Beauty is in the Eye of the Bush-holder

Last week I went for breakfast with a good gal pal of mine and, sat in the picturesque setting of Lewisham Way inhaling those glorious fresh car fumes with our food, we had a good old catch up on life and our current probs with the patriarchy. On the misogyny smashing agenda that day was body hair…muff fluffs, lady gardens, whatever you like to call your love rug, we were talking pubes.

We waxed lyrical (hemhem) about the beauty of the bush and woefully recalled a time when some male friends proclaimed they would want a woman they’re sleeping with to be smooth as Barbie down there. Over our fry-ups we pondered this proclamation. Barbie has been giving young girls unrealistic ideals for 50+ years…and now she’s given them to grown men too (or maybe it’s all the unrealistic porn). Hair is natural and women should not be expected to remove it or made to feel that by keeping it they are unfeminine or dirty. If ladies want to remove it for themselves then crack on, but don’t do it for the approval of anyone else.

Our problems with waxing and the idea that women should remove all traces of hair/sexual maturity/womanhood etc. were many…

Firstly, waxing is extremely painful. Whoever said “beauty is pain” was talking rubbish. Beauty is not pain. My definition of beauty falls somewhere in the realm of being comfortable and feeling happy with yourself. And there are few ways to look comfortable or happy when you’re waddling down the street after having hundreds of hairs forcibly removed from your nether regions or your hips seizing up having had them splayed for the past half an hour to enable said forcible removal.

Not only is it extremely painful, it is extremely expensive. In London a full bush wax will set you back somewhere in the region of £35-£45. Now unless you’re earning the megabucks, which many aren’t, the waxing dollas stack up pretty quickly. That’s the same money you could spend on a nice dinner out every month, or a veeery decent night down the boozer – I know what I’d prefer to spend my hard earned pennies on *hellooo cocktail night*. And if you can’t afford waxing and resort to shaving then that brings a whole host of new problems in itself…ingrown hairs and shaving rash to name but a few, and, let’s be honest, nobody wants a rashy fanny.

Thirdly and most importantly in my opinion: if the men aren’t doing it then why should we? *Hat tip to Caitlin Moran* This is a question I regularly ask myself when trying to decide if something is a) sexist and b) something I should be advocating or questioning. It’s definitely no fail-safe but, on the whole, it seems to help weedle out the wheat from the sexist bullshit. I know very few fellas who have a standing booking with their waxer or are overly fussed if their short and curlies get a bit less short and a big more curly. So why should I care either? We’re all grown ups and ideally I’d want to be with someone who also looks like a aldut – not like an adolescent who hasn’t quite hit the big p-u-b-e-r-t-y.

I don’t believe that waxing is an inherently bad or un-feminist thing. I think if you enjoy being smooth down there then that’s your personal choice and that’s great. But I know so many women who refrain from waxing until the prospect of sex looms over the horizon and off they scoot to the salon. To misquote that classic 80s band Eurythimcs, it seems to me that sometimes sisters aren’t doing it for themselves – they’re doing it for the men. Women are continually assessed through a patriarchal lens, and it’s a construct we definitely shouldn’t be buying into and enforcing on ourselves. At the end of the day, I strongly believe that most men worth their salt do not give a flying fanny if you have a fully fledged bush down there or not. And if they do, they’re probably not the kind of men boys you want to be sleeping with in the first place.

H.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

 

Can long distance relationships ever really work?

Now, I’m not talking lovey-dovey relationships, but real, long-term, through thick and thin friendships. My relationships with my friends seem to be stronger and healthier than ever before now there’s a few hundred miles and a long stretch of motorway that separate us. I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to live just around the corner from my friends but growing up in different cities seems to really have its benefits.

I never planned on having long distance friendships and to begin with it was so hard not being geographically nearest with my dearest. But as we’ve all reached our twenties and grown a wee bit older and a wee bit wiser I can appreciate the distance in a new light.

1) You have so many more amazing cities to go and see and sofas to crash on when you need a distraction from your bad week at work and the fact that you dyed all your housemate’s clothes pink when being *helpful* doing the laundry. I have the options of seaside towns, rural villages, and northern delights when visiting friends – much better than seeing the same places every time you meet your pals, no?

2) You make the most of your generous (if not over-priced) phone contract! Living near my friends we rarely spoke on the phone or text. But now, we are phonecall warriors, texting ninjas – quick catchups on the commute from work; lengthy chats to discuss our most recent cock-ups; hungover, pyjama clad FaceTimes; and WhatsApp groups that have taken on a whole new life, overflowing with memes, “Guys you’ll never guess what’s”, and drunken “I love you all so much, you’re my best friends in the whole world” voice notes. If nothing else, then long distance friendships make the most of your phone like never before.

3) When you do manage to get together (having coordinated everyone’s busy work lives, home lives, and funds for the extortionate train fares) you have a proper knees-up. The weekends are always full of excessive food, drink, and hugs, and all the rubbish things that are going on in our lives get left at the door of the *slightly grotty* house share flat. You don’t whinge about Sheila from work who pissed you off with that shitty email, nobody cares that their new-year new-me diet is going completely out of the window – those problems are *delightfully* left to be dealt with by poor, unfortunate housemates (and probably your parents). In short, those 48 hours you wangle every month or so become a paradise away from all those ‘first-world-probs’ that normally seem soooo important.

4) It makes you appreciate the differences you have. I used to think friends should have loads in common (that was why you were friends, right…?) Now, I realise that as long as our core values match – and probably our sense of humour too – it’s good to have different likes and dislikes, hobbies, and interests. There’s always more to talk about now we all lead very different lives with jobs in different environments and dealing with different people; we aren’t insular like we were at college or university. It’s okay to have differing opinions on things, they make for great discussions when you’re three pints deep in the pub on a Saturday night get-together. It’s nice to know that you can grow separately but not grow apart from your friends.

It’s not all rosey, it can be really rubbish sometimes too…when everything’s gone wrong and you just want to see a friendly face from home but they’re 250 miles away it can be pretty frustrating. But it’s good to look on the bright side with everything in life, long distance friendships being one of the them, getting to see the benefits of a six hour coach journey up the M6 another – after all, nobody likes a Negative Nelly.

H.

October Reading Habits

And so we leave October behind in a flurry of autumnal leaves and move into the pre-festive month of November! So, here is my rundown of my October reading list…a childhood classic, an autobiography, and a couple of currents.

Mr Nice: AIMG_3958.JPGn Autobiography by Howard Marks (1998). Mr Nice tells the fascinating story of Howard Marks, an Oxford graduate from rural Wales turned international drug smuggler. If you’ve heard Marks speak it becomes impossible not to read this book in his relaxing south-Wales lilt. Marks sadly passed away in April of this year, however his compelling tale lives on in this exceptional autobiography. In fact, the only biography I have ever wanted to read and it drew me in as if I was sat with Marks as he told his story. The 2010 film of the same name, directed by Bernard Rose is well worth a watch too.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015). I picked up this book and devoured it in two days just before the film was released – not wanting any spoilers to be revealed! TGOTT switches between narration from alcoholic divorcee Rachel, unhappily married Megan, and man-stealer to reveal intertwining stories in this thriller. I didn’t like any of the characters and found a sense of catharsis difficult at the end of the novel (I’m not sure if they were all  supposed to be that dislikeable). But, it did what a thriller is supposed to do and kept me reading for a solid two days, so worth it for a quick, easy read.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (2015). If travelling on the Tube in September/October, it was hard to avoid advertisements for this book…which makes me a sucker for branding, I guess (is it consumerism if for intellectual purposes? Hmm). I loved this book – unlike anything I have read before, divided into sections narrated by Dad, Boys, and Crow. Funny and poetic, I found myself constantly underlining and scribbling in the margins. Readable in a day or so, but a really moving story about a family coping with and moving on from the death of a mother.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2004). Doing a bit of research on this book, I was so disappointed to see it compared to Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon EnglishThe Curious Incident is an insightful and heartwarming story told from the perspective of a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who runs away from home. I found the narration interesting and genuine – it felt real. Whereas I found the narration in Pigeon English irritating and patronising – not similar in the slightest! But I loved The Curious Incident and am really interested in seeing the stage production at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End.

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Four books this month isn’t bad, but considering the final three of the list took mere days to read I’m keen to up my ante as the nights draw in closer to Christmas (think cosy evenings curled up on the sofa with a blanket, hot choc, and nose in a book). Next up on my reading list I have…Thomas More’s Utopia, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides (read the first page and I’m hooked already, it’s gon’ be good), John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (yes, I’m an English graduate who hasn’t read Of Mice and Men, I hang my head in shame, please forgive me – and don’t tell anyone). This seems like a succinct way to keep track of what I have read and keep me on course for all the books I’m dying to read, so watch this space.

H.

A lucky cat, a singing sole, and a racetrack finish: Bedwyr Williams’ ‘The Gulch’

I called in on my old friend the Barbican Centre last week to visit Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams’ immersive exhibition ‘The Gulch’. The 90-metre long Curve exhibition space has been transformed by Williams into a series of installations that invite the viewer to look, sit, and watch in wonder (and quite possibly befuddlement).

It began with a moonlit beach scene complete with fake log fire and real sand (could have even been romantic had I not been flying solo). From the outset I knew this wouldn’t be an ‘ordinary’ exhibition; the viewer is drawn in as participant, serenaded on the sand by a lonely Nike trainer.

From this I moved through to a blackened corridor of oddities. There were several spotlit displays showing…a ‘sea’ of wigs, a small suit-clad figurine, a rotating mannequin resplendent in goat adorned varsity jacket, and a broken blue spoon – all quite bizarre (“weird and wonderful” as the Barbican puts it).

Then through to the next space, seemingly completely unrelated, housing a drum kit, a vending machine, and what appeared to be some kinds of backstage props. Was I allowed to play the drum kit? Was I not? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the limits of rules in a gallery space, but I like this kind of playfulness. Next, a room featuring a huge ‘Apprentice’ style boardroom table and chairs, and a looping video about a depressed psychiatrist…and finally…bursting through sparkly streamers into the final installation space; a racetrack (of sorts, of course) and the other half of the Nike couple. Looking up I managed to spot a lucky cat waving down at me from one of the white suspended grids.

This should have been where the experience ended and I exited from the end of the racetrack. However, there was an issue with the exit and viewers were directed back through the obstacle course of rooms – sadly making them lose some of their effect in my opinion, but alas these things cannot be helped.

I really enjoyed the way Williams plays with the space of The Curve; the ‘rooms’ created make the space feel much longer than 90 metres. I also discovered that ‘gulch’ means a narrow and steep-sided ravine formed by erosion – this feeling of enclosure was definitely one I had throughout the exhibition and it completely transformed the way I saw The Curve compared to previous visits.

‘The Gulch’ is open until 8th January 2017 at The Curve, Barbican Centre.

H.

Top 5 Brutally Beautiful London Locations

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? And certainly so in the case of the much debated Brutalist architecture movement. Some see an ugly eyesore…others see functionality, rawness, and fantastic concrete creations (safe to say, I’m a fan)Brutalism was a post-war architectural movement which began in the 1950s and flourished during the sixties counterculture. Brutalist buildings boast a mass of concrete, bold designs, and once utopian visions of socialist living (pretty apt considering 2016 is the five-hundredth  anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia).

London is a haven for Brutalist buildings, and it only requires a quick jaunt around the city to discover some of the gems. So, here’s the rundown of (my) top 10 Brutalist beauties in London…

1. Barbican Estate

At #1 on my list can be none other than the Barbican Estate. Designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the estate is home to over 4,000 Londonites, the Barbican Centre, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and the London Symphony Orchestra (check that  for culture). Most of the residential blocks were completed between 1969 and 1980 and have stood tall and proud ever since. It is easily accessible via Barbican underground station (Hammersmith & City, Circle, and Metropolitan) which leads out to an elevated walkway into the concrete heart of the estate. The Barbican Centre houses the second largest conservatory in London, the naturalness of which beautifully juxtaposes the artificiality of the estate, and makes it definitely worth a look if visiting here.

2. Southbank Centre & the National Theatre

Second place goes to the iconic Southbank Centre and adjacent National Theatre (technically two separate sites but so close together I can squeeze them into one spot). This concrete jungle imposes over the South Bank of the River Thames and can be accessed from Waterloo station (National Rail, Jubilee, Bakerloo, Northern, and Waterloo & City). The Southbank Centre itself consists of the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room (all closed due to refurbishment until 2017 *sad*), The Poetry Library, and Royal Festival Hall, and resides alongside the National Theatre (again, how much art and culture can ya get?!). The Undercroft of Southbank Centre plays host to the much-loved and graffitied  skatepark which lives on despite attempts made towards its closure in 2014.

3. Alton Estate, Roehampton

Lesser known, but equally impressive is Roehampton’s Alton Estate. Residing in the leafy, south-west of London, Alton Estate is a network of high and low rise flats overlooking 2,500 acres of greenery in Richmond Park and can be reached from Barnes station (National Rail). Now, I may be biased towards this estate (I lived on the east side for two years) but I think it is magnificent; home to over 13,000 residents and one of the largest estates in the United Kingdom. Alton Estate featured in the 1966 film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, directed by Francois Truffaut, depicting a dystopian society (which is pretty cool for film buffs and book nerds like me).

4. Brunel University Lecture Centre

In the theme of ‘bookishness’, Brunel University Lecture Centre must make it into the top list of brutalist locations. This site was designed by Richard Sheppard and John Stillman and was completed in 1968. A slight trek from the city centre, the Lecture Centre can be reached via Uxbridge underground station (Piccadilly and Metropolitan), and is well worth a visit for fans of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel: A Clockwork Orange or Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation. In Kubrick’s film the Lecture Centre features as the Ludovico Medical Facility where Alex DeLarge  undergoes aversion therapy (if you don’t know, go read the book/watch the film…NOW!)

5. Southmere Estate, Thamesmead

Okay, so moving further out of London still…this time to the east and Southmere Estate, Thamesmead (it’s still  inside the safety of the M25 so never fear!). The first stage of building on the estate was completed in 1968 and consisted of low and high-rise housing, a boating lake, and elevated walkways (you see the pattern) and can be reached from Plumstead station (National Rail). This estate also featured in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and became the backdrop to Channel 4’s superhero drama Misfits, 2009-2013 (cue wistful lusting over teen heart-throb Robert Sheehan) – are you sold? I think I am.

“Thamesmead Housing Estate” by Jon Bennett (https://www.flickr.com/photos/35765599@N00/98254743). Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.

Whether it’s a love of concrete or nostalgic *feels* towards utopian dreams of socialism, Brutalism provides in abundance and can be found all over central and Greater London. Either love it or hate it, this controversial architectural style gets you talking and visiting these sites in and around London makes for a great (and cultural) day out.

H.

Review: ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold

“I could have yelled for hours. I knew he was going to kill me. I did not realize then that I was an animal already dying”


SPOILER ALERT


lovely-bonesThe Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, begins with the gruesome and traumatic murder of Susie Salmon (I lent this book to my sister and she couldn’t make it past the first chapter so it’s safe to say this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea). So yes, Susie is murdered by her neighbour Mr Harvey in chapter one. Susie then narrates from her own personalised Heaven what she sees unfold on Earth: her family’s struggle to cope with her death, the police hunt to find her murderer, her family growing up and getting on without her… Susie peppers her narration with flashbacks which allow the reader to build a picture of their narrator whilst she was alive and develop deepened empathy towards her character.

With the aid of a lengthy (do phone data=boring) three hour train journey, I devoured this book in about three days. Some Salmon family hiccups annoyed me on the way – the mother’s affair with Detective Len Fenerman and escape to wine country being the biggest. Also, I don’t think I quite ‘got’ the character of Ruth Connor and found Susie’s transcendence into her body at the end of the novel really quite bizarre…maybe I’m just not that in touch with my supernatural side! Mr Harvey’s demise was both frustrating and oh-so satisfying. Frustrating as I wanted him to be caught and locked up in prison (but that would have been to cliche, right?). Satisfying due to the his mode of death; Mr Harvey is killed by an icicle (which Susie proclaims the best murder weapon earlier in the text) whilst preying on his next female victim – a nice hefty dose of divine intervention!

I’m pretty behind the times in reading this novel considering it was published in 2002 (gah!). It has sat on my bookshelf for many, many months, however once I finally managed to pick it up, I found it really difficult to put down! It gave me *possibly* the greatest sense of catharsis I have ever had from a book and left me grinning for the remainder of my horrible train journey.

H.

 

Banned Books Week on My Bookshelf

Book Burning Mobile.JPGThis week, 25th September-1st October, has been Banned Books Week (hence Rev. Lovejoy’s handy Book Burning Mobile from The Simpsons). Hosted by the American Library Association, BBW was launched in 1982 to celebrate the freedom to read and alert people to censorship issues surrounding literature. It encourages readers to pick up books that others may challenge as ‘obscene’ or ‘inappropriate’. This years Banned Books Week celebrated diversity – maybe something those trying to ban the books should have a ‘lil look into, eh?

Hundreds of books have been challenged or banned over the years due to their content or the way authors tackle certain issues, such as sexuality, race, and gender. But, literature is such a fantastic way to gain new knowledge and insight into things you may not know about, and as Sir Francis Bacon once said: “Knowledge is power!” So, readers, keep reading! Absorb all kinds of literature – things you love, things you hate, things that inspire you, things that challenge your current ways of thinking. Through doing this, narrow-minded views can be confronted and replaced with more accepting and tolerant ways of being. No-one wants to be a Lovejoy do they?

To celebrate Banned Books Week here is my list of treasured texts that have, at some point in their literary lives, been challenged because of their content and themes…banned-books

 

  • Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  • Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1962)
  • Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland (1865)
  • Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness (1899)
  • Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary (1856)
  • Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (2003)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  • Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
  • Ken Kesey: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
  • George Orwell: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (1925)
  • Anna Sewell: Black Beauty (1877)
  • Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
  • Jonathon Swift: Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
  • Alice Walker: The Color Purple (1982)
  • Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited (1945)
  • Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

H.

Pick a book and read, read, read!