Archive for April, 2007

The Light and the Greenness

Posted in Uncategorized on April 30, 2007 by ladyredjess

How lovely London is now that the trees are bristling and unfurling with leaves, and the wind and the light fall through them – it’s all so lush it seems decadent. When I walk past Tavistock Square on my way home after work I’m amazed and gratified by all the dappled greenness, and I realise that Narnia could never have been written in Oz.

The sunshine is gorgeous too, though makes me homesick. Despite my avowals not to become a burnt little biscuit this summer, but to sensibly apply my newly purchased tanning moisturiser (which is making me look jaundiced), I sat in the sun for two hours last weekend and burnt the bejeezus out of my back. It was only TWO HOURS, from 10am till 12pm – only one hour into the zone they say you shouldn’t sunbake in (11am-3pm). Would I have done that in Oz? No. But I thought the sun was benign here – I didn’t think that it was possible to get burnt.

And Saturday was the most joyous of joyous days, for I put away all my winter clothes, sprinkled with cloves in tightly knotted plastic bags, for last year the fucking moths ate through a £90 cashmere jumper, a good part of my dark red coat and a piece of my double breasted brown coat. I was absolutely gutted, especially about the red coat. It isn’t beyond repair – it just needs some artistic embroidery, which I can do – but I didn’t have time to attend to it this season. I know I ought not to be so fond of my clothes, but I spend so much time researching, saving for, shopping and wearing them that it’s hard not to become passionately attached to them. And now I’m just waiting for it to warm up some more so I can get into my lovely summer frocks.

Sunday afternoon was passed at Hampstead Heath. This was only my second time there and I’d forgotten how lovely it was – there’s something almost erotic about all that soft grass. We set up camp beside a pond and innumerable dogs wandered by, hoping for a bit of roast chicken, until their owners called them back. H repeated all their names to me – there was Benjy, Winston, Fudge and Sonic among others. The latter was a Scottish Deerhound, I think, who came up to us rather mournfully, and didn’t seem very animated. It moped around for a bit, then all of a sudden it inexplicably shot off back over the hill.

I drank too much champagne and Pimms, then stupidly enabled H to win Scrabble by making 22 points out of ‘zoo’ when he asked for help. I’m a bad loser at the best of times – especially at Scrabble – and if I hadn’t been inebriated I would have been very angry with myself. As it was however, the bubbles had given me the giggles so I laughed it off. Indeed, I am becoming quite mature in my old age.

Then A. and her new boyfriend turned up, and 5 Australian boys followed in their wake and began a game of soccer, and I mulled over the conundrum that I had suddenly seen more attractive men in one space than I had in all of the last 6 months in England.

Oh, and my novel is going onto it’s second printing after just 4 months. What bliss! If only Jane Campion would make a movie of it, with Cate Blanchett in it, of course.

Things I’ve been reading …

Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2007 by ladyredjess

Seeing as I have 45 library books stacked in my room while I write a presentation on fictocriticism (in fact while I attempt to write something of my thesis at all), I thought it would be apt to write about some of the things I’ve been reading. Naturally, since a professional student achieves nothing without perfecting the art of procrastination, many of these things are completely unrelated to my research.

I finished another Daphne – her collection of short stories, Don’t Look Now – which was disappointing. When she can keep her sinister overtones under control, like in Rebecca, she’s superb, but when it tips into melodrama it just doesn’t work. Before that, though, I read the utterly brilliant The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Such superior characterisation, setting, writing and structure, and the sex scenes were excellent (and if someone tells you women can’t get turned on by two men getting off, they’re lying; it’s no different from men finding two women together appealing). Plus Hollinghurst had many more interesting things to say about beauty than Zadie Smith in her hugely overrated On Beauty.

After a conversation with M- at the Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant situated precariously close to Soho Square (how can these people run such a place without irony?), I’ve been trying to find rape statistics on the Guardian website. M- had said that, if you include the prison population, more men are raped than women. I’d looked at him askance and he said, ‘What, prisoners aren’t human?’ and I conceded that that was a pretty stupid thing to think. Then I read a whole lot of articles about rape while trying to find this statistic and got so depressed I had to stop reading. Since I doubt many will be interested in reading the articles (for what are we if not an apathetic society that prefers to turn the cheek?), here are some facts:

• One in 20 women over the age of 16 have been raped; one in 10 have experienced some kind of sexual victimisation. These aren’t crazy men jumping out of bushes and randomly attacking women – they’re “normal” guys like friends and boyfriends.

• A survey found that one in three people in the UK believe that women who behave “flirtatiously” are responsible for being raped. More than 25% think that women are at least somewhat responsible for being raped if they’re wearing a sexy outfit. Not only is this statistic appalling, but it’s offensive, I’m sure, to most of the men out there who can keep their dick in their pants.

• If you report your rape in the UK, there’s only a 5.6% chance that your rapist will be convicted. My word, I am glad that I live in England.

Just in case you do want to read this article, the link is here.

There are definitely more men raped than women within prisons, but whether this equates to more men raped within society as a whole, I couldn’t find out, and now I can’t bear to read any more about it.

However, I do have to mention that at the evening’s close at the Gay Hussar, one of the waiters handed us – unfathomably – two red peppers on a plate. Following on from a conversation we’d had about H and our sister travelling in Hungary (in which the family they’d stayed with offered H 15 goats, 5 sheep and some chickens in return for R’s hand in marriage) M- thought this may have been some obscure means by which the waiter was asking us to become his betrothed.

More Guardian reading (and how I am going to miss this paper when I go home, particularly the Unsettling Animal Picture of the Week in the Saturday edition): in this week’s Society Guardian I read about the UK Miss Deaf World pageant, which was set up to help young deaf women make it in the modelling industry. However the girl who organised the show made a shambles of it, yet she was doing deaf studies and had worked with the deaf community for 10 years. I’m wondering if she was just completely stupid, or if the problem lay with a lack of experience in events organization. They’re screening a doco about it on telly, but as since we don’t watch telly (AND THEREFORE DON’T PAY TV TAX) all I had was the article to go on. But if you have a stylist shouting at a deaf person (and believe me, that’s never a good way to make yourself heard – try just speaking clearly, you idiots), things can’t be going very well. And the gem was the MC trying to get the mostly deaf audience to sing along to a Frank Sinatra song. I have to admit, when I described this to H, I started to laugh – after all, if you can’t laugh at yourself when you’ve got a disability you haven’t got much hope of a happy life.

On this note, however, check out this site which T (who was clearly doing less work than I) sent me the link to: How to Insult Someone Using British Sign Language. It’s hilarious.

Still on the subject of newspapers – H brought home a copy of The Sun for my edification. I had never read a copy before, and never intend to again. Our environment is disintegrating at an alarming pace, and all they can write about is Prince William’s next sheila?

Oh, and how can I not mention my first love, to whom I am returning after God knows how many years: Virginia Woolf. I struggle to enjoy her fiction, but her essays are exquisite, and they make me laugh. I urge anyone with a moment up their sleeve to read A Room of One’s Own. It isn’t a feminist rant, but a delightfully dry and shrewd examination of what makes women write the way they do (if at all). Take this passage as a taster:

‘Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the victims of inner strife as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man. Thus they did homage to the convention, which if not implanted by the other sex was liberally encouraged by them (the chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of, said Pericles, himself a much talked-of man) that publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity runs in the blood. The desire to be veiled still possessed them. They are not even now as concerned about the health of their fame as men are, and, speaking generally, will pass a tombstone or a signpost without feeling an irresistible desire to cut their names on it, as Alf, Bert or Chas must do in obedience to their instinct, which murmurs if it sees a fine woman go by, or even a dog, Ce Chien est a moi [‘This is my dog’] … It is one of the great advantages of being a woman that one can pass even a very fine negress without wishing to make an Englishwoman of her’ (p. 65 Oxford UP, 1992).

Meanwhile, writing my thesis is like trying to get blood out of a stone and I’m wasting an inordinate amount of time shopping for lingerie on figleaves.com. I don’t understand what’s happened to me. I used to be such an eager little bean while I was doing my undergraduate degrees; I drove myself so hard that I got a university medal and while I was writing my novel I was scribbling down 3000 words a day. I seem to be getting old, tired and disillusioned and I’m not even 30 yet. It doesn’t bode well.

This country’s fucked.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2007 by ladyredjess

This, as H will testify, is one of my most oft-repeated phrases, and of late I seem to have been uttering it more frequently than ever, largely because of:

a) Sally Clark (see earlier blog)
b) the washing machine
c) being Put Through to India
d) TV tax

A friend once sent me a forward headed ‘You know you’ve been in England for too long when …’ with various endings, one of which was ‘You’ve forgotten what customer service is.’ After two months of wrangling with the lame ‘engineers’ from Indecis over the washing machine, H, A and I had not only forgotten about customer service, but we were so frustrated we were ready to stab someone. The phone representatives placated us by saying they would send a senior engineer, but then they sent the same imbecile who had turned up the first two times (and who had made the fuse blow up with sparks and smoke). H said that when he opened the door, the engineer had cautiously looked around for A, in case she jumped out and attacked him. Eventually we managed to get a person who knew what he was doing to look at it. He said he would have to send away for more parts and I got angry and started to raise my voice, before realising that this wouldn’t get us anywhere. We did lots of shouting in those two months and it achieved nothing, because nothing can shift the creaking behemoth that is English bureaucracy. When the parts turned up our friend came with them to install them, and H said that he still had hardly any idea of what he was doing, because when he went he left the pipe on the ground, when it’s supposed to be higher than the machine to help the water flow; H knew about the pipe and he isn’t even an engineer.

However we now, to my eternal delight, have a working washing machine. It still leaks a bit, but to expect a perfectly functioning machine is clearly asking too much.

Another shitty aspect of English customer service is Being Put Through to India. I hate ringing my bank because I can’t understand the people on the other end and it’s incredibly stressful just trying to get a pin re-set (hence I never forget my pin – how efficacious is that??). H loves his bank because he’s put through to Ireland. However the other day, while trying to change a train ticket, he was Put Through to India after the customary half-hour wait, and the following conversation ensued:

India: Good afternoon sir, how can I help you?

H: I’d like to change the date of my train ticket please.

(H gives existing, and new, dates of travel.)

India: That will be £40.00, with a £10.00 administration fee.

H: But the original ticket cost £20.00.

India: That’s right.

H: So I need to pay another £20.00 just to move my ticket?

India: Yes, that’s right.

H (in most sarcastic voice possible): Thank you very much. You’ve been most helpful.

India: You’re welcome.

And in the Guardian a few weeks back I read of a woman who rang BT about getting an internet connection set up in her office in the back yard, and when she got Put Through to India she realised the person to whom she was speaking had no concept of back yards, or of phone lines travelling through them.

Then there are the TV licensing people. We have a TV, but we WATCH DVDs on it. H has phoned and written to these fuckwits to explain that we WATCH DVDs and have tuned it (according to their verbal instructions given over the phone) so that we can only WATCH DVDs. Instead they have sent a variety of threatening letters, all neatly threaded-through with the prospect of court action.

I don’t understand TV tax. I’m guessing that it’s been implemented to be fair to those people who don’t watch telly, but surely after all the expense of the aggressive letters, door knocking and court appearances, they might as well tax everyone, like they do in Australia, and then put the money towards Aunty.

Also, I don’t appreciate that they’re so aggressive and negative in their campaign against non-users. Why not have a sense of humour about it, people?

Other ways you know you’ve been in England for too long are:

•You’ve given up complaining about the Victorian banking service.

•You’ve given up explaining why you are half an hour late to work.

•You believe that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday are all good nights for drinking. Sunday day is also entirely reasonable.

•You don’t even bother looking out of the window when you get up to check what the day is like. You know it’s overcast.

•You expect men to actually cut, comb and style their hair (using hair products). And to wear decent clothes. Jeans and a T-shirt are no longer socially acceptable.

•You think £40 for a haircut is quite reasonable for a bloke.

•You’ve stopped calling people ‘a dag’ because you don’t want to have to explain it.

•After a big night out you find yourself looking for a curry house, and not a Hungry Jacks

•More than three hours sunlight on summer days seems excessive.

•You only just realise you have lost your sunnies and that you left them in Greece 2 summers ago.

•You are on to your 6th umbrella and your second overcoat.

•You buy a disposable baby BBQ from Argos.

•You realise your sunburn cream is the stuff you bought with you from Australia.

•A day at the beach means wearing the warmest clothes you own while standing on golf ball-size pebbles and the thought of swimming doesn’t even enter your head.

•You always call soccer football and you have a team and it’s not Manchester United.

•A sunny lunchtime means searching for a patch of grass and stripping off practically down to your underwear

•You start to accept queuing as a way of life.

In case you’re bored (or need a point of comparison), read on …

You know you are in Sydney when…

•Your co-worker tells you they have 8 body piercings but none are visible.

•You make over $100,000 and still can’t afford a house.

•You take a bus and are shocked at 2 people carrying on a conversation in English.

•You never bother looking at the train schedule because you know the drivers have never seen it.

•You can’t remember….is dope illegal?

•You’ve been to more than one baby shower that has two mothers and a sperm donor.

•You have a very strong opinion where your coffee beans are grown and can taste the difference between Sumatra and Ethiopian.

•A really great parking space can move you to tears.

•You assume every company offers domestic partner benefits.

•Your boss runs in “The City to Surf”….it’s the first time you have seen him/her nude.

•Your child’s 3rd grade teacher has two pierced ears, a nose ring and is named “Breeze.” And, after telling that to a friend, they still need to ask if the teacher is male or female.

•You are thinking of taking an adult class but you can’t decide between yoga, aromatherapy, conversational Italian – French or a building your own web site class.

•You haven’t been to Darling Harbour since the first month you moved to Sydney and you couldn’t figure out how to drive to Sydney Tower if your life depended on it.

•A man walks on the bus in full leather regalia and crotchless chaps. You don’t notice.

•You think any guy with a George Clooney haircut must be visiting from the North Shore.

•You know that any woman with a George Clooney haircut is not a tourist.

•You keep a list of companies to boycott.

•You are genuinely surprised when you meet someone who was actually born in Sydney (but then, they are Swiss/Thai/Brazilian).

•You order organic fruit and vegies online, but eat out every night anyway.

•You spent more money on your coffee machine than on your washing machine.

•You spend $500+ for your room in an apartment with stunning harbour/beach views and European appliances; and then spend a total of 40 hours each week there (37 of which you are sleeping).

•You contemplate calling a cab from your home to where you managed to park the car the night before.

•You spend 30 minutes in a traffic jam next to a car with more power to its speakers than its wheels.

•You meet friends for coffee at 1am at your local Netcafe/Laundramat/Bookstore/Bar/Alternative healing centre and go for drinks and pool at nine in the morning.

•You go out each Saturday for breakfast and the paper…at 3pm.

•Your shiatsu therapist is headhunted by an Internet Startup and your accountant becomes an actor.

•You know everyone’s e-mail and mobile number but not their last name or home address.

•You can roll sushi, make pasta and keep your red curry paste recipe under lock and key…but couldn’t roast a chicken to save your life.

•Your cab driver was a micro-surgeon before he moved to Australia.

and finally – “You know you live in Sydney, when….

•Your hairdresser is straight, Your plumber is gay, The woman who delivers your mail is straight…. and your Avon Lady is a drag queen.

…………………….

Our shopping arrived this afternoon, and we now have 9 pots of yoghurt, 30 bananas and 5 cartons of soup. And after three weeks, the ‘ripen at home’ bananas have finally morphed from a luminous green to something resembling yellow. However, they are still so hard that they could be used as a weapon against TV tax people.

It’s true!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2007 by ladyredjess

Redheads have more fun.

See here for an in-depth scientific explanation and supporting quote from my favourite Sydney salon.

Sally Clark

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2007 by ladyredjess

I found the book ‘Stolen Innocence’ on the shelves of the Law section a few months back, before I left for Oz I think. It then sat in my unstable Ikea bookcase at home until I came back from Austria and, having read two Daphnes (‘The Glass Blowers’ and ‘Frenchman’s Creek’, which bordered on bodice-ripper territory; it was so overwhelmingly romantic I wasn’t sure if I liked it) I thought that I would read something grittier. Well, I got something far more disturbing than I bargained for.

Sally Clark had 2 kids; one died when he was nearly three months old, the other at two months. The post-mortem of Harry, the second child, was performed by Alan Williams, a Home Office pathologist. The paediatrician on duty at the time of Harry’s death had recommended a paediactric pathologist, one who specialised in post-mortems on babies, but unfortunately this recommendation wasn’t taken up. If Alan Williams had been cut out of the equation, Sally Clarke would never have gone to jail on the conviction of killing both her children. There are many ‘if’s’ in her story, so many that it seems impossible to be true.

In the post-mortem Alan Williams identified retinal haemorrhages, which are a classic symptom of Shaken Baby Syndrome. He took the detective on the case to meet his friend, Michael Green, the Professor of Forensic Pathology at Sheffield University (and I was struck that they were friends; it suggested an accordance of mind, of one backing up the other’s suppositions). According to John Batt, the author of ‘Stolen Innocence,’ Green ‘teaches that many mothers murder their babies and pretend they are cot deaths’ (p. 2). Something that occurred to me when I read this line, and often throughout the rest of the book, was that the majority of the trials and investigations pertaining to Sally Clark were prevailed over by men. I couldn’t help but wonder if they understood how foreign it was for a woman to consider killing her child. Even the female prisoners in the prison to which Clark was eventually sent thought that child killers were the lowest of the low, and tormented her accordingly.

Because it seemed suspicious that both children had died, Clarke was taken to court. Initially it appeared that the case would be dismissed because there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute her: the deaths of her children simply couldn’t be ascertained. However, the prosecution brought in Roy Meadow, editor of the ABC of Child Abuse, and an intimidating presence, not least because of his style which, according to Batt, was persuasive and forthright. Meadow produced the statistic that the probability of a two cot deaths in a family was 73 million to one. The chance of winning Lotto is 14 million to one; so the impact of the statistic on the jury was unavoidable. Later, it was revealed that other studies showed that this statistic was wildly incorrect, and that the chance was 214 to one, and that there may be familial factors which predispose children to cot death. In addition, because of the lack of evidence it was unknown if Clark’s children had even died of cot death, and therefore the statistic didn’t even apply.

It also became apparent that Green had misinterpreted the slides which supposedly indicated the retinal haemorrhages. The defence found another expert to look at the slides, and he concluded that the macrophages in the slides were due to the rapid delivery of the baby at birth, rather than Shaken Baby Syndrome. Green recanted, but Clark was still convicted. The public was also against her – perhaps swayed by Meadow’s erroneous statistic, and also because Clark dressed as she would for work, in her solicitor’s suit. Like Lindy Chamberlain, she didn’t seem the mothering, nurturing type. This kind of thing just shits me – a woman doesn’t have to be a fucking earth goddess in order to love her children. Christ, people can be just so fucking stupid.

Anyway, calming down now:

Clark’s first appeal was dismissed, but she was finally released on the basis of medical evidence which indicated that Harry had died from staphylococcal septicaemia (blood poisoning which had given rise to meningitis). A forensic pathologist, Professor Byard, stated that that if this bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, was found in two sites in a body, ‘I know I have a probable cause of death; if I find it in three, I have an actual cause of death’ (p. 425). Prof. Byard found it in eight sites in Harry’s body.

In addition (yet again), it was found that Williams knew about these results but had failed to disclose them.

Due to the incompetence of the supposed ‘professionals’ involved in this case (and I have refrained from using their titles of Sir, QC, Dr and so forth for these people because I don’t believe they deserve them), Sally Clark spent more than three years in prison. She had another child before she was taken to court, but had to leave him in the care of a foster family while the case was being heard. Eventually her husband was able to get custody of the baby but by this time Clark was in prison.

Clark ought to have been allowed to grieve in peace, but was instead forced to endure three and a half years away from her husband and son in a gaol. Her husband was similarly denied the chance to grieve. He sold their house to pay for the court costs and to be close to the prison and his wife, and in this move he also gave up his partnership in his law firm and consequently moved five years down the ladder of promotion. His devotion to his wife seemed to belong to the realm of fiction, it was so strong and magical; I didn’t know that men like that existed.

My rage, while reading this book, was insurmountable. Halfway through it, I read in the newspaper that Clark had died (I think from natural causes; it hasn’t yet been made clear) and, knowing that, the book became one of the most difficult things I have ever read – I had to force myself to get to the end. When talking to A- (a lawyer) about the case, she said this kind of thing happened all the time, and for that reason it was lucky that we don’t have the death sentence here. Yet it was a death sentence for Clark, as John Batt wrote:

The shame and daily degradation of nearly three and a half years in prison does serious psychological damage to any innocent woman. It is impossible to forecast how long it will take Sally to recover fully from what she has suffered. The successive hammer blows of the death of her mother, the deaths of Christopher and then Harry, her arrest and conviction as a serial baby-murderer and the rejection of her first appeal, followed by three and a half years of a life sentence as the ‘lowest of the low’, do terrible damage to the psyche.
I fear she may still be in prison, in her head. No sum of money can compensate her for what she went through.

It was just a tragic waste of a life, for what shone through these pages was Clark’s courage, her pluck in prison, her intelligence and her overwhelming love for her husband and children. All I can think of is King Lear, ‘bound/upon a wheel of fire’ (IV, vii), and of whom the soldiers said, after he’d died:

Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates him much
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer (V, iii).

As a coda, I’ll leave you with an incident that shows the character of one of the people responsible for prosecuting Clark:

Michael Green … watches as police carry in a baby’s bouncy chair; it is an exhibit.
“I didn’t realise that we were short of chairs,” he says in a loud voice, looking for a laugh.
Sally hears, as do Mackey and Kelsey Fry and Spencer. Steve also hears — and will never forget — the joke made about the bouncy chair in which his baby son Harry died (p. 113).

For more information, go to http://www.sallyclark.org