Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bonjour Tristesse

For some strange reason I feel I need to explain why I haven't blogged for a while. Simple fact of the matter is I got a bit of stage fright. Its incredible, I'm not even sure anyone reads my blog or my blog posts in their entirety, and I am okay with that. But like an actor who has to go out and perform in a one-woman show to an audience of maybe one or two people (I'm talking from experience having been an audience member on one such occasion), I'm pretty sure there's still a knot in their stomach. That little bit of fear, the holding back moment, when you ask yourself the question 'am I really doing this?' And it probably doesn't matter to them whether that audience is made up of one or one hundred. There's a moment of existential crisis and let's face it those mostly happen in isolation anyway.

So at times like these I reach for the literature - its my only solace when things feel a bit unstable. Here's the opening paragraph from Bonjour Tristesse, probably the book's greatest sentences. How handy that they should come on the first page -

'A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness. In the past the idea of sadness always appealed to me, now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I had known boredom, regret, and at times remorse, but never sadness. Today something envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, which isolates me.'
From Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Monday, 14 June 2010

My flatmate went to London ...

And all I got was this lousy pencil ...

Image by Dora Petherbridge

Monday, 7 June 2010

A Blast from the Past

Uncle Roy's liquorice Root Sticks (image by Dora Petherbridge)

Back in the good old days when there were such things as old fashioned chemists i.e. in the 80’s, it used to be a rare treat when I was given a piece of liquorice root to chew upon. How left-field I thought I was wandering up the road, as other children pointed and laughed ‘there goes that kid eating sticks again!’ Nope they weren’t sticks they were medicinal, natural confectionery, thank you very much. Although I did quite enjoy the idea of seeming to be eating sticks. Now I’m older I cannot get away with sporting such a feral look, so I was ever so surprised and initially happy to spot this jar of Uncle Roy’s comestible concoctions – ‘Old Fashioned Collection, sweets and treats from Yesteryear’ in a local up-market food purveyor. ‘I must have them’, I cried, ‘if only for the nostalgia factor!’ So we snapped up two jars (one for us and another for my flatmate’s father who is 74 this year and therefore remembers a time before E-numbers). At home we quickly ripped the lid off the jar, so eager were we to be transported back to our childhoods - the 80’s and 90’s were after all such a wonderful time.

Upon reflection I do wonder whether liquorice root was ever such a good idea as a sweet. After all, surely anything that can by classed as 'medicinal' cannot ultimately taste very good. I realise now that the reason why they were such a novelty was the very fact that they did make you look as though you were eating a stick. And ultimately that's what you are eating. A peaty, muddy thing that eventually goes soggy after copious amounts of chewing. I'm still picking shards of wood out from between my teeth. Still if you are feeling worthy you could always given them a go. According to the Uncle Roy's website they can be used as a 'cigarette substitute' and even as a tooth brush once the ends have become soft and frayed.

Image by Dora Petherbridge

And here's a close up of the Uncle Roy's logo because as I've said before on this blog I cannot resist a bit of interesting food packaging. Oh what an exciting life I lead ...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The day the blog went international

I've just finished listening to an interview I pre-recorded last week for broadcaster Nancy Richards' radio show 'Otherwise' on South Africa FM. I must say I was somewhat apprehensive about hearing the recording as this is the first time I've ever done anything like this.

In way of some background information, I met Nancy Richards during last year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, when I was working as a fringe reviewer and book correspondent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I came away from the experience (the festival and my meeting with Nancy) with a sense that I had to create an outlet for the many ideas and things I had encountered over those four weeks. Most particularly my renewed sense of feminism and need for social activism. The result was this blog.

By wonderful chance Nancy invited me to speak on her radio show in a slot where she interviews bloggers from around the world. She asked me to talk from the perspective of a Scottish blogger interested in women's issues. It seems silly that what I write should yield any interest at all, given the very tiny, minuscule dent I've made in cyberspace with what is essentially an outlet for channelling my creative energy. And yet there is something I said during the interview that has stayed with me. It went along the lines of, that I believe all this creativity - by which I mean all the blogs written by ordinary women - are surely acts of feminism.

Indeed 'Cocktails and Feminism' the title I have given to this blog is for me both an act of creativity and feminism. And quite often I fear I've diverged from the subject at hand, like I've gone off course from the place where I've started, and yet that is exactly the point of a blog. Its very nature and beauty is in its ability to take your imagination anywhere. Here is a free outlet to discuss whatever one wants.

Sometimes I worry the title is totally meaningless. It sprung out of a conversation in a fringe venue ahead of a comedy show we had tickets to see. We were discussing how, if at all one could make feminism more engaging and fashionable for young women. I had some vague notion that if you got women together in a familiar space (across the road was fashionable George Street, in Edinburgh, peppered with trendy bars and hip restaurants), over a cocktail, they'd talk as women invariably do about being women. I think the point was all the stuff we talk about, relationships, work, food, our bodies is actually feminism. Perhaps its feminism with a small 'f' but its still engaging with the issues that make a woman a woman in the 21st century.

I never discussed the origins of this blog's title when I first started writing on here. Indeed I simply threw myself into the task at hand - to write and to write about female experience. And of course to some this experience will seem narrow, but I never set out to be some kind of spokeswoman. Hopefully the small amount of readers who come here enjoy what I write and understand what I do.

Recently I attended a concert with American Jazz singer Melody Gardot (who features often on this blog because I am full of admiration for her, one day soon I'll dedicate a post to her). At the end she thanked the audience for being a small part of her life that would always be a presence, even if she were not making a success of her music. She said she'd still be singing, there was nothing else she could do, but it was damn swell that we were there to enjoy some of it too. A blog is a bit like this.

I'd just like to say a special thanks to Nancy for giving me the opportunity to speak on her radio show. I listened to the rest of the show today and the stories of what other women writers are doing to make ordinary women's voices heard in South Africa were inspiring and thought-provoking. I come back to this idea a lot, but its things like this which help one come away with a renewed understanding of the world, people and our creative possibilities.

I will hopefully at some point get a copy of the interview and I will see what I can do about putting it up here in writing.

A Strawberry Chocolate Post by way of Nancy Mitford

I don’t know, perhaps it’s the sudden fortuitous change in the weather, just after 6.30pm this evening the clouds gave way to a marvellous golden sunshine - the sun's now setting behind the houses I can see from my kitchen window – or perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading rather a lot of Nancy Mitford of late, but I’ve come over all frivolous. Ridiculous I know, I’m Scottish and I’m a feminist, but the very Englishness of Mitford’s prose has somehow absorbed itself into my psyche and it’s all terribly this way or a total bore! I’ve decided to just go with it, for next on my reading list is a collection of short stories by the wonderful Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Hopefully he’ll go some way to redress the imbalance, particularly since this collection, After the Quake deals with the effects of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. For now though I am absorbed in the story of Grace and her French husband with the roving eye in The Blessing.

I do feel under qualified to discuss Mitford’s work because as I said I’m neither English nor of the class in which she discusses in her novels and to be fair I don’t think the types of upper classes she describes even exist anymore. Indeed in all honesty when I first started reading her writing I felt hugely alienated. But like all good things that one persists with there was a moment when the experience of reading something for reading’s sake, introduces the power of words in their own right. Suddenly the prose began to dazzle with descriptions of the kinds of clothes, jewellery and life-styles that of course belong to a by-gone era, but which somehow transcend history by way of aesthetics. By this I mean, sometimes the descriptions of expensive things, no matter how bourgeois I might otherwise try to fob them off as being, become a kind of poetry.

I read in the introduction to the collection that I am reading that Mitford was often dismissed for this kind of writing and yet male writers deal with similar aspects of the human condition that attract us to expensive things and costly lifestyles. One cannot read F Scott Fitzgerald’s work, particularly The Beautiful and Damned without seeing that his stories are imbued with a desire for social mobility and the acquisition of the goods that allow it. Perhaps the difference is Mitford’s heroines are unapologetic in their social lives and desire to make good marriages. Of course today given the economic situation and the damage years of consumerism has done to the planet we should be wary and indeed critical of our western materialistic lifestyles.

And dear reader it’s for this reason that it’s taken me so long to get round the point of this post. In the beginning I had simply set out to talk about some chocolate I ate the other day. This simple premise couldn’t be more ordinary, and yet because of the way I am and the way I think I managed to write all of this first. The thing is I read lots of other blogs that celebrate things; fashion, shoes, luxury cosmetics, art, books, music, handbags, food, whatever it may be and however much I admire their unashamed frivolity, their recognition of the simple joy in a beautiful thing, I cannot bring myself to do the same. It’s probably my own fault for being too serious. Feminism probably has something to do with it.

However here we are, and thanks to a bar of chocolate I’ve covered literature, class, materialism and consumer guilt - I might as well show you it!

Zotter's fairly traded, bean-to-bar 'in and out' chocolate

Willy Wonka style golden wrapper

Marvel at the layers of pink chocolate and jelly centre!

Coincidentally as my flatmate and I poured over the luxury bar of ‘hand-scooped’ strawberry chocolate and jelly confection, as we exhausted the many and varied adjectives; sweet, vanilla-y, smooth, soft, jammy, unctuous (I could go on), we decided the only expression that made sense was ‘its Willy-Wonka-ish’. All that English, Nancy Mitford and Shakespeare, and we’d divined this. Still perhaps Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is where this should end, for Charlie’s one bar of chocolate a year on his birthday is actually a much more significant thing than mere cocoa solids, milk and sugar.