On sex and the English language

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Dick, prick, cock, knob, willy – are you offended yet?

Twat, gash, pussy, cunt. How about now?

After years of listening to drunken spats while working in pubs, where the English language is usually at its most colourful, I have learnt two things. Firstly, that whisky chasers and prolonged sun exposure are a terrible mix and secondly, that if you really, really want to provoke someone, you call them a cunt. And that’s not just limited to the world of recreational drinking, it works across most sectors of the community. I’ve tried.

However, last week, 14 year old Tuesday Cain‘s downstairs bits, or her unusual confidence in talking openly about them, became the subject of an internet firestorm. She’d been protesting a new highly restrictive anti-abortion law in her home state of Texas and her protest banner read: ‘Jesus isn’t a dick; so keep him OUT of MY VAGINA!’ Many – mostly Republicans, pro-life campaigners, trolls and religious nutters – branded her, rather strangely, a ‘lesbian.’ Now aside from the obvious Jesus obstacle, which is a whole other topic, what seems to have caused the most offence is the word ‘vagina’.

While male sex words may be mildly offensive to some, it’s the ones pertaining to the lady bits that have an awesomely dark power to enrage. In an over sexualised society, our use of language is very telling. No single word conjures up images of grotty porn more than ‘pussy’. ‘Twat’ doubles up, rather darkly, as slang for hitting someone and ‘gash’ is just downright twisted. ‘Vagina’ is the official medical word, it’s not sexy ergo using it makes you a lesbian. That’s right – a desexualised attitude towards the female body means you must be gay (which is still an issue for some idiots). It still goes against the grain to say vagina. Some people even take it to mean something anti-male (look at last year’s Vaginagate scandal).

There is no male equivalent, not penis, dong, wang, sausage or throbbing member, that invites quite the same sort of prejudice. We tend to find the penis funny while the vagina continues to be a detached political entity. Interestingly though, according to an old Guardian survey, more women than men are offended by these words. I’d like to think that’s due to some deep-rooted feminism, but it’s more likely because of an awkwardness towards the body all together.

Personally, if I had to pick one term to jump up and down on it would have to be ‘pussy’. It immediately makes an everyday body part seem seedy – all greasy lube and fake nails. But at least one thing’s come out of the Tuesday Cain affair, now I know how to really piss off an American.

That’s right, you’re a vagina.

I will leave you with a video that I found on Jezebel. It’s a subverted retelling of Robin Thicke’s highly questionable ‘sound of the summer’ Blurred Lines (the one with all the naked women that makes me want to hurt people) by Seattle boylesque troupe Mod Carousel.

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Goodbye, Battersea Power Station

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There are few landmarks as iconic to Londoners as Battersea Power Station. To the rest of the world it’s all about the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Shard, but to those of us who call London home those four skinny chimneys are as sweet and homely as a mug of hot chocolate.

To me its emptiness offers a moment of peace in a hectic, jumbled up city. It’s tall and knowing, calm and still. Whenever I’ve been away for long periods of time, the few years I decided to decamp ‘oop north’ for example, it, more than anything else, would make me feel flushed with homesickness when I saw it on TV.

Chelsea Fringe lens thing

‘Arty’ lens thing (being idiots).

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Looking like a total gimp. Again.

A few weeks ago as part of Chelsea Flower Show’s fringe festival, the strip of land in front of the old building was opened to the public for the first time in years. The art installations weren’t particularly memorable, but the chance to get closer to Battersea Power Station was. I’d never noticed the strange romance in its smashed windows, the nesting birds or the rusting coal cranes before.

Battersea Power Station coal cranes close-up

They even had grass growing on them in patches.

Ever since I’ve been dogged by sadness. This week, work is due to start on redeveloping the building (it’s really happening this time). The site’s been bought by a Malaysian consortium – made up of a palm oil plantation, a property group and the state pension fund – who will take it to pieces and start again, rebuilding it minus the decay and the birds. Instead there will be new ‘smart spaces’ – flats, offices and a gym.

Battersea Power Station coal cranes

It was inevitable that it would become something flashy one day, especially considering its fairly central position and notoriety. Of course, I’m happy it’ll be looked after, but I’d become quite attached to the building as it was. Thanks to dozens of failed redevelopments it’s been nothing other than a landmark during my lifetime. It felt like it existed for no other reason than because it was ours, the people who lived nearby, and we loved it.

Battersea Power Station

Despite developers promising a ‘cultural hub’, a community, many of the flats have already been sold to overseas investors. The building will become an international attraction, the famous chimneys part if its brand, and it won’t be ours anymore. Technically the frontage will look similar (it’s Grade II* listed), but there’ll be little of the spirit left of the landmark I loved. When I roll past on the Waterloo train, staring out of the window, there won’t be Battersea Power Station looking back at me, but Malaysian palm oil and Arab black gold.

The fear of homesickness has kept me in London since returning from those years in The North, I was scared of seeing images of the beautiful (to me) landscape and thinking what have I done? But its useless feeling attached to city like London because, no matter how long you’ve been here, it will never love you back. Not unless you’ve got an outrageous amount of cash anyway. Perhaps it’s time to move on.

Battersea Power Station, coal cranes, sunset

As you can see, bit obsessed with these coal cranes (made in Bath, by the way)

A message to you, Magnet Kitchens

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You’re beautiful, inside and out – these are the words that haunt me every night as my head hits the pillow. You’re beautiful, there is no doubt/There’s no use in hiding, your potential is shine-ning. It’s not the soft words of a loved one or a comforting self-help mantra, it’s the song from the Magnet Kitchens advert.

The tune has become my cognitive screensaver – a sort of meditative version of the ever-wibbleing geometric shape. As soon as I’m not concentrating on anything in particular, there it is. Endlessly looping like an audible version of a 30 Rock GIF. It’s as though my brain’s become the crappest Tumblr feed of all time: empty accept for three sickly-sweet lines, awkwardly cropped together, running over and over and OVER.

I’ve tried counting sheep, pigs, cats and pangolins. Blasting it with everything from Wu-Tang Clan to the One Pound Fish song didn’t work either. My trump card was a blow out too: chanting the words to Ronan Keating’s Life is a Rollercoaster was no match for this titan. It just won’t budge. It’s the Rosa Parks of songs, accept, instead of sitting for justice and equality, it’s hanging around hoping I’ll buy a pastel-coloured breakfast bar.

I can forgive the youthful simplicity of the song, it was written by a 14 year old after all – Lucinda Nicholls from Perth, Austrahlya. Her and her annoying song, Inside and Out, were discovered by Magnet on that well-know source of high-quality content, YouTube. They whisked her off to Abbey Road to record a beefed-up version for their Beauty Built In campaign. “I wrote [the song] at camp when we were mountain biking” she says in her introduction, “so I had something to think about other than ow, ow, ow, ow, these bumps are hurting.” Well doesn’t that just scream KITCHEN AD at you?

What I really can’t forgive, however, is bringing it into my home four, six, 437 times a day. It may well be the Holy Grail of ditties if you’re in advertising – sweet, beige and very, very sticky (like a pudding, accept everyone hates it). It is now firmly lodged in my sub-conscious – my creative brain is a sponge for crappy jingles. Unfortunately for Mr/Mrs Magnet Advert however, I don’t need a kitchen. I have one. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do for the next 14 thousand years or so that I will probably spend renting.

Anyway, sometimes, when no one’s looking, I whisper “On. And on. And Ariston.” to myself, but I’ve never bought a washing machine from them. And now, on principle, out of sheer annoyance, I will never, ever, EVER buy anything from Magnet, no matter how cheap/pretty/life-affirming it is or how much ‘potential’ it will help me fulfil.

Writer Vs Children: where to write?

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The sun has arrived, sort of, on the streets of south west London and that means one thing: the arrival of the tiny people, or ch-ii-l-deeer-ren. I’m not sure if they hibernate in the winter or something, but Easter always seems to mark their awakening and subsequent release into the world. Every coffee shop, bookshop and, to the dismay of many a hardened drinker, pub, is suddenly teeming with them.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I hate children, I used to be one, of course. And last week I met my friend’s new baby. It was small and baby-like which I took, in my limited experience of such things, as a good sign. She had fingers and a head, all the things you’d expect from a human. Unfortunately however, being recently unemployed, or as I like to call it, ‘freelance’, most of these seasonal baby-haunts also happen to be where I like to write.

All four of my local libraries host Mother and Baby groups during the day. In my local coffee shop (of a brand I’m too much of an Emergent Service Worker to admit visiting), there are often more little’uns than big’uns, too. It’s micro chaos. When I’m weeping over the Story That Will Not Be Written, I want to look forlorn and tortured in peace. My artistic misery looses it’s cool when set to a backing track of Wind the Bobbin Up. So where’s a girl supposed to write?

D.H Lawrence preferred to write under a tree, but, where I live at least, it’s a bit dog poo-ey for that. Virginia Woolf, of course, wrote that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own’ to write, but today’s London writer would be lucky to have just one of those. Everyone from Herman Melville to George Eliot chose the reading room of the British Library and I’ve considered it, but it requires so much paperwork. I’ve heard trains are a popular place to write and my budget could just about stretch to a day on the Circle Line, but at this time of year it’s packed to the handlebars with kids on school trips.

Writing at home can prove tricky too. As I type this, the small person upstairs is tooting out something similar to the hippo dance from Fantasia (hello mother, hello father...) on the clarinet. The urge to fashion a tutu out of old pillow cases and pirouette across the living room is making it somewhat difficult to concentrate.

However, psychologists say that for roles to be internalised, they need to be observed in public. That means that if I don’t drag myself to a coffee shop and sit brooding over a chai latte, I’ll never feel like a writer. So I’ll ride out the cute, fluffy-hatted plague, and come the rain and the winter that coffee shop will be all mine.

SPRING IS HERE

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SPRING IS HERE. It might not look like spring. The air is still bitter and aroma-less, the birds that frolicked a few weeks ago have swiftly buggered off again and everyone’s whinging about the snow. So, the weather’s glum and with the economy set to decline even further because of it, us Brits are even glummer, but spring has definitely landed. How do I know? Because a few weeks ago, I lost my job. My home has just been sold too, our landlord needs the money and our close friends have just had a baby. Everything’s changing, even without the warmer days we just know it’s time to clean the porch or grow that fringe out.

A poem about the Wandle – Rudyard Kipling

Rubbish in the River Wandle

The Moon of Other Days

Rudyard Kipling

Beneath the deep veranda’s shade,
When bats begin to fly,
I sit me down and watch — alas! —
Another evening die.
Blood-red behind the sere ferash
She rises through the haze.
Sainted Diana! can that be
The Moon of Other Days?
 
Ah! shade of little Kitty Smith,
Sweet Saint of Kensington!
Say, was it ever thus at Home
The Moon of August shone,
When arm in arm we wandered long
Through Putney’s evening haze,
And Hammersmith was Heaven beneath
The moon of Other Days?
 
But Wandle’s stream is Sutlej now,
And Putney’s evening haze
The dust that half a hundered kine
Before my window raise.
Unkempt, unclean, athwart the mist
The seething city looms,
In place of Putney’s golden gorse
The sickly babul blooms.
 
Glare down, old Hecate, through the dust,
And bid the pie-dog yell,
Draw from the drain its typhoid-term,
From each bazaar its smell;
Yea, suck the fever from the tank
And sap my strength therewith:
Thank Heaven, you show a smiling face
To little Kitty Smith!
 

Ok, so it’s not directly about the River Wandle, but it does mention it and with a river this small, that’s enough for me. The poem seems to be about missing south west/westLondon (I don’t blame him) and a friend, but I’m not totally sure and can’t find much about it as it’s not a famous piece. If you know more, please, please let me know.

The London Perambulator – Nick Papadimitriou

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I was recently introduced to the work of Nick Papadimitriou by fellow MA student, Rachel Andrews (Thanks Rachel!) and it has blown my tiny mind. After decades spent researching and documenting London’s topography for, among others, Will Self, he’s put together a book, Scarp (great review by radio producer Tim Dee). It tells the story of the landscape surrounding his home in Child’s Hill, north London, through a mixture of memoir, nature writing and social history offering an account of a life lived on the edge lands, geographically and existentially.

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After battling a drug addiction, he took to walking and over the last thirty years he’s kept records of everything from the progress of building works to roads, animal behaviour, sewage systems, dead things and even the weather. He calls his work ‘Deep Topology’. The London Perambulator is a documentary about him, he’s a little eccentric, but absolutely fascinating. It features some words from an impressive list of friends too, including psychogeographers Will Self and Ian Sinclair as well as, bizarrely, Russell Brand (he just gets everywhere).

If you’re interested in London, non-fiction or just interesting characters, it’s well worth a watch. I can’t wait to read his book.

We’re cleaning up the Wandle

Wandle clean up

There’s a certain romance to the River Wandle. Most of it’s hidden behind walls or pushed underground in concrete tunnels, the bits we do see are small and often littered with Lucozade bottles and broken washing machines. But despite our best efforts to hide it, dirty its waters and forget it even, it just keeps on flowing.

It’s funny how we treat nature in London. We seem to bully it, as though giving it an occasional kicking will somehow make it go away. I don’t think Londoners hate nature, I just think, for the most part, we fear it. In a fast moving city, we like our landscape to be straight forward and simple to understand.

The Wandle was once famed for brown trout fishing attracting, amongst others, Admiral Nelson to its waters. After a chemical spill a few years ago destroyed what was left of the natural population, the trout have recently been reintroduced. The water is so clear now that, despite the odd bit of crap, it has become a crucial reserve for the endangered London eel (European variety, not jellied). There’s even a nature reserve up towards Carshalton, the wonderfully named Wilderness Island.

In the 19th Century the Wandle became the most industrialised river in the world for its size, attracting textiles mills from William Morris, of wallpaper fame, and Liberty, of expensive fancy pants fame. There is even a theory that The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot – who lived in Holly Lodge in Southfields after she fell out with her family over a relationship with a married man – was set on her waters.

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Not my best shot but who knows, perhaps waders will be my new look for s/s ’13

The Wandle Trust organise a river clean up on the second Sunday of every month, anyone can volunteer. There are two jobs: picking through the river for rubbish, which means you get to wear waders, and collecting said rubbish, which means you get to play about with a wheelbarrow. I opted for waders on what turned out to be just about the coldest day of the month. Needless to say, I was in dire need of a cup of tea after a few hours getting absolutely soaked (must wear waterproofs under waders).

I can’t help but think that if the river was a single living, breathing entity, that all the rubbish we throw into it would somehow be feeding it. Perhaps one day, it will rise against us, taking strength from what we always thought was waste and force us to become its fleshy slaves.