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Friday 30 November 2012

Moments of Oops (Part 367,0000)

We live in an old Victorian house that has a lovely little shop on the ground floor, below our converted flat. The fun part about our area is that its built on clay, so when you get a lot of rain, which the UK has had for the past couple of weeks, everything gets waterlogged.

This includes our front door, which I'm personally convinced has demonic powers and hates me. I can't open it, because it swells shut. I can only close it by repeatedly slamming it, and during very rainy periods, I can't get it closed enough to lock it from the outside without repeated screaming, rude words, and periodic chanting.

About a month ago my cousin got tired of rescuing me from the Wooden Door of Evil, (probably brought about the day when I stubbornly refused to shout for help getting ye Portal of Darkness open. So I planted my feet on the wall next to the door and pulled. I moved backwards. The door didn't budge. She peered around the corner at the moment I was air-born. Let's just say the landing was undignified, shall we, and leave it at that.) and fixed a large handle to the inside of the door. It worked great for about a week, and then the rain started again.

By Tuesday, I had my own Door Opening Ceremony:

1) Growl at door
2) Insert key
3) Turn key, whilst either (a) kicking bottom of door hard enough to loosen it or (b) shoulder charge door very hard to get it open.

Tuesday night, I was carrying an extra bag, and it was raining. I choose option (b).

What I didn't know, because my cousin had forgotten to text me (and yes, this was pointed out to her. Repeatedly.), was that Chris from the shop had come in to get something that morning, and spent twenty minutes doing his own version the 'Close, you bloody thing' dance.

Chris being a friend, and an absolute genius at handy work, popped back in the afternoon and fixed the door.

It now opens like it's on oil-slicked ball-bearings. Smooth as glass.

Unfortunately when you choose option (b) on the door now, (and you're me) the Door Opening Ceremony has the following additions to the program:

4) Make anticipatory "Oof" noise as your shoulder connects with door. Note: To get into this position requires you to be standing on the door step. Your entire body weight is aimed at the door.
5) Barrel through door, slightly breaching the sound barrier. "Oof" turns into something like "OooooooH!"
6) Realise you are heading straight for boxes in hallway containing very expensive and breakable thingies. (No idea what they are. They tinkled, ok?)
7) Somehow change direction in mid-air, and aim for very hard carpeted hallway instead.
8) Realise in mid-air that your hand-bag is still sitting on the doorstep, holding the door open so that the entire commuter train-load of people trudging down the road behind you get their evening entertainment. Beats the hell out of Survivor.
9) Face-plant.
10) Consider staying there for the night.

I finally got up when I realised that nothing was broken, the only real damage done was to my pride (Ha! I write as a part-time job. I ate pride a while ago), and apart from the raging headache I had no side-effects. I do however, need to vacuum that carpet. That didn't taste good at all.

Monday 26 November 2012

Beating up the Common Sense Fairy - again.

This week, the Church of England managed to shock everyone who hadn't realised the institution was run by a bunch of misogynistic dinosaurs by rejecting the idea of allowing women bishops. In other news, apparently Saudi Arabia is now notifying male "guardians" when their women leave the country via a text message alert. It makes you wonder just why certain males are so terrified of acknowledging half the species as capable, functional human beings.

Since I'm lucky enough not to have been born and raised in a society which appears to give females slightly less rights than the average domestic animal, I'm going to concentrate on the first issue. It applies to the second, but since the only way to get someone that hysterically terrified of an empowered woman to listen to reason might require either a major miracle or a medical lobotomy, I'm going to leave that alone right now. It just slaps reason in the face repetitively until it gives up and sulks in the corner.

As for the CoE thing - well, apart from alienating any parishioners with ovaries and a functioning brain cell, as well as good many with testicles and a functioning brain cell - what, exactly, did this achieve?

An institution that begs and cries for support from the public, and beats its breast over waning support happily swapped its comfortable slippers for a pair of good strong boots, and kicked the Common Sense Fairy's teeth down her throat. Well done, there.

To be perfectly honest, the whole thing bores the hell out of me. Why? Because this should no longer be an argument. This should no longer be a debate of any sort for reasoning human beings.

It's the same stupid, condescending reasoning behind designing little pastel pens for us "dewicate wittle flowers", or special needs laptops because we can open the latch without spoiling our manicure - and ooooh, look, a scrap-booking app, because girls like that kind of stuff, right?


It's boring because by now it should be perfectly obvious that females are capable of functioning, and even talking in public without fainting on demand.

It's obvious because if you trust females to be teachers, nurses, doctors, pilots, sports players and journalists, not to mention CoE priests, why do you have an issue with a woman performing any other function on the planet?*

Why was this even a bloody debate/vote to start with? And what, exactly do women need to do to prove their worth as intellectual equals? Go into space? Been done. Play sports traditionally associated with males? Done that. Start their own successful business? Done that too. Run a country? Check. Fight for their country? Yep. Become serial killers? That's been done too.

Defining someones ability by their genitalia makes as much sense as allocating them jobs based on their zodiac sign. Just because some people believe in it, doesn't make it valid. It's about as smart as deciding someones worth based on their religion, race or sexuality, which shouldn't ever be tolerated or condoned.

Unfortunately bias almost always has its roots in fear. Now, I have no idea what the males in the CoE synod are afraid of, and I've never understood the threatened masculinity argument. (Check your pants, sunshine. If you have dangly bits you're probably male, and by definition masculine. It's not going to vanish if you clean a plate. I don't think they make dishwashing liquid that works that well.)

Is it an ego thing? Once again, not sure of the argument here. It's a pretty big planet. If our bodies still fit on it, the egos probably will too. All of them. Girls and boys.

There is no logical argument to exclude women. There is no logical argument for treating a female as a possession instead of a person, or a mentally deficient child that needs to be rewarded with pretty shiny things for dressing up and talking without dribbling down her chin. There is no logical argument for attempting to remove a woman's control over her body, thoughts or emotions. And yet it happens, day after day, all over the world.

Why? No idea. The Common Sense Fairy still has concussion, and couldn't give me an answer on this one.

*Arguing that a woman should know her place will result in me pointing at you and laughing. I know my place. It's anywhere I want to be, on my terms and in my time.

Saturday 17 November 2012

The little mugger that wasn't

So the Weekly Moment of Mortification was a bit different this time around.

I was walking from the tube station to work, and not paying as much attention to my surroundings as I should have. My body was stomping along the pavement, my ears were being treated to some pretty good old Queens of the Stone Age, and my mind was trying to catalogue everything I wanted to do when I got home from the office.

QOTSA gave way to The Killers, and I was absently humming along to it (as you do), when a large gloved hand descended in front of my face. (It's pretty easy for anyone's hand to do this to someone who is smaller than the average twelve year old. Just saying.)

My reaction? Raised back-fist to push the hand away, and pull my other hand round to punch my would-be mugger - who turned out to be our fairly new team-member, looking horrified and making squeaky "Nonononono!" noises. Ahem.

On the bright side, as I pointed out to him once he stopped dancing all over the pavement, I never actually touched him. I never threw the punch either, since I realised who it was almost immediately. (The other bright side would be that as he's over 5'10", and I make 5'3" by the skin of my docs, I'd have to be standing on a box to actually do severe facial damage. He didn't look convinced.)

I apologised for nearly smacking him, and advised him firmly never, ever, to do that again. He just looked confused, because he didn't understand why my first reaction was to get physically defensive. He's a really nice guy, and I didn't have the energy to explain the whole lone female on a street dynamic, because I think this is something I could tell him until I was blue in the face and he still probably wouldn't understand it.  Most nice guys wouldn't. In case any of you read this blog, this is why:

As a female walking alone on a street, you are always aware that you are vulnerable. It's not so bad in daylight, surrounded by people. After dark, unless you are cataclysmically inebriated or utterly stupid, you are hyper-aware of this. And even surrounded by people, you never lose that sense of vulnerability.
(If you really want to understand what this feels like, strap a couple raw steaks to your shirt and wander through any large group of dogs, cats, or carnivorous beastie. I don't recommend wild-life parks for this one though. I'm not trying to say males are like any of these, btw. I'm trying to say this how vulnerability feels. Alternatively, you could walk down your main street naked, which will get you arrested, but might get my point across without someone screaming about me comparing them to a beast.)

So when a very large, very male hand enters into your field of vision unexpectedly, obviously headed for your shoulder or neck, and you are a female walking by yourself, your first response is fear. That's it, in the simplest possible way.

My only concern was not letting that hand land on me; it was moving fast and I'm a small girl. You don't need to punch me to knock me off my feet; an open-handed slap would do just fine.  When you're looking up at a descending limb it's hard to discern the difference between a potential slap and someone waving to get your attention.
Quite a few women would have screamed at the top of their lungs when that hand appeared. (Personally, I prefer saving my breath for running like hell - which would have been the step immediately after delivering that punch I was winding up for.)

The thing is, I don't think that most guys can comprehend the fact that someone they know - a friend, a colleague, a relative - can ever be afraid of them. They might "get it" on a logical level, but when they tap a woman they know on the shoulder and she jumps, or shrieks a little, or steps sideways and raises her arms defensively, their reaction is puzzlement. Because its them, and they know you. Most guys don't go through life knowing that there is a portion of the population who sees them as prey, as easy pickings.
Most women never forget this, because forgetting it will get you hurt or killed.

So guys, here's a bit of advice: if you see a female friend by herself in the street, don't run up behind her and grab her arm or shoulder. Call her name. If she doesn't hear you, walk until you're in front of her, in her field of vision, and get her attention that way. The response is likely to be a lot friendlier.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Why we remember

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I do not remember my maternal grandfather. There are photo's of me being bounced on his knee as a baby, but I'd love to have known him as an adult, or at least a child old enough to have known him.

My grandfather served in World War 2, in the Seaforth Highlanders. He went through Europe and came back home and never set foot in a church again apart from weddings and funerals. For a presbyterian Scot raised in the earlier years of the century, that's huge, and startling. My mom said he would never talk much about the war and what happened, but he'd mentioned seeing a camp - I'm not sure if he was seconded to a separate regiment involved in liberating one, or if he was captured and interred, as a number of the Highlanders were - and what he saw there destroyed his belief in any kind of benevolent god. The war broke his faith, but from what I've been told it couldn't change his basic decency and belief in doing the right thing.

My great uncle on the paternal side was involved in those hellish beach landings in Normandy. He was an absolute character in daily life, and thought nothing of an hour-long walk. He also loved his whiskey and headed up to his local club almost daily. He was a short man, but dynamic - he went through life with an impish twinkle in his eye and the willingness to laugh at almost anything. And at night he'd scream.
I stayed with him the first time I came out to the UK, and hearing those noises was heart-breaking. The first night, I thought someone had gotten into the house and was attacking him. When I pushed open the bedroom door (armed with a poker, of course), he was weeping in his sleep.

I went back to bed and had a little cry myself. In the morning, he asked me if I'd slept all right, and mentioned that he sometimes got "a little restless". He looked horribly embarrassed. I made us both a cup of tea, and lied to him. Slept like a brick, I said, and watched the relief flood his eyes.
Then I visited his daughter and found out what had happened - her dad had suffered nightmares since he came back from the war.
That's one lie I have never regretted, and never will.

Because of men like my grandfather and uncle, Hitler was stopped. Because of people like them, we have the freedom to walk the streets of our countries without wondering if the state will kick our door in and drag us to hell because of our ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Despite all the faults of Western countries - and they are myriad - we can state our disagreement with a politician without facing a firing squad.

So this is why we remember the men and women who serve - and often die - on our behalf. They fought, and still fight, and whether you believe in the reason they fight or not, they serve their countries.
Whether they come back physically whole or not, none of them come back unscathed; the scar tissue on hearts and minds still twists and contracts. It still hurts, even when you are 70 and winking at life.

They held a gun, so I do not have to.
They faced horror, so I didn't see it's face.
They suffered the nightmares so that I can sleep in a safe bed.

Thank you.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

New hobby - whoop!

I got stuck into making some hand-cream this past week-end (blame Naomi Clarke for this one, her blog posts and tweets had me remembering how much I enjoyed this stuff years ago) and I'm hooked all over again.

So far I've made a bergamot, rose-oil and cinnamon version, which was snatched up almost immediately by friends and my cousin, and another version with rosemary in place of the bergamot. Bonus side effect was some relief for my hands - they usually swell up and throb in wet weather, to the point where I look like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow dude, just in short, grumpy female form. Monday I woke up and could flex my fingers with hardly any swelling, so I'm seriously in love with that blend. I'm going to play with a few similar ideas that are a bit gentler smelling, since although I like cinnamon there are a lot of folks who don't. Should be interesting.

Then I went a bit nuts and ordered a bunch of scents and equipment and tins for the stuff. The plan is to make a bunch of lip balms and hand creams for presents. If nothing else, the flat will smell pretty fine for the next few weeks.

So far; excitement for the week has been nearly getting run over crossing the road at work, because some dahlink didn't think the red-light applied to him, and having the lift doors close on me today - not a fun experience, and it happened so blasted fast I didn't process it until afterwards - but there were a few seconds of getting hugged and squeezed by two giant metal doors, and the guy inside who'd pushed the close door button as I was stepping in looking horrified. (And yeah, to repeat - I really would have haunted your ass.)

I'm not sure if the lift doors count to my tech malfunction talent, but I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be a sensor thingy that stops things like that happening.

On a definite tech malfunction note - I now have a new iphone (refurbished - sooooo much cheaper) and got my sim today. Excitement reigned! I made squeaky noises! And then upon inserting it - no signal. *sigh*
Hopefully the IT gods at the shop can figure this one out, because my brain just melted out of my ears.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Amazon censorship & the saga of entitlement - a rant

There were no posts last week because in my usual effect on tech, blogger wouldn't let me log on. No idea why, it just decided it hated me. *sigh*

Be warned, since what follows is going to develop into a bit of rant. There will be Strong Language, because this whole unnecessary situation, plus a certain author, has frankly pissed on my battery.

There's a very unsatisfied rumbling amongst indie authors right now - because Amazon is removing reviews posted against other authors books. Check out Joe Konrath's blog here for a run-down on it. There's even a petition being started.

There has been mudslinging from some the authors behind the NSPH story (some of whom are now bewildered as to why they've lost reviews), and I can say that a glimpse of certain twitter feeds makes certain authors come across as self-entitled brats, with a side-order of issue. The folks concerned seem to have developed a hysterical loathing of indie authors, which would be funny if it wasn't so sad.   It's like the publishing equivalent of Burn the Witch. More on that later.

My issue with Amazon removing reviews is slightly different. One of the reasons given to authors who've queried why their reviews was removed is that you cannot review a product you are competing with, as a published author. I have a couple of problems with this.

First of all, I don't consider other authors as competition.  I'm a very small fish is a very big pond. There's plenty of room in this pond for authors - viewing someone as the enemy and developing a "Kill!Kill!" mentality is just plain silly. Other authors sales do not hurt me. In fact, I think other authors sales probably help me, especially if my books are listed under the "other customers who bought this also bought..." list.
(Sure, there are people out there who view anyone else who writes in their genre as foes worthy of hidden land-mines and nuclear reviews. These are probably the same folks who scream at reviewers who don't give them five stars and have their mothers write fifty slavering praise-ladden reviews on their work. Not my problem. Their sales have no correlation to mine. They also quite possibly wear their underpants on their heads. Again, really not my problem. It's pretty hard to start an internet war with someone who simply couldn't be bothered with that level of silliness.)

I actually keep hoping I'll get a few low star reviews on Amazon, because a large amount of the buying public now views books with only 4 or 5 star reviews with great suspicion. I'm definitely not complaining about the high starred reviews; because I'm not a moron, but I do wonder why they are all high. There has to be a few readers out there who read my stuff and thought 'meh.' They just don't seem to be posting reviews. The point is, low star reviews are part of doing business. You don't take them personally, the same way you can't let your ego bloat of high star reviews.

Secondly - as a reader, I've posted a LOT of book reviews on Amazon. A lot. These range from traditionally published authors to indies. Some of them I know, through social media or other places, the majority I don't. I've reviewed everyone from Tess Gerritsen (who I'm pretty sure doesn't know I'm on the planet) to Joe Garraty (who does) and both of whom write the kind of stuff I dream of achieving.

I'm not just an author, I'm a consumer, and a pretty avid one. I have a monthly book budget, for crying out loud, because without reading I would probably go utterly nuts on the daily commute and strangle the moron next to me with the soul-excrutiating techno version of Metallica pumping out of his ipod so loudly my teeth rattle.

So removing my reviews, which I've been posting since well before I became a self-published author on the kindle store, insults me as a loyal customer. I take time over these reviews. I try to make them coherent, and point out why I either liked or didn't like parts of the book, and if this new rule means I lose that ability, that's a pretty sharp slap in the face. You are telling me that I do not have the right to my opinion on goods I bought and paid for - and where I haven't bought them, I state so. Whether I bought them or not, my opinion is still valid.

On a cautionary note, I have no idea whether Amazon has removed any of my written reviews or not. I know they've removed some reviews on my books, which is ironic because it's made my star average increase, and I didn't know who the folks were that published those reviews. So in this case, Amazon have removed genuine reviews, written by people I do not know and have never met. I'm not sure how their programme decided those were unacceptable reviews, and to be totally honest, I don't really care.

What I do care about is that this seems to be an arbitrary form of censorship, brought on because of a vocal minority whose publishers actually have, and continue to, buy reviews, and the media that happily climbed on the bandwagon and turned a fifteen minute wonder into competition for Everest.
I care because your demands to police free-speech, dear NSPH authors,  have resulted in my right to said free-speech being compromised, to my being treated like my personal opinions as a reader are the equivalent of typhoid, and you are now whining because this has impacted you as well.

Right now, my personal feeling is that you ought to shut up and take your medicine with the rest of us. You asked for it, you got it, and I have zero patience for you right now.  What the hell did you think was going to happen?

As to the comments made by a certain author on twitter about being "pissed off because we can't pimp each others books any more, and there  still being plenty of places to pimp each other to hell" -  whether you aimed those comments at particular indie authors or not, you've got a history of utter disdain for this section of the writing community - who the blue fuck do you think you are? **

You've just compared a couple of authors to a section of industry that has zero relation to writing. (On a side note, that particular industry makes a lot more money than any of us.) Why? What right do you have to look down your pontificating, self-righteous little nose at anyone? Especially considering the published blurbs on Amazon from other best-selling authors for your books. This not only makes you arrogant, this makes you hypocrite, and shows you as having all the integrity and moral ethics of a hopped-up weasel. Well done. Your publisher and agent must be so proud.

Oh, wait - those blurbs were obtained by your publisher? Obviously that pulls you out of the pimping category, since you don't sell yourself. Someone else sells you instead. Well done on that. We couldn't accuse you of being a pimp. Not at all.

Get over yourself, dude. Seriously.

**Yes, I'm well aware that the authors concerned do not need my being defensive on their behalf. I'm not actually being defensive at all, what I am is annoyed, and not on their behalf.  I'm annoyed by the fact that a jacked-up, self-righteous hypocrite thinks it's fine to snark any other writer in this way on social media, because they are not published with the big 6. Irony here is that the authors concerned probably outsell this jack-ass on a regular basis, and used to have traditional contracts. They dropped their publishers to make more money.