Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Turns out it is quite difficult to give up smoking

Thursday, 9:30am: "Hurrah! I am a happy non-smoker! I am so excited not to have to light small fires in my face any more! What joyful new vistas of life are opening up to me! I can spend so much more money on books!"


Friday, midday, in a slightly more strained voice: "Err, hurrah, I am a happy non-smoker..."

Friday, 8:30pm: "Bring cigarettes. Bring pizza. Bring ice cream. Bring lawyers, guns and money. But please, please bring cigarettes."

Saturday, 3:15pm, to my friendly local pharmacist: "Fuck this shit, give me everything you've got." ("What do you mean, Gary Oldman in the hit film Leon, 'everything'?" "I mean EV-ER-Y-THIIIIIING.")

Saturday, 4:30pm: "Hannah, why are you smoking a tampon?"
"For feminism, motherfucker, FOR FEMINISM."

Monday, 28 May 2012

Start with an onion

I treat recipes like I treat knitting patterns, like Jack Sparrow treats the Pirate's Code: as suggestions. Not prescriptions. Start with an onion, season well, chuck in representatives of all the major food groups and put some cheese on top, and you can't go far wrong.

Without wanting to get all me me I am so super special me, not to mention garr kids these days get off my lawn, it seems that this is not a common approach to cooking amongst the under 30s.

So many people revere recipes as The Only Way, and can't stomach the idea of the smallest deviation: oh, I can't make this, I don't like courgettes. No, but you like peppers, or aubergines, or mushrooms... I have to stop cooking it right now, the recipe specifically says four minutes and it's been four minutes and seven seconds! Yes, but if you use your actual eyes to actually look at it, or even your actual finger to actually touch it, you will observe that it is not yet browned or warmed all the way through. If I ask my gentleman friend to check on the carrots, he's thrown into a panic: how do I tell if they're cooked?

Cookery programs, special Jubilee recipe supplements, "Three meals which will drive your man WILD!", have managed to drum it into our heads that cooking - the proper kind of cooking, that starts with an onion and involves chopping vegetables and using your judgement, rather than reading the packet instructions and pressing Play on the microwave - is a desperately complicated endeavour, best left for special occasions. You're in a rush, or you're tired, and it's best to be safe and just heat up a frozen pizza.

For instance: last week I stumbled upon a recipe for parsnip and peanut loaf, and almost obeyed all its instructions (half a pint of double cream? Are you trying to kill me?). But I've made three variations on it since, and haven't checked the recipe once. The idea's in there now, and as long as I follow the general idea - a good pile of root veg, a handful of nuts, maybe some breadcrumbs for crunch and an egg to bind it together - dinner miraculously emerges.

It's not foolproof by any means - I might look at a recipe and think nah, that'd be much nicer with oregano and chilli, and I might be right, but I'm going to end up with something which tastes remarkably like everything I've cooked over the last week which was beefed up with oregano and chilli. And my surefire way to deliciousness, which is to stir in a knob of butter and melt some cheese on top, might turn up trumps every time, but it is also the reason I have high cholesterol at the age of twenty fucking five.

It's about confidence, I suppose. Confidence that you know the handful of basic techniques which turn raw materials into dinner, and don't need a guidebook to hold your hand every step of the way. Somewhere along the line we've lost that and become a nation of microwaved lasagna.

Be brave. Start with an onion.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Woah, oh, come take my hand

Please note that this blog has moved to: http://oldjawjaw.blogspot.com

Just to fuck with y'all, I'm moving house! My boss, in her mostly delightful quest to help everyone in the office on their journey to self-perfection, gave me a book which she promised would stop me smoking. And it sort of seems to have worked? For the last hour, at least. So now seems a good time not to associate My Online Presence with fags, smoking, and inhaling nictoine, so I'm shutting up shop and moving to


Don't be afraid. Come visit. It's remarkably similar to here, except it's sponsored by Winston Churchill - that cuddly old depressive, cigar-chomper, war-fancier and NHS-opposer. He'd be proud, right?

(Full disclosure: my blog is not sponsored by Winston Churchill and I do not agree with Winston Churchill on anything, as far as I'm aware, including Daleks. I just like his phrase "the old jaw-jaw".)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

I do not care about your hypothetical grandchildren

Entertaining conversations to have with your gentleman friend on the Picadilly line:
"Why is it that all my friends are gay ladies and straight dudes? WILL NO ONE TALK TO ME ABOUT COCK?"


So, your kid has just come out! Congratulations. Maybe you're feeling a little confused, surprised, uncertain; not quite sure how this will affect your relationship; wondering how you can best be supportive. So. Here is your handy six-point guide to being not awful when your child informs you that s/he is into diddling members of the same gender.

1. This is really not about your fucking grandchildren.
Okay, I lied. It's a one-point guide, and that's it. This is about many things - about love and respect and sex and honesty and kindness and all of those other things that make life suck a little less - but one thing it is not about is whether or not you get to teach little Jimmy to play football without having to clean up his puke.

For one thing: we breed too! Modern technology is a wonderful thing, and embryos can get inside uteri in all manner of exciting ways. Plus, if your kid has just announced she's bi, then rest assured - she still has half a chance of accidentally getting knocked up.

For another: I appreciate we all have that biological urge to see our genes get passed on and everything, but we also have great big brains which are hopefully capable of grasping the concept that our children's lives... are their lives, not ours. And their reproductive capacities? Similarly theirs. Even if your kid was as straight as a straight guy who really likes having straight sex with straight ladies, you still don't get to guilt-trip him into providing you with grandchildren.

You might want to learn from the mistakes of others, and so I have generously compiled a list of things that might run through your head but really shouldn't run out of your mouth at this crucial time.

When your son or daughter says they're getting married to the love of their life, you should not say, "What does that mean?" True story! When your son or daughter mentions that they might actually want to have kids one day, hysterical laughter is not the appropriate response. True story! If you're worrying that your darling's life is going to be so much harder than it would if he were straight? You're probably right, because of The Homophobia. So now is a really good time to not add to that homophobia.

If, at this point, you're fumbling for an excuse along the lines of "I am an older person from a time and a place where gaying was universally frowned upon", I would like to introduce you to my mother. She too is an older person! She even has her pensioner's bus pass! She too is from a tiny, crappy little town, with Small Town Values and Small Town Prejudices, and yet? She is the nicest and most open-minded person you will ever meet. It has never even occurred to her to care that neither of her daughters is entirely cock-oriented and she's never let slip a single word implying that we somehow owe her grandchildren. She was, in fact, so outraged at the lack of giddy marriage-related excitement my GBF's parents displayed when hearing about their daughter's engagement that she is single-handedly determined to be four times as excited to make up for it. She's already picked out her outfit for the wedding. And she doesn't even like weddings. Yeah, she's an exceptional lady, but if she can rise above the fears and prejudices of her generation, what's your excuse?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Prejudices, kaboom!

Prejudices, confirmed:
For various reasons, all my meals on Thursday were eaten on the run, picking up whatever sustenance was closest to hand before running on to the next appointment. In Stoke Newington, the cheapest and most appealing option was a sesame seed bagel with hummus and salad, accompanied by organic still pink lemonade. In Wood Green, the best I could find was KFC.

Prejudices, exploded:
1. I went for a first aid training course in a Muslim community centre. Walking towards it, a converted Victorian terrace surrounded with razor wire and a queue of ladies in niqabs... I'm deeply ashamed to admit it, but my first thought was 'where is Abu Hamza and will I get out of here alive?'. It was, of course, one of the nicest and friendliest places I have ever been.

2. On walking in to the training room, I was confronted by a middle-aged white guy with a broad Essex accent quizzing an Asian man about what language he spoke at home, what his kids spoke, where his family was from... every muscle in my body tensed, just waiting for this situation to go horribly wrong and explode into a disaster of epically racist proportions. Turned out Mr Middle-Aged White Guy was a fluent Urdu speaker and married to a Pakistani woman, hence his curiosity.

Prejudices, kaboom!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The stupidity of humanity, illustrated

Sometimes I get off a tube or a bus, pause for a moment, sniff the air, and think... somewhere, somewhere close by, there is a really good charity shop. This time, however, I was wrong. There were three! And the last one - the best one - had, along with three tops, a dress, and a book on the nature of war by Barbara Ehrenreich, this little gem:

In other news, my favourite ad pairing of all time: this exhortation to conserve water...

...followed by this lastminute.com ad:

...entitled "Showers with the power of Niagara for everyone."

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Subverting gender stereotypes, one romantic gaffe at a time

Episode whatever in A Romantic Comedy About The Patriarchy...

It occurs to me that I am, for the first time in my life, eligible to give blood. In the last three years I have not got tattooed, injected drugs, been to Africa, or slept with any dudes who have either done these things or slept with other dudes. It's quite hilarious that the NHS now deems my fluids acceptable - I have to lie down after a blood test. If I donated a pint of the stuff I'd faint on the spot. (Which would be a good way of scamming free biscuits, but it seems like a lot of effort to go to for a soggy custard cream.)

When I relayed this information to my dear gentleman friend - "WOW, because for the last two and a half years I've only been sleeping with your suspiciously clean-living self, I am welcomed back into polite organ-donating society!" - he asked, "And who were you sleeping with for the first year we were together?"

Turns out I am not 24, and we've been together for three and a half years. You live and learn.

We find this story hilarious. So I've been telling it a lot. And every single person who's been regaled by it - with the exception of my GBF and soon-to-be-Mrs-GBF, who I will henceforth be referring to as The Engayged - has said, "Huh. Usually it's the man who forgets anniversaries."

Yeah, take that, The Patriarchy.

(Not long after we first got together we had a long-running argument about whether the noun 'patriarchy' could be used with the definite article. I maintained that I knew a lot more about the theory of male oppression of women than he did. He said "grammar grammar grammar blah grammar". I said he was mansplaining. He asked what the mansplaining was. ROMANCE!)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Today in books I am reading: Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

'Scabs!' we all screamed as the cops tried to help them cross our ines and take our jobs away. Hundreds of us strained at the barricades, and the cops held the scabs back.
'Faggots!' some of our guys yelled at the strikebreakers. All the butches pulled back from the police barricades. The word seared like burning metal.
'Duffy,' I pulled his arm. 'What's this faggot shit?'
Duffy appeared torn in ten directions. 'Alright,' he said. 'Listen up you guys. Stop with the faggot stuff. They're scabs.' The men looked confused.
A light bulb lit up over Walter's head. 'Aw, shit.' He extended his hand to me. 'We didn't mean you guys.'
I shook his hand. 'Listen,' I said, 'call them whatever you want, but don't call them faggots.'
Walter nodded. 'Agreed.'
'You cocksuckers! You motherfuckers!' they shouted instead.
I pushed forward at the barricade. 'You fucking scabs,' I yelled. 'You all have sex with other men.'
The guys looked baffled. 'What's she talking about?' Sammy wanted to know.
'You all have intercourse with your own mother,' I screamed.
'That's digsuting,' Walter said.
Duffy intervened. 'OK, they're scabs and striekbreakers. Let's call 'em what they are, alright?'

People, I cannot quite express how much I am loving this book. It's an easy read, prose-wise; an awful read, plot-wise; a hilarious read, quip-wise. Just do yourself a lovely bank holiday favour and go buy a copy right now.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Little red feminist and her little blue pencil

My god, it's been a depressing set of elections since I attained my majority. 2005: Michael Howard The Undead vs the Ever-Smiling Iraq-Invading Tuition-Fees-Raising Bush Fancier. 2010: Smarmy Robotic Ham or Shambolic Walking Disaster. The London Mayoral elections are always a little more heartening, both because you can see actual tangible change on the ground much more quickly, but also because Ken Livingstone is the only person I've ever enthusiastically voted for. And he lost.

I'm obviously not going to stop voting because my team keeps losing, or because I don't want to be on any of their teams. I looked forward to voting like most girls apparently dream of their wedding day: my mum always took me with her to the polling station, let me play with the little blue pencil, offered to let me make her firm Labour cross for her one year. But I declined. I wanted to save it, yearning for the day when I could draw my own cross, make my own small mark on the future of my country.

It was less romantic than I'd hoped. But most things are. And there's still a little flicker of excitement deep in my belly at the thought of popping into the polling station after work, making that firm Labour cross, and hoping to all that is good and pure that the outer boroughs don't piss all over us again.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Song of Blah and Something: Wherefore Fantasy's Fixation on Merrie England?

Beautifully typical conversation with Straight Best Friend:

"Have you finished watching Game of Thrones yet?"

"YES I HAVE, and I therefore need to borrow your Edward Said collection."

"Brilliant! My housemate's been watching it and all he wants to talk about are the swords and dragons, LET'S TALK ORIENTALISM!"

So! Skimming over the Mysterious And Savage Eastern Others, the Child-Ladies Who Love Their Rapists, and the Girls Who Are Good Because They Disdain Girly Things in A Song Of Rape And Rapists (not that this would not be fun! But because it has been covered with far more incisive hilarity than I could hope to attain, here), I have one question for you, and it is this: why is absolutely all fantasy fiction set in a dragon-enhanced version of the West European high middle ages?

1. The Social Justice Blogger's Answer: Because of the misogyny
It is indeed a "fundamentally conservative yearning for a time when (white) men brandished swords for their King, (white) women stayed in the castle and made babies, marriage was a beautiful sacrament between a consenting adult and whichever fourteen-year-old girl he could manage to buy off her Dad, and poor people and people of color were mostly invisible" (from the Sady Doyle article), BUT, as A Person With A History Degree, I can safely inform you that Ye Merrie Myddle Ages are far from unique in this regard: pick an era, any era, and you're pretty sure to find a whole bunch of lady-hating, and other-races-hating, and poor-people-hating.

2. The TV History Answer: Everyone Loves Henry VIII
Much as it pains me to say it, most people aren't interested in the long duree, wider social forces, let's talk about the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie kind of history. They want the entertaining soap operas, and no soap opera is more ridiculous and engrossing than that of Big Henry's Quest For A Son. That, and the fact that mandatory UK education in history dies with Elizabeth I, means that the most familiar image we have for The Past in general is a bawdy, boisterous Tudor court, all flagons of ale and busty maidens and beheading. (It's probably got something to do with our cultural obsession with Shakespeare too, although technically he was early modern. [Yeah, I AM that fucking cool.])

3. The I Also Have A Sociology A-level Answer: Close Enough
Making up an entirely new fictional universe is pretty hard work: it's a lot easier to take something that already exists and tack on bits you like, chop out bits you don't, and stick a dragon on top. Plus, your audience needs to be able to relate, on some level, to what's going on: you could invent a magical consciousness monster that hovers in the shadows between this world and the next, and tell your entire story from its point of view, but unless it has an emotional life that is somewhat similar to that of humans? Very few people are going to care. SO, you start with your humanoids, you grab the tropes lying closest to hand (again: dragons! Because everyone else who's ever written a fantasy story is basically building on the whole Arthur legend thingy), you pick a historical epoch which is familiar enough to be relatable but distant enough to be romantic, and voila! Close enough - but weird enough - but weird in a familiar way.

Veering off into sci-fi for a second: while there are lots of jokes about how the Doctor is a million billion years old (okay, okay, I admit it, I know he's 909), his character is basically that of a human who just happens to be dead old yet youthful. The most moving moments (particularly in David Tennant's reign) were when you caught a glimpse of how it would actually feel to be this preposterously old person forced to watch history unfold while believing that you shouldn't do anything to alter its course: when a genuinely not-human character was properly drawn in a way that was entirely relatable to human feelings. Sci-fi and fantasy alike are meant to hold a mirror up to humanity: to use a world entirely different from our own to tell us something about the world we're stuck with.

But why this has to be the world of early 1500s England is still, 700 words later, something of a mystery to me.