Monday, 14 April 2014

In which misogyny isn't art

The utter treat that is the guy who started the vile Women Who Eat on the Tube was on the Today programme on Friday, thereby raising the blood pressure of every right-thinking woman to dangerously high levels before she'd finished her first cup of tea.

Tony Burke (ah, there's some nominative determinism for you) talked about how the site isn't an issue, and how it's a celebration of women, and 'art'.

Oh do FUCK RIGHT OFF, would you. It's not 'art' in the way that street harassment isn't a compliment. And also in the way that some things just aren't art.

A post written by a woman whose picture was taken and featured on the site tells how she felt victimised, hurt and humiliated. It's not art so much as sheer and downright bullying.

There's an inherent weirdness to the project, as if in catching a woman in the act of eating, you're watching her do something inherently forbidden, as if women are above such base actions as eating, or waking up with morning breath. In a world where women are judged for what they eat or wear, or how they conduct themselves in public in a way that men just aren't, Burke's inability to empathise with women is indicative of the wider problem women have in society.

What this Neanderthal can't seem to grasp is that a quick snap on the tube (privacy issues aside) might not be a problem in a society where women aren't objectified on a minute by minute basis. But he's not stopped for a second to think about the position that society puts women in, in public, in 2014. Because the picture he's encouraging people to take of a woman who's doing a completely normal thing (albeit one that the late Granny Blonde would have deeply disapproved) won't be the first instance of misogynist scrutiny she's been put under that day.

She may well have listened to breakfast news, on which she heard segment after segment with a female perspective in none of them. She might have seen an article on the way to work about "women having it all" - yet when was the last time you saw a male CEO interviewed and asked about how he manages childcare? She might have made sure to wear a high-necked shirt, a sombre jacket and glasses because a male client refuses to take her seriously without.

She might have had a man mutter "nice tits" on her way to the tube; a guy yell at her from his car on her way to work - and then shout "fucking bitch" when she didn't respond. She might be putting in more work than her male colleague and not getting paid as much for doing exactly the same job. And then, when she's worked through lunch and is on her way home late, ravenous, a man on the tube takes a photo of her eating a sandwich that she feels guilty about anyway because she's a size 12 and media tells her that she'll only be attractive and worth something if she loses 10 pounds.

When, as a man, was the last day you experienced all that and didn't bat an eyelid because that's just the way life is?


Still think it's art?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

In which dreams shift and that's ok

I don't remember wanting to be a princess when I was small. I'm sure I did: it was the 80s and people weren't so concerned with gender-free parenting, so there must have been at least some pink frills.

The dreams I do clearly remember from when I was a child were being a vet (eschewed pretty soon after I realised there would be quite a lot of blood involved) and being a champion show jumper (that one got nixed when I finally realised that I wasn't particularly keen on enormous fences, which would have been problematic. My dislike was borne out recently hunting when I was one of only two members of the field to - much to Delila's fury - decline the opportunity to jump a five bar gate in favour of a rather less airborne canter the long way around the woods). Others I'm almost certainly sure involved having a pony, being a writer, and getting to eat alphabet potato letters for supper on a semi-regular basis.

Recently I saw someone on Twitter remark that she had had a discussion with a friend about whether it's ok to give up on your childhood dreams.

Initially there's something sad about the thought that someone has given up on their childhood dreams - that they've been quashed and moulded by the shackles of reality into losing the freedom of their imagination and their whimsy.

But thinking about it, I'm not sure that it's the specificity of childhood bit of that sentence that's actually the important bit. Because I don't see it like that.

Yes, I might have given up on childhood dreams of eating potato based snacks for every meal - but that's because I like having a working digestive system.

All that's happened is that my dreams have evolved as I've grown up. Now and instead, they involve horseback safaris in Botswana; sustaining a happy marriage as long as that of my grandparents'; and having a job that's a close approximation of CJ Cregg's (the first two aren't too close to happening, but I'm working on the third).

Hold on to the freedom inherent in your imagination, absolutely. But don't kid yourself that just because you're not now who you wanted to be as a kid, you've somehow failed. You've not: you've just changed. And if there is something that you're still hanging onto from childhood, you're in a better position now than you ever were to make it happen.

Father Christmas might never have managed to get a pony down the chimney when I was small. It doesn't mean I'll never get one onto the livery yard in the future.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In which I read through March

8. Title: The Shock of the Fall
Author: Nathan Filer
Recommended by: someone at London Book Club - apologies, I can't remember who - and given a copy by Holly
Read: 28 February - 4 March

I had high hopes for this - it's been lauded all over the place, and won the Costa Book Award earlier this year. Clearly I have very different tastes to the Costa panel. It's about grief and mental illness - chunky subjects that, handled well, could make for an extremely affecting book. Except this one doesn't. It's clumsy, the writing doesn't engender any sympathy whatsoever for the characters, and the whole thing made me frankly cross that I'd wasted four days reading it. Not one I can recommend.


9. Title: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Author: Karen Joy Fowler
Recommended by: Books on the Underground, who provided copies to London Book Club for the March meeting
Read: 4 - 9 March

The one thing I will say for this book is that it stands on its own as an original read - not something that I've felt too often about books of late. It's told from the point of view of a girl who's treated as the subject of a psychology experiment by her family. A twist in the narrative in the first hundred pages made me really quite cross, but after that it picked up, and is an interesting exploration of an unusual family.


10. Title: In Between Days
Author: Andrew Porter
Recommended by: Holly, who gave me her copy
Read: 10 - 18 March

I really should stop being taken in by a book's cover. The arty photography did it for me, but unfortunately the text inside didn't. The story, of a guy struggling with his estranged wife and daughter, and the familial struggles just didn't feel original, the characters didn't inspire empathy, and the writing was meh at best. Another irritating one.


11. Title: Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man
Author: Siegfried Sassoon
Recommended by: a former colleague, and bought from Amazon
Read: 19 - 27 March

This was recommended to me by a former colleague, who read it because she was on a war writer binge and thought it might appeal to me. And it did. It's an incredible portrait of a very particular time in England that's been lost to the ages, of young men who had incredible freedom, of a country idyll that I don't think has been known for generations. Even if you've never so much as seen a hunt, this is worth reading (although you might need a glossary of hunting and horsey terms) as an elegy to an England gone. The last few chapters, clearly written from Sassoon's own experiences in the trenches of Northern France are utterly heartbreaking and in such stark contrast to the rollicking fun over rolling hills that it's hard to believe the experiences came from the same heart and the same pen. Highly recommended.


12. Title: The Love Affairs of Nathanial P
Author: Adelle Waldman
Recommended by: several members of London Book Club, the collective copy of which I read, and which I'll be passing on
Read: 27 - 31 March

Having said I've struggled with the lack of originality of many books recently, it's interesting that this - a book about a young New York writer and his dealings with women - didn't suffer from that. I'm inclined to say that anyone in their twenties or thirties who's lived in a big city and done the dating thing will find that some, if not all, of this book rings alarmingly true, down to changing who you are for someone you like, and being a dick, just because...


Friday, 14 March 2014

In which I'm terrified by a Frenchwoman

I go to a yoga class after work on a Monday. The teacher has a calm and meditative voice, and the emphasis is on stretching out muscles and focusing on one's breathing. I find it hugely restorative after an inevitably busy start to the week, and it allows me to stretch out any pony-induced weekend aches. 

So imagine my surprise this week when I was laid out on my mat in the studio expecting to hear the dulcet Kiwi tones of my normal, slightly hippyish, utterly lovely, lithe brunette encouraging me to find my centre, and was instead greeted by someone who introduced herself as "Mama": a tiny, well-preserved lady of about 65 with a crop of shocking bleached hair and a very strong French accent telling me that today's class would be physio-based Pilates. 

"Stand up! Come on, come on, stand up!" With some trepidation that this wasn't going to be the restorative relaxing hour we'd come for, we rose from our mats.
"ENGAGE your pelvic floor muscles! Make sure your butt-ocks are married togezer. Clench zem. CLENCH! Squeeeeeze zose little J-Los."

I was so wrong-footed by the shock that I was cowed into complete submission as she danced around the room. The poor chap who'd turned up for his first ever yoga class I imagine may never come back again. 

We lined up against the wall as she encouraged us to plant our feet "like Charlie Chaplin - toes off the floor" and came around manhandling each one of us until our shoulders were pressed down, our pelvic floors were engaged - "boys, zeez are ze ones zat keep you DRY! Think Michael Jackson everybody - thrust thrust!" - and we were all wavering madly between sheer terror and utterly hysterical giggles. 

Suddenly: "Ah! What is zees?!" As we knelt on improvised bits of kit (boxing pads stolen from the studio equipment bin) trying for all the world to keep our balance as we contorted ourselves madly towards opposing walls, she leapt, cat-like across the floor, coming down on the other side with the bottom of someone's trainer and a loud thud. "Ah! An insect! I will not have zat in my class. It ees a PREDATOR!"

"Neck LONG," she sang, bouncing again across the studio, "zis little, ah, feature, up towards ze sky." She firmly repositioned one woman's top knot towards the ceiling. 
"Come on, inhale and jzzzzz, jzzzz, jzzzzz." She exhaled firmly and noisily sounding like nothing so much as an angry Gallic bee. 
By the time we'd finished the class an hour later, knees around our ears, several people visibly trembly, and the poor yoga novice utterly petrified, I had no idea whether I was coming, going or upside down. But I swore one thing: I'll never complain about planks or pigeons ever again. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In which you shouldn't announce your intention to commit electoral fraud on Facebook

A week or so ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed to see someone I was at university with had posted the following:   

I'm always amazed at the stuff that people will consciously and willingly put online. 
 I say that as someone who's been blogging for nearly a decade and who, back in the day, shared all sorts of anecdotes and misdemeanours that I'd be loathe to put to the world these days.

But, in 2005, the internet was a very different place.   There was no Facebook. There was certainly no Twitter. And blogging had the reputation of something being done by spotty geeks in their basements (oh, how Pete Cashmore has changed the image of tech geeks).

 Anonymous blogs were enormously popular - because anonymity was so much easier. They were spaces used as confessionals for the stuff you didn't want to admit to your friends. And the other anonymous writers - because that's what they were, writers. There was none of this lifestyle blogger schtick - became confidantes. The guy you'd dated who did that weird thing in bed; that potentially career-ending mistake you made at work - it all got shared and, because employers and family generally weren't savvy enough to be able to find it, it didn't matter.

 Now, not so. Twitter and Facebook are used by our parents and our bosses. It's SO EASY for something that strikes a chord, that people find shocking or funny, to spread like the norovirus. Everything online, whether we're anonymous or not, whether we think our settings are private or not, is available to the public. If you've put something online, it's not akin to telling your mates down the pub: it's like taking out an ad in the paper.

 Given we live in a society where everyone uses the internet, it's gobsmacking people don't have a better grasp of the digital rules and really, it's so so simple: 

1. Don't be a dick.

 2. If you wouldn't be prepared to stick your name against it in a national paper, don't put it online.  

And don't commit electoral fraud. It's illegal, immoral and stupid. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

In which I read through February

4. Title: The Goldfinch 
Author: Donna Tartt 
Recommended by: just about everyone. A Christmas present from Ma and Pa Blonde. 
Read: 6 January - 12 February 

I'm not sure, bar Les Mis when I was living in Tanzania on my gap year, a book has ever taken me this long to read. But by golly - what a book. There's not a lot that I can say that's not been said by better-qualified people than I, but I'd urge pretty much everyone to read this. It's epic, but takes in the minutiae of life. It's unexpected, and engrossing, and feels weighty without ever weighing the reader down. There's love and loss and nihilism, and I almost feel I need the York Notes to really be able to understand everything that Tartt's woven into her writing. 


5. Title: The Solace of Open Spaces 
Author: Gretel Erlich 
Recommended by: Holly Smith, who gave me her copy 
Read: 5 - 16 February 

This is a skinny, elegant little book - a love letter to the rural way of life in Wyoming. It sketches the people, the rituals, the seasons, and the landscape, and made me quite seriously want to run off and be a cowgirl somewhere in the mid-West. A joyous book that reminds you, when you're crushed up against an armpit on the tube, that there's a big, wide world out there. 


6. Title: The American Way of Death Revisited 
Author: Jessica Mitford 
Recommended by: no one. I've wanted to read this ever since I picked up Letters Between Six Sisters years ago. Ordered on Amazon, and apparently quite hard for them to track down. 
Read: 13 - 27 February 

An odd-sounding book, perhaps, especially as a choice of someone who primarily reads novels, but this is a brilliantly written, unexpectedly funny exposé of the American funeral system (told you it sounded odd). It's about the tricks and traps that funeral salesmen in the States will use to part the grieving from as much of their hard-earned money as possible which, when you think about it, is a pretty vile thing to do. In this revised version, Mitford includes snippets of feedback her book got from the industry at the time. Needless to say, she wasn't their favourite person... 


7. Title: The Rosie Project 
Author: Graeme Simsion 
Recommended by: chosen as the London Book Club's book for February 
Read: 17 - 19 February 

If The Goldfinch was a weighty tome that took me over a month, Rosie is the polar opposite. It's short; you could easily read it in a sitting; and it's completely insubstantial. Ultimately a boy-meets-unlikely-girl story, it's fun and lightweight and would be a good book to take to a park in the sunshine on a Sunday afternoon. It's not going to break any ground, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing. Whereas Goldfinch is literary purple sprouting broccoli (delicious and super-nutritious), Rosie is a bag of Haribo (tasty, and you'll speed through it, but it won't do you any long-lasting goodness). 


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

In which I'm complaining

Despite making a complaint to the Met police about their handling of my assault in December, I’ve heard very little – so little that were I a client and they a supplier, I’d have got rid of them long ago on the grounds of completely unacceptable levels of service.

At no point at all has the process of complaining been easy.

There was a week’s worth of calls before I could even get the name of an officer to whom I could send the email – imagine, then, my disinclination to follow the suggestion that I make my formal complaint via the automated comment form on their site where these things, I have little doubt, disappear into the Metropolitan ether.

I sent my complaint in December. Since then, I’ve had a letter to say that it’s being escalated. And that’s pretty much it.

In the eight weeks since, to get any sort of update or acknowledgement that the thing’s being looked at and not filed away in the pile marked “if we ignore this one for long enough, she’ll forget about it,” I’ve had to send three emails, the reply to each of which promises my complaint’s being looking at, but with progress that’s being made at apparently geological speed.

It’s not going to work: they can try stalling to their hearts’ content. I can absolutely guarantee that my stubborn streak and capacity to dig my heels in to get what I damned well came for is greater than their inclination not to do anything.

I shall keep emailing. I shall start copying in their superiors. I’ll complain through the IPCC. I’ll have no compunction naming and shaming the officers who are taking so long to deal with the frankly disgusting behaviour of their colleagues. I’ll turn up at the station and demand answers. Or raise the issue with my media-savvy MP whom I’m 100% sure is thinking about his reelection in a constituency of increasingly young professional types bothered about their safety. Hell, if I need to sit in the corridors of the Home Office to harangue the Policing Minister, I’ll do it.

I’m not afraid of a time-consuming and irritating process. There are so many people out there on the end of shitty treatment by our public service providers who don’t have the capacity to make people answer for their conduct. Just as I deserve better, so do they. And I’m prepared to jump up and down until we all get it.

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