1066 and All That


Thinking about literary influences …

When I was very young (A.A. Milne being, of course, a literary influence), around nine, I bought, through our primary school book club, a copy of 1066 and All That.

Wait on – the Wikipedia entry’s right here:

‘1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates is a tongue-in-cheek reworking of the history of England. Written by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds, it first appeared serially in Punch magazine, and was published in book form by Methuen & Co. Ltd. in 1930.’

In Standard Three at Titirangi Primary School in 1970 pupils ordered paperback books through a catalogue. After saving up our cents in our Kashins – dark blue plastic elephant piggy banks distributed to school children by the Bank of Auckland – we  filled-out our book orders and brought our money to school to be posted off by the teachers. I was a good saver in those days. I bought quite a few books; this one I read over and over again.

My copy of 1066 and All That would have cost around 75c, which was considered a bit steep. (A packet of Du Maurier or Rothmans cigarettes was then about 25c; I was sent up the road to buy them for my mother’s husband and my grandmother, respectively. My grandmother moved on to Benson and Hedges and when I took up smoking they were what I started on.)

Without understanding much of it, way before I appreciated what the year 1066 meant in terms of history, I was entranced by the word play in the writing. I was pleased with myself for getting the jokes, when I did. On the back of the book a mock publisher’s blurb read ‘This slim volume…’, referring to both the thinness of the book and its lightweight content.

The only other time I’d come across double meanings of this order was when I visited my childhood friend Sarah. Near the front door of her house there was a sign on the wall which read ‘No knives or stilettos.’ Sarah’s mother Eileen explained it to me: there was a type of knife known as a stiletto, a sharp thin knife meant for stabbing people, not filleting fish. The joke was that stilettos were also shoes with pointy heels (how we loved them in the 80s) and she didn’t want anyone walking over her floorboards in them. Or, obviously, bringing knives into the house. I was bothered by the notice; it was a sinister adult joke, bringing with it the thought that someone might otherwise come in with a knife.

Nobody around me used language in the silly, punning way of 1066. The book was funny in new a way. It was comical and to me, at nine, sophisticated. You could describe it as ‘Pythonesque’, which covers ‘silly’ and the piss-taking of traditional approaches to English history.

History was, and can be still, presented as a monolithic set of circumstances, as a linear series of external events involving countries, dates, governance, war, colonial expansion, exploits, seafaring, adventuring, exploration, exploitation, inventions, imperialism and other manly concerns. Women didn’t figure, unless they were queens or notable consorts, or perhaps the odd nurse, like the marvelously named Florence Nightingale. (The marvelously named Florence Nightingale. See how I’m expressing myself here?  In the style of the time.)

Within 1066 and All That history was subverted, buggered about with. Reduced, its serious balloon popped. History was a tool with which to have fun with language.  ‘Maharajahs, jhams and jhellies’ is a phrase that sticks, nearly 50 years later.

Sellar and Yeatman, a couple of chaps writing before WWII, gave a little girl in West Auckland an appreciation of a subtle, wordy, smart-arsey humour, like that of Edward Lear or Edward Gorey, but rollicking.

I can’t recall the last time I read 1066 and All That. My copy should still be in my mother’s garage; I hope so.

A while ago, I had a go at stand-up comedy. I wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t elicit belly laughs. A few sniggers and chuckles. A friend of mine, herself a successful comic, gave me some feedback: “It’s too intellectual, too cerebral, too wordy. You should swear more.”

Blame Sellar and Yeatman.



So you’re passionate? Yawn…

If I need someone to do something for me, on a professional level, I mean, I don’t care how they feel about it. I don’t care whether they bounce out of bed like a jack-in-a-box at 6 am to do it, or not. I care about the quality of work they do and whether they deliver, and deliver on time. They don’t have to love what they do. They sure as hell have to do it well.

We live in a world where people claim to be passionate about working in call centres – “I’m passionate about customer service!!!” Really? You lie.

Personal passions can shift and meander; mine sure have, although they always revolve around storytelling in one way or another, whether it’s visual storytelling or creating narrative using language.

I’m not going to sell you my writing or drawing services cos I feel passionate about doing these things, although I really do. Most of the time. Nearly all the time, actually, but that’s beside the point. I may not feel fire in my belly for a project, but I care about doing the best job on it I can.  If you’re hiring me, that’s what you want to be assured of.

I’m sick of hearing how passionate people are about their thing. Can’t we simply be dedicated, meticulous and committed to quality? Passion once belonged in the bedroom. Time to put it back.

Business is business

Thinking about my experiences with the Wellness/Self Help movement …. The language of self help and personal growth informs so much of what we’re bombarded with daily in attempts to induce us to sign up to whatever.  So long as people are running their businesses ethically then I have no problem with this. As long as the business owner is operating according to their own principles, fair enough. I’ve had a couple of long conversations recently with someone who’s establishing a new business; he’s determined to provide a service informed foremost by integrity . He’s spent years refining his business concept.

At this stage, as I begin my own small business as a copywriter, I’m thinking a lot about the best way to go about this, how to promote myself, how to create my brand, and about the sorts of things I want to write and for whom.

I’ve read what I think are morally dubious sales pitches, for various online businesses, mostly offering coaching/courses/wellness programs. Many of the marketing blurbs involve a kind of pseudo-feminist rhetoric; a sort of pro-feminist language that has been co-opted in the service of capitalism while pretending it isn’t actually doing that.  One successful freelance journalist who sells courses uses a sales pitch to promote her writing program which tells a story about her being gang raped. Her sales message goes along the lines of ‘if I can recover from this and create this mega-successful career, then so can you.‘ I felt uncomfortable reading the story and where it went; it took me a while to articulate my distaste.

This woman comes from a country where misogyny, manifesting as violence and sexual assault against women (amongst many other things), practically underpins society, and yet she sidesteps this cultural and political reality to use the dreadful assault she experienced in the service of her personal gain, at the same time glossing over the reality of systemic female oppression. The rape was presented as out of context. She has every right to do this, of course, and all power to her for recovering from such an ordeal and forging an impressive career.  But the whole thing smelled bad. I experienced unease with the implicit message in her words: ‘See how I recovered from this atrocity and triumphed; any woman can! (Let me show you how…’). In truth, the effect of her using this story as a sales pitch made me doubt its veracity. Conflating a career as a writer/journo with a rape seems specious to me; unless one has gone on to report extensively on that or related issues, which she may well have done for all I know.

On the other hand, along with the new business owner I mentioned,  I have a friend who runs her own small business: a publicist in the arts, a person of integrity. She is service- oriented, generous and extremely professional. She only represents artists she respects. She gives good service and she knows what she is worth; a good role model.

More later.

Writing stuff feels good

Here’s me on my journey towards being paid to write. Having done so many courses in my life and having gotten excited about and started so many careers, I’ve decided to be a copywriter when I grow up. Now I know what to tell people when they ask me what I do. A copywriter is a proper professional adult thing to be.

in the past I’ve been scared of the world of business, held distaste for the corporate world, been reluctant to engage with the world of commerce. Now I must promote myself as being in service to these things. But what are ‘these things’? Not monolithic edifices to capitalism but a myriad different businesses with individual needs.

Rather than be reluctant to market myself, I can treat marketing as a game, an activity, a good habit like flossing my teeth or going to Pilates classes. See it as a process. Do the right things and results will follow. This is what I need to remind myself of regularly, because it up til now it has been discomfiting for me to ‘put myself out there.’

When I feel ambivalent about being a professional writer, when I feel discouraged by my lack of commercial success so far, when I feel grief-stricken about having ‘sinned against my talent’ , I think about Amy Winehouse, about whom Tony Bennett repeated that quote. I’m not suggesting I possess incandescent gifts like hers. But I’m here. All the talent in the world is nothing if you’re dead.

When I feel unmotivated, negative, paralysed or sick with anxiety about my work or lack of it, there is one certain antidote or cure and that is to write something. That’s all it takes. The pain of not creating is healed by a single thing: creating. I might not create anything significant to the world but making or writing something makes me feel good.

I’m stating the obvious here!


A Mother’s Advice to her Son about Women and Sex

Only have sex if you want to, not to make her like you. She might even tell you she loves you in order to get you to have sex with her. Don’t fall for it. Trust your gut. If you don’t want sex, just say no. 

Have sex if you want toNothing gives her the right to impose herself on you no matter how great a time you’ve had on a date. You don’t have to have sex to be nice or keep the peace, or because you’re drunk or you’re not sure whether you want to or not… 

Just because she’s paid for your dinner or the movie tickets, that doesn’t mean you’re obliged to fuck her. End of story.

If you don’t want to perform cunnilingus on her, don’t! If you feel you have to go down on her to make her like you, she’s definitely not worth it. And you don’t have to pretend to come to make her feel good! Sexual pleasure is a shared thing. Talk about what works for each of you. Have fun experimenting.

If she tries to talk you into sex without a condom, insist on your right to protect yourself. She may tell you she’s safe but if you’re not sure then don’t risk it.

If she shares intimate photos of you without your express permission, she has no respect for you. Report this and walk away.

Don’t let your heart rule your head – she might not want to see you again after sex. You can have a great time in bed without falling in love with each other.  But if you do, great!

If she  disrespects you in any way for having sex with her, forget her. She might tell all her friends that you two had sex to make herself look big yet still put you down for it. This is called slut shaming. Ignore it, hold your head up high and move on. You deserve better.

If you don’t know or trust her then make sure you watch her pour your drinks. Don’t go back to her place unless you’re confident of your safety. There might be other people there who mean you harm.

If you’re in a group of her friends and she puts you down or makes jokes at your expense or ignores you, she is disrespecting you.

If you don’t want to see her again, that’s it. If she keeps ringing you or turning up at your home or place of work or where you socialise, this is stalking and it’s illegal.

You’re beautiful the way you are. If she suggests you need to lose weight or is disparaging about your body in any way, that’s her problem. Walk away.

You don’t have to think she’s perfect or laugh at all her jokes. Enjoying each other’s company is a two-way street; one person doesn’t get to hold the floor while the other’s the audience. If she keeps interrupting you to explain things you already know, she doesn’t respect your views.

And if you have to pretend to be less intelligent than you are in order for her to like you, forget her. Find someone as smart as you.

Only get into a relationship with someone who is kind and who respects you. If she’s bad tempered, mean, rude or withholding, is this what you really want? Actions speak louder than words. You cannot love someone into being a better person. 

If she tries to control who else you see or who you’re friends with or how you spend your money, run, don’t walk! If she threatens you in any way, ditto.

You don’t need a woman to be with you to prove you’re lovable. You’re perfectly wonderful and worthy as you are, partnered or otherwise.

Now relax and enjoy yourself!