Naming Names, Savant and Prom Queen

Naming Names, Savant and Prom Queen
The jacket pics I designed for my completed novels

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Peak Beard

That’s what they’re calling it.

Frankly, I’ve never met a man that I didn’t like better with facial hair, but I guess that might just be me.

Peak Beard is the point that we get to, apparently, at which there is just too much beard, and women begin to long to see clean shaven men once more. The opposite is also true, that when clean shaven becomes fashionable, women begin to long for facial hair on men.

This might suggest that women are simply fickle.

I know not.

Facial hair on men seems to me to be a little like body hair on women. It is a matter of personal preference, and should be the exclusive choice of the person to whom it belongs. Both, it seems to me are generally ruled by fashion and, to some degree, by sexual politics, particularly the body hair debate.

Latterly, of course, men have begun to rid themselves of their body hair, too. 

This makes me positively uncomfortable, and I don’t even know why.

I remember a professor I studied under at university who had no hair on his arms. For that reason, and that reason alone, I found the poor man faintly creepy. As a grown woman, I realise just how ridiculous that is, but at the time it actually bothered me.

Still, for a man to wax or shave his body hair seems at best totally unnecessary to me, as it does for a woman when I think about it. I suppose, social convention and sexual politics have dictated for a very long time that women are somehow more attractive without body hair, but men?

Oddly, the reason women were portrayed without body hair, particularly in art and the media, way back when, was because it was considered too sexual. There was a trend towards showing pubic hair in the 1970s in order to titillate, because it was considered more daring, more sexual, more exciting.

I can only imagine that pornography is part of the reason for the trend for shaving and waxing among women, particularly of pubic hair.

Perhaps similar trends are beginning to affect men. Models, actors and sportsmen who want to advertise their hard-earned, superior physiques are regularly photographed, waxed and oiled, to highlight every contour of every muscle.

It’s one thing tidying up the odd ear or nose hair. Frankly, I could care less whether a man has hair on his back, but I’m pretty sure that’s where the trend for hair removal in men began, but... seriously... why a man would want to wax his chest, underarms or pubic area simply eludes me. Of course, if that’s his choice. Fine.
A gorgeous man of my acquaintance
with his splendid beard

On the subject of the beard... I’ve seen more good beards in the past year than I have seen in the rest of my life put together. OK, I’m probably exaggerating. But this certainly seems to be a good time for good beards, and I for one am enjoying them.

I’m enjoying the glorious, lush, groomed beards and neat, retro haircuts of the well-dressed men of all ages who seem to be following a trend that I rather approve of. As far as I’m concerned, it can run and run. 

This is not the lazy, straggly, can’t-be-arsed beard. This beard is a thing of beauty, and I hope it will last forever.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder...

... At least I hope it does.

Otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind, and I’m in trouble.

I have been absent... for a week! That’s not like me! It really isn’t.

Just for once, and for the first time in fifteen years, the husband and I actually took a bit of a break. It was lovely! We went away and didn't take any work with us not a thing!

We went off to Derbyshire. As it happens, the husband had some meetings in Nottingham, so we decided rather than rush about or stay in mediocre hotels we’d take some time and stay in what we call a Landmark.

You might have read posts about the Landmark Trust before. It owns a couple of hundred small historic buildings and runs them as holiday lets. They are lovely... at least the ones we’ve stayed in so far have been. I would recommend them highly, except that they’re already popular, and we often have to book our favourites well in advance. If they get any more popular we might struggle to get the places we want when we want them, so don’t go and look at their website. Stay away! We want to keep them for ourselves.

Last week, we stayed at Cromford, a little village in Derbyshire, among the peaks and dales, and the fabulous countryside. The weather was perfect and the people were friendly. 

Holiday at North Street Cromford
10 North Street is a terraced cottage, and the other houses in the street all appear to be privately owned, so we actually lived in a community for a few days. The other Landmarks we’ve stayed in generally haven’t had near neighbours, so this was a new experience for us, but it was all rather cosy. The house was small, but perfectly formed and a wonderful example of planned industrial housing, built by a mill owner for his workforce in 1771. We live in a house of a similar age, so it really was a home from home for us.

It had everything we needed and was, as with all Landmarks, comfortably furnished with old wood tables and dressers and comfortable sofas and beds. There was also the now familiar blue and white crockery, le Creuset cookware and big white towels.

The bookcases and log books are almost my favourite things about these lovely buildings. Whether we stay in castles, abbeys, great halls or this little cottage, there is always a fascinating selection of books that relate to the house, the surroundings and any local writers of note, and there are often several volumes of visitor logs. North Street’s logs dated back to 1978 and were full of tales of adventures on the impressively steep staircase to the second floor, of recommendations for walks, pubs and restaurants, and of horror stories of being snowed in. There was even a ghost tale or two, and several people had added sketches and poems.

With no televisions or wi-fi set up in any of the Landmarks, the log book is the go-to medium for entertainment... and it hasn’t let me down yet.

Cromford does have good pubs, an incredibly cheap restaurant that does a good roast with Yorkshire puddings they can be rightly proud of, a recently opened art gallery that kept the husband and I happy for an hour, and from which we brought back souvenirs. It also has the fantastic Scarthin bookshop that sells both new and second hand books. There’s a pond with a mill, and it’s all very picturesque.

We’ll be going back... soon, I hope.

In the meantime, I am rested and content, which probably means there’s a snark just around the corner, so watch this space.

BTW, don’t forget Britain’s Got Talent tonight at 7-00pm. Who knows, the dort and her dance crew might be on. Look out for them.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Liebster Award

I’ve been nominated for a blogger award.
I've been nominated for one of these!

How cool is that?

Not before time, and well-deserved, obviously. Smiles.

Seriously, though, I’m very, very chuffed and a little overwhelmed.

The Liebster is a lovely idea. One blogger nominates others and so it goes, around and around. Potentially, I suppose, we could all end up with awards. That isn’t the point.

The point is to celebrate and encourage. The point is to show our enthusiasm for one another, and our appreciation.

I’m particularly pleased to have been nominated by Anne Goodwin.

Anne and I have never met, but half-a-dozen weeks ago, or so, I got wind of a hashtag for Twitter. I can highly recommend it to other women who write and blog. It is #wwwblogs for Women Writers Wednesday Blogs. Every Wednesday I hashtag my blogplugs on Twitter this way, and I check out the blogs with the hashtag. If you’re a woman and you blog, you should join us. There’s a lovely, growing community of women writers who blog, talking about all sorts of fascinating things. 

Anne is one of them.

I check out her blog on reading and writing regularly, and I retweet it. She talks sense. She’s engaged and thoughtful, often quite considered and sometimes funny. Her blog is quite different from mine, but I always enjoy it and often learn something from it. Reading it on Wednesdays is a pleasure.

I was very pleased when she was nominated for the Liebster, and surprised and delighted when she nominated me in her ten picks. I also had the pleasure of reading the blogs of her other nine nominees.

You begin to see how this works!

Yes, of course it’s a chain letter, and we were all warned against them when we were kids, but it’s also utterly benign. To my nominees I would say do it, or don’t do it. The choice is yours. Have some fun.

One of the things recipients of the nomination are supposed to do is provide 11 random facts about themselves, so here are mine:

  1. This is my 549th blog in a little over 2 years.
  2. I don’t imbibe caffeine... It doesn’t like me, so my snarks are fueled with real snark, no added stimulants.
  3. I have known the husband for 32 years, which is my entire adult life.
  4. I usually blog sitting in bed.
  5. I do not censor my thoughts on the blog. I probably should.
  6. I never delete a comment, except for spam, obviously, nor have I created any hurdles to commenting, including moderating.
  7. I intended to blog about writing, but other things took over and now I blog indiscriminately about whatever is on my mind.
  8. Ian Rankin once read a blog I wrote. We shared an office for a couple of years in the eighties.
  9. I have something else in common with Anne Goodwin; we were both shortlisted for the Mslexia novel writing competition, me in the first and her in the second.
  10. I still have an AOL e-mail address, and now tech people think it’s very chic and retro.
  11. Sometimes, I’m a ghost-writer.

There are other things to do for the award.

Anne set a raft of questions for me to answer and blog about, which I'm going to have to give some thought to, and I’ve also got to decide on some blogs that I think are worthy of nomination, so look out for at least two more posts about the award.

This is going to be fun.

In the meantime... Go Me!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Fifteen Minutes of Fame...

... Or should that be fifteen seconds?

The dort, captured mid-dance move
You should all know by now how proud I am of the dort. She’s a little marvel. She’s also a bit of a talent. Some of you might have seen the occasional video that I’ve posted of her and her chums dancing. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. If you haven't, seen them that is, there's a little treat at the end of this blog.

Talent shows have become a bit of an obsession with the British public over the past decade. They’ve become a bit of an obsession with television producers too, not least, I suspect, because they’re not hugely expensive to produce: none of the participants are famous... Yet! No one’s getting paid, at least, not the eponymous talent.

I’m ambivalent about talent shows. At worst they can turn into freak shows. At worst they can thrust into the spotlight poor unsuspecting, ill-prepared individuals. It is better, perhaps, to hope that spotlight burns out quickly. It is better, perhaps, to acknowledge that, for some of those unsuspecting, ill-prepared individuals fifteen minutes of fame is more than enough... It’s all most of them can manage to cope with.

There have, of course, been some wonderful surprises and some deserving winners. Will Young was always going to have a career, I think, and Leona Lewis too, and, for all the controversy, I suspect that Susan Boyle is better looked after now than before she embarked on her singing career. Who knows?

There have, of course, been some utterly priceless moments on some of these shows, some hilarious moments, and some enthralling ones, and, honestly, I’ve been sitting on my sofa for a few of them. Most, I’ve caught later on YouTube.

Although not a big fan of early audition rounds, I did take a look at the dort’s friend and his band Kingsland Road when they made a bit of a splash on the X-Factor last year. I even wrote about him in this blog.

Britain’s Got Talent is about to be broadcast on the tv again. The audition shows will go out from Saturday 12th at 7-15pm on ITV. That's tomorrow!

“Now why?” I hear you ask, “is she plugging a tv show... She doesn’t do that. She doesn’t even watch the telly.”

Well, here’s why:

Several weeks ago, the husband and I dropped the dort off outside a big theatre in Birmingham to join her chums in one of her dance crews to queue up to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. They were pretty excited. They were well-prepared and well-rehearsed, and they were ready to give it their best shot.

Good for them!

The worst that could happen is that they got to see how the whole thing works. The worst that could happen is they got to find out what it’s like to queue for hours, to keep their bodies warm and supple and their energy high, to listen to tv producers, to be pushed from pillar to post, to sit about for hours on end waiting for things to happen, and to face rejection and failure. 

The dort is at dance college, and her thing is commercial dance, so, if she makes it as a performer there’s a good chance she’ll spend time in tv studios. She might even end up being a backing dancer on a tv talent show one day... Who knows?

Experience is a good thing.

Getting to dance with the crew on a stage with an audience is always intoxicating. She loves it. They all love it. That’s why they do it!

All I know about any of it is that I left her outside a theatre in Birmingham on a cold, sunny day with a bunch of her smiling mates.

I don’t know whether they’re expecting to be on the show or not. I don’t know whether they’ll be told if they’ll be on a show, and if so which show... I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

They might be lucky enough to have their fifteen minutes of fame... or, I suppose three minutes, or ninety seconds, or however long the dance routine was that they planned to perform. Or, they might get fifteen seconds of fame in a compilation section Do they even have those on BGT? I'm honestly not sure. They might not see their act on screen at all. Hell I don't even know if everyone who shows up goes in front of the judges.

Despite all of that, I’m going to urge all you fans of tv talent shows to check out Britain's Got Talent this year. I’m going to urge you all to watch out for a dance crew and for the dort, and, if you see her, feel free to scream encouragement at her down your telly, because that’s what I’ll be doing. 

And... You know and I know that by the magic of television... and time warp stuff... she’ll be able to hear us!

Here's that treat I promised. The dort is the first girl standing in the dungarees with the curly blonde hair, but they're all fabulous!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

My own personal Water-Loo – pun intended

I was just perusing my standby list of blog topics for something to write about. I’ve been busy, so I haven’t written anything for a couple of days, and, because I haven’t written anything for a couple of days my blog-head has lost its mojo.

I keep a standby list of blog topics that I add to on days when I have any number of ideas for things to write about, knowing that there will be days when nothing comes readily to mind.

Sadly, blogs are so topical, often, or at least so immediate to me, that the things on the list generally seem dull or old-hat by the time I come to want them.

I was, however, reminded of a note I put on my phone on Tuesday night of a blog that I thought I might write.

Coincidentally, I was also led, yesterday, to this blog by Anne Goodwin, written last November, but apposite.

On Tuesday night, I thought it would be a good idea to write about toilets. When I came to do it, there being nothing on my standby list that interested me, I stopped in my tracks.

Seriously, do any of you, my fair readers, want to read my thoughts on loos? I’m thinking, probably not. I did, as it happens, enjoy reading Anne’s thoughts, so, despite mine being of another stripe entirely, I decided to do it anyway.

The everyday comfort of the flush toilet is a relatively modern phenomenon, and remains a first World one, and yet, some of us still manage to find ways to torture ourselves over them.

I am aware of my limitations when it comes to my mental processes. I freely admit them, here, regularly.

I have never thought of myself as someone who suffers from OCD.

I have habits and patterns, and I am particular about how the laundry is done and how it’s hung on the washing line, for example. The same applies to ironing and folding laundry. I also like the washing-up to be arranged on the draining board in a certain fashion. There is a right way to prepare a fresh pepper or a mango, and it troubles me to watch someone else do it any other way.

I don’t wash my hands at every opportunity or use a great deal of hand sanitiser, or any hand sanitiser for that matter. I don’t turn lights on and off on entering a room, or check, over and over again that doors are locked. OCD is a horrible, serious battle for those who suffer from it.

On Tuesday, I found myself at Victoria railway station in London. I have found myself passing through it at very regular intervals of late. On Tuesday, as I walked through the turnstile of the bathroom, veered right into the women’s section and strode to the second door from the right on the end, I almost stopped myself... Almost.

I realised that I had taken to using the same cubicle at every visit. More than that, I realised that I always use the bathroom at my local station ten minutes before the train is due at the platform, and on arriving at Victoria I always use the bathroom before getting in a taxi, and always the same cubicle.

On our regular visits to the dort in Leicester, we always stop at the Cambridge services and I always use the same cubicle... Oh dear... It is also the furthest from the door on the right hand side, but not the end cubicle.

What on Earth is going on with me?

I am probably sharing much too much when I tell you that I avoid using downstairs facilities in private homes, including my own. They give me shy bladder syndrome. It doesn’t matter how neatly tucked away they are, or how far from the public rooms, they are simply not private enough. 

And the hotel I went to an event in with the frosted glass cubicle doors... I can’t begin to tell you!

I was one of five children, so whenever we went out as a family, we were lined up to go to the loo. It makes perfect sense... of course it does. But, as long as I live, I won’t be able to leave the house, or any building I’m staying in, without having a pee. I probably should have grown out of the habit, but I haven’t and I doubt I ever will.

The water closet is a wonderful invention, although in the modern age I can’t help thinking that it might have been better if the composting toilet hadn’t been invented first and become the standard by which all toilets were judged... Perhaps in the future.

This wonderful invention has left many of us with any number of insecurities, though, particularly in its public incarnation: cubicles without working locks, or with broken seats; wiping the seat before sitting on it... I know women who actually hover; empty loo roll holders (I personally can’t stand it when the tail of the loo roll is hanging against the wall instead of hanging freely, and I regularly turn loo rolls around – and yes I know this is tragic); and, horror of horrors, the public loo that will not flush when there’s a long queue of women waiting to go after you.

Then there is the loo that is simply impossible to use.

We had a long meeting in London on Tuesday and came home late after quite a lot to drink, some of it alcoholic. Despite using the public loos at Victoria station before embarking on my journey, I found that I needed to pee about half an hour from home. The husband beat me to it. On his return from the loo I said it was my turn. He said he wouldn’t have used it except... you know... he had a penis. I stayed put and waited it out.

The flush toilet is a wonderful thing, and I can’t help thinking of all those people worldwide who don’t have them, and I can't help realising that we are more than a little privileged to know that we can rely on them... If only all of us had the good sense to be able to rely on all of them all of the time.

That’s human nature, I suppose... At least that’s this human’s nature.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

My Life is Harder than Your Life

It is! I promise you!

You don’t believe me? Then walk a mile in my shoes.

Here’s the problem with that: Twenty minutes later you’ll be a  mile away and you’ll have my shoes, and there’s a good chance neither one of us will be any better off.

It’s all nonsense.

This is by way of saying that people sometimes say stupid things, and when they’re famous people and they say those things out loud to journalists, they leave themselves wide open to mockery.

Gwyneth Paltrow a couple of weeks ago on Twitter
Gwyneth Paltrow gave a press interview last weekend in which she said that her life was harder than that of other working mothers because she didn’t have a 9 to 5 job, and being on set fourteen hours a day made having routines difficult. Gwyneth Paltrow had a bit of a moan, before going home to the compound she has bought so that she and Chris Martin can maintain their family while living separately since their ‘conscious uncoupling’.

For all her looks, fame, money, jet-setting lifestyle, I wouldn’t swap places with Gwyneth Paltrow. I wouldn’t walk a mile in her shoes. They wouldn’t fit. They would be uncomfortable, painful even, and a mile is a bloody long way to walk in ill-fitting shoes.

She can call it a ‘conscious uncoupling’, but every divorce is miserable. We can envy her beauty, but who wants the scrutiny of the paparazzi or the disappointment of being an aging beautiful woman, or the threat of becoming irrelevant because you’re an aging beautiful woman.

Everybody’s life is hard.

We all have good days and we all have bad days. But we all share the same condition. We are all human. We all have to deal with the hands we are dealt and we all do it the only way we can. Yes, we get to make choices, but based on what?

Most of the choices we make are based on our personalities.

Most of what we do is based on the nature of who we are.

There’s a certain amount we can do to control that, some of the time. We can learn to be our best selves, but we are still ourselves.

Privilege is no guarantee against unhappiness, nor for that matter is it a guarantee against stupidity.

Celebrities are in the spotlight so much, so often, with our twenty-four hour rolling media that they’re going to make a mess of things once in a while, and they're going to make arses of themselves. Thank heavens that you and I get to make arses of ourselves in private for the most part. If Gwyneth Paltrow had made this statement to one of her friends, said friend would, no doubt, have nodded in sage agreement, because her friends move in the same circles that she does.

I could turn to one of my friends and say, “That Gwyneth Paltrow, she’s a bitch, isn’t she? What the hell does she know about having a tough life? Has she ever tried finding affordable childcare? When was the last time she struggled to pay the electric bill?” No doubt my statement would be met with the same sort of acceptance, because of our shared experiences.

My life isn’t lived in front of the World, and my words aren’t recorded by the media, and no one is judging me... OK, plenty of people are judging me, but most of them know me, and one or two of them might have a point. For the most part, they also like me.

Gwyneth Paltrow says something as daft and unguarded as this, and we stop liking her, because our liking for her in the first place wasn’t based on any actual knowledge of her character.

It’s all nonsense.

My life is harder than your life.

No it isn’t. 

Life is hard. Every life is hard.

We should all remember that, and try to be kinder to one another.

We don’t always manage it of course.

I know I don’t.

On the other hand, to all you single working women struggling to find good, affordable childcare, and trying to scrape the money together for those big winter fuel bills, if it makes life any better, feel free to have a rant about any celebrity you like, especially if your uncoupling wasn’t so much ‘conscious’ as a miserable bloodbath.

Friday, 4 April 2014

38 Degrees: an Avalanche of Irony

My attention was drawn, yesterday, to a petition doing the rounds on FaceBook. You are all, no doubt, aware of It is a web vehicle for posting petitions and getting them noticed and signed. It’s a lot easier than going door-to-door or standing on street corners. Its slogan is People - Power - Change. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The link on FaceBook was on a subject that I’m interested in, because it strikes a chord with the feminist in me. It went like this:

No to Cybersexism - don’t let them win on

Women are going silent online to avoid abuse and threats, which can easily move over into their other, more physical realities, resulting in depression, rape, suicide and more. We...

I clicked on the link. Like I said, this sort of thing interests me. It interested me when I wrote this blog about the abuse that Caroline Criado-Perez took on Twitter when she campaigned for a woman to appear on the new designs for our paper currency. It still interested me when I wrote this blog about CC-P retiring her Twitter account.

Having clicked on the link, I got this notice:

This petition has been disabled because of inappropriate content

I cannot comment on the content of the petition because I wasn’t able to read it. An Oxford professor of my acquaintance, a woman that I would like to call my friend, and whom I admire greatly, signed the petition and shared the link. I trust her judgement. As I understand it, the petition was worded strongly, but why wouldn’t it be? A petition on this subject might well be instructive in pointing out some very unpalatable possibilities... facts, even. 

Cybersexism is designed to silence women. It is designed to intimidate women, to quiet them down, to curb their influence on each other, on men and on the World.

It is hugely ironic and massively disappointing to me that a petition to prevent the silencing of women has, effectively, been silenced.
I’m not even sure I have the words to express how horrible this is.

Remember that slogan: People - Power - Change.

In this petition women along with the men who support them, all of them people set out to empower themselves to change the single biggest shared environment on Earth, to change attitudes, to begin to eradicate bullying against half of its population. 

Someone at the site that bears the slogan People - Power - Change decided that these were not the people who should be empowered to change this aspect of the internet. Someone at the site that bears the slogan People - Power - Change decided to censor these women and the men who support their cause for change, to stop cybersexism. This surely is one form of the cybersexism that this group of disempowered people is trying to change!

How many more ways can I say this?

How wrong does this sound to you? left a helpful note beneath the cancellation notice it reads:

If you created this petition, you can sign into the site to access your dashboard, learn more, and fix this issue.

I wonder how many victims of cybersexism would have had an issue with the original petition. I wonder how many feminists would have had an issue with it. 

I wonder when straight talking women will stop seeming like such a threat. We aren’t the threat, we’re the promise of a better future.