Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
Wild's End by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, additional material by me, and Fiefdom are available. Out of Tune Vol 2 is out in May

Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney has Died


I am not generally given to writing about the newly dead. Public grief for public people is a strange phenomenon. I see an outpouring on Twitter and I am discomforted.

Seamus Heaney died today.

It has been a sad year for the writing community with the deaths of many who have gone before, ploughed deep, enduring furrows and influenced those of us who try to follow in their footsteps.

Seamus Heaney was different. He was other. He was the real deal.

I have a great deal of trouble with poetry, especially contemporary poetry, and, in particular, the current trend for performance poetry. It moves me only to embarrassment, I’m afraid.

Seamus Heaney was that rare phenomenon, a truly contemporary poet, whose poetry, nevertheless, transported us, demanded more of us and will still mean something in a dozen years, a score of them, a century, or even longer.

Today, it matters very much that Seamus Heaney has died, and it will matter tomorrow, and on the day of his funeral, which, I hope will be a day of real mourning for us all. 

In the long run, though, it matters not a jot that Seamus Heaney died today, because he was that rare thing; he was a writer whose work will endure. Our children and grandchildren will read Heaney and learn his dates and the details of his life, and they will recite his verse and study him, and one or two of them in every generation will make his work their life’s work.

Seamus Heaney was the luckiest of men. He knew the work that he had done, and he knew what he had left behind. 

So many of the lives of great artists, including writers and poets, have been tragic tales of men whose work was only appreciated after their deaths. Heaney’s work was praised and studied widely during his lifetime, and he was awarded any number of prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Literature (1995). His was not the life of a penniless writer in a cold garret, scratching away at his words, because he must.

Every writer opens a vein to produce his or her best work, and Seamus Heaney was no exception. I, for one, am consoled by the fact that Heaney earned some recognition for his pains. I hope it was worth it to him. I like to believe it might have been.


Thursday, 29 August 2013

M.I.A.


I’ve never been gone for so long before, and, frankly, it’s difficult to know what to say about it.

I don’t want to sound pathetic and sorry for myself, and I’m never sure how interested people are in the whole bi-polar thing.

I always said I wouldn’t talk about it, and I yet I find that I do.

I didn’t want to wear it like some badge of honour. I’m always a bit sceptical about people who hold some sort of stage for doing some job or other and then use that platform to talk about something unrelated. I’m not hugely keen on rock stars talking about Third World debt or minor royals talking about their eating disorders, or actors talking about their child abuse. I know that all of those things should be talked about, but hearing very individual, very personal stories from our favourites in other fields aren’t necessarily the answer, I don’t think.

There are professionals for that, surely?

The problem is that actors and minor royals and rock stars have agendas other than Third World debt, eating disorders and child abuse, and those agendas are usually tied up with their public images and their earning power. I’m not suggesting that Stephen Fry doesn’t want to help other bi-polar people when he discusses his own problems, but I can’t help thinking that there isn’t another bi-polar person on the planet in Mr Fry’s very particular situation with Mr Fry’s very particular set of circumstances to deal with.

So, although I’m not really a public person, of course I have an agenda of sorts, and that makes me wonder whether I should talk about my bi-polar at all. On the other hand, if you read my blog, you will have noticed that it’s been absent for some time, now, and that is directly related to my condition, so an explanation isn’t entirely out of the question.

My black dog has been patrolling the perimeter for a couple of years, and It’s almost exactly three years since I enjoyed my last decent manic episode. Just when I think it’s time the dog sloped off over the horizon, he seems to edge a little closer, making my world smaller, until a couple of weeks ago he lumbered up and decked me. 

borrowed from Kate at Gas House Radio
He’s been sitting on my chest ever since.

It’s hard to breathe with a mountain of black dog dead weight bearing down on me, let alone think, and it’s downright impossible to be light of heart, or, heaven help me, funny!

For the past... Crikey!.. Twelve days! Is it really twelve days? You see time does some weird shit, too, when I feel like this... For the past twelve days it’s been almost impossible to do anything. Some days I haven’t even bathed or dressed, or got out of bed. I don’t think I’ve cooked a meal, but I haven’t managed to eat one every day, either. I haven’t read a book, and I sure as hell haven’t written anything; you’d know if I had, because the first thing I write every day is the blog. 

I would just like to say that this is not by way of a complaint. If anyone has anything to complain about, it’s the husband. Mostly, he doesn’t complain. He worries, and he coaxes, and he tries to get me to eat, and he discusses my meds with me, and there’s a sort of urgency about him to get me moving again soon, and if not soon, then, preferably, sooner.

This too shall pass; I know that it will. There’s a good bet that the past twelve days probably marked the lowest point of the current cycle, because, today, despite this not being one of my better, more interesting blogs, I am, at least, putting something on paper, and putting it out in the World. I hope it’s remotely coherent, although I’m guessing it won’t get most of you very far to understanding what this can all be about.

My very lovely friend knocked on my door the other day for a chat, and told me that she’d soon sort me out, that all I needed was a good kick to the lady-groin. Bless her heart! I had to love her for that, regardless of just how clueless it was. ‘Lady-groin’! What a fab word!

I’m guessing my daily blog will probably appear a little intermittently for the next little while, but you lovely people can help me along by giving me fodder for it. If there’s anything you’d like me to talk about, do let me know; some mornings, I spend more time thinking about what to write about than I spend actually writing, and right now, that just isn't going to get the baby a new bonnet. Anything that gets the mental juices flowing will, trust me, be most welcome. Thanks.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Results Day, the Aftermath


The aftermath of my exam results day is 30 years old, now, but I am still reminded of it, year in, year out, every August, and I was reminded of it in both the years that my own children received their exam results. I knew long before the day just how disappointed I was going to be by the whole thing, but, somehow, I still couldn’t prevent it all from unfolding the way that it did.

One very perceptive Tweeter, a young man only a year or two out of school himself, twittered that he had noticed rather a lot of minor celebrities commiserating with students who had done less well at their A levels than they might have, saying something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, I didn’t do well in my A’ levels, either, and look how fabulous I am now!”

What a lot of self-aggrandising nonsense.

My next question would be, “Compared to what? Or whom?”

There’s no way to know, is there, how a person’s life might have changed if they’d done better at something, if they’d taken a different path?

Of course, we make lots of choices in our lives, and lots of choices are made for us, particularly when we are school aged, and, actually, our attitude to school and how well we do there has a great deal to do with our parents, I think.

There is stuff that we can’t change.

There are also things that we can do to make our lives different and/or better, and if we can’t do those things for ourselves, we can damned well do them for our children when the time comes.

I believe that the husband’s parents and mine did what they thought was right for him, and for me and my siblings, and for their families as entire entities. I respect them totally for that. 

It doesn’t mean that I agree with all of their choices. As parents, we followed that basic pattern; we thought long and hard about what we wanted to do with and for our children, and then we made decisions based on those ideas and ideals. Some of those choices were similar to the choices that our parents made, and some of those choices were different. Our ideology probably fell closer to one set of parents, in the end, than the other. Circumstances, politics, the changing times, education, temperament... all sorts of things played their roles.

The point is that we thought about what we wanted to do and we made choices.

I didn’t do well in my A’ levels. Secondary school was a horrible place for me and a horrible time in my life, for all sorts of reasons. I didn’t take it terribly seriously, for all sorts of reasons, some of which were intellectual, but some of which were emotional, some circumstantial and some, no doubt, to do with the fact that I was an undiagnosed bi-polar teenager.

Oxford, with it's dreaming spires.
One of my favourite cities where the husband
and daughter both studied.
The difference is, I don’t want to defend any of that. I don’t want to say that I did brilliantly despite the fact that I didn’t do all that well in my A’ levels, and despite the fact that I ended up at a red brick university instead of being the Oxbridge candidate, the higher flyer that I should have been.

I regret that I didn’t do better at school and better in my life, and I regret that everything has taken me too long, and I wanted more for my own kids, and I want more for any child that can and should do better, that has some sort of potential to fulfill.

I still wonder what if? I still wonder how different my life could have been, would have been, if I had made better decisions for myself, earlier, with regard to so many things.

One way to equip kids is to give them the chance to get everything out of their school that it has to offer. It isn’t the only way to equip kids, but it is one resource, and it’s the one we’re talking about this week.

For what it’s worth, of the 52,500 kids who got university places through clearing last year only one hundred and fifty of them traded up, because they had done better in their exams than they had expected and were able to opt for better courses in more prestigious institutions. 

I think that says an awful lot about our attitude to education in the UK, an education that is free, that is subsidised for the least well-off sixteen to eighteen year olds, and that remains one of the best in the World.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Results Day


Today is one of the biggest school days of the year in the UK.

Today is the day when all those leaving school, aged 18, receive news of just what they achieved during their time there. They find out how qualified they are, and what those qualifications mean with regard to going on to higher education, to university.

Other countries have other systems, but in the UK, most kids still sit A’ level exams in their last year at school. They choose which subjects they’re going to take, usually up to a total of four, although a few might take more than that, they study those subjects, and they complete coursework and sit exams in them. That’s it.

Today those kids who completed their last year of school in July, who took A’ levels, will receive news of their results. Most will return to their schools this morning, and be handed those results on slips of paper.

Today 335,000 kids will find out whether their grades are good enough to get them into their first choice universities, and, if not, where they’ll end up going, whether they’ll have to reapply through clearing and whether they’ll go to university at all.

One very thoughtful girl checking out her results
taken from the Guardian
For most eighteen year olds, this might prove to be the most important day of their lives, so far.

It’s strange, to me, then, to see and hear so many people bidding those kids good luck, this morning. It’s utterly meaningless. Luck has nothing to do with anything.

Any of those kids that believes that it’s OK to rely on luck on the day the results are announced is in for a world of hurt, and, if not today, then some time in the future. Come to think of it, any one wishing a kid luck today is deluded.

Yes... I realise that it’s a matter of form to wish anyone luck on the day exam results come in, but too often that’s the only encouragement anyone ever seems to get.

These kids began their A levels two years ago when they embarked on their AS levels. A year ago, they sat their AS levels and got the results of those exams, so they should have a pretty good idea of what to expect this time around.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that no one ever does better in his A level results than in his AS level results. No one ever does get the extra four or five points he needs to go up a grade band.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s all to do with hard work and preparation. No one ever seems to learn to do more of it, and part of the reason for that is that no one seems to take school terribly seriously.

Teenagers always have something else to do, even if it isn’t something better.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that it isn’t a good idea for kids to have social lives, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that it isn’t a good idea for kids to do some extra curricular activities. Both of my kids did both of those things.

There were rules, though, and it didn’t matter how old they got, there were still rules. The single biggest rule was that school was their job. They had to go to school. While they were in class, they had to be there, so they might as well attend to what was going on. If homework was set, they had to do it. I never stood over them while they did it, but I asked them every day  if they had homework, and I asked them every day if they’d done their homework.

More than anything else, my children did not have a job outside of school, while they were at school. School was their job, and to do it right, school is a full-time job. 

If a child is at school from 9 to 3-30 and has three hours of homework per evening, which isn’t unusual, that’s a working day of nine and a half hours. That adds up to a forty-seven and a half hour week, which is ten more hours than any full-time job. Why would any parent then expect that child to add, say, another nine hour day on a Saturday, or, more probably, a couple of four hour evening shifts, after school plus a Saturday and a short day on Sunday, now that shops have long opening hours. A sixth former could end up working a twenty hour week on top of her school week. The homework is bound to get lost in the mix, especially if she also goes out a couple of nights a week, and, with that lucrative part-time job, she’s got the money to pay for the brand new social life. 

The school my kids attended strongly discouraged their students from working, and yet almost all of my kids’ friends had some sort of job. Parents should work in partnership with schools, but this clearly wasn’t happening in this case.

I wonder how many of those parents would have allowed their children to work if they’d realised that their children were running up seventy and eighty hour weeks. I hope they’d be appalled by that. The problem is that most adults remember their school days through rose tinted glasses. They forget that it was often a grind, that sometimes they didn’t want to be there, that it could be boring, hard work, soul destroying and frustrating. They forget that it is work, and that kids are kids, and that often their lives are too full. They forget that the reason for that is often because, as working parents, we fill the time in their lives that we are absent from the house, and that can be hard work for the kids, too.

I didn’t want to leave my kids’ futures to luck, and I didn’t think that my kids were old enough at 16 or 17 to make their own decisions about the rest of their lives. What’s more, they were living under my roof, and I was still able to have some influence over them, and why not?

Work experience has its own value, and, as it happens, both of my kids took gap years, and worked through them. They did everything from bar work and waitressing, to working as a teaching assistant and for the local theatre. They enjoyed working, and they enjoyed earning, and it was its own learning experience. If they hadn’t taken gap years, they could still have worked through the long summer holidays and got work experience that way. They need not have missed out.

I’m not wishing anyone luck this morning. I just hope that the majority of the kids who took their A levels this year had the time and space to do what they needed to do to get the results they required to move forward with their lives. I hope they had the opportunity to put in the work, and I hope they were prepared.

For those who’ve spent the last couple of years working those seventy hour weeks, I hope it didn’t scupper their chances, and I hope they won’t have to spend their lives with their noses to those sorts of grindstones in the future. Sadly, if they failed to do well enough, they might end up in the kinds of jobs that pay minimum wage, and maybe they’ll need those kinds of hours to make ends meet. I do hope not.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Last Will and Testament

Despite this being the middle of the week, I’m going to go ahead and discuss a news story that came to my attention this morning.

I usually save news stories for Mondays’ blogs, but this is a proper silly season item, a human interest story and it also has a political bent, so it’s just a little bit up my alley, and I’ve decided not to resist the urge.

The Tory and LibDem parties have just come into some money; they were left it in the will of an old woman who stipulated that her estate should be paid out to, 

‘whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit’.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron
looking pretty content with life
This government, (which nobody voted for by the way), decided that the bequest should be divided up by the two governing parties, according to the numbers of MPs in parliament, and was dumped into the parties' coffers, presumably to be spent on funding their next election campaigns.

Jean Edwards, the subject of the story, was 90 years old when she died, she had never married, had worked as a nurse her entire life, and had accrued a fortune of more than half a million pounds. She is spoken of several times in the article I read, although the source was the Daily Mail online, as intelligent.

I didn’t know Miss Edwards personally, and it is unpleasant and unnecessary to speak ill of the dead, but might I, at the very least, suggest that her solicitor did a less than convincingly good job of writing this will, or of advising Miss Edwards as to how she might dispose of her fortune.

It isn’t common for individuals to leave sums of money to the nation, but neither is it unheard of. The Treasury receives bequests of this sort of around a million pounds a year. Essentially, the cash in the Treasury is managed by the incumbent government, so wouldn’t it have been simplest for Miss Edwards’s solicitors to advise her to leave a bequest to the nation?

It seems to me that the wording of this will is extraordinary, and bound to be open to interpretation, precisely the sort of interpretation that might lead to some kind of cynical exploitation of one woman’s perfectly well-intentioned bequest.

It’s not difficult to imagine what a nurse might have gone without to save up half a million quid. She lived through a World War and spent at least twenty-five years living off a pension, for crying out loud! Just how cynical does anyone have to be to take advantage of that? Pretty damned cynical, I’m guessing.

Not to beatify Jean Edwards, because I’m sure she was no better than the rest of us, but this is a woman who spent her working life delivering babies and checking the heads of school kids for lice. I can’t help thinking that she probably didn’t expect her legacy to be spent schmoozing corporate types or holding receptions for soap stars and aging rockers. I’m guessing she might have thought her money would be spent in the classroom or on the hospital ward.

I’m not going to blame the governing parties for this. It wasn’t up to them to take the money. It was actually handed to them. Of course, if their spin doctors had been anywhere near any of this, they probably would’ve had the sense they were born with, declared the legacy and spent it, very publicly, on some good work or other; perhaps Cameron would have spent his £420,000 share on the Thatcher Museum, and called it a significant contribution to the nation’s education. Who knows?

I hope that someone, somewhere will see fit to challenge this will, although, I imagine it’s all too little, too late now. I wonder if, for the sake of decency, at least, the Conservative and the LibDem parties can’t do the sensible thing, as far as Public Relations are concerned, and each write a cheque to the Treasury for the amount of the bequest they each received.

In the meantime, I hope that whoever gave Miss Edwards legal advise when it came to her will is dragged over the coals for this really rather silly mistake. It shouldn’t have happened, and any solicitor worth his salt should have made damned sure that it didn’t happen. 

Someone, somewhere has egg on his face. I wish it was the politicians, I wish it was David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but, sadly, in this case, they’ve really got bugger all to do with it.

Except this: They do have the opportunity to spend that half a million on something worthwhile. They don’t have to use it as campaign contributions or as simply donations to their respective parties.

I know it’s naive of me to hope that they might do the right thing, but... 


Postscript:

I am much cheered up by this piece of news from the BBC, in which I hear that both the Conservatives and the LibDems have seen fit to write those cheques to the Treasury. Hu-bloody-zzah!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Beards and Sexism


This is why The Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Germaine Greer never changed their hair styles.

It’s just not worth the media attention, and with Twitter all a flutter, ready to respond at less than a moment’s notice, things can only get worse.

I have long been a fan of Jeremy Paxman.

There hasn’t been a newscaster as serious as he is, in my mind, at least, since Robin Day graced our screens.

Paxman is a proper journalist, a man who knows what he thinks and why, and who is fearless in the face of... well... just about anything. He cut his teeth reporting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the early/mid 1970s, and there wasn’t a much sharper sharp end than that, not then, and not since, in domestic journalism. Just to prove it wasn’t some sort of fluke, he also reported from Beirut and Uganda.

It’s not hard to see why the likes of Michael Howard and George Galloway among a whole raft of politicians found him a tough interviewer. He’s well known for taking no prisoners.

Why then should the condition of Mr Paxman’s facial hair be of any interest to anyone? It’s a nonsense, isn’t it?

a bearded Jeremy Paxman
The Twitterverse was all agog, last night, when Jeremy Paxman read the news with a beard, one that we haven’t seen before. Predictably, some people liked it and others didn’t. Some thought it distinguished, others compared Paxman to Santa Claus or a castaway.

Personally, I never met a man I didn’t like more with face furniture, if all I cared about was the way a man looked. That isn’t all I care about, though.

I do wonder, however, whether this doesn’t represent the leveling of that old playing field, the one us women have been banging on about since... well, since forever for most of us, and certainly since the advent of the women’s liberation movement and the move towards what we believed would become a more equal society.

Women have, forever been judged by their appearance. We don’t like it, but at least we can claim we’re somewhat used to it.

Something else that was trending on Twitter yesterday was a panel discussion by the young things that put together the YouTube channel Becoming YouTube. I watched Episode 7 of Becoming YouTube, which posed the question ‘Why are there more Boy YouTubers than Girls’. The answer went like this, and I’m paraphrasing:

Telling a bloke he’s funny is roughly the same as telling a girl she’s hot, and If you’re a girl and you’re ugly you can fuck off, and if you’re hot, you don’t need to be talented... You will, of course, be abused regardless.

These are kids, young people working in a young, hip medium, and I honestly believed that things had changed, that the horrendously sexist double standards that women have put up with for generations, simply didn’t apply any more, that we’d got over all that nonsense.

It turns out, sadly, that I was wrong.

Worse than that, it would appear that we’re now treating middle-aged men pretty much the same way that we’ve always treated young women, and if we’re treating Jeremy Paxman that way, surely we’re well on the way to treating anyone and everyone that way.

Some women might argue that it’s about time, that men should get a taste of their own medicine, that it’s time they learned what it is to be objectified. 

I couldn’t agree less. 

Why would we lower ourselves to a standard that we have been fighting for decades? What do we have to gain by objectifying anyone? By demeaning Jeremy Paxman, we only demean ourselves. Trust me, the man rises well above being affected by a flurry of nonsense of this sort on Twitter. He’s not going to dash off to the loo for a good cry. 

Another slew of women will claim it was all just a bit of fun. Well, for them, maybe, but objectification wasn’t funny when men were doing it to us, so why should it be fun the other way around? And for those who were negative about the beard, well they were basically just being insulting, and since when was that fun?

As women, we don’t help ourselves and we don’t help each other. Men want us to look good, but they lose nothing if we’re not clever or funny, and they gain plenty if we choose not to compete with them where there’s money to be made, and that includes new media outlets for our creativity like YouTube.

It seems to me that women don’t encourage each other to be clever or funny, either. They don’t encourage each other to take risks, to participate, to be controversial or to compete. They don’t seem to me to take pride in each other’s efforts, whether they succeed or not.

It’s past time we girded our loins and put our best feet forward. It’s past time we cheered for what is good and clever, and creative and funny, whoever it’s produced by. If someone’s pretty, well, I guess it’s OK to celebrate that, too, for a moment, but can we please move on and applaud clever, creative, engaged boys and girls, and men and women, and put aside all that pointless harmful negativity? Can we please move past the idea that girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice, and that everything else belongs to the male of the species?

Can girls start to believe that, please?


Postscript:

Jeremy Paxman has since had this to say about his beard, sensible man,

"I have grown a beard for the last few summers, and suddenly wondered whether I really needed to shave it off. I may keep it or I may shave it off, but I think I'll make my own decision."

Monday, 12 August 2013

No More Heroes

Mark Millar

Mark Millar’s made damned sure of that.

I don’t often talk about comics.

I have written for comics, although not a lot, but obviously the husband’s pretty well known for writing comic books, particularly his work on cosmic books for DC and Marvel, including the Legion of Superheroes, and, more recently The Guardians of the Galaxy, which is being made into a movie by the indomitable James Gunn. It’s all terribly exciting.

I don’t talk or write about comics much, not least because if I did it would look as if I was commenting on the husband’s World rather than on my own.

That doesn’t prevent me having opinions, though.

Here’s an opinion: I’d rather read the work the husband does for 2000AD than the stuff he does for America, except that I loved his work on The New Deadwardians for Vertigo. 

Here’s another opinion: I think he’s infinitely more creative and original when he works solo.

These opinions won’t be popular with everyone, but the fact is that SuperHero comics of the sort produced by the Big Two aren’t really aimed at me, and now I’m beginning to understand why.

I’ve never been a fan of Mark Millar.

That opinion was cemented when he launched ‘CLiNT’. 

One of the reasons for that is because of the joke. 

There are two words that, traditionally, have not been used in comic books. They are CLINT and FLICK. The reason for this is that, in comic book lettering CLINT reads as CUNT and FLICK reads as FUCK. Comic books have always been read by kids, so these two words, obviously, would cause a stir and couldn’t possibly be allowed to creep into copy that might be read by children, even accidentally. Parents, especially American parents, would soon be up in arms.

When Mark Millar named his comic book, he decided to use the joke. I get it, obviously, and anyone who knows anything about comics would get it too. The problem is that he went for the wrong word. 

FLICK would make a perfectly good title for a comic book, after all, it’s made of paper and the reader can flick through it. The joke stands. Job done. CLINT on the other hand is the name of a very well known film actor/director. It has nothing to do with anything, except that it makes the rather more shocking word CUNT.

It’s idiocy, and it’s offensive.

FUCK, for those who are easily offended is bad enough, and I, for one, wouldn’t encourage my pre-teen to buy a comic with that title, but, for some of us at least, CUNT is still right on the margins of acceptability. Some of us still don’t want to see or hear it in regular, every day use. Some of us really don’t want to hear our teenaged kids saying it. Some of us still don’t use it regularly ourselves.

Call me old-fashioned, but while FUCK is universal CUNT simply isn’t, and, what’s more, it refers to the female genitalia, and it doesn't have the gender neutrality of the alternative FUCK that Mark Millar might, more reasonably, have chosen.

I thought Mark Millar a misogynist on the strength of the title he gave his comic book, alone, but perhaps that’s just because I’m a raging feminist.

If I hadn’t found the title of his comic book distasteful the sheer volume of violence in all his work would probably have done it for me. Satire! you say. It’s all about satirising the violence in superhero comic books. Yeah, OK, that’s all very well if you believe that the kids reading this shit actually get the satire. I’m betting a decent percentage of them don’t get it. That doesn’t stop them revelling in the blood and filth, though, does it?

Last week, raging feminist or not, I was proven right about Mark Millar. 

Mr Millar was interviewed for The New Republic, and he had this to say, when asked about the place of rape in his work... and there are a good many depictions of rape in his so-called stories.

The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know? I don't really think it matters. It's the same as, like, a decapitation. It's just a horrible act to show that somebody's a bad guy. 

Mr Millar and people like him are contributing to the popular culture of the first World, and it is far reaching. He is contributing to the way that a generation of young men thinks about women, how it treats them and the violent acts it perpetrates on them. For crying out loud... Potentially, he is contributing to how a generation of young women thinks about the way society treats it and the accepted norms of sexual behaviour and what it might expect from its male counterparts.

Really?

Is this what you want for your daughters and nieces, Mr Millar?

I don’t really think it matters.
It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.

I’m sorry, but Mark Millar is an imbecile. Rape does matter. Rape is not simply another horrible act like any other, and if Mark Millar doesn’t understand that, he should stop writing about rape. In fact, here’s an idea, why doesn’t Mr Millar just stop writing about rape. Period.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that rape should be a taboo subject for writers. I’m a great believer, as a creator, that no subject should be taboo in any art form. The best artists can tackle the most difficult subjects, often with extraordinary results. I also think that the best artists can push the envelope. I was, only yesterday, looking at Francis Bacon’s extraordinary work. Turner was considered a maverick. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by DH Lawrence, written around 1928 was first published in the UK in 1960, and, even then, caused a huge scandal.

Mark Millar isn’t innovating, and shock for its own sake isn’t art. Trivialising any serious subject, whether it is war, rape, rabid poverty, or, for example, the bigoted politics rife in Russia at the moment is simply not acceptable.

Of course, Mark Millar has generated a huge amount of free publicity out of this interview, and, if that was his intention, as obscene as it is, he has surely succeeded. If all publicity is good publicity, I doubt very much whether my opinion, or the opinions of the dozens of others, women included, who have written about his promotion of a modern rape culture will matter to him very much.

Mark Millar is probably rubbing his hands in glee somewhere, when what he should actually be doing is reading some of these column inches, and then doing some serious research on rape and sexual abuse.

There is no way that I would put a man like him in a room with a rape victim, but there must be some way to expose him to some of what being raped means. There must be some way to give, even a man with the sensitivity of a cinder block, some clue as to his utter, mind-numbing wrong-headedness on this subject.

I have never bought a copy of CLINT, and I have not seen KickAss, and I’m not about to begin lining this man’s pockets. His time has come and it has gone, and I hope that the very fact that he has exposed his misogyny will drive a nail or two into the coffin of his career. I suspect that it won’t, because I suspect that we live in a World where compassion fatigue is very real, where our constant exposure to utterly appalling images of degradation has inured us to the constant, unendurable pain and individual suffering that is the daily grind of every victim of rape and sexual abuse.

Mark Millar is thickening the skins of the generation of young men that is buying into his deeply unpleasant way of exploiting them.

Friday, 9 August 2013

They just want to be Loved


Recently, I read a quick interview with Jane Campion. She talked about building one’s personality in the first part of one’s adulthood and then spending the rest of it dismantling the damned thing.

I thought it rather interesting, and it made sense to me. I think we all used to do that. I know that I did. I also know that the way I built that personality was predicated on my untreated bi-polar disorder, so a lot of it was about putting up barriers, about hiding and about self-preservation. A lot of that made me appear hard, alienating and opinionated, all elements of my personality that I dislike, that aren’t natural to me, and that I’d do anything not to have built a reputation for having. They’re all there for good reasons, though.

Of course times change, and I’ve learned to deal with and accept help for my mental health issues, so I’m quite a different person now from the person that I was then. People who’ve known me for relatively short periods of time, for fewer than ten year, say, probably have very different opinions of me from people who’ve known me for longer. People who’ve known me for my entire life demonstrate very different feelings for me from those who are newer friends. It takes people a very long time to change their views and adjust their perspectives, if, indeed they’re ever going to do that. I don’t blame them, of course. Life’s like that.

That personality building kept me safe, though, and gave me something to hang my life on, while I grew up and dealt with the day to day.

I worry much more for the next generation, for kids growing into young adulthood right now. So many of them seem to spend so much time saying that they just want to be loved for themselves, that they never find out who their best selves are, or take the time to develop into those people. They never seem to do any of the deliberate personality building that Jane Campion was talking about.

Matt Lucas as Vicky Pollard
the ultimate snotty teenager
It’s a pity. I think a bit of self-consciousness is useful in teens and young adults. I’m happy to forgive a bit of affect in a kid who is at least willing to think about who they want to be. Young people should want to emulate their heroes, and they should wonder who they are. If they don’t do those things, surely they’re missing out on forming better relationships with more worthwhile people, and surely we’re missing out on them altogether, simply because society has told them it’s OK to ‘just be’. 

It only takes a moment to consider who we are and what we think before we make a statement, but most kids seem to blunder blindly through life, taking little or no interest in anything but themselves and their immediate desires. 

Of course, there is always a time and a place for those unguarded moments, otherwise how would we ever learn anything, but OMG! in the vernacular, they might as well pick their noses and fart in public, which they do, not to mention getting wasted, falling over, getting their tits and dicks out, and thinking the whole thing’s hilarious, not to mention the shit that comes out of their minds and mouths, because they haven’t given themselves or us or anything at all a moment’s thought, including the dangers they expose themselves to.

Jane Campion regretted constructing a personality that she had to then deconstruct. I regret that the vast percentage of teenagers don’t begin to do something similar, because if they did, maybe the World would be a nicer place to live in for them, and for the rest of us, too. It’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? Something that kids appear to put off, more-or-less indefinitely.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Today’s Hero

Today's Hero: Stephen Fry

We all know I’m not the staunchest fan of Stephen Fry, but, today, I’m nominating him as my newest political hero.

He’s right up there with Jon Gnarr, whom I talked about in this blog, for taking a stand against Vladimir Putin and his appalling anti-LGBT laws.

Stephen Fry wrote an open letter to David Cameron and our government and to the IOC, registering his opposition to the Winter Olympic Games being held in Sochi, Russia in 2014, and he’s right. He cites the Berlin Olympics of 1936, giving Hitler an international platform, and increased confidence for his political ambitions, and, ultimately, for his persecution of the Jews. I happen to think the comparison is perfectly just.

It’s well worth reading the letter, since Stephen Fry quotes back to the IOC it’s very own oaths and protocols. How can it possibly ignore such a plea?

The truth is that it probably will ignore that plea.

In 1980 and 1984, the summer Olympiads held in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively had some of the lowest attendances of the century. Only 80 nations participated in the Moscow games after Jimmy Carter issued a boycott  to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The World’s superpowers played tit for tat and in 1984 the Soviet Union and fourteen of her allies boycotted the LA Olympiad. 

The twentieth century was fraught with political tensions and hardly an Olympiad was celebrated that wasn’t boycotted by someone for political reasons, or from which nations weren’t banned, again for some political reason or another.

Human Rights mean more than that. 

Human Rights are universal.

Nations have boycotted previous Olympiads in the name of justice, and not just in the name of politics. In 1976 only 92 of 121 countries took part in the Montreal Olympics. Several African nations boycotted the games because of a South African tour undertaken by New Zealand’s Rugby Union team under apartheid. I don’t think anyone would argue that they were wrong or misguided in doing so. 

It is not enough for Putin to say that the values of Russians are not the same as the values of other peoples. Human Rights should be enjoyed by everyone, including the people he was elected to serve. 

Human Rights should not be a matter of opinion. 

Human Rights are not the same as political opinions.

Any nation that is prepared to boycott an Olympiad on any political platform ought to be prepared to boycott the 2014 Olympiad on the strength of these basic Human Rights issues. Any nation that is prepared to impose a ban on a participating nation on any political grounds ought to be prepared to take a stand on the 2014 Olympiad in response to Putin’s record on Human Rights.

If nations won’t do it, if our government and our IOC representatives won’t make a decision on this and withdraw our athletes from the 2014 Winter Olympics then perhaps the athletes should withdraw their support of the event, and perhaps we should too.

If the Sochi Olympiad goes ahead, I, for one, won’t be tuning in to watch any of the sporting events that take place. In fact, if the BBC spends my license fee, sending cameras and sound men and reporters to Sochi, there’s a good chance I’ll be deducting a percentage from my license fee next year in protest, because I don’t want to support this event, and I won’t support this event, and I hope you decide that you won’t either.

There is a precedent for this. Politicians have made decisions about these events on our behalf, and without consulting us, for every Olympiad since the modern games began in 1908. 

Stephen Fry has given us an opportunity to show this government what we think about the decision it will make on our behalf with regard to the Sochi Winter Games in 2014. Let’s support him and his letter, and let’s help the government and the IOC make a swift and easy decision on our behalf, and let’s boycott these games and send Putin a message that Human Rights matter, and that discriminating against any section of society is not OK and won’t be tolerated. 

You can sign a petition to relocate the 2014 Winter Olympics HERE.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Representation and Misrepresentation


Theoretically, I can say whatever I like, and some of you probably think that’s exactly what I do.

I open a document every day and I spew out whatever happens to be in my head, whatever happens to be getting my goat, twisting my gut, pissing me off or occupying my mind.

I have no career to speak of, not yet any way, so my blog is unlikely, at this stage, to have any effect on sales of my work.

That’s true, I suppose, to some extent, but I’m always conscious that I don’t want to misrepresent myself. I’m always conscious that my views and opinions aren’t always consistent, and I’m always conscious that I don’t just represent myself.

Take Monday’s blog, for example.

On Monday, I more-or-less doubled traffic to my blog, and there’s a very good reason for that. On Monday, I wrote about Doctor Who.

I wrote about Doctor Who, because the new Doctor was announced, so it’s topical, although, personally, I wouldn’t actually call it news. I wrote about it because I have an opinion, and I wrote about it because my opinion might prove controversial, so there was, potentially, some fun to be had with that.

It could be that traffic to my blog doubled because Doctor Who is a popular subject, but it could also be that the audience thinks I’ve got some sort of inside track on the subject, which I absolutely haven’t.

This is where it could get dangerous, because while my thoughts are my own in this blog, and while I don’t represent any but my own ideas or opinions, there is a danger that some readers associate me with the husband, add two and two, and come up with an answer other than four.

Funnily enough, though, it isn’t the blog that worries me the most when it comes to these sorts of problems. I can say what I want in them, and I do, for the most part, and that means that so long as the text is transparent, there needn’t be any confusion, there needn’t be any problems about who thinks what, and no one need ever confuse my opinion for the husband’s. After all, you can always go and read his blog.

My biggest worry is being asked to retweet stuff on @VincentAbnett on Twitter.

The husband and I share this Twitter account, which we mostly use to let people know what’s going on in his professional life. I’m included in the account, because he’s a busy man, so I post a lot of his publicity tweets. It all works pretty well, for the most part and we’ve built up quite a decent following.

A consequence of being visible on Twitter is that we’re often asked to retweet stuff. People use Twitter accounts with decent follower numbers to disseminate and get publicity for their own pet causes. I get it, and it’s fine, but if we retweet, we’re putting our names, or, more importantly, I’m putting the husband’s name to someone else’s cause, and that might be an issue. 

A lot of the causes that pop up are political, and many of them are taken very personally by the person tweeting. This can lead to the original tweeter being extremely emphatic, exaggerating claims or being borderline irrational in his or her statements about that cause. It can lead to an emotional rather than a measured response to a political situation or a moral question.

I understand all that emoting, I do it too, regularly, over here, but always and only on my behalf, and it’s my emoting, it’s not me adopting and forwarding someone else’s thoughts and words. I also don’t go around asking anyone to endorse my viewpoint, and I don’t ask anyone to retweet my blogplugs or publicise my blog, although lots of lovely people do those things, and I appreciate it.

My Twitter Avatar designed by the dort
I love that she thinks I look like this!
I’ve more or less made it a rule not to retweet these pleas on Twitter, not on our joint account, on the grounds that it is a professional rather than a personal account, and that it is intended more for the dissemination of information about what the husband is, and to some extent what I am, working on rather than a general social interaction. I’m just not convinced that the husband’s followers want to be involved in our reactions to political subjects.

Of course, if you want to follow my personal account @N_VincentAbnett, I’m much more of a loose cannon, and I do respond more readily to that sort of thing. And, if in doubt, you can always read my opinions here.

The husband is a more private person than I am, and don’t think for a moment that he agrees with everything that I say on any given subject... Hell, I don’t agree with everything I say on any given subject on any given day of the week. If he ever wants to share a political view in public, I’m sure he’ll do it on his own blog, but I’m guessing you’ll have to wait for a cold day in Hell.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

An Icy Reception for Putin


Britain has a long tradition of twinning cities across the World. On entering almost any town it’s possible to see a sign showing where it’s twinned with. Some towns are twinned with several foreign cities in several countries.

I suppose the purposes are essentially cultural, and I know, for example, that many a school kid has enjoyed hospitality abroad because of the scheme. It’s all to the good. I like a bit of cultural cross-pollination. It’s to be encouraged. Of course, most of it takes place across Europe. I believe the town where I live is twinned with a town in France that’s only a short ferry and bus ride away. It’d be nice if we were twinned with somewhere fabulous in Japan, for example, but that wouldn’t be terribly practical for school trips and local council jollies.

What I didn’t realise is that other countries indulge in this sort of twinning, too. It’s a bit of a thing.

Iceland is one of the places I’d rather like to visit. I like the idea that the landscape and climate are somewhat alien, that the language is impenetrable, that it’s a country of extremes. I admire their long tradition of story telling, too. I also like Iceland’s reputation for liberal politics.

Jon Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavik
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is twinned with Moscow. 

Jon Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavik isn’t hugely impressed with Putin’s latest attacks on the LGBT community in Russia. 

As we must all be aware, by now, and as I wrote about in this blog, the Russian premier recently signed two new anti-gay laws. It beggars belief in a World where equal rights are finally beginning to be widely recognised, for all, that Putin should take such damaging retrograde steps. It’s even more surprising to me that more politicians aren’t taking a stand against him.

Mayor Jon Gnarr has taken that stand, and I’m rather impressed with him, not least because he’s required to go through Iceland’s Foreign Ministry and his move is unprecedented.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry has essentially passed the buck right back to Jon Gnarr, saying that while the ministry must assess any impact the proposal might have on relations between Russia and Iceland, the decision to dissolve the relationship between Moscow and Reykjavik remains in the remit of the city council.
The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

I’m not sure what the repercussions might be for Reykjavik or for Iceland if Jon Gnarr succeeds in his proposal, but I certainly hope that he does. 

My guess is that, if nothing else, he’ll earn a very healthy share of the Pink Pound/Euro/Dollar in the near future. Iceland could be a wonderful place for a wedding of any description, including the same sex unions that are celebrated under Icelandic law. I’d go to Iceland to be married beside the Blue Lagoon or beneath the Northern Lights. I can hardly think of anything more romantic! 


In fact, if I’d had a first honeymoon, I’d consider Iceland for a second... Hell! I might consider going to Iceland just because Mayor Jon Gnarr has the courage of his convictions. The World needs more politicians like him.