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

Monday, 31 March 2014

Digging This! Why I don't use the LIKE button on FaceBook

Some time ago I stopped liking anything on FaceBook.

It’s not that I don’t like anything, and it’s not that I don’t register my approval for anything... I’m not a total bitch.

It’s the LIKE button I object to.

I’m not keen on being manipulated, and I’m aware that it happens every hour of every day in all sorts of subtle ways that I hardly even notice. I’m not immune from being herded like the human sheep I am, we all are.

FaceBook’s a funny thing. I wouldn’t bother with it any more, if I’m honest, except that there are people on it that I would otherwise have virtually no contact with, and that seems like a real pity. So, I check in a couple of times a day, and, once in a while, I interact on it.

My single biggest bugbear, however is the LIKE button. I don’t like it.

I don’t like it because it is used cynically by a whole raft of people and businesses to make money.

Hitting a like button spreads stuff around, and the more stuff spreads from one FaceBook page to another the more access is generated to more potential ad-slots generating more advertising revenue.

Remember my recent pair of blogs about a video that went viral in the social media networks? (You can read them here and here). How many times do you suppose the LIKE button was hit on that thing? How many times was it shared?

We were scammed.

If everyone who liked that video had written ‘digging this’ in the comments instead of hitting the LIKE button things might have been a little bit different.

Here’s the important bit.

FaceBook is all centered on the Friend Request.

The list of people linked to us on FaceBook are called ‘Friends’. There’s a reason for that. When we send a friend request or one is sent to us there are even questions about whether and how we know the person that we’re connecting to.

As part of an art project a few years ago, I set up a construct, an internet-only personality. She had a FaceBook account. I began by friending her myself. Within a matter of weeks, she had more friends than I did. Only two people asked how we’d met. I came clean with those people, saying we hadn’t, and one of them chose to friend me anyway. Less than a month after setting up the construct, she was receiving friend requests. Until that point, she had never existed.

It was a fascinating experiment, and, for what it’s worth, she was honest and harmless. I made it a point that she only did the things I would do and said the things I would say. She was entirely a version of myself, and always and only positive. I was determined to do no harm. 

I sometimes felt guilty about her presence on the web, and when the project was over I deleted her profile.

My point is this: When it comes to liking the things our contacts are doing, hitting the LIKE button shouldn’t be an issue for them. They shouldn’t be trying to manipulate us. They’re probably not in business. So, there’s a good chance they’ll be charmed when we type ‘digging this’ into a comment slot.

The people collecting LIKES aren’t our friends, they’re nasty, cynical money grabbing bastards who are just looking for ad-slots. They are using us. We don’t have to give them that satisfaction. We can, if we choose to, deny them.

My ‘Digging This’ campaign hasn’t ever really taken off, but then I haven’t been very vocal about it until now.

Think about it. I’ve been doing it for a while, and I shall keep right on doing it. It takes a matter of a moment, and we all like to get comments on our posts and statuses.

Go on, Dig This.


Sunday, 30 March 2014

Yesterday some people got married...

... and guess what?

The sky didn’t fall down!

Yesterday March 29th 2014 The Same Sex Marriage Act was enacted in the UK, or, more accurately in England and Wales, and persons of the same gender were married for the first time.

I have only one thing to say to that:

HUZZAH!

About bloody time!

Surely, in the twenty-first century, there can be only one reason to get married, to make vows to another person to love, honour and cherish them. That reason is love.

Boy Meets Boy!
Ever since marriage was instituted there have been reasons for it, mostly to do with the patriarchal societies spawned by religion. Many of those reasons seem, at best, practical and, at worst, cynical to us now. Most of those reasons are to do with family, politics and economics. Let’s call a spade a shovel and admit that, for most of that time marriage has been an institution, those entering into have done so primarily because of money, either because they have it or because they don’t.

Think about divorce. The first world has developed a whole raft of laws over the past half century or so connected with divorce and the division of family finances, initially for the provision of women at the dissolution of a marriage. Prior to these laws women didn’t divorce because it was too easy for them to find themselves destitute if they did. 

Divorce is still about money, and yet we pretend that marriage is about love.

In modern America among the rich and famous, the prenuptial agreement has become standard practice, and yet we still pretend that marriage is about love.

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself, because the civil partnership has been in law since 2004. People have been able to tie themselves together in a form of marriage for ten years. They’ve been able to make those financial commitments. It’s only the esoteric part of the marriage ceremony that’s been missing... only the love part.

Just what exactly is this tomfoolery? What is this form of words?

I bet it was possible to go into a civil partnership with a pre-nup, and I bet there have been some pretty serious divorce wranglings to dissolve some of those civil partnerships.

It’s all about religion, of course.

If God is love, why is religion always a stick to beat us with?

I can’t help thinking it’s because between God and the rest of us there is a whole institution, made up of a lot of people who think they know best. Two thousand years of interpreting and filtering the word of God seems to have done us no favours, and equal marriage, it seems to me is only the very tip of the iceberg.

Yesterday, I celebrated, because, it seems to me that, yesterday, good sense prevailed. Of course, it hasn’t actually prevailed in a major World religion... only in two small countries’ laws. Nevertheless, yesterday, I celebrated.

Yesterday, I raised a glass to all newly married people in England and Wales, straight and gay. I hope you all enjoy long and happy marriages!


Today, poetically enough, is Mothering Sunday. My thoughts on the subject haven’t changed, but if you haven’t read them before or you’d like to be reminded take a look at this blog.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Let’s Get Them Hooked on Books!

Christopher Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice, has caused a furoré.

Well of course he has! He’s banned prisoners from receiving books. 

We all think it’s a bad thing. We all think that it’s a human rights violation. We all think that the best thing we could possibly do for the incarcerated is improve their minds, and we all believe that one very decent possibility of doing that is to provide them with books to read... And, do you know what, in an ideal World, we’d probably be right.

We do not live in an ideal World!

Our local prison
A Sex Offenders Unit
For a percentage of inmates, books are just another way to get drugs into prisons. This is one of those occasions when the rotten apples spoil it all for everyone else.

Such is life.

Everything that comes into a prison has to be checked for contraband. I suppose a lot of man hours could be spent riffling through books and whatnot. I say bring in a half-decent sniffer dog and all it costs is the training and a crap-ton of Chum, but, you know, my view can be a simplistic one.

Drugs are bad!

I get that.

But here’s the thing that Christopher Grayling in his swingeing whatnot seems to have left behind: Books are GOOD!

Books transform lives. They transform hearts and minds.

If for every inmate that was hooked on drugs there was one hooked on books how different rehab could be.

And here is Christopher Grayling taking away the last opportunity for that to become even the slightest possibility. The more fool him!

Here’s a radical idea: set up a reading group for the staff. Give the correction officers a chance to read and see how they feel about how reading changes their lives, and then see how they feel about checking books as they come in for inmates. They might mind less. They might begin to feel that the time spent was time well-spent. Who knows, maybe some of them believe that already.

We don’t lock people up for nothing. Incarceration is its own punishment. 

Human rights are something else, and the right to read is, I think, humanising and transcendent, and I think that reading is its own reward, and I think that it generates a greater understanding of... well... just about anything and everything.

We put books in our children’s hands to form their minds and their characters. How is this different for anyone? How is this different for convicts? Surely we need to reach people who are morally ambivalent or who have lost their way in the World more than we need to reach others with words and with literature and with ideas. Surely they can be changed more than the rest of us by what they read?

I have been an avid listener to Desert Island Discs over a great number of years, and I am always surprised and impressed by the choices of books the participants make after they’ve been given the bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. Even these basics seem to be lacking from so many lives. So many people seem incapable of reading and interpreting these texts that so many of us feel are fundamental to our lives and our understanding of the human condition. It’s the Bible for crying out loud! And Shakespeare!

The human condition is at its most fundamental, and at its most critical for those at the edges of our society. Those who need books most, those who need most to look at their circumstances and come to a better understanding of what brought them to their present time and place are those in the most compromised positions, and some of those people are in our prison system.

Give them Shakespeare! Give them Chaucer and Milton and Becket! Hell! Give them Trollope (both if you like - Anthony and Joanna)... Give them Ian Rankin and Philip Pullman... Give them Mark Haddon, Anthony Horowitz, Susan Hill, Emma Donaghue and anything else they want to read. Give them bloody Enid Blyton!

Who are we to deny them?

I’m all for doing something about the drug culture in our prisons, but for every inmate addicted to drugs, if we could just get one addicted to reading maybe we could change a little corner of the World, and if we could do that for one offender, we could free the World of one offender’s crimes... maybe.

It’s a maybe worth pursuing... in my mind, at least.

It can’t do any harm, and it could do an awful lot of good, and in the meantime, all you’ve got is a lot of men and women with time on their hands, who are spending that time with their noses in books, instead of spending it angry, frustrated and looking for an outlet for all that negative energy.


Seriously, you take a look at the maths.  

Friday, 28 March 2014

Adverbs and other Knotty Problems

I don’t like it when people, by which I generally mean writers, impose rules on writing.

For example, I was recently pointed in the direction of a blog on how to write without employing adverbs.

What’s wrong with the humble adverb?

Well, used badly, there’s plenty wrong with them, and a lot of bad writing involves a lot of adverbs, because the writer who overuses them has forgotten about things like tone, rhythm and language and is using adverbs to make up for his failings in those areas. All of these things, plus the use of the correct verb can obviate the use of an adverb. Using an abundance of adverbs is a common rookie mistake.

However, that is not to say that adverbs are bad. That is also not to say that the narrative voice or the particular styling of a character might not require the writer to use them, even a great many of them under special circumstances.

Some writers of my acquaintance use writing programs with algorithms that suggest when they’re overusing particular words. Well, bad writing might involve clumsy repetition. I’ve seen it, and, as a reader, it can make a book unbearable to read.

On the other hand, repetition can build tension, or add emphasis, and it can be shorthand for a character or set of characters with limitations of one kind or another. I’ve used it myself to connote primitive races in their speech patterns.

There are lots of things that might be used in direct speech that grammar and spelling checkers consider wrong, but which, if put right, would make characters sound utterly unlike the personalities a writer might intend to portray. And yet, how many new writers rely heavily on the grammar and spelling checkers in their WP programs? There’s a risk that they might end up correcting things that were totally right for their characters.

I’m not trying to suggest there aren’t a great many ways to become a better writer. I’m just saying, as I always do, that writing is as much an art as it is a craft. That the two things need to dovetail together to make a more perfect whole, and that, as in any other art form, like painting or composing, diligence and repeated practice are more important than a crap-ton of rules and regulations.

Yes the basics are important. It’s a good idea to have a grasp of vocabulary and grammar, but we all went to school for that (I hope). Reading’s a damned good idea too. Apart from anything else, reading good prose will expand anyone’s vocabulary, and, who knows, give us all a better grasp of something as basic as grammar; not to mention how to construct a story, define characters, build a rhythm... all manner of things. After that it’s about flexing the writing muscles. Algorithms for this and programs for that won’t make you a better writer, any more than will cutting adverbs.

What might make you better is having really good readers who will be properly critical. Those people probably aren’t your best mate and your mum, although, by all means seek encouragement wherever you can find it when your confidence flags.

Take rejection seriously.

Rejection is your friend.
Me (on the left) hanging on every word
of a  successful writer
That's the husband (on the right)

And it doesn’t matter how polite the rejection is or in what glowing terms it is couched.

As an aside to agents and other professional rejectors. I wish you people would stop being so damned nice and go back to calling a spade a shovel. I’m not sure your words are as kind as you think they are. At best, you might be wasting people’s time if you make them believe that they’re likely to be published one day, possibly soon, when, in fact, their novels are beyond bad. At worst you might be killing them with your kindness.

A rejection is a rejection. One way or another your writing sample simply wasn’t good enough. Stop. Or, go away and do better. 

Your choice.

Either way, take rejection seriously.

Take it from someone who has been rejected A LOT!

It’s unlikely that your work was rejected because you used too many adverbs or repeated the same words too often. It is unlikely that your work was rejected because your grammar or spelling were a little inconsistent. That’s what editors are for. 

All these things are, of course, might be symptoms of something else, a problem that runs deeper. They probably prove that you haven’t written enough or read enough, and haven’t been exposed to enough critical appraisal or enough rejection... yet.

Take heart. If you keep writing for long enough, one of these days you probably will be.

Having said all of that, if you want my rules for writing you can find them in this blog, and not a single mention of adverbs, I promise... Come to think of it, my ten rules for writing aren't actually rules, they’re just stuff... stuff I thought you might want to have a bit of a think about, for what it’s worth.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Fifty Shades of Grey...

... has reared its head again.

I refrained, you will notice, from calling it an ugly head, but don’t think I wasn’t tempted.

There’s going to be a movie. Or perhaps it’s a film.

I make the distinction, because I generally think of movies as American bums-on-seats fodder and films as European and, potentially at least, a little more artistic, more likely to be worthy of a bit of critical attention.

That’s where my confusion lies. 

I can understand making a bums-on-seats movie of Fifty Shades but a film?

It’s all down to the choice of director.

Sam Taylor Johnson is heading up this movie. Sam Taylor Johnson the artist is directing this  film. You know... Sam Taylor... Johnson!

She’s well known in the Brit Art World. She was a YBA in the nineties, was married to Jay Jopling, is a contemporary of Damien Hirst. That Sam Taylor Johnson. She used to be Sam Taylor Wood, back in the day.

I’m a bit of a fan of some of her photography.

E L James and Sam Taylor Johnson
I haven’t seen her first film Nowhere Boy, but it had some good and even glowing reviews, and was nominated for a BAFTA in 2010. It wasn’t an art film, as it happens; it was pretty conventionally done. Nevertheless I can’t get it out of my head that Sam Taylor Johnson is making Fifty Shades of Grey.

The idea has thrown me quite out of whack.

You all know that I’m not a fan of this book. The premise of a twenty-two year old virgin falling for a twenty-seven year old billionaire is utterly unthinkable; not least because I can’t imagine two people less likely to exist on this Earth, let alone meet. Add to that horrible writing and dull sex, and it’s hard for me to imagine a book that anyone would want to read, let alone a movie/film that anyone would want to see.

Except... Except I wonder what Sam Taylor Johnson might be capable of doing with this.

Who adapted the screenplay? Well, that would by Kelly Marcel. I'm not familiar with her work. Has she managed to produce some dialogue that actually works, given this material? Or has she done something extraordinary with what’s on the existing pages? It's hard to imagine what that might be, but who knows?

Taylor Johnson is in her forties, has been in a number of relationships with men, who appear, on the face of it at least, to be interesting, and has four children, so has the voice of experience given her a directing perspective on this film that might just make it interesting for the rest of us? 

Was there room for a deeper reading of a text like this one?

Might there have been a place for humour? Or, dare I say it, irony?

I don’t know. I can’t say.

Do I wish I did know? Do I wish I could say?

I suppose it was inevitable, one way or another, that this movie/film would be made. I suppose it is inevitable that it will be a huge box office success. If as many people see the movie as bought the book, it’ll run and run... and run... and run. There’ll be no escaping it.

I’m going to reserve judgement.

I’m going to reserve judgement for a very long time.

I won’t be one of the first bums on one of the first seats. I probably won’t even watch this movie at the cinema. I doubt I’ll buy it on DVD, or rent it, for that matter.

There’s a good chance I’ll wait to see this thing on Netflix, if I see it at all.

I just might see it one day, because I still can’t get over the fact that the celebrated fine artist Sam Taylor Johnson was chosen to direct Fifty Shades of Grey.


Go figure.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Frozen

Every so often the husband and I take a merry jaunt off to Leicester to see the dort. Sometimes it’s just for fun. Sometimes we deliver her back to college after she’s been home for a visit, and sometimes we go to watch her in a show. For whatever the reason we try to have a bit of fun, and we often stay over.

When we do, we generally end up with the dort, room service and a movie. That’s how we roll. We know how to live!

Last week we went to see the dort in a tenth anniversary show for the dance school that she attends on Sundays. She belongs to three dance troupes that do competitions and whatnot. She’s a busy thing. She dances five full days a week in college, and then does troupes on Sundays, add to that shows and competitions, and it never seems to end.

Anyway, we went off to watch the anniversary show. She had numbers with Influence, the all girl group, she had a gorgeous ballet routine, a musical theatre number and then of course there was Addict, who I also like to call The Magnificent Seven! Crikey those guys can dance! Ben, Ryan, André, Remy, Jen, Zoe and Lily, take a bow! You rocked!

Frozen the movie
Anyway, after enjoying the show, we chowed down on room service and watched Frozen! It was the dort’s choice. She was allowed.

I’m happy enough to watch animated movies. Nothing wrong with them, and some of them are quite brilliant: clever, funny and enthralling. This wasn’t one of those.

Frozen was a bit all over the place, if I’m honest.

I was interested to see the film, though, because it has caused a bit of a furoré.

The single biggest controversy is that it might be the ‘gayest’ movie ever made by Disney, and some religious types, including a Mormon mother and some Catholics have got quite hot under the collar about it all.

So... here goes: The main character, the ice princess, Elsa has no male suitors and she’s an outsider, so she must be a lesbian... obviously! The comedy character, the little snowman thinks he looks dashing in a tiara, so he must be a camp gay man... well of course he must! The protagonist Princess Anna has lots of boyfriends and doesn’t end up marrying, so So What? For heaven’s sake, have you met the blokes in this movie?

And love... As usual love is the saviour.

Just for once, thank heavens, the princess isn’t saved by some romantic notion about a lover’s kiss. Just for once the girl isn’t pathetic enough to be saved by some man... Well there go all the proper family values! 

I do hope you note the sarcasm in my tone.

For my money, the hint of feminism in the movie probably wasn’t a bad thing, though. The girls did it for themselves. Come to think of it, there was familial love, too. The sisters did it for each other.

This film is many imperfect things. I’m not entirely sure I was terribly keen on Elsa’s transformation scene. OK, maybe it was a sort of coming of age thing, but she didn’t have to end up in a strapless gown and high heels with tousled bed hair. Come to think of it, that isn’t everyone’s idea of a stereotypical lesbian look, either, for those conspiracy theorists who were straining to justify that conclusion. 

This shit baffles me. No five or ten year old girl... or any girl, or boy for that matter, is going to be magically transformed into a homosexual by any movie or book or by the evil liberal society that so many of these religious fanatics see all around them. In exactly the same way that no homosexual child is going to be straightened out by being spoon fed a cosy, patriarchal, nuclear family paradigm.

It’s nonsense.

Once and for all... People are not turned gay. People are gay.

A little boy sitting in one row in the movie theatre will be charmed by the snowman in the tiara at the very same time as a very similar boy sitting three rows behind him will think it’s yucky. The same is true for the girls. The boy who likes the tiara may or may not be gay. He might just like pretty things. The boy who thinks it’s yucky may or may not be gay. He might just not like pretty things.

When are we please going to get over all these stereotypes?

The people who rake over this stuff, looking for gay agendas or liberal ones - and there was even the suggestion of the promotion of bestiality in this movie - don’t fear for our children, they simply fear that they will cease to have control. They want us to live in fear... and of what?

They want us to live in fear of people falling in love and having relationships. They want us to fear sex. And they want it because they fear sex that they never have to have or see or hear about.

Never mind Disney, never mind the guys who actually made this film, it's the people who think loving, consensual sex is bad who might just be the ones with the agenda here. 


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Last Will and Testament

Most of us leave a little something behind when we die.

The important thing is that we leave love and peace, and, if we have children, that we leave caring, capable human beings that we did our best for.

As for the worldly stuff. Well, as a rule, I suppose we divide it up between our loved ones. For most of us it’s a house and some savings, and maybe some bits of jewelry, silver or art, perhaps just favourite bits and bobs of no monetary worth but some sentimental value.

By the time most wills have gone through probate and the tax man’s had his share, once the rest is divvied up it’s pretty rare for any individual to receive life-changing amounts of hard cash. If it’s family, most of us are lucky enough to keep our parents well into our own middle years, and with good geriatric care being so expensive there’s rarely much left in the kitty. Besides, I’m all for those close to me spending whatever they’ve got before they go peacefully in their sleep.

Bill Gates
I was reading an article in the Sunday papers about John Roberts, who recently sold his company Appliances Online (although why the contents of the piece were considered newsworthy I’m not entirely sure). Anyway, the point was that, like Bill Gates, Roberts has decided not to leave his fortune to his children when he dies. He has five of them, and they would stand to inherit a decent chunk of change.

Roberts claimed that he didn’t want trust fund kids who sit on their hands feeling entitled, and he wanted them to grow up with a sense of achievement.

Well, I suppose that’s fine. And, let’s be fair to the man, we all have to raise our children as we see fit, and he clearly wants to do the best he can for his little brood. Good man.

On the other hand, I wonder at the sense of this. And, I suppose that applies even more in the case of Bill Gates.

The children of these men, whether they inherit or not, will always be the sons and daughters of wealthy successful fathers. For good or ill, that, surely, is going to have a much bigger impact on their lives than picking up a fat cheque in their fifties.

Their lifestyles are going to be determined, to some degree, by their parents’ wealth and status, so are their educations and opportunities. You can’t go through life being Bill Gates’s child and that not have an impact. His children are not treated like other children, no matter what he chooses to believe.

It isn’t an inheritance that makes a difference in their lives it is him; it is his presence, his status, his wealth, his fame, his influence. It is all of these things. Of course, it is his personality, too, and his capacity as a father to love and care for his children, and I’m certainly not going to question those things. Bill and Melinda Gates have given more than $28 billion to charity, so it's pretty difficult to fault their good intentions.

John Roberts wants his children to grow up with a sense of achievement, as he did. Having money doesn’t alter something like that. It’s about his attitude to them. It’s about his values, how he nurtures his children, and it’s about their temperaments. If his kids happen to have his characteristics, some of which he will have passed to them through his genes, they might be as hard working or ambitious as he is, they might be risk takers, they might be achievers. Who knows? Having money, or not, won’t alter that. Furthermore, he can’t recreate the conditions he grew up in in order to generate something in his children, some outcome. Life isn’t like that.

Bill Gates and John Roberts can do whatever they please with their money, but I think there are much more important legacies to think about when it comes to their children, and I’m willing to bet they don’t think twice about spending money on the things that some parents have to struggle with. They don’t think twice about the roofs over their kids’ heads, or about the quality of their diet. I bet they don’t give a second thought to the cost of their kids’ dental work, opticians or school shoes, let alone their educations.

Insisting it’s a good idea for your child to have a paper route isn’t the same thing as it having to work to help make ends meet.

Money makes a difference to their children now, whether they leave it to them or not, and, I’m guessing that if their children trip and fall, and they need financial help in the future that they’ll find their pockets are probably deeper than they thought.


It’s easy to deny the importance of money when you have it, but sometimes charity does begin at home.

Monday, 24 March 2014

By Way of a Celebration

You guys put a little smile on my face
photo by James K Barnett
Usually on Mondays I write about something I found to talk about from the Sunday papers.

Yesterday, the papers were full of all sorts of interesting things, so I’ve probably got a week’s worth of blogs ahead of me.

Today, however, I’m just going to write a short note by way of a celebration and a little YAY ME!

Yesterday the little clock on my blog ticked over the 200,000 hit mark!

This pleases me.

It also gives me the opportunity to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR VISITING!

Some of you are regulars and some of you are occasional visitors, and, who knows, one or two of you might even be here for the first time... Welcome!

Whoever you are, I hope you have taken something from your experience here. I have certainly got a lot out of writing this blog over the past two years, and I hope to continue pretty well indefinitely.

Two years! 

Time does that odd concertinaing thing, doesn’t it?

It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t get up in the morning and write a blog, but on the other hand it’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing it for two whole years.

Time really does fly!

It’s also hard to believe, for me at least, that so many people have come to take a look at my blitherings, thoughts, ideas and general nonsense.

I don’t write these blogs with the expectation of anyone actually reading them or taking an interest. I write them for all sorts of reasons. I write them as a sort of exercise to get my writing muscles moving. I write them to get stuff out of my head to make way for the things that go into my real writing, and, yes, I write them to get things off my chest or to share, or just to talk about what I’m doing.

I have been touched by many of the wonderful comments I’ve received, baffled by some and horrified by others. I’ve been lauded and I’ve been vilified in comments, and for what’s it’s worth I’ve let every comment stand... apart from the inevitable and obvious spam.

I don’t know what a normal hit rate is for a blog like this one, or for any blog for that matter. I can only say that I am delighted and feel rather honoured that I have reached this milestone, and I celebrate it.

Again, thanks for being here.

Today, I hope you’ll excuse this little act of self-congratulation.


Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Fred Phelps has Died part ii: My Hopes were More than Answered

Firstly, I’d like to thank Jax for pointing out that, apparently Fred Phelps won’t be receiving a final farewell on this Earth.

It transpires that the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t honour its dead with funerals, so they very neatly sidestepped that little problem... I might say ‘dodged that bullet’ if I was American or of a more aggressive bent, but I won’t.

In my last blog I hoped to God – and I’ll admit right here and now that I’m agnostic in my approach to the deity – that the funeral would pass peacefully, and that we could all be more human and more humane than the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church, that no one would lower himself to their woeful moral standards.

I hoped there would be no protest at the funeral of Fred Phelps.

It turns out there can be no protest at the funeral of Fred Phelps since there is to be no celebration of his life and no goodbye ceremony. OK. That’s their choice. It’s probably for the best.

Despite their efforts, however, the Westboro Baptist Church was, in fact, hoist by its own petard. It was done to as it has done. And, in the process, my hopes were more than answered.

It is rare that I offer up a prayer. In fact, when I wrote my last blog I didn’t say that I prayed to any God that would listen; I only said that I hoped to any God. I’m not sure whether that’s the power of the human heart or the power of prayer, and I’m not sure the two are indivisible or that it matters.

What mattered when I saw this photograph on James Gunn’s FaceBook page was that someone had not only made my day, but they had shown the World what it is to have compassion.

The Westboro Baptist Church was protesting a Lorde concert when a small group of counter-protesters appeared with this banner. It gladdens my heart, and I believe that it should gladden yours.


And here's the full article

Friday, 21 March 2014

Fred Phelps has died.

The Late Fred Phelps
Fred Phelps was the head of the Westboro Baptist Church, and a very firm believer in the God he believed in and the form of religion he espoused. He was a loud and proud evangelist, and an angry and vocal opponent of the evil that he perceived in the World.

Fred Phelps was once a lawyer who fought a number of civil rights cases in Kansas in the 60s and 70s before he was disbarred. He stood in various elections as a Democrat, running for everything from Mayor to Governor. He ran for the Senate, and in Kansas Democratic primaries five times.

We know Fred Phelps for his vitriolic anti-gay protests and for members of his church turning up at military funerals – the funerals of the young American men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – carrying placards that say things like, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fag Enablers”.

We’re all going to hell, according to the late Fred Phelps.

We’re all going to hell if we accept the natural diversity of human nature. We are all going to hell if we accept that gender is not an issue when it comes to love. We are all going to hell if we believe that sex between loving, caring, consenting adults, regardless of their gender, is nobody’s business, but those indulging in it.

I have no idea what plans Fred Phelps’s God has for him. I guess Fred Phelps’s God has probably already implemented those plans, and it’s all done and dusted. I imagine the funeral will be a formality, a time and place for his family and followers to grieve.

I hope that Fred Phelps’s funeral will be a private affair at his home and in his church, with his family and his followers, and with his God.

I see no reason why this should not all play out peacefully.

Fred Phelps has died. He took up plenty of time and energy on the streets and on the airwaves when he was alive. He took the time and energy of his family and his followers. He took the time and energy of the press. He took the time and energy of the United States government, who wrote into law the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act in part because of him.

I do not know what will happen to the Westboro Baptist Church, now that its figurehead has died, although I do know that it has, for all sensible purposes, been run by other members of his family for some time. I suspect there might be some form of Exodus by some of its members. That might not be a bad thing.

For my part, I think the best thing the rest of us can do is stay away.

There is no reason for the rest of us to adopt Fred Phelps’s methods or lower ourselves to his standards.

I hope we won’t see protests at this man’s funeral. To protest any funeral for any reason is degrading, surely?

We are better than that, I hope. We can be more human and more humane.

Just as I believe that honest, caring people everywhere should be accepted for who and what they are, I also believe that we should all be judged on the contents of our hearts and  on our characters.

No one with a loving heart or a strong character would ever put Fred Phelps’s family through what they have so often, so readily and with such ferocious hatred put other bereaved families through.

I wouldn’t do it, and I hope to any God prepared to listen that I don’t see it on the News when Fred Phelps receives his final farewell on this Earth.



Thursday, 20 March 2014

Emily Slough: Breastfeeding and the Modern Goddess

Today, I’m going to talk about Emily Slough.

I’ve been meaning to talk about her for some time, now, ever since she was called a tramp in fact, and a photo of her was plastered all over FaceBook without her consent. 

Yesterday, my good friend Sarah Cawkwell wrote about Ms Slough, and that’s why I’m reminded to do it. I haven’t read Sarah’s blog yet, so I have no way to know how much our views differ. She got in there first, though, so I’m going to link to her post here. Go read it. She’s lovely. I’m going to go read it shortly. After I’ve written mine.

Read both; who knows, if our views are very different, we might even get a debate going.

Me and my breasts
Here’s a picture of me that I posted attached to a blog I wrote about corsets and why I bought one for myself to celebrate my fortieth birthday.

You can clearly see breasts.

I’m using this picture because this is pretty well how we think of breasts, isn’t it? This is how the modern world presents them to us. This is what society thinks of them. This is how most men and some women like to see them. Although I don’t necessarily wear a corset to demonstrate my sexuality, and I don’t wear one in public, most people would consider this picture to be overtly sexual.

Breasts, for most of us, most of the time, are secondary sexual characteristics.

Here’s what breasts are actually for though: breasts are for producing milk to nurture and sustain our children with. 

Babies have always fed from the breast, either their mother’s or another lactating woman’s.

The truth is that babies have also for hundreds, and possibly even thousands of years, been fed by other methods, generally not terribly successfully.

Fortunately, there has never been a better time to choose how we feed our children. Sterilising bottles and teats is simple and effective, and formula milk is improving all the time.

Here’s the thing, though: in most instances, the female body can provide everything a newborn needs, and it can keep doing it for a considerable time thereafter. Breast milk is free, it is nutritious, it is on-tap and it requires virtually zero in the way of equipment, maintenance or messing about.

Surely, in the twenty-first century every woman must have the right to choose what is best for her and her child when it comes to something as basic as nutrition. And that’s without considering more esoteric ideas like bonding, and even the health benefits to the mother of breast feeding, which are... well... beneficial.

Emily Slough was photographed breast feeding her eight month old child, sitting on a doorstep, eating a sandwich while out shopping. Her child needed to feed, and she probably needed to take a break. Caring for an eight month old is a wonderful job, but it can be tiring. Having a relaxed approach is a very good idea, as far as I’m concerned. I’m tempted to think that Ms Slough is doing a thoroughly good job.

The person who took the photograph posted it on FaceBook and called Ms Slough a tramp.

Women the World over are being sexually exploited day in and day out. They are being judged on their bodies, which, let’s face it, generally means being judged on the size and shape of their breasts. Heaven help us, women from movie stars to models to rock chicks show acres of cleavage and thigh, and spend hours in front of mirrors perfecting hair and make-up; they spend small fortunes on cosmetic procedures and stylists, on jewelry and shoes, and they’re admired as goddesses... by men and women alike.

However overtly sexually these women present themselves, for the most part, we don’t call them tramps. 

The point of being sexually attractive is to have sex, and the point of having sex is to procreate, and once you’ve procreated it’s a pretty good idea to find a way to feed that child. All that cleavage that attracted that mate belongs to the breast that’s going to nurture that baby!

(Yes, I know it’s simplistic, but you take my point).

A woman in day clothes sits on a step and breast feeds a child, and suddenly she’s the tramp?!

I’m not going to apologise for thinking there’s something very wrong with that.

I breast fed both of the dorts, and I stopped when they were ready to stop. I breast fed for a total of a little over two years, and I breast fed just about everywhere, when I needed to, or, more importantly, when they needed to. This was over twenty years ago, and I can’t believe that nothing has changed in two decades.

I never breast fed in a public loo. And it’s a bloody disgrace that anyone should suggest that it’s a good idea. When you’re prepared to take your lunch into a public loo and sit and eat it, then you can suggest that a newborn should do the same. Until then...


Anyway, this week, if I was going to pick a modern goddess and if I was choosing between, say, Scarlett Johansson and Emily Slough, I know which way I’d be casting my vote.