Tuesday, March 30, 2004

"For this is the time and place..." 

Ambling around the internet as usual, I discovered this, the site for Levellers Day 2004. Tony Benn heads the speakers and Billy Bragg heads the music. Looks like a nice day out for anyone in the Oxford area...

Fooken mental! 

Found via Backword Dave, the site that tracks Britain's new underclass, the Chav. I think we call them Kevs and Shazzas in Birmingham, but it's hard to know when one group's the same as another. They're the Eminem-wannabes who can't speak properly, anyway. We love them and, like rats, they're all pervasive.

On a similar note, I was thoroughly horrified to arrive home a week or two ago and find a new shop on the high street called 'Bling Bling', selling tacky jewellery, apparently without any irony at all.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Dear Someone 

Gillian Welch is coming back to England! Somehow I've managed to miss this news until now, but I'm not sure whether to book her for both nights or just one at the Shepherd's Bush Empire...

Though I love all her albums, Time (The Revelator) is one of my favourite albums by anyone. Like The Smiths' album The Queen Is Dead it just has this arc to it - constant variation between styles (within the whole Americana bracket) leads into what feels like a 'finishing' number ('Everything Is Free' on this, 'There Is A Light Which Never Goes Out' on the Smiths' album), followed by a stunning coda ('I Dream A Highway'/'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others') - which is really hard to beat. I've never seen her live until now, though, and I can't wait to see the close Welch/Rawlings harmonies in action...

So gigs coming up for me are - Willard Grant Conspiracy/Handsome Family in April, Morrissey in May and Gillian Welch in July. But I'm the look out for others...

Sunday, March 28, 2004

"Manic Depressive Mouse or The Bluebird Of Unhappiness" 

Backword Dave has already done my job for me in picking apart the latest stupid rant against anti-depressants and other mental health stabilisers, taken from Saturday's Guardian. Drugs never did anything for me - I rarely took the many pills I was prescribed during my early teens, being too lazy, forgetful and suicidal - but I still get very annoyed at anyone who criticises these drugs without knowing anything about what it's like to need them or how much the risks and the side effects are really outweighed by the benefit for those they do help.

I also agree with Dave that the problem is that not enough is provided in the way of care to accompany the drugs prescribed. I would still be on pills today, but for the fact that I know it would mean having to see a psychiatrist every week again, talking about problems the doctor doesn't or won't understand unless they fit to a check box scheme. 'Can't leave the house? That's a tick for social phobia. Can't sit down for ten minutes at a time? There's your Attention Deficit Disorder. General malaise? That'll be the borderline personality at work...'

When I arrived at university I suffered the general sense of being suddenly set adrift that I think most people feel for the first few weeks. But it seemed worse than it was at the time, and given my history of manic depression I decided after either one or two weeks that I wanted to see a doctor. I was given an appointment the same day, and after fifteen minutes with the doctor I walked away with a prescription for a hefty dosage (certainly not the minimum she could have prescribed) of a new drug called Venlafaxine/Effexor. This is a strong drug, sometimes known to induce mania and not recommended in anything other than minimal doses for people who are potentially suicidal. Great - but this is what happens when people operate on checklists which their patients know better than they do.

For most people the problem works the other way - they're in genuine need of help, but too human to fit into the necessary checkbox. Some of them don't need drugs, or need drugs other than the ones they end up being prescribed - and this is often where some of the problems arise. Others end up suicidal but still unable to get the pills they need, forever consigned to 'borderline personality' (i.e. attention seeker) or some even less subtle category in the doctor's notes.

I'm not sure what could be done to change this, since doctors these days have to cover their backs far too much to give the really individual care many people need. But before we direct our attacks at the drugs which are keeping people alive, we need to look carefully at the mental health system which is not.


Searching around the other night for pieces on transgender issues, I found this article from The Village Voice. It's an old article, so apologies for a very late link, but it's interesting and got me thinking about all sorts of things, so I recommend giving it a read.

The writer, Graff, describes the problems she had with understanding people who seek gender reassignment, as she felt that much of what the gay movement had done was to show that there were many nuances of gender - that many people could be genderqueer as well as homoqueer - and that what bodies people had needn't determine the way they feel about their gender. Talking about FTMs in particular, she writers:

'These were butch dykes with full feminist politics who already could sleep with girls and dress like boys. Were they surrendering, late in life, to the idea that gender and sex had to match up?'

In this light, people who seek gender reassignment seem almost reactionary.

But she goes on to describe how she came to realise that it was at least partly just an issue about what body a person feels comfortable with, something I'd not really considered so much before either. Some people simply wake up feeling that they're in the wrong body, every day, feeling as unnatural as a lesbian would trying to date a man.

'From that perspective, medical assistance seems more like a heart transplant than a nose job.'

For me, the article showed up what feels like a stark contradiction in my own thinking - I don't think there are any characteristics which are essentially male or female, but I've still always supported people who argue that they're in the wrong body. This wasn't an enlightened viewpoint - just incoherent. The final line the writer takes is thus quite useful to someone like me.

But of course, I recognise that a lot of people - most people - do believe in inherently male and female characteristics, and this can be used to argue against the position the author takes - whether she likes it or not, for some people it isn't just about body, or even mainly about body; they really just feel everything about them is of the other gender.

For instance, I've often just felt like a fraud when friends have told me that my manner and behaviour is evidence against many assertions people make about women, since I'm not sure how female that manner is. That doesn't mean I'm about to seek hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery, but it does make me wonder how much I took on the anti-essentialist line just for my own convenience.

Perhaps the line to take is simply to say that there really are hundreds of shades of gender, that our gender boundaries are a fraud and just work to screw people over - as both male and female feminists have been arguing for years - but that nevertheless our cultural conditioning is such that we feel ourselves as strongly attached to our gender as to a limb. That is, unless we are transgendered, in which case our gender is just a hideous fancy dress costume which daily smothers our true identities.

I'm not happy with that line, since I think there's something other than cultural conditioning at work. But I can't rationalise that feeling for the moment, so I'll leave it there, for further thought.

"One of us! One of us!" 

Lorna and I saw Freaks this evening (I'm following up on watching The Dreamers by watching all the films it references). I hadn't been prepared for the poor sound and picture quality (yes, I'm sure the DVD version is better), but it was interesting, and I pretty much agree with all the positive reviews I've read of it.

Lorna gives her own dissection here.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Get the credit you don't deserve, pig! 

Jason pointed me in the direction of some pretty good spoof adverts the other day, but I think some of the ones at brunching.com are even more twisted and fun:

Is your day too predictable? Too comfortable? Too easy? Take a Mood Swing break! Mood Swing bars are packed with the maximum federally allowed amount of sugar to give you the burst of energy you need to make your work seem really important and rewarding, followed by the precipitous crash into despondency and loathing you need to mutter to yourself about your suffocating job and the idiots you work with. And when you're ready to feel that high again, it's only a Mood Swing away!

Or another example here:

On your knees, consumer worm! Other finance companies may want to give you "the credit you deserve," but we know what you know in your heart: you deserve nothing. You are pathetic and low, and you don't deserve even the most meager line of credit. But you want it, don't you? You can just taste that credit like blood on your tongue, can't you? Dog! Slug! Well, you're in more luck that you've ever had in your miserable existence. At Domifex, we'll give you your precious credit. We'll give you your credit, but we will make you suffer for it. Oh, yes. Such exquisite suffering will be the price of your credit. Mmmmm...

Apply now, insect! Take your credit and your punishment and like it. We're just itching to hear you scream.

The battle cry of apathy... 

I was just talking to a friend about feeling too bored to blog anything. So he directed me to this...

But I thought the Gay Mecca was a bingo hall... 

The Guardian today confirms that Brighton is Britain's gay Mecca, something which most of us knew anyway. However, having been to Brighton, I really wonder why. The gay scene is tacky, over-expensive and up its own arse. The Londoner's playground? Too right! But then, I am more the Hebden Bridge sort of woman, and the knowledge that I'd be annoying Bernard Ingham if I moved there is just icing on the cake...

A friend of mine was writing a thesis recently on why Birmingham didn't feature highly on the gay map, despite being a big city (it has a much larger gay 'scene' than most of the cities which are featured in the article above, but doesn't feature there). Among many other things, his research confirmed what this most recent census has shown, which is that most of the big cities have a gay scene and a gay holiday resort - London/Brighton, Manchester/Blackpool etc. - so perhaps Birmingham suffers from being so landlocked.

This, even despite the wonderfully bizarre initiative nearly twenty years back, in which Birmingham's children and parks were treated to annual touring sandpits and Punch and Judy shows, packed into one of the city's old open top buses. It even had its own theme tune -

"Birmingham by the seaside/ Birmingham by-y the sea"...

Friday, March 26, 2004


Perhaps now is the time to start weighing up the 'God loves Gibson' portents against the 'God hates Gibson' portents. On the God loves side we see a man confessing to murdering his girlfriend after seeing The Passion.

On the God hates side, well... There has to be something pretty special in lightning striking the star...

I go with the natural disaster type portents myself, but either way there are good reasons not to see it. I wouldn't want to feel compelled to confess all my dark secrets, after all...

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Imperialism, now! 

For one scary moment, I thought this was serious. It promises a weblog soon, which should be good.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Digging my heels in on the left... 

Jason's post on the politics-changing experiences of university and the wider world makes for interesting reading. He talks of how his left-wing opinions have become less firmly entrenched since entering university and how he no longer thinks of human nature in the same, perhaps idealistic, light:

"My simplistic beliefs that everyone would strive to achieve their best if they were enabled to do so, that nobody committed crime or remained unemployed of their own calculated free will but rather they were constrained by social forces, have been destroyed a long time ago. Partly this comes of a realisation that, inside the heads of every mugger or person collecting unemployment benefit, there isn't in fact some socialist-idealist thought process going on. People aren't walking around hoping for socialist utopia, and often the poorest strata of society can hold some of the most offensive views on racial or sexual equality, say."

Putting aside the juxtaposition of muggers and those on benefit, I guess what I take issue with is his description of the former beliefs as 'simplistic', since they might as well be a bastardised version of my own. In the form presented above they may be simplistic, but I really do believe in the essential malleability of human nature, whatever core features we may observe, and I believe in the substantial contribution of societal and cultural factors to the shaping of our attitudes and our actions. This doesn't mean that I believe the will to socialism exists in every mugger's head, or would in any way deny that members of the working class often have the most reactionary values - indeed, I think it almost follows from a belief in the importance of culture, and an at least partial acceptance of socialist rhetoric, that those on society's bottom rungs will be the ones who most firmly uphold its codes and values.

For it's entirely in the interests of the ruling class to play the lower classes off against one another - in Britain this can been seen in everything from the labour clubs' barring of women to the way whites and blacks in factories joined together in their hatred of the Irish, or the way in which today you can sometimes see established immigrant groups vocally protesting against further immigration and a watering down of our nationhood. None of this has been in these people's interests - it has all worked entirely to the good of those already in power, and they have worked to perpetuate it, with talk of being tough on immigration and the like. This isn't simply a piece of socialist rhetoric, for it can be seen in the thinking of the rulers themselves, and way back in the calculations of those thinkers who would form us an ideal rule - everywhere we can see discussions of what will best foster harmony, what will prevent the ruled from rising up in rebellion against us and seeing the true nature of their position. The tactics are everything from bribery (citizenship, as some would say) to force, but a familiar theme is always the rallying cry 'divide and rule' - this is what we use to gain our strength.

I think the simple fact that the most vilified group is always changing is enough to show that the offensive views Jason mentions aren't natural, aren't firmly embedded in people's beliefs. Perhaps there is a genuine human need to feel another individual or group inferior to oneself, and perhaps there are natural muggers and layabouts out there, but given the right set of forces at play, I think people can rise up and effect a change and that even the most firmly embedded aspects of human nature can be tempered towards the ideal. Why, otherwise, would rich people, rulers, have devoted so much effort to preventing the union of the lower classes? It can't just be from a persuasive piece of rhetoric; but must have something to do with what they know they would do themselves, with full knowledge, were they to find themselves now cast down into the lower classes - Aristotle points out that it is often those who have had money and lost it that prove the most rebellious and revolutionary.

What I will never believe is that even the most naturally wicked thief, taken from the lower classes, is any worse than a single upright young man in an Oxford college with the right opportunities. There are simply too many factors at play, factors which could have turned any one of us into the same. Even if everyone were wicked, I should want to give the same chances to the thief as to the boy, to let each display their wickedness on an equal footing, not forced into displaying it from sheer hard luck.

Earlier, Jasons talks of Oxford university as a place "where blind acceptance of radical left wing rhetoric just doesn't stand up to the scrutiny of spirited debate". He's absolutely right that we need to question our ideas, that none of us have the answers and that empty rhetoric should be knocked down for what it is - there are many people officially 'on my side' whose self-righteous sound bites I'd happily tear apart, and whose teeth I often wish I could knock in. But I think we should also recognise the social construct of Oxford's 'spirited debate' for what it is, and that's something which is often tailored simply to hammering away at every loose brick we find, until the entire edifice crashes down. It has much more to do with the techniques of argument than with its substance, for any substance may be attacked in this way and will eventually crumble. It may be simply the style of our arguments at fault and not their content, for all that such debate will show us.

My own experience of Oxford debate has led me to believe that most of the fundamental differences between people are often based on different views of human nature, which have implications for everything else, and that these views could never be proved or disproved, non-empirically. I believe that whatever we may say about human nature now it (1) doesn't hold true for a great many people; and (2) could be changed. Others may doubt this, and any of their arguments which they base on this doubt will in turn be subject to my doubt. I don't see much that can be done about that, and I tend to feel that changes in beliefs about human nature tend to be the result not so much of debate as of gut feeling and of one's own lifestyle. So, as Jason suggests, I would readily think that living among the "elite" in a '15th century Oxford college' could have quite an impact on one's outlook, without that having anything to do with the reasoned debates - the battles - in which one participates.

What we need to do is step away from the battle, listen to the debate from one side, and draw our lines in the sand according to what we see then and what we feel, and accept that our view can be affected by anything from a well-argued point to someone's facial expressions (both of which are equally valid to my mind, as my attack on stylish arguments above may suggest). It's a troubling thought, but it may be that as we do step back to listen to others and reason out our own arguments to the full, we find that the differences between ourselves really aren't reducible to anything other than our backgrounds and current circumstances, even when our beliefs are at their most refined. What I do think is that we can't gain this sort of insight while showboating our arguments to a crowd, or picking at the weak points in anothers' for sport - our scrutiny must always be first and foremost directed inwards.

We gain very little from keeping our views back, of course, but I'm not saying that we should. I'm only advocating a step away from the battlefield, not from the war - there's no reason not to express one's views in private and subject them to scrutiny from others. The forum needn't be a private one, either, but what's necessary is that it be one where there is no motive for discussion other than refining one's own views - not attacking the views of others, and not seeking praise for a good 'argument'. This is as difficult to achieve in a room of three as it is in a seminar of thirty or a meeting of three hundred. But creating the conditions for such discussion should always be our first priority, for it really is easier to view one's faults objectively among friends than it is to admit them to oneself, where the tendency is always to excuse or to blame, but never to change.

Until I find these conditions, my position is staked out somewhere on the left. I invite the discussion which might change it...

"If you wanna know if you've written a hit, play it for kids" 

Having talked of great covers a couple of days ago, I finally followed up something I've been meaning to find for ages, which is a CD of the remarkable Langley Schools Music Project. In 1977, 60 school children from the Langley region in British Columbia gathered in their school gym to sing arrangements of classic pop songs by the Beach Boys, the Eagles, Paul McCartney and David Bowie, among others, accompanied by simple piano, guitar and Orffian percussion. The music which they produced is often imperfect, and I'm not so in thrall to the 'innocence of youth' as to say their sweet voices make me forget when they're out of tune, but the final product is pretty special, nevertheless.

This is particularly true on some of the solo voice tracks, such as Desperado, but also where the full chorus enthusiasm sweeps all the children along and into the music, as in Space Oddity, and even where everything becomes completely chaotic, as the children trash Beach Boy harmonies in Good Vibrations. There's something delightful in that, and it's altogether a very fine addition to any music collection, and a good talking point for any collector of the oddball...

"You'll all get this one, girls..." 

Yes, it's quiz night at the West Midland's only lesbian pub (as I remember, one of about five in the UK, though I may be out of date with that). The Fox is a fine establishment, mainly for regulars, and gets packed to fire hazard level for lock-ins every Friday and Saturday. There's a pool and television room in the back, where the tough football fans seem to congregate. The beer's rubbish, or so I'm told, and the music is just as trashy as every other gay bar, but I happily put up with all of this for the friendly atmosphere and a proper break from having to feel awkward with another girl on my arm. What it lacks, happily is the knives-out bitchy 'chic' of London and Brighton's Candy Bars, which are just awful and populated entirely by girls trying to outdo each other for cool. When I'm here, I really do feel at home.

The regulars are mainly butch dykes, with some baby butch girls and the occasional femme on someone's arm (an exaggeration, but not far from the truth). Quiz night is extremely butch, but I have almost given up noticing that we're the only people in there with long hair. The customer ratio is 90/10 female, so the gender mix is pretty much the exact reverse of every other gay venue, and of many of the 'old men' pubs which I generally favour when outside the village. It always amuses me how much gay leather bars and quiet Irish pubs can be alike in that.

Because The Fox is right on the edge of Birmingham's gay village, and thus also on the edge of a pretty rough area, we often get obviously straight strangers walk in and gawk for a minute or two, looking as if they'd wanted to make trouble but are now somewhat panicked, before walking out again. On these occasions everyone inside looks at each other, rolls their eyes, and smiles. It's this sort of thing which makes me happy to be here, even among people with whom I have nothing in common other than the fact of my sexuality. Despite all my campaigning, I'm often just happier to stay in the ghetto.

Tonight's quiz night was particular fun, as Lorna and I - both naturally shy around strangers - were forcibly joined by the spillover from another team, and got to chat to them for quite a while, as well as to the usual bar staff. Our team, The Little Pink Mafia, still came a cheerful 6th out of 8, next to the spillover team's 7th - so obviously it was the other two who stopped us from showing ourselves for the intellectual titans we really are. Many crude shout-outs make for a bonding experience, and the night raised nearly £500 for the women's area at Pride this year, always easily the most diverse and friendly area in what's becoming an increasingly soulless and commercial event. Smiles all round, even without chocolate vaginas for a prize...

"You stole Gram Parsons!" 

I went to see Grand Theft Parsons today - Lorna later reminded me that I'd said I'd see it with her, but breaking this promise did mean that I was able to see the film alone with just four other people in a big screen, all of whom were obvious Parsons fans, which kind of made it worth it...

It's a sweet film, getting funnier as it goes along, and with quite a few good lines in it. Gram Parsons' road manager, Phil Kaufman, has made a pact with Gram that whichever one of them dies first, the other will make sure that his body is burned in the Joshua Tree National Park. So Kaufman seeks to steal Gram's body after he dies, using the hearse of a random hippy he's tracked down. What follows is essentially a buddy/road movie. It could have been more than that - the true story alone is certainly grist enough to have made this a proper cult film - but with low expectations I found it pleasant enough. There's a winking cameo appearance from the real Phil Kaufman towards the end, playing someone coming out from the county courts, just as actor Kaufman walks in, and the music (mainly Parsons' own) provides a lovely background throughout. None of the actors are up to much, though, and Christina Applegate in particular did absolutely nothing to convince me that she has ever had any other character than her moody dumb blonde from Married With Children.

Compared to other films out this year - better than American Splendor (another half-true-to-life film). Worse than A Mighty Wind (another music-heavy film).

Altogether, though, not bad and worth a look - especially if you're a geeky alt.country fan surrounded by similar.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Fair maiden's names? 

There seems to be a revived debate about maiden's names in several blogs at the moment (here, here and here, for example), in reaction to an article by Katie Roiphe. The original article, I think, is pretty careless and pretty reactionary. Roiphe mentions a lot of the discussions going on about what options women can go for when marrying, but ends up concluding that the falling number of people keeping their maiden names means the battle's been won and people no longer need to think about it. It's often convenient to take a husband's name, so why not do it?

Perhaps because it's convenient, as Matthew Yglesias suggests (see second link above). As long as women choose to take their husband's, or indeed their father's, name just because it's convenient, they don't really seem to be making a meaningful choice. They're simply succumbing to external pressures. In this particular debate I don't have any fixed opinion on what a woman should do, except that whatever she does she should make a careful decision about it and what it means in relation to her identity.

My mother kept her maiden name because she was working in radio at the time and because she wanted old friends listening to her to be able to recognise her and get in touch (I suspect there must also be some satisfaction in knowing that those who weren't friends will recognise you too); because most of her friends were keeping their maiden name; and because she didn't like the sound of her name joined to my father's surname (besides, Mrs. Cotterill to him was his mother). She didn't see much in the way of feminism in the choice, since - as the old point goes - it's just choosing one man's name over another.

I have both names, which always led friends at school to ask why I had a male middle name (as I got older, people stopped asking, I guess from 'manners') - I told them it was so I'd have a name ready and waiting for when the gender re-assignment operation came through, and that shut them up. But the maiden name battle's certainly not been won - I was regarded as odd for having both parents' names, even at my hippy junior school (where several others were the same); and at my secondary school my first year form tutor always treated my mother very oddly when meeting her, as if doubting her honour and would, I think deliberately, often forget her surname...

So, were I to marry, I'd think seriously about keeping my maiden name as something symbolic, just as a step along the path for breaking down that 'convenience' barrier. On the other hand, it seems strange to have both of my parents' names, and not the name of my partner. Three surnames, or whatever, is obviously too much, and the option of choosing bits of them would probably make me sound like some space age robot, or an STD (Coupteroyd and Colloyland being two possible configurations). But I would like to make some suggestion that I was as connected to my 'family of choice' as my family of birth, to my future as much as to my past and formative identity...

I don't attach much importance to questions of posterity - as I don't intend to have any children, and if I did then passing my genes onto them is surely punishment enough; I needn't inflict my name on them too. My choice would probably be to take one name at one time and one at another; my father's at the post office, my mother's online, and an invented name when I'm on the run from the law, for example. Doing just this has proved very convenient for internet contact, where going under my mother's name (for instance in signing up to things which might prove to be firms of axe murderers come to track me down) has been routine for many years. But as with any 'pseudonym' there are, and would be, problems when different areas of my life coincide. I've had enough problems with explaining to people why I appear to have two surnames that these days I just go with my father's.

So maybe convenience is a factor after all...


I'm quite willing to put it down to the oddnesses of enetation, but if anyone knows why fewer comments appear than the blog tells me I have, or if they've left comments which haven't appeared, I'd be grateful to find out...

Monday, March 22, 2004

Deliver me from nowhere... 

I've just been listening to the Cowboy Junkies' version of Springsteen's "State Trooper" for the first time, and rate it very highly. It captures all the desolation of the original, with more menace in the bassline and some really silky throwaway-style vocals. Now it would take me a lot to prefer a cover version to the original of a song, but this gets close to ranking equal (Nebraska being easily my favourite Springsteen album, and one of my favourite albums of all time, this takes a lot).

Usually everyone hates cover versions, and with some right - just witness most pop bands' entire outputs. But I was wondering whether anyone here could think of some cover songs which beat the originals. Hendrix's version of "All Along The Watchtower" is an easy one for me; there's a beautiful version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", removing the chorus and riff entirely, done by Cat Power; and Ryan Adams' 2001-era live version of "Wonderwall" just about rescued that song from the mire it was born in. But I'm guessing there are lots of others...

Mad Cowboy Disease 

Sent to me via e-mail, the following is a poem composed of Bushisms, arranged by Richard Thompson, Washington Post writer:


I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen and uncertainty
And potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the Internet
Become more few?

How many hands have I shaked?
They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.

I know that the human being
And the fish can coexist.
Families is where our nation finds hope,
Where our wings take dream.

Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher!
Make the pie higher!

Thought-provoking, isn't it?

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Smoke and mirrors 

Jason brings to my attention the story of yet another school pulling stunts to please Ofsted. You have to ask 'why bother?' It must be years since anyone seriously thought that an Ofsted report would tell people anything about a school's real standard. The schools which do well are just those who have been pulling tricks longer.

My own experiences of school inspections only confirmed the low opinion I already had, both of Ofsted and of my school. In one class we were told that everyone should put up their hands for every question when the inspector came in; right hand if you actually knew the answer, left hand otherwise. In another the teacher told us to hitch up our skirts if the inspector was male. The fact that our school produced even a single feminist is a near miracle. Single sex education warps your mind.

During the inspections I was, as usual, close to expulsion, so had to keep my mouth shut. Other dissidents were threatened with similar, and we all looked enviously on at the one model Catholic pupil whose fierce anti-authority mother shouted at the headmistress in the way the rest of us could only dream of. But it was only one voice among many and as a result the final report was of course excellent... What a farce.

Fatal Errors... 

We may be losing the war on terror, but apparently we're winning the war on correct punctuation. Strict adherence to the London Underground's latest anti-terrorism posters may lose more lives than it saves. Passengers be warned - if you see an unattended package "Don't touch, check with other passengers, inform station staff or dial 999."

Yes, that's right. Just whistle and move on...

21 Grams 

"...the weight of a stack of five nickels.. the wait of a hummingbird..."

As this long and somewhat pretentious final musing continued, I almost expected Sean Penn to start crying out hysterically "THE WEIGHT OF AN ABORTED ZYGOTE" or something similar. 21 Grams is not one of the year's great films. It's often over-emotional; its refusal to be linear isn't very interesting these days, and its themes are played out poorly.

I would have been willing to view it more highly were it not for its uncritical presentation of abortion-as-evil. In the film, one of the central characters, seeing her partner (Penn) dying, wants to have his baby as a memory of him. Her fallopian tubes are, however, damaged from a previous abortion. The doctor demands to know why she had that abortion - none of his bloody business - and then gives her no chance to explain. Later on, her partner (now better) also finds out about the past abortion, and uses it as an excuse to break up with her. He's been having affairs all over the place and wants any reason to leave her, but she's an evil killer, so obviously he's a saint for putting up with her this long. The kiddy-killing bitch deserves everything she gets. Ri-ight...

After that I felt suspicious throughout the film, on guard for more insidious bits of reactionary propaganda, found several (mostly religious or gun-related) and decided not to bother with it any more. Benicio Del Toro and Melissa Leo are pretty good, as is Clea Duvall in a supporting role. Otherwise, this film really isn't one to watch. I've always thought Sean Penn was greatly overrated, and given its wilfully 'artsy' style, I'm surprised the film reached the big screens at all. If something had to do it, why not A Mighty Wind, Elephant or one of the other excellent small films out this year?

Despite this disappointing experience, though, I continue to think that this year has so far been one of the best for excellent new release films - including those made last year, and only out now - in a very long time. Roll on the summer blockbusters!

Some people celebrate more than others... 

My family has never taken Mother's Day at all seriously, which is lucky, because I forgot about its existence until yesterday. But apparently some people are very fond of their mothers indeed - Lorna and I were in a cheap buffet restaurant today, which regularly has loud-speaker birthday announcements interrupting the stream of Boyzone/Tom Jones muzak, followed by a tinny 'Happy Birthday To You' recording.

Well today we were instead treated to a Mother's Day shout-out, with the strains of Cliff Richard - "Congratulations, and celebrations, when I tell everyone that I'm in love with you".

I love my mum (as Baldrick would say); but not that much...

And on a similar theme, I went to a marvellous exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery today, called Cinema India: The Art of Bollywood. Apart from learning a great deal about India's film industry and cinematic morality, I came across a wonderful poster for a film called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, with the somewhat unfortunate tagline - "It's all about loving your parents".

Of course, it may all just be my filthy mind...

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Windy city 

As always, I took a walk through Birmingham today to see what had changed since the last time I left it. Usually I can expected a new shopping centre, a closed cinema or the like, but today there wasn't too much different. The main reason I've been happy to leave Birmingham as often as possible is the City Council's willingness to prostrate all of what remains of our civic pride before whatever commercial forces come our way... So, for example, while the town hall - a beautiful neoclassical thing - is being renovated the scaffolding has been treated as free space. Over Christmas this meant that we were treated to the delights of a giant Coca Cola advent calendar and since then one of Birmingham's most visible (and historic) squares has been one big advert. Naomi Klein eat your heart out.

But today I was happy, because the winds have blown the posters off the side, and the town hall is, however briefly, visible again. The Council has also risen a little in my estimation, due to its new poster campaign - "Homophobic Violence: Ignoring is Condoning".

Though this does assume that the average homophobe would know what condoning means, and wouldn't just go 'damn right' if they did...

"Oh, why can't the English teach their children how to speak?" 

How common is received pronunciation? According to one source a third of the English speak it, but another says the figure is only 6%. It's probably a smaller number than that, I'd guess, given the habit of public school children to 'dumb down' their accents, and the Queen's 'shocking' laziness.

There must be more people speaking Brummie - Brummie for RP!

Friday, March 19, 2004


Having followed the saga of Coca Cola's 'ultra pure' tap water from the beginning, I really have no reaction other than the above to the fact that they've had to recall every single bottle...

The Joy of Social Experiment 

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I've casually said I'd only ever baby sit for them if their children weren't the usual self-righteous brats, or perhaps it's my surprisingly detailled plans for how I would rear one child up entirely normally while subjecting the other to every possible social torment, but my friends have, with increasing intensity over the years, told me never to have children.

I always thought this was unfair, since I only talk in that way and am actually quite fond of kids, in the same way I'm fond of cats - I like both my friends' and the variety seen running wild - but today I realised there may be something in it, as my first reaction to this post by Michael was to think 'Excellent! But I'm sure we can do better than that...'

But all my efforts (which ranged quickly from Babbling (Brooke) and Kitty-go-lightly to 'Oi!') and even those of an illiterate Western fan can't, to my mind, match up to the cruelty of the standard 'we wanted a boy set' of names. Nigella springs straight to mind...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The luck of the devil... 

Having spent all week joking irreverently, I feel almost personally responsible for the fact that the retreat has now been cancelled due to bad weather. Somewhat at a loose end now, but I think I'll stay in Oxford and watch films for a few days instead. Religiously themed films! That'll do for atonement... Ingmar Bergman here I come again...

Of course, it's a very bad idea to leave an over-excitable person with packed suitcases and a potential £1500 overdraft to her own devices. I'll be in Paris by tomorrow afternoon... or Moscow!

Unclean! Unclean! 

It can't be good for my religious belief that I surround myself with people whose reactions to it are so sarcastic. Upon hearing that I was going on a silent retreat tomorrow, my brother asked whether anyone had ever gone with the specific intention of making the monks speak; while Lorna immediately remembered Terry Pratchett's depiction of the prattling order (I'm not a Pratchett fan, so excuse incorrect references), and suggested that I do the exact opposite of everyone else, descending into silence only at meal times and during services. Of course, I can't just blame them. I was already planning to take along the book I'm reading at the moment, being Guérin's collection of anarchist writing - No Gods, No Masters.

Anyway, that's where I'll be for the next few days, so there will at least be silence from me here.

"Un souvenir qui me poursuit..." 

I've been getting very involved with the various versions of The Dreamers since withdrawing from the cinema at 1.30 in the morning two weeks ago in almost drunken high spirits, demanding of the anarchist and revolutionary graffiti on Oxford walls why it wasn't translating into action. I spent a very pleasant day on Tuesday dashing my way through the latest book version, sitting in the sun in this early spring. I'd been hoping to find Gilbert Adair's original, The Holy Innocents, but it's long out of print and now supplanted by this, part original, part novelisation.

Unusually, I prefer the film. It begins in the Cinémathèque Française. Michael Pitt as Matthew, the American, is narrator, setting the scene of the regular cinéphiles in their natural environment. This then moves to arriving at the Cinémathèque to find it closed, with a demonstration going on outside. The first of many beautiful moments in the film happens, as Bertolucci flashes the scene to and from this reconstruction and some newsreel footage of the same scene as it really happened in '68. The tension in both scenes is palpable, the colour giving life to the passion of the grainy grey.

This then melts into the main scene - for our central characters - as Matthew approaches two fellow film buffs at the gates. He's not met them before, but they recognise each other, and the pair, who Matthew had thought were lovers, but (or, rather, and) turn out to be brother and sister, convince him, in the absence of a real film, to act one out instead. They become the trio from Bande à Part, dashing through the Louvre in record time, with the scene again flashing back and forth from the original.

This move between our action and the films and events to which it refers occurs throughout the film, a dazzling wash of cinema and history. As a film fan, I loved it, though I quite understand why those who don't recognise any of the references might find it pretentious (but this film really is a film for the sort of people it depicts in the film. An insiders thing, where cinéphiles are still unbearably hip). I recognised shockingly few of the references, but the effect was exciting enough nonetheless, as, for instance, the twins come out of the Louvre chanting 'one of us, one of us' at Matthew, as Freaks plays alongside. The few bits I did recognise showed me just how exciting this would be for someone who knew it all, as a terribly clever reference to the ending of Mouchette late in the film, while Je ne regrette rien played in the background, simply took my breath away. Sublime...

At one point in the film I decided to start taking notes, and simply wrote - '1968, Keaton/Chaplin argt, Janis - oh yes!' I was so happy just to see so many of my favourite things brought together in one scene, as Janis Joplin played in the background of Théo's bedroom, posters of Mao and film stars all over the wall, and the trio argue it out over whether Buster Keaton or Chaplin is superior. The film creates an air of magic all over the screen, as the Dreamers retreat into their own mad world, stakes raising between them all the time, with les évènements building up just outside the window.

The soundtrack is Janis, Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Cream, The Doors; this different from the book, which has only one perpetual background song, the song of 'the game', Charles Trenet's Que reste-t-il de nos amours? The change is typical of the film, which allows the main characters to be part of the spirit of the times, with Théo in particular entering into their world in abandonment of his normal student activism, his friends asking him why he's not around anymore, his father, and eventually Matthew, teasing him for his radicalism which manifests itself only in speech. This works to create some of the resentment in his character, present also in the book in a different way (for the film removes all but a small part of the tension between Matthew and Théo), but is perhaps a little incoherent, since part of the point, in the novel, is that the three have been missing what's going on just outside them, completely unaware of it and screened from the world in their Cinématheque and then their games.

The reminders of the real world are there in both film and book, however. The film does this more sharply than the book, making full use of the medium by having the camera pan out into the streets below and then into real newsreel footage of some of the riots. The ending in both is an emergence of sorts into the real world, though the book ends very differently from the film, with the three emerging from their slumbers into the real world in a sharp climax - "debout les damnés de la terre!" - leaving them to reminisce bitter-sweetly in the cinema when it reopens. The film has their relationship crescendo and perhaps collapse, a question mark for its ending as the credits rise in reverse.

The book is slick and interesting, lots of cultural non-film references thrown into the narrative which aren't in the film and a more detailled background to the characters. But the film wins, playing the role of another Cinema Paradiso, a love letter both to film and to the Paris of 1968. For instance, as Matthew and Isabelle kiss on a date, the shot fades out in typical cheesy style, circling in to the point of their faces meeting and then disappearing. The references fit every time, There May be Trouble Ahead playing on their first morning together, The Spy as Matthew enters Isabelle's room. At one point they refer to history as a movie, where everyone's an extra, summing up the whole feel of the film.

The atmosphere throughout is taut and sexy, an onslaught of young excitement and romance, through the distorting lens of the period and of their own world. The sex is done matter of factly, but in other ways its more subtle than the book; the twins' romance is not stated so sharply, the frisson between Matthew and Théo only slight. This isn't to back away from its content, but rather to place it in a more enticing light. A knowing sort of incest, a shy sort of homosexuality. Criticising it for its full frontal nudity seems to be missing the point, as most of the criticisms have done to my mind. This is a wonderful film and a great read, both of which I recommend very highly.

Big booty hoes 

A big up today for the women who are hoping to set up Yes Radio, which will soon come to London and has been featured on Woman's Hour. It will be a rap station which bans the casual (and not so casual) sexism usually found in rap lyrics. The women in charge of it are intelligent, interesting and positive in their approach. They've set up a station in the community, inviting young rappers to come in and talking to them, taking an educational approach and showing them how their music can go in a different direction. Rap music can sometimes be great, and all praise to a station which tries to take away the sort of imagery which prevents people like me enjoying it.

I often scare my liberal friends by saying I'm not against censorship in some areas. But it's only a very imperfect solution for me, and I'm much more in favour of finding ways to prevent people thinking of saying the kind of things which I would want to ban. Women's representation in group leadership will often change the entire atmosphere, not because idiots aren't thinking what they always think, but because they're too ashamed to say it out loud. If they do, then they know they'll receive some fierce argument in turn.

This forces people into self-censorship, but only insofar as it forces them to be rational, beyond their casual prejudices. Perhaps they do resent it, and talk about 'feminazis' and the like when they're among friends, but all the more reason to make such representation as wide-ranging and accepted as possible, to make sure such people are never 'among friends' in this respect, to force them to reconsider their ideas.

Sport is when it comes out most, where drunken men watch football in the bar and, for 'mild' insults say the players are acting like girls. Much more often, though, it's saying they're 'poofs', 'fags' etc. Needless to say, I think a need for the same sort of representation is just as pressing for the queer community.

A strange situation exists in some groups, which deem themselves 'enlightened', where women's representation has been abolished, because women are supposedly already fully considered (always a bad sign when a man is telling you this, as I've had happen to me), while LGBT, ethnic minorities and disabilities representation remains. It's almost the worst of all possible worlds, with women ignored for the reason above, implying that those in power are happy to admit that they are prejudiced against all the other groups. So much for enlightenment.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

"The greatest love story the world has ever known" 

That tag line on the Baz Luhrmann production of Romeo and Juliet always infuriated me. After several years I've grudgingly come to admit that it's a very decent film - I avoided doing so originally in reaction to everyone's love of Leonardo DiCaprio - but I still believe it worked despite its story line, not because of it. Romeo and Juliet is my least favourite Shakespeare play. There are worse ones, sure, but none to which young people are subjected more often, none for which such a reputation is claimed without desert.

There are a few nice lines in the play, I'll admit, but hopelessly marred for me by the fact that these people have only just met each other and are taking what essentially seems to be mere animal lust to ridiculous lengths. Romeo is obviously the sort of person who, if he lived now, would be coming home from a club every weekend telling his friends he'd met the girl of his life, while said friends rolled their eyes, groaned and said 'not again', while Juliet is a spoilt little kid looking for any way out of an arranged marriage (fair enough, but why him?). The only thing tragic about this love is that its allowed to bear the name, and dares to speak it only too much. Send these kids back to their rich daddies and tell them to wake up and smell the shit.

However, the reason I'm writing this, as I'm sure everyone has an embittered friend around who can moan to them about Shakespeare (no home is complete without one), is to rave about an example of what can be done with this story to improve it. Now I often used to be accused of being a musical snob, but I've broadened my tastes in response to the real snobs I've met. At school I had a music teacher who would weekly declare that opera is the highest form of art, and would refuse to allow us to listen to anything non-classical in class. No suggestion ever that there could be any musical merit in, say, jazz, rock, even country and western. No, opera was the highest, the only really pure, form of art because it combines everything - theatre, music, dance. Anyone else recognise another form of art which does that? Musicals!

Now I'm quite willing to make fun of musicals along with the best (see below), but I'll confess that I've been a huge fan of them ever since I saw Guys and Dolls in Edinburgh, aged seven (no, that doesn't mean I like the Tory Bastard Andrew Lloyd Webber. I still have some taste). I spent much of my youth listening to musicals recordings, thanks to The Musicals Collection magazines which came out in the early nineties, and from that experience I've known the songs from West Side Story for most of my life.

But a couple of weeks ago I was given the chance for the first time to see it on film, in the famous version from the 60s which made all the young girls swoon. And really, it's exciting stuff. The leading man, Tony, is a slimeball, but other than that the whole thing is well nigh perfect. The film begins with just a screen of coloured shapes, which after a little of the overture gradually melt into an American city skyline. The focus gets narrower, from the city, to the West Side, then to a basketball court, where the two groups, Jets and Sharks, are antagonising each other. These are our Montegues and Capulets. The Jets are white trash boys, 'socially sick', the Sharks Puerto Rican immigrants, and the racism they suffer, mainly from the law, already adds an extra element to the old story.

For the first ten minutes of the film nothing much happens apart from gradually increasing taunts and chases between them, until they're separated by some policemen. The orchestral backing ebbs and flows in support, while the action is straight out of a ballet, groups stalking along in perfect time, clicking their fingers and rapidly building up the tension. Only after they separate do we get the first song, and that's when Sondheim's wonderful lyrics make you realise the whole experience is going to be something out of the ordinary.

Like every Romeo and Juliet story the Romeo and Juliet characters themselves are the least interesting part of this, or at least their duets are the least subtle part of the music. These are the songs people have heard of - 'Tonight', 'One hand, one heart' and 'Somewhere' - but the best bits of this are easily the group numbers, where the energy of the youthful actors brims over in everything they do. It's the ultimate advert against obesity - just watching it makes me want to go to a gym and learn to dance. But so far the only result it's actually had is to make me write this, proof that nothing can make the determinedly lazy person change her ways.

It's in the group numbers, too, that the politics comes out. 'Gee Officer Krupke' is an eloquent assessment of society's attitudes to delinquent youth, 'America' shows the different experiences and views of the American Dream among immigrants. Both are serious songs, but are conducted wildly, joyfully, life-affirmingly. Here, too, the story is examined more closely, so that in 'I Feel Pretty' Maria (Juliet) is made to feel as insane in her attraction as she really is.

Youth is emphasised everywhere, and unlike in the traditional story the couple do not really get married, but act out a marriage in the dressmaker's shop where Maria works. It's a sweet scene, but it shows just how unprepared for a serious relationship they really are. Maria is the more grounded of the two, making fun of Tony (Romeo) at first for his wild assertions of love. She recognises the problems of their different backgrounds and her family's fear. Bernstein, Sondheim et al never try to suggest that theirs is 'the greatest love story ever told'. The story works because it brings out the foolishness and futility of their romance to the full.

What's tragic in this is that these two groups, both targets of 'society', fight each other rather than joining their efforts. It's the old story seen everywhere, the lower classes played off against one another, anything to prevent them rising up and fighting those in power. Every once in a while you see them doing it - as in the cafe at midnight, where the Jets all stay silent rather than allow the police to take in the Sharks (who are their main targets, being foreign). But still their first hatred is reserved for the other group, who are taking their territory, meagre as it is.

The sadness of the love story is that fighting has made what would probably have been a brief fling into something secret, sustained and, ultimately, something tragic. It's not just a tragedy for Maria and Tony, but for all of them, left in the end with nothing more than they had when they began, still demonised, still worthless. As Maria and Tony sing 'there's a place for us - somewhere', it's not just for the two of them, but for all of them. The rallying cry of a better life.

Romeo and Juliet is by no means the best love story ever told, but it can turn into a truly great story when music and dance is added to words, and when social struggle is added to romance. Here we see the lowest in society venting their frustration - tragic young men going down under bullets, as in the best Westerns - their pointless lives tunnelled into frustration after frustration, finally ending in death. The moral, of course, is not to try to rise above the other group, but with them. Join forces! Fight the bastards who keep you down!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"The act of a formerly important loser..." 

Chris, via Graham, has already linked to the 'world's first self-writing weblog'. It's in the fine tradition of the Daily Mail headline generator for strangely convincing rubbish, and it already has this blog's true colours down. So it's straight onto the blogroll...

Saturday, March 13, 2004

An imitation of life... 

Unlike Michael, I'm not very busy, but given most of my time is spent reading and under-employed, I still don't have much to say here. So I'll take the Friday Five challenge too:

1. What was the last song you heard?

'Tonight' from West Side Story. Given my habit of whistling along to whatever I'm listening to, and the intricate parts of the score to this musical, I've been getting very odd looks walking down Oxford High St with it on my walkman this afternoon.

2. What were the last two movies you saw?

Imitation of Life and The Dreamers. The first is a Douglas Sirk melodrama from the fifties, and absolutely typical of the genre. Someone storms out slamming a door or has an emotional breakdown on average every seven minutes or so. Fear not, though, faithful readers, I stayed strong against its emotional manipulation (until the end, where I cried like a baby). The Dreamers is marvellous, and I mean to post on it at more length when I've got a hold of the book for comparison.

3. What were the last three things you purchased?

Putting grocery shopping, alcohol and newspapers aside, probably Carina Round's Lacuna, a beginner's German course (it was between that, Russian and Czech, and for once I was sensible), and a job lot of (I think) every issue ever of the magazine Encounter. I've spent three weeks moving those to where I live, up three flights of stairs with no lift. FBI-funded literature never seemed so tiresome...

4. What four things do you need to do this weekend?

Finish reading The Republic, practise a reading for tonight's Lent service in church, eat, sleep. That is, I have nothing I need to do this weekend, which is blissful.

5. Who are the last five people you talked to?

My parents and my girlfriend, via two phone calls; a shop assistant; and a directions-requesting tourist. I was reading in The Independent the other day that old people are getting lonelier, seeing on average two people a day, where people my age are meant to see an average of twenty. Given my sole human contact today has lasted less than two minutes in total, perhaps I should worry...

Gloomy? Let Mr. Blair croon your worries away... 

Thursday's attacks on Spain upset us all - they upset me much much more than September 11th, since less than half an hour after hearing about that I was already thinking 'Oh God, look what the US is going to do now...' Perhaps it's because I've always felt very European, but I've found the scenes from Spain absolutely heartrending.

But my grief, and the grief of the collective 'British voter', is hardly likely to be assuaged by a conference speech from Tony Blair, apparently designed to 'soothe gloomy voters'. There seems to be this strange assumption in the press, and obviously among politicians, that they have influence on us beyond their impact as policy-makers, and that we will take their assertions as having some special authority. But why would we? It's not that I think politicians are all liars and corrupt; I just don't see what they have that any sensible person doesn't by way of good sense.

So Tony telling me that Britain is safe and that I can be proud to be British - which is anyway a laugh and a half for an anti-patriot - is hardly likely to make me feel more upbeat. We can see the world for ourselves and make our own judgements. Many people other than myself have made the judgement that we're all in big trouble the way we're going. British foreign policy, whether or not one supported the war in Iraq, has been deeply mismanaged, and our profile in the world - to us anyway - seems like it's being dragged through the mud.

What people like Tony Blair should be worried about is that our reactions have turned to cynical gloom, rather than to the sort of panic seen during the Cold War. You can manipulate panic, but as for gloom... Well, I think I won't be alone in reacting to his speech today with 'Tough luck, Tone. You won't bring us back to the ballot boxes like that.'

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Songs that saved your life... 

BBC 6 Music's poll of 'songs that saved your life' reveals that The Smiths' I Know It's Over is the song that has most saved its listeners' lives. I'm not exactly surprised, given that the title of the poll is a Smiths reference, which arguably made a Smiths-y outcome inevitable. This song, from the greatest album ever The Queen Is Dead was for a very long time my favourite Smiths song, but I can honestly say that it more often led me on the path to self-destruction than saved me from it. I can't say that lyrics like 'Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head' are the most obvious thing to pull people back from the brink.

But there's a strong case for songs like this helping people precisely because they allow us to wallow in our depression and feel that someone else does understand. That's a cheesy thing to say, because not all of us are crying out for someone to understand us, but I Know It's Over, as one respondent said, does often feel like 'a giant pair of arms coming out of the speakers to hug me'. Morrissey, throughout his career, has been the lyricist par excellence for creating a feeling of sympathy, without ever allowing the listener to become too self-indulgent. So even in the depths of despair, we're invited to mock ourselves a little, with lyrics like 'If you're so very entertaining, then why are you on your own tonight?' with the response 'I know, 'cause tonight is just like every other night'. An exemplary song from his solo career is November Spawned A Monster, which is much harsher than most - 'Sleep on and dream of love, because it's the closest you will get to love' - but still manages to have sympathy with its subject.

The other songs in the poll could be categorised corresponding to the types of people who listen to them, whether terminal manic depressives like me, people who look to music in crises or people who just want something fun to get them out of a funk every once in a while. So in the first category would be I Know It's Over, The Cure's Pictures of You, Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart, Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and perhaps Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees. As with I Know It's Over, all these other songs arguably envelope the listener in a wall of sound to fit the mood, allowing thoughts and feelings to be focussed in sound rather than inside. None of them are telling the listener to get over it and have some fun. I'll come clean now and say that all of them are prominent in my music collection, and so it's interesting that they are also more prominent than most in the 6Music poll - perhaps it's a self-selecting audience, and obscure music obsessives are all just social inadequates...

The second sort of song/listener would include things like REM's Everybody Hurts. They have cross-over appeal, and nobody would just say you were being a miserablist for listening to them, but at the same time they serve a similar purpose to the previous category, while at the same time allowing that these things do pass and everyone has problems sometimes. It's the sort of thing a permanent depressive in an irritable mood could get disgusted with, but most people find touching and powerful.

Lastly, there are the bouncy songs, which are really annoying. Bowling For Soup, The Darkness and The Beatles are among the artists listed here. The songs all just cloy at you and grate on your nerves if you're really down, saying 'Come on! Stop being a misery guts and get on with life!' If anyone suggested one of these songs to me as a way to get out of depression, I'd probably punch them. I mean, dammit, it's like they want us to be happy!

(Cheers to Constant Reader for passing on the link)

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Dun Roamin' 

Continuing with the somewhat pointless posts of late (personal crises as usual) today is National Panic Day in the US. What makes you panic most? Nearly a quarter of respondents to one poll have said that it is the unelectable one himself, George W. Bush.

Today is also the feast day of St Frances of Rome, patron saint of motorists (despite the fact that she almost never left Rome, and travelled everywhere by foot). Get your cars blessed today!

Monday, March 08, 2004

Women of the world, take over... 

It's International Women's Day. I believe that the date, March 8th, was picked in memory of women's protests around the world against the First World War, which seems an excellent choice. But I may be wrong about that. To mark it, here's a link to Amnesty International's Women's Campaign.

Searching for interesting articles on the subject, I came upon this piece from The Times of India by someone who thinks that IWD is 'an appalling trivialisation of the issue [of women's equality]'. She argues that days which refocus attention on 'beleaguered minorities', such as World AIDS Day, are good and important, but that women are not a special interest group and women's interests are not so trivial as to require a 'day' for us to focus on them.

Of course, I disagree. To say that IWD trivialises women's issues, is to say that things like World AIDS Day or, say, Holocaust Memorial Day, are okay because what they commemorate is already trivial. This is far from the case. Such days exist to remind the world that these issues are really important. I understand, and to some extent sympathise, with the point that women aren't at all a minority and to allot only a day to women suggests that we can safely ignore them for every other day of the year. This is a danger, I guess, but surely the only people who would happily ignore the pressing issues of gender equality are people who wouldn't particularly care whether or not it was International Women's Day either.

We need International Women's Day because, while women are not a minority in the world, and are not a 'special interest group', they are unequal. In the West people are abandoning the cause of feminism long before it's achieved its aims, and all over the world women are taught to feel themselves inferior to men, to feel themselves suited only to certain roles in life, and are treated as unworthy to make their voices heard. IWD is important, like so many other 'days', because it is intended to show how much we still have left to do.

To some extent it is a day for those of us who are already converted to the cause and of course it's by no means enough. But it is not a bad thing. It at least reminds people of the work which others do throughout the year, and to celebrate the achievements which have been made, no less than marking out what's left to be done. It's no time for complacency - the article marks out terrible problems in India, and all over the world we face problems from unequal pay to death by stoning for suspected adultery, or simply for demonstrating a shred of independence. But while women's and human rights groups labour on, often unrecognised, to highlight these problems bring these issues onto the agenda, IWD provides an institutionalised reminder, which the establishment is forced to recognise. It cannot simply be discarded as the 'feminazis' whining on. Sure, it may only result in a few token articles in the liberal press, but in a time when so many women deride the cause of feminism, and when apathy has made any sort of 'cause' unfashionable, we need to take whatever we can get.

International Women's Day serves a purpose. I wish it didn't, but I don't foresee it becoming unnecessary at any time in the near future, and for that reason I'm happy to celebrate it with millions of other women, and men, from all over the world.

UPDATE: The BBC has the International Women's Day in pictures.

Monday, March 01, 2004

"Life is often so unpleasant/You must know that, as a peasant" 

In the mood for some misanthropy, I decided to skip the long and self-indulgent teenage rants and get straight to the strong stuff. I Hate Music is a good enough fix in the absence of specific people-hate, and today's post yields an excellent discussion of the merits of The Sound Of Music:

Three and a half hours long! There are pregnant women in labour who don’t suffer for that long... [Maria] is a mentally damaged imbicile [sic] and should not be left to look after six children. Especially children who turn twee into an artform. Much like Maria turns curtains into clothes. Do you remember the kid whose mum made him clothes out of curtains at school. No, me neither - I guess I repressed his tragic suicide from my mind.

...As for Captain Von Trapp of the Austrian Navy. Austria is land locked. He just putts a few yachts around Lake Geneva. So we have a failed Nun, a pointless captain and a family of halfwitted children (especially the youngest one with a face like a sprout) - versus the Nazi’s. Am I really the only one cheering on the Nazi’s here? Go Rolf, go.

Apart from this enjoyment, though, there is challenge offered up - Tanya thinks that 'the lonely goatherd' and 'Table D’Hôte heard' together form 'possibly the worst rhyme in musical history'. It could be, but I'm willing to look for others.

There are many rich sources (Annie springs to mind) but I think to qualify on the grounds set down the rhymes must not only be awful - there are simply too many candidates - but cruel and unusual, as with 'table d'hote heard'. So here goes (in no particular order):

~ "Paris is so sexy/Riding in a taxi/Gives me apoplexy" - Victor/Victoria
~ "You'll open wide him?/(I'll subdivide him!)" - Camelot
~ "Will it be birds in spring or hara-kiri/Don't worry deary" - Follies
~ "Oh Noah/You go-a/All the way back to the protozoa" - Children Of Eden
~ "No one cares for you a smidge/When you're in an orphanage"- Annie

More suggestions welcome - that is, if anyone else is foolish enough to have listened to enough musicals to know...

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