Monthly Archives: January 2009

Infortunity Knox

Well, I’ve been keeping (um.. I mean having joint custody of) this blog for nearly a month now and the biggest lesson that I have learnt is that WordPress is a stalker’s heaven. Seriously, this thing not only lets us see exactly how many people have been reading us, but where each and every one of you came from, from wayward googlers looking for fizzy recipes to Rose Polenzani fans (there are lots of you), to private facebook messages. And it plots it all on a nice little graph, pointing out our busiest days and unwittingly creating a popularity contest for most-looked-at post.

Which is all very interesting to geeky blog tech-virgins (i.e. me), but this is, after all, Feminism Friday we’re supposed to be thanking Fuck for. My point is that basically I know, thanks to various maps and diagrams that show facebook to be the number one referrer, that if you’re reading this blog, chances are you know me, and therefore will be able to picture my face in all its ‘half-frozen-with-shock, half-paralysed-with-laughter’ Picasso-like contortional glory when I came across this little turd, dropped from the arse-end of internet religious nutjobism. Called ‘The Monstrious Regiment of Women’ after the tract from 16th-century Protestant Reformer and misogynist John Knox, it’s a documentary that sets out to ‘extoll feminity’ and ‘blast feminism’, going ‘all out to destroy the feminist word view’. And what a pile of ideologically incoherent, logic-dodging load of rancid old wombat wank it really is. I hesitated to give the link so as not to flatter the Gunn brothers into mistaking hits for genuine interest and support for the documentary , but a finer example of antifeminist fruitcake I cannot imagine (though for those of you who complain of easy targets, I would like to point out that as this is my inaugural Thank Fuck It’s Feminism Friday, I’m willing to indulge this kind of thing for comedy value. It’s a once-only deal : there’s enough religion-based misogynist guff on the Internet to keep me blogging for the rest of my days, and I have better things to do. Like watch old French TV shows, and eat creme eggs).

For those of you who prefer not to indulge such people in such iniquitous pursuits, or for those whose feminism/common sense isn’t quite fluent enough to penetrate the sometimes bafflingly thick dialect of TOTAL SHIT in which their argument is mired, I have taken the pains to provide a transcript of the video in bollocks-free language. The video is just a series of short statements from womenz of different ages and backgrounds, all united in their condemnation of Satan’s equal rights. It goes a little something like this.

Phylis Schlafly: The problem with feminism is that it deludes women into thinking that men as a class have at least hitherto enjoyed some sort of unfair socially- and culturally-imposed privilege, and that makes these women so moody. They’ll never get a husband looking so grumpy!

Carol Everett: My very presence in a school (as some kind of pro-abortion worker) caused girls to get pregnant. Which is something that last time I checked, no man could achieve. Perhaps I am in fact the risen Christ. P.s. – all sex leads to pregnancy, just as all eggs lead to omelettes.

Jennie Chancey: The goal of feminism has been to allow mothers to eat their babies. Feminists would rather no-one was a parent, ever, which is just socialist. The state? Don’t even get me started on the state. The state wants to remove our right to live our lives as we choose. Now where was I – oh yes, feminism, dreadful thing, offering women a chance to live their lives as they choose.

F. Carolyn Graglia: Hillary Clinton, having had the chutzpah to simultaneously regurgitate and defecate on the American Dream by only having a single progeny AND carrying on a successful political career, cannot possibly identify with that alien breed of women who also have offspring but stay at home. Having her cake and eating it? Where does she think she is, Western civilisation in the 21st century?

Jane Doe: Women in the military really shouldn’t be allowed. Some of us cry (which obviously the men never do, because they have evolved to have the tear ducts of lizards.. oops, I mean they were created that way), and that makes the men uncomfortable. Some of them raped us, which is horrendous, an attack on our soul – some of us never fully recovered from that (pause – *note this was the one sentence in the whole documentary which required no translation.* – OK, now back into translation mode), which obviously means we shouldn’t be there to begin with, because we got what we asked for, expecting to be treated as humans too, you know?

Stacy McDonald: If you wear a policeman’s uniform, people will think you’re a police officer. If you dress like you belong to a decade that knew electricity, people will think you’re a slut and it’s OK for men to rape you. It is a criminal offence to impersonate a police officer.

Dana Feliciano: Feminists hate children. Society hates children. Anyone who works, they really hate children. I love children. Until they grow up and turn into women.

Dr. Sharon Adams: I have a shelf of books behind me, an academic title, and one of those chiffon scarves that are so hideous you assume I must be too intelligent to require even a sense of taste, and I am here to tell you that learning is bollocks. See all these books behind me? Just spines glued onto a wall of MDF, all of them! The Bible’s the only book you ever need to read, ever!

Three more points about this monstrosity: firstly, the use of classical music in the background to make it sound in any way sophisticated, intellectual, or ‘imbued with the wisdom of the ages’ (that’s not a quote, I just can’t use that phrase without the arm’s length that quote marks provide). Secondly, the all-female line up – what could be better than having a whole cast of WOMEN to decry feminism? Except, check the credits – it’s made by a pair of brothers. Feminism denounced by men by proxy. Genius! And finally, the blatant misunderstanding of the word ‘regiment’, which, in Knox’s work refers to a ‘regime’ or ‘system of government’. Knox was positing the ‘monstrosity’ of a female being able to rule the country. The way the Gunn brothers use it, you would think there was a hoard of two-headed, fanged feminist beasts roaming the land in search of blood and socialism.

We wish!

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I am dying and I’m having fun

OK, our first lovingly-scheduled Tapes on Tuesday (or TOT) didn’t quite go according to plan; blame me, or technical ineptitude. I thought we could begin with Bodies Of Water’s excellent I Guess We’ll Forget The Sound, I Guess, I Guess, a glorious procession of a song which sounds like a gospel choir going through an existential phase, backed by a lethargic George Clinton. Since a certain blogger is worried about copyright issues besmirching her good name should she ever venture down the primrose path of copyright law, and because I don’t know how you post mp3s, I thought I’d link to their video on YouTube. Unfortunately so radical and precocious is our taste in music (or so skint are artists in general now that the Hype Machine pretty much offers you the illegal download equivalent of a valet service and a hand job) that this band don’t actually have a video.

Pissed on as my musical chips were, I did find some interesting stuff typing ‘Bodies Of Water I Guess We’ll Forget The Sound’ into YouTube, not least this hour-and-sixteen-minute-long video by an American professor called Randy Pausch. It’s part of a ‘Last Lecture’ series, in which academics are invited to give a talk about something close to their interests about which they have thought long and hard, and distilled down into vodka-like droplets of pure profundity, and are asked to give a talk to the audience as if it were the last thing they could ever say about the subject. Except that in Randy Pausch’s case, it really was: at the time he gave the lecture, he knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer. Parts of the talk stray into the tediously geeky (he was a professor of virtual reality), university-specific, and just plain disturbing (037:38-041:09), but there’s some good ole American earnest (watch that rash now) advice scattered in there too, and the part where he brings his wife up on stage at the end to blow out the single candle on her giant birthday cake is genuinely moving. There are a few life-lessons he hammers home: ‘brick walls are there to show you your determination’, ‘you’ve got to decide whether you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore’  (or at least convince your neurotransmitters), my favourite being ‘don’t bail; the best gold is at the bottom of piles of crap’. A lesson I would encourage the new dozens of readers of this blog to take to heart.

And in the end, this seemed like a very good match for the Bodies of Water song. It has the same corniness, the same levity, the same gravity. The same will to celebrate a tragedy. The same idea of lighting one candle rather than cursing the dark. Though why it came up under ‘Bodies of Water I Guess We’ll Forget The Sound’ I’ve still no idea.

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Cross-dresssing Performance Poet of the Week

I got the Josie Long DVD for Christmas, which I have watched so often I now dream of bags of tangerines and endearingly bizarre flow-charts in a sweaty Edinburgh room. Just booked tickets for her show in February, ‘All The Wonders Of The Universe (Shown In Detail)’, which I hear is meant to be a little darker than her previous two shows, though I imagine she does ‘dark’ to about the same extent that Neighbours does ‘pornographic’. Anyway, she’s pretty much my Favourite Living Human Being That I Don’t Actually Know So Should Probably Stop Talking About As Though They Were My Best Friend at the moment, thanks to her revolutionary brand of comedy that somehow takes that usual comedy kryptonite, earnestness, and proves that comedians don’t have to be arrogant idiots who have to rely on insulting the audience to get laughs. A sample can be found here (about the least funny part of her show, but you have to go with what YouTube gives you). Plus, if you buy the DVD, you get a handmade postcard of varying quality (I got a picture of a Thai woman pointing to a child and saying ‘I love this child! And the music of Jeffrey Lewis’. Tom got a scene depicting a tetchy anteater).

Anyway, in her show, Josie Long refers to a performance poet called Rachel Pantechnicon. The specific bit, and yes, I sadly enough can remember this verbatim, is that she says she has been to see some performance poetry (‘which normally I would despise with the level of hatred that is appropriate, which is all of the hatred you have in your heart’), and that Rachel Pantechnicon, who was performing that night, taught her an inspiring lesson about learning to value your weaknesses as much as your strengths, because your ‘failings’ are as much a part of who you are as your successes, and only then, when you’ve learnt to love everything about yourself, can you move on (for those of you who, like me, break out in a rash at high exposures of earnestness, Josie Long then goes on to put this lesson into practice by painting a giant ocean scene saying ‘Marvellous’ on her belly. Just buy the DVD, it’s funny when she does it).

Since I’m in the excitable throes of a new discovery and have slightly too much time on my hands, I decided to check out this Rachel Pantechnicon (who also goes by the name Russell Thompson, which explains the voice being lower than Barry White), and I wasn’t disappointed. Her poems are delightfully odd and hilarious; imagine if Half Man Half Biscuit wrote for Wendy Cope and you wouldn’t be far off (example line, from ‘Folk Song Girls’: ‘Turn out your pockets –/what’s that you’ve got, another piece of coal?/Have you been listening to that song/About the Durham pit lockouts of 1861 again?’). A slight seeming obsession with pixies aside, coming across her poems made my day. Again, YouTube conspires to make me seem like I have had my sense of reality transplanted with a broken toaster, but it’s the only video of her performing (and I still like it, even if – or possibly because- noone realises when she has finished).

Read a selection of her poems here. Apparently you can buy the book if you send £2 to her nan.

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Time to Change

As someone with neurotransmitters apparently wired by a team of monkeys on their break from mistyping Shakespeare, I was glad to come across the Time To Change campaign for ending mental health discrimination. The ‘people’s stories’ are disappointingly short, and the forums so far pretty much barren, but the campaign is a good one and well worth a look. It seems to be especially focussed on ways for friends and relatives to support the one in four of us who suffer from mental health difficulties – vital stuff, since there are few things more isolating than experiencing a mental health problem.

On a tangentially related note, I can’t stop listening to Florence and the Machine’s ‘Dog Days Are Over’ – with drums, handclaps and harps so powerful they should have their own government-sponsored rehab programme. Definitely recommended for the ‘depression can just fuck off’ playlist.

Watch the video here (and buy the song on iTunes).

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Hot Feminist Potato

Perhaps the most offensively ignorant article I have discovered whilst browsing The Times for a fair while, the delightful Shane Watson’s anti-feminist diatribe takes the proverbial biscuit.  The titular instance of  a flopping rhetorical question ‘Who are you calling a show-off?’ is presumably an attempt at ventriloquising what she perceives to be the pressure of changed gender performances for the modern woman.  ‘ These days, it’s not enough to have a high-flying job or four kids or a dream home,’ Watson complains ‘You’ve got to do them all at the same time.’  Interestingly, while she aligns herself as a fellow competitor with these “show-offs,” she appears to be propagating a regression to the dark ages, or for her the middle ages.

Of course, young, successful women in their twenties are wholly incapable of recognising the true sentiment of her article, so I had better stop writing.  However, I disagree, so I shall continue.  The sentiment which bubbles over uncontrollably throughout is an ascerbic combination of heartfelt bitterness and scalding vitriol.  On reading the article, one is instructed not to ‘imagine this [her rant] is some freakish syndrome that bears no relation to your life experience’ and  ‘[e]ven if you don’t have an inkling of it now, you will hit 38, or 42, and suddenly you will find yourself sneaking off to bed with property magazines.’  A little too precise for a generalisation, perhaps?  The (in)credible author (or perhaps she would prefer authoress, to ensure she is competing within the correct category) of How to meet a man after forty is the ultimate proponent of the heteronormative dream – from the 1950s.  Although I may be too young to understand, I plan to meet a man after forty in precisely the same ways as I would now: in a bar, at work, in a bookstore; then I would date his female companion.  Perhaps my comments are naively influenced by the lack of pressure I feel to conform to the heteronormative matrix, or more likely, perhaps I choose to ignore it.  I am neither ‘blam[ing] Helen Mirren for looking so hot in a bikini in her sixties’ nor am I ‘rattled by all the different lives being lived around [me],’ for surely they are products of necessary and welcome social change.  I do not strive to “keep up with the Joneses” (not least because it is a horrific phrase), and my competitive streak which is arguably less of a highlight and more of a full colour does not confine me to the clique of career driven housewives.  The ‘pressure to showcase our particular choices in the best possible light’ of which Watson speaks is not solely symptomatic of domestic rivalries, but rather addresses far broader issues such as social achievement and recognition to which she is seemingly blinkered.

Saying that, the article appears to have been derived from some deep-flowing hatred for the “domestic goddess'” Nigella Lawson, and her effortless ‘juggling’ of everything.  So, one may ask whether showing off is such a bad thing after all, and according to Watson it is if ‘You don’t bother about impressing men, but when you’re going to see one of the Show-offs, you splash out on a new pair of shoes and earrings’ – but is it?

Should you wish to corrode your bookshelves buy here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/After-Forty-Midlife-Dilemmas-Solved/dp/0141036745

or, for far less depressing material try this:

http://www.faber.co.uk/work/collected-poems/9780571118380/)

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(Get to the) Root (of all your worries) Vegetable Casserole with (or without) Herb Dumplings: a seasonal remedy to seasonal misery

Casserole:

  • 2 leeks, about half an average wrist in circumference, thinly sliced
  • A generous dollop of butter/similar
  • 2 meagre carrots, peeled and chopped into half moons (for further instruction watch the ‘Jaffa Cake’ lady)
  • 2 potatoes, a little larger than fists, peeled and chopped
  • 1 butternut squash not much larger than a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale, peeled, deseeded, and chopped
  • An ample squirt of tomato puree
  • Enough vegetable stock to cover without drowning
  • 1 can of butterbeans, drained and the liquor reserved for later
  • 1 bay leaf, a residual fragment simply will not suffice
  • A smattering of ground ginger
  • An indeterminate amount of paprika
  • 1 cinnamon stick, beware of the potent cinnamon logs sold in cultured branches of Tesco (they do exist)
  • Seasoning to suit

Dumplings:

  • Vegetable suet (e.g. Atora)
  • Self-raising flour
  • Dried ‘mixed herbs’
  • Milk/equivalent

Procedure (N.B. Look out for the meanwhiles)

  1. Melt the butter over a medium heat, and add the leeks. Sautee until softened but not browned.
  2. Add anything which one considers to qualify as a vegetable and stir occasionally for the duration of Joanna Newsom’s ‘Cosmia’; the result should be a fuzziness around the edges and an almost impenetrable core. Meanwhile boil the kettle/take care of any other necessary steps to ensure the safe transmission of the stock to the pan.
  3. Make the stock if needed and add, maintaining the heat. You should have prepared the butterbeans, but if you haven’t, do it now. Squirt in sufficient tomato puree to create terracotta tones. Toss in spices, sticks and related leaves until it smells sumptuous, or employ somebody with a developed pallette to do so if incapable.
  4. Simmer covered during ‘Only Skin’. Meanwhile make the dumplings, making an effort to adhere to the guidelines of the packet but do make the whole box not just the minimum requirements. Add the herbs. Shape into balls (for comparison, see golf). Flour the outsides of them with a little plain flour.  Add the butterbeans and liquor (only the stuff that came with the beans).
  5. Drop the balls into the simmering stew. Cover and cook until the end of  ‘Monkey and Bear’.
  6. Season to taste (bring back the employee if necessary) and serve without slopping it around the edges of the bowls.

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When The River Meets The Sea

While this may not be a new release, I feel I owe this mention to Rose Polenzani, since several of the tracks on this album battled hard for spots in my top ten tracks of 2008 but there were too many to choose between. I first encountered Rose Polenzani during the thwarted mission to Catweazle which prevented us from picking Little Flowers and making it to the Lakes of Canada. This was a preferable second and her appearance with the mesmerising Sharon Lewis undoubtedly pleased the audience more than my incompetent tambourining ever could have. My most prominent memories of that evening include wonderful renditions of ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’, ‘You Were Drunk’ (which sound, without question, far better for the entwining of Rose and Sharon’s vocals), a rather odd recollection of a song with surprisingly regular appearances of the word ‘shit’, and a bizarre man who placed his rancid jacket on the back of my chair and leapt into the limelight with his show-piece ‘I Want to Start Something Good’.

‘When The River Meets The Sea’, a collaborative effort with Boston’s Session Americana was released on the 1st of October 2008 and is the follow-up to the ‘Kings and Queens’ EP of 2006 although it appears to have fallen victim to undue neglect from the blogosphere at large. It has established itself as my essay writing album, playing continuously until I finish. Whilst it may prompt me to write more quickly, this is certainly more for its motivational qualities rather than a pressing desire to turn the damn thing off. The highlights for me are ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’, ‘If I Could Hit You’, and ‘You Were Drunk’, and the lows the general prevalence of Christian drivel in the lyrical content and the void created by ‘Push Me If I Snore’. I only manage to recover from the latter travesty as a result of the spectacular lyrics to ‘Paying A Visit’ in which one, blissfully unaware of the more general climate of political correctness, pays a visit to ‘the cross-eyed man’ and the ‘pink-eyed man’ – a brilliance only matched by the lines ‘the moon is full tonight / It’s big and round and white / Like a blind man’s eye’, for obvious reasons.

This budding instance of ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ may never become a tumbleweed. I only wish I could credit the harmonicist and banjoist by name, but the anonymous compliment must suffice since Session Americana appear to wish to remain generic. The song starts, like its speaker, ‘trembl[ing] like a flower’ only to be happily decapitated by the blustering instrumentals and carried on their breeze. Even the tinkling guitar riffs entangle themselves with the pattering banjo and lolloping strings. Imagine running through a half-harvested cornfield on the basis of an unpredictable weather forecast, with only the occasional stubble catching uncomfortably at the ankles.

‘If I Could Hit You’ may begin with a disconcerting chuckle and continue with a similarly eerie cocktail of christian moralising and sexual healing, but brushing that to one side it is rather pleasing. The tension between these seemingly contrasting values and the conflicting temporal/physical restrictions and freedoms of the body is played out on the level of the music. The explorative instrumentals counter and confound the often conservative lyrics resulting in prevalent frustration and a kind of obiter dicta yearning.

‘You Were Drunk’ is only a highlight in that when I listen to this version I hear a different one which is far better and recorded acoustically with Sharon Lewis’s harmonies instead of the irritating men murmuring in the background. Listen to it and imagine it without the pathetic drums borrowed from any other song, acoustic guitars unadulterated by the attention-seeking banjo and harmonica, and with Sharon’s soaring vocals in the chorus. A brilliant track which disappointingly loses much of its sincerity in its americanaisation. ‘She Is A Rainbow’ is crucified to similar ends, preserving only the emotion of its precursor.

Listen and buy here:

http://www.rosepolenzani.com/category/discography/

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