Thursday, 22 January 2009


the ancient egyptians were right: cats are great. really great. cats are so good that i used to want to be one. when asked 'and what do you want to be when you grow up?", my answer was not limited to occupation; no, i was planning to change species.

i read books about cats, moving from slinky malinki, to sophie's tom, to james herriot's cat stories. i had an absolutely beautiful copy of t s eliot's old possum's book of practical cats, illustrated by edward gorey (which i have since lost, because i am an idiot). my jewelry had cats on. i stroked every cat i saw, regardless of the fact i was allergic to them. puffed up eyes, a runny nose and difficulty breathing was a price i was willing to pay for cat-time, goddammit. i still think there are few things better than that feeling of curled-up cat on my stomach, their purrs rumbling through my belly.

oh cats, i salute you, and honour you with a tshirt. seriously though guys, why can you only drink water that's old and full of dead leaves and scum, from a cracked bucket that's been sitting in the garden for two years? what is that about? it's a bit rank to be honest.

(i apologise for the shameless linkage to my own flickr account. they are nice photos of cats though)

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Laurence Rees, the creative director of BBC Television History, gave at talk at my college earlier this evening, on reconstructing history for tv. Rees has written a number of history books, and is responsible for a string of acclaimed historical documentaries (Nazis: A Warning from History; Horror in the East; Auschwitz: the Nazis and the 'Final Solution'; and World War Two: Behind Closed Doors). It was fascinating to see the changes in programme format and modes of presentation: his earlier work focuses exclusively on archival footage and interviews with eyewitnesses, whilst later programmes incorporate dramatic historical reconstruction into the narrative. Rees admits being a convert to the use of such techniques, and the talk documented the reasons for his change of heart.

I was expecting a long, winding explanation, involving intellectual debates and philosophising, detailing his slow and agonising conversion to the merits of historical reconstruction. Actually, what he had to say on his former aversion to the practice was this:

"I had to watch all the old series of timewatch, and the use of drama in these was awful. i saw some DISASTAROUS facial hair. it's a huge problem, fake moustaches."

there you go, kids: historical reconstruction on the BBC, brought to you exclusively by the improved fake-facial-hair artists of the new century.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


things that are happymaking:

my reading list includes a book on everyday fashion, by John Styles, and an essay on spaces of consumption by Nigel Thrift. i like it very much when people's names match their subject of study.

that the were actual, existing people in the eighteenth century called Vicesimus Knox and Julius Caesar Ibbetson.

the new beirut video, and the fact that i have tickets to see them in may. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

history themed comics. um, what else do you need in life?

this picture, from the dada peridocal l'elan:

Monday, 19 January 2009


it is very difficult to take pictures suitable for wardrobe remix when the only camera you have is actually a mobile phone, and the only surfaces you have to balance the phone on are:
  1. a windowsill
  2. a chest of drawers

oftentimes you end up with no feet. i like feet. feet are important. so, oftentimes you end up doing stupid balances and falling over.

curse you, gravity. and you, sony ericsson phone. i need a robot servant to take photos for me, a robot with a Canon.


i popped into the oxfam bookshop today with L, but didn't find anything to buy. we spent a while gazing nostalgically at books we had loved as small young things, and i got far too excited by all the colourful book covers. i often get drawn towards the children's section in a bookshop, mostly because of said book covers: you can always count on bright boldness (sometimes a bit too much... i guess they are targeting children though, so i can't really complain) or fantasic illustration. my future neices and nephews are going to have so many books. books that will be kept safe at my house, for when they come and visit. obviously.

not that the adult section doesn't offer some absolute marvels; publishers have to catch the attention (and monies) of a bookshop browser, meaning they produce covers that i would frame and hang on the wall, if that didn't mean ripping up the book. it pains me to admit that i am totally and utterly sucked in by marketing ploys but the things are so stunning and jibbermaking and quickquickbuybooksRIGHTNOW!

damn you, clever marketing people.

having some time on my hands (that is a downright lie, i am procrastinating) i thought i would use google to explore the world of book design. four hundred hours later, here are a few that caught my eye.

oh yes. yes, please.

of course, part of the appeal is how well matched cover is to content. for instance, i love the Darkmans cover because it perfectly captures the elusiveness and ugliness of the trickster who plagues the characters, and the boldness of the writing (it reminds me of those other tricksters, Bulgakov's devilish band from the Master and Margarita, portrayed in a similar style on this edition). the whale tail on Leviathan mirrors the long- and basically impossible- search of both Hoare and Captain Ahab for their whale. in conclusion, a round of applause to book designers, and if anyone wants to send me one of the above, do feel free. Thanks.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


i think i keep indecently exposing myself to the general public. i still haven't learnt that short skirts are not appropriate attire for folding oneself up in cosy cafe chairs.


i am a feminist.

i was not always. i was a feminist but. i was a shudder-when-i-heard-the-word. i remember the look on my mum's face when i told her that i didn't like feminism: shock mixed with disappointment mixed with disbelief. she must have heard my words over and over in her life: that i wanted equality, sure, but didn't those pushy women go too far in the seventies? that feminists were man-haters, mostly, that they were too extreme and had damaged the position of women with their agressiveness. whilst i wasn't totally anti-feminist in my ideals (i wasn't for all that women's natural place is the kitchen malarkey) i thought myself above all those loud women who burnt bras and wanted to send men to the moon.

i didn't think too much more about it until i got to university, when feminism suddenly jumped right into my head from the pages of my books, and made itself at home. i read histories of the feminist movement in england; feminist writing deconstructing social ideals on beauty, femininity, masculinity, motherhood and sexuality; gender theory. i could not believe that these gorgeous, passionate works existed and that i had not read them before. i could not believe that i had been so quick to disregard the women whose ideas i now embraced, and whose outrage i had (wrongly) seen as ill-placed aggression. feminist and gender theories have become integral parts of how i interpret the world around me. when i read an article that focuses on Rebecca Adlington's love of shoes instead of her gold-medal winning, record breaking brilliance, it's not just an article, but an example of how very certain, acceptable feminities are perpetuated. october 30th is not another day, it's Women's No Pay Day, the day when women receive their last payslip of the year and begin working for free thanks to the 17% gender pay gap. when i hear behaviour described as 'manly' or 'girly', i question why, and consider the implications of such descriptions.

i had typed out more examples, but the leviathan paragraph was a little intimidating.

i was very happy, therefore, to have a class on feminism and history on wednesday night; part of my course is a paper entitled 'Historical Argument and Practice', which focuses on conceptual, historiographical and methodological problems and themes in history (it's scary stuff, but good, so good). what could be better than thinking about these two things that i love AT THE SAME TIME?? the class was excellent, made my brain tick, but i got increasingly annoyed at the constant use of the word 'anger'. it reminded me of my years-old words, and how i had dismissed all these compex ideas with a patronising shake of the head, and a refusal to see the intracacies and importance of a whole intellectual world (and i don't mean academic here, i mean a world of thoughts and arguments and stories). One person, R, kept suggesting that the historian Judith Bennett's ideas (that we should explore patriarchies in history, as well as different forms and experiences of female oppression; that history can inform and enrich contemporary feminism; and that anger and emotion should encourage and stimulate the historian) advocated the writing of polemics, and that she wanted a stream of historical works that primarily furthered her comtemporary agenda. R believes that feminist history, as proposed by Bennett, can be nothing more than slave to the ideology of the author; it cannot be history proper, with a suitable level of objectivity, and it cannot hope to add to an understanding of the past, informed as it is by the present. add a few more 'angrys' and 'anger' to that, another 'polemic', and a derisive tone, and you have a fairer representation of R's tirade.

i was most concerned by the (wilful?) misrepresentation of Bennett's ideas. being informed and inspired by current ideologies and trends is not new to the historian, although an awareness of it is somewhat younger. using contemporay ideas as a framework for analysis is also well established practice; ask any of the social or economic historians who use marx, weber or durkheim in order to process and interpret their evidence. however, suggest that one of these ideologies should be feminism, and that emotion should be involved in stimulating historical enquiry, and you get conservative splutterings about history going to the dogs. point this out and you get called 'so postmodern'. you get the word anger said once twice too many times to count. and it scares me. it scares me because when i told my mum i was a feminist but, i'm pretty sure those weren't my words- and by this i mean i hadn't sat down and pondered feminism, and reasons for and against supporting it. i was parroting phrases that i had picked up from the bits and pieces i had seen on feminism- and what image did these snippets present? in a similar way, what struck me most about R's complaints was the firm insistance on the damage that would be wrought by feminist rage, regardless of the fact that Bennett's suggestions propsed a methodology similar to ones that already exist. feminism has become tightly bound to a language of dangerous anger, a language that is used to denigrate and dismiss it. even women and men who agree with feminist ideals feel uncomfortable defining themselves as 'feminist', because they associate the word with madness, extremeness and rage.

this is unacceptable. because if we are angry, there is a good reason for it, and even then, anger does not prevent the formulation of intelligent ideologies, or considered argument, or a desire to cooperate with men in order to improve society for both sexes. i want to live amongst people that don't flinch at the word feminist; that don't continually misuse one example of seperatist radicalism to prove that feminists cannot be engaged in rational debate; that don't expect me to justify my position with a 'but....' every time i identitfy as a feminist. and there is one way, a very good way, that i can think to make this happen.

i am a feminist. talk to me about it.


Term started on tuesday, so I am back in Cambridge, back to early, coffeed mornings and back to ignoring the little towers of books that have sprung up all over my floor. The focus of today's campaign of neglect is consumer society in eighteenth century england (which is actually a hugely intriguing topic, but my brain feels treacle-covered and slothlike, alas).

My walls are still very bare despite my having been here a week. I forgot to pack my whitetack, and keep forgetting to buy some whenever i go to the shops. As a result, my postcards and pictures sit waiting in a box and my room remains blank. Marmite may work as an adhesive, though my college would possibly murder me for desecration of property. And then stick my body on a spike to scare other miscreants. The trouble with going to an old, old college is that you never quite know which parts of the rulebook are still a little bit medieval...

Thursday, 8 January 2009


word of the day: erinaceous.

thanks to Erin McKean for widening my vocabulary (and extra bits of love for the line: 'some of my best friends are books') :


"Frank concentrated on his head, which felt marginally warmer, because of the hat. Good hat: flat cap, proper tweed and not inexpensive. A man should have a hat, in his opinion. Beyond a certain age it will suit him and give him weight, become a welcome addition to his face, almost a trademark. People will look at his hat as it hangs on the back of a chair, or a coat hook, or rests on the edge of his desk, and they will involuntarily assume- Frank's here, then. That's his hat. Frank's old, familiar hat. Through time, there will be a small transfer of emotion and people who are fond of him will also like his hat, will see something in it: a sense of his atmosphere, his style- and they'll be pleased."

When i was in high school, i had a very distinctive coat. It was cream, and hooded, and sort of squidgy, and it became a descriptive factor: "You know Ellie? The tall girl with the long cream coat?". Now, i'm not sure it reached the level of positive association and emotional transfer- hopefully more to do with the fact that i only wore it for one autumn/winter, rather than noone being 'fond' of me- but nonetheless, the coat was a mark of my presence. Thinking back, this is likely because it was so GODDAMN UGLY that noone else would have wanted to wear it.... Anyway, apart from that, I don't know if i've ever worn anything so frequently, loved one or two items so much, that they become a part of my very character. It may seem silly, but this strikes me as sad: firstly, because it reminds me that i own far too much stuff, and lots of these things i love fleetingly, before getting distracted by something newer and more shiny. Secondly, because I love the idea that random objects can absorb little bits of humanness- that a hat can belong to somebody not because they have a receipt for it, but because people think of them when they see it- and i kinda want in on that.

I know the having-lots-of-junk can be explained partly by style preferences changing over time (thank god i grew out of wearing jeans baggy enough to house the the entire population of Wales) and partly by the dispostion I have towards hoarding (am i part squirrel? do i need these thing to help me survive through the cold winter months? am i hoping that one day tammygirl clothing will be hyper-expensive vintage?) but really, i think the main cause is my weakness for mindless buying. The problem is worsened by my fierce love of charity shops: when charity shopping, there is always an element of "but wait! if i don't buy this shoulder padded, black and gold, polka-dotted, glittery 1980s crop-top right now, someone else will soon, and it will BE GONE FOREVER FOOOOOOOOREEEEEEEVVVVVVERRRRRR". And yes, that is an accurate description of one of my purchases. My friend L was caught somewhere between laughter and heart attack upon seeing it. I don't think i ever wore it out, and before long it was sent back to the land of charityshop. It's buying like this, speedily, greedily, feverishly, that prevents any kind of association between me and the things i own. And i think we should have a relationship with our possessions; not in a save-them-before-your-family-in-a-housefire-situation kind of way, but in a hey-i-really-appreciate-that-i-have-the-means-to-buy-this-and-i-use-it-alot-and-it-is-useful way.

The paragraph i've quoted made me jealous, not because i want to be instantly recognisable to everyone through my unique headgear, but because i don't want to own so much that it's all anonymous. And with that, the realisation that i have bad shopping habits. Well, if ever there's a totally arbitrary time to change, it's the start of January. Maybe i should also think on addressing my abuse of the hyphen...

p.s. the quotation is taken from A L Kennedy's Frank, in The Book of Other People. It's a lovely, lovely book. Twenty three short stories, all by different authors given the same task: 'to make someone up'. My totally in depth and critical review would be: it's amazing and wonderful and read it.

p.p.s. people should wear hats more, right?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Mae West once said: 'Keep a diary, and someday it'll keep you'. Whilst my Harry-Potterised brain reacts with a 'What, LIKE VOLDEMORT'S DID, EH, EH?? Roosters DIED because of that shit!', the more sensible bit (sadly not a good deal larger) thinks old Mae had a point. A few weeks ago, gathered round the table for a festive lunch, it transpired that my sister's memories of the previous family christmas was far clearer than mine.

My sister hadn't actually spent that christmas with us.

In order to prevent my life becoming a series of 'eh?' moments, and to save my siblings the bother of having to remember my life for me, I have decided to dip my toes into blogland. Hallo.