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Lest We Remember

Posted on: Saturday, 10 November 2012

War Memorial, Brussels, taken on a recent Grand Walking Tour with les parentes (mine).

T'other day I came across another gem on Facebook (yes, another, I know. I've debated taking a Facebook holiday - perhaps a permanent one - but it is serving a genuine purpose now that I live in another country, so I'm resisting. For now.) 

It was a picture of a war memorial, with 'IF THIS OFFENDS YOU, PACK YOU'RE (sic) BAGS AND F*** OFF' written across it in bold typeface. 

Oh. Now that is lovely, thought I. 

I actually don't have the strength to go into the whys and wherefores of the moronic thought processes - or lack thereof - that drives people - people with jobs! With bosses that they're friends with on faceyb! - to post such complete and utter rubbish on their profiles. Suffice to say I'm going to roll my eyes and move on. 

Bedders is convinced that I'm such a left-winger that I'm opposed to Remembrance Day and see it as a load of right-wing nonsense. Not at all. 

Well, not completely. I did start to take a a slightly cynical view of the Army, mind, at University when their careers talk consisted of plying students with cheap wine and talking about how lucky officer trainees would travel the world and learn how to snowboard YAH-SNORT-YAH!


I just think we need to remember the right things on the 11th November. 

This quotation from Alan Bennett's The History Boys is one of my favourites:

"We don’t like to admit the war was even partly our fault cos so many of our people died. And all the mourning’s veiled the truth. It’s not “lest we forget”, it’s “lest we remember”. That’s what all this is about – the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it."

Solemnity and dignified remembrance has its place, but is also a very effective way of deflecting attention from the real issues pushing for war, particularly recent and ongoing conflict - namely greed and other sordid political motivations. W H Auden summed it up pretty succinctly when he wrote of "dictators" and the "elderly rubbish they talk/to an apathetic grave". 

So let's remember it all tomorrow. The bravery of those who have died fighting, in their mind, for a noble cause. But also the innocent, the occupied and the disenfranchised, both then and now. 

Spexy Specs

Posted on: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Jesus. It's been bothering me that Jimmy Savile has been up here for so long, depressing you all. Still, a brain vomit is good for you every now and again, I'm sure.  

A super-inspirational lady I work with who's currently finishing her first novel after being 'Highly Commended' in Good Housekeeping's novel-writing competition (seriously, she is a wonder - 'Writing? It soon stops seeming pretentious when you realise it's bloody hard work,' she says) argued today that the brain of an English teacher is 'like a compost heap' - literature's been dumped in it for years, stewing and fermenting and doing whatever it is compost does, and somewhere along the line you realise its morphed into entirely different (very fertile) matter. But you need to get rid of the compost and put it to use somewhere. Do something with it. Otherwise...I dunno, it'll....get really smelly?

She was talking about writing a novel, of course. But I'm going to apply the same theory to brain dumps about TV personalities bloated on their own egos and child sex rings in Rotherham. They're necessary. I had to do something with all of those scandalised headlines I'd been reading. 


I promised you sexy glasses. I bring you sexy glasses. 

For the interested, they're LaFont Jupiter (619). H'apparently. This is the art of instagram, where I go by the name of missmacdonner. 

Basically, I've been looking for new glasses ever since I moved to Brussels and started checking out all of the sexy Europeans with their sexy European eyewear. I even started a Sexy European Eyewear pinterest board. 

(Actually, that's a lie. I started wanting new glasses ever since I sat on my last ones. But ssssh.)

They were probably a bit more expensive than they should have been that close to payday but they are BEAUTIFUL so we're not going to talk about that, yeah? Yeah. And I think you can totally justify any purchase as long if you're wearing them regularly on your ACTUAL FACE for several years. Yeah? Totally yeah. 

Jimmy Savile and A Very Dark Place

Posted on: Thursday, 1 November 2012

Every so often a news story comes to light that's so awful - so mind-blowingly horrific - that it, well, torments me. When said story emerges I just can't stop thinking about it. It worries away at me until I'm in some sort of foot-stampy bad mood without really realising why. 

And then, finally, I do realise. Oh, that's the reason I feel a bit sick. Jimmy Savile and his antics. Oh, institutionalised sexism at the BBC. Oh, what a dirty get. How unbelievably depressing.  

The Jimmy Savile Debacle (hereafter known as the JSD) is big news here in Brussels in much the same way I'm sure it is in the UK - staff room conversations, lunch time internet browsing for the latest developments and so on. Just this morning the announcement came that his estate has been frozen in anticipation of legal action being brought by his victims. 

My mum and dad have been over for a few days and, amongst other things, we talked about the JSD. And why not, eh? It's tabloid fodder of the finest quality. There's a sordid detail of the story for every member of the family! Dad was interested in his gravestone being removed - "Jaysus, that was some creation of a thing." Mum recalled his coffin being ceremoniously displayed in the lobby of the Queens Hotel in Leeds - "I bet those people who were crying over him in the streets feel a bit, well, silly now."

Now, I'm not here to debate whether we should be treating him as innocent until proven guilty. Neither am I interested in discussing whether a lot of the public rage currently being directed towards him is misplaced and, well, a bit pointless given that he's dead and all, as I've seen elsewhere on the t'interweb. 

Let's just assume for a moment that, say, half of these (now several hundred) allegations have maybe half of a shred of truth in them. 

Can you cope with that? Certain? OK, read on.  

I hate the fact that this story speaks of an era where children were frightened to speak to their parents about things that had happened to them which made them feel uncomfortable. An era when girls were more scared of men than they are now. An era when young women weren't comfortable exercising their rights - although 'rights' seems a curious word to apply to 'not having to put up with being mauled by any man who took the fancy'.  

An era when abuse wasn't just endemic within organisations like the BBC, but dismissive attitudes towards certain sexual behaviours and activities were more widespread. An era when certain curtains on a housing estate were drawn in the middle of the day and everybody knew why. 

I know I live in a culture of Child Protection and Stranger Danger and Daily Mail headlines about society going to the dogs. I know that the definition of abuse has changed over the last forty years or so. Esteemed Beacon of Political Correctness Jim Davidson has weighed in with that very point on his blog:

I read a thing today(in The Express) some one saw 
Jimmy Saville pinch some girl’s bum . Apparently that is a sexual assault. Where will all this end." (sic)

Not content with being left on the sidelines, everyone's favourite celebrity commentator Max Clifford has also claimed this week that fifteen 'celebrities' have contacted Uncle Max in a flap that they'll be caught up with the JSD: 

"In those days we didn't ask for their birth certificate! Fnarr fnarr!" he's bleated in some public forum or another. "Some of these lads were 18 and used to work in factories...then they found themselves in fancy dressing rooms with girls throwing themselves at them! What's a fella to do?*"

*Maybe not an exact quotation, but near enough. 

We're talking about two different types of accusation here. Some girls, from the sound of it, didn't invite any sexual attention from Savile at all. At the time of their abuse they were unfortunate enough to be living in a Borstal-type school or lying in a hospital bed and expected to show their appreciation to Lovely Mr Savile. 

Some of them, however, put on some lipstick, wore a short skirt and sat in the studio audience of Clunk Click. Some of them undoubtedly wanted a taste of a celebrity lifestyle. They wanted to feel a little bit older than they actually were. Teenage years are a confusing time. Remember being 16? Remember being adamant that you knew best?  

This is what Davidson and Clifford seem to be missing. 'Abuse' is not a new-fangled PC term. People - women, men - have known for years what makes them feel uncomfortable. The fact that it was the 60s and the 70s and, to use Clifford's poorly-chosen phrase, 'things were opening up' is irrelevant. If someone forces someone who is - and this is crucial - too young or too naive to know any better to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, that person is taking advantage. That's abuse. 

'They wanted it!' cry the Savile defenders. I have no doubt that some of them, perhaps, did. So? A four year old might want to eat nothing but McDonalds morning, noon and night; but a responsible adult isn't going to feed them that. That's abuse. A teenage girl who 'wants' sex with a man in his late thirties - or even older - is not capable of making that decision. Like the McDonalds, it's going to cause no end of problems for that individual in the future. The adult needs to take charge. The adult needs to show that they know better.

Jim Davidson and Max Clifford et al don't agree with me. You might not. You might think my McDonalds analogy is a little crass. But my point is this: sex too young with older men messes girls up. 

The last media story that made me feel similarly sick was the tale of child sex trafficking ring in Rochdale. The more I think about it, there's a number of points of parity with the JSD. One line of defence that was used was that they 'wanted' it. Amidst the flurry of race-related fury that surrounded the case, ringleader Ahmed called the judge a 'racist bastard' and was banned from the courtroom. These girls, he claimed, were running a lucrative prostitution empire. They were demanding alcohol, phone credit and money in receipt for their services. 

These were girls from troubled backgrounds. Girls who were arrested in the very takeaways that were the stamping grounds of their sexual abuse for being loud and sweary and violent. A policeman taking evidence from one of the victims simply yawned as she detailed the history of her treatment at the hands of her abusers. She was told that her case wouldn't go to trial because a jury wouldn't believe her. 

But, shockingly, it wasn't just the perpetrators of these hideous acts who were deeply, deeply at fault. Social services were complicit, too. The NHS made over 80 referrals to Social Services in Rochdale which were ignored. These streetwise girls were making their own decisions, it was felt. 

No teenage girl who can barely remember having sex with 20 much older men because she'd been plied with so much alcohol is making her own decision.

No girl who vomits over the side of a bed while being raped by two men is making her own decision. 

Those images take me to such a dark place I don't know what to do about it. 

I know, however, that you can't blame budget cuts or bureaucracy for these gross failings. Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the North West, puts it best I think:

"Sexual assault is the great silent crime of our time and the silence makes it invidious. It's the kind of crime that prefers darkness and we need to shine a light on it, and for that we all share a responsibility. Every community worker, professional and neighbour has a duty not to stay silent."

(you can read more here). 

It seems that in 40 years, the definition of assault has indeed changed. It's changed for the better. But despite these changes, the defence used by people who take advantage hasn't moved. In the Rochdale case, the rapists' view that these girls 'wanted it' is a disgrace. Social Services' view that they were 'making their own decisions' (substitute 'wanted it', if you like) is a disgrace. In the JSD, Clifford and Davidson's argument that 'Ooo, girls want it!' and 'Ooo, doesn't she look 21?' is a disgrace. 

With sexual abuse, it's everyone's responsibility to make a scene. 


(I promise to be less dark and miserable ASAP. Excitable post about wonderful new eyewear coming up shortly.)


Posted on: Saturday, 20 October 2012

At the grand age of 29 in the year of 2012, I've discovered Meetup. I know: I'm always late to the party

So yes, last week, I joined Meetup. 

I'll explain the basic concept. Every major city seems to have a Meetup site for people who are new to the area/looking for something different to do. In a place like Brussels where the expat community is so transient (we've been to two leaving parties already), Meetup is invaluable. 

If I'd taken the fancy, I could have gone beer-tasting. Or card-folding. But I went on the 77 Pencils of Brussels run. And it was ACE. 

Everyone was uber-smiley and welcoming. And I (somehow) ran 15k. And now, wherever I go in Brussels, I see pencils. Batman Pencils. Angry Pencils. Indiana Jones Pencils. Sexy Pencils. Window Pencils. Pencils EVERYWHERE. 

source and source and source 

There is graffiti everywhere in Brussels - and lots of it is artistically decent, interesting stuff rather than inexpertly sprayed teenage tags. It's inspired me to go on a Brussels Graffiti tour and take photos aplenty.

Have a good weekend. 

Advice for Writers

Posted on: Tuesday, 16 October 2012

It is Book Week at school, people. Cue my moaning on Twitter about having to find a literature-related fancy dress costume for Friday (I'm toying with plaits and a sign hanging around my neck reading THIS GIRL TELLS LIES). 

I could get a bit evangelical here, but I won't - suffice to say that it's a real pleasure to work in a school that sincerely values reading as opposed to to tagging it onto the bottom of a whole-school agenda to satiate an Ofsted inspector who's been told to look out for some literacy. Oo, a poster with a book on it! In a room that used to be a library but is now full of computers! Ahem. 

Liz Lochhead was the surprise guest speaker today for Key Stage 5 students. Needless to say they were studious and thoughtful and appreciative and asked some intelligent questions.

One boy who asked if she'd written her poetry with the intention of twenty students in a classroom somewhere poring over every detail of it. "Och, no!" she said. "I didn't write it to mek you suffer!" Cue laughter. But then she said, "I wrote it because some people might like it. Some people won't. And you have to find something that you like in whatever you're studying and enjoy. Within the constraints of exam board requirements and all that crap." Cue more laughter. 

She read some of her poems and talked about them. She started with Bairnsang and the male patriarchy in Literature ("The way it had to be said/was as if you were posh, grown-up, male, English and dead.") and finished on patriarchy, too, with Men Talk ("Women natter, women nag/women niggle niggle niggle") - which I didn't realise she'd written after reading a book by Dale Spender.

And I was in heaven. And she signed my book (nerd). 

And then she gave out some advice for writers. It's reproduced below. 

This woman speaks the truth. Enjoy. 


All the good advice about writing is very simple.

So straightforward it's all been said before, but it's probably worth reminding ourselves of. I know I have to tell myself all this, and I have to do this every time I get going on something new.

1. Write what really interests you, not what you think you ought to be interested in.

2. The old five senses. See it, touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it. Turn yourself into it, said Ted Hughes, and the words will look after themselves. Well, certainly I have to turn all my censors, inhibitors and ego, and false sense of myself as a writer, and certainly any attempts at cleverness off - in the first draft at least.

See, it's only when you read back what you have written down, tasting and testing the words as words and sounds you can see where you have captured a bit of life in the language, an image, a wee detail - and that won't necessarily be in the bit that felt like it flowed or had the fancy words, but often in the bit that you struggled over and in the end, och, just put down what would have to do for now....

3. Throw away all the bits that don't have bits of life in them, keep these surprisingly honest and vivid bits, the bits that, to tell the truth, surprised you - mibbe by their simplicity - and start again with them.

4. Don't explain. You don't have to give the reasons for going there or the co-ordinates on a map. Consider cutting off the beginning and the end paragraph or stanza of what you have written - and do this once you think it's finished and cut down to the bone already. No 'vamping till ready', no summing up. Just trust your reader to be right there with you in the middle of the place you are writing about. Get in, get out and don't linger said Raymond Carver. 

5. Don't try and describe your feelings. An emotion named is an emotion obliterated from any text. Stick to those five sound senses, stick to objects and actions, what's done, what's said. Get this right and all the feeling in the world will be in this. 

6. It's all in the details, in the particular. Small things. Plain words, probably, But which ones? Ah, I said the advice was simple, I didn't say it was easy...

7. Enjoy yourself. Struggle with not enjoying yourself until you begin to, very much. 

(If I can't, or won't, it's usually because I'm not obeying Rule Number One.) 


Posted on: Saturday, 13 October 2012

Autumn has arrived. In fact, it's been here for a couple of weeks - but it's been dry and crisp and bright. Today, though, has been a wet ol' day. I've spent the majority of the day in my pyjamas reading*. And maybe had a cherry beer. 

Not before we went down to Flagey, however, to have a look-see in Le Petit Coin for an open-backed bookcase/cool rug/something we vaguely 'needed'** for the apartment. 

They didn't have anything under those headings. They had a beautiful chest of drawers, though. 

We did not need a chest of drawers. We did not get an agenda about a chest of drawers. 

But it was so bloody cute we had to buy it. 

Apologies for crappy focus. Trust me, it's beautifully yellowy wood in real-life. Dark day + broken lightbulb = iPhoto editing overload. Lighten, lighten, enhance, enhance!

Last Le Petit Coin Purchase: these hooks. We need a drill to put them up, though.

I'm glad this place only opens when the lady who owns it feels like it/isn't skiing in Aspen. Otherwise, I might be a pauper. 

And now, I'm about to shake off the shackles of an unproductive day and go out for dinner. There might be lipstick involved.

* Disclaimer: This would NEVER have happened en Angleterre. 
** 'Needed' is very relative, I know. I am a very lucky girl. We are all lucky girls/boys. 

Beauty Incarnate.

Posted on: Thursday, 11 October 2012

My dad. My nephew. Beauty incarnate.

And at this point, that sound you can hear is me sobbing. From Belgium. 


Posted on: Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Often, when I talked about moving abroad, people would say, 'Oo, aren't you brave?'

I feel like saying - well, no, not really.

I feel like saying my dad moved to London from Ireland when he was sixteen, you know. All he'd ever known were fields and bicycles and priests and Sunday mass and confession and wedding receptions with jelly and custard and Granddad singing Galway Bay. 

Suddenly he was in a city of millions and money. 

He'd gone off to a place of temptation, my grandmother said. Nothing but smog and sin in that auld town, she sniffed. 

It was the 1960s. Boarding houses still displayed signs in the windows: 'No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.' The Rolling Stones were singing Satisfaction, but he preferred dance halls and Jim Reeves (still does). He didn't have a certificate to his name - he can't even remember if he sat the Junior Cert. He could ride a bicycle and cut turf. He had nothing but his wits and his hands and a smile. 

And, you know, a drink or two. To help you hold onto the smile. 


My mum married my dad at eighteen and a half. Eighteen's an age where half years are still appropriate,  I think.

That's brave, for a start. 

I look at the photos taken on her wedding morning. She smiles stiffly against the backdrop of the pea-green kitchen. The gas cooker. I try to read the look in her eyes. She looks like a little girl. She was. 

She grew up all over - in London, in the West of Ireland, in Leicester, back to London again. She remembers starting primary school after primary school without ever cementing the basics. 

We've done that already, we've moved on. You'll have to catch up. 

Granddad was a rambler and a gambler, as the song goes. He had a pub, a landline and a sister who covered for him. A half-brother emerged in Wales - red-eyed, liked a beer - in Mum's 50s. 

Grandma struggled with her nerves and had a doctor who was fond of writing prescriptions. 

Noel, a brother, was left in a boarding school in Ireland on a scholarship for months. Paul got onto a degree course but Granddad wouldn't fill out the income assessment form. They ended up in a council maisonette in Camden Town. 

Maybe getting married wasn't just being brave, or being in love. Maybe it was a way out. 

She had two unfaltering obsessions: to own her own house, and for her children to go to University. 

She did it. 


I've moved to Brussels with a clutch of qualifications and certificates. I have enough money to pay for French lessons. I go running and eat sushi and I have a job that keeps my hands soft. That's not brave at all. 


We've been doing some work on Slam Poetry in school at the minute. You should really watch this video. And I defy you not to think about where you come from and how lucky you are. 

Africa Museum, Tervuren

Posted on: Saturday, 6 October 2012

In our mission to visit as many different tourist attractions with as many of our visitors as possible, we took a trip out to Tervuren last weekend. 

Next door to my new school, there is a museum dedicated to Belgium's colonial past; specifically, in the Congo. It boasts an enormous taxidermy display and rooms filled with instruments, weapons and Picassoesque masks. Leopold II commissioned the building of the museum - take a look below, it's a pretty grand place - to house his growing collection of African artefacts and show them off to the Belgian populace. 

In the entrance hall there are several gilt statues of African children with swollen bellies kneeling at the feet of wealthy Belgian benefactors. It takes that kind of angle. The circa-1900 angle. 

He was quite the boyo, Leopold. Museum already in mind, he headed out to the Congo for a shooting trip with his pals every so often with the intention of recreating the African savannah in several dozen glass cases. He was like a mad Noah, killing a male and female of every creature he could get within 20 feet of. 

He even shipped out a number of natives, built African-style huts in the carefully-pruned gardens of the museum and invited visitors to view his 'human zoo'. 

Along with the spoils of Belgium's spree, there's also a (much smaller) interactive section with gory photos of plantation workers holding the severed hands of other Africans who raised voices against the brutal exploitation of the country, the random acts of violence executed by authorities and the rubber trade. 

The guidebook explains that the Museum will close for a refurbishment at some point in the next year, and the new-and-improved Afrika Museum will place more emphasis on the darker side of Belgium's past, and the emergence of Zaire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The intention is to redress the balance between the awe inspired by viewing the extensive collection of artefacts and set it more firmly against the exploitative means used to acquire it. 

Meanwhile, I'm taking my Year 10 class there in a couple of weeks for a creative writing exercise. I think the grinning toothy skulls will really bring something special out of them...

The Simple Things

Posted on: Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Sometimes, it's the simple things.

Like being so ridiculously excited to teach a lesson because you've managed to squeeze some Irish Republicanism in there along with a visual treat in the form of Cillian Murphy.


And so tomorrow my Year 12s will watch this film trailer as a precursor to the question 'So what do you already know about the Irish Civil War?'

(not much, I fear. But I'm prepared to be proven wrong.)
And, in the process, I've been reminded of what a brilliant film it is. And the beauty of Cillian Murphy.
Strange things happen when you google 'The Beauty of Cillian Murphy'. Including this. Scroll down until you see the puppet. With a leading statement like that, how can you resist?
I have been away. Sozzatronic. But I have some photos and some book recommendations and things to share as soon as things get a bit quieter. Hopefully, a calmer period is around the corner.
Oh, how I long to sit in my pyjamas and watch The Thick of It! Roll on this weekend.

Phototastic: Brussels update

Posted on: Sunday, 9 September 2012

It's my fifth week in Bruxelles. 

I no longer feel a complete div when asking for something reeeeeally simple in a bar/café/shop. 

We have blinds up, which means no more commando-crawling from the shower to the bedroom in order to avoid the neighbours' stares. 

I know my route to work. I read on the tram. It is lovely. Next week, I will cycle. Grrr. 

I feel I'm getting to grips a little with this place and its eccentricities. 

This week, Matthew of Telegraph fame visited. We chanced upon a festival where 12-foot-high figures danced and span to a marching band playing Quando, Quando, Quando. Belgium loves a marching band - I know this, I've learnt. We ended up watching them dance in an old folks' home courtyard. The old folks were loving their lives. 

We've been pretending to be cool enough to hang out at Café Belga at Flagey. In actuality, we are nowhere near cool enough. But when I have some beautiful European tortoiseshell spectacles, well, we'll see. I'm going to start a pinterest board dedicated to sexy eyewear. 

They do graffiti really well in Brussels. Whole sides of buildings are dedicated to Tin Tin, Snowy and that Captain Birdseye bloke. I think you can do a tour. 

We've been to the flea market down at Jeu de Balle a couple of weekends in a row. It's sort of full of crap, but interesting crap. 

Oh, now cake. Cake is good. Although it had been So Flippin' Hot (these blue skies are not touched up, Guides' honour), cake has not really been on the agenda. Beer has.  

We have been 'doing' cafés at the weekend. I like the concept of Make Yer Own when it comes to sandwiches. 

Surely to God no one would buy a fur coat in this weather? Yikes. 

Oh, and I like the greeny glass and the pointy roof that this house has going onnnn. We could have ended up on this street, although I'm glad we didn't. The tram is noisy and the pizza takeaways are plentiful. 

After my little clothes splurge (ahem) Bedders and Matthew had a nose around some blokey clothes shops. The wooden walls in this place (the website is amusant) inspired Matthew to finish his sauna. I loved the cabinet and the faded rug. 

Oh, and we have done The Brussels Bus Tour. We did it with our other recent visitors, Matt (different Matt) and the Very Pregnant Shirley as it was A Pregnant Friendly Activity. It was clumsily translated and slightly baffling - "Let's just take a moment to run you through the three main European institutions for which Brussels has become so famous - the Parliament, the Commission and the Council." Eight and a half minutes of mind boggling information later - "So there you go!" Um. OK. 

And clearly I have been playing around with the camera. Ta da.

Work is brilliant - like, so very, very brilliant, and I probably need to have me some revised thoughts on private education, perhaps in written form to get my head around it all - but busy, and so this is a lazy string of pictures. 

More soon. 

Objets Trouvé: Shopping mojo

Posted on: Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Somewhere, sometime, I lost my shopping mojo. 

I used to be a horror for shopping. My early 20s were littered with birthday cards from my mother with 'hilarious' jokes on the front re: the amount girls spend on cardigans and bags and whatnots. 

I was one of those girls. 

Then...well, I don't know what happened. I lost a little bit of weight, and I grew up a little bit, I suppose. Suddenly H&M's Divided range wasn't all that hot anymore. I started to freak out in shops. I didn't have a clue what suited me. I forgot how to dress. 

And then I stopped really caring. 

Or maybe I did, but I stopped thinking about it so much. 

I wore lots of stripes. And navy blue and grey. Like a sort of preppy sailor. 

And then, I discovered shopping in Brussels. 


These chassures are loafers. I know not the French for loafers, so let's make it 'loafres', oui?

They are freakin' aubergine. They are the comfiest things I have ever put on my feet. 

I am experiencing early-20s purchase-related joy for the first time in years. I love them. This deserves some sparkle. 

I have just bought an entirely new work-wardrobe. I know. I am bad

But it really doesn't help that everyone at my new place of work is a) a bit European and b) ergo, is a bit smart 'n' sexy. And that it's a bit less formal than my last place of work, where 'Power Dressing' translated with very few exceptions into 'Ill-Fitting Boxy Suit From Next'. 

If only those clothes could talk. 'Hello, I'm DEVOID OF PERSONALITY!' they would scream. 

So I went a bit mad. 

This is not even everything I bought. And I could have bought more. I had to come home in order to stop spending money. 

I rang Bedders. 'Bedders, I could do this EVERY WEEK!' I squealed. 

'Please don't,' he croaked. 

Ah, the irony. Last week I was writing about a feminist handbook. This morning I was tweeting about the very funny reviews for Bic's ladypens. This afternoon I'm doing a BIG SQUEALY POST ALL ABOUT CLOTHES!

I'm nothing if not a contradiction. 

Recommended Reading - In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Posted on: Friday, 24 August 2012

When I was showing you around my snazzy new apartment, I promised you a book more addictive than crack cocaine.

And here it is - In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. 

In theory, this is not a book that I should like. It is well-documented that I am not a person who is All About The Facts. I don't like logic puzzles. Sudoko is not my thing. I thought, therefore, it would follow that 'true crime' writing, or 'murder mystery' type stuff, wouldn't appeal to me. 

Turns out I was wrong. 

The premise of the book is a bit like those tasks that you'd find in an ancient English textbook. 'Find a story in the newspaper that interests you. Rewrite it in the style of a short story, with yourself as one of the characters'. 

Which is pretty much what Capote did. Except he only wrote himself into the book very subtly. 

Forgive my ignorance, but I didn't know too much about Truman Capote before I read this. I had 'A Capote Reader', and I'd dipped in and out of it. I knew he was a bit of a New York socialite who mated around with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I remember a beautiful description from a short piece he wrote about them - he said that the sight of Burton illuminated Taylor's eyes like a chain of Japanese lanterns. I thought that was lovely. 

I also knew he was pretty much abandoned as a child, and grew up with his aunts in Alabama where he met (Nelle) Harper Lee and was written into To Kill a Mockingbird as Dill. 

Well, let me tell you some more. With In Cold Blood, Capote wrote the original non-fiction novel. The process started when he read in the New York Times about a brutal killing of a wealthy wheat farmer and his family in Holcombe, Kansas. Apparently, he'd been looking for some inspiration for a non-fiction piece for some time, and it was a toss-up between the Holcombe murder and shadowing a maid working in a fancy New York hotel. He chose the murder and the rest, as they say, is the birth of an entirely new genre of writing.

You see, my initial assumption - that it was a 'murder mystery' of sorts - was actually wrong. Tom Wolfe summed it up ideally - this book isn't a 'who-dunnit' or a question of 'will they be caught?' The reader know from the outset that "four shot-gun blasts...ended six human lives" - four in the murder, and two at the hands of the penitentiary service by hanging. Instead, Wolfe insists, the suspense relies on the promise of gory details

I paraphrase, but that's the gist. 

So, Capote travelled with Nelle - Harper Lee, that is - to Kansas to begin to investigate the crime. Initially, doors were closed in his face - he was too pompous, too effete for the plain-talking people of Holcombe. But it seems he won their trust - or perhaps it was Nelle's soft Southern manner that encouraged them to open up to him. Whichever way, the opening Acknowledgements thanks certain persons for allowing Capote access to interviews and crucial documents, many of which are reproduced fully or in part in the book. The book took almost 7 years to write, and was only published after the execution of both murderers. 

This is what really appealed to my inner voyeur, I think. When Capote quotes from 16-year-old Nancy Clutter's diary, it's represented accurately. When the nature of Perry Smith's childhood and upbringing is slowly unfurled (the murderer with whom Capote developed a questionable degree of empathy), it's done so through various documents and personal accounts: a grammatically-clumsy letter from his father to a parole board; an interview with his one surviving sibling.

It's real

This hard-working, God-fearing family that Capote brings alive before the reader's eyes really existed. Herb Clutter, the staunch Methodist who had a policy of not employing men who drank. Bonnie Clutter, the matriarch of the family afflicted terribly with a nervous condition, had raised four children in the house her husband had designed and built. Two had flown the nest and two, Nancy and Kenyon, remained at home. Although it sounds like the most archetypal of American stereotypes, Nancy really did have a boyfriend called Bobby; they were 'going steady'. Kenyon was good with his hands; at the time of the murders, he was in the process of finishing a wooden trunk for one of his older sisters. It was to be her wedding present. And somehow their wholesome, All-American lives crossed paths with those of two criminals - one of whom had overheard in jail that there was a wealthy farmer out West by the name of Clutter who had $10,000 in a safe at home. 

There was no safe. Herb Clutter didn't carry money on his person. Smith and his partner in crime took somewhere between forty and fifty dollars from the house. 

This - the reality of it all - is probably the reason I ended up googling images of the crime scene as soon as I'd finished it. 

It was midnight. The pictures were pretty gory. Probably not my brightest idea. 

I had to watch the film, too - I'll be teaching this book alongside the film for one of the International Baccalaureate modules. Needless to say, it's nowhere near as good as the book - it simply can't hope to convey in an hour and three quarters the depth of detail that Capote does in the novel. Unsurprisingly, given the title 'Capote', the director's chosen direction is to probe the man behind the writer's flamboyant persona. It's undoubtedly worth a watch, but if you choose to watch it before reading the book (how very dare you), be aware that it makes far more of Capote's apparent infatuation with Smith, and only scratches the surface of Smith's background or the Clutter family.

At one point, however, it illuminates an interesting point about Capote's possible motivation for writing the book - and the reason he's become so consumed by the case and by Perry. At one point, Capote is questioned about his interest in Smith. He answers matter-of-factly about his own 'lost' childhood - being passed from relative to relative, being misunderstood, feeling 'different'. 'It's as if,' he says, 'we grew up in the same house. And one day he got up and went out the back door, whereas I went out the front.'

This has a big, fat 'RECOMMENDED' stamp on it. Just don't google the murder scene pictures. Or at least don't do it at midnight. 

** Do, however, have a look at the chilling photoshoot Capote arranged with of the two murderers with a known fashion photographer. Just two murderers looking eerily normal; showing their tattoos, smoking, smirking. 

Chez Bedders

Posted on: Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Bonjour. I 'av been 'aving ze French lessons, yes? So that I can speak like the natives, yes?

Today I have been learning the language of 'Objects in the Office' and 'How To Say Where They Are In The Room'. I can, therefore, tell you that the paper bin is green and it is in the corner. I can also tell you that there were two pairs of lunettes dans la salle this afternoon and one of those pairs was purple. And I can also inform you that there is a tree outside the window.

I tell ya, when there's a paper bin emergency and you need to know where that bin is pronto, you'll be glad to have me around. 

We also talked about our likes and dislikes and what we do every day. And I now know that Lewis, my fourteen year old classmate (yes, this is what I've been reduced to) likes Greenday. Beaucoup. And Nickelback. Beaucoup. Christina, the Spanish girl who works in a Cuban bar, is my favourite classmate. She speaks approximately 70% of the time in a Spanish/Catalan hybrid and barks 'QUE?' at the teacher periodically. 

Mais maintenant, allow me to show you around the apartment, oui?

First of all, those of you in need of a 1st wedding anniversary present (that's PAPER, folks), look no further than here. You may have seen previously that, amongst other things, Bedders enlisted the help of a YouTube tutorial in order to make me some origami paper flowers for our wedding anniversary.

I repeat - a YouTube tutorial. That, my friend, is love.  

I ordered address cards from the Rifle Paper Company. We have an exciting new address, and the cards are beautiful and printed in GREEN ink. I heart them.

Heart, you say? The hearts are actually a little leaving present from a lovely lady I used to work with at my old school. She tucked them inside a card with a sweet note and I was very touched.

Alors, and here is the desk at which I type. A bargain from a Leeds-y shop. Note, paper flowers on display. And our much-loved bookcase in pride of place in the dining room. 

OK, so this is what all the Pinteresting of picture frames was all about. Clockwise from centre bottom we have an Alan Stones print (Immediate Family), our Swimming for Children book framed, a trio of Irish writers (Joyce, Kavanagh and Yeats - my brother has all 6 which makes me sick with envy, quite honestly), a Guinness advert that I found in an ancient Country Life magazine and framed and then Bedders' Bathing Places Fat-Man-Diving print which he got in the Side Gallery in Newcastle many yonks ago. The blanket is my Donna Wilson BEAUTY

Old faithful favourites have been finding new homes...

I'm currently suppressing my inner OCD nutbag and trying not to worry about our luscious new chair being bleached by the sun. Err, hello turning-into-my-mother! No worries - the  John Lewis voiles will be arriving soon. Err, definitely turning into my mother. 

I've had to adapt to the fricking crazy weather we've been having here. When I say adapt, I mean STOP WEARING TIGHTS. Believe me, this is a big deal for me. I swear to God, last week it was so hot I was worried about expiring. On the street. Just giving up. It was SO. VERY. HOT. It was actually a bit disgusting how hot it was, but I won't go into that. 

Another Side Gallery Print on the wall. Benefits of high ceilings (even higher than Leeds) = LOOOOOADS of picture space. 

So there we go. A sneak peek around the apartment. I am as giddy as a kipper. 

It's probably obvious. 


Oh, look-see. I did a smiley. Yup, definitely giddy as a kipper.  

More coming soon - amongst all of the reading I'm doing for school I came across MORE ADDICTIVE THAN CRACK COCAINE so I'll be penning a few thoughts on that and I'll also do a Brussels: IT EXISTS OUTSIDE OF THE APARTMENT! photo post. 


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