Part 129: Keeping Your Name

creepy

When I was a small girl, dressed in moss-green corduroy dungarees, with plaited blonde pigtails (which I had to braid all by myself because my mother was not capable of fashioning hair into anything other than a scrappy ponytail), I loved fairy tales. There was nothing I enjoyed more than having morality served up in narrative form – so that I could digest it whole – accompanied by slightly sinister illustrations, to hammer home the message, whatever it was, and usually it was don’t lie or cheat, work hard, never trust spinsters, (unless they have wings and a wand), remember that your Daddy loves you and will do all he can to protect you (unless he marries a controlling bitch step-mother type, in which case, good luck) and, if all else fails, don’t freak out – because you can just fall asleep and in a hundred years or so there’ll be a man along to save the day.

And the morals you learned from fairy tales were weird, when you thought about it – because in fairy tales, you had to wait around for a man before anything was sorted. In my real life, however, it was women who got things done. My mother was a woman and she cooked and took us to school and went to work and kept the household ticking over while my Dad was out doing unspecified masculine things at Crown and Manor Boys Club. My Nan was a woman and she worked several jobs and did everything on her own because her husband had died before she was thirty and there was no-one else to do it. The head teacher at my primary school was a woman. The prime minister was a woman, and, although no-one said a good word about her in my house, you couldn’t deny that she got shit done, and had the courage of her convictions to boot.

I have a vivid memory of reading a line in Dodie Smith’s The One Hundred and One Dalmations where the prime minister is described as a ‘he’ and balking.

‘But Mum!’ I said, outraged, ‘the prime minister is a woman.’

‘Not usually, Kate. It’s usually a man.’

I was horrified. Whose doing was this? Who had allowed the men to be in charge of things? Men were there for decoration, surely – or annoyance, or to poke at broken electrical appliances with screwdrivers and then give up and buy a new one.

Here are some of the men I knew as a child: my uncle Paul, who sometimes had too much to drink and stripped naked at the Christmas dinner table; the school keeper, who lived in a ramshackle little cottage on the school grounds and who moved so slowly that you sometimes heard his wife call him an imbecile to his face; this bloke called Martin who my Dad played cricket with and who put my new kitten inside his mouth – the whole kitten, right inside – when he was invited over one time, for a quiet night in.

But still, I found it hard to entirely dismiss the messages I was receiving via folklore and literature, which is why I was petrified of old women – and why, against all my better instincts, I trusted my father to take me through the haunted house at Alton Towers, in the belief he would protect me from the terrifying plaster moulds of haggard, menacing witches, rather than dangle me gleefully in front of them.

And, indeed, some of the messages from fairy tales are worth absorbing. Such as the one about how names are important, for instance. In Rumpelstiltskin, the little goblin’s name was the source of his power and giving it away, in a fit of self-satisfied jubilation, led to an inevitable catastrophe – he was no longer entitled to the Queen’s baby, and his foot was wedged into the floor (possibly for eternity, I don’t quite remember).

I never told strangers my name, even when I was seventeen and trying to pull them in nightclubs. Your name was who you were, an intimate fact that you could choose to make public: your name was the form of the shape of yourself in words; the thing that mutual acquaintances might use to call you forth, as an imagery, when you weren’t there.

So as a child it was upsetting to me that women – strong important women like my mum and my nan and the prime minister – changed their names after the event of marriage. They just gave up the form of who they were, to become someone new, someone more like the man they’d married, and less like the person they had to face everyday in the mirror, even when they’d done terrible things, or were heartbroken and covered in acne and quite, quite sure that they’d made all the worst life choices. My mum and my nan and the other newly-named women had to look in the mirror and, underneath it all, that familiar, comforting shape of themselves no longer remained, as it otherwise might have, permanent, solid, unchanging.

And I know, now that I’m all grown up (lol), that you don’t have to change your name when you get married. Although an alarming number of people do choose to. Which is fair enough, I suppose, if that makes them happy – even if it does cause me a certain amount of bafflement. But staying single, of course (unless you’re undergoing some massive identity crisis or another), means you don’t have to make any name-altering decisions at all. Which is one more reason to recommend it.

*The sinister image that accompanies this post is “Green Witch Like Creature In Swamp” by Victor Habbick, from, as ever freedigitalphotos.net.

Mediations on Summer (1)

Scented flower

Outside, in the garden, there are delicious grasses and wildflowers: bluebells with rich purple nectar, daisies dripping neon pollen, lush green ferns – and yet, as soon as I open the back door, bees swarm inside the house and smash themselves against the windows, trying to escape again.

I’m starting to think they’re not very bright.

Part 128: Dance Moms

A couple of months ago, after five long years of hard graft at the cerebral coalface – learning how to teach with a hangover (just jokes any employers reading) and use words such as ‘auto-ethnography’, ‘phenomenology’ and ‘transmediality’ with a straight face – I got my doctorate.

Since that momentous event I have mainly been getting manicures and sitting on my parents’ sofa eating crisps and watching Dance Moms. I figure that since I am now in the world’s top most educated one percentile I no longer need to prove my intellectual firepower by watching University Challenge, documentaries about D-Day and Flog It!

In case you have been living in a remote cave, or a sealed box or a luddite commune and are yet to engage with this cultural phenomenon, Dance Moms is the brilliant American docu-series about an overweight dance instructor called Abby Lee Miller and her elite competition team. But primarily, it is about the dancers’ crazy Mommas. Each week, we watch as Abby Lee – whose chins the make-up artists contour ever more expertly as the series progress – choreographs conceptually baffling routines for her pre-teens (often involving a hard-hitting ‘message’ or serving as a moralistic rumination on the state of contemporary life, such as, for example, the national award-winning ‘Last Text’, in which the eleven-year old dancers represent the dangers of texting while driving in a lyrical routine where they all die in a horrific car accident), while the mothers look on from a glass ‘observation mezzanine’, where they make underhand, bitchy comments about each-others’ children and start arguments, which occasionally escalate into physical violence.

I’m obsessed.

Of course, part of the attraction of Dance Moms is that it allows me to vicariously re-live my childhood dancing dreams. Between the ages of five and eleven, I was into dance. Not out of any genuine love for the medium, nor any real desire to pursue the discipline in a professional capacity – I occasionally watched Top of the Pops and even at that tender, pre-adolescent stage I felt mostly contempt for the lythe, vapid FE performing arts college drop-outs who were reduced to fulfilling their ambitions of success in the ‘cultural industries’ via public displays of mediocrity in the form of free-styling as backing dancers for Chesney Hawkes. No. I wanted to be a dancer for vague ethereal reasons to do with Degas paintings, which I knew about because my Nan once brought me a postcard print of ‘The Rehearsal’, and the tiny plastic ballerina inside my jewellery box, who performed a ceaseless pirouette to the tune of ‘Swan Lake’.

Anyway.

I did go to dance classes. But my Mum was not the type of woman who was going to find fulfilment by abetting her daughter’s participation in conventional, feminine pastimes. Indeed, I can pinpoint the moment of my dancing downfall to the specific occasion of my first recital, for which my mother failed to fashion a tutu from stiff yellow tulle, as the mothers had been requested to do, resulting in my appearing on stage dressed in a purple leotard with two strips of creamy crepe paper sown hastily to the waist. At the same recital, I watched some older girls perform the bedroom scene from Grease and I quickly abandoned the fledging ethereal dance ambitions I’d been harbouring in exchange for more satisfying aspirations, on which my mother’s poor home-ec skills would have little impact – such as drinking dessert wine from the bottle, making perfect smoke rings using a fag and my mouth and sneaking out the bathroom window with strong-backed boys who might get me pregnant.

This will never happen to Maddie, whose mother has never forgotten to make her costume and who has achieved my vague dance ambitions by appearing as an alcoholic nymph in a blonde wig in that new Sia video.

Not that I hold a grudge against my mother for her terrible costume-making in the late 80s. She’s done me a favour, role-model wise. Those Dance Mom’s embody everything there is to loathe about the traditions of marriage and motherhood. They are (with the exception of Dr Holly) stupid, bitter, narrow-minded and vacuously passionate about trivial matters.

But I keep watching because I love everything about Abby Lee. I love her rasping voice and her piercing eyes and her blatant favouritism. I love her button nose and her delicate wrists and her scarlet talons. I love her honesty and her cruelty towards the mothers and, occasionally, their children. I love how she has a fat fluffy little Bichon Frise called Broadway Baby who dies and is stuffed by an expert taxidermist. I love how she is rich beyond her wildest dreams, simply because she works hard and is amazing at something she loves. Most especially I love that she’s single. That she’s achieved every thing in her life without a man, and doesn’t feel any less fabulous because of it.

If you think about it carefully, by watching series one to three back-to-back and hardly sleeping, Abby Lee is the greatest feminist icon of our time. Okay, unlike Germian Greer, she probably doesn’t get much sex – but she certainly proves that ain’t nobody got time for sex when they’re fabulous. Which is a thing us single people would do well to bear in mind, on lonely summer nights, when we’re eating crisps alone in front of our parents’ telly, trying very hard not to think about the future.

Sexpert

sexpert

Hola Blogfans!

It’s the middle of the day. I’m in my most sexual nightwear (ancient striped hot pants, vest-top with snot on it). The curtains are closed. And all is good with the world – for I have been named number five in a list of the UK’s most influential sex bloggers! I’m an official sexpert. Who’d a thought it? (Certainly not me, since, as I’ve definitely mentioned, sex in my life is less than frequent and totally satisfying. BUT STILL! )

If you are as elated by the news of my national influence as I am, then you can view the list here, where you will also find nine other bloggers, who are no doubt getting a lot more action than I am.

Ciao for now.

x

*Image is “Sexy Target” by Salvatore Vuono at freedigitalphotos.net.