You can’t get me with your Sex Box, Channel 4

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Is Channel 4 trying to make me puke to death? I had to ask myself this question after watching an advert for its show Sex Box, which it recently recommissioned.

I was trying to eat my dinner at the time. I remember my mother used to say ‘don’t eat your dinner while you’re watching the TV’, and I never listened. But my goodness she was right. Only did I realise this when I saw the trailer for Sex Box.

It’s a good title for the show, because it really does explain its content. You know, for example, that there will be some sex in a box. What you might not realise – however – is that this will all happen live, while critiqued by a group of sex charlatans, who wait outside the box. “How was it?” They ask, as the puffing participants emerge.

I guess the idea is that we will all find this extremely entertaining. Indeed, sufficient people found the last series enchanting enough to warrant a new one.

But I can’t hack it any more. I used to find other people’s sex lives vaguely interesting. And yet Channel 4 – and a number of women’s magazines – have single-handedly turned me into an old maid. To the point where if I know hear anything about someone’s intimate encounters, I will put out my hand and gently exclaim: ‘Sorry, but I’m a prude’. As if to proclaim an allergy to peanuts.

I don’t know how I became such a sensitive Susan, but it might have been Embarrassing Bodies – which always went a winkle too far. There was too much poking and prodding, and by the age of 27 I had seen far too many erectile dysfunctions. Then there was The Sex Education Show and Sex Party Secrets and The Joy of Teen Sex. Before I knew it, I was stuck in a dark hole of dark holes. Where would it end? I asked.

I thought to distract myself reading my favourite magazine, but again was bombarded with more stories of sex (and sexual dysfunction). For instance, my favourite feminist publication has a section dedicated to “Butt plugs: all you need to know” and “the realities of being a female sex addict in 2016”.

Nowhere is there something for the prudish woman – Smelling Salts Magazine, if you will. It’s not that I don’t care about people and their wobbly bits, it’s just it’s all got a bit too much. And I can’t see what more there is to extrapolate from shows like Sex Box. Like vampires and superheroes, sex has been done to death – and there’s not much more Channel 4 or any other media station can do to enlighten us on the issue.

At least I can hold my dinner down while watching vampires and superheroes, though. Which, unfortunately with Sex Box, seems more impossible than the task the show depicts.

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Celebrities and dead fish: something stinks to me

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Do you know what I didn’t fancy this lunchtime? Seeing a photograph of Emma Thompson naked with a dead fish. That’s what!

I thought she couldn’t get any more annoying. Not after her ranting and chanting about climate change, but Emma Thompson is a woman who will never fail to surprise you. She will take off her clothes and cuddle up – with husband in tow – to two Black Scabbard fish if she has to.

Of course, this wasn’t any cuddle. It was engineered by Fishlove – an organisation that campaigns against destructive fishing. For several years, celebrities have got their kit off and been photographed with dead fish (or two) to promote its work.

This year’s special features Miriam Margoyles with a John Dory, Ade Edmundson with a prawn and Dougray Scott with a Pomfret dangling dangerously close to his nether region. That poor bloody Pomfret. I hope he paid for dinner.

After the purported David Cameron scandal of ‘piggate’, I want to know what makes this charitable campaign morally superior. For I can’t see what is so admirable about shoving a fish over your private parts. Even if it is for a good cause.

Besides, surely if these celebrities were so concerned about life under the sea, there would be nothing more abhorrent than seeing dead marine friends – let alone picking them up and using them as glorified fishy underpants.

The whole idea stinks. And that’s not just of cod – that’s of desperation.

I understand why Fishlove has gone to such tactics to promote its cause – it faces the same challenge as PETA. No one cares about animals and no one cares about fish. So both have had to resort to shocking marketing ploys. For years PETA has been wheeling out similar naked celebrities to highlight its message.

I’m not convinced any of this works, though. It, in fact, promotes the idea that animal rights activists are crazed and antagonistic – and trivialises the issues at play, which we are repeatedly told are serious.

Most of these matters need a more conservative, sensitive response. As someone who abstains from meat, it was emotional reasoning that most put me off eating it. I think people would far more engaged in these sorts of campaigns if they plucked on their heartstrings.

But mostly they’re frightened by them. Particularly because who wants to see Miriam Margoyles using a John Dory for a bra. It’s not even funny; it’s distasteful in every sense. All of these celebrities should be ashamed.

Talk about breasts all you want, Jamie Oliver

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It’s no wonder babies in Britain aren’t being breastfed; their mothers are too busy waving pitchforks at Jamie Oliver. He’s been criticised this week after offering a fairly uncontroversial opinion. On LBC radio, the no-longer naked chef said the country’s low rates of breastfeeding were cause for concern – and he would campaign to improve them.

Unfortunately for Oliver, women are feeling more sensitive than ever about any claim ‘breast is best’. Over the last decade, the non-breastfeeding community has developed a faux-sense that society is ganging up on them; judging them for choosing alternative methods of feeding their babies. On learning of Oliver’s interview, many told him promptly to get back in the kitchen. “As somebody who has never done [breastfeeding], I don’t think he should be the face of this campaign”, said one grumpy listener. Others have accused him of ‘mansplaining’ – a strange, not particularly sexy-sounding term used to describe when men explain women’s issues. The general consensus across the internet was that because Oliver cannot breastfeed, he had no right to comment on the subject.

I’ve never breastfed either, but I certainly see this as no reason not to be quiet. And the same goes for Oliver. For starters, as the father of four children – with another on the way – he’s hardly removed from the trials and tribulations of caring for babies. Just because it wasn’t his breasts doing the work doesn’t stop him from empathising with the challenges of motherhood. Even more pertinently, Oliver is a chef – and we could all benefit from his opinion on dietary matters.

But if he wasn’t a father or a chef, we shouldn’t simply ban people from discussing topics because of their experiences. There are so many examples in life of people offering advice, when they will never need the advice themselves. For instance, should Professor Robert Winston be stopped from discussing pregnancy because he’ll never be pregnant? Should a chameleon expert not give advice to chameleon owners because they are not a chameleon? And so forth. It doesn’t make sense. We should all be entitled to make views on societal issues. We may even be able to more objectively examine them through our lack of experience.

What I find most depressing of all is that Oliver had something sensible to say on the topic of breastfeeding. He’d read the statistics. They tell a troubling story: that Britain has one of the world’s lowest rates of breastfeeding, with one in every 200 children reported to be breastfed until the age of 12 months. We have a shame culture, where breastfeeding mothers feel embarrassed to publicly feed their children. In some cases they have been ostracised and cast out from restaurants or other open spaces for engaging in this natural activity.

Clearly something has to change. But any sort of advocation of breastfeeding is now seen as oppressive to those who can’t do it. I understand that it’s difficult and painful for many women – but we must promote it more when it has so many positive health outcomes. It is a myth to think that the non-breastfeeding community is the silenced one; for years they have made known their difficulties. And they are wrong to assume that society judges them for this. But we must not be so sensitive to them as to whitewash the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s important – and if it takes a man to remind everyone of that fact, than so be it.

Tufnell Park tube station’s ‘refurbishment’ is the disappointment of my year

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They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and – bloody hell – neither was Tufnell Park tube station.

At least Rome was good though, unlike Tufnell Park tube station: a rusty shipwreck that makes me seriously concerned about the state of mankind.

You’re probably thinking, sorry Charlotte, but I don’t really care about Tufnell Park tube station. And I get it, but I’m using it as more of a metaphor to complain about TFL and anything involving transport infrastructure in London.

For a long time I appreciated Tufnell Park tube station, which is near my flat. I could easily trot back and forth to the tube after drunken discos and hard days at work. ‘Wow,’ I thought to myself. ‘How great to live near a tube.’

Actually that’s a lie, because I never thought that. I took my tube for granted. Don’t we all?!

Then one dark day, TFL sent one of those dreaded emails – with a subject line that suggested something rubbish was about to happen. It said that Tuffy P tube station would be closed for a year as TFL carried out important maintenance works on the lift.

To make this story even worse, I actually thought they were installing an escalator because of an urban myth spread throughout the streets of Tufnell Park. I was excited about this (non-existent) development, because the lift is actually quite rubbish and moves ever so slowly. Almost as if you were being transported to Dracula’s castle.

Besides, if something’s going to take a year you expect something pretty special. There have been Olympic stadium built over a couple of years or something like that – so really it’s not that unreasonable to expect half of an Olympic stadium for all that money you pay to TFL.

‘Twas a hard year that went by. Cold and miserable, and involving long walks back and forth from Kentish Town and Archway – the next nearest tube stations.

Occasionally I walked past Tufnell Park tube station and I saw the construction men working on it, and I thought ‘what do you do down there, construction men?’

I had to block out any curiosity, though, and get through the cold, hard year.

Then a week or so ago, I realised that the tube was open again. I skipped to it eagerly, with the enthusiasm of someone expecting a lovely new escalator.

And THEN.

There was no escalator.

“Where’s the fucking escalator?” I thought to myself. But it was useless. There was no escalator, only a new lift that doesn’t even look that good. It just looks and moves like the old one, only slightly shinier.

I felt such rage as I got in the lift and slowly went down to catch my train. I wanted to cast my Oyster card out into the abyss and cry.

But seriously, why is TFL so rubbish? I lived in Highgate before being in this flat, and the tube there was also shut down for a year so TFL could fix an escalator. Which is terrible in Highgate as there are so many old people, for whom an escalator is the only way they can access the tube.

I DIGRESS.

Anyway, I just don’t understand how, in this country – which has one of the best economies in the world, it takes a year to install a lift at a Zone 2 tube station? I’m no lift expert, but surely this should take one week with efficient and experienced construction workers?

It makes my blood boil when you consider the amount of money people dish out on tube tickets. We have the most expensive public transport system in the world – and it’s embarrassing how inefficient we are at sending trains places.

It makes me want to chuck away my Oyster and never use buses or tubes ever again. Because – nowadays – the only reliable form of transport in London is one’s legs.

Joan Bakewell shouldn’t apologise over anorexia comments

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You can’t do an interview these days without someone trying to catch you out. This week it was the turn of Joan Bakewell, who – speaking with The Sunday Times – offered an opinion on anorexia. Speculating on the causes of the eating disorder, she said: “no one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food”, before adding that it was a sign of “the overindulgence of our society”.

Poor Bakewell didn’t know what she was in for, clearly, but anyone else could anticipate the sound of the high-horse brigade mounting their saddles, ready to charge. Since the interview was released, Bakewell has been flooded with angry messages and ticked off by mental health organisations. Naughty Joan, indeed.

What’s ironic about all this is that Bakewell’s comments have a certain degree of validity. Though she has been largely quoted as saying ‘Anorexia is narcissism’ – in other words, a result of individual vanity – what she actually proposed was more complex than that. Which was that anorexia is a sign of a narcissistic society.

Such a hypothesis is not too far away from other, scientifically-referenced ideas about anorexia. We know that it’s a complex disorder, with a variety of causes. One of these is claimed to be media influence, which means things like exposure to photoshopped images, thin celebrities across television and magazines, and ‘perfect’ friends on Facebook. All of these help to promote unrealistic ideals of the body, and are endemic in a narcissistic society.

And, truthfully, she is right to question the cultural components of anorexia when rates of it differ from country to country. Evidence shows that it is far more prevalent in the West, for instance. So offering a sociological hypothesis does not seem so irrational.

But even if she was completely off the mark, so what? Bakewell was entirely entitled to voice her sentiments.

She joins a number of high profile women who have found, in their later years, society to be more intolerant than ever of their opinions. In August last year, Chrissie Hynde was attacked after suggesting responsibility for her own rape, and let’s not forget the smear of Germaine Greer. It must come as somewhat of a surprise to these individuals, who played such a large role in promoting others’ intellectual freedom, to be suddenly vilified.

Responding to her critics, Bakewell said she was “full of regret” and “sorry”, before adding she must head to bed – as she was too tired to deal with the rest of the criticism (which surely seems like the saddest thing of all – when an 82-year-old is hounded off Twitter). I wish she would do what Chrissie Hynde did back in August, and tell everyone to get stuffed – for it’s the intolerant who should feel apologetic. There’s only one lesson to be learnt from this debacle: Society must learn to digest different opinions better, even if they’re on something as sensitive as anorexia.

Let them play tig!

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It’s official: they’ve lost the plot in Leeds, where one primary school has banned the game “tig”. Apparently this dangerous activity is ruining children’s clothing and leaving them “upset”. The school has even implemented a “Five Rules” policy to encourage its pupils to keep their hands to themselves.

It’s not the first, and won’t be the last, academic institution to clamp down on (suddenly threatening) children’s games. In 2013 another primary school in Bolton stopped tig and British bulldog because its pupils kept having accidents.

Maybe children in the north aren’t good at exercise – I don’t know – but I find all of this safeguarding a great shame. It is evidence of just how much this country polices childhood, which should be a free and exploratory time. Schools are wrong to assume that banning tig protects children – it simply encourages risk aversion and unrealistic notions about what might harm them.

Teachers and regulators forget that the scrapes of childhood coordinate us for our adult years. Falling over, bumping into others and acquiring scabs does not traumatise young people, but makes them resilient and shows them they can survive against nature. I sometimes think children are like dogs: they have a remarkable ability to pick themselves up and start all over again.

Many of them like the danger of tig and British bulldog. These are not only games, but character-building exercises that gently foster persistence, competitiveness and a love for running around. If children can’t handle tig, something’s gone seriously wrong. The Leeds teachers should be more Spartan about the whole thing. Unless they want to produce a group of frightened fatties.

In 2010 I worked at Camp America and couldn’t believe what they let tiny children do. I took ten-year-olds out on mountainous 40-mile bike rides through Vermont that even I thought would polish me off. I remember one boy crashed his bike so badly that the whole thing broke. But these youngsters were not upset by the rough and tumble. In fact, many of them had remarkable confidence.

We could never do such treacherous trips in the UK. We can’t even do tig. And who knows what it’ll be next – perhaps kiss chase will be deemed a type of sexual harassment. But we need to think long and hard about mollycoddling children: however hard we protect them in playgrounds today, they’ll be ill-equipped for the playgrounds of the future.

If I hear one more thing about periods, there may be blood

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I’m surprised menstruation didn’t get a mention at the Oscars

We need to stop talking about periods. Period. They’re a topic up there with climate change – because, let’s face it, no one wants to hear about either.

But hear about them, you will! Just yesterday I was doing a perfectly good job of minding my own business when I was advertised a ‘period package’.

It’s no surprise this product came into fruition: periods have become big business, with a constant wave of news stories about them. This week there was the tale of a Bristol firm offering time off for menstruating women, and a new iPhone app to get us discussing periods. Women’s magazines are littered with faux-sisterly articles around the subject. They’re meant to be reassuring, but often they make me want to climb into a corner and wave a little red flag. It’s not just men who don’t want to find out about other people’s periods, it’s me too! Women too!

In fact, if all the news about periods was a period I would grab a tampon a put a massive stop to it. I might be able to obtain such an instrument from my period package – which you’ve probably been wondering about.

It’s a practical set of items to help a woman survive menstruation, for only £7.95 per month. According to the period package – romantically titled the ‘Pink Parcel’ – to get through a menstrual cycle you need teabags, a pendant, eye make-up remover and mascara – as well as tampons. Where are the painkillers and wine, you ask. Not there, my friend. Not there.

This product is the final confirmation that the world has gone bleedin’ mad. Are periods the new PR? Perhaps. In fact, I am surprised that no actress at the Oscars used them to her advantage. If only Brie Larson had cried and said as she accepted her Best Actress award: “thank you, I’m on my period”. The claps that might have ensued.

Sure, no woman enjoys her period. (Except, I imagine, the one I met in a blood van in 2007 who told me she had opened her veins to the NHS 400 times.) Throughout history menstruation has been a taboo topic, so it’s nice that society will finally acknowledge this biological process.

But it’s gone too far. There is now too much talking about menstruation. It’s even seen as feminist to go into great detail about your period, although you’re mostly just giving ideas to companies about how to exploit your bodily functions (see Pink Parcel).

With all this honesty about periods, we’re not being honest about periods. They’re ugly. They’re functional. And – quite simply – they don’t make interesting conversation. They’re not even – as is often put – traumatic; for many of us simply a monthly nuisance, like council tax. So do we really need period packages? Constant societal dialogue? Days off work?

Probably not. Any more than someone needs public support for three-day diarrhoea, or any other mildly inconveniencing bodily function. Periods will never be made better through overanalysis – I frequently feel depressed rather than empowered when I read the latest column about a woman’s period. Because hers will be the most interesting in the world.

Sometimes we’d be better to accept this part of our anatomy without packaging it up as something more socially significant. And most certainly, we should not bore with the gore.