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.

 

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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!

 

Community and Bad Eggs

I’ve just come from performing in a theatre/dance/community production called SHORE in Narrm by Emily Johnson and Catalyst. Part of the inaugural First Nations Arts Festival at Arts House, Shore in Narrm was a very lovely, connected and gentle thing to be involved with. The production featured several events culminating in a public feast where everyone was to bring food to share. We were asked to bring a dish, something traditional we shared with our family of origin.

Bit tricky, this was, for me. Fish and chips? Friday was fish and chips night in my mostly non-Catholic family (only my grandfather and stepfather were RCs – both sexual abusers of children; now isn’t that a funny thing?) Fish and chips, however, is an expensive option these days when it comes to catering a feast. The sort of feast taking place here involved things like salted myrtle butter with wattle-seed damper, home-made dukkah created from home-grown, home-dried ingredients, possum and wallaby sausages (New Zealand possums; relax), couscous with garden nettles, all served on indigenous style platters made by local potters out of clay dug up in the area and fired in local kilns. Beverages included mulled ryberry and apple-juice and mint tea made from native mint plants.

In this kind of culinary company Watties Canned Spaghetti on toast wasn’t going to going to cut it, nor would supermarket mince pies and mashed spuds served with over-boiled cabbage and peas. Canned peaches and ice-cream was a family favourite and might been nice but the logistics of getting it there would be difficult to manage. Also, round where I live in Melbourne’s inner north it’s hard to find canned peaches with the traditional ratio of added cane sugar to fruit: 87%/13%.

Ice-cream was already being supplied by Emily Johnson. There was much talk about Emily’s ice-cream which was to be made following a traditional Alaskan recipe. (It seems incongruous that people surrounded by ice and snow would invent an ice-cream but there you go.) This ice-cream, a favourite of her family’s, as she tells it, is usually made with seal blubber. Or fish oil.  Word spread fast and as you might imagine there was a fair bit of anticipation. Emily spoke at the feast and explained that after much experimentation and several telephone conversations between Australia and Alaska, she devised a modified version of the ice-cream using vegetable oil. Pomegranates, another departure from tradition, I assume, were also involved. (I can report that the ice-cream was perfectly tasty, if unusual.)

What could I bring to the feast? Boiled eggs was a safe, although humble, bet. Then I remembered that my grandmother, or my mother, or someone, used to draw faces on boiled eggs when we were kids. I did that for my kids, at least once. I meant to, anyway.  So I boiled up nine eggs and got out my felt pens (which are called textas here), and drew faces on the eggs. I managed to crack one of the eggs by pressing too hard with something called a painty pen. (That’s what you get for owning a drawing implement with a name that’s one letter off the word ‘panty’.)

I had to think about the faces: not as simple as you might imagine. These were all eggs of colour, so avoiding any suggestion of racial stereotype was something to be aware of. Pretty girlie faces with red lips, round pink spots on cheeks and big spidery eyelashes would have been downright sexist and demeaning to women. Male-presenting faces would have been easy to do with beards and mustaches and bald pates but what a gender-heavy clutch of boiled eggs it would be if they were all blokes/trans-men. I didn’t imagine androgynous faces on eggs would be terribly fascinating and m-f transgender faces would have required, well,  pointing out, so that they wouldn’t be taken for ordinary girlie faces, and that was more work than decorated boiled eggs generally require. So I decided to do male- and female- presenting faces but make them generically old looking. There isn’t enough general representation of seniors out there and I do feel (somewhat) strongly about this. I drew wrinkled visages and called them ‘elder eggs’ although I had to hope that my old-faced brown eggs wouldn’t offend any actual elders, of whom the afternoon would be graced by several.

Off I went with my eggs to the feasting. When we arrived we given a postcard to fill out with the ‘story’ behind our choice of dish, to be included in a zine about the feast. We were also given tiny hand-made clay holders which looked like small vulvas in which to put a card informing people what was in the dish. (The holders were made, as we heard later, by potters crushing balls of clay in their fists so each holder comprised a hand-print of its maker: a beautiful detail, you’ll agree, and a telling indication of the thoughtfulness given to the whole occasion.) Anyone could see that these were boiled eggs with faces drawn on them but in the spirit of joining in I filled out a card, anyway.  During lunch I sat at a table with my friend Susie who peeled an egg for her son while holding him on her lap. It’s quite tricky to peel a boiled egg with one hand while holding on to your child with the other but he insisted on her peeling it, no-one else. By the time she’d finished he decided he didn’t want it after all. Kids, eh?

Someone else had brought boiled eggs too but they were curried eggs. My eggs (indulge me here), were perhaps, a tad more interesting. And, as it happens, my boiled eggs were a bit different, as I found out this morning when I ate the egg I’d left behind, the one that been cracked on top. For starters the yolk had a grey ring around it which happens when you boil eggs for too long, rendering them flavourless. That was bad enough. Standing in my kitchen I ate the egg in an absent sort of way while talking to my son about the dramatic nature of an episode of Outlander we’d watched together the night before. Now here’s a thing – as a result of becoming so mindful during the whole SHORE experience over the last fortnight I was focused intently on our conversation. My son and I were experiencing such a nice moment of confluence and connection that I didn’t want to distract myself by noticing that the boiled egg tasted bad. Rather than disrupt my train of thought to register this I kept eating it. Whether this is a reflection of the over-feminised social conditioning of my upbringing, where I’m unwilling to interrupt a man, even mentally, while he’s making a point, even if that man is my own son, or (more likely), it’s an indication of my inability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time, I hesitate to venture, but I ate the whole egg and only afterwards thought ‘oh’.

‘Oh’ ‘s right. That egg reverberated sulphurously and explosively through my digestive system later in the day while I was at the library. I’m lucky that I live in a civilised place where public libraries include public toilets on the premises. Worse though, was the thought that all the other eggs might have been bad too and that my contribution to a positively perfect afternoon, where untold care had been taken and preparation undergone to create an experience of community and abundance, might have given some unlucky person (or people) a horrible dose of the squits.

 

 

tell me what to wear

I went to the finders keepers market, to be inspired
by the art of fashion illustrators, specially hired,                                                        to portray fashion’s most exciting creations                                                               with individual creative  interpretations.

I liked what I saw; such talent abounds!

I couldn’t help noticing, while looking around
at how muted and pastel all the products were hued
everything designed in a mood most subdued;
as though colour was seen to be vulgar and bright
too hard on the eye; only  subtle is right.

Well, here’s a prediction for the coming season:
I have noted (and not without reason)
we’ll soon see  colours  bright, cheery and dramatic
enticing us down from our dim-lit, pastelly attic

The dictators of fashion are so very precise
they kindly include in their unchallenged advice
the exact pantone numbers of the colours to wear
so  we may step out in style, without a tremor of fear

that our clothes may be dated or the colours all wrong,                          confident,  knowing we’ve got it right; we belong.

(Burnt orange,  sulphur yellow, true red and deep teal,                                         mint green contrasted with blue for extra appeal.)

But not only in clothes, in art and design too, you’ll observe

In a loud, brightly-hued direction, we all, herd-like, will  swerve.