Category Archives: Diary

Why Are Women Frightened of Maths?

Why Are Women Frightened of Maths?

The Cinnamon Club

The Cinnamon Club, Westminster

To plan Question Time at Langley Park School for Girls for 400-500 guests, yesterday I met Dr Anne Hudson (Headteacher of this school for 1,600 girls) and
Diane Carrington (Head of Governors), both adventurous blondes. We met for a fantastic meal at The Cinnamon Club, which is where MPs eat (saw several faces familiar from TV). Then we went to Portcullis House to update Nicky Morgan MP on the project. Nicky was very supportive, as always.

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M is for Money

M is for Money

Megan Powell Vreeswijk

Megan Powell Vreeswijk

I met with Dr Samantha Callan last week to discuss our research project on why women fear maths – I’ve found that this ranges from timidity to being frozen like a rabbit in headlights. I’m the same – if someone points a finger at me, Lord Kitchener style, and asks me to do a sum in my head, my mind often freezes.

Samantha is researching this from a social-historical (factual) perspective and I’m looking at references in literature. It’s not often that you get work that’s totally absorbing, but this is.

I also met with Megan Powell Vreeswijk, the entrepreneurial advisor at Loughborough University, she is also as one of Nesta’s accredited Creative Enterprise Trainers for the British Council. Megan runs the very exciting project at Loughborough called The Studio.

Loughborough is a designers’ university and its students are inventors. Megan advises students on how to make the most of their inventions: how to commercialise them, market them and how to set up their own companies.

Megan offers an online weekly consultation for students. This will lead to an e-book, which I’m working with her on, for first years on how to help them to look after their money. It will be called ‘M is for Money’. It’s part of a series of student ebooks, the first of which was called ‘U is for University’.

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Do what’s urgent and leave the rest till later

Do what’s urgent and leave the rest till later

Money Stuff International editionI spent last week tackling the final knotty problems in preparing the Money Stuff international $ edition. The last problems are always the ones that take three times longer than expected. And because I was dreading them, my son Sebastian said that I should take five of the problems, put them in any order and do the one at the top!

My PA, Rosie, has been away for a week in Canada and owing to her absence, work has considerably slowed. So I took the opportunity to do my spring clean in the autumn.

I’ve always worked in businesses where priorities change constantly and many find this difficult to deal with. But not for me. After a breathless autumn spent doing what’s urgent – my mantra has always been “do what’s urgent and leave the rest till later” – this week ‘later’ came, and I’ve been sorting out my office – all the filing and even organising the pens!

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Celebrating Women of the Year

Celebrating Women of the Year

Women of the Year 2014

Women of the Year award winners, 2014

The Women of the Year luncheon – 500 influential women at the Intercontinental Hotel

The focus of the Women of the Year luncheon was on global brutality towards women as the result of medieval practices, often tolerated for so-called cultural reasons.

What brutality? The exploitation of children as sex slaves; genital mutilation of young girls to prevent their future enjoyment of sex; “honour killings” – which could correctly be called dishonour killings; horrific domestic violence, rape … and plenty more.

I had the pleasure to make new acquaintances and catching up with old friends including Yasmin Alabhai-Brown, Tanya Byron, Lorraine Kelly, Liz Chapman – the Library Director at the LSE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC who has done such fantastic work and her hand is all over the lunch which was very professional, international, up to date and glamorous! Also Diana Makgill, Lindsay Nicholson, Eve Pollard and Zandra Rhodes.

Read about the inspiring award winners here: Women of the Year Award Winners, 2014

Money Stuff: Going Global, and a fifth ebook?

MONEY STUFF by Shirley ConranI spent time this week with my design consultant, Elke Hanspach, looking at the visual aspects of my work, in particular the possibility of a fifth step for Money Stuff, making the course eligible for the GCSE exam.

My American colleague, Sarah McFadden, has been editing the international edition of Money Stuff. Watch this space!

My Treasures

I was photographed by the Daily Mail for a piece in a series called My Treasures in their colour magazine. I was asked what was most valuable to me (besides family) and immediately named my P.A. But you’re not allowed humans, but pets are allowed. My cat Ginger is very unfriendly and snarled at the photographer when asked to pose for a photograph. It seems he doesn’t want to be famous.

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A week free of interruptions

A week free of interruptions

Cannizaro House

Cannizaro House

Last week I left home and went to Cannizaro House in Wimbledon to a place recommended by my taxi driver. It’s an utterly wonderful 18th Century house with grounds open to the public and I could see children of two or three with their mothers tottering around on their way to the park. This was to give me a week free of interruptions in order to finish the international dollar edition of Money Stuff. I had a good rest into the bargain.

Evelyn Waugh's Scoop

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop

I took quite a lot of books with me. Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop – something light that would make me laugh – and Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning. I also took Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, which I didn’t get to read.

I also took a book by the mother of a friend I went to school with, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.

She was an early feminist and pacifist. She had a job persuading her parents to let her work.

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain

I also watched Kate Adie’s Women of World War One on BBC Two which was about women taking up men’s work during the war. We owe a lot to those women – when taking on a mortgage, for example – they paved the way for us.

I had a long email from a Jewish friend in Australia about the situation in Gaza. We had a long email correspondence and I thought afterwards that both sides have grievances but it’s about time it was defined as a modern, not a medieval matter. Killing doesn’t get you very far but destroys too many young men and families.

The troubles in the Middle East and the Balkans, as it was known, are all caused by the indiscriminate carving up of countries after world war one, by drawing lines on a map without taking any account of the language spoken or what Gods they prayed to.

I’d like to see an end to the international arms trade. If we sell arms, they are used against neighbours. It’s still a man’s world.

I came home to find all my in trays full.

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Why do women have such a negative view of maths?

Why do women have such a negative view of maths?

Jane Austin and money - on the face of the £10 note

Jane Austin and money – on the face of the £10 note

Had lunch at the Bibendum with Baroness Margaret Jay, who was a former Minister for Women. We want to find out the origins of the bad image that maths has with women.

This was not in the 18th Century when Jane Austin’s women were all busily discussing how much a man was worth and how to get their hands on that worth. I suspect this happened in the 19th Century as a follow on from the Industrial Revolution in Britain (which started around 1820) which produced what we know as the middle class. Some of these women wanted to “better themselves” by conspicuously never having anything to do with money. Husbands handled that.

I like the Bibendum. It has tables that are far enough apart and noise levels are very low. I don’t go to the Caprice any more. After footballers’ wives discovered it, the crescendo of noise was such that you couldn’t hear what your partner was saying.

Thursday 31 July – Went over the research from the Centre for Social Justice into women’s attitudes to maths.

In the afternoon, I looked at the pile of letters for signing in my in tray. I had meant to get round to them at 9am.

At 3pm, I jumped into a taxi and booked myself in at Cannizaro House in Wimbledon for 5 days. That’s the only way I’m going to get the US version of Money Stuff finished. It needs a four-day attack, and the only way I can do that is to leave home. I’ve written instructions for the cat (not that he can read).

Cannizaro House was built in the 18th Century. My room overlooks the park. It reminds me of staying at Woburn, all it’s missing are the stags and the Duke. This is an act of desperation and one that many writers resort to to get a book finished.

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“Treat of the week was lunch with Antonia Fraser”

“Treat of the week was lunch with Antonia Fraser”

The Abbey, Penzance

The Abbey, Penzance

Monday 21 July. Dr Samantha Callan, stayed overnight. She’s an anthropologist and a director of the Centre for Social Justice. She says that staying with me is “like going home to mum”. I try to give her breakfast in bed when she stays, but she starts work at 5am!

Samantha is a joy to work with and was in right at the beginning of Money Stuff. Samantha was the first person I contacted – I was interested to understanding body language. I would take her to meetings with ministers. Before we went in she would tell me what physical signs to look for, to see if they were interested. At the first meeting I almost collapsed with laughter as the minister did everything she told me!

Tuesday 22 July. Caitlin Moran generously gave me and a friend free tickets to her last gig at Union Chapel in Islington. Caitlin was her usual amazing self. She held the stage for two hours, and was very funny. It was such an impressive performance. I felt privileged to be there in the second row. Afterwards, the queue for her book signing went round the church and outside. I didn’t want to jump the queue, so left.

Wednesday 23 July. I had my monthly talk with my M.E. mentor, Alex Howard. He has had M.E. since he was 18. When you have M.E. you have to do what the virus wants you to do. It’s always unexpected and no one can predict where it will strike you or when. My life, at the moment, is on a danger line – after the Money Stuff launch I had to deal with huge amounts of attention, including from education people. There was no question of putting it off.

Thursday 24 July. Lunch with and old boyfriend. If you live to the age of 80, you’ll find you meet a lot of guys you knew at 17!

Friday 25 July. Treat of the week was lunch with Antonia Fraser who has recently been made a dame. I said that it was a pity that Harold wasn’t here to see this, and she replied that she didn’t think Harold would care but her mother would have. I wish my mother could have seen Money Stuff.

Antonia was looking very pretty in mauve, an Edwardian colour that has fallen out of fashion, but it was very flattering. We talked about what authors generally talk about: agents, tours, publishers. But also online publicity, which is just as important these days.

Saturday 26 July. Conference call with Caroline Shott, Chair of the Learning Skills Foundation. The Foundation is working to introduce teachers to scientists who are making discoveries in the brain. Neuroscientists can work with teachers to look at ways to make learning better geared to their needs. It sound boring but it explains why teenagers – previously normal human beings – can’t get up before 11am.

I’ve booked my yearly trip to The Abbey in Penzance, run by Jean Shrimpton. She has exquisite taste and the hotel is beautiful with views of Penzance Harbour on one side, and the garden with its privet hedges on the other.

Also visited Sophie Conran’s charming new website. I see Sophie as a more-sophisticated Cath Kidston. Sophie has wonderful taste – I ordered some raspberry linen napkins, knowing that they would be the right shade of raspberry. (My connection with Sophie is that she’s the half-sister of my sons, Sebastian and Jasper.)

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From Downing Street to Oxford Street

From Downing Street to Oxford Street

11 Downing Street

State Drawing Room at 11 Downing Street

Friday, 27 June. Meeting with Edwina Dunn in her sky-high, glass boardroom. I wore new peach jacket – Wallis sale.

Elegant blond entrepreneur Edwina and her husband revolutionized retail sales when they started a maths-based data analysis business in their back bedroom in 1989 and sold it in 2011 for reputedly over £90 million.

Edwina and I both hope to attract girls to a maths-based career. “Just as nursing is a passport/travel ticket around the world, the same is true of maths-based careers, which are much better paid with more opportunities,” said Edwina. (Incidentally, nursing students need a maths qualification.)

Wednesday, 2 July. Early evening reception at 11 Downing Street in beautiful drawing room overlooking large garden. Delicious food and drink consumed by 80 maths big players. 11 Downing Street stairs

Three good speakers: Education Minister Elizabeth Truss – scarlet dress – said that maths is a feminist issue. Edwina Dunn, looking classy in figure-fitting blue (Victoria Beckham?) was followed by Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive of MEI.

I left early – supper with my sister – and passed David Cameron charging up the stairs. We exchanged guarded smiles. (Do I know you? Better smile in case.)

Thursday, 3 July. Today my brother-in-law published his horrific memoir of being a child soldier (details in Shirley’s World). I would never have suspected the gentle Andrew of being a killer, and certainly not as a child.

Friday, 4 July. Visit from Lauren Davie, with yellow spring flowers. Lauren is about to switch from “helping rich men make money” to the educational sector, where she’ll make less money, but have a more rewarding job.

Lauren designed a test course of MONEY STUFF for maths strugglers in Year 9 (see it here).

Friday evening. During my work on MONEY STUFF, my work gradually spread over my entire flat. (At one point I had a young mathematician in my kitchen and another in my bedroom). Had enormous clear out. Flat now feels my own again.

Saturday, 28 June. Long-planned shopping expedition with 15 year old goddaughter Zephra – six foot, red-gold hair, forget-me-not blue eyes – and her mother Zenna, former Chair of OFSTED and currently on the Board of the Royal Navy.

Gave Zephra an envelope containing £200. Bought at Topshop: black jeans, leather jacket (black natch), crazy-coloured socks and 1940s Hollywood tortoiseshell shades. Bought at Zara: one black leather tote bag, one white cricket boyfriend sweater, one daisy-sprinkled day top, one turquoise chiffon evening top. Ran out of time. £46 left towards purchase of black ankle boots with Cuban heel next week from Topshop.

Zenna – who didn’t own a hat – asked if she had to wear one to meet HM The Queen at a Royal Naval luncheon. “Absolutely, yes,” I said. What sort? “Think of her hats and get one like that, only smaller.” In John Lewis, we found a small, squashed-top hat in black and white with white bow. Perfect.

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Where did Spring go?

Where did spring go?

The Palace of Westminster. Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

The Palace of Westminster. Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

I seemed to spend it head down, at my office being a first-time publisher, but my diary proves there was plenty of fun.

My maths course, MONEY STUFF, was successfully tested at Loughborough University, which has a reputation for being ahead of the trend. In early April, dynamic Nicky Morgan MP for Loughborough, invited me to the House of Commons for the launch of Loughborough University’s extension leap into London, at the Olympic village. Student displays of their work were impressive. I particularly liked a new take on the life belt – a tiny, light, engine-powered raft that a lifeguard can use to tow a swimmer in distress. Turn on the engine, point it at the beach and up to four people in danger of drowning can be safely towed ashore.

Justine Picardie's Party at Kensington Palace

Justine Picardie’s Party at Kensington Palace

Also in April, I spent a magical evening in the Orangery of Kensington Palace, hosted by Justine Picardie, the editor-in-chief of Harpers Bazaar UK magazine. All went as smoothly as a royal function. Also present was Lucy Worsley, TV historian with the mischievous schoolgirl grin and the ability to make history sit up and chat to you. When talking to you alone, Lucy (pictured below) is just as witty and entertaining as she is on TV.

Lucy Worsley

While we drank champagne and nibbled, Lucy and Justine sat on bar stools – difficult to do with elegance – and talked about the fashion collection from royal wardrobes, housed at Kensington Palace. Then we all walked over to the Palace to see some of the 1950’s clothes of H.M. The Queen and her sister, H.R.H. Princess Margaret.

Many of the exquisite gowns were made by Normal Hartwell who, together with photographer Cecil Beaton, created the fairy-tale-but-cosy family brand of George VI who hurriedly replaced his brother, that naughty King Edward VIII who couldn’t do his duty without a hard-boiled, American divorcee, Mrs Simpson, to hold his hand, etcetera, so abdicated.

Cecil Beaton brands the Royals

Cecil Beaton brands the Royals

Also in April, Eleanor Bentall dropped by for coffee and to show me her brilliant photographs. My favourite was this portrait of Beryl Bainbridge (see below). We agreed that at sometime, Eleanor will photograph me, but she’s currently booked for months ahead.

Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

April ended with the funeral of 83-year-old Patrick Seale, the foremost expert on Syrian history, past wars and the present ones. After Patrick’s funeral – standing room only in the chapel – I felt energyless and depressed. I kept telling myself that I had been lucky to know him, but that didn’t help, so I remembered our adventures.

I met Patrick when he was European editor of The Observer and I was fashion editor. Back then, you were only allowed to take £50 a year out of Britain, unless you were going abroad on business. My French cash for the trip didn’t come through in time, so I caught the plane to Paris with a weird collection of cash – francs, lire, kopeks, zloty – that the accounts department hurriedly produced. Once in Paris (see below), Patrick sorted out the money and proved the ideal companion.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

A couple of years later, Patrick became a literary agent, around the time I was forced to leave Fleet Street because of a chronic illness. Now unable to earn, I could no longer afford home help and found that books on housekeeping were stodgy, often unhelpful and sometimes wrong. So I chatted to plumbers, electricians, house painters and butlers, in order to learn how to do it from the horse’s mouth.

One evening Patrick phoned; his voice always sounded as if the two of you shared some fantastic secret. He said, “I’ve sold your book!”

I said, “What book?”

“Your book on housework!”

“But I’ve only written notes for myself.”

“I have the cheque in my pocket.”

“I’m writing a book.”

And that is how I came to write Superwoman, a book on how to minimise housework. I was attacked both by feminists and women who felt I was depriving them of their purpose, and so their identity, leaving their life empty and meaningless. So I wrote another book on what to do with the time you save by minimising housework.

Suffragettes in an early Equality struggle with the Law

An early Equality struggle with the Law

Later, remembering those feminist attacks, I phoned my close friend Peter York. Peter is the boss of Social Research Unit, and I had a social question for him. “What’s happening to feminism?” I asked, “It seems to be advancing all over the world but in Britain, where the Equal Pay gap is widening.”

Peter kindly offered to give a lunch party in early June, to discuss this. I’ll keep you posted.

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