Sunday, 22 January 2012

Sending a Message to the Playboy Twins

These ‘playboy twins’ are really starting to wind me up.  I fully support anyone’s right to earn money within the boundaries of the law in whatever way they desire – if that means posing naked, entwined with your twin sister or sharing a wrinkly ‘boyfriend’ with a gaggle of other blondes then fine, more power to you.  Equally, I believe that everyone has the right to choose to keep their sexual-self unavailable for public consumption and have this choice respected by others.  But to make a living selling sex whilst being offended by being viewed as a sexual object is as nonsensical as a chef being put out when asked how best to use the unidentifiable object in the bottom of the Riverford box.

I realise that they want to make the point that they are more than just aesthetically pleasing (if you like that kind of thing) but their approach to others suggests that that is exactly how they see themselves.  If a man doesn’t like them, they assume it’s because he was desperate to have sex with them and is covering up his distress at being spurned by pretending he doesn’t like them.  If a woman appears unfriendly they tell themselves that it’s because she’s jealous.  Girls, you can’t have it both ways.  Some people really are unaffected by your looks and just don’t like you because you’re quite often not very nice.  Believe it or not, there are even some people who – gasp – don’t find you very attractive!

Evolution ensures that there are physical characteristics that we find appealing and if a person of either gender can use this to their advantage then I don’t see how that’s much different from working with one’s innate intelligence, creativity, or athleticism to get ahead.  The kinds of people who make money from any of these things take what they’re born with and work on bettering it.  For the Shannon twins though, a healthy dollop of self-awareness and humility would enhance nature’s gifts more than any boob job.

Monday, 16 January 2012


Choosing a skate name is, for many people, a pivotal moment.  Names are symbolic, choosing them even more so; it’s no coincidence that the only other times most people change their names are when they get married or get a peerage (surely not long now, right?) – life-changing moments where we want the world to know we’re different than we were before.  Bestowing a skate name upon oneself is the symbolic equivalent – it says ‘I am part of the roller derby world,’ ‘I am badass.’  When I chose my skate name (with significant help from my husband) it was a big deal.  It really felt like it meant something.

Nearly three years later, however, I have decided that I am no longer going to use ‘Katomic Bomb' and that from now on I will skate as me; Karen.  This is definitely not a sign that I am no longer part of the roller derby world and most certainly does not mean that I am no longer badass – it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I have read many people’s accounts of their time as a derby rookie and a theme that crops up fairly regularly is one of derby providing empowerment and an opportunity to discover and unleash aspects of themselves that the wider world was previously unaware of.   Giving this new persona its own name strengthens and realises it.  This has no resonance with me whatsoever.  I was 31 when I started playing roller derby; a grown, married woman in a responsible job who was already pretty darned empowered.  I didn’t need derby to show me how to be disciplined and feisty and competitive – rather it worked the other way around in that the sport was an outlet for these well-established facets of my character.  I love that this sport has transformative power and think that the facility to recognise this through the choosing of a new name is symbolic and powerful; it’s just not for me.

Yesterday’s tournament at Tattoo Freeze was one of several recent events which have seen roller derby reaching out to a wider audience in the UK.  The sport is reaching a crossroads in this country and soon there will have to be important decisions made about its future.  I am firmly in the camp that wants roller derby to be taken seriously.  It is a complicated, tactical sport, requiring brains, brawn and tight teamwork, is truly accessible to people of all shapes and sizes and is wonderful fun to watch.  The Olympics would be better with roller derby in them and the competition fiercer and more exciting with funding available to invest in training at a local and junior level.  My concern is that the roller derby ‘scene’ which attracts so many people and is undeniably part of what makes the sport so special, might also be its biggest obstacle.  Skate names and boutfits, I feel, make it easy for people to decide that it’s not worth looking any further – that we’re not serious sportspeople or that it’s a game that’s not for ‘people like me’.  Reverting to my real name is my personal way of saying, ‘this is serious – we are serious.’  Personally, it’s not about the scene, it’s about the sport.

I realise that many people will feel quite differently about this issue, and the fact that the Derbiverse accommodates us all is a big part of its wonderfulness.  Let’s hope that that doesn’t get lost as we negotiate the exciting and important times to come.

Monday, 9 January 2012


I know I’m a couple of weeks late for New Year’s Resolutions but hey-ho.  Here they are.

1.    Relearn to focus.
I have always inhabited a comfortable space somewhere between single minded and easily distracted, generally able to become one or the other as necessary.  Recently however, I have realised that my ability to control my focus is waning.  I spend too much time tinkering on my laptop with the television on, doing neither activity particularly well and remaining unfulfilled by both experiences.  This is ridiculous and is spilling over into other areas of my life.  From now on I will choose one thing to do and do it; if I am distracted into something else, I will abandon my first pastime and do the second.  Simple.

2.    Be a better friend.
In the last few months I have had cause to be exceptionally grateful for my wonderful friends and I am aware that I do not nurture my friendships in the way that I should.  Tending towards reclusiveness as I do, I can be a lazy friend.  In 2012, I will be try to be more sociable and will certainly be more appreciative of the great people who surround me.

3.    Be able to turn stop in both directions.

4.    Explore different ways of making a living.
I like my job, I do, but it doesn’t please me on anything other than a superficial level.  It affords me the time and money, generally, to do the things I want to do but I can’t help thinking that there could be a more fulfilling way to earn a living.  ‘Working to live’ is all very well, but I spend a great deal of my waking hours at work, so it’d be nice if those hours were intrinsically rewarding rather than simply being an investment in my leisure time.

5.    Stop being the drunkest person in the room.

6.    Get happy.
Absolutely no idea how to achieve this one.  Hopefully the other resolutions will lead me in the right direction and life will fall into place.  Or maybe I’m just a miserable bugger and I need to accept it, embrace it and crack on.  Who knows?  Hopefully 2012 is the year I find out!

Bring it on!

Monday, 2 January 2012


Many of the things which happen to us – the conversations we have, the people we meet – are time and place dependent, but as 2011 finishes I thought I’d share a particularly poignant experience I had in August.

I was in Ethiopia for the second time that year, having been thoroughly intoxicated by the country at Easter, and was enjoying getting further under the skin of this fascinating and beautiful place.  I found myself having a rather intense discussion with a local man who was convinced (and was telling me as the BBC’s de facto representative, bring British) that the BBC was solely responsible for Ethiopia’s lack of prosperity.  He cited the images broadcast in the ‘80s and explained that these had so influenced the world’s understanding of the country that no one would visit or trade with them as they perceived it to be a famine ravaged dustbowl filled with pot-bellied children too malnourished to brush the flies from their eyes (to be fair, he didn’t use this exact description).  My impassioned defence of the Beeb (which I believe to be one of the most wonderful things about the UK) involved trying to explain that ‘Ethiopia is actually rather wonderful’ is not news and is therefore unlikely to get such widespread coverage.  He was having none of it.

A couple of days later, sitting in the dirt-floored courtyard of a backwater Ethiopian hotel watching the UK riots being broadcast directly onto the exterior wall of the building, surrounded by Ethiopians, I saw my country through the eyes of others.  It didn’t look pretty. 

The fire next to me provided warmth and light in a place where both were not freely available in any other form at night-time; the fire on the screen was raging in a city of plenty, bringing fear, chaos and destruction.  I was in a country where clothing is worn until it falls apart and is protective and practical above all else, where shoes are often a luxury that can’t be afforded and the notion of disposing of clothing simply because it’s ‘out of fashion’ is incomprehensible, watching designer-clad looters stealing trainers and clothes that they probably didn’t even have wardrobe space left for.  This was being broadcast onto the wall of a hotel because most Ethiopian homes have no television – imagine how preposterously greedy those thieves appeared, staggering under the weight of their stolen widescreen TVs.

During my month in Ethiopia last year I had many of my preconceptions challenged – about poverty, aid, and African politics amongst other things.  Some of this was a result of simply travelling the length of the country and seeing it with my own eyes but a much stronger influence on my current opinions are the conversations I had with the people I met, amongst them Ethiopians, fellow travellers and volunteers.  The ability of people from all educational, ethnic and economic backgrounds to articulate their experiences, views and visions of the future had a truly profound effect on me.  As I watched my countrymen babble incoherently through their hoodies and scarves as they tried to justify their burglary, arson, and wanton violence by blaming it on bankers / the Government / anyone else I felt something I’ve never felt before during my travels – shame. 

Needless to say, the clean-up stories which were such a feature of the reporting back in the UK didn’t find their way into Ethiopian towns with quite such strength and I found myself increasingly having to explain that not all British people were rioters and that actually most people were either unaffected by the violence or involved in repairing the damage.  Clearly ‘Britain is actually rather wonderful’ doesn’t make such a good story either!

Hopefully 2012 will be a year in which I continue to have the opportunity to be enlightened through travel to such surprising places and one in which none of our compatriots will behave in a manner which leaves the decent amongst us ashamed. 

May good people continue to explore, learn and debate and may bad people copy them instead of each other.