Farewell, Fleabag

Before we begin, I want to re-iterate that this isn’t a Phoebe Waller-Bridge fansite (although it probably looks like it). I want to talk about Fleabag and that ending.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.)

Admittedly, I came to Fleabag later than most as part of my research into Phoebe Waller Bridge’s work. I was hooked and watched the whole first series in one afternoon. It was sharp, witty and the heroine was like most of my friends- slightly messed up carrying a tote bag in place of the handbag we’d have been expected to have twenty years ago (I’m convinced that those of us in our 30s today are ‘younger’ than our parents were twenty years ago.) She had an emotionally frigid family and seemed determined to pinball her way around London and a host of men who were the very epitome of ‘meh’, screwing up but doing it fabulously, Nancy Mitford for the 21st Century. Honestly, I have a whole Twitter thread on how Waller Bridge is the reincarnation of Mitford.

It was funny and weird and voiced those thoughts we have in our heads that we think no-one else thinks and she’s voicing them directly to us as she breaks the fourth wall. The fact that Fleabag is nameless, along with many of the other characters, means that we can project ourselves onto her and those around her. This is a common transference we make whenever we watch TV/read books, but it’s unusual to be so included in the process, invited into a character’s life in such a blatant way.

And whereas Series 1 one is about a character (and her family) who can not and will not communicate properly with those around her, the finale finally allows them to admit how they feel, albeit obviously in a very British, middle-class reserved way. The seeds are initially sown during a squirmy counselling session foisted on her by her father early on, but the process is there throughout Series 2, culminating in her father’s wedding when everything that has been so contained finally spills forth. Her sister Claire, the very epitome of a Type-A personality, admits her feelings for both her husband and Finnish Klare, as well as admitting that she loves her sister; closure is achieved with her father as he dithers over marrying her divinely vile stepmother; and, after two series, we finally see Fleabag as properly emotionally vulnerable. We’ve seen flashes, but it takes her realising that the priest will never be available to her in the way she wishes for her to allow her to show us emotion. It’s at this point that she walks away and does not allow us to follow- we’ve seen her having sex, her best friend’s death, but this is a step too far for us to go any further- because she has finally achieved a calm that has eluded her until this point.

To me, the acceptance of the priest’s semi-rejection (he loves her, but of course he loves God more) it feels like she has achieved a maturity and moved away from the class clown persona she’s sometimes cultivated. It’s raw and hard won, a fitting end to something that has gripped so many people. It feels like it was always going to have to end this way- we knew, deep down that the priest would never leave God for her and I think she does, too. So she has to change and to change, she has to leave us- her co-conspirators- behind.

And, because we feel like her friend, we let her go.

Shakespeare, the Kardashians and modern role models

Today, I WAS planning on writing a blogpost about why I love RuPaul’s Drag Race so much, but something else has caught my eye- a headteacher at a girls school asking girls to be more like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra than Kim Kardashian. She does also mention other characters- Beatrice, Rosalind and Viola- but it’s Cleo who really has captured the headlines.

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I love Shakespeare, but have a few problems with this comparison. Firstly- yes, OK. Cleopatra is a ruler in her own right and is very powerful. But the story in the play revolves around her love affairs (and her power is somewhat tangled up in all of this) and she eventually kills herself as a result of her love for a man. So far, so feminist right?

Plus, I always find there’s an innate snobbery implied by suggesting that people turn to Shakespeare over modern media, as if it’s somehow better. As an English teacher, I know that Shakespeare is seen by the kids-and teachers of other subjects- as elitist, boring and unnecessarily difficult, that it’s not there to be enjoyed by everyone. Hell, I went to one of the worst schools in Leeds as a kid and could feel the antipathy radiating off my co-students whenever the name of Shakespeare was mentioned. (Also, it’s not just the kids who subscribe to this view. The one time I asked that we tried teaching Manga Shakespeare versions of Macbeth, I was looked at by some in my department like I’d grown three heads. Graphic novels also come under the ‘vulgar’ heading, apparently.) It drives me mad. Shakespeare writes about real life: feuds, scandal, romance, businesses gone awry, power-all of human life, in its devious and imperfect glory is there. Plus he could often be kind of a bit… sleazy. He would have loved the Kardashians.

Shakespeare would have been intrigued by today’s celebrities; imagine all the storylines he could have nicked off social media! I think he would also hate to have been seen as an either/or proposition; we kind of forget that he was a slightly shady character himself for much of his life and that acting and theatre owning wasn’t seen as a particularly illustrious career unless you got in with the royals, as he obviously did later on in his life. There was a reason that theatres were on the same side of the river as the bear bating pits and brothels.

Girls are not going to go out and change their behaviour because the head of a private school has created some lessons looking at how ‘inspirational’ some of Shakespeare’s women were (and let’s be honest- there’s scant pickings there. I think most of his women were weakly written, serving a purpose as a foil or a love interest. My favourites are Beatrice and Portia, and even they have issues.) However, I can’t dismiss any attempt to make Shakespeare’s work more accessible and enjoyable- I just wish we were more playful, more imaginative when it came to getting students to access the plays. I say this as someone who once got a bottom year 11 set to work out the issues in Macbeth for a speaking and listening exercise by performing a scene in which the characters were taking part in a Shakespearean version of Jeremy Kyle. It was… interesting, but they ended up doing pretty well in their coursework essays.

Would I choose Kim Kardashian as an ideal role model for young girls? Probably not. But then anyone I suggested as a role model would probably be viewed with suspicion because I’m seen as old, even though I’m a relatively young teacher. But here’s the thing- elders always recommend role models that they think are suitable because they see more ‘modern’ role models as ‘unsuitable’; it’s the old chestnut about the generation above despairing of the one below, forgetting that they too were once interested in people their parents disapproved of. And I bet they would have baulked at the suggestion that they go read Shakespeare instead of idolising whoever it was they had on their bedroom wall, too.

 

Spinning plates

Hello! I feel like it’s been ages since I sat down and actually blogged properly. Truth is, I’ve been super busy with work and stuff and it’s all kind of run away from me a bit. It happens.

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It’s always busy in the spring- it’s crunch time for getting Year 11 ready for their exams and I have to make sure that their coursework is all present and correct (this can sometimes feel like I’m herding gigantic kittens and managing a large load of printing at the same time). I also have to keep up with the rest of my work in a job that has recently made the top 5 most stressful jobs. Yay!

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Then, of course, I have a three year old at home- which is like herding many tiny kittens at the same time, with the added bonus of a really thick actual cat thrown into the mix to add to the fun. I’m not complaining though. I’ve learnt a lot about Lego Star Wars in the last few weeks and Bronte brought in a slow worm, which led to an interesting discussion with D about creatures that live in the garden.

I also recently started taking on a bit of freelance work: mainly proofreading and copywriting. It’s good to do some jobs that bring in a bit of extra work and money, and I’m choosing jobs that I can fit in around everything else. I’m not daft- I take work when it’s quiet elsewhere- but I enjoy it and I prefer it to signing up to do exam marking, which is way less flexible.

So, the upshot, I’ve been busy. But definitely in a good way. I’ve still managed to do bits and pieces that I liked (I’ve been working in the garden and I have three books on the go at any one time, as per), but I’ve appreciated them more than normal. I’ve also been sleeping BRILLIANTLY, which really is no surprise.

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The fact is, if I actually admit it, is that I like being busy. It shows me that I’m well and that my mental health is OK. It may be that it’s not always the right thing to do, but at the moment it serves me well. I like feeling useful and I like getting stuff done.

BUT! I am looking forward to the long weekend! I finished marking all of my Year 11 coursework (a Very Big Deal Indeed) and I have no work to do this weekend, bar prepping some display stuff. D is staying at his grandparents’ tomorrow and I am looking forward to just taking it easy. And I will very much enjoy and appreciate some downtime. After all, I think I deserve it.

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“‘Ave you seen ‘er?” On Victoria Wood

An Audience with Victoria Wood, Dec 1988

Growing up, I always knew about Victoria Wood. My mum had her videos and we had a couple of signed books, too. I remember feeling dead grown up, aged about 10, when I was allowed to watch some of her stand-up. Here was a lady, who wasn’t thin or glamorous- but she was funny. Even as a kid, I knew she was unusual.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that she’s had a huge effect on me. As a northern, working-class kid, she talked about things I understood. I even own an orange raincoat (although not a fetching yellow hat to go with it.) My sister and I have been known to say “I’m looking for my friend, Kimberly. ‘Ave you seen ‘er?” to each other. We don’t know any Kimberlys.

In restaurants with slow service, it won’t take long for Benn or I to whisper to the other “Two soups?”

I’ve always felt a bit suspicious about prawns too, thanks to this sketch:

And I remember seeing her programme about tea. Of course.

The thing is, Victoria Wood’s humour was funny and warm; it was grounded in real life and it was never cruel, either. I’ll miss her.

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How women on TV shape my career goals

Now that D is three- and will be starting school in September 2017, eek!-I’ve started to think more about where my career is and where I would like it to go. At the moment, I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing, but there are things I would like to achieve (if I had a Five Year Plan, this is where it would come in.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I LOVE TV. I like to say it’s because I teach Media Studies, but it’s really just that I’m a telly addict and have been forever. I love Netflix and I love a good binge-watch. What’s surprising is that I’ve found career inspiration in some of my favourite shows and that by watching these four women, I’ve started to think differently about my own job and the way that I work.

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Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation

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Leslie Knope is a ball of contradictions- sometimes she’s brimming with self-confidence, other times, she’s on the floor with self-doubt. And although Amy Poehler (one of the greatest comedians of the 21st century, IMHO) plays Leslie for laughs, there is something in her character that most women can relate to; she’s a visible embodiment of someone with imposter syndrome. Leslie’s key strength, though, is her love and support for her colleagues. Yes, she looks after herself, but she cares deeply for those around her- and not in a self-sacrificing way.

Dana Scully- The X Files

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Scully (and Gillian Anderson) has been a heroine of mine since I was twelve. Although I’m not very good at emotional detachment, I’ve always admired Scully’s dedication to her job, her dry humour and her dogged pursuit of what she thinks is right. At work, next to my desk, I have a poster with a picture of Scully, reminding me that if I have a bad day I should think about what she would do. It stands me in good stead.(I also like Stella Gibson, Anderson’s character in The Fall, but don’t really feel the same connection to her. Did I mention I just really love Gillian Anderson?)

Viv Deering- No Offence

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If you haven’t seen No Offence yet, I urge you to seek it out (the series is on All 4). I loved Viv as soon as I saw her- northern and bold as brass, obsessed with clothes and very, very sweary. She’s sort of like the old stereotype of the northern, working class matriarch but updated and promoted to DI. She presents a tough-as-old-boots persona and won’t take nonsense from anybody, but isn’t vile to work for. Her sense of humour, ruthless determination to do her job well and her ability to stick up for those working for her make her an excellent, if occasionally slightly scary, boss. I want to be more self assured and trust my judgement a bit more- Viv’s the woman to look up to. (Also, when the young PC answers the above question with a hesitant “..Seven?” Viv replies “Oh, good. I do love a man who isn’t bothered about career progression.”)

Alicia Florrick- The Good Wife

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The Good Wife is my current obsession. I love it because it’s full of interesting female characters in addition to Alicia (Kalinda, Diane and my personal soulmate in the world of work, Elsbeth Tascioni), but my focus in terms of career is Alicia. She mucks it up sometimes, she often feels like she’s struggling to parent her kids and she has to deal with an on/off husband who is a bit of a git. Yet, she manages something that resembles a work/life balance (she also drinks a lot of red wine) and looks amazing at all times. I am currently debating whether I am going to grow my hair into an ‘Alicia’. But it’s the way that she negotiates her career that impresses me. It doesn’t always go right, but she brushes herself off and starts again- and this attitude is one worth holding on to at times of disappointment.

I guess all these women have a lot in common and represent idealised versions of women in the workplace. However, I reckon if I can channel just a little of what they have in my own job, I can see improvements. We’ll see.

Tell me- who do you admire in a career sense?

 

Why I’ll never be fashionable- and I’m OK with that.

Earlier on today, I read this piece by Hadley Freeman in The Guardian about that bloody M&S suede skirt. It made me think and I reached an epiphany: I am never going to be fashionable. And do you know what? Despite the fact that I read fashion websites, follow the Twitter accounts of fashionable ladies and read magazines almost obsessively, I have made my peace with that fact.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (the film that launched a thousand fashionistas)

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (the film that launched a thousand fashionistas)

I’ve been obsessed with Audrey Hepburn since I was a teenager (and before she was trendy and appearing posthumously in creepy chocolate adverts), but I always knew I’d never look like her. Similarly, I’m reading every book I can about Alexander McQueen before I go to the exhibition in a couple of months, but I know I’ll never wear couture.

It’s nothing to do with being a mum- I was never particularly interested even when I had disposable income/a house free of suspicious smears- but I do know that if I bought The Bloody Skirt, it’d have jam smears and highlighter ink on it within seconds of putting it about my person, and those stains would have absolutely nothing to do with D.

As a kid, I grew up in the shell suited 90s and loved my knock-off version of a Global Hypercolour t-shirt. My hair stuck out, in unruly mockery of my mum’s efforts to try and make me look vaguely neat for school (I remember the other kids laughing at a photo I’d had taken in Year 2 because- gasp- my pony tail was more electro-shock than Elnett smooth. I didn’t really give a monkeys, IIRC.)

I never had the confidence, or (I thought) the figure for fashion when I was a teenager. I dressed baggily, or in HUGE flares that I bought from the Corn Exchange in Leeds before it went all gentrified. I wore a t-shirt with the original line up of Charlie’s Angels on it without really knowing who they were. I had pink hair and I was free of the constraints of fashion, as I thought at the time.

I'm not even as trendy as Anne Hathaway at the start of The Devil Wears Prada

I’m not even as trendy as Anne Hathaway at the start of The Devil Wears Prada

Now I like to keep it simple, although also very much in the confines of my “secondhand dress/less than a fiver, thanks” philosophy of clothes. I knit stuff, I don’t own a Breton top and, despite my repeated attempts, I still can’t sew a seam straight. As much as I’d like to say I’m channelling Stevie Nicks, it’s probably safer to say I’m more bargain basement. And I’m cool with that. I’ve had 31 years to get my head around it, after all.

So what about the M&S skirt that so repulses me? It reminds me of my GCSE maths teacher, a woman who was probably very well meaning, but a total cow- and she LOVED skirts in that shape and cut. She had all the flare of a frustrated nun (we had a much cooler maths teacher, who I never had the luck to be taught by, who the girls found MUCH more exciting- she was all birds’ nest hair, slightly dishevelled glamour and there were rumours of a very French seeming illicit affair with a married Science teacher) and I think she disliked me as much as I disliked maths. So not even the apparently divine touch of The Patron Saint of Fashion, Alexa Chung, could make that skirt appealing to me.

Oh, and it costs nearly £150. I could buy a ton of dresses on eBay for that.

Another crazy idea

I’m actually scheduling this on Sunday afternoon, so I have no idea which film will win Best Picture tonight at the Oscars (I reckon- without having seen it, mind- that it’ll be American Hustle. I can feel it in my waters. Of course 12 Years a Slave won. My waters were having a bad day yesterday.) Anyway, I’ve been reading the BuzzFeed rankings of all of the winners of the Best Picture award and I realised how many of those winners I HAVEN’T seen, which is a bit shameful for a teacher of film and media.

All About Eve (1950)- can you identify the young starlet in the background? Image: 20th Century Fox

All About Eve (1950)- can you identify the young starlet in the background?
Image: 20th Century Fox

Anyway, reading the list of winners, I have seen the following:

  1. Grand Hotel (1931)
  2. It Happened One Night (1934)
  3. Gone With The Wind (1939)
  4. Rebecca (1940)
  5. Casablanca (1943)
  6. All About Eve (1950)
  7. My Fair Lady (1964)
  8. The Godfather (1972)
  9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  10. Forrest Gump (1994)
  11. Titanic (1997)
  12. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  13. American Beauty (1999)
  14. Chicago (2002)
  15. LOTR: The Return of the Ring (2003)
  16. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  17. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  18. The King’s Speech (2010)
  19. The Artist (2011)

So I’ve seen roughly about a quarter of the Best Picture films, but some of these were so long ago that they merit a re-watch. You can see, too, how my obsession with Hollywood of the 30s/40s/50s is better represented than more modern films. There are loads of great films I haven’t seen though- and I am determined to put that right and watch more of the winners.

Where should I start? (All the winners are listed here.)

January Blues (AKA why I wish I could hibernate)

I hate January. I always have. It’s cold, it’s miserable and there are no twinkly lights to distract from the misery outside. I don’t hold much belief in that ‘Blue Monday’ thing (although I like the New Order song), but I do think January could learn from its more cheerful friends. Such as March. Add to this that the last week has been awful, especially Thursday and Friday and it’s made me desperate for a) a series of snow days so I can stay at home legitimately and b) February.

I’ve agreed to trial an online stress management course with Yoga in Sardinia. I have practised yoga in the past, but don’t have time these days for a full class. The course is designed to help more with mindfulness rather than the physical aspects of yoga. Ironically, I wanted to start this a couple of weeks ago, but work and other things made me too stressed to remember to start! Anyway, I look forward to the next eight weeks of trying to be mindful. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

I have also been stockpiling books since my book buying ban ended on Christmas Day (although it did feel weird to be buying them again and I may have gone a tad overboard. Oops.) I am reading like it’s going out of fashion and I think I will probably do the ban again later in the year when my ‘to-read’ pile becomes huge again.

At least the TV is better- one of my favourite drama series ever, The Bridge, is back on. I love Saga and Martin.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

I also have stocked up on teas from Whittards and Palais des Thes. So, snow, make your entrance whenever you like. Just make sure you arrive on the days I’m supposed to be at work, yeah? Thanks.

How are you getting through January?

 

A year on… Amy Winehouse

I know there will be a lot of posts today- the anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s death- but I felt compelled to write one of my own. Amy was probably the one celebrity whose death shocked and upset me the most. Yes, she was troubled and battled so many demons, but she was also amazing in her own right. I make no apologies for the fangirl-ness of this post. I was a fan.

I think the fact that she was exactly six months older than me had something to do with it; someone, my age, with so much talent and ability was an awe-inspiring thing. This wasn’t something she had to work at, it was something she already had. And while people will always say how she threw it away, ultimately it was something that could have saved her. This huge voice that came from such a tiny body was such a phenomenal force that it sometimes seemed unreal.

I remember working at the Leeds Guide when Frank came out. The arts reporter was duly sent to interview the then 19 year old singer, who didn’t really make an impact until she boldly declared, “I am jazz.” We didn’t know whether it was arrogance or humour, but since reading interviews with Amy, I suspect her tongue was firmly in her cheek. After having a laugh at the finished article, I think we mainly forgot about her for a couple of years- I probably couldn’t have picked her out in a lineup.

The first time I really remember seeing her was the Christmas of 2005. She was on Hootenanny with Jools Holland, sat tipsily on the lap of her then boyfriend (who would later be replaced, maybe even re-replaced, with Blake.) I vaguely recognised her- this was pre-Back to Black, which was going to be on sale later that year. She was clearly happy and excited and the start of that amazing style she cultivated was there.

When Rehab came out, I was training to be a teacher. I first heard it on my way to the school where I was doing my first placement, in deepest darkest rural East Sussex. I remember asking Anthony, the teacher who was giving me a lift, who it was- I was convinced it was some Phil Spector, 60s song I’d never heard of and couldn’t work out who was singing. And then it all clicked into place- this was Amy Winehouse! I fell into fandom there and then.

Her lyrics were heartfelt, destructive and honest- all wrapped up in a Wall of Sound box, so different from everything else that was around (hence the reason we then had a slew of copycats. It sold well.)  I honestly believe that she truly deserved the praise that Back to Black received, even though the acclaim seemed to further feed Amy’s destruction. Maybe she couldn’t cope with the attention, or the money opened avenues that would not have been otherwise available- but my word is that a cracking album.

I remember reading endless column inches about her destructive marriage and her battle with drugs and feeling angry. Angry that she could be wasting this talent and wishing that she would sort herself out, make more music. Which, of course, never really came to pass. To be honest, I found Lioness: Hidden Treasures a bit of a disappointment (also, Mark Ronson: I will never forgive you for ruining the sublime acoustic version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow‘ with those stupid drums. Travesty, I tell you.)

Most of all, I’m sad that the Amy Winehouse that seems to be present in her sober interviews- funny, talented and intelligent- is no longer able to fulfil her potential. And so, I’ll be listening to Frank  and Back to Black today rather loudly and, it has to be said, unashamedly. She will be missed for a very long time.

Holidays!

So, I’m on holiday for six weeks. Usually, the long holidays are fun, with a bit of work thrown in (don’t believe what you read about teachers in the papers!), but as I will only be back in school for four weeks, I won’t be teaching. Ergo, no planning. Hurrah!  So, what are my plans for this long stretch of loveliness?

Well, although my initial plans are to slob around in my pyjamas watching DVD boxsets (I have missed so much pop culture in the last couple of years; I have The WireMad Men and Downton Abbey to watch), I do think I should use this time wisely. After all, this time next year I’ll have a small child to look after. I won’t get the same opportunities to lounge around, reading and eating biscuits at will. It’ll be all feeding and naptime. Which I’m sure* will be a different kind of fun in itself.

Anyway, I reckon when setting goals and targets, you should really make something that’s a) easy to achieve and b) enjoyable. No point putting pressure on yourself unnecessarily. These are not groundbreaking, nor will they change the world, but they are simple!

1) I am going to wash my makeup brushes. They are horrid and I’m probably wise not to think about what’s on them. I will also, finally, purchase a kabuki brush. I will also chuck out any makeup that’s past its best. Ugh.

2) I will not complain about the weather. If it’s sunny, I’ll go for a walk or sit in the garden. If it’s raining, I’ll stay inside and do something productive or fun.

3) I will blog loads. I’ve got quite attached to my blog (even if people don’t read it, I enjoy writing it!)

4) Stay positive, especially with the house move. No need to dwell and get upset about something that is stressful anyway.

5) Knit the things on my list from a few weeks ago.

6) Get some new music on my iPod. I get bored easily!

7) Sort out the photos for Ladies in Monochrome. It’s a massive undertaking and the blog itself will be a year old in a couple of weeks. So a few hours in front of a hot scanner won’t be too arduous in the long-term.

8) Finally get round to reading the rest of the Hunger Games trilogy! I’ve been putting it off for months, but now’s the time I bite the bullet!

Do you have anything you want achieve before September?

 

*I’m not entirely sure that this is an accurate statement