Thursday, 15 December 2011

Advice from Harper Lee

"Back in 2006, a young reader named Jeremy who liked To Kill a Mockingbird wrote a letter to Harper Lee asking if he could have a signed photograph of the author. Being Harper Lee, she denied the photo portion of his request, but did send him back a hand-written note offering a piece of solid advice:

"As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, 'I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.' ""


Original source with Lee's own handwritten note

Yay for challenging stereotypes!

Jezebel article

This is good news!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Amazon and the book trade

On the subject of books and Amazon, I just wanted to make a copy of a comment on this article ('Don't Support Your Local Bookseller: Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you') in case I ever need to refer to these arguments again.
By the way, did you know that Amazon made a loss for 11 years after they first started up? They did that so that they could gain domination of the market i.e., so that people would instantly think of Amazon whenever they wanted to buy a book/laptop/dvd/cat basket. 
And now it's worked. They are so powerful they can negotiate enormous discounts from publishers, and the result has been to discount the value of a book in customers' minds. As this article proves, they think that independent booksellers sell at a marked-up price and Amazon sells at the real one, when in reality Amazon can afford to sell at heavily discounted prices because they are such a large company they can absorb the loss, and independent bookshops sell books at a price that reflects the real price it costs to produce them. Having bought most of my booklist for university from Amazon, now I've found out more about them I'm making a real effort to use them as little as possible. I suppose that's one more thing to add to my list of boycotts – but it would be a lot simpler if companies could just be ethical. Too much to ask?

Also, can you imagine how much money they must have had when they first started up if they could afford to make a loss for 11 years? Part of my indignation here comes from jealousy. Anyway, here's the comment:
If you want to know why “Russo and his novelist friends” support independent bookstores, it’s because those tiny shops with their passionate booksellers are the only places no longer devaluing the book. Any author who spends months and years to create a book is going to avidly support a place that treats their work like a treasure instead of a commodity.  
Your post shows SUCH a lack of understanding of the realities of publishing and the market, it’s seriously horrifying. That so many people in the comments accept what you say and argue FOR it is heartbreaking.  
“no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books.” 
That is SO COMPLETELY UNTRUE. Amazon has devalued to the book to such a place that some people now expect a $2.99 MAXIMUM price point for their literature. You said yourself that paying $9 for a paperback is outrageous. But people pay that and more to go sit in a dark room and watch a movie for two hours. If, suddenly, the public consciousness shifted, and people were no longer willing to pay even $3 to go see a movie at the theater, how many movies do you think would be made then? How many theaters could survive it? By devaluing the book, Amazon has done more to limit publishers’ lists than any other company on the planet.  
“But ebooks!”  
I am a HUGE proponent of ebooks. But the fact of the matter is that the Kindle isn’t the holy grail of ebook readers. I think ebooks has done an amazing thing for the industry. I agree that most people who own readers buy a crazy number of titles each year—far more than they would physical books most times. But that’s not solely because of Amazon. In fact, a true book lover would never buy a Kindle, as it limits you to only being able to purchase ebooks from Amazon. Every other reader allows you to upload books from any ebook retailer online. Kindle is the ONLY reader that is exclusive to a single store. That is short-sighted and ridiculous in our global economy. 
“But they support self-publishing!!”  
Yes. They do. And how many people do you know who are willing to wade through that minefield of unedited, untested books to hopefully find a gem? And do we really want to become a society who cares so little for the quality of our lit that anyone with a computer can write the story of their life, put a price tag on it, and shove it up on the shelves? Even if you are one of those who care little for the quality of the books you read, you can never claim that Amazon actually SUPPORTS the author. Their latest offerings include giving self-pubbed authors a bite at a large pool of cash, if they agree to pull their books from all distributors who are not Amazon. In case you missed that, Amazon is requiring exclusivity of their self-pub authors who want to become part of their lending library.  
What you have to say about bookstores would be laughable if it weren’t so sad that you actually believe it. You say that Amazon has reviews and suggests books based on others you’ve read and the local store recommends what the employees like. Amazon’s customer purchasing based algorithm is no match for an actual conversation with someone who loves and is passionate about books. Independent bookstore employees are specialists. They read all the time so that they can understand genre and help hand sell. Amazon’s algorithm relies on sales data from other customers. How is that a better recommendation? 
“If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?” 
Um… but random internet strangers writing reviews should be our guides? We all know how the Amazon review system can be used to game the system to support or destroy an author’s rating. We’ve all, by now, accepted that any forum open to the public invites trolls, false marketing, and other deceits. When having to choose between the guy at the box office and an anonymous internet stranger? I will always go with the recommendation of an ACTUAL PERSON.  
Put any number of authors in a room together and all will start talking about the amazing independent bookstores that helped to launch their careers. Yes, Amazon sells books. Yes, authors like places that sell their books. But most of all, we love people who match the hard work and passion we put onto every page with hard work and passion to put our work into the hands of people who will love the story. That is something we will lose forever if people like you allow words like “inefficiency” “cost comparison” and “more for less” to take over the literary landscape.  
Amazon truly is the WalMart of the internet. They are lowering our expectations and doing just as much damage to small business and local communities. I just hope that our society starts to fight back a bit before it’s too late."

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Aaaargh you know when you do or say something really stupid and you can't take it back? I need to invent a time-travel machine.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Publishing moan

Okay, I really don't think I'm cut out to be a publisher. I'm having to write a 2,000 word 'product rationale' on the reason for every decision I've made on this proposed book. I don't know! I don't know anything about publishing yet. I was hoping that this would teach me. Perhaps I should have done more reading, but I've been unable to find anything in the recommended books we've been given that gives any accurate indication of how much it costs to print how many copies of a book. Plus my boyfriend just called and is upset, and being so far away there's nothing I can do to help him. And now I'm upset too. I really want to talk to him tomorrow but tomorrow is the day I skype all my old housemates and then I'm off to my aunt and uncle's for lunch. That will only leave me the evening to sort out this horrible project. I'm freaking out so much I don't even care that I just wrote 'freaking out' because I can't stand that expression.

I know it'll all be over on Monday, but I don't think I'm going to do very well this year - it's 50% for a pass and 75% for a distinction, with NOTHING in between so any employer will think you were just crap if you've only got a pass - and it's a shame because I was really willing to work hard and do well. But I just don't know what I'm doing and I've tried talking to the module leaders and after them trying to explain to me I can't exactly say I still don't understand. They may have explained one tiny aspect but that doesn't mean I understand the whole project any more. I just don't have enough information to be able to consider this proposal accurately, and then my marks will suffer from it. Others I've talked to have either got marks in the 50s or in the 80s. And I could have used these precious words to try to reach my target, but I can only type rubbish about stuff I have no clue about for so long before I run out of ideas. I just want this to be over, but then I have lectures all day Monday and Tuesday, possibly going out Monday evening, then packing frantically on Wednesday morning before going to the Christmas market with my cousins in the evening, the doctors on Thursday morning and flying home in the afternoon. All that trying to hope I don't forget to pack something vital. I've regressed into an angry adolescent blogger moaning about all my problems.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Jordan vs Jo Brand

Graham Norton interview with Jordan

Norton: "But does your mum, or your girlfriends, or do you ever consider that thing that like someday, Junior, Princess -- they'll turn to you, and they'll kind of go 'What the hell were you thinking that you dragged us through this circus? Why didn't you kind of keep us out of the limelight?'"

Price: "They might do, but I've been doing it since I was 17. I don't push 'em in front of the camera. They like it. Harvey's always saying 'Smile at the camera', and he's always following it about. I would never ever ever put them in that situation, but they don't know the difference."

Norton: "But they're kids, they're kids, I mean, you should kind of be making the decision for them."

(Audience claps)

I remember watching this episode at the time and being shocked by what she said. And thinking that what he said in reply was a good way of telling her to look after her damn children without offending her. It doesn't seem quite so shocking watching it again. What I noticed more this time is how clever and hilarious Jo Brand is (of course, I noticed last time too, but watching this with fresh eyes and after reading Caitlin Moran's comments about Jordan, the contrast between the two women's mental capacities seems enormous). "Hey, that's enough of the 'bleating on', thank you very much. Bleating on about children? Yeah, 'cause they're not important. I don't feed mine, they're annoying." More Jo Brands in the world, please. Also, she looks lovely and she seems to have really found her style. I remember seeing her on an episode of QI dressed in 12th century style clothes and they really suited her. She looked like she had stepped right out of a Chaucer tale. It's so nice so see people being different and looking great. Feels like an 'in your face' to the homogenization of, well, everything. Plus, according to wikipedia, she shares my birthday.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Stuff I found interesting after staring at a screen all day

During what technically counts as research for the 4,000 word report on a publishing company I'm supposed to be writing, I came across this little article on Amnesty's website. It's from their magazine in 2006 and is an article by Patrick Stewart (Sir Patrick Stewart now, I think) on his experience of domestic violence as a child and why he supports Amnesty's campaign to end violence against women. I have to say, I was a bit surprised by this - I think subconsciously assumed that famous actors that have got to the 'national treasure' stage must have had perfect lives, with no problems whatsoever, even though consciously, I know that's not true at all. Here's an extract:
"As far as the authorities are concerned there have been great advances - and there needed to be, because as a child I heard police officers in my own home saying 'well, she must have provoked him', and doctors saying 'well, Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight'. Well, they had no idea."
One of the reasons I keep this blog is to have a record of articles I come across that are inspiring or interesting, and I think this one covers both. Patrick Stewart is pretty damn cool.

Also, did you know that today is International Men's Day? I didn't until about 10 o'clock this evening, having spent all day on the computer inbetween doing work and milling around on the internet and not heard anything about it. Why is this event so low profile when International Women's Day seems to be a lot better known? I guess it hasn't had as long to build up a following. Anyway, their aims sound pretty interesting:
  • To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sportsmen but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.
  • To celebrate men's positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.
  • To focus on men's health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
  • To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law.
  • To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
Right, I'm off to bed, and hope I can finish off this awful report sometime tomorrow.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

"It's a moral dilemma"

I know my time could perhaps be better spent not reading terrifying articles on the internet, such as this one about honour killing I found through a link from one of my friends, but stories like these remind me that I really do want to do something that makes a difference in the world, and I'm not sure that publishing, if I can even manage to get into it, could ever do that.

I finally had the time to go into the Oxfam shop in Morningside yesterday, and I realised how much I miss volunteering there. Sure, you always get the customers that are real weirdos - inevitably, charity shops tend to attract them. But generally, the vast majority of the customers are friendly, and many are interesting if you can get talking to them. There are lots of reasons that someone might be shopping in a charity shop, and it's always interesting to hear them.

I also loved coming across hidden gems, especially when I was working in the stock room going through new donations. I love coming across books with the previous owner's name written inside the cover. There could be so many stories about that person. What did this book mean to them, how have they lived their life, what have they achieved, and why have they ended up giving this book away? What did it mean to them that it doesn't mean any longer? Pretentious, I know, but I find it fascinating.

And sometimes it was boring, when there was nobody in the shop for an hour and you had nothing much to do, sometimes the people were unfriendly or just busy, but at least it was something to do, and something that was worthwhile. At the moment I sometimes feel that what I'm doing is useless, and that if I wanted to get into publishing in any way, I'd have to move to London and stay there for the rest of my life. And I don't want to live in London. I don't like it and I don't know it. I don't even know where I'll be living next year - that all depends on things I can't control.

The problem is you don't get paid for charity work. So far, I haven't even been qualified enough to get a job in a shop, so who knows what I'll end up doing next year. I feel torn between doing something vocational and doing something worthwhile, and by worthwhile I mean something that makes a difference. Nothing that's worthwhile seems to pay enough, but even for something as seemingly harmless as publishing, I'm always worried that I'm selling my soul. Publishing is for profit. I accept that and I've always known that was part of the deal. What I haven't yet got to grips with is how to reconcile that with my values without selling out.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

I hate the world sometimes

This article is shocking, but well worth a read. This is an issue that does not seem to receive the attention that it should, and any talk of it is limited by restrictive gender roles:
"In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable," says RLP's gender officer Salome Atim. "You have to be masculine, strong. You should never break down or cry. A man must be a leader and provide for the whole family. When he fails to reach that set standard, society perceives that there is something wrong."
Men should be just as free as women to express the trauma of what they have gone through. The only time I can remember ever coming across something on this subject was in Cloud Atlas, then I just thought it was something incredibly weird and disturbing that the author had made up.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

In a general internet surf, I came across this delightful post containing some creepy and downright strange vintage adverts. My favourite one is this one:

Personally, I think it's a good thing we've got more sensitive about calling people fat if the alternative is this sort of casual abuse. Plus, as the author of the original blog points out, the girl in the picture isn't chubby at all.

I guess it's all proof that the industry has always had a casual hatred of women (see #9 where the woman is being hit by her husband for not trying coffee before she buys it, #7 where the husband has locked his wife out of their room because she hasn't used the latest feminine hygiene product, and #4, asking the timeless question "Is it always illegal to kill a woman" for apparently no reason whatsoever), and, indeed, men and children.

This post is really nothing but me writing about the other blog post I found - sorry.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

For readers with brains

I don't know if I said already that I'm studying an MSc in Publishing at Napier University. Well today (after a lot of confusion and delay) we had an exercise to make up our own magazine, thinking about the design, target audience, price, subject, tagline and title etc. I really liked the one our group came up with - it was called Real, and we never agreed on a tagline - my suggestion of "for women with brains" was deemed a bit too brutal. It was aimed at professional/career women in their 20s to 30s, and it was an anti women's-magazine magazine (i.e. against the mindless fashion obsession that most women's magazines focus on). It was about being happy with who you are, not about being aspirational. Somebody suggested that there was a gap in the market for younger women who want to read magazines that have substance, like Psychologies, but feel that those magazines are aimed at older women. To be honest, I would love to make this magazine a reality. We had all sorts of great ideas about what should go in it, such as having a policy of only using 'real' women who aren't airbrushed as the models, perhaps even using the readers (although we'd have to have some first). I suggested having articles on charity-shop fashion and upcycling, thrifty ways of making things unique, although that is a vested interest of mine, so of course I would suggest that. I don't know how appealing that would be to the general public. Other great suggestions were having a hard-hitting analysis of the news and current affairs, articles on new technologies, which are normally presumed to only interest men, articles aimed at addressing the culture of self-hatred that women's magazines engender, such as an article on enjoying your own company as well as relationship advice, a culture review section on the latest films, books, tv programmes and music, and an advice page with detailed response to letters. Overall, we wanted this magazine to have in-depth articles and features - we don't want it to be just another brainless fashion promotion. We thought about having adverts from affordable high-street shops like H&M, New Look and Zara. I don't know how ethical Zara is, however, and somebody suggested Primark too which I suppose might be inevitable, although I wouldn't be happy with that. If this was my magazine I think I would like to focus it on being ethical. The trouble is I don't know how many women would be interested in that. Anyway, we also thought it might be a good idea to have Lush advertise in it, as their cosmetics have such an emphasis placed on being 'real', organic, homemade, fresh and good for you. We came across a little problem with the adverts, though - would you have a policy that they couldn't be photoshopped either? Could companies deal with that? Pretty much everything is done in photoshop now, even if it's not airbrushing. That could be problematic.

I've just had the idea that you could do something similar to the thing they do in the innocent smoothies emails, where they include links to funny websites and weird videos. Pointing out websites like cakewrecks could be quite fun, and a good way of getting people to use the magazine's forums and extra video content it would have online. I'm actually amazingly excited about this magazine and quite put out that it's not going to become a reality.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Welcome to the World's Biggest Arms Fair

 Oh wait guys, it's alright, it turns out that we've all been overreacting about the arms trade, and that selling weapons actually promotes peace:

A representative from Pakistan's exhibit, Major Ali Asghar Mushtaq, says his country is here selling weapons to help bring about a more peaceful world.

"The aim of Pakistan's army is that everything manufactured and sold should not be for killing and terror activities," he says. "It should bring peace on the whole world, not wars." Does he really believe manufacturing arms en masse will help bring about peace? "It's obvious," he says. "Once one country and the other country both have weapons, no one is going to use the weapons against each other. So there will be more stability.  

The chances are, if you're over five years old you might have spotted a little flaw in that argument. Nevertheless, arms traders and those who profit from them continue to delue themselves that what they are doing is not only necessary, but good. Take a look at this video, where a journalist from Amnesty International informs an employee of RBS that they are investing in the companies that make cluster bombs.

"How do you think you get paid your benefits or whatever? Your university or your healthcare. How do you think the banks make money?"

Is this the only way that banks can make money? Surely that's a flawed system. If the only way our banks can make money is by investing in a trade that relies on killing off people, then why are we still supporting them? I know I may sound like an idealist, but I believe that it is possible to invest in ethical causes to generate the income necessary for the welfare state, and to support people through university (which sadly looks like it's a thing of the past, but is completely necessary for a country that wants to make any steps toward progress). Why must we rely on wars in other countries to support our banks? That means that banks and businesses in this country will always have a vested interest in promoting conflict abroad, or else their business will run out.


Seneca said that he who profits by a crime commits it. That means that if I put my money in a bank that invests in the arms trade, I am profiting from the arms trade, I am gaining from the deaths of others and I am complicit in that crime. I don't want that to be my only option. I want to be able have the choice to invest ethically (ethically here means 'something that does not involve hurting or killing others). I just don't know what to do about it. The whole thing is so entrenched and corrupt and so big. How can you hold a bank or a company to account when others don't agree that people's lives should come first, and that instead, they 'have a duty to their shareholders'?

Friday, 16 September 2011

The end of men

I'm aware that all I seem to blog about here is feminism, but this is just too brilliant not to share:

"What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?"

An article from 2010 about the position of women in society shifting since they seem to be more suited than men to do the kind of jobs that are around. Well worth a read, and it's by somebody who shares my name. It can only be good.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Rory and Doctor Who

Wow. I had just about given up on watching Doctor Who after that River Song/Melody Pond episode at the end of the series break, but I got back into watching it after some people on my course mentioned it - they love Stephen Moffatt up in Scotland. The last two episodes have just been amazing - to me, anyway. I know they're silly, and that's part of the point of them. That's just what you expect from Doctor Who. Especially as they're aimed at children.

I'm not aiming to be anything like as amusing as Red Scharlach, who (whom?) I hear was recently snapped up to write for the Doctor Who Magazine, and so I won't be able to read any of her reviews of the new series without buying a geeky children's magazine, which I'm not going to do. Anyway, this week's episode made me realise two things. One: I love Rory. He's just great. When was the last time you saw a truly nice male character where they weren't presented as a total dweeb (alright, I know they make Rory a little bit of a dweeb, but it only makes him more lovable). Two: I love post-apocalyptic future stories. Now, I don't know the reason for this. Generally, I tend to prefer stories with happy endings. Somebody once said you can tell the difference between a good story and a bad story because a good story has a happy ending. But I find the possibility of a new and different future endlessly exciting, even if they all generally turn out to be quite similar - i.e., sinister.

By the way, how did I know as soon as Rory put on those glasses that there would be a boob joke? HOW? This was probably the only part of the episode I guessed (apart from the inevitable happy-ish ending) and that's a little bit worrying. I had the thought halfway through that they should make an adult version of Doctor Who, because then at least they wouldn't have to be so coy with all their dirty jokes, and the monsters could be far scarier. Then I realised that they already made it: it was Torchwood, and it was shit. (I'm sorry, that show is inexcusable. It's one of the worst-written, stupidest (even sillier than Doctor Who), most pointless, senseless, boring and gratuitous things I have ever sat through. Actually, every subtle shade of meaning of the word 'gratuitous' can accurately be used to describe every facet of Torchwood. The word could have been made for it. My time was "given without receiving any return value", and the show itself is "without apparent reason, cause, or justification". And Russell T Davies loves putting exposition in dialogue despite ranting against it in all his interviews. Everything about the show is irritating and nothing about the show is redeeming.)

But anyway, that's another story for another time. What I really wanted to praise this episode for was for the way it swaps round traditional gender roles with the characters of Amy and Rory. So Amy can be the tough one who has learnt to survive in a post-apocalyptic future by herself, and Rory is the caring one who wants to rescue her but isn't especially good at looking after himself and often ends up relying on her to stop him getting killed. Forgive me for getting boring and thoughtful, but I think that having a storyline where the man in the couple rescues the woman is excusable, because she would do (and has done, multiple times) the same for him. And it even twists round the traditional guy rescuing girl story, by making Amy the one responsible for rescuing herself, even though Rory set off to try to rescue her in the first place.

I think, in this age, we have forgotten that in a couple, you are both meant to look after each other, rather than exclusively the woman cooking and cleaning for the husband, or exclusively the husband providing for and protecting the wife. You're both meant to do both, it's just that somewhere along the line we forgot and assigned limited 'traditional' roles to each that then stuck. If it was true that only women were 'naturally' inclined to cook, any man who ever lived on his own, or without any women, would die from starvation.

Oh dear, I think I've digressed a little more than I meant to. What I really meant to say was that I love the character of Rory, perhaps because he's how I'd like to be. He's a bit shy and not all that physically strong, but who cares? He's caring and loyal and kind, and even though he's shy he sticks up for himself and for Amy, and will always fight for what's important to him, even though he doesn't really know how to. I want to aspire to be like that, because it takes guts to be brave when you're that shy.

Monday, 5 September 2011


A sensible and interesting blog post that sums up many things I have tried to express before:

I don't know how to be a woman

My boyfriend lent me Caitlin Moran's new book, 'How to be a Woman'. So far, everyone I've mentioned that fact to has asked why he bought it. It is, after all, a book about feminism. Perhaps this confusion points to why a book on feminism is still so necessary.

It's easy to dismiss anything to do with feminism as unnecessary, or boring. I did myself before I went to university, and met people who showed me that it was very much relevant and necessary in tackling issues such as rape and domestic abuse, issues which are still tainted by sexism. The recent 'slutwalks', sparked by the remark of a Canadian policeman that "Women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped" have shown that society still has a tendancy to blame the victim rather than the attacker. It would also be easy to mouth off on a moral crusade about why you're so much better than everybody else because you're into feminism. Well, you could do that, but it wouldn't help much. But there is still the assumption that the word 'feminist' means 'man-hating', even amongst the most enlightened people.

Caitlin Moran is a little weird, which is good. I remember coming across a copy of the book she wrote when she was 16 when I was clearing through the books in the store room in Oxfam, and it had a quote from Terry Pratchett on the back saying how amazing it was, and how surprising it was that someone so young could have written it. I also knew that she had a column for The Times, I think, although it might be the Guardian. Either way, she writes and makes a lot of money from it and is famous. The one column I've read by her was about how she wanted unique hair all her life, and she has now, finally, got it -- black hair with a silver streak down the front. Amazing.

And I found it really fun reading her book. It was hilarious (who says women can't be funny?) as well as addressing so many issues in a logical way. I think I'm inclined to agree with her when she says that high heeled shoes are absolutely pointless -- "No one can walk in them, not even the models" laughs a photoshoot photographer she once came across. So why do we wear them? Just because we think that everyone else is, and that is what is normal. We don't want to be strange. Well, we don't want to be THAT strange, although we do like to think that we're a little different, a little unusual, a little unique. But not TOO unique.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

I don't want to be chatted up, thanks

So yesterday, in the middle of a conversation at the pub, me and my friend were interrupted by two men in their thirties trying to chat us up. I'm sure this happens every day, although this kind of thing is quite new to me. But it was creepy. Why? Because they tried very hard not to be creepy. They talked to us about literature and history, and tried to get us to stay and play Dingbats with them. They introduced themselves, shook our hands and smiled, and talked to us as though we had known them for ages. Some of you might be thinking, isn't this a refreshing break from the way some guys behave? Why is that such a bad thing? Isn't it flattering? It was such a bad thing because although they seemed friendly, they wouldn't take no for an answer. They made us feel as though we owed them something. They made us feel like we couldn't leave.

We had decided to go at 11, and were just about to when they sat down by us. When we said we were just leaving, they made us feel guilty, as though we were leaving because of them. Every time we tried to leave, they would try to engage us in conversation again. I think my friend was much more lively than I was, because I was so uncomfortable. I was unimpressed and uninterested. They rambled on about stupid things that people in pubs talk about, like life energy and how they'd written a book.

Even when I said I had a boyfriend, they didn't give up. "What's he like?" Although I wanted to defend him, I didn't want to say anything because it was none of their business.

"He's cool!" said my friend. "Yeah, he's cool".

"Oh, but come on. Is he really that great? Are you going to give up the chance to play Dingbats in the pub with a couple of new friends? Come on, you've got to live a little".

The bald one struck up another conversation about history with my friend, to delay us leaving again. The other one asked me "So, is the sex weird or something?" I would have loved to tell him to fuck off, if I had the guts, but I was still a bit scared. Still, what really pissed me off was them asking about things like that that were none of their business. (My boyfriend made me laugh about this later when I told him what they'd said: "Oh, fuck off. I'll have sex with them and see how they like it.")

"I'm a Christian" I replied.


"I said, I'm a Christian".

"Oh. What do you mean?" (He completely didn't understand get what I was getting at.)


"I'm not spiritual or anything like that, but I do believe in a spirit that brings all robots to life." He smiled, and I was supposed to smile too, like it was the wittiest thing anybody had ever said. "And I believe in a kind of, a kind of energy, a life force," (Oh no, here we go) "that flows through everything..."

"Mm-hmm. Yup." I checked my phone and pretended to text a friend. But I still felt bad for ignoring him. I felt like I should be friendly, but we had been, we had let them know we weren't interested, but they still wouldn't go away. I'm not interested in hearing about your stupid book, or your life theories. I'm not impressed, just leave us alone. Go away. But I still felt rude. We did finally manage to leave. They shook our hands again, and wished us good luck for our graduation. We thanked them.

When we got outside, I was shivering. It wasn't cold. We discussed things a bit, and decided that although they seemed friendly, that made them more unsettling, especially because they were so pushy. Unfortunately, my friend realised she'd left her umbrella inside, so we had to go back in to get it. We didn't find it, and it was just the bald one left in the seat, who didn't recognise us for a bit. He said he hadn't seen the umbrella, and as we couldn't find it anywhere else, we left, after being wished good luck for our graduations again. I said thank you quietly and we left again. We asked at a bar, and my friend left her number in case someone found it.

The other one was outside when we left again. He asked us if we smoked.

"No, neither of us have a lighter, we don't smoke, sorry."

"So you're really not staying then?"

Cleverly, my friend ignored this and kept talking about her umbrella. "I wouldn't mind but it's my housemate's."

"Well, if you give me your number, if I find it I can let you know. Sneaky, eh?" He grinned, and we laughed awkwardly.

"Well, they have my number behind the bar if you do find it." (Later: "Why did I say that?") Awkward laughs all round. I really wanted to leave.

My friend was walking one way, and I was walking another. Whilst she was going to a friend's house, I was going back home, on my own, to an empty house. Although it was only 11, I didn't feel safe walking back on my own, in case the one outside tried to follow me. Instead, I called my boyfriend and met him in town halfway to the pub he was at.

It makes you feel powerless to feel that you have to rely on a man to feel safe, but at least I have one to rely on. Besides, what annoys me isn't having to feel reliant on my boyfriend to protect me -- I would rely on a friend in the same way -- what annoys me is the men that make it necessary for women to be protected. These men were clearly just looking to pick up ANY WOMAN, and it didn't matter who. That isn't flattering, although you might think it was flattering to be chatted up. It also didn't matter to them that we didn't want to be picked up; they just wanted to pressure us into staying with them. The worst thing about them wasn't how pushy they were, it was the way they made us feel like we owed them something. It was the way they thought that we owed them something. They clearly picked the wrong prey -- two young naive Christian students -- but they felt that they were entitled to us.

Friday, 1 July 2011