Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Dear men, for the love of god, go away and do something else

Here’s something that has puzzled and troubled me in equal measure for years: why do men hang around in women’s clothes shops? 

If I am being kind, it might be because they actually like shopping, and supporting their partner in choosing something new and beautiful. My observed reality is that it is generally nothing of the sort. 

Aside from the rare, but there, and now well publicised, pervert getting off on watching women change, or worse, attacking them in the process, there are other insidious reasons. I have seen men gripping the purse strings so tightly that their cowed wives are unable to make their own purchasing decisions, let alone their own purchase. I've noted men so controlling of their wives’ appearance that their partners have replaced perfectly lovely things at their countermand. And I've experienced men practically occupying the women’s changing rooms to exert their influence. I have always felt angry and sad to encounter such coercion in practice and in public. 

Apart from telling lurking men to move away from the curtain as they make me uncomfortable, I have been largely unaffected by such attentions. Always my own woman in the matter of, well, everything, including choosing my clothes, for my sartorial mistakes, I have only myself to blame. But today takes the bias binding.

I am in a super shop selling the kind of soft unstructured clothes that I know suit me rather well. I select a long skirt and try it on in the cubicle, but to have a better view in the larger mirror in the shop, I swish around a bit and ask the very helpful shop assistant what she thinks. Before she can answer, the husband of the only other woman in the boutique pipes up “really nice” and nods his head vigorously. And that’s when the joy of the moment evaporated and I felt my gore rising. Who the fuck asked you? I wanted to say. What I managed to say was “I don’t need your opinion” and I flounced back into the cubicle, fuming.

What on earth did this man think he was doing? I am nothing to do with him. Nothing. Yet he felt entitled to answer a question that was not directed to him, as if he was the god of all women buying clothes in town this morning, as if his opinion was the one that was essential. He is not and it was not.

After he and his wife left, purchasing nothing, the shop assistant said she thought he was paying me a compliment. I explained how this was a misreading. He wasn’t. He was asserting control, and I will not be controlled by anyone I know, let alone a complete stranger. I wish I’d had the guts to tell him to sod off and mind his own business, but damn it, I’ve been too well brought up. 

So, men, please have the good sense to bugger off out of the shop, buy a paper and drink a cup of coffee somewhere quiet for half an hour or so. And NEVER think you are entitled to comment in this way to any unknown woman, EVER. The next one of you who does so to me is going to be on the receiving end of me losing my good manners. It won’t be pretty.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Why I'm not going back to the Globe

What heresy is this? Well, yes. And I'm not exactly sorry. Over the years I've enjoyed the close-as-we-can-have-made-it recreation of Shakespeare's Globe many times. Indeed when I was studying for my second degree in English, one of my Professors, Andrew Gurr, was a consultant to the building project. He gave us fascinating updates on progress, so I've always felt a kind of tangential, or at least vicarious, ownership.

But I've had enough. There are plenty of things I could moan about, so I'll limit myself to the most annoying. First off the sound, or rather lack of it. I realise that projecting to the gallery across the yard is difficult, but you are actors, damn it, and some of you are so much better at it than others. In this last week's visit to A Winter's Tale, I could not hear some of the younger members of the cast. Yes, I know it's open air, and there are many helicopters flying overhead, but I still need to be able to follow the beautiful words, or else it's all dumb show. Please, please work on this.

And stop gabbling. I know you are under pressure not to test the audience's patience by being too long about it, but the need to get through the play as quickly as possible does not do anyone any favours. Several of the cast where speaking so fast that I could barely keep up, and I am familiar with the play and used to listening to Elizabethan English. The result here is that where the plot relies on explication given by the minor characters, as it does in this play, not only can I not hear them, they are so rapid as to be tripping over the words. Even worse, all the best jokes were lost. The one about the dildo, especially.

Note: for gawd's sake take your time. Shakespeare's plays are long. They are meant to be a whole afternoon's entertainment. If some of the audience can't cope with that then, frankly, tough, and go and see a West End musical.

And finally, not that the Globe can do anything about this, but, audience, please, what on earth are you laughing at? Read the play beforehand and realise that the first part is a deep psychological drama and is serious, before it turns into a romance that resolves itself with a happy ending. In the past, this has meant it was referred to as a problem play. It might be difficult, but it's not a bloody pantomime.

I think many visitors to London take in the Globe as ticking off another sight on their list of to dos. That is obvious by the fact that the yard partly clears out at the interval. I just wish they' be better prepared, as constantly trying to find something to laugh at spoils things for others.

Call me Perdita then, as I am fed up with the Globe trying to please everyone and ending up pleasing no-one. I want my Shakespeare considered and audible, so I'm going to stick to the National and the RSC, thanks all the same.

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2018


This year Grayson Perry did most of the honours in selecting and hanging the exhibition of Art Made Now. Thankfully the totally overused in inappropriate ways word 'curate' was nowhere to be seen. He had the galleries painted some pretty lurid shades of yellow and pink though, but they worked well.

There was nothing ground breaking, but there never is, and that, in a way, is not the point of this most democratic of shows, where five Sooty puppets stand as much chance of being selected as a sign for Unaffordable Housing or a bunch of painted sticks.

I enjoyed spotting the new work by some of my favourites like Tracey Emin (one painting and three lovely prints.- all figurative), Bill Viola (a mesmerising video from his people walking across the desert series), and Perry himself (huge print and lovely white people pot - a ceramic of Alan his teddy bear is hiding in the basement, only to be seen by members if they go down to the secret bar).

There was an anti-leave Banksy priced, of course, of £350 million, a new Anish Kapoor in the main courtyard (a huge red disk, hanging over a pile of weathered and vegetated basalt columns plundered from somewhere), and a host of generally lovely prints on the second floor.

The galleries were packed the day I visited as it was pouring with rain and in the exhibition's last week. We headed straight to the downstairs member's bar for coffee and later, lunch. Sssh don't tell anyone but the bar, which also serves food, is quiet even when the member's rooms are packed, and you have two glossy tree ferns to enjoy in the little courtyard.

I am pleased to report that the, no doubt ironically chosen, portraits of Farage and Moseley remained unsold.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The meaning of holidays to the retired

Now there's a question. And to answer it one needs to consider what a holiday is meant to be and why. And specifically in my new life.

Holidays, in their origins, holy days, those few days in the year of your average mediaeval peasant when, apart from Sunday, there was a day off - no sweating over a plough, or vat of urine soaked cloth, but you were meant to go to church before entering into the topsy turviness of a feast or a licensed day of foolery/drinking. These holy days of observance are there still in many of our public holidays - Easter, Whitsun, Christmas. And depending on which country you live in, there many be even more, though funnily enough the saints days of our four nations (David, Patrick, Andrew and George) are not public holidays, unless you live in the right place, and not England.

Holidays as the legal right to be paid, not to go to work, but rest from it, apply only to the employed and are there thanks to labour movement. In the UK the Holiday Pay Act was enacted as recently as 1938, after a more than twenty year campaign. Before then workers were only entitled to be paid for the eight public holidays we have. Imagine that. Now we have as of right twenty days of paid leave, plus the eight public holidays (unless you are a teacher...). It doesn't sound like much compared to the seven weeks plus I had in France, but compared to the US, is huge.

When I was working in full time employment, these were the most precious days of the year, not to be squandered, but planned and, damned it, enjoyed, and even bought more of from the salary sacrifice scheme, if that could be afforded. They were the days to spend as you pleased, to rest, to travel, and not to be under any obligation to look at email, let alone respond to it.

One year I had a precious week of holiday ruined by a manager who insisted, on pain of I know not what, that I attend a two hour conference call on a particular Wednesday afternoon. That doesn't sound like much of an imposition. But imposition it was, involving planning the entire day for the entire family so that I could be in a spot with good phone reception at the right time for the call, and it involved bringing the right paperwork with me in my luggage, oh and remembering what it was we were meant to be discussing. Sigh, but no more.

What though is a holiday now, when every day is a in effect a holiday in that I do not have to go to paid work and am always able to rest whenever I fancy? I imagine every retired person will answer that differently, but as a newbie at this malarky, here's my first year thoughts.

My first public holiday is coming up at the end of August. I am not planning on going anywhere. There seems no point in driving the length and breadth of the country for a long weekend at the coast or in the hills, when any three days chosen at random is such. No more traffic jams for me. From now on, these are days when I shall stay at home and laugh smugly at news report of mega tail backs on the M5. A public holiday is then a nothing, unless it is to be spent with those for whom it is something, my working children, perhaps.

As for the two week or more trip somewhere abroad, well, I'm presently in the middle of just such a fortnight. Yes, I am wandering, looking at new things, sitting in the sun, swimming, hanging out with my daughter, eating delicious food - I'm in the south of France - drinking lovely wine, reading, writing the odd line of the odd poem, and writing my journal and this post, but there is something much less pressing about it. I don't feel at all inclined to rush about ticking sights off on a list of things I must see. It's far too hot for that kind of carry on for a start, but also, I just feel less like being a tourist than I ever have before. No doubt when I return home people will ask we whether I went to X and Y, and what I thought of Z, and I'll feel bad that I didn't and don't, but right now, I'm just chilling.

These are, then, weeks when you do the same things in a different climate and scenery, and without the TV. Every morning, I manage to peel myself out of bed to look at the wooded valley of La Bourges in the Ardeche. It's beautiful. The quiet is punctuated by the goats bleating in the mainly oak trees below, the chime of the clock tower, or the chatter of newly-fledged house martins buzzing the village and the river. I enjoy the enormous breakfast made for me by my host whilst sitting on the terrace of the cream stone farmhouse and puzzling how the building was constructed, partly into the mountain side. I spend the rest of the morning writing or submitting or reading, then I trundle down to the river in the mint green Fiat 500 I've hired and spend the afternoon lounging and dozing on one of several little beaches, reading, and swimming in the deep pools cut into the basalt. I wander back for an evening shower and make myself presentable enough for dinner. My daughter takes my order and brings me my glass of chilled rose and my food. She's working in the restaurant in Bizet owned by her French boyfriend's mother. The menu is local, gusty and seasonal. Right now it's all myrtilles in deserts and the chutney that accompanies the foie gras.

I am very content. Blessed even. This then is my life, for the rest of it. I think I can get used to it, just about. You can call that I holiday, if you like.

Reviewing poetry books - a new thing

My first foray into this kind of thing is out now in esteemed poetry magazine, The North, issue 60.

Here you will find my thoughts on recent books from Ahren Warner (Hello, your promise has been extracted), Rory Waterman (Sarajevo Roses), and Menna Elfyn (Bondo).

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Museum of Walking

Great name for an organisation, no? And doing interesting things with walking and words - the art is taking part - as its byline goes. As more than a bit of a flaneuse myself, I was pleased to take part in a Wednesday morning haiku writing workshop with Andrew Stuck recently.

A dozen folk of wide ranging ages, we strolled very slowly in the heat from Holland Park tube station through the park, with the Kyoto garden as our destination. At various points en route, we stopped to hear about things as various as a potted history of haiku (naturally), this part of London as nineteenth century artists' colony (many of the pre-Raphaelites lived here), and the silver lime's ability to resist climate change by turning its leaves against the sun. Fascinating.

Writing haiku in rapid fire was a good challenge and I surprised myself as to how quickly I can do this. Interesting, as it's not my usual form. The results are available for downloading and folding into a little booklet - very Japanese - here.

The Kyoto garden's looking a little sick this summer - as in so many lovely gardens, even the trees (acers) are dying. Rain, please. And soon.

Becoming a Trustee of Spread the Word

It's essential that not for profit organisations seek financial guidance, but it's not inevitable that I am necessarily interested in replacing my old paid work with new unpaid work in the same field. Note to self: I have retired to focus on, inter alia, my writing. However, there are some things that one cannot and I will not say no to -  Spread the Word I'm glad to say, is one of them.

Developing writing talent in the city I call home is very close to my heart. So, it was with very great pleasure that last month I accepted the honour of being appointed a trustee of this wonderful organisation.

Please do check out our workshops, events and projects supporting and nurturing writers of all kinds and from all the diverse backgrounds which make up the marvel that is London. Sign up, turn up, submit, buy books, make new friends and learn new writing approaches. You'll be learning from the best.