This should be the dawn of a new equality. Stop inadvertently marginalising people.

This is a brief, important plea.

It it truly wonderful news that we now have something approaching equal marriage in the UK. It is brilliant that same sex couples can now marry in England and Wales. It’s disappointing that the details for those in existing Civil Partnerships who want to upgrade/convert to marriage haven’t been figured out yet, and that it throws trans* people under the bus, but still, it’s progress.

So please stop fucking it up by calling it “gay marriage”.

Equal marriage isn’t just for those who identify as lesbian or gay. There are a LOT of other folks who are going to benefit, including those who are bisexual, queer and those who prefer not to self-label at all. [Edited to reflect that there are real issues in the current same-sex marriage legislationthat make it definitely not good for trans* and genderqueer folks, in particular the concept of spousal veto]

Being in a same-sex relationship doesn’t make you gay. I’m a lesbian, my wife is bisexual. Being in a committed same-sex relationship doesn’t change that — that’s like saying someone is asexual when they are not dating. If you insist on calling our marriage “gay” then you are marginalising her, insisting that her identity is defined by our relationship.

That’s not cool.

So please, let’s call this what it is. Equal marriage, which enables same-sex marriage. Or y’know, just marriage. Marriage between people that love each other & want to publicly commit to each other, who no longer need to worry about whether or not they will be denied legal recognition based on their sex, or sexual orientation.

Let’s celebrate equal marriage. But let’s not do so by marginalising even more people. Surely we’ve had enough of that?

[This was originally posted on Medium, but I am self-archiving per the Tao of Tantek]

Why equal marriage matters to me

(cross-posted from the wonderful Medium because it’s important to have your own copies too, however great a community is: original)

I was a child without a future.

Don’t get me wrong, I had all the advantages. I was bright, got excellent grades. I’d been born white in Apartheid South Africa, experiencing incredible (undeserved) privilege. I was likely to get a full scholarship for university. I had a stable home life.

But I was facing the endless drudgery of working and going home to an empty life stretched out ahead of me. Painfully alone, forever.

I didn’t want that.

I remember contemplating suicide for the first time before I even hit my teens. How different I was became increasingly apparent from about the age of ten. The girls in my class started to get giggly around the boys, to dumb themselves down (in SA at that time, girls weren’t meant to be smart and smart girls definitely weren’t attractive).

I was bemused. I mean, boys were alright. Some of my best friends were boys. But this sudden attraction my classmates were feeling? I never felt it, never comprehended it.

And with puberty came planning. Futures, weddings, girls scribbling their names with their crush’s surname appended. Idle, childish daydreams, but central to conversations all around me.

I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Marrying a man I didn’t love? Enduring sex I didn’t want and could never enjoy? I decided very young that I would rather die.

And so my planning became razor blades, hoarding pills, finding secret hideaways where I wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late.

Dark years. Hard to write about, even decades later.

So how am I here today?

Xena.

Yes, that’s right: Xena, Warrior Princess.

In the relatively early days of the Internet, I discovered Xena messageboards. They gave me a lot of things: terminology for the things I felt, an explanation for why I found the show so compelling despite its ridiculously low production values and hilarious accent combinations (all medieval Greeks spoke with Kiwi accents, doncha know?), tentative new friendships. Exposure to a bunch of people in other countries, some just as backward as my own, some more progressive.

Interestingly though, the vast majority of us were in places where it wasn’t good to be gay: America, Africa, Australia.

The most important thing they gave me though was a friendship with a woman twice my age. She lived in Austin, Texas, with her partner of more than a decade. They were happy together, had a house, a business and a pair of adorable dogs.

I honestly had no clue this was an option.

Hearing about their life together was like being released from a tiny iron cell, coaxed outside and invited to look at a view that stretched out beautifully for miles.

I wouldn’t have made it out of my teens without knowing that view existed. I’d have been a statistic, part of the horribly high LGBTQ teen suicide rate.

In Apartheid South Africa, there were no visible, happy gay folks. We weren’t equal in the eyes of the law or society. I couldn’t daydream about marrying my dream girl, draw hearts round the names of my crushes. Marriage wasn’t an option for people like me. Happiness wasn’t an option for people like me. And it really felt like living wasn’t much of an option for people like me.

So if you’re bemused about the fight for marriage equality, wondering why it matters? It’s not just about giving folks equal rights and responsibilities. Not just about protecting our children and our families. Not just about legal and societal recognition and equality.

It’s about giving kids a future to believe in, too.

I have a lovely, trusty little laser printer which has served me well over the years – a Samsung ML-1510. I was a little disappointed to see that there weren’t modern drivers for Mac OS X for it, until I discovered SpliX. Lovely set of CUPS drivers, restoring my ML-1510 to full usefulness in a matter of moments :-)

Sharing in case anyone else has a need for a Mac OS X driver for the Samsung ML-1510, or indeed a number of other Samsung printers — there’s a full list on the project page.

Over the past few years we bought a flat and then a house. Some recent conversations IRL and on Twitter reminded me that I never wrote up the tools that we used when househunting. A number of these sites were useful when doing so — please do let me know in the comments if there are others worth including in the lists.

First Things First: Financials

  • Use a mortgage calculator to check what you can borrow and what your repayments will be. Remember to factor in utility bills, council tax, etc into your affordability calculations.
  • Calculate what stamp duty you’ll need to pay and investigate what your conveyancing etc costs are likely to be. Searches, fees, etc, all add up! If it’s your first time buying, then check out MoneySavingExpert’s very comprehensive guide.

Understanding the Area

  • The excellent UpMyStreet used to be my go-to for understanding an area, since it included ACORN data (type of people living in a postcode), crime, affluence, education level, etc. Sadly they were acquired and their functionality doesn’t seem to have been included in the new owners’ own site.
  • However, the MousePrice Area Guide feature gives a fair amount of information and I particularly like their heatmaps.
  • Check My Area is another decent resource, giving affluence ratings etc.
  • If you want lots (and lots!) of detail, then the Office for National Statistics’ Neighbourhood Statistics page is for you. I find the Neighbourhood Summary the most useful, but if you really want to crunch some numbers, they’re all here.
  • If schooling is important to you, then find Ofsted inspection reports to judge whether those in the area are right for your kids.
  • For detailed crime stats, Police.uk plots them on a map and lets you filter by category. Really helpful to judge the relative seriousness of the crimes in the area — for instance, in student areas there might be a lot of “unsociable behaviour” but this might be OK if the violent crime / burglary rates are much lower.
  • Lastly, Walkscore is an excellent little site that helps you understand how easily you can get what you need within walking distance in a particular postcode :-) A much more advanced version of the “nearest pint of milk” test!
  • UPDATE: Good point from Chris in the comments: broadband availability matters too! The maps on Think Broadband are useful and if you want to see the sort of packages and speeds available, then the USwitch broadband checker is a decent start.

Searching for Specific Properties

  • Zoopla is one of the better sites, with good map features including the ability to plot a very specific area that you want to live in.
  • Mouseprice again is useful and has a REALLY useful (if a little glitchy, certainly in Mac Chrome) heatmap search option — useful for seeing in colour which areas are likely ex-Council or similar if you’re looking at an area you don’t know so well yourself.
  • PropertySnake lets you search for properties that have been discounted and also shows how long they’ve been on the market for. Sometimes indicates a buyer who’s holding out for a price they won’t get, but sometimes shows those properties that are a good investment if you’re willing to put the work in to modernise them etc.

Making an Offer

  • Before you get too excited about that massive bargain you just spotted, use Homecheck to see whether the discounted price is due to flooding, industrial contamination or similar. Postcode searches are free, but if you want to get very specific property level advice I think you need to pay. Remember you’ll have to get this sort of search done during conveyancing anyway, so use this as an indicator but don’t shell out loads on searches.
  • Check that there aren’t any planning permissions already granted that will impact the property you have your eye on by finding your local Planning Authority on Planning Portal.
  • Check what council tax you will pay by first finding out the Council Tax Band and then checking the local council site for the actual tax band costs.
  • OurProperty is good for finding what the specific property previously sold for. Though of course you can’t tell from this data what improvements have been made or additional lending taken out against the property, it’s a decent starting point to understanding the context of the seller.

To celebrate the launches of Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport we decided to make a terraced house (to represent DCLG) and a bus (for DFT).

Frankly I was really worried about this one as it involved a lot more detail work than I’d ever had to do before. I was hugely grateful to Ali (and her much steadier hands!) for help doing the doors and windows and basically all of the finer work on it.

The approach was pretty similar to my previous cakes — I hauled out the trusty vanilla buttermilk cake again and made four rectangular cakes (in roasting pans once more) and then cut them appropriately:

Two cakes roughly shaped into a house and an oblong and half covered in buttercream icing

I used a glass to cut out half circles for the wheels of the bus and then iced over the entire thing, using plenty of buttercream to hold it all together:

Oblong with semi circles on the bottom, vaguely resembling a bus at this stage

After covering both cakes in fondant and then using more fondant cut into shapes to decorate, they slowly took shape. Ali completed them with some fine writing icing touches, from the windows to the numbers on the doors.

Terraced house cake and London bus cake, side by side

And though sadly I was on a train home to Newcastle when the cake was cut, it seems our departmental colleagues did enjoy them :)

Colleagues from DCLG and DFT cutting the house and bus cakes

For the public release of GOV.UK, I was asked to make the celebratory cake for the team. With all the folks at GDS and a number of visitors on the celebration day, we needed cake for 250-300 people. Definitely the largest I had ever undertaken!

So first I made 6 large roasting pans worth of my favourite vanilla buttermilk cake — including one which I made gluten free by substituting in Dove’s gluten free plain flour (which for the record is absolutely brilliant!).

Six large cakes laid out in a rectangle

Then covered them with a thick layer of buttercream icing:

Cake with piles of buttercream icing on top waiting to be spread

Once it was all smoothed out…

Cake covered in buttercream icing, smoothed out in 1m x 0.5m rectangle

We covered it in a layer of black fondant icing (which you should DEFINITELY buy ready-made rather than trying to colour it yourself — trust me…):

Ali and Ben both kindly helped out rolling out the white fondant and cutting the letters (in the correct font, of course!):

Letters cut out of white fondant, alongside a craft knife

Culminating in the final product — which looked pretty good alongside the existing 100 days, 50 days and GOV.UK road signs:

Large cake on table with pretend road signs alongside

And just one final shot so you can see the scale:

GOV.UK cake being cut up and distributed

My friend and colleague Neil asked me to make his son’s 5th birthday cake, in the shape of his favourite lego piece. The boy has excellent taste — his favourite piece is a lego computer. I thought I’d document how I went about it in case it’s of use to anyone else :)

First of all I made a vanilla buttermilk cake in a large roasting tin so it was about 38cm long, 24 cm wide and 6cm deep and a bunch of vanilla buttercream icing.

Then I took the photo of the lego computer piece and measured it to make sure I got the proportions of the slope etc right. I multiplied out the ratios and matched it to the available cake:

Picture of lego computer piece and calculations of the ratios of the various parts

I cut the oblong cake into a 2/3rd and 1/3rd piece and placed one on top of the other. I then carved a triangle out from the bottom to make the correct slope. With the remaining couple of pieces I made the lego studs (apparently that’s the correct term for the bumps on top of lego) for the top.

Cake carved so it is like a cube, but with a side cut away in a slope

Next I covered this in a thin layer of buttercream icing — not worrying too much if any crumbs got into the icing. The key thing was to get a smooth layer, both for the fondant to stick to and to even out the total shape. Important to get this right as the fondant is very unforgiving — any bumps will show through!

Basic shape of lego computer cake iced in buttercream

Next I rolled out a couple of packets of white fondant icing and draped it across the entire shape, using a polisher to get sharp edges. I also used the back of a sharp knife to trace around the base of the bumps to make them stand out right.

Lego cake covered in white fondant layer

And then finished it off with coloured fondant to create the screen and buttons :-)

Lego computer cake with green screen and "Dylan = 5" written in blue fondant