Thursday, 30 August 2012

Quick, quick Serena!*

I know, I know... I posted yesterday already (and don't ignore that post - lots of interesting links to follow)! Just wanted to say that if you didn't watch the Paralympics Opening Ceremony last night... well, maybe you should try and catch at least some of it (some review here). We watched pretty much all of it (OK, I did flick about online a bit during the athletes' entrance business... the world's just so big!) and there were some fantastic visuals and tricks and music and words. I particularly liked the folk dancing about at the top of huge bendy poles (new type of pole-dancing!), all the flying, Nicola Miles-Wildin's wide-eyed Miranda (to Ian "Serena" McKellen's sparkly, and fairly groovy, Prospero), this Antony & the Johnsons song performed by 16 year old Birdy (homemade video alert):

and this fabulous hey-paul-this-is-how-you-do-it closing number by one of my favourites Beverley Knight (and a few friends):

And now it's the sports (good live news blog on all sports coverage is here for day one and the site will do the same for every day of the games). As you were...

*Sir Ian, if you prefer

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Scraps of this and that

Out in the garden, about a month ago

Having some quiet time this week after a long "house full of visitors" session. This means, of course, that I have very little to say (apart from "can I lie down please?" and "sh!") so here are a few links where something interesting is being said elsewhere:

"Poetry Please" is back on the radio this week. I only listen sometimes... but enjoyed Charles Bukowksi's "If we take" on the show this time (listen here for the next few days - that poem is about three and a half minutes in). I'm not sure Bukowski is the poet I'd want to pick out in a 'favourite poets line-up' but that's the thing about art (if you're honest with it)... you can't pick your favourites really, you either like them or you don't! I had a little Bukowski dalliance back here... and the other day I was looking at this page and thinking "man, he was meant to be a waster but look how much he wrote!!" Here he is rambling about depression... or something...

Also on radio there's a series on this week about poetry in prisons presented by Mr Gee (who has a lovely voice). I've only listened to part one of "Poetic Justice" so far but it's on the player (here) this week.

Speaking of lovely voices there's an interview with Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart on a blog over here. I haven't bought her new album yet but I have all the others so I'm sure I'll be getting it at some point.

I've also been watching the TV series "Growing Children" - a three part series with hour-long programmes about how autism, OCD and dyslexia affect the young. I've watched the first two and am going to watch part three today whilst ironing (it's raining!). All three parts are on i-player for the next six days (here). The presenter (Laverne Antrobus - a psychologist) is new to me but I've liked her approach so far.

Off back to the quiet now...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sex, money, sex, money

We've had visitors again recently (in fact a couple of them are still here so I must be quick) and at the weekend we took some of them up the coast to Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven (all good... sunshine, pipers... total tourist package). On the way there we stopped at Inverbervie and, though we've been past it numerous times, we took our first look at the Cutty Sark figurehead on the edge of this Aberdeenshire village (some info on it here, picture above). The ship's designer, Hercules Linton (what a name!) was born in Inverbervie, hence the connection. Obviously there is a Robert Burns (and hence poetry) connection too (Cutty Sark... Tam o' Shanter etc.). You have to get your poetry connections where you can!

On a very loosely related note I read an interesting interview with Scottish poetry and prose writer Kathleen Jamie in the Scottish Review of Books. It's interesting for many reasons... for what she says about how she forged her career in poetry (well, she has one and how many poets can really say that?), for what she says about younger Scottish women poets (not much really), for what she says about not being able to afford to live in Edinburgh. I have ordered her new prose book "Sightlines" (I loved "Findings" — wrote about it here).

And then to turn to a woman writer (E.L.James) who has made enough money to live in Edinburgh (and in fact by this time possibly enough money to live on Mars if she really wanted), I watched a TV show about the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon the other day (the show is here for another 7 days, although I think you have to log in to watch it — it's mostly worth it). I haven't read the book yet (before you ask). I'd have to say it's the kind of thing I imagine I might read one night in a B&B when I can't sleep and there's nothing else to read... anywhere. My reasons for not reading it yet are numerous (though I wish the author well enough - she seemed like a fairly nice ordinary woman who got lucky from her appearances on the show). Here are some of those reasons:

1. It started out as "Twilight" fan fiction (so I read) and I watched one "Twilight" movie and thought it was like "Endless Love" with fangs (i.e. for teenagers... and I am not a teenager).

2. I have read in various places that is so badly written it is painful (and OK, some of it might be jealousy but I don't believe all of it is... some of it will be exasperation). And for heaven's sake, I can read my own bad writing if that's what I'm after. To read a good, no nonsense defence of the book by someone who has read it (Laurie Penny on how it is "porn, and porn can be quite fun") go here.

3. I think it was Kathy Lette on the C4 show who described it as "Mills & Boon with butt plugs". If this is accurate then it's definitely not for me. I read one Mills & Boon book (to see what it was like) and that was enough. Some people want their books to be fairly predictable — I like exactly the opposite (same goes for films). Call me awkward! Spank me!

4. If I wanted to read pages and pages describing sexual activity (and I don't — not right now*) I think I could find plenty of other books/websites. And if I was going to read it I certainly wouldn't pick something where she's a virgin at the beginning, gets spanked and tweaked beyond belief (though Laurie Penny in the article I linked to above says there is plenty of more "vanilla" sex in there too) and then (SPOILER) they get married at the end. This obsession with marriage and weddings... it's a sickness I tell you!

So, you see... it's probably not the one for me (though I imagine if I'd been 14 or 15 when it came out I would have, as it very much were, jumped on it).

A couple of other details from the show about the book:

1. Apparently places like Ann Summers (kinky underwear, aforementioned butt plugs etc.) are seeing record sales. There are going to be some very unusual charity shop donations as the months and years pass by, I can tell you. I imagine maybe Dettol may see some market gain soon too. Buy shares now.

2. There was some talk of how one of the greatest taboos (currently) is for a woman to admit that she sometimes wants to be told what to do by a man and that that is why the book is appealing to women so much at the present time. I would say this taboo (which probably does exist to an extent) is one of many problems with people's simplistic responses to feminist/equal opportunity ideas (and by people I do mean men and women). Those of us who've thought about such things know that a good relationship between a man and woman should allow room for variation, development, sharing responsibilities, taking charge and giving it up... most of all making it your own relationship — not the same one as your parents' or your friends' or celebrities' or anybody else. It doesn't really matter whether you're spanking each other or deciding who does the dishes — what matters most is that you sort your relationship in a way that suits the two of you (and really only the two of you). The couple on the show who did practise BDSM were absolutely adorable (with their spreadsheet — suitable choice — of likes and dislikes in the chamber...).

On a mostly unrelated note I'm thinking about attending the walking, writing, ideas festival in Aberdeen next week (much more my scene these days than fisting, I'd have to say) but every person on the panel is male and though I'm interested in hearing them if I'm really honest it does put me off just a little that I would be listening to male experts all day. Was there really no woman writer worth hearing on the subject? Was no-one available? To get to this event I'd have to sort childcare, pay a full entry fee, pay a very expensive train ticket... so I'm afraid an all male panel is the kind of thing that does at least makes me think twice about such an investment (though it wouldn't stop me buying their books and reading them at home, saving some time and money... I don't hate men or anything!). Interestingly Robert Macfarlane (who is featured on at the festival) also appears in the Kathleen Jamie interview I've linked to above. I enjoyed his TV programme a while back but found the recent radio series of his latest book "The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot" a bit... cringey (and now we're back to the Olympic closing ceremony of the last post..).

Anyway... must stop rambling! Must go and see to visitors... make sure child goes to bed... all that stuff.

*I read some porn in my teens, of different kinds... it was useful at first but it is a fairly repetitive genre (and as I've said above, repetition doesn't do it for me... I said "repetition doesn't do it for me"). And as for "erotic" fiction... I've never really seen the point (sorry, erotic fiction writers... I don't like lots of other niche writing genres either, nothing personal!). I just tend to think — isn't sex just part of a story?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Next phase

Trace of angel or catch the pigeon...

Never mind George Michael singing "Freedom", the schools are back here today so I'm feeling a little freer myself all of a sudden (I mean kids are great and everything but, you know, peace and quiet is nice too). And other than that brief mention of George "can I plug my dire new single in the greatest show on earth" Michael I won't say anything more about the Olympics closing ceremony... except to say that all that cringing we didn't have to do for the opening ceremony... well, we got to do it in the end anyway, didn't we? I mean, Take That? On the global stage? Really? Ugh. Recringe.

But there are other things going on...

Peadar O'Donoghue is raising funds for the next Poetry Bus venture so go here and help out if you can. You do get something for your money (mags, books...).

Friendly blogger Solitary Walker is starting a new online writing place. He introduces it here.

Carol Ann Duffy (our poet laureate if you like titles) wrote a poem for the Olympics (read here). I like it but judging from facebook reactions it's about a 50/50 split on yays and neighs (sorry, equestrian effects still hanging about apparently).

Read my first Susan Hill ("The Beacon" 2008). Must say I liked it. Any recommendations for other other books by her?

Hell, I might even write something myself now the schools are back...

Finally, I enjoyed this new song by Betty Wright on the Cerys show on BBC 6 Music this week:

Take that, Take That.


Saturday, 4 August 2012


So the Olympics pretty much rules the waves at the moment*. I have been keeping up with it via online news, watching some on TV and following the exploits of sporting bloggers (like Titus - great pics of the Olympic Park on her latest entry). As a person who's not very keen on hanging about in crowds these days I didn't think about going down to London this summer for one second (or even a hundredth of a second...) but seeing some of the happy pictures online I have had fleeting "it might have been nice" thoughts. It does look amazing. No giant disasters yet either.

I realised as I watched the sports this week that I particularly like the events where the competitors have only their bodies to rely on (no expensive bikes or boats or horses) and so I'm enjoying the gymnastics, the athletics and have even watched a bit of judo. Last night I watched the women's 10,000 metres for example (that's 25 laps people!) and the Ethiopian runner Tirunesh Dibaba won it in spectacular form (see the last lap or so over here). It was just lovely to watch - the winning athlete was so capable, so confident, so impressive. I'm not one for patriotism (ever really... though it is always good to be above the French in the medal table, I have to admit... why is that?) so I don't necessarily cheer team GB more than anyone else but I can get swept along with a good story or a simply dazzling performance. What a race.

Tirunesh Dibaba after her 10,000 metres win last night

There have been sad moments too of course - we flicked onto the badminton at one point (this year's sport of scandal!) and watched as Japanese player Sayaka Sato had to retire in tears (story here) due to injury. We watched it for maybe five minutes, I had never heard of her before and yet I was in tears too as we saw on this young woman's face the disappointment, the years of preparation, the total lack of anything she or anyone else could do about it - her Olympics was just over, that was all there was to it.

On a related note I ended up in a facebook debate yesterday about whether using this image of Olympic hopeful Louise Hazel was a good choice for the Fairtrade campaign. A lot of people (me included) were disappointed that such a predictable "sexy" image of a woman was being used for this important campaign. Others were happy that Fairtrade was using advertising's favourite methods (sex sells and all that... yawn...). In fact I saw the athlete in question on the TV last night (talking about her performance in that day's heptathlon events) and hardly recognised her (she looked good but not much like the woman in the ad!). One particularly fervent online defender of the image called everyone who was not thrilled with it "prudes" (that old label!) and totally failed to see why others didn't find it as purely positive as he did. Sometimes it feels like the 1960s and 70s never happened... and, for me, it's especially disappointing in a year when so many women athletes are doing so well... in their sports (for that's what matters - their sports!).

And finally, the image at the start of this post is Gutter magazine's new issue (it's gold!). I'm quite excited to have a poem in this issue of one of Scotland's most eye-catching writing publications (and it's a simple little poem, a rhymer too... I always have had at least one foot in the gutter...). The guest editor was Alexander Hutchison so huge thanks to him for picking one of my not particularly sexy, no frills little pieces (I don't make it to the finals that often... have sent to Gutter at least once before). Lately I've been writing very little poetry... even wondering if that part of me had died completely but seeing something in a "proper" publication like this has made me realise that maybe it's not over yet for me and the pen. In poetry, at least, a run of injuries doesn't necessarily put you out of the game forever...

Back to the track now... women's triathlon just concluding...

*There have been a few other things going on... it's been sunny so lots of beach trips for a start! Daughter has yet to catch Olympic fever... has been sneaking off to watch "Glee" instead whenever possible!