Monday, 24 October 2011

The Wild Bride – theatre review

Photo copyright Steve Tanner

Oh, joy of joys – the almighty Kneehigh Theatre Group are back in Bristol, this time with their touring show The Wild Bride. I first enjoyed them at the Bristol Old Vic last year in The Red Shoes (wistful sigh), so when I got wind of the fact they were riding back into town I made sure I booked tickets quick smart.

The Wild Bride (adapted and directed by Emma Rice) was performed at the majestic St George’s while the main theatre at the Old Vic is closed for refurbishment, and the smaller scale of this former church only adds to the intensity of the performance. 

The plot is straightforward enough: a simple farmer mistakenly sells his daughter to the devil, and then tries his best to wriggle out of the deal. Though the devil is a hard task master. However, if you read The Wild Bride as a feminist morality tale, you could argue that the daughter/bride is emblematic of women generally who have been dealt a hard deal at the hands of foolish men. 

The innocent daughter is sold by her dad to the devil, who then rejects her for being too pure. So he insists on painting her in muck, cutting her hands off, and then casts her out into the wild, where she is left to fend for herself... before a prince rescues her, briefly, and she ends up as a homeless single mother, again at the hands of cruel men. The tale of woman's woe doesn't end there, but I won't say more for risk of spoiling the plot. 

In typical Kneehigh style, the play is a combination of bluegrass music, inventive sets, multipurpose costumes, and wonderful singing and dancing from deeply talented people. Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar are all magnificent in varied ways as the Bride at different life stages, and Stuart McLoughlin is truly chilling as the devil (aided by the fact his devil seems to look like Jeremy Kyle!).

I hope it's not too long before Kneehigh are back in town with their next production.

This was the last night of the short run, so I hope you had a chance to catch it in Bristol while you could. If not, don’t fret as it’s on tour – full details on the link here.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Tyrannosaur – film review

 Having long been a fan of Paddy Considine’s acting and screenwriting collaborations with Shane Meadows, I was very excited to see his directorial debut Tyrannosaur. Not for the faint hearted, it’s got an 18 certificate for a reason…

Giving nothing away, the opening scenes see the protagonist Joseph (Peter Mullan) drunkenly and angrily kick his beloved dog to death after losing at the bookies. As if that’s not hard enough to stomach, Joseph’s ensuing remorse at killing his only friend leaves you confused about whether to loathe this character or feel a hint of sympathy for him.

To say Joseph is a troubled soul is to put it mildly. He’s a man whose wife died five years before, after he treated her miserably. He lives in a surprisingly well-kept house in a miserable area, and spends his time watching the young son of his neighbour being neglected by his mother and her rottweiler-wielding boyfriend.

Things start to change when Joseph stumbles into a charity shop run by middle-class, Christian do-gooder Hannah (Olivia Colman). She tries to help Joseph, little realising that her sinister husband James (the wonderful Eddie Marsan) is maliciously observing and stacking the implausible ‘evidence’ up as reasons to inflict further degrading torture and abuse on her in their comfortable home.

Considine’s script and direction hold nothing back. This is as bleak and as harsh as a film can be, and turns in not only amazing efforts from Considine, but an astonishingly brilliant performance from Colman. Having seen her as Sophie in the sitcom Peep Show (and briefly as Considine’s weary ex-girlfriend in the film Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee), in Tyrannosaur she proves that neither of those roles prepares you for the onslaught of her pared back performance as battered Hannah, whose face grows more bruised with every scene.

I could barely speak when the end credits rolled. Tyrannosaur will have you running the gauntlet of emotions from anger to sympathy, nausea and disgust, feel-good to feel-repulsed. The Watershed write-up calls the film “brutal” and “corrosive”, but that’s just the start of it…

This is an extremely impressive and arresting account of domestic abuse on film. But it’s not for the faint hearted.

William – An Englishman, by Cicely Hamilton

I harp on about Persephone Books a lot, but deservedly so. Since 1999, this independent publishing house has been reprinting long-forgotten or neglected books (which deserve to be classics), mostly by women writers, and doing so with beautiful grey covers, elegant endpapers, matching bookmarks and a sympathetic introduction to each volume. While I’ve read maybe 40 Persephone titles (from their 96 books to date), I’d never read their first one… so I’ve now corrected this.

First published in 1918, suffragette Cicely Hamilton’s book William – An Englishman is a confrontational tome in the most complex of ways. Lulling you into a false sense of security as a charming account of everyman William’s humdrum life and gentle new marriage, the characters suddenly realise World War 1 has erupted around them while they are on honeymoon, and chaos and brutal violence dominates.

While conceivably a book about the horror of war, William is much more than that. As a Socialist, William is also a staunch supporter of the suffrage movement and marries a militant suffragette, Griselda. Read in 2011, and having visited the London Stock Exchange occupation at St Paul’s last Sunday (and seen the Bristol occupation progress all this week), it is interesting to compare the socialist actions of William and his comrades in 1914-1918 with the current grassroots uprisings springing up all over the UK (and further afield). The stark tones of futility with which Hamilton describes the movement in the 1910s is perhaps depressing to read alongside the current actions and how they may fare, but it’s also interesting to draw comparisons with almost a 100-year gap of retrospection.

William is a difficult book. I read much of it while traveling on long train journeys and at one point was gulping sobs at a twist in the story, while trying to pretend in a typically British fashion that all was well (but in an equally British fashion, my fellow passengers ignored me). But it’s an excellent book and an important one. With its views on socialism, suffrage and war, William is a book of its time that also resonates across history.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Marjorie Darke - "A Question of Courage"

Suffragette season continues on my blog, and I’m especially pleased to be reviewing Marjorie Darke’s book, not least because it took a lot of tracking down. And if you’re looking for a novel to help educate your early teenagers about the suffragette movement, look no further.

About 20 years ago, we were given Marjorie’s book A Question of Courage to read in English lessons at school. Even then, not knowing anything about the suffragettes beyond what I’d seen in Mary Poppins, the book struck a chord with me – unusually so, for a school set text. That Marjorie later came and gave a talk to our class was even better.

Emily is a 17-year-old seamstress in Birmingham when A Question of Courage starts, struggling to make ends meet. But when Emily is accidentally knocked off her bicycle by a car driven by privileged Louise and Peter, she quickly ends up becoming involved with the growing suffragette movement. Louise’s enthusiasm spurs Emily to join her in militant stunts, leading to a few brushes with the law and contention form her family. But it’s after Emily moves to London that her suffragette career really takes off, and she becomes involved with even bigger stunts… leading to prison and the inevitable force feeding.

The style of writing is sharp enough for a young teenager to understand the seriousness of what Marjorie is sharing, and there’s enough back-story to reinforce Emily as an empathetic person. The lack of detail about some situations is a little frustrating, but also inevitable considering the age of the reader A Question of Courage is aimed at. For instance, it struck me as strange how quickly Emily was converted to the idea of suffrage when previously she’d been listening to her mothers call suffragettes “hussies”. But I think that kind of thing is down to the age of the target reader.

It’s wonderful to know that such a well-written and considerate book about the suffragettes exists for young people, and all credit to Barn Owl books for keeping it in print. It is important that future generations never forget the amazing sacrifices made on their behalf by this wonderful band of inspiring women.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Malmaison London

With two weeks to go before our wedding and having had a lot on our plates lately, my fiancé and I decided to turn a weekend trip to London into something a bit more special.

We were heading up to the capital to see a concert at the Roundhouse, and decided we deserved a stay at Malmaison London was in order, already knowing what a delight Malmaison Belfast is.

Part of the impact of Malmaison is that the buildings are always extraordinary. Not for Malmaison the ugly, purpose-built, soulless tower-type construction of the budget hotel chains. No, no. Malmaison repurposes buildings that have been anything from a former prison (Oxford) to a converted church (Glasgow), meaning that you’re guaranteed to enter a grand design. And the London link is no different, being a former nurses’ home for St Barts.

Set on a quiet square close to Farringdon Station, don’t be deceived into thinking you’re out in the sticks. After a visit to the central British Museum on Saturday, we arrived at the hotel just a 25-minute walk later. And on the Sunday, we were at the expansive Museum of London after a casual 10-minute walk.

 With 97 rooms and a swish suite, Malmaison London has plenty to offer and, in true Malmaison style, all of the boutique rooms are kitted out with the very finest things… WiFi, flatscreen TVs, luxury toiletries that you’re encouraged to take home, and the most comfortable big beds; not to mention the velvet drapes everywhere and the rich plum colours. It’s almost womblike!

After I unwound in the deepest and most bubbly bath ever, we spent a few hours in the hotel’s Brasserie before going out to a concert, and were spoilt rotten with the fresh, locally sourced food. With Smithfields meat market being but a stone’s throw away, you just know the food is going to be the very best it could be. We sipped champagne while choosing what to eat, and – as we were pushed for time – we leapt straight in with the mains. 

 With Smithfields so near, my carnivorous fiancé plumped for the Donald Russell Aged Entrecôte, which came on a wooden platter with ample French fries, plump roasted tomatoes and even bone marrow, which had to be tried simply for the sake of it! In contrast, I chose the Roasted Cod and potatoes, with a tomato salad. Needless to say, the cod was cooked to perfection, and the large glass of ‘Friendly’ white wine that our waiter had helped me choose was the perfect accompaniment. We both had very contented bellies!

We made sure we had room for pudding, though, and had the steamed vanilla sponge, with jam and custard. I never knew a sponge pudding could be so light, it was absolutely spot on. We rounded the meal off by sharing the Whisky Flight tasting menu – a shot each of the Bowmore 12, 15 and 18 years old blends. Which was a really fun way to end a delicious meal, and something neither of us had seen on a menu before. Maybe we’re uncultured, or maybe Malmaison London has cottoned onto a grand idea? If you’re passing, that alone is well worth it, and really set us up for a night of live music in Chalk Farm.

Needless to say, we slept like lambs and were grateful that we’d ordered the breakfast hampers to be brought to our rooms. I’ve waxed lyrical about these before after trying one in Belfast, and the London one was equally good. Fresh pastries, fresh yoghurt, fruit salad and freshly squeezed orange juice… yumzers. So we felt quite at home reclining in our enormous bed, munching croissants and devouring the paper. As the day was so sunny, we had the window open and the Sunday morning sounds from the cobbled and pedestrianised Charterhouse Square wafted up. Bliss.

All in all, Malmaison London is just as impressive as Malmaison Belfast in our opinions, and we had such a lovely and peaceful stay. While the weekend peace and quiet of Farringdon may trick you into thinking you’re away from central London, remember you’re but a short taxi ride or a 30-minute walk away… and when you also remember that the walk will take you through Bloomsbury, I really don’t know what more you want. (For more info, just click on this link.)

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

In a much-publicised move, Turner Prize winning potter Grayson Perry – who is sometimes known for alter-ego Claire – has curated an installation that combines his own new works with objects from forgotten craftsmen that have been tucked away in the expansive archives at the British Museum.

The British Museum is always a delight to visit, whether marveling at the magnitude of the space it occupies in Bloomsbury, standing in the foyer with your head tilted back to admire the huge glass roof, or wandering around the many galleries to take in the history of the world.
But up the staircase to the Perry’s gallery, he takes visitors into the world of forgotten craftsmen, which the publicity is calling “a sacred journey” – perhaps in tribute to Perry’s own 10-day pilgrimage through Germany with his teddy bear Alan Measles. And the beautifully decorated motorbike, complete with reclining Alan, is on display as you enter the exhibition. It’s wonderful, so intricate.
Unlike some contemporary artists, Perry actually makes his work himself, and is clearly skilled as a potter. His famous vases are decorated in witty captions that contrast well with the ancient pieces from the archives that they sit beside. And the first thing you see on entering the gallery is one of Perry’s pots that is decorated with images of the different types of people who he imagines may have come to see his exhibition, and what they would get out of it (“I’m here as it’s the sort of thing people like me come to”, “I heard about it on Twitter”). 

But Perry is more than a potter. One of my favourite of his pieces is an enormous, meticulously crafted tapestry (extract above) that is modeled on the design of the British Museum building, yet incorporates a unique map of the world. Other highlights of Perry’s creation include his pencil drawing showing his pilgrimage to the British Museum and, of course, the centerpiece: an enormous and beautifully decorated cast iron coffin-ship.
Unsure what to expect from Perry’s exhibition, I came away impressed. Aside from the fact that the bulk of his work is actually made by him (or so it seems), the attention to detail and ribbing of contemporary life sits perfectly against the artifacts he has chosen from the last two million years of creativity.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Why Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent are never on panel shows... but should be

A Twitter row kicked off recently between whoever it is that mans (deliberate choice of word) the Mock the Week feed, and a number of people who are sick of the lack of women on TV panel shows.

However, it was interesting to hear Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent picking up the thread on Saturday evening at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Their hour-long session involved the two very funny women, and a female chairperson, debating around the topic of Twitter and pop culture. The session was fantastically entertaining… and also bizarrely unusual because it was a female-only panel.

During the Q&A, a woman in the audience suggested Moran and Dent should turn this into a TV show as it was so funny, and people would love it. A whoop of agreement went up from the sold-out crowd. And of course, the woman who asked this question was right – this would make brilliant TV. However, both Moran and Dent just laughed wryly, and said they’d never be allowed to talk in such a candid way on TV… because women never are.

This led to Moran saying she turns down appearances on shows such as Have I Got News For You if they ask, because she knows she will be on as the token female guest, that she will rarely be allowed to speak, and when she is allowed to speak – it will be edited out before screening in order to “save her from herself”, with the result that the only clips of her actually shown would be her politely tittering at a man’s jokes. The implication, said Moran, is that women don’t get politics and can’t understand political humour. So she doesn’t bother anymore. Dent agreed.

Jo Brand has also said she won’t go on Mock The Week anymore as she was sick of not being allowed to speak. And Brand’s not the only one to publicly complain about this. Mariella Frostrup, Victoria Wood, Rhona Cameron… these are just a handful of the intelligent and witty women to speak to the press about this problem in the past few years. But still nothing is being done. While women are not being heard on panel shows, the female audiences are turning off in droves – bored to tears by hearing the likes of Stephen Fry, Dara O’Briain and Russell Howard talk YET AGAIN about how pleased with themselves they are.

But back to Saturday, and Dent added that when she writes for some magazines and newspapers, her typically barbed style is generally toned down by the sub-editors, in what she perceives as a well-intentioned effort by the subs to “save me from myself”. Moran agreed that she sometimes experiences the same thing. When Dent wondered aloud if male writers would experience the same level of censorship in their writing, Moran quickly and loudly laughed and said “not a chance”.

But WHY are women so under-represented on TV and radio (let’s save cinema for another time)? Why?! It would be hilarious to see Moran and Dent afforded an hour-long TV show every week, where they could talk in the same articulate, intelligent and hilarious way as they did on Saturday night. If Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington can make a career out of podcasts and TV spin-offs of themselves rambling on about nothing in particular, why can’t women do the same? I dare say they’d be just as funny, but a lot less sexist and disablist than some of the unpleasant guff I’ve heard Gervais and Merchant say in their otherwise funny podcasts.

Earlier at Cheltenham, I heard Dent do a reading from her book How To Leave Twitter, and I was thrilled that she chose the section which highlights this very issue – the absence of intelligent women on TV, yet the wealth of identikit programmes with men looking like potatoes in jumpers.

Nobody seems to know what the solution is to making women more visible on panel shows, and allowing women an equal voice on TV and radio. And nobody can tell me why there is such a lack of women being given a voice – and by this, I do not mean women who are there only for what they look like, but women who actually have something interesting, amusing or relevant to say.

Women make up 52% of the population, but you wouldn’t know it by turning on your TV or radio. As a result, I rarely watch any TV these days as it seems so irrelevant to me, and so out of touch with the life that I live.


NB: There are several blogs on this topic that give full details on the stats and history of this issue. Here are links to a few recent ones:

Sunday, 9 October 2011

“No Surrender” by Constance Maud – book review

When suffragette Constance Maud published her novel No Surrender in November 1911, the fight for British women’s suffrage was still ongoing. Women over 30 did not achieve the vote until 1918, and universal suffrage for adults over the age of 21 was not reached in Britain until 1928 (and not lowered to 18 until 1969).
This makes Maud’s novel all the more poignant – that it was written at the time these events was happening affords the retrospective reader the accuracy of information it is impossible to guarantee with contemporarily written historical novels, no matter how much research the author does. If any more confirmation of No Surrender’s authority is required, take comfort knowing that when Emily Wilding Davison reviewed it in 1911, she stated: “It is a book which breathes the very spirit of our Women’s Movement.”
So it is wonderful news that the ever-reliable Persephone Books are reissuing No Surrender this November, 100 years after its initial publication. Quite how the book has never been reprinted in between is a mystery, as is the dearth of suffragette novels in general.
While No Surrender is based on fictional characters, it is clearly taking great inspiration from actual events and some of the protagonists are reminiscent of real suffragettes. Our heroine Jenny is a northern mill worker whose passion is fired by the Votes For Women movement, and she throws herself life and soul into the cause, where her life and work becomes entwined with that of the mill owner’s daughter, Mary O’Neil, who is equally determined that women should be equal to men.
Each chapter is in a different setting and as a result No Surrender encompasses a whole range of scenarios and situations. From the dank courtyard where the suffragettes await sentencing, to a political dining room where a plan is afoot to invade the dinner, and a city high street where an impromptu public address kicks off.
However, the most harrowing and affecting by far is the grim chapter where Mary is abused and insulted by the prison warders in her solitary confinement cell, before they subject her to the ultimate torture – being forcibly fed: I had tears down my cheeks by the end, with empathy for this horrific and barbaric invasion. I recently learned that the brutal practice of force feeding originated in lunatic asylums, and the prison officials opted to take inspiration from the asylums – likening political prisoners to the mentally ill.
Maud does an astonishing job of conveying the clear arguments and campaigns of the suffragettes alongside the equally sharp arguments of the Antis. It seems obvious to readers in 2011 that women should be entitled to the same voting rights as men, but then a stark comment from an aspiring politician, Joe Horton, in No Surrender brings to mind the recent comment from Conservative MP David Willetts. Horton tells Jenny in the book: “While the woman is thus taking the work that legitimately belongs to the man, what becomes of the ‘ome and the children? – her legitimate sphere?” I’m sure we all recall Willetts saying only this April that educated women were responsible for the lack of jobs for working-class men.
It’s frightening how far we have come, yet how far we still have to go.
No Surrender is a sensitively written and accurate account of the suffrage campaign, but please don’t think this is a historical issue. As Lydia Fellget points out in her introduction: “All adult women have now had the vote for over 80 years. Yet, although women make up the majority of voters in the UK, in the 2010 general elections only 143 of the 650 MPs elected were women. Representation of women in parliament is the new frontier for campaigners such as the Fawcett Society and so, as Emily Wilding Davison wrote in 1911, ‘the end is yet to come’.”
For information about Persephone, and information about how to order No Surrenderplease click here to visit their website. (published on 20 October),
For information about the Fawcett Society’s current campaign, please click here to visit their website. I am proud to be a paid-up and active member of both the national Fawcett Society and the Bristol Fawcett Society.

"The Brontes Went to Woolworths" - Rachel Ferguson

(The review below is an edited version of one I wrote for the Virago Modern Classics edition of this book in 2006. Rachel Ferguson's novel has now been beautifully repackaged and republished as part of the Bloomsbury Group series, so I decided it was worth a revisit...)

Best known as ‘Rachel’ in Punch, suffragette Rachel Ferguson went on to become an actress and dance teacher before writing nine novels. The Brontës Went To Woolworths, 1931, was her second.

Although it’s a relatively short novel, The Brontës… will totally capture your imagination. AS Byatt, who loved the book as a teenager, writes in her introduction (NB - this is in the Virago edition only): “I was intrigued by the title, which seemed to suggest some impossible meeting of the urgent world of the romantic imagination and the everyday world of (in my case) Pontefract High Street”. And the title is precisely how the book caught my eye.

The three Carne sisters – Deirdre, Katrine and Sheil – live with their widowed mother and starchy governess in a state of relative poverty, but construct for themselves a fantastical world where the dead come back to life and the inanimate becomes animate.  Deirdre, is a journalist and becomes infatuated by Lord Justice Toddington, who she discovers archly presiding over his London courtroom. Fascinated by his presence and what she imagines his life and wife to be like, Deirdre and her family incorporate their fictitious version of him into their real life. And so ‘Toddy’ joins the ranks of Dion Saffyd (a pierrot doll named after a real-life cause celeb they have never met in person), Ironface (the French doll) and Freddie Pipson (a larger-than-life music hall producer), among others. But it is during a bored night away from London that the family finds themselves reluctantly welcoming the real Brontë sisters into their world… and suddenly Toddy has a much larger role to play.

As The Brontës… picked up pace, I was turning the pages ever more rrapidly as I not only feared for the characters at certain points but also willed them to succeed. The way the family incorporates the imagined and the real Toddy into their lives is touching, and it is easy to imagine how much they not only felt they needed him in their lives but also how much they really did need him in their lives… and vice versa. But when the Carne family’s security blanket of their fictional world starts to seep into reality, the girls pull together and face up to the fact that real-life may not be quite so cosy as the world they have built up to protect themselves.

Where The Brontës… succeeds is with its beautifully written and wonderfully eccentric style, and with it’s simple story of three girls struggling to cope without their father and trying to make the best of what life has dealt them. As well as being a touching comment on grief and questioning the possibility of an afterlife, the book is also a good example of London life pre-WWII for many families.

2011 note: The Virago Modern Classics edition (with AS Byatt introduction) is readily available for 1p (plus P&P) from Amazon Marketplace. And the Bloomsbury Group edition is also easily available (both new and second hand). There's something to be said for both editions, so I splashed out and bought the Bloomsbury one to complement my Virago edition.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Marc Almond at St Georges

The grim reaper was perched on the edge of the stage, although he relaxed his grip on his scythe just a little. It was a celebration after all.

During a 30+ year career, Marc Almond has embraced all that life wanted to throw at him, and emerged as a 50-something man with an enormous pair of lungs, the deepest voice and a colossal heart. What makes it so staggering is that when he skips around the room for a final celebratory lap, he’s actually really small.

From his childhood in Leeds, to his early ‘80s success with Soft Cell, followed by decades of hardcore drug abuse and a near-fatal accident in 2004, Almond has spent the past 25 years perfecting his role as torch singer extraordinaire. This evening, beneath the breath-taking beauty of the baroque altarpiece in the 1821 St George's church, Almond led the entire audience to the dark side, like the pied piper with a propensity for the temptation of his followers.

Almond’s repertoire of ‘sin songs’ is wide. From a ‘50s ballad called Lavender that celebrates homosexuality, to a jazzy cover of David Bowie’s John, I’m Only Dancing, Almond leaves no stone unturned. Jacques Brel, Scott Walker and Marc Bolan are all paid tribute to as only Almond can – with guts, balls and bravado.

Clear highlights were the heartbreaking clarity and depth of Lou Reed’s The Bed, and the absolute conviction with which Almond performed his hero Charles Aznavour’s triumphant I Have Lived.

The first half of the evening was mostly piano led, with Martin Watkins on the keys, and in the second half the rest of Almond’s band really came into their own: guitarist Neal Whitmore, bassist Carl Holt and harpist and accordion player Baby Dee.

But however triumphant the performance, however uplifting and celebratory the tones, the undercurrent remains – death is but a footstep away. The theme of aging, the calling of death in Brel’s J’Arrive, the tribute to his frail relatives… all performed beneath the magnificent altarpiece at St Georges, it was extremely poignant, touching and powerful.

Almond is a mesmerising performer. He was on stage for two and a half hours and it was impossible to look away. His voice has come a long way from the days of Tainted Love, and having lived through serious addictions and eyeballed death, it’s no wonder he’s got as much strength as he has. Ever the drama queen, it’s no surprise Almond is drawn to storytale songs or that he performs them with such theatrical gusto.

If only all concerts could be this good. It’s testament to Almond that he received two standing ovations, and a thunderous clapping and stamping of feet for his encore. Hopefully the grim reaper has no further business anywhere near here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A sticky subject

Catherine Hakim recently wrote a book called Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital (Allen Lane, 2011). It is based on what Hakim believes is her newly discovered theory: the more attractive you are, the more successful you are.

Clearly, it’s nonsense, and I’ve described the sentiments of it previously after I attended a talk she gave.

However, Allen Lane was kind enough to send me a copy of Honey Money so I could read it for myself and see if Hakim’s argument comes across better in print than the spoken word. In short, it doesn’t. BUT what is interesting are the lengthy notes and bibliography sections.

I’m not going to focus again on the content of the book, suffice to say that while reading it I was continually reminded of the excellent digested read of Honey Money by John Crace in the Guardian, which is startlingly accurate and well observed.

But let’s look at the evidence, because after Hakim’s talk I desperately wanted to review her sources and see how well her argument stood up academically.

First off, Hakim attempts to get around the spurious nature of her assertion that her argument is original by stating: “Erotic capital, as I define it, is still a new concept and has never been measured in the round anywhere” (p249). The key clause in that sentence is: “As I define it” – neatly circumventing the possibility for anyone to have an opposing view, because by doing so they’ve evidently not understood erotic capital as Hakim defines it. Fools!

In Honey Money, we have 61 pages of footnotes, 38 pages of bibliography, and a 17 page appendix. These are the most illuminating parts of Hakim’s book. The most striking thing about all of these references are that while at times Hakim does hint at the fact there is evidence out there that disagrees with her theory, she only refers to those which stoutly back her up. Take the very first reference as an example (p267): “There were mixed reactions to [my] theory when it was first presented … Professor Lord Anthony Giddens, former Director of the London School of Economics, and a leading sociologist, commented that [my] thesis was ‘quite brilliant, really original and interesting’.” Far be it from me to make any connection between both Giddens and Hakim being former employees of the LSE.

Hakim’s notes show a lack of awareness for many things, including mental illness (“In the most extreme cases of body dysmorphia, people are mad enough to insist they need amputations of limbs, p271); and gender inequality (“Feminists stress the pay gap as if this explains everything, whereas it is now irrelevant in many countries”, p273). As well as a propensity for sweeping generalisations – “Finnish men of all ages use prostitutes at all ages” (p274); and some truly extraordinary statements – “Attractive women have slightly more children than ugly women” (p281).

The people Hakim references range from respected academic Pierre Bourdieu (if only to claim that her take on his theory is better), and former prostitute Belle du Jour, who is cited as an authority on male behaviour: “Women in bars and clubs can be asked by young men to expose their breasts because the young men are celebrating a birthday” – before referencing the relevant page in Belle’s book (p286). I love how Hakim states this kind of thing as if it is an authoritative fact. Similarly, she refers to a biographical novel by Lynn Barber (An Education) as fast evidence that “attractive women” were “in demand” by men in British universities in the 1960s (p319).

Hakim read in a Sunday Times poll that some female Sunday Times readers do not have lifelong careers. With no acknowledgement of the fact this might be because some women have had to take time out of work to be mothers, carers, or they may have been made redundant, Hakim triumphantly asserts this newspaper feature as hard evidence: “Only a minority of women prefer to focus on a lifelong career, between 10 to 30 per cent” (p287). Vaguely. Seriously.

In addition to all this, Hakim references her own work a startling number of times throughout her book… which renders any argument she may have had entirely redundant.

Many of her sources are also impressively out of date. Hakim quotes a report from 1991 as evidence that there are “roughly” as many men prostituting themselves as women (p306). Hmm, but that was 20 years ago. Maybe the numbers are different now and the ratio altered? If you want to find out, you’ll need to look elsewhere to Honey Money. Similarly, a study from 2002 is quoted in order to tell us that “the typical man” who buys sex in America is either in his 40s or 50s (p307). Fact. (Apparently).

I could go on and on, but it’s just more of the same laughable ‘evidence’. Quite how Hakim ever got a serious academic journal (Oxford University’s European Sociological Review) to publish her initial paper is beyond me. That this could be spun into a 372-page book (presented as an authoritative sociological text) is truly staggering. And it’s depressing for all those who actually do have original thoughts AND the capacity to reinforce them with taut academic research, yet are denied a publishing deal.