Why tuition fees are only the tip of the iceberg for working class actors

Susan Elkin’s ‘The Stage’ column of the 19th June 2016, ‘Actors Should Stop Making a Drama Out of Tuition Fees‘, isn’t so much a ‘Heathrow moment’ as it is an ‘ISS moment’, such is her lack of grasp of the absolute fundamentals of the debate.

The facts. It currently costs £9k per year to do a degree. Most drama degrees are three years long. Most accredited drama degrees, and definitely those linked to UCAS, are approved courses and thus entitled to student funding.

Student loans are available to cover tuition fees (of £9k per year) plus a means-tested ‘maintenance’ loan of up to £10,702 (£8,200 outside London) to cover living costs. You begin to repay this when you have graduated and are earning over £21k.

So far, so good. The student loan is available to everyone already without a degree. The maintenance grant is means tested according to household income. Thus, poorer, working-class students will get more and be able to afford drama school.

This, says Elkin, means that drama education is open to all. End of conversation, right?

Riiiight.

Let’s just say you’re Jo Bloggs – a drama student from a poorer background. Maybe a one parent family? National Living Wage is £7.20 an hour – so with one parent earning NLW, average annual household earnings, before any benefits etc, will be around £13,850.

Jo wants to study drama at university and applies to RADA, LAMDA and so forth. They’re offered an audition – which they have to pay for. With travel costs and audition fees, that might be half the family weekly income. (In fairness, Elkin covers that here). But okay – say they manage that. Then say they get in. Fab – they’ll get tuition and maintenance loans.

Except Jo Bloggs’ ANNUAL debt will be £19,702 – just shy of £60k for three years.

Jo Briggs comes from a family where the parents earn £100k. He’s entitled to his full fees covered plus a £5,330 loan – his parents can help with the rest. His annual debt is £14,330 or just shy of £43k total.

Jo Bloggs’ annual debt is 142% of his household income and his total debt will be 426%, or four and a quarter times his annual household income. Jo Briggs’ annual debt is 14.3% of his household income and his total debt will be 43%, or just under half, of his annual household income.

Four and a half times annual household income vs just under half annual household income.

Imagine coming from a family where both parents are unemployed. Or where the parents are ill, disabled, or dead. Imagine coming from a care background. As a refugee.

Imagine the disparity then.

Is this starting to make sense yet, Mrs Elkin?

It’s absolutely true that differences in socio-economic statuses are a fact of life. Good luck to Jo Briggs and his peers. However, that does not mean we should brush this disparity under the rug, and pretend that everyone else has an equal shot. A debt of £60k means a lot more to someone who has never seen that sort of money in their life – as most working class people haven’t. Whereas, £60k, to someone who is used to a higher earning household, seems manageable. Thus, a middle class student is more likely to go ahead than a student from a working class background, who may be averse to what seems like a rather large level of debt.

All that said, going by the student loan facts and figures is taking a very basic financial viewpoint, without looking at the bigger picture. It’s like looking at my bank balance and seeing it in credit, so deciding I’m not in debt, without taking into account my three credit card bills.

(I jest. My bank account hasn’t been in credit in seven years.)

The bigger picture is that student fees and loans are just one small piece of the jigsaw.

You’re Jo Bloggs. What happens when you get to drama school? With a maintenance loan of £10,702 in London, you’re looking at £1000 a month over the ten months of the university year. You reckon you can survive on £10k a year in London – house yourself, feed, clothe, tube and bus fares, buy play texts, rehearsal gear? Big fat nope. So, without family support you get a job. Except the workload for a drama degree is epic – up to 50 hours a week in some cases. Where’s the time for a job? If family support is not an option, what do you do?

Then you graduate. You’ve got no contacts. No one in your family knows anyone who can help you – you might even be the first person in your family with a degree. Your drama school can help to a point, but how do you network without a network? Not for you the world of unpaid Edinburgh Fringe work, or low budget films. You get a job – one that allows time off for auditions. Oh, except most jobs don’t. And not everyone can work at RSVP, can they? And these teaching jobs Mrs Elkin espouses, there’s not that many of them either. So you get a zero hours contract, and get treated like absolute dirt for £7.20 an hour – less if you’re under 25. You take twelve hour catering gigs, then run straight to set on an unpaid student film, hoping to get showreel footage. You’re ground down. Exhausted. Done.

That is, if you can afford to stay in London. Maybe you can’t. Maybe you have to go back to Wales. Or the Midlands. Or Scotland. You tell yourself you’ll commute for auditions, knowing full well there’s no way you can afford to.

I’ll also remind you that, of those working class actors, many are likely to be from diverse backgrounds. Is the picture looking a bit bigger yet?

Meanwhile, Jo Briggs has graduated. His family are a professional bunch, so he knows how to network. Maybe his parents know a few people – maybe they don’t, it doesn’t matter. He can afford to take on unpaid work, and live in London.

Who has the better chance? Who do you think stays in the industry longest?

I don’t know Susan Elkin. I’ve read her Twitter feed, and I’m going to hazard a guess that she’s not working class – but hey, I could be doing her a disservice. That said, she seems to think class is irrelevant, which is generally the rallying cry of those privileged enough not to have it adversely affect them.

Actors from working class backgrounds are telling her that she is mistaken, but it seems to be falling on deaf ears. Apparently, those who disagree are ‘carpers‘.

This afternoon, however, she Tweeted this gem, which pretty much seems to speak for itself –

“My word, actors and trainee actors are a touchy lot. You wouldn’t think I’d devoted my life to supporting them for decades, would you?”

If her recent column is an example of those decades, then I’d imagine most working class actors would do rather well without her particular brand of ‘support’.

What ‘Cucumber’ is telling us about the real cost of homophobia.

Warning – this blog contains massive spoilers for Channel 4’s Cucumber, as well as discussion of all kinds of triggers.

Wow. It’s twelve hours on from last night’s Cucumber, and it’s still with me. Right there, at the front of my mind.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Cucumber is a UK Channel 4 series, written by Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who). The main story concerns two middle aged gay men in Manchester, who have recently separated. In last night’s episode, one of them was murdered by a man called Daniel, because Daniel was struggling to accept the aspect of his own sexuality that was attracted to the same sex. There’s a great recap on Digital Spy, written by my pal Cameron K McEwan, which saves me trying to go over it again here – because that’s not what this blog is about.

We live in a society which is, mostly, seen through the eyes of the ‘male gaze‘. And the owner of those eyes is white and straight. It’s difficult for anyone on the inside to understand how it feels to be on the outside. Obviously, this is why we have equality legislation; to protect those of us, whether female, of colour, non-cis gendered, disabled and so on, who do not fit inside that narrow box. But let’s call bullshit on that right now. We all know that most things in the western world are skewed in favour of ‘the man’. If you don’t believe me, just look at who comprises the vast majority of our governments, our corporations and even our entertainment industry. It’s an unpalatable fact, but a fact it is. So it’s a pain in the arse for those of us who do not conform to that image, but also a pain in the arse for those who do. That’s one hell of a facade to have to maintain.

So, when a straight white man is confronted with feelings he’d rather not acknowledge; feelings that are strange, alien and discomforting, feelings that take him outside of the narrow confines that have been created for him, what does he do? Some will sink into depression. Some will talk to friends and seek help. Some will find the courage to make themselves heard. And some will react with violence – violence to others, or violence to self.

Homophobic attacks make headlines – sometimes. But what about insidious homophobia? The kind that’s there, but never really gets talked about in polite conversation. Here’s an example; I was walking along the street two weekends ago, wearing black jeans, a lumberjack shirt, a black biker jacket and with my hair tied back. A ‘boyish’ outfit? Possibly, I wasn’t thinking that when I put it on – I was thinking it was a practical and comfortable outfit for the day, and one I liked. So it was interesting then, that when I passed a group of teenage boys they felt the need to sneer ‘fucking lesbian’ in my direction. I stopped, and turned around and, being the gobby cow I am, asked them to say it again. They were taken aback, but one had the guts to mutter ‘you’re a lesbian’. I responded, ‘I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you’ and skipped off on my merry way.

Because I can skip off on my merry way. I’m more than happy for people to think I’m a lesbian. Why on Earth not? But I don’t have to put up with that shit day in, day out.

This is the world LGBTQI people live in. A world where some straight people are constantly telling them they are abnormal. Where everything is seen through that perfect, straight, white, male gaze. What is normal? Who gets to decide? Is sexuality really that black and white? No, of course not. What is normal for me, won’t be normal for you or for Joe Bloggs over there in the corner. But it continues to happen. And stupid straight people will complain ‘why is there gay pride? We don’t have straight pride!’ Memo to straights – EVERY FUCKING DAY IS STRAIGHT PRIDE, okay? We have it good, get over it, move on.

Why did those boys publicly call me a lesbian? What did it matter to them if I was? Is it because they feel the need to pass a social commentary on the sexual preferences of the people living in their local area? Or is it because, being a lesbian would mean I could not relate to them on a sexual level. And that frightens them, because if you can’t relate to a woman on a sexual level, what’s the point of her?

And so, similarly, if you can’t relate to a man on a sexual level; if you can’t slap each other’s backs and talk about the ‘arse on that’ and the ‘tits on that’, why bother with him at all? Surely that makes him ‘other’. And ‘other’ is frightening.

We live in a society where the use of a phrase such as ‘that’s so gay’, is considered acceptable and funny. I got into a very grumpy spat with James Blunt on Twitter when he posted a joke that I considered crass at best, and homophobic and rapey at worst. Yes, Blunt’s joke is pretty minor, but he’s done it before and had been asked not to do it again. When gay people are telling straight people that certain language is offensive, it seems like it’s a bit of a no-brainer; use different language. The point is ALL these ‘little’ jokes, all these words and sayings, mount up to a wall of sound. And that wall of sound is telling LGBTQI people that they are ‘different’, that they are ‘other’. And it needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

Because, if it doesn’t, more stories like the one in Cucumber are going to happen. Men like Daniel will struggle with their sexuality, because society tells them that being gay isn’t ‘normal’ and ‘okay’, and they’ll lash out at the people around them. Or at themselves.

People ask me why I am so passionate about gay rights, and why I put gay characters in all my work. This is why.

A friend of mine was gay. Quietly, privately. Then he fell in love with another man. He then realised that, to be with the man he loved, he would have to come out. Instead, he killed himself because he could not bear the shame he felt he would bring upon his family.

Please take a moment to think about that.

Until society treats LGBTQI as normal – and it IS normal – there will be more Daniels. There will be more young men and women standing in a darkened bedroom, contemplating the noose they just made, or the pills they have stolen, or the razor blade on the sink. There will be more stupid governments, making more stupid laws that make any sexual preference apart from ‘straight’ a crime. There will be more churches telling their followers that if they are not cis-gendered then they are going to hell.

Suffering and death, simply because of the way chemistry in the human body works.

How abnormal is that?

What the hell is going on in LA?

I love the web series community.  Love it.  99.9999% of people I’ve met in the past three years have been awesome; talented, brilliant, kind, supportive, inspiring and creative people.  Web series have entertained me, inspired me, at times challenged me, and have definitely given me some lovely, cherished friends.

So, when someone messes with the community, I get a bit annoyed.  And that is precisely what is going on right now in LA.

There are three web series events coming up in LA. LA Webfest, Hollyweb Festival and The Indies Series Awards.  Hollyweb and LA Webfest are festivals, The Indie Series Awards is, as the name suggests, an awards show.  I attended all three of these events last year – as luck would have it, they are all held at around the same time in late March/early April.  This is wonderful for non-LA based web series creators, like me, who can then justify the expense of the trip with the triple whammy of events, meetings and networking.

So, I was pretty shocked to hear that, this year, LA Webfest decided to put in place an exclusivity clause, banning anyone from entering LA Webfest and also the ISAs and/or Hollyweb Festival.

I was even more shocked to hear from web series creators themselves that, following the ISA nomination announcements on Wednesday, emails were sent from LA Webfest to ISA nominees demanding that they withdraw from the ISAs within 48 hours, or be banned from not only LA Webfest, but also from KO Webfest, in Korea, which LA Webfest are programming.

Where did this bullying of web series creators come from?

My husband Elisar Cabrera, who is the founder and producer of Raindance Web Fest and who also runs MCM London Comic Con Vid Fest UK, was on the international web series festival panel at the 2014 LA Webfest. During the panel, he talked about the increasing numbers of Web Festivals across the globe and that, within twelve months, he foresaw competition among festivals for the best series.  He was roundly shouted down by one or two people, including Michael Ajakwe, the owner of LA Webfest, moderating the panel, who stated his intention that web series festivals should all be working together for the greater good of the web series creator community.

In hindsight, these seem like hollow words.

Now, I understand that LA Webfest was the first web series festival – it launched in 2010 (the ISAs actually launched the same year, but were an online event in year one). I can appreciate that they want to protect their business, but penalising web series creators is not the way to go about things. Can you imagine if McDonalds put out an email stating that anyone who eats in Burger King is no longer welcome in their restaurants? Ludicrous.

All this situation does is hurt the web series community and, specifically, web series creators.  Most creators work with little, or no, money and deciding to visit a festival is a big decision.  Unlike the film industry, much of the web series industry is not based in LA, so undertaking a trip is a big commitment, both in time and expense.  This often comes off the back of an even bigger commitment of time and expense in making a web series in the first place!

To get an individual series noticed in an increasingly crowded marketplace is a difficult job, and creators rely heavily on laurels as a testament to their show’s value.  It seems unbelievable then that LA Webfest, so passionate about web series and the community that they took the time and trouble to set up the world’s first web series festival, now wants to close shop and are chucking their toys out the pram at anyone who doesn’t acquiesce.

It’s commonplace in the film industry to have exclusivity clauses on festival screenings, but, let’s be honest, this ain’t the film business.  Web festivals are in their infancy, and although massive strides are being made, the industry is nowhere near that stage yet.  Having several events in close proximity, like these, can only increase the number of attendees making the journey, and strengthen the community as a whole.

The big question is – why? Why put in an exclusivity clause at all? Why send emails demanding creators withdraw from the ISAs – again, not a festival folks, an awards ceremony. I assume the same will happen when Hollyweb announce their selections.

I don’t have a vested interest in any of these events.  I’m just a web series creator who hates seeing what this is doing to our inclusive industry, and one who hates the fact that new creators, submitting to the LA festival scene for the first time in 2015, will find themselves in the middle of this terrible mess.

The team who run The ISAs and the team who run Hollyweb Festival are hardworking, brilliant, supportive members of the web series community who run two awesome events.  The fact that they are caught up in this completely avoidable situation is no fault of their own.  Unfortunately, it only takes one event to cause unending problems for everyone else.

So, LA Webfest, please rethink this policy.  Please consider the damage you are doing to the community and to creators with this silly spat.

Please see sense.

Should a writer kill a gay character?

Totally neglected this blog in the past 12 months.  Will do better, honest 😉

Warning – spoilery for Last Tango In Halifax.

Rightio, so, as the title says, can you?  Last night, in Last Tango in Halifax, which is a popular BBC1 series (details here, if you have never heard of it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Tango_in_Halifax) the female spouse of one of the lead female characters met with a nasty accident and may or may not have died.

I watched the show and was very affected by what I saw.  I love the characters of Kate and Caroline, and certainly wanted them to have a happy ever after.  So I had a bit of a cry, and marveled at how wonderful the writing was that it could move me to genuine tears.

Then I read Twitter.

Now, I can totally understand people being upset, even angry, if something happens to a character they love.  What I simply couldn’t fathom was that some were taking to Twitter to call the writer a homophobe for killing off a lesbian and accusing her of using a lazy trope in doing so.

I get that there’s a tendency in some series, especially in a lot of sci-fi/fantasy shows and often in US shows, to kill the gay guy or gal. And that’s wrong. It’s often used when a writer doesn’t know what to do with a gay character or because the broadcaster wants a quick nod at diversity.  There’s a good rundown here, and After Ellen lists some of the worst deaths here.  It’s wrong that gay people are regularly depicted in this manner. However, to tar all writers who include a nuanced, rounded, dramatic, life or death gay story line into their work with that brush, seems, to me, to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

If I am writing a gay character, to think that I must take their sexuality into account when deciding their fate seems like a million steps backwards, equality-wise.  If I wouldn’t kill a character for being gay, why would I save one for the same reason? If we start to put those restrictions on diverse characters, for fear of upsetting some of our audience, then we will see even less diversity than we already do, as writers will be so limited as to what we can do with those characters, and scared of the audience reaction if they push the envelope.  And that’s not something I want to entertain for a second.

Of course, I don’t have first hand experience of being gay. Of course I can’t possibly know, first hand, what it’s like to live in a world where you are seen as different for your sexuality. I have ‘straight-privilege’, I get that. But I am never going to agree that a writer shouldn’t do something for fear of upsetting the audience.

So, while I am absolutely sympathetic to anybody who found last night’s Last Tango upsetting, to expect a writer to only write stories that suit their own views or, worse, go on the attack when they are unhappy with a storyline, is not the answer.

Edit – 

Owing to the huge traffic on this I’m unable to keep responding to every comment, but I will moderate/approve every single post, positive and negative.  The only exception to this rule is abusive and/or aggressive comments either directed towards me, towards the LTiH cast or crew, or towards the gay community. Bang out of order.

Another domestic interlude

So, my husband, Elisar, has recently been away for the best part of a month in Ibiza, producing a new zombie flick ‘Ibiza Undead’. We both travel a fair bit for work, so we don’t usually bother with gifts, but when someone’s been away a month or so, presents are most definitely in order.  Before he left I may have hinted about some duty free – a bottle of perfume, maybe some bubbly…

…so he brings me home ham.

To be precise FOUR different types of ham.

And today I caught him trying to open one of them to cook it in his lunch.

Nothing says I love you like an Ibizan Chorizo. Apparently.

So, that One Direction documentary…

Can somebody explain the point of that ‘One Direction’ Channel 4 documentary to me, please? At the moment I feel as though I’ve completely missed something, somewhere.

In case you’re wondering what I’m referring to; a week or two ago Channel 4 ran a 60 minute documentary about the female fans of the group, ‘One Direction’. It’s on 4OD right now, which is where I watched it. Titled ‘Crazy About One Direction’, which should kind of give you an idea in which editorial direction they were headed, the programme followed a group of fans while they wept, laughed, got excited by and generally fangirled over the band.

So far so normal, right? But that was it. End of. No talking-head psychiatrists, drafted in to give us an overview of how and why crushes happen. No insight into the security guards, employed to keep the wily young things at bay.

I mention the security guards because one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen up close was during a book signing by ‘The Wanted’ at Waterstones, Piccadilly. Elisar and I were on a night out and we stopped in at 5th View, the bar and restaurant on the top floor of the store. On arrival, it was plain that something was up, as the store was full of squealing teenage girls and beleaguered looking middle aged male security guards. There was some kind of cordon around the lifts but, I assume because we don’t look like screaming teeny boppers, we were waved on through. After we settled ourselves in the bar, we slowly became aware that the tables around us were filling with teenage girls, who were whipping each other up into a quiet frenzy. The over 18s were buying the cheapest thing on the menu and splitting it between four, or six, or eight of them, whereas the under 18s were chased out, only to sneak back in, to be chased out again and so on, like some weird human cat and mouse game. After about 20 minutes of this, the lift doors opened and a group of spotty, gawky, distinctly average young boys came self-consciously shuffling out. They were quickly ushered into the restaurant by a bunch of meaty bodyguards, while assorted teenage girls screamed/fainted/giggled/cried etc. We observed how difficult the bodyguards’ jobs had to be, somehow having to physically remove pre-pubescent females from these boys, who barely looked of legal age themselves, while avoiding any accusations of inappropriateness, assault, etc.

As we were leaving I struck up a conversation with one of the bodyguards, mainly because I didn’t have a clue who the boys were and wanted to ask, but also because I was curious about the job. Sure enough, this poor guy was full of tales of over-eager young women and their various schemes to get to the band. The guy marvelled about his own teenage daughters, in a vaguely sad way, only hoping that they didn’t behave in a similar matter.

But they probably do. For years teenage girls have fallen in love with pop groups, actors, models and so on. It’s not new, and it’s not news either. What I recall about my brush with ‘The Wanted’ isn’t the reaction of the girls, but watching the machine around the band deal with it. That was what was so fascinating to witness up close.

So why did the documentary makers, on this occasion, see fit to give us 60 minutes of what really tantamounted to nothing more than an opportunity to laugh a bit at some young girls in the grip of a hormone-induced fever?

Okay, so it was a bit disturbing when some of the girls professed their hatred for the band’s girlfriends, and openly discussed death threats, but point a camera at a pubescent and you’re going to get bravado. Jesus, I remember as a young teenager hating Dusty Springfield because she got to sing with the Pet Shop Boys and I was jealous because I thought they might fancy her, or something. Seriously, can you even begin to work out how much is wrong with that picture? You’d need a flowchart. My father did actually attempt to sit me down and gently explain that Dusty really wouldn’t be interested in Neil and Chris and, honestly, they wouldn’t be interested in her either, but I didn’t want to know. Of course, Twitter didn’t exist then. The Internet didn’t exist then either. We all wrote on chalk and slate and went to school in horse and carts, or something.

But my point is that girls throughout the ages have been silly for boys. In the same way that boys obsess over comics, or football (and sometimes other boys), girls obsess over boys (and sometimes comics and football and other girls). When I was 15, I queued all night with a friend for tickets to a Jason Donovan gig for Christ’s sake. At 16, friends of mine would camp outside the family homes of Matt and Luke Goss. Take That, Oasis, Blur, Guns and Roses, show me men in a band and I’ll show you a teenage girl convinced she is their one and only. I’ll also show you fanfic, fanart etc. Especially of the homoerotic variety. In fact, show me ANY band, TV show, play, film where two popular people of the same sex appear and there will be gay porn on the web about it. Guaranteed. The stuff I’ve seen Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler do online would make your eyes pop! As for The Master and The Doctor. Actually, I quite like the Master/Doctor stuff. I’m totally convinced there’s some UST there….sorry I digress.

So yes, what was the point? I came away feeling it was all a little bit nasty and…superior, I guess. Like ‘look at these weirdos’. I felt sad when the girls were crying who couldn’t afford tickets to the big arena gigs. I didn’t want to see the camera shoved in their faces. I wanted to hear from doctors and psychologists about how and why these crushes happen and what they mean. About how they seem to be a very female thing, and why this is. I wanted to hear from venue staff, hotel staff and police about how they prepare and deal with this level of crowd control. I’d have loved to have heard from the band, or their ‘people’ about it. But, instead, I felt as though this was nothing more than a freak show, comprised entirely of young girls. Because young girls don’t have enough to worry about already, without being ridiculed for what is, quite simply, normal teenage behaviour.

I don’t really know much about One Direction, to be honest. I know they came from X Factor, there’s one called Harry (I only know that because he dated a bird around my age), and they did a song about being beautiful, or something. I know they have fans who are pretty devoted and make them trend constantly on Twitter. That’s the sum total of my knowledge. And after watching that documentary, it’s still the sum total. What a shame.

Whose womb is it anyway?

There is so much fucking bollocks spouted about having children. Can you think of another aspect of one’s private life that is open to so much public debate and discussion? I can’t.

It seems to me that the nanosecond you get into a serious relationship, people seem to think that this entitles them to enquire as to your future plans for procreation. I’m not talking about close friends, where this might be acceptable, but acquaintances and even total random strangers.

I’m 38 and childless. I’ve been with my husband for eight years. These two facts combined seem to send some people positively apoplectic. ‘What do you mean you don’t want children?’ ‘You’ll regret it when you’re a lonely bitter old woman’ and my personal favourite ‘you’re not doing your duty as a wife’. All genuine things that have been said to me within the past six years. Pretty much since we decided that kids were off the agenda.

Because we made the choice lightly, you understand. One morning, in the midst of our selfish, child-free lie ins, we decided that kids would spoil all our fun.

I wish that was true. That would have been brilliant, actually. I can see no reason why that wouldn’t be as valid a choice as what actually happened; that we made the decision following my third miscarriage.

Uncomfortable yet? I hope not. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I find it endlessly odd that, as a society, we seem so intent on championing childbirth, and yet are so quick to brush it under the carpet when it ends badly. And considering something like half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage (according to Tommys), that’s a lot of denial. Babies die. It’s a sad fact of life, but it is a fact. So it makes it all the more mind numbingly fucking unbelievable when anyone thinks they have a right to wade in and start telling women what we can and should do with our bodies.

Who knows? Maybe my fourth, or fifth, or sixth pregnancy would have come out okay. Statistically that is possible, but after talking to doctors we made the decision that, actually, we didn’t fancy going through it all again and, just maybe, there was a bit more to life than having kids. I can happily report that there is. Yay me! That doesn’t mean I’m saying don’t have kids – if you want them, and are in a position to nourish and support them, go have a dozen. But if you’re not sure, for God’s sake don’t let yourself be bullied by other people. Or The Media.

Because The Media is increasingly vocal about what women should and shouldn’t be doing with their own reproductive systems. Look at this little sparkly gem in The Guardian.. So, we’re apparently selfish, decadent and stupid for deciding not to add more people to this already horribly overpopulated, overstretched world. I’ll remember that next time I’m paying my taxes that go towards things like schools, and childcare, that I will never ever use but will happily contribute towards for other people’s families. I’ll remember it when I am able to look after my friends’ kids, and give said friends a much needed break. I’ll remember it when, hopefully in the future, my niece and nephew come over from the USA to spend time with their cool aunt and uncle in London. The ones who will spoil them rotten and take them everywhere they want to go and give them undivided attention, like my awesome childless Godparents did with me when I was a kid. I’ll remember it next time I give a workshop on acting and writing to a bunch of kids for no pay, just because I think it’s important for them to have access to this stuff. There are millions of childless women out there; contributing, participating and doing the right things. We have the right to be judged on more than the sum of our eggs and sperm.

And what of sperm? Because daddies are in for it too, apparently. We’ve all heard about the absent ‘baby daddy’, but now stay at home dads aren’t good enough either. Well, according to Virginia Ironside anyway .

What the actual fuck? There is SO much wrong with this I have no idea where to start. This clever blog by Glosswitch is a pretty good summation. So, all adopted children, kids fathered by gay men and kids where mum works are going to grow up maladjusted and scarred? I think I would like to invite Ms Ironside to grow the fuck up, herself. I would certainly like to see her source material and research for such a sweeping statement. Notice nothing is referenced in the article. Hmmn, funny that.

Now, here’s a radical idea. Unless children are in danger, or are being hurt, or abused, or threatened in any way, how about we all just chill out and mind our own fucking business and allow people to get on with their own lives? How about we respect our multitude of differences and let people make the intensely private choices about whether and how they raise a family without commentary, judgement or interference?

And the next time you open your mouth to ask a friend, neighbour, colleague or even someone you just met why they don’t have any kids yet, just stop and think about why you’re asking. Is it for their wellbeing, or for your own curiosity?

And then talk about the weather instead.