Thursday, 29 April 2010

How Beastly the Politicians Are.

Am I the only person who felt that David Cameron was putting out strange subliminal messages about the vast majority of people in this country whom he seemingly mistrusts, resents and fears on tonight’s election debate? For, while he argues that we must get the benefits scroungers back into work, he makes no concessions for the legitimately unemployed. Yes that’s right Cameron they do exist even in the country that you love. These are the millions of young people with degrees who simply cannot find work in their chosen professions or the sections of the workforce made redundant during the recession. And what of this work that each leader speaks? Where are these jobs? Who shall create them when there are impending cuts to be made in the public sector? Cameron conducted himself like a headmaster chastising the naughty boys and girls of Britain for not working hard enough or following the rules. How much could he ever possibly know about the lives of those who live on the margins? I suspect that the majority of people in this country do not choose to be poor. They do not choose to be socially isolated. They do not choose to be made redundant. They do not choose to live vulnerably. This was a country once proud of its welfare state. Whatever happened to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’?

I think an extract from DH Lawrence is apt, although I fear it comes a little too late ...

How beastly the bourgeois is
Especially the male of the species-

Presentable, eminently presentable-
shall I make you a present of him?

Isn’t he handsome? Isn’t he healthy? Isn’t he a fine specimen?
Doesn’t he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn’t it god’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the thing?

Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another man’s need,
Let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life face him with a new
demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species-

(How Beastly the Bourgeois Is D H Lawrence, The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol 2)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A Room of One's Own?

Logging into Facebook has become a daily part of my routine. I don’t know what I did in the mornings before it existed. Now over tea I find myself rummaging through the news feed searching out snippets of info, crazy observations and funny musings. There can be real diamonds in the rough, for every update that goes along the lines of ‘3 DAYS to go before my WEDDING!!!’ or ‘OMG cannae believe I drank SO much last night ...’ or ‘Lady Gaga WTF’, there are moments of sheer brilliance. This one comes courtesy of one of my friends, who shall remain nameless (you’ll understand why when you read it)

‘Gordon Brown does have a sexy voice’

Not sure I’ll be closing my eyes during the next televised debate. Should this person’s observation prove to be in fact correct it could create the existential crisis to end all existential crises, and I just don’t need this when my soul is already wavering, and we are so close to a general election.

In other news I am acutely aware that this blog might just be a tiny bit lame. ‘Feminism’ is in my title yet I have to admit I’ve let it slide over the past month. This is not because the cause has fallen by the wayside, only last night I was having a discussion with a friend about what I will call, the ontological problems related to being a feminist in the world at large. But it is sometimes difficult to maintain the momentum, especially when despite what some broadsheet newspapers would lead us to believe and the recent BBC Four documentary series ‘Women’ discussed, I do believe that there is a massive gulf between my feminism and any sort of real activism. And it is impossible for one person to address this, let alone rectify the situation.

Earlier this year the Reclaim the Night march was cancelled in Edinburgh and before that, the only murmur of discontent was the lovely Gude Cause Procession which to be fair displayed no discontent at all. The procession to mark the centenary of the Suffragettes movement was very much a celebratory affair, certainly not one riddled with anger. Indeed despite a call for women to bare banners with slogans calling for action on the work that still needs to be done with regards to equality, there were very few young participants willing to stick their necks on the line.

I don’t think this means feminism is dead. Perhaps young people have just become more self conscious and feminism seems a bit old fashioned. I do think there is an argument to be had about how much the older female generation are actually doing to promote empowerment, selfhood and women’s rights amongst their daughters. For its all very well to argue that they’ve done their bit and the baton must be passed on, but this doesn’t hold up if our young women don’t feel a part of the re-lay race let alone inclined to pick up the baton. And womanhood carries its own set of burdens. While manhood for me at least conjures images of ego and individualism, womanhood seems so intermingled in every aspect of that which makes up the bare bones of society; birth, marriage, child-rearing, domesticity, cooking, the home and the hearth. We’ve still got a long way to go before this is a realm of equality. And this is the generation who are most spoiled by their choices, for we can now choose our careers, choose to have or not have children and whether to get married. But all these choices merely mask my fear that there really is no choice at all. For my experience of being female is that there is always a compromise to be made.

In a very small and insignificant way I want to see this blog as my own act of feminism. In literary circles this term is often bandied about – it certainly was when I was at university – but it does hold up - that is the ‘room of one’s own’. On feminist literature courses we were taught that the very act of putting pen to paper, or tapping keys on the board, was the act of writing oneself into existence. This is especially significant for those who feel marginalised. And this argument holds up today. Is it any coincidence that these election debates are headed by three men, that the hyperbole, jargon and sound-bites are uttered mostly from the mouths of politicians? The whole thing leaves me not only confused, but utterly isolated. So I suppose that’s why I write. Well that, and my propensity towards introspection. But that’s for another blog post ...

To finish and if only to revitalise myself – why not a quote or three from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own -

Image courtesy of Photograph.AP.

‘All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point – a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.’

‘The human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’

‘The news of my legacy reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that gave votes to women. A solicitor’s letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she [her aunt, Mary Beton] had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever. Of the two – the vote and the money – the money, I own, seemed infinitely more important.’

Monday, 26 April 2010

Suddenly Monday

Absolutely nothing happens the way I plan them to on Mondays. Not that currently there is a great deal of planning in my life. Indeed I try to eschew planning of many forms. I’d rather leave life to the organic process it was naturally meant to follow. This is probably why I don’t possess a watch, an alarm clock or currently a mobile phone. Yes, its infuriating for those around me who want know my every move, where I am when I haven’t turned up at the arranged time, or if I can bring something home from the supermarket, but I truly relish the independence of not always being unlimitedly contactable. There is a freedom in this un-availability and it inspires a tiny bit of smugness in my otherwise humble self – the very subversive act of not possessing a mobile. In reality I get by without it because I don’t have tons of friends or co-dependents. I’m pretty much a free spirit in my solitude.

But back to Mondays and I do feel they are tricky for creative souls. The week’s just beginning with its potential endless stretch that can give you restless legs on Wednesday, despair by Thursday. I love the weekend. Even when you are not working or at least working in an office, the weekend provides wonderful respite from the ‘real’ weekly world. It’s a psychic state where it’s easier not to think about your worries, when it’s okay to eat what you want, stay up as late as you like, drink wine and wear impractical shoes. The two days feel like an excuse. The city comes alive at night as the hordes travel in from Newcastle and the north like troops and the hen parties descend the city clad in pink cowboy hats, a flurry of sequins. The residents retreat to Georgian townhouses. Come Sunday and this town's winding down, the pace mellows, the sounds are hushed and there is ‘suddenly a six-o’clock feeling in the house.’*

My quote for this week comes from actress/singer Zooey Deschanel,

‘I think for any kind of art-making you have to do it for the process and not the reaction, not in anticipation of anybody’s response.’

(Featured in an interview that can be found here:

Indeed. And I took heart in this as I get so few responses on this blog. If gratification came purely from other people telling you that they loved you and you were wonderful and your writing was perfect, then well, you might as well just give up because you’d have done it all. I’m working through the process. All this is just a process.

*Quote from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Saturday, 24 April 2010


Strangely enough, and somewhat in keeping with this post, today I read Tania Kindersley’s blog about serendipity. What a strange and lovely word for the joyousness of making a new discovery via an unrelated search – to come about something serendipitously. I’ve been thinking about this concept. Years ago I thought it was simply a made-up word, chosen for a bad film about John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale sharing ice-cream sundaes. Now I understand it as something fortuitous and if not an exact interpretation - rather my own take or extension - its the way the world can sometimes lead you to something new.

Sometimes these things will be short term fixes, but others can be life-enhancing or even changing. Last year when things in my own life were in flux I was drawn for the first time seriously to the ubiquitous Youtube. It was around the time Susan Boyle was breaking records with her ‘I dreamed a dream’ video. Crazily she just wanted to sing in public and instead overnight thanks to the viral she became a global superstar. Into Youtube's search engine I started typing in the names of the artists who I’d always thought I should be listening to, but who I’d never had access to when I was growing up. They were singers like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Youtube - the seemingly ordinary internet phenomenon, so a part of the very make-up of 21st century life had unlocked my propensity for Jazz. It was through these searches that I discovered a new artist called Melody Gardot. There's no real definitive reason for what initially attracted me to her music or the very image itself of a young woman with an enigmatic aura. Perhaps it was because she was new and all the other singers were now fragments of history. Certainly with her music it was the element of sadness and curious wisdom for someone so young. Almost a year later my discovery led me to the journey we made earlier this week to Manchester were we saw her live in concert.

Sometimes we need things to revive our souls. This seems never more so than in our current climate of selfishness and greed, where genuine talent is eschewed for notoriousness and infamy, where the size-zero’s are celebrated and the bankers are given bonuses, whilst the unemployed youth are failed by the government. Art can’t necessarily fix these ills but it does hold up a mirror to society. And it often reflects the individual’s needs. I do believe one can be drawn to such things in the world because they have a subconscious need for revival.

On serendipity

In My Week with Marilyn Colin Clark wrote of his chance encounter with the screen goddess Marilyn Monroe.
This is from the introduction,

‘All my life I have kept diaries, but this is not one of them. This is a fairy story, an interlude, an episode outside time and space which nevertheless was real. And why not? I believe in magic. My life and most people’s lives are a series of little miracles – strange coincidences which spring from uncontrollable impulses and give rise to incomprehensible dreams. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are normal, but underneath the surface each one of us knows that he or she is unique.’

What wonderful sentiment. Perhaps we all possess aspects of serendipity ...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Happy Birthday Ange!

Glorious Angela, our very own holy messenger! Oh god ...

I am currently somewhat absorbed by an imminent trip to Manchester. All thoughts of feminism, volcanoes, general elections and existential crises have temporarily been put on hold. As this will be my first holiday in 6 years - unless you count a trip to Glasgow for a funeral and an unfortunate visit to Helensburgh last year.

So in the midst of frantic outfit preparation, my flatmate's unrelenting need to organise everything about this journey down to when we shall have toilet breaks (honestly you'd think she was my carer) and for as long as the dongle will hold out, I just wanted to wish my good friend Angela a very happy birthday. On Saturday we spent a delightful evening at Ciao Roma, a restaurant so resplendent in all things Italianate, that the place was positively throbbing with eroticism. I have never ate surrounded by so many naked statues and I did Classics at university, so that is saying something.

Angela is amongst other things, a huge fan - in no particular order of - glasses, bicycles, Highland Cattle, pasta, thighs, running and Marylin Monroe. She also describes Louis Theroux as 'beautiful.' With this in mind it will perhaps come as no surprise that she boasts the accolade of being the most positive person I've met. Angela is also the only person I know who could get away with serving a 'special' shepherd's pie of ratatouille, pesto mash and halloumi cheese, on spirit and good looks alone.

Happy Birthday Angela!


Thursday, 15 April 2010

On the Personal.

Late last week when I was feeling I was on a roll with the whole ‘spontaneous overflow of words’ stuff I got carried away and I wrote something personal. I didn’t stop there. I posted it on my blog. All this is hugely disconcerting as anyone who knows me in real life knows that for all my pragmatic ways there are huge lapses into neurosis where I worry about tiny little things I’ve said, picking out the intricacies of thoughts that realistically those around me are totally unaware of. That’s because these thoughts are nonsense. But goddamn it they are my thoughts and even if nobody else is interested, I might as well be invested in them.

I’m reminded of a lovely thing Samantha says in Sex and the City: The Movie, to Smith when she’s breaking up with him. It goes along the lines of ‘I’ve been in this relationship for 5 years, but I’ve been in a relationship with myself for 49 years. This is the one I need to work on.’ Now I’m nowhere near her age, nor will I ever notch up the life experience she’s had, mainly because she’s the work of fiction, but all this got me to thinking about this blogging lark, why I might be doing it and whether it’s a good idea to get personal. Perhaps this is down to my sensitivity and the eternally vexing question ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ It’s either that or its massive self-indulgence. But whichever way it is I feel this way about the writing business, for one must wonder in one’s room of their own, what the point of all this is.

Given everything I’ve just written its hardly surprising that come Sunday morning I rushed to my laptop and fired up the dongle (this never fails to make me chuckle) and in haste removed the offending personal blog entry. I could sit relieved at the kitchen table, sweat wiped from my brow safe in the knowledge that nobody would have to read my silly wee lapse into sentimentality easily led by blogger’s compulsive ‘post now’ agenda. No such luck, for over a bowl of muesli – surely all cold hard reality begins and ends with a bowl of what ultimately consists of sawdust and grit – I realised what a terrible fool I’d been. How cowardly I was to take down words of a personal nature, and more shockingly, how self-indulgent of me to think that my insignificant blog of some personal words might yield more than a passing glance.

Perhaps all this will be easier to understand if I just come right out and say it. The personal words were inspired by heartbreak. A heartbreak of some years ago that for some reason I cannot entirely shake off. For it hangs around like an inexplicable pain in the body – like a sore hip that only occurs on rainy days. It’s a heartbreak that haunts me. I’m hardly the first person in the world to experience this evidence of nature’s folly, were we’re built with the capacity to divine a special feeling for a certain person, all without a satellite navigation that will point you in the direction of someone who is also available and will love you back.

Far better people have written of this exquisite pain, some have even made whole careers of it. All the greatest songs I’ve ever listened to, the ones that have got me through grief, sorrow, life in general, are only in existence because of it. No shift in the planet’s axis will occur if I post my own small window of experience. Nobody has to even read it. But I wrote it and that’s significant. So perhaps in honour of the piece of writing’s insignificance and in its pure significance to me I’m re-posting it here. For as Cassandra writes on the last page of her journal in I Capture the Castle ‘Only the margin left to write on now. I love you. I love you. I love you.’

The sentimental, silly things ...

Some years ago the flat I’d grown up in was being sold and I had to return home from university to pack up the rest of the stuff I hadn’t deemed important enough to take when I’d left. Knelt on my old bedroom floor, a plastic bag at one side, a bin liner the other, I sifted through the remnants of the past.

It wasn’t long before embarrassing CD’s, teen magazines and mouldy sparkly make-up and dried up nail varnishes made their way into the bin bag. It’s not necessarily that I was slapdash, but the more stuff I picked up from my past, the more quickly it became meaningless in my hands. Trinkets once held so dear, birthday cards once cherished ceased to have a power or sentiment beyond the time they were collected or received. And I was swept up in the urge to just chuck it all away and purge myself of history.

I wasn’t entirely ruthless - one knows the worth of a silver pocket watch beyond its simple weight in your hand. So I set aside my papa’s father’s timepiece in the keep-sake section. Cold and solid, and not to mention its discovery coming mere months after his death it’s a thing worth keeping not merely for sentiment but for the sake of honour.

Sometimes it’s easier when you are dealing with what’s the ‘right thing to do’ to forget the tiny little things you ‘should’ do, even if they are done just for posterity’s sake. So that day I chucked the handful of Valentine’s cards I got in my ‘youth’ and the one and only love letter, I think, I’ve ever received. I say ‘think’ because I’m not sure it was a love letter at all, although its filled with friendship and ‘perhaps more’, signed off with a ‘love always’ that still stings when I think about it, even now, eight years on.

Four years have passed since I knelt on that carpet for the last time and I’m feeling the wave of sentimentality of a girl who wishes she could read those words again. This is a wave of sentimentality of a girl who would like to indulgently run a finger over the indentation of the ball point on creamy paper. And this isn’t because objects can ever bring back the past, but rather just for the simple, blissful, momentary escape into private history.

Perhaps this is why they want to fob off the young as foolish and in turn why we dismiss the old as silly fools.

Friday, 9 April 2010

On Communication.

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication lately. Partly because this time last week I’d just moved into my new flat and I was contemplating a few weeks of no proper internet connection or a landline. How would I cope without all those constant Facebook updates and Body Shop junk mails that keep clogging up my inbox? Truly I sometimes rue the day I ever agreed to that loyalty card. But here I am blogging. And its all thanks to my flatmate’s dongle. Oh I can hear you smirk, dear reader, whomever you may be, but this unfortunately sounds much ruder than it actually is. A ‘dongle’ is a small device for the laptop which as if by magic provides, tentative, sometimes non-committal internet - the Liberal Democrats of the computer world if you will.

And inspired by all this technology at my finger tips I felt liberated, suddenly the three days when the lines of communication had been broken were freed. And its a good thing too because I’d almost taken to the internet cafe where I’d inevitably look like one of those people I’m trying desperately to become – a writer. And this is not a look I’m quite ready to go public with. Anyway in the midst of this need to communicate I commented on two blogs I’ve been following for a while and what resulted had varied degrees of success. Both respective fellow bloggers wrote back. One even thanked me for my kind words. This was refreshing and reinforced my 21st century sentiment that wants to see the internet as a force for good and not the death of postcards, love letters and catch-ups over coffee - or in my case wine.

Back to communication and all this follows on from my previous post when I thought about the blogging process in general; its organic nature, the way in which it forces you create words and worlds in a short space of time and how it allows you to comment on these spaces at the touch of a button. Suddenly not only do you have people projecting their worlds into the ether, you have people projecting back. Commenting on someone else’s writing to all intents and purposes breaks down the barriers of communication which in the real world with all its sociological, political, economic, gendered, class, and not to mention geographical divisions makes impossible. And this if existentially unsettling, is, ultimately, good. I think.

Like today I commented on the excellent Tania Kindersley’s blog ‘Backwards in High Heels’. She’d posted a fabulously eloquent assessment of Gordon Brown and how essential one’s character must be when we make a decision about who we want to run the country in a few weeks time. Then as if by cosmic magic and so to demonstrate her point more potently she posted a video of Barack Obama playing basketball with a professional player. Above the video she posed a simple premise – imagine Gordon Brown doing this. Enough said. Surely communication doesn’t get more concise than that?

And yet back in the real world, while the cyber-words of those we don’t know can hold the sentiment of kindness and generosity, I worry that in day to day life, when confronted with the physical flesh of commuters, passers bye, postmen, we shut down. I hope this is not a general sense of hostility and rather shyness, but however much it pains me to say it as a feminist whom should be cautious of the notions of romantic love, it is at the death of chivalry. Okay maybe men only doff their hats and open doors to ladies who wear gloves in old movies, but really from anyone, how much does a smile cost?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A spontaneous overflow of words ...

Initially I set up this blog with the intention of practicing my writing. After graduating from university and much deliberation I hit upon the ridiculous idea that I wanted to be a writer. Such is life, the school of hard-knocks wasn’t so far around the corner and my forays into the world of writing and bitty journalism has been one with varied degrees of success; two Edinburgh Festival Fringes which left me tired, emotional and paradoxically rejuvenated and one interview with an ex-international model. Still, no matter, I have my blog, a place where I can write what I want. In a world where others suffer infringements on their freedom of speech this is an important thing. But the world of blogging, by its very nature is an organic experience and it doesn't always lend itself well to structure. My flatmate’s father knows this only too well, what with the constraints that were many and varied that prevented him from posting his latest entry on ‘Petherbridge’s Weekly Post’. Being the eloquent poetic writer that he is, the hard and fast ‘post now’ world of the blog must hardly be second nature. I have this trouble but for different reasons. I’m not privy to the over-thinking of what I write but rather an obsessive-compulsive nature to re-read, re-write, edit. In the past it has made me a fantastic proof-reader but equally it has seen me chastised in a creative writing class for bringing journalistic bad-habits into the literary sphere. Sometimes there must be a spontaneous over-flow of words.

Another aspect of the blogsphere is that it draws you into the worlds of fellow bloggers and suddenly there are windows into what others like to eat, do at the weekend or think and feel about the world. Start following a blog and in some small minute way you are invested in their creative blog-lives. I feel a painful tension between my writing and this world, for I wish to write about women’s issues, feminism, equality, politics, art and culture – the place where I feel safe - but I know that sometimes it must get personal, for one cannot be a feminist if one doesn’t take the whole damn thing personally. Indeed it has to be this way, or else however would Virginia Woolf have gotten her room of her own?

So this past week we’ve (my flatmate and I) been moving flat. Earlier this year we received news that the flat we had been renting was being sold, and after quite a few years of respectively making it our home we were out - packing our lives into cardboard boxes stacked and inconsequential- ready to be shipped to pasture’s new. We’re in our new flat now and its lovely. Its different and there are new experiences to be had. But moving home (especially when it isn’t your choice) is an emotional experience. I woke today with the sense that now the bank holiday weekend has passed there are many things that must be put in order in our lives. Administration, bills, changing addresses and getting acquainted with a new part of town. It’s inevitable and ultimately healthy that life is transient, things come to pass and you must move on – to new places, from first loves, from jeans you’ll never fit into again - at the risk of sounding like an annoying American it’s ‘growth’. But as the last of the moving dust clears from my lungs (the Ventolin has taking a pounding over the past few days), I feel the indelible shadow of memory and time passing in life and leaving its mark. Home isn’t merely where you just lay your head, its where life in all its birth, deaths and marriages really happens. Over the Easter weekend as we settled into our new abode, a school friend whom I haven’t seen in years got married. There were pictures of the happy bride, the be-kilted groom and best men on Facebook. Times really are a-changing ...