Victoria Garo-Falides profile
Every two weeks or so, you can find Victoria Garo-Falides, 38, hosting Funny Boiler – a pro comedy night that has provided a place for names such as Lou Sanders, Simon Brodkin and Mae Martin to perform. Along with MCing duties, she produces the night, booking acts, selling tickets and promoting events.
The night I see her in action, the headliner is Al Murray, doing his pub landlord shtick, pint in hand, most of which ends up on the floor. He manages to down a few gulps while setting the audience alight. Victoria’s glee at being able to secure this legend of the British comedy scene was documented on all its socials. It was even more intense in the flesh:
“I can’t believe I’m saying this but next up, we have the one, the only AL MURRAY” She bellowed into the crowd, before he took to the silver of a stage.
By day, the venue on Hackney Road, which seats an audience of 35, is a Mac repair shop, but by night it transforms into The Natural Philosopher, a speakeasy cocktail bar with a makeshift stage.
This was the kind of venue that Victoria longed for, somewhere in the heart of East London, with no other comedic commitments. A place to make her mark, and shift the scene to something she wanted to craft.
“I want somewhere to make my own”
I meet her as its day façade is up, before the 8pm show, so Victoria whisks me off up the road to the Mama Hotel. This is one of her favourite haunts: the kaleidoscopic interiors of the chic lobby and the mish mash vibe sum up Victoria; loud, carefree and presentable despite trying to seem not.
The thing she wanted to craft the most was herself, she says to me, as she neatly cuts up her avocado on toast. She recounts getting married, moving to Bournemouth and popping out a kid, she realised this was not the life she was meant for: “We are now happily divorced,” she says.
Victoria cites her daughter as being an inspiration to progress her comedy career, which started two years ago. Before this, she studied at Mountview Theatre School. After graduation, she dabbled in acting, but makes most of her living from entertainment and showbusiness journalism.
While reading her daughter a bedtime story, she had her eureka moment. “It was book where you choose your life… she asked me what I’d choose, and there was one that was on stage, and I said to my daughter, ‘Oh yeah, that’s my dream, that one there.’”
She said this made her wonder what on earth she was waiting for?
“Life is too short, and honestly, I wanted to show my daughter that you can do anything, even if you are deemed past it by showbiz standards”
Fast forward to now, and she’s loving life. There exists the best of both worlds; the domestic goddess when she’s in Bournemouth and then the crazy party animal in London, alternating weekly.
She tells me with a glint in her eye that she loves that she does stand-up and still manages to be on the Parent Teachers Association. It is what she is most proud of, judging the way she lights up when talks about it.
“I help the kids out with their reading one week, and then the next week, I’m telling blow job jokes with Al Murray. None of the other parents know. I love it.” Victoria has a secret life of mischief, hidden an under a cloak of respectability.
Some of her material stems from being a parent – she claims her act is just a dragged up version of herself, describing it as “bad trashy mum.” Something she makes great point to say that she’s not.
She teases to the crowd that when she’s looking after her daughter and friends she refers to them as skids because has no idea where they came from.
She talks about her daughter with great affection. “Despite everything I try to teach her about being anything she wants, she still just wants Barbies, which I rate.” She rolls her eyes and mutters about how little girls might just sometimes be little girls.
She enjoys making using her femininity in the same way that men use their masculinity to make them laugh. She says, while this brings her happiness, it’s also a source of frustration. On the whole, she says, men do not tend to really laugh at women’s jokes.
“People get confused because if a woman goes on stage the men think, do I want to fuck her?” Victoria says. A lot of men are not used to thinking that women might just want to make you laugh, and nothing more.
“Our job isn’t to be funny. Our job is to have babies and to look nice … men do the funny and then get the money,” she says, adding that this revelation is not ground breaking, but a common grievance aired by women comics.
Victoria believes this makes it harder to succeed as a female comic because 50 per cent of the population has a harder time finding you funny. Also, she acknowledges women’s apprehension at other women as they gauge them competition: the question, is this woman my friend or not goes through their heads, she says.
Christopher Hitchens’ 2011 Vanity Fair essay comes up – a piece that argues that women have no evolutionary need to be funny. We touch upon the threats to women in comedy, too – namely the fears around getting home safely by yourself after a gig. Back in the 1960s, this was something Joan Rivers mined for material. Over 50 years later, this reality has not gone away.
She cited the Australian comic Eurydice Dixon was murdered on the way home from a performance in 2018. The police seemed to be blaming it on her being alone at night. This victim blaming sparked a backlash – lots of women can relate to being freaked out about going out after dark by themselves, with keys smushed between their fists. “My rather expensive solution is my chauffeur, Mr Uber”
Victoria has a supportive boyfriend. Luke accompanies her to most of her gigs, and without fail films all of the Funny Boiler nights. Does this make the whole thing easier for her?
She tells me about palming off the practical heavy lifting onto him, because despite being a strong feminist, she knows the importance of delegation.
“I’m not technically minded at all,” she says while she sets up lighting and mics on stage.
She gets the high-profile names through Twitter. She slid into Lou Sander’s direct messages with what she tells me is a completely earnest fan letter. They got to talking, and this concluded with Sanders performing at Funny Boiler. She then pointed her in the direction of more people to book, and the set lists snowballed.
I asked her if she has plans for expanding the night, and she tells me she’s dreaming of big things.
“Yeah, like the Comedy Store, but feminist.”
Gina Gambetta ghosted interview
I must have been about six, or seven, or around then, as my parents were still together. It must have been a summer day, as we were outside – September, probably, near my birthday.
My dad bought me a new bike, like a proper big girls’ mountain bike, Cadbury purple. I was very excited by the bike. It had a matching helmet, and everything.
We went to the local leisure centre to try it out. He was like, “Right, ride.”
Dad put me on, steadied me, and said “Pedal”. So, I started pedalling
I was on a hill, going faster and faster down the hill, and then I halfway through I realised I didn’t know how to stop. I hadn’t had to stop before. He had always been behind me.
I kept shouting, “How do I stop, how do I stop?”
He yelled about the brakes, and obviously I didn’t know what the brakes were because, as far as I was aware, they were just the handles. He’s the kind of person to assume I’d know where the brakes were. Basically, I just kept going.
I can’t actually remember what I collided into – probably a tree, that would make sense. It was very quick. I was riding, then I went bang. I remember there was a lot of fear. I went right into the handlebars, and they whacked into me, and I’ve got a scar right there, on my upper hip.
There wasn’t a lot of blood, but there was a big bruise. I cried a lot. I was really upset.
I don’t actually remember riding a bike again until I was about nine years old. When I was 10, I did my cycling proficiency, so it didn’t stop me riding bikes forever.
We still reference it now, as in “Dad, well you let me fall off my bike.” It’s a running joke with us.
Not that he felt bad, he was the kind of dad to throw you in the pool, and shout “swim!”. He’s a total softy, but he thinks you got to learn somehow: tough love. My grandparents were there when I came off my bike, and my grandma was mad with my dad. She’s a very protective old lady, she worries if you sneeze – the complete opposite to my dad.
Now,I never think about the scar, it just looks like a birth mark.
LABOUR DOESN’T DESERVE SCOTLAND
In this month, in 1852, the last salmon was fished out of the Kelvin River in Glasgow. It wasn’t until 1999, after a £45m investment, they returned to their rightful home. Coincidentally, this was the same year Scotland’s Parliament swam back after a hiatus of almost 300 years – a long-overdue acknowledgement that the people of Scotland are most suited to run Scotland. Until the Labour Party engage with this notion meaningfully, they do not deserve Scotland’s votes. They must support a second referendum.
The claims of sour grapes do not stand up to scrutiny. Circumstances have altered. The terms of the NO victory are now decimated. The past five years has seen broken promises and shattered trust. Labour, via the Better Together campaign, used false pretenses that led to a victory which ultimately cost Scotland their European membership, despite 62% voting to remain in 2016. The outcome of the Brexit general election of 2019 was the nail in the coffin to the remain movement in England and Wales, but Scotland’s is still alive and kicking.
What followed the fall of the red wall was agreement that the North of England is a nest of neglect, but the Party’s sophisticated analysis ignores Scotland. For example, Lisa Nandy’s much-memed advocacy for towns is promising, but her threats of quashing the Independence movement seem genuinely menacing, despite her protestation that her words have been twisted.
Labour know Scotland ought to govern themselves; the Scottish devolution project was a key Labour achievement. Donald Dewar, the premier First Minister was Labour, as they all were until 2007. Until 2015, the majority of seats in Scotland returned a Labour MP to the Commons. Now, the old quip that my dad used to repeat, about there being more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs, holds no more – Labour is the butt of that joke now. In an effort to cling to relevancy, Scottish Labour have pledged to begin entertaining the thought of a second referendum. Most notably, Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s former leader, admitted that the situation has changed, highlighting that the key to independence is winning over the middle-class, left-wing city-dwelling demographic.
Labour’s shrinking share in Scottish politics feels significant. Growing up, voting Labour was one life principle that united my family, and many other families up and down Scotland. Even in my home town of Edinburgh, dubbed by people I meet as “The most English city in Scotland” we were routinely represented by reds. Labour were knocked off their Caledonian pedestal largely because of what happened before, during and after the 2014 Independence referendum.
It was my first time voting, something I had spent my whole life prepping for, ever since my dad told me that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Due to the way British politics has played out, every year since then, I have been delighted to exercise my democratic right, but nothing has come to close to doing it on that occasion. To tick the YES box was the ultimate political thrill, underpinned by the tantalising prospect of creating a better place, a breakaway from Conservative rule, a concrete rejection of what we never wanted in the first place.
I voted YES because I saw that the way Scotland votes has no impact whatsoever on who is in Downing Street. This is unless, they happen to vote with the majority in England that they can hope to be represented, and that has been the case since 1945.
This might explain why Labour does not appear to care about Scotland. Because they don’t have to. It is probably why Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have no awareness of the existence of Scots law or of the already nationalised water supply. There’s no reason to. There is no electoral pay off.
It is probably why Emily Thornberry felt comfortable declaring that she hates the Scottish National Party while at a Hustings on home ground. Aside from being clearly untrue (her party copied a lot of successful SNP policies), it was not a smart move if she wants to win Labour’s supposed heartlands back. If they were interested in winning back Scotland, they wouldn’t insult the party which commands a majority in its parliament. Her apology in the House of Commons, while sincere, seemed to be born out of social awkwardness. It was like when you drunkenly insult a coworker you have to see every day. You might still loathe them, but you have to save face.
Frustratingly, Thornberry’s sentiment is one that I hear voiced a lot by English lefties. It is obvious to me that if they were in my shoes, they would see what I see: a movement born out hope and optimism; something now alien to mainstream British politics.
To witness 2014 was a privilege. The streets were brimming with people passionate about Scotland being better. Dog walks became civics lessons. For those inclined to independence, it seemed like there was nothing to lose, it could only get better or stay the same. We were already trapped under a Conservative programme of brutal austerity, a road we had not chosen, but we saw a way out.
My school history lessons showed nationalism to be an ugly force, something that Labour activists are really keen to reinforce when I share my support of an independent Scotland at parties. But as I try to explain, Scottish nationalism is not about targeting people, but a power structure: Westminster. Suffrage eligibility for the referendum vote was determined by residency in Scotland. Are you an adult and live here? Yes? Then you get to decide its future. How is that not progressive?
I would love there to be no need for an independent Scotland. However, these things are not up to me. I have a lifetime of political disappointment to prove it.
How teachers are coping with lockdown
For schoolteachers, whether it is an infants’ reception or an A-level revision group, their satisfaction derives from the classroom environment: the eager faces, the happy players, the rapid show of hands; the satisfaction of the transmission of knowledge and having the joy of well delivered learning. This is why a lot of teachers entered the profession in the first place. It was to not be stuck behind a computer screen. The classroom is their calling. An important part of this is the practicalities of educating.
But when the lockdown came into effect in March and schools were closed, with only a few days’ notice, to all but the children of key workers, the effect on many teachers has been traumatic. Suddenly, familiar routines were disrupted, classroom faces were now at a digital distance, staff room camaraderie and crowded corridors between lessons replaced by the strange experience of working from a study or kitchen table. A whole new slew of problems suddenly confronted teachers.
A lot of these are to do with the widening digital education gap. Student engagement with home learning has been lower than normal. Many teachers are reporting that only roughly half of their students are active in the virtual classrooms. This means that those with the resources are able to join in, and those without are not. These include the required technology, such as computers and internet connection to parents able and willing to make them engage with the work. Some parents are too busy with their own lockdown transitions, as they themselves now are working from home. Some are unaware of what is required of them. Some students live in crowded houses therefore making productive studying impossible and have to share screen time. Teachers are battling against conditions they cannot see.
This problem has been highlighted by Streatham MP Bell Riberio-Addy, who said: “Coronavirus is both highlighting and worsening the UK digital divide with 1.9 million households currently without internet access. Inequality begins early in the UK. In the context of schools, the failure to tackle new forms of digital exclusion will only further entrench existing inequality among the youngest in our society. The Government’s recent announcement of free laptops and 4G to some digitally excluded households was very limited.”
For older students, such as Year 11s and above, the problem of fair grade allocation has been a stressful issue. Normally, students are feverishly working towards their end of year examinations. These act as lift offs to the next stage of life; whether it be sixth form, university or an apprenticeship. Now, the task of allocating fair and representative grades has landed on the lap of teachers. Usually, examination boards take submitted course work and exam papers, and then give out grades accordingly. While every year, this is a stressful time due to the high stakes. This year, there are additional layers. As examinations have been cancelled, teachers are been asked to help directly decide the final grade that students achieve. Some schools have data that means fair grades are easier to gauge than others. However, some schools have less fair information at hand.
Teaching is already regarded by healthcare professionals to be a very stressful work. The classroom is its typical environment, so removal from that can only add to this. Penny Moon, a teacher turned psychotherapist, who now works for the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, believes constant changes will not be helpful: In times before Covid-19, we would see many teachers getting sick at the beginning of the holidays when the adrenaline, the pressure of being “always on” stops. Now, I think many teachers are working on adrenaline.” This means that when the momentum runs out, teachers could potentially be harming their health more than usual.
Additionally, this is uncharted territory for educators. Hannah Sherbersky, a lecturer in psychotherapy at Exeter University, said we do not know the full, wide reaching effects of coronavirus on learners and educators, but there definitely will be one. She said “Many people seem to be forgetting the incredible importance of teachers as key adults of influence in children and young people’s psychological developments for the rest of their lives… often not just what they teach, but how they teach… Teachers are going through the same experience as their pupils”
This means the stress felt by learners is nearly the exact same as what teachers are experiencing. This can come in the form of parents not being content with their lockdown learning techniques and the attachment they feel towards their pupils. Compounded with the already existing occupational hazards, it could be incredibly problematic for them.
An additional, but prominent stressor is going back into the classroom. Political debate has raged on about the when and how it ought to be done. The UK, and its many layers of central and devolved governments started out united with the closure of schools, but this unravelled regarding their reopening.
England’s plans have been opposed by the teaching unions while teachers have found themselves torn between a desire to return to and help their pupils and concern at their own health risks. At the time of writing, only 5 per cent of the NASWUT was in favour of going back to school. The National Education Union, the country’s largest teaching union, has been vocal opponents of returning to school on Boris Johnson’s timeline. They believe that the five tests have not been met. No one should go back to the classroom before they are. These tests are as followed; ensuring the NHS can cope with coronavirus, a ‘sustained and consistent’ decrease in the death rate, the rate of infection being at ‘manageable levels’, adequate personal protective equipment, being sure a second peak will not happen. However as it stands at the moment, schools will be opening in September to their full capacity. There are several guidelines for schools to follow, such as increased hygiene measures. This includes the already touted line of regular hand washing, staying home when sick and more frequent cleaning of much used surfaces. When it is required, personal protective equipment must be worn. On top of this, social distancing must be observed.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union has called for the government to reassess their science, stressing the union would only support opening the doors to schools when it was safe to do so. Bousted highlighted the government’s failure to launch their strategy of test, track and trace before schools re-opened. “This scheme has been bungled from its conception”, she said, and the government’s own scientists were unsure if it was safe to return to school highlighted concern about younger years’ understanding of the term “social distancing.”
“There is limited clarity in the guidance from the government,” Bousted said. She cited the constant review of the situation.
When asked about the widening attainment gap, she said that this has always been a problem, and coronavirus was not doing that much to widen it. “The attainment gap between poor children and their middle-class peers is created before they start school. It’s locked in… Teachers can do what they can, and they have done… But what has been missing is a government plan.”
The British Medical Association supports the Union. David Wrigley, a representative of the BMA condemned the government’s slow and disorganised planning around the pandemic.
“This whole pandemic has been lacking any plan at all.” He said: “We are risking the second peak here with the easing of lockdown.”
Case study one: the primary teacher
Danielle Sam- Yorke, 38, an early years teacher at Jubilee Primary School in Tulse Hill, south London, is hard at work at home planning review lessons. All the materials she has been sending to parents are reviewing key concepts, such as maths and basic grammar. The children she teaches are much too young to learn new things without face to face teaching. This revelation really brought home how much of a pause on reality this pandemic is, for everyone. Pupils are missing out on working their way through the syllabus. Additionally, it highlights the importance of in real life learning situations, and how vital they are for children, especially younger ones.
In pre coronavirus times, her role is varied. It still is now as throughout the pandemic; she has been going into school some days. The school has devised a rota to teach the children of key workers. Teachers themselves are deemed to be key workers. When asked if she felt like a key worker, “Yes, definitely. I feel different” she responded. There are only a few kids she teaches at a time, but still, they are there. She said the responsibility weighed on her, “It’s a strange feeling to know that you are there for those children yet so far away from them. For example, some of the kids she teaches were in social care therefore she was unable to fully comprehend the scenario that kid found themselves in, however, she must do her best for them. “I should be in school; I should be helping. I’m not able to, I’m only able to do it online.”
The rest of the time, she is at home, schooling her two young sons, 4 and 6, who love having her there. But they do impede her ability to be as dedicated as other teachers, sat by their computer, waiting to respond parents and students’ questions. As best as she can, she also uploads work for her pupils to complete on the internet. Sam-Yorke said there was one positive aspect of the UK government’s relative delay in closing schools: In the days before lockdown, they were able to pre-emptively plan for it. Teachers were given training in Google Classrooms, the free software lots of teaching professionals have been using throughout lockdown. She would have been lost without this, as it was not in her skill set. She expressed concerns about parents not being able to access the internet, either through a lack of knowledge or money and the resources to find solutions. Again, they too, like teachers and students, are facing massive pressure under lockdown conditions. However, there is also massive internet poverty in the local area. Jubilee started a social media campaign to get local residents to donate spare technology. Their target what was the target was met, however it was only partial help: some children did not even have a WiFi connection in their homes. “Some parents all they have is their phone”
To help, she has found that leaving only positive comments on submissions, and generally taking a much gentler approach to feedback has been needed. “we just leave positive feedback, trying opening here, we’ve kind of forgotten those parents” but luckily, after working at the school for eight years, she has managed to establish good relationships with the children and the parents, so has a deep understanding of them as collective. She concluded: All we expect is that they try”.
She is critical of Boris Johnson’s lack of concern about teacher and pupil safety. ‘Has Boris Johnson ever spent a day in a primary school to see how it runs?’
Case Study two: Wendy Breese, secondary school teacher
Wendy Breese, 59, is a science teacher in the science department at Steyning Grammar School in Sussex, a state funded boarding school. It consists of local day pupils and boarding students from around the world including Spain, Nigeria and China., She teaches GCSE and A level pupils. For allocating fair grades, the school has decided grades will be based on data from a variety of sources. These include mock exams held throughout the academic year. This goes along with their pupils being constantly assessed for their progress with past papers in November and before the Easter holidays. The task is substantial: in the science department, there are 350 pupils who need their GSCE grades decided, and 25 teachers, coveting the three traditional sciences; Biology, Psychics and Chemistry, but also Life Science, Health and Social Science.
However, despite the wealth of information, it still raises questions about the fair grading processing. The final exams, the one that the exam boards mark, are graded blind, with no knowledge about the candidate, meaning that any bias from teachers cannot leak through. Additionally, the school cannot pump up grades to make themselves look better. “I think what we come up with will be reasonable and fair.” Those who wish can resit in September, under new temporary rules. “The difficult thing is that the exam board wants us to rank every pupil that has the same grade in a sort of list.” This should include the probability of them achieving that grade.
The online learning environment was a new skill set that Breese was forced to learn. Because her own iPad was not up to the job of online teaching, she was able to take home a school Chromebook, which took a little bit of getting used to. She didn’t enjoy the early stages, but after getting a lot of help from her younger, digitally conscious colleagues, she finds it a lot easier. However, like most teachers, she is worried about those students who do not engage with the material put online without thinking about their futures.
Between 30 and 60 per cent of her pupils had not engaged with the online material. Breese worries about those who do not join in but recognises there is not much she can do: In digital classrooms, a teacher cannot enforce discipline in those not willing to engage. Special care has been taken for vulnerable students and staff have managed to maintain some sort of pastoral care amid the coronavirus lockdown. This has included dispatch emergency help to students in really vulnerable environments. Additionally, they were providing food to those on the government’s free school meal plan.
All this comes against a backdrop of other problems confronting students in their later years: there are no work experience opportunities and for those planning on going to university, open days have been cancelled or postponed.
Breese said she was worried about going back to teaching in schools and the lack of facilities to make it a safe work and learning environment. “You can’t keep the pupils apart. It’s quite an old school. Some of the corridors are really narrow…it doesn’t have hand washing facilities”
While she was labelled an essential worker, and really valued that about herself, there had been no effort on the Government’s behalf to make them feel so. “I don’t think anybody is thinking of us as such…they see people who are in supermarkets, people driving delivery vans… they see people doing their jobs but they don’t see us we are at home, putting stuff online” She pointed out that doctors and nurses, who were working incredibly hard, were much more visible.
Case study three: the private school teacher
Deirdre Hill, 53 is a teacher at a small independent school, The Edinburgh Steiner School. Her role consists of being charge of Year Eleven’s pastoral care and teaching English at National 5 level, the Scottish equivalent of a GSCE. Like Breese, she has also grappled with problems around marking exams not something any teacher has really had to grapple with. “It’s new ground for us as a school.”
The Scottish Qualification Authority, the central examination board, has final say on student’s grades based on the student’s previous work including mock exams,
“In normal times, we are able to see where students went wrong, and tailor the teaching to fit their weaknesses.” Luckily, they were able to do this exam before closure of schools, however they were not able to fill in the cracks of their exam learning. As it is mainly done for practice, and not a grade, the outcome is rather unrepresentative. Not really sure what this means. Coursework is also taken into account, but still questions are raised about how fair this. Hill believes she is able to ensure grade justice. “We are able to use our professional judgement.”
Hill’s biggest obstacle has been the grappling with technology since unlike the two other teachers, she was not given any hands on training in Google Classrooms. Luckily, her son was able to give her for IT support. The school decided a strategy for teaching remotely during the Easter holidays, so therefore a lot of the practice was on the job. Again, unlike the other two teachers, she has actually been teaching lessons via video chat.
A thing she enjoys about lockdown is the move away from examination teaching. With exams out of the way, she has been able to do things teach extra areas, such as dystopian fiction, running smaller classes on Google Meets. She quickly learnt that having the full class on one call was far too hectic.She’s also been encouraging pupils to read more classic literature.
She’s been surprised with the lack of complaints from parents. At the beginning of lockdown, a parent wrote to her about other schools in countries such as Switzerland and Japan who had managed to follow the exact same timetable online. This is something that Hill, and her school, disagree with. “It’s not right that kids should spend all day staring at a computer screen.”
However, this is only possible because she has just over 20 students in total with an engagement rate of 50 per cent. Hill finds this challenging because, as with most teachers she worries about her students but feels powerless to do much about it. “It’s much easier when you have a system of registration, when you know who’s in school, who’s not in school, and you know, they have to have notes from parents.
Hill said it is nearly impossible to enforce in a virtual school. There is not the time or the resources to chase every absent pupil. There is also the technical problem of online lessons. Hill has been conducting lessons on video meeting platforms, as opposed to just putting up resources online. She cites sound problems and internet connectivity issues as jarring. “That sort of thing is very irritating and distracting at times.” It has been a lot to get used to, and it is not the same as being the same psychical space as each other.
Coronavirus, and its ramifications have altered all our lives. Teachers and their students are not exempt from this. Just like everyone else, the effects of social distancing are unknown. They centre around the widening attainment gap. Each teacher is an individual therefore has different experiences, problems and advantages. However, there are similar bonds that binds educators together, like the stresses, the expectations and the welfare of their pupils.