Saturday, 20 February 2010

We've come a long way?

A quick but hopefully poignant post. Today I spent the day at Bletchley Park with my Dad, whose father was in the RAF during World War II (and for the remainder of his life) and as a family we've long maintained an interest in the history of the war. Admittedly for my brothers it has been about the planes, boats and guns, and to me it's more about the roles of women in the war and "ration fashion" but nonetheless the interest is there.

Bletchley Park is a wonderful story of top (and ultra!) secret goings-on, charming characters and only recently known astonishing history. Including the story about Alan Turing, a Cambridge University mathematician who worked at Bletchley Park for a number of years and in government intelligence for many more. Last year a public apology by PM Gordon Brown was made to Alan Turing, who was arguably one of the most important code-breakers at Bletchley Park, to whom many breakthroughs and technological developments have been attributed to. Because of Top Secret Bletchley Park's fiercely loyal staff at the time and in the following decades, there is still gaping holes in the full understanding of what went on there and how much was achieved. However Mr. Turing's story highlighted to me a very different historical development. Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954 after being convicted of the then crime of gross indecency of having a sexual relationship with another man. Following his conviction he was prohibited from continuing to assist in code and cryptological work for the government and subsequently took his own life. I truly hope that even the most (wrongly and ignorantly) opinionated individual can see how deeply and morally wrong this story is: a highly intelligent and qualified man who was so central to the safe-guarding of our national security being prevented from continuing to do so, effectively because of who and how he loves (and in my blissfully rose-tinted yet steadfast opinion any love is good, wonderful, amazing love.)

I'm not naive enough to think that this story is now an unheard of concept in the world. However, I would like to think that as well as UK law having made considerable progress, so have our attitudes as a society where cultures, religions, backgrounds, sexual orientations and lifestyle choices mix wild and free.

As it is LGBT History month this February, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has reluctantly joined a LGBT union at his work and is getting involved with events this month but not because he enjoys flying the rainbow flag or shouting about his sexuality. He explained to me that it's because he believes by doing this and fighting for necessary equality, one day he won't need to, or maybe the next generation won't need to. I nodded along in agreement as I also don't think there should be any ceremony by anyone in terms of announcing who they are and who they sleep with. However we don't yet live in that ideal world. Furthermore, after learning more about Alan Turing today, I realised the very presence of active LGBT organisations and a LGBT History month is a direct consequence of his and similar stories and this is itself an achievement which should not be belittled or dismissed. It is a sign that times have changed, and will continue to change so we still need voices to be heard and unions and events in order to keep changing in the right direction. The saddest reminder of this fact is how embarrassingly and shamefully long it took for a public apology to Mr. Turing's to be made.

I have no idea if Mr Turing was "out and proud" during his time at Bletchley Park (though I secretly hope he was as I imagine it was a place of discreet honour and respect). What I do know is that it didn't make a damned bit of difference to his fine ability and outstanding contribution to the code-breaking and gathering of enemy intelligence which occurred at Bletchley Park, which directly contributed to ending World War II and for that, as the granddaughter of a WW2 rear gunner in a Lancaster Bomber who may not have survived many more flights let alone years, I am deeply grateful.

You can make a much needed donation to Bletchley Park by clicking here and I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Justify my love

I attended 4 birthday celebrations in 3 days over the weekend. They were for friends from very different social groups and I subsequently met many new people. Over Friday night to Sunday afternoon I went from Clapham Junction to Chelsea, back to the safe haven of W12 before hitting Spitalfields and then Ladbroke Grove.

Despite consuming my body weight in wine, beer and gin I have one lasting memory. In meeting these new people I had to justify my love of living in the Bush on no fewer than 3 occasions. It appears that Sloane Rangers, EastEnders and even our neighbours in W10 can't understand why I would choose to live in Shepherd's Bush. To the Sloanes it was the idea of being out of guffawing distance of King's Road, to the arty farty trendy bendys of the East there was the biggest misconception of the decade that Shepherd's Bush was Notting Hill and they couldn't cope with the idea of all that money and lack of warehouse conversions. More understandably the Grovers begged the question why live there when you can live here? Well my answer to that one was the Congestion Zone.

Two of these individuals were men that I was mid-flirt with (on separate occasions) when they started laying into my beloved Bush (ahem). One was Chelsea Boy, the other an EastBender. I quickly found myself falling down a slippery slope into a big rant defending W12. My main argument, and not the best flirting tactic I've ever used, was to explain I loved the Bush precisely because it's not like where they live (one being too white and elitist, the other being a little self-obsessed and full of inverted snobs). Surprisingly Chelsea Boy was happy to accept this in the same jolly way that he prefers deck shoes and red cords to Converse and jeans. However it was the more easy-on-the-eye and interesting gentleman from East London who was most stubborn in accepting that Shepherd's Bush had much to offer its residents. I even drew parallels with his preferred area of East London as I explained that it was rough around the edges, deeply diverse and you could buy a semi decent bagel at anytime of night. I think actually what he couldn't accept was that Shepherd's Bush isn't the place to be seen; it isn't cool. It is the BBC, it is where Antipodeans accumulate and copulate, it is a line in the opening theme of Only Fools and Horses, it is an out-of-the-way music venue and it is full of very odd people roaming the dog poo, chicken bones and vomit ridden streets all day every day. I guess he has a point - what is "cool" about any of that?

My final thought is this. If you spend your life choosing to live somewhere (or do anything) because it's "cool" doesn't that suggest a shallowness about your personality and what you aim for in life? Isn't it better to choose to live somewhere because it's practical, interesting and real? I love living where I live because it's all of those things and then plenty more. And that to me is pretty cool.

P.S. I got Chelsea Boy's number. EastBender got mine but he can whistle all the way from Hoxton if he thinks we're going on a date anytime soon...

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Hey hot pants!

Recently I was lucky enough to meet Rachel and Mike who are the dream team behind I Love My Postcode and fellow residents of Shepherd’s Bush. I Love My Postcode is the brainchild of Rachel who told me over a cup of tea and a Banoffee Muffin (good old Morrisons!) that she harvested the idea after she and husband Mike received a number of “postcode” T-Shirts from a friend as they moved from Norwich to many different places in London. Two years ago having harboured a long term desire to start up her own business Rachel took the proverbial plunge and began trading as I Love My Postcode in October 2008. The idea is simple and, though I’m a little bit biased after their cat Percival flirted shamelessly with me, it really is one of those “why hasn’t anyone done this before?” ideas.

I’ve always been inspired by people who show entrepreneurial flair and passion. All of which I know Rachel and Mike have plenty of but I'd be doing them a disservice if I didn't mention that there has also been many hours of hard graft; from market research to market stalls, to flyering, to approaching newspapers, and tweeting the night away. They've worked hard to get to where ILMP is now – getting orders for many different postcodes across the UK. Rachel told me she’s even had an order from the Isle of Coll (or PA78 to the locals) up in Scottish Hebrides. They started just doing T-shirts, but you can now buy hoodies, baby-grows and even pants with your postcode on them declaring your love of where you live. Hence the intrigue of a Bird who blogs about the goings on in her postcode. The icing on the muffin was discovering that they were local residents too! And I now have pants saying that I love my Bush. So to speak. What's more, they were literally hot pants. At least hot off the press, as I was lucky enough to watch them being made.

Rachel uses snazzy American Apparel clothing and prints any UK postcode to order and as long as she is able to accommodate she is open to taking special requests or making slight adjustments. The pants were a special offer in time for Valentine’s Day (they are also currently doing two T-Shirts for £30) and ILMP offer free postage on all UK orders. I asked Rachel which postcode was the most popular keeping fingers and toes crossed for W12 (or W6 at a push). But after some quick tapping away she told me that it was actually N16 but there was a valid reason for this as she used to sell N16 stock in a shop to the Stokey N massive. W12 came in as second and after that was SE10, followed by NW6 (thanks in part to @WHampstead) and then NW1 making up the top 5. But this is potentially to change as Rachel recently expanded from London only to do all UK postcodes.

I Love My Postcode clothes are a great idea for presents. I’m going to buy some T-Shirts for my brother who’s just bought his first property in Hampshire and I’ve also placed an order for a few friends who love their postcodes and pants as much as I do. Or if they don’t, well it’ll be a useful reminder of where they live should they ever forget it.

During the evening Rachel and I also had a good chat about Twitter, agreeing that it’s a marvellous and effective virtual word of mouth. As much as ILMP is her exciting new venture, so is this blog mine and we both acknowledged that Twitter has been wonderful in terms of progression and interaction with our target markets. I can certainly say now that I’m personally very grateful for Twitter as it put me in touch with Rachel and I Love My Postcode which I will enjoy watching grow and grow. (You can follow I Love My Postcode's Twitter here and here's mine.)

I love my postcode and I love my W12 pants.