A Wonderful Hero

As a birthday treat on Thursday I went to the cinema with a friend to see Wonder Woman this week. I may have been turning 43, but inside I was as excited as an eight year old on Christmas Eve. The trailers and early reviews had more than piqued my interest, and although it was a clear departure from the Linda Carter TV show I had loved as a kid, it seemed to perfect for 21st century me.

I can report that I absolutely adored it. I was been amazed, enthralled and at times emotional. On several occasions I had to stop myself from the breaking the Wittertainment code of conduct, of standing up and whooping my enthusiasm.

The film is truly kick ass. The scene of Diana rising into No Man’s Land and taking the brunt of the German attack, was just one of many balletic pieces that both had your pulse racing and your eyes wide in awe. But the action was always essential to the plot, and though spectacular was never gratuitous or over-extended (see Man of Steel, where the last 20 minutes were just an unending borefest of punching back and forth. It ruined that film for me).

I know there have been some criticisms of the relationship between Diana and Steve, that it was disappointing for a strong female lead to be influenced by her affection for a man. However, as a proud feminist I don’t agree. I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers, but this element is an important character arc. If humanity are intent on slaughtering each other in their millions, why should she help them? To counter balance the violence and cruelty, you have to show the romance and tenderness.

I thought it was delicately played out, and far from compromising our hero actually made her more well-rounded. The bond between the two seemed genuine, and she didn’t save the world because of her love for a man (as suggested by some). She saved the world to allow love to conquer hate, and there is nothing reductive about that.

(Lets not forget than male superheroes usually have a this kind of emotional subplot – Captain America, Iron Man, Superman).

And isn’t it amazing that in 2017 we have a cinematic hero who is not only brave, strong, determined with super strength and lightning speed; but also kind, compassionate, affectionate and caring.

I love this film. I love the character Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins and the writers have created. It has been long overdue, and I can’t wait to see it again.

Hold on to your soul…

So much has been said and written about the famous faces we have lost in 2016. And often many personal responses have been posted, and I’ve not blogged about any of them. Until now.

Bowie was tough. That was a shock, the passing of an era. It inspired me to buy several CDs from his back catalogue. I spent hours watching YouTube videos and clips online, had his music on rotation in my car. Such an individual, influential star. No one had come close. No one except maybe…

Yesterday I was on my way to catch up with friends when the rumours started. When I arrived I was casually told “Prince has died”. Given the slew of celebrities and showbiz stars that have died this year, for some this was just another name to the list. I however just put it out of mind. I avoided social media, refused to watch the TV in the room and wouldn’t speak about it at all.

When I eventually got home I started to cave in. I went to Twitter. I started to think about all of his music I had. I went round the house to find the vinyl and discs I had in various rooms. I realised one case was empty, as the CD was still in the stereo. I had been listening to his music only a few days ago.

I managed to sleep, but the following day I put on the radio and it was all Prince. BBC 6 Music were playing his songs and sharing people’s memories, and I listened wistfully, still not really believing it was true. Then they played Purple Rain, and I started to sob uncontrollably.

Why? With everything that is going on in the world, why does this one person matter so much? Why did I find it so hard to accept what had happened?

Perhaps it’s because of when I discovered Prince. I knew of him, had heard his songs, but in 1987, when I had just turned 13, I heard the double album “Sign O The Times”.

As I tweeted, it’s difficult to put into words the impact it had on my teenage self. Still struggling with hormones, emotions, uncertain, insecure and not sure who I was or what I wanted to be.  Those two CDS were funky, dark, spirited, religious, sexy, contemplative, exhilarating, complex and joyous. Blew my mind, as they say. I listened to it over and over. Fascinated and intrigued, entertained and inspired. This was genius.

From there it was a one way ticket to Paisley Park, everything he produced I consumed for years. I loved his attitude, his controversy, he reinventions but most of all the amazing musical talent.

Just a few years ago I purchased Lovesexy for the second time, this time on CD. An album I can happily listen to from start to finish, includes possibly my favourite Prince track (though To misappropriate a quote: choose a favourite Prince track? I could no sooner choose a favourite star in the heavens) the joyous Alphabet Street.

And I listened to that album just a few days ago, and was dancing and singing along, just as I had decades ago. He was only 57. I had never even contemplated it would soon be his time to go. Discovering Prince was when I started to become an adult, he influenced me in ways I can’t express. It’s ridiculous to type, but it’s almost like he’s part of me.

I never saw him live, oh how much do I regret that now, but he had been part of my life for decades. I never stopped listening and loving his music. The songs he wrote, the guitar he played, those vocals, those moves – there was nothing like, or will ever be Prince Nelson Rogers. I still can’t quite believe it.

Hold on to your soul, we’ve got a long way to go….

Prince

My Prince collection, located in several rooms around my house.

 

Suffragette: Radicalisation and a story that needed to be told

As a feminist and an admirer of the suffragette movement, I was really excited to see the Suffragette film on the week of it’s release. I had read and admired their stories, and was hoping to come away feeling inspired and uplifted. These were the women who paved the way, in whose footsteps I walked, of whom I was sure I would have stood with 100 years ago.

However I left the cinema emotionally drained and rather stunned. The cold, brutal reality of what these women went through, the reasons behind their drive for the vote and equality, completely engulfing my thoughts. This was no celebration, no story of their march to victory. The truth for women in the 1900’s was sexual abuse and exploitation, violence against them which was rarely punished, no rights over their children along with the poor pay and atrocious working conditions.

They had no voice, and that meant not that they were second class citizens but they were barely citizens of the world at all.

This is what they were fighting for, WHY they were fighting. And after decades of peaceful protest, debates and promises they were no better off. So they upped their game.

Would I have throw stones and blown up pillar boxes? Knowing the unfair justice system, the harsh prison conditions? Its so hard to say; like many women I may have been too exhausted and beaten down to take up the fight. But those who did, those Suffragettes, were all the more amazing for it.

The film tells an important, nay vital moment in this nation’s history, and the script brought to life the rhetoric normally just written on the page. The performances were excellent, from the superb Carey Mulligan to the brilliant Brendan Gleeson, meaning I didn’t just watch the drama, I felt it.

I knew about the force feeding and the events on Derby day, but that didn’t make them any easier to watch. And for me the central story of Maud, wasn’t just about that of the working women of the time, but of radicalisation itself. And not by the Suffragettes; but the police, the prison system, society at large and even her own husband. To punish, exclude and alienate leaves you will nothing left to lose. You take risks you never would have considered before, and highlights why dialogue should always be an option.

This film will continue to stay with me. I’m sure I will return to it many times. It was long overdue, and badly needed – so many people of this country just didn’t know the story. I was never taught it in school, and so much of the history had been suppressed.

The power of a good movie, is to take dry facts and events from history and make you care about the people living through them. And because you care, you remember. Now this story will be spoken about, it will become part of our collective memory and people will want to know more.

And as many in the world are still fighting for their rights, and facing harsh oppression, it is unfortunately still relevant today.

https://www.suffragettemovie.com/

If I love books so much, how come I never have time to read??

Today, 1st of November but with weather similar to late August, I spent some time with my parents in the fine city where I live.

Usually visits here are to coincide with football fixtures, and often we have time only for a quick catch up before, at half time and then after the match. But due to the ever changing kick off, the whimsy of satellite TV, the folks decided to have an overnighter & hang around. I also kept my diary clear so we could spend the unseasonably warm day doing things I rarely get time for in my home city.

So what has all this to do with books? Well we frequented a large book store on our wanderings, and I kept picking up titles that piqued my interest. But I didn’t let myself buy any. As I explained to my Dad, I have a pile of books bought and yet unread at home. Some I have owned for years. My excuse is that I never have time. His response was I should put a few hours aside each week to read.

And of course he’s right. I love books. I love the smell of the paper, the weight in my hand, the texture of the pages. A room lined with shelves of countless volumes of fact and fiction, a personal library to peruse, would be my perfect space.

As a child I was a voracious reader. I would stay up late in bed, consumed. I picked up Jane Eyre at 9, though I struggled with some of the language. In my early teens I made weekly visits to the local library, to search out interesting titles to borrow. I have memories of sitting in bed all night to finish a book I was so engrossed with, that I couldn’t put it down until I had finished. I began to buy books, classic novels as 99p paperbacks, through my teenage years I got through the works of Austen, Dickens and Hardy. I sat on my bedroom floor, and read on through streaming eyes, as I wept through the final pages of Tess of the D’urbervilles.

So why now do I no longer have time? Where does that time go? Or have I fallen out with my love of the written word?

I fear I have become lazy. My desire for knowledge and stories is now sated by TV, social media and podcasts. I oversubscribe, so I always have a backlog to catch up on, and I never turn my smart phone off. I will sit in bed for an hour, refreshing my feeds and timelines, to catch every post & comment I can. That hour could have been spent reading.

So it’s time to make a pledge. To turn my phone over & pick up a book. To turn off the TV and make way through that stack of the unread. To reignite that passion, and lose myself in the text once more.

2014 – The Summer I Shaved My Head

So the first question to answer is why. And there’s not a simple reply. Having just marked my 40th birthday in style, I was having a post-World Cup slump. I hadn’t actually been to Brazil you understand, it had just dominated my life for a month. So after a tournament I had waited four years for, and a birthday I had been building up to for a while (and celebrated for weeks) my life was feeling anti-climactic.

I was feeling flat. I need inspiration. It was then that I saw online the Macmillan “Shave or Style” campaign. I knew that Macmillan had helped some of my friends and their families through really tough times, and I felt a nervous thrill at the thought of taking such drastic action. But if I agreed to it would anyone sponsor me? Was it a risk worth taking?

I tentatively asked a few friends, and the response was positive. So I took the plunge, set up my page and spread the word via Facebook, Twitter and email.

I wasn’t really expecting what happened next. The donations came flying in. Some from people I hadn’t met, some large amounts by friends who had personal experience of Macmillan and even a completely anonymous £100 gift. People kept telling me what I was doing was great, how brave I was and more than anything what a superb cause it was for.

When the day itself arrived I was still fairly cool about it, buoyed on by all the good wishes. But as I walked to the very public house where it was taking place, the nerves started to kick in. I am happy to admit that a few measures of Dutch courage were consumed, especially when more people turned up to watch than I had expected!

The moment had come. A high stool was placed in the centre of the room, the clippers were in the hands of a trusted friend and a circle of amateur photographers were awaiting the big event.

The worst thing about the shave is that there were no mirrors. Everyone else could see what was happening, except me. Did I have a funny shaped head? Were my ears sticking out oddly? Did I have a 666 birthmark behind my ear??

Luckily my head was normal shaped and everyone kept saying it really suited me. As soon as the deed was done I rushed into the ladies, and saw an odd sight looking back at me. It had been 40 years since my hair had been so cropped, and it would take some getting used.

In the following week, with the evidence on display and a few more emails and prompts my total raised went beyond the £1,000 mark. Even now I struggle to believe that, such a simple act raising so much. People continue to tell me I suit the look, making me think I have wasted time & money trying to style my hair all these years. I have learnt different ways to wear headscarves, and invested in some funky hats. I’ve had an extra 15 minutes in bed each day, as my shower & get ready time has been slashed. I’ve felt quite liberated.

So the downsides – everyone wants to touch your head, even people who may not have spoken to you before. Some people don’t even ask.

So the positives – the amazing amount of support and goodwill you get from friends, family, work colleagues and even complete strangers. I would get stopped in the corridor to be congratulated, and received a touching message from someone battling cancer than reduced me to tears. And most of all I single-handily raised over a grand for an amazing charity that provides essential support to people in their darkest hours. I have absolutely no regrets, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.