Monday, March 29, 2010

I've never seen Star Wars

...yes, obviously I've seen Star Wars; I refer you to my previous post. This relates to the radio 4 programme of the same name that has Marcus Brigstocke interviewing someone reasonably famous whilst encouraging them to try cultural experiences that they had missed out on, up until that point. This week it was the turn of Jenny Eclair, who is quite a favourite of mine as long as she isn't doing her stand-up act. Poor, poor Jenny Eclair. Other people have eaten innocuous salads, or played video games, or gone to see Hamlet. Jenny got the following 'must-do' experiences:

1. Reading a self-help book
2. Eating jellied eels
3. Watching Apocalypse Now
4. Listening to experimental jazz
5. Having a bikini wax

It says much about Jenny that, despite it going against all her feminist principles and hurting like stink, the bikini wax seemed to be the favourite activity out of that depressing list.

Still, there's a few more ideas of what to do on a wet (as it inevitably will be) Bank Holiday Monday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bra Drawers (may the corset be with you)

Yesterday in an underwear drawer far, far away...

So yesterday I finally got round to a task that I had been putting off far too long, namely sorting out my bra drawer. I've read stuff about women's knicker drawers, and seen that scene in Bridget Jones Diary when BJ faces the difficult choice of sexy knickers versus knickers that make your clothes look good. In women's bra drawers the options are far more complex. The categories are as follows:

1. The Holy Grail of bras - the bra that makes you look good in your clothes, good in your underwear, and is extremely comfortable. This bra does not technically exist, yet the modern woman is diligent in her perpetual quest. She seeks it here, she seeks it there. Occasionally I have heard rumours ("It's amazing! But I had to go to the same shop as the Queen uses, and pay a small fortune!") but invariably the tale sadly ends, "...but then I put it in the tumble dryer..." and so the quest begins again.

2. The assertive bra: makes believe you have the perfect pair of gravity-defying breasts, yet would be the last item in the world you'd be seen dead in. Life is cruel. Alternatively, the assertive bra is neon coloured (you thought the straps would look good; then remembered you weren't 19 any more).

3. The 'it's-so-comfy-I-can't-bear-to-throw-it-out' bra, despite the fact that it now has holes, is greyer than Eeyore, and holds your once-pert pair in a ground-grazing position. Possibly with a maternity easy-release catch, for midnight snacking.

4. The 'pretty' bra, usually with matching knickers; the sort of bra that your mother-in-law would be proud of.

5. Conversely, the opposite. Need I say more?

6. The origami bra. Strapless, halter neck or just plain 'multiway', these are tricky to negotiate and can result in injury. Not to be confused with 'motorway', although similar results when it all goes wrong.

7. The neutral bra: vital for wearing under more sheer fabrics, but no amount of re-branding (It's flesh-toned! It's natural! It's nude!) can detract from the fact that you're wearing beige.

8. The sports bra. Designed to give you zero bounce, it grips your vital assets so tightly that breathing becomes optional. No wonder the Williams sisters always grunt so hard on the court.

9. The 'hang-it-all-down-with-the-kids-wear-it-on-the-outside bra. On one optimistic and sunny day you bought this, thinking you'd wear it half peeking round the corner of a sarong or under a lacy and inadequate piece of knitwear. You never did.

10. And finally, the novelty bra. The female equivalent of ties with reindeer, these have cute cartoon animals or slogans. The current trend is for 'nautical' bras. Nautical! I ask you... can't see Captain Pugwash in these.

So, having ascertained that most of my bras fit into category 3, I replenished the drawer with loveliness yesterday (mostly category 4, thanks for asking) and then had to go through the painful process of actually throwing most things away. Out with the saggy, the baggy, the grey and the torn underwear of yesteryear! In with the hard-wired, scratchy-laced, assertively-padded and tightly-strapped!

As Princes Leia put it: "Help me, Oh bra-36B; you're my only hope."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Burn after reading

Book Groups: seem like a great idea. You take it in turns to choose a book, you all read the book for the month, you have a friendly discussion over refreshments. In this way you are introduced to books you would never have found, or would not have got round to reading; and you get more out of books, by sitting back and thinking about what is good, bad and ugly about them with friends who may have a very different take.

I am now on my second book group, to which I have belonged for around 3 1/2 years. All in all I must have read an estimated lots of books for book group, some of which I have loved, many I haven't; but the one for this month is possibly presenting me with the biggest challenge yet. I'll admit it: I was prejudiced against 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', by Stieg Larsson, for a number of stupid reasons:

1. Don't like the genre (it's a thriller)
2. Don't like the title
3. Don't like the cover
4. Don't like the fact that it's on the bestseller list
5. Don't like the number of pages (533!)
6. Don't like knowing that, despite all 533 pages, it's still only volume 1 of 3

I have been attempting to get into this book all week, and am still only up to page 37. Part of my problem (and please, try not to judge me too harshly here) is the unfamiliar names (it's translated from the Swedish). Whenever I come across a foreign person or place name I read it as 'bleah' in my mind, which makes for some very tedious sentences with this book: ..." said 'Bleah' to 'Bleah', as they crossed the 'Bleah' to the 'Bleah'" etc etc. I know, I know: I said try not to judge.

Richard thinks I should give up now, but I am loth to do so particularly as I chose a book for last month that several people found very tedious (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by M Schaffer and A Barrows. I thought it was a nice little book; note that - little - not 533 PAGES!!!). Anyway, it seems only fair that I keep going. In the meantime I shall remember some of the books and authors I have found and loved through book groups:

Skating to Antarctica (see above), and indeed most things I have read by Jenny Diski especially 'After these things' and 'Stranger on a Train'. I find her both touching and sharp, and for a woman who spends much effort shutting others out she manages to include the reader in her intimate circle.

'Half of a Yellow Sun' by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, a novel that gives remarkable perspectives on the Biafran war and famine in Nigeria.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I suggested this one, but book groups are great for making you get round to reading books and this one was a real surprise - completely unlike its mythology suggests.

'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' by Kate Summerscale, an account of a gruesome murder that took place up the road from where my in-laws lived though slightly before their time; and how modern detectives began.

'Headlong' by Michael Frayn: difficult to believe that anyone could make the history of Dutch art a breathless page-turner, but he achieved it.

And not forgetting 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I would probably never have got to the end of had it not been a book group assignment (there is such a thing as magical realismed-out) but I am heartily glad that I did.

Back to the Floozy with the Painted Shoulder, or whatever it is...

Monday, March 01, 2010


Yes I do know this isn't a menhir, or standing stone; it was somewhat perplexing to find that, despite the fact I am a self-confessed nut for ancient venerated bits of rock, I don't actually have a photo of a standing stone that also has the requisite atmospheric mist and lack of Yours Truly gurning at a camera. So please be satisfied by this image of The Cheesewring up on Bodmin Moor, taken on a glorious (ha!) day last August.

Anyway...thought it way past time I combined my (possibly unnatural) love for all things old and rocky with my love for writing. I'm reliably informed (by my father) that it is possible to 'get' the rhyme structure if read aloud, preferably by something ancient and flinty (no mum, it's OK; not talking about you).

In the cold dampness of November
Through the glooming light of a half-remembered day
I see you: Longstone
Ancient and beloved, alone
against the gorse and heath and sky.

You are the colour of the moor, its moods and shifts
reflected in the contours of your stone, the drifting
seasons both familiar and strange.
This is not your home; you stand estranged
from land that gripped and held you fast.
Your uniqueness recognised at last by ants
that ripped and dragged and rolled you to this place
to stand, your face turned towards the coming years.

Time has passed; four thousand
years of weathering winds and sun and rain
as lichen crusts the outline of your frame, and generations
pass beneath your shade. Your roots lie deep
within the borrowed earth that once
lay undisturbed, where now the dust of venerators past
can quietly sleep.

And why the toil to bring you to this place?
Why struggle with the soil, to pull and push you far from home
to stretch your twisted angles to the sky,
and grace the landscape with unyielding form? Were you
a marker for the days and years, the key
that unlocked flower and fruit and womb;
the panacea for barren lives and barren land,
whose loam holds those who made your profile true?

Or did they recognise within your form
One who would know, beyond the fragment of their time;
would show the way to mysteries far outside
the wisdom of their years. And could they hear
your call to brothers standing ‘cross the plain,
to another greater higher mind, a name
that quietly waits to speak –

I lay
my cheek against your cold damp skin, and sink
my hands into the glowing moss that shapes
and softens edges, as I wait -
As the wind keens across the heath, and the crow
disturbs the silence of the now.

TAW February 2010