Mad Max: Emerald City

Spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road. And, should it be a problem, also spoilers for The Wizard of Oz.

It’s fair to say that action movies are not my most-watched genre. I tend to drift off when the fights happen, which is like watching a musical and making cups of tea whenever someone starts singing. However, the word of mouth was overwhelming, so my partner and I used a rare night out to see Mad Max: Fury Road. Which was extremely worth it. In IMAX 3D, it felt less like watching a film and more like being forcibly transported to a terrifying desert where people keep throwing stuff at you for two hours. In a good way.

As we came out, my partner referred (while enthusiastically praising the film) to the ‘lack of plot’ and some reviews I’ve read also mentioned a lack of plot. It’s true that the story does literally consist of a ride from one part of a howling wasteland to another part of said howling wasteland, and then back again. But it seemed to me that the narrative was actually a twist (intentional or not) on a classic story with plenty of plot – The Wizard of Oz. It’s just that it’s told mostly through shots of large bolted-together trucks colliding with each other.

(It also reminded me of David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, which of course is also themed on The Wizard of Oz but features Mad Max levels of weirdness and violence.)

I haven’t seen more than a passing reference to this idea anywhere else, so I’m going to elaborate a bit here. For other more important commentary on Mad Max and specifically its feminism, you can’t do better than this post and its links.

So. This is where I see parallels.

  • A main character is taken from their relatively quiet, static home and thrown into a new and much busier environment. Dorothy is taken from her Kansas farm into the technicolour Oz; Max is taken from the car in which he lives and imprisoned in The Citadel. In the process of moving from one place to the other, lives are lost, but Max/Dorothy emerge alive if not unscathed.
  • Max now takes on the role of the Scarecrow, hanging helpless in order to serve someone’s agenda – not scaring crows, but feeding radioactive soldiers with his blood. If this were a musical – and it is essentially the action equivalent of an opera – the appropriate song here would be from The Wiz. “You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.”
  • While Max is indisposed, the role of Dorothy is assumed by Imperator Furiosa, who is leaving The Citadel with a small group – The Wives – in order to search for her long-lost home. En route to her destination, she acquires new passengers: Max, who now becomes the Tin Man in need of a heart (having initially attempted to leave Furiosa and the Wives to die in the desert), and Nux, who has been brainwashed by the Citadel dictator Immortan Joe and is therefore in need of a new brain (metaphorically). The Wives already have courage, but the fact that one of them tries to go back suggests that a little more is required.
  • As in Oz, most of the characters’ names describe their essential traits: Angharad the Splendid, Cheedo the Fragile, Doof Warrior, The People Eater.
  • The most obvious reference: there’s a giant storm (a tornado in one case, a sandstorm in the other) during which people are tossed up in the air.
  • As the group fight to reach their destination, they bond and becomes a coherent team with some affection for one another.
  • The major twist in Mad Max is that the Emerald City is also Kansas – that is, the place the group is trying to reach for the first half of the movie is Furiosa’s home. But when they get there, it’s an illusion, just like the Wizard. So instead, they find new allies, and set off to defeat the monster who must be destroyed before they can find a new home.
  • Max briefly becomes the Wizard, giving Furiosa her new purpose – to destroy the monster.
  • After a climactic battle, the monster (the Wicked Witch/Immortan Joe) is killed by Dorothy/Furiosa.
  • Although Immortan Joe isn’t killed by water, it’s still an interesting link, given the importance of water in this world. In fact, in a sense, he is killed by water, since it’s his monopoly of it that leads to his overthrow.
  • It turns out that the monster’s minions are delighted by his/her death, and Dorothy/Furiosa is their new hero. The land is improved by her actions, and she also discovers that home was in her grasp all along.
  • In the process, Nux has indeed gained a brain, Max a heart, and the Wives (the ones who lived) courage.

I have a friend who objects strongly to the end of The Wizard of Oz, on the grounds that Dorothy’s home was genuinely a depressing and negative place and she would have been better off staying in Oz. (The sequels implicitly endorse this view by returning her there.) Mad Max takes an angle I think he would approve of: the home Furiosa dreams of is an unachievable, possibly unrealistic memory and she never gets there. Instead, she takes the best and only remaining aspects of it (the Many Mothers, the seeds of a new world) and uses them to make the world she lives in a better place. Dorothy has grown up, and she’s awesome.

 

Taken from madmax.wikia.com.

Taken from madmax.wikia.com, because flaming guitars are just cool.

How old am I? Jumbled reflections on 40

In the last few weeks I have sometimes found myself doing a private, me-specific quiz. It goes as follows:

Q: How old am I?
A:
a) in my thirties
b) in my late thirties
c) middle aged
d) in my prime
e) still relatively young by today’s standards
e) practically still a child
f) practically dead

The most technically accurate answer to the quiz is in fact g): just about to turn 40. Which is why age is suddenly on my mind. Forty is a weird age. Well, no, it’s not, it’s a very ordinary age, but then lots of ordinary things are also weird, like pregnancy, and Matt Smith’s face, and forty is one of those things for me.

Forty is weird because I don’t know what it means. People will say it doesn’t mean anything because age is just a number. But that feels like saying something is ‘just a word’. Words and numbers are important: they mean things and what they mean matters.

Forty might mean I’m halfway through my life. Or it might not. I might be four-fifths of the way through my life, for all I know. Or 0% of the way through, if I suddenly find that river that grants immortality and accidentally drink from it. (It would have to be accidental. I really don’t want to be immortal – in fact I’m almost phobic about it, if you can be phobic about something you never actually expect to encounter. But anyway.)

Forty is good because it means I’m a grown up. Right? People in the thirties might or might not be grown up but forty definitely is. Forty is sensible. It doesn’t stay up late on weekdays. (Check.) It eats broccoli. (Check.) It knows about grouting.

Fail. I do not know about grouting. Nor does my husband. We got my dad round to grout our shower the other week because we didn’t know how. Maybe in two weeks’s time I’ll wake up on the morning of my birthday knowing about grouting. Will that be my present from the universe?

The ridiculous thing is, a lot of my friends have already hit forty and several more are due to this year, so I already know perfectly well that one more birthday isn’t going to change anything about me, as it hasn’t changed anything about them. On the other hand, I also read a lot of fiction, and in fiction forty has a definite meaning. Especially in 19th century novels. It’s very definitely middle-aged. It’s settled, and it’s unromantic.

Mind you, according to one heroine, I passed the threshold for romance some time ago. “A woman of 27 can never hope to feel or inspire affection again.” I’m not that good at remembering exact lines from books, but I have that one memorised. When I first read it I was eleven, and the opinions of 17-year-old Marianne Dashwood (from Sense and Sensibility) seemed perfectly reasonable. At eleven, all adults seem like one mass of homogeneous grown-up; what did I know about the nuances of age? I didn’t understand Austen was joking until much later.

Speaking of fiction, I’ve been identifying one definite sign of adulthood – or perhaps just parenthood, but I keep conflating the two. I’m rereading Anne of Green Gables, and my perspective on it has unsettlingly changed. I can still admire and identify with free-spirited, dreamy, imaginative Anne, just as I did when I was her age. But like one of those old woman/young girl optical illusions, I’m also identifying, confusingly, with her guardian Marilla. Why can’t Anne be tidier? Why must she keep forgetting her chores and wandering off to commune with tree spirits? Anne, come back here right now and finish your sewing! Because the things is, I’m now the parent of a highly-strung, careless, imaginative child, and my sympathies have quite decidedly shifted. It’s a little dizzying.


Will going out feel different when I’m forty? But then it already does; that’s just parenthood again. At 25, the question of whether to stay out late revolved around a few basic considerations: having enough money, whether other people were going, whether I felt in the mood. There might be a hangover the next day, but it wasn’t a big price to pay. (I’ve never been much of a drinker, so it was never much of a hangover.) Now instead of a hangover I have guilt – the parental version of the morning after the night before.

I went to a gig the other week, in Shepherd’s Bush. It was good, but I was sleepy and the music was loud, so I left before the end in an (unsuccessful) attempt to get home before midnight. On the way back I was suffused with a familiar cold, heavy sinking of the spirits. Like a hangover starting before I was even home. A guiltover. I’d be home late, I’d be less useful in the morning, what was I thinking, how could I have abandoned everyone and let them down so badly?

I never used to feel guilt like this. It’s taken years to creep up on me and now I can’t get rid of it. Every time I go out. Am I allowed to be out at night? Why aren’t I at home with my children who need me in some unspecified way even though they’re asleep and don’t care? What long-term effect am I having on my household by going out sometimes after work instead of straight home where I belong? Now I write it out, it looks silly, but the voice in my head is very insistent. I think it’s the voice of generations of housewives who never had the option of going out and having fun. I want to sooth that voice, reassure it that I can have it all; well, perhaps not all, but at least a selection of it. Right?

(Age was on my mind anyway, that night. The gig was a performance of some David Bowie songs from his Ziggy Stardust days, by a band which included Woody Woodmansey, the original Spiders From Mars drummer. Which was very exciting for me, because the final Ziggy Stardust gig happened two years before I was born, and I never thought I’d get to see any of the band members play live. So I watched Woody Woodmansey on stage and thought about how the man on those drums was the same man who had been on the drums at the 1973 concert, and wondered how he felt about that. The people around me were in their 50s and 60s, because they’d been around the first time. Bowie himself (who wasn’t present) is in his late 60s. 39 felt too young, that night.)

Am I the same person I was at fifteen, or ten, or five?

The primary effect of accumulating more years is simply accumulation of everything. Hundreds and thousands of memories, experiences and half-completed opinions jumbled up inside me like the dresses and teeshirts in my overcrowded wardrobe. I need to declutter my head.

But if I become my own archaeologist, if I dig up and tidy away the fossilised layers of identity that I’ve built up inside me, I’ll be dismantling my own sense of self. I don’t want to lose the memory of my first kiss or going swimming for my sixteenth birthday any more than I want to throw away the single earring from the outfit I wore to my school leaving dance or the teeshirt my first boyfriend bought for me. The trouble is, I’m running out of space, in all kinds of ways. Space and time. Space and time and energy.

But not teeshirts. I’ve definitely got plenty of those.

The other week I was vaguely pretending to be someone who stays up late. It was actually 10.30pm on a Tuesday, but whatever. The rest of the household had gone to bed and I was drinking vodka and orange and listening to the new Leonard Cohen album. You take these moments where you can find them. Then my ten-year-old daughter popped downstairs to give me a late goodnight hug. “You smell like Granny,” she said affectionately, “all cottagey and lovely.”

I finished listening to the album, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Old Year’s Resolutions

It’s been said before, but a year is a ridiculous amount of time to make a resolution for. I can barely think a week ahead, personally. If I did make any resolutions at the start of 2014, they are long since forgotten and superseded by the actual year, which was far too full of searching for school uniforms, navigating train delays, watching Orphan Black and scouring London for edible gluten-free bread to allow any time for the relentless programme of exercise, self-improvement and carrot sticks that I might have planned.

No, the time to make resolutions for 2014 is now – three days before it goes away forever. Like undergraduate essays, some things can only really happen on a last-minute deadline. So the question is: what didn’t you do this year that you can do by Wednesday? For example:

– You can’t acquire a habit of exercising in three days. But you can download a running app like TempoRun, which motivates you using your own music, or Zombies, Run!, which motivates you using the desperate groans of the undead.

– Who have you been meaning to forgive, compliment, or announce your undying love for? Do it on Jan 1st and your communication will be buried under the weight of everyone else doing the same thing. Do it now, and you’ll get in first. (Disclaimer: the value of forgiveness, compliments and undying love can go down as well as up. Consult your inner adult and at least one trusted friend before sending any emails you may later regret.)

– Intended to watch a TV or movie series but never got round to it? You should just about have time, provided you had the foresight to take these few days off work and/or not have any children. Snuggle under a duvet, place a bucket of popcorn within easy reach, and on Jan 1st you can emerge blinking from the world of downtown Baltimore/St Mary Mead (delete according to taste) ready to face 2015 with only 99,999 shows left to catch up on. Win.

– Book you’ve meant to read? Again, you’ve got time before 2015. Or try an audiobook version – restful to the eyes, lots of free options, and can be combined with Netflix’s Fireplace For Your Home (on mute to avoid the Christmas music) for a relaxing winter experience that will leave you feeling like you’ve achieved something for almost no effort. 19th century novels are a particularly good bet, especially ones with long descriptive passages so you can have micro-naps and still follow the plot.

– Want to make the world a better place? (And prevent yourself weeping uncontrollably every time those ads with the starving children come up on daytime TV: I assume that’s not just me.) Then go here, pick a charity, donate. Or sign up for kiva.org and you can give the same money over and over. Or if donations aren’t an option, bookmark The Hunger Site and Free Rice and arrange a reminder to visit them regularly. Or sign up for local volunteering.

– Have a vague desire for self-improvement or to generally make life better, but short on actual plans? Some quick ideas:

  • Check free things to do near you (e.g. Time Out’s guide to free London, pick one to do, pick a day to do it, and stick to it.
  • Join meetup.com, search for a group to join, and sign up to one of their meetings. And actually go.
  • Play the Wiki-Link Game until you’ve learned something you didn’t know.
  • Write to a local politician about something that matters to you.
  • Use a site such as Supercook to identify a recipe you haven’t made that uses ingredients you already have, and make it.
  • Think of one nice thing you could do for someone you know: look after their children for an hour or two, help them declutter their bedroom, lend them a book they think you’ll like. Make the offer. Don’t worry if they don’t take you up on it, and leave it open for the future.
  • Think of one nice thing someone could do for you, and ask for it. Seriously. People usually like being asked favours, if they’re not put under pressure about it.
  • Write a review of a book you like by a little-known author and publicise it. Link to a blog post you’ve enjoyed. (I’m not hinting. Fine, I’m hinting, but you can pretend I’m not.) Back a crowdfunded project you like the look of. Join Arts Emergency. Do something to support people who are creating things.
  • Write a limerick, haiku, sonnet, amusing tweet, flash fiction – something short. If you enjoyed that, aim to do it weekly, then daily.

Am I following my own advice? Well, one of my Old Year Resolutions is to write one more blog post before 2015, so… yes. And I’ve achieved it simply by telling other people to do things. Now it’s time to dig out that Sopranos box set, eat some popcorn, and work out how to write a pithy, sounds-a-bit-profound end to this post. I’ll come back to that. Maybe next year.

Here is a link to a gift I might have given you if I were giving you a gift

Let’s face it, Christmas is coming very soon now. Like a giant wave of red and gold glitter on the horizon, it is facing you down, poised to engulf you in a gigantic crash of presents and guilt. It’s getting late to order anything online, and the shops are busy. So if you have a friend you’d like to buy something for, but haven’t, here is a handy list of gifts you could have given them if you had the time, money, energy and/or inclination.

For the friend who likes giant sea creatures and also cuddling: The Giant Squid Comfort Pillow. Or three! Why not three? Look how happy they all are on the sofa together.

Their tentacly cuddliness means you will never need human friends again.

Their tentacly cuddliness means you will never need human friends again.

What about the friend who loves buttered waffles and also wearing clothes? Try the Buttered Sweatshirt. Actually wearing it would probably make you feel ill after a while, or cause giants to attempt to eat you for breakfast. Looking at a lovely picture of it? Free and delicious.

Mmm. Buttery.

Mmm. Buttery.

Now this zombie sculpture would make a great surprise present. Simply arrange it in your friend’s front garden shortly before they’re due back from the pub. Tip: video their reaction, then turn it into a digital video Christmas card. They’ll never forget it!

But remember: a zombie is for life, not just for Christmas.

But remember: a zombie is for life, not just for Christmas.

And who doesn’t want to be eaten, I mean supported, by a giant red crab chair with claws that could tear you into pieces? For a mere six hundred dollars (reduced!) you can create a talking point and also terrify small children into never wanting to visit your house again.

Look at those cute murderous little eyes!

Look at those cute murderous little eyes!

For a friend or lover whose face you don’t really like, try this all-over mermaid onesie . Also good for mermaid fetishists, which I’m fairly sure is a thing, this being the internet.

They're smiling underneath. Probably.

They’re smiling underneath. Probably.

There is an entire website selling rubber ducks in celebrity form, but my favourite is the Dorothy duck. A nightmarish mashup of a beloved childhood film and a beloved childhood toy, its face will haunt your sleep for many a Christmas to come. Which makes it excellent value for money!

Bathtime has never been so terrifying!

Bathtime has never been so terrifying!

Speaking of beloved childhood toys, for the friend with a Nutcracker obsession and very high ceilings, try this gigantic statue. Five thousand dollars, but who can put a price on happiness? And this is definitely happiness. That woman standing next to it definitely looks happy.

No, of course it's not going to come to life and eat you, why would it do that?

No, of course it’s not going to come to life and eat you, why would it do that?

And finally, do you have a friend who loves unicorns but never seems to manage to bag one when you go hunting? Assuage their shame with this inflatable unicorn head trophy and nobody will ever know their shame.

It's ok, inflatable unicorns don't feel pain.

It’s ok, inflatable unicorns don’t feel pain.

Happy Giftmas!

Mentally Unwell Isn’t Less Than Human

Guest post by Sally Brewer, reprinted with permission from a private rant. 

So, I was just reading an article about zoos. It was in the Guardian, it was a very interesting article and I quite enjoyed it. So when I got to the end I thought I’d read the comments left by readers.

The second comment contained this corker of a line:

“To see these types of animals in a zoo when you know them in the wild is like looking in the window of a ward for the mentally insane – they look like humans but much of their humanity is simply missing in some deeply sad way.”

I stopped. I read. I looked again. I read some more.

I had, in fact, read correctly. Apparently if you’re a human being suffering from some kind of mental illness which means you need to be in hospital for a while, ‘much of [your] humanity is simply missing’.

Now, I’ve been in a ward for the mentally insane. They aren’t called that these days, by the way. My ward was referred to as an ‘acute psychiatric ward’. Some of the patients staying there were pretty obviously unwell and walked about in hospital issue gowns saying strange things. Some of them didn’t. One girl got up every morning and put on a different pretty dress (the first day I met her she had a petticoat on underneath a proper 1950s big dress). She used to practice her French with me at breakfast. One woman was too unwell to get out of bed and just stayed there all day, but used to talk to the psychiatrist about her husband and children who she missed.

None of us were lacking humanity.

While I was on the psych ward I wrote poetry (not very good, but no one said talent was a requirement for humanity), I wrote letters and G+ posts and worked hard on making my friends and family laugh so they didn’t worry about me too much. I turned up my nose at the hospital food, and I craved chocolate. I spoke to my much loved boyfriend last thing before I went to bed every night and I looked forwards to a trip we had planned to Alton Towers when I got out. I didn’t stop being human. Not even a little bit.

Sometimes I was unwell, although I was generally one of the best behaved of patients. I am, it appears, a naturally obliging soul most of the time, and the nurses normally seemed to want reasonable things for me, so I tended to turn up to take my pills when told and tried to not get in trouble. But even if I hadn’t; even if I had screamed, or ranted, or run naked down the corridor (no one did that although one woman did walk around wearing nothing but a very colourful pair of pants) I would still have been entirely, completely and comprehensively human.

Being mentally unwell isn’t lacking ‘much of [your] humanity’, any more than you lack humanity if you can’t walk or if you need injections of insulin or if you have a temperature of 104 and can’t get out of bed for a week. Actually, I’ve had that last one happen to me and I felt a lot further from humanity than I ever did when I was on the psych ward. And it depresses me that someone can make that analogy, perfectly casually, in the middle of a conversation about something completely different as if it’s just accepted that people who are on a psych ward (or a ward for the mentally insane, if you want) are less than human and everyone will understand the analogy.

Gah.

waves

 

How bad is Kristen Stewart’s poem?

I have no real qualifications to write this post. I don’t know what divides a good poem from a bad one. I do have an English degree, and we probably did discuss that kind of thing, but all that knowledge fell out of my head the day I graduated and then I had children and everything else fell out of my head too, so the only real excuse I have for this post is this: I have written terrible poetry. Mostly as a teenager, but some since. I didn’t know it was terrible at the time but I know it now.

And that’s ok. Writing poetry doesn’t have to be about writing good poetry. It’s a creative release, it’s good for your soul, and if you write a lot of it you probably get better at it, unless you just don’t have any feeling for words and will never develop any, in which case… you’re still allowed to write poetry if you want to.

The big question is, whether you’re going to show it to anyone else. Because that’s when your poem stops being the quivering, ecstatic expression of your inner being and becomes a series of terrible words on paper that your best friend is laughing at. So you’d better be prepared for that.

Kirsten Stewart recently read a poem she’d written out to Marie Claire. (If you haven’t read it, don’t read it yet.) Reactions have been – negative. And it is not a good poem. Bbut how bad is it exactly? So much of poetry is about context: I know I’ll react differently if I’m told a verse is by a famous – or at least published – poet, than if it’s just something I’ve found on the internet. So as a very unscientific test, let’s look at some first verses of poems. Some are by published, though not necessarily famous, poets. Some are from various goth poems a friend and I found online several years ago. A couple are from famous poets and one is Kirsten Stewart’s. I’ll put the attributions in a comment.

I’d love to know which is your favourite and least favourite excerpt.

1.
All these years,
without knowing it,
I’ve been preparing for my rebirth
as a book.

2.
Three green birds
sit in a green tree
in the month of January.

3.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

4.
Beyond the beauty of the external
He is moving his mouth in a strange way
(Girl watches him from the side of her eyes,
She is the “paranoid android”

Stupidly afraid.)

5.
Come upon later,
like a dream recalled at lunchtime.
Dark as deep water, bone cold.
Where is she now;
the woman who poured into a white cup?

6.
I reared digital moonlight
You read its clock, scrawled neon across that black
Kismetly… ubiquitously crestfallen
Thrown down to strafe your foothills

7.
See, see the short sky 
Marvel at its big virulent green depths. 
Tell me, do you 
Wonder why the slug ignores you?

8.
Like a fish trap woven from grasses,
It allows passage of the element
In which it is suspended.

9.
The Softest of beads dribble southward
offering a glisten to dirtied sidewalks
washing away sins of the oppressed cracks
in so many forms she rinses clean

10.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

11.
Stop.
Instead of panting and gasping from second to second
Like a torrent hurtling from rock to rock with no special merit,
Breathe
More slowly, without moving, ankles crossed, hands clasped,
Observe, as if it were the whole world at once,
An object, slight and domestic, for example
This cup.

12.
Darkness descended upon me
Like an ancient mistress
And wrapped me in
An uncomfortable cloak of woeful distress.

13.
Skintight virgins in a rush
their red on red sashay
through vines, so plush
their seeds and flesh
all bite-size blush

14.
so much depends upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white chickens. < – 15. What we wanted was to watch him silver fall Cut the surface of the water and leave no bruise Every earth bound angel who was taught his body was a sin Calculates in his head equations needed to sculpt the air As he aims from grim height for the promise of blue – 16. Always covering myself in clothes or cloaks of words which only dogs hear: in truth                     I was nude and didn’t know which parts to cover or if I could finally uncover it all. – 17. That crazed girl improvising her music. Her poetry, dancing upon the shore, Her soul in division from itself Climbing, falling She knew not where, Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship — Having read all these in one go, I find I no longer have any idea what’s good or bad, or what words mean or how to put them together. Someone help me.

Twelve things I now know about gluten

It’s been two and a half years since I found out I had coeliac disease, the treatment for which is never to eat gluten again. (The things I do for my villi.) Here is what I now know.

1. I am sick of the word ‘gluten’ It’s possible that before July 2011 I had never even said ‘gluten’ out loud. Now, it feels like it’s roughly 50% of every sentence I utter. I’m tempted to learn the word in other languages just for variety. Except I’ve just checked and in most other languages it’s also called ‘gluten’. So much for that.

2. Expensive bread-makers with a gluten-free setting (and a partner who likes using them) make life wonderful. Since Christmas, my house has regularly contained fresh bread: white, brown, sundried tomato and Parmesan, cinnamon and pecan. And I no longer spend my free time frantically scouring London for fresh gluten-free bread like some kind of, er, bread junkie.

3. It was almost worth becoming coeliac to have discovered Nature’s Path Maple Sunrise cereal and Amy’s Kitchen rice and bean soup. Ilumi is also worth buying from – their ready meals come in a pouch and last for ages, which means you can carry one with you for emergency dinner situations. (There will be emergency dinner situations.)

4. It’s great when restaurants list which of their dishes have gluten in. Very much appreciated and saves those awful, awkward conversations with staff that leave me feeling like the fussiest customer in the world. But two tips:
– If you’re going to list which choices have gluten in, the important next step is to make sure that some options don’t contain it. I mean, knowing that you have literally nothing I can eat is useful information, but it’s kind of depressing that you care enough to label your menu but not enough to make anything I can eat. If you don’t have a coeliac-friendly kitchen – and I totally understand and appreciate that most places don’t – that’s fine, but don’t lead me on.
– If your menu has small print stating that I can ask your staff for help if I have any allergies, please follow this up by training said staff, or at least letting them know the small print is there and might occasionally be read by someone. It’s a dispiriting experience when you read something at the bottom of the menu implying that you cater for special diets, then ask the staff about it and realise they have no idea what to tell you. I have seen enough glazed, terrified looks in the eyes of waitresses when I say ‘What do you have that’s gluten free?’ I do not want to spend my life scaring restaurant staff.

5. Like someone who’s slightly too good at hide and seek, gluten conceals itself in unexpected places and is sometimes not discovered until it’s too late. My most surprising discovery was that Marks and Spencer put it in their diet cola. Why? What does wheat add to the cola-making process?

6. It’s quite hard to explain to a three-year-old why she shouldn’t have put that slice of bread on your plate when she was just trying to be helpful.

7. Some of my friends have taught themselves to make gluten-free brownies, muffins, cupcakes, cheese straws etc., and will regularly turn up to events I’m at holding Tupperware boxes full of me-friendly deliciousness. I would like to express my eternal, enthusiastic gratitude to them. If you’re coeliac, I recommend my friends, or – more practically – training your own friends up.

Sometime my foods comes in technicolour.

Sometime my food comes in technicolour.

8. Join the National Trust. All of their cafes (that I’ve visited so far) have labelled gluten-free options, which can include fresh rolls, cakes, scones and main meals. Plus, you know, they have nature and stuff.

9. Some central London recommendations:
– Mestizo. Mexican restaurant near Euston. Delicious and very friendly to special diets. Slightly pricey by my standards but worth it as a treat.
Da Mario in Endell Street, near Covent Garden, is a lovely coeliac-friendly Italian ()
– Selfridges Food Hall. They stock produce from Vozars/WAG Cafe – fresh bread and cakes – and if you’re feeling particularly solvent they also have a gluten-free deli section with tortellini. It looks amazing. I haven’t tried it because it works out at roughly £1 per piece of pasta, but maybe for a (very) special occasion.
– The best chains for gluten-free food are Zizzi, Pizza Express, La Tasca, Las Iguanas and Carluccios. EAT usually has options too. And I had a really good gluten-free curry at Pod near Liverpool Street.
This Chinese restaurant behind Paddington station is a bit expensive but coped admirably with me, and I had crispy seaweed, crispy fried pork and egg fried rice with no ill effects.

10. Gluten-free bread, pastries, scones etc will almost always taste best after thirty seconds in a microwave. Gluten-free cakes and biscuits, which tend to be crumbly and a bit dry, will almost always taste best when served with yoghurt, cream, ice cream etc. I swear this is not just an excuse to eat more ice cream (although it is also that).

11. The texture of gluten-free things also means that if you eat at your desk, your keyboard will become mostly make up of crumbs. So will your clothes, hair and general vicinity. You might as well just live with it.

12. Vozars in Brixton Village is a magical fairytale of a place where I can eat everything. They are starting to recognise me by sight. Everyone go and eat there to make sure they stay open: try the slow-roasted pork belly, or the pile of roasted vegetables with goat’s cheese. Or everything. It’s all good. Stop reading this and leave now.

Twitter, kangaroo courts and Woody Allen

This is what a kangaroo court is:

An unfair, biased, or hasty judicial proceeding that ends in a harsh punishment; an unauthorized trial conducted by individuals who have taken the law into their own hands, such as those put on by vigilantes or prison inmates; a proceeding and its leaders who are considered sham, corrupt, and without regard for the law.

Suzanne Moore has a piece in the Guardian today in which she refers to Twitter as a ‘kangaroo court’ because many people have tweeted that they believe Dylan Farrow’s accusation that Woody Allen sexually abused her at the age of seven. (That last link contains a description of child abuse.) Her argument – although it’s somewhat incoherent, I thought – is the familiar one that ‘online mobs’ have no right to condemn Allen without knowing for certain that he is in fact a child abuser. Even though, as she herself points out, it is statistically very likely that the accusation is true; and in fact she believes Dylan Farrow herself. (It’s hard to be sure what the stats for false rape allegations are, but even the highest reliable estimates would suggest that nine out of ten accusations are genuine. See here for a discussion.)

Moore’s point, then, is not that Farrow is likely to be lying – she’s very unlikely to be lying – but that Twitter has tried and convicted Allen and that only the judicial process is allowed to do that. Has it, though?

Going back to that definition of ‘kangaroo court’, the key aspect is that kangaroo courts, when they occur, actually do try and convict people. They are impromptu, outside the legal process, probably prejudiced, and have doubtless resulted in many innocent people being imprisoned or killed as a result. But that’s isn’t what Twitter is. Twitter is not a court in any sense, kangaroo or otherwise. The people who tweeted #IBelieveDylanFarrow are not condemning Woody Allen to jail or the electric chair. At the most, they – we – are expressing our horror at the actions we believe he performed, and maybe when his next film comes out we won’t pay to go and see it. Maybe we won’t want to watch any Allen movies again, because it’s going to be difficult to enjoy them now.

But that’s our decision to make. Woody Allen isn’t entitled to our money or our good opinion, and we can withdraw both if we choose. It’s not wrong of us to make a judgment based on the knowledge we have and then act on it in that way. If someone blew up Allen’s apartment or sent him broken glass in the mail or otherwise tried to inflict direct damage on him as a result of all this, Suzanne Moore might have a point about kangaroo courts. As it is, the only thing damaged is Allen’s reputation, and reputations get damaged all the time. It will recover or it won’t.

I can guarantee this: the amount of vitriol being heaped upon Allen on Twitter pales in comparison to the degree of misogynistic abuse Dylan Farrow will be receiving from mostly-men all around the world, who will automatically assume she’s lying because they think women lie about rape in order to get attention. These people don’t care about or don’t believe the statistics: they know what they think, and they think women can’t be trusted. And they have a lot more power, collectively, than the mostly-women who are tweeting their support for Dylan Farrow. Some of them are judges and lawyers and policemen and media owners.

So perhaps Suzanne Moore has aimed at the wrong target here. Dylan Farrow’s bravery will probably cost her dearly, and Woody Allen will probably continue to make films. If the only thing I can do about that is to stop watching them, in the full knowledge that it will make no difference to anyone but me, then so be it. I’m allowed to make that choice.

 

 

 

 

The Hobbit Regendered

“That would be no good,” said the witch, “not without a mighty Warrior, even a Heroine.”

There’s been an article going round in the last few days about a mother whose daughter insisted that Bilbo Baggins was a girl. Accordingly, she began to read The Hobbit to her recasting Bilbo, and then Gandalf too, as female, and found the results exhilarating.

Various people pointed this article out to me because of my previous work on genderswitching classic novels, and I found I was keen to see what a few chapters of The Hobbit would look like with a full genderswitching. As with my previous attempts, the exercise gave me a whole new perspective on the book. I’ve love The Hobbit (and Lord of the Rings) since I was a child, and as an adult I became aware that it barely contained any female roles; but the books you love as a child feel beyond reproach, and I thought it didn’t bother me.

But I’ve genderswapped the first three chapters and it’s really striking. There are no female characters in those pages. Even the ponies are male. Bilbo’s mother is referenced, but other than that this might as well be an exclusively single-sex world. Of course, in my version, it still is, but a different sex.

And I love this version. The dwarfs especially. I’ve left them with beards, because the beards are so central to their identity, and because (in Terry Pratchett’s canon at least) female dwarfs have beards too; but they don’t feel any less female for that. I can picture Thorina and Balina and the others more easily than I can Thorin and Balin. And speaking of Pratchett, Gandalfine the witch takes on something of a Granny Weatherwax aspect, perhaps: grumpy, certain of herself, not always around but always to be trusted.

The most complicated part was rejigging the songs where a change of gender unbalanced a rhyme.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gloaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought

became

For ancient queen and elvish dame
There many a gloaming golden flame
They shaped and wrought

which I’m quite pleased with.

The other striking point, slightly in contrast to my earlier point, is that Bilbo himself is very feminine. The hobbit world in general comes across as (what Tolkien would have seen as) a female world: gossipy, non-violent, concerned with domesticity, contrasted with the masculine, harsh rest of Middle Earth . The story of The Hobbit is essentially that clash: Bilbo becomes more of a ‘man’, and also influences his companions to respect the ‘female’ world more. So the genderswitched Bilba becomes perfectly believable as a young female hobbit who develops into a tomboyish warrior.

Anyway – here is the first part of Chapter One, and here is a Google Drive document with the first three chapters in full. I hope you find them enjoyable.

(Disclaimer: as with all the other genderswitching, this exercise does not claim to be anything profound, and I’m aware it’s quite a binary thing to do, so it doesn’t challenge the status quo to any major extent. But I think it’s interesting, and a fun thing to do, and helpful in some ways.)

Car plasters, unicorn swearing and breakfast floss: a random Christmas gift guide

There are… things you find, when doing online Christmas shopping. Stupid things. Things you might secretly, guiltily want to buy for someone, but you have nobody to buy them for because all your relatives are far too sensible to want the quirky, ridiculous, deeply silly objects that you are involuntarily drawn to. At least, if you’re me. I appreciate you may not be me. But I am, and in order to not buy these objects for anyone and risk alienating my family for ever, I need to put them into a blog post instead. So, well, here we are. I can only apologise.

 

Christmas Pudding Bin Bags
For the person who: a) loves Christmas so much they need even their rubbish to wear a festive outfit, and b) doesn’t mind spending £6 on a pack of bin bags. Actually, this is very nearly me, and I really want the goldfish ones too. But I am ashamed of it, if that helps.
Drawbacks: Six quid for something you will definitely not use again. The neighbours may mock you.
You could instead buy: Christmas loo roll, which astonishingly has an entire website devoted to selling it.

 

Captain Hammer felt toy

captain hammerFor the person who: combines devotion to Joss Whedon, and/or Nathan Fillion, and/or hammers, with a love of felt. If you think that’s not a lot of people, you don’t know the people I know.
Drawbacks: Would probably work better with a matching Dr Horrible which takes you up to £20 plus shipping from the US. But then you could make them fight. (Or whatever you want to make them do. I’m not judging.)
You could instead buy: a Malcolm Reynolds felt toy, for an alternative Whedon-universe-captain-played-by-Nathan-Fillion toy experience.

 

I Want a F*cking Unicorn mug
unicorn mugFor the person who: likes swear words on their mugs and also really wants a rainbowy unicorn. It’s not the world’s biggest overlap, admittedly, but maybe you could buy it for a couple one of whom is a misanthropic grump and one of whom is a happy little pixie type.
Drawbacks: the rules of mugs state that if you own a rude mug of any kind, that is the one you’ll inevitably always get out when elderly relatives or small children visit. You can avoid this by using it as a work mug, if you have that kind of workplace, which I for one don’t.
You could instead buy: this adorable mug with a biscuit pocket. Biscuit pocket!

 

Inflatable Fruit Cake
For the person who: is on an Inflatable Food Diet. (A concept I have now created by imagining it. Sorry.)
Drawbacks: it has no actual use whatsoever. Even within this blog post, it probably comes out as the least practical item.
You could instead buy: well, sticking with inflatable food, there’s this 15-foot tall inflatable strawberry. Price unknown since it’s really a marketing gimmick, but there’s got to be someone this is the perfect present for. Surely.

Superhero Lounger

superhero-loungers-6_1
For the person who: has always wanted to be a two-dimensional, snuggly superhero. Which is the best kind of superhero. And look at the male models in that picture. You could look like that. If you wanted to. Which you possibly don’t.
Drawbacks: £20 for a blanket is maybe overdoing it. Some people might think you looked silly. (Not me! I would think you looked cool. But my opinion on cool really counts for nothing.)
You could instead buy: a singing cat jumper. A jumper that sings carols in a cat’s voice using your phone. Dark magic indeed.

Car plaster

car-plaster-magnet-1For the person: whose car you dented this year. Or, I guess, whose car you plan to dent next year. It’s important to plan ahead.
Drawbacks: I find that buying people amusing car decor almost never result in them actually putting it on their car, which makes me sad. But on the other hand, it would also be useful if a magnetic giant came to tea and happened to skewer his or her finger on a carelessly placed fork.
You could instead buy: car eyelashes, which when I am in charge will be compulsory on all cars. Diamante eyeliner sadly out of stock.

Kids Bat Morphsuit
vampire-bat-morphsuit-1_1

For the child who: a) is not claustrophobic, and b) enjoys really, really freaking people out.
Drawbacks: If the wind changes they could get stuck like that and you’d have a child/bat hybrid to deal with, necessitating extra cost in bat food and installing a hook for them to hang off while they sleep. Also there is the possibility that they will further morph into either Batman or a small vampire, each of which could bring its own problems.
You could instead buy: this shiny red bat suit for the enterprising adult in your life.

And finally…
Breakfast Floss
For the person who: has everything else.
Drawbacks: How can there be drawbacks to coffee, bacon and waffle flavoured floss? It’s twisted genius.
You could instead buy: breakfast flavoured liquor (including glazed doughnut flavour, which may be the best idea anyone has ever had). Waffle vodka. Bacon toothpaste. Bacon toothpicks. Bacon-flavoured oxygen. There is, as I’m sure you already know, basically no end to the things bacon can be used to flavour. I wish I liked bacon.