Archive for the ‘Bethan’s blogs’ Category

Western Mail’s 50 sexiest women in Wales 2011

October 3, 2011

It’s that time of year again!  Western Mail has published its annual 50 sexiest women list with  the 50 sexiest men list to follow next week .  It’s also  the time of year I usually publish my annual rant about the inanity of these two lists.    I seriously debated whether I should bother this year – the Superwoman blog gets a lot of hits  from people searching not for my rant about the sexy lists but for the identity of those featuring in the lists.    But just in case there is anyone out there who might possibly miss reading my views …

Each year a different Western Mail journalist  has to do their level best to stretch the definition of sexy to something far more meaningful and rounded as per this effort on Saturday for the sexy woman list:  “The word sexy embodies a whole host of other adjectives.  Sophisticated, sassy, stylish”  Er no, those are adjectives all in their own right actually.   And then this little gem:  “Having a close relationship with your family and friends is sexy, as is going out of your way to help others and putting those less fortunate than you first.”  What rubbish.   The fact that a woman gets on with her father say or her friends from school is unlikely to have any bearing whatsoever on whether people find her sexy.  “Sexy” and “Her Dad” are two images that don’t normally come to mind at the same time and if they do the reaction is likely to be Bleurgh.  Nobody ever used the adjective sexy to describe Mother Theresa.    The meaning of sexy means someone you’d like to have sex with.    If correctly labelling your list “the 50 women in Wales we’d most like to have sex with” doesn’t sit right with you, then come up with another adjective rather than pummelling extra meaning into “sexy”.

There’s amazing talent in your women’s list – some of our best actors, singers, presenters, athletes,  hotel sales and marketing managers.  They are wonderful women bringing Wales to the world and the world to Wales; flying the flag high for our determined little nation in our struggle to get our businesses and business skills, our langugage and culture, our creativity and our sporting talent taken  seriously by the big wide world.  There will be the same kind of talent, with a heavier emphasis on rugby players, in the men’s list next week.  But to me, publishing a list that categorises our people by reference to being sexy is a list that says:  we don’t really care what you’ve achieved  or how talented you are, we’re only interested in you or your achievements if we think you are shaggable.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again.  If the Western Mail, Wales’ National Newspaper, must do lists – and lists do seem to attract a lot of comment and debate  and thus presumably sell newsapers – then do 50 Wonderful Welsh Women  and 50 Wonderful Welsh Men instead.  Because Wales, we’re worth it.

St Brides Hotel and Spa, Saundersfoot

July 22, 2011

Mr S and I went to the St Brides Hotel and Spa for a night last weekend.  http://www.stbridesspahotel.com  It was a generous present from friends but it took us almost a year from when we received our gift voucher to actually organise ourselves enough to get there.    Our children and dog safely dumped on Super Nannie, we left Cardiff at lunchtime on Sunday and arrived at Saundersfoot within two hours.

The hotel doesn’t look like much from the back – not dissimilar to a modern doctor’s surgery – but once inside you get the full benefit of the most amazing thing about this hotel – the elevated view over Saundersfoot Harbour and Carmarthen Bay.  It is truly stunning.   We had a room with a sea view and if you go there it is certainly worth paying the extra to make sure you have a sea view too because the immediate feeling of calm you get from looking over the sea is priceless.

The hotel has a spa and a small outside infinity pool which also looks out over the view.   Our gift  included a massage each and the room I was in had floor to ceiling glass windows, again with a wonderful view – probably of more benefit to the therapist than me, given that I was lying with my face in that little hole thing in the massage bed most of the time and/or falling asleep.    Couples can have treatments in the same room together if they wish but Mr S and I didn’t go for that option.  It makes me self conscious if he’s in there with me.   You have to book your slot in the infinity pool and if, as was the case when it was time for our designated slot, there is another couple already in there canoodling while they look out over the sea, it can feel a little awkward, like getting into a big bath with a couple of strangers,  but it is a glorious feeling, your head all cold and your body all warm, looking out to sea.  Sorry, mentioning the sea a lot, but there’s a lot of it to look at from the St Brides Hotel.

More lovely view over dinner which was very good, lots of local Welsh produce on the menu and a big wine list with plenty of half bottles available if you wanted white wine with your starter and red wine with your main course as we did.  Slightly marred by the posh young couple from London sitting next to us who appeared to not understand the concept of inside voices.  I don’t think any of the diners in their immediate vicinity had any option but to listen to their dinner conversation and it wasn’t even very interesting, although they did appear to have a number of friends they didn’t like all that much.  We were seated next to them at breakfast the next day too (also very good) but they were considerably quieter come morning.

Our room was light and bright, with a large bed,  crisp bed linen and a pretty Welsh blanket folded at the bottom.  Couple of complaints – our bed was large because it was two singles pushed together and there was a gap in the middle when you came together for a cuddle.  Our bathroom sink was cracked and the grouting around the very small bath (which I think may have survived from a refurbishment of the bathroom and really shouldn’t have) mouldy.  A shame – but hey, you don’t spend very long in the bathroom when there’s a serene sea view to look at.

A walk on the almost deserted beautiful Saundersfoot beach after our full Welsh breakfast topped off our 24 hour stay perfectly.  It wasn’t just the beach that was deserted but the whole of Saundersfoot and lots of shops either closed down or not yet open for the season.  I hope it’s a bit busier there this week and the rest of the summer now that the schools have broken up.

St Brides Hotel and Spa is not cheap but a little of it goes a long way towards recharging your batteries.  And oh, did  I mention the view?

Disco in aid of SANDS Saturday 9 July at Llandaff RFC

June 6, 2011

This one’s for Supermen too!  Do you remember the rugby club discos of your youth with fond nostalgia? On Saturday 9 July from 7.30pm to 11.30pm we are holding a disco at Llandaff Rugby Club raising funds for SANDS www.uk-sands.org.  We’ve got a classic rugby club disco buffet (pasties, sandwiches, cheese and pineapple) and a disco but we also have a live band – the Rise – www.the-rise.co.uk described as”probably the best covers band in Wales” and fronted by none other than Darwin Gray partner Kempton Rees.  Tickets are £15 each with half the ticket price covering costs and the other half going to the charity.  The disco is just before schools break up for summer and this will be a great opportunity for a night out with friends, family or work colleagues before everyone starts going off on holidays .   At just £15 per ticket  you can invite your entire team for the price of a couple of seats at a black tie fund raiser.  We only have 120 places  so if you’d like to come please email Caroline Hazell on chazell@darwingray.com and let us have your cheques made payable to Superwoman to secure your places.

We will also be holding a raffle to drum up a few more pounds for this amazing charity that gives much needed support to those affected by the death of a baby.  If you or your business are able to offer a raffle prize that would be hugely appreciated.  We will also be having a few rounds of bingo!

Hope to see you on 9 July throwing some shapes on the dance floor.

NoCompare Hayley Parsons with other CEO’s

March 21, 2011

So, I post  a blog just last Friday about the interviews that CEO’s give to the Sunday papers and how they’re always the same and, essentially,  not very real or relevant to real people.  And then this Sunday I open the business section of the Sunday Times and the interview is with the Welsh CEO of a Welsh company and guess what – it’s totally, gloriously, different to all the rest.

For a start Hayley is photographed not sitting in an office surrounded by papers and looking all CEO like.  No Hayley is photographed in her trade mark red shoes, in front of her shiny red Maserati and with a cardboard cut out of Gio Compario tucked under her arm.   She’s often home before 7pm, she goes on holiday to Centreparcs (so is a CEO who queues in her bathers for the Grand Canyon Raft Race) and doesn’t get involved in unnecessary things like posh lunches or jollies.  She drops her older son off at school before driving herself to the office and has just had six months off to have a baby.  Family comes first, she says.  She explains to the interviewer about GoCompare’s “coffee randomiser” that selects who has to make the coffee in the office.  She is described as “spikey haired, amply proportioned, heavily Welsh-accented, she is full of warmth and wonder.”  Oh and five years ago she set up GoCompare which last year made more than £24m of profit on revenues of about £100m last year.

Way to go Hayley!  Way to go.  Let’s hope the Sunday Times can find more CEO’s like you to interview.  Maybe someone at GoCompare could come up with a CEO comparison website.

CEO interviews

March 18, 2011

I love reading the interviews with Chief Executive Officers in the business section of the Sunday papers.  I don’t know why since they are pretty much all the same.  The CEO rises at 6am, is collected by their driver and driven to the office where they deal with phone calls and meetings all day until it is time to go to dinner with clients or contacts.  The CEO usually relaxes by running long distances and holidaying somewhere exclusive like Barbados or Verbier.  Every couple of months the CEO featured in these interviews is a woman but even then the interview is along the same lines, except perhaps with a few less late nights so they can eat dinner with their children (“at least twice a week, usually steamed fish with vegetables”).

I like the idea of “rising” at 6am.  Rising has a wholesome, ashram yoga sort of feel to it.  I never rise.  I get hauled from sleep, usually by one child or another appearing at the end of the bed like the Ghost of Christmas Present complaining that the vital piece of sports kit they need THAT MORNING is still damp.   Our tumble dryer died a while ago (although we have somehow never found time to give it a proper burial and it remains crouched in our garage in a state of purgatory) and my only option to convert damp sports kit into dry sports kit is to deploy the hair dryer.  It works rather well although probably not as well as a new tumble dryer would.  In any event, I have just about got damp sports kit covered.  What strikes fear in my heart is when a child appears at the foot of the bed asking for a costume.  St David’s Day/World Book Day/Comic Relief – these things necessitate costumes and are the only time I wish I was one of those CEOs with a driver so I could send him in the car down to Asda to pick something up.

We usually give Barbados a miss for our holidays and go to Centreparcs instead.   We were there at February half term in fact.  It was packed and we had to wait for up to 30 minutes to go on the Grand Canyon Raft Ride.  As we waited I hoped we didn’t bump into anyone we knew because actually queuing in your bathers involves standing around for a long time wearing not much more than your underwear.  I suspect that rules out Centreparcs for most CEO’s.  It might be difficult to maintain the requisite aloofness if members of your workforce have seen you naked but for your Speedos and checked out your tattoo of “Deep Purple, Knebworth, 1985.”  Although I am not entirely certain that the man I spotted in possession of both of these items was in fact a CEO.

I also eat dinner with my children at least twice a week.  My husband and I don’t concern ourselves too much about steamed fish.  We have long since worked out that the key to juggling two children with two full time legal careers is a deep seated fondness for beans on toast.  CEO’s in business interviews don’t eat beans on toast do they?  They don’t shop for beans either or for costumes or wash sports kit or put the Hoover over or the bins out.   About the only part of my day that bears any resemblance to the day of a CEO is the meetings and phone calls all day.   But almost everyone who works in an office has those.  Big deal.

Superwoman Suppers

February 1, 2011

Brand new for 2011,  Superwoman launched an additional type of networking event  –  Superwoman suppers.   The idea behind Superwoman Suppers is simple and far from new.    Here is how they work:

12 women attend each supper. The intention is that there is a good mix of different professions, business women and entrepreneurs. It follows that only one woman from any one organisation can attend any one supper and groups of friends can’t book together.

In advance of the supper those attending are asked to provide a biography and also a business topic or question that they would like the group to discuss during supper.  Three or four of the suggested topics/questions are selected and circulated in advance to those attending together with the biographies.

We gather together for a delicious three course meal. During the course of supper, we change seat twice so that there is a chance for everyone to meet and chat with everyone attending.  There is some degree of cutlery and napkin confusion as a result but we can handle it. Pre, during and post supper and coffee we discuss our chosen business topics.  Bethan attempts to chair the evening.

The first five Superwoman Suppers (Feb to June) are at the Cameo Club in Pontcanna Street, Cardiff and have all sold out.  Emma Jenkins of E J Catering, award winning chef and long time supporter of Superwoman,  is our chef for these five suppers.  The cost is £35 per head for a glass of bubbles on arrival, a three course meal and coffee. Wine or other drinks can be purchased on the night.    If you would be interested in attending other Superwoman Suppers  (we are looking to organise other suppers in Bridgend, Newport and London over the course of 2011) just email me on bdarwin@darwingray.com

 

Age is only a number

January 20, 2011

As an employment lawyer and a 45 year old woman it’s hardly surprising that I followed with interest the progress of the employment tribunal claim brought by Miriam O’Reilly against the BBC.  The 53 year old former presenter of Countryfile claimed she was the victim of age and sex discrimination when the BBC ruled her out as a presenter of the programme when it moved to a new prime time Sunday evening slot.  Last week Ms O’Reilly won her claim of age discrimination but not her claim of sex discrimination.

Ms O’Reilly was not the first woman working in television to argue that she was the victim of a knotty combination of age and sex discrimination.   Former newsreader Selina Scott settled her discrimination claim against Channel 5 in 2008 for a rumoured £250,000.   When 66 year old Arlene Phillips got axed from Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 in favour of 30 year old Alesha Dixon, hundreds of viewers complained of discrimination on her behalf.  However, Ms O’Reilly’s case was the first one to go all the way to a final hearing resulting in a reported decision that other employees in similar positions can seek to rely on.

The tribunal found that 68 year old John Craven being retained on the show did not demonstrate that age was not a factor in the BBC’s decision-making process and instead found that Ms O’Reilly’s age had been a significant factor in the decision not to retain her for the primetime show.  The tribunal found that if she had been 10 to 15 years younger it would have given her proper consideration.

Ms O’Reilly did not win the sex discrimination claim.  The tribunal found that comments about needing to watch out for her wrinkles when high definition television came in and that it was “time for botox” gave an insight into the particular problems that older women working in television face but went on to determine that had she been a man of the same age with the same skill set she would still not have got the job because the BBC were looking for youthful second tier presenters.  Therefore her sex was not the reason for the treatment she received.

The tribunal gave short-shrift to the idea that the BBC could justify replacing older presenters with younger ones to help achieve its legitimate aim of attracting a wider audience.  Whilst wanting to attract a wider audience was potentially a legitimate aim, discriminating against Ms O’Reilly to achieve it was not a proportionate means of achieving that aim.

BBC producers may think that young presenters achieve bigger audiences but actually the recent viewing figures attracted by Rip Off Britain demonstrate that the viewing public are less youth obsessed than the BBC think.  Presented by Jennie Bond (60), Angela Rippon (66) and Gloria Hunniford (70) Rip Off Britain has been attracting viewing figures of between 5.5m and 5.2m, 24.2% of the share.  Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion (watched that, wish I hadn’t wasted 3 hours of my life on it) got viewers of between 4.7m and 5.8m, the Silent Witness two parter that same week got viewers of between 5.9m and 6.3m.   What is particular noteworthy about these viewing figures is that Rip Off Britain had already been shown on BBC1 in a 9.15am slot in November and December and got 2m viewers then.  Big #ff for Glo, Ang and Jen – Here come the women! Time for you ladies to renegotiate your daily rate which was apparently only around £400 per day each, compared to, say, Christine Bleakley’s daily rate of £1730.  (A rate entirely justified according to one of the men in my office on account of her being “a honey”).

So what with 59 year old Sting and his 57 year old wife Trudie Styler (who even if they are not still engaging in lengthy tantric sex sessions look fit enough to do so if they were so inclined) age really is becoming only a number.

Is feminism a myth?

January 11, 2011

It was reported in the Sunday Times this week that Dr Catherine Hakim, senior research fellow in sociology at the London School of Economics published a new paper a couple of weeks ago called “Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine.”  In it she argues that “most of the theories and ideas built up around gender equality in the last few decades are wrong” and that most women still want to “marry up”  – to marry men who are richer and cleverer than they are thereby “continuing to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers.”   Government policy to promote equality is “magic medicine” and doesn’t work.   Women already have equal opportunities so the sex war is over and a 10% pay gap (it’s actually 15.5%) not that bad.   If women take lower level, lower paid jobs they do so out of choice.

The most shocking piece of evidence in the Sunday Times coverage was the fact that YouGov  had done a survey for the Sunday Times of 922 women the week before.  When asked “if you had young children and were in a financial position to choose, would you rather stay at home to bring up the children or go out to work?” 69% of these women said they’d rather stay at home.  I’ve never been asked to take part in one of these surveys.   I am probably at work when the surveyors are out on the street with their clip boards.  But if I were asked, my answers would probably be discounted anyway.  I’d need to ask way too many questions to clarify the question being put to me before being able to commit to a Yes or No answer.   “What do you mean financial position to choose?  Are we talking house with pool/two cars/fancy holidays/eating out twice a week sort of financial choice?  Or just about manage to pay the mortgage and the bills and eat on one salary sort of choice?  How young are these young children?  Does going out to work involve going to an office or cleaning an office?  And can my husband stay at home too or does he have to go out to work?  The devil’s in the detail isn’t it?

Anyway 69% of women faced with an incomplete factual scenario still answered they’d like to stay at home.    Don’t knows were 8%.  Only 23% of the women asked said they’d go out to work.     What I’d like to know is what 922 men given the same question would answer.  Because I know a healthy proportion of men who, if in the financial position to choose, would also like to stay at home and bring up the children.   And what if the question was “You have won the lottery, big stylee.  Would you go back to work?” what percentage of women and men would answer yes to that?   Work is rewarding and  interesting but it’s…well, pretty hard work a lot of the time.    These women saying they’d like to stay at home if they had the financial position to choose aren’t saying they are work shy wusses who want to marry up and thus proving Ms Hakim’s paper.   They’re just day dreaming about being in that financial position.

Ms Hakim, in my professional judgement, is talking pants.  Some 45,000 women are currently fighting equal pay act claims.  Just 12.5% of  UK board positions are held by women.  We are under represented in government and in industry.  We most definitely do need equality legislation and if we didn’t have it all the hard work of the past forty years will start to slide back.  I also believe, very strongly, that men need equality legislation too and a change in attitude  so that those who want to share the childcare and have a better work life balance (and there’s lots of them) don’t get perceived as needing to grow a pair.    Equality legislation means that equality is at least an achievable goal.  It also helps, over a long time, to change attitudes, a bit like the way the smoking ban has made smoking inside seem weird.   Doesn’t seem as if there’s much we can do about Ms Hakim’s attitudes, sadly.

Could you cope with an Au Pair?

September 24, 2010

I went for a business lunch at Jamie’s in Cardiff with one of the Superwomen yesterday.  I like the atmosphere at Jamie’s but have to say I think the food is going downhill. I had a steak which, had I been the host instead of the lunchee, I would have sent back – very poor quality meat and very touch.  Not a patch on the one I had at the Brasserie a few weeks back (not that I go out for lunch a lot you understand) even if the Brasserie does smell a bit damp these days.

Anyway I digress,  one of the (many) things we chatted about was pulling off the juggle between career, kids, family life and the odd tiny scraping of personal time.   We agreed from the off that no one manages it entirely successfully but one of the things which helps my lunch companion have a good stab at it is her au pair.  She has had about six or seven different au pairs over the years, mostly from Germany but also Spain and France.  For £70 a week  (guidelines for salaries for  au pairs in the UK are between £60 and £75) plus food and board her au pairs get the children ready for school including making breakfast, do all the washing and ironing for the entire family, clean their own room and those of the children, be there to look after the children when they get home from school and cook their tea plus two nights babysitting.  They don’t work weekends and are usually out the nights they aren’t babysitting, at language school or with friends.    Her au pairs get an en suite bedroom with a telly and broadband and must bring their own lap top with them.  They spend a lot of time on Skype apparently, talking to their friends and family, even propping up their lap tops to chat while they do the ironing.

This sounds like  a good solution to many a hiccup in a Superwoman’s life.   An extra pair of hands to help out, someone to get the kids ready so that you can attend early meetings, and two nights babysitting so that you can go to the pictures with your other half rather than deciding that the costs of a babysitter make it uneconomic to go to the cinema and you’d be better off renting a DVD instead.  But could you cope with having someone else living in your home?  My lunch companion had the considerable advantage of an en suite bedroom for the au pair set a little away from the rest of the family bedrooms.  This I think would be essential for most families considering an au pair.  However, my lunch companion has another tip for au pair management which is setting out very clearly from the outset and before the au pair comes to work for you what you expect from them, when and how.  She, being an accountant, has devised a spreadsheet setting out the tasks and the time lines.   Sadly, such efficiency is way beyond me.   I can’t do spreadsheets.  I can’t even manage my cleaning lady properly and still rush round the house the day before she comes tidying up so she doesn’t think I’m a slut and I cringe if I have to leave her a note suggesting she might, this week, just if she has time of course, mop the bathroom floor.  If we got an au pair I’m pretty certain I’d end up making her tea for her and not being able to go to sleep until I knew she was home from a night out safe and sound.    You’ve got to be a spreadsheet sort of person to cope with an au pair.

We made it through seven weeks of summer holidays

September 16, 2010

How was it for you?  If you have children, you had to struggle with childcare.  If you don’t have children you had to struggle with the extra work of covering for all those people struggling with childcare.  At least the latter category get to go on holiday now, when prices are much cheaper and  places aren’t  jam packed with kids.

You learn a lot about people and the human condition generally when you go on holiday.  We had a week in Cornwall this summer and then later on ten days in Majorca.  This is what I learned:

Cornwall

1.  Absolutely everybody wears wetsuits to go in the sea in Cornwall.  Fat, thin, young or old it makes no difference.  Your parents would have wetsuits if they went to Cornwall regularly.  If you don’t want to stand out in the crowd on a Cornish beach get yourself a wetsuit.  Luckily they are relatively flattering.  Honestly.

2.  It’s true, people really do pee in their wetsuits when they hit the sea water to give themselves a layer of warmth.  This works but is also the reason why you should never borrow someone else’s wetsuit.

3.  Even when people are wearing wetsuits you can just tell whether they are posh or not.  It’s the way they stand.  Or maybe it’s the haircuts.  But anyway you can tell.

4.  When I was a kid we used to go to the beach with a couple of towels, a bucket and spade and some sandwiches in a Tupperware box.  Nowadays, unless you want to experience serious beach equipment envy you need folding chairs, at least two windbreakers, a cool box and a little tent.

4.  You really don’t mind so much if it rains everyday in Cornwall when you know you are going to sunny Majorca in a couple of weeks.

5.  This is a lovely holiday cottage, spacious, well equipped, great value and with a lovely garden.  Ten minutes drive to Polzeath beach or to Padstow.    Book it quickly before we do. www.lanavale.co.uk

6.  Body boarding is not as easy as it looks.

Majorca:

7.  You may tell yourself that getting up at 6am in the morning to bag a brace of sunloungers is beneath you and anyway reservation by towel shouldn’t be allowed and isn’t  fair but one day into your holiday and you’ll be setting the alarm clock just like everyone else.

8. Abba and Elvis Presley tribute acts are really a lot of fun once you’re on your second jug of Sangria.  Gosh, even the kids’ disco and Crazy Chloe the entertainment rep dressed up as Thomson the dog are fun by that point.

9.  Don’t delude yourself that once you get your children onto the tour bus and up the Tramuntana trail they’ll actually rather enjoy the views and the chance to see a different aspect to Majorca.  They won’t.  My daughter threw up on the bus in an act of revenge.

10.   Wouldn’t it be nice to live somewhere sunny?

11.  I mean really nice?