Monday, 10 October 2011


Most readers will know this anyway, but for the sake of completeness, my twin daughters were born very prematurely on 28th July, and died within an hour.  We named them Wolf and Fox.

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

(Raymond Carver)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Pregnant Feminist

So finally I can explain why I've been pretty slack about blogging this last couple of months; as well as thoughts about impending motherhood getting in the way of my usual outrage and indignance, I've found it pretty difficult to summon the energy to sit typing in between bouts of throwing up and extreme tiredness.

Now I'm in my second trimester I can expect three months of feeling pretty healthy except for a stuffed-up nose, so its time to get blogging again.  This isn't going to be a blow-by-blow account of the rest of the pregnancy, birth and subsequent nappy-changing, because I'm sure you won't find that too interesting.  Equally, I can't promise to keep the blog completely baby-free because it's obviously going to have a rather big impact on, well, everything.  Oh, I did say it was twins, right?

Wish us luck!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Who Needs a Bookshop?

This isn't a blog about my work, because its my day off and that would be boring.  Let's assume for a minute that it's a massive coincidence that I work in bookshop because this blog is about being a reader, a book lover and a book buyer, and what that means in today's world.

Two big things have happened in the book world recently.  One is last surviving national specialist bookselling chain Waterstone's have been sold by owners HMV to a Russian billionaire, who, depending on who you listen to, is either the saviour of the human race or a man with more money than sense. 

The other is that in the book industry's annual awards, General or Chain Bookselling Company of the Year has gone to Sainsbury's.

If Mamut hadn't bought Waterstone's, and no one else had either, there is a strong possibility that HMV would have gone down in flames before the year was out, and Waterstone's would have gone down with them.  And the question I've been asking myself for the last couple of months, is, would anyone have noticed?  Who uses bookshops these days anyway?  Many of my close friends, avid readers with whom I swap book talk on a regular basis, have ereaders now.  Actually, what they have is Kindles, which means they buy all their books from a retailer who sells everything Sainsbury's does except cans of beans and petrol (and if they could figure out a way to fill up your car, I'm pretty sure they would).  No one has been up in arms about Amazon winning Direct Bookselling Company of the Year.

When I first started in bookselling, I would meet new people and tell them what I do.  'What a great job!' they'd say.  'I love bookshops.  I bet you get to read loads of books when they first come out.  I'd just read all day.'

Now when I meet new people and tell them what I do, they say 'I love bookshops.  I buy all my books online because its cheaper'. 

Now, I am the first to hold my hands up and say, yes, shopping online is cheaper.  Its more convenient and you have an infinite range at your fingertips because a warehouse is, I don't know, about a squillion times bigger than my 3000 sqm shop.  But imagine if you couldn't go into a bookshop, because there weren't any.  You could still buy books in the real world, sure.  You can buy them in supermarkets, or at the airport.  But the only things you'll be able to buy there are 'bestsellers', authors who are 'brands', although, of course, you could get anything you wanted online, and if you rummage down a hidden side street in a middle-class chocolate-box town you might find a marvellous independent bookshop, but I wouldn't bank on it.

Now imagine that you also don't have a local library, and the closest one you do have really only has bestsellers, authors who are 'brands'.  This basically means that in physical terms the only books you SEE, with your eyes, in 3D, are books that you seek out and purchase, or books that are lined up by the till point while you are doing your grocery shopping.  Does that matter?  We have been close to being there by the end of 2011.  In time, I'm sure more excellent independent bookshops and small chains would open in a variety of towns and cities across the country, but not before many publishers had been irrevocably damaged by the instant loss of almost 300 shops.

Apparently in a high street bookshop for every 100 paying customers, 43 are ' browsing, with the intention of buying online.'  So without high street bookshops, even online sales could fall.  I'm glad that, at least temporarily, the future of the bookshop on the high street has been secured.  The new team at the head of Waterstone's promises some exciting changes that if successful will bring high street bookselling into the 21st century and at the same time restore some of the good old-fashioned bookshopness, which has lost its lustre in the struggle to compete with the supermarkets and the internet.  But it don't mean nothin' if all those people at parties who tell me how great my job is don't use them.  Chains, independents, anywhere which celebrates the glory of the book in any shape and size, where the books you find are ones chosen by experts who just want to sell you any book and pick the best ones, rather than marketed at you by publishers who have decided to make x author their next big thing, and paid a premium to get them on the shelf in the supermarket to ensure this will be the case.

Which brings me onto Sainsbury's.  Now one of the things I love, love, love about my job, is the customers who aren't traditional booklovers but just read the new Dan Brown and couldn't put it down and want more like that please.  I don't care if they only read memoirs about abused children (although if I had the choice I'd really rather they didn't), reading and sharing literature of any kind is one of the most important things we can do to develop empathy, creativity, vocabulary, and knowledge on an infinite number of subjects.  But my shop can be a daunting place for people who don't know what 'fiction' means.  If Sainsbury's has a role to play in helping those customer find the books they like in a way that feels more comfortable, I salute them.  They are securing a literate and book-loving future for those customers and their children, which is one of the things bookselling is about.

But it's not all bookselling is about.  Its also about creating an audience for new writers, without whom the world would be a poorer place. Its about helping people fulfill dreams (one of my all-time favourite customers - he wears a bowtie and is the world's politest gentleman- is spending his retirement reading a lot of ancient greek/roman classics in their original language thanks to us finding him dictionaries, texts and background reading material), its about creating readers at birth and nurturing them with the proper care and attention as long as they keep coming back for more.  Libraries are marvellous places and can do many of the same things (and often more).  But I have always loved choosing a new book and knowing it is mine.  You don't get the same thrill from a library book.  And I find it hard to imagine you can get the same thrill picking up a book at Sainsburys. 

Unsurprisingly, booklovers everywhere have been somewhat unimpressed with the news, but who would you have given the award to?  Waterstone's has been closing stores, British Bookshops and Stationers have disappeared completely, Foyles won it last year and while they could easily win two years in a row, the judges argue that Sainsbury's hit every critera for the award.  Personally, I'd rather them than Asda.

Really, the only people we have to blame for this is ourselves.  After all, the winner of the Independent Bookseller of the Year was Bath's Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights which I have never visited but just fell a little bit in love with online for their gift vouchers (A 'Reading Spa Treatment', anyone?  Or a 'Year of Reading Delights'?).  If this is what we want the future of book buying to look like (and who doesn't?) we can make that happen with the following simple steps:

1) Use your local bookshop- eg, business where books make up at least 50% of the place, whether its a chain or independent.  Regularly.  To buy things, not just browse.
2) Every now and then, buy something there you didn't go in for, just coz it looks good.
3) Feedback - tell them what they are doing well, what they should do better.
4) Go home feeling smug and read a new book.
5) Don't buy books in the supermarket.

Happy reading!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

Okay, okay.  I wrote this a couple of weeks ago but have only just got around to editing, finding pictures and posting it.  Many apologies for extreme tardiness.

Today I watched Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God - be Back by Five.  Its good, you should watch it.  Its all about high school friendships and the places we find ourselves, unexpectedly, ten years later.  But it's just as much about Coney Island.


Have you ever been?  Not many people I know have.  Its a very difficult place to explain.  It has all the decaying charm of any seaside town, but double it, add some fading magic and several ghosts. That's bascially Coney Island. I love it.

Maybe its partly that it was the first day I spent in New York, late September a few years ago in glorious sunshine.  We got there early and nothing was open.  Its a long subway ride from the centre of the city and we thought we might have made a massive mistake.  We spent an hour or so walking along the boardwalk, went to the Aquarium, and when we came out everything was getting going and the place was really filling up.  I think it was at that point we got swept into the Freak Show, after watching someone hammer a nail into his brain up his nose.

The freak show was great, it cost maybe six dollars, I think, and it was worth every penny.  Mostly it was kind of burlesque circus acts - Heather Holiday, a tiny sword swallower/contortionist, Serpentina who danced with a massive albino... snake of some kind, Angelica who breathed and twirled fire, all compered by Donny Vomit who did a few tricks and reminded me of my first boyfriend, and there was also the Black Scorpion/Lobster Boy who did tricks and comedy based on the fact he has 'lobster claw syndrome' hands.   It wasn't slick or glamorous, it felt like a bunch of misfits were doing this because it was somewhere they could fit in.  Of course, that was probably part of the act itself too, they probably do it because they make a heap of money at it over a summer.  But it felt really honest, in a way that La Clique in the West End for four times the price, despite having slickness and glamour in bucketloads, didn't.

Maybe it was partly that I'd read The Electric Michelangelo, the second section of which takes place on Coney Island as the young tattooist from Morecambe escapes there and falls in love with the Tattooed Lady.  His Coney Island, if not exactly in the heyday (it has been in gradual decline almost since its boom around 1900) is certainly considerably less decrepit than it is today and Sarah Hall's exquisite prose (really, you must read it) made me fall in love with somewhere I'd never been.

Maybe its partly that the seaside is in my blood.  I spent the first ten years of my life in a crappy seaside town, Southend-on-Sea in the 1980s.  Okay, its technically on the River Thames, or the Thames Estuary, which could be one of the reasons its got all the tackiness and not much of the rustic charm of the real seaside.  Goodness knows what percentage of my childhood weekends were spent rollerskating along the promenade, walking along the World's Longest Pier (its so long there's a train back), paddling in the 'sea'.  And how much of my pocket money I spent on the rides at Peter Pan's Playground, now Adventure Island.

I don't really like rides.  I'm a wimp, I'll be the first to admit it.  To this day I haven't been on a ride on which you go upside down.  I don't mind going fast, I don't mind spinning round.  I'm not great at going high, and I'd rather stay upright if possible.  But my favourite 'ride' was The Crooked House.  When you walk in, you can't see anything, not even the floor, it's pitch black.  You kind of shuffle along until you come to these lit-up dioramas in which the 'Crooked Man' is shown in various domestic situations - feeding his cat and shaving are the two I remember - he might also be sleeping in one of them.  He is terrifying, although its hard to say why.  It could be that his head swivels all the way round a la Exorcist while he is shaving.  Then there are some crooked stairs and crooked mirrors and then you walk outside to a teddy bear band playing in the daylight, and the steps back down seem crooked because they are straight but you've just spent ten minutes getting used to wobbly ones. 

Okay, I can't explain it, just that it held a certain grim fascination for me, like this waxwork...

In  Went to Coney Island... a recurring question is, if you are going to wash up anywhere, why here?  And the responses echo each other: 'At night, they turn on the lights on the Wonderwheel.  it's pretty.'  Its an answer that explains nothing, of course.  But I understand exactly what they mean.

I can see the sea (real sea!) from my dining room window now, I sat on the beach today and just watched the waves for a while.   Since I've lived on the Sussex coast, the West Pier in Brighton has been collapsing.  I must have moved here shortly after the fire in 2003 which effectively put the nail in the coffin of the redevelopment plans.  I don't think it looks romantic and striking anymore, I think it looks really sad.  But for me, that's sort of how a seaside should be.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Quiet in a Noisy World

Rats, it's April!  What happened to my promise to myself to blog at least weekly?

Well, ironically when I have been massively busy, I haven't really felt like I have very much to say.  I've been doing all sorts of wonderful things in the real world, spending time with good friends, dearly-loved family, going on country walks, eating a lot of good lunches, making it to my dance class for a change, running my book club, going to Moviebar.  I haven't seen any films to make me angry about their gender politics (we'll gloss over 'Dr Strangelove') although I did get into a brilliant Bechdel Test debate with my chum Ash - proof that people really are reading my blog and paying attention, thank you!  Maybe I have already changed the world a very tiny bit.  This makes me happy.

But none of that is very exciting in the blogosphere.  I drafted a blog about how much I love people - I really do - but the moment passed and although I still love people, I sort of lost the feeling that prompted me to write it so that'll stay on the backburner until I love people so much I have to revisit it.

I drafted a blog about how, Mr Writer by Night, I don't have a feminist blog, thank you very much. I sometimes write about feminist things.  I also sometimes don't, as seen here, here and here.  It was going to be a long, self-examining post but really, as I said when I started this, I'm not going to declare a blogging manifesto.  I'd rather let my posts speak for themselves.

I baked some fairy cakes and I have made a resolution to do more knitting again.  I'm a process knitter.  I'm really bad at finishing things, I just love the therapeutic rhythym and the magic of seeing a piece of fabric take shape with my hands.  I don't care for making-up and precision knitting so that sleeves fit into armholes.  This is why I mainly knit scarves and other rectangular things.

Talking of which, I read this not long after I wrote my marriage post and I found it really interesting.  As I said at the time, I don't have a feminist argument for marriage and I can think of many against it.  Broadly speaking, I think of my marriage in and of itself, nothing to do with anyone or any history or politics other than my husband and I, just a promise we made to each other.  I don't disagree with all of Jaclyn Geller's arguments against marriage, but what I do disagree with is her assertion that not only are women still getting married, they are 'manicuring to hyper-perfection the very domestic idyll their mothers rallied to escape', and quoting among other things the resurgence of knitting as an example.  Among pretty much all of the young married women, and men, I know, I cannot think of anyone who can be accused of such un-feminist behaviour as doing unreasonable amounts of housework and I think (do correct me if I'm wrong) I'm the only married knitter I know.  I don't think knitting makes me a bad feminist.  I suppose it might if all I knitted was clothes for my husband but as he never wears the scarf I knitted him once, I haven't bothered since.  I knit for the sheer low-tech pleasure of the activity, not because I'm married or I confuse it with domestic goddesstry.  One of my most outspokenly anti-marriage friends has this fantastic recipe blog, and I don't think it undermines her arguments against marriage or her personal politics, she just likes to cook.  I think arguments like this (and I do accept that the journalist could be paraphrasing and generalising) damage feminism because they refer back to the outdated image of woman and domesticity bound up as one, rather than acknowledging that the two are separate, with a perfect right to both exist in the same person if that is what she chooses.  The same goes for the reaction to Natalie Portman's Oscar acceptance speech.  She's about to give birth.  No wonder she regards motherhood, right now, as being the most important thing in her life.  Does that make her unfeminist?  I don't think so.
Oops, I accidentally wrote a feminist blog again.  Maybe the Writer by Night has a point after all...

I forgot to make a book recommendation last Feminism Friday.  You can belatedly have my all-time favourite book, Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.  I have read it at least 10 times.  Everything I know about life, I learnt from this book.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Feminism Friday: Winter's Bone

I didn't want my Feminism Friday blogs to just be me moaning, I wanted to talk about all the good stuff that women and feminists do in the world too, then last night after watching it, the Writer by Night said I should blog about Winter's Bone.  Obviously, like any good feminist I thought I'd better do as my husband said, and here I am. 

I'd like to stress at this point, that a good film and a feminist film are not necessarily the same thing.  If it wasn't a Friday, I might not even mention Winter's Bone, I don't watch things in order to deconstruct their gender politics because if I did that I don't think I'd enjoy another film again.  I will always notice, but it isn't how I choose films to watch, and many of my favourite films could not be considered feminist.  This is not a review of Winter's Bone, it's a reflection on the messages I find within it.

Chris actually liked the film more than I did, although I liked it too.  I will try not to give spoilers, in fact, I don't really need to say very much specific about the plot.  The good news is, it passes the Bechdel Test within about five minutes, but more than that, the film is full of female characters with names all talking to each other.  Amazing.  And even better, they all do it fully clothed, and in some cases, with woolly hats on.   It is the female community in the film that supports, advises and helps Ree, the central character - and although violence is threatened by male characters, the only real violence in the film is executed by women.  What's interesting about this violence is that it is committed in the name of protection; not revenge or power or personal survival.  Astoundingly, given the odds for escaping this in movies in general, no one is raped.

(I had to search really hard on Google for an image of more than 1 woman from the film.  Note to self: in future, avoid googling anything with the word 'bone')

So, is it a feminist film?  At first I thought not, because in this community men represent power, authority, they are still the catalyst for change and most of the progression in the plot.  Most of the conversation between the women is about men, and indeed the plot revolves around a man.  There is still a moment where a man comes to the rescue - but I am coming to the conclusion this is more in the vein of 'sidekick' than 'superhero'.  Some of the men try to be heroic, but they all fail through cowardice, greed or malice.  Ree on the other hand succeeds without becoming a masculine archetype.  She is still able to nurture, communicate and seek non-violent solutions to her problems.  She is brave, selfless and dignified.  The film does truly celebrate feminine characteristics without devaluing them. 

What interested me most though, was the number of women involved in making the film, reading the credits, there were women - usually plural - in pretty much every behind-the-camera department.  I think our commercial film industry is so skewed towards male stories and tells them in such a blatantly sexist way is because women generally have such a tiny part in the process, men genuinely forget about them.  Then women aren't interested because they don't feel reflected in cinema, and so movies just get made for young men and it becomes a viscious circle.  There was still nothing like an equal split but women clearly had a much stronger presence in the making of Winter's Bone, on a project led by women.  The more this happens, I hope, the more we will see an honest reflection of our world on screen.

Director Debra Granik on set for Winter's Bone

While writing this I've been listening to Debra Granik being interviewed about Winter's Bone, and she makes the point that if we are to have any kind of 'biodiversity' in film making, we need to support the small films, because if they make their money back, the investors are happy and they get to make more films.  She's not talking from a feminist perspective, just any kind of independent film-making outside the glossy Hollywood model.  So I am making a resolution to seek out and pay for movies like this, in the hope that my one voice will go some way to ensuring I get to write more positive blogs!

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Blog I Didn't Write

When I set this up it was my goal to blog at least once a week, but I hadn't banked on having weeks like this.  It hasn't exactly been a bad week, in some ways it's been quite a pleasant week.  All the same, nothing's quite gone according to plan.

It started with The Play I Didn't Do.  It's been a while since I was on stage and over the past few months I've been putting together a two-person show which was supposed to be on last week, but, erm, it wasn't.  In many ways it's a relief because I was kind of terrified, but its also disappointing, sad and frustrating.  Hopefully it's a postponement and if I get it on again you'll be the first to know.  Actually, you won't, you'll be some way down the list behind the rest of the company, the venue, the rights agents and anyone I happen to talk to before I get chance to blog about it. 

So not doing the play gave me a bit more free time, great, I would get to my dance class at least.  So next there was the Dance Class I Didn't Go To.  My dancing buddy and I hopped in the car for the 15 minute journey along the coast.  Only half an hour into the journey, we'd travelled approximately two miles.  We'd already missed ten minutes of our class.  So I took her home and made it to The Moviebar I Did Go To - this was a fun night and I greatly enjoyed being quiz master of the Quiz I Hadn't Written, athough I did have to refer to Rosario Dawson as 'delightful', but it could have been worse (this was the Moviebar our regular quizmaster Didn't Go To, maybe our schedules got mixed up somewhere).  If you live near Brighton and you've never been to Moviebar, check it out.

On Thursday I had the day off work and was planning a shopping trip before a rehearsal for another play I am stage managing for.  Only by then I was so used to things not going according to plan I made this the Shopping Trip I Didn't Go On by dillydallying and then the bus broke down so I just had time for a quick coffee with a friend.  That night there was The Other Dance Class I Didn't Go To because my car was unhappy - possibly with the idea I might end up going somewhere for a change.

On Saturday I Didn't Have Lunch With a Friend, after I got to work to discover that what I thought was going to be a short-staffed day would actually be barely-staffed-at-all day, and in the scramble to give everyone a lunchbreak I'd completely forgotten I had plans for mine.  Or perhaps by this point I was subconsciously sabotaging my own plans. 

On Sunday night the Writer and I Didn't Watch a Film, specifically Notes on a Scandal which we got maybe 40 minutes into only for the massive crack on the disc we had noticed but tried to ignore proved itself beyond ignoring.  We watched Fanboys instead, which was a more fun film than Notes on a Scandal, at least.  FYI, does NOT pass the Bechdal Test.  Not only that, it is possibly the most sexist, degrading film I have seen in the past year - to men as well as women (although surprise, surprise, the girls come off worse).  But don't let that stop you, it had some funny moments and nice cameos. 

And then today I Didn't Have The Day Off when I went in for a couple of hours this morning.  Tomorrow I Am Not Having Drinks With My Ex-Boss who has flu.  Throughout all this I have Not Been Reading Wolf Hall because despite it weighing down my handbag I have been distracted by Eve Zaremba's Work for a Million which I found on a secondhand bookstall - I'm a sucker for any crime fiction which looks remotely dated, to almost any period, and for female PIs, so this was a fabulous double whammy.  Then today when I intended to pick up Wolf Hall again I bumped into a friend at the station and spent the train journey catching up with him instead of reading.

I would say I'm off to bed now but I don't want to jinx it...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Feminism Friday: Any Woman Worth Her Salt

A couple of weeks ago I watched Salt.  You'll have to forgive me, it wasn't the most memorable of films and a lot has happened since so I'll be hazier on the details than I would have been the next day.

*Contains spoilers - but no deeply important plot points*

Firstly, it wasn't a terribly good film, it tried to have plot twists but it basically just meant you spent much of the film without sympathy for any character, risky but with fabulous writing you can pull it off. This wasn't fabulously written and I had a hard time caring about pretty much any of them. 

But it makes an interesting film to watch from a feminist viewpoint because it was apparently originally written for Tom Cruise.  I love action women, I like Angelina Jolie, I hadn't heard great things about the film beforehand but I was willing to throw myself into it.  It had some plus points - there were some outrageous action sequences with Jolie throwing herself off a bridge and jumping between moving lorries.  I can't think of another film where I've seen a female character do that kind of chase without a male sidekick ( rather, without being a man's sidekick), or not in the most ridiculous skimpy dress or shorts you ever saw.  In this she was wearing a beanie and a backpack, and she looked, preposterous lips notwithstanding, like a real woman.  The fights were believable, they didn't make too much fuss about the fact she was a woman throwing punches at men, but also didn't make it too easy for her to disable some pretty big and tough guys. 

There's also an intriguing moment where she kicks a sanitary towel dispenser off the wall in a ladies toilets and uses one to patch up a gunshot wound - this strikes me as a very practical move and I don't think I've ever seen a sanitary towel in a film.  I'm not sure given the wound she had this would really have been possible but this is the world of an action flick and it doesn't do to question feasibility too closely.  It feels like a 'wouldn't it be cool if, now Salt's a woman, she...' but in this instance it paid off, for me at least.

Not so for the moment a little earlier when, after spraying CCTV cameras with a fire extinguisher to cover the lens, she inexplicably, with the fire extinguisher still to hand, whips off her knickers to block the final camera.  This she can do easily and a million times more gracefully than any knicker removal I've seen or executed in real life, thanks to the massive slit in the tight skirt she wears to her office job in the CIA.  I can't believe Jolie even did it, really.  I'd have been tempted to punch the director in the face.  There's also a questionable moment at the beginning of the film when she's learning to fold napkins for her anniversary dinner with her husband.  I find it very hard to believe this was part of the original script, and while the function of the episode is clearly to establish the husband and the occasion, this would never have been written for the character as Cruise would have played it.

When I watch a film, it has to go through two tests.  One is personal, informal, I have been using it more or less since I took A level English and my teacher asked the girls in the class, 'where are you in this play?'  I think the Writer By Night named this the Andrea Test after our first row about The Thing (he says it was about Phantasm 4 but neither of us are prepare to swear to it).  Basically, what I'm looking for is a film to contain female characters I can identify with, who have experiences in the film outside of being wives, girlfriends, mothers, rape victims (in the sense of being accessories, a film like Stepford Wives for example - the good one- about those experiences is fine); who behave with integrity and in a believable way, and the plural is crucial - there needs to be more than one.  Some films I love like Fight Club, don't pass this test; it doesn't make them bad films (Fight Club I think in some ways is different anyway because the film is about male identity and inter-male relationships in today's world).  But it's measure of beginning to see the way women are portrayed in movies, almost by default, without anyone really noticing it might be a problem.

Then last year the Writer By Night put me onto John August's blog which linked to Feminist Frequency's blog about the Bechdel Test.  It's a more formal, much simpler version of my test, asking 3 questions: Are there two or more women, with names, in the film?  Do they talk to each other?  Do they talk to each other about something other than men? Pick a film, any film.  Does it pass?  (But please watch the FF video - she is so much more eloquent, on this or any other subject, than I am).

What is striking about Salt then, considering it has an interesting, three-dimensional female character at the centre of it, is that it doesn't pass either test.  She is oddly the only woman in this world apart from a couple of unnamed agents and White House aides.  There are no other female characters.   It just fails at the first hurdle; not even two with names.  Think about this for a moment - isn't that astounding, more than that, shocking?  She does talk to a small girl, who might be named (I said I might be vague), about taking care of her dog, but the test specifies women, and every single adult woman with any status, all the politicians, spies and terrorists are all exclusively men.  I don't know about you, but this does not reflect the world I live in.  Hard as it may be to believe, everyday I have conversations with other women, who have names, about things other than men!  I see on the news women in positions of power (not enough but that's another blog) with names, talking to each other about things other than men.  We all as adults accept the movie world as being a construct, where things can happen that don't happen in the every day world, but how often do you step back and look what that construct, as a complete picture, is telling us?  And how do we explain to a younger generation why we have chosen to discriminate on screen in a way we would never find acceptable in the real world? 

I realise the same goes for almost any minority group on film; race, religion, sexual orientation.  But women are not a minority group.  Count us, see us, give us names.  Stop making us accessories and rape victims.  Start making us people.  Why is that so hard, Hollywood?

  For this Feminism Friday, I prescribe Allison Bechdel's Fun Home. The Writer by Night bought it for me for Christmas and I read it in seconds, just wonderful and warm and sad and true.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Circle Game

I have just passed an enjoyable few days in the Midlands culminating in my big sister's wedding in Birmingham .  The sister in me is thrilled and excited and happy and hungover; but I'm surprised to find in all these weddings there is also a feeling of having come full circle somehow.  I thought this was from my wedding last year, but then I started tracing that circle back through my life and I'm still not sure where it starts. I keeping finding circles within circles, tiny circles around my finger and massive drunken staggering circles kicking each other in the shins while they bawl 'New York, New York' and that mystical, mystifying, enchanting circle of two that doth a marriage make. 

I'm not sure exactly why I believe in, support or endorse marriage, in all honesty.  I don't have any particular religious beliefs although I would describe myself more as agnostic than atheist.  In many ways it's a fairly outdated institution, the customs of which work mostly against my feminist principles, and in the 21st century there is simply no excuse for its exclusion of couples of the same gender.  It is normal social practice for couples to live together outside marriage and have children outside marriage and I have never felt pressured to marry for moral reasons, either for myself or even within my family or social circle.  It just isn't necessary, and in fact there are many good arguments against it. 

When I talk about marriage here, it's kind of code for a life-long, committed relationship.  But I have to say, before I married I would have said I was in one of those; and yet I have definitely crossed some kind of other threshold.  The thing about a marriage is you have to say it out loud.  I heard a writer talking recently about what a momentous occasion it is when as a writer you say 'I am a writer, I am writing a novel' out loud; that however much you've wanted or hoped for that secretly, you don't dare to say it, and then one day you do and it doesn't necessarily make you a better writer, but something changes anyway.  I continue to be surprised that marriage does change something.  It feels like casting spells, setting aside the time and space, saying the words and knowing them to be true has, for me at least, had a little bit of magic in it.

My first memory of wanting to be married was shyly confessing that feeling to my First Boyfriend at the age of fourteen.  He laughed at me and we never mentioned it again, but this week he proposed to his beautiful and high-achieving girlfriend who wisely and bravely accepted and I'm thrilled for them both.  Another circle closes.

I don't want to induce any vomit so I'll leave it there.  I'm not going to bore you with our wedding details but I'd like to give a big shout out to the Offbeat Bride Tribe which provided space to think about all the big things whilst also dealing with all the little things as we planned our wedding; if you are planning yours I highly recommend you pay it a visit.  One of my friends on there has now started her own wedding website and she profiled our wedding here.

Monday, 14 February 2011

In Defence of St Valentine's Day

I've always been pro-Valentine's Day.  I think it's lovely.  What kind of a humbug are you to not enjoy telling someone you love them?  What do you mean, you don't love anyone?  Well,  now's the time to start.
     File:Anthropomorphic Valentine, crica 1950.JPG
I've been looking into the background of Valentine's Day, it appears it wasn't constructed by Clintons and Hallmark but based on a series of misapprehensions on how many martyrs there were called Valentine, when their Saint's day (or days) was (or were), what (if anything) they have to do with romanitc love, what date Chaucer was talking about when he writes about 'seynt Volantynys' day, and a convenient mash-up of the results of this with a Roman fertility festival.  But people have been sending Valentines since the 15th century.  I'm not going to check but I'm going to hazard a guess that Clintons hasn't been around that long.

Yes, card companies and other retailers absolutely want to make as much money from you as possible on Valentine's Day  - but how is that different from any other day?  When the Writer by Night (who has a long-standing hatred of Valentine's Day) and I celebrated our first 14th of Feb together, we made a deal that whatever we did would be free.  He made me an awesome comic and I made him a fluffy purple picture frame and a heart-shaped pizza.  We still have both of those things (we ate the pizza). You can celebrate without spending anything if you feel that strongly about spending £2 on a card.

And as for the argument that you don't need one day a year to tell you to make a loved one feel special because you should do it every day; well, I'm willing to bet that you don't.  I've heard more than once that over-use of the phrase 'I love you' devalues it, but I think that's categorically untrue.  Using it when you don't mean it devalues it, using it and then behaving in an unloving way devalues it, but I don't think you can ever say it enough.  If you can't remember when you last told the person you love that you love them, you need to say it again.

I am lucky, I know, to have someone to celebrate with and someone worth celebrating.  But one of my most memorable Valentine's experiences was a year when I was single and seven friends and I did a 'secret valentine' with a budget of £3 each, pulling a name out of a hat.  I got a red fluffy heart that vibrated when you pulled a string (if memory serves me correctly it was from Ash), John won by giving Ceri a bin bag full of inflated balloons and a pin, which when she popped them each had a letter inside spelling out a message.  Then we all went to the cinema to indulge Julia's crush on John Simm in 'Wonderland'.  That year I also sent someone an anonymous home-made valentine's card and a kinder egg.  It was an unrequited crush but it felt good to send it, and I'd like to think that it made him feel a little bit special that someone had gone to all that effort for him. 

Love is precious but it's also free and the more you give away, the more you get back.  I think it's a sign of a civilised society that there's a day dedicated to celebrating that.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Saw this and thought of you...

I have been too busy being the World's Busiest Lady this week to write you a proper post - actually that's not true, I started an epic, introspective and probably dull draft last night that will probably take a good few months to complete.  In the meantime I have been inspired by my good chum Steerforth who posts about the treasures he finds during his very cool job, and I'd like to share this particularly outstanding book cover with you.  I think it might be my favourite of all time:
I don't think I could bear to read the book in case it just doesn't live up to the cover...

Friday, 4 February 2011

Call Yourself a Feminist! or, the Difficult Second Blog

And it really has been difficult.  While catching up on Feminist Frequency the other day I stumbled across a few other feminist blogs, including one that mentioned Feminism Friday - the idea being that if several bloggers post feminist blogs or articles on a Friday it will create a bigger buzz and maybe reach readers who wouldn't otherwise read something with that tag.  I think it's a great idea (I accidentally nearly wrote 'great' in capitals, I didn't think it was that great) and immediately wanted to give it a go.  Cue a few stumbling paragraphs about some of the sexist attitudes I encounter on a day to day basis.

Just one problem.  Turns out, I'm not terribly good at being opinionated.  I do a few things wrong:

1) I'm really bad at expressing myself without making allowances for other people having a different opinion to me.  I blame my parents, they did a pretty good job.

2) I always make a counter argument to myself in my head as I go along, which I find it hard to keep off the page (screen? keys?). I blame James II.  Not the king, the boyfriend.  James II was always right - he'd be the first to admit it.  In fact, he wouldn't just admit it, he'd inform you he was always right. No matter what you were arguing he'd be right, he'd pick the opposite viewpoint just for the mental workout.  Overall, it was probably pretty good for me and I have a lot to thank him for.  But unsurprisingly, I didn't marry him.

3) I write like I'm in the Famous Five.  It's not put on, I speak that way too (people who know me in real life will verify this).  Julia Marchese didn't think English people really say 'jolly good' until she heard me say it- I had to break it to her that they don't usually, since the 1950s.  I'm not sure who I can blame for that as my mother was strongly against Enid Blyton, or any children's literature where the girls helped mummy/Cook in the kitchen while the boys planted potatoes in the garden.  She used to switch it around when she read us bedtime stories (yes, I do blame her for me wanting to get involved in Feminism Friday. Thanks Mum!) Anyway, try making a forceful argument using phrases like 'jolly good', 'terribly' and 'marvellous'.  See what I mean?

All of this has sort of got in the way of me saying it makes me rather cross when, in the course of recommending an excellent book (which I have course to do on an almost hourly basis, and they pay me for it), I'm asked if it is Woman's book - 'woman' said in the same tone as 'I'm on a train that stops at Balcombe' (for those who don't use the London-Brighton line, the tone you use for an irritant the universe has thrown in your path which is not deadly but highly inconvenient and if you could think of a safe and legal way of destroying it, you might.  David Cameron. Seagulls).  So my brief nod to Feminism Friday which I will participate in, not necessarily every Friday, but as often as I can, and my response to all those readers who judge a book by its gender, is this:

There is no such thing as a woman's book.
A woman enjoying a book does not mean that a man will not.
And vice versa.
The novels I have most enjoyed have been those which surprise me, allow me to experience things I might not otherwise experience, educate me.
The gender of the authors of those books is irrelevant to my enjoyment of them.
The gender of the characters of those books is irrelevant to my enjoyment of them.
I know of no biological reason why this should be different for a man than it is for me.
It would not kill you just once in your life, or maybe even more often, to read a book about motherhood, or love.  In fact, in order to treat your condition, I view it as compulsory.
Yes, discounting a book as suitable reading material purely on the gender of the author or the person who recommends it is sexist, and in eight years of working with books, I have never seen a woman do it.

Every Feminism Friday, until I get bored, I'm going to recommend a good book by a woman.  I'd love to know what you think.  Today, it's The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall. 

Also, I'd love for other bloggers I know and love, every now and then, to spare a thought (or even a blog) for Feminism Friday. 

Monday, 31 January 2011

Look Mummy, I made a blog!

... and have spent three days in editing the background and fonts.  This is an important job.  This is a place where I can come and have some 'me' time (I really do dislike that expression) so I want to get the atmosphere just right.  I want it to be a cool hangout for you too, so let me know what you think of the decor.

I'm not setting out my manifesto here, other than the title, you'll get to know me soon enough and I'd rather let my posts speak for themselves.  I also apologise if I am a little sporadic in getting going, I have been the World's Busiest Lady recently and I've got plenty to keep me occupied until about the middle of May.  And as soon as I can after that I'm having a holiday!  You may also find I begin to write in iambic pentameter as I'm learning lines for a play in verse.

I have found time to go to the cinema three times this week and see 3 of the Oscar nominees -  it's been a few years since I last made a concerted effort to see as many of the films as possible but I've enjoyed it hugely, and an unexpected side effect has been seeing the films in relationship to one another, drawing connections, contrasts, seeing them as fragments of some massive uber-movie like the novels of David Mitchell.  After The King's Speech, Black Swan and 127 Hours, the three films seem to tell one story, about grappling with the very essence of ourselves, the part which is buried deepest and most personal; yet it seems in every case the ability to overcome is not drawn from within but from other people.  It's being loved that saves us, and perhaps giving love too.  On Saturday, after watching James Franco cut his arm off (actually, I watched his face while he cut his arm off; I'm a wimp like that) I wanted to give everyone I love a hug and tell them that they have all saved me, in their own way.  If there's something I learnt from them, it's that I'm one lucky Modesty.

And that the Dome Cinema in Worthing is awesome, in spite of people talking over the opening of Black Swan until I told them off.  For a wimp, I sometimes do quite un-wimpy things.