Friday, 21 November 2014

On looking at stars and shirts

I love being a human. Most of the time. Yes, that magical spark of consciousness brings out the worst in our wee primate brains, but it also brings out the best. Flatworms aren't evil, but nor are they compassionate. They're just.. flat. 

And recently we had one of those moments of human achievement that strains the imagination of a species that is just an evolutionary quirk away from picking fleas off each other and eating them. We landed on a comet. A comet, guys. A ball of stuff hurtling through space. The lander had been travelling aboard the Rosetta Spacecraft for more than ten years to get there. We can hear the moment it landed on the internet. Up there somewhere is a robot sleeping on a comet, and we put it there. And it found out things we never knew before it fell asleep, because we've never before landed on a comet.

Is there anyone who can remain unimpressed by this? I mean, if Shania Twain had been singing about landing on a comet, surely even she would have to concede 'Oh, yeah, actually I guess that is pretty cool.'

Humans can still get things wrong though, even rocket scientists. And it's my belief that one of the scientists involved with the mission got it wrong when he got dressed on the day of the landing.

In case you've been living on a comet (hi Philae!), the scientist in question wore a shirt patterned with scantily clad ladies. He was essentially walking around with an entire strip club on his chest. Excellent and appropriate imagery for a stag do. Not quite so appropriate for one of the biggest scientific achievements of our century to date.

By no means do I think this guy is a villain. He's just wore a bad shirt. On the day that the entire world's media happened to have him in its gaze. And it is a bad shirt. I don't mean that it's ugly. It's not for me, but I'm wearing a fluffy jumper with a big sequinned bow on the front so who am I to judge? He is entitled to wear whatever he wants on his own time. But when everyone was watching, it wasn't the best idea to wear a shirt which reduced women, en masse, to a background pattern.* Particularly when you're representing an area of professional life where women are woefully under-represented. Little girl, why would you want to be a beardy rocket scientist when you could be a sexy alien chick?! Dream big! 

The gentleman in question has since apologised which I think is a) very gracious of him and b) quite enough. It was a bad shirt, but it's still just a shirt. An apology is all that's needed here. Death threats are certainly not necessary.

Image via

Alas though, it doesn't end there. As is sadly and weirdly common, the rage provoked by feminist voices demonstrates the need for a noisy and persistent feminist movement. 

Many voices have clamoured that this guy should be able to wear whatever he wants. Yup, absolutely. He should not have been wrestled to the ground and stripped naked.** But in a professional context, you will be judged on your appearance. Just think yourself lucky that you don't have to wear make up to be acceptable and you're less likely to be judged on the basis of your weight or how 'groomed' you look. 

Inevitably, memes have sprouted. I look forward to the day when we can communicate entirely in memes. Logic will suffer, but something needs to distract the cats from their plans of world domination. Anyway, the meme below invites comparison between slut-walks and this case. Unfortuntely, although a picture tells a thousand words it doesn't stop those words being rubbish. The purpose of the Slut-Walks was to highlight and protest victim blaming in the case of sexual assault, which was distressingly common in society and in the eyes of the law. The slut walks were saying 'We don't deserve to be raped, no matter what we wear'. This should not be a controversial message. They weren't making a professional presentation in their underwear. This is only appropriate in very specific cases. I don't think even google approves that kind of shenanigan. 

Not only is it a totally false equivalency, but Slut-Walks were about women taking control of their own image. This shirt takes that power away from them by ironing them back into the shape of objects without agency.

Image via Facebook


The voices are really raging now. 

'What if it had been a women? Wearing a shirt with NAKED MEN on it! I bet there would be no outrage then!'

Well, you're probably right. However, I have some big 'buts'*** of my own to add. First of all, it's far less likely that a woman would wear such a shirt. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where a large portion of a woman's value is created by her appearance. Most women are hyper-aware of their appearance as a result. Therefore, a woman is far less likely to choose a day when her image is going to be beamed across the globe to experiment with the wacky end of her wardrobe. 

Moreover, it's not really the shirt in itself that's the offensive bit. It's the context.

Imagine for a moment a company that's traditionally employed Lions. Lambs are not welcome at this company, because it's run by lions and they see lambs just as sources of food. 'Nothing against lambs,' they roar 'some of my best meals have been lambs. But they don't belong in the workplace.' Lots of lambs want to work though, and eventually a few brave lambs trickle in. At first they have to do their damndest to roar with the best of them to fit in, but soon enough lambs are being accepted on their own terms as valid members of the team. Lambs are still under-represented in the work place, and  are told to be more like Lions to get ahead. Occasionally, a Lion will take a bite out of his secretary, and it will go to a messy 'Nutritional Harassment' case. But in general things are good, and are getting better. Now, imagine a high profile  Lion appears on TV wearing a shirt covered with images of Lambs. Not just any Lambs though, Lambs ready for eating. A Lamb suggestively smeared with ketchup. A Lamb coquettishly posing with a parsley garnish. A Lamb cheekily speared upon a kebab. Lamb upon Lamb upon Lamb just waiting to be gobbled up. I mean, it's just a shirt, but is it going to reassure Lambs that business is for them? Now if a Lamb wears a similar shirt but with Lions posing next to side dishes it's a little strange. But it's not as damaging, Lions haven't gone through years of being marginalised and eaten by Lambs. The context matters.

The alert among you may have noticed the above analogy doesn't work. And that's because of the simple fact that we aren't any ordinary animal, we are human. We are aflame with consciousness, awash with intelligence. This is why you hardly ever see a FTSE 100 company run by Lions. We are in control of our behaviour and we very rarely eat each other for fun. We are also capable of looking in a mirror before we go out the door and recognising that our fellow humans are perhaps worth more than a shirt pattern.

*if you claim the shirt for the fashion wasteland of 'humorous clothing', it reduces women to the punchline of a joke, which isn't great either 
**Spoiler: this didn't actually happen.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Book tasting: 5 literature / snack combinations for your multi-sensory enjoyment

I like books. I like food. I like books about food. But there's only so many times you can read Nigella. So without further ado, and in honour of upcoming Book Week Scotland (starts 24th November!), I give you... Food about books. 

1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

A classic account of one young woman's nervous breakdown. Esther Greenwood is young, successful and talented. And slipping inexorably into the claws of mental illness. The book follows her decline, all the way to an attempt to end her life, and subsequent recovery in a Psychiatric Hospital. Powerfully vivid and moving, this book reaches into your ribcage and squeezes your heart. But not in a John-Lewis-advert crying at robotic penguins way. In a 'Bloody hell, life is so fragile and we're all just clinging onto the world by the tips of our fingers and the force of gravity way'.

Best paired with

Dark, dark chocolate. As dark as the night sky. As dark as your soul. And ready and primed to stimulate release of the endorphins that will allow you to reach the end of this book without print-smudging weeping sessions. 

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and more!), Douglas Adams

Arthur Dent wakes one morning to find that his house is in the path of a bulldozer. He is, understandably somewhat irked by this. Things get even worse when he is dragged to the pub by his best friend. Here, he is informed that 
A) his best friend is not from Earth but in fact from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse 5 and
B) This is somewhat of an irrelevance anyway since the Earth is about to suddenly and violently cease to exist. Thus begins an adventure through time and space for Arthur during which he is shot at, exploded, ejected into space and generally put upon. Along the way he meets a whole soap opera's worth of characters, including the most endearing depressive robot that has ever been imagined. If you can read this book without snorting with laughter then you should probably hire yourself out to politicians needing someone to stand in the background looking serious while they claim to have a credible economic plan / any policies at all. Oh, also, I'm not sure we can be friends.* Sorry.

Best paired with

A Milky Way, natch. A core of pure anti-matter / nougat surrounded by creamy milk chocolate. The Earth may be in for a bumpy ride but your tastebuds have  a smooth journey ahead

3. The Oryx and Crake trilogy, Margaret Atwood

Made up of 'Oryx and Crake', 'The Year of the Flood' and 'Maddaddam', this dystopian trilogy follows the events leading up to, and immediately following, the apocalyptic collapse of society. The few survivors include the members of a religious cult, vicious criminals and the mysterious not-quite-human Crakers. Written in the characteristically lean prose of Margaret Atwood, the trilogy is disturbing on several levels. She describes the trilogy as 'speculative fiction' rather than science fiction, as much of the technology in the books is already available or in development. Moreover, the picture painted in the book of the pre-apocalypse society is scarcely more palatable than the post-disaster reality. It is a spiky and acidic view of the world, but there are also moments of beauty and genuine hilarity. Atwood brings the humanity to a world largely devoid of humans.

Best enjoyed with

THERE WILL BE NO CHOCOLATE COME THE REVOLUTION. Best get ready for this with a healthy smooshed combination of nuts and fruits. Wait. There will be no 'Raw Fruit and Nut Bars' come the revolution either? Hmm, preparing for the apocalypse may be more difficult than previously imagined.

4. How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran

Part memoir, part feminist polemic, all awesome. Caitlin Moran basically spends a whole book being sensible, funny and sensibly funny about the pressures that women still labour under and why feminism is still something worth talking about. Moran has come under a certain amount of fire for writing this, which isn't massively surprising given the nature of the material. It can't be denied though that it is well written, relatable (to anyone who knows or has been a woman), honest and bloody funny. For showing that feminism can be funny, I perform a firm TMHOWROFL (Taking my hat off while rolling on the floor laughing. Very good for your core muscles) in the general direction of Moran.

Best enjoyed with

A snickers. Embrace every part of you / your snack foodstuff of choice, even if it doesn't fit into the outdated gender / confectionery boxes. Even if it means embracing your nuts. Plus, I feel that Caitlin Moran is definitely the sort of woman who would appreciate a sweet wrapper emblazoned with the words 'MORE NUTS'.

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

Hollywoodafied and remembered fondly by many adults as a magical romp in a world of pure imagination, this is really a characteristically dark book by Mr Dahl. Charlie is a boy growing up in poverty who wins a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the sweet-factory of the secretive Willy Wonka. He joins a group of spoiled children in the tour, who misbehave and are punished by the factory in various nasty ways. Don't worry though, they're all fine in the end. Sort of. And our hero Charlie's toes have enough acquaintance with the line that he comes through ready to move on to the next exciting adventure! And can we talk about the fact that Wonka's place is staffed by an indigenous people who have been taken away from their home country and are literally paid in beans? No wonder no-one is allowed in his factory. He must be breaking some employment laws. The Oompa Loompas should unionise. 

Best enjoyed with

Ready salted crisps. If you can stomach anything sweet after reading about a young child suffering permanent damage and change in body shape after being squeezed through a chocolate delivery pipe, then you have a more dedicated sweet tooth than me. And for that I salute you.


What are your reading-sustenance methods of choice?
*Just kidding... kind of.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Kitten the invisible cat

I am crouching furtively in front of the fridge. The shaft of light from my flowery torch aside, my subtlety is unsurpassed. Fear not, dear reader, I have not embarked on a new career as a surreptitious fridge engineer. Nor have I found a new and exciting way to eat cheese. I am paying my nightly respects to the newest and furriest member of our household, Kitten the Cat.

Kitten arrived with us a few weeks ago and promptly set up house behind the fridge, pretty much the only place in the flat to which we have no access at all. He could be doing anything back there. If you see flyers circulating for a speak-easy with Jazz, Catnip and Pussy, plus a convenient proximity to chilled beverages, please let me know. No, seriously. 

Pretty much the only contact I have with Kitten is cleaning out his litter tray and filling his food bowl after his nocturnal wanderings (when the humans are tucked up out of the way in bed). In some ways, we have skipped any preliminary small talk, and gone straight to sharing the house with a moody teenager who won't leave his bedroom.

Look! Here he is!

He really is there, promise.

Even though I have had about as much as interaction with Kitten as I have had with Richard Branson (although I've never cleaned Ol' Branson's toilet), I LOVE HIM. Kitten that is, not Branson. Although Branson's trains are pretty snazzy. I've developed the kind of relationship with Kitten that means that I text my Mum litter-tray updates complete with proud emoticons. Just like a mother excited by the contents of a child's nappy. I've become that person. And I'm not even a cat person. 

You see, it's not really his fault that he's a little antisocial. He's seven years old, and he's lived in the same house with the same people for his whole life and suddenly he's somewhere else and it's BLIMMING TERRIFYING. I get that, change is scary. If I could fit, I would also spend a large proportion of my life behind white goods. Soothing.

Plus, I think the fact that I'm not a cat person means that we have a lot in common. I am not a cat person, Kitten is not a person cat. We get each other on a deep soulful level.

I have always wanted an imaginary friend. Unfortunately, I have so much going on in the uncharted depths of my personality that any timid little imaginary friendship overtures are quickly drowned out by my spirited internal chatter. Kitten is like the ultimate imaginary friend, because I have an empty bowl every morning to reassure me it hasn't all been a dream. Like the scarf that the Snowman leaves the little boy in the Raymond Briggs story. Except that instead of an excess of knitted product of a morning, there's a lack of questionable meat product. And let me tell you, our imaginary cuddles are excellent. 

So I'm saying it loud, and I'm saying it proud, my name is Anna and I love my invisible cat! And if you're reading this Kitten and the Fridge is starting to lose its shine, I hear the sofa is pretty comfortable too this time of night...