Intermission – Swim, Swimmy Swim: 2Swim4Life Part 2


One of the things which was bothering me about the event was what to eat. I’d have to eat something, or somethings, which could be easily transported to and stored at the venue without refrigeration. With no cooking facilities the only option for warm food would be anything you could add hot water to, as there was a constant supply of hot water, thanks to the lovely volunteers. A number of friends were going for sandwiches, pies, pot noodles, pasta pots and instant porridge, all of which had a few drawbacks as far as I’m concerned.

For a start, I don’t eat meat, and recently, after years of being privately a bit scornful of people who claim to be “gluten-intolerant” when they’re nothing of the sort* I am now laughing on the other side of my face, having discovered that I’m “gluten intolerant” myself in that eating gluten makes me sleepy and upsets my digestion in ways which had been going on for so long that I’d assumed it was normal for me. (Don’t get me wrong, I still mainline toast – I just eat it in the evenings. Job done!) Given that I would be wanting to stay awake for twenty four hours and then drive home, anything with gluten was out. And while instant porridge would seem to be the obvious substitute, I’m not really a big fan of sweet stuff, and the thought of living for a whole day on plain porridge – well, I didn’t really want to end up Scottish. What, oh what to eat? 

*I should add that I don’t include in this people who are genuinely gluten intolerant, of which there are a few amongst my friends. These people genuinely can’t eat gluten and they don’t make a big fuss about it, they just don’t eat gluten. I mean the sort of person who has “given up gluten” because it makes them “bloated and sluggish” and then it becomes a really big deal every time there’s food in the offing. Just eat the bloody cake if you want it. Being a bit sleepy won’t kill you, unless you’re driving or operating heavy machinery, in which case, don’t eat the cake. Sheesh! 

More tomorrow.

Intermission – Swim, Swimmy Swim: 2Swim4Life


So… A short Intermission to talk about my latest swimming adventure, namely taking part in 2Swim4Life at Guildford Lido last Saturday and Sunday. 2Swim4Life is a bonkers event, inspired by similar walking and running events in the army, in which you swim a mile every hour for twenty four hours. You can either do it solo, which is madness, or you can do it in a team; unsurprisingly, I chose the latter option, in a team of four with Kathrine, Ian and Helen. The event takes place at Guildford Lido, which is open air; it’s heated to 20°, so cold is really only a problem if you’re swimming a solo, when cold can be a real issue, particularly overnight, when the temperature drops drastically. In the event four years ago the temperature went down to 1° overnight, which meant a lot of very cold soloists.

You can put up tents to use as a base and to get some rest, although naked flames are strictly forbidden, so there’s no real way of keeping warm once the sun goes down other than to bury yourself in a lot of layers!  For soloists, the challenge is to keep going, the mental challenge of having to keep getting in and out to swim, and to keep warm. For me, swimming third, I would have to swim at 11am, 3pm, 7pm, 11pm, 3am and 7am.  I wasn’t worried about the cold, as I would have plenty of time to warm up even if I got cold, which, doing a mile at 20°, was unlikely. However, I was worried about how the lack of sleep would affect me and how I would fare swimming six miles in twenty four hours, particularly as I hadn’t really trained. I’d been swimming pretty consistently since Christmas, but I hadn’t done any big sessions and I’d generally done two or three sessions a week; it didn’t feel like enough.

More tomorrow.

The start – 9am on Saturday. Just gotta swim to the other end and back seven hundred and sixty-eight times and we’re there!

The Bechdel-Wallace* Test (As Reimagined By Me), part 6


So… Next up: Battlestar Galactica. Not the original series, but the remake from a few years back. This is a pretty amazing programme even without the fact that it definitely passes the Bechdel-Wallace test. The basic premise is that humans, living in an alternative world called the Twelve Colonies, invented robot servants called Cylons. The Cylons eventually revolted and left the twelve planets, no-one knew where. Then, tens of years later, they reappear, with the intention of wiping out their human masters. 

The series begins just after the Cylon invasion and total conquest of the Twelve Colonies as a motley fleet of survivors in a variety of civilian spaceships are fleeing the Cylons into deep space. They are guarded and guided by Battlestar Galactica, a superannuated space battleship which was due for scrappage, under the command​ of William Adama, her last Captain, on the verge of going into retirement. Amongst the civilian fleet is Colonial One, the equivalent of Airforce One, on which the education secretary, the highest ranking remaining member of the cabinet, is sworn in as President of the Colonies and of the fewer than 500,000 remaining survivors of the human race. 

The  series opens just as the humans are jumping deeper and ever deeper into space in a desperate attempt to escape the pursuing Cylon armada. The conceit is that after each jump, they have thirty minutes before the Cylons track them down and the enemy fleet starts to flash into existence around them. So we start with our human heroes desperate, griefstricken, traumatised, and driven to edge of insanity by exhaustion and the demands of relentless thirty minute jumps. It’s a corker, all right.

*Thanks John Kirk for letting me know that Alison Bechdel would prefer it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test, after Liz Wallace who came up with the idea.

The Bechdel Test (As Reimagined By Me), part 5


The only “romantic” relationship YT has in Snow Crash is with Raven, an Aleut who is working with the villain L. Bob Rife to metaphorically nuke the Metaverse, Snow Crash’s ultra-imersive version of the internet. They meet on board the Raft, a city-sized island of refugees heading towards America under the control of Rife. YT is being held prisoner there by Rife and Raven busts her out by the simple expedient of carrying her out of the canteen where she’s been put to work. 

He can do this because, as a gigantic murderous psychopath with “Poor Impulse Control” tattooed across his forehead, he has a pretty high amount of status in the lawless environment of the Raft. YT stays with him because it’s better than being alone and also because they have a surprising amount in common. They end up having explosive sex during which YT renders him accidentally unconscious (don’t ask). 

The next time YT sees Raven she’s just escaped from Rife by rappelling forty feet down from a helicopter in flight and free-falling a further twenty onto an express-way, carooming off a number of cars in the process. (She survives unscathed, which in Snow Crash world is entirely plausible and carefully explained.) She looks up, sees him staring down at her from a following helicopter and realises that “He’s not pissed at her at all. He loves her.”  He gives her a thumbs up, she flips him the bird and “with that, the relationship is over, hopefully forever.” 

And that’s it. The sum total of romance for YT. Which is just fine for her and us, because without any boring romantic storyline getting in the way, YT is free to have all sorts of relationships with other people which are far more interesting, and to run around doing other fun and exciting things and generally be a busy, successful and fulfilled human being without reference to any need to validate herself by becoming coupled up with someone else. She exists in her own right, not as one half of a twosome, putative or otherwise, and she does her own thing unencumbered by any worries about anyone else. She has her own life and her own problems and she deals with them herself; she’s doesn’t need any man to make her a happy ending. It’s wonderful and very refreshing and it makes YT an absolutely brilliant role model. 

More shortly.

The Bechdel Test (As Reimagined By Me), part 4


The fact that the Mafia owes YT a favour (“You’ve got a friend in The Family”) brings her to the notice of Uncle Enzo. Uncle Enzo is not so-called for nothing, as he is an avuncular old gentleman in bespoke Italian suits and hand-made shoes who formed his leadership theories in the jungles of Vietnam. There, as a lowly grunt, he personally murdered a lieutenant who was putting the rest of the platoon in danger. (Snow Crash, like many near-future dystopian novels, somewhat underestimates how long it will take for things to change). Uncle Enzo is ostensibly kindly and urbane and carries a straight razor in his inside jacket pocket at all times. 

In the hands of a less brilliant writer, the relationship between YT and Uncle Enzo would be a May/November romance of the sort that made most right-thinking people throw up in their mouths a little bit when it played out on screen between Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. Fortunately Stephenson is not writing for Hollywood and therefore Uncle Enzo’s interest in YT is purely paternal. He gives her his dog tags in a symbolic adoption – YT’s actual dad is nowhere around and is never mentioned – and worries about her in a fatherly way.  But, hey, that’s because YT is clearly the romantic interest for Our Hiro, Mr Protagonist, right?

Wrong. YT and Hiro are business partners and buddies who work together and have one another’s backs, but no more than that. There is not a scintilla of sexual tension between them. YT gives Hiro relationship advice and Hiro pitches up to break YT out of jail when her actual boyfriend, another Kourier, has declined to do so because he’s in the middle of delivering an important package the other side of town (his sole appearance in the book), but that it. The hero and heroine have a perfectly good, well-rounded and fulfilling relationship which is as satisfying for the reader as it is for them, and sex and romance have nothing to do with it. 

More tomorrow.

The Bechdel Test (As Reimagined By Me), part 3


I have to say that Snow Crash, magnificent as it is, would probably not pass the actual Bechdel Test. As far as I can remember it doesn’t even have a conversation between two named female characters, never mind one which isn’t about a man. However, I can (almost) forgive Neal Stephenson this because of the epic awesomeness of YT. 

For starters, YT is excellent at her job. The book opens with The Deliverator, aka the excellently named Hiro Protagonist who is the actual lead character (he’s half Japanese). Unfortunately for him he pretty quickly manages to fall off his lofty perch by crashing his pizza delivery truck into an empty swimming pool in The Mews at Windsor Heights, one of the privately owned Burbclaves in which the majority of the middle-class population lives in the Snow Crash world. 

This puts our Hiro in danger of pissing off the Mafia, which now owns the pizza delivery business, not because he has trashed their truck but because he has made it more than likely that his pizza will be delivered late, an event which means that top boss Uncle Enzo will have to visit the customer personally to apologise, which would be a globally newsworthy event. 

YT saves the day by delivering the pizza with three seconds to spare. The whole of this first scene is wonderfully prescient of the whole privacy debate which is now unfolding around online data; the pizza delivery is filmed by a news helicopter and by a Mafia stealth helicopter, both of which are on the scene because pretty much all information is public. And YT is scanned by the Mafia helicopter, which, as result, means that the Mafia knows everything about her. 

Far from being outraged, YT’s response is “She now knows one more thing. She knows that the Mafia owes her a favour”. The world of Snow Crash is not a world in which people are worried about privacy, it’s a world in which they’re far more worried about being to monetise their ‘intel’, and YT is a self-employed business woman apart from anything else. But privacy aside, it’s an interesting new take on an old trope. We don’t open on a damsel in distress being saved by Our Hero. We open on Our Hiro royally fucking up by being too macho, and being rescued by a kick-ass damsel who is very far from being in distress.
More tomorrow.

The Bechdel Test (As Reimagined By Me), part 2


So…. Works of contemporary culture which contain some absolutely amazing kick-ass heroines. First up, a book which is already about twenty years old by one of my favourite ever authors, and one who has written a number of books with major female characters. Yes, step forward Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. 

If you like your leisure reading to come with a large helping of sci-fi, philosophy, science and mathematics, then Stephenson is the writer for you. His novel Anathem is basically about quantum mechanics, and it blew my mind. Snow Crash isn’t about quantum mechanics, though. It’s about memetics. You know what that is, don’t you? No? I don’t blame you, neither did I until I was reading up about Snow Crash prior to writing this post. 

Memetics is basically the study of how ideas (“memes”) propagate, and it’s​ based around the idea that ideas propagate in a similar way to genes or viruses, by using hosts to breed and spread around the world. There’s​ a lot written about it on the web, which is fascinating to read, including the argument around whether it’s possible for memes to propagate as viruses do because they have no way to stay stable as they’re passed from host to host. Memetics posits that a number of means of passing ideas, including music, song, dance, poetry, oral and written storytelling, the visual arts, and so forth, are actually highly stable and allow ideas to be propagated over hundreds of years with very little change at all. It’s fascinating. 

However, the subject of this post is kick-ass women, not memetics, fascinating as the latter is, and so I must introduce you to YT. YT, which stands for Yours Truly, is a teenage Kourier, which, in the world of Snow Crash, is a person, mostly young, who delivers packages and mail for people, the mail services having collapsed. This is not as dull and safe as it sounds, since Kouriers get around by riding on skate-boards, which they power by means of a poon, a large, disc-shaped electromagnet which they whirl around their head on a cord like a bolas and then let fly to clamp onto a passing car or truck. They hang onto the other end of the cord and reel it in so that they’re towed along behind the vehicle until they want to turn off the magnet and whizz off at a tangent. Basically, Kouriers steal energy and use it for their own fun and profit. YT therefore spends her working life being towed along expressways at high speeds on her skateboard, which is a pretty kick-ass way to earn a crust. 

More shortly.   

The Bechdel Test (As Reimagined By Me)


For anyone out there still reading and expecting me to get back to Feminism, I will, I will. In fact, this post is a Feminism post, but it’s not part of The Big Series because I need a bit of a break between discussing the Brexit/Corbyn/Trump clusterfuck that is contemporary politics and the world of being discriminated against because you have been stupid enough to be born with a vulva, particularly in a world in which someone who makes comments like this can actually be in charge of a major British company. #headbang

And he’s still in charge at Tesco instead of having resigned in mortification at having said something so palpably stupid and incorrect due to all his colleagues and shareholders and the rest of the Board having lined up and laughed at him in unison until he slunk off in shame. Which they didn’t. So he’s still there*. Oh well, at least the meejia mentioned it, so Hooray! to that, and Hooray! to The Bechdel Test As Reimagined By Me.

I hope and trust that you know what The Bechdel Test is, but if not, you should Google it. Actually it doesn’t need any reimagining, so As Reimagined By Me is really just a bit of fun. It’s inspired by me being in the middle of reading one of the absolute best and most brilliant books I’ve ever ever read, namely, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

I’m only up to part three and already we’ve covered war, peace, love, death, grief, birth, friendship, marriage, slavery, exploitation, feminism, parenthood, family, discrimination, racism, violence and sex. And a whole bunch of other stuff too. It’s beyond brilliant in its sweep, its ambition, and the genius of its execution. However, one of the best things about it is that almost all the main characters so far are women, or, at least, female. And they rock! They are totally totally kick-ass. So this is a short series, just for fun, about some works of contemporary culture which contain some seriously excellent female heroines.

More tomorrow! 

*Although to be strictly fair to him, it does seem that the comments were taken somewhat out of context, although it’s still a pretty stupid thing to say.

Intermission – You Know What, part 77


And that’s kind of it, really. Having started this series in the aftermath of Brexit, it seems sadly appropriate that I should bring them to a close in the week that Theresa May triggers Article 50 and starts the process of taking us out of the EU. I haven’t come to many conclusions other than the ones that are kind of motherhood and apple pie if you’re a leftish liberal: be nice not nasty. Accept that most people are trying to do their best. Don’t fall for snake oil salesmen, whether of the left or the right. Support the pillars of a free democracy like the judiciary, an independent media, and the unions. 

Which means that I’ve produced an awful lot of words to come to some conclusions that are not exactly earth-shattering. On the whole, though, perhaps it’s not really surprising, given the disarray that the left and centre-left currently finds itself in, at least in this country. Zoe Williams has written recently about the fact that that the right has become resurgent via the tried and trusted, albeit appalling, method of creating an enemy to blame for everything and then promising to defeat it, whether it’s immigrants, the liberal media, or unions. Even the judiciary gets tainted by the overwhelming drive of the right to find someone to blame for everything.

The left, meanwhile, struggles to find a similarly compelling narrative, although the further left elements seem to have solved this via the depressingly predictable method, for the left at least, of blaming the “establishment” in the form of anyone on the left who doesn’t entirely support them. And thus the right goes unopposed while the left and the centre fight each other. 

I really don’t know what to do about this, other than what I’ve already cited in this series. I wish I could believe that the left is in the process of rebuilding itself, but it doesn’t feel like that, at least as far as the Labour Party is concerned. Maybe then the answer lies outside the Labour Party, in the newer political organisations such as the Women’s Equality Party, the Green Party, More United, Open Britain, and so forth. I can hope so. Maybe the answer is also in demonstrations and marches, which are useful not because they necessarily change things in themselves but because they bring people together, let them see that they are not alone and, supported by social media, enable them to form links and connections so that they can work together for real and lasting change. Maybe we are moving towards better times, despite all the depressing signs.

I wish I had a better, more hopeful ending, but I’m afraid I don’t. Right now, nine months after the Brexit referendum, I just feel sad.  However, I’ll finish with a couple of poems which I may have posted on this blog before, which do contain their own brand of hope; I find the second particularly encouraging today. 


Sometimes things don’t go, after all,/ from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel/ faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,/ sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;/ elect an honest man; decide they care/ enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor./ Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go/ amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to./ The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow/ that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.

Everything Changes – Cicely Herbert

Everything changes. We plant/ trees for those born later/ but what’s happened has happened/ and poisons poured into the seas/ cannot be drained out again.

What’s happened has happened/ poisons poured into the seas/ cannot be drained out again. But/ everything changes. We plant/ trees for those born later.

Intermission – You Know What, part 76


The other thing we can do now is to try to support those, like the unions and the judiciary, who are trying to fight the increasing roll back of little things like democracy and the rule of law. I confess to some change of heart in this respect. I used to feel that the RMT were basically very little different to people like Rupert Murdoch and Boris Johnson, in that they were trying to protect their own whilst not caring about what damage they caused to others. I disliked them intensely, although I always had a soft spot for Bob Crowe on the grounds that he made his points well and cogently, and also because he owned cats, and liking cats is always the royal road to my heart. 

I am not sure that I have entirely changed this opinion. The RMT does seem to have a bit of a penchant for striking just because a supervisor looked at one of their members funny, and Bob Crowe, alas, has gone. Having said that, they and the other unions are one of the few pillars of the liberal, for want of a better word, establishment currently fighting the good fight against the right wing tide for the rights of those who are not wealthy and powerful to have at least a tiny bit of the cake. The unions need to be supported when they say that it’s actually not ok to treat human beings like replaceable automatons who should pay to work and be grateful for the chance, who have no say or autonomy in what they do or how or when they do it, and to whom their employers bear no obligation at all, not even the obligation to pay them. 

That being said, it’s easy to support the unions when they bring cases against Uber to force them to give their drivers sick pay; it’s harder when you’re affected by one of their strikes. I am lucky in that I am only very remotely affected by the current wave of strikes, but on Monday mornings when there is a strike on Southern Rail and the Northern Line is packed with Southern refugees, meaning that I don’t get a seat for my twenty minute journey, a first world problem if ever I heard one, I will avoid cursing the RMT. I will remember instead that they are fighting the good fight against the desire of the right to dismantle all worker protection, including the unions themselves, so that their rapacious exploitation can proceed unopposed, and I will hate the government, who could easily stop the strikes by forcing the employers back to the table if it didn’t have the ulterior motive of destroying the last bastion of working people’s champions, instead.

More tomorrow.