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Archive for January, 2011

A recent Saturday morning’s scroll through Facebook updates and something caught my eye. A friend who has recently moved to Dubai to be with the person she loves had posted some happy festive photos. And she’d dyed her hair brown. What with her being a stunning looking girl, tall and blonde and having moved to a country with some questionable attitudes towards women, I immediately put two and two together and made about 5000. On came the feminist hat and conclusions were jumped to Grand National Steeplechase proportions.

My god – did she have to do this to fit in somehow or to discourage male pestering? Was this a way of coping in her new life in Dubai, did she feel she had to tone down her look and try not to attract ‘attention’? How shocking! Still musing over these questions when I caught a glance of myself in a mirror. I had spent the previous twenty minutes scrubbing the en-suite and was wearing only my underwear (a well-known method to avoid getting bleach splashes all over ones’ clothes as we all know) and had thrown a short silky red dressing gown over as the morning was chilly. In my underwear, scrubbing the bathroom – next stop ‘barefoot, pregnant in the kitchen’. Ah. Hardly a spectacle of liberated modern feminist womanhood.

I still don’t know the reason why my friend coloured her hair. Perhaps I’m right and its something she felt she had to do for whatever reason. Perhaps she just fancied a change. And truth be told if she’s done the same while in her native Australia I’d not have batted an eyelid. But I it was a reminder that just sometimes things are not necessarily how they seem and many situations may in fact be other than how they appear.

Anyone else ever catch themselves in mid-rant only to realise they may not only have gotten the wrong end of the stick but only realised it after administering a damn good proverbial battering?

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ATTENTION ALL MEN! This is an important news bulletin: you do not own the rights to football. Guess what? There are even some women out there who know more about football than you do, and I’m willing to wager that Sian Massey is one of them.

"What's that strange round object? My fragile ladybrain can't comprehend it.."

Sadly, the sort of snide sexist drivel spouted by Richard Keys and Andy Gray at the weekend is typical of many (not all, obviously) football-loving men, who scoff at the thought of women on a football pitch or cheering on their team down the pub.

And of course, inevitably Facebook, Twitter and various blogs are currently crammed with blokes thinking that they are the very epitome of wit by making patronising jokes about women’s knowledge of football. Like Keys and Gray, they’d probably bottle it at the thought of telling those jokes to a woman’s face. What if a woman had made an equally condescending comment about men being in the kitchen, the supposed traditional ‘place’ for a woman? Where does that leave the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal?

 

I am a woman, and I am a football fan. I know more about football than most of my male friends, it’s me that badgers THEM to go to matches, and I could probably run rings around them on the pitch, too. I played at U-12 and U-14 level over a decade ago, and I would have continued to play if the team I was a member of had had provisions for U-16 and ladies’ teams. Unfortunately my playing career ended there, but my love of football didn’t. Oh, and yes, I know what the offside rule is. My miniscule brain occasionally makes room amidst all the recipes and thoughts of flowers and fluffy kittens to soak up such information.

I’ve been to some of the biggest stadiums in Europe, of my own volition – Old Trafford, the San Siro, the Nou Camp. I disappointed my Bohs-supporting Dad when I made Shelbourne my team as a 12-year-old, and I used to follow them up and down the country to matches, before work and studying got in the way of travelling. I might not be as big a football fan as I used to – music eventually replaced sport as the primary pleasure in my life. But I still enjoy watching a match as much as the next PERSON. Gender irrelevant.

But Keys and Gray shouldn’t be fired or fined – they should be taken out onto a pitch and publicly humiliated by the UK’s best women footballers, who undoubtedly have more metaphorical balls than either of them.

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Football: A Game of Two Half-Wits

The sexist remarks made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys off-camera during Saturday’s Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool FC match were appalling but hardly surprising. Soccer is notorious for its sexist attitudes towards women. Take Notts County banning Karren Brady from their boardroom and Luton Town manager Mike Newell giving referee Amy Rayner so much abuse that he made global headlines. Of course it’s brutish behaviour, but it makes me wonder if soccer is the last bastion of male chauvinism?

The belief that football is a man’s sport is all too prevalent both on and off the pitch. Which is precisely why we need women like Sian Massey – the official at the centre of the Keys/ Gray controversy – to effect change and bring much-needed balance to the sport. Bigots may try to push women like Sian out with their derision, but that’s all the more reason why more female officials are needed in football. Equality is always worth fighting for – especially in the face of such vile opposition.

Paradoxically, it was football that taught me to stand firm in my own convictions. A lifelong Liverpool FC fan, I have supported my team all the way from their golden era of the eighties through to the painful lows when they lost almost every accolade they had. Dark, devastating times.

And our opponents’ fans loved them.

There was nothing I could do to make Liverpool play better. But I wasn’t entirely powerless. Thanks to the fantasy football league in my workplace, I could exert some control over the weekly fixtures and use the knowledge I had built up over so many years. Yet, the better I played, the stronger the opposition I faced. This culminated when I won the league; the runner-up refused to pay his fees when he found out that the only female out of twenty new recruits had beaten him. It was a bittersweet victory. But a victory nonetheless.

Changing the status quo won’t ever be a smooth transition. Nor will it ever make you popular. But when it needs changing – as it does so badly in football now – all you can do is keep charging ahead.

Keep up the good work, Sian – you’re playing a blinder.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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Cast your mind back, if you will, to 2009. Right from the outset, the last year of the noughties was being dubbed ‘The Year of the Female’; a clutch of young musicians in possession of the X chromosome were being corralled into a makeshift scene, solely because of their gender. Of course, I can’t play the saintly onlooker and chastise my fellow music journos for their laziness – I’m sure I was as guilty of buying into the fuss surrounding acts like Florence & the Machine, La Roux, Little Boots (above) and Lady Gaga, at the time. (Little Boots, by the way, was one of the worst interviewees I’ve ever had the misfortune to have a phone conversation with. Twice.) The thing was, though, that most of those acts were largely pop/electro-pop oriented. Just two years on, however, and the landscape has tilted in favour of musicians with a rockier demeanour.

Look at the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ poll, for example; for all intents and purposes, the taste-making list drawn up by UK industry figures is redundant. New music is there to be discovered and recommended, not coldly thrust upon you by a group of anonymous people cherry picking a list of the bands that are being buzzed about most deafeningly. However, some of the female names on this year’s longlist seemed to demonstrate the shift away from pop music. There’s Warpaint, for example, the LA four-piece that channelled the gloom of the much-missed Organ with their excellent debut last year. Esben and the Witch, a female-fronted Brighton trio, so impressed Matador Records that they became the first British band to sign with the label in five years.

Anna Calvi

The Domino Records-signed Anna Calvi is also currently frantically propelling journos and bloggers thesaurus-wards in search of new adjectives to describe her brooding, guitar-led indie-rock. Personally, I don’t really get the fuss – but maybe I need to give the album more time, see her live (she plays Dublin’s Workman’s Club on February 23rd), or just banish the niggling ‘sub-PJ Harvey’ notion clanging around my head every time I listen to ‘Blackout’. But there are worse artists to ape, of course.

Harvey herself also has a new album out on February 11th, by the way. ‘Let England Shake‘ impressed me from the first listen; it’s her first ‘solo’ record since 2007’s stark ‘White Chalk‘, although her frequent collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey are as omnipresent as ever. It’s a slightly barmy (one track drops in a triumphant fanfare riff at random points) and completely original offering. Harvey doffs her hat to no one.

But what does this supposed shift away from danceable floor-fillers mean? Is it just a case of swings and roundabouts? Do women with guitars wield more influence as ‘serious’ musicians? Have we finally seen the last of Florence ‘I’m 24, really, I am’ Welch‘s many re-releases of ‘Lungs’, or is she waiting to pounce with a fake ID and a follow-up at any second? Will anybody care about Gaga‘s latest wacky stage show if her next album is rubbish? Will La Roux‘s Elly Jackson lose the source of all her powers if she chops off her quiff for album number two? Feck knows. I’m just glad I don’t have to interview Little Boots again.

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Slow Roast Chicken with Vermouth

If you know you’ll be having a lazy day at home, then this slow-roasted chicken is the ultimate weekend food. You roast it at a very low temperature for three hours, flipping it over once an hour, then jack up the heat for the final 30 minutes to crisp the skin to a picture-perfect golden brown. The chicken is unbelievably moist — roasting it at such a low temperature makes it almost impossible to dry out — and the flavours of the lemon, garlic and rosemary in the cavity really penetrate into the meat. What’s more, Saturday’s leftover roast chicken can then become Sunday’s chicken sandwiches, soup or stir-fry, pasta or risotto. Once you make this, I’m willing to bet that, like me, you won’t want to roast a chicken any other way again.

Slow Roast Chicken and Vermouth
Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 x 2 kg whole chicken
1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
200 ml water
60 g unsalted butter, melted
125 ml extra-dry vermouth or a dry white wine (If you don’t have vermouth, you could substitute dry white wine instead. Alternatively, feel free to omit the alcohol altogether. It won’t really affect the flavor of the chicken, just the juices)

Preheat the oven to 80°C and wipe the chicken clean.

Cut the lemon in half. Rub one half of the lemon all over the chicken, getting as much juice onto the skin as you can. Season the cavity with salt and pepper. Peel the garlic and stuff it into the chicken cavity along with the rosemary and both lemon halves.

Place the chicken upside down in a roasting tin just large enough to hold it. Add the water. Cook for 1 hour, then turn right side up (I can usually do this with my bare hands since the roasting temperature is so low). Return it to the oven and cook for another hour, then turn upside down again and cook for yet another hour.

Remove the chicken from the oven and raise the temperature to 200°C. Brush the melted butter all over the skin, season very well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the vermouth to the pan.

Return the chicken to the oven (make sure it finishes right side up) and cook for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and the juices run clear. Strain the fat and serve with the lemony, salty juices from the pan.

Kristin Jensen is a freelance editor and blogs at Dinner du Jour. As a working mum with two young children, the blog’s focus is on delicious dinners for busy people and parents. She also recently set up the Irish Food Bloggers Association with Caroline Hennessy, where you can connect with other food bloggers and stay up to date with foodie news and events.  Twitter: @dinnerdujour and @IrishFoodies

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Darren Aronovsky’s Black Swan is probably the most hyped film of the year. Natalie Portman is tipped for an Oscar, having won the Golden Globe for best actress. This is a gothic fairy tale based on the ballet Swan Lake, telling the story of Nina, who gets her dream role as the swan queen. Her white swan is second nature – fragile, retiring, virtuous – but locating her inner black swan is somewhat trickier. Vincent Cassell’s manipulative and exacting artistic director will sacrifice anything, even his prima ballerina’s sanity, for the sake of his art. And then there is Lily (Mila Kunis) who seems to effortlessly be able to find all the danger and edge required for the black swan, that Nina so lacks.The film whips itself into a frenzy of psychological disintegration, sexual awakening and personal discovery, that reaches a tense and emotional crescendo, at which point you realise you’ve spent the last 90 minutes inside Nina’s head and become attached to her, very much emotionally invested in her, without being aware of it. This ‘portrait’ style of film, where the viewer is in the character’s mind, makes it a very unsettling film. Nina is not sure what is real and what is imagined, and so neither are we.

It is melodramatic in many ways but so is ballet and the stories it portrays. This film delves deep into warped mother-daughter relationships, repressed sexuality and what happens when we try to force women to remain virginal little girls and the cruel reality of being a woman in a profession that prizes beauty and youth above all else (Winona Ryder’s ageing ballerina becomes almost a Phantom-of-the-Opera character). This is definitely over-hyped but also one of the few films you’ll see this year to dare to look inside the murky mind of a sad, sad girl.  4/5 Edel Coffey

Go home, touch yourself, live a little, says sleaze-bucket Thomas Leroy, an abusive for the sake of art ballet boss to his could-be magnificent dancer, Nina. As it stands she’s too innocent & blanched for the lead part in Leroy’s semi-libidinous, risqué adaptation of Swan Lake. A bit like the proverbial beetle on its back being prodded by a spiteful school-kid, there comes a point in this film not too far in where even the audience can’t take the torture rack much longer, willing a shipload of diabolism into Nina’s heart so she can get to where she needs to in order to be a star. It’s extremely fast paced, compelling, horribly spooky as well as horny, overly dramatic and a bit silly, but nonetheless beautifully shot and packaged to keep you saucer-eyed to the end. Reviews have described it as a ‘psychological thriller’ but I’d say it’s really too predictable for that: more a textbook exploration of split psyche. As we do repression and the whole doppelgänger thing very well here in Ireland, there’s an uncomfortable familiarity to the mother’s character, played by Barbara Hershey. She desperately wants her daughter to live a successful re-run of her own life that she halted in order to have her daughter, while at the same time resenting any progress in getting there. Jealousy and megalomania spits and clappers all over this film, a bunny hop of meanness, mischief, misery and malevolence, even a touch of evil Sesame Street at times. A great lesbian sex scene as well, where for just a brief moment, Swan Lake turns into Swan Lick, cued with some erratic helpings of Tchaikovsky and The Chemical Brothers. I’d be nuts to say I didn’t love it though afterwards it made me feel deranged. 4/5 June Caldwell

Black Swan rehabilitates pop culture’s traditional use of pink in film.  Normally the hue is used to connote an ultra-feminine innocent allure, a non-threatening go-get-‘em-girl  moxie, or an excess of frivolity and consumption, as imagined in cinema fare such as Pretty in Pink, Legally Blonde or Marie Antoinette.  Aronofsky’s film gives audiences a fresh interpretation of the colour pink by illustrating its potential to marginalise women from themselves.  Nina (played by Natalie Portman) clad in a shell pink coat seems vulnerable on the subway to rehearsal, as well as among the roseate overtones in her bedroom, which magnify an arrested development, a woman trapped in a teenager’s world.  Nina’s desire for perfection is hampered by a struggle to cast off the thwarted pink existence.  There’s also how pink turns up in food to highlight the battle for Nina’s growth as an artist.  She can marvel and coo over her ‘pretty’ breakfast of half a pink grapefruit, a meagre start to a gruelling day en pointe.   But later, she can’t partake in the pink ballerina cake without either a blow up with her controlling mother, or else a guilty shame spiral over the calorie count involved.   Whether fruit or pastry, pink comestibles underscore the rigid policing at hand for any ballerina with her eye on centre stage. For once at the cinema, pink was made sinister, unmoored from the limp, simpering value it has historically carried.  When Nina embraces black and red, the Pink Swan of her girlhood has been conquered. 5/5 Megan McGurk

For those of us that merely watch from the wings, the world of professional ballet seems extraordinarily anomalous. Punishing self-sacrifice, the honing of a merciless stamina and the apparent eschewing of all else in pursuit of the perfect pas de deux or pirouette couldn’t be more alien to the powder-puff pinkness of little girls pointing their pretty toes, a gender appropriate after school activity that many of us may have experienced at one time.

Tales of bleeding, deformed feet and hideous, debilitating spinal injuries abound and the requirement for female dancers to be whippet thin has led to serious concern about the possible prevalence of eating disorders amongst young dancers. Irishwoman Monica Loughman, at age 14 the first Westerner to dance for the State Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Perm, describes her years of struggle in Russia’s Perm Ballet School in her book, The Irish Ballerina. Darcy Bussell, formerly the youngest ever principal dancer for the Royal Ballet, describes how she got an early insight into the damage that ballet can do when she met a clearly ailing and crippled Rudolf Nureyev who was struggling with hip problems. She did not take proper note of this “Instead, I danced when I was feverish and when I was so badly injured that I was in searing pain.” When she retired in 2007, aged 37 she was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying “Ten years ago, an orthopaedic surgeon told me that my hips were only 50 per cent as good as they should be for someone my age and that I would probably need hip replacement operations.”

It is this darker side of the ballet world that is so powerfully put under the microscope in Darren Aranofsky’s Black Swan, leading it to be hailed as a companion piece to his acclaimed 2008 film The Wrestler, as both examine the demands imposed by a driven individual on themselves as they pursue their overriding passion. Nina, a young, obsessive and frigidly uptight member of a ballet company lives with her overbearing, neurotic mother (Barbara Hershey), herself a former dancer who frequently reminds Nina that she ruined her career. She obsessively pursues perfection in her dancing and flashes of her disturbed state of mind are evident early as we learn of instances of self abuse and observe her unhealthy relationship with food and her frequent bouts of vomiting. When ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) dumps his “ageing” prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (played by a hysterical Winona Ryder) Nina is given the chance to audition for the lead role of Odette/Odile in a new production of Swan Lake. Leroy, a sinister Svengali who preys upon his young ballerinas, tells her she is perfect to play the virginal Odette but lacks the passion needed in a convincing Odile, the evil Black Swan. Determined to prove him wrong and see off the competition, in the sensual form of sexy dancer Lily, played by Mila Kunis, Nina taps into her dark side and plumbs frightening depths in the process.

The use of shocking, Gothic imagery and intense, jerky, close-ups allows the audience to follow Nina’s inevitable breakdown from her own unreliable perspective as she increasingly fails to differentiate fantasy from reality. The shocking denouement seems inevitable from early on.  Dark, intense and with themes of Gothic horror throughout Black Swan is utterly compelling and explores the fragility of adolescent mental health in the face of intense, overbearing pressure; the dangers of living vicariously through your children; and the nasty outcomes when powerful, manipulative men prey on young vulnerable girls. All this makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking cinema experience, albeit one spent watching through splayed fingers, but may make you reconsider those ballet lessons for your tiny tot.  4/5 Eleanor Fitzsimons

 

 

 

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Joan as Policewoman is Joan Wasser, who, after the death of her boyfriend Jeff Buckley, began to sing and write songs with some of Jeff’s band in a project called Black Beetle. Since 2002, she has played under the name Joan as Policewoman (a reference to the 70’s cop show) and has toured and collaborated with musicians like Rufus Wainwright, Antony and the Johnsons, Lloyd Cole, Sparklehorse and Lou Reed. Her fourth album, The Deep Field, is released here on January 21st and she plays Dublin’s Button Factory on February 10th.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

Axis bold as love by Jimi Hendrix

What’s your favourite smell?

Cardamom

Have you ever had a nickname? Yes. 
my brother couldn’t say J so he called me “Doanie” instead of “Joanie”
and it caught on with the rest of my family.
 I was called “Spaz” in elementary school because I had so much energy
. I’ve had so many nicknames since then that I cannot even remember
 – nor do I wish to remember
.

What is your favourite room in your house?

I only have one room because I live in a loft, so every room.

What are your guilty pleasures?

What does that mean? The idea of guilty pleasure is ridiculous! Isn’t every pleasure only amazing? As long as it isn’t hurting anyone else – does my love for Mariah Carey constitute as guilty?

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am pretty transparent so it’s hard to answer – 
maybe that I am always struggling to be more transparent.

Who is your closest female friend?

God.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

Yes, seven tattoos
.

Where would you most like to live?

In New York City, where I live.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

Carmelo Lugo during recess in 2nd grade

.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

I don’t know if I would know what unusual means.
 I have to admit I don’t blink at most questions.
 Maybe the question above.

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

This christmas I got a car stereo and felt like a teenager again.

What is your favourite word?

“Yes”.

Who was your first love?

Music

.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?

Tow truck driver

.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?

Rumi poems

.

What happens after we die?

If I knew that, I would have a best-selling book.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

Rosa Parks

Sum yourself up in three words:

I love you.

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?

I am learning to keep my mouth shut at certain times
 and this is one of those times.


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