Race for Rhetoric – Kicking the Motherf*** S** out of Cancer

I’m doing the race for life tonight. I’m quite excited; it will be my first proper 5k, at least the first one where I get to wear a number. Over the last year I have started running, and got to the point where I enjoy it. I’m painfully slow, but I can do it. Learning to run and competing in races has taught me not to compare myself with other people and its improved my mental and physical health. I like the fact that race for life will be women only, and that it will be at night.

What I don’t really like is the rhetoric that seems to accompany Cancer Research’s publicity for the race. Currently, their strategy seems to be to personify Cancer. ‘Let’s show Cancer who’s boss’, ‘Cancer doesn’t want you to give us money, so why not give us some money just to annoy Cancer.’Cancer has been saying nasty things about you behind your back so let’s go and stick a toothpick in Cancer’s eye’ and so on.

Ok, so I exaggerate somewhat, but it is indicative of their messaging. Cancer Research really want us to hate on cancer, and I presume they think it’s a good motivating tool: but I can’t help finding it off-putting.

Now, like most people I don’t like Cancer. In-fact, I just lost my amazing Grandma to the disease, a fact I am still devastated about (running has also helped with grief, I have found). Joyce wasn’t sick for very long, a water infection which didn’t clear lead to a month in hospital, a few weeks in Pontefract Hospice and that was it. She didn’t fight cancer, there was no battle to be had. I resent the fact that Cancer denied my Grandma at least 10 years of life she could have had (she was only 77). Despite this loss, I still can’t bring myself to hate cancer in the way Cancer Research seem to want me to.

Cancer is just the multiplication and mutation of cells. Cancer comes from within us; helped along by external factors, lifestyle and environmental causes, yes; but Cancer is fundamentally of us. Wanting to attack it in such a malicious way feels too much like wanting to attack part of ourselves. By wanting to defeat cancer, we are setting ourself up for an un-winnable battle. I mean, we all have to die of something right? Defeating cancer will not give the human race immortality I don’t think. Obviously, it is fantastic that people can and do regularly beat cancer, it would be brilliant if every-one could do that; but it’s a hard  thing to imagine. 

Cancer Research’s ‘battle’ rhetoric is frustrating for those of us for whom the experience of Cancer was never any kind of battle, just a short story of a body giving in. In my Grandma’s case, it would have been very unlikely for her to spot the cancer earlier on. There was a water infection a few months ago, and a couple of back-aches. Even had those warning signs lead to an earlier diagnosis, I don’t think the eventual outcome would have been all that different. It could even have been worse, Grandma was only once in unbearable pain and it was alleviated very quickly. Going through lots of invasive treatment only to face the same outcome could have been more painful and difficult.

Yes, I wish she hadn’t had cancer, yes I wish she could have recovered. I wish she was still here to read this blog post, of course I do. But even with all this I can’t hate Cancer. Joyce was very young in her outlook, she tweeted (yup) on her 76th birthday that she still felt 26 (the same age as I was at the time). Grandma would have hated to get old and frail or to lose her mental faculties, cancer enabled her to bow out before that ever had to happen. I wish it hadn’t, in so far that I wish no one I love had to die ever, but given that is unrealistic, not everything about my Grandma’s Cancer was bad.

When I run, it won’t be to hate on cancer, but to celebrate life and health while I have it. I will be running for my Grandma, and I’m sure she’d be happy that we were carrying on and doing things that made us feel better and more healthy.


Me and my Grandma, don’t be fooled by the shorts – I was a total sloth of a child. 

Post Script
When I found out that Grandma was dying, I went on the internet and read everything I could find about palliative care and death. At first I found this internet research comforting, then I realised that this was exactly what my Grandma had done when she found out that her Great Grandchild Elliette had Cystic Fibrosis. Joyce spent a lot of time  reading about CF and tweeting at other families with the condition : which is why I set up this memorial page as it was something she cared about whilst she was alive. If you want to give some money you can find the link below, many thanks   


Arts Emergency Service is fantastic, but it’s after University where lack of privilege really bites.

I recently joined Arts Emergency Service’s alternative old boys network, mostly out of support for the project; I don’t really think I am a decent enough ‘connection’ to really help many people; but I do have a cool job, which I like. It’s not an arts job, though I do have an ‘arts’ subject degree.

I like the concept of mentoring young people unlikely to access higher education or take arts degrees. I don’t think art should be reserved for the privileged few, and it really rankles how art is increasingly the pursuit of those with money. I am 27, the majority of my school friends went to university; undeterred by the £1,200 year tuition fees (which now seem like a bargain.) Many of my friends were, like myself, the first in our families to receive tertiary education.  Going to university at all felt like an achievement, but also something we were obviously going to do. Arts being ‘mickey mouse’ never crossed our minds (although, I didn’t study media for that reason, so perhaps it did).  I will admit that, relative to some of the other people in my poor northern hometown, my group of friends had some financial advantages. I often joke that ‘me dad, worked reet hard down’t graphic design factory’.  Still, we were at best lower middle class, we were told ‘go to university, but you better get a job to support yourself when you’re there’.

For us, it wasn’t getting in to University which was a problem, but the reality of life there, and the aftermath. Juggling your degree with a part time job (and the necessary relaxation time needed to get over your part time job) doesn’t make for high marks, or leave a great deal of time for extracurricular activities and connection making. There are also other factors, like the fact that humans tend to make friends with other humans who are similar to themselves.  Upper middle class and well-connected people are unlikely to be the sort of people you are naturally going to ‘gel’ with if you are from a northern mining town.  Personally, I am better at that now, and I don’t think all rich people are twats (just most of them, amirite?) but when I started university I felt out of place more or less everywhere except the indie disco with other drunk losers.

Nowadays I live with an artist, a proper artist who studied animation back in the very early 00s. The son of a joiner, he showed artistic promise early on and was eventually accepted to Edinburgh College of Art.  His success there was muted; he failed to hand in a finished final project leading to a poor grade.  A lot of the reason for this lies with an undiagnosed mental health condition, and the fact that he could not afford a computer with the relevant software for animation. This meant he was dependent on lab computers, which were always busy, and he was too shy to ask people to move.

10 years on, he is on the work programme – still making art, still applying for bursaries, still battling mental health issues and writing this sort of thing on his tumblr.

‘Just spent another £8 on pens, what with some of my newest ones not showing up on my scanner. I CANNOT AFFORD THE ART LIFE, which further compounds the fact that a lot of artists that ‘make it’ are already independently wealthy as you fucking HAVE TO BE unless you just want to use mud and old copies of The Metro. 

I’ll never be able to afford oils and canvas, that’s for fucking sure. I remember being annoyed at art college when people were selling their oil paintings for, like, £2000 a pop. How was I supposed to sell the shitty animation I’d made about a gentleman crab? I could barely even afford the photocopier paper it was drawn on with cheapo pencils, yet these folks had wall-sized canvas and as much oil paints as they needed to layer it on thick for neato textures!’

For me this is a key part of it, connections are all well and good – but most of the time, cold hard cash and the realities of life provide the real barrier, whether you get good work experience or not. For the un-privileged majority University is hard, as is life afterward. Being ‘inspired’ to go to University and study arts is a great starting point, but it is so easy to just drop off and fail as the result of the harsh economic reality of life.  In the past it would have been possible to create art and subsist on the dole, and plenty of art and music of the 80s and 90s was created this way. I quote enjoyed this tweet by Luke Haines (of wonderfully wanky britpop band The Auteurs).

‘Tory cunt nonsense about dole. Signed on for 5 glorious years. Dole = Rock n Roll. Awlright.’  (see also Wham Rap for more of this sort of thing)

Being able to make art and be on the dole is increasingly, a struggle (what with all humiliating pointless courses and unpaid labour expected of you). Another struggle is getting a job and doing art on the side, (which you may believe is more worthy?).  Basic skill level jobs, which pay enough for you to live and have enough energy to be creative, are pretty much non-existent.  In the olden days, you could maybe get a part time job and top it up with working tax credits, but that has been restricted to 30 hours a week or more of work now, most part time shop work will only give you 15 hours per week. Full time minimum wage is not enough to live without struggling to get by, never-mind having energy and financial resources to make art.

Given everything that’s going on in the world, the inability of upper working class people to have a creative platform feels quite a minor concern, and in many ways it is.  I do think it is despicable that the upper classes control discourse in this country, its important for art and music to fight that, which is impossible if the only people who can make art are upper middle class. I’m glad that Arts Emergency Service are taking steps to support young people into the business, but it is going to take a lot of cold hard cash, and some real changes to society to deal with this problem for all those locked out of art by poverty.  We all have to start somewhere though, and HE access with mentoring and network building is a good jumping off point.

Feminism Fasting and Forums

Hypocrisy is part and parcel of being a feminist, and ‘left-wing’ more generally. If you don’t want to challenge injustices and live in a completely changed world, if all you want is the current misogynistic status quo avoiding hypocrisy is rather straightforward. This goes with body positivity, and being ‘fat positive’. This is something I had embraced over the last year – riots not diets, all the radical fat, health at every size stuff. I have never been into dieting anyway so choosing between riots and diets has been about as difficult as choosing between cake and death. I have found following HAES blogs a good step towards being happy with my body enough too out running in public, and have probably gotten much more exercise since i became interested in anything fat positive.

So that’s the background. And then I started doing 5.2 and hating myself a little bit for submitting to the diet industry (though 5.2 doesn’t involve buying anything extra, and if anything saves me money). I have never done a diet before, but this one appealed as I enjoy giving up stuff for short periods to test my will-power (case in point, right now I am having a month off Facebook), and it seemed easy and cheap. I recognised immediately that following the fast diet, and being against diets is quite a hypocrisy – even if I claim not to care whether I lose weight. I am the sort of person who could just eat and eat and eat, and I frequently do with gusto. 5.2 seemed like a good way of trying to limit the damage my natural appetite would probably do to my body.

Still, I felt – and still do feel, uneasy about it. I started reading the 5.2 forums, and decided to document some of my internal conflicts between fat positivity and fasting. I didn’t want to do this on my other blogs because I find it really boring when people talk about diets. I hate listening to people talk about their diet and what they eat, and didn’t want to become a diet bore. So I set up an anonymous page on the 5.2 forum thinking, ‘hey, I will write about it here. These people are all fasters who are choosing to read posts by diet bores, so that’s their lookout’. I called my ‘personal journey’ riots not diets, feminism and fasting. I dropped ‘the f bomb’, which turned out to be a mistake. less than 2 days later my thread had been taken down for being too political.

It started out ok, lots of people being supportive and saying things like ‘I’m a feminist!” and ‘I hate the diet industry too’.  There were also a few people saying that you can’t be fat and healthy, which I think is offensive nonsense  – but I didn’t respond very harshly to people posting there, because it wasn’t exactly the sort of place where that kind of opinion is commonplace.  I didn’t really expect people to agree with me, and in that context I felt it didn’t matter too much.

Until someone said something along the lines of , ‘it’s ok to be fat if you want to die alone – otherwise, its selfish to be overweight because you will bring grief to your family’. Yup, if you are fat, you are going to die, and not only will that be your fault, all the sadness you will cause by selfishly having people love you, is also your fault. I had to respond to that, and did – probably with some angry sarcasm (enabled by my anonymity. Being anonymous on the internet is a bad thing – it brought out some of my meaner side and I was only anonymous for about 2 days!). It descended, as forums do, into a massive row – which was then taken down by moderators. I can understand why they did that, there was some vicious stuff on there.

Anyway – I was told that my ‘personal journey’ posts where I pondered the inter-relation between feminism, fat positivity and fasting were inappropriate for a diet forum, because they were too ‘political’. Even though it was in essence, a blog of my own that I was writing. This is not a whiny post about free speech because this example isn’t particularly important, and it is a moderated forum and they had a right to close down arguments before they start. It was just a bit of everyday silencing. Turns out, mention feminism, and if people act like jerks – it is your fault for dropping the F bomb.

ImageEither that,or everyone was just being mean because they were really hungry.

You can go your own way…

So,  I read this thing today by/about Bill Watterson. It is about following your own creative path, and the perils and rewards of such a journey. It’s quite similar to the Neil Gaiman graduation talk which has been doing the rounds recently too. Where I appreciate the work of these creative men (well, Bill Watterson anyway, Gaiman I remain to be convinced about), its pretty hard to get behind their inspirational words of wisdom, what with them being so irrelevant if you are poor.

There is a line in the Bill Watterson piece about how ‘people who take undemanding jobs because they afford them time to do other things are considered a flake’.  If only! There are so few jobs at the moment that pay well enough to be both undemanding and give you time to do other things.

So the option may be – work all hours to be able to afford to live (and be to knackered to do anything), or go on job-seekers and pretend to look for work while you make art instead. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people doing that; infact, I think its better for society than a number of other things people do to earn money (if only buy to let landlords would pack it in and just sit at home doodling). It’s not really acceptable to say ‘I am on jobseekers so I can make art’. That is not considered ok. Even people who make inspirational internet memes would probably think you were somehow milking the system.

There are of course, a number of class and gender issues in the background there too.  I think when we talk about poor artists we’re saying its ok to be poor, but not too poor – not the bad kind of poor. The poor you have chosen, not the poverty you need to escape.

So that’s why I don’t like these ‘inspirational’ cartoons. They do make me feel better about my life of working part time, and doing other things – however, they also reek of class privilege.

Sightseers and the accidental feminism that happens when women write stuff


******Beware SPOILERS, complete spoilers including the ending. If you really want to see this, please stop reading, this blog post WILL spoil the film******

****Addition – TWs for abusive relationships/domestic abuse in this post and also the film which you might want to consider before seeing*******

Last week I saw Sightseers, a Nira Park produced horror comedy written by and starring Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (who you may have seen woefully underused in Garth Marhengi’s dark place).  I really enjoyed it, and as the credits rolled I was pleased to note the number of female names in the writer/producer credits. Pleased, and not really surpirsed.  Sightseers struck me as, if not a feminist movie per se, certainly one that shouldn’t leave feminist cinema-goers pulling there hair out. I think this is quite an acheivement for a film with a heterosexual couple serial killer narrative. Dubbed ‘Mike Leigh’s Natural Born Killers’, it is very funny and oddly touching, if you haven’t seen it please stop reading this blog now and go see it.

Sightseers follows a pair of misfits embarking upon a caravan holiday to Yorkshire. The couple fulfill various stereotypes about people who take caravan holidays whilst managing to remain fully formed characters. Chris and Tina are enthusiastic about tram museums and dingly dells. They are self righteous about politeness and litter dropping at sights of historical interest. Chris is anally retentive, with a sense of self entitlement and a book on the go – he could be an archetype folksy hipster, if he had a better developed sense of irony and a more middle class background.

Tina is a more complex character, she is trapped at home with her melodramatic needy mum; for Tina, Chris represents excitement and getting away, sexuality and escape. She is far from the passive victim of the piece, and shows a great deal of agency when faced with Chris’s controlling tendencies. Toward the beginning of her film Chris tells Tina that she is ‘his muse’, Tina then tries to actively inspire Chris; failing to understand that a muse is primarly a passive role, undermining the concept of a ‘muse’. Tina is also active in pursuing sexual encounters and at one point is shown masturbating after being rejected sexually ( her masturbation is not depicted as either sexy or gross FEMINIST SEX POINTS!)

On the first day of the holiday Chris ‘accidentally’ runs over an obnoxious man, with a glint in his eye which hints at the malevolence to come. As the film progresses he murders several more equally obnoxious people including a succesful middle class twit, and a wealthy man he perceives as bullying Tina. Chris only ever kills other men, which is important in a film where murderer is portrayed as comic. At no point are the audience encouraged to laugh at mens violence against women.
Chris takes masculine entitlement to its logical conclusion, and expresses repressed violence through murder. When Tina finds out she is initially horrified, but looks to justify Chris’s behaviour (after-all homicide really reduces carbon emissions). After some deliberation she joins in with Chris. She murders a woman she perceives as a sexual threat, a stranger, and eventually someone Chris sees as a friend. By killing at random, Tina shines a light on the hipocrisy of Chris’s moral code. To him, her murders are without justification. Her actions threaten his, as they show his violence up as equally unjustifiable. She also displays her own agency and initiative, which threatens Chris’s male power in the relationship.  Throughout the holiday Chris shows the hallmarks of an abuser, he is controlling and constantly uses opportunities to weild power over Tina. At the start of their relationship Tina was trapped at home, a misfit, to whom Chris was perhaps attracted because she seemed weak in both confidence and intellect. When they go shopping Chris decides what Tina should wear. As soon as Tina shows agency and initiative he rejects her, and even blames her for his crimes He shows what I would say were  warning signs  for domestic abuse, but in this case he choses to abuse his power through murder rather than intimate partner violence within the relationship.
What makes this film feminist in my mind,  is the fact that we are always, as an audience, on Tina’s side – right up until the ending(STOP READING THIS IS REALLY A SPOILER, NO JOKE. ) where the couple are about to make their glorious suicidal leap from a viaduct after burning their caravan. Tina lets go of Chris’s hand at the vital moment and he falls to his death as she smiles to camera. In that moment she undermines his power permenantly, rejecting his controlling tendancies. Chris feels that through murder he is on some sort of glorious mission, by letting him fall alone to his death Tina undermines this mission by robbing him of a partner in crime. Though she doesn’t kill him, she refuses to die with him and allow her legacy to be tied up with his. By leaving him isolated and walking away it is Tina who ends the movie fully empowered.
Oh also, it passed the Bechdel test too.

And it’s really funny, this post probably doesn’t get that across, but it is, really funny. Go see it. Sorry if I spoiled it, but I did warn you twice.

A collection of reviews for The F word

The F word were looking for theatre reviewers this year and I thought, why not? A few free tickets for some shows in return for 200 words of my thoughts seemed like a pretty good deal.

First, my review of Still Life which I saw in week 1 of the festival.

Still Life is a one woman performance of the life of Henrietta Moraes, whose occupation, according to her obituary in the Observer, was as a ‘bohemian’. The show takes place in ‘The White Space’, a stark white art gallery, evocatively reeking of paint and wood. White performers have the privilege of not being forced to consider their ethnicity; however there was something about this staging which highlighted the white bourgeois nature of the art world.

The show itself was engrossing and innovative; the audience are given paper and pencils and invited to ‘draw as much or as little as they wish’. Henrietta’s life is superbly performed by Sue MacLaine through a series of expertly-held poses.  The audience become artists, and the interplay between the audience as both audience and artist draws you into Henrietta’s world in a particularly active way. The audience are invited to take the male gaze and re-draw her body, but this time the usually silent model speaks. As a non-artist, there were elements of this show which I found alienating; despite this I found ‘Still Life’ highly engaging and enjoyable.

Henrietta’s story brought to life the sad reality of occupying the ultimately passive role of artist’s muse. I would recommend Still Life, particularly to artists and anyone who enjoys life drawing.

Next The Dead Memory House  which I saw in week 2.

 The Dead Memory House plays twice a day at Summerhall, a ‘site specific promenade play’ which promises to draw you into the lives of Bea, Anne and Sylvia by inviting you into their home.

In actual fact it is impossible to make yourself comfortable. As an audience member in this space you are hyper aware of the fact that you are in someone’s home with a group of strangers. This is unsettling, and adds to the overall feeling of voyeurism and stepping into someone’s life. The set is a pivotal part of The Dead Memory House, and the attention to detail is impressive, faded photographs, overripe bananas add to the sense of looking into someone’s faded past life.

Unfortunately for me the innovation and detail in the characters did not live up to the precise attention to detail of the setting.Anne, Sylvia and Bea are described in the fringe guide as ‘your friends, sisters, aunts – perhaps your enemies’, but in searching for some universal female characters the cast veer dangerously near to feminine stereotypes.  The performances are very strong – The Dead Memory House is definitely an interesting experience, but I wanted to recognise the characters more than I did.

And finally Dragged Up which I saw last week. Regarding gendering of people in this show, I went with their description which stated that ‘men play women, women play men’ if I have mis-gendered anyone please let me know.

Dragged Up is a short, sharp play centred around the performative nature of gender. The central character, ‘Georgie’, is keen to not be male or female, and resents her mother’s interference in her life, particularly her questions about her sexuality and gender. Gender performance is likewise explored though short vignettes of relationships where men play women, and women men.

Though the idea of gender performance is itself an important and meaty topic, Dragged Up fails to explore this in any meaningful way. At times it was hard to tell whether the drag was being played for laughs, and some members of the audience certainly seemed to find cross-dressing intrinsically hilarious. The content was at times muddled; the murder of one character was so unclear I wasn’t sure it had happened until I re-read the play synopsis. Each vignette focused on abusive relationships, which were in real danger of being trivialised as part of ‘an entertaining evening of frivolities’. Dragged Up had some good ideas behind it and featured strong performances, but was sadly neither entertaining nor interesting enough.

A quick review of Polisse

TW  – Polisse is about childhood abuse, I don’t go into detail but I do mention it.

Going to the cinema alone is one of my favourite things to do, there is no social pressure to discuss the film afterward, no need to express a fully formed opinion when you haven’t yet digested what it is you have just seen. Sometimes though, films viewed alone leave you with an unresolved desire to discuss the movie; Polisse is one such movie.


Polisse is a French Police drama centred around a child protection unit in Paris. The film was apparently based on actual cases (I assume with names changed), with one reviewer dubbing it ‘like watching a whole series of The Wire in 2 hours’.  I don’t think that was an unfair assesment; Polisse captured all the slow burning intensity of The Wire with the same in depth characterisation of an ensemble cast.

Like The Wire, Polisse explores police heirarchy and corruption, as well as the human effects of emotionally and physically demanding work. Spending an hour and a half in the company of the characters was enjoyable; by the end of the movie I  cared about their lives. I really felt like I was watching real people, and every character felt rounded, regardless of how little time they spent on screen.

In general I was impressed with the film, considering the subject matter it was eminently watchable. By depicting child abuse from the perspective of the agencies who pick up the pieces Polisse avoided sensationalising or sexualising chlid abuse. Polisse managed to capture the everyday horror of abuse, it’s social causes, and the toll that this takes on those who have to deal with it. There were instances during the movie that I recoiled in horror at the behaviour of the police officers, as someone who has completed child protection training several times many of the scenes where the police questioned survivors made me cringe. That is not to say that I felt these scenes were inappropriate, I am more than willing to believe that Paris CPU do not always treat survivors with the right respect or care.

In one particular scene officers  break down with laughter at a young girl who had her phone stolen, and gave the theives blowjobs in order to retrieve her handset. I did find this scene problematic as it felt as though it was being played for laughs. The audience were encouraged to laugh with the Police despite their inappropriate behaviour, something I found unsettling.

If I had any other reservations it would be that Polisse perhaps tries to fit in too much drama, and at times became a bit ‘soapy’. The ending in particular was fairly devastating, and could have used further exploration and background. This being said, I do think Polisse is an impressive film, definately worth watching – particularly if you are wondering whether or not to commit yourself to watching over 50 hours of The Wire. It also probably passed the Bechdel test, though I didn’t check – I would give this film credit for its depiction of female characters.