Saturday, 8 December 2012

Daddy, my Daddy

My best friend's dad is dying. He's been battling cancer for over a year now and the last time I saw him he looked like a completely different person. He still has his spark and sense of humour, but he's lost an insane amount of weight, can't eat as the doctors removed half of his stomach, which is a big deal when you're Italian and can't eat pasta anymore. He's having another round of chemo and needs a bone marrow transplant. Despite being a massive wimp I am genuinely considering signing up to the Bone Marrow Registry in case I can one one day stop someone else's family going through what they are. This is a family that treat me like one of their children, not a guest. She has been my best friend, my evil twin, since we met age 11 at secondary school. Watching her suffer like this as her funny, kind dad fades away is horrible.
I promised her that I would be here no matter what, and I am. She finds it all really difficult to talk about, but I check in with her all the time and I've told her that whatever she needs, all she has to do is call me. Losing someone you love is horrible, and I hope he gets better and is with us a lot longer.
I am not really religious - despite my upbringing, but I am praying for Daddy Zenga to get better and not be sick anymore.
My own dad's health is deteriorating, but at a slower rate - he's got spina bifida, a heart condition and type 2 diabetes. Most of it is because he's not been taking care of himself, he blames my mum, even though she's tried her best over the years. But I think he's just scared of how much of a mess he's made of his body and his health.
I think the problem with dads is that they're so important, even if like me you're not a daddy's girl (that's my sister). They're the first men you ever know, your role model for the kind of man you want to meet (especially if they're good fathers and husbands). My parents marriage isn't perfect, but it works (they've been married 30ish years) and is the template for my relationship with The Boy.
My best friend and her dad are incredibly close, which seems to make what's happening worse. He used to come to parents' evening when we were at school, and they'd laugh their way round the school, with him asking whether any of the younger female teachers were their next appointment with a twinkle in his eye. He also use to come to the speech nights, where we read out poems under the direction of our English teacher, and were awarded prizes for our achievements.
Last time I was at their house he was advising us on where did the best curries locally, and what to order as he can't things like that anymore, and making us laugh with descriptions of a family party earlier that day, and how mad his relatives are.
I spent part of today with my dad as he put up shelves and hung my mirror in the flat I will be soon moving into with The Boy. He was quite funny about how rubbish the screws holding up the shelves are, and how badly put together the cupboards that the flat came with are. Then he really scared me.
He is going into hospital in January, just after his birthday, for a procedure on his heart. He's had similar ops before, and they've not been very successful. The last time he had one, his heart stopped on the table and he had to be revived.
Today he told me that he is getting his will in order, making my mum his beneficiary and me his executor. He asked me to look after my mum and little sister, and should anything happen to my mum, would I make sure my sister (who has learning and behaviour difficulties) is safe and looked after. He doesn't expect me to have her live with us, she doesn't listen to me, and can be difficult to handle, but to make sure she ends up somewhere where she will be looked after and treated well. She can't cope with money or changes to her routine, so would need to be in sheltered living for the rest of her life. Neither of my parents wants to make me her carer, but my dad said he has been kept awake with the worry.
My dad and I have a sometimes fractious relationship. I have spent my whole life trying to make him proud, and I finally saw it on his face as I walked across the stage at my Masters graduation ceremony in March. The thought of losing him scares me, I am literally crying as I type this.
I check in with him almost every day, asking him how he is, telling him I love him. I am guilty of taking both of my parents for granted at times, we probably all are, but I am incredibly grateful for the life they've worked hard to give me. For the home they created, the sacrifices they've made. My dad used to work incredibly long hours, driving up the motorway every day. Now he runs his own business, from our spare room, and still works just as hard as he did when I was little.
The title of this post comes from the end of E. Nesbit's The Railway Children, when Bobby sees her daddy emerge from the train, having thought him lost, and runs to him crying "Daddy, my daddy".  Which to me sums up the bond between child and father, the love you bear the people who are responsible for your existence.
I love you Daddy.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Something about Christmas...or whatever

The Boy is sat on the floor watching NCIS and wrapping Christmas presents for his family and some friends, I have done most of my shopping but not got round to wrapping it yet, his activity is however, not spurring me into action. I am quite content to sit here and watch him go.
Christmas is not my favourite time of year, bits of it are nice (and I don't mean presents), but on the whole I would quite happily do without it. It's the longest holiday I'm taking from the office and most of it will be spent rushing around like crazy trying to fit everything, and everyone in.
Which is why I've done pretty much all my Christmas shopping in the last week and am now broke again, after paying bills and buying things for other people, there's nothing left for me. Which is frustrating. Now I know I'll be getting a few things from my parents (I ordered them for my mum), that I want, and The Boy had a look at my saved for later list on Amazon, so he might have got a few things I'd like, but there are some things I would have brought for myself this month, and now I can't.
I've probably spent the most on my lovely, but he deserves it, he's had a tough year, being out of work and struggling to keep everything going with his Masters degree. I've been there, it's awful.
Luckily now he's back on track, working all week and getting his studying done at the weekend. We're moving in together in January, officially. I'm here all the time as it is, and we both feel it's time to live in one place, rather than between two, so we've been making the flat more cosy, and livable for two people. It's arduous and stressful, trying to organise all our things and condense them into a small flat, I have a lot of stuff. Mostly books, which I can't downsize, I've tried but I either get sidetracked into re-reading them or so exhausted from lifting them off the shelves and putting it back and have to go and lie down.
Anyway, this Christmas will be our third together and we'll be dividing it between seeing my family, his family, catching up with friends, and curling up on the sofa exhausted watching movies. We're hosting a New Year's party at the flat, so it'll have to be extra tidy to squeeze all the people in, but getting our friends in one place can be tricky.
So if you celebrate Christmas, have a lovely one, I hope it's filled with the people you love, and laughter, and those little sausages wrapped in bacon.
See you in 2013.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Education reform and why I'm really glad school is a long way behind me

Today Michael Gove, the Minister for Education announced he was scrapping the GCSE qualifications and introducing an English Baccalaureate, starting in the next few years. I did GCSEs when I was 16, and if I had to sit anything more complex I wouldn't have ended up going to university. A few years ago there was a mooted Baccalaureate qualification to replace A Levels (which I sat at 18). In order to pass the Baccalaureate, which is used on the Continent, you need to be a good all rounder. You have to take exams in English, Maths, Science, History, Geography and Languages. Now, I'm rubbish at Maths, numbers do not stick in my brain. I had fairly crummy Maths teachers growing up, if you don't have an aptitude for it, you ended up with teachers who weren't allowed (or able) to teach Maths to the kids who understood it. However I was good at English and other Arts and Humanities subjects (languages, History, Drama, Religious Studies, I was even good at Geography) and I could get by in Science. I can't draw for toffee and why run around in the freezing cold playground in shorts when there's a perfectly nice, warm library indoors (P.E teachers are sadists).
If I hadn't been able to drop the subjects I was no good at (I did however get a C in Maths at GCSE, you need a D to pass - take that crappy Maths teacher who told me it wasn't worth sitting the exam as I was going to fail - the insane Maths tutor totally paid off!!) and do subjects I understood and could cope with, then I wouldn't have got any qualifications and ended up with an MA.
The other thing Gove wants to scrap is coursework, bane of all teenagers' existence. I remember being asked by my mum "What coursework do you have?" "Have you done your coursework?" over and over. Teachers were the same, nagging about it. But it meant that for those who struggled with exams (I have a big brain, but even it cannot hold that much information) there was a chance to pull your grades up by doing great research for your coursework and presenting that well. (Let's not talk about my A Level History coursework, ever.)
Basically Gove wants to make it nearly impossible for kids to do well, if you're not an all rounder, if you don't have the aptitude for something, that's going to be the thing that pulls you down, that makes you fail and leaves you unable to excel and go on to further and higher education.
That's just wrong and I am so lucky that my GCSEs were 10 years ago. Which sounds insane as I don't feel nearly that old and I can remember going in for my exams and rushing off with my friends after, either crushed because it was terribly hard and frustrating or elated as it was a doddle (like the German oral exam, my teacher had the answers upside down on her desk).
I want the children coming up behind us to look back and have good memories of their time at school, or mixed ones like mine, not ones where they look back and wish government ministers in their ivory towers hadn't tampered with their exams so they ended up falling behind.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

To my 16 year old self

As I turn 26 in a week, I thought it only fitting to write to you, 16 year old me back in 2003. You're studying for your GCSEs and already having to make decisions that will affect your future, but it's ok.
You'll do fine in your exams in the summer, but don't be complacent. The maths tutor Mothership hires to help you will be a bit eccentric, but more encouraging than Ms Auerbach, ignore her.
Your A Levels are important but they will not matter in a few years, drop History, do Drama instead. I should have done. Although Mr Jones will leave halfway through. You'll love Mr Livingstone's lessons, and will one day get a hug from him at a sad occasion. Daniella will still be your best buddy, your evil twin. We talk everyday.
Things will get harder, turning 18 will be painful, you will be in hell. Ask for help. Ask Mum, ask a friend, ask a teacher. Do not suffer. You are not alone. I love you.
There will be dark days, truly, utterly wretched ones. You will go to some horrible places in your head, reach rock bottom and fall apart. But you will get better. It won't be easy but books, music, your friends and Madre will help. You don't feel like that forever. Promise. Hating yourself is easy, it's taken me this long to start loving myself, you will have help.
You will go to university, it won't be the one you think. You will not love everything about it, but you will learn a lot and be completely inspired. Your mind will expand and you will read hundreds of books, some of them will become your favourites, others will not.
Your friends will change, but you won't lose everyone, but gain some truly wonderful people in your life, they will be the best you will ever know. Those you lose will not be worth worrying over.
You will have a lot of adventures, always say 'yes', a life of regrets is not worth it. I wish I had said yes more, but I have let go of those regrets.
You will not get everything in life you want right now. Things will not slot into place the way you imagine. It'll be a slog, but so worth it. You will meet the most amazing people, see wonderful things, go to some great places and learn so, so much.
One day, when you least expect it, and are thinking you're ok being alone, you will meet a truly wonderful man. He will love you completely and utterly, burgeoning insanity and all. You will begin to plan a life together and you will be happy.
Be nice to your sister, but teasing is ok. She needs you on her team. Take care of everyone, you're good at that, but don't neglect yourself. There will be ups and downs, but all the tough times lead somewhere good. Don't get rid of your books, it's annoying trying to track down replacements.
Embrace your weirdness, it's part of you.
I love you, weird, messed up 16 year old me. Take care of yourself. We need you. xx

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Meet the superhumans

Tagline of Channel 4's coverage of the 2012 Paralympics, starting tomorrow.
 I didn't watch a huge amount of the Olympics as I was at work the whole time, but I followed it in the paper and through The Boy, who got incredibly into it. He's even more excited about the Paralympics, perhaps because he has represented his country at the same international level, and has membership of BOA.
The trailers for the TV coverage look fantastic, the GB team stand an excellent chance of doing really well, and we're going, twice! I didn't get any tickets in the great ticket raffle fiasco, but The Boy lucked out with day passes this Saturday and the following week. Which means we can explore the Olympic Park this week and hopefully see a variety of sports including wheelchair fencing, basketball, archery and some other stuff. The following week we'll be going to the Excel centre to see some more events, and soak up some more of the tremendous atmosphere that seems to have been a highlight of many people's Olympic summer.
I'll try and post about the days we spend at the Paralympics, but my blogging has been terribly sporadic recently, so I make no promises! I hope you're enjoying the summer and making the most of all the exciting things it brings.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bad Books

Danger, these books may seriously lower your IQ.

 There are a lot of badly written books out there, books where the editor was clearly high when they left all the mistakes in, books no one can salvage. But in the last few years some of these terrible books have been making their way into the bestseller lists instead of the remainder pile.

Dan Brown’s ghastly Da Vinci Code books are serial offenders. Riddled with inaccuracies, and bad (non-existent) research; including the belief that it takes about an hour to drive from Scotland to London (try at least a whole day if not longer). Now most of his books can be found on the shelves of your local charity shop, destined to moulder until an enterprising volunteer chucks them in the recycling and replaces them with one of these other offenders.

Harry Potter and the case of the Absent Editor.

The first Harry Potter book is very badly put together. The editor (whoever that culpable fool may be) did not do their job properly. At some universities, students are set the challenge of identifying the grammatical errors on the first few pages alone. It doesn’t take them long, there are so many. Remember that Bloomsbury (who published this garbage) were sued for plagiarism several times over these books (they won, mostly because they paid off the claimants). JK Rowling insists she dreamt this all up in a café in Edinburgh, shame she didn’t bother to invest her millions in a dictionary and a grammar check.

The Twilight Series: A whole heap of wet blankets

Vampire stories have been around a while, from the historical (Elizabeth Bathory bathing in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth, Vlad the Impaler drinking the blood of his enemies) to the fantastical (Dracula – arguably the most famous creature of the night). They’ve been black and white nightmares (Nosferatu), allegories for the horrors of teenagehood (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and cartoons (Count Duckula). But clearly Stephanie Meyer lives in a pop culture free zone, coming up with this pile of badly written, cliché driven balls about vampires who don’t want to drink your blood, they want to go to high school. In the daylight. Where they don’t burst into flames. Huh? It would be bad enough if it was just an attempt to rewrite hundreds of years of folklore, but to be this drippy and to have another editor who doesn’t understand how syntax or grammar works (maybe it’s the same one!) is more than just bad luck.

50 Shades of Really?!?!

So now we come to the most recent offender. EL James’ pile of crapola started life as Twilight fan fiction online, and that really is where it should say. It’s bad enough that it rebuffs feminism, revelling in the idea that all women really want is a rich older man who spanks them and sexually degrades them, too naïve to tell him to stop. There are so many problems with the frankly laughable ‘plot’ that I don’t know where to start! To top it off it really is badly written. I read a few pages of the first one, itching to get a red pen and edit it properly. Self-publishing has a lot to answer for. The clichés, the wet heroine, the frankly misogynistic male ‘fantasy’ figure. Time for James to go back to school and learn the basics – syntax really isn’t that taxing.  (For a laugh, read the Amazon reader reviews).

Now, I know the arguments for these books; ‘they get people reading’, ‘sometimes you just want something light’. But, you have to wonder what they go on to read. If these books are on your level, then you probably could have done with some more reading lessons at school.
I also appreciate that not everyone wants to read Dickens all the time (I certainly don’t, but that’s a post for another day). There are better writers, better books out there, and honestly they can usually be found without much hassle. Ask someone, if you’re a friend of mine (or even if you aren’t – Tweet me) I will happily recommend a selection of books that are more enjoyable, well written, entertaining and hardly taxing instead of picking up a ‘bestseller’. The continued existence of reality TV shows such as TOWIE and Made in Chelsea illustrate that the general public cannot be trusted as arbiters of taste and quality.
As someone who has spent a long time reading for academic purposes, there are times when I too want to switch off my brain, and just indulge. Usually I reach for a thriller or an old favourite to unwind and not have to spend all my time analysing the language, the use of syntax, the style and the plot.
But there is a difference between reading something to unwind and switch off and reading this sort of brain rot – open 50 Shades of Gray and your IQ drops by 20 points every time. If you honestly think this is great stuff, you really ought to write a letter of complaint to your former educators, somewhere along the line they let you down severely.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Defying Gravity

I recently finished the last in Gregory Maguire's Wicked Years series, Out of Oz. The series began with the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked. Maguire's spun an epic, complex, sprawling saga, spun out of Frank L. Baum's Wizard of Oz books.
Elphaba's story ends much as it does in Baum's original, but the story of her descendants, friends and country continue in Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men and finally Out of Oz, which gathers together characters from the previous books, including a certain Miss Dorothy Gale, as Oz enters its own end game. War has broken out between Munchkinland and Loyal Oz, Elphaba's half brother Shell sits on the throne the Wizard once held, and a ragtag band of strangers will be drawn together to find a solution and save Oz from rending itself apart as it has been doing since before Dorothy's house fell on Elphaba's sister, Nessarose.
Liir, Elphaba's son, his wife Candle, the Cowardly Lion, Brr, a strange little girl called Rain, Mr Boss, the dwarf who accompanies The Clock of the Time Dragon and other assorted peoples of Oz journey across its expanses, searching for a safe place to hide the Grimmerie, the book that gave the flying monkeys their wings. Swept up into the political maelstrom raging across the grass plains, marshes and towns, chased by militia and fate, this disparate gang need to find a way to bond, to connect with their pasts and with the power hidden inside them.
Funny, clever, and bursting with life, I raced to finish this book, desperate to know if Elphaba really was coming back, or if Rain would learn to be part of the world instead of a distance from it.
I suggest you read the previous books in order to fully follow what is going on - Wicked the book differs a fair bit from Wicked the musical, although it inspired it, so don't rely on having seen it. You get a greater sense of the depth of the writing from having read the rest of the series, the complex, detailed plot often harks back to previous storylines and the characters back stories aren't explained in any detail, as Maguire is assuming that you've read the previous volumes.
An excellent series from a talented writer, with a skill for retelling older stories, it's fun, clever, and well worth the read.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

How to (try and) make money

So, in my quest to fully conquer the internets. I shop online, pay my bills online, talk to my friends online and now I'm going to attempt to make some money online (not like that, get your mind outta the gutter). I've rejoined Ebay. I had an account ages ago, but the one time I tried to sell something I got burned and decided it wasn't for me. However, The Boy has been selling random stuff on it for ages, and I have a lot of stuff (decent stuff) that I could do with making some money on. So, I've opened an account and I'm diving in. Here goes. Wish me luck. Hopefully I'll make some money and it'll be a success.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Perks, the film

So I just watched the trailer for the Perks of Being a Wallflower film. I love the book, sometimes I relate to Charlie, the protagonist. He's the weirdo within all of us, the loner who doesn't know how to fit in, and learns that he really doesn't need to.
The film looks good, but then that's what trailers do, they make even truly awful films look like something worth seeing.
Judge for yourselves here on the MTV UK site (or follow links to the appropriate site for your country).
I'll probably still go and see it, if only to see how well Emma Watson's American accent holds out.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Kitten adventures

The other day, while walking to the bus stop at the top of my road, a little black and white cat came over to say hello. I always say hello to cats, partly in memory of my cat who always waited to say good morning to me, and partly because it's become a habit. This particular kitty was very friendly, even rolling over to show me its tummy, letting me know we were friends now.
I had to say goodbye as I needed to go to work, so the kitty walked down the road with me. Then it turned off to go a different way, pausing to look back at me as if to say "aren't you coming?"
I really wish I hadn't decided to be sensible and go to work, I could have done with a day spent having adventures with a little kitty cat. Sadly, I haven't seen the cat again, I wish I did so I could say I was sorry, and check we were still friends. Next time I'm asked I'm going on a kitten adventure, so much more enjoyable than being a 'grown up' and going to my rubbish job.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Trying to live a life

I've slowly started to drift away from blogging, it kept me sane while I was unemployed and lost. I'm still lost, drifting through my life without any answers, but less so than I was. I don't know where to go from here with this blog, it's been a bit of everything, a sort of diary, home to some of my original writing, reviews, rants, my documenting moments in my relationship with The Boy and ramblings. I've taken to tweeting more than blogging, it's a lot faster, a lot easier when you're not in front of a computer all the time (I spend the whole day at work staring at a screen, I don't really want to spend all my free time doing the same).
So, while I think I'll still post stuff from time to time, I need to concentrate on working out what I want from my life and try to make it happen.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Shopping while hormonal is now banned


This weekend I was hormonal, cramping, cranky and trying to do a million things at once. My poor boyfriend, The Boy, puts up with me at my irritable, stressed-out worse and I have no idea why. He's clearly a masochist. He also spends all the time trying to calm me down, reason with me and reassure me. He knows better, but that doesn't stop him. We walked around Camden, me getting more wound up by the tourists and their annoying habit of stopping dead in the middle of the street with no warning, and the fact I couldn't find anything I liked in my size, and when I did find a few little gorgeous things I might have bought, there was no one around to pay the money to. He patiently looked at dozens of dresses, pairs of earrings, dinky little necklaces, bags, shoes, random trinkets, without complaint. When I became even more irrational, and crazy, due to my period being particularly heavy this month and not really being in the right frame of mind to be out and about; the lovely man I fell in love with, just kept telling me I was beautiful, that he loved me the way I am, and the way I want to be, and attempted to talk me down off my ledge.
Then he took me home. Let me sit on the couch and read my magazine, while he put up a shelf and tinkered around before we went out to eat and meet some friends for drinks (on a school night, shocking!).
I still, even after all this time, don't fully understand what he sees in me. I'm clearly mentally deranged (at least for a few days every month) and irrational, bad-tempered, selfish, spoilt and just plain impossible to live with (my parents would agree). Yet for some reason, this kind, handsome, funny, lovely man keeps spending his time with me, trying to get me to smile, laugh, not worry so much.
Sometimes he reads this blog, I'm still not sure I want him too, but baby, if you're reading it now, I love you. Thank you for putting up with my moods and craziness.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Making my sister snort water out of her nose

My sister has the worst memory ever, she doesn't remember anything. So I tell her about stuff we did when she was a kid, things like the fact she was the clumsiest kid ever. She somehow managed to fall over her own feet while stationery and split open the top of her forehead, which my mum sorted out (one of the many benefits of having a nurse for a mother) with some butterfly strips. I know it doesn't sound funny typed out like this, but stories like it have my sister in stitches. I also tell her about other stupid things that happened, the time she ate a whole clementine, peel and all, or an entire apple and when my mum asked for the core, my sister didn't know what that was. She was a weird kid, prone to doing and saying things no one else would, often in her own little world. It was OK, they knew her there.
The funniest thing about telling her stories of herself is that, she laughs so much that water will come out of her nose if she's just had a drink. She gets the giggles so much that on occasion she's started to choke a little. My mum isn't too impressed when that happens, although she often joins in the story telling. I've never met anyone that finds stories of their own mishaps so funny, but then I suppose if you can't remember them happening and they're told in a humorous manner then it would be hysterical.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Sometimes a rant does you good

I get the London Underground every day to and from work, I use it at weekends and in the evening to see friends, go to the theatre or out to dinner, or just to head somewhere different in the city of a million faces. Yet it frustrates me that The Boy can't do this with me. For him navigating the city requires knowing which stations are accessible and where all the buses go. I'm so used to jumping on and off the Tube, wandering down side streets, knowing I'll find a station in a minute or so and then I can navigate my way home. Things are, incredibly slowly, improving. Lifts are being put in at more stations, though not enough, ramped platforms are being created so the train is now level enough to negotiate a wheelchair onto without risking falling out and cracking your head open. But it feels like it's too little too late. The Paralympics are coming in a matter of months and vast amounts of London's transport network does not cater for disabled passengers. There's a Mayoral election in May, yet none of them have mentioned this fact. We're always being told that the eyes of the world will be on London this summer, some of those eyes will belong to people for whom London is not spread wide open, but denies them access to all sorts of interesting places and ease of travel. Whoever ends up Mayor really needs to stop worrying about the unions demands for more money for working during the Olympics (the rest of us will be expected to do our jobs without this increase, including doctors, nurses, ambulance crews, firefighters, and police) and make London a truly welcoming city, for everyone.

Friday, 9 March 2012


I graduated this week from uni, for the second time but the first ceremony I could attend. So I now have my Masters officially and the alphabet after my name has grown, but I think I'll give academia a rest for the time being.

A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin

I could have called this; Does George R.R. Martin have a problem with women?
I've just finished reading the first two books in the above series, the basis for the TV series A Game of Thrones, which is also the title of the first book. I haven't seen the show, but if it's as rape-filled as the book then I don't know if I want to.
Now I'm not an idiot and I know from history that one of the nastier side effects of war and conquest is rape. Men don't just steal everything worth taking and burn the place down, they have to take out their rage or whatever on the women. I've never really understood why. Rape is not about sex, it is about power and control. But in the first book, it is rife. And so unnecessary, mention it if you must, but is it really so vital to the plot that it needs to be taking place on every other page? I really don't think so.
By the second book, A Clash of Kings, the female characters are faring a little better, there's still a lot of sex, and quite a few rape scenes, which are treated incredibly casually, but the women who have been given names and a role in the complex plot are getting by.
I was talking to The Boy about this concern of mine, and he said he had read somewhere that Martin couldn't write women and suggested that maybe that's why they're so poorly served. Personally I think he just has a real issue with them/us.
I remember writing an essay on whether 'Hamlet' was a misogynist or Shakespeare was. I think I concluded that while the play mistreated it's few female characters badly, it was partly a product of it's time and also not the best evidence as to the writer's own feelings as there were only two women in the play.
Martin can't really use that as an excuse, the first book was published in 1996, not the 16th Century and there are quite a few women roaming his pages. Yes some of them are pretty vile, like Queen Cersei, but others are more sympathetic, Lady Catelyn, her daughters Sansa and Arya for example, but the sheer volume of violence done to women is just unnecessary.
I read a lot of fantasy fiction, and am aware that for a long time it was pretty much a boy's own club, women writers have had to fight to get a foot in the fantasy door, but this kind of misogyny is completely out of place nowadays. Writers with these sorts of views seem to have largely died out, and there are enough feisty heroines around to make it a place for female readers too.
I also know that Martin's setting, another world during a period much like our own feudal one, means that some things that seem anathema to us now, the marrying off of young girls in order to form alliances, the forced marriage of women left widowed and in possession of large amounts of land and wealth, the keeping of whores and brothels by wealthy men, are not something perhaps to be too angry with, as it's set in a time where women are chattels and their only uses are as wives and mothers to heirs or else prostitutes and servants if they are not nobility.
However, I do hope that Martin's later books in the series (which I have yet to read) lessen the systematic violence inflicted upon the women in his world, or he risks alienating female readers (and viewers of the TV adaptation) from all his books.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Cheesy movies

Sometimes I watch French films with subtitles, or Japanese films. Sometimes I watch black and white screwball comedies, sometimes I watch serious, heavy hitting films. But sometimes I watch really cheesy movies. Like today, I spent most of it tidying my room and sorting out various bits of junk and doing laundry (thrilling stuff I know). Then I decided, right, time for a cheesy film. Something I don't have to think to watch, because occasionally I don't want to use my brain. It gets tiring. So I picked 'Valentine's Day' which is one of those purpose constructed multi-story films that seem to get made every now and then. It's deeply soppy, and unashamedly designed to make you gooey. It did the trick, I switched off my brain for a while, relaxed and let the cheese watch over me. I recommend it as a technique for anyone who needs to do nothing for a bit.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The 'How We Met' story

Whenever I get asked how I met The Boy, this is the story I tell.

I had been offered a new job, working for a charity, which required I attend 5 days of training before I started. He was a volunteer with the charity, also doing the training. I thought he was good looking, but also decided he seemed like the type to have a girlfriend. He didn't as it happened. We became friends, there were 3 of us, The Boy, me and a smiley American girl, whom I thought he fancied. He didn't, though I didn't know that until the training had ended.
We got the bus home together that last evening. He asked if I wanted to come to the supermarket with him. I said ok, it was the sort of thing I'd do with any of my friends. He then invited me back to hang out at his place. (I have to point out here that most of my friends, regardless of sexual preference, are male, I spend a lot of time hanging out in guys' houses and flats.) I said sure, why not. I wasn't in any particular hurry.
We ordered pizza, and watched TV and hung out. Then he hugged me, he tells me now it was because I looked sad. Then he kissed me. This is, apparently,  because I seemed disappointed that the hug was all I'd got (Remember I thought he fancied our American friend). We kissed for a while. I walked home with a huge smile on my face.
We had coffee a few days later and have been driving each other nuts ever since. I love him. He makes me furious sometimes, he also makes me ridiculously happy. Luckily he loves me too.
(Sorry if this is a bit mushy. It's Valentine's Day tomorrow and while I reject the commercialised nature of it all, I also like making people laugh at how dense I was when we met.)

Monday, 6 February 2012

A night at the theatre

One of my favourite small theatres is the Lyric, in Hammersmith, South West London. It's quite an intimate venue, at several plays I've sat two or three rows from the front. Last week I took The Boy there for the first time. Normally I book my tickets on their website, but with The Boy's wheelchair I needed to book over the phone. The service was excellent, booked in five minutes, and an email sent straight after to confirm.
The tickets were held for us at the box office, and the theatre is fully accessible with lifts to every floor. We were escorted to our seats by the manager, who made sure we were settled before disappearing to do work elsewhere. We were the furthest back I have ever sat in the stalls, but still had a good view of the stage.
We were there to see Lovesong, written by playwright and screen writer Abi Morgan (The Hour, Iron Lady, Shame etc). It was beautifully staged, written and performed by a cast of four. If it's on somewhere near you at any point, go and see it. The play told the story of a couple's relationship as they reached their sad end, with the other actors playing their younger selves, seen almost as ghosts at times by the older couple. The projections on the back wall helped tie things together, and the dance sections were incredibly moving.
I admit I was moved to tears by the tenderness and love the actors portrayed. The idea of being loved so much for so long is really lovely, and something I want for myself. *Confession: I cry easily, and am not really allowed to watch sad things as they often affect me*.
After the play ended, with no interval it was still quite early, we were escorted down in the lift and to the exit by an usher, making it feel very personable and friendly.
We made our way home, discussing the play and the previous shows I have seen there.
Next on their programme is A Midsummer Night's Dream, and we will be booking tickets for it very soon!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Emerging from enforced hibernation

I have spent all week suffering from what I'm calling the lurgy of death, so called because it makes you feel so ghastly. I have barely slept and haven't been to work. This means I have spent all week in my house, have cabin fever and am slowly losing my mind. However, I have attempted to tidy my room a bit, spent some time with my sister (who usually avoids me) and watched too much shitty daytime TV.
I've also made plans to see a few friends and catch up with them. I feel a bit like I've been neglecting them, I spend most of my free time with The Boy, and I miss my weird, funny, strange friends. So I've put it out there (on Facebook) that if anyone wants to get together, I'm up for that. Obviously I have to go to work, but outside of those very dull hours, I'm free to hang out with those people who mean so much to me and without whom I'd probably be really, really weird, instead of just a bit. :)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Some of the best books I read in 2011

I realised earlier that I hadn't done any sort of round up of books from last year. So here is a belated list of 10 books I read last year that were really good and enjoyable.

*When God Was a Rabbit - Sarah Winman
*The Gallow's Curse - Karen Maitland
*Snuff - Terry Pratchett
*Island Beneath The Sea - Isabel Allende
*Mastiff - Tamora Pierce
*The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
*How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
*Any Human Heart - William Boyd
*Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis
*The Crimson Petal and the White - Michael Faber

Not all of these books were published in 2011, but I don't think that should stop them from being on this list. A few I only read after seeing adaptations of them, some I had been waiting to get my hands on for a while, and a couple I just picked up as they had interesting titles or a bit of hype about them.
I'm looking forward to seeing what new reading experiences 2012 has in store for me!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


As I live in the UK, the SOPA and PIPA legislation seems not to affect me, but if whole websites are forced to shut down, it affects everyone.
I appreciate the need to protect copyright and support artists, writers, musicians and others whose work has been pirated and therefore had their livelihoods damaged. However from what I understand, these new laws would go above and beyond this protection.
I rarely watch TV online, and then usually through legal methods, like the BBC iPlayer and 4oD, and I tend to download music legitimally too. But I know people who stream content regularly. That's their business.
Personally I find any form of censorship galling. This is censorship by another name. It would allow a government to decide what was allowed and what wasn't, much in the way we deride other countries' governments for doing so, for regulating what their citizens can and can't access.
My field is in books, that is what I know best. There is a lot of concern about censorship in the literary world; the American Library Association every year publishes a list of the most banned books. Often these are books written for children and young adults.
Instead of letting these readers discover the worlds contained within books, adults decide what is and isn't appropriate and get rid of those they deem harmful. Whenever I think of this I am reminded of Heinrich Heine's quote "There, where one burns books, one in the end burns men". The idea of legislating against a book, or a website, simply because it offends your sensibilities to be unable to control it, is petty and wrong. This kind of policing has no place in our modern world. People are intelligent enough to work out what is right and wrong for themselves. They know what is and isn't acceptable. Stealing from others is wrong, we know this, and while people continue to do so, I'm going to suggest that they're probably the minority.
So, US government, behave like adults should and let people make decisions for themselves. Don't decide to police the internet. It doesn't need your interference.