Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogging Against Sexism Day

Blog Against Sexism DayBlog Against Sexism Day 2007 will be held on March 8th, which is International Women's Day. Read all about it here, and to join in go here and leave a comment. The day last year was a fantastic event which inspired our somewhat more modest Blogging Against Disablism Day.

On which subject, a couple of people have already asked me about the next BADD. I would like to see it happen again this year, not sure how best to go about it. However, seems sensible to go for 1st May again, in which case we have a good while to go at.

In other news, our car has come back to life so hope to be off out and about tomorrow. Looking at... carpets! Oh the excitement! I expect I'll be floored for a few days after that...

New Years Resolutions - Two Month Assessment.

I cut myself a lot of slack this year, by not telling anyone my New Year’s Resolutions and therefore creating no audience for my failures. I am cutting myself further slack by not giving up on those resolutions that I have lapsed upon. We have, after all, had a house move which took place within a month of the decision to move and it has been a somewhat chaotic house move at that.

I did however think it was appropriate to assess how I was doing at this stage. You'll have to excuse the irritating nature of my resolutions, but I am a very irritating person.

1. Buy No More Clothes. This was an environmental, ethical, financial, feminist and practical resolution. I was determined to keep my old clothes going as long as possible by mending and re-enforcing them, and that any new clothes I needed I would make myself.

Two lapses, both relating to the fact that I realised that I’ll probably be going to a Christening later this spring, don’t have anything suitable to wear and am unlikely to be able to create an entire outfit from scratch given everything else that is going on. Both purchases from eBay however, and buying second-hand is undoubtedly more environmentally friendly than making something from a new, freshly processed, bit of fabric. And it didn’t cost much.

However, I am quite determined to make things in the future. The environmental and ethical impact of the fashion industry bother me, but also, like a lot of people who with non-standard proportions and very little money to spend, I struggle to find things which fit, are affordable and which are to my tastes. Basically I'm just bitter.

Ideally, I would like to be able to adjust and jazz up secondhand things, but I'm not that hot a seamstress yet, I need to get my skills up to scratch. And we need to do some more tidying up around here before I have the space to work on that.

2. Buy No More Prepared Cosmetic Products etc.. For similar reasons as above. Fed up of getting through plastic bottles of lotions and potions full of lots of different chemicals I don’t know the source of. And itching. Was very fed up of itching.

This was fairly easy as I had already started in the autumn. Still having baths, still washing my hair and I am still perfectly fragrant. Just without the soap, shampoo, shower gel, cleanser, moisturiser etc., etc.. The only prepared cosmetic product I use now is my Lush solid deodorant as I cannot finally do away with the fear of smelling like a human being.

I shall have to write another post about my now disgusting standards of personal hygiene, but this is going perfectly well.

3. Buy No More Chocolate that’s not Fair Trade. This was partly an attempt to eat less chocolate, partly to improve my ethical behaviour.

This hasn’t gone so well. The first lapse was when my mother had some Thorntons chocolates and offered me one or two. It would have been positive antisocial and bad for my mother’s health if I had no obliged (since she would have eaten them all). The second lapse was with my Gran’s birthday approaching and not having had the opportunity or motivation to think up anything original to get her. So chocolate it had to be. I looked all over the internet to buy a box of Fair Trade chocolates – which are available of course, and not particularly expensive really. Only everywhere I looked, in order to get them quickly, I would have been paying as much in postage as I would for the chocolates. And I needed to post them once they got to me.

Time was running out, I was putting an order in for Tescos – which do stock Divine Fair Trade chocolate but didn’t have a box available on the on-line supermarket – so I bought some Lindt truffles instead. I should have gone to the Ethical Superstore, where I have gone before and which would have only charged a few quid postage, but somehow this possibility escaped me.

4. Eat less. Well, you know I’m conflicted about my weight, but I am also a bit fed up of being tubby. Any excess weight is bound to be adding some strain to my already strained system. If I don't make some effort, it is never going to go away.

I am eating less, but don’t appear to be shrinking. Still, if I am to lose weight, it is going to happen very slowly. It is not as if I overeat, or comfort-eat or anything like that and my weight has been stable - stable and heavy - for a long time. I just don’t burn anything off because I get far below average amounts of exercise and although I eat less than average too, I didn't when my activity levels first dropped off the radar. I need to very carefully work out what it is I can eat so I can lose my excess without adding to my fatigue and weakness. It is going to be very slow and I am going to shut up about it now and try not to mention it again.

I guess I resent the part of me who wants to lose weight; I can remember, following drug-induced obesity, being overjoyed to have got down to the size I am now. But I also resent being this heavy given that I don't eat much and when, if I was well, I could just go for a good long walk a couple of times a week and be back to a healthy weight within six weeks. Ho hum, such is life, guess I'll have to bite the low-calorie bullet and see how it goes.

5. Read and Review at least One Book Every Month. I felt guilty about the increasing "To Read" pile. I also wanted to be more disciplined about time spent on passive activities away from the computer and to remind myself what other people's books are like. At the same time, I didn't want to do what I tend to do which is not to read anything for weeks and weeks and then get completely distracted reading three books in a row and not getting anything else done in the meantime.

I managed January, just, but February has been complete chaos; there are very few non-essential objectives I have met this month, so I think I get the month off. I find it quite difficult to read when I'm working on my book - which is, of course, my main goal in life right now - but one book a month would probably be about right.

Unfortunately the next book on the pile is Jude the Obscure. Groan.

6. Be More Disciplined about Time Keeping.
This started out as quite a complex resolution, with all sorts of things I would attempt to do a little bit of every day.

Naturally, the fact we decided to move within the first few days of the New Year put the kibosh on this for a while, but am beginning to get back into it now. I want to be able to do all the things I want to do, without becoming completely distracted and then completely exhausted by one particular project or actvity. The more different things I do, the happier and more productive I am. Spending time doing crafty things or music helps me concentrate better on my writing. Only, this does require significant discipline and pacing, including resting properly between every ten or fifteen minutes activity. Which is incredibly tedious, and thus requires effort.

7. Be More Open about My Sexuality. My sexuality is really not a big deal, but it has been a thorn in my side because I am always afraid of how people might react to it – which makes me rather inhibited, in my writing especially, for fear that it should slip out by accident.

Alexander has rocked my position on this, such that I fell right off. Not because Alexander has any more than whatever percentage chance a person has of happening to be queer, but because the possibility that he could be or else might be a straight boy who doesn’t like cricket (does happen) – and the possibility that he might be made to feel as I was made to feel, makes me feel very sad and angry. He won’t, of course, his parents being somewhat groovier than mine and him growing up now, post Section 28, where things are moving steadily towards equity. However, I do have a responsibility to set an example, to be happy with myself the way I am. That way, at the very least Alex will grow up with an example of someone who is confident in her difference, so that he too may be confident in his difference (after all, we are all a bit different).

This resolution has been a tremendous success. I started by subjecting you guys to my tales of teenage angst – tales which I haven’t quite got to the end of yet, you’ll be deeply depressed to learn. This was a real release for me; it was terrifying in ways it really ought not to have been, but now out there, well phew! You didn't all run away in disgust, surprisingly enough.

Then earlier this month I managed to tell my mother in quite explicit terms that I was bisexual (explicit as in such that there could be no misinterpretation, although I didn't use the word bisexual; I don't like the word in any case). It was a split-second decision really, in the context of a conversion about Boudica and the Iceni as it happens (don't ask, I'm not really sure how it came out myself). And there it was. Out. I feel sure she already knew, and I knew deep down she wouldn’t freak out, love me any less or anything like that. But I feel much better because I don’t have to worry about her ever finding out by accident any more.

So in conclusion, not a bad start considering how chaotic things have been. None of my resolutions will be abandoned at this stage. See how I managed with the next two months.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Who am I to blow against the wind?

Some people rely on your counsel so heavily that it is difficult to know when to walk away and let them save or ruin their own life as they see fit. Well, it isn't difficult to know. It isn't difficult to see that the situation has almost certainly reached the point when you shouldn't attempt to do more. It isn't even that difficult to do, to keep silent, even avoid contact. Only, it's difficult to surrender your sense of responsibility.

And it is very easy to be selfish, thinking that you're being altruistic. It is easy for me to be selfish, to be sentimental, even dictatorial, fooling myself that I am doing good. Because naturally, I think I know better than anyone else. I think I know what the people I love want, what the people I love need and the difference between the two. But I may be wrong and even if I'm not, it's not my place.

Yet among my hidden talents, I know which strings require a gentle tug, I know the most tender points upon which to apply pressure, I know how to steer a person in a given direction and think it was their idea. With some people, of course, not everyone. The same applies to all bullies, of course; even the greatest tyrants can only win a relatively small proportion of the population over, which is why they generally have to kill lots of people and keep the unpersuaded majority living in fear.

Only, I'm not a bully, because I have no stomach for it. I try not surround myself with people I can play, because I become responsible for them. You save a life and you become responsible for that life - that's bollocks, actually, it wouldn't be at all fair. However, it is something I feel if I have any power over a person at all. And deep down, I know that I don't know better than anyone else. I don't know what the people I love want, or what the people I want need or the difference between the two. And choosing not to intervene is an act with consequences.

Allowing a person save or ruin their own life as they see fit makes me at least partly responsible for an outcome I don't have any control over. Which sits very heavily on my shoulders.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power.

Chronic pain is usually something which is causing you far more discomfort than it is any threat to your person. Acute pain usually (but not always) means something pretty major is happening, that either your life or part of your body is in some danger or else something extraordinary is happening, such as that another, somewhat smaller, human being is emerging from your insides. Acute pain is actually quite useful. More useful when you know that it will soon end, when you have the opportunity to escape the cause of pain or seek medical intervention, of course.

Chronic pain isn’t very useful. In some cases, it can prevent you causing further damage to a part of you which is already damaged or otherwise struggling to function, but only in so far that it stops you moving about in a certain way. Chronic pain is of no use to you at all when you are at rest and yet prevented from getting any peace from it.

But knowledge is power.

Unfortunately, neat explanations for chronic pain are often lacking. Where doctors know exactly what is going on and why, they can often do something about it. Most chronic pain conditions are just a little bit mysterious. Some are completely baffling.

At first, it is very frightening not knowing what is happening to your body. You imagine all the things that might be happening or might be going to happen. You consider the most sinister possibilities. You even consider impossibilities; you fear that you might explode, break in half or shatter or else some part of you might spontaneously fall off.

It is also very frightening not knowing when or indeed if this is ever going to stop.

Because knowledge is power. Lack of knowedge is powerlessness.

In time, you learn things. You learn that since nothing dramatic has happened so far, nothing dramatic is likely to happen. You learn that you’re not dying. Or even if you are, it isn’t happening very quickly. You learn the patterns. You learn about the worst that can happen.

You learn the tricks the brain plays when it comes to discomfort. You have been learning this all your life. As a child, you remember trying to be brave. You remember managing not to cry at any injury until you saw the blood, and then not being able to help it. The sight of blood somehow made it hurt more. You remember sustaining black eyes without shedding a tear because you didn’t want to seem like a Girl. And it didn’t hurt, not nearly as much as it would look like it ought to have hurt a day or two later.

You learnt the intense pain your particular organs endured in order to menstruate (the sight of blood somehow made you throw up) and how much easier it became, once in perspective. You saw your womb on a screen, just a tiny wee pocket at the bottom of your tummy, with two rosebuds growing out of it on curling stalks. You were amazed at how pretty it was, but it also made you realise that the pain which was felt throughout your entire abdomen was an illusion. The problem was only in that one little place, congested with blood. And all you needed to do is to draw the blood, or the consumption of your thoughts, away from that place.

Chronic pain is often an illusion. Not something you dreamed up yourself, but a trick of the nervous system. If it was real, a real problem that hurt that much for this long, then you would explode, break in half or shatter, or else some part of your body would spontaneously fall off. Something in your body is telling a lie.

Knowledge of this is your power.

Not that there is any malice in these lies; it is just a technical error, perhaps, quite literally, an electrical fault. There is no force of darkness you get to battle against and overcome.

You learn that God was a cowboy electrician. Much better at plumbing, and miles better at aesthetic design; landscaping, sculpture, that kind of thing. Not a very technical mind, you see. The margins of His physics books are filled with doodles of flowers, trees and birds.

You learn that there are things you can do to distract yourself from that erroneous message, to disconnect parts of your mind from that circuit and occasionally, to place yourself in a state where the message becomes a quiet whimper on the edge of your consciousness. You learn how to do these things when the pain is stable.

Because it’s all just a lot of tiny neurons, a lot of buzzing wires.

And knowing that’s all it is, makes it much less painful.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.

Alexander is very sweet, but he can't be the star of the show all the time. This week the star is his Mummy, who sang the fantastic scary high bit in this, Allegri's Miserere at the Winchester Cathedral Ash Wednesday Service, which you absolutely must listen to. You can also listen to the rest of the music at the service here.

Still, that was a vague excuse to post another picture of Alex, wasn't it? I mean, it has been a while.

Meanwhile, I have purple puffy cut knees having tripped over in a spectacular fashion onto one of the carpetless floors. I did cry, not because it hurt, but because I was carrying a slice of toast, the first slice of toast out of three I had managed not to burn, upon which was spread the last of the Marmite. And I was so hungry. And naturally the plate smashed and the toast went everywhere. As I was mopping up my tears, [...] said, "I'm sorry; if I had realised you were likely to trip over that, I would have set the camera up." Hmm.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jiggety Jig

I’m back home again, having been at my folks’ for another couple of days (went back to do some washing, but then the car broke down for a second time and I was stranded). This evening my angelic mother delivered me home, together with a Shepherd’s Pie, broccoli and carrots, kept warm by a great deal of tinfoil and newspaper. Which was very nice.

In my absence and on a diet of nothing but toast, [...] has been moving on with the house and has it looking decidedly more homely. The bedroom and the red room - which looks to have become our living room - are more or less as we’d like them to be. All our appliances are up and running except the oven, which needs a new bit of wire and the washing machine, which needs a new bit of hose. Slight hitch in that the kitchen surfaces are too low for our standard-sized washing machine to fit under, but we can live with that.

There are a few oddities, such as the fact that [...] has deemed it appropriate to put a red light bulb in the bathroom (well, it does improve, or possibly disguise the colour scheme) and despite the great inroads made elsewhere, we still appear to be short of a toilet seat.

The car needs new spark plugs, a new distributor cap, a new rotor arm and new HT leads, whatever the hell any of that is. [...] didn’t know either, so he bought a Haynes manual, ordered the bits of the Internet, spent a great deal of time looking under the bonnet practising what he calls manly noises (it’s a slow but noisy intake of breath, kind of between the teeth, accompanied by much shaking of the head) and is now an expert in car maintenance. He has also bought an enormous shower-cap for the car to wear to stop it getting wet inside when it rains.

However, we do anticipate becoming mobile again very shortly. Oh and I’ve also managed to register us with a dentist, and made our first dental appointment in eight years, which I was very chuffed with.

In summary, things continue to move in the right direction. And now I want to get on with life and finish writing my bloody fucking book.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Concessions of a Blue Badge Holder

Mary has responded to a BBC News Article entitled Blue Badges: More of a hindrance? about the fact that an estimated half of all Blue Badges (disabled parking badges) in London are being used illegitimately and that a stolen Blue Badge can fetch up to £1600 on the black market.

I have a fairly simple if radical solution for this. Blue Badge fraud is pretty easy. Having bought a stolen Badge or else borrowed one from a disabled friend or family member, one can use it usually without question. It is quite rightly considered rude to confront someone over the legitimacy of their badge, as a certain councillor found out when he demanded to see the injured leg of a Badge holder he considered suspect. There is no way of working out the legitimacy of the badge just by looking at the badge, the holder or the vehicle - and I've never heard a good suggestion for doing so which wouldn't compromise either the freedom or the privacy of the holder.

So, the only way I can see of reducing Blue Badge theft and fraud is to make having a Blue Badge less profitable. People are not prepared to pay nearly so much nor bend the law so far for mere convenience as they are prepared to pay and bend the law for something they see as a financial investment.

The Blue Badge exists to enable people with mobility impairments to access places they would not be able to access without those car-parking spaces and privileges (such as being able to park on double-yellow lines). It is not a terribly fair system, disqualifying many disabled people who would really benefit from the scheme because they can stagger just a few yards too far or because their condition fluctuates. It also ignores people with any sort of temporary mobility problem – temporary being defined as under three years. However, access is what it is all about.

Which is why the Blue Badge should not be about making life cheaper for people with mobility impairments. Beyond the obvious advantages of being able to park where others are not allowed to park (if within fairly tight restrictions), there is no reason for this to be the case. Disabled people have choices about the journeys they make and their personal budget just like everyone else. If a congestion charge, other road toll or the cost of parking is fair, then it ought to be the same for everyone. It is not as if people with mobility impairments are somehow getting less out of travelling or carparking, nor is it the case that Blue Badge holders are necessarily strapped for cash. Statistically, of course, we are more likely to have low incomes, but concessions on the grounds of statistical probability would be considered patronising towards almost any other social group.

People with mobility impairments are, of course, far more likely to be dependant on their cars and there are far fewer options (if any) when it comes to public transport. The latter is something which does need to change. However, the main way in which a person qualifies for the badge in the UK is by claiming the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, which aims to cover the costs of the claimants’ mobility needs regardless of the claimant’s employment status or income. We could have a lengthy debate about whether that (currently £43.35 a week) is a pittance or a fortune – how far it stretches depends entirely on the individual’s needs and circumstance, but that is the purpose of that benefit.

As it is, the Blue Badge can make life significantly cheaper for the holders because we do get cheaper parking and concessions on road tolls - including a 100% concession on the Central London Congestion Charge. The BBC article suggested that it might save £5000 a year to someone driving into and parking in Central London every day. Although this isn’t a realistic measure of the savings made by the vast majority of badge holders, it shouldn’t be saving us any money at all.

What would be to our advantage is a situation where the Blue Badge scheme was perceived as being fair and therefore properly respected, so that people did not feel justified in pinching our spaces, abusing the Badge scheme or indeed, smashing the windscreens on our essential vehicles in order to steal a piece of very profitable piece of cardboard.

In other news, if anyone happens in Winchester tomorrow evening, they may wish to go hear my sister singing the high notes of Allegri's Miserare in Winchester Cathedral. I'm sure it will sound very lovely indeed.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is home

Blogging from Norfolk for the first time! We have our sofas in the little red room and if it wasn't shamefully cluttered in here I would take a a photograph of it to show how very cosy it is. Not exactly ship-shape, but the essentials are now on-line; heat, light and water. We need to go back to my folks' tomorrow to get some washing done, but we're going to have a go at staying here tonight, see how things go. Some toing and froing may be necessarily in the next few weeks.

Am now going to sleep - not the first time I've sleep here; having fallen asleep leant against boxes and precariously balanced on chairs during previous visits, but this time I have a bed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Five Things About Me Meme

Sally let us tag ourselves and I was in the mood for a Meme. I guess these have to be a bit odd. Well that's okay, I am.

1. I have a birthmark on my neck, which I consider quite obvious, although it doesn’t trouble me. Every now and again, someone who I have known for years and years will point it out, having never noticed it before.

2. For much of my childhood, I was passionate about football (soccer). The first football match I attended was between Ipswich Town and Leicester City. At the time in the late eighties, there was a favoured Leicester player who was completely bald. The fans demonstrated their support for this chap by wearing bald caps and dressing up like Harikrishna followers, with orange robes and drums. At this particular match, a riot broke out and I witnessed a tribe of faux Harikrishnans storm the pitch and fight with police. It was very exciting.

But I liked playing football more than watching it. Unfortunately, I was never very good at it.

3. I have sat astride a police motorbike. When I was eight, I wanted to be a detective so I wrote to the police asking if my cousin and I could help them solve mysteries. I was that sort of child. The police picked us up in a black and white car and took us for a day at Suffolk Police HQ. We went in the control room, in their little museum where they have all the items people have concealed drugs and weapons in, we rode in a car which was practising extreme driving techniques and we got to sit on the motorbikes. It was extremely cool and I have had a thing about handcuffs ever since. Or perhaps not.

4. In my teens, for a short spell, I was quite determined to be a vicar. Honestly. Other careers to which I applied serious consideration and research to but now seem a little strange include medicine, law and journalism. However, I very much believe that I could have done one of those things, and turned out to be a completely different person, if just a few small decisions and events in my life had been different. I don't really buy the idea that who I am now is who I was bound to be; don't believe any aspect of my life or personality is set in stone. I might have even been a vicar, although that does seem extremely unlikely.

5. The one thing I know I am really very good at in life is Scrabble. In fact, I’ve never played Scrabble with anyone who has been better with me. I have been beaten once or twice, but only when the chance element went dramatically against me.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I've got a glorious feeling...

My letter may have worked. In the last 24 hours...

1. The car has been brought back to life by a spectacularly moustachioed man from the RAC. He had been to my folks' house before - last time to fix the Caterham which brother-in-law was driving. Here is a picture of a Caterham. -->

The ancient rusting Proton was probably a bit of a let down after that, but it lives to see another day.

2. The broken pipe is mended.

3. The chap has come, checked and serviced the boiler. This in combination with 2. mean that we now have heat and hot water. And fortunately it is all coming out of taps as opposed to the ceiling. Which is a plus.

4. The missing mobile phone has been found.

5. The house has working broadband. We imagined this would take weeks to set up, but it's there right now.

6. The fish appear have survived all the stress of the move, the changing temperatures, changing water conditions and all and are now swimming happily about in my Dad's pond. Yesterday the blackmoors skulked at the edge of the pond, the goldfish eying up these exotic incomers with suspicion. But today they all appear to be friends. Ebony and orangey...

They have been through a lot though - and I really am genuinely surprised they have survived. Of course, they need a few weeks before we can consider them safe. And they are now somewhat more vulnerable natural predators, like herons, than they were in the tank.

Anyway, it all seems to be going very well. We've half a mind that we might move into the house at the weekend, even if we won't have any electric lights, a kitchen ceiling or any means with which to cook. The kettle is working okay, apparently, so what else do we really need?

Dramaticus Personae

I've been distracted from this story which I started telling at the beginning of January, but am determined to get it all down. Sorry in all that. Contains very rude bits.

Youth theatre was a completely different environment from school or home and I loved it. It wasn’t perfect. There was naturally a fair amount of competition and I don’t think it would be unfair to suggest that there were a few less than positive common traits to be found among group of young people who have a strong desire to pretend to be someone else completely in front of an unlit audience. But much to my immense delight, this was a place where there was no need to be clever and there was no need to be normal. Imagine!

The idea that you could study drama and spend the rest of your life mucking around on stages and in studios was actually held up as a perfectly reasonable option. Why not? Nobody told us that we could all be movie stars or anything silly like that. Actors do exist in the real world. Actors are paid for acting and survive. And when not acting, a qualification in Drama Therapy for example, could keep you in work doing roughly the same sort of thing, running workshops in hospitals, residential homes, schools and prisons, actually using your art to help people directly. Your art. My art. Oh what delicious corruption!

My parents turned a fascinating shade of minty off-white when I first submitted that proposed career plan, even with much more emphasis on the Drama Therapy, a degree in Psychology thrown in and absolutely no mention of the prisons. Nothing wrong with drama, but along with art, music and writing, this could only ever be a hobby, something you did to make you a more rounded candidate when applying for a university place and later for a job. But I was already infected with this idea that there might be different ways of living; an idea which would later literally save my life.

But the sinister influence of Youth Theatre went even further than that. This was an environment where attitudes towards sexuality were completely and utterly different to those I found everywhere else. Nobody gave a shit.

The most obvious way in which this came across was in the nature of sexual humour. So much of our humour is sexual in nature, but what is and is not acceptable varies massively between contexts. Hmm, I guess I’ll have to explain this in a roundabout way...

It’s like when someone declares, “Look at the tits on that!” and your heart sinks, not at having been objectified and dehumanised in a single breath, but at the fact that a man feels so extraordinarily insecure about his image as a masculine heterosexual in the eyes of his male peers. Probably because that, or indeed the tits on it, is the last thing on his mind. He is probably a poet, deep down.

“Look at the tits on that! They’re large!”
I say, to disguise my longing to die
And my friends, distracted by the décolletage,
Won’t notice the tear in my eye.

Homosocial pressures, you see; the pressure to assert a very particular and contrived version of heterosexuality for the benefit of one's peers. The same thing exists in many groups of women. Remarks like that are a fairly extreme manifestation for either gender, but the nature of what sexual humour is acceptible (where any is acceptible) within a group says a lot about what forms of sexuality are acceptible.

In the world I occupied there were lots and lots of breast jokes, fewer penis jokes (and you never used that word), jokes about shagging and jokes about queers; those men that other men declared they wouldn’t want to bend over within half a mile of. Perverse that I was exposed to jokes about male anal rape long before I knew what cunnilingus was.

Which is a rather explicit way of putting it; people who make homophobic jokes don't sit around saying, "Anal rape, ha ha ha." But still, that is the big joke about poofters, isn't it? That despite their alleged weakness and effeminacy, they are both capable and compelled to force themselves on every man who passes by? Very funny.

The first time I realised there was a big difference between that and the kind of humour I found among young theatrical folk was with another lewd remark. We were sitting around having a discussion about our favourite words, it began to get a bit naughty and then one boy of fifteen or sixteen looked straight at me and said, “My personal favourite is rectum [with much emphasis on the r]. I like the way it rolls off the tongue.”

I had no idea what the heck it meant - I was certain it had been said in order to freak me out - but I knew that there was something about this environment that made such things possible to say, but meant that the same young man would never nudge his friend as I walked past and say "Look at the tits on that."

In fact, Youth Theatre was the one environment where nobody ever made a joke or a grope at the bosoms which had caused so much hilarity elsewhere, even though most of the boys were straight and the boys often outnumbered the girls. Because of course, male heterosexuality doesn't compel a person to draw attention to their appreciation of breasts at every possible opportunity. In the same way, one does not need to wear a t-shirt or have a bumper-sticker saying "I like shagging" (or words to that effect) with an illustration of a naked woman in case anyone was in any doubt. And yet one can still be completely obscene.

The magic thing about this environment was that nobody was afraid of falling out of their pigeon hole. Of course we weren't; we were all pretending to be other people half the time. Everyone flirted with one another. Everyone with everyone else, regardless of gender or declared sexuality. I was never any good at this, but I enjoyed it immensely. I’m not sure how many of us were sexually active, but acting is a big seduction anyway; you don’t have to follow through. Certainly people looked after themselves; none of us got pregnant or fathered children in our teens. If the subject of sexuality ever came up in conversation, almost everyone said they were bisexual, not because they were, but because it maximised one’s opportunities to seduce.

Which should have made me feel better about the way I was. And indeed, this completely different way of looking at the world probably was what held off the destructive self-loathing until my body stopped working properly a few years later. But this wasn’t a magic point at which I suddenly began to feel comfortable about myself. I felt sure that my thespian friends were not bisexual and the only gay people I knew and liked were boys or men (or so I thought – the friend who sat next to me in both Art and Maths throughout high school didn’t come out until she was leaving for university). I felt it was quite different for boys – which is nonsense.

Well, it must be different, but it must be better in some respects, much worse in many others.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Lovely Little List of Links I Like

None of them are even slightly romantic, but I have officially cancelled Valentine's Day. Not out of any cynicism or bitterness, just practicality; we have too much stuff to deal with (and we both forgot). Gayprof at Center of Gravitas offers a great list of anti-Valentine's Day activities for those of us who really hate it.

Edit: Also, check out Eclectech's Romantic Offering starring Jack Java, the Lurve Monkey (is very silly).

Meanwhile, for those who haven't seen this elsewhere, you can support The Arts by buying words to possess of your very own over at Miss Tickle's blog. I personally have nothing.

Elsewhere in blogland, Andrea at the Garden of Nna Mmoy wrote an absolutely smashing post about fear and fearlessness. Go read.

And I feel inclined to remind folks that if you feel you have to travel by air, and you're going to spend all that money anyway, do consider spending a little extra to offset the carbon emissions. If you don't like paying for trees to be planted in Kenya for some reason, you can have them planted in your own (UK) county here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

The Goldfish
Her Parent's House
F.A.O: whichever supernatural being(s) it may concern
The Forces of Predestination
Petty Domestic Misfortune Subdivision
Unit 4B., The Universe

13th February 2007
Dear Sir or Madam,

As you will have undoubtedly predicted, I am writing to ask if you would please reconsider my case.

I have not always been a loyal customer of your organisation, naively assuming that my fortune in life was dictated by accident of birth, accident of circumstance and the decisions of both those around me and myself. You may well laugh. Clearly you are laughing. To be honest, even I was laughing yesterday when we arrived at our new home to inspect how the drying-out was progressing to find that the kitchen ceiling had completely collapsed.

My only excuse for a lifetime of scepticism is pedantry. For example, when I read this months' horoscope at Astrology.Com, it clearly states that for February 2007:

The second week will see the unexpected rear its head.

Forgive me, but should the word unexpected even appear in a horoscope? If am to expect the unexpected, then what is the point of reading an analysis of what I should expect? Far more unnerving was
Mercury enters Pisces on Feb 2nd but then moves into a reverse motion phase on Feb 14th, charged by a near encounter with Uranus and the Lunar Nodes.
Which sounds a little too much like haemorroids to me. Therefore I would very much appreciate it if my case could be looked at again.

I realise I am in no position to judge these things, but according to my calculations, I have already had everso slightly more than my share of petty domestic bad luck this month so far. I acknowledge that I remain very fortunate in all the ways a person would most like to be and if there is any more than pure chance responsible, I am extremely grateful. But I am still anxious to avoid haemorroids, or indeed any further accident or mishap, at least for the duration of this month.

As I am just one small mortal in a very big universe, I shall present the full itinerary of unfortunate events in this month so far in chronological order:
  1. A mistake with paperwork which may have lost us about £100.
  2. Inability to operate hot water system, resulting in ice cold shower.
  3. Computer dying on me at one of the worst points it might have chosen.
  4. Broken beloved mug #1.
  5. Bad day for [...] on day of move, forcing him to stop overnight half way, at a cost of £50.
  6. The coldest night of the winter so far as he is travelling down.
  7. The flood.
  8. The landlady’s buildings insurance turns out to be invalid.
  9. [...]’s mobile phone – the only mobile phone we have between us – goes missing.
  10. The car breaks down. Perhaps for good.
  11. Broken beloved mug #2.
  12. The oil tank in our new garden springs a leak.
  13. The kitchen ceiling collapses.
I am hoping that the fact that we are now up to number thirteen, on the thirteenth day of the month, might mean something to your good selves; perhaps a good number on which to end a run of bad luck?

If nothing can be done, I should nevertheless warn you that it is impossible to break me this way. I'm sure you knew I was going to say that. Most of the misfortunes aren’t nearly as bad as they might have been. The computer was back on line within the week and I was able to fulfil the most essential address-changing tasks without it. I was not at all hopeful for the fish, used to house temperatures, surviving the trauma of moving as well as a night in the Travelodge carpark in temperatures of –4C, but they made it. We intend to release them into my father’s pond later today and catch them again later in the spring.

The oil tank isn’t actually damaged. The oil was delivered and the tank filled right to the top. The electricity hasn't fully recovered from the flood just yet, the boiler needs servicing in any case, so we haven’t been burning any oil off. In the meantime, the temperature has risen and the oil has expanded from fill to overflowing. It’s not nice, but it can only get better.

The landlady made an innocent mistake which has given the insurance company an excuse to reject a claim for however much it might cost to dry out and fix up four damaged rooms, plus plumbing and electrics. This could have been a complete disaster, but it shouldn’t be. Until the ceiling collapsed, there was nothing that needs doing which [...] couldn’t do by himself, given enough time. We'll work that out somehow.

And yesterday, in a portent I am determined to see as positive, I saw a kestrel in our new garden. A kestrel. I imagine it was a rather disorientated kestrel as it flew right at me while I was sitting in the car, and only narrowly missed colliding with the windscreen. I can't remember what a kestrel means in the folklore of various world cultures, but I am sure that it must mean something good in at least one of them. Unless the poor bird was merely overcome by the oil fumes (no really, it's not nearly that bad).

I look forward to hearing a decision regarding my case, which I realise, in the anticipation of this letter, may already have been made.

Yours faithfully,

[Illegible Squiggle]

The Goldfish (Capricorn, apparently Gemini Rising)

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Passive Imperfect #1

For the last ten years, the vast majority of my important relationships have been forged in text. Ten years ago, this was very difficult for people to understand. How could I feel I knew someone who I had never met, let alone love them as a friend? At that time there was little anxiety about the sinister potential of the Internet, but there was an attitude that internet friends could only be one step up from imaginary friends, in whom it was rather unhealthy to invest any time or emotion.

I used to feel rather embarrassed about it. I used to make up stories about where I really had met this or that friend to make our introduction – and therefore our friendship – seem legitimate. But this was the silly thing; I have a passive social life, all my relationships are conducted on-line or on the telephone except for the occasional meeting because I am ill, can’t get out much and don't have a lot of energy for dealing with people in person. The only difference between my real friends and my internet friends is how we happened to meet. There is no differentiation; a friend is a friend is a friend and I value every one I have.

In fact, people I meet on-line have an advantage over most people I meet in person because they are already adept at communicating with someone who is physically absent; most working people have friends in their colleagues or people they meet at pubs or in clubs they belong to; many folks see their friends on a regular basis whether they want to or not, little thought or effort required. What is more, the process of getting to know a person on-line is generally much easier; you read blog entries and forum posts and you can learn a lot about what a person is like without having to interact with them at all.

Naturally, I have met many internet friends in person (began to count but gave up at three dozen), stayed in their homes, had them stay with me, gone on holiday with them and even married one of them. Whether through luck or good judgement, I have thus far never been deceived or disappointed. On the contrary; people - all people - are better in person. There is a certain fulfilment in face-to-face contact which cannot be obtained through text. It is better to be with people, to hear their voices, to see their smiles. Much better. Just not always possible.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Waving, not drowning.

One thing gets better and another gets worse. Today's crisis is that the car has broken down. The roof has been leaking in three places for some time, between patch-ups, and now I think something has got wet that ought not to be. May dry out and be okay. Water is not our friend just now. One does begin to wonder if it means anything.

Still, worse things happen at sea. Where there is considerably more water, as a rule.

The worst thing, if I am perfectly brutally honest, is that - whilst my parents' hospitality is very much appreciated, we're very conscious of imposing on them as well as the fact that without them, we'd be homeless in a very real sense - these two are incapable of having a conversation with one another without having an argument. It is like they are in some petty competition all the time; there is no major area of conflict, but they are determined both to wind up and be wound up by one another. Today is particularly bad because they are off on holiday tomorrow, and cannot agree about anything; the latest eruption was to do with what sort of toothpaste should be packed. There is much shouting, stomping on the stairs, slamming of doors, and then each of them keeps coming to me at different times and demanding, "Do you think I am a completely unreasonable human being?!"

Of course, our prolonged presence here can't be helping at all. And uh, they are off on holiday tomorrow and have given us permission to borrow their car, without which kindness, once again, we'd be in far greater trouble than we already are.

It's all about trade-offs. But so far, we are keeping our heads above water. Figuratively speaking.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Those three words are said too much

6000 year embraceThis is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a long long time. A pile of Neolithic bones, found twenty-five miles south of Verona (fair Verona, where we lay our scene). And the true story of how they came to be buried like this, 5000 or 6000 years ago? I don't care. I know what I see.

One of the most beautiful things you can do with your body is to allow it to become entangled with another in such a way that you no longer know where you end and they begin. You no longer know which limbs, which hair, which fingers and thumbs and genitals belong to whom. You no longer know the direction of gravity. You breathe their breath. It becomes impossible to differentiate between the two pulses, which merge into a gentle rolling thunder against one another's skin.

And you (I) do think about death in such moments because there could be no better way to conclude one's existence. Warm and close. Never to leave and never to be left behind.

Instead you go to sleep together and wake up in an entirely different position.

Other things of beauty this week: here, here and here. Still not sure what's happening in our saga, but it seems likely we will be stuck living with my folks for at least the next fortnight. Which, much as I adore my parents... There are difficulties looming which I can't possibly go into here which could mean official homelessness, worst case scenario. But there's a friendly roof over our head. And it might all go swimmingly. We'll see.

Ha ha, swimmingly, get it?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I wrote for luck, they sent me you

So [...] eventually made it down south and supervised the removal people delivering our furniture and boxes to the new place this morning. He came round to my folks house at lunch time and then we set off back to our new place just to adjust the heating and for me to take a look at what the layout of the rooms looked like with the furniture in.

As we parked beside the house, there was water pouring from the eaves. It was not raining. And this water was pouring. Entering the house, we saw water was also pouring from several places in the ceiling in the kitchen, hall, bathroom and living room. Onto our stuff; our electrical appliances, the boxes containing such items as books and musical instruments.

I could provide dialogue, but I'm sure you can imagine.

However, having turned the water and electricity off, we managed to transfer all the vulnerable boxes and the stuff out of the damp boxes into the bedroom where it was safe. We have been extraordinarily lucky; the only things that have got thoroughly wet are some CDS, which of course will still play; the paper inlays have got wet but there's nothing irreplacable. The books are okay. The musical instruments are okay. Even the cuddly toys are okay.

Nothing precious has got damaged, nothing that really matters.

Nobody was hurt. ([...] was already deep in the puddle before we thought about the electricity.)

We might have left the radiator for tomorrow. It might have effected every room and all our possessions.

We are knackered. [...] was already knackered and mildly malnourished from the week he has had finishing off in Whitby. We have no idea what happens next. Not even sure what's happened. If we weren't moving so close to my folks, who we can stay with tonight... And Mum had this afternoon off, so she came to our rescue.

Extraordinarily lucky, really. And yet, well, buggery bollocks.

Pet Hates

Whilst living oop North I picked up a handful of dialectical mannerisms and inflections, by gum. For example, my nephew’s name is Alexander which I manage to pronounce Alexander (Northern) or Al-ig-zän’der (English) interchangeably. I have also been known, on occasion, to pronounce bath, dance, grass etc. phonetically as opposed to the English bäth, däns, gräs etc.. If words were meant to be pronounced as they are spelt, or else spelt as they are pronounced, then our language would have a very different character indeed. It would be easier to learn to read and write, and we would be able to make ourselves understood to the rest of the so-called English-Speaking world. Nobody would want that, surely?

This last week, whilst staying with my folks and talking to lots of native East Anglians, I have relapsed into using phrases like “Int it?” rather than “Is it not the case?” and “Oo-er” rather than “Golly!”. Unfortunately, I have not lost any of my Northern inflections – despite having every instance picked up on by (and duly mocked by) my parents. And despite being the presence of my parents, I am still swearing like a trooper - a particularly ill-mannered trooper who has just stubbed his toe.

However, there is one particular word that I would really like to get shot of as soon as possible.

The Whitby accent in particular is a hybrid of the North Yorkshire and Teeside accents, a union which results in the prevalence of the word pet as a term of endearment. And alas, I have picked up the habit of calling people pet when attempting to comfort, reassure or generally be friendly. I have even written it down once or twice.

I don’t do terms of endearment. Of course, sometimes, even those who use such words towards strangers can be very charming as long as they otherwise being friendly and respectful (the lady at the benefits agency addressed me as lovey yesterday, bless her). But most of us know the frustration of being addressed as pet, dear, darling or mate when one is otherwise being treated with the utmost disrespect. And I find that in many of the contexts in which these words are used they tend to be insincere or patronising – even, or perhaps especially, in the most intimate of relationships. I know this, because I find myself doing it when softening criticism, apologising, asking a difficult question, or otherwise being a git. The only thing worse than hearing an arguing couple, not an ounce of affection in their voices, continue to slip honey, love or sweetheart in between bitter ripostes is when you hear a parent shouting at a child along the lines, “Shut the fuck up petal, or you’ll be in for a slap!”

But pet... Perhaps it is snobbery to try and get rid of it? It is not as if I am saying it all the time. Perhaps I should embrace a hybrid dialect, oo-er, 'appen? Because it does become a hybrid; you think these things cancel one another out, but they don't always do that. I once stayed with a family in Falkirk, the mother of whom whom had been born and brought up in Essex and she had the weirdest accent you have ever heard - not because it was half-way in between, but because it constantly alternated, producing phrases like, "Och aye, cor blimey gov'nor!"

Anyway, after rabbitting on about nothing, I must subject you to the two versions of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch. The Four Yorkshiremen sketch was something that we used to perform amongst ourselves as children. We could all put-on a Yorkshire accent on account of our grandparents, and many of my Grandfather's stories would begin "When I were a lad..."

So we would compete with one another with the most ridiculous scenarios, although very often using bits from Grandad's stories, the phrase "remnant of barbed wire" used to come up a lot, for example and very precise imperial measurements; Grandad Kelly was a civil engineer and didn't see any reason not to detail the size and shape of things to the nearest sixteenth of an inch, even when recounting a tale to his very young and congenitally metric grandchildren.

Anyway, the original...

And the tribute...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Cross-posted at Blogging Bookworms.

This book has also been reviewed here by The Unreliable Witness, upon whose recommendation I read it.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is the surreal tale of Toru Okada, an unemployed man hunting for a missing cat. Over the course of his search, Toru encounters all manner of supernatural and spiritual phenomenon, a host of fascinating characters and discovers very much more than the absconding feline.

This is a story about moving from a position of numbness to a position of feeling. At the outset, Toru is completely devoid of passion. He is not worried or excited by this limbo in his career, he doesn’t notice his wife’s increasing absences and whenever anyone wants to see him, he has no plans. His central mission over the course of the novel is not to discover some profound intellectual truth or even a factual explanation of events, but merely to get in touch with how he feels, whether this might be drawn out of him by the stories and behaviours of other people (usually mirroring the same theme) or whether he might go down a well and deprive himself of sustenance and stimulation until that monster, emotion, finally emerges.

Which can be, at times, a pretty scary adventure. There is a lot of darkness in this book, but also a lot of light and perhaps most importantly, a lot of beauty - of both the dark and light as well as the ambiguous variety.

Naturally, I was reading in translation, but the style came across as pretty incredible; mastering the art of being at once verbose and minimalist. At first it irritated me to realise that, despite ever economical sentences, the reason I was reading a 600 page book was because the author insisted on rephrasing and the repeating the same statement or sentiment three times, but after a while I decided that this was part of its genius. It becomes quite amusing and together with reassurances that there is no pretension here (the word weird is used more often than any other adjective), it is part of what allows Murakami to lead us seamlessly backwards and forwards between the real and the surreal. Which I consider a pretty impressive achievement.

I was not always convinced by his characterisations. Again, there is a question mark over what might be lost in translation, but several of the characters appeared to have the exactly same ‘voice’; there are several large passages where we are reading a letter or listening to a story told by a character other than our narrator-protagonist, and the syntax remains the same for an elderly war veteran as for a young prostitute.

And then there is the small issue of all female characters being succubi; they phone our protagonist to molest his ears, enter his dreams in order to force themselves upon him, they titillate and frustrate him before threatening his life or else pay hard currency for the privilege of sapping Toru’s spiritual energy. And despite their universally ravenous appetite for Toru’s spunk (in all conceivable senses of the word), the female characters only appear to obtain any sexual pleasure during adultery or rape.

Leading on from this, there is a big problem with sex, which occurs frequently and takes on a level of spiritual significance. Sex can be a way of getting into somebody’s head and it is a small step to seeing this in spiritual or else supernatural terms, but it surely has to be fairly spectacular sex; that kind of inverted torture where a person can be drawn out to the edge of themselves. Unfortunately, there is nothing about Toru’s many sexual adventures which makes them appear above the level of a half-hearted contact-sport. Which is all very well for dispassionate Toru, but it becomes very boring to read and one begins to suspect all this sex has been put in to prove something.

Fortunately, there is one very bright ray of sunshine in the shape of Toru’s teenaged neighbour, May Kasahara. She is yet another blood-sucking temptress (she even renders a hosepipe "warm and limp", groan), but she is also the funniest, wisest, most realistic and thoroughly loveable character in the book, and the one who kept me going through the more tedious patches. Because it can be tedious. You have 600 pages during which you are given a great deal of information, subjected to all manner of images – including some very disturbing ones – and are never really sure what matters, if indeed anything does matter and whether you are going to be offered any resolution in the end.

It is therefore necessary to embark on this book in the right conditions. Deep and increasing curiosity got me through; the desire for an entertaining read would not have.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Being good isn't always easy, no matter how hard I try

It is surprising to what little extent the mind learns anything from the body. Vice versa, sure, all the time. Even when the body is lying still, safe and cool, the mind can make the heart race, the muscles tighten and the skin sweat. You can’t always get it to do what you want it to do, but it is listening.

The mind, however, doesn’t really give a shit what the body is up to. This is a great tune, it says, let's get up and dance! I guess that there are few of us, however decrepit, who can face an open flat field or an empty corridor and not wish to sprint to one end and back again. Similar temptations would include climbable trees or rocks in the middle of a river you're sure you could jump to in order to get across (I got in so much trouble last time I did that and I didn't even get very wet). And then there's this thing about getting lost.

A misty field at duskI was reminded of this by a fantastic mist we had here. The temptation to walk into it and keep walking until you've lost sight of where you came from, and don't really know where you are. Dark woods are the same; the desire to wander into the darkness, to become disorientated. Whenever people say they like to travel and explore new places, or folks who like hiking about in the countryside, I imagine that's what they really mean; I want to get a bit lost in order to find myself again. Which may sound a little deeper than I believe it to be.

I tell myself off for caring about the things I can't do, especially these things which are a little frivolous. I also fantasise about taking flight but nobody is going to feel sorry for me that I don't happen to defy gravity. But it gets a lot more subtle than that. A temptation just to move about.

When I first got the electric wheelchair, I found it very difficult to keep still. Not me, not me in my body, but me in the chair. If I was waiting on a particular spot, I was inclined to shift about. It was a bad habit because the fidgeting meant engaging and disengaging the battery, which wouldn't have been very good for the machine.

And now, as my pain levels have reduced (she says, on the worst pain day in months - cursing my parents for living in a house with stairs), I find myself entertaining the more active whims for more than a passing moment. A few days without my body screaming at it and my mind forgets the experience of ten years. Let's take a little walk over there, just to see what we can see. Which is, incidentally, why I am in so much pain today.

I have to try and be good. It is many years since I have managed to get this far into a winter without some major immune disaster. I have had inexplicable crap spells, I have had colds, I have had ear, throat and miscellaneous icky yuck-yuck infections, but I keep getting over them, getting back to a level which is the best it has been in a long time. If I can only behave myself, I might be able to do a lot more by this time next year.

In other news, my computer has died, I'm borrowing my Dad's which is a rather temperamental machine and there's a good chance of getting stuck off-line for a while. Several other disasters today, too tedious to elaborate on. However, more positively, I have been rambling on these pages for two years today, so Happy Birthday to my blog. You may have noticed I converted to the new blogger this week and now have labels.

And for those interested in such things, this evening at five to seven (GMT), a French organisation called Alliance pour la Planète are asking everyone to turn their lights out and disconnect everything usually left on standby for five minutes as a gesture to demand urgent action on climate change from governments throughout the world.

Edit: After first posting this it occurred to me I might have used that Dusty Springfield line as a title to another post. I had done, but I'm tired so it'll have to do.