Archive for July, 2010

London, summer 1993. Patting my pocket to check I hadn’t forgotten the money, I passed the bathroom mirror without a glance. My face was clean but my hair was probably a mess as the closest I came to caring about appearance was to occasionally use a nailbrush when my hands got really manky. I knew how I looked: a plastic dummy swung on a necklace and the bright red t-shirt I wore was the cleanest I had. Clothes were useful for pockets and wiping hands on when you spent all day outdoors with your friends. We were guttersnipes, fiercely independent, impudent and savvy as Brixton had taught us to be. Roaming freely, we’d chat openly to strangers in our broad Sarf Lahndahn accents while keeping a wary distance, eyes as sharp as any Dickensian pickpocket. I was twelve, the second-eldest of our group and bookish, which meant imaginative and so by some strange childish default, the leader. Each day I had to devise games and decide where we’d go, commanding my scruffy chums into exploring thickets and bushes of the park to build dens, collect acorns, beech nuts, conkers and elderberries or challenge strange children who dared cross our territory. We’d venture into the underground garages and lock-ups below the flats where we lived in search of grimy treasure hauls, broken radios and bald tyres, or sneak over the high wall that was supposed to protect an apple tree from nicking urchins like us. I was not off to meet my friends on this occasion, although I didn’t know it, I was leaving my childhood behind.

A tightly-knit bunch of six by day, each night after dinner when the sun had cooled the scattered knots of local kids would untangle into one mass of all ages in the nearby playground. There we’d assert our place in the hierarchical ranks, show off, poke things with sticks or scrape bricks and generally lark about with different people. Lee was older by about six months, skinny with shorn blond hair but brown eyebrows and lashes that made his blue eyes look darker. He ran about with his own group of boys and a few weeks before had sneaked up behind and poured a bottle of freezing water down my back. I reacted with fury, chasing him and knocking him to the ground where we struggled to hit each other unsuccessfully. Storming off, I swore revenge and wondered how best to get back at him as the older boys whistled and the teenage girls sitting on the swings goaded Lee to “go after his girlfriend”. How ridiculous, I thought, as if I’d go near a creep like Lee Combes! My boyfriend would be called Josh or Damon and would have floppy long hair and baggy jeans instead of the frayed shorts and trainers Lee wore. He’d read Stephen King and listen to Megadeth rather than Look-In and East 17, and instead of asthma and glasses he’d bring me on dates and live in a house with an apple tree in the garden.

I was still raging as I mounted the steps up to our maisonette when I heard my name called. Lee stood at the bottom, wheezing.
“Piss off, I don’t want to talk to you.”
“What’s the matter? It’s only a bit of water.”
“Everyone was laughing! It’s embarrassing!”
“Don’t be such a girl.”
“Say that after I thump you on the nose. I’m going to get changed.”

He was still outside twenty minutes later after I’d exchanged my t-shirt for a dry one, made a sandwich and stood at the door of the living room to watch the end of The Bill.

“Well, what dyou want?”
“Nuffin’ really. What you doing now?”
“Nuffin’. Staying in.”
“Don’t, it’s still bright.”
“Don’t care. I ain’t going back there.”
“Stay ‘ere then.”
“Wiv you? Huh.”
“Yeah, wiv me…come on, let’s get on the roof.” Each upper flat had a small shed built on either side of the steps, fencing in the yard of the lower premises. He stood up and held out his hand, partly as a peace offering and to help me up. I ignored it but got to my feet and he grinned, clambering up on to the adjoining wall. I followed and we sat there catching the last of the evening rays amongst the honeysuckle creeper that covered the brickwork, picking the flowers for the sweet drop of nectar nestled at the base of the stigma.

So it continued for the next two weeks, every night after dinner Lee would be waiting and we’d drift off together. I showed him our secret dens, he brought me to the old house that a bunch of hippies had abandoned, leaving a harem of cats behind. We’d walk to the “bad park” where a senile old lady used to wander cradling a baby doll until she’d been found raped and murdered. We’d sit in high grass on the banks of the pond, watching the water boatmen push their way across the surface and talk about our friends, popstars, games and elaborate daydreams that involved mansions with swimming pools and never-ending ice creams. Parents and the future were rarely mentioned. After nine days of this, he began to hold my hand. Two days later, we kissed, hard little lips pecking at each others’ face before slobbering tongues met awkwardly and we broke apart, trying to discreetly wipe away the ring of moisture that swept from nose to chin until our eyes met and we fell about giggling in the weeds.

On day fourteen, red-shirted and unruly-coiffed, I walked down the steps to find Lee waiting on the roof as usual. I’d not forgotten my dating ideals of Josh-Damon and had decided that it was time to take things to the next level. I set off towards the local shops where a typical English greasy-spoon cafe stood along with a Greek grocery, Maltese launderette and Pakistani newsagent. Instead of buying penny mix-ups and ‘ice-poles’, that day’s pocket money had been saved and along with a pound cadged from my mum, I had about £2.50 in my pocket. The cafe was empty when we walked in, two twelve year-old street rats who’d never ordered anything in a restaurant before.

“What we doing in ‘ere?”
“I want a milkshake. You got any money?”
“Nah, spent it dint I?”
“Right, well don’t worry. Go and sit down.”
“Where?” Lee looked around at the empty cafe in astonishment. “In ‘ere?!”
“What do you want?” the owner was a heavy, tired-looking old guy of about fifty with big freckles and muddy tattoo marks on his forearms. “You gonna order summink or what?”
“Yeah, two chocolate milkshakes please.”
“That’ll be £3.”
“Oh. I only have £2.50…can you let us off?”
“No I bloody can’t! It’s £3!”
“Uh…fine. One milkshake in two glasses please.”
“You’re cheeky int ya? I’ll give ya two straws.”
“Oh cheers, I’ll leave your tip in the glass shall I?” He looked like he would have clipped me round the ear if it wasn’t for my grubby handful of coins.

“I don’t like chocolate,” Lee looked uncomfortable. “You shoulda got chips.”
“Already had my dinner. Dint you get yours?”
“Why not…?” Dishes clattered in the background.
“Just didn’t.” He gave the beige milk-sludge a moody poke with his straw. Silence fell.
“What you doing tomorrah?”
“Dunno…what you looking at?”
“Tonya just walked past the window. I fink she seen us.”
“So?” I shrugged. “Tonya’s all right.”
“She’s probably gonna tell everyone. Come on, let’s go.”
“No, I ain’t finished! Stop worrying.”
He lolled in his seat, looking sullen and frustrated. “Hurry up. I wanna go.”
“Oh shut up moaning. I thought it’d be fun. We never do anything.”
“What you on about? We do loads, we go loadsa places.”
“Yeah, boring places. Kids’ places. We’re not kids any more.”
“I dunno…” Lee was hurt. “I like ‘em.”
“Yeah well, if we’re gonna-” I broke off. At least ten faces peered in through the window, hands banging on the glass, most of them made up of older kids. The younger ones were already barging into the cafe, hooting and yelling “woooooo!”
“Oh no….” Lee groaned, shrinking away from me, his face bright red with embarrassment. “I knew Tonya was gonna dob us in.” Indeed, Tonya could be seen outside, bent double with laughter as her friends milled around pointing at us.
“OI! Cut it aaaht!” The owner was yelling from behind the counter as Lee’s friends crowded around our table cheering and elbowing. The teenage boys bounded in.
“Well, well, look at the lovebirds…you getting married? You gonna ‘ave kids?”
“OUT if you ain’t buyin’!” came another roar. Lee looked at me for a millisecond before shrugging off his mates and hurrying out, where louder whoops greeted his appearance. Most of the kids left. I stayed to hoover up the dregs from the bottom of the glass. “You an’ all!” Bawled the old guy, looking even more tired. “Leave it and go.”

Romance was dead before it ever started. Like the after-image of a lightbulb staining the vision for ages after one foolish glance, I couldn’t shake off the look of horror on Lee’s face when his friends saw us together. I thought he liked me, I thought he wanted to be real friends, I sighed, determined not to cry over a creep like Lee Combes. I should’ve waited for Josh-Damon to show up. I should have made him try harder, should have never let him get away with soaking me, I should never have tried to change things…we should have stayed in the flowers or by the pond instead of trying to be something else. Dejected, I mentally kicked myself, setting up a guilt complex that would never leave me. Used to being in charge and making decisions, I had drank the nectar too soon, before the wonderful world of womanhood blossomed before me. Well that was it with boyfriends I reasoned. Never again.

I walked home on my own and went in, even though it was still bright. The next evening, there was no one waiting in the honeysuckle.

Naomi McArdle

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I’m outta here!

Women fed up with lads’ mags and sexist language undermining our struggle to be taken seriously and treated equally could follow the example of Guardian columnist Wendy Roby who encouraged her readers to engage in random acts of feminism. Roby argues very persuasively that “signs of female solidarity in unlikely places might prove a useful weapon in the feminist’s arsenal”. The creative schemes dreamed up by her and her legions of willing fans included placing copies of Good Housekeeping on top of the latest lads’ mags or attaching Post-it notes pre-inscribed with thought provoking comments like “Real Men Buy Books”, and speech bubbles saying, “I am somebody’s sister” to their covers. Others put fake calling cards in phone boxes helpfully including a premium rate astrology hotline at the bottom. The funniest example of all was from one reader who took pity on the blond trapped in the highest turret of a pink plastic castle in a toy shop. This enterprising woman took a tiny card from her handbag and placed the following beside the princess’s head. “Please let me out. I gotta get to work!” What dastardly schemes would Irish women come up with?

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Ah, the c-word. That’s cunt, by the way. Recently several Anti-Room contributors were discussing how they feel about this loaded word, so we decided it was time for a group post.

The Cuntpower Issue of Oz, edited by Germaine Greer in 1970. They couldn't put the c-word on the cover, though.


You’ll only hear this word from me once: cunt. And I only spell it out here in all its inglorious four-letter violence because I don’t want any confusion about which c-word I hate. Men: by all means have your own discussion about cock. If you feel degraded by its use, then I will of course stop using it.

The Vagina Monologues told women to reclaim the c-word by using it as often as possible to denude it of its power to shock. Well, fanny to that. I don’t want to get used to hearing it used as punctuation, adjective and verb.

You, my female friend who once called me a ‘lucky c***’ with alleged affection, and you, my male friend who reserves it for sports rivals, wash your mouths out. As long as someone somewhere is using it to verbally assault a woman, I don’t want to hear it.


Let me preface this by saying that I personally think we could really do without swearing on The Anti-Room at all. I think we are perfectly capable of getting our argument or opinion across with resorting to cursing.


Perhaps having gown up with an ex-army man who used it as verb, noun, adverb and adjective, I am pretty much immune to the much ballyhooed shock value of the word ‘cunt’. It’s a crass swear word to be sure, but no worse than any other the other swear words we might use in a day. I have never understood why people spell it, or write ‘the c- word’, any more than I understand people utter ‘dropped the f-bomb’. Weaselly claptrap. Either swear or don’t, but why nit pick over which swear word is acceptable and which is not? I realise not everyone is so unperturbed by its usage, but unless agreed swearing is verboten on a group blog – which is absolutely fine by me – the word cunt should no more be avoided than any other swear word. It is the venom behind a swear that makes it powerful, not the actual word itself. Swear or swear not, there is no middle ground.


In North Dublin ‘cunt’ was a term of endearment. “Go wan ye cunt ye!” usually meant: “you jammy git” and referred to someone who’d won on the horses, bagged a girl more than one man was after or won a turkey in a Christmas raffle. It was also used to mock someone, usually a young guy who’d made a fool of himself in some way. “He’s a right cunt, isn’t he!?” I didn’t particularly twig that it was a derogatory epithet or a ‘vulgarism’ re: women’s private parts. When I moved to England – and later at University – this became abundantly clear. I still hear the word used in its North Dublin form on the 13A bus regularly. Despite its ‘nasty’ connotations, Irish men seem to think it’s ‘kinky’ to use the word in bed (a lot). As do East European mafia, before they shoot someone in the head.


Despite being another northsider (June and I went to the same secondary school!), I hardly ever heard the word cunt when I was growing up. I wasn’t even aware of it until I was a teenager, and then I knew it was a taboo word, the worst thing you could ever call someone, which was why no one seemed to use it. And as I grew older, I found myself questioning why this was. Why should it be so much worse than ‘dick’? What did that say about our attitudes to women’s bodies? And would – and should – most of us ever use it as a word for that body part itself? Then, in 1998, when I was working on my MA thesis about the legendary ‘60s counterculture magazine Oz, I discovered the Cuntpower/Female Energy Issue of Oz that Germaine Greer edited in 1970. In it, the future author of The Female Eunuch proudly reclaimed the word as part of an active rather than passive female sexuality. Her no-nonsense approach to the word appealed to me, and I found myself agreeing with her desire to reclaim the c-word from misogyny.

And yet while I don’t have a problem with it in theory, I still never really use ‘cunt’, either as a word for vagina or as a swear word. Maybe it’s because I never got into the habit of using it, or because at the back of my mind I think it still retains some sort of shocking power. The last time I called someone a cunt, I was giving out about the Pope and his ability to condemn gay marriage while brushing off child rape. I was so angry with him that only the most extreme word I could think of would do. And for better or worse, that’s still cunt.

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The other day, I found myself in Hodges Figgis with a friend of mine, who was looking for “a book about anxiety; but none of that self-help shit”. He was milling around the psychology section, attempting to find something that didn’t have a punchy subtitle, in the vein of “think yourself calm!” Needless to say, he was grossly disappointed, and ended up feeling slightly more anxious, thanks, in no small part, to my reading out excerpts from the hilarious self-help books I was finding. “Feel the fear!” I shouted to his retreating back. “And do it anyway!” (He kept telling me to whisper, to which I will respond: it’s a bookshop, not a library.)

The point, of course, is that he found a book –Going Mad – and, while he was attempting to find the diamond in the rough of self-help, I was attempting to find the rough. I decided, in those 15 minutes, that I would read both The Rules and The Game, in an attempt to discover the following:

a) Why did a man I went on a date with recently tell me I was damaged, and still expect that I would be interested?

b) Why does a friend of mine insist that I shouldn’t text or call any man first? She would practically extend this to the

plumber, were it not for the urgency of that call, because she claims that “you just don’t know when you might meet the one”.

c) Why do so many of my friends insist on “playing the game”, rather than just living their lives?

I decided that the answer to these questions (and so many more!) would lie within The Rules and, to a certain extent, The Game – although now that I have started the former, I wonder if reading the latter will just confuse my brain to the point that I will then be more determined than I am now to live alone with dozens of cats and my collection of Penguin classics.

Lest I ruin the entire book by writing an epic, scathing blog post about it, this is merely an introduction, which I will give by way of the following quote (paraphrased):

It goes against nature if a woman chases a man, or sleeps with him too soon, or begs him to marry her. He may end up mistreating her [women!  Have you been mistreated? Well, you know who to blame now!]. He may resent her for trapping him and will treat her badly.


There are 52 rules, all of which I’m not going to get into because wikipedia can help you more than I care to, but I will say this: Don’t read The Rules. Take that couple of hours (which you will surely never get back) and make a delicious sandwich. Go to the museum. Go for a swim. Hell, go to the dentist, which would be more enjoyable and, without a doubt, more beneficial.

If you’re still skeptical about this hodge-podge analysis, watch this space. Coming up: why you should get a nose job, why you should never admit what you’re feeling, and how you hook a man (namely, by hiding every shred of yourself until there’s little more left than a slight resemblance to a Stepford Wife and some careful hair-tossing).

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Since reading this post on social etiquette by US blogger Maggie Mason earlier in the week, I’ve been mulling over my own social graces (or lack thereof). I’d like to think I was reared reasonably well, and parts of her list make perfect sense to me, but I can’t quite get my head around some of her advice.

For starters, I’m all for throwing my own parties, as are my friends (with the exception, lately, of hen parties). As an unemployed bum earlier this year, I didn’t particularly fancy celebrating my birthday, and would have been morto if a friend had organised something for me. Surely one should be able to choose if and when and how one celebrates?

Then there’s the question of the thank-you note. I keep a stash of thank-you cards in my desk – and use them as occasion arises – but if Maggie’s guidelines are to be followed they are, in fact, a cop-out, and I should be sticking to the Basildon Bond instead. Is there really that much of a difference? Is a pre-printed card better than no card at all?

And last, but not least, there’s the condiment situation. There’s no room in my poky apartment kitchen for anything other than my originally-packaged Heinz and Colman’s and Branston so, out on the table they go. Plus, I rather like their kitschy packaging.

So, Anti-Roomers, please tell me, for I am bewildered: am I a complete oaf? What would make it into your etiquette guide? Or, when it comes to socialising, should etiquette guides be binned entirely in favour of plain old individual common sense? Answers on a sheet of Basildon Bond, please.

Catherine Brodigan

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Benedicta Attoh

Benedicta Attoh came to Ireland in 2000 when Nigeria’s democracy was still in its infancy. It was a year that saw bitter religious bloodletting in Kaduna in February, riots between Muslims and Christians across the North throughout the summer and by autumn: the outlawing of all tribal malitia groups by an increasingly unstable government. She arrived in Ireland with her family, a Degree in Education and some dreams about making a difference. Ten years on she is a winner of the Vodafone World of Differenceaward − enabling her to work with Plan Ireland − focussing on issues affecting children and girls in the developing world. The World of Difference programme funds outstanding individuals to work with a chosen charity for a year, providing a salary (up to €40,000) plus expenses. Benedicta kindly agreed to answer some questions:

Inequality in Ireland, where do you see it most and how can it be highlighted?
There’s inequality in every society, the main reason being a lack of understanding and fear. Difference is another major reason for inequality; we see this most clearly with discrimination against black people, travellers, gays and lesbians, people living with disabilities, young people, women and elderly citizens.
What does the west have to offer?
The west has a lot to offer in terms of opportunities. This is largely due to the crises of leadership in the global south where many migrants come from. However, being a stranger is a difficult enough experience, where people have to leave loved ones behind, leave familiar territory and venture into the unknown to look for better opportunities. Some ethnic Irish people (not all, I hate to generalise!) believe immigrants get it “easy” in Ireland. How is that possible when in reality they suffer from racism, lack of access to education and employment? In this time of economic crisis, they are also accused of taking Irish jobs, etc. People in the asylum process live on €19 per week for adults and €9 for per child. In some cases, people stay stuck in the asylum process for up to eight years. You have to be in a desperate situation in the first place to put yourself through an experience like that.
The whole issue of misogyny and the power of Islam in Nigeria is salient, what about the treatment of women, particularly Christian women as minorities in the north? Does female circumcision still exist there?
Nigeria is a very diverse country and religion is one of the pillars of diversity. Unfortunately, this has also been a source of conflict in some parts of Nigeria, particularly in the North. It is well-known that an individual’s act or mistake can easily trigger a religious crisis, which in turn can lead to killing and maiming of minorities, particularly women and children. This is regrettable and hard to take in as it continues to have a negative impact on Nigerians politically, socially, economically…and at local, national and international levels. Female circumcision still occurs in some cultures although the Government and civil society organisations are working extremely hard to eradicate the practice. 
Witchcraft and allegations levelled at women and children are very hard to grasp. How can these issues be dealt with?
Casting “witches” and “wizards” from frightened innocents is absurd and should be punishable. A lot of these children can’t even spell or understand the phenomenon. In my view these practices are about publicity and making some quick money. Perpetrators must be dealt with − they should face the law.
There is a perception of Nigerians in Ireland and elsewhere…that they could be part of a big con-artist programme, while in fact a lot of Nigerians are highly educated and love the west…what can be done to rid this type of stereotyping?
This is so sad, one size does not fit all. People must be treated with respect and dignity. Irish people must reflect on their own experience of immigration: on the name calling and isolation, particularly in Britain. The ‘oppressed’ does not have to become the ‘oppressor’.
Ireland has a poor record on racism in recent times, yet Irish people have lived in every corner of the planet as emigrants themselves. What can we do to dilute this type of ignorance?
Awareness raising, education and enforcement. Racism should not be tolerated at all as it destroys individuals, their families and communities. It is crucial to continue to raise awareness in schools and local communities about the dangers of racism but legislation must also be introduced (and used) to punish perpetrators of racism.
What will your work with Plan Ireland entail?
My role will involve visiting schools, women’s groups, female politicians and local communities to speak and raise awareness about the issues affecting girls in developing countries and what people can do to help in ireland. At the end of the 12-month period, I hope to have a committee of influential women who will continue to drive the “Because I am A Girl ” agenda. I will also help implement a development education strategy for Plan Ireland.
Magic wand, ‘one’ thing (big or small): what and why?
Become a baby all over again. Why? They have no cares in the world!
June Caldwell

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You know, I was once chased down a road- while driving- by a soon to be ex-boyfriend who was foaming at the mouth slightly and screaming, ‘Stop that fucking car you bitch! You better fucking pull over! I’m warning you!’

Pull over? As my beloved daughter might say, ‘lolziees!’

I put it in third and vroomed away.
Many years have passed since that hilarious and fateful night, a night I came fully to my senses, and boy oh boy was I ever glad I kicked that puppy to the curb. Love might well be a mysterious thing, but bullies are bullies, and bitter is a fine drink on a warm day in Yorkshire.
But still, the memory remains. As memories must.
What, dear readers, do we imagine the bride might feel upon reading this passive aggressive piece? hum? Love lost? Bitter sweet memories?

Or will she slap the metaphorical gear stick into third and speed away?
Yeah, I guessed that too.

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Later today (update: scroll down for longlist) the longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize will be announced. The initial longlist of 13 books should result in a slight bump in sales, but then apparently TV Book clubs sell more books than a Man Booker nomination. In the run up the longlist announcement, speculation has been frantic and broad-ranging, but what was most interesting about this year, was a discussion that book place on Twitter last week. Guardian Books Editor Claire Armitstead (@carmitstead) asked her followers to take a punt on who they expected to see nominated. A large chunk of the replies suggested were books by male authors, which prompted this tweet from book blogger Rachael Beale (aka @FlossieTeacake): “Oh God, please not an all-male longlist… I might cry.” With novels like The Long Song by Andrea Levy, Miss Thing by Nora Chassler, The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell, The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon, Burley Cross by Nicola Barker, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, Room by Emma Donoghue, Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni and The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn eligible, does that discussion imply that the standard of books by women written in the last year wasn’t very hight? It’s certainly true of some very big name writers (and past winners, who happen to be men), like Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Yann Martel who have all published below-par novels this year.

There’s a randomness to predicting most arts prizes, but I think we might see Jon McGregor, Tom McCarthy, Paul Murray, Andrea Levy, Joe O’Connor, Christos Tsiolkas and David Mitchell on there. Possible Irish contenders include O’Connor, Hugo Hamilton, Emma Donoghue and Paul Murray.

Where having is concerned, my outright bet would be on David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. But there’s always the cautionary tale of Joseph O’Neill. Two years ago, William Hill stopped taking bets at the longlist stage on Netherland being the overall winner and the book failed to make the shortlist. Ah yes, Julian Barnes you wily old fox, it IS “posh bingo”.

What have you read and what are you think should be on the longlist? What would you love/hate to see on there?

Update: Here’s the 2010 longlist. Congrats to all the nominees

Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)

Emma Donoghue Room (Pan MacMillan – Picador)

Helen Dunmore The Betrayal (Penguin – Fig Tree)

Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Books)

Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)

Andrea Levy The Long Song
(Headline Publishing Group – Headline Review)

Tom McCarthy C (Random House – Jonathan Cape)

David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet (Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre)

Lisa Moore February (Random House – Chatto & Windus)

Paul Murray Skippy Dies (Penguin – Hamish Hamilton)

Rose Tremain Trespass (Random House – Chatto & Windus)

Christos Tsiolkas The Slap (Grove Atlantic – Tuskar Rock)

Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky
(Random House – Jonathan Cape)

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Last night saw the debut of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s new BBC drama Sherlock, in which the excellent (and excellently named) Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson.

The casting could not be more perfect. Seriously.

This time, however, the great detective and his faithful army doctor pal are solving crime in the 21st century. It’s not the first time TV and film makers have brought classic characters and plots into the present day, and in this case it works extremely well, largely due to the writers’ evident affection for the original stories and to the pitch-perfect casting of and performances by Cumberbatch and Freeman as Holmes and Watson. Holmes is, as he always was, slightly sociopathic but capable of feeling genuine affection for Watson. Watson himself is more like the quiet man of action in the original stories and less like the boring buffoon of popular imagination. And, like the original, he makes his first appearance having just returned from Afghanistan – a perfect touch. Holmes’s extraordinary brother Mycroft also makes a delicious appearance (and no, I didn’t see that coming).

Despite more than a few holes in the mystery plot line, the whole thing is ridiculously entertaining and a reminder of how enjoyable and effective a good update of a classic can be. I love inter-textual references – Alan Moore’s graphic novel sequence The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which brings together characters from a huge variety of popular literature from the 19th and early 20th centuries, is one of my favourite things ever. So when they’re done well,  I can’t resist modern stories packed full of references to older texts. And when they’re done well, you don’t have to be familiar with the originals to enjoy the new story. Amy Heckerling’s Clueless is an excellent teen comedy, but it’s also an updated version of Jane Austen’s Emma – getting the references to the original novel is amusing, but the film works perfectly well on its own. Ten Things I Hate About You is a charming and funny  – and feminist – update of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which also stands alone.

So how do you feel about updated classics? Is it blasphemy to show a Holmes who sends texts and uses GPS systems, or is keeping the spirit of the original characters and stories the most important thing? Or is updating simply the work of lazy storytellers who can’t be arsed coming up with original characters? All I know is that I’ll be glued to the telly on Sunday nights for the next three weeks.

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We've come a long way

I was reminiscing the other day about an unusual and in a sense landmark decision I was once involved in when I worked in the marketing department of a multinational pharmaceutical and personal products manufacturer. A couple of the women I was chatting with encouraged me to recount the episode here.

During the early 1990s I was brand manager for Ireland’s leading sanitary towel brand, a product that commanded an overwhelming share of the Irish market and was manufactured in Dublin, thus providing significant employment locally. This brand was the default choice for Irish woman for decades, the package that hundreds of thousands of mothers discreetly handed to their daughters in a rite of passage akin to Dad buying junior his first pint.

Tradition, word of mouth and lack of an alternative had ensured that this brand held a seemingly unassailable position and it was at the time of my becoming involved with it one of Ireland’s top twenty brands across every category. Yet in many ways it was the brand that dare not speak its name. However, trouble was brewing. We were no longer living in two channel land and alien brands of towel and tampon were being advertised on foreign channels making lofty claims of unencumbered roller skating and dance filled days.

Here in Ireland there was a ban on the television advertising of these “personal hygiene” products as to do so was deemed inappropriate. Fearful that a generation of young woman would learn of alternatives and abandon their mother’s and grandmother’s favourite we attempted to break this taboo.

I remember attending RTE copy clearance meetings, awkward, uncomfortable sessions facing a panel of squirming men of a certain age and disposition who regretted turning up for work that particular day. We scrutinised the proposed script line by line, crossing out our tentative boundary-crossing suggestions as we went. No red liquid – blue if you have to show liquid at all, no overt showing of the offending item, sensitive treatment of this shameful reality and a strict ten o’clock watershed. The resulting ad was so innocuous as to be almost invisible but it was approved. After all the committee had to demonstrate pragmatism; we had money to spend and times were tough in TV land.

The day after the first broadcast the letters began to arrive and worse still the phone calls. Every single one was from a shocked and offended woman and all were directed my way. I recall spending almost an hour talking down one hysterical woman who explained that her husband could no longer go to the pub to watch the football in case one of these hateful ads would be broadcast; that they could no longer watch television as a family as they had a teenage boy. She made it quite clear that this was ALL MY FAULT. The letters were rambling and irate. One enterprising bunch had photocopied a crude drawing of a television set and scrawled their message within – I received dozens of them. It seems comical now but it was rather unnerving at the time.

We have come a long way since and advertising for sanitary towels and tampons is commonplace. However, some rules still apply.  I am conscious that some people may feel that this is reasonable; that these intimate products should not form part of the mainstream. Yet would we apply the same rules to toilet paper? Should there be a watershed before which this distasteful product cannot be discussed? Should we employ coy euphemisms, extolling the benefits to users who yearn to skydive and skate with confidence, knowing that their bottoms are pristine?

A year or so after this bizarre chapter in my working life I had moved on – a circumstance unrelated to the opprobrium showered upon me by a faction of “Mná na h-Éireann“.  On one particular occasion I was passing through a small town on my way to Wexford when I got caught short and my period was upon me. I popped into the local grocers, handed a pack of sanitary towels to the taciturn man at the register and watched in amazement as he wrapped the package in layers of thick brown paper, secured with metres of sellotape. The whole shameful exchange was completed in silence and I’m sure I caught him suppressing a shudder. Perhaps certain parts of Ireland weren’t ready for innocuous blue liquid and skateboarding woman after all.

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