Monday, 31 May 2010

RIP Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010

Look at this cheery old lady with the big willy under her arm that she made herself!

Her work was so rude and scary. She made terrifying, huge spider sculptures and her first work was an image of her father made out of dough and spit, right in front of his eyes.

She really freaked him out, as well as countless others, but her sculptures and installations had a fascinating, dreamy quality to them which fused nightmare and childish imagination so perfectly.

This is a big miss for the art world.

Portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe, Room installation by Peter Bellamy and Maman spider at  Capodimante Museum Bourgeois retrospective.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A Handful Of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

I had been meaning to read some Waugh for some time and, as this was published in 1934, I thought that it would kill two birds and contribute to Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot's mini 1930s challenge which I signed up for a wee while ago.

This book was surprisingly easy to read and for some reason this surprised me. I think that Waugh has been looming over me for a while.

Although highly readable, this novel is quite disjointed. The first chapter reminded me of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love In a Cold Climate. The social setting and tone are initially very similar; waspy and witty with a wry authorial eye. Mrs Beaver (mumsy) and her son gossip about the socialites of their acquaintance and idly wait around between luncheon invitations.

" I should say it was time she began to be bored. They've been married five or six years."

"Mumsy you are wonderful. I believe you know about everyone."

"It's a great help. All a matter of paying attention when people are talking."

The characters of Brenda and Tony Last are introduced and Tony Last is described by one man as "one of the happiest men I know."

Chapter two changes the tone with the sentence "all over England people were waking up feeling queasy and despondent."

The tone becomes a lot less arch and more realistic. Brenda and Tony's relationship is described naturalistically and seems to be fond, playful and close.

By the end of the chapter, however, Brenda is preparing to embark on an affair with John Beaver almost out of boredom and with the amused and detached help of her sister.

" Oh he's pathetic all right, d'you fancy him?"

Evelyn Waugh's first wife had left him for another man, an event which apparently changed him forever, so it is not difficult to see the impetus behind this novel about a heartless woman casually tossing a devoted husband aside.

He is so very fair to Brenda though, she is shown to be a cold and careless woman but there is no vindictive twist of the knife and this is definitely not a misogynistic book. None of the women end up looking particularly good but then, neither do the men. Even Tony, who is kind and decent, is not held up as a misunderstood and badly-treated cuckold, but a bit foolish, dull and naive.

A Handful of Dust is a weary sigh of a book which shrugs its shoulders at a shallow and broken world. This weary tone is leavened by Tatler-esque gossip and farcical trips to the sea-side but there is no real redemption for any of the characters. These people may be silly and fey but Waugh does not shy away from following the consequences of their actions realistically.

This despair at modern life reminds me of another famous novel from the 30s, Brave New World. There is no mention of WW1, apart from a few sentences about a character being too young to have fought, but there is a feeling of the shock and numbness that often follows catastrophe. People are determined to enjoy themselves and yet have forgotten how.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Reading Women by Stefan Bollmann

Anyone who enjoyed the images of women with books posted by Persephone last week in honour of the publication Forbidden Fruit may also be delighted by this book which was bought on impulse a couple of years ago. It was useless to resist.

It has recently been repackaged and renamed Women Who Read Are Dangerous:

The foreword by Karen Joy Fowler begins "We women who read should take a moment, put down the book, this or any other, look around us. We are experiencing a rare period of triumph."

Fowler goes on to explain that the idea of reading silently, especially if you were a woman, was once seen as a threat. It was idle, it was secretive, independent and even unchaste. People worried about their daughters reading in the same way that modern day parents fret about hours spent on the games console.

 "She might while the book lasts, be a completely different person from the one we are seeing. She might be a man; this is all too likely. She might be a horse and at the very moment we look at her, she might despair, finding herself sold at auction, sent to the glue factory. She might be a rabbit. She might be a hobbit."

Several images follow, some spread across two pages of, yes, women reading. There are images from the Middle Ages:

Photographs: (this one is of Alice Liddell, namesake of Alice in Wonderland.)

We are shown women who are young...

...and those older:

Women indulge themselves in books leisurely and with lazy pleasure...

... but some have to sneak a few moments from a working day:

Illustrations also appear:

Paintings by Van Gogh,  Hugo Van Der Goes and the wonderful Carl Larsson are included as well as photographs of Lee Miller (she's reading the paper whilst having breakfast in bed!) and Marilyn Monroe.

This volume can be read as a book or dipped into whenever the mood dictates. Buy it, buy it, buy it.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Whip It by Drew Barrymore

Ah Drew...
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

You made the child to adult actor transition after being written off by everyone as a messed up Hollywood wild child.

You used to turn up to premieres wearing not 'vintage' dresses, but charity shop finds with your grungy boyfriend in tow.

You used to talk about your best friends and how much you loved them in interviews.

You introduced me to glitter spray.

You have done lots of very rude photo shoots but you never looked like a potential rape victim/Barnardos child, you were having a laugh and didn't care what people thought.

Boys On The Side and Donnie Darko.

You have just directed a film which, had I seen it at age 14, would have a) blown my tiny little heart up and b) shunted Empire Records into a very distant second place.

Bliss (Ellen Page) is a 17 year old from a tiny town in Texas who is a reluctant beauty pageant contestant at the behest of her mother. While buying some second hand boots to complete her mid-nineties grunge look, she picks up a leaflet for a roller derby in Austin.

Bliss soon joins the Hurl Scouts, an unambitious roller derby team who, despite their inability to win, are the best of friends and filled with joie de vivre. There is a cute boy and there are great parties, a climatic sports event and tears between friends and family.

In some ways this film has the ingredients of every teen movie but it is so great because it is actually a girl's film. The main character does not have massive boobs and the person she cannot beat is not a nubile cheerleader but a hard as nails 36 year old played by Juliette Lewis. One element of the story is Bliss lying about her age so that she can hang out with these super-cool 30 somethings.

There is a relationship with a boy but the passion that Bliss (AKA Babe Ruthless) has for Roller Derby is the focus of this film.

At the end of this movie I wanted to buy all of the soundtrack on LP, dig out my old 90s Seattle clobber, strap on a pair of roller skates, make best friends with Bliss's best buddy Pash and watch the film all over again.

Like I say, if I had been 14, I would be typing this whilst already wearing roller skates, a Mother Love Bone t-shirt, listening to The Breeders and arranging a pre-order of the DVD.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Polly Stenham's Plays

I first became aware of Polly Stenham when I read this Lynn Barber interview. I have been a fan of Lynn Barber's interviews for years but my love for her was fully cemented when she revealed her hatred of theatre.

As anyone who read this post will know, I fear live performances almost as much as I fear skinny jeans and have not really enjoyed any plays that I have seen. To be fair, I've seen less than ten and most of them were amateur productions. I don't like the thought of audience participation though, even when I've been assured that it will not happen.

And yet I ended up in the front row of a comedy gig recently and was speaking to the comic during the show (it was for work) and I didn't have a stroke or die of embarrassment. (Although all hearing was lost in my right ear for the duration. Probably something to do with the blood pounding in my head). So I may return to the theatre because I love the idea of, and the reading of plays.

So. The interview begins with Lynn Barber saying that if anyone could tempt her back to theatre, it would be Polly Stenham. So, That Face, and later Tusk Tusk, were purchased.

There are similar themes running through both plays; sibling love, unstable mother figures, absent fathers and children trying to negotiate the adult world with no support.

That Face starts with a ritual, Tusk Tusk starts with a scream but both end with a reality check for Stenham's characters that hurts your heart.

That Face revolves mainly around three characters. Martha is mother to Henry and Mia, but really, they are the adults. Henry has devoted his life to caring for his mother and, while Mia can see that Martha is falling into the abyss, her brother cannot bear to let go.

Tusk Tusk explores this theme of children being adults further by removing parents altogether. Eliot, Maggie and Finn, all under 16, are waiting for their mother who has disappeared from their new home. They watch their phones hopefully but one of them doesn't expect to see her ever again.

Both plays are very upsetting reads but apparently draw tremendous laughs from the crowd so seeing them live is obviously ideal. The writing is so good, however, that they are great as books in themselves; like novellas written in dramatic form.

That Face was a big hit, but I think that I was moved by Tusk Tusk even more. Apparently Polly Stenham is adapting That Face into a film so I will definitely be seeing that and, maybe one day, I shall experience both plays live. They seem worth it.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A Box Full of Lovely Books Arrived Today...

Eh... the picture's shaky because I'm so excited about my new books and definitely not because I was too lazy to take another.

Working from the bottom up:

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

I first became aware of this when my friend had to buy it for her English Literature degree almost ten years ago. It's basically an overview of notable works in English from the middle ages to the end of the seventeenth century. It includes works by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne,  Swift,  Pope,  letters written by Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, excerpts from the Bible and a description of a trip to the arctic in 1576. And much, much more, hooray!

It looks to be a cornucopia of delights and I look forward to dipping into this treasury.

For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

I ordered this as soon as I read this post at Paperback Reader and it is part of my effort to read more drama.

Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

A classic, that all should own. I do have a copy at my mother's house, but that's not my house and the vintage cover is so very delightful:

 Plays by Chekhov

These were read and loved at school but have never been owned. Again, the cover is by Maurice Denis, so it's great lit and great art, my favourite combination.

Tusk Tusk, Polly Stenham

I am going to read plays this year and started with This Face which was Polly Stenham's highly acclaimed debut. This is her second play. She is still only 23, which makes me sick.

Enron by Lucy Prebble

Yet another acclaimed play by a young English woman. Enron is what it sounds like, a play about the collapse of Enron, the Texan energy company. This is Lucy Prebble's second play and she is also the creator of ITV2's Secret Diary of A Call Girl.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

I'm late to the Sarah Waters fan club but shall be sending away for my badge and password as soon as I've posted tonight.

I had heard increasing amounts about her on blogs/in papers and had heard from her in various forewords and articles on writing so when I spotted two copies of Night Watch in my local library, side by side, I picked one up, took it home and let the unwashed dishes and piles of laundry sit as I lost myself in 1940s London.

This novel is quite exhausting to read as it veers from scenes of almost unbearable tenderness to visceral, horrific blood-filled tableaux without ever missing a beat. The structure of the novel is also a three part step back through time, so that we meet the characters near the end of the decade and pick our way back through their tangled, interwoven pasts.

The main theme seem to be relationships that have run out of steam or never had any steam in the first place; relationships which are based on the premise that "we could be blown to bits tomorrow", (so let's ignore the sensible voices in our heads and the gnawing doubts.)

I finished this book wanting to read it again, and determined to read more Sarah Waters.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Alan Warner: New Book

Alan Warner's new book, The Stars In The Bright Sky, is out and the reviews I read yesterday were very enticing. Warner is the author of one of my favourite books, Morvern Caller, and this book is a sequel to another 'Port' ( town based on Oban) book, The Sopranos.

I have just done an expensive amazon binge and money is tight but there is a grim inevitability about the fact that I will be buying this book very soon. Who needs food anyway?

It is sad that the cover looks so hideous as his books are generally very attractive. 'It's what's inside that counts though', yeah yeah yeah.

Kylie. All The Lovers

There has been a lot of gushing love for Kylie's new single All The Lovers. I am waiting for the remix, however as this song, although pleasant, sounds bereft of something, the same way that Work by Kelly Rowlands or Standing In The Way Of Control by The Gossip now sound without Freemasons and Soulwax respectively. It will sound AMAZING remixed with that Donna Summer I Feel Love-esque beat underneath it strengthened and some crashy electric guitars. In my humble opinion.

Or am I being foolish?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

What is with trousers at the moment???!!!

I cannot wear these because, like most women, I have buttocks. They are not large buttocks, I am not chased down the street by jeering mobs, they are normal, average sized butt cheeks. Skinny jeans, however, are my enemy.

And yet, I am not so large as to require these extremely large trews which are also, apparently in fashion.

As for these monstrosities... if I wanted to dress like MC Hammer, I would wear a short, gold jacket, not these. I cannot believe that these are in fashion... who do they suit?

Don't get me started on the whole 'it's okay to wear joggers when you're not exercising' thing.

Leggings are okay under tunics or long jumpers but I am seeing a lot of bums, clad only in lycra, being flaunted on the street.  This does not look good.

I thought that tapered trousers were a thing of the past, like using lard for cooking. It seemed obsolete and something that everyone now believed to be unflattering.

There is a reason that hipster boot-cut jeans were in fashion for over ten years... they were flattering!!! Women who have buttocks are going to have to wear skirts for the foreseeable future it appears. Hello double layers of tights if these last two years of winter are anything to go by. I'm mad!!!!

It is literally impossible at the moment to buy trousers that are not completely LUDICROUS!!!!!!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Yeah! New Stuff!

Mr Tea Lady was away recently and came back with some truly excellent stuff. First of all these:

I had said to look out for old Virago Modern Classics but had not held out much hope as books are Mr Tea Lady's nemesis. But he does love a charity shop... The only author I have heard of here is Vita Sackville-West. The cover of her book is beautiful and the Daughter of Earth image is striking but the other two are a little rank-looking.

I am shallow, so will read those two losers last.

Yes, I agree, this is the suavest LP cover that has ever been created. Champagne, brandy, a coffee with biscotti, tiddly cigarette and a single red rose. Looks like a special lady is in for a smoochy night.

This album is not Lionel's greatest work (I have all those already), but he always gives good LP interior:

No Lionel, thank you.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

My So Called Life

This was such a wonderful show and it is either a travesty or an absolute blessing that it was cancelled after one series. I can't decide which.

It remains one of the most accurate depictions of teenage life that I have ever seen on television. There was no rigid hierarchy, like in most teen movies or tv series. Yes, there were cheerleaders and jocks, but they were not depicted as demi-gods or mini all-powerful adults. They were just kids.

The dialogue was not a series of polished, post-graduate standard soliloquies, but the language of actual teenagers. Sometimes it was overblown melodrama; Angela: "School is a battlefield... for your heart.." and sometimes it was just completely inarticulate; Brian: "So maybe this is what people mean. When they talk about... you know ... life."

Whole episodes revolved around events like dances, gigs, a note passed around class or just a rumour. These small, yet enormous topics were explored fully in a wry yet completely unpatronising way. These characters were real people, not just ciphers.

Angela, the protagonist, begins the series defecting from her usual group of friends to hang out with the troublesome yet fun Rayanne and the sweet, sexually confused Ricky. Her ex best friend, Sharon, and her neighbour Brian are irritants because they know her so well and are therefore preventing her from being cool. Angela is in love with Jordan Catalano who is somewhat unaware, but not uninterested.

The character of Sharon is very interesting and is perhaps a key indicator of why this show is so good. She is very conservative in dress and ambition, close to her mother, active in school groups and hurt when she is rejected by her best friend Angela. But she is not a nerd. Sharon is one of the most confident and competent characters in the show. She is the one who ends up dating a popular boy openly, not Angela, and it is her who is sexually experienced and ends up giving the other girls advice. There is no convenient high school movie label for her.

Parents and family were just as important in this show as the friends and boyfriends. Sometimes, Angela was not allowed to go out and sometimes she stayed in with her parents to avoid facing her peers. The parents were not comedy characters, nor empty adult figures, they were real too! They were just as confused, frightened and inarticulate as their kids and often had no idea whether or not they were doing the right thing. The same goes for the teachers.

It was released on DVD a couple of years ago and is worth every penny.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

I Wept Into My Tea...

Oh Gordon Brown leaving was almost as sad as Danielle being run over in Eastenders. One of the few politicians of recent times to combine talent, intellect and morality (along with middle-aged hotness), kicked out in favour of a man who can in no way represent the majority of the British public. And who has a face like a foot.

If only Tony Blair had joined a rock band and pretended to be Mick Jagger there instead of at 10 Downing Street. What an arse.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

The Harry Potter films are not as good as the books, but this one is probably the best. Behold my excellent reasons:

1. Interesting direction by Mike Newall, see above and below for example of little details/juxtapositions that most directors of a franchise would not bother with.

2. Best party/dance scene in a film; stupid dancing, girls crying on the stairs and it actually looks like people are having a good time.

3. The brilliant Clemence Poesy who was also great as Mary Queen of Scots in BBC drama Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.

4. The structure of the book, with three tri-wizard tasks is quite convenient for a film and the events round off each act. Indeed, the pace drags slightly after the third task in the maze.

5. David Tennant's face is in it. (Although the fact that he should clearly have played Lupin mars things slightly.)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple

I had only intended to read two Persephones as part of the Persephone week run by Paperback Reader and the BFiles, but I enjoyed them so much that I picked up Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple from the library.

I was wary of this writer because of Virago's vow to "never go beneath the Whipple line" but then I read a short story of hers "A Lovely Time " in the Autumn/Winter 2009/2010 Persephone biannually which broke my heart with it's unflinching honesty and vulnerable main protagonist and still makes me want to cry whenever I think of it.

I knew as soon as I started this book that I was going to enjoy it and so decided not to rush to finish it by the end of the week and instead to savour it. Impossible! The pages whirred between my hands like a flip-book.

For those who have read it (most Persephone converts), I shall not retread old ground and for those who haven't I do not want to give away too much of the plot. I actually skipped Nina Bawden's preface when I realised that she outlined the main plot points and read it last.

This is a very deeply felt, yet gentle book and is basically about the ephemeral nature of our life circumstances versus the enduring bonds of love. Some of the characters do things that are incredibly selfish, vindictive, craven even but Whipple presents each case in the same way, explaining the motives and feelings of each person in turn. She is a very moral writer, so these acts do not go unpunished, and this is perhaps why she lost her early popularity in the middle of the twentieth century.

It is perhaps also her readability, the 'easiness' of her novels, that began to make her less relevant in the era of angry young men and rebellious contraceptive-toting girls. I must admit that, although Someone At A Distance is very emotional and indeed desolating in parts, it is still a warm bath of a book with it's delightful descriptions of country gardens and quaint towns and the knowledge that all these characters with their inheritances, servants and people eager to help them out are going to be alright really.

This is a book which is a cosy 'cup of tea' read but is well-written enough to be more than just a guilty pleasure. Even the beautiful cover with a painting by Sir James Gunn is a joy. So, a perfect book really.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Loie Fuller - Serpentine Dance

Loie Fuller was an American modern dancer whose career was mainly in France where she introduced Isadora Duncan.

This is an 1896 film made by the Lumiere brothers and it is not, as I first presumed, hand-tinted. The beautiful colour effects are apparently lighting innovations invented and patented by Fuller and projected onto a silk dress. (It is not Fuller herself in this film, but it is her dance.)

Fuller was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and was close with Queen Marie of Romania. Eh... incredible!!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

It's Only Alternative if Gross Misogyny Isn't the Norm

Why was Lauren Laverne not advertised as a presenter for Channel 4's Alternative Election Night?

Why has there already been two sexual jokes about the opposition leaders' wives when only 6 minutes of the programme has elapsed?

Mention of pornography being an enjoyable pass-time? Check!

Arse-covering 'ironic' mention of Emmeline Pankhurst to show that they are being misogynistic in a post modern way? Check!

Congratulations Channel 4, only 16 minutes in and you have already disgusted me more than David Cameron ever has.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Curse Of The Golden Flower

This is supposedly the most expensive Chinese movie that has ever been made and it certainly looked like it. I have never seen a more sumptuous, visually engorged film in my life! Trays of golden filigree jewels, oceans of yellow chrysanthemums, suits of armour made of gold and silver, gossamer gowns in sweetie colours and brightly lit glass pillars in a palace that looked like a fluorescent tie-dyed t-shirt.

And the Ninjas! Proper knee high booted, all-in-black ninjas flying through the air on wires and doing a flying fox manoeuvre across a valley wall covered in thick green moss.

The storyline was like an incredibly bloody and violent episode of Eastenders. Family loyalty, a worn out marriage and sibling rivalry were all played out to their fullest conclusions.

There were potions too.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The Home-Maker of this novel is first of all, domestic machine and mother of three, Evangeline (Eva) Knapp, a fierce, grafter of a woman who rules her home with a rod of iron and keeps it not only clean and tidy but stylish, respectable and completely stifling. Her husband reflects to himself that she is "like a Titan forced to tend a miniature garden ."

By the middle of the novel it is Eva's husband, Lester Knapp, who is home-maker when he is unable to continue working at the town drapers and homeware emporium.

It is not really a spoiler to say that Eva takes on her husband's position as the family breadwinner by working in said store and taking the eye for detail and relentless energy that was suffocated by housework and childcare and applying it to business with great success.

Lester, on the other hand, who has always hated his job, settles down into domestic bliss with Saturday morning cooking-bees, stories and time to get to know the children who were hitherto little strangers to him.

I expected to finish this book all fired up with feminist outrage and it is depressing how little some things have changed. I'm ashamed to say that it still surprises me to see a man out by himself with a pram (why should I feel so proud of him, he should take his baby for a walk!) and although we now know such creatures exist, how many fully fledged house husbands do we know in 2010?

I did not feel this inequality to be the central message of the book, however, more an outside event that helped to shape the plot. At the centre of the book is the idea that to be happy, you cannot fight against your nature and must be allowed to be yourself. Eva is too exacting and impatient to spend all day long with a preschooler, however much she loves her youngest son Stephen and Lester is too dreamy and uninterested in material gain to be a competent accountant and "If honestly, that was the sort of nature he had, why rebel against it?"

This idea is exemplified by the Willings who own the store and are first Lester's and then Eva's employers. Both are very happy with their lot because they are allowed to work with their natures. Mr Willing loves business ("it fitted him! It was his work!")and is perfectly happy to put in a 36 hour shift and then go home and talk to his wife about the store. Mrs Willing is a happier homemaker than Eva and was glad to stay at home with pre-school aged children, but is still eager to exercise her brain through the writing of advertising copy for the business; something which she is very good at.

This idea of being able to be yourself is continued when Canfield looks at the characters of the children. Never have I read a book in which the motivations and desires of a child have been so thoroughly examined as those of Stephen, the troublesome 5 year old. He is treated to the same analysis and respect as the adult protagonists and shown to be just as much of a prisoner of circumstance as his mother and father.

The issues that are explored in this 1924 novel are still prevalent today. Women may go out to work more frequently but there is still the shadow of unequal pay and the fact that most women, working or not are still doing the majority of the housework. This is muddied by the growing feeling that some women still enjoy domestic tasks and would be happy to stay at home and keep house. The issue is not who does what, but who, man or woman , is being forced into a life which does not suit them, purely because of their sex?

Before reading this book, I wondered if the title was a snide aside, that I would find a militant feminist scream of rage, but that is not it. The character of 'Aunt' Mattie Farnham is a home-maker; not as competent as Eva, but infinitely happier in the role. It fits her. It is Mattie who recognizes that it fits Lester too. It would not fit Mr Willing, it did not suit Eva Knapp.

What this book cries out is that we must be allowed choice in life, to find the roles that suit our temperaments and talents. Money can buy choice, like in the case of Mrs Willing who can afford servants to take the edge off the drudgery of childcare, but it is the breaking down of prejudice and "complacent unquestioned generalisation" that is the real goal.

This is a wonderful book that made me laugh, cry, think and rage. It lightly leaps from the depths of great tragedy to the sunny joys of human interaction. My only complaint is that I am not too struck on the endpapers but I can find it in my heart to forgive that very slight flaw...

Monday, 3 May 2010

GA Getts perform 'Telephone'.

I know it is really late and lame to be still talking about this, but is the Lady Gaga video not pretty boring in the bits without music? 9 minute videos mean 6 minutes of 'acting' which is not what I require from popstrels. I keep fast forwarding through all the tongue-twiddling and sandwich eating (and that come from someone who has included sandwiches as one of her interests, see right.) The song is obviously amazing and my neighbours have been forced to listen to it about one million times. You're welcome neighbours.

I much prefer this video made by Anthony BB Kaye and the GA Getts who I believe dance with Girls Aloud when they go on tour. (?) It was filmed on a shoestring in one night and is just so joyful! The dancing is incredible...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart

The Runaway is a children's story which was first published in 1872 and was then re released in 1935 with a series of wood cut illustrations by the artist Gwen Raverat.

I had chosen The Runaway as my first Persephone mainly because of the beautiful pictures and on that front, I was not disappointed. There are 60 woodcuts interspersed with the text of this book and they range from tiny images of each character as he or she is introduced, larger full page illustrations or extensive two-page wide images which stretch above and below the text.

There is a particularly lovely one which shows Olga, the eponymous character in a tree which stretches its branches across two pages and Clarice, Olga's accomplice standing on a path below which fades into the distance.

Woodcut is an extremely unforgiving discipline; one cut out of place and you can ruin hours of work. Each cut that has been made in the wooden printing block avoids being inked up, so the artist is creating his or her lights and shades in reverse. The image itself must also be reversed. It requires incredible amounts of skill, concentration and physical stamina, as the tools are tiny and cramped, blistered fingers are inevitable. I point all this out only to make clear the incredible achievement of Gwen Raverat. This book is an artistic masterpiece.

She is capable of carving solid wooden furniture, draperies, faces, shadows and gossamer thin imaginary spirits with an equal amount of skill. The pictures not only support and illustrate the text, but also show scenes in the book that are only mentioned in retrospect (Olga being spotted on the roof by policemen, for example.)

The eagle-eyed reader may have noticed that I do not yet mention the story. This is because I was not very impressed. Apparently this work was a labour of love for Gwen R. as she had adored The Runaway as a child and pushed for it to be republished twice in her life time. I cannot see why, but then we all have beloved children's books that don't really stand up to much scrutiny (Hi Malory Towers!).

Olga, the runaway child is obviously supposed to delight the reader with her mischievous, devil-may-care ways but, quite frankly, I found her to be a complete arse and have never wanted to punch a fictional character in the face more keenly than when reading this book. Selfish, snobbish and completely ungrateful, Olga comes close to causing her supposedly dear friend and protector Clarice to have a nervous break down.

I was fond of Clarice. A painfully conscientious and lonely girl, she undertakes to keep Olga hidden from her father, servants and eventually policemen. She is wise and kind, anxious to be good and to protect the feelings of those she loves

"Olga opened her blue eyes wide, and stared about her. 'I don't know what you are talking about,' said she; 'it sounds like gibberish.'
' Never mind' said Clarice. 'We all speak gibberish to others, I think, when we say what we really feel'
'I feel very sleepy,' said Olga, 'but that is not gibberish is it?'
'No', said Clarice smiling, 'because I am getting sleepy too; when people feel alike they don't talk gibberish'"

There are some quite amusing moments in the book, like when Olga dresses up as a policeman and is outraged when Clarice derides her efforts and another occasion when Clarice worries to herself that Olga may actually be 'deficient' rather than just jolly and careless.

It is not a great book and I can see why the rather patronising overview of Elizabeth Anna Hart's works was put in as an after word rather than a fore word. At one point, the story looks like it is going to take an interesting turn which would make the character of Olga far more interesting and sympathetic, but it soon returns to its snobby and predictable path. It is an easy read, however, a book very much of its time and is eccentric and event-filled enough to carry you to the end.

At points, the friendship between the two girls seems like an intense love affair, with Olga teasing and flirting and pouting her way out of trouble with Clarice who takes the younger girl on her knee where Olga "began kissing her with dainty little kisses, as a bird might with it's beak peck sugar from her lips."

Olga's pouting lips and dainty white body are described again and again and Clarice is a slave to the younger girl's whims. "She (Clarice) thought of the money, and the jewels, and her heart sank within her, and she felt as if it must break... oh that she had never seen her! Oh that she had never listened to her!" At one point, Olga declares that she and Clarice will both go and live in an old cottage together "like those two old creatures in North Wales." where they will keep geraniums and "wear men's hats."

I was not sure if this aspect of the book was a heavily disguised reference to homosexuality. It is hard to find details about author Elizabeth Anna Hart's life despite her prolific output and she and her husband never had children. Homosexuality could not be openly discussed in the late 1800s but it has a pervasive yet subdued presence in the literature of the time. It is this, and the feminist moments, "It's girls that are kept under and kept down..." that most intrigued me about this book.

To sum up, this book is definitely worth buying for the gorgeous illustrations alone but the story, although original and lively, is not of the same quality.

This book was read as part of Persephone reading week, hosted by Paperback Reader and the B Files.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

KoKo Pop

I watched my first edition of KoKo Pop today, the new Pop Music show fronted by Jameela Jamil on T4 for Channel 4.

I was really hoping that it would be a worthy replacement for Top of The Pops, but that dream was not realised. To be fair though, I do not think that I am in their key demographic.

The show takes place in a frenzied studio full of kids who must all be under 16. The general feeling is of a Smash Hits Poll Winners Party of yester year but one where you are actually afraid that some of the girls at the front are slowly asphyxiating during the performance. There is also an in-house pre-adolescent dance troup called 'The Popsicles.' That's weird.

Jameela's presenting style is in the T4 trad style of possibly sincere, (but probably not) over enthusiasm. She does look lovely though and there is no snootiness, which is refreshing.

The show does not do chart count down. Boo. It is great to have a pop music performance show back on terrestrial telly, however, and, as with all music shows, your enjoyment will entirely depend on the featured acts.

Performing this week were NDubz, who played twice and were interviewed by Jameela. The group were on a catwalk that went right into the audience and the audience were touching them!

Mini Viva were on too, wearing fantastical rainbow, winged eyeshadow and singing their soon to be released single 'One Touch' which is growing on me like a splendid, glittery, magenta and turquoise back-rug.

Lee Ryan performed his new song, Secret Love in the manner of someone who has picked a song to perform at Karaoke before realising that he only really knows the chorus. The song itself starts off with on-trend Gary Numan synths, rave klaxons and a frenetic dance beat, so all bases are covered. His vocals on the studio version sound kind of Shakira-ish at the start. I like ballad Lee! Let's all go and listen to 'Army of Lovers!' Actually let's listen to THIS which was great: