Saturday, 26 November 2011

Stuff I've Been Up To

So! It's been a while since September. Hell, since August.

Let's see. Quick highlights.

1. Got a job. Ok, not the most amazing job in the world, but my colleagues are all good fun and I'm earning a living, and, I hope, a decent reference for later in life. Everyone's got to start somewhere, right? Well, just cause most people work at Sainsbury's before and during Uni doesn't mean that people can't have a part time job in Sainsbury's after uni. Especially in this shitty economic climate. I'm doing better than quite a lot of people.
I work on the Deli and Food to Go Counters. I don't enjoy FTG as much as Deli. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the number of ready-cooked chickens I sell overpriced. Maybe it's the amount I throw away in a shift. Maybe it's both. I do know that the smell comes into it! But on ham and cheese, I have had fun tasting new hams and cheeses I'd otherwise never have got around to. Though the white Stilton and chocolate and ginger was a big mistake. *shudder* And at least my uniform doesn't murder my complexion and the hat, unflattering for some, actually knocks some years off my face, so that's nice.  I do miss my essay writing though. (Ironic given the last highlight I'll mention)

2. I got a car. She's called Daphne, as I've said in the previous long blog post. I *really* want a VW Beetle, but unfortunately, everyone that has one does not want to sell them on, so buying a nice 2003-2005 model isn't possible. And my dreams were further hacked at by the promo pictures of the new Beetle that's being released in 2012. It's hideous. It's a new design that frankly murders the shape I love it for. Anyway, this car is a nice little three-door polo, with a 1.4 engine. Holds about 39 litres, and petrol consumption per mile isn't actually that bad. Here's a picture:

So I came up with the name Daphne last Thursday... I was on my way to the train station, and before I left, I said goodbye to my car. Just spoke to it, the way you do, and mentioned that I'd not named her. I said "what are you? A Daphne?" I was only being a bit silly, but suddenly my mind screeched "HAI!!! I'M DAPHNE!! :D" in Jack Lemon's voice from Some Like It Hot. I took it as a sign. =P

3. I've been visiting both the boyfriend in Bournemouth, where I also enjoy the company of his house mates, and I've visited (one of) my best friend(s) from uni, in York where she is currently doing her MA in English Lit. York is very big and very prettyful and I barely saw any of the treasures there. Though I did lose a glove. First thing I've lost permanently in a long time. It was a little strange experiencing her in a student house, since we'd both lived in halls for our three years at Lancaster. It was nice, though, and her house mates are lovely, too, which was good to see. It did feel a bit surreal at times though. I was experiencing someone incredibly familiar in a new setting, with a new social circle. We did the same things, and talked about the same things as we used to, but on sofas in a living room, not a small en suite bedroom, or a beige kitchen or a loud-but-comfortable bar or pizzetta. Ah well. We keep up our main communication through letters, cause her internet connection is dire, and we both enjoy getting pretty paperchase mail. <3

4. This week I'll be visiting my brother at his uni in Wales for two nights. The night I get there will be the Christmas ball, and it looks highly likely that I'll be crashing it with him! Glittery dresses ago-go. I can't wait. I do miss him, really. And he seems to be missing me. =)

5. And finally, I've applied for and been asked to interview for a Primary PGCE at Cambridge university. I need to prepare and present a 2 minute presentation on a worthwhile learning activity and explain how it will relate to my future teaching techniques, sustain a high level of one-to-one discussion with an experienced educator, do a group interview, do a time written task, and, now that I think about it, I need to fill in a form applying for a membership to a college and a backup choice. I am able to talk for about 3 minutes on what I will be saying in my presentation, but not actually give a coherent speech presentation yet. But at least I know what I will/want to say. And my neighbour has been very helpful and will give me help if I ask for it again. I'm actually incredibly nervous.

Honestly, this is my life. (Warning, potentially upsetting tl;dr post)

Ok, I've been guiltily aware of the bookmark to my blog log in page at the top of my browser, staring at me as if to say "remember me? You promised me the whole world! Your soul! You haven't visited me in months!"
And I confess I was pleasantly surprised just now to find I'd not only an entry or two for September after all (so still in my once-a-month minimum remit), but I've also checked the stats to find that I am as without readers as my blog has been without updates. Jolly good!

I deliberated today over whether to start a whole new blog. Keep this one for reviews or topical rants, and open another just to pour my heart out and to lay bare my emotions. Ok, maybe not quite that far, but I could try. One of the blogs I have linked in my Other Blogs lists is someone I know personally. I've not seen her since before graduation, but I know a little of what's been going on with her and I just wish I could be as honest and open about my feelings, friends and personal life as she is. I really do. There's something almost inspiring in her simple honesty that feels almost liberating. As though, if I were to follow suit, I would be free and feel better and end up having a richer life out of it. Anyway, that's how I feel reading her entries, even if I end up crying with her.

I can say this much, anyway, I have had a fairly up and down few months at home. I have had 7 weeks of counselling sessions, which have ended, and I think they helped a little. I have found a job. I have got back together with my ex boyfriend, which still leaves me with fits of anxiety and small panic attacks occasionally, as supportive and wonderful as he's been about things. I'm slowly unwrapping some baggage and finding out what's underneath, and asserting myself as a person - not always with positive results, if I go too far and upset other people, or been disappointed and taken my frustration and disappointment out on others.
I've also been taking driving lessons - I'm doing quite well and have passed my Theory test first time, so that's out of the way now. I have a car. She's called Daphne.

All this stuff has happened and in some ways my mind hasn't really managed to catch up yet, or to adjust. In fact, I only went to one book club session because I randomly landed myself with this job in Sainsbury's (history degree be damned) soon afterwards and my shift does not allow for attendance. So that shot that horse in the face!

Where to begin. I suppose I should say that getting back with my boyfriend was perhaps one of the bravest things I've done in a long time. Dramatic? Yeah, maybe. But after having been dropped out of the blue for no specific reason, and then to find out over some months that things weren't the way I had been told they were, yeah I was insecure, anxious. Terrified, frankly. And then there was the fear that people would label me as being weak or stupid, as they disapprove of my decision to try again. I did think to myself, "god, what if I'm one of those t.v. characters that is forever kept on a string and doesn't have the strength to say, 'No. Fuck you. No more.'?"
Now a days, I am more scared that things have changed. Or they haven't changed enough. Or maybe the months apart were instead better and he's regretting recommitting with me. What if things never happen the way we want them to and it draws out into a horrible show that just wastes our time?
Unlike before, though, I am able to talk to him about these things. And he's slowly opening up to me a bit more, too. Communication was an issue before - particularly on his side. And when I'm with him, the majority of my little voices get muted and die away. I've always felt safe around him, and comfortable to be myself properly. He is one of the few people that listens to everything I have to say or share with him, regardless of whether it interests him or not. At least, he hides his boredom fairly well. One of the best moments of when I saw him a few weeks ago was actually when we were exchanging silly mishaps from our childhoods. I don't hear much from him, cause he didn't enjoy it that much. But it was just so wonderful hearing stupid things like he'd burned his leg on a lamp. And the way his face lit up telling me about the comic series he loved as a child (Sonic fan). It was really the best hour or so. It was like opening the doors on an advent calendar and peeping in to see small moments of him as a boy.
I hope that he keeps telling me things - even if they're sad or his fears and anxieties. I've honestly never felt closer to him. I do get plagued by the memory of how certain events felt. I am still grieving, in a way, for our break up. Grieving takes a long time. But overall, he makes me happy.

I said I saw a counsellor. Well the mention of grief ties in nicely with that. When I was 9 and a half, my mother died of cancer. It was all very quick. The diagnosis itself took a damn long time, you see. Too long. And then it was too late. I watched her waste away, unable to get out of bed or to walk properly across the landing to put me to bed. I helped out when I could. I emptied her sick bucket when she'd been sick. I can still remember the smell, because the antibiotics and drugs she was on mixed together smelled almost exactly like the weird strawberry slimquick milkshakes she made before she got ill. Well, these worked better for weight loss than the slimquick. I can remember asking my grandmother if she was dying, and the look on her face when she said "what do you think?". That wasn't a sarcastic "what do you think?". It was the only way to acknowledge the fact without ever having to say it. It was quite obvious what was happening, even to two small children. Even if dying wasn't a concept relate-able to people in the same way as to pet rabbits or gerbils.
I can remember the exact feeling I got in my gut when the woman who looked after us after school on Mondays brought us home from my brother's 7th birthday party, and my grandmother took her back to her car with a grave look on her face. We were herded into the living room, where we were sat down and told.
We all dealt with things differently. My grandmother and brother cried openly and talked about her a lot. I hated crying and would bottle it up and only cry when people couldn't see. My granddad was the same. I don't think I've really seen him cry before. I felt as though I had to be a rock. I cried at the funeral though. There's no way out of crying at a funeral.

There was no possibility of getting us bereavement counselling, as the nearest centre for bereaved children was in another county and had a long waiting list as it was. We didn't want counselling from our school counsellor (lord knows how she got the job) and so we just had each other. We soon found that our friends, though of course sympathetic, were also far too young and inexperienced to know what to say or do. They didn't have time to talk about our mother or to allow us to reminisce or feel sad, the way adults know is important to allow a grieving person to.

Flash forward to when I'm in my teens. Intellectually, I am very well developed. I may be lousy with maths, but it doesn't affect me as severely as it might do.  I had friends, and a strong social group. I was well settled. I invite a friend over for a party of sorts, largely for my brother and his friends. After that, things get strange between us. Then the war with Iraq is announced. I have quite clear views that I didn't believe that there were WMDs and that there was no legal justification for the war. This friend dislikes my views, and then is visibly and outwardly disgusted that I go on an anti-war protest, and makes it clear that I am no long allowed to sit with my friends at lunch time. He made my life very difficult, and even accused me in front of an audience of various things, the most serious of which involved playing for sympathy. Apparently, I brought up my family and my mother's death to get attention, and I looked down on other peoples' parents, particularly those of my then best friend. I was humiliated, ganged up on and a public sacrifice. Only one friend (and we weren't *that* close) comforted me in front of him and told me that he was being a cruel bigot unnecessarily. That was when I closed up completely. I do talk about my family, but only when it is relevant - such as "oh, yes, my grandmother mentioned that" or "oh my brother told me this joke: blah blah blah". I rarely talked about my mother unless someone asked me to, or there was a good memory that was relevant at the time.

My coping mechanism was to just pretend everything was ok, keep my head down, get on with things, and find some other people to hang out with. My last two years of secondary school, I was a bit of a social drifter. I had friends in several groups. I don't think I worked that way consciously, but perhaps it was a bit of a survival technique. If one group of friends were tiring of me, I could move to another, or mix it up a bit during the week to keep things interesting. Eventually this 'friend' allowed me at least to be in the vicinity. Perhaps people had said to him "you can't stop us from talking to her" or something. But he still excluded me or obviously ignored me at every opportunity. I can only put down his behaviour to jealousy or something. Someone once told me that he wasn't at all close to his parents, and that he probably didn't like seeing someone so close to his/her parents/carers as my grandmother and I seemed to be.

I've kept that coping mechanism going all these years. At Sixth Form when my friends started excluding me and discussing my private life/sex life and making up rumours amongst themselves, I just shut off. I'd be around them, but not necessarily put myself out for them any more. Which probably helped to make it worse. I had spent two years trying to balance the expectations and limitations of my grandparents (when they'd be willing to pick me up at night, their strictness levels etc) with those of my friends, who didn't seem to understand that not all parents or carers had the same liberal ethos as their own and I got tired of trying. I was incredibly hurt, actually. I began to question whether I was likeable as a person. Whether I'd been doing something wrong all the time, or I'd said something.
My boyfriend stood by me though, and insisted that it wasn't my fault at all, it was just the way things were conflicting. My counsellor says that this was the case, too. That my life has been littered with unfortunate incidents or conflicts of interests or desires.

Now, though, the coping mechanism is starting to jerk and jar. I get incredibly lonely, because I've nobody to talk to, and when I try to open up, I don't even do it properly. I don't say how I am *feeling*. I am often unable to properly gauge and name an emotion I am feeling at a given point, past the blindingly obvious - anger, frustration, sadness, happiness, boredom. Whilst my intellectual development is very very high, my emotional vocabulary has been stunted by my coping mechanism. I have also never been able to grieve properly any disruptions and changes in my life. I'd settled down after the divorce of my parents and the move to England, gained friends locally and was settled in my mother's house for a short time - only 2.5 years. Then she got ill and we had to move out.
Then she died, and I had to stay at my grandparents' house, losing my local friends and not being able to play out when and where I liked, and being reliant on car lifts to friends' houses. Then my then best friend moved away anyway.
Settle down again at primary school and have to leave! Secondary school, I settle in and then boom. Everything is upside down again. And so on until university. When my boyfriend jilted me, I suppose that was the final straw on my emotional camel's back. If it hadn't been him, it would have been someone else. I was truly heartbroken that I had to graduate university, after a shit first year and only really settling down and being truly happy with two very good friends in my final year and getting into my stride and finding out who I was as a person.

I'm still finding out who I am properly and this year out of studying has been what I needed, as hard as it has been having sporadic social encounters after a year of at-will/whim meet ups with friends.
I've made a few life decisions and I'm trying to establish and channel my own sense of style more clearly (it's difficult when affordable shops don't co-operate with their stock!) And I have started looking ahead more and picturing my future a little more clearly. Not too far ahead. I stop myself too far ahead. It's impossible to plan too far ahead. But the next year or so, certainly, I have started to think about seriously.

Otherwise though, I've made some progress. I'm able to say how someone or something has made me feel, even if I end up going on a tangent about social issues rather than personal. That just takes practice. And perhaps by expressing myself properly in a blog, I'll be able to get used to it. So that's my background, a little.

Anyway. I think that's as much of depressing topics I'll stick in this month's entries. Next entry which I might well just write now will be much more light-hearted. Promise.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

You can read Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey's response to viewers' claims of mistakes in the first series here.

"My Affair of the Heart"

Downton creator Julian Fellowes reveals his love for Lady Mary, answers the critics and declares his passion for a woman's right to inherit

Beware of meeting your heroes, they say, to which I would add a new warning - beware of visiting the set of your favourite television series, which in my case is Downton Abbey. As the taxi takes you up the long drive, through a thousand acres of sheep-dotted parkland, and you suddenly catch sight of Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), you understand why the Earl of Grantham (aka Hugh Bonneville) is possibly more attached to his ancestral home than to his beloved wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and his three daughters.
    But the mystique is shattered as soon as you are deposited in front of vans, cables and men in jeans and puffa jackets who are camped around the entrance. Once inside the Great Hall, it only gets worse - with production, make-up and wardrobe people crammed into rows of chairs staring at half-a-dozen TV monitors. And what is this? The Countess of Grantham, in one of her fragrant trailing frocks, talking into a mobile phone. Ye gods!
    There are compensations; Jim Carter, who plays Carson, the butler, is every bit as gracious and aimiable as he is on screen (I have to restrain myself from hugging him), and Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) is far more good-looking in the flesh, his features chiseled, without any of that boyish plumpness around the cheeks. Standing in the library, where so many memorable scenes have taken place - the weeping, blind cook; the dignity-denting revelation of Carson's vaudeville past - Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, sails past. I smile at Dame Maggie Smith, she inclines her head and smiles back, whereupon foolishly emboldened, I stammer about being a fan, and am promptly chastized by that classic Maggie Smith look of frozen horror, as she quickens her step and wafts awf.
    When I repeat my invisible-hat-doffing faux-pas to Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton he is sweetly reassuring: "I'm sure she was very flattered. One of the funny things about fame - and I don't think I'm particularly famous, but I'm a little bit famous - is that people have a sort of relationship with you but you don't know them.
    "So you often find that a conversation with a stranger starts at a slightly inappropriate level because, of course, they 'know' you so well. And you sort of think, 'My God... how did we get here so quickly!' I think fame, like April love, is really for the very young."

We are talking in a tatty room up in the back stairs, probably in the old servants' quarters. Fellowes requests a cup of tea, only to be told that a no-food and drink rule is in operation. "What, not even in here?" he says, sounding mildly put-upon. His voice has a naturally aggrieved tone to it and is theatrical-posh ("mahhhd" for mad; "orphan" for often) with a speech rhythm that resembles the whoosh and retreat of waves ("too much info-MAYYSHun").
    He is dressed in different shades of brown: fawn chinos, check shirt, dust-coloured jacket and loafers with tassels. Beyond his spectacles, he has tiny raisin-coloured eyes. Something about his air of wistful jolliness and the way he sits, roundly, in his chair, makes me think of a character from The Wind in the Willows. Toad, with his puffed up self-importance, conforms more to the image I had of him from everything I had read but, in person, he is a gentler, more Mole-like character with occasional flashes of Rat-like mischief.
   The last episode of the first series of Downton ended with the bombshell of Britain's declaration of war on Germany, Mary and Matthew's blossoming romance having seemingly ended and the mystery of Mr Bates' past deepening. I really don't want Fellowes to spoil my enjoyment of the second series by giving too much away but he's so excited that he has to stop himself from blurting out key details.
   So are you a bit in love with Mary? "Yes." You like strong women? "I like strong, good-looking women and there's something about - not coldness, exactly, but there's something about the lack of needing to be liked which, when it's coupled with very good looks and confidence, is I think, tremendously attractive."

Mary has yet to win me over entirely. It is obviously unforgivable that Lady Edith attempted to ruin her beautiful older sister's life by informing the Turkish ambassador that his dead attaché, Mr Kemal Pamuk, had been found in Lady Mary's bed (based, incidentally, on a true story Fellowes was told) but for Mary to sabotage plain Edith's only prospect of a happy marriage was undeniably cruel. Fellowes is having none of it: "But Edith had it coming to her!"
    Are you killing anyone off? Silence. You can't possibly kill of Matthew? Julian?! Long pause; then laughter. He's going off to war and then he'll go missing and you'll play with our affections, won't you? "It is - I mean - I really mustn't tell you anything..." What he will say is that both sisters are redeemed in this series and Edith "becomes nicer because she finds a sort of kindness in her, as well as a role in life."
    What of Bates? "Love him." But what about the tie that links Bates and the Earl? Does that get explained? "Well, I'm sort of deferring clarifying their shared past because I'm enjoying that." Is it significant? "Yes." Sinister? "No, more touching that sinister." Oooh, the mind boggles.
     What about the Dowager Countess? How is she going to cope with the war? "She's a little too old to strap on a nurse's uniform but she's very... I shouldn't really tell you this part of the plot... but she is very supportive of the war effort, I will say that." How about Bates and Anna? "Oh yes - lots for them! The main thing is the war and how war changes them all, even those at home, and they all develop as people and become more self-aware." Have you left an opening for a third series? "Unless you have a nuclear bomb go off, there's always an opening."
     The first series of Downton had the biggest ratings of any ITV costume drama since Brideshead Revisited back in 1981, attracting 11 million viewers for the last episode, and has gone global having sold to more than 100 countries including America, Japan, Australia, Israel and Albania. Fellowes won an Oscar for his screenplay of the late Robert Altman's upstairs-downstairs film, Gosford Park, but did he anticipate Downton Abbey's popularity? "I thought we'd made a good show and people would enjoy it, but it was extraordinary. We were playing to something like a third of the adult population," he says. "I mean, nobody could expect that level of success, except for Simon Cowell. It was completely mad."
     One of the interesting patterns was that even the young, more accustomed to catch-up services like the BBC iPlayer and the ITV player, would stay in to watch Downton on Sunday evenings: "They had to watch it as it was going out and ring each other at the end. It was a sort of communal family event."
     What were the demographics like? "Very wide backgrounds, very wide social grouping, very wide age grouping and ethnic backgrounds. And I've had every type come up to be about Downton - taxi drivers, shop assistants, not just people having lunch at Fortnums."
     He tells a story about his son, Peregrine, 20, who's studying history of art at Goldsmith's, University of London, who was travelling on the top deck of a bus in the early hours, "and this huge bouncer-type came up [affects oikish swagger] and Peregrine thought, 'Oh Christ!' Anyway, he sits down and says, 'Did you watch Downton Abbey... so do you think Mary and Matthew are going to get it on?' Peregrine was going to say, 'My father wrote it' [if things turned out nasty] but he didn't need to. I love all that."
    Part of the fun of Downton for critics and viewers was spotting the anachronisms. As an executive producer, as well as the writer, Fellowes had specified that a television aerial that had slipped into a shot should be removed, "but somehow it fell through the system, which was sloppy, and I was annoyed about that." What also irritated him was that when newspapers printed letters about other details, it was always assumed that the complainant was correct and the programme was wrong. Boyfriend, for instance, he says, was in print in 1889, so was presumably in parlance before that. "I thought I behaved rather badly by getting the hump," he says. "So this time round, I thought we should get a newspaper to do a 'This week's mistakes on Downton' column and we would have the right to reply. Don't you think that would be good? [I shall post his responses to some complaints in a separate post]

Fellowes married Emma Kitchener in 1990, when he was 40. She is a former lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent and the great-great niece of the first Earl Kitchener. I saw her downstairs with Peregrine (named after Julian's father) and was struck by her theatrical presence; a strong, resolute jaw, arresting gaze, in capri pants, her hair tucked under a white turban.
    He says that he never lived with any of his girlfriends before his marriage, although he did have some significant relationships at university and drama school. One of the reasons he didn't marry young, he says, is that he was concerned that his lack of good looks might prevent him from making a living as an actor, his first profession.
"I was very unfashionable," he says, "and they weren't looking for my type at all then. It was all cockneys and northerners and Tom Courtenay. And once you settle down and marry and have a child and everything else, you can't be broke."
He agrees that it's curious, given his "great dissatisfaction with my appearance that I chose such a lookist business. I mean, how odd is it that I quite deliberately went for the profession where looks will be very important?"
    Was your rationale that you could become a terrific actor? "I wasn't a complete halfwit - I mean, I didn't think I was going to be Romeo - but I wasn't good looking at all. People always think you're being modest."
Fellowes says that although he was a young man in the 1960s, "I was never much of a raver. The whole one-night-stand culture passed me by because it took me longer to get anywhere with a woman. I had to get to know them and talk to them and all that stuff, whereas if you were gorgeous in 1969, in that atmosphere, that was just about as complicated as it got." It didn't help his cause that he had a brother who closely resembled the gorgeous actor, Terence Stamp.

He is vexed, to put it mildly, about the idea that his wife's family title - the Earldom of Kitchener - will be extinct in the future, because the current Earl has no children. This, of course, is very much the driving theme of Downton Abbey; the unfairness of the middle-class cousin Matthew Crawley being the heir to the estate rather than aristocratic eldest daughter Lady Mary. "If you're asking me if I find it ridiculous that in 2011, a perfectly sentient adult woman has no rights of inheritance whatsoever when it comes to a hereditary title, I think it's outrageous actually.
"The point is not whether or not you approve of hereditary titles, but given the fact that they do exist, the exclusion of women from them under English law is absolutely bizarre. This is the most famous imperial title of that particular period of our history. So if they do change the succession to the crown, which is much talked of - I don't know anything you don't know - I think around that time someone should look into this too. Either you've got to get rid of the system or you've got to let women into it. I don't think you can keep it "men only".
      In future, we may hear more about this issue, I suspect, from Felllowes, who as Baron Fellowes of West Stafford (he was ennobled in January) has a seat on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords. He and his wife are often lampooned as hideous snobs, but I certainly saw glimpses of a larger, more complex humanity. He tells a story that suggest that the mostly confident person he presents, these days, is as much of an artful creation as his dramas. As a boy, he been "rather shy in company. The moment I left my family, nobody wanted to dance with me. I was the one who made up the numbers."

When he was 18, he was sent on a boat to visit a "mad" aunt in Cartagena, Colombia, whose husband had died. Her response was to transform her finca and land into a summer camp, and young Julian's job was to help her. "And I remember thinking on the boat, 'This isn't who I am and this isn't who I want to be... and when I get off the boat, I'm going to be the life and soul of the party and full of confidence and I'm going to do everything. I am not going to be that shy little person standing at the back of the group any more.' And, I think, to be honest, the person I am now was born when I stepped off that boat in Cartagena."
     We finish on that note and Fellowes prepares for the next interview: an Australian journalist and film crew who are fanning the advance publicity for the next stop in Downton's global journey. I, for one, can't wait for Sunday evenings to rejoin the congregation of the church of Julian Fellowes.

The Radio Times interview by Ginny Dougary

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

"Here Comes Trouble" - Alison Graham demands an end to the use of one particular song that we've all heard too often.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever women unite in television observational documentaries or entertainment shows to achieve a purpose, their steps will be dogged by Here Come the Girls, sung by the Sugarbabes. You know exactly the song I mean: “Da da da da da da, da da da da da da, here come the girls…” and so on, forever and ever until the last syllable of recorded time.
Here Come the Girls (or just Girls, as Sugarbabes called it) is a suppurating bubo of a song, made famous by a series of witless television adverts for Boots. The “girls” in these commercials are dim, materialistic thumb-heads who reject thoughtful Christmas gifts in favour of three-for-two tat and who invade a restaurant and ruin the enjoyment of other diners.
These ads are sexist, not just towards women but to men. You must have seen the flu one, a conspirational, smug thing where two sniffling women discuss buying remedies for their ailing menfolk. The implication being that men are all weedy cry-babies who don’t have proper flu at all. Men are hopeless, aren’t they, is the nudging subtext. They make a big deal of having teeny little colds. They don’t suffer like women do. But women still have to carry on because everyone depends on us, don’t they? Boo hoo.
And all to the background of Here Come the Girls. Oh, if only this excrescence was confined to these commercials. But its spores have spread throughout television, where it is festering and growing as the infection takes hold.
Does your programme feature more than one woman doing something positive? Then play Here Come the Girls on the soundtrack as lazy shorthand aimed at pinbrains who can’t cope with the fact that women can be serious and grown-up and have purpose and enthusiasms. Or can be called “women”.
In this week’s Village SOS (Wednesday BBC1) three women decide to rally local support, secure lottery funding and revamp their ailing village pub. This involves serious money and vast amounts of expertise. And guess what? Yes, as the women start their campaign, here’s Here Come the Girls (sung not bySugarbabes this time, but Earnie K Doe. The better, original version, not that this helps).
The effect is immediately belittling and infantilising. Look, how cute: girls doing something important when they could be baking cup cakes.
This creeping cranker has to be destroyed. It’s a way of bringing us all - men and women - down a peg or two. Yes, gents, this kind of thing includes you. Every time The Boys Are Back in Town plays over Men In A Group Doing Something, you too are victims of this kind of patronising pap. To the barricades! Accompanied by Here Come the Girls, of course…

- Alison Graham, The Radio Times, 13-19th August 2011

Thursday, 28 July 2011

On Ubisoft and DRM

I have a couple of Ubisoft games. I LOVE the rayman series - I think Rayman 3 is fantastic, and I've played it several times. I've got the Assassins' Creed games. I probably have a few others floating around that I'd not even noticed or registered as being Ubisoft.

But no matter how much I love their creations, I weep at their absurd insistence that their DRM policy is the ideal and perfect way to go.

Ok, so it's like this. Piracy is a problem. I get that. Companies do their best to counteract it: EA tried it (failing miserably) by limiting the number of times you can install a game that is officially your own property; games bought through steam have to be played on your account and your account only, though it can be from anywhere (I have nothing against this form, myself) and Ubisoft have decided that you must have a constant internet connection to play the game. Well, yes, it has kept piracy down on those titles, but it's also alienated a lot of their main customers.

Ubisoft, if it were a case of registering online and having to do what Steam does, nobody would object. Sure, you claim that steam games get hacked, but let us not forget that they are not hacked nearly as much as your or EA or other bastard DRM locked games are. People respect steam a lot more, because they are fair in their DRM policies. That and the sale is amazing.

I am no saint. I have plenty of music that I've yet to get around to actually buying the physical cd for, or the odd film that I got because I was waiting for the dvd to come down in price. Hell, I even "pirated" films I owned at home, but wanted to watch whilst at uni... I'm sure there's a bilaw about that somewhere. Should be, anyway.
I don't pirate games, because I like the box and the benefits having the legit game can bring. (Ok, I tried out The Sims 3, but I hated it, so I'm glad I didn't pay for that. I don't have it any more anyway)
However the general feeling now that Ubisoft has declared that this customer-punishing DRM policy is "successful" is that people should pirate the hell out of the game purely out of retaliation. If I had the internet connection to do so, I'd probably join in. =/ And I'm not even interested in Driver.

Book Clubs, Jobs, Technology and all the baggage.

So I was going to keep going on about Too Much Happiness, but as it got nearer the point I would have a new computer, I thought "I'll just do a big entry when I've got a new computer". I was busy, see, fighting off all my admirers who'd ridden hundreds of miles on a white horse complete with lance and heavy armour and graduating at what have you. (Ok, the former isn't strictly true, but it's a nice day out and I'm feeling fanciful.)

Yes, I've graduated. It was mildly stressful, the build up to the ridiculous ceremony. I even got my damn certificates hours before hand! Could have just left, we could! But then we'd have missed out on the sheer silliness of the pomp that our academics are forced to go through every year. <3
And I'm just recovering from the weight of the robes and morterboard on my struggling posture. BUT I also got the most adorable runt-and-not-quite-right bear from the student shop, which I've named Sir Belmont (or Monty, for short) after the building I lived in the past 3 years. (Kudos to my friend Mel for that brilliant brain wave.)

<-- Here's me with my granddad, who was the one who decided Monty be in the picture, by the way.
I know the picture's a bit dark, but I've not got any editing stuff installed yet. Games were my priority. (Nerd)

So now that I've graduated I have to go on the dole - oops, I'm supposed to do that as I type - and look for jobs, until I can start my PGCE course (pending application) in 2012. I tell you what, there is nothing more demoralising to a cynic or pessimist than to be constantly rejected from jobs which offer training,but won't take you on because you don't already have the knowledge of a trained employee.
The way of the world sucks.

My new computer is nice and shiny though, and that'll keep my occupied when I'm not with my friends. Real beaut. Runs beautifully. <3 I might get a new monitor - either as a primary with my old as a secondary or just as a full-on replacement. Not sure yet. I can take my time and wait for a good deal to come along.
I've got a 2gb Nvidia GTX460, so it'd be a shame to not use it to its full potential on a wide screen >_> Gorgeous, it is. And with all the hard disk space I've got and the RAM, I've never experienced a computer starting up so quickly. <3 Might not last in a few years, when I've filled it up more, but you know. Enjoying it whilst I can.

My first attendance to the book club I joined was fun. The group is friendly and largely around my age, which is nice. I think one girl possibly even went to my sixth form... that or she just has one of those faces. I shall use that as a conversation starter. Our next book is for September, because this month is the Shakespeare festival. They're going to see Macbeth. I'd go, as much as I dislike the play, but I'm unsure yet as to how it'll work with my evening transport. :(
The book I'm reading (along side the Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman) is Nicole Krauss's The Great House, which is a novel set in three time periods or locations: New York, London and Jerusalem. I've had a gander at it, and the writing style appeals to me, so I should finish it quite quickly.

RE: Too Much Happiness - It's a good selection of stories, though I grew a bit lethargic towards the end. None of us had actually finished them all, but on the whole there was agreement that the last story (the title story) was a bit out of place in the collection which were set in Ontario, whilst this one was set in Russia. It's interesting though, and would have made a good novel.
I'm not a huge fan of short story collections, unless they're fairytales or something, but the writing style is so fluid and engaging that you enjoy being thrown mid-life-story each chapter.

I've actually got a massive cross stitch pattern to do for the 29th September, but I've not started it yet *eek*.
It's for my grandmother's birthday. Might take me a while... I'll get her a second present as compensation.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Too Much Happiness: 'Fiction' and 'Wenlock Edge'

These next short stories were a little less coherent, in my mind.

'Fiction' is about broken marriages, and, I suppose, about how one person's experiences with someone is viewed differently by the other person. If that's not clear, I'm sorry.

We are told the story of Joyce and her first marriage, and how it collapsed when Jon falls for his apprentice, making a family with her and her daughter.
It is pretty standard: Joyce is of course waiting for Jon to realise his mistake, and to witness Joyce as the sparkling socialite she has been forced to become in order to prove that he's missing out, but also that she's not just going to sit around waiting for him. Of course, he never does.

The story skips forward to when she is married to her current husband, who'd also been married before - twice before - and they are having a house party of some sort, with various other couples and broken marriages involved. At the party, Joyce encounters a teenager whom she vaguely recognises. She learns that she is a newly published author, and so investigates her book. It is a sort of biography, and it becomes clear - to Joyce, at least - that this girl was the daughter of the woman Jon left her for.

Or was it? There are some things she doesn't remember at all, but a lot of it "seems familiar". Perhaps her story is just something that commonly happens with people, or perhaps it is viewing it from the perspective of the child striving for her stepfather's ex's affection as a violin teacher that made it both familiar and strange.

The story is not really resolved, other than Joyce sees the girl at a book signing, but is unrecognised or acknowledged, leaving us and Joyce musing on the idea of stories and life, and how a person's life will appear fictitious to other people.

I wasn't entirely sure what Munro's point was with this story. Perhaps I've hit the nail on the head (urgh, I'm talking in clichés!) or perhaps I've missed the point entirely. Or maybe I'm being over analytical.

Wenlock Edge
This story  is entirely different. I don't quite know what the main moral of it is, but it was certainly different to all the other stories I've read so far in this book.

The narrator is at university, and through her we experience her strange relationship with her maternal uncle, Ernie, and the life of her mysterious and worldly room-mate, Nina.  The narrator is an English major, and lives in her literature. Nina however has been married and had three children - whom she has left behind her - and has a strange benefactor and has experienced more of the real world than the narrator, which leaves the narrator feeling a little foolish.
Despite this, it is clear that the narrator is somewhat judgemental of those around her, sizing them up to what she expects them to be from her literature. Nina doesn't know where all the countries she has visited are on the map, and the girls downstairs don't behave or discuss things that students 'should', rather they behave like common 'bankers' or 'accountants'.

Reality is thrust upon her however when she has to take Nina's place at dinner with Nina's benefactor. She is told to strip naked, and to prove that she is not "just a book worm", she does so. The almost casual way that she has dinner with this elderly and fully clothed man is actually quite stark. (I had to use the word stark in a nudity context, I'm sorry.)
When she reads a poem to this strange man, she feels at ease - comfortable with the poem and its words, as it is one of her favourites. In a way, she emerges herself in her literature to the point where she can not understand what reality is. This entire story is so surreal, that after a while the narrator becomes uncomfortable with what she has done, and the reality of that evening.

Nina, in the meantime, runs off and lives for a short while with the narrator's uncle, and even mentions marriage. But the narrator, unhappy with this turn of events, gives the strange old man her uncle's address, knowing that Nina would be retrieved and taken away. In some ways, she tampers with other people's lives, as though they were fiction and she was writing their lives the way she thinks they ought to be written.
For more on this idea and the idea of metafiction, which this is vaguely touching on, see this blog entry.

The whole story is of a different tone to the others I've read so far, though I'm not sure it's the least enjoyable. I'm not even sure it's the strangest one in the collection, either.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

"Freedom of the Press"

Freedom of the Press is a term that is thrown about a lot - either when an oppressive country is suppressing the press from publishing the truth, or when a celebrity tries to get a legal gagging order.

On the face of it, freedom of the press is something to be proud of. Our papers are allowed to say what they like about the way our country is run, it's allowed to expose the hypocrisy and lies of our leaders, and it is able to publish stories that encourage human rights movements. It's also allowed to publish complete and utter trash, if it wants, and as many pictures of naked women as it can fit into a two page spread, but that's another matter.

I should be proud of our press, or 'the media'. And of some sectors, I am. I think the BBC is a fantastic organisation, no matter what Cameron and the Tories think. But right now I am less than proud of certain kinds of publications that litter our streets and paper stands.

Yes, I am of course referring to the disgusting behaviour of tabloids and 'reputable' companies such as News of the World.
Don't get me wrong, I do fall prey to the odd front page story on a magazine about So and So getting back with his/her Ex. But only to tut, sigh and shake my head, and then move on with my life. It's not my business, really, though sometimes I might empathise with a celebrity.
Sometimes it can be a good thing for a complete rat in society to be ousted, if necessary. However the big furore about Super Injunctions and its coinciding with the 'damage control' Catherine Zeta Jones was forced to pursue because she'd been photographed leaving a mental therapy home, has made me question the legality  and the ethicalness (wow, apparently that's a word) of the Freedom of the Press act.

What I believe: Human Rights are fundamentally important. Each person is entitled to a lot of basic things - the right to live, die, privacy, safety and good health. There's a lot more there, but that's the basic lot.
Each person's right to do what he likes and says is restricted by how far it affects the rights of another person.

Example: Person A has the right to not be murdered. Person B technically has the right to do what he likes, however this vastly infringes on Person's A's human right to live and safely. If Person B takes away Person A's right by force and murders him, then his own rights - freedom to do anything he likes and to live as he chooses and with the above basic things - are forfeited, and he spends his days in a cell with very limited 'living'.

Bit of a crude explanation, but it's after 11.30pm and right now I'd rather get back to what I think of the press.

Catherine Zeta Jones, and other celebrities, like any other person, has the right to privacy. How much privacy a celebrity has is often debated. Should they be allowed their privacy when they're having an affair, or should they be exposed for the love rat that they are? Should they be allowed to keep their latest trip to rehab quiet, or should they be exposed in the hope that public ridicule will help them stiffen their resolve?
Catherine being forced to make a public statement as to why she was photographed leaving such an institution should not really have happened: she was legitimately seeking help during a stressful time in her life, similar to any body else. The way the Paparazzi shadows celebrities and just takes a photo of them doing anything, anywhere, and then criticise or praise them for how they are dressed, made up or what they are doing is actually intolerable, and I do not support magazines by buying them.

If somebody has sold their story to the magazine or paper, then they are fair pickings, really. They're being paid for the attention they are getting.
Hacking people's phones or lurking outside their bedroom windows in the bushes with a camera however is a crime.
Unless you have a court order and a warrant, phone-tapping is a crime in any country. I hope that News of the World gets shut down, frankly, and that Andy Coulson and his stupid deputy editor woman get brought to court. Not only have they hacked celebrities phones - a crime in itself - but the latest scandal, the hacking and tampering with Milly Dowler's mobile phone messages is simply disgraceful. Disgraceful isn't even a strong enough word. I can not quite phrase how indignant and angry I am that they even considered it 'ok' to do this. Not only did they provide false hope in a MISSING PERSON case, by making it seem that Milly had accessed her own messages, but it was done in order to get the latest scoop, somehow. And it was entirely illegal. If it were anybody else, then the hacker would be in custody right now, at the very least on charges of perverting the course of justice or tampering with evidence or something.

I've already commented in an older post on the Super Injunctions - I think that if Cameron is seriously upset about the way the courts are "making the law", where gagging orders are concerned then he should suck it up and make sure that changes are made to the way the Freedom of the Press Act contradicts and undermines elements of the Human Rights Act, in Parliament. I'm sure Ed Milliband is jumping on the bandwagon with this, though it's entirely plausible that he believes in what I've said as well, but I'd back his current proposals that reforms are made to make sure that the press only prints what is relevant and legally obtained information.

I don't care what people say about how it's "good to know that Rio Ferdinand had that affair and is a hypocrite because Terry lost his captaincy after his affair", because overall the way the paparazzi and the press have been behaving all these years needs curtailing. It just isn't 'news', or 'good' journalism, and it needs curtailing - celebrities are just as entitled to a degree of privacy and freedom from harassment as any other citizen. The fact that News of the World felt that it was perfectly acceptable to use methods that others had been convicted for (such as the hacking of Sarah Palin's email, or hacking other websites) just shows that certain branches of our press are taking the 'freedom' part of the Act far too liberally, at detriment to everybody else's freedoms.
Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press should not and does not provide immunity to illegal practices and stalking methods.

I am also entirely against everything Rupert Murdoch stands for, and I am against his bid to gain further control of the British media.
If you agree with anything I have said in this post, please click the following link and sign the petition. Stop Rupert Murdoch - 3 days to do so.

Friday, 17 June 2011

"Too Much Happiness": 'Dimensions'

Right, the first book I'm reading for the book club I'm aiming to join is a collection of 10 short stories by Alice Munro. She is the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize, and her writing has been highly praised by what seems to be the entire critiquing world.
She's an old woman, apparently, which I guess is surprising - not only because of the content of her writing, but her style and because I live in one of those little bubbles where authors are either dead or in their 30s. Terrible misconception, I know.

Any hoo, I'm making notes of each story as I go, and I'll do my best to make some discussion out of them. They are short stories, and I'm not always sure what to say about them, so. It'll take me a while to get into my stride! I imagine some entries will be shorter than others - I already know that I'm not entirely sure what to make of the second story.


Synopsis: Doree is a motel chambermaid. She does work beneath her qualifications because it stops her from thinking about her past. Her husband, Lloyd, is in a home/asylum for the criminally insane after murdering their  three children. Doree is receiving counselling and help, and visits Lloyd, who eventually writes to her, telling her that he has seen their children and that they exist in another dimension, but he's not mad. Doree does not know what to make of this, and even begins to question her own mental health. Only when she saves the life of a boy who crashes a lorry does she break away from her past.

First of all, it is interesting to note the dynamics of their failing marriage. Doree tells the reader that Lloyd is in a home of some sort. That he is not the man she knew, and that she visits him. We know that she is under the supervision, in some way, of a Mrs. Sands - her therapist. As she recalls her marriage and the way she was dominated and increasingly controlled by a paranoid and critical husband, the instances and examples described do not seem terribly out of the ordinary. The disagreements and criticisms are seen in a lot of relationship dramas or stories of this ilk. The paranoia of Lloyd where Doree's friend, Maggie, is concerned, is not an uncommon argument; "She's trying to break us up. She'll have you moan to me that I'm a bastard" (not a direct quote, but pretty much there). It is an unfounded belief, and one many jealous husbands (or wives) have used in the history of marriage. He also, despite being an ex-hippy, became very strict and forthright in everything. He also blamed their third child's slower development (a common occurrence in younger children, actually) on the fact that she did not persist with breast feeding when her milk made him colic.
The way the marriage climaxes is in an oddly linear and normal behaviour, despite the fact we know that he is in an asylum. It opens up the possibility that all jealous, paranoid lovers could be mad, or require help. What is sanity? What is insanity? Where is the line drawn?

Until we find out why he is in the asylum. The description of what happened is not hyped or dramatised. It is written in short, bare and factually. They had an argument, and when Doree left and walked to her friend Maggie's house, Lloyd killed their children in punishment. So that they needn't ''feel the sorrow of their mother walking out on them". She had not walked out - she had merely walked away from the argument to get a breather.
We are told that Lloyd was classed as criminally insane, and this is reiterated by Doree when she visits him. He is "Not a person worth blaming for anything. No a person. He was like a character in a dream."
Munro also raises the question of criminality, and the severity of a person's actions. The narrator comments that "he was not a criminal; he was only criminally insane".  'Only' criminally insane. Is there a difference? Most would argue, yes, to some extent. But sanity is a tricky subject. There is no definition for 'normal', and as such, is there therefore a normal criminal?

The question of the nature of sanity is deepened by Lloyds letters, as he discusses how he has become aware of his Self, and the question of morality within behaviour and society - behaviour being something which he has been deemed incapable of judging himself - and even touches briefly on religion. The question of good and evil, and the Self is quite interesting. He is aware of what he is capable of, and he has done the worst that he is capable of, but there is nothing he can do. He is not insane. He is himself. That is who he is, and he can not become another person or take on another Self.

The title of the story, Dimensions, comes into discussion when he writes to Doree, telling her about their children. That he had seen them - not in Heaven. He does not believe in Heaven or Hell. But he believes that in his isolated state and constant thinking, he had reached 'the other side', or crossed dimensions, where he encounters their children in a faintly familiar room, and they tell him that they are all right.
He insists he is not mad, and that perhaps any reason she has not been able to see them is that she is still tied to the world.
Doree questions this in her head. She feels some sort of relief, despite herself, thinking of her children in a dimension. And comments that after all, she is perhaps just as shut off from the world as Lloyd was, for all that she was living in it. She is closed off, mentally, and perhaps she is supposed to be with him, if only to listen to him. There is a hint of destiny there, though she has already dismissed her young-love days where she thought she was destined to be with Lloyd. She does not feel that way now, and yet she considers the possibility that she is meant to be with him. Doree is not quite sure how she feels, only that she does not feel good seeing Lloyd, but she can not not see him, sometimes, either. Though people change, the feelings are there, and fundamentally haven't changed, even if she can not bear the thought of him telling her that he loves her still. It is an example of how hard it is to cut someone previously central to your life from your life.

It is on her way to see Lloyd that she is a witness to the lorry accident. On giving the joydriver of the lorry mouth-to-mouth and saving him, she is somehow released from this notion, or reconnected to *this* dimension or world. It could be that Doree, in her shock and despair and grief, was between worlds herself, and only through saving a child could she reconcile the fact that she could not possibly have saved her own.

The language is colloquial. By that I simply mean that it is stylistically simple and to the point. It does not contain slang or anything like that. And it's slightly more formal than this blog! However there is a sense of familiarity in the dialogue and mental musings of Doree. The justifications she gave to Lloyd's behaviour during the early years of their marriage, and the way she describes other people is quite how I - or people in general, I assume - describe their thoughts or feelings, or express denial.

The topic matter is quickly dealt with, for all of its potential depth. It is only a short story, but the characters are terrifically developed, with a good time period being covered in the 30 - 40 pages. There is no sense of drama, just melancholy and sad analysis. The way she dealt with the discovery of the children's bodies was brief, unassuming and very effective. There was a numbness to it, before Doree scrambles out of the house, clutching herself and reacting to the sheer shock that the scene described.
This story is by no means a happy one. It can easily be seen as depressing. I think it is also a study of human relationships, beliefs and behaviour. Most certainly it is questioning the nature of sanity and the human mind.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Ups and Downs.

Life Part:
Ok, so actually, the day after the previous blog post, my life took a MASSIVE downturn and frankly my self esteem is through the floor. I've learned to try opening up and stuff, so I'm ok admitting that. I am rarely getting through a day without requiring a lot of tissues. But it'll get better. I hope. Has to, really. There are one or two things to make my life worse, but I doubt they'll happen. But I had to push on the counselling waiting list, as late in the year as it is, and I've had an assessment. Whether I get an actual session before I leave her for good is very very unlikely. So maybe I'll go through my GP instead. Or stick to using my minutes on the Samaritans or something a bit less costly than a private counselling session that's £60 an hour.

Uni and History part:
Anyway. Forward thinking. Yeah. I did my Richard III exams. Actually, because of the huge down turn, I had a terribly stressful time, and whilst I got revision done enough so I could do the exams at my normal ability, I had a mini panic before my first exam (I won't bother going into it, since people know and it's a bit of a shit story) and so started 10 minutes late. MORTIFYING. But the invigilators kindly gave me 5 or 10 minutes at the end to make up for it.
The second exam I almost had a disaster, but didn't. And it went ok. I picked one question which was asking how the issue of the Protectorate could explain the politics between April and June 1483 (which was good for me), a question on why Buckingham behaved the way he did in 1483 - which I took to mean both during the usurpation AND before/during the rebellion, which I have to say extended my answer somewhat, and the final question I picked because it was a "what if" question, which I thought could be answered in three or four ways, so I stuck my teeth into that one, rather than recite my parliament essay for the parliament question. (BORING!)

So the question was actually a statement: discuss, question. "'The death of his own son, not the death of Edward IV's sons, was what doomed Richard's kingship'. Discuss."

Frankly, I think that whilst the statement is perfectly supportable, the death of the two princes were at least what put such a lot of emphasis on his son's death and extra strain on Richard's kingship. So there was that to consider. And then I spent the rest of the essay slagging off Richard's foreign and domestic policy, and explaining that even if his son had survived, it is not certain that he would have had more support at Bosworth, or that he would have changed his foreign policy anyway, which would mean that he would have certainly been at war on more than one front.

So yeah. That was my essay time. Then I went with my seminar group for a series of drinks and a last hurrah at the Carlton, the cheesiest club in Lancashire. It was fun. I had a hard time keeping my thoughts on a positive track during certain songs, and I will for quite some time with certain topics or themes, but on the whole I'm glad I went.

More Life Stuff: 
Then I went home for 5 days. I met up with my childhood best friend and caught up with her, and rebuilt a bridge or two, I think. And I went to a friend from my sixth form college's birthday bbq, and met some people there. One or two even added me on facebook, so we'll see where that goes, if anywhere. Though one I'm afraid has disappointed me a little in the abuse she's giving feminists who have the theory of "benevolent chivalry" - an essay for next time!
Still, feminism, unfortunately, is a dirty word, and even women (including me, if certain "feminists" are involved) find feminism annoying or 'unnecessary'.

I then went shopping with two friends, and again with my grandmother. We got served at Pizza Express by this guy that looked like an Italian George Clooney. Oo-er. It was uncanny. Really. All he lacked was that gravelly voice. Must remember to see if there are jobs going there, actually. I wouldn't mind working there.
I've applied for a job at Next, since that branch have me on file, but I've not heard from them yet. Unless they were my missed call (which was anonymous) and have given up unfairly.

Future things!!
Anyway! The real reason I am writing this blog post: I am trying out a book club at home. They meet monthly, and are very friendly and helpful. I emailed, asking what age range it was, and whether a 21 year old would be welcome. It is lead by a 24 year old, and she's not called Brenda! So they've got gold stars already.
I've got the book that we're to discuss in July. (My first meeting!) It's by award winner Alice Munro - a name I'd heard before - and is a collection of short stories by her, all under the volume "Too Much Happiness".

To keep busy and interested and stuff, I'll be making notes as I read the book. All studenty, I know, but I confess I miss it already! So I'll be making a series of entries that are book club related. Obviously, these'll cross over with my reviews in general, anyway, but these are going to have specific book club tags to them, too.

So with any luck, those of you that follow me will be interested, and future people that stumble over my blog will be interested, too.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Best day in a while. :D

So I got through my group session part of the interview to take part in PGCE week alive. I had to do just a two minute lesson, but somehow mine felt really naff. Meh. I taught them to 'sing' (more of a chant, but whatever) the main verse to Alle Meine Entchen.
And then I had a good interview, after waiting an hour and 15 minutes in the bar, in a nice relaxed bubble, watching the world go by with an acquaintance friend person who also had an interview for the same thing. (There are 25 or so places)

And then I met with one of my BFFs whilst I did revision and laundry and her two BFFs from home were visiting and we had fun getting ice cream and then sitting in the bar and then watching Tangled in Kate's room. They were really nice and I felt completely at ease which was a lovely change :D Perhaps cause we had the same sort of quirks.

And then I got back to my flat and found out the results of my coursework. I've got 69 and 71 in my special subject (you get two grades from that, so it's double) which means I have a REAL chance of getting a first in my special subject if I ace my 2 exams, which I was feeling fairly confident about anyway, but now I'm totally putting the revision and work into it. :D
I HOPE that I do well enough this year to boost my overall degree to a first. If I don't make it, it'll still be pretty damn close, I think... so there'll be that crushing possibility.

Then I did three hours revision in the bar. I went through my sources and made notes. I've got important dates down to learn. And then I went through last year's exam 2 paper and answered ALL the questions (I need to answer 3 out of 9) and I'm strong on all but three or four, so I'm going to revise my weak spots, which are mostly to do with certain aspects behind Richard's foreign policy and the 1483 rebellion and the magnate-of-the-north-not-a-king thing. And how important his religious beliefs were politically - I have a fair idea, but maybe not enough for a KILLER essay, you know?

And I finally got my uncle's birthday present - see, he ordered it late, and then he had it sent to his house, so he had to wait for that, and then he checked it, and then I imagine he probably had to get around to sending it again to me. It's a gorgeous fountain pen. Really really nice. Look:

And I had a good chat with my favourite barman in the whole wide world. <3
SO.... Gooooooood day :D I'm all psyched.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Yes means Yes and No means No.

So since around 2009, when  the intense ignorance, bigotry and intolerance of people on the internet seemed to explode onto a forum I had frequented for about 5 years, I have generally avoided such situations. I don't like to be reminded how much I feel the need to dislike a group of people or even just the human race.
I avoid destructive arguments and "debates" (they're not debates, but that's what people call them) and I avoid people who have the habit of "debating" everything, even though I used to be pretty damn good at it, and I'd been party to some fantastic discussions and real debates online for a good 3 or 4 years. Some would maybe call me pathetic and a bit cowardly to fence myself off from the sheer unpleasantness of this planet, but I would like to refute that claim; just because I do not associate myself with it does NOT mean that I ignore it/deny its existence/do nothing about it/do not discuss it if it comes up. I try to put people right where I can or see the potential to. I have simply learned that there is no use in getting too deeply involved with some people.

Lately the huge debate has been about the Slutwalk.
For those of you who have not heard of it, I shall enlighten you. It is a series of demonstrations occurring in America and Europe, sparked by the 'advice' given by a Canadian police officer to some women reporting harassment - "don't dress like a slut if you don't want to be harassed". Common sense, I suppose, but HERE IS THE PROBLEM.
Not only was the police officer way out of line with sexual assault/harassment statistics, but he was also apportioning blame upon the victim. On top of this, he has used a derogatory word which is also subjective - one man's slut is another man's Virgin Mary. Who is to say where the line is drawn between "asking for it slut" and "poor innocent school girl"?

I do think that women should be advised to take precautions - even though this again causes some responsibility and blame to be placed upon them - but this is where I draw the line.
The number of cases of sexual assault or harassment that fall in favour of the offender is astounding - and that is just the number of cases that are reported in the first place. The large majority of rape and assault cases, unreported to the police or not, are perpetrated by relatives, friends or acquaintances of the victim and very very rarely that brassy, exhibitionist drunk girl in the club. It is largely the shy, low-self-esteem girl who is more likely to be traumatised into not reporting the attacker, and is less able to fight back. Even if the case is dropped or the trial is a farce, the offender gets a blemish on his permanent record - to avoid this, it's handy if the girl chosen for such physical atrocity is unlikely to so much as mention it to a police officer.

The Slutwalk brings this fact to light, and also challenges the accusation of 'slut' charged at the victims. All of the people marching in the walk are "sluts" - old people, children; no doubt in some twisted head, they asked for it, too. Those participating on the walk can dress like 'traditional sluts' if they like, but you can wear normal clothes. The point is that 'wherever you go, whatever you wear, yes means yes and no means no'.
Anybody who is sexually abused is labelled a 'slut' - even a horrendously large number of misguided women think that it is the victim's fault, somehow. That she lead him on. Perhaps it is a teenager with her first lover, who thought she was ready for sex, but changed her mind - and the boyfriend, instead of being the loving, kind, supportive human being expected by the majority of society, just goes ahead and rapes her anyway. Perhaps it is a pregnant woman in a quiet park at twilight. Perhaps it is an old woman in a home, abused by her carer. Perhaps it is a person who thinks that a catalytically drunk 'mmmmmmurgh' is understood as a 'no', but is too far gone to prevent herself from being understood. (My compliments to Canada for passing the law saying that no matter when you pass out (before, during or after the act), if you've passed out, you were probably raped.)
Girls who have their drinks spiked in a club by a friend or acquaintance - sometimes a stranger, too. They are all asking for it, because of what they wear.

That's the funny thing about society and the media. Girls, from a younger and younger age, are told that to be attractive they must be the following: confident; vivacious; flirtatious; cheeky; able to dance; able to wear high heels; able to dress in a flattering way. In short, they must be sexy.
They are taught how to dress, behave and look by television, models, music videos (ESPECIALLY those by MALE artists and rappers) and their peers.
When a woman reports a sexual assault, no matter what the circumstances, she is assumed to have and is blamed for adopting any or all of the above descriptions and attributes endorsed by our society and media.
Unless you are a religious leader from the extreme Middle East (or I suppose certain parts of East London, these days), and consider anybody who does not wear a burqa to be culpable, it is very likely that you have encouraged or paid money towards or unconsciously supported society's affirmation.

In fact, I have just seen an article written in the Australian version of The Sun, criticising the Slut Walk, and more specifically (and solely) the women in the article picture for dressing like pole-dancers or something along those lines. In short, they weren't wearing a lot, and clearly this is just an excuse to be exhibitionist. What is the Sun famous for, as a tabloid, I wonder... could it be THE PAGE 3 GIRLS? And the underwear models with "opinions" about current topics? What an epitome of hypocrisy.

I've heard stories that ended in sexual assault. A girl walking home with a friend whom she liked, but he took liberties without her consent. A girl walking home from the bus from college groped by a strange man. The former wearing school uniform. The latter wearing a baggy jumper and jeans.
Unfortunately, the former made a complaint and reported it, but because of their differing accounts, the charges were dropped by police, and even her mother said that perhaps she brought it upon herself.
I would not be surprised - incredibly sad and appalled for the person - but not overly surprised, if I had an acquaintance who has in the past been sexually assaulted or raped.
I'm sure, in some perverted way, they were "asking for it". Perhaps their hips swayed just a little too invitingly. Who knows but the perpetrators?

But it doesn't end there. The victims are given no counselling before, during or after trial. They have their private lives and clothing choices paraded in front of a jury. They are put through a second traumatic ordeal when they should be taken care of. And those that don't reach the courts? They are left with the knowledge that their words, complaints and experiences do not have the same or more weight than the ''differing account'' given by the assailant.

I was actually stalked - yes, I'll use that word - by a man on my street. He was very very briefly employed by my grandfather to help with the gardening. But he was so decrepit and such a heavy smoker to boot, that he didn't work for us long.
I'm a polite soul. I've been brought up to say 'please' and 'thank you' and to smile nicely at people I know, and to say 'how'd you do?' (not literally, but go with it). I am very uncomfortable being rude to my elders, especially. This man would take a daily walk, and we often met when I was walking the half mile home from the bus stop after sixth form. I soon noticed that although I didn't get the same bus every day, because my timetable meant some days I would be home at 3pm and others at 5pm or 4pm, I somehow managed to come across him on his walk every day.
I put it down to strange coincidence. I had to talk to him for 5 or 10 minutes sometimes, unless the weather meant I could make excuses, or if it was late and I had to get home for tea. It was inane prattle and frankly, he was toothless and I couldn't make out everything he said. He inquired as to whether I was the girl ''whose mum is dead'', and did I know that he used to work for my granddad? I would have to respond to comments about the weather, and if I had a good day at school and all the inanities that being polite to even disgusting old men entailed. I would complain about it once I got home, but there wasn't really a lot I felt I could do apart from be so disgustingly rude that he was angry with me or something.

The second year of sixth form, my time table was quite different - and yet he seemed to pick it up quite quickly. One day, it was a fairly warm and still afternoon. I was wearing 60denier (very thick) black tights, my babycham shoes, a knee-length dark denim skirt and a long-sleeved pale blue top, which had a neckline that came to maybe just an inch below my collar bones. That day, I even wore my hair down - must have had a good hair day or something, cause I usually had it tied back in a ponytail. I don't wear a lot of make up. I probably didn't even have mascara on. I was 17 years old.
He commented on the warm weather, and I responded with the usual vague agreement. He then asked how old I was. I told him. He then commented that I had a nice chest on me, nodding to my chest. I can even remember right now the feel of my head jerking back in astonishment, standing near the post box. I said something like, "Sorry?"
He went on to suggest that I wear my hair down more often, cause I had lovely hair or something. By this point I was blankly excusing myself. I got home, going over the words in my head. I looked down at my top, wondering if perhaps it was extra provocative or something. I thought about how at least I could easily knock him down with my heavy school bag, and out run him. He's ancient and not very big. But the words sort of buzzed and I was astonished that I'd heard them. I got in and shouted up the stairs "so apparently I have a nice chest". My grandmother was of course curious at my outburst, and then grew concerned when I told her what happened. My granddad came home and she told him, and he grabbed her into the car and they drove to Mr P's house to tell him to never speak to me again else they'll report him for harassment.

I thought it was a bit over the top, at first, but I was so glad when I could just keep my music on loudly in my ears and walk past without acknowledging him, and to just get home without any hindrance. He tries to talk to me now, when I'm at home on holiday from uni - I just keep walking, though once I replied to his comment of how he never sees me now that I was at university with boys my own age. I felt horrendously rude, but I felt it had to be said.

My story pales significantly in comparison to girls who've experienced a lot more than some dodgy compliments from men that are so old and out of shape that a girl would be charged with bodily harm rather than the other way around. But it brings me back to my point about 'sluts' - what I was wearing was pretty conservatively for a 17 year old in my area. It was flattering, perhaps. The blue brought out my eyes. But it is not something that is normally considered "slutty".

There are still too many what ifs to my story - What if he hadn't the body of a 90 year old when he was only in his early 70s? What if he had had the strength to do something? What if he hadn't left me alone? What if he had been younger and he hadn't stopped me near a house or two? Would I still not be to blame? Would I have definitely been showing an interest, by forcing myself to politely give him five minutes of my time 3 or 4 days a week? Would it be less ok if he was youger, or would it make me more culpable?

Words, just words, somehow in this horrible society we live in, can be the difference between sympathy and blame. The victim, not only having been put through such an ordeal, is then psychologically abused by the press, judgemental bigots and men and even their attacker, with words and labels that, did they have 'man-' prefixed to them, would be compliments.
Whore. Slag. Slut. Cow. The accusation that she was 'gagging for it'. That she was 'flirtatious' (probably just said hello and smiled).
Man-whore is a big compliment among males. It is a horrible insult for a woman. And each of these words carry blame and responsibility not on the rapists, but on the victims.

One of our brilliant MPs tried to pass through parliament a revision of sex education for girls. She wanted women to be taught abstinence. To be taught how to say no. Nothing else.
Where does that leave sexually abused people? How does that, in any way imaginable, help those that get raped? It's madness.
I'm not sure which is worse, this proposal or the fact that a vehemently anti-sexual health advice and anti-abortion group is now working as Health Advisers for the government. It's actually a pretty close call.
Fortunately for women everywhere, the House of Commons does not care about preventing rape or making laws to protect women, so this bill wasn't even passed through parliament.

By teaching women only how to protect themselves or to prevent themselves from becoming a victim, we are casually undermining the help we give them pre-rape by applying responsibility to them. And them alone.
Rape is not like consensual sex - where both parties are responsible for any STIs or pregnancies they encourage. It is violent. Unpredictable. And entirely the fault of the one who did it.
To quote a speaker on the slutwalks:
The urge for women to ‘not dress like sluts’. Can someone explain how covering up has been sold as some guarantee of rape proofing a woman? It’s not. There is no less sexual abuse in societies where women are forced to cover up. It’s not like sunscreen.
 - Catherine Devney

Any man that can not follow these sorts of rules (in the picture) is entirely to blame for his actions.
Any man who feels some strange uncontrollable sadistic urge is not, I'm afraid, a real man. Nor is he right in the head, but that does not mean that he should be let off, either.

What needs to be taught very early in people's lives, through school and through their parents and their peers and the media, is that women are not in anyway sexual objects. Nor are they pornographic items that should be covered up to prevent the stirrings of men. They should be allowed confident expression, as much as a man's body is. They are complex evolutions, with feelings, emotions and thoughts of their own. They have agency. They are not to be categorised in patriarchal ways. They require the same respect and personal boundaries that men seem to inherently be given.

When a woman says no, she means no, and she will respect those that respect her.

A somewhat unstructured and long post, but it's been sitting in my head for a while, now.

I thought I'd put a little disclaimer here: I understand that men too can be raped. I understand that rapists can, therefore be male or female. And I understand that there are the very occasional cases where a woman/girl has made up a rape story and is found guilty of ruining a man's life with a trial that has no basis but revenge. I also am ashamed to have to acknowledge that many many many women have been and are collaborators in their own degradation. But that does not go against what my overall message is: Everyone is a 'slut', whether they have been victimised or not. Being a 'slut' should never ever be used as a moral justification for rape or sexual assault. Any body that says it is should be challenged and carefully brought around to progressive thinking.

Go out there and help change the world by persuading potential victims and potential attackers (i.e. everyone) that reporting assault is vital, that the victim is not to blame, that rape is in fact rape.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Stranger Tides

I tried to think of a really pirate-y/nautical title, such as "Voyage into deeper waters?" or something, in reference to the fact that I don't think that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is going to "furl its sails", as one puntastic reviewer put it, but there we go.

Plain and simple. That's me.

So yes! I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean "4", better known as Stranger Tides. I enjoyed it. I'll get that out there now.
I am a fan of Johnny Depp - though I think he is reaching the end of his versatility, Jack Sparrow is perhaps his best character this side of 2000. All his energy goes into it, and whilst I like his work with Tim Burton (save Willy Wonka) I think that Jack Sparrow is probably going to be his signature style in his ''later life''.
(Loving his tan. Can't help but notice his gorgeous tan. Really brings out his chocolatey eyes. /fangirl)

The plot is packed full and has potential. And it reached some of its potential - The film opens in Spain, introducing the knowledge of the Fountain of Youth being in the hands of the Spaniards. Then it cuts to London where we witness Jack do a magnificently choreographed and Sparrow-planned escape. We find out that King George also wants to get the Fountain of Youth, and that Barbossa, minus a leg, is now his top privateer.

Jack is rumoured to be looking for a crew, and is rumoured to be doing it in a certain bar. He goes there, having heard the rumours he himself had not started, and is reacquainted with an old flame, Angelica. (Penelope Cruz)
There's a clever bit of mirror-acting as Jack fights himself (a very good impersonator), but ultimately he ends up press-ganged, more or less, on the Queen Anne's Revenge, captained by Blackbeard.

Angelica and Blackbeard - two potentially brilliant characters, perhaps dropped in quality either by the acting or the lack of development. Penelope Cruz is a fantastic actress in her Spanish films. But she was too much the fiesty Latina (albeit ex-nun) woman, whilst Ian McShane, great actor though he is, was not quite as scary and menacing as his character should have been.
The relationship between Blackbeard and his ship however was interesting, and they added zombification of crew and ship-collecting to his long list of posthumous stories.
There were scenes were we glimpsed his ferocity, which was largely based on what the crew told Jack, but it was not enough. His relationship with Angelica could also have been more interesting, but as it happened, it was fairly straight forward.

The mermaids. Now, they were very interesting, and left something of a black hole in a side story - the catholic preacher, captive on the Revenge who falls in love with a mermaid captured for the Fountain of Youth ceremony, was open-ended - at least according to my friend. I think she's trying to see too much into it, but then I can't help but also feel wistful about what might have happened to them. After all, their storyline warranted an entire poster.
The mermaids, beautiful but deadly, reminisced vampire-like creatures, sirens and the normal mermaid. That they need air to breath as well as water to live was interesting, for me, anyway.

Barbossa is aging, and had one goal: to avenge his leg by killing Blackbeard. His relationship with Jack is as... frought as usual. They make such a wonderful partnership, though, and he does get some of the good lines and great reaction shots.
I somewhat missed his crew, though, but perhaps they're on the Pearl, which Jack might come back to save in another film.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Hercules mixed with Sword in the Stone mixed with sort of Lion King but more like whatever film it is with rivalling siblings starring a guy who's channelling Heath Ledger's voice. Thor was pretty.

Ok, long title, but I had to work in my initial reaction somewhere.

Yes, Thor was bloody gorgeous. And I don't mean Chris Hemsworth, though you do get to see that his body is as sculpted as Michaelangelo's David. My goodness. And he's so tall too; I know Natalie Portman is a diddy thing and Stellen Skarsgard isn't exactly the Hulk, but he was pretty tall as well as beefy. Oh my. Beautiful Australian. And also from Melbourne, so perhaps that explains why he sounded as though he was channelling Heath Ledger's faux British Accent from A Knight's Tale (not complaining, I found it oddly soothing and it was pleasantly at odds with his massive crockery-smashing being).

Aaaanyhoo. Yes, the world of Asgard, the realm of what we know as Norse Gods is pure art. It's how the big city in the NeverEnding Story should have looked. It's how I wish Oblivion and the Shivering Isle EP had looked on my computer, had my graphics card had pathetic support. [Slight cause of annoyance for me]

The realm of the Ice Giants, Jotenheim was just as interesting, with the complete reversal in luxury and decadence. The Ice Giants were... interesting, to look at, maybe. Their king, Laufey, had reminiscences of some of the Big Bads in various series of Buffy, however. Somehow he reminded me of The Master (the teeth and pointy chin?), the song and dance demon, Sweet, The Judge and I dunno. There was something else about him but I couldn't place it.  I'd put pictures, but if you've not watched them animated, you probably wouldn't see what I meant, so...

I had been sceptical about the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall. I don't buy into this "it's racist to not have a black god" - Norse Gods, traditionally, aren't black. They hadn't encountered any. It was historical and mythological truth. But, frankly, he was pretty damn cool. I liked him. Though I expected him to come out with a line from Shivering Isles... His outfit made me think of this:
Ok, yeah, this is a white woman, but it's the gold helmet and the sword and stuff.

The plot was... well. It was perhaps a little fast-paced. And the romance theme was totally shoe-horned in. I'm reluctant to blame Kenneth Branagh for it though. 
Natalie Portman is a plot accessory. She knocks him down, brings him to New Mexico, helps him try to get his hammer back in exchange for learning about where he came from. In two days there is NO room for a bit of a romance and star-struckedness. But they have to do it, cause apparently the majority of the audience is into that icky stuff. I do like that she totally acted like a slut with the kiss. He was willing to go with out but she chucked herself on him and sucked face like no tomorrow. 
(I just wish somebody would reshape her eyebrows or draw on a little bit on the ends, so that they're less of a random straight line across her face. /bitchy moment)

There wasn't perhaps enough of an obvious incentive for Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to be the trouble child. I mean, he didn't know his real incentive until AFTER he's messed up Thor's life. But there could be room for development in The Avengers. I won't hold it against him though - he felt he didn't belong and stuff. He was realising himself and his capabilities after freeing himself of Thor's shadow. But there wasn't enough background for Loki, at least, to explain his double (possibly triple) bluffing.

Thor had to do a bit of soul-searching, too. With the help of Loki. By blaming himself for everything and thinking he'd messed up more than he had was the perfect kick up the arse towards humility and forethought - I refuse to believe that his love interest was the reason he went so ''soft'', as Loki put it.

As a result of the fast-paced story - he's only on earth for 3 days tops - the fight scenes are also very fast and perhaps over the top. I don't know. I'm not a great connoisseur or admirer of fight scenes. I can recognise when they don't have any plot significance though.

There were a lot of recognisable themes:

  • Journey of self discovery.
  • Monarchal and Sibling Rivalry.
  • Patricide.
  • Arrogance vs Humility and patience.
  • [Love at first sight]
  • Comradeship.

Check out his muscles! Sword in the Stone, unworthiness.
And you can sort of recognise a lot of mythology and popular fiction... As I said in the title, there is a sort of element of Hercules - banished son walks as a mortal, falls in love, sacrifices himself, gets his god-powers back, kicks ass, and promises to return. (Though with Hercules and Meg, it's a lot less open-ended, since he'd lived on earth for much longer)
There's the Sword in the Stone - only one who is worthy of the sword/hammer will be able to call it and to claim the power of Thor. Clever Odin (Anthony Hopkins) knew that Thor was capable of learning his lessons in humility just in time.
And there's the normal sibling rivalry for one crown. As the parents make an effort to not exert favouritism whilst rearing their children, one is obviously overshadowed and nurtures a sinister jealousy and where he lacks in physical strength and bulk, he makes up for it in diplomacy, charisma and mischief making. To quote Scar, from The Lion King, Loki has the "lion's share" of brain, but "when it comes to brute strength [he] is at the shallow end of the gene pool". 

And even Odin, played by the fluffy-bearded Anthony Hopkins (<3) had a bit of discovery going on. He began to see what he should have seen in his children a long time ago. But then, hind sight is a gloriously (useless) thing.

Sif and the Warriors Three were pretty cool. I felt as though perhaps they were channelling D'Artagnan or another French swordsman through Fandral, which is kinda ironic cause the dude that played Volstagg was in a version of the Three Muskateers. I hope that Sif isn't pining a bit after Thor - there might have been a slight moment at the end, but it's hard to tell. I hope not. It'd be nice if she was just cool, or they were friends and you know, it'd be a companionship type marriage for the good of the line of heirs for Asgard or something. But they added a nice bit of comic relief when they just turn up in New Mexico looking for Thor.

I very much liked the continuity of Thor with the end clip of Iron Man 2. For a split second I feared they'd failed, but they didn't. It was all there. All 2 seconds of it or whatever it was.
Overall, the film is stunning, and the acting is actually quite good. The writing is pretty Marvel-film standard. There's not a huge amount of kick-ass-ery though, in the speech, but they threw in references to the Iron Man films beautifully - one man asking if the guardian of Asgard's weaponry (The Destroyer) was "one of Stark's" inventions, and of course S.H.I.E.L.D had a pretty central role, surrounding the hammer.
I think Kenneth Branagh did a pretty damn good job.

7 or 8 out of 10 from me. I dock marks for the stupid tickbox romance.