Saturday, 7 May 2016

Tipping Point

"Five pounds," said my mother, pressing a note into my eight-year-old hand. "The haircut is four pounds fifty, so you'll get 50p back. You give the 50p to the hairdresser as a tip, because she doesn't get paid very much, and may have to live off her tips."

Thus I learnt about tipping. Ten per cent, because I'm English, but always. Hairdressers, wait staff, cabbies.

Twice during recent times have stories of leaving a written substitute for a monetary tip popped up in my media stream.

The first was Pastor Alois Bell protesting that God gets 10%, where the server was supposed to get 18%. It should be obvious to anybody that God's needs for money are pretty limited, what with being omnipotent and also an Eternal Spirit and all. I seem to remember Christ advising "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" and perhaps the Pastor could have reflected on this, and maybe cut God's gratuity.

The more recent incident involves Ntokozo Qwabe - one of the voices of Rhodes Must Fall - gloating over his friend refusing to tip on the grounds that the white waitress had stolen black people's land. (There did not appear to be any evidence for this.) He posted an account of the incident on Facebook. As usual, I find the Spectator's conclusion - that Oxford should kick him out - hilarious; it'll be astonishing to see the day any University puts virtue above revenue or column inches; but it does seem a particularly misogynistic and classist piece of meanness to aim at a woman whose only known offence was to bring your coffee and your bill, and to try and pass off your own cheap and petty spite - because this was not a bold attempt at righting a wrong, or making a principled stand - as a grand acte politique cheapens you and your politics to the point of bathos.

Also interesting is that he identifies the friend as a "radical non-binary trans activist". Since the waitress appears to have been identified as cis-female, this activist missed an excellent opportunity to write a side-note about tipping her when she stopped oppressing said RNBTA with her gender fixity. It would have been every bit as relevant, after all.

However, in the end, I merely thought I would set out some things I think about tipping:
1. If you have enough money to tip, you should do it.

2. If you have enough money to tip, and don't, I hope you are actively involved in living wage campaigning, for the sake of your soul. Remember, oppression of the poor is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance, and you may get stuck next to David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt in hell FOR ETERNITY. Hey, it's your risk.

3. If you can't afford to tip, just don't tip. Maybe when you are older, wiser, and a better person richer, you will start to tip. We will wait for you.

4. However, attacking your waitress because you are a cheap and chippy type of person is bad form (see notes on oppression of the poor above.) Using God, or accusations of racism, or transphobia or anything else, exactly like speaking down to them, is exploiting the vulnerability of their working life, exhibiting your own vindictive spiteful nature and makes you a bully.

5. Also - gloating? Like Wesley Wyndham Price, what you are mainly showing is the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Covering Your Arse

Thousands of clothings everywhere, and not a stitch to wear.

Look, I don't understand it.  I don't quite say I'd be happy in navy blue and black and white and grey for the rest of my life without any technicolour relief, but the amount of time I spend trying to source really simple things that don't cost a million pounds is ridiculous.  

After many years of searching, I have to spend the millions of pounds to buy something I don't really like that much.  So here it is: the definitive list to What Women Want (Dr Freud, pay attention):

A black cardigan.  This should be available in both a V and a turtle neck.  It should be available in a choice of materials at least a choice of cashmere, wool, cotton, silk: linen is an altogether more complex material and linen cardigans frequently want for heft.  It should be permanently available, not seasonally.  It should be available with certain variations in length and it should be available with a really deep welt at waist and cuffs for nutters like me who never got over the seventies.  Or have boobs the size of absurdist drama.  Delete as applicable.

A pair of leggings.  This is far more complex, as they should be available in many lengths (you know, like legs) from below knee to so long they have to be shuffled up your feet to form a delightfulness of  ruching around your ankles.  They should have a flat waistband and You Know Why.  They should be snaptastically stretchy and - here's a Kicker - they should be available in several materials including that which is the Trend Du Jour.  I am currently very annoyed at the lack of these leggings in faux suede.  On other occasions I am annoyed by the lack of them in silk or linen knit.  I like to be flexible in my irritation.

A shirt.  Again, cotton, silk, linen.  Dipped hem because curves are better whatever men would have you believe.  Well cut, available in three shades of grey, as well as black, navy, and off-white.  I suppose if you wanted to get really into it, you could research white with a tint for a thousand different skin tones, because true white's a brutal colour.  The absolute furthest design froufrou otherwise would be one crazy pattern or floral per season.  

You would think that capitalism would be able to meet these fairly simple needs, but you would think jolly wrong.   

Seriously, try finding a decent black cardigan in your size and choice of material that will wash and wear for a year without felting or holing or being so useless at keeping you warm that you have to shove a hoodie over it.   Needle in a haystack.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Fandom is Gay. Get Over It.

Why do women - straight or gay, I don't know and I don't judge - write fan fiction that is so firmly anchored in gay male relationships?  I want to know.

My theories include:

They take what there is - fan fiction draws on mainstream culture and adapts it for its own pleasures and purposes.  Since women are at best marginalised and at worst excluded from mainstream culture, this is what there is.  Lots and lots of men.  Bringing me to -

They write about what is erased in cultural representation.  Homosexual relationships are ghettoised and treated as exotic in most mainstream culture - film and tv, specifically - but fact is that if you are a superhero there are hardly any women available to you.  This is an awful extension of sex class - all men are superheroes, therefore their mate must be Special to raise her from the ranks of the inferior gender.  Ow.  Since women are underrepresented in the writing and production of superhero films, they are under represented in them, and qualities perceived as feminine are sidelined or assimilated or erased.  The hyper-masculine culture of superheroes means the only available sexual partners for them are unworthy, or physically challenging (not being immortal or physically unbreakable; at best normal women would be an Achilles heel to blackmailers), so they have to go to each other.  The Incredibles had some fun with this trope - think of Frozone's sensible wife - but The Avengers draws the line at Pepper Potts.  Fan fiction just picks up what's likely - and puts together the boys in various combinations.

They Feminise pornography - three decades after Angela Carter suggested the possibility of moral pornography, much of fan fiction remains merrily dedicated to PWP (Plot What Plot or Porn Without Plot) and people use fanfic to get a lot of stuff off their chests.  Or other bits of them.

They represent gender-fluidity- concepts of transgender and gender fluidity or gender queering are fondly supposed by the latest generation to be new; it certainly normalises women identifying as or with men.  It suggests a retreat from moving society forward to a place of equal opportunity to a space where women control what goes on.  This may be a step backward, leaving individuals to carry responsibility for their non-conformist identity (black, female, queer) instead of engaging with above-the-line struggle - or maybe it's imagining a new world; a blueprint of erewhon for tomorrow.  Here's hoping.

Identifying with either gender isn't new - plenty of Victorian novelists wrote from the point of view of genders which didn't necessarily correlate with their own, and readers are liberated into reading by identifying with the protagonist without worrying about the ramifications thereof; though fan fiction as usual raises the bar with a whole Alpha/Beta/Omega 'verse dedicated to re-aligning gender without females, which is like the Frankenstein Future for Furries.  

Horses for Courses - women have historically been supposed to prefer their pornography written rather than photographed; maybe they just re-write what they like in the medium they prefer.

And Finally - the relation to the means of production - writing fan fiction is free. Once you possess the starting kit, and requires little organisation or teamwork - you can do it alone, without the assistance of willing peers or expensive and extensive kit.  It requires literacy but not social acceptance - indeed, the world of fan fiction has merrily re-invented social acceptance online, so you can have it with a side of mental illness while the world outside reviles you and your hideous girly hobby.  You can be socially accepted and even celebrated while nobody in your real life knows the truth or maybe even likes you a little bit.

To my great joy, places like Comic Con seem to be flummoxed when not horrified by the existence of Fan Fiction.  I suspect because it's really gay.

Anyway, if anybody has an answer to my initial question let me know.  I think it's a combination of the above, but what do I know?  I am still looking for stories of Bucky Barnes in a gender reversed verse, preferably at the seaside.  xxx

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Game of Moans

Apparently many persons are not going to watch Game of Thrones any more because the rape of Sansa Stark was a "rape too far".  I'm intrigued by the idea of a "rape too far" - is that not a single rape?  Are we now hierarchizing sexual violence for entertainment purposes?  Is the rape of minor characters less important to our understanding of the crime or our support of the victim?

It seems that seeing a major character's violation is worse than the multiple gang rapes that took place earlier in the series.  I have to reference Tiger Beatdown here, because her objections to the ideology of the show are largely what I take issue with.  Her argument is that GRR Martin is "creepy".  And my argument is, so what?

The violation of a major character would clearly be more effective a representation of rape than that of a minor character - the audience is more shocked by it, particularly as this one is not technically a rape; Sansa is married to its perpetrator and - however manipulated - she has given her permission to that marriage; in an age or culture where marital rape does not exist, this is a done deal.  People don't want to see what women's lives were like - are still like, in much of the world - if it's too icky.  I wonder if they would feel comfortable suggesting that the representation of slavery or of violence towards Jewish people in the second world war should not be permitted on screen.

Ah, but only when the author's intentions are serious.  When did entertainment stop being serious?  Greek tragedy dealt with the noble and their tribulations not just so the commoners could point at them, but so they could purge their feelings in those of their Kings.  This was drama akin to religious experience;  Game of Thrones offers a similar - though admittedly more gory - dramatic trajectory, presumably so we can enjoy a similar dose of catharsis.

As for the art required to engage an audience - Brideshead Revisited is a biliously unctuous book, so thick with snobbery and sucking up that the religious themes are hard to pick out - but Waugh's deeper lore - the love of the rambling sentences that evoke loss - have remained with me all my life.  In Lolita, the deep horror that lies at the heart of the novel is underscored by the contrast of the singing beauty of the prose; just because art deals with vileness does not mean it should not exist. When you look away, don't you deny?  How will we deal with what we refuse to see?

It is a trope of much trash tv that Really Bad Things do not happen to major characters - they do not die, they are not mutilated or violated.  The skilful inversion of this trope is what first Joss Whedon and now GoT have made work for them, because it is daring and artistically difficult; you have to be able to get the audience to really really care before you injure a character, and if you wish to kill one, you have to have enough other relationships or stories of real emotional investment to keep the audience hooked.  This many dramas cannot do, because they are made by mountebanks who do not know their craft.  To condemn drama that succeeds is more reactionary than the questionable ideology of said drama.  It exposes only the negativity of the viewer, and to suggest a moral superiority by refusing to engage is childish at best.  

Is there a debate to be had about the ways art interacts with culture and whether it endorses and reinforces the ideology it reflects?  Indubitably.  But this doesn't seem to me to be it.

As fan fiction tags say - don't like, don't read.  But if you want to contribute to culture, stop whingeing about somebody else's contribution and make your own.

Monday, 25 May 2015


If I have to look at somebody explaining why the Finnish Education system works so much better than the UK's one more time, I may scream.

Here is the skinny; nobody wants the UK system to "work".

Because it is used to control wayward teens without having either the training or the support to do so.

That's all.

It's the cheapest way to control a problematic part of the population and keep them off the unemployment rolls.  The alternative is to allow permanent exclusion, or expulsion, as it used to be called; and then those kids will be causing nuisance to the police and the neighbours, who won't even have the convenience of being able to identify them by their uniform.  Unthinkable.

The political convenience is backed up by ideological foolishness of believing that a child who is excluded from school is excluded from society.  This may or may not be true - surely everybody of my generation has at least one mate who was repeatedly expelled and has made out just fine - but one case is not necessarily caused or affected by the other.

For example, a seven year old sexually harassing another seven year old of opposite sex and bullying/hitting/fighting many more of his own, who has been PExed twice and is currently permitted to carry on this behaviour because he is a POC and at danger of exclusion sends a clear message, which is that his right to hurt, frighten and bully others outweighs the rights of the other children not to be hurt, frightened or bullied.  This is very disruptive to teaching and learning, funnily enough; so his right to act out is also being protected above the right of the other children to learn.  The ideology here is acting as a sop to the powerlessness of the staff, however, as actually there is nowhere else for him to go, and if he does, the school has to meet the costs.

So the left and the right meet in perfect harmony, to destroy any working education.  Discuss.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

If We're Supposed To, Why The Hell Aren't You?

As a teacher, I know it is my duty - as well as my pleasure and my destiny -  to move EVERY CHILD who ever crosses my path, let alone sits in my classroom, up to a C grade at GCSE.   This holy grail  is a constantly moving target which (in the subject I teach, English) now has remarkably little similarity to what it was when I took the O level, what it was in the generation who first took the GCSE after that, or the one after that, or what it will be in five or ten years' time.  Whether a qualification so widely varied in its requirements is truly a gold standard, I leave it to my readers to decide for themselves.  The frequent changes certainly serve the purpose of keeping both teachers and students in a ferment of confusion and hopelessness, which may be its very aim, or just a lucky by-product; again, I leave it to my readers.

But what the exam is designed to do, clearly, is to create hierarchy.  If the standard is the same, and the teachers know it, they can teach to it.  This is highly likely to lead to "grade inflation" because if you can teach something and do so, outcomes improve.  If the standard is obscure and constantly changed, it cannot be taught for, and will thus by default favour those who are - well, socially advantaged by having native English speaking parents with big vocabularies.  Socially advantaged by being sent to schools who don't teach any children with learning difficulties or a disproportionate number of other special (social) needs.  The children of people like our governing elite.  Education must fail to close that gap, or how will the governing elite justify - or indeed maintain - its advantages, particularly while pretending we live in a meritocracy.

Meanwhile, teachers are supposed to "prove" they are worthwhile by ensuring every student exceeds the average result, because the performance of the mathematically impossible is the only proof anyone should ever accept that they are adequate.

Interestingly, teachers have accepted this narrative as a condition of their jobs (whether or not they believe it in private) and lo, they spend a huge amount of time and energy and resources on "coaching" (or cramming, or intervening, or whatever you wish it called) Year 11 in a headache inducing frenzy around this time of year.  This involves using and applying endless reams of data to calculate which students might conceivably gain a C grade and breaking down their individual strengths and weaknesses in each part of the exam and coaching them into it.  A treadmill of past papers, analysis of answers, modelling and re-doing and re-marking.  History, of course, does not provide negative proof, but I am personally a little wary of believing that kids who were never going to get a C grade increased at the last minute after eleven years of not having the potential.  Into such dark and hideous paths does the accepting of the narrative lead us, however.

Accepting the narrative was also a key part of the election.  Many and various have been the economists who have spoken out against the Austerity Will Solve Everything narrative; not the Labour party, however.  

They also rejected the horrible truth that to get an MP elected a decent candidate helps.  The harsh truth is that Jacob Rees Mogg writes long chatty letters to my Dad when he complains about every condition of the human lot, because he is his MP., and on one occasion caused the tax office to call my Dad after a particularly annoying refusal on their part to answer the telephone.  Dawn Primarolo never responded in a human way to any of my requests or lobbies over the many many years she held the position of my MP, because she was a shockingly lazy one.  

Also not present was the belief that they should, like the tragic teachers, Crunch The Data.  Labour lost marginal seats by mere hundreds of votes - seats it should have been making sure of by asking the local questions, when the last majority was equally small.  And failing that, it should look to what highly successful schools have been doing to alter their achievement profiles over the last decade - the sweep of kids who are removed from the roll over the year before the GCSEs, one way or another.  They are small numbers, but - as we are all supposed to know - every voter counts.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Hating on Hans

Admiral Hans Westergard, Prince (13) of the Southern Isles has possibly drawn the shortest straw of all time in Fanficland.  His fatal mistake was probably not dying - at least at the end of the film.

It has given Fanficland license to put him through hells he couldn't have imagined.  For every fanfic in which he is redeemed - including one in which he becomes a baker and falls in love with a girl whose only wealth lies in bun skills - there seems to be another in which he is horribly, horribly doomed.  Descent into madness is a popular fate, with or without an ice statue of Anna to keep him company, though nearly often accompanied by a guilt-plagued Elsa, who has her fair share of portrayals as a raving lunatic.  

He frequently features only to behave appallingly - often by being the archetypal teenage boy, I notice - and get his butt kicked. In the modern AUs he is usually a jock and the butt-kicking is often by Elsa, which is very satisfying and frequently funny.  It leads to my supposition that the reason the Prince in the Arendelle AUs is wandering about burnt by his own fire powers, destroyed by absorbing Elsa's ice powers, scarred beyond recognition, tortured to dementia/death or with limbs missing - name a limb, the Prince has lost it somewhere -  is to do with his being both the archetypal suave villain and the boy you just couldn't go out with - because they are pretty much the same thing.

Dan in Bridget Jones' diary may survive, but the original - George Wickham - gets the fate worse than death - married to an empty-headed girl with no means of support in a world of perpetual debt.  The writers about Hans are simply doing the same thing.  Except for the ones with literal castration.  I think that's pure revenge.