Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Good bye, good bye!

For the first time in an age, I’m Into a book. I’ve got that particular feeling – a strange, dazed sort of weightlessness that is instantly recognisable, but so rare nowadays. And it’s brilliant to have it back.

I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Burrows - romping through it would be more accurate, since I only started it today. It’s only a little book, but it is so wonderfully evocative, of an era and a place and a set of characters you feel you know, that I felt like I was in that world. And I know that I won’t want it to end, which is my measure for a good book. Not the style of the writing or the fame of the author or the, *shudder*, originality of the story. Just the creation of a world which I don’t want to leave.

I think it’s one of the reasons why I struggle with many “classics”. It’s not that they’re not good, or that I don’t recognise the quality of the writing; it’s just that they’re written differently to how I like my books. For me, something like Dickens is Observation, not Immersion, and while I am happy to Observe, it’s nothing on that feeling of knowing a world or a set of characters so well that you carry them with you when you put the book down, like holiday memories. It’s not losing yourself, quite – rather, losing your surroundings. You are there – that’s what makes it so good.

All my favourite books are like that – my real favourites, the ones that are dog-eared and decayed. Coming Home, by Rosamund Pilcher, was like that; The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice; David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean. And every time, it’s a wrench when they end.

So yes, glee and happiness, and I can’t wait til I have the time to read again…

Four more work days! Four! Then freedom!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Finals Filler: Look at my old university isn't it GREAT?

hahahaha oh CAMBRIDGE, never change!

This Monday, 1st June, at 8.15am in the Chapel, there will be a celebration of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in LATIN. All are welcome to attend this service, which is our right (under the rules noted below) and for which we are keeping the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (transferred from 31st May).

The Dean.

The Rule:
Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation
in such a Tongue as the people understandeth.

It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.

Canon B42 of the Church of England: Authorized forms of service may be said or sung in Latin in ...Chapels and other public places in university colleges and halls.

Uh-maaaaaaazing. I love the defensiveness of LOOK WE CAAAAN SPEAK IN LATIN LOOK LOOK. Also that this is quite a lot of what my exam is about on Monday. Brilliant. :D

PS My exam today was fine. Could have been better (I think my essay was pretty bland and unnuanced which is irritating because I know I can do better) but it wasn't a disaster and that's all that matters!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Sweet Jesus





I am so not old enough to be doing FINALS omg what.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Finals Filler: A Conversation

Ellie, just now, reading one of my poetry anthologies:

God, who starts a poem with I love thee, Baby, honestly?


Oh, it's to an actual baby. Right. And it's Shelley.

Don't know why but it made me laugh...

Finals Filler: Too Clever By Half

Two friends of mine wrote these two emails to our college housekeeper at the end of last term. Insufferable, but also hilarious.

The first email is an attempt to persuade her that while it is against the rules to keep a bicycle in your room, nowhere do the rules state that you cannot keep the COMPONENTS of a bike. The second - well, you'll see.

Dear [Housekeeper],

My bedder has told me that, in light of the forthcoming room inspections, I must remove my bicycle from my room, where it is currently stored, and place it in the bike sheds. The bike rests in three parts: a frame, a fork, drive-train and handlebar composition being detached from the two wheels. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that 'the whole is everything, and the parts are nothing'. Never has this been truer than in today's holistic bicycle market, in which bulk manufacturing has replaced products of individual labour. Furthermore, as a keen cyclist yourself, I trust you will appreciate the innumerable difficulties involved in undertaking a long journey on a vehicle without wheels.

Best wishes,


To which the head porter replied, 'Very funny. But if you have anything remaining in your room which could possibly be construed to make up, or to once have made up, a bicycle, you'll be fined, as per the rules.'

And the second:

Dear [Housekeeper],

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a grotesque marking on the window in my room which overlooks Rose Crescent. I would be very grateful if this could be cleaned at the earliest convenience. Goethe wrote that 'it is only the light of heaven that shines pure and leaves no stain'. Had Goethe gazed out through the window of G-, [Residence], marred as it is by a transgressing milkshake from the McDonalds below, how much stronger would he have been in his conviction? Seeing as I will be in this room next year too, I would be very grateful for this to be accomplished, so that I too can be strengthened by the pure light of heaven as I go about my daily tasks.

With thanks, and best wishes,


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Final's Filler: Irony, methinks?

Via, something silly to make you laugh:

Monday, 18 May 2009

Finals Filler: The Appeal of History

Because this counts as work...

The appeal of history to us all is in the last analysis poetic. But the poetry of history does not consist of imagination roaming at large, but of imagination pursuing the fact and fastening upon it. That which compels the historian to 'scorn delights and live laborious days' is the ardour of [her] own curiosity to know what really happened long ago in that land of mystery which we call the past. To peer into that magic mirror and see fresh figures there every day is a burning desire that consumes and satisfies [her] all [her] life, that carries [her] each morning, eager as a lover, to the library and the muniment room. It haunts [her] like a passion of terrible potency, because it is poetic. The dead were and are not. Their place knows them no more, and is ours today. Yet they were once as real as we, and we shall tomorrow be shadows like them ... The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.

-The historian G.M. Trevelyan, with whom I often disagree, but who indubitably had a way with words.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Still aten't dead...

Still alive, but still examming... It all kicks off a week on Friday with Historical Argument and Practice, our big three-hour, one-essay theory paper that could either be very fun or very terrifying, depending on how the questions are phrased. Then Special Subject gobbets paper on the Monday, which should be fine, barring accidents, because I really enjoy the source analysis (proper detective history!), then a whole week later is Indian history. Which is sort of a mixed blessing, really, because on the one hand that's bags of time for lots of lovely revision, but on the other, it's going to be tough working at full capacity for three full weeks...

So all in all, the likelihood of my being able to post properly is pretty much nil. What I thought I'd do instead is try and post a little something every day - a quote, a poem or a picture.

To start you off, have some Edna St Vincent Millay - my favourite poet (just).

Sonnet IV, Second April

Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then adieu, - farewell! - the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The color and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


So, erm, hello. I just feel very embarrased about this blog, because I am so totally rub at updating it. And it's such a shame, because I love reading all of your stuff and I sort of want to be like you hoo hoo. But I never really know whether I want this place to be all serious-like, or if it should have real life stuff too. And so I end up posting nothing. Huh.

I also need to get used to the idea that I don't need to post a Bible-length every time. Then I'm more likely to say things. And pictures too could help, I spose.

SO ANYWAY. Let me tell you about my life right now.

- As I said, handed in my dissertation yesterday. Sort of can't believe it's all done, and I absolutely couldn't let it go, it was awful. I was part demented with anxiety, part demented because I was so bored of it. But it's done now, and with RELATIVELY little stress (compared to last year's coursework, anyway, when I went out the night before the deadline, got drunk, brought a guy home, kicked him out at three, woke up at eight with a brainwave AND REWROTE MOST OF IT, finally getting it in thirty seconds before the deadline because of a technological failures).

- I have consumed my body-weight in chocolate brownies. They had them at hall last night and they were going to chuck away the leftovers, but our bar manager nicked them and was giving them out free gratis. It was amazing. But I do feel a bit sick.

- David Starkey is still an absolute pillock, and he gets more and more irritating with every passing moment I think about him. So I won't think about him.

- I saw In The Loop, and it were BRILLIANT. I actually got hiccups at one point because I was crying with laughter. But it was also really sad and depressing, which I suppose all satire should be, in a way. Poor Tom Hollander. I love him very much, you see. I've had a crush on him since forever.

- Swiv, you'll be pleased to hear that I'm reading A Tale of Two Cities (or you will be pleased when you return from swanning around in Italy you skiver), and I'm actually enjoying it quite a lot. Although I did give it up for a few weeks while I indulged in Dorothy L. Sayers and Georgette Heyer. But back in it now. Pros - kinda gripping, well-written (mostly), interesting characters. Cons - a bit (a lot) melodramatic, clunky foreshadowing, wettest heroine EVER in Lucie Manette. No Sydney Carton for about twenty pages.

- I went to York in the hols! It was luverly. My bro needed to go for an open day and so I decided on a whim to go along, which proved to be a very good decision indeed! Wandered around the Minster (i.e. cathedral), which was a leeeeetle underwhelming, dunno why, and has the most hilariously unflattering statues of the kings of England you've EVER seen (I couldn't find a photo of the one of Edward III, which is a shame). After lunch, The Brother buggered off to the campus, and I continued to wander, trying to keep away from the slightly blander streets right in the centre. I stumbled across the beautiful fourteenth-century Holy Trinity Church, on Goodramgate; there was a gap in the houses and there was a little churchyard, bright green in the sun and a little tumbledown-looking. On a whim I went in, and found the interior to be cool, dark, and as tumble-down as expected; subsidence had caused the floor to buckle in places, and there were old box-pews that made me feel I was on the set of a period-drama. Absolutely charming and very different from anything I'd seen before; plus there was a very chatty warden there who was very knowledgeable and interesting. And it turns out an old supervisor of mine was in only the week before! After that, I poked my head into the Richard III museum but it was a bit ropey so I didn't fancy paying £2.50 for that, so instead I walked along the city walls, enjoying the sunshine. Had a coffee and read my book and then headed back to the station to meet the bro, past a busker playing fantastic ragtime on a beaten-up honky-tonk piano in the middle of a square...

- And that's enough of that. I'll try and get you a Beautiful Person post tomorrow, which I imagine is going to be of my new TV girlfriend, Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace... Oh, I love her so so much it's ridic.

Heroines Once More

Firstly, I have handed in my dissertation. Omg wtf etc etc etc. DONE.

Secondly, my Favourite Person this Week:

For all the controversy about Hillary Clinton, this is, quite simply, AMAZING. I love it when politicians speak sense.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Gallery Sweep: Thyssen Museum, Madrid

When I was in Australia, I went to the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, which as far as I am concerned, is the best art gallery in the world. Not because of its collection - which, while excellent to a laylady like me, is probably deeply naff to A Proper Arty Type - but because it was the first time when I really Got art. The first time that I was hypnotised by a piece of art - and not just one piece, but one after another after another. Room after room, style and era and media - there was something to love. Before then - well, I was a reader (NO! SURELY NOT! WE'D NEVER HAVE GUESSED!). And because I went to a London day-school, I'd done the lessons and been to the galleries, and although I'd enjoyed the trips nothing I'd seen had really grabbed me the way that a book could - anyway, I was always up too close reading the little piece of information to actually appreciate the paintings. But then the NGV, and a Damascene conversion.

Only problem was, they had the most atrocious selection of post-cards I've ever seen. From a collection where at least forty pieces had caught my eye, I left with three postcards, and they were cheap and tatty reproductions. My bank balance rejoiced, but I did not.

And so I vowed then and there that I'd never make that mistake again, and lo and behold, when I arrived at The Art Gallery of South Australia - also fantastic, I took a little notebook, and scribbled down the names of all the paintings I liked, so I could look them up later (the wonders of Google!). I christined this the Gallery Sweep. And I've done that ever since, whenever I visited an art gallery, included over the winter when I was in Madrid. And then this weekend, making the most of the holiday, having handed in my second draft (finally!), I searched for those paintings. These are some of my favourites from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, although I was unfortunately unable to track down all of them (sighs of relief all round...)

Vernet - Night, A Meditteranean Coast Scene (1753)

Chase - The Kimono (1895)

Singer Sargent - Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland (1904)

Beckmann - Self-Portrait With Raised Hand (1908)

Gleizes - Overlooking a Port (1917) - although you really need to see this in real life to appreciate its chaos and movement

Annenkov - Amiens Cathedral (1919)

Feininger - Lady in Mauve (1922)

Hopper - Hotel Room (1931)

Sheeler - Yachting 1992 (1992)

Friday, 10 April 2009

Tonight in Unintentional Hilarity

This and this are the best news I've heard for a LONG time.

On the one hand, we have the fucked up National Organisation for Marriage (not linking in protest), who, fresh from an invidious and outright hateful TV Ad which spreads lies about same-sex marriage campaigners, have created a national campaign called "2 Million for Marriage" -- or 2M4M. Shaker Mustang Bobby explains:

For those of you who are not up on the acronyms used in gay chat rooms, M4M means "Man for Man," as in one man looking to meet up/hook up with another man.

So either there's someone in NOM who has not been outside of their cocoon since the advent of the internet, or there's someone inside the organization with a wicked sense of humor and playing these folks for the fools that they are. Either way, this is the best example of an unintentional double entendre in advertising since 1969 when Ford came out with the Rim Blow steering wheel.


Even better is that some enterprising soul has managed to buy the domain name, and is in the process of whipping up a website dedicated to countering this kind of fear-mongering. It is called Two Men for Marriage, and please go and join to register your support. It's early days yet (well, early hours in fact), but hopefuly it'll have some good content soon - in fact, you can make suggestions there too.

On the other hand, we have a new protest movement in the States. In the spirit of the Boston Tea Party (which famously demanded "No taxation without representation"), a new group of selfish short-sighted egotists fearless campaigners are sending tea-bags to the White House and holding Tea Party meetings, to protest against tax increases for the rich, or something. The best bit? They are calling it "tea-bagging".

Even more amazing.

You actually could not make this up.

Rachel Maddow, as ever, gets it spot on:

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Thank God for spell check

Given that my dissertation is on martial society and kingship in fourteenth century in England, it amuses me that the two words I've spelt wrong almost consistently have been "constitution" and "chronicle/r". Oops. It's not that I don't know how to spell them (she says quickly), it's just they're awkward to type... The t's get in the wrong place in constitution, and chronicler always loses its I.

I will try and get round to writing a proper post as soon as possible, but as you see, I'm trying to get my dissertation finished... Very nearly there, actually, which is luverly. Cannot wait to be able to give this the time it needs.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Love knows nothing of rank, or river-bank...



So much.

Tom Stoppard's writing is just perfect...


Friday, 27 March 2009

Plus ca Change...

Now because attitudes have changed completely, young people of the present time, who are without teachers, enjoy staying up until after midnight, and sleeping until noon; they delight in ball games and dice, in dreadful oaths, and in other behaviour which is neither good for them nor right for them.

- Thomas Walsingham's St Alban's Chronicle, 1392 AD

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A Spoonful of Sugar for a Sunny Sunday

I have a post about nineteenth century authors all planned, as well as this month's week's Beautiful Person, but they'll have to wait. I wanted to write a post with a few pieces of GOOD news, to counteract the bad that continues to dominate.

Firstly, from yesterday's Guardian, a story about the local communities who are buying up their local shops or pubs after they are forced to close: brilliant.

Secondly, the England women's cricket team win the World Cup! Congratulations to Charlotte Edwards and her team for overcoming a batting collapse and going on to win by four wickets. (I'm not going to think about how little coverage there has been of their phenomenal run of success - or even of their loss against Australia on Thursday).

Thirdly, an example of how a little courtesy, and a little humanity, can have a huge effect, from medicblog999. (I can very much recommend reading so-called "professional blogs" - they make for depressing reading a lot of the time, but they are also very informative and interesting. Random Acts of Reality is a good place to start)

And fourthly, a story from my own life - a year or so ago, I was walking home from the tube at about 11.30 at night. Every so often I get a burst of energy on my way home, and often I run down the hill - not for long, I'm too unfit! This time, I was running along happily, and as I crossed a side-street, the woman who had stopped for me caught my eye and mouthed "Are you all right?" with a little query-thumbs-up look. I smiled and nodded, and ran on. And I am so unbelievably grateful to that woman, and moved - because I might not have been all right. And we hear so many stories about people not interfering, that to experience the opposite was reassuring, and touching.

Finally, a picture that I think is rather fab:

From a competition to design a new ad campaign for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, via What Possessed Me

Thursday, 19 March 2009

An apology, an explanation, and an anecdote

Dear all, please forgive me for not posting for so long (and just as I was getting back into it as well!). It's just that my usual daily blogging routine (BBC News --> blogroll --> political blogs) has been wiping me out, and by the time I'm reading the tenth or even twentieth piece of bad news, I'm so depressed I just have to turn the computer off, or go and watch something happy and inane like Merlin. As you can imagine, this isn't very conducive to actually posting anything.

I've always wanted this blog to be an escape, hence the title. Wild Cat Island, for those who don't know, is the island in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, where the Swallows camp while in the Lake District. It was so named by Nancy Blackett (as everyone has gathered by now, my favourite character IN THE WORLD), at the suggestion of Uncle Jim, and for me (SOPPY ALERT) symbolises everything I love about the books - adventure, safety, and escape.

And it is also an exploration and a celebration of The Good Things In Life, hence the second part of the title: a quote from Debo Devonshire (of course), namely, "One does meet the oddest people as part of Life's Rich Tapestry" (or something like that, I don't have the exact quote with me right now).

And so bad news and the blues just don't go with my blog, and so I don't feel like posting unless I'm in a good mood. Luckily for you, today I AM in a good mood. Partly sunshine, partly holiday, partly getting a bit of work done, and LOTS because of this little episode earlier:

In anticipation of being deprived of an email address when I leave Cambridge, I've set up a Gmail account. I was bored of the usual background, so I thought I'd change it to "Tree". I clicked on it, then it asked me for my location, "because this will change how the image is presented" or summat. I typed in London, and immediately, the sky turned GREY and full of clouds. And I don't know why, but this made me roar with laughter. Something about stereotypes, I suppose - they might as well have put a little person drinking tea at the bottom of the tree. Anyway, thank you, Google, you have cheered me up.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Here's looking at you, Bella Swann - Top Ten Female Characters You Should Love

Right, this has only taken me TWENTY-FIVE YEARS to write. Blame dissertation and then Cambridge craziness. But don't worry, I'm leaving soon, then it'll be SPAM SPAM SPAM.

Anyway, the delay has meant that this is now in time for International Women's Day, so that's rather neat.


Top Ten Characters You Should Love - Female Edition

1. Nancy Blackett. SO MUCH YES. In fact, if there is ONE female character you should be reading and loving, it's Cap'n Nancy. She's fearless, she's adventurous, she's tough, she's honourable and kind (if a bit brash) and she's a brilliant sailor - it is freely admitted that she's better than the boys (although with much less practical knowledge), and then she starts signalling* and the Swallows wish she'd slow down so they could follow. She decides that she wants to be a pirate, and so changes her name from Ruth (since a pirate must be ruthLESS); her piratical language seems natural with her and never an affectation. Besides Titty, she is the most inventive, initiating a number of adventures (including much of the action of Winter Holiday and The Picts and the Martyrs) and suggesting the use of semaphore as code. And she's all of that in the 1930s. I love her to pieces, and actually sort of want to be her - and she's the source of the quote that I have at the side of the page.

2. Elizabeth Bennett. Oh Wow, So Obvious. Yes yes, I know. But cliches become cliches for a reason. And that reason is that she is FANTASTIC. The original Flawed But Fun heroine (well, apart from all Austen's other e.g.s of that type, of course), there's no need to go into why she's cool, everyone knows. But why I love her? Basically because she's who I really want to be - Me Squared, perhaps? I don't like extremes of behaviour, and Lizzie is nicely balanced in my view - fun but knows when to be serious (and vice versa), responsible and capable but still flummoxed sometimes, collected but also passionate when she needs to be, able to be patient and forceful... Oh, perfection! I re-read her exchange with Lady Catherine de Burgh at the end of the book when I'm feeling blue.

3. Elinor Dashwood. I debated whether or not I should be allowed more than one character from a particular book or author, and while I felt that perhaps I shouldn't, the fact is that I love these characters more than the characters I'd have to replace them with, and I felt a bit dishonest not including them. So that's why we have two Austens and two Rowlings (you're lucky there weren't more of them, to be honest). Elinor is a recent addition, because I only just read Sense and Sensibility (I know, I know!). I love her because of her inner strength, her decency, her patience, her humour and love that continue despite all she goes through. She's a more restrained, even subdued character than the other women on my list, and that is one of the reasons why she is included: to show that one can have a strong female character that isn't just a stompy have-at-'em witty type, and a quiet female character that isn't wet or two-dimensional.

4. Jane Eyre. To complete my three classical heroines, another Big Fat Cliche. As you've probably realised by now, I don't care. Jane is cool. Jane is a cliche because she is cool. As per, she did the whole overcoming adversity thing to become a governess, where she quietly charmed an old grouch, then she overcame two more adversities - discovering said grouch was a happy two-timer with a mad wife in the attic, and then caring for the grouch when he became a blind, disabled, traumatised grouch. With a little interlude being a patient school teacher in the middle of nowhere with one of the most irritating people ever. (This sounds much more cynical and mocking than I actually feel). She is the paradigm of the patient, quiet, saintly woman - and yet subverts it. Like Elinor, she has a phenomenal inner strength, and her passion is all the more powerful for being controlled.

5. Lyra Belacqua. Philip Pullman's heroine from His Dark Materials absolutely bewitched me when I first read the books, partly because I was almost exactly her age, and because she was so complex and so carefully drawn that I could picture her almost perfectly - interestingly, though, the strongest image I have of her is a clenched fist. She is fierce and loyal and brave and somehow both selfish and selfless at the same time. Her character development through the books is captivating; the two big Spoilery Bits from The Amber Spyglass are heartbreaking, and ridiculously moving and disturbingly hot respectively. This was in fact the first time I had my heart broken (except perhaps Goodnight Mister Tom), and Lyra was part of the reason.

6. Alanna, from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet. Another Envy-Love, Alanna was someone I wanted to be, although it was as much her life that I envied as her personality. I too wanted to be a knight. I wanted to be tough like that, to see excitement and adventure and be worthy of something amazing. Even now, that kind of hard work has a massive attraction to me (partly because I'm not very good at working hard myself - I may or may not be writing this in the library...) But again, we have a strong, flawed, interesting female character who grows through the books, recognisable enough to allow the reader to associate him/herself with her, but different enough to have glamour and interest. She's a good comparison to Bella Swann actually, and probably a good place to start if you want to wean your child off Twilight, with His Dark Materials to follow. She isn't the best character in the world (given the general writing quality of these early Pierce books it's a miracle the characterisation is as good as it is!) but she's a favourite, and that's what matters.

7. Professor McGonagall, from Harry Potter. I've heard many people say that women are not well-served in the Harry Potter books, to which I can only say BOLLOCKS TO THAT. Now is not the time to go into that in much detail, but I will be defending two (and a half) of JK Rowling's female characters here. McGonagall is the first, because she is quite simply brilliant. A supremely talented witch, she's also fair, strict, caring in her own way, and has a sense of humour that is an absolute joy (case in point, that bit in Order of the Phoenix when she tells Peeves that the chandelier unscrews the other way). She's brave, as shown by the way she stands up to Umbridge, among others. And she's a woman of whatever age who appears completely happy in herself. Lovely.

8. Ginny Weasley, from Harry Potter. It was a toss-up between Ginny and Hermione, but I thought in the end I'd go for Ginny because she's just that bit more maligned in HP fandom. But do not fret, readers, for I love Hermione almost as much. But Ginny - oh Ginny. Ginny has my heart. She's clever and acts stupid sometimes, she's brave, she's loyal, she's got a temper, and she goes for the things (or Harrys) that she wants (Valentine's Card aged 13? We've all been there, but she gets the guy.) She's almost as good a seeker as Harry, and she can give the Twins a run for their money (while remaining a lot kinder and less psychopathic). I just want to know her - although I suspect she'd be too cool for me...

9. Mary Challoner, from Georgette Heyer's Devil's Cub. She pretends to be her sister to save her from ruining her chances by running away with a libertine (even though her sister doesn't deserve it). Then the libertine won't let her go, so she shoots him. Seriously. She's another unflappable heroine like Elinor, but with more of Lizzie Bennett's attitude and spark. And the book is worth reading just for the ridiculously tortuous final scene, and how Heyer manages to unravel it perfectly.

10. Susan Sto-Helit, from Terry Pratchett. Death's granddaughter, Susan is first introduced in Soul Music while she's at school; she reappears in Hogfather as a governess, and in Thief of Time as a school-teacher with special talents. Throughout, she is thoroughly no-nonsense, tough, but caring nonetheless, and with a fully rounded characterisation. She's just intriguing, generally, very compelling, and her answer to childhood nightmares is unique (rather than telling the children that the monsters don't exist, because of course they do, she goes after them with a poker). Also someone I'd like to know, but who'd invariably be far too cool for me.

Hon. mentions: Anne Elliott (Persuasion), Paulina (The Winter's Tale), Georgia Nicholson, Mrs Lintott (The History Boys), Margaret Hale (North and South), Polgara the Sorceress (David Eddings' The Belgariad), Hermione Granger (HP).

What are your favourite female characters?

*I have a feeling that Arthur Ransome wiki may kill the tiny bit of work ethic I have left...

Friday, 27 February 2009

Up next in Herstory...

So the thing is, I've never really minded "chairman". Or "mankind". They've never bothered me. They're just words - and as far as "chairman" is concerned, the fact that "man" is usually pronounced "mun" has blunted it even further. "Herstory" is on the surface ridiculous but actually a useful rhetorical tool, not just silly feminists getting the etymology wrong. "Wimmin" equally. That whole area of feminism always left me rather cold - not because I didn't agree with them when I thought about it, but because, well, I didn't think about it. But since coming to Cambridge, I've had to think about it. Like the other day, when I was happily pootling along in J. E. Neale's excoriation of some poor other "historian" (Neale heartily pours scorn on that particular pretension) when I came across this. He's talking about Elizabeth I, by the way.

"Even so I find it difficult to believe in this deliberate insult following upon the enjoyment of Parker's hospitality; though if I confess that if there is one thing too wonderful for us, it is the way of the woman's mind."

Woah. WOAH.

That brought me up with a jolt. I had to read it twice to get the sense of it, because of course when I read the first clause, I included myself in it - and why wouldn't I, because I was reading it, wasn't I? And it's a fairly common occurrence for a historian to speak of the fellowship in that way. But considering myself very much a part of that "us", it was only to find myself unceremoniously ejected by the second clause. Ho ho ho isn't it funny that women are so CRAZY! Lol omg etc...

This is a particularly egregious example, because it is actively stupid, not to mention pretty irrelevant to his argument. But there are plenty of others which, while equally excluding, are to be forgiven because of when they were written - but are nonetheless actually quite upsetting. I can't count the number of times I've read the construction "the historian ... his" or "the historian ... he will find...". Every time, I am taken aback - only for a second, but enough to unsettle me. Every time. Not only that, but talking about Elizabeth I seems to bring out the worst sorts of generalisations and tunnel vision (when Henry V or Edward IV paid attention to expenses, they were thrifty, but Elizabeth I is of course HOUSEWIFELY! Thanks for that, Simon Adams.) And this made me think about representation, and how important it is that people see a recognition in books and tv and films that people like them exist. Black people. Non-camp, non-butch, non-glossy glammy gay people. People with disabilities (good work CBeebies, incidentally, for employing one-handed Cerrie Burnell as a presenter, but boo to the people who think children will be "scared"). Because if I'm upset by being reminded that once upon a time, historians would invariably be men, poor me, but am otherwise pretty well represented, being a white middle-class Londoner with a posh voice, then how much worse is it for everyone else who's "different" from the norm, for whatever reason?

The thing is, words matter, they matter a lot, and it's too easy to forget that. And it's easy too not to notice the exclusion of others, so even though it pisses me off when white, middle-class men complain about how OPPRESSED THEY ARE OMG, at least it gives them a teeny tiny insight into what it's like for others. Just as Preofessor Happy Institionally Sexist Neale reminded me.

ETA to clarify my point about "herstory", lulz

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Beautiful People: Orla Brady

Inspired by the fabulous Dorothy Surrenders, I want to start doing more regular weekly posts with a certain theme. These will almost certainly be picture-heavy, but this way I can guarantee that I will get at least one post out a week, hopefully two.

So Sunday is Beautiful People Day. Since I am a Hairy-Legged Feminist this will of course include Beautiful-on-the-Inside People too. But today's inaugural post is someone who is very definitely Beautiful-on-the-Outside, and only possibly Beautiful-on-the-Inside. ANYWAY.

In honour of the Beeb's Mistresses restarting this week, I give you Orla Brady, our first Beautiful Person.

An ever-so-slightly photo-shopped promo. After all, the woman's 47, can't have her looking her age, can we?

Orla agrees that would be ridiculous. After all, she's aged so hideously from when she looked like this:

Hasn't she?

She is Irish though, that makes up for it...

About the programme, Mistresses is a lot sillier and a lot more inane than it was last series, although I did watch that when I had a hideous cold, so maybe I'm remembering it wrongly. But here's hoping it gets better - not that it'll stop me watching, of course. Because I didn't mention Sarah Parish...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

It's curious that we can't possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem paltry and ridiculous.

Thanks, Gordon Jacob!

See, although generally I'm quite reverent about Art and Literature and things, every so often I can't escape the conclusion that I am a Big Fat Philistine (usually about modern art). Sometimes I'll be sitting there, feeling like I'm missing something. Dickens falls into that category, although that's mostly because I was forced to read Great Expectations in Year 8 and HATED it.

So, The Three Sisters? I'm all ready to be told why it's good (no, seriously, if any of you like it, please tell me why). And I spose I can see that it's a commentary and it's poetic and all sorts (although that's a matter of taste, I personally hate poetic plays that aren't Shakespeare because PEOPLE DON'T TALK LIKE THAT, GOD!). But I was sitting there, and all I could think was ...


Stupid, I know, but there you go.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Sunday Something: BEDS

In honour of the fact that I am KNACKERED and also about to go to bed, I give you ... a PICTURE OF A BED.

But not just any bed. I want this bed so much it hurts.

via Decorology

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

The Confirmation

Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face.
I in my mind had waited here this long,
Seeing the false and searching for the true,
Then found you as a traveller finds a place
Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong
Valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you,
What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste,
A well of water in a country dry,
Or anything that's honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright. Your open heart,
Simple with giving, gives the primal deed,
The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed,
The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea,
Not beautiful or rare in every part,
But like yourself, as they were meant to be.

-- Edwin Muir

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Spot the Difference

Separated at Birth, surely

Audrey Tautou

Adam Brody

Trudat, yo.

PS Have decided that this blog is going to get sillier, and probably more picture heavy. This is so that I actually post, ever. And also because it's my blog, and I can decide what happens here. NUR.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

From out of the darkness, there has come a great light...

From, shared under a Creative Commons licence

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

The most profound statement yet made about
Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response.

The query: "At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?"
And the answer, "Where was man?"

- William Styron, Sophie's Choice

Also: The Anne Frank Declaration.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Subject object genitive dative...

A perfect example of why syntax and grammar are so important*.

EDIT: The BBC have changed the headline, boringly. It's still amusing, and not very clear, but it used to be, "MOTHER CHARGED OVER SMOKING BOY, 3". Much better, I think you'll agree.

*Disclaimer: the first version of that sentence may have read "why syntax and grammar is so important....

Friday, 16 January 2009

It's a Small World

In a letter to Deborah Devonshire, the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor* mentioned that in Simla, in India, where he was staying, there was a weeping willow grown from a cutting taken from a tree by Napoleon Bonaparte's grave in St Helena. This gave me an odd shiver, because my grandfather was born in Simla, and my grandmother's mother was born in St Helena. And there is a weeping willow planted in my grandmother's memory near her house in France.

* I'm reading the very excellent In Tearing Haste, a collection of letters edited by Charlotte Mosley, having fallen head over heels for Debo in The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

I Need THIS Hero (Part I: Male Section)

Firstly, happy 2009. My resolution is to post more. This will almost certainly fail.

Secondly, apologies if this post is a bit ... odd, I am sort of off my skull on cold medication and tiredness (in Madrid at the moment, spent yesterday in art galleries and today in Toledo, so roughly twelve hours walking, if not more). It is also very heavy on words like "hot" and very light on Actual Literary Criticism (but I think you're all used to this now, surely?) So here we go.

Semaphore's Top Ten Fictional Characters, In No Particular Order (Male Section)

Following on from my Twilight rant the other day, I thought I'd give a little insight into the sort of characters one should be falling in love with, rather than the godawful Edward "Sparkly Like Diamonds" Cullen.

1. Odysseus
Odysseus was the first of the many fictional crushes I've had in my life, and the first of a particular type - the Quietly Competent Hero (or QCH). Let's leave aside the slightly dodge treatment of his wife (although somewhat more defensible if you consider that he lived under a very different set of cultural beliefs and assumptions, AND that he tried hard not to go), and concentrate instead on the fact that he's fucking hot. For starters, not only does he have a brain, he's the only one of the Greeks to actually use it. Secondly, he then uses his brain well. The Trojan Horse, f'rinstance? His idea. Thirdly, he's not a rampaging ego trip (Achilles), or a testosterone-driven maniac (Ajax), and still manages to be a very brave and able fighter. Fourthly, he's diplomatic and twisty, and I love a man who can talk well. He's not perfect - after all, he's still a Greek, and was written over three or four thousand years ago. But he's still damn sexy. And also the only unambiguously good thing about Troy.

2. John Walker (Swallows and Amazons)
Next, chronologically speaking, is another QCH, Captain John. While my love for him will never quite match up to the enormous (and still ongoing) crush I had on Cap'n Nancy [see "Girl's Section", below], he still pushes quite a few buttons (let's ignore the fact he's twelve, hokay? I first read the book when I was eight or nine, so it's all good). He's good at sailing. He's honourable and kind. He's polite. He has a sense of humour. He's not intimidated by Nancy. He keeps calm under stress. He's modest - he doesn't make a big song and dance about his skills. I'd marry him in an instant. Addendum: Interestingly, though, my re-read of the series last year made me appreciate Roger (2b) much more, just because he's spectacularly cheeky and amusing and a little bit mad.

3. George Cooper (Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness series)
To be strictly accurate, my first love in the Tamora Pierce books was Prince Jonathan, because he was blatantly very very good looking, and also did the sexiest move ever (namely, lifting Alanna's chin so that he's looking at her - what?). And he's the perfect example of the Arrogant But Damn Sexy Hero. But George is just lovely. To continue the soon-to-be-infuriating Capitalised Categories, he's an Honourable Rogue, the slightly more lovable subset of Bad-Boy With A Heart. Like Roger Walker, he's cheeky and amusing, like Odysseus he's charming, good with words, and a bit sneaky. And he's also that most wonderful of Heroes - the There-All-Along Love Interest, the one who you know is just perfect for the heroine but who has to wait until she realises, and then their love is all the better for being tested. And he's a thief, and he's good at it (sensing a theme, chappies?)

4. Remus Lupin (Harry Potter)
Another QCH, but with a dash of Bad-Boy for spice (technically not a hero, but never mindey). We all know that while QCHs are incredibly sexy, sexiest of all is when a QCH becomes forceful. Not in a violent I RAPE YOU! way, but in an "I can no longer contain my passion/anger/disappointment/phenomenal awesomeness" way. And that's Remus Lupin, a brilliantly crafted character who is complex, flawed, intriguing, and compelling; his original QCH-persona being stripped back through the series to show his dangerous side, as well as fears and pride and trauma and an odd sort of noble bravery/self-aware martyrdom. Add in a little Poor Tortured Soul, and you have a winning recipe for a Hero that Semaphore will love.

5. Sam Vimes (Terry Pratchett's Discworld)
ANOTHER QCH (bloody hell, I had no idea I was this predictable) with a history of Poor Tortured Soul, Sam Vimes is the perfect example of someone who is just bloody good at his job, and makes me fall in love with him for it. Most admirable in Sam is his strict moral code - which, while not necessarily aligned with "traditional" morality, is just as strong - which along with his compassion drives him to pursue justice with all his might, while not losing his sense of when to bend the rules; most sexy is his drive and his competence, and his dry humour. He is also very intelligent and practical, with a thorough knowledge of human nature.

6. Captain Wentworth (Persuasion)
See Here. No obvious category, probably your standard All-Round Nice Guy With Added Characterisation, but also the There-All-Along Love Interest, which sort of goes without saying since it's the whole point of the book.

7. Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre)
The definition of the Bad Boy With A Heart, my love for Mr Rochester was always strong, and only stronger now that he has Toby Stephens's face. Mr Rochester is passionate, flawed, domineering without being a bully, and loves and appreciates Jane; like Sam Vimes, he also has his own, very strong moral code - looking after Adele and his wife even though both make him miserable, f'rinstance. A good one to try and convert Cullen-lovers to, with similar Big Strong Man and passionate tendencies, with less of the manipulation and abuse.

8. Will (His Dark Materials)
A QCH if ever there was one, phwoar (SERIOUSLY, what is it with me and them?) Strong, brave, modest, and determined, he copes with a horrendously complicated situation with the minimum of fuss. Just Gets On With It, in a beautifully touching way.

9. Dave the Laugh (Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson series)
Cheeky Chappy + There-All-Along Love Interest, Dave hits the Humour button dead-on. Hence the name. He is also wonderfully swoon-worthy when he gets all protective of Georgia, or when he's helping her with one of her many Boy-Dramas; he's also refreshingly straight-forward, rare in a teenage boy [possibly Ms Rennison is indulging her fantasies here too, not that I'm complaining - SMeyer, take note], which puts Georgia at her ease. And he's not perfect, neither. Which is nice for my literary tastes, because then I can love him guilt-free.


10. Viscount "Sherry" Sheringham (Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child)
Sherry is quite simply adorable. Attractive in a dashing way at the start, his increasing maturity and sense only make him more so, as well as his obvious devotion to Hero Wantage, his wife-of-a-whim, and their mutual blindness to his love for her is thrilling in a dramatic-irony sorta way. He has the added bonus of having three of the dimmest, but most honourable and simply lovely friends ever. I love him as a person, and I love him as a character - both bring me a huge amount of joy.

Honourable mentions:
The Marquis of Vidal (Georgette Heyer's Devil's Cub), Edward Carey-Lewis (Rosamund Pilcher's Coming Home), Garion (David Eddings' Belgariad), Will Ladislaw (George Eliot's Middlemarch), Josh (Melissa Nathan's The Nanny), Will (Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising). ALSO (ETA, can't believe I forgot these ones) - Peter and Edmund from Narnia, and Prince Hector (esp as presented by Adele Geras).

Honourable mentions outside literature:

Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars, as an example of the kind of bad boy Cullen-Lovers should be falling in love with. Exhibit A: He has a character. Exhibit B: He and his love-interest actually have something in common. Exhibit C: He actually treats his love-interest well (most of the time, and once they stop hating each other). Exhibit D: He's incredibly witty. Exhibit E: He's HOT. He's not perfect - he is a bad boy, after all. But he's better than Edward Cullen, any day. Please to be ignoring the bad clothes, though.

Tomorrow: Female Edition!