Monday, 10 December 2012

Reflections on sobriety

We’re now 37 days into the Give It Up For One25 campaign, with another 88 to go. So we’re well over a quarter of the way there. 

I chose to give up alcohol this year to help raise money for One25 – you can see my initial blog about that here. But in short, the campaign runs from November 4 2012 until March 8 2013 (International Women’s Day), and involves people giving something up for either 125 hours or 125 days. I’ve given up alcohol for 125 days… a period that covers Christmas, New Year and my birthday. Phew!

So far, I’ve survived the first 37 days without succumbing to temptation… something I’m sure my generous sponsors will be pleased about! That’s not to say it’s always been easy: the hardest time was going out to dinner with two good friends, who (reasonably, why should they stop drinking just because I have?) worked their way through a bottle of wine. That was a tough evening…

But of course, my idea of a tough evening without a glass of wine is pathetic when compared to the tough mornings, afternoons and evenings endured by the hundreds of women who One25 will be helping with the sponsorship proceeds from the 150+ people (to date) who are giving up all manner of things for this excellent cause.

After 37 days without alcohol, I thought I’d reflect on what the last five sober weeks have been like. I honestly can’t say that I miss alcohol as much as I expected to, which is a really nice realisation.

Admittedly, it’s not like I drank so much that I feel physically any different. But it’s made me realise how many opportunities there are for drinking alcohol in an average week, which I’d never properly noticed before. For instance, last week I was offered free drinks at a theatre preview, on two occasions when people were getting a round in, and when someone brought a bottle of wine round to our house as a ‘thank you’ present. And that’s without listing times I might have reached for a glass of something while at home, or catching up with a friend in a bar. Which collectively makes me realise how much we rely on alcohol as a crutch for social occasions and as a conversational lubricant.

This has also made me realise how much of a social pariah you are when you don’t drink. Some people who don’t know I’ve given up alcohol for sponsorship have even asked me if I’m pregnant when I’ve turned a drink down! Because it seems we’ve been conditioned so much as a society to look up to alcohol, to aspire to obtaining it, to see ourselves as somehow rebellious for drinking so much of it that we’re proud when bar staff refuse to serve us anymore… yet so many people don’t respect it. For years, I’ve been astonished and saddened by the number of people I’ve met who talk about alcohol as if it’s the greatest thing in the world, or in some way gives them a personality. It isn’t and it doesn’t.

However, I realise this makes me sound boringly sanctimonious, which isn’t my intention. I simply want to say that taking a step back from alcohol has made me take a look at how I drank, and to notice how those around me drink. Like anything, alcohol in moderation is generally fine and I certainly don’t intend to never drink again. But I will definitely think before I drink in future. And I suspect my attitude to buying drinks will echo my attitude to buying clothes: which I don’t buy very often, but when I do I buy good quality ones that will last.

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far and helped me raise £365 (£452.50 with Gift Aid) so far for One25. My goal is to raise at least £500 (before Gift Aid), so if you can spare a few pounds to sponsor me I would be hugely grateful. Here’s the link.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Persephone Book of Short Stories

When Persephone Books celebrated their 100th book, how else were they going to do it but with a collection of 30 of their favourite short stories by forgotten female writers from the past 100 years? Welcome to The Persephone Book of Short Stories.

The resulting collection is 480 pages of Persephone joy, with stories spanning from 1909 to 1986. Some of the stories are familiar from Persephone Biannually newsletters or previously published Persephone short story collections, but there are also some pieces in here that will be brand new to Persephone readers.

The choice of stories is in one sense quite disparate – there are romances (eg From A to Z, Here We Are), family tales (eg The Black Cap), horrors (eg The Lottery), feminist polemics (eg A Few Problems In The Day Case Unit)…

But there is also a consistent theme of sexism through almost every story – whether explicit not. This is most striking in The Test (1940, Angelica Gibbs), where in just five pages our heroine Marian fails her driving test for the second time because she again refuses to kowtow to the misogynistic, sexist, perverted lech of a driving examiner, who grinds her down with his relentless, patronising and offensive ‘banter’.

Another theme is the obstruction by man in woman’s way – which is also evident in every single Dorothy Whipple novel published by Persephone (all gems by the way, highly recommended). Again, it’s not an obstruction that’s blatant and in-your-face, but merely a weary reminder by the writers that life for their female protagonists (and presumably themselves as the influence) has an extra hurdle to be clambered over by women before the race can even begin. It’s particularly interesting to read this in the stories from the 1930s and 1940s, as the passing of time has – in many ways – not lessened the difficulties for contemporary women in similar situations. EM Delafield’s story Holiday Group from 1926 perfectly sums up the misery of a family holiday for the put upon mother – which presumably rings true to every single mother today.

The story that stayed with me more than any other, and which still haunts me more than a week after reading it, is The Lottery – a 1948 tale of Wicker Man-esque barbarity by Shirley Jackson. So simply written, so concise with language… The Lottery perfectly sums up a lack of respect for women, a disregard for women as human beings, and the terrifying way in which a community see a woman as ‘sport’: an object for their entertainment. So horrific was The Lottery that I had to read it again as soon as I’d finished it… just to be sure I’d understood it correctly.

I wish Persephone every success with their next 100 books, and I hope with all my heart that therumours of Nicola Beauman closing Persephone after 100 books was nothing more than a rumour… Because to lose Persephone now would be an enormous tragedy for the publishing world, and for the (doubtless) millions of readers like me who devour their books and the introductions to new favourite (or forgotten) authors.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

'Peter Pan' at Bristol Old Vic

Over the years, I’ve read the book of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and seen several adaptations of it – including the hanky-wringing Finding Neverland film from 2004, and the National Theatre in London’s production in 2002 (which concluded with an astonishing zip-wire across the entire auditorium).

But all of those pale into insignificance when compared to the Bristol Old Vic’s Peter Pan – which is the theatre’s big Christmas show that runs until January 19, 2013. This is a show that right from the off had my friend and I (both 30-something) in raptures of delight – because upon opening the programme we squeaked: “Stickers!” And it only got better from there.

P – is for Peter Pan, obviously. And in this production the boy who never grew up is played by Tristan Sturrock, who is easily my favourite contemporary actor, and who has made a name for himself by starring in BOV’s biggest shows recently (Far Away, Treasure Island, Coram Boy, Mayday Mayday etc). As Peter, Tristan surpasses himself – ricocheting around the stage, dancing from suspended ropes, and inviting the audience into his web of perpetual youth.

E – is for everyone else in the cast. There’s no weak link in the chain and it’s hard to pull out a few. But obviously Madeline Worrall (as matronly Wendy) deserves a bow for being on stage in almost every scene, for holding the cast together and for keeping Peter in check at all times. Madeline’s singing is also phenomenal. Also, Tinkerbell's accent is top notch.

T – is for The Set. Overseen by Michael Vale, the scenery is a feat of creativity and ingenuity. And while the imagination of water is borrowed from Swallows & Amazons, this is a nice continuity between the shows. The sets from the Darlings’ bedroom to the Lost Boys’ lair are all ingenuously created… sometimes before our eyes. Look out for the skip.

E – is for Emily May Smith (who plays several characters). She’s a relative newcomer having only graduated from BOV Theatre School this summer, but she is becoming a regular on the main stage after recent turns in Wild Oats and Does My Society Look Big InThis? And rightly so: Emily is full of character, charming and a delight to watch. I hope we see more of her in the years to come.

R – is for Ropes. The stage is filled with hanging ropes at all times – from zip wires, to pulleys to things I don’t know the name of, the acrobatics of the cast look so entertaining that I was desperate to have a go myself.

P – is for pirates, because what would a big BOV show be without them? After Swallows & Amazons, Treasure Island and now Peter Pan, we have come to expect and respect the pirates on the main stage. In particular, another BOV regular Stuart Mcloughlin (Swallows & Amazons, The Six Wives of Henry VIII etc) is phenomenal as Captain Hook. Banish all thoughts of cuddly Robin Williams as the one-handed pirate leader, Stuart has clawed his way into the history books with his Scottish, kilt-wearing, guitar-playing villain. Perfect.

A – is for Adventure, because what is Peter Pan but a cracking adventure story? Sure it’s an adventure story that centres around the theme of motherhood and stolen childhoods, but it’s an adventure nonetheless: one that includes flying children, pirates, mermaids and an anthropomorphic dog.

N – is for Nanna the dog, portrayed here by Howard Coggins – yet another BOV faithful (Swallows & Amazons, Treasure Island, The Six Wives of Henry VIII etc). My only complaint is that Nanna is on stage for too short a time – but when she is, Howards’ canine character is a show-stopping delight. From the costume to the doggy mannerisms, Nanna is a true treat.

In short – Peter Pan was so good that I’m going to go and see it again. Whatever you do, please do not miss it.

Stickery poster activity thing – as completed by Madam J-Mo,
age 34-and-three-quarters!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Mrs Hughes: The Loo Lady

This tiny book may weigh in at only 67 pages but it’s an utterly fascinating read. Ladies’ Mile is “the remarkable and shocking story of twilight Bristol” as seen through the eyes of Victoria Hughes, who was a toilet attendant on Durdham Downs from 1929 to 1962.

The book was edited by David Foot, and published in 1977 by a small Bristol company called Abson, whose other titles included A Guide To Hip Language & Culture (35p), and How Not To Do Your Duty (36p). Such is the legacy of Mrs Hughes that in 2006 she was entered into the OxfordDictionary of National Biography, as reported in the Daily Telegraph

The reason for Mrs Hughes’ work being so particularly important is that she kept diaries and notebooks during her decades working on the Downs, in which she logged the comings and goings of various characters, as well as some bizarre scrapes she found herself in due to befriending them – including having to cycle home down Blackboy Hill wearing nothing but her raincoat one night, after becoming infesting with lice!

As you can imagine, working on the Downs in the small hours meant that the bulk of Mrs Hughes’ customers were ladies of the night, for whom the Downs was a key and profitable area in the pre and post war years. But all the while she is portrayed as a matronly lady who passes her time by knitting, and who keeps the kettle handy for anyone who needs a warming brew.

Ladies’ Mile was published when Mrs Hughes was 80 and enjoying her retirement, but even on publication in the late 1970s the subject matter was shocking to some readers. Those readers who might be offended by talk of women being forced to sell their bodies to feed their children, pensionable women who had no alternative but to sell themselves against a tree, and the grim realities of dealing with sexually transmitted diseases in the unenlightened times (and before penicillin) etc. Indeed, Mrs Hughes herself only started working as a ‘loo lady’ because her husband was unable to work due to a war injury and they had two children.

In 2012 it’s sadly rather more difficult to be shocked by such stories, as they’re so normalised by the news, TV and film. Yet there remained two aspects of Ladies’ Mile that really affected me.

The first was an anecdote at the very beginning of the book about a young woman who goes into a cubicle and doesn’t emerge for quite some time. When she does, she looks shaky and upset but refuses offers of help and scuttles away (apparently to a nearby pub). When Mrs Hughes goes into the cubicle, she finds a dead premature baby wrapped in newspaper and left inside “the white enamel container”. Mrs Hughes’ written response is very revealing about her own nature, and her determination to be kind and comforting to whomever uses her facilities: “The noonday miscarriage left me with conflicting thoughts. I hated the cold-blooded way she had brazenly confronted us and walked out as though nothing had happened. But I wanted to sympathise with her at the same time. I was haunted by her chalk-white face and hands that were trembling.”

And it’s this kindly attitude that must be remembered and born in mind when reading, all throughout Ladies’ Mile, Mrs Hughes’ seemingly throwaway references to the ‘whores’ and ‘tarts’ who use her facilities, and even to the casual manner she recalls the women who threatened, or achieved, suicide due to their utterly miserable lives. While this disrespectful language shocked me, I tried to keep in mind that the book was written in a long past generation when attitudes were not as understanding as they now are. Mrs Hughes herself states that she tried never to moralise or to tell the prostitutes to give up their trade.

Ladies’ Mile is long out of print, and second hand copies are extremely expensive. However, a number of Bristol libraries stock the book – which in itself in an achievement, because on publication in the late 1970s, many libraries were wary of carrying such a book!

Mrs Hughes’ toilets were commemorated with a blue plaque on 22 September 2003. The inscription reads: “Victoria Hughes 1897-1978, who befriended and cared for prostitutes when she worked here as a lavatory attendant from 1929-1962.” Please click here for details.

  • Article about Mrs Hughes on Flickr

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bristol’s Festival of Economics – what next?

The first Bristol Festival of Economics concluded yesterday with three panel discussions consisting of academic economists, practitioners of economics, and challengers to the subject. Including Friday’s opening session, the 450-capacity hall at At-Bristol was packed to the rafters each time, showing that there is huge disquiet for the current situation. Which was backed up by most of the questions coming from the floor.

While several people noted that the idea of a ‘festival’ of economics sounded like something of an oxymoron, it was refreshing to see language used so effectively to challenge our conceptions about economics. The festival was such a success that Bristol Festival of Ideas, who organised the event, has announced it will become an annual event.


Panel One: People, Places and Poverty

Chairperson Julia Unwin is the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust.

“On Monday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation will publish its annual state of the nation report. But the top line information is that the number of people working and poor now outstrips the number of people not working and poor.”

Geoff Andrews is a lecturer in politics and an author.

“It’s striking how much poverty is still talked about as a matter of individual choice. The history of housing policy in Britain is a history of betrayal. A lot of people have been left behind.

“Food banks will feed 200,000 people over the next year – which is up from 26,000 people four years ago.  Slow food offers us a way out in this time of austerity. It’s an opportunity to examine the way we live in a much broader sense. Poverty is not here with us to stay, but we should think about what it means for us to be part of a community.”

Paul Gregg is a professor of economic and social policy.

“Pensioner poverty is in decline. Older people are further up the income distribution than they were. They’ve been replaced by families with children. For the last decade we have not been seeing rising real wages. Women’s earnings are now central to keeping families afloat – their wages are rising slowly, and more than men’s wages are.”

Lynsey Hanley is an author.

“Food is one of the strongest indicators of how living in poverty affects people at a psychological and medical level. In 2007, the housing crisis was that we weren’t building fast enough, and were only building one and two bedroom flats. There are 50-75,000 houses a year being built, but that’s a drop in the ocean of what’s needed. We’re now facing the consequences of two decades of political indecision.”

Paul Johnson is the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

“In 2010 we saw the biggest fall in average incomes in this country. It was a fall in real living standards. O% is the probability of this government meeting child poverty targets as incomes are not rising. We have become much more of a welfare state over the last 30 years. We are living in unbelievably extraordinary times. £120bn is the deficit from the cuts. 2010 was the year inequality fell by more than any other year in recent history. Working age people are now more in poverty than pensioners.
“The richest 1% of income tax payers are paying 30% of all income tax.”


Panel Two: What Next for Britain’s Economy?

Chairperson Heather Stewart is economics editor at The Observer.

“How do we rebuild an economy reliant on consumer spending? How do we build something sustainable for the long term?”

Andrew Sentance is a senior economic adviser at Pricewaterhouse Cooper.

“There has been slow growth around 1% but it hasn’t always been clear to people that there is growth. Employment has held up throughout the recession following the financial crisis. Unemployment rate has stuck at 8%, which is obviously higher than we’d like. Inflation was meant to stay at 2% but since 2006 it has been considerably higher.

“The problem with the economy is not just a lack of demand, but with adjusting to a significantly changed economic order. We’re in a new normal of disappointing growth and volatility in economic prices.

“In the long-term I’m optimistic that western economies will get back to a growth phase. But trying to predict what will drive the next wave of growth is very difficult.”

Peter Marsh is manufacturing editor at the Financial Times and an author.

“Bristol has a great manufacturing heritage and a lot of interesting things going on. In Britain there is much more manufacturing happening than people think. We’re now number nine in the world for manufacturing, which is a 2.5% world share.”

Vicky Pryce is a senior managing director at FTI Consulting Inc and an author.

“It is impossible for a small island to keep growing at the rate it has been. Next year is forecast at 0.1% growth, which means more recession. My message is to rethink how you spend the money you raise, and perhaps raise more because the government can borrow cheaply. Spend on infrastructure and housing.”


Panel Three: Economics in Crisis

Chairperson Richard Marshall is editor of 3am.

“It’s intimidating sitting here with four people with brains the size of planets, three of whom are women.”

Diane Coyle, author and programmer of this festival.

“There are two types of economists, macro and micro. Micro economists are individuals making decisions, making rational decisions about what to do. Macro economists are when you add everything together as a whole. The crisis is worse for macro economists who didn’t see it coming at all.”

Bridget Rosewell is from Volterra Partners.

“Is economics more like history or physics? Does politics affect the kind of history you do? Physics is about explaining, and when you can predict and can have a good explanation. I don’t think we should be too depressed about the state of the economy, even if we’re depressed about economists.”

Carol Propper is a professor in economics.

“I question when is the optimal time to invest in children, because studies into early child investment have shown that this pays off. Healthcare takes about 10% of the GDP. There’s a government economic service, but not a government sociological or psychological service – even though these would be useful.”

Aditya Chakrobortty is economics leader writer at The Guardian.

“If you ask economists why nobody saw it coming, some say they got too carried away with their own models – which were better than reality. I don’t buy that. Their models didn’t recognise the possibility this might happen.

“No academic discipline has shaped British society as much as economics. Economists have cheerleaded the kind of economy you’ve now got. And it will take well into 2020 before the average family in Britain is earning in real terms what they were in 2002. You’re in a crisis and nobody that I can see has the confidence, depth of study or willingness to enter into the fray.”

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Future of Capitalism

The inaugural Bristol Festival of Economics (organised by the Festival of Ideas and programmed by Diane Coyle) kicked off this evening with a panel about the Future of Capitalism at At-Bristol. 

Despite the inevitably bleak subject matter (in short: financially, we’re screwed), our four expert panellists and chairman David Smith (economics editor at The Sunday Times) presented an entertaining and engaging debate.

Here are the top lines…

Rachel Lomax is the former deputy governor of the Bank of England. This is my opportunity to mention that when I lived in London my next door neighbour was Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England until 2003: never let it be said that I miss an opportunity to name drop! 

“The 1970s were a crisis of confidence in the existing economical framework, even more so than now. There was high inflation, high unemployment, and high industrial unrest. The world was not working well. But it was a period of intense political debate that lasted until the 1980s, when a new capitalism was built. But what’s going on now?

“Economists didn’t see the 2007 crisis coming. In 2007/2008, I thought that some serious rethinking would be a great outcome of this crisis. But I don’t see that happening. Although there is a lot of pressure on banks to rethink their business models. But won’t we still be an unequal society prone to financial crisis?

“We’ve gone so far with means testing that we’ve poisoned the people just above the poverty line. Means testing has turned the nearly poor against the very poor.”

In terms of the situation for women, Rachel added: “The position of women is so much stronger than 30 or 40 years ago. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but life chances for women are hugely improved.”

Daniel Stedman Jones is a barrister and author.

“It was clear there were neo liberal policies there in the 1970s, ready to be picked up if you wanted them. Now it is less clear. We need to be much clearer about what the state can do in terms of regulation. But is it possible now to run one-country economic policies? In Britain we’re dominated by a Euro-sceptic agenda.”

John Kay is founding director of the Said Business School at Oxford University and an author.

“Nobody knows how a market will develop [he uses the development of computer as an example]. It’s a process of experiment, where most experiments fail and get shut down. That’s how market economics work, and why they’ve been more successful in generating progress than any other economic programme.”

Larry Elliott is economics editor of The Guardian and an author.

“Capitalism has produced the goods over a very long period. I don’t have any nostalgia for the world as it once was, but this crisis is a big one. It’s too early to say if it’s bigger than the 1970s’ one.

“There are certain key elements that make capitalism work: profitability, stability, legitimacy, sustainability and creativity. If we want capitalism to regenerate itself, then the current policy mix is probably working against that and keeping zombie businesses and banks alive. We’re not getting new blood coming through.”

The Bristol Festival of Economics continues tomorrow (Saturday, November 24) with three more sessions. For more information and to see if tickets are still available, please click here.

On March 8, 2013, Confronting Women’s Poverty: Turning Things Around will be a one-day event at Bristol City Hall. For more information, please click here.

The Islanders – Bristol Old Vic

This afternoon I was one of a handful of people invited to a scratch performance of The Islanders, a new theatrical piece by Amy Mason. Amy is someone I first ‘met’ on Twitter about two years ago, and have since met in person a few times. But most of all I know her to be a Bristolian writer in residence, a position she held at Spike Island until recently.

The Islanders is her first footstep into the world of playwriting. The show is a two-hander between Amy and her real-life ex Eddie Argos, and they’re supported by musician Jim Moray. The show is also a reinterpretation of their doomed teenage relationship, which saw them set up home in a grotty bedsit, only eat orange coloured food, and take a misty-eyed holiday to the Isle of Wight.

What The Islanders shows is that thanks to the benefit of hindsight, two people’s memories of the same experience can vary wildly – and this is beautifully illustrated in the sketch where Amy and Eddie read out postcards they sent home to their families: “Wish you were here… instead of us.”

Billed as a lo-fi musical, The Islanders is an affectionate and honest insight into the sort of relationship most of us probably experienced in our younger years… meaning it’s something most of us can identify with (I’m quite sure I could), which makes the performance all the more successful.

The Islanders will return to Bristol Old Vic’s Studio in April for a three-night run. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Dreadnought South West

In June 1913, eight groups of suffragists set off from starting points across the country, including Cornwall, to walk to Hyde Park in London. There they held a large rally on 26 July 1913 in support of votes for women.

Now four South West women are planning a centenary celebration of what became known as the Great 1913 Suffrage Pilgrimage.

Dreadnought South West (named after Sylvia Pankhurst’s suffragette newspaper) will comprise an original theatre piece performed at key stopping places along the South West route with associated waymarker projects promoted by schools and community groups.

Playwright Natalie McGrath and director Josie Sutcliffe, supported by cultural managers Sue Kay and Mary Schwarz, have received an Arts Council England grant to research the route, find suffrage stories and develop partnerships with venues and organisations in the towns and cities through which the Pilgrimage passed.

“Seven women started at Land’s End and made it all the way to Hyde Park,” explains Natalie. “They were joined for periods of time by many supporters as well as encountering much resistance along the way. They held open-air meetings where they were allowed. We’re really interested in exploring people’s experiences of the suffrage campaign in relation to the contemporary social, economic and political position of women today – as well as current modes of, and attitudes to, public protest.”

(Story above adapted from the Dreadnought press release.)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Anti-Suffrage Postcards

Probably due to the recent American election, but recently there have been quite a few online articles rounding up various anti-suffrage postcards from the early 20th Century. I've blogged about this previously here, but am also rounding up links to some of the other recent articles to try and collect them in one place. If you know of any more, please let me know in the Comments section and I'll add them to this post.

The Society Pages – Vintage Anti-Suffrage Postcards

Collectors Weekly – War on Women, Waged in Postcards

Man Boobz – Anti-Suffrage Postcard Saturday

Ms Magazine – UK Suffrage Postcards

Ms Magazine – Suffragist Postcards

Ms Magazine – Live Blogging Women's History

Edwardian Promenade – Women's Suffrage Through Postcards

Suffragette Postcards

Alice Suffragette – Postcards

The Pankhurst Centre – Postcards

Sunday, 4 November 2012

I’m giving it up for One25

Do you know the charity One25? They’re a small but vital Bristol organisation that helps women exit street sex work and return to a safe and healthy life. They are also the only charity in Bristol that performs this service.

One25 has three strands to its work: night outreach work on the streets, a drop-in centre during the daytime, and one-to-one casework support.

On its website, One25 says: “The women we work with are some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in society and are unable to access services that most people take for granted. They have specific needs and specific histories that don't fit easily into generic services. Currently we are the only service in Bristol that provides an essential outreach service for this client group.”

But One25 is woefully under-supported in terms of funding and relies heavily on donations of time and money, and fundraising. I’ve previously supporting One25 with a few raffles at What TheFrock! comedy nights, but now I’m taking part in Give It Up For One25, which involves giving up something for either 125 days or 125 hours.

I’m giving up alcohol for 125 days – starting today and running until March 8 (International Women’s Day). It’ll be a shame for me not drinking over Christmas or on my birthday. But really, put it into perspective – it’s not much of a sacrifice when you think what these women have been through. Many have been raped or beaten, many are drug and/or alcohol addicts, many have nobody other than One25 to show them unconditional love and support. 

You can help in a number of ways:

You could sign-up to Give It Up For One25 yourself (it’s not too late) and raise money through sponsorship.

You could sponsor me on my Virgin page.

You could buy a One25 t-shirt for £12 (plus p&p):

You could buy the One25 Community CakeBook (review here), which includes tasty recipes from everyone including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Pieminister and the Glassboat. Available through Better Food Company (St Werburghs), Waterstones (Cribbs Causeway or The Galleries) and Foyles (Quakers Friars). Or email to order by post (plus p&p).

Or you could just donate direct to One25 and expect nothing in return!

Saturday, 3 November 2012


When the news came through that Chris Goode was bringing a new show to the Bristol Old Vic, I was one of the first to ink the date in my diary. I first saw Chris in March, performing the one-man show The Adventures of Wound Man And Shirley, which was a near-perfect and charming production about the alienation of teenage years.

God/Head is a very different experience to Wound Man And Shirley, though. It is mostly a series of monologues (some presented as dream sequences, some as sermons), and they are linked together by a musical theme.

The question posed by God/Head is not so much whether God exists, but how we come to ask ourselves questions of spirituality, and how these intertwine with the issue of mental health and science. It’s certainly a thought-provoking exercise.

While mostly a one-man show, Chris has decided to enhance God/Head by having a different guest on stage with him for each performance, meaning each evening is slightly different to the others. The effect is a sort-of chat show format, with the guest asking questions to try and help Chris come to some conclusions. But since the guest is mostly led by cues presented in envelopes, it feels rather contrived and therefore misses the idea of spontaneity that having a different guest should generate. I didn’t feel the guest brought anything to the show, and in fact I felt she rather detracted from Chris’ performance as she spent much of the time on the stage (through no fault of her own) not really having anything to do.

God/Head is not an easy watch. At 90 minutes straight, it appears as a lot of disjointed thoughts, and a lot of setting of the scene – eg, a great deal of preamble spent telling us who Zoe (his guest) was, which was not relevant to her part in the show. But just because something isn’t easy to watch, doesn’t of course mean it cannot be good to watch.

But I will be heading over to the Tobacco Factory on 26 November to see his show Hippo World Guest Book, which is on for one-night only, because I'd like to see more of what he does. Info here.

The final performance of God/Head is at Bristol Old Vic this evening, please click here for info. To visit Chris Goode’s website, please click here

NB: Review edited on November 4, 8pm

Thursday, 25 October 2012

You’re Not Like The Other Girls, Chrissy

The Bristol Old Vic’s Autumn 2012 programme is shaping up to be an absolute blinder. Not one of the shows I’ve seen so far has been a disappointment, and You’re Not Like The Other Girls, Chrissy is easily my favourite so far.

Tucked away in the downstairs Studio space of the building (‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is in the main theatre), Caroline Horton’s one-woman show is a joyous 60 minutes of feel-good charm.

Based on the true story of Caroline’s own grandmother Christiane, the true life element makes us root for the protagonist even more. In 2002, Caroline helped her grandmother move into sheltered housing and while packing up her things, Caroline discovered a box of Christiane’s wartime letters. And they told her the story of how her French grandmother met her English grandfather just before war broke, how they were separated for the duration and how they fought to be united six years later.

With no schmaltz, You’re Not Like The Other Girls, Chrissy uses simple props (suitcases filled with magic and music) and an exuberant performance to take us from Paris to Cheadle, to the Isle of Wight and further afield. Echoing the feel of Persephone Books’ hot-water-bottle novels (those that are ideal for indulging with on a rainy afternoon, or as a pick-me-up), this play is a perfect example of biographical storytelling, family history and world history.

Wartime romances may be a topic that has never struggled with publicity, but it’s important for audiences (especially younger ones) to remember that if we’re talking about someone’s grandmother, we’re also talking about very recent history.

Caroline’s perfect French really helps to bring the show to life, and her facial expressions must be seen to be believed. She has great comic timing and had the audience in the palm of her hand. Both my friend and I were wiping a tear from our eyes at the end. I very much hope the Bristol Old Vic brings Caroline back with her future productions.

You’re Not Like The Other Girls, Chrissy is on at the Bristol Old Vic until October 27, and click here for info and to buy tickets. Caroline Horton’s website is here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

'Patience' by John Coates

Oh, what good news! It’s that time of year when the wonderful publishing house Persephone brings out its newest books. And this is an extra exciting time because we’re on the cusp of its 100th book.

However, before we get there, let’s enjoy Persephone 99. This is a 1953 novel by John Coates, a rare male author on the publisher’s list. But Patience is written from the female point of view, and very convincingly so at most points of the narrative.

Our protagonist, the eponymous Patience, is a 28-year-old wife and mother who lives her life according to her strict Catholic beliefs. She has endured almost seven years of boring marriage to adulterous Edward simply because she felt it was her duty, and because the three children their marriage produced bring her untold happiness.

But when we meet Patience at the start of this book, she is on the brink of great change.

Over the course of just a few days, the book shows Patience shedding her attributory namesake and turning her life upside down. It’s giving nothing away to say that our heroine (and she is a heroine, despite her actions) is juggling the realisation she may be expecting her fourth child, with the news her husband may not really be her husband, and the fact she has finally found true love.

At the time of publication in the 1950s, Patience was banned in Ireland and considered shocking in many quarters because of its frank approach to modern marriage, romantic affairs, and women’s right to pleasure in bed. But it’s all handled in a delightfully ‘proper’ manner, with nothing risqué or troublesome to polite sensibilities. In fact, at times, I wanted to shake Patience and tell her to stand up for herself a bit more.

I find it interesting that it was a man who wrote this book, because it so delicately deals with a woman’s emotions and sexual desire. But it’s also interesting that it was also first published at a time when the very idea that women might enjoy sex was still blushed under the carpet with an embarrassed snort. Of course, Patience also reinforces to those of us without a religious faith just how limiting life is when lived according to The Book. Patience’s religion gives her comfort and instruction, but also makes her – and those she loves – desperately unhappy. And her devout brother Lionel comes off particularly badly, not least because of his strict understanding of his faith.

Persephone 99 is a delightful read. And Patience follows hot on the heels of other Persephone favourites such as The Making of a Marchioness and Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, which I comfortably call ‘hot water bottle books’ on account of the comforting glow they give you to read, and their suitability for enjoying while snuggled up in bed on a rainy morning.

You can visit the (new look) Persphone website by clicking here.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bristol Lunatic Asylum


This week, I took a trip to the former Bristol Lunatic Asylum, which is on the edge of the University of the West of England campus on Blackberry Hill. Now called the Glenside Museum, this extraordinary and valuable museum is a treasure trove of Victorian, Edwardian and mid-century paraphernalia, photographs and machinery that has been carefully curated into a genuinely unique museum.

Housed in a deconsecrated chapel (which was derelict and home to pigeons and squirrels when the museum took it over in 1994), the Grade-II listed building is now beautifully restored, complete with working church organ (which someone was playing when we visited – although there was something confusing about listening to Get Me To The Church On Time while looking at a human skull that had been drilled during a lobotomy), stained glass windows and altar.

The museum was bigger than we had imagined, and contained much more than we anticipated. Not everything was pleasant to see (slices of human brain on a microscope plate, a pickled human brain with a cyst, Electric Shock Therapy machinery, lobotomy tools etc), but that doesn’t make it unimportant. As someone who lives with depression and anxiety, and who has spent time in the contemporary mental health system as an outpatient, it was even more fascinating for me to see how people in my situation fared 150 years previously.

But there is nothing at Glenside Museum that is intended to exploit the former patients or their memories. Everything is treated with respect, care and consideration. We spoke with Dr Ihsan Mian during our visit – a retired psychiatrist who worked at the hospital until it closed in 1994, and who is now chair of the Friends of the Glenside Hospital Museum – and he explained that the purpose of the museum is to educate people about mental illness, and also to challenge the stigma and ignorance that still surrounds the subject. Talking with him it is clear that he is extremely passionate about the museum and it’s future, and has an enclyopedic knowledge of the hospital’s history.

The museum is only open twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10am-12.30pm. Entry is free but donations are welcome. Click here to visit the website, which has a great deal of information about the museum. Click here to read a good feature from 2010 about the history of the hospital and museum in the Bristol Evening Post.