the stairs of the home they shared near Stourbridge in December 2016.
Last night, a groundbreaking bill was passed in the House of Commons to protect the lives of millions of domestic abuse victims around the UK. The Domestic Abuse bill, which was reintroduced back into Parliament on the 3rd March this year, has been described as a “once in a generation” opportunity to provide adequate support to victims, and go even further in punishing their perpetrators. This has never been more important. According to the charity Refuge, almost one in three women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. This is said to be on the rise during lockdown; in June, the UN described domestic abuse as a "shadow pandemic" alongside Covid-19. For the first time, the bill will create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that it’s not just physical; in many cases, it includes coercive or controlling behaviour and financial constraints. The bill will establish a domestic abuse commissioner and create a new domestic abuse protection notice and domestic abuse protection order; all vital steps in increasing protection for victims. Under the new laws, subject to them being passed by the House of Lords, here’s what else will change for survivors of domestic abuse and their families: Greater protection for children Children are the forgotten victims of domestic abuse. In June, the NSPCC reported that calls to its helpline are up by a third since lockdown began, and urged the Government to strengthen support for children suffering from domestic violence. The new bill proposes a series of measures that will keep children safe. After a campaign led by the NSPCC, the law will now explicitly recognise that children are victims of domestic abuse in their own right, rather than being seen as bystanders. For many campaigners, this is an important step to prevent further cycles of abuse and to recognise the psychological impact of domestic violence on children. The bill will also place a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. At present, there is no requirement to provide this; according to domestic abuse charity Refuge, 64 per cent of refuge referrals were declined last year due to lack of space. Family courts will be changed, too. The bill aims to “overhaul” the ways in which family courts operate to stop the “unnecessary risk” women and children are put in by attending a hearing. Research by the Victoria Derbyshire programme found that within five years at least four children were killed by a parent with a known history of domestic abuse after a family court granted access. To combat this, the bill includes a review the controversial “presumption of parental involvement” in care cases, which encourages a child to maintain relationships with both parents, unless involvement of a parent is deemed to put the child at risk. This can tilt access to children in favour of the abuser, and consequently puts children in danger. Further protection for survivors in court It’s not only children who are put at risk in family courts. For many women, coming face to face with their abuser can be an incredibly distressing experience. The bill will amend the ways in which family courts operate, by including automatic entitlement to separate waiting rooms, entrances and screens in court for victims of domestic abuse. It will also provide more powers for judges in the form of "barring orders", which will prevent abusers repeatedly dragging ex-partners back to court. A survey by Women’s Aid in 2015 found that a quarter of women had been directly questioned by the perpetrator. The “sweeping reforms” also put an end to survivors of domestic abuse being cross-examined by, or having to cross-examine, their abusers in the family court. End of the 'rough sex' defence In June, the Government published a new clause in the domestic abuse bill to end the controversial 'rough sex defence.' Currently, the law states that if someone kills another person through sexual activity, they could be charged with manslaughter alone; to murder someone, there needs to have been an intention to kill that person, or to cause them grievous bodily harm (GBH). The amendment would rule out "consent for sexual gratification" as a defence for causing serious harm to a victim. Labour MP Harriet Harman has called the new amendment a "milestone" in ending violence against women. Indeed, it’s a landmark moment for campaigners. The defence was highlighted in the high profile trial of 22-year-old Grace Millane, who was killed in New Zealand in 2018. Her killer said she died accidentally after asking to be strangled during sex and explicit details of her sex life were repeated in court. In fact, the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This identified that at least 60 British women have been killed in episodes of so-called "consensual" sexual violence since 1972, with at least 18 women dying in the last five years. The group says that 45 per cent of these cases ended in a "lesser charge of manslaughter, a lighter sentence or the death not being investigated as a crime at all". Non-fatal strangulation to be made a separate offence The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has also called for MPs to include a new offence of “non-fatal strangulation” in the bill. Non-fatal strangulation is a known high-risk indicator in domestic abuse cases leading to homicide, but despite this, it's often charged as common assault if women report it to the police. This makes it equivalent to a slap, or blow, that leaves a bruise. Under the new clause, non-fatal strangulation would be distinguished as a separate offence, reflecting the severity of it as a form of assault. This will offer greater protection for women who report crimes by violent partners. Cathy McIntosh, sister of Anne-Marie Nield, who was murdered by her partner, told the charity: "Anne-Marie had been strangled in the past by her partner, but the police didn't recognise that meant that she was more likely to be killed by him." Harriet Wistrich, the director of the CWJ, said: “Offenders are getting away with little or no punishment for this terrifying and dangerous offence. Police and prosecutors are not taking this offending sufficiently seriously. A simple amendment to the domestic abuse bill, making non-fatal strangulation a specific serious offence, could provide a remedy and help reduce femicide.” Recognition of financial abuse Financial abuse is still a grey area of the law, partly because it is rarely done in isolation. In most cases, perpetrators reinforce financial abuse of women with other forms of sexual, emotional or psychological abuse. It can include using a partner’s credit cards without permission, gambling with family assets or limiting a partner’s access to money. The bill will finally recognise economic abuse as a form of coercive control - a hugely important step forward for women around the UK. According to Surviving Economic Abuse, one in five of the UK population has experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner, and 95 per cent of victim-survivors of domestic abuse will experience economic abuse. By including financial abuse within the statutory definition of domestic abuse helps raise awareness around the issue, and create a framework from within which organisations can respond. Recognition of tech abuse Abuse through technology is on the rise. Research by Refuge revealed that three in four domestic abuse victims have been exposed to “controlling, humiliating or monitoring” behaviour by their former partners using technology. Under the new bill, ‘tech abuse’ will fall under the legal definition of domestic abuse, making it illegal to use smart technology, such as smart locks or cameras, to spy, control or abuse a partner or ex-partner.
My household is waging its own civil war. While I regard today’s July 4th bar-openings as British independence day, my spouse sees it as a Cov-idiot pyrrhic victory for the reckless. But then he’s 67, has high blood pressure and loathes socialising at the best of times. It’s fair to say we have wildly different takes on lockdown. Edwardian husband been living his very best armchair life, listening to the new Bob Dylan album and free from even the faintest semblance of having to mix with other human beings. For me, every day has been a form of hellish incarceration, like joining an extreme Lutheran sect where there’s no pubs, parties or dancing and the prayers don’t work. Like any prisoner in their cell, I’ve been counting down the days to freedom and working out what delights I’ll sample first. As the daughter of a publican, I rate carousing in a venue dedicated to the art of hospitality as the very height of western civilisation. Second only to that pleasure is sitting in a chair at my hairdresser’s salon in Soho, having a good old gossip with my colourist and stylist, both of whom I’ve known for years. My third delight is the means to those ends: catching a train from Cambridge to London. Of all the things I miss, the once humdrum act of travelling between cities feels like the greatest loss. True liberation means freedom of movement. Except for my spouse, who wants to be freed from having to go anywhere ever again. So here’s how I’m celebrating my July 4th. I’m taking a train to central London in an act of essential, inner-life-saving travel. I’ll then take a Boris bike to Old Church Street in South Kensington where my beloved Chelsea Arts Club is flinging open its doors, bar and garden for the first time in over three months. The club closed on St Patrick’s Day – also the date I first felt the aches in my legs that signalled a mild dose of Covid-19. The Secretary of the Club has explained the new rules for distancing, but advised masks aren’t compulsory – “as ever in the club,” members can dress exactly as they please. This will likely mean some artists in artisanal plague masks and others in crazy fancy dress straight out of a Venetian Carnival. It’s not been unknown over the club’s esteemed history for clothes to be dispensed with altogether.
What a whirlwind 48 hours! Although Stella Live 2020 wasn't the event we had originally planned – in real life at London’s Saatchi Gallery, as it was in 2019 – the virtual incarnation turned out bigger and better than we could have hoped. This year, we went online, with two incredible days of inspiring talks, insider hair and beauty advice and plenty more. We had everyone from beauty gurus Trinny Woodall and Ruby Hammer, to influencer-turned-actress Tanya Burr, along with The One Show presenter Alex Jones and Strictly superstar judge Shirley Ballas – all without you ever having to leave the comfort of the couch. First up was Samantha Cameron, founder of clothing label Cefinn and former occupant of Downing Street. She chatted to Lisa Armstrong about the one thing that saved her and husband David from rowing, and revealed the surprising reason why it's been a struggle to make her fashion brand more British. Alex Jones talked to Stella editor Caroline Barrett about her life in lockdown (“It’s tricky, impossible. Some days it’s a shambles”), while author and influencer Candice Brathwaite described how she and her husband have managed to strike an enviable balance at home.
It has been more than five months since I last saw my sister Annabelle and my little niece and nephew, Imogen and Rex. Belle and I have always been incredibly close, and not being able to see each other for such a long time would have been unthinkable a few months ago. Not having each other to lean on over lockdown has been harder than I imagined it would. So the idea that all three of them will finally be in my garden on Saturday for a family barbecue after what has felt like an eternity is filling me with joy. When we all met up for my birthday just before lockdown, we didn’t realise it would be for the last time for months. My sister and I have moved through life as a unit. It’s just the two of us siblings, and we have always been a big support to one another. We talk on the phone or FaceTime most days, and are used to seeing each other regularly. My seven-year-old twin boys, Bertie and Cosmo, are the same age as Annabelle's eldest, and the children are very close too. Raising our little ones at the same time has always felt like one of the biggest privileges. How lucky are we to get to experience motherhood alongside each other? Five months is a long time in the life of a little person, and I feel desperately sad for the kids that they haven’t been able to see each other or go to school. The boys can’t wait to see their cousins on Saturday. I’ve just accepted it’s going to be impossible for them all to distance. You can’t tell seven-year olds to play two metres apart, it’s just not practical. And to be honest, I think we’ve all waited long enough for this. It has been very strange going through something so monumental separately. Belle is usually so stoic about everything, whereas I’m more emotional, but strangely, the tables have been turned in lockdown. She has struggled a bit, whereas I have been quite ‘head down, get through the day’ about it all. These past few days have been particularly tough as my husband, Richard, lost his mum last week. She fell ill during lockdown (not with something Covid related), and sadly left us a few days ago. It's been a desperately sad time; and not being able to see loved ones — especially my sister — has been incredibly difficult, as I’m sure it must have been for so many people.
I had an email from my hairdresser yesterday. They are ‘delighted to get back to work’ and will be ‘calling clients personally to get you booked in as soon as possible.’ Did I sob with relief? Click my heels in the air with joy? Reply with gushing gratitude? I did not. I shrugged, tossed back my shaggy mane and deleted the message. Honestly, I doubt I’ll bother getting my hair cut again til... Oh, I don’t know when. Because I’m amazed to discover that, after all these months, I’m loving my lanky lockdown locks. Most of my friends are peering through tangled tresses and frantically texting their stylists, desperate to be shorn the minute the doors open. And if you’d asked me back in March if I’d still be happily hirsute in July, I’d have shaken my still neatly bobbed head in panic. Indeed, to mis-quote Gloria Gaynor ‘At first I was afraid I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never contemplate a pink hairslide.’ Yes, I’ve had to tame it a bit but I never resorted to an Alice band. Everyone I know bought hairdressers’ scissors online and the results seem to fall into two categories – the Rykers’ Island inmates look (too bold with the clippers?) or the cast of Stranger Things (a fringe should not reveal your eyebrows). On the plus side, when encountering Bad Haircut victims, we automatically cross to the other side of the road to avoid them, thus practising social distancing. I cut my husband’s hair with the dog’s grooming scissors. He said it was the best cut he’d ever had but I wouldn’t let him cut mine. When I started getting itchy eyes, I made the mistake of trimming my own fringe in the mirror, where everything looks backwards. I took too much off, in a zig zag (see Stranger Things above). But that was during the ‘transition’ stage, which lasted through April and May, when my English Setter dog, Jagger and I were often mistaken for close relatives. I was lucky that I always had ‘half-head colour’ so I don’t have a grey streak hairline and as my hair is rinsed by a daily sea swim, I like to think it’s ‘beach hair’ – wild and streaky. Think Pamela Anderson in her prime. It’s all new to me because I’ve never really had long hair. I missed out on the Cathy McGowan 60s swingy style because I was a sensible mother of two and long hair gets grabbed by Marmitey, tiny hands. So for most of my life, I favoured a short, layered look.
By now, you’ve probably heard that life is edging back to normal. Pubs, hairdressers and museums are opening, and that means swathes of the UK gearing up for their first outings since lockdown began. The middle classes, who up to this point have mostly hibernated their way through lockdown, now find themselves booking staycations and organising socially distanced dinner parties with an unprecedented urgency. No matter how much you may try to resist being bracketed into this homogenous mass, clichés exist for a reason; they are incredibly common and tend to be true. From decorating the garden to exiting the city, here's all the ways you might be a Super Saturday clone: 1. You’ve booked a hair appointment You were first in the (virtual) queue, heart racing and headphones plugged in for maximum focus. You may have even signed up for priority access. Twelve weeks of email alerts led to this moment. Yet just as your salon was about to open their booking system, you experienced a Deborah Haynes situation - that is, your child, pet or partner entered the room at an important moment, and demanded your immediate attention. After tending to said domestic dilemma, you managed to wangle an 8pm appointment (the only one left) and are forced to cancel your first pub trip for that evening as a result. You spend the rest of the weekend brushing up on small talk and preparing self-deprecating comments about the state of your lockdown tresses.
When we last saw Clare Bradley, she was ironing immaculate pleats into a child’s kilt. While her fellow Great British Sewing Bee finalists fretted about complicated tartan patterns and leather straps, Bradley calmly completed the task as if she was in her own living room, not under the lights in a television studio. “I quite like the idea of the systematic pleating and the tidiness,” she trilled, barely seeming to break a sweat as she methodically stitched and folded, chatting away. “In my flat, all the books are arranged by genre and alphabetical order.” She would go on to create a glorious carnival outfit, and a cherry red satin evening gown that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Keira Knightley in a period drama. She won, of course, much to the delight of the legion of fans watching the final last week who had fallen in love with her jolly demeanour, eclectic style (she is most comfortable in 1940s tweeds and dresses), and her wonderfully supportive mum, Jane. If you’ve never tuned in, Sewing Bee is Bake Off’s rather more sedate cousin. Presented by comedian Joe Lycett and still firmly on the BBC, you’re more likely to find someone shedding a quiet tear over a broken needle than throwing a baked alaska in the bin. Bradley, 37, was crowned champion at the end of filming in October and, until the series aired, that was the end of her television story. But eight months have passed and, it’s fair to say, an awful lot has happened. As a consultant lung specialist at Portsmouth Queen Alexandra Hospital, Bradley has been working on the frontline of the crisis, between Covid wards and the lung cancer clinic. She has been slightly embarrassed by the tidal wave of support and concern from fans all wanting to know if she is safe, insisting it has been a manageable if strange time. “Lots of people have been sending me very lovely messages, saying ‘Oh, it must have been terrible, it must have been so hard’, and actually it hasn’t been that much different from normal for us,” she says, typically matter of fact. “We’ve been doing longer days, more on-calls. Because I work in respiratory medicine, we tend to have conversations about intensive care with our patients – we’ve just had more of them.” When she isn’t on the wards, Bradley works in the lung cancer clinic, where she is often to be found asking patients about their latest knitting project. “I quite often have conversations with them if they’re knitting by the bedside. ‘Ooh, that’s nice, what are you making, what pattern are you using?’”
It’s the end of the lockdown as we know it, and we feel fine. OK, maybe fine is too strong: how about nervously excited and residually anxious? But nothing to stop us from hunkering down in our local pub this weekend, ordering 12 pints and socialising with 29 other people. Not because we necessarily want to, but because we can. And who hasn’t missed drinking 12 pints with 29 other people? It’s what we as a nation do best. However, the easing of restrictions on July 4 isn’t quite the return to normality of which, back in March, we might naively have dreamed. This is a rebooted version, complete with extra paranoia. It will therefore require a new form of social etiquette, as Debrett’s has already made clear. New guidelines from the etiquette authority on how to handle the post-Covid era include several useful suggestions: “Greeting your guests with ‘I wish I could give you a hug’ lets them know to keep their distance”, it advises. And, “While saying ‘feel free to use the bathroom’ might have seemed ludicrous this time last year [it] has become an imperative.” Other guidelines cover how to remain friendly and approachable while wearing a mask (smile with your eyes, apparently) and how to navigate thronged pavements. But the challenges of the new normal will be both myriad and complex. So we’ve drawn up some further guidelines of our own. Following them is optional, but should you wish to join us for a socially distanced, totally legal indoor or outdoor gathering, with or without your support bubble, our arbitrary new rules will be mandatory:
At last, the day of independence is almost upon us. The moment where we all emerge out of our 100-day hibernation, blinking into the sunlight like the animals dismounting Noah's Ark. And the sight that greets us will be similar – yet oh so different – to the world we left behind. You may have no time for such hyperbole, but with all the guidelines in place there are certain aspects of 'Super Saturday' that will be as confusing as Rishi Sunak looking for a pub in a home appliances shop. For while pubs, museums and hairdressers (to name a few) are set to open, these are under strict conditions that will make the experience of them very different. For instance, roller coasters are allowed, but screaming is banned. Pubs are open for business, but queues at the bar are not. The list, as you can read here, goes on. Indeed in a nation already divided between 'corona-phobics' and courageous ‘new-normal-ers’, uncertainties can be expected. Some, like Nigella, may be keen to adhere to the 5:2 ‘social diet’ of limiting interaction with friends, while others are racing to become the first on the school mum Whatsapp group to invite everyone over for ‘socially-distanced pre-pub drinks.’ But what Super Saturday has shown is that there will be a little benefit for everyone – no matter what your preference. Here’s all the things that we’re secretly looking forward to when the day arrives... 1. Not having to to tip our hairdressers Let’s be honest, it was always a little bit awkward. The procedure generally involved fumbling around for cash (which none of us ever carried anyway), while our hairdresser pretended to look elsewhere. And then there was the etiquette: what constituted too little ('stingy, or displeased with the service') or too much ('too generous, could have bought a coffee with that later')? Well Hallelujah, that looks set to change. While hairdressers are allowed to officially reopen on the 4th July, that’s provided Covid-secure measures are in place – including the use of cashless payment systems. According to a recent survey commissioned by Asktraders.com, two in three consumers would avoid tipping if they couldn’t use cash. We're all in this together, right? 2. Not talking about our hair Linked to the above. While discussing our matted hair served as valuable small talk material through lockdown, let's be honest: it all got a bit repetitive. We know everything about next-door Sally’s flyaway greys and are more familiar with Sarah’s pesky roots than we are with our own. The social opportunities offered on Super Saturday will provide us with an ample opportunity to generate new forms of small talk, and we’re absolutely fine with that. 3. No queue at the bar By now, we’re no stranger to a spot of queuing. In fact, the pandemic has made us so accustomed to waiting in a spaced out single-file line that we will do virtually anything not to stand in one again – which might be an incentive in itself to visit a pub this Saturday. Under the new guidelines, leaning against the bar and awaiting your order is out, and table service is in. This means the end of all that tricky pub etiquette we’ve spent years grappling with. To push or not to push? To risk losing your place by giving way to someone carrying a tray of teetering tequilas; or to let them struggle and slide into place once they've departed? Now, the only thing you have to worry about is appearing sober after your third mojito. Easy, really.
Returning to work after the birth of my second son, I was insecure. After seven months in a baby bubble, so much had changed at the publishing company that employed me, and I felt completely disconnected and irrelevant. A restructure had given me a new boss and it felt like they didn’t know what to do with me. Sitting there in a planning meeting, my usual confidence was replaced by a rabbit-in-headlights expression that I just couldn’t hide. That expression is a common sight in workplaces across the UK among the ‘Interrupted’ – people whose careers have had to take a temporary back seat while they attend to big changes in their lives. Babies, bereavement, chemo, divorce, surgery, burnout or caring for a sick family member are all common causes – and now, of course, a global pandemic. The Interrupted are often to be found desperately trying to look calm while screaming on the inside… You may well be one of them. In recent weeks, studies have shown that it’s women’s careers that are bearing the brunt of the Covid pandemic. They are more likely than men to face job losses, and the bulk of extra childcare and homeschooling responsibilities. For Jo*, 55, the impact of lockdown has meant her career stalling for a second time. ‘I went freelance in 2016 when post-surgery side-effects made long days at my job as a PR executive intolerable. But last year, missing the camaraderie of office life, I went for a maternity contract with a charity. I thought getting a permanent job would be easier after this long-term role, having proved myself employable again. But a few weeks into lockdown my contract was terminated, which was just heartbreaking. Heading into a recession, what hope will I have to find another full-time role in a competitive and often ageist job market?’ While the coronavirus has sharpened the problem, women wondering, ‘What now?’ after a career break is nothing new. A report by Bupa shows that around half of working age women have had to take a long-term absence at some point, and all too often they find their careers derailed in the process – in many cases permanently. Victoria Burt, 41, was a full-time teacher and part of her school’s leadership team when she took nine months off to ease her three newly adopted children into her family.
I was recruited into a cult during my second year at university, although I didn’t realise it at first. What started with a chat with two charismatic young recruiters outside the Salford University library last March lead to my attendance at Bible study meetings and services. I was in deep grief for my dad who died suddenly in 2016, and I was vulnerable. Members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus drew me in by asking some very big questions, such as: “If you could have coffee with God, what would you ask?” They asked me a lot of questions about myself, and seemed so interested in me. My recruiters came across as serious theologians with a big commitment to promoting world peace, and they were offering friendship, too. They seemed to have the answers to some big issues, and they did it all with subtlety and skill. Very quickly, I was attending Shincheonji meetings, sermons and study groups for several hours each day. I was feeling a part of something, and it felt good. I learned that it was a Christian group founded in 1984 in South Korea by a messianic figure, Lee Man-hee, who believes that only he and his followers will survive the end of the world – they are obsessed with ‘End Time’. The Shincheonji position themselves as a Christian group who carry out social work and cultural events, and they are known for holding big athletics festivals in South Korea. There are more than 250,000 followers worldwide, and they are on a mission right now to recruit more and more from UK universities. There were about 40 of us in my group and we were broken down into ‘cells’ of five with a leader and assistant leader for each. I became our cell’s assistant leader after few months, and I ran my own bible studies group after I had been trained. Gradually, I was distanced from my friends and my mum, a nurse who lives in Surrey, and before too long the Shincheonji had taken over my life. I was spending 90 per cent of my time either in cult meetings, going out evangelising or attending the twice-weekly sermons, which were held in a local business park. My university work began to suffer. I was sleeping just four hours a night. I was exhausted. This is one of the reasons recruits stay loyal. They find they don’t have the time and energy needed to think properly and rationally assess what they have become part of. All of my previous ideas about my faith and God had become replaced with the group’s beliefs, which were that we were helping to bring about world peace and that only we would survive the end of the world. Walking away would have been very difficult because I would have to ‘unlearn’ what I had been indoctrinated into. But everything changed in February when news broke about coronavirus. I was already feeling very uncomfortable with some of the things I was having to do, such as policing the new recruits I had brought in and reporting them to our cell leader if they broke the rules. They might have met with a member of the opposite sex after the 10pm curfew, not turned up to Bible study or meetings, or not sat properly in the praying position, which is that you to have to kneel with the left hand on top of the right. Or they might have not said ‘Amen’ after a leader had spoken, or not done their homework. The rules are all set out in a PowerPoint early on in the recruitment process, and then repeated verbally until they have sunk in. They are very rigid about every single rule as it is a way of controlling people, even down to what you wear to the sermons – everyone has to look the same in white shirts and back trousers. I really hated policing new recruits and I was having doubts, but you are conditioned to ignore your instincts and not to ask questions. Then, one evening in February, I saw on the BBC News that the Shincheonji in South Korea were being held responsible for an outbreak of Covid-19 there, by holding tightly packed meetings and refusing to stop. I remember being very shocked. How could committed Christians do something that was putting lives at risk? We knew that lockdown was coming soon to the UK and I had started to feel extremely anxious. Were we going to be expected to carry on attending sermons after lockdown, and put our health at risk? At the same time, my tutor expressed concern that I was missing tutorials and getting behind with my work. She suggested we meet. My friends were asking lots of questions about where I was and I just told them I was busy. We believed that only those who were part of the Shincheonji were going to be saved when the pandemic hit. After the news from South Korea broke and deaths from Covid-19 were being reported every day, we believed that God was close to picking just the 144,000 of his devotees who would survive and live forever, in line with old testament teachings from Revelations. What would happen if I wasn’t one of the chosen ones? Would I die? I almost didn’t leave through fear. I was absolutely terrified. I couldn’t decide what to do. Later in February, we were all sent a message on the Telegram app – it’s more secure than WhatsApp – that all meetings, services, recruitment, Bible studies were cancelled because of Covid-19. Everything went online, but the virtual sermons had none of the power of an actual live service, which involved about 40 of us singing, swaying, praying and clapping, with some members so moved by the singing they openly wept. The emotion and the sense of importance and ceremony that the live sermons evoked was missing. We watched pre-recorded sermons by Lee Man-hee, but the more they were repeated, the less impact they had – he wasn’t making any new recordings. By this stage, my doubts were overwhelming me, but I carried on taking part in everything online. I still felt under scrutiny from my leaders when I saw them on screen instead of live, but I found I could fake a decent “Amen” online far more easily than face to face. Not being able to go out evangelising meant that we all had a lot more time at our disposal. I began reading a lot about the Shincheonji, that they are widely believed to be a cult. I couldn’t believe what I had become a part of, and I knew I had to get out. I just wasn’t sure if I had the strength. I wasn’t at all sure I could manage it. I had no one on the outside to rely on or who could help me, because no one knew about my other life. The Shincheonji are highly secretive and some believe that the devil will find his way in if you tell non-members – so I didn’t. Just before the UK went into lockdown, I met with my tutor and told her that I had been a member of the Shincheonji for over a year. She was the first person I had told, and I broke down in tears. She immediately got me connected to the university’s wellbeing team who put me in contact with the Family Survival Trust (FST), which helps cult victims. Thanks to their guidance, I cut all my ties with the cult, changed my phone number and took myself off all social media. Then I got on a coach and went home to Surrey. I later learned that two leaders had turned up at my university demanding to see me. They then went to my accommodation but my old flatmates turned them away. I had forgotten to block the cult leaders from my uni email and they emailed me quite a lot, and it frightened me because they can be so persuasive. The whole time on the coach home I was quite paranoid about being followed, and when I got home to Surrey I was constantly looking over my shoulder, but my mum calmed me down. They had had such a grip on me, I was frightened they wouldn’t let me go. I was in a terrible state at first because I didn’t know what I believed any more. I had believed everything they had taught me, but I now knew it was all untrue. My trust had been absolutely broken. Life has been difficult in lockdown, but I feel free. I can sleep and spend time at home. The real me is returning and life is going back to normal. It’s terrible that so many lives have been lost to the coronavirus, but what happened during the pandemic gave me the freedom I needed to help me realise what had been done to me. The cult make you feel that they are your family. I lost a part of myself. My identity was all bound up with the cult, and I had no thoughts or beliefs of my own. Now I am back with my real family, and I am free once more to make my own decisions. I know of one other woman who left when I did, but I don’t suppose we were the only ones. I bet more have left since. When I found out who I was involved with, I was shattered and broken. I am still in a state of shock, but it is receding. I couldn’t have done this interview a month ago. I didn’t know where I belonged at first, but the Trust has introduced me to other cult victims so I don’t feel so alone. I will find it hard to trust people again, to get close to anyone. The hardest part of the whole experience was when I felt I was losing my relationship with my mum. But I'm also sorry to have missed out on the social side of university, while I lived a secret life inside the Shincheonji. You can be the smartest person on campus, but the recruiters can still get to you by making you feel special. The Shincheonji have been recruiting at universities in Birmingham, London and Manchester for over a year, telling young people they are on a mission to save the world. If coronavirus hadn’t happened when it did, I think I would still believe that. *Names have been changed As told to Lynne Wallis
People who think planning a wedding is stressful should try planning one during a pandemic. The constantly changing restrictions over the past three months mean our mid-July wedding has been postponed, then cancelled, then reorganised as a small, rule-following affair on the same date. I’m now keeping my fingers and toes crossed that it goes ahead. Our original plan was for me and my fiancé Nik, 27, to get legally married in a registry office, then to have a symbolic ceremony and reception a month later for 150 guests in my parents’ Kent garden. By February, we had everything sorted: the flowers were booked, the dress ordered and the food picked. But in March, we started to get an inkling that not everything would go to plan. Islington Town Hall, where we were going to do the legal service, called to say we had to postpone. Then, in May, they cancelled our service altogether. We were told we could rebook for a later date, but because of the backlog it would be on a weekday. We decided to hold off until restrictions were lifted. It became clear our big wedding party wouldn’t be feasible, either. Even if restrictions were lifted, we wouldn’t be able to hug anyone, and friends and family from overseas would struggle to be there. Realising that we couldn’t have the celebration we wanted was gutting. Again, we bit the bullet and postponed – this time until next year. Fortunately, all our suppliers agreed to carry our bookings over so we didn’t lose money. Even though the party was off, we kept an eye on the changing guidelines around legal ceremonies. Next year, Nik and I will be living apart: he’s going to be working in Hull as an NHS doctor, I’ll be in London where I work as a lawyer. We’re desperate to be married before this next stage in our lives. A few weeks ago we started hearing rumours that small weddings might be allowed again. The town hall wasn’t going to work, so we decided to have a small church wedding instead. Not ideal, as Nik’s family is Hindu, but it would allow us to get legally married this year, even if the party had to wait.
To wed or not to wed? Once, the question was simply about whether you were ready for the commitment. Now, thanks to Covid, it’s about whether you’re willing to downsize your big day to a small celebration, perhaps with a bigger party in the future. Even then, you could face a very long wait indeed: venues are fast getting booked up throughout 2021. New government guidelines coming into force this Saturday make an exception to the current rules around gatherings: a maximum of 30 people will be able to attend weddings or civil partnerships, albeit with all the safety precautions we’ve become used to, such as face masks and social distancing. Couples will also be encouraged to wash their hands before and after exchanging rings, and speak their vows without raising their voices. But that’s just the ceremony. For the reception, the rules are no different to any other gathering: “six people outdoors, support bubbles, or two households indoors and outdoors.” It doesn’t exactly fill you with cheer. Clearly, the ‘mega-wedding’ that has become so popular in recent years is to be, for now, a thing of the past. A survey in 2018 of 4,000 brides found that the average spend on wedding days in the UK was £30,355 - the highest on record, and an increase of 10pc on the previous year. A significant sum, explained in part by the fact that on average, we invite 82 guests to the wedding ceremony and 103 guests to the knees up afterwards. Or we used to, anyway. Does it matter that we won’t be able to throw such big bashes? In my experience, not a jot.
We have all learnt new things about our loved ones while cooped up in lockdown. For Cherie Blair, the revelation that her husband can, if he sets his mind to it, actually rustle up a cheese and ham omelette has been an important one. “Yes, he can! I was quite surprised, it came out very well,” she says, through laughter. “I wouldn’t say cordon bleu, but it wasn’t actually solid.” Tongue firmly in cheek, she adds: “I’m very proud of him.” Tony Blair's kitchen credentials wouldn’t normally be on the agenda for an interview with his wife of 40 years, who runs a global foundation and her own law firm. But in an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine at the weekend, the former PM revealed with some degree of sheepishness that he hadn’t been contributing a great deal to domestic chores during lockdown. He hadn’t, in fact, done a load of laundry since May 1997, the month he took office. Breezing past while the interview was taking place at their Buckinghamshire home, his wife quipped: “If he tells you he does housework, he’s definitely lying.” Today, as we meet over Zoom to discuss the negative impact of this pandemic on women, Blair is quick to tease her husband’s shortcomings on the domestic front, or "what he would probably regard as the more mundane things". “When we were in Downing Street Tony was a very hands on father. And in the 80s, when he was a backbench MP and I was a young barrister, he did play a big role in helping to look after the kids,” she says. “But then he became Prime Minister and our little boy [Leo, now 20] was born, and in those days the switchboard would ring up and say ‘The Prime Minister is coming back at 7pm, can you make sure the baby is ready so he can put the baby to bed, and his dinner’s ready.’ You know…” she rolls her eyes. “And then there’d be times when 7pm would come, no Tony. 8pm would come, no Tony. Baby put to bed. Dinner ruined. And then he’d turn up and say ‘Oh, I’m sorry but I had to take a call from the President of the United States’.” A fair excuse? “Well it is fair enough, isn’t it? Once upon time the dinner would have been in the bin, but I could see that that was actually more important.” Surely he has got to grips with the domestic side of life by now? “The problem has been since we left Downing Street,” she says. “He’s got into the habit of thinking that whatever he does is more important. Reeducation is a process that, I’m afraid, is still going on.”
Wimbledon fortnight has long been one of excitement in my family. It marks the glorious moment when the London suburb where I was born and bred is transformed into tennis town. Hanging baskets, overflowing with white and purple blooms, dangle from every lamppost. Local shops fill their windows with elaborate displays involving giant tennis balls, desperate to outdo each other. But not this year. Instead of listening to the satisfying thwack of new balls, the first pints of Pimms poured and the fortnight’s two million overpriced strawberries dripping their juice onto SW19’s hallowed ground, I find myself in Covid-SW19. The mood is decidedly more ‘game, set and mask’. Driving through Wimbledon, on the way to a socially distanced meet-up with my parents just hours before the first serve should have been hit, is oddly quiet. No hordes of visitors, excitedly buzzing around the village in their tennis whites. Where were the official tournament cars, with tinted windows, at which I have spent a lifetime squinting to try and see which famous player is sitting in the back?
Eve Rodsky nearly ended her marriage over fruit. Already late to pick up her eldest son – her car littered with ephemera familiar to any working mother on the school run: a client contract on her lap, a breast pump for her new baby on the passenger seat, a package awaiting postage in the back, an endless To Do list running through her head – she was floored by a text from her husband, which read: “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” Overwhelmed by always being the “shefault” parent, responsible for every aspect of the busy household she shared with her equity investor husband, Seth, and the couple’s two children (they have since had a third), Rodsky, then a 35-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, pulled over on the side of the road and sobbed. Instead of opting for divorce, however, she set out on a “quest” to revolutionise the domestic imbalance that, according to her research, plagues almost every marriage, regardless of wealth, class or nationality – and somehow always disproportionately affects women. Rodsky, who worked at J.P. Morgan before setting up her own philanthropic advisory consultancy, dealing with highly complex families (think cut-throat TV series, Succession, she says), was spurred on by the thought that if even she, with her legal background and years of organisational management experience, was unable to communicate her domestic burden to her husband, other women had to be feeling equally tongue-tied. “I’m literally trained to use my voice,” Rodsky, 43, told me when we first met last year in Los Angeles. “And if this is happening to me, then it must be happening to everybody.” Her starting point was an enormous spreadsheet she sent out to every woman she knew, including family friend Reese Witherspoon, to fill out, which was titled “Shit I Do”. The result is a book called Fair Play, which intersperses Rodsky’s personal experiences with seven years of research – drawing on everyone from neuroscientists and marriage counsellors to hundreds of fellow parents – to create a system of family management, set out like a card game. Rodsky suggests using physical cards (a set of 100 is available to download and print from her website, FairPlayLife.com), each of which is marked with a household responsibility, ranging from taking out the bins to packing school lunches to buying Christmas presents. Couples deal them out via nightly, weekly or monthly “check-ins”, which can be as short as 15 minutes and are best accompanied by a drink, she suggests.