Tell us your origin story: where are you from and what made you the person you are today?

Well, I grew up down the road in Hitchin (and if you ask nicely at a meeting I can recite a mildly grubby limerick about the place) where I did nothing of note beyond occasionally coming up to Cambridge with my BFF to busk in the Lion Yard. We were awful. We’d earn about enough to pay for the rail tickets and lunch, and that was mostly through the novelty of being teenage girls singing Donovan and the Eagles!

After that extremely sheltered upbringing, when I went off to Manchester to read physics. I didn’t quite know what had hit me. I made a lot of bad friends and spent far too much time and money in Rockworld, and ended up going from a straight A student to graduating with a very average 2:2. My one claim to fame from that time was being in the same classes as Brian Cox – he had much better hair back then, and much worse dress sense!

Photo by Ozzy Beck.

Anyway, it turns out accountancy firms will take anyone, so I got a training contract in the audit department of what’s now Deloitte. I hated every minute of it and so as soon as I qualified (I’m a chartered accountant) I moved to EY and their corporate tax department, where I looked after clients such as Leyland Trucks and several of the large industrial chemical manufacturers.

I still didn’t particularly enjoy the work though, so in 2007 I moved back south to Cambridge, and a job in industry (as it’s known) – that is, working for a single company and its subsidiaries rather than with a portfolio of unrelated clients. I also went from working solely with corporation tax to pretty much anything other than income tax and trusts – somewhat to my surprise, I became the VAT specialist and in charge of looking after the Central & Eastern European companies in the group (I never expected to be able to review P&L accounts in Polish, but there you go).


Unfortunately, circumstances changed and following Mum’s death from cancer at the end of 2013 I developed major depression and I’ve been off work since then. I have good spots, but they aren’t predictable enough for me to commit to even a part time job.


What I *can* manage, though, is study. When work started to change I signed up for the first module of a maths degree with the Open University – you don’t need to commit to any more than that, so I thought it would be something nice and fun.


4 years later, I’ll be starting the first of my level 3 courses in October and I’m hoping for a complete change of career. What I really want is to do a PhD and then teach at university level, but that’s all dependent on getting funding – I can’t afford to work for a supervisor for free for 4 years! It’s taken me 42 years to decide what I want to do when I grow up, but rediscovering maths felt like coming home after years away.

Away from work & study, I tend to lurch from obsession to obsession. I spent a couple of years putting every spare moment into archery and was county champion in 2014, but my mental health got in the way shortly after that and I had to stop. I knit like a demon (I’m currently on a mission to reduce my stash, as at present I could stock a small shop for several months) and occasionally spin as well (I like to use a spindle for the spinning as I can do that in front of the telly, then ply on my wheel).

Targeted knitting!

Oh, and tattoos! I got my first a couple of months after Mum died – it’s a realistic bumblebee – then went straight back for a red kite a month later. Then I had a break for a little while, before getting a magpie on my calf, quickly followed by more background behind the kite and a geometric dotwork piece on the back of my neck. I’d love to get both legs completely covered (corvidae all over my right leg, and an art nouveau “murder hedgerow” on my left – basically, carnivores and poisonous plants!).

Since it’s the summer holidays, I don’t have any OU work to do right now. So, like any sensible person, I’ve decided to learn Russian. The best way I can describe it is “like Latin, but you have to be able to hold conversations as well as slowly translate written stuff”. Luckily, one of my friends in Manchester is from Siberia, so she helps out when the grammar is making my head hurt too much!


And, if you’ve ever spent more than a few minutes in my company, you’ll know I have cats. Elsa is a Siamese cross (named for the lioness in Born Free, not Frozen); Ripley is a black longhaired girl (named for Ellen Ripley, because she would absolutely take on a xenomorph if she got the chance), and Gambit is a cowprint boy who wants to make friends with every other cat he meets.

Photo by Melanie Reed.

Which brings me to the two strays I’m currently socialising. They turned up as un-neutered tomcats and would have serious fights in my living room, until Cats Protection lent me a trap & paid for them to have the snip. They started off as Not My Cat 1&2, which became NMC 1&2, and now (for the sake of convenience) are Pixel (he’s a mostly white cat with a tiny black dot on the end of his nose) & Nimsy (which is what you get if you try to pronounce NMC).

No, there’s no partner or children. I’ve been firmly and intentionally childfree all my life, and after an abusive relationship back when I was living in Manchester, I’ve found it too hard to trust men (and have no idea where to find a suitable woman). I’m not ashamed of this – there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and I firmly believe that talking about it will make it easier for other people to speak up if they find themselves in a similar situation.


What does being in the WI mean to you?

Friends! Friends and support. Friends, support, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.


Seriously, though, I’m all about the fundraising and making a difference. I’d love to get more involved in the activism side of the WI; social equality, particularly intersectional feminism, is hugely important to me and I’d love to get other people as fired up as I can be over subjects such as how the language we use can contribute to inequality and prejudice.

Someone gives you a million pounds to spend on yourself. You can’t give it to charity or spend it on friends or family; it all has to be for you. What do you do with it?

Wow. Ok: first, I’d stop worrying and go for the PhD. Maths isn’t something I could give up again, however much money I had.

This is really hard – part of what went wrong at work was that I realised my values are very different from those of the rest of the department. I’ve stopped wanting the flash car and designer shoes, I don’t really need a bigger house since it’s just me, and I get twitchy if I’m away from home for too long so jetting off to travel the world is out.


…And I think I’ve just found a way around the “no charities” clause: if I moved to a similarly-sized house *that had a bigger garden*, I could have Cats Protection build a set of enclosures for the cats that need fostering before they’re rehomed. And, considering Cambridge property prices, a house with a big garden would probably take most of the million.

Aliens land on earth and ask you what human life is all about. What do you tell them?

I’d ask them to get back to me once they’ve found out.

Srsly though, I’m a pretty hardcore atheist so I reckon there’s no meaning behind human life, any more than there is behind any other species’. I *do* think we have a duty to stop messing the planet up, though. It frightens me when I think about the damage we’ve done since we’ve existed as a species, and I’m worried that it’s too late to fix.


Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?

Vanilla. Or strawberry. No, vanilla. Can I have both?


Yes you can, Jenny! You deserve it!

Jenny, Aug 2016

Our August 2016 member of the month is Jenny!