On Kirstie Allsopp & Turning Away from Journalism

I’m a 22-year-old postgraduate student with a hearty career plan and a dislike for small children. Therefore, it may surprise you to hear that I am jumping to Kirstie Allsopp’s defence amid her latest comments in the Telegraph. She has spoken out in favour of early motherhood, warning young women of the heartache of dwindling fertility, and encouraging them to have children early and save university for later. 

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So why am I siding with her? I’ve chosen to do the exact opposite of her suggestion; I’m starting my Masters in September and I have a super career plan, and although I’m sure I’ll like my own children, at the moment I would much rather hang out with a box of puppies. I actually think her comments make a lot of sense, just as I understand how some people would disagree with them. But that’s not why I feel so ready to defend her. Neither is it our mutual love for crafting and baking and all things twee.

Before choosing to pursue writing and illustration, I seriously considered a career in journalism. I worked for my student newspaper and gained experience at The Guardian and Countryfile magazine, and I was on the verge of choosing journalism for my MA. Interestingly, although I enjoyed my time on the Guardian books desk, it was here that I realised it wasn’t the career for me. I hated the fickle nature of newspapers; one might invest so much time and effort into an article, only for it to be discarded forever the next day. Moreover, I didn’t like how everything was driven by money. I’m not naive; I know this is an essential element of the industry now, but it isn’t my cup of tea.

And this is the reason why my anger is directed not towards Kirstie, who simply stated her rational opinions on an important topic, but towards the newspapers that have taken her comments and twisted them into contorted, clickable headlines.

Here is a shortened quote from the original article:

‘We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35…At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue…But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have…You can do your career afterwards…I don’t want the next generation of women to go through the heartache that my generation has.’

In the article she also talks about her relationship with her mother and her attitude towards marriage, so please do give it a read because it’s the only place you’ll find her actual comments written out in full. In contrast, here are some of the headlines chosen by mainstream newspapers, who chose to claw into her words and spread them out into statements of scandal:

For an industry that used to be about bringing truth to the masses, the media has become a squalid rabble itching to warp the truth in order to sell itself through glittering headlines. She has never encouraged women to ‘ditch university’ or ‘forget careers’, only to consider postponing them until later life. And for Emma Barnett to ask ‘why bother giving girls an education at all’ reminds me of an argumentative teenager.

From islamophobia to health scares and political bias, I’ve learnt not to trust the media industry with anything. I pray I am not famous one day, because I’m sure they’ll find something about how I’ve eaten enough cake to feed a third world country and therefore am responsible for all the slavery and terrorist attacks ever. I’m still thinking about what Kirstie said and what my own opinion on the matter is, but I won’t let myself become absorbed by clicking through to their ridiculous articles and feeding their gluttonous advertisers.

Ooo, I hate the media.

In the News: 5 Reasons to Vote Green in the European Elections

I don’t usually write about politics on here, especially my personal voting choices; usually it’s just cake and birds and period dramas. As I’m only 22 I have only voted once before. That was in 2010, before I had left home and realised how messy everything was. Needless to say, I regret who I voted for and now they’re trying to reinstate traditional foxhunting. Super.

I’m not going to try and trick you with subliminal messages into voting for the Green Party. By definition they are driven by selfless objectives, and I would much rather our government be run by people who care about our country in the long-term, than by people who pretend they care whilst siphoning off our resources to the oligarchical minority.

There’s no point in just quoting policies to you, because all party policies are usually written by clever people with a marketing background and you can just read them for yourself. So instead, here are five news articles from the last week which demonstrate the urgency of our environmental crisis, and the drastic need to vote for the Green Party in the European Elections this Thursday.

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Tuesday 13th May – Soma Coal Mine Disaster

Last week an explosion at a coal mine in Soma, Turkey caused an underground fire which burned for two days. 787 workers were underground at the time of the explosion, and at least 245 have been killed. The privatisation of the mine in 2005 means that worker safety has been consistently deprioritised in favour of high profits. In 2013 alone, 13,000 miners were involved in accidents, as almost 40% of Turkey’s electricity production depends on coal. This is a tragic example of how a country can claw for profit from an unsustainable resource, rather than investing their time and money into a long-term solution. 

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Saturday 17th May – West Antarctica

On Saturday, a NASA conference on the state of the West Antarctic ice sheet announced that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen sea sector is now unstoppable, and will result in a sea level rise of one metre worldwide. This will then trigger the collapse of the rest of the ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of three to five metres, displacing millions of people across the globe. Global warming has been ignored for years, as governments have chosen to profit from the production of nonrenewable resources like coal and gas, rather than investing in renewable energy. Now everything has gone tits up, and we need to vote for people who can best cope with the dark days ahead and start reversing the damage.

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Sunday 18th May – British Bird Egg Destruction

I’m still trying to get my head around this one, so bear with me. Natural England, the public body dedicated to conserving and enhancing the natural environment, have recently announced plans to allow members of the public to destroy birds’ nests and eggs at will if they prove a health and safety hazard. I’m sorry? Aside from the example given of nests blocking flue pipes, I’m not sure I quite understand how birds’ nests can be that much of a hazard that they need destroying. Thankfully, the excellent blogger Tom Pride has done a little digging, and revealed the real reason:

‘Last year government ministers chose Andrew Sells –  a Chartered accountant with no experience of ecological or environmental matters – as the new Chair of Natural England. Sells is a venture capitalist and a major Tory party donor – in 2011 for example he donated £111,250 to the Tories. Sells is one of the founders of Linden Homes, a property development business specialising in developing brownfield sites for residential housing. And what is one of the biggest problems facing property developers? Yes, you’ve guessed it – nesting birds.’

So there we are. Profit-driven corruption at its finest. You can read the rest of Tom Pride’s blog here, or you can sign the petition against it here.

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Monday 19th May – Short-Haired Bumblebees

Conservationists are hoping a third release of queen bees in Kent will start a self-sufficient population of a species once extinct in Britain. Short-haired bumblebees disappeared in 2000 and were last seen in Dungeness and Romney Marsh. Their extinction was due to the destruction of their flower-rich habitat, and now the wonderful RSPB are working with farmers, landowners and gardeners to re-establish the perfect living conditions. Bumblebees are one of the most important species on earth, being responsible for the pollination of flowers and crops across the world. It is vital that campaigns like these are given sufficient funding and attention, so that we can reverse the damage done by pesticides and help to create a more sustainable future.

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Tuesday 20th May – British Public Against Fracking

A survey at Nottingham University has revealed that support for fracking for shale gas in the UK has fallen below 50%. This is the lowest number of supporters since the survey was started in 2012. It seems the anti-fracking protests in Balcombe last August, which successfully halted drilling by Cuadrilla, has helped educate the public about the dangers of fracking. As always, the government has just looked for a short-term solution that will fill their pockets today, rather than investing in sustainable, clean energy sources. We need a government who will listen to what Britons want and find long-term solutions that will create stability in the needs of society.

Whatever you do, just don’t vote UKIP.

Egyptian Goose

Camera still broken, so here is an illustration I did over the weekend whilst getting rather burnt in the garden. It’s an Egyptian Goose, which are native to north Africa but can now be found every year in the wetlands of southeast England. They’re lovely little chaps with eyes like pharaohs, but in 2009 they were declared an official pest so please be kind to them!

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Apologies + a bear

Hello! I’d just like to apologise for the lack of posts over the last week and in the coming week or two. My camera lens is broken and I can’t take any photos, which is really annoying. The only camera I have is my iPad which, although a nifty camera when I’m on the go, isn’t amazing for detailed photos. I will be buying a new lens as soon as I get paid in two weeks, so in the meantime I will post a few wordy things and illustrations instead.

This is a brown bear I drew on request for the winner of my competition! I sold my cards on a stall a couple of weeks ago and held a prize draw for an illustration of the winner’s choice. The winner was Matt, who requested a big bear or a hare. I decided to go with the bear as I’ve never drawn one before!

Remember, I am selling cards and illustrations at the moment to raise money for my Masters, so if you would like to buy some just leave me a comment or send me an email! Or you can go straight to my fundraising page here. Thanks!

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Helping the Hogs

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week!

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society organise this campaign every year in order to highlight the problems facing hedgehogs and to encourage people to help them. It’s very easy to make your gardens hog-friendly, and with hedgehog numbers declining it is more important than ever to support them.

To help share the hog-love, here is a list of things you can do to help hedgehogs survive through the seasons! I’ve illustrated them for extra clarification…

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Make a Hog Home

If you can’t afford to buy a taylor-made home, it’s easy to make your own! Leave a sheltered corner of your garden free for hedgehogs by gathering leaves and garden litter. Leave a few gaps under fences so that hedgehogs can travel safely between gardens.

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Glug your Slugs

Hedgehogs are excellent natural pest-controllers but slug-pellets can be fatal to them. If your slugs are really ruining the lettuces, leave dishes of beer out in the garden. These traps will attract pests, who will drink the beer and eventually drown in a drunken stupor. A kinder death and a safe hog meal.

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Food Glorious Food

You can supplement their natural diet of worms and beetles by putting out dishes of meat-based pet food, minced meat or crunchy cat biscuits. Contrary to belief, cow’s milk can be harmful to hedgehogs, but they will greatly appreciate a few shallow dishes of water dotted around the garden.

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Slow Down for Wildlife

Everyone has seen squashed hedgehogs on the side of the road, but these can be avoided simply by driving slowly and carefully. Look out for hogs crossing the road, and if it’s safe to stop, help them across by gently picking them up and placing them safely in the direction they were headed.

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Beware of Bonfires

Piles of leaf litter and compost in the garden are perfect homes for sleeping hedgehogs. If you are planning on burning your pile, try not to build it until the day. Otherwise, be sure to carefully move your pile away from its resting place to ensure hedgehogs wake up and scurry away.

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Ahoy there!

Hedgehogs love swimming, and may find themselves in ponds and streams. Make sure they are able to get out when they need to by providing ramps, half-submerged rocks or chicken wire for them to climb out onto the bank.

There is plenty more information on the BHPS website here. Compassionate celebs John ‘Boycie’ Challis and Hugh Warwick are among supporters of the Society. Please consider joining or donating to the BHPS here!

Beltain

May is here! Hoorah!

Each year, we welcome in the warmer months by going to Beltain Festival at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire. It’s one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals – along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh – and takes place half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

At Butser Ancient Farm they build a huge wicker man and burn him at dusk. Ancient Britons did this as a ritual to encourage healthy crops and protect the cattle, and sometimes they placed a human sacrifice inside to appease the spirits…

We had a fabulous time as always, and I sold my illustrated cards on a stall as part of my fundraising mission! The cider was delicious, the pigs were fat and merriment was enjoyed all round.

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Thoughts on The Sixth Extinction

‘A shell in the pit,’ said I, ‘if the worst comes to worst will kill them all.’
So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want of animal food.
‘We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear.’
H G Wells, The War of the Worlds

Are you having one of those days where life is stressing you out? Are the neighbours painting your fence a nasty colour? Have Sainsbury’s stopped stocking your favourite cheese? Like you, I used to feel like my life was the most gargantuan melodrama in the universe. Then I read The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, and realised how significantly insignificant we really are.

The book d210302etails the intriguing paleontological history of our planet and the five great extinctions of its time. At various points in history, events have occurred that wiped out large proportions of the earth’s inhabitants. Although not all proven, theories for these include glacial periods, bacterial plagues and massive comets; all rather prominent disasters in the eyes of the poor creatures who were unfortunate enough to be there, like the dinosaurs. So what are they calling the Sixth Extinction? It must be something awfully disruptive to be grouped with comets and plagues..

Yes. You’ve guessed it. Humanity is shitting everything up.

Human activity has caused the extinction of between 20,000 to 2,000,000 species in the last century alone. The book delves further into this, explaining the surprising science behind coral bleaching, attempts to understand Amazonian ecology, and an incredibly sad record of the killing of the last pair of Great Auks in Iceland:

‘On catching sight of the humans, the birds tried to run, but they were too slow. Within minutes, the Icelanders had captured the auks and strangled them. The egg, they saw, had been cracked, presumably in the course of the chase, so they left it.’

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Kolbert’s views are, although truthful and necessary, extremely mournful. I expect she has spent so much time watching the damage caused by humanity that she has lost hope that we might yet change it, and I don’t blame her for that. However, there is a glimmer of hope that we may be able to reverse some of the destruction caused by our insatiable greed and senselessness (this is in the last chapter, right before she reminds us that one day everything we’ve ever created will be a layer of sediment). To be honest, I couldn’t allow myself to read this book without giving myself hope, because I don’t know how I’d get out of bed in the morning.

I went to a party in Norway in January and met somebody who worked for a large oil company. After swigging on my Cointreau and Fanta, I asked him for his honest opinion on humanity’s dependence on oil, and he told me that the vast majority of fossil fuels are used in industry and motoring. He made it quite clear that until the big businesses and conglomerates switch to renewable energy sources, we have no chance of reversing the damage. It’s up to them to set the example and make a difference, but unfortunately it’s quite tricky convincing those at the top to think longer term. If you please, Mr Moneypocket, you don’t need three Mercedes…

I highly recommend The Sixth Extinction for anyone interested in humanity’s complex relationship with the ecosystem. Aside from its rich descriptions and field notes from across the globe, it includes a fascinating and rather amusing account of the first paleontologists, and their outlandish theories on evolution and the origin of species.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is published by Bloomsbury.

Celtic Farm

I’m very excited to reveal the next set of designs for my greetings cards! These illustrations were inspired by Butser Ancient Farm, the archeological farm near my home in Hampshire.

I chose four animals that would have been found on a British iron age farm:
– Eagle owl
– Moon-gazing hare
– Manx Laughton ram
– Massive pig

All my cards are available to buy directly from me! They are £5 for the set of four designs with envelopes, and all money is going towards my fundraising campaign! Follow the link to pay by PayPal, or you can email me at tiffany2.francis@gmail.com for more info. The postage is free and I am happy to send internationally too!

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Memories of Jamaica Inn

Despite everyone grumbling about the muffled Cornish accents, I thoroughly enjoyed the latest BBC adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I finished the novel last summer and I was pleased with the show’s loyalty to the book. And after Lady Sybil was so cruelly removed from Downton, I was happy to see Jessica Brown Findlay’s cool little face once more.

I’ve treasured an eerie obsession with Jamaica Inn ever since I visited the moors of Bodmin when I was about 8. I don’t remember much about the trip; most of it has merged into other childhood memories of travels through Cornwall.

Nevertheless, I do remember the secluded inn all alone in the west country wilderness. It’s said to be one of the most haunted locations in Britain, built in 1750 as a coaching house for changing horses. Du Maurier wrote the classic tale in 1930, after she got lost on the moors when out riding her horse. She became swamped in fog and sought refuge at the inn, where she was entertained by the local rector with tales of ghosts and smugglers.

When I visited the inn, it was home to Walter Potter’s Museum of Curious Taxidermy. He was a famous Victorian amateur taxidermist, and arranged his stuffed animals into ‘amusing’ tableaux, such as ‘Kitten Wedding’ and ‘Monkey Riding a Goat’. As a child this was terrifying, and of all my childhood memories, this remains one of the most vivid. Being an amateur, the dead creatures often looked contorted and the result was fascinatingly horrible. Luckily, I remember my Dad assuring me that all the animals had died of natural causes..

To my morbid delight, Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth, is publishing a new novel this Autumn called The Taxidermist’s Daughterinspired by her own childhood visits to the dreary exhibition (it was originally situated in Sussex where Potter lived). It’s a Gothic psychological thriller and I’m jolly excited!

I am determined to return to Jamaica Inn in the near future and see if it’s as terrifying as I remember. I’m planning to complete a literary tour of Britain, and I recommend the original novel for anybody who likes a grisly adventure tale!

Jamaica Inn is available on iPlayer here, and The Taxidermist’s Daughter will be published by Orion books on 11th September 2014.

photo1 (1)Eight-year-old me!

Disney: Love at First Sight?

After lots of dillydallying, I finally got around to watching Frozen at the weekend, the latest Disney film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Snow Queen. It is superbly funny with fabulous music and wonderfully crafted characters, and it has been praised for being one of the only Disney films where the heroine is not rescued by a man, but by the true love of her sister.

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Refreshingly, the film also acknowledges the stupidity of ‘falling in love’ with someone after knowing them for about five minutes, a plot point which has often featured in many Disney love stories. The Prince falls in love with Snow White after hearing her singing at a wishing well (I know from experience that a good singing voice does not guarantee sweetness of character). Even more disturbingly, Prince Eric falls in love with Ariel when she doesn’t even have a voice, and let’s just forget about the dancing scene in Sleeping Beauty..

So is there any hope for Disney-loving feminists? Yes there is! Here are four Disney heroines who aren’t immediately seduced by the first man they stumble upon:

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Belle Beauty and the Beast

After her father is captured by the Beast and locked in his castle, Belle steps forward to take his place as prisoner. Needless to say, she is hardly mad about the Beast until he proves his human side to her, and she realises he’s actually a pretty nice guy. At this point she develops Stockholm Syndrome and it all gets a bit Freudian.

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Jasmine – Aladdin

Bored by the countless suitors her father forces upon her, Jasmine is by no means gagging for it. When she first meets Prince Ali, she is put off by his arrogance and nobility. Eventually, she realises he’s just a humble street-rat and falls in love with his mischievous ways.

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Meg – Hercules

It’s only fair to point out that Meg has already had her heart broken by some tramp she sold her soul for, but the important thing is she learnt not to give in so easily again. It takes Hercules an awful lot of flattery and kindness to make her even speak to him, and eventually she realises he is worth endangering her life for. In the end he even sacrifices his own immortality just to be with her, which definitely shows commitment.

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Lady – Lady and the Tramp

When Lady first meets the Tramp, she is far too preoccupied with family issues to give him much consideration. It is only when she finds herself lost on the street that she sees how kind and caring he is, and they soon begin to fall in love over Italian cuisine. At the end they have tiny puppies because ladies, just because you want to have children doesn’t mean you’re a bad feminist.