Going underground

Questionable pop ballads and Deptford's very own subterranean feel

'A song from the darkest hour': Brown's party playlist

All poets want to be rock stars, and all rock stars want to be poets. Which is fine. There will always be a place in the world for ageing poets in leather jackets, and no-one would begrudge a rock star a few too many bad metaphors. It’s more perilous by far, however, when it’s not poets but politicians who decide they need more of the guitar hero about them. They should be wary of such urges, as Gordon Brown’s choice of walk-on music for his speech on Wednesday shows.

The Prime Minister’s arrival onstage was heralded by Manchester folk-rockers James’ ‘Sit Down’ – which begins by announcing itself as ‘a song from the darkest hour’. It continues as bleakly: ‘Its hard to carry on when you feel all alone, / Now I’ve swung back down again, its worse than it was before’ – an odd choice for his make-or-break ‘Obama moment’.

James frontman Tim Booth links the lyrics to Brown in a way that the Prime Minister might not have intended. ‘The song was written as an expression and call for unity in a lonely and frightening world. Personally the lyrics were written during a 4am bout of insomnia when the world looked bleak,’ he told us. ‘Here, it's being used by a desperate politician trying to hang on.’
Booth isn’t keen for the song to be a regular on the conference playlist. ‘If the Labour party use it more than once we might have something to say about it,’ he warns.

Labour are no strangers to misguided musical choices. At the 1995 Labour Conference, Tony Blair bounded onstage to ‘If the Kids Are United’ by 70s punks Sham 69, in defiance (very punk) of the fact that the current Labour front bench were neither kids nor, at that point, particularly united. It could have been worse, however – other Sham 69 possibilities include songs about breaking out of jail, getting drunk, and throwing up in toilets. Two years later, Dream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ voiced the optimism of the 1997 conference. It didn’t seem quite as optimistic, however, when it was still being played in 2004.

Not that the Tories can feel superior. Boris Johnson's campaign to become Mayor took place to the apocalyptic sounds of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’. With lyrics like ‘We ain't got no swing / 'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing,’ quite why that ever seemed like a good idea remains unclear.

Knife crime and talking dogs

The winner of this year’s Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize was announced on Wednesday. The award goes to Patrick Ness' novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go, which combines talking dogs and mysterious pools of silence with the topical concerns the title implies. Todd, the novel’s protagonist, has to decide whether he can kill people with his knife, a ‘big ratchety one with the bone handle and the serrated edge that cuts practically everything in the world’.

‘I really wanted to show what it is like having a knife in your hand’, Ness said. ‘It's power. Power has terrifying consequences even if you think it's quote unquote “just”. Once used it changes you, and in ways you may not want and can't change back.’ Two weeks after Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about knife crime (and a murdered goldfish) was removed from the curriculum, it’s nice to see that not everyone thinks we should be covering teenagers’ ears to keep the world out.

From tavern brawls to grass roots art

Marlowe was stabbed there and Francis Drake was knighted there, but since the Renaissance, Deptford’s kept a bit of a low profile. This is changing, however – a new influx of cafes, galleries and studios are transforming the area into a hotspot for up-and-coming artists. Now the area's Deptford X, holding its tenth annual arts festival. Subtitled Ghost Trade and the Spectre of Change, the festival will include installations, film screenings and Cy Twombly-esque asemic carvings on the windows of the train station. “There’s a real buzz down here, but it’s not just an overspill of trendy east London,” says curator Julia Alvarez, who graduated from the nearby Goldsmith’s College. “Deptford’s got its own flavour, there’s an underground feel.”

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.