Mostly books, sometimes other bits.

One of the many things that makes me rant is pointless fads, and the people who follow them seemingly blindfold without giving a second thought to what they actually mean.
In the last 48 hours, I have on numerous occasions been asked to change my Facebook profile picture to a cartoon. Why? This morning I was asked again, by one of my closest friends. ‘Have you changed your profile picture to a cartoon character?’ she bbm-ed. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Why?’ Her response was ‘Do it, everyone else has. It’s for the NSPCC.’ But what was it actually going to do? After a long pause, the answer was exactly as I had expected: ‘I have no idea.’
Same friend, later in the day: ‘Change your profile picture. Do you realise you’re the only human on my Facebook chat?’
I quick tally of my ‘friends’ revealed that 197 out of 600-odd had replaced their own faces with those of lion cubs, Disney princesses, animated woodland creatures, mythical fairies, evil ogres, etc. Cute and nostalgic? Of course. Anything whatsoever to do with charity? Well...
The main question is, how many of these people are actually going to do anything of merit, after changing their identification pictures to Tigger, Cinderella, SpongeBob , et al? I would even go as far as saying that it is insulting to the NSPCC, which does such important work –because those who are urging others to change their pictures and then failing to actually meaningfully support the charity are almost giving an entirely different message than they wish:
‘Yeah, I know, child cruelty is terrible. We should STAMP IT OUT... yeah. What’s that, set up a standing order? What, money coming out of my bank account? Well, I would, but... £10 per month, seriously? That’s almost a night out, I don’t really think... I know, let’s all change our profile pictures to childhood cartoon characters instead, this perfunctory act will definitely buy an abused child safe overnight shelter! I support the NSPCC! ’
This meaningless act of changing profile pictures means nothing at all –if you actually care about the cause you’re saying you support, you WILL do something concrete about it.
Money comes out of my bank account every month for Cancer Research UK, I’ve given up my Saturdays for the Oxfam Bookshop and helped to build an orphanage in Africa and led Rainbow units for 7 years. So don’t try to pin me down as not being interested in charity, just because I’m not jumping onto your meaningless bandwagon.
Simply raising awareness means very little post James Bulger, Victoria Climbie and Peter Connolly. We all know about the horrific things that happen in this world, so instead of indulging in pointless fads, act.
Of course, those who donate money or time to the NSPCC and have changed their profile pictures to cartoon characters should feel proud of what they are doing. Everyone else, however, should be ashamed of themselves.
On second thoughts, maybe I’ll change my picture to the Grinch.  

29th November

Graduation terror I’ve just checked my academic inbox expecting another thirteen emails about M&S grad schemes and opportunities in engineering (thanks Angela Bywater and Milkround, for conspiring to waste my time marking as read) and found a notice confirming our graduation dates.
Well thanks Lancaster, as if we aren’t all stressed out enough already.
Setting feminism back approximately 200 years , it’s Gillers After 10 hours of campus today (count ‘em, third year is hardcore) I was very happy to get back to my comfy flat this evening just in time for a bit of flatmate banter and jungle nonsense. Gillian McKeith seems to be reaching new levels of lunacy every night. I don’t feel sorry for her in the least (what the FRECK is she doing in there?) but I hate to imagine the kind of crap her daughters are getting at school. It’s pretty selfish of her, in all honesty...
Christmas no.1? I've heard it's already in the top 30, so let's get downloading and beat X Factor...
Lancaster dodges the snow, again Once again looked out of my window, as I did last night, to find the carpark hidden under a glittery sheathe of snow. And three minutes after I’d opened my curtains to take in the winteriness of it, the snow stopped. Again, like last night. Am I causing this?
Beautiful visitors and too much vodka After 3 nights out in a row I’m looking forward to a few days of sobriety and a lot of sleep. The last few days have been so busy, but brilliant at the same time –a visit from one of my fave Lancaster exports, the absolute beaut Katy Shaw, meant very little sleep and a very, very messy couple of evenings. Highlights include ending up in Hustle in my huge cold-defying lecture cardigan (absolutely beautiful photographs), seeing a ghost in the toilets and then a man in terrifying angel wings on the bus home, and a lovely meal at The Borough, a restaurant in Dalton Square that I will definitely be visiting again.
The Shaw is one of my very favourite people and one of my best friends ever and I miss her an inordinate amount now she’s in Madrid. I hope she knows how much she means to everyone here ...massive love
Fairytale productivity and beautiful words in secret corner Aside from the drunken debauchery inflicted on us by our usually absent friend, I’ve also managed to get 2000 words of my dissertation written. It’s a massive weight off my mind, and was probably even worth spending my Saturday afternoon in the secret corner of the library for... just. To further the productivity, this week’s Women’s Lit module reading was the Virago Book of Love Poetry. I’m not going to lie or pretend I’m anything other than a massive geek at this point, because the half of the book that I’ve got through so far has pretty much reminded me why I’m doing the degree that I am. I don’t think I can ever remember seeing more beautiful words written on a page before. Why are these female poets not better known?
Little Red Riding Hood While on the subject of dissertation and general geeking, Rotten Tomatoes tells me that a new gothic version of Little Red Riding Hood starring Amanda Seifried is out next March... this is of massive interest to me since the dissertation that is currently the bane of my life is on the rewriting of fairytales, but is probably not going to be that thrilling to anyone else. So I’ll move on to much more interesting events...
Parisian planning I’m massively excited after booking flights to Paris to see another Lancaster placement-er, Louise, who is spending a year teaching in Le Mans. After first being seduced by Jet2 and their improbable £30 return flights (who were they trying to kid? Not us... ) we reverted to good old reliable Easyjet –I’m beginning to feel that I’m keeping the airline going singlehandedly.
I’ve never properly done Paris before so I feel that it is very important that I experience it as soon as possible, for the cultural and educational opportunities that it brings... I am also looking forward to adding to my growing portfolio of photographs that should be entitled ‘Absolutely Inebriated in European Capital Cities’. No, I’m not pretending it’s going to be a museum-laden trip, although there may be a couple of historical landmarks thrown in.
I can’t believe we have to wait until April, but with four 3000 word essays to write, a festive London trip after term has ended, then Christmas itself, a New Year back in Lancaster and another newspaper placement afterwards, I’m thinking the time is going to fly!
Rediscovering words I’ve been writing a bit today too –not a massive amount, but little is better than nothing. It’s so easy to lose sight of your interests as a student, and fall into the perpetual cycle of working and drinking and sleeping and eating and repeating, and after two years of this I’m making a conscious effort to stop it in third year. I’ve recently revisited a couple of stories that never really got going, so they might appear on here in the near future if I can make them decent J
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10th October...

Thoughts on Entering 3rd Year ....Cynicism and Cider; or, what happens when you start your final year of university and realise that in a year's time you'll be moving 200 miles south to Wimbledon to start a training course with £20,000+ worth of debt and no idea how to pay a gas bill. Christ.

Freshers week of third year has just ended, and I feel old. Yes, old. Not old like I should be settling down with a Labrador and a suburban bungalow and a copy of Reader’s Digest, but old as in I might be getting past the ‘student’ mode of living that has been the norm for the last couple of years.

Allow me to explain.

My feelings this past week have leant towards the notion that going out every night is massively over-rated; freshers week is forced. The amount of over-eager freshers reps who have asked me if I know where to park on South West/  which group I’m in for the bar crawl/ etc etc etc, only to be silenced by one shot of my cynical glare and the unspoken message ‘I’m a bloody third year!’ has made me feeling sort of… well, bitchy.

But I’m finding it hard to feel bad about my cynicism.

When I started here in October 2008, everyone I met told me the same things. Freshers week was going to be the MOST AMAZING week of my life. I was going to meet SO MANY people. It was going to be the BEST thing I’d remember about university.

Erm, yes. Because the constant pressure to be perky, to talk to every single person you meet in case they become your new best friend, to ward off the hangover in case you come across as grouchy, to survive all week on four hours sleep a night, to live up to the expectations of everyone around you, not to mention your home friends who will doubtless be having the VERY BEST week of their lives too really is a recipe for a great week.

I could never escape the feeling that freshers week is the most superficial time that anyone has, at any university. Everyone is on their best behaviour; no one is genuine. And in any case, why force getting to meet people? I have a beautiful, hilarious, individual group of friends at this university. But I met them in seminars, over long lunches, and on film nights in their flats. A deeper, less practised and more natural connection was forged than would have been possible at 3am on the post-headphone disco Sugar bus.

I felt mildly sorry for the first years I saw on their Big Night Out last week, all fresh faced in their horrible t-shirts that identified them as freshers, sat around tables in Friary with their VKs, determined to have a good night. The best advice they could have been given was not which bars have the best drinks offers (they’ll discover this themselves soon enough) but that freshers week is very, very unlikely to be the high point of their time at university –nor should they expect it to be.

The best week of their lives? I can almost guarantee that by November they’ll have topped it easily.

24th August...

10 Things That Journalists Do...

1. Swear. All the time. Case in point, Monday 3.10pm: 'Where the b*llocking fu*k is my *anking Rossendale lead? GRAHAM! Where is it?'

2. Drink possibly dangerous amounts of coffee. Offer to make coffee every third minute, especially early in the morning, creating a situation where they find themselves bouncing off the walls and talking very fast by 9.45am. Sometimes offer to make coffee and then get distracted (by the Rossendale lead, see above) and leave fellow journo in a state of caffeine dependent flux, unsure whether they should make their own coffee or not.

3. Ask random people on the phone how they are/ how their day has been/ where they have just been on holiday. We don't care. We just want to make you talk.

4. Search the internet in a desperate hunt for nibs. End up trawling the websites of the Pendle Ornithologists Club, the Darwen Limestone Society and the East Lancashire Beekeepers Association.

5. Make more coffee.

6. Say things like, 'Quick fix me a Darwen lead, and I'll chase up the letter about the Smitty column while you find me ten nibs and give Shelia a call; tell her to fax me a new press pic across.'

7. Laugh at the word 'nibs'.

8. Spend around 95% of the working day in editorial meetings. Leave said editorial meetings with less idea of what might end up in the issue than you did before.

9. Start dreading exam results season in approximately mid-June.

10. Develop an email checking obsession. Forty times an hour is about right.

23rd August...

Clothes to Covet…

Winter might not have officially set in, but in cloudy Wakefield last week you could have been forgiven for thinking it was already October.

Not that I’m complaining. I have long given up hope of any August sun in Yorkshire, and it doesn’t matter too much, because there are a lot of things I like about autumn. Being an enormous geek, the end of August always made me happy because it meant I could go out and buy new shoes and a new fluffy pencilcase, usually complete with a novelty set of erasers.

Aside from the excitement of new stationary sets this time of the year also brings beautiful clothes, of course.

My lunch hour proved the perfect opportunity to browse the new A/W collections, despite the fact that Wakefield Ridings Centre was hardly a shopper’s paradise. The Topshop, Bank and River Island, however (yes, I am a high street whore) were surprisingly impressive.

So, courtesy of Wakefield Ridings (oh, the unquestionable glamour!) here are the clothes that I will be coveting this season………..

19th August...

...happy students (jumping), further Facebook drama, arguments over coffee and completely appropriate use of the English language...

'Much madness is the divinest sense-
          To a discerning eye-'

          Emily Dickinson.

On the 5.29 train back from Wakey, drinking the last bit of flask coffee, which is not mixed with milk, and tastes like tar -I imagine. The train smells of urine. It is not pleasant.

Today I spent the morning interviewing A-Level students at Wakefield College. Despite recent suggestions that they would be drowning their sorrows in the cafeteria and contemplating lives that consisted of nothing but university rejection and general drudgery, they seemed surprisingly chipper. 

I don't believe that the student who has worked hard, researched their university choices wisely and not over-estimated what they can achieve is going to miss out. Yes, sometimes there are unfortunate circumstances, and those who are now going through Clearing might find themselves without a place -but this happens every year. Something has gone wrong in the advice they have been given, if they haven't made the offer for their insurance choice and in this have failed to achieve their minimum expectations.

Newspapers have been commenting that the students most likely to be photographed with their results tomorrow are of a very particular breed -female, blonde, middle-class, often twins, usually Oxbridge. It is very likely that they will be jumping, results and Ugg boots in the air. I don't have a great deal to say about this, I just thought I'd throw it in there. It's so true.

Other general comments on this week's news:

Former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil might not have meant to cause a 'political statement' with her disgusting Facebook pictures of hand-cuffed, blind-folded Palenstinian prisoners, but she would do well to realise that a lot of the time the politics of the situation are superfluous. Before the obvious political ramifications are considered, Abergil should consider the fact that these men were probanly going through some of the most traumatic moments of their lives. Who would be taking photographs in this situation, for anything other than journalistic purposes? And what kind of psychopath would upload them onto Facebook -for entertainment? It seems to me that Ms. Abergil could do with a lesson in basic humanity.

An English professor has been removed from a New York City Starbucks for 'refusing' to use their own particular brand of language.

Lynne Rosenthal asked if she could order a multi-grain bagel. 'Yes,' the cashier replied. 'Would you like butter or cheese?'

Ms Rosenthal refused to answer, saying that she wouldn't compromise her 'plain English'. After she refused to answer the question a ruckus occurred, the police were called, and she was removed.

I agree that sometimes language needs to be kept traditional, and I also cringe when ordering a Venti Americano in Starbucks. But it seems that Ms. Rosenthal was being equally as pretentious. The cashier simply asked her if she wanted butter or cheese. Some customers do not want butter on their bagels; some do.

It sounds like a valid question to me, not an abuse of the English language. And clearly causing this argument didn't do Rosenthal any good either, because she left without her bagel. Maybe next time she'll try using that most plain of English words -'no'.

17th August...

…Fitzgerald on the train, French Connection lust, blogging, microfilm, 6am suspender drama, coffee cake and theatre employment searches….

Probably should be going to sleep, since I’ve got to get up in 5 hours… however, happily distracted by ♥

I’m salivating over most of the online collection, but one serious question still sticks out in my mind: why do people wear playsuits? Do they want to look like 3 year olds? Also, the floor in public toilets is always vomit inducing, and who really wants to sit in a public toilet naked with a baby-grow around their ankles just for the sake of fashion?

The mind boggles, honestly.

 Also aimlessly Googling Jeanette Winterson books. Sexing the Cherry sounds interesting, but slightly gutted that Wikipedia doesn’t have a page for Written on the Body. Was hoping for some breezy and not too taxing analysis. Might have to pick up a criticism book, scary.

 Missing my lovely Lancaster sisterhood, particularly those of it who have departed these rain splattered shores and whisked themselves off to altogether more exotic climes. Still, Madrid in September and London before that, over the bank holiday weekend, so I can’t really complain without sounding like a spoilt bitch… especially since I’ve been back from Greece for all of 5 days.

 It’s now 4 ½ hours until I need to get up, and I’m still feeling the effects of today’s 5 cups of coffee. Mildly annoying, because I’m definitely going to need my energy tomorrow. I foresee another day translating the overly-punctuated, rambling letters of Wakefield residents, waiting for non-existent emails to flash into my inbox, and fighting with the temperamental microfilm machine.

 I literally can’t wait to be a proper journo.

 Also, I’ve discovered the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, as translated by the Brothers Grimm, and it’s b-e-a-u-tiful.

 Thought of the day… ‘I’m feeling your leather jacket, want to go to the Premier Inn?’

20th July 2010 - Wasting my life on Facebook? Erm, no. I’m just keeping up with my correspondence…

In pre-internet times, women with nothing else to do (‘kept women’, I think is the term) could very feasibly have spent all morning dealing with their correspondence. Letter writing, etc. Communication was once seen as a great art –among the many collected volumes of letters that have been selected and published in anthologies over the last few years are those of Jane Austen and the legendary Mitford sisters. Austen’s letters shed light on some of the greatest works of modern British literature, whilst the Mitfords’ give us an invaluable insight into some of the most torrid yet socially and politically important events of the twentieth century.

‘Dealing with my correspondence’ was undoubtedly very important for most comfortably off or aristocratic women. ‘Kept women’ might be the wrong term –in past times this was the social expectation, of course. But I can’t help feeling, whilst at home during my long, long summer break from university, that I too am biding my time, waiting. My long term aims might be different, of course. But essentially my days follow a rough pattern. I read. I meet friends for lunch and conversation, or other social purposes. I visit family. I take trips to London, Stratford, Madrid and Greece. I write the occasional article, commenting on society. And I do, of course, spend a great deal of time ‘keeping up with my correspondence’.

Although the art of letter writing has somewhat been lost over the last half century or so –we can justifiably blame busy lifestyles and the internet for this– there are still snatches of it in society. I am talking, as you may have guessed, about Facebook.

Facebook is no doubt a very modern social phenomenon. But it essentially lets us do what our ancestors did, albeit a lot quicker. But young people who spend a lot of time ‘keeping up with their correspondence’ now –through the medium of Facebook– are generally looked at with scorn. They are wasting their time.

But apart from it being a very much less romanticised way to communicate when compared to letter writing, I do not see a whole lot of difference. By logging onto Facebook, I am simply using modern technology to do exactly as my peers have done for hundreds of years. The only difference, essentially, is that I am doing it in the twenty first century.

Looking over neatly hand written letters might offer a more sentimental and romantic notion than simply clicking a button and viewing a mutual ‘wall-to-wall’ conversation. But times have changed –and with change there often comes a loss of beauty. It is not something that we can fight, I don’t think –it is something, simply, that is. And it might be a shame –but we shouldn’t blame anyone for this, especially those who are simply trying to keep up to date with their acquaintances, and doing it in the easiest way they know how.

5th July 2010 - Tea or dinner… when language gets in the way of life.

I have just spent three minutes staring at my computer screen, trying to decide on the correct way to phrase a suggestion that, next week, I meet with an old friend for food. Food, in the evening.

I have been wondering whether to change the word ‘tea’ in the message to ‘dinner’, or to avoid the issue entirely by just calling it what it is –‘food’. Clearly, neither is correct. To write ‘dinner’ in a message to a fellow Huddersfield friend would probably instigate raised eyebrows; it is almost a cardinal sin.

But saying ‘tea’ to anyone other than family, after two years in an environment that has been more than peppered by southern influence, feels just as alien.

I am a northerner. I am undeniably proud of this, and I never imagined that it could be seen as a problem, especially when I started at Lancaster University, an institution that is much further north than my home in Huddersfield. Starting at Lancaster, I didn’t expect to have my language repeatedly mocked and ‘corrected’ by linguistically arrogant southerners.

I should have been forewarned. Almost as soon as I reached my six-bedroomed on campus flat in October 2008, I found that there seemed to be a theme emerging. My flatmates were from Essex, Northampton, Redditch and Plymouth. And Norway. But essentially, I was the token funny voiced resident.

Immediately I found myself watching my language. If I didn’t, a chorus of ‘Lucy, say ‘nowt’! Say ‘owt’!’ would ensue. It is very, very rare that I ever say ‘nowt’, or ‘owt’, but occasionally my northern dialect does kick in –‘tea’, ‘mate’, ‘nah’. The Southerners found it hilarious. It is so superficial, I could scream.

One particular flatmate appeared to believe that the north was simply one town. One memorable quotes was, ‘Do you say ‘book’ like ‘buwk’? My mum used to say ‘buwk’, because she’s from the north. She doesn’t anymore.’

It turns out that this mother was originally from Durham, a hundred miles from Huddersfield. It isn’t that close.

But I digress. Back to my Facebook message. My Huddersfield friend Danielle does not care about the sensitive intricacies of the English dialect. She would not notice anything strange about my message if I wrote ‘tea’, but if put ‘dinner’ the aforementioned surprise would be almost guaranteed. And this is on Facebook, where most people pay so little attention to their language choices that quite often their messages/ comments/ status updates are almost illegible.

I could suggest, if I was in a particularly pseudo-intellectual frame of mind, that it isn’t just about dialect, it is about roots, and more than anything identity.

I feel pretentious and try hard saying ‘dinner’, simply due to the fact that I am not southern and have no desire to be. So to my northern friends and my family, I’m sticking with ‘tea’. To everyone else, it’ll quite simply have to be ‘food’. I can’t be bothered with the politics.

3rd May 2010 - A Little Common Sense, Please

The issue that surrounds Primark’s selling of padded bikinis for seven year olds, and the articles condemning it that have appeared in the recent press, have caused me to start thinking about common sense. Or more accurately, lack of it –and surprisingly not from Primark, who have clearly been positioned as irresponsible and villainous in this case.

Have any of these commentators, so quick to jump on the bandwagon, actually seen the ‘padded’ bikini that began the controversy? I have; it is just a bikini top. It is pink with gold stars. It is something I would have worn as a seven year old, with the only thought on my mind being that it was pretty. The seven year olds who bought the bikini, and their parents, will have had nothing further from their minds than sex.

And this is the problem. It is the media that has made this piece of clothing ‘sexy’, and no one else. The media’s obsession with paedophilia has caused controversy where there really is none. Surely they should have more important things to write about? I heard there’s an election this week.

I run a Rainbow unit, meaning I come into regular contact with girls between the ages of five and seven. I am also involved with a unit at home, and have been since the age of thirteen –so I have seen a wide spectrum of girls pass through in over seven years. I have noticed small things over the last two years or so, with regards to the ‘sexualisation’ of children. They are things that those so fond of condemning the issue would jump at: one six year old liked her mother to straighten her hair for her. Another had a pampering party for her seventh birthday. A mini pink limo picked up L and her friends, and they went to a children’s beauty salon, where they had their nails painted and strands of their hair semi-permanently dyed purple. They loved it, but they were no less children because of it.

L, the week after her birthday, proudly showed me the purple streak in her hair. Just as quickly, she moved on to tell me about her day at school, and the book that she had started reading. She was more proud about the book than the hair, which begs the question: why is the media telling these girls that they can be fashionable or clever, but not both?

The truth is we only learn later that it is perfectly fine to be manicured, highlighted and generally enhanced, whilst still being intelligent enough to become academically successful. And if the media keeps telling pre-teen girls that they have to choose, to fit in with their peers it is fairly obvious which direction they are going to take.

Suri Cruise wearing ‘high heels’ was quickly jumped at by the press. They just looked like sandals to me. Likewise, Miley Cyrus’ little sister Noah was pictured wearing a short skirt and leather boots and the press went crazy. The boots admittedly might have been a step too far, but the outfit was in no way sexual until the press made it that way. The ten year old has also been criticised for wearing an outfit that resembles ‘a French maid’ –but it seems to me that at such a young age she would just have seen a pretty, poufy skirt. Miley Cyrus herself was condemned for ‘pole dancing’ during an awards show, but watch the footage and you’ll see than she doesn’t dance near the pole, and that it seems to be there for safety. Would Cyrus’ critics prefer that she fell off a moving object and injured herself?

There are exceptions in everything, of course. The sight of Jordan’s daughter Princess bedecked in false eyelashes, unable to hold her eyelids up because of them, with the glamour model shrieking that she looked ‘like a mini mummy’ is fairly haunting. But a girl dressing up in innocence and being vilified by a biased press that seems to misinterpret everything is hardly the same thing.

I would conjecture that children are younger for longer in our society than they have been in most cases throughout history. In the Victorian era and before, lower class girls would often be working before they were even teenagers. Upper class girls faired no better, being married off to the best suitor at the earliest opportunity. Who could forget Keira Knightly’s disturbing portrayal of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, on her wedding night –which was also her seventeenth birthday? Henry VIII’s grandmother was married at the age of twelve and gave birth at thirteen. How was this better?

Sonia Poulton’s article in The Sun this week cites cliché and little original thought. She criticises Miley Cyrus for wearing ‘skimpy tops and impossibly short skirts’. Cyrus lives in Los Angeles and it is May. What does Poulton expect her to wear? A little common sense with regards to this supposed ‘sexualisation’ wouldn’t go amiss.

Back to the Rainbows. A conversation a couple of weeks ago highlighted the pure innocence that they have, whatever the press say. Five year old A had drawn a picture of herself –with her boyfriend. This began a bragging competition, which to some might sound worrying –although it isn’t. ‘I’ve got two boyfriends,’ L told A, on seeing her picture. Their friend chipped in that she had four. Quickly, it descended into the implausible: ‘Well, I’ve got a HUNDRED!’ And after a slight pause, ‘Well… I’ve got infinity.’

I don’t think any of us can say that we were much different as six year olds, even if we do believe it was in the glory days before all the talk of sexualisation started. It is the media who started the obsession, and it is they who need to end it –because in a paradoxical way, talking about sexualised children is more likely to encourage paedophilia than anything parents or Primark have done. Don’t snipe at an innocent child in dancing shoes, when in reality it’s you doing the damage.