Friday, December 24, 2010

"you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."
-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

5 Left-field Arguments Against Tuition Fees.

The five arguments against tuition fees given here are not intended to provide a comprehensive summary of the multitude of such arguments within the discourse. There are many more convincing and relevant arguments out there – most of us have probably come into contact with them many times over the last few weeks, and have already formed our own stance on them. The intention of these 5 arguments is not to dismiss the importance of other well-trodden paths, but rather to put forward 5 arguments of varying strength that are not usually discussed within the tuition fee debate, and to provide some counterarguments to those whose conceptualisation of the HE system considers the degree a product.

1)A BA/Sc degree alone is worth little in the job market. How can a student in so much debt afford to fund the 'corollaries' necessary to get that graduate job?

To be appointed to a 'graduate' post in fields like law, media, consultancy, journalism, financial services, etc, etc, etc then you are pretty much expected to have significant work experience on your CV, or to do an unpaid internship, usually based in London. Jobs in such fields, coveted and rare as they are, will go to those who have been able to gain this valuable work experience – sometimes due to 'connections' within the industry. The herd is thinned further by such options only really open to those who can afford to live and work in London for 3 months, UNPAID.

-With £20k plus of debt, that isn't happening any time soon.

-If we consider degrees to be a 'product' that we are investing in, as the establishment is so eagerly encouraging us to do, why would we pay for a product that is not fit-for-purpose?

2)We are told to view our expensive degrees as an investment, as they will help us to net that elusive job – and this justifies the cost. Yet this investment appears to be faulty.

Rapid expansion of student numbers coupled with the commodification of the 2:1 have resulted in a job market oversaturated with the afore mentioned degree classifications. They are rapidly becoming worthless. In order to make their CV stand out from the crowd, students need all sorts of fireworks and cartwheels – it's the voluntary work, work experience, internships and extra curricular activities which will get you the job. Try building an impressive CV to rival that of other candidates when you have to work throughout the academic year and all summer to fund yourself. (many people work for money, not experience)

-Why pay so much money for something that is 'worth' so little to you (in ££££s at any rate, which is how we are being told to evaluate these things)?

3) The commodification of the 2:1 will result in a shift in attitudes towards MA/Sc's, which will devalue the 2:1 further in the job market and result in further inequality of opportunity for those who can afford to pay for an MA/Sc to improve their job prospects, and those who can't.

Following on from the previous argument, over the next few years, jobs that used to require a BA/Sc as standard will, in an effort to sift through the reams of CVs that land on their desks, search desperately for qualities that put some candidates head and shoulders above the others. Inevitably, often those with a MA/Sc will emerge as the stronger applicants. This is a dangerous development. With the increasing tendency for students to study for a MA, not as a result of any genuine desire to further their knowledge or to become part of the Academic institution, but simply as a means of delaying entering the job market in troubled times, this will fairly straightforwardly result in 'two tiers' of graduate

“The average course fees for a one-year postgraduate programme is about £3,000 for students from the EEA (European Economic Area).
Non-EEA students pay on average about £7,000 for an arts subject or £8,000 for a science subject. Clinical studies and MBAs can be about double these amounts.
Living costs for an academic year are about £6,000 (more in London).” (source: )

With only limited scholarships/funding available and no tuition fee loans to cover the costs of studying, it is fairly obvious that MA's will be prohibitively expensive to the vast, VAST majority of those who don't have private funding to cover the cost of their programme. So, we will have:

+an increasing number of upper middle class students who have studied for a Masters because they can, to avoid entering the job market, etc.
+ so, an increasing number of candidates for graduate jobs with Masters qualifications.
+ therefore, jobs will go to middle class graduates who have been able to afford to study for a Postgraduate qualification in order to make themselves more employable, devaluing the Bachelors even further.

-With £20k+ of debt incurred just from studying for your Bachelors, how will you ever afford to study for an MA necessary to get a good job and actually pay it off? What a faulty product we're being provided with, huh?

4)“It's okay to charge tuition fees, because if you don't end up earning over the £21,000/pa threshhold, then you won't have to pay it back anyway.”

This is often presented as a justification for the fees and their potential impact on those from lower income brackets – often by those, one could wryly note, who would not feel comfortable taking on the millstone of thousands of pounds worth of debt with the expectation that they would never in fact be able to pay it off.

It is somewhat disturbing that we are actually telling poorer students not to worry about the debt they're taking on because when they fail to become a high earner, they won't have to pay it back anyway. Is it already a given that their degree will be worth less than £21,000 p/a to them – where for others, it entitles them to £50k+? Furthermore, when they do break through that £21k threshold, their debt of £20k+ must still be paid off in its entireity, regardless of whether they earn £21k/pa or £120k/pa. And it is also worth noting that many students from higher income backgrounds have access to Bank of Mum and Dad funding which allows them to avoid incurring tuition fee debt in the first place ANYWAY. However you slice it, that £20k+ of student debt is vastly greater for some than for others, and encouraging students to avoid paying it back by not breaking through the earning threshold is teeth-curlingly regressive – evocative of Victorian attitudes towards accepting one's lot in life. The rich man at his castle, the poor man at his gate - lower your sights, those from lower income brackets, and lower your expectations accordingly, then you can the shadow cast by debt mountain.

5)The infantilisation of the next generation.

“Coming of age is a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood.” (source: )

“The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood as it is conceptualized (and recognized or declared) in law. It is the chronological moment when a minor ceases to legally be considered a child and assumes control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over and for them.” (source:

In the United Kingdom, our age of majority is 18. This is the age at which, in the eyes of the law, the state and our culture, we cease to be children and become adults.

Media coverage of the recent spate of student protests and occupations has, for the most part, described 'agitators' as 'children' – despite the fact that the paradigmatic construction of the 'student' to which they refer is unabashedly 18 and therefore, indupitably adult.
Yet perhaps this is not such a misnomer.

Our Universities are filled with 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 year olds with no/limited experience of the workforce who have never been financially self sufficient and who are, in all fairness, forced by the system to rely on funding from parents or similar. Our society so often defines the worth of the individual on the basis of their financial position; there is a strange shame in grown adults being financially dependent on others. But this is unavoidable – particularly in the case of those from upper level income brackets, who are given less money (smaller loans, no bursaries) precisely because their parents income has been assessed as being sufficient to cover a parental contribution throughout their period of study. Why has this situation arisen – one in which adults who are uniformly 18 or older are still considered to be the financial responsibility of their parents, and as such put in a situation in which they are forced to be so? If you don't qualify for income assessed bursaries, you HAVE to rely on parental contributions to fund your cost of living throughout your studies (or get a job to fund yourself. Working throughout University impacts on the time you can spend studying; it is prohibitive when it comes to taking on extra-curricular activities - the ones which will really get you that job, remember?- and it automatically makes your life infinitely more difficult, and hence reduces the chances of getting a good degree, than someone who doesn't have to work.)

It is not in anybodies interests for universities to produce a strange hybrid of intellectual naivite; Man-children and Girl-Women whose vested interests diverge wildly from those of the rest of society. A generation of infantilised adults, with little in common with other people of a similar age who have not attended a University education,a sense of entitlement and limited real world experience is detrimental to the whole of society.

Tuition fees propogate this system by creating the degree as product, a 'finishing school for the middle classes', where people pay for the 'student experience' and expect mum and dad to foot the bill, where possible. Grown adults are forced to rely, for their cost of living, on other grown adults. It is not a nice thing, for an adult to be utterly dependent on another individual. It is not fair for parents, who want the best for their offspring, to be forced into continuing to fund their lives long into adulthood in order that they are in a position to compete with others from different social backgrounds. It seems that a total reworking of the HE system is ultimately needed to encourage the shift in culture which would be beneficial to all. A living wage for students coupled with the abolition of tuition fees would help to model a system in which studying for a degree is viewed as an academic occupation, be it the first step onto the ladder of academia or a period of intellectual growth and enlightenment, rather than merely a few years joshing around and a route into gainful employment.

These arguments are not the strongest or most powerful that can be made against tuition fees, and indeed (imho) are superceded by the biggest argument of all, which is the ideological one that Academia should not be sacrificed on the altar of market forces. However, they do go some way towards countering certain specific arguments put forward by some who argue that tuition fees provide a progressive model for our education system, and underestimate the detrimental affects they have on society.

Additionally, I think they highlight a number of hidden facets of the problem which have not, as yet, been subject to much attention. There are far more traps inherent in the process of commodification of education than are immediately obvious – some of these will prove to be hidden oubliettes, unnoticed and until they are too deeply entrenched in our culture and system to be challenged. (Sometimes, when I look at the direction in which our country is headed, it terrifies me.)

We are being asked, in some senses, to consider our degrees to be a product, and to evaluate them on the basis of their success in this framework – key criteria, the 'student experience', and how our chances of gainful employment are impacted. Even on the basis of such criteria, we are being sold a product that is not fit for purpose.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If another and later species should ever come to reconstruct the human being from the evidence of our sentimental writings they will conclude man to have been a heart with testicles; that is, passionate, and male. - Georg C. Lichtenberg

Saturday, November 13, 2010

oh Vintage, up yours.

(or, how I learned to stop worrying and love domestic bondage)

So, like many of my peers and contemporaries, at some point in the none-too-distant past, I really got into “vintage” style. Not just vintage as in, genuinely old clothing, “retro” antique furniture and 1950's music and hairstyles – but “vintage”, as it has come to mean. Now covering a vast variety of eccentric, quirky but undeniably contemporary products such as quirky rose scented soaps, modern clothing with a 20s/30s/40s influence, adorable cupcakes, cakestands, teapots, tights with seams, red lipstick, big full skirts that circle around your legs like brash petals around a fragile stem – all of these things are now covered by the umbrella term “vintage”, which now, if we are honest, is often used to refer to a current fashion trend rather than a genuinely charming anachronism.

I am going to avoid making any sweeping judgements as I write down my thoughts here because, apart from anything else, I am very aware that I would be condemning myself – and indeed, would be in great danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater as well; aside from the fact that aesthetically I find something very pleasing about the “vintage” look, I also think there is an argument to be made in favour of the ethics of re-buying and re-wearing old clothes, jewelry and knick-knacks. In our society of Primark and, we have created a culture based on the conspicuous consumption of whatever current trends the Fashion industry shovels into our bloated cuckoo mouths. There is something curiously satisfying about buying a dress made 30, 40 or even 50 years ago that has already been out dancing many times, and yet has kept it's youth and beauty, if anything growing better with age. Admiring the stitching on an old, full skirted red dress I own I am struck by the genuine quality of the garment – it sounds trite but, clothes just aren't made like that any more. Mostly because now they're often made in sweatshops by children in developing countries overseen by companies who value increased output over stringent standards, cutting corners over fine craftwork, and indeed, companies in whose interest it is for clothes to wear out quickly – after all, they're so cheap we will just go and buy new ones anyway.

Yet when I look at my wardrobe and the various vintage styled garments held therein, I am struck by the fact that not all of them (by a long stretch) are genuinely vintage, secondhand, or even boutique made. Some of them are of course; yet others are from H&M, Topshop, Juice – the usual culprits, even some from (dare I say it) Primark. Clearly, the 'ethical' facet is merely masquerading as justification. So it is obviously something beyond this concern which attracts me to this style, so quaint and pretty, elegent, sophisticated. So feminine...

And this, I think, is at the heart of it. A month or so ago, I found myself spending a rather ridiculous amount of money (I am too embaressed to admit how much) on a matching cakestand and toast rack. When I get paid, I will probably go back and buy the tea pot. They are red with white polka dots and they are all adorable. Similarly, like so many girls, I love baking – I love cooking, actually; I don't even mind giving the house a good vacuum, I find it very therapeutic. But, I have noticed, over the last year or so, because I have started paying attention to such things, that there is a curious tendency ( even – perhaps, especially? Amongst intelligent, independent women – worryingly, in my eyes) to fetishise behaviour that is considered to be traditionally feminine. Suddenly, the same women who fought to be allowed to wear trousers are eschewing them in favour of skirts more reminiscent of Gaultier's 40s 'New Look” than power dressing. Suddenly, we all seem to want to convey the image, at least, of a construction of femininity that is very much of another age. Ballet lessons are popular. We take up hobbies like cakemaking, or burlesque for the more risque of us ( – yet still, somehow, snobbishly considered acceptable whilst stripping is exploitative – have you ever tried to poledance? It's really hard, and requires considerably more general skill than wearing seamed stockings and thinking you're Dita Von Teese … sorry, tangent; I don't have a problem with Dita et al at all, but it annoys me when the same people who think she is “just divine” will go on to make sniffy remarks about page 3 models.) Suddenly, I am aspiring to a fantasy of womanhood based around a kitchen, darling little biscuits, a nipped in waist and gentle little footsteps on the stairs just – like – so. And I am not sure that I feel ok with this. Because as much as I would like to be able to distance these sweet little stylistic touches from what they represent, from whence they sprung, the fact of the matter is I spend a lot of my time trying to look like a woman from an era in which we were regarded in the eyes of society as being fundementally less capable than our male counterparts of fulfilling

Yet now, suddenly, because we're far away enough to have donned rose tinted spectacles, we celebrate as 'kitsch' this era of restrictive social stereotypes, no contraceptive pill and few options for many women other than to stay in the kitchen cooking all day – not cupcakes, either. This was a time when many women felt so restricted by their lack of choices that they stayed in loveless marriages for years, they drank and numbed their pain with valium, or simply lived dutiful lives in quiet, humble despair. People who really should no better talk fondly of a time in which men were “real men” and women “real women” - as if, today, our gender identities have collapsed into some kind of indiscernible grey mulch, so fragmented and uncertain of ourselves as we all must be without glaring uniform signifiers to reassure society that we are conforming to its ideals. “Real” men, “Real” women – fictional representations held up as being the standard all of us living, breathing creatures of flesh and credit should aspire to. “Don't worry, I am a woman, I have a flower in my hair and a tiny nipped in little waist. And you, you must be a man – so big, so strong. When you hold me in your arms, I feel so fragile, like glass, I could snap in half.. Carry on as we were.”

I am not by any means making any sweeping generalisations here. But I do think this is something that we should perhaps examine a little further, or at least be more aware of. At the end of the day, I can't say that I will stop dressing the way I do, because I like it – but I feel that I should be honest about my misgivings. The best possible spin I can find to put on it is that there is something subversive about it; that we are “reclaiming the domestic sphere”, but really, how the fuck is that a good thing? We fought for years to escape the rigid confines of four walls, two-point-four children, school runs, daytime tv, quiet desperation. The bars our mothers railed against, we have painted a darling shade of red with white polka dots, pronounced desirable. We have made “Housewife” the ideal again, by playing house. And this sits uncomfortably with me, a quiet tugging sensation somewhere in my bosom, and will do so every time I stroke the crinoline-and-lace fabric of dresses from all yesterday's parties. Because I think, maybe, we need to be a little more careful when idealising a past that's not so distant as it may first seem.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Philosophy is a vile and grotesque subject for madmen and drunks; I would not wish a philosophy degree on anyone whose sanity I valued the least little bit (unless madness were an improvement to them)... It is not for the poets.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bonjour Tristesse.

"I'd like to warn him, but he wouldn't understand - that I can't feel anything that he might be interested in, because I'm surrounded by a wall; an invisible wall of memories I can't lose."

I adore this.
Rupert Murdoch's reign of evil continues..

"This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? , ” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer no.
The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters. You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing, but you will never be merely “pretty.”" - Katie Makkai

We are all alone, born alone, die alone and in spite of true romance we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely at least, not all the time but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness. - Hunter S. Thompson

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In this time of economic crisis, social disintegration and the omnipresent threat of 'terror' it's good to know that the Beeb are focusing their energies on the important questions...

Link to: "How is Keith Richards still alive?"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

..Isn't it funny how sometimes you can feel so compelled to let yourself spill across the page in black and white, but other times, when you really want to write, you just can't find the..

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Diet Coke Break

Diet Coke adverts featuring dolls like the one above have been around for a good few months now - the campaign started with a print advert featuring, (quoted from here "three talented, confident and sassy girls who are best friends that work together at a fashion magazine, Eleanor, Bernadette and Irene. Their lighter attitude to life means they inject their own passion, style and spirit into everything they do, and always come out smiling. These girls know how to lighten up!"

Quite apart from Diet Coke's mildly confusing insistence on referring to characters who are (apparently) 28, 24 & 26 respectively (roll your mouse over the pictures on this site to meet them!) as "girls", what is really perplexing about this particular ad campaign is that it seems to be marketing a product to grown women via the medium of small dolls. We all know that advertising is no longer really about selling a product, but selling an idea - by telling an audience that they too can look like a supermodel, become irresistible to the opposite sex, or find some kind of sense of happiness and fulfilment should they only care to buy the right car, make-up or perfume. But so far as I can tell, this advertising campaign seems to be holding up what are essentially 21st century Bratz dolls as aspirational figures to women in the 20-30 age bracket. Are we really that desperate to be infantilized? (actually, looking at some of the comments on this blog apparently some of us are - although personally I find something a little unnerving about grown women saying things like, "I WANT A DOLLY!!!"[caps in context])

Quote from the website:

"Bernardette is 28 and is the magazine's relationship correspondent. This is quite an ironic position, as when it comes to her own relationships she's pretty rubbish - there are too many boys out there to flirt with!"

"Irene is 24. She's the junior arts columnist. Her love of music and all things dance means she hits the town most nights and has many a tale to tell about her adventures out and about. She loves all kinds of music - but particularly anything she can dance to."

"Eleanor is 26-years-old. She is the magazine's fashion sub-editor. She lives, breathes eats and, well, wears fashion. She knows everything there is to know about it - every designer, every brand, every store, what's hot, what's about to be hot, and if it's not, merchandise it up a little until it is."

I can only guess at what "merchandise it up a little" is supposed to mean, but I find it fascinating and vaguely horrifying that Diet Coke is running a campaign aimed at grown women that assumes that the same thing will appeal to them now as it did 20 years ago when they were playing with their Barbie dolls. Hopefully a few of us have moved on since then - perhaps some of us might actually be working at magazines like the fictional one in these advertisements, although I'd imagine there is less time for jumping around dancing on desks to the song from Flashdance. And hopefully we have diversified our interests a little outside of boys, dance music and clothes.

There is a degree of mimesis involved in being a consumer. The representations of ourselves we see in adverts both shape and are shaped by our wants and desires. Cases of women trying to achieve the unrealistic physical proportions presented in adverts like this one are, unfortunately, commonplace. In a consumer society, our bodies have become, to some degree, commercial spaces. No longer are we expected to want to look like women who look like dolls, the middle (wo)man has been removed entirely. Things have come full circle and, at 25, we're little girls again - expected to be playing at having jobs, playing at having careers, and apparently, buying soft drinks thanks to slogans like "No problem is too big when you have killer heels!", or "It gives you a little lift... like platforms!"

Of course, the overt gender-oriented advertising by Coca-Cola was boosted into hyper-drive following the launch of Coke Zero - exactly the same product as Diet Coke but in a Black Bottle for Boyz, accompanied by EXTREME adverts about skiing and loud noises and smashing stuff up and kicking ass and stuff, you know, boy junk like that. AWESOME. Is there something morally wrong about marketing the same product as two separate products, solely defined by gender stereotypes? Personally, although I know some people would argue that advertisers are merely catering to a market, I don't think the relationship between consumer audience and advertiser is a one way street, in which adverts are shaped by consumers who dictate how their attention should be captured. Adverts don't just cater to target markets, they create and shape them. Evidently it is in someone's interest for boys to be boys and girls to be girls... my question is, do we really want to define our gender identities to suit the profit projections of Schweppes?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BBC article about the hysterical enthusiasm of new mothers for a 'miracle cream' that allegedly gets rid of post pregnancy 'mummy tummy'

Isn't it funny how people are still prepared to spend lots of money on lotions and potions make their insecurities vanish away? It reminds me of fairy stories; swap a sack of gold coins for a magic spell and your problems will just disappear! It's almost as though, in today's world, the magician and the witch realised that if they teamed up and started casting spells that made everyones noses seem bigger, breasts seem smaller, bottom seem fatter, stomach seem lumpier and face seem uglier then they would be able to collect far more gold coins from humble woodcutter's wives desperate to look like the princess in the tower!

There isn't a set prototype we're all suppposed to match. If you've had a baby growin inside your tummy, chances are it's not going to snap back with the tautness of an elastic band afterwards. And if you want it to, I'd imagine that for most people it takes work and maybe tummy tuck operations - not a magic ointment in a jar. Bodies change after pregnancy. They change naturally as we age. Your body will not look the same as it does now in twenty years time. If you want it to, perhaps you best find yourself a nice tower and go to sleep for a hundred years, because living, loving, and having children WILL change your body and personally, I think that's ok.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Join the Dots.

....people keep surprising me by coming out in favour of increased tuition friend, teaching in an inner city London school, is struggling to find a way to make Economics interesting to teenage pupils. One threw a chair at her........all around me, intelligent students with 2:1 degree classifications struggle to find jobs....... All around me, everybody struggles to find jobs (except for contract work - no pensions, no rights) ..........all of the supermarkets are 24 hour, now...... In the last few months, two (educated) people have told me separately that they think we should consider Victorian Workhouses as a solution to the benefits problem...... In the last week, I have heard Dickens quote on debt repeated in two (separate) places .......No more quangos, privatised public services ........Small waistbands and long full skirts are in again...... Sometimes, I think in twenty years we will look back and wonder how we lost so much.
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Friday, October 08, 2010

Light Night at the Hyde Park Picture House

Tonight was Light Night in Leeds; the less said about that the better - although I must confess to being frankly mystified as to how my friends and I managed to completely fail at having a fun night, despite the presence of such mischievous fun as vintage tea parties and cardboard gramophones, Victorian Ghost Tours and a room filled with origami. (I can only assume we must be dead inside.)

However, despite our curious failure to glean a semi-fun evening from a scenario that seemed to provide bountiful joy to others, I did manage to pop along to the Light Night event at the Hyde Park Picture House. Thankfully, this turned out to be a little more forthcoming, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I retired in my plush red velvet cinema seat, armed with complementary tea and sticky ginger cake, safe in the knowledge that I have not yet been rendered incapable of finding fun on a Friday night.

Showing this evening were the four films shortlisted for the Jarman Award (if you're unfamiliar, Dazed and Confused do a nice run down here)and they certainly provided food for thought on a ....

1) First up is the excellently/ridiculously named Spartacus Chetwynd's A Walk to Dover, which is apparently based on a similar pilgrimage made by Dickens' David Copperfield. It's a satisfyingly sideways montage of clips froma trip made by Spartacus and 3 friends, with lots of sped up footage of them doing silly things in fields wearing big hats, and an old woman reading (what I assume to be) sections from the Dickens novel over the top in a distinctively old womany way. On the slightly more serious side, there are some pleasing contrasts between the urban and rural scenery, and there's also a message buried somewhere not-too-deep about poverty and the uncomfortable parallels between the issues of poverty in both our own and Dickens society. In one of life's more ominous coincidences, near the beginning of the film (which was made a few years ago, 2005 I believe) the following quote from a Dickens character was used:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

The reason why this caught my attention was because I had in fact read the same quote earlier this week, in a Guardian magazine article on Osbourne's ever-present looming cuts. It cannot be denied that the story of Dickens upbringing, and his experience of the shame of seeing his lower middle class family condemned to the debtors prison due to father's unwise spending habits, strikes a none-too-pleasant chord given the current economic situation (a none-too-pleasant chord, incidentally, that contrasted wonderfully with partchimp's rather pleasant discordant soundtrack, which erupts unexpectedly out of the silence of the film's opening).

Or maybe it can, but either way, this film is good irreverent fun.

2)Middle Sea by Zineb Sedira. Lots of shots of a man walking around or standing still (mostly standing still) on a boat. Some genuinely awe inspiring footage of waves shot from a moving boat, but other than that I struggled to find anything that struck resonance with this one. Not my cup of tea, sorry. (There are some nice thoughtful photographic shots of desolate places on his website, though.)

3) Ben Rivers' contribution is entitled A World Rattled of Habit. He describes it simply as "A day trip to Suffolk, to see my friend Ben and his dad Oleg..." It's a strange little film, with a dry sense of humour that I think would probably get lost in translation on a mainstream audience, but I don't think he's trying to appeal to the mainstream so that's ok. It's essentially a short film about a pretty fascinating old character; the kind of man who, when people hear about him and his latest escapade or bold pronouncement, people must just surely chuckle to themselves in a bemused fashion. You can imagine phrases like "He's one on his own, that one", or "nothing would surprise me", passing peoples lips on a regular basis, and exasperated daughters-in-law (or similar) throwing their hands up in the air in defeat over his refusal to conform to the laws of the household when he comes to visit. He's certainly an interesting old bloke with some pearls of wisdom to impart. What makes it work is the obvious affection the film maker has for the old man, which really comes through in the work and gives the whole piece a rather warming effect, despite a few unnerving shots (jerky footage of man smiling, eerily holding old painting of a girl, close ups of Oleg eating etc) which I suspect were thrown in there to satisfy the darker elements of the director's sense of humour. Generally nice.

4) Emily Wardill's The Diamond (Descartes Daughter)is a strange, jerky, mechanised, amusing little piece consisting primarily of shots of an imagined scene from a film that the narrator, having unsuccessfully attempted to track it down, has decided to recreate herself. What really makes this film is the story and ideas conveyed by the running monologue, delivered in a almost mechanical Swedish accent and toying with Marcusian ideas about the distance the machine puts between human and action. It is artfully constructed and self referential, with the mechanical voice occasionally experiencing glitches and blips, and with a good measure of stoic humour thrown in the mix too. I liked the fact that, beneath the mechanical quality, there was actually a great deal of emotion running somewhere close to the surface - present but obscured, rather like our own plight in a world of distant internet communication. It was a strange little film, and not a great deal actually happened, but it worked because it engaged you and not only asked questions but led you to formulate your own. Basically, no complaints here.This was probably my favourite of all the films shown, and apparently it won, so there we go.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Link to the Guardian website - a gallery of images from a collection selected by Sarah Maple, which will be auctioned with the aim of raising money for the all day Feminism in London event on the 23rd.

This contribution, by Chila Burman, is probably my favourite because I think it works better on an artistic level than most of the other pieces I've seen so far. It's bright and fierce and cool and strong, and there is so much going on in it if you look closely -I love art that you can stare at for ages and still find new things you didn't notice at first (did you notice the swastikas?). I also really like the fact that she's dealing with facts such as the problems raised by Capitalism and Globalisation; at the end of the day, I think that oppression comes in multiple forms but often arises from the same hegemony of entrenched values and if we want to fight inequality it's important to be aware of how pervasive it is in our society! But apart from all that, I think I just like this image the most because it's so joyful - bright colours make me happy :-)

Chila Burman on her own work, taken from her website:

"Challenging stereotypical assumptions of Asian women, my work is informed by popular culture, Bollywood, fashion, found objects, the politics of femininity the celebration of feminity; self-portraiture exploring the production of my own sexuality and dynamism; the relationship between popular culture and high art; gender and identity politics."

On another note, although it may lack the colourful joy of the previous work, David Rusbatch's contribution certainly gets the point across:

(Kate Nash's piece, dealing with the treatment of women in the music industry, is also worth a look, and very endearing.)

[syndicated here:]

Friday, October 01, 2010

Oh, and we also care deeply about Britain's undergraduate Quantative Surveyors - so much so that one we met this evening is asleep on the sofa downstairs. We hope he does not steal tvs or smash fine china.
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I want to found a small self sufficient, style conscious enclave existing entirely within the bounds of my own bedroom. We have a stout yale lock at the door, and there is a small split level hallway which could easily be fashioned into some kind of moat. I have an ornamental fireplace, lots of DVDs, a reproduction banksy on the wall and a large selection of vintage clothing and a set of gel pens in most colours including pastel, glitter and metallic varieties. If you want to come join us, we are non-partisan and we are mostly one person so please get in contact:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I hope that in this latest round of flogging that public sector workers receive at the hands of the media, people remember that the vast majority of those in the sector earn far less than their private sector counterparts. Furthermore, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with GPs earning in excess of £100,000 a year, and I don't think most other people do either. I DO have a problem with management consultants in the NHS being paid six figure salaries while there are nurses who have to work second jobs to get by. Personally I think that publishing a list like this is intentionally inflammatory and i wonder about the motivations of those behind it; harping on about 'gold plated pensions' and flogging the public sector whipping boy completely detracts from the real problem which is that across the board those at the top of the pyramid are being paid gluttonous amounts that are not only many times the wages of those at the bottom, but also those in the middle. (with the drip-drip stealth transformation of public sector agencies such as the CSA into 'third sector' operations, it's not like pension funds and employee rights will be safe for much longer anyway) And to focus on this inequality in the public sector, which is frankly a pittance in comparison to obscene private sector salaries, is frankly ridiculous. But then, one of the downsides of trying to sustain the public sector in a world in which corporations are becoming ever more powerful is that problems like this will always arise. So long as we have this weird sort of hybrid system, the BBC are trying to compete with commercial interests and Private hospitals can offer Drs far more ample wages and the state school system will not improve because many of those with the power to make it better don't REALLY care all that much because they can put their own kids through private school. The problem with trying to run these two sectors alongside one another is that the profit driven private sector will eventually leech all of the money out of the public sector until it's drained dry. Capitalism is based on competition; I agree that the public sector can't compete with the private in terms of wages and in fact it shouldn't be trying to. If we don't want our ailing public services to reach a point where the only option is to dismantle it and privatise it piece by piece then I suggest we need to sit down and have a good hard think about what we want from them, because the current model obviously isn't working. But for gods sake lay the blame where it belongs.

And on that note, I'm not entirely sure why the above article divulges that "Some people earn more than the Prime Minister", as though I should be expected to turn purple and fall off my chair in shock, sputtering, until I have been calmed down with suitably soothing words and a cup of hot, sweet, tea. It doesn't surprise or bother me because a) If Cameron decides it's not too crass, he can always follow in Blair's footsteps and make his money on the lecture circuit. b) It's not like he needs it. c) Why should politicians be paid obscenely high wages anyway? It's not a 'career', or at least it shouldn't be. It's a stressful and important job of course, but Cameron's six figure salary seems plenty ample. Some guy on the radio the other day made the comment that we shouldn't pay our politicians crazy amounts of money because it attracts the wrong sort of person, and I rather feel he may be right.

And finally; reading the reaction to Cable's 'marxist' utterances the other day (what is that all about anyway, are we in 50s America? "Sacrilege, he has dared speak ill of the money god! What a commie, go back to Russia!") I was struck by something which has hit me on occasion before; like a ton of bricks, it floors me. Some guy, who I will name and quote directly when I'm at a pc and not writing this on my phone, who I think was the director of CBS, made some sarky remark along the lines of "Well, if he thinks Capitalism isn't working so well then I'd like to see him suggest something that works better", and I remembered, once again, that the minds of the public have been colonised to such a degree that they actually believe this rubbish about there being no other alternative - "We have to accept the flaws of this system and all of its injustices because there is no other option", "Capitalism is the law of the jungle", "This state of affairs is a natural product of human nature." Orwell hit the nail on the head; repeat a lie enough times and people will think it true. The form of late capitalism we operate under now is just as engineered as the towers it built, as the urban landscapes that spiral out, fractal like, across the ground you see getting smaller and smaller as you fly into oblivion in the plane, glass and metal forged by men, by machines forged by men, always one step further away from blood and sweat and tears. We disregarded the idea of a creator God around the time we took to stroking the sky with our cold steel fingers, grew the lillies of the silicon valley, imagined new spaces of freedom and tried to conquer those as well. We made this world with our own hands. Take some fucking responsibility.

That's pretty bilious, sorry. Politics frustrate me.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

I just had the eerie experience of driving past a Lidl shop in the proximity of a motorway entrance near Wallasey which looked almost identical to one I visited once in Germany. Isn't it so strange, that the way we live now means that some places can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time?
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Little brother, big chair

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Last night a friend and I went to a screening of The End of the Affair (1955) in St Lukes church in Liverpool. The choice of film, with it's portrait of Catholic guilt against a backdrop of war torn London, was echoed by the setting - St Lukes is also known as 'The Bombed Out Church', a casualty of 1941. At times Deborah Kerr's onscreen urban world of strange new London streets, hewn from rubble and shadows, seemed to segue into our own; I half expected her to wander out from behind an overgrown pillar, to prostrate herself in front of the overgrown altar, unused for decades. When humans make rain fall from the heavens, we do not nourish or bring life - it doesn't nurture, it kills. But then, even though the church is no longer used for religious ceremony, I would like to think that some of the things that happen there now could be perceived as a new kind of worship - people coming together to make music and to celebrate life, rather than a preoccupation with ritual, an infatuation with death. The sunflowers that stood around the old walls were like cheerful sentries. It made a beautiful frame for the black&white world of the film, which was all clipped English accents (why does nobody talk like that any more! 'oh darlink - i think - i must punctuate - every three words - with a pause - and remain curiously atonal - even when declaring love.') and burning eyes and understated emotion. And the clothes....

The Bombed out Church is one of my favourite places in Liverpool. For many years it was a half-shell of a place; sometimes, as kids, we would run around the outside and jump up on tiptoes to try to peer through the gaps where there used to be windows. In 2007, a group known as the Urban Strawberry Lunch collective became artists in residence and since then the half-building has been given a new life, with all sorts of things going on - urban gardening, lots of film showings, and musical events happen on a regular basis. If you're local, I suggest checking them out.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I would like to make it known that although I find David to be the undeniably more attractive of the two Milliband brothers, I nevertheless find myself far more amenable to the policies of his rather earnest brother, Ed. Despite his burning eyes and strong jawline, I find David a little too 'New Labour', whereas Ed's stances on the unions, living wages and gender equality generally don't make me a little bit sick in the back of my mouth. And when it comes to politicians that's a very good thing.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

So I am currently sat on a terrace waiting for one of my childhood friends to get married (which is obviously blogworthy in and of itself, but not really something I feel I can do justice to on a tiny phone keyboard). I got here with a few hours to spare, entirely thanks to a total stranger who saw me walking by the side of the road, blissfully unaware that I would soon be walking down a busy a road with no pavement. This utterly unprovoked act of general niceness got me thinking about the usual thoughts these sorts of ocurrances provoke, such as if-only-we-were-all-a-bit-more-trusting and also there-are-still-some-nice-people-after-all. Then I found myself thinking about other similar occasions when galvanised either by youth or stupidity (providing you don't consider the two terms to be synonymous anyhow) I dared to throw off the bounds of social convention and trust a total stranger.

The two events which spring to mind illustrate the breadth of the spectrum; the first being an occasion when a friend and I flew to Germany with the intention of spending the night in Frankfurt Hahn airport (note to reader: don't ever intend to do this, it is a bad idea) and got chatting to the guy who had sat behind us on the plane. We ended up crashing at his lovely flat (sorry mum) and avoiding a scrotty three hour coach journey in favour of a ride down dark fast German roads in his lovely, air conditioned car. Nice bloke, and we're still in touch with him now, sort of (as much as facebook friendship counts as being in touch these days). So that was one situation in which a fairly stupid risk actually turned out to be a good idea.

The other occasion that I thought of was less of a laudatory anecdote on the inheret goodwill in all man; when I was 14, I was in New York visiting family and some guy thought I was a teenage runaway and tried to recruit me into his prostitute ring, or whatever the technical terms. I scuppered his nefarious plans by completely failing to understand what he was asking, and then spotting my mum and running back to her after a cheerful "It was nice to meet you!" and a wave.

So either way, basically the score is 2 - random acts of kindness make for a beautiful world, 1 - white slave trade recruiters in dodgy NY parks. Those odds will do for now I suppose
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Friday, September 03, 2010

#hintikka "This possibility of using language as its own metalanguage explains how speakers can recycle signifieds for their personal needs without loss of communication, provided the new meaning and universe of discourse are properly defined."

So when I say tomato and you say tomato, we're really describing two different but similar objects, because fortunately we're part of an English-speaker-wide agreement to use the word as an umbrella term for all things which conform to a certain group of characteristics. Does this mean language is always a compromise - we are always trying (necessarily, unsuccessfully) to convey a sense of our own internal experience to another being who will only ever be able to experience a passable at best simulation of it?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pitchfork Reviews Reviews Review

ok so I was surfing the internet before as I so often do and I stumbled upon this website ( which confused me briefly as I was familiar with but also not really familiar enough to grasp the subtleties of the situation, but then I read some more and so now basically the subtleties of the situation are: there is a guy called David, and there is a website called Pitchfork, which has been reviewing records since I don't know when but probably early to mid nineties, and everyday Pitchfork reviews 5 new musical albums and then David reads their reviews, and then reviews these reviews and posts these review reviews on his website which is called (this is a link to an article with more background if you're interested)

anyway I couldn't resist the opportunity to write a review of a review review so that is what I am trying to do, and i'm not using many capital letters or punctuation marks and typing in neat little blocks of semi-stream of consciousness style monologues, which is basically what he does so far as I can tell, although I think I'm relying on commas too much whereas his preferred technique seems to be to sneak in a question mark to break up the rambling run-on sentences and engage the reader like this, you know? i guess this is probably because he apparently writes his reviews on his blackberry jotting down thoughts as he has them, which gives the actually quite nice feeling that we're somehow privvy to someone's internal monologue

he's got that Chuck Palahniuk first person narrative thing going on, which is making me think as I'm reading it that it's really funny how writing in a non-conventional style can manipulate the way your readers see you as being, like, the way this guy writes at first makes him come across as a little bit dim but in a way that makes it quite obvious he's really pretty smart, you know? kind of a bit ditzy and naive, which is probably how he gets away with actually being quite mean on occasions, but whatever it works because he basically comes across as a razor sharp wit masquerading as a bit of a clueless dolt but in such a way as serves only to accentuate the fact that he clearly isn't a clueless dolt, which is a pretty good trick if you think about it

anyway the whole stream of consciousness/bitesize paragraphs of thought thing is cute and it means that he can spice up his blog posts by talking about other things that his train of thought carries him on to, while still under the vague umbrella heading of whatever he's talking about, which is stylistically nice, don't you think? and also adds to what i think is the most appealing thing about his blog, namely the fact that even though he's clearly addressing the vast and varied audience pool that the internet comprises of he somehow gives a sense of intimacy that is, well, kinda refreshing and closes the gap between the person on the keyboard and the person hiding somewhere on the other side of the screen so kudos to him for that

i'm sitting here staring at the screen trying to write something about this guy in the same way this guy would write it and i feel like it should be making me dizzy, like when you stand in between two mirrors in a lift and you can only see yourself stretching out and out forever but i guess this is actually the total opposite of that anyway, because there isn't an infinite chain of anybody, just a lot of reflections of nothing there in the first place, and i get the feeling that this guy is aware of the ironies of his own situation and yeah probably also of a lot of things which are going on online, fun quote:

"tonight i am DJing a party to celebrate the opening of this new communal workspace for internet startups in Williamsburg, and also to celebrate a new internet social media recommendation and interaction mechanism that is somehow connected with twitter, i am not sure i fully understand it. i wonder how many hours it would take to explain it to my grandma. maybe that could be like the new metric for measuring how conceptual/meta/post-modern whatever you’re doing is, for example like “yeah i’m writing this cloud-based internet application that is actually both a monetarily incentivized game and a social media tool and it also has a wiki-style user-updated database. as it stands i’m at 3 grandma-hours but if i integrate it with foursquare that’s gonna be another grandma-hour”" (quoted frm here)

anyway I guess I should probably actually get round to reviewing one of the pitchfork review reviews so here goes:

my review of the pitchfork review review (click here for the original review review)

1. so the review starts out talking about the pitchfork reviewer who wrote the original review which shows an impressive knowledge of his source material which is frankly lost on me as i am a casual (at best) reader of pitchfork, but luckily this isn't a problem as he quickly finds a tangent to explore. this tangent is about how sometimes when you're reading something you find yourself writing or thinking in the same style, which is funny because i was just thinking about this before whilst writing this post because while reading his blog i felt like David had probably read a lot of Palahniuk or Coupland or maybe deLillo or somebody like that, you know? except for all the 'you know' stuff which seems to be channelling the ghost of perezhilton's credibility, altho it does make for nice flavouring particles so on the whole I'm going to give this first part of his review review a 7.8/10.

this is because i like the fact that he not only uses his starting off point to start talking about some other stuff and write about some interesting thoughts that don't really have anything to do with what he was meant to be talking about, but he also crucially brings it all back together with a few well crafted and concise sentences which shine out like a beacon amongst his scatty, frayed paragraphs, and serve to show that none of his prose is irrelevant unless he chooses it to be. that's an impressive level of craftmanship

2. this is a review of a review about fairly uncomplicated dance music so far as i can gather, however rather than killing it this actually provides fuel for David to highlight the fact that a capable reviewer can, i guess, engage with the subject matter via different avenues when the most obvious ones seem to be blind alleys

he points out that
a lot of electronic music, especially music that Tom characterizes as “fun music, and it doesn’t have any big aim beyond that” is harder to write about than music with pointed lyrics and a clear mission, i guess, because it’s harder to extract concrete ideas to agree or disagree, beyond the idea that there are no bigger ideas, you know what i mean?
and i think that's actually a really penetrating observation, and i like that he illustrates his own point pretty well and i like that ideas can grow up around even shadows of thoughts, and i guess i would even be tempted to say that i'm glad i live in a time when we have the chance to see our minds spilled onscreen before us because when we're sitting there, looking at our thoughts in digital code onscreen we can play with them. so maybe it doesn't matter if there are no bigger ideas out there because we can make our own. 7.5/10

3. sometimes when you read an online blog, even just a few sentences of it, you feel like you have a sense of what the guy who sat their at the keyboard and hammered it out is like. generally this is something that i try and refrain from thinking because it's hard enough to get to know most people in real life even when they're trying to show you, and on the internet you aren't even getting the clues from a real face, but just how that person wants to show their face, you know what i mean? it's like me asking you to describe me when you've only ever seen me at a halloween party (and i don't mean one of those sexy halloween parties where nobody wears much of anything i mean when i was wearing a proper mask, maybe freddy krueger or one of the teenage mutant ninja turtles) so even though i can safely say i know absolutely nothing about this guy, having read a few of his reviews and spent an hour or so trying to write the way he writes i can honestly say that i think i like his mask. 8/10.

Friday, August 27, 2010

pre-Soviet Kitsch in pre-glorious Technicolour

This photo is one of a number taken between 1909 and 1912 that surfaced recently. It gave me a weird little kick in my tummy to see such photos in colour. I don't know why; maybe it's because we're so used to seeing the past pictured in black and white that we start to imagine it being that way? Whatever the reason, look at them if you have time because they are really cool. Do they make you feel funny too?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

We're all for sale these days..

So, yesterday the same topic was brought up (by someone other than myself) in two entirely different conversations with two entirely different people, which is always a good sign that it bears further scrutiny. Co-incidentally, it's also very relevant to a term paper I am (sort of, thinking about) writing at the moment.

The topic in question would be the alleged feminisation of male behaviour in contemporary western society. This is much lamented in many corners; the American media in the early to mid 2000s (as documented by Susan Faludi) displayed what can only be described as a hysterical need to reaffirm traditional gender roles in response to a sense of emasculated national identity, for obvious reasons. Male fashion in the late 2000s has been descried as overtly feminine in many corners – as a male friend of mine pointed out last night, it is now fairly common for boys to dress in “girlie” garments like cardigans and low necklines; to sport high maintenance haircuts that require straighteners and multiple hair products; and finally to indulge in cosmetic routines (3 step facial cleansing processes, fake tans and even waxes) traditionally considered to be firmly within the female domain.

The male friend I have just mentioned was the second incidence of the topic in one evening, as I explained previously. It was interesting to hear a male perspective on this, particularly one from my generation which came from a vantage point of intelligent interest rather than some kind of overt need to reassert a masculine identity against perceived threats. In a fit of that strange symmetry which pervades life more than we would care to admit, the first ocurrence was during conversation with the mother of another close friend – an insightful lady with a well rounded perception of, well, things in general, actually. She was lamenting the loss of “real men” - and the plethora of self serving, cowardly boy-men that seem to have taken over; the need for them to “man up.” Again, the perception of actual physical changes in the average male (less facial hair, bearing etc) was touched upon. That interests me actually, and when I have time (ie not now) I will look into whether there has been any studies into whether any of these assumptions are grounded in genuine physiological data – but anyway, regardless of whether they are or not, general consensus certainly seems to think so, and more and more these days I am leaning towards to the opinion that it's quite possibly the myths that drive reality in the direction it takes, rather than the other way round.

Anyhow, the jury is still out on that one, in my opinion anyway, but what I was mulling over before as I vacuumed carpet on each individual stair in my house earlier (my life is so rock and roll these days) was what qualities exactly is it that we see in the contemporary male that seem to us to be so inherently feminine that even when displayed by someone who is obviously a man, they still somehow signify womanliness. Of attributes typically described in this context – longer periods of time spent grooming, increased use of cosmetic products, increased time/money spent keeping up with fashion, greater emotional openness – only the latter, and even that arguably, I can see as being justifiably considered somehow intrinsically feminine, rather than merely the result of socialisation. When asked why wearing makeup is a girly thing to do, the only possible response I can think of is because it's just what girls do, which is an infinite regress with hardly a leg to stand on, I think. If we look to the animal world, we can hardly say that there is a general, massive gap between the time spent grooming by males and females of the same species. There is no biological reason (that I am aware of) why women should spend such a disproportionately large amount of time grooming – it is not as though there is a dearth of eligible male sexual partners about, such that women need to engage in extreme competition to attract a mate. So I would posit that perhaps it is not that men are becoming more “feminised”- but rather that in this instance, due to the complex and ongoing process of gender identity construction, there has been a “levelling out” of behaviours that were previously considered primarily characteristic of one or other gender.

Of course, the next place to take THAT particular assumption would be the fact that presumably at some point the pendulum might swing back in the other direction and your average woman-on-the-street might begin to spend the same amount of time getting ready to go out (ie quick shower, glance in the mirror and out the door) as has been typically ascribed to your average bloke in the past. But then on the other hand, I doubt that would happen – I think that maybe we can attribute this “feminisation” (or increased homogeneity in the behaviour of individuals of both genders) not to some kind of emasculating force in modern society, but rather to the all pervading influence of commercialism in western society. The body is becoming an increasingly commercial space – not only in such extreme and overt ways as expensive plastic surgery, but also in the wearing of designer clothes (acting as a living advert for designers who hardly need the publicity) and the propogation of the beauty ideals purported by the media as so many people strive to become an ideal that has no grounding in reality; that ultimate postmodern creature, the simulacra -a copy of a copy of a copy of which there is no original. I see these strange plastic creatures more and more, particularly those deeply embedded in cultures where rampant consumerism has taken a stronger hold, and they both amuse and perplex and sadden me, these little cartoon people, striving for two dimensions, wearing a mask to hide the fact that beneath it there is nothing. Anyway, I digress – my point is that maybe it's just that male identity has simply begun to succumb to the strong influence of money and the need to be a viable and appealing product a little later than his female counterpart. After all, the female body has been a commercial space for a very long time. Think of the oldest profession, of the dowry, and the dialectics of buyer/bought in a society where, for many hundreds of years, the majority of all wealth and property (and thus, capability to buy) was owned and controlled by one gender, while the other could, for the most part, only acquire rights to such things (and the power that accompanies them) by entering into an unequal partnership – or, by attaining worth only through the process of being bought.

Of course, now we live in a more enlightened, empowered society the gap is shrinking, and the great equalising force of capitalism means that we're all getting shafted to more or less the same degree. Thank heavens for small mercies?
On the topic of

"Did you know 'women can be lads too'? i don't know about you, but that information totally takes away everything problematic with the term for me. i've not been worrying my pretty little head about it since. next week on bigoted logic: defining black people as 'honorary whites'!" (Rosie Tuplin, my intelli-feminist paramour, 2010)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

There is an advert that has been cropping up in the saturday Jobs section of the Guardian Weekend for a good few years now – I have a distinct memory of reading it in Hamilton Square Train station the year before I started University, which would make me 19 and hence the advert to have had a presence in the Jobs pages of everyones favourite “bleeding hearted liberal” rag for at least 4 years now. I also have a vague sense that I'd seen it around prior to the instance I am taking as a marker; regardless, the point is that the position being advertised has evidently been around for quite a long time, and requires new applicants on a fairly regular basis.

To paraphrase, it's basically an advert for “Home Help” needed by a “slightly disabled” female writer. Nothing particularly remarkable there. I get the impression what is required is, apart from the odd bit of shopping, mostly company - “Over qualified people,” you will be glad to hear, all of you job-starved recent Uni graduates from the Class of 2010, “[are] welcomed,” and furthermore, “A sense of humour helps.”

So it comes to pass that somehow this advert, which in actuality probably amounts to little more than a lady who is for some reason rather unfortunate when it comes to being able to appoint reliable household help, has captured my imagination on repeat occasions to the extent that when I glanced upon it today for the umpteenth time I felt my imagination diverge far from the path of reasonable assumption. I like the idea of a 'difficult' (in the way which can only be said with a forced smile, through gritted teeth) lady, stubborn as a mule and crabby as an old wounded cat, who , despite her good intentions and ultimately kind heart, has driven away a long succession of potential home-help with her willfull spirit and demanding requirements. I'd imagine the first day always goes quite well, for both parties – perhaps some of the “House Rules” seem a little demanding (“No Shoes anywhere past the porch, please, and I like to keep all the doors closed – insulation, you see.”) but really, nothing more than you get in most houses these days, now that the home has become less of a sanctuary and just another commercialised space onto which neuroses are projected by those who dictate what is appropriate. They part on cordial terms, and with cautious optimism – the help, walking to the bus stop in the cool dry afternoon air, reasons that even though it's only ten pounds an hour, it's not hard work and besides, how much can there really be to do? Plenty of time to sneak off for a cup of tea and to devour a few pages of the newspaper. And so, the next day – shopping, stilted conversation peppered with the occasional dry-as-toast witticism, and strange foodstuffs (eccentricity is allowed in elderly female writers, you suppose – but quails eggs?? This is dinner party food, food to show to others, food for display; then again, what is wrong with entertaining well even when your only dinner guest is yourself? An audience of one is still an audience).Back at home, searching looks over the battenburg cake and excuses made, as you escape to the kitchen. The upstairs landing smells like geraniums. There are no photographs.
Wednesday is a day of rest; you spend the afternoon hopping on and off buses, getting lost in suburban London, which mostly looks like suburban everywhere and has the redbrick and concrete labyrinthine qualities of suburban everywhere, and the repetitive motifs of suburban everywhere, and is held in an arid pause in the desert of those afternoon hours before the school run begins. You sit on a bench and unwrap your sandwiches, wrapped in tin foil, and ignore the curious looks that passers by would throw at you were they able to commit such a flagrant disregard of social convention – it being, in this sort of place, nothing short of brash to do much more than acknowledge the existence of another body in close proximity – for who on earth brings a packed lunch these days? Strange to do so, when sandwiches are available from every corner shop – limp, polystyrene triangles with pieces of meat like pieces of paper, cheese that comes from a tube, the metal arms and metal teats of the production line now the hand that feeds. (you cannot bite nor seek comfort here; battery farmed lives with just enough emotional sustenance to continue conspicuous consumption – the factory doesn't end where you think it does. You can't always see the bars.) Finish up your sandwiches, squash the tin foil into a ball. Bus home.
Thursday is worse. The air is stale, the conversation is stale; your tolerance grows less and less – your own ego, mediocre but expansive, resents the role you signed up to, you forget to close the living room door, the cat gets in, there is hair on the sofa, you spend the next 40 minutes vacuuming. Before you leave, she reads to you – poetry, and it's raw and it's good and it's honest but somehow it makes you feel further away, as though you're watching her through metres of water, rising to the surface, staring down below. Such an open invitation to truth, a door left unabashedly, flagrantly ajar makes you weak in a place you can't quite identify. The more the door opens, the further you sink into the shadows. You make your polite compliments, you say goodbye. Front door closes, you're left staring at a brass knocker. The paint around it is chipped. In the window to your left, there is an aspidistra plant. The bus home is quiet and stagnant, save for a mother and a boy of eleven or twelve in sports clothes who kicks a solemn tattoo on the back of the seat in front of him. When you get home, you call to hand in your resignation – time constraints; it doesn't fit in so well with your timetable as you had thought. The voice at the other end of the line is distant – “Very well. It was nice to work with you, briefly.You must pop by for a cup of tea when you're in the neighbourhood.” Click. You are left staring at the handpiece held before you as it hums its inverted Omkara. Call severed.

Whether this is anything close to the truth or not, I would like to send her a cactus because they are easy to look after and very rewarding. and I hope she has children or grandchildren or lots of old friends to come and visit her.

Friday, August 06, 2010

My Mum likes to watch a TV channel called Yesterday (tagline: “Where the past is always present”) which specialises in vaguely nostalgic documentaries usually focused on the none-too-distant past. At the moment, there is a show on exploring the thirties through the lens of home video cameras, obviously a rather scarce commodity at the time. It interests me, that we feel so disconnected from our past, that we need it fed back to us, in bitesize chunks – this comes in an evening in which I have seen slum clearance in 1960s Leeds, and footage of Dockers giving wads of cash to Miners in a show of 80s solidarity. Is this the only way we can conjure up any sense of origin, of source – that is only real which is reflected in glorious technicolor?

Anyway, the section which just finished featured Eva Braun's home video footage. Weird.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A bit too pretentious for a facebook status update...

:) / :(

neither one exists without the promise of the other and today I wear both masks. (you can call me Thalia or Melpomene as the mood takes you..)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

sometimes I think that if I was a gay man and didn't care so much about my work (or anything) I would basically be a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

Also, even by this early stage in my existence I think I own too many books for it actually to even be possible for me to read them all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

((reflect on this:))

The mimetic quality of desire amazes me: it turns everything into a hall of mirrors.

Friday, July 02, 2010

So I haven't really been around here much for a while. Could offer explanations but won't; nevertheless, if I were to they would definitely be of the positive kind. I may not have been writing here very much recently but I have been writing a lot elsewhere ,- "I draw on anything for inspiration: a piece of paper, a fond memory, the walls in a train station." I am sun-drunk and have been running around and playing lots, as is the summer custom, but I am also in a phase of overt academic activity too. This means that my time is divided between the library (or other place of study), various drinking holes and my bed at a ratio of roughly 3:3:1. I love it. I get such a kick out of reading up on something that interests me and making headway with an idea, it's better than any drug could ever be.

Anyway I thought I would stop by and post this because on my cycle into Uni, I was thinking and I tend to try and get my thoughts out these days and into the relatively stable medium of words because if you don't tie down an idea to a signifier of SOME sort then it risks floating away into abstract oblivion, and I don't like to think of those poor lost little thoughts drifting off into the universe of the never actualised, the land of might-have-could-have-what-if-but-didn't.

I am thinking a lot, at the moment, about theories of modernisation - particularly post-modernism (Baudrillard, Lyotard, Jameson for those who are interested - recommendations always appreciated with love&kisses) and the constrictions on the individual that accompany the present state of western society (Capitalist, late capitalist, consumerist, post-industrial... you get the gist). Specifically, at the moment I'm concerned with the means individuals find to transcend the "cage" of these constrictive societies, and to pinpoint even further, the ways in which such transcendence (or the desire for it) is portrayed in contemporary literature.

So, for men in the land of the fictional, apparently, it's violence. Violence is what gets you out of your cage; it's through violence that you lay claim to the identity that our secular-anonymous-sterile-technologised-void world takes from you, or so the literature seems to think. Then there's sex. "The only time you feel like you're really alive." Another potential avenue for transcending the cage of individual subjective experience, which is presumably open to both men and women. Yet there are intimations that neither of these experiences are capable of subverting the prison of the normal, of providing us with meaning in a world in which "meaning itself" has ceased to hold meaning. I have completely wondered away from my point into the realm of cloudy, rusty, transient thoughts that I have not yet realised (this time in the land of might-have-could-have-what-if-still-might) and am at risk of getting lost amongst them so I will firmly march myself back on track and give voice to the thought that I felt deserved words in the first place:

So how do we, women, get out of this cage? Why don't we want the violence and the blood and the gore and the paradigmatic sexual experience? I'm not saying that we should, rather simply observing that we don't, really, to the same degree; and it interests me why. How are we getting our kicks?

One suggestion is that it is through motherhood that we derive meaning for our selves. I can understand this, to some degree. To be able to give birth, to create life, is one of the greatest gifts that our lives have been granted - the ability of life itself to continue, to propogate. I think that having children is probably one of the greatest things you can do in life, and one day (in the very very distant future) I hope that I am willing and able to do so. But somehow I can't accept this idea that my life, as a woman, can only derive meaning from what it can potentially give rise to. This idea, of deriving meaning only from what I could potentially contain, calls into my mind the idea of chinese boxes, Russian dolls, each having worth based only on what it contains, again and again in some kind of infinite regress. And of course, an infinite regress doesn't provide adequate support for believing any proposition to be true. and I dream of being something other than a vessel

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Today I had a not very nice flight but made friends with a violinist who was in the seat next to me, and then I bought a Pepsi on the train from Frankfurt and the man in the shop gave me a cup which he had modified with two drink-stirrers sellotaped to the bottom to make it look like an alien and drawn a face on it. SO that was ok.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"We don't believe in you and your wrecking crew/We don't believe in you wedontbelieveinyou"

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Election innit

I don't really know all that much about Politics. Unfortunately my sixth form college went in for Politics less than GNVQs in beauty therapy; but that is rather beside the point as in all honesty I was too busy doing any number of wildly stupid things to pursue any kind of personal education in the subject. This isn't something I'm proud of, and it is something that I hope to rectify one day. On an entirely personal level, this election has made me feel rather ashamed of my shallow knowledge of British politics. Theoretically, I have it all there. I can discuss social contract theory until the cows come home – I know Hobbes and Locke and Rousseau, I have dabbled in Marx and Marcuse (too much Marcuse, not enough Marx, some might say), I can understand (although for some almost indiscernible reason disagree with) Rawls – I can even, on some level, consider that all property (all proper tea?) is theft. Give me a half a pint, twenty minutes and s topic and I can discuss the hows, whys and wherefores of any number of complex theoretical political “big ideas.” However, when it comes to the ins and outs of British politics – of economics, of first past the post, of strategic voting and percentages and all these fiddly but violently important little aspects of the actual system in which we find ourselves I am blind. I am as blind as the next man and blinder than most. I am not good at politics. But, I am good at people. Not in terms of interaction - but I understand people, to a degree, and I do a lot of listening. And this time round, I have heard a few things. This is what I have learned.

[+]'Voting for Policies' has a nice ring to it and would perhaps work in a system of proportional representation but that isn't the system we have so we just have to make the best of it, really, and hope that things are different next time round.

[+]I have never met anybody who lived through the 80s (and by lived, I mean, was of an age to be more concerned with the poll tax and less with gnawing on their transformer toys) who wants another Tory government. Never. I suppose that anybody likely to think that the Thatcherite years were a good thing is probably fairly unlikely to be hob-nobbing around with the likes of me, but nevertheless, I think this is telling. I know with hindsight it's easier to find things to appreciate, and people keep telling me that Thatcher did do some good things (allegedly.. probably.... possibly?) – but then, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, doesn't it?

[+]When talking about Politics, most people don't seem to know what they are talking about. I mean of course, there are many people who do – I have enjoyed, this time around, listening to the thoughts and opinions of people far more politically educated than myself and I have found it very insightful, a definite learning curve. I have witnessed some passionate debates and had ideas suggested to me that never ocurred to me before. However, none of this detracts from the fact that it seems like, to me, a lot of political debate amongst your average citizen is basically just everyone trying to sound like they know what they're talking about more than the person next to them. It so often seems to descend into petty point-scoring and pedantism - “Please, correct terminology, cretin.” As if tarting up your views more prettily is somehow more important than the fact that you're trying to polish a turd. I feel like I've spent a great deal of time watching people bluster through discussions that are based far more about who is the most confident and who has the most aggressive debating technique than who actually has arguments of substance. But then, I suppose that's the case with everything, it's just that politics seems to particularly titillate it.

[+]Before the circus began, it seemed like it was the general consensus that we were going to get a Tory government. However, I soon realised, whilst venturing out of my cosy little middle class student enclave, that this wasn't anything resembling the consensus of everybody at all. In Leeds a few months ago I had a really interesting conversation with some of the regulars in the pub I used to work in. They were the first people I encountered who genuinely didn't see a Tory government as being an inevitability. Furthermore, they didn't see Labour – 'warmongering, disappointing, rebranded' New Labour – as being backstabbing failures. I come from a middle class background. I know 'everyone' does these days – that, I suppose, was one of Thatchers victories, the rise and sprawl of the middle classes. Convincing everyone, even those on not all that many grand a year who are realistically one paycheque away from the breadline, that they are middle class and should vote to protect their own small interests. To convince the more affluent of the working class that they should vote in the interests of the wealthy, than the masses..... because One Day, You could Be Here Too! Why give up anything to support those who are in need? Because it requires sacrifice, and Hell, I don't Need It – I'm Doing Just Fine, and I Worked For My Money, and So Anyone Who Doesn't Have Money Doesn't Have it Because They Are Lazy And Unmotivated Scroungers and so Why Should I Carry Them? Completely disregarding the fact that wealth distribution is at best based on an arbitrary system of birth and circumstance and most of all luck. 'Why not reward the rich and successful? That's where we all want to be, right?' And one of Thatchers victories was convincing us that we could be. Fact: We won't. Not all of us. That is an impossibility in a society based on massive inequality. Statistically, you are probably not going to get There – so why are you protecting the interests of those who will? They aren't playing on the same pitch as most of us – they aren't even playing the same fucking ball game. But my point is, that although to some of us, it might not seem like there is much difference between Labour and Tory, there are people to whom it makes a massive difference. See: Surestart. See: Child trust fund initiative.

[+]On May 1st,1997, I was on a school overnight trip. It was a sunny evening. I remember our teachers (well, most of them) walking off to the pub, even clapping each other on the back. I remember, far before I could understand what it meant, grown ups saying that things were going to change. That this was it – finally. It was going to be okay from now on. It wasn't. My mum puts it best – with the Tories, you expected it, but with Labour, they stabbed you in the back. All of the problems we have are not simply a result of some evil Tory deathstar and would be totally resolved by a labour government. Labour fucked us. In 1997 they wined us, dined us, told us we looked awful pretty in our nice new dress and hey, maybe did we want to come back to their place just 'to talk', and then bent us over a desk and buggered us. But at the end of the day – they are So Much Better than the alternative. If I were to vote Labour, I would not be voting pro Labour, I would be voting Not Tory.

[+]I'm from the kind of family where it would be tantamount to sacrilege to vote Tory. This kind of tribal politics seems to be sneered at now; somehow it is considered weak or ill-informed to vote on the basis of social class, to continue the values inherited from parents, grandparents, eras with values that we are convinced are so alien to our own.We should vote how we feel, however suits us best – we should forget all the lessons history has taught us and vote on the basis of policies, because, as we all know, Politicians Of Course Stand By Their Election Pledges. (see: 1979 (78 maybe), The Sun front page: ten pledges of Thatcher's government. Five years later, all broken) However, if I genuinely felt voting Tory would be in the best interests of our state I would do so. I don't vote on the basis of how I have been told; I would never be a part of some blind indoctrination process and my parents would never expect or desire me to be. But, having grown up with the values my parents have instilled in me – values which are based on equality and fairness and the importance of a chance for all, of working to dismantle the class system which for some reason is still so pervasive in our society, of valuing everybody as being of equal worth regardless of their origin – having grown up with these values I would never dream of voting Tory.

[+]I wouldn't vote Tory because of a very distinct ideological difference between my own views and theirs. I wouldn't vote Tory because I don't believe it's okay to sacrifice the poorest people in society on the altar of “free enterprise.” I know this more American concept of freedom is catching on in Britain – I know that suddenly anything which prevents us from striving to achieve our ambition to basically be as successful as we want and to hell with whoever pays the price is viewed as a bad thing, but I don't agree. It would be one thing to value unhindered ambition if the starting society was a level playing field, but it isn't. Alls it means to give Everybody a chance to Make Their Fortune is that those at the middle and upper echelons of the system are somehow justified in indulging their greed by professing that They Deserve It, and the poorest in the system are left to stagnate in their pool of 'primordial ooze' regardless of how much Ambition, Talent and Drive they display. Anyone who claims that the above three qualities pave the way to success in an unequal society is talking bullshit. The path to success is paved with money. Money begets money. I am not claiming that everyone who has achieved success has done so on the basis of great wealth, or that they somehow don't deserve this success – far from it. In fact I applaud those who, from whatever background they come, have managed to achieve something in our society off the back of hard work and clever decisions. What I am pointing out is that it is utterly utterly misguided to say that all of those who achieve under our present system have done so purely on the back of wit, intelligence and dilligence and all of those who fail to achieve are simply lazy, unmotivated and untalented. It's just bullshit – it's utter, utter bullshit and makes no sense, and to justify inequality on this basis defies belief.

[+]I know there are people who, when one brings up the subject of the 80s, automatically switch off. We weren't alive then, things change! Lets move on! But I grew up with the shadow of that decade hanging over me. I knew from a very young age that some deep rooted ideological inequality had somehow marred the world into which I was born. That somehow, people were confused – that even those with not-very-much nurtured a sense of entitlement coupled with a fear of losing it all that somehow seemed to justify clutching their own tiny piece of cheese to their chest even as it melted away.

[+]At the end of the day, we don't live in an ideal world. We should strive for utopia..... of COURSE we should strive for Utopia; if we ever for one second stop dreaming that we can make things better then we would be a lost cause. But that shouldn't stop us facing the reality of our situation. By all means, usher in a new era – Storm the fucking Bastille, I'll be right alongside you, but until that day, we have to do the best with what we have. Hope for the best, but plan for reality.

So that's what I think, and that's what I've learned. This should have been a lot longer but it's 4.59 am, I still need to pack for a flight tomorrow and I don't function well on no sleep. I hope when you go to cast your vote, in whatever direction you may choose, you do it with conviction. I hope, when you justify it in years to come, that your justification is not made purely on the basis that you thought it would see you and you alone through the next few years of turmoil – that you saved a few hundred quid in taxes, to the detriment of public services. Public services that perhaps you might not benefit from most – but which have a massive impact on others who share our tiny island. Britain. We love it passionately and we hate it in equal measure; we can't even agree on the matter of what it is and what it means, let alone where we should take it – but it is ours. All of it. And regardless of how you define it, we have a duty to all of Britain to do the best with it that we possibly can for all of our citizens. When you vote – please, PLEASE, think.

So that's my opinion, anyway. I'm sure somebody will be along any minute now to tell me why it's wrong – and actually, I'm sort of looking forward to it.

Ps I know this is heavy on the emotive and rather light on substance in terms of opinion on actual policy but you're going to make up your own mind anyway on those matters, so.....