There’s something attractive about the other. While my accent is not particularly strong, a degree of fluidity regarding the presence of vowels marks me out as a Northerner. Not only does the word bath has no ‘r’ but the phrase ‘down to the’ needn’t be longer than a single syllable, ‘darnt.’ Spoken by the boyfriend, ‘darnt’ becomes comedic as instinctively he tries to add in his Cheltenham accent vowels to soften and draw out the language I use. It becomes an obscure ‘down-tuh-urgh’ as he cannot cut out the fripperies of being Southern that us Northerners can rarely afford.
I only partly jest. The truth is that having lived in the North East of England for much of my adult life, I felt that life got easier and sunnier when I moved South (even despite my sojourn to the tropics). Perhaps there was even a degree of novelty in my Northernness; I’ve had a fair few compliments on my lovely accent (there may be some charm to sounding like an extra from Heartbeat). But there just seemed more work, more opportunities and more money.
I swear there’s a noticeable degree or two difference in temperature and people are friendlier. I’ve particularly been amused by the Gloucestershire notion of ‘rough.’ Having walked through Newcastle’s Big Market after a football defeat and having sold kitchens in Middlesbrough, the South has nowt on up North. Walking through Gloucester at night I’m not just struck by how many police officers there are but that none of them are having fights. Back in Darlington it seemed a night out wasn’t complete without pulling a lass, eating a kebab and having a scrap.
Note also the difference between two daytime comments from a pair of young men; in Darlington “I’d have a go on that” (urgh), in Gloucester (as I carried some pillows while wearing a low cut top) one bloke comments “she’s tasty” (aww) to which his mate replies “Oi’d like to bury my face in them there pillows!” (I burst out laughing). Ok so sleaze all round but the West Country boys seemed far less threatening than the gravelly use of “that” to describe me back homeward.
Imagine my surprise then to read that I haven’t escaped the North and that according to Professor Danny Dorling, the dividing line keeps Cheltenham in the South but cuts to include Gloucester and the Forest of Dean in that which is grim. The reporting has been vaguely insulting although I have to confess to wearing a flat cap (it’s a lovely shade of aubergine and has a bow but it is a flat cap) and having owned a greyhound so I probably shouldn’t take offence at the likes of Tim Oakes. Ok to clarify, I’m not offended at his Northerism so much as the fact he isn’t actually funny; a second-hand ferret makes no sense, you never sell a good ferret and anyone selling a ferret is clearing dodgy so the entire enterprise would fail...
Anyway, it’s a concern. Northernness in sociological terms refers to lower life expectancy, less chance of your children attending one of the top 20 universities in the country and the business and employment opportunities that you face being less evident. Politically incorrect as it may be to admit it, but I wanted to move away from the fact that (in County Durham at least life) is harder the further up the country you go.
I could bring my Bronte novels, my awesome Yorkshire pudding recipe and my distain of the softness of Southerners with me. There’s no need to actually live there to have pride in my roots (look at all the Aussies in London) and I think my accent makes me sound a bit dense at times, especially when I’m excited or angry. My mum is from Essex and beat (metaphorically I hasten to add) as much of the local accent out of my brother and I as she could. I found her irritating at the time and yet when imagining a potential child of my own, I want the soft lilt of the West Country accent that carries the sing of proximity to Wales rather than the brusque and somewhat aggressive edge of the lads back home.
Snobbery? Undoubtedly. I am a traitorous born again Southerner and think that the asparagus makes life better here. Obviously my gut reaction is to investigate my village - it’s not really Gloucester you know, maybe I’m still in the socio-economic South (my rent certainly feels that way!)
This is absurdity. What can I say, work is a challenge at the moment and I need to get more sleep. I’m descending into introversion and losing what little objectivity I once had for the dissemination of news and creative conclusions for its implications on my live, love and universe (yes, tonight I’m claiming ownership of that too).
There’s a topic worth discussing here but I admit defeat and concede that now is a rare example of me struggling to find words. I’ll seek to remedy that soon, but for now dear readers I’ll bid you adieu and send you back out into the world(wideweb) in search of greener pastures and brighter blogging.
I began the Thursday column with some thoughts on the previous decade. The millennium was a big occasion but there was a bigger one just a year down the line for me. The millennium had been hype over nothing but this other event would change my life. It was the day I got my A Level exams.
I feel for the students that woke today wondering what direction their lives would turn. In nine years the gut wrenching fear that accompanied me on the morning of my results day hasn’t faded at all. I can rationalise with hindsight that my personal drive combined with my intelligence and work ethic was always going to see me do alright but on that morning everything rested on three little letters.
I had an offer to do Social and Political Sciences at Durham. It was a slightly artsy course at an old school institution and the fantasy finishing school for my overachieving upper middle class eighteen year old self. I wanted to go to Durham more than anything. This required three B’s.
My parents and I arrived at school and I went in alone. The first person I met was my English teacher who was looking around excitedly. “How do you feel?” she chirruped excitedly when she saw me. “Scared” I replied, wondering whether the woman was completely unhinged. “Oh no you shouldn’t be” she trilled, literally jumping in her skin. I realised I was the person she was looking out for and I it sank in that there was an obvious reason why she was so happy. Knowing I had an A in the bag made opening the envelope far less scary. I got a further B in religious studies which was a little disappointing but what jumped out was the C in History. I had the points for Durham but not the grades. Would my A balance out the C?
I could barely breathe. I ran to my parents who initially feared the worst given my pale and unhappy face. I called the university there and then and was put through to the Sociology department. They said that it was fine by them but that I’d need approval from the Politics department and I should wait for them to call me.
I cried. I rationalised that the Politics department had been eager to offer me a place and it was Sociology that hadn’t been so sure. I paced about. I hugged my mum. I cried. I hugged my dad. We made small talk about the restaurant he’d booked for dinner. I think it was about eight minutes until the call came through. I was in. My legs gave way and I sobbed.
What stands out the most is the way my dad gave me his mobile and said “call them now” the second I told him my grades. I did it because he made me do it but he taught me an important lesson, to face problems head on and not to procrastinate. The clearings game meant that speed was important. If lots of students had got better than expected grades and called before me, Durham might have taken them over me. Nothing was to be gained by waiting and while I felt at my least able to make that call at that moment, it wasn’t a feeling that would improve with time. Back in 2001 you had to collect your results in person and I was on the phone within ten minutes of results being officially announced.
My exam results did change my life but I think what really left an impression on me was that sometimes you have to act fast and not be afraid to say what you want. Your A Level results day is a huge day in your life because it is a day when you experience extreme stakes and often for the first time in your life are faced with significant choices. Yes, attending Durham University shaped my life but how I got there was as important. I got in twice, once on the basis of my application and once because of that phone call.
Results day is one of the early events that start to shape how you see the world. Do you immediately move to negotiate or do you give up? The reality is whether you do better or worse than expected there is always room to negotiate; if you did better than expected then your place is secure but you might want to see if a better university now wants you, if you did worse it is still worth exploring your opinions.
One girl I went to university with didn’t get the course she wanted but the course she took (that she didn’t particularly want to do) only required 3 compulsory modules. Sociology also required 3 compulsory modules and she took all three to make up her six. She did well and after a year successfully applied to do single honours Sociology. It’s not even as though I stayed with my choice, a year in I switched to single honours Politics.
It can take a little creativity and it certainly takes a lot of adaptability to find your path through life and results day is one step on that journey. So your exam results do affect your life but not because they define your choices but because how you choose to manage them defines you.
In 1852 a woman lay in a freezing bathtub of water. Her name was Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal and her reward for the cold which contributed to her poor health was that Sir John Everett Millias was painting a work that would forever immortalise her as Ophelia. There are other artists, other Pre-Raphaelites even (including her husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti), that have painted the heroine who was loved by Hamlet more than forty thousand brothers could (not that he followed through on his innuendo to the poor girl the manwhore!) but none capture Ophelia as well as Millias. I believe that this is due to Lizzie herself and the way Millias chose to portray her.
Fan Stephanie Pina, who created the wonderful site lizziesiddal.com, makes the observation that in his painting, First Madness of Ophelia Rossetti chooses the following passage from Hamlet and then paints his wife as Ophelia is interesting given the tumulus nature of their relationship.
Hamlet : I did love thee once.
Ophelia : Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
Hamlet : You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old shock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not.
Ophelia : I was the more deceived.
Hamlet : Get thee to a nunnery, why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things…
Lizzie shared many characteristics with Ophelia; the dramatic relationship, the mental instability and the experience of profound grief. That Lizzie was the real world Ophelia is often remarked yet it was Millias’ portrayal of her in Ophelia that Rossetti’s brother William remarked as being the most like Lizzie.
Not that an apt portrayal of Lizzie automatically translates to an apt portrayal of Ophelia. Rather that capturing the essence of Lizzie means getting close to what many of us understand as Shakespeare’s vision of Ophelia. The painting is frighteningly realistic as the detail is astounding (I first saw it aged 18 and still remember how affected I was) but it’s the emotion that really jumps from the canvas, a duality of peace and anguish that sends a shiver down your spine.
I got thinking about Lizzie twice this week having not given her a thought for a year or two. Firstly because I started painting again myself this week and that often makes me think of both great paintings and Lizzie as a model turned artist, inspired as she was by the men she played muse to but also because the boyfriend watched Wild Swimming this week where the annoyingly talented Dr Alice Roberts pranced about being smart and gorgeous and making the boyfriend go all gooey. I can’t remember what about the programme got us talking about Lizzie but I ran upstairs to get a book so I could show him a picture of Ophelia.
For me, art requires participation. I am no artist, I barely dabble but I find there are two wonderful benefits to putting brush to canvas. Firstly is the relaxation and clarity of thought which is why I’ve been painting this week. Rather like creating a mood board, I’m painting elements that I want in my life so as best to reach my goals and dreams. Secondly, is that by engaging in the process I find my mind is more able to focus on a painting. It’s as though appreciating a piece of work requires a certain meditative state and as a somewhat hyperactive creature, I benefit from activity that helps me reach that state.
Participation needn’t mean painting; Stephanie Pina participates by encouraging discussion. Rather than just observe, she explores the stories.
It reflects life as a whole then. We can look to people, places and experiences and observe or we can engage. On our recent holiday to France, the boyfriend and I made a conscious effort not to get caught up in the tourist activity of ticking off must-see places (although I confess there were a few must-eats) and instead try to be led by our moods and intuition. It was surprisingly challenging and our day in Avignon was rather marked by my set of clichéd photographs. Yet as I looked through the images upon my return as I performed the essential task of putting them on Facebook, I realised there was a painting to be made. Something to reflect the city, my relationship at that period and the fact my skirt kept blowing up. Even if I never paint it, I moved beyond the consumer I was while I was there and began to be more active in my observation.
I think that’s why art has such a profound effect on us. Through necessity we cannot appreciate every moment but art reminds us to stop and look more deeply. It also makes you appreciate being able to pull on a jumper when you’re a bit cold – seriously what has happened to our summer?
It has slowly dawned on me that last week’s column was a diversion. It wasn’t that I wasn’t eager to conduct an interview and try new things but I could have easily introduced a new hot topic section to this website to showcase projects that excite me. It was more that if I wrote about the car accident I was in then I would have to confront a few things and I just wasn’t ready. Sometimes there’s a time for hiding and feeling scared and I think that’s as important to us as when we say enough and begin to move on.
The facts are fairly simple. I was driving home from work and upon slowing to give right of way to a bus at a fairly blind stretch discovered that sometimes road signs pass us by, sometimes we drive a little impatiently and sometimes we drive straight into the back of blue sports cars driven by redheaded columnists. The other driver admitted liability and I wasn’t seriously injured.
But I was injured. Aside from the fact that my much loved little Mazda is a write-off and I experienced the unsurprising shock that accompanies big black BMWs smashing into the back of you, I have what my GP has signed me off with a the rather vague sounding but nonetheless painful ‘muscular and soft tissue injury.’ I have now come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be making a personal injury claim when I loathe the whole idea of personal injury claims – prescriptions are expensive and while I can get a certain number of lifts to work, there are some expensive taxi journeys I simply don’t have the money for on my rota at work. In short, I can’t afford my value system at the moment and getting better and getting to work is going to cost money.Oddly what changed my mind about making a claim were two absurdly incidental factors that I won’t be claiming compensation for. Firstly, I had my hair highlighted a short while back. A full head of highlights takes time and my back injury means I can’t sit still for prolonged periods and so I have dyed my hair back to its original colour for the first time in what is approaching three years (I wasn’t able to get to a shop selling much in the way of a variety of colours). My hair is a deeply personal thing but I’ve had to change it (or live with roots) through entirely external factors. Secondly, the boyfriend and I had our first date at Alton Towers. It was romantic, fun and the perfect date. A year later my birthday present was two consecutive days at theme parks. It was ridiculous and perfect. The biggest sign of why he is the guy for me is that rollercoasters and snogging were made a pact that every September we would spend a day on rides and eating bad food and just being each other’s best mate. Back injuries don’t really go with rollercoasters. I had already booked my Birthday off work but there’ll be no Thorpe Park for me. It’s silly but it reflects how the repercussions of an accident will affect my life (not that the boyfriend and I will break up if we don’t have our annual date but that I’m missing out on something really important to me).
All this was pretty distracting but it isn’t such a big deal. I’m confident I’ll have the issue resolved soon enough.
What I was left with however, was the realisation that certain old insecurities were raising their head.
I panicked. New in my job I was terrified what the implications of taking time off would be. In fact, I’d been in a mild state of panic since I started the job. Not that I ever let that get in the way of doing my job. No, I turned up each day, did the best job I could and then came home to let it wreck my personal life and wake me in the middle of the night.
But this week I realised, or rather acknowledged, something. I always do this! I think people are taking mad risky chances on me and then feel guilty about the idea of letting them down. Obviously this is insane as the people involved are usually smart and capable people with experience in their field. I was getting some files from the spare bedroom earlier and an article caught my eye. At the front of a magazine folder were a collection of papers, fronted by an analysis of peasant uprisings in Vietnam. Ok, so that’s random by anyone’s standards but bear with me.
The route to my Masters Degree was a little indirect and I always felt under qualified. Durham University generally required a first class degree in order to pursue postgraduate work. Because I received a double first on my undergraduate dissertation, I was admitted to do an MA by research. Had I wanted to do a taught MA then my 2.1 wouldn’t have been sufficient. The important thing to note however is that I never wanted to do a taught MA, I was all about the research (which was probably why my dissertation was brilliant but my exams distinctly average). I anguished throughout the process, feeling huge amounts of concern that I’d let down the supervisor who had taken me on (the same supervisor who , I hasten to add, oversaw my dissertation and has never been anything but supportive and encouraging).Of course I passed the Masters and as I paused in front of the bookcase, I realised that while the process terrifies me, I have a need to push myself to the extreme. You see, I didn’t just do a Masters, I decided that the current options for evaluating my topic of choice were inadequate and so I created a new theory. Ironically given the nature of this column, I called it Confidence Theory.
The mad risky chances are clearly in my head and I feed them by being ambitious. I’m daunted by elements of my new job but I wasn’t hired by idiots. Furthermore, this new job is just like the MA. Applying standard marketing practises to the heritage industry would be like analysing Vietnam with statistics instead of confidence theory. You’ll get results but they won’t be the best possible results. What I realised, as I stood staring at that discourse of revolutionary peasants (in my quiet-life middle class way) was that I wasn’t hired because I misrepresented my skills or abilities and therefore risked letting people down but because I accurately represented myself and the person I am is what my employers wanted. They know exactly what I have and haven’t done because I was completely honest on my CV. They saw someone creative and a little left of field and thought that the best way to promote their business was to place me as their marketing manager.
It’s a trust issue and not an obvious one. This isn’t about trusting myself not to fail but trusting that others sometimes see me more clearly than I see myself and if they have faith in me then I shouldn’t question that and instead just get on with things. Speaking of which, I have a marketing plan to write and y’all know it’s gonna be something special!
Once upon a time a song changed my life. I was newly married to man I later divorced for unreasonable behaviour. He wasn’t so much cruel as so devastated by his previous experiences that he was unable to truly engage with another person but back then I was too involved to feel anything but neglect at his issues surrounding intimacy. A friend (who is now “the boyfriend”) sent me two songs. Of all things, we had been discussing music we would play at our funerals – for those looking to sordid insight at a friendship that catalysed the end of two marriages, the reality is somewhat tedious and reflects an over intellectualised friendship that skirted the meaning of life that would have bored even the most ardent of Dawson’s Creek fans.
But there have been many men that have been important to me and in this column I want to introduce Trev. I met Trev online and it was on impulse that I read of his travel plans and (living myself in Malaysia) suggested we “do” Cambodia together. Cambodia was a country on my wish list but I didn’t want to go there alone. I had a vision of what Cambodia could be like given maximum freedom and I (rightly as it turned out) felt that if I was with a friend I’d be freer. I took chances on that holiday with Trev that I wouldn’t have taken alone. With him, taking a spur of the moment trip to a bamboo train was fun when would have been stupid to have gone as a single female. Trev has seen a side of me that nobody else ever will because I’m sure as hell never going deep into an undeveloped country just to see Irrawaddy Dolphins (or similarly rare exciting things) again. I lay whimpering that night in our grotty hostel in the randomcambodiatownsville known as Kratie as Trev covered me head to toe in sheets, wrapped his arms around me and shook me with his laughter as he sought to reassure me that the bugs and beetles that had swarmed into our room when we turned on the light weren’t coming get me.
So, the song that changed my life; A better man. It wasn’t so much that at the time of hearing it that I wanted to be the one that he couldn’t stand the living the thought of living their life without (although those familiar with the boyfriend and I will probably see how much the song captures the changes in our lives and the journey we have made) but rather that I wanted to be that someone to somebody. I wanted to inspire not just love, not just passion, but genuine change. I wanted a real man and I wanted to be woman enough to experience a real man.If a few weeks ago you had asked me to define what I meant by a real man, I’d have struggled. I knew it was what my ex-husband wasn’t and I knew it was something that my boyfriend was but anything clearer than that was difficult. It is being masculine enough to support me in the way the men of my family cared for their women but it was equal enough to nurture the dreams of a passionate and driven woman. I needed a man who wasn’t intimidated by my dreams, my intelligence, my sexuality or, (let’s be honest here) my issues but who instead could take a clear look at my whole and say yeah, I want to join with that and make the sum of our parts even better without stifling a single element of that crazy, passionate irrationality that is the intrinsic you.
I think most women of my generation have an equally vague desire for a man that can blend the complexity of the right level of support, enough new-manishness to do his share of the housework whilst still hitting the right note of dominance. I know I wanted to feel fulfilled in any career path I chose but I still liked guys that insisted that if we had a child it would have his surname and were sufficiently “caveman” in the bedroom.
A lot to ask? Not so says Trev. Instead Trev is one of what sometimes seems to be a rare breed of men. Trev actually likes women. This is very different from merely being straight. Straight men are sexually attracted to women rather than being sexually attracted to men. I’ve met plenty of men who are straight but dislike women. It only takes the boyfriend to ask “Mars or Venus?”* to illustrate his understanding that sometimes I want his pragmatic solution driven support and sometimes I just want to talk about how upset I am, to demonstrate how much he understands how my female needs differ from his masculine ones. Trev really gets this and while of course he sometimes wonders at the endless irrationality of women, he doesn’t hate us for it. Instead, he looks to society and wonders what happened to get men and women into such a confused state and what women want, what this elusive ‘real man’ is.
Trev can express it better than I can try to and so he has kindly agreed to provide the first Thursday Column interview on what makes a real man and to introduce his project on the subject.
Kathryn Trev, I must applaud you for defining a most vague and subjective of terms. What led to you putting pen to paper and attempting it?
Trev It is hard to say what exactly triggered the attempt. It was partly the "self help" material that I was listening to on my mp3 player that kept on skirting around the subject of being a real man, but without ever defining it to my satisfaction. This came on top of a trend that has been going on for many years in my life to improve myself and be the best that I could be.
Whenever I see missing information like this I like to solve it, and so I thought I'd write down the criteria for a Real Man to give me something to work towards... That was the genesis of the project...
Kathryn I think you've picked up on a topic that is really significant to our generation. I've said myself that I want a real man but I didn't really know what I meant. I presume you've met plenty of women like me and men who wonder what we mean.
Trev It is one of those buzz words that is floating about at the moment. I'm not sure if it isunique to our generation, but it is certainly something that seems to be relevant to a large number of people. Women wanting a Real Man is a pretty common phenomenon. I think that to a large extent that most guys have no idea what is passing through a woman’s mind when she says these words. Part of the project is to help educate guys what is involved and eventually to provide resources to help them get closer to the ideal
Kathryn I think there are benefits for women as well. With your definition there is at least the beginning of a discourse for them about what they mean. And of course, a way of finding these better men!
Trev It is certainly an interesting topic for women of course. At these early stages there are a lot more women then men that are following the project! And for sure, if I can create a few more real men out there then I think that is definitely a benefit for women...
Kathryn So what does the project currently involve and how can people participate?
Trev At the moment the project is in its infant stage. I am still trying to pin down what the words "Real Man" mean to people, and specifically women. I'm also trying to apply the things I am learning to my real life. People can participate by following my blog and giving me feedback. I also have a page on Facebook called "The Real Man Project". Anyone with an interest can follow that which will chart my ongoing progress.
Kathryn I think it provides an essential context for the debate. I loved your post 'What would you have done?' Theory is all very well but while the initial idea can often capture our attention, we often move on. By illustrating the project with real life situations I think you're more likely to create a lasting impact. Ideally where would you like the project to go?
Trev The "What would you have done?" post was something that happened to me, and it seemed to illustrate some of the problems of being a real man, and my own personal challenges really well. These type of posts will continue to appear as and when appropriate events happen in my life, or possibly in other peoples’ lives if they feel that they have a story to share then I will consider helping them in this respect.
The main thrust of the project in the short term will be my personal improvement, and collecting tools to help myself and others to improve in various aspects of their life. I'll be testing all of these methods, and letting people know what effect it is having. Eventually I hope to build up a large list of resources to help guys pin point their weaknesses and tools to strengthen them in these areas.
Kathryn Well I'll be following with interest. I think there has been a lot of confusion between the sexes as the position women hold in society has evolved and it's great that you are encouraging people to take responsibility for their wants and needs. Thank you for talking to me today Trev. Good luck with the project!
Talking to Trev reminded me of a conversation I have had a number of times with the boyfriend. The boyfriend will talk of being worthy of me. This isn’t so much an idea based in me being some wonderful creature, rather a reflection on how a relationship can fall apart and how making love work requires commitment. The challenge is through worthiness of self, sustain and nourish ones relationship. It goes both ways and as Trev joked to me that if there are more real men out there then maybe women will have to step up their game. I for one embrace that challenge, I know that if I’m to maintain the interest and affection of my real man, I cannot be complacent.
And that’s what Trev’s project ultimately means for me. If we want a fulfilling and meaningful life (regardless of love) then we must seek it out, work at it and not be passive. For the most part I agree with Hobbes that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short but I think there is choice in there and I applaud the men that seek to be better men, to be real men.
* From the book by John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus