Wednesday, 27 June 2012

50 Shades of something

I gave in.  This damn book keeps cropping up wherever I am on the internet and when I realised that various friends were also reading it, I figured I'd have a look.  Plus Amazon only wanted £2.61 for the Kindle edition, and according to the reviews I'd have a couple of quids worth of 'hmmmm' OR a couple of quids worth of lulz - win/win, amirite? 

Quick disclaimer:  In my 20s I vaguely kicked around on the fringes of the BDSM scene.  It wasn't ever anything particularly full-on; the heavier end of the goth club scene merges into the softer end of the BDSM community reasonably naturally (in my experience, anyway), so I have some notion of where on the dom/sub scale I hover.  This isn't something that I'm going to write about, it being quite personal and all; the point I'm trying to make is that I have some familiarity with non-vanilla sex so this book didn't have anything in the way of 'shock' value to me.

As far as I'm aware, no-one is reading 50 Shades primarily for the plot so I'm not bothered by outlining it quickly (just in case you have been under a rock for the past few weeks).  Ana meets Christian via a not too contrived plot device.  He then keeps turning up wherever she is (I have to say, I'm not wild about the stalker overtones, he even buys her a BlackBerry (and a MacBook and an Audi convertible, and offers to lend her his private jet, and flies her around in his private helicopter... and you're getting my drift here, right?) and then admits to tracking her using "software readily available over the internet" wait, wut?), she admits she is attracted to him then finds out that his 'thing' is control and the rest of the book is devoted to sex (vanilla and non) and her trying to work out if she can agree to his wants. She wants "hearts and flowers" and he wants "total control".   

Ok, it's not high literature.  It's not amazingly well written.  For anyone who wants an expanded chapter by chapter breakdown, you need to go here (thanks for the link, Saga) because nothing I write will be as in-depth as that (mainly because I'm not *that* bothered!) I've just bought the second part, so it's a good enough distraction that I've parted with a further three quid.  

The characters are complete, total 100% Mary Sues.  Christian is mind-bogglingly handsome, extraordinarily rich and philanthropic. Ana is "a total babe" but in denial about this.  She's also klutzy and totally inexperienced sexually.  Comparing 50 Shades to the Twilight saga isn't unreasonable. I did find Ana marginally less irritating than Bella.  Confession:  I have read all the Twilight books.  I did want to kick Bella's teeth in throughout. (Also, spellcheck wants to change Ana to 'anal'.  This is making me giggle...)  So Christian is the 'ideal' man.  Let's be clear for a moment; this book is escapist fantasy.  As long as we take this as read, it makes sense for him to be perfect.  After all, who genuinely fantasises about poor, unattractive men?  I guess maybe some people do, but I would suggest the majority don't. But, wait!  He's not perfect, he's flawed (isn't he?)  Much is made of his inability to sustain normal relationships, Ana isn't allowed to "touch" him (so, of course, she longs to).  This confused me throughout, by the way.  How do you fuck without touching someone?  I eventually concluded that "touch" in this sense, means "cuddle". Oh noes, Ana is a girl therefore she clearly wants cuddles and snuggles because that's what all girls want... Ok, sorry.  I'll try to minimise the snark.

So what did I like?  There is a great deal of focus on consent, on hard and soft limits, on safe words, all of which are so important (it's almost impossible to hammer home just how important they are, but these blogs do help.)  The writer has done her research.  There is a contract, ok, it's basically a copy and paste off any BDSM 101 website job, but at least it exists and is discussed.  And this is one of the things that I do like about the book.  It takes BDSM out from the realm of shadows where it's the preserve of weird and depraved people with issues, and brings it into the daylight. I get so encrossened by people having unnecessary judge-y views of what people find enjoyable.  With obvious exceptions (non-consent, children., abuse etc) people should be free to do what makes them feel good.  You do not have to be scarred by abusive relationships or whatever to enjoy BDSM (although, I have a horrible feeling that Christian will turn out to be scarred by his childhood.) You are NOT a bad feminist if you like being tied up.  There is not something deeply wrong with you if you like a bit of pain with your pleasure *breathes*.  Those two sentences are the subject for another post, when I'm feeling emotionally strong... 

Christian is very controlling.  He does stalk her.  He also seems to have some odd 'feeder' issues, that make me a little twitchy, but might be resolved in the later books.  He uses "sex as a weapon." (This is usually an allegation levelled at women?)  BUT he is honest about it.  He tells Ana what he is and what he likes, which is presumably meant to allow her to make an informed decision but... she's already in love with him!  Are you shocked...? I would think that this would be hard to read if you've unresolved issues with controlling ex partners.  As my psycho ex took his own life some years ago, it didn't effect me.  Had G still have been alive, I might have felt differently. 

What about the sex, I hear you asking?  Well... it's kinky (ish) sex, what more do you want me to say?  What Christian wants from Ana will be familiar to anyone who has experienced the dom/sub dynamic.  Kneeling, obedient, eyes downcast, willing to be spanked, able to count the belt blows etc etc.  What makes it unrealistic, in my view, is Ana's ability to go from inexperienced virgin to fantasy woman in the space of  a few chapters.  She has "no gag reflex".  She can apparently orgasm from nipple stimulation alone.  She is permanently "wet". She only needs to be in the room with him and she is "ready for him".  50 Shades is touted as "mummy porn" (though my daughter was concerned about me reading it - apparently, so she's been told, it isn't suitable for mummies!) but Ana often veers towards the male version of a fantasy woman. I dunno, maybe out there are many women who have no gag reflex, who can climax from nipple stimulation and are dripping as soon as they see their man.  I've yet to meet one, is all I'm saying.  

But like I said, I've bought part the second.  I'll let you know how I get on... 
Thursday, 23 February 2012

Yo kiddo - listen up!

For her birthday, my sister gave Eldest Daughter, very appropriately, a book called Letters to My Sixteen Year Old Self.  I thought it was a nice idea, but I didn't get round to reading any of them, except the few they printed in, I think, The Guardian.  Then I saw, on a blog I follow, a similar letter. So I thought I'd write my own.

Dear Sal,

You aren't going to want to read any of this, because you're so damn certain that you're right about everything.  That's ok; it's kind of part of being in your late teens.  In a few years time, there'll be a song that gets massively over-played on the radio that will involve sunscreen (seriously), and you'll love it; it'll make you cry, despite it being a bit twee.  Most of what I want to tell you is contained within those lyrics.  However, as it hasn't been released yet, I'll give you a few tips and hints now.

  • Reconcile with your family.  I know you hate them right now.  But you only get one mum and dad and believe it or not, life's much nicer when you're not at war with those people who've known you all your life.  They know your faults, they know your good points.  They are your blood.  They love you, just like you love them.  And you do love them, if you didn't you wouldn't be so hurt and angry about everything that's happened.  I'm not supposed to tell you how the future pans out, but your mum will be one of your best friends eventually.  Make it sooner rather than later, eh? 
  • Stop dying your hair now! This is really important.  You'll rant, for many years, about women who dye their hair when they turn grey, and how you'll never be one of them. Newsflash:  when you start getting greys, in your mid-30s, you'll be desperate to cover them up.  And you won't be able to.  You know why?  Because all that high strength chemical shit you've bought from supermarkets over the years will have given you raging sensitivity to hair dye. Like, if you put it near your skin, you get chemical burns.  Stop doing it now, that way, when you start going grey you can pay a hairdresser to use decent quality dye to get back to being brunette.  
  • Life is going to be really, really difficult at times. You're going to feel, on more than one occasion, that you cannot carry on for another minute.  You will.  It's important that you do, and it's even more important that you let the people who love you help you, when things are tough. 
  • You're also going to have a lot of fun, and get into quite a lot of mischief. Just try to be a bit... sensible.  Or... moderate.  You won't, but I just feel like I should say it. 
  • Stop smoking now.  I'm not even going to discuss this further.
  • It's ok not to have the first clue about what you want out of life.  You have a good heart, a good brain and a work ethic.  You'll always be ok work-wise, because you're happy to graft.  You don't have to figure everything out now.  Or tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year.  Some people just don't have a plan.  You are one of those people.  And that's ok. 
  • Learn how to forgive.  Most importantly, learn how to forgive yourself.  You make bad decisions; that's alright.  You're not perfect, and here's a thing:  you never will be - you're only human.  Deal with it. 
  • Stop thinking you can fix the entire world and everyone in it.  Sometimes you have to let people screw up and just be there for them when it goes wrong.  It's no reflection on you, as a person, lover or friend, if people's lives get a bit messy.  Equally, let your friends help you out when they offer, ok? 
  • Proper, adult love is not dramatic.  You think it is now; all those raging emotions, soaring highs and troughs of awfulness; all those screaming rows and the making up.  This is not real love.  Real love is peaceful and calm.
  • Eventually, after kissing some (ahem) frogs, you will get your prince.  He won't be what you expect, and you won't meet him anywhere you could imagine right now, but when you meet him the world will stop, everything will go quiet, and you'll realise that you know this person; in some deep way, that you can't explain, you've always known him and loved him.  It will not be dramatic - there will be no orchestrated music, no showers of rose petals.  There will just be serenity, happiness and acceptance
  • Go easy on the piercings.  And the tattoos.  Seriously.  Think before you do stuff to your body! 
  • Have opinions.  Opinions are good.  Don't let people make you feel bad because you're interested in things.  Anyone who does you down because you have a point of view isn't worth your time.
  • You are never going to be a size 10.  Deal with this. Hating your body is futile.  People who judge you on your appearance alone are shallow and vain.  You do not need them in your life.
  • You're going to meet Robert Smith soon.  He's very cool.  
Look after yourself, kiddo.  You do have  a place in the world, you just need to be patient about finding it.

Lots of love, 

Sal (aged 35.  Yes really.  And you didn't stop having sex at 30 either!) 
Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A+, B-, O?

The mortgage company has had a happy few weeks holding up various (petrol covered and on fire) hoops for Himself and I to jump through.  I'm not going to rant about the ridiculous of that though (but I will say, HUGE deposit, TINY mortgage, very good income and why therefore were you so difficult about it well-known-building-society???) because today I'd like to tell you about my application for life insurance.

It's a moot point as to whether we actually *need* the damn insurance anyway.  Himself does, I guess, as his income covers the mortgage, but I'm not convinced that I do... Anyways, we put in a joint application.  A few days later, I get a letter in the post from The Insurance Company (TIC), saying that they want to arrange an appointment for me to see a nurse for a 'mini medical'.  Ok, fair enough, my height/weight/BMI score will have set all sorts of alarms going on their computer system ("Danger, danger! Fat chick who eats too much chocolate and doesn't take exercise! Danger, danger..." I'm imagining red lights, similar to the emergency warning system they have on the Enterprise, in no part because I got given the ENTIRE Next Gen set on DVD for my birthday *squees*) Ahem. The 'mini medical' consists of height, weight, blood pressure and that's fine.  But they also want a urine sample and a BLOOD SAMPLE! Not fine.

Honestly, this letter... Where do I start?  It informs me that these samples are "required".  It informs me that a nurse will call me to arrange an appointment "at a convenient place (usually your home)" and it reassures me that the cost will be met by TIC, so I don't need to worry about that.  Well, phew! Right, guys?  I mean, they may want my blood and stuff, but at least I don't have to pay for it *wipes forehead* There are no enclosures with the letter.  No explanation of what they plan to test me for.  Where my blood will be send to, which lab and for what purpose.  No explanation of how they intend to protect my personal biometric data, or how they dispose of the blood, post-testing for... whatever it is they are testing for.

At this point, I am furious.  I look a bit like this, only crosser. And fatter.  And more brunette...

At which point the phone rings.  On the other end is the nurse, to arrange the appointment.  I WAS VERY POLITE. Because it's hardly her fault.  I explain, calmly, that I'd like to know various things, primarily what they are testing me for.  She doesn't know.  She's just employed to come round and do the tests.  Ok.  She suggests that I speak with TIC.  Cool, I'm up for that.  I call TIC to be met by a chirpy voice message saying they're open Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5.30pm. Natch.  You know what? My bank is open from 8.30am - 6pm Mon - Fri AND between 10am - 4pm on Saturday.  My actual bank where I talk to actual people.  You'd think that a call centre for TIC (which is a big IC) could manage a Saturday service.  But no. *breathes*

So yesterday, I had the phone in my hand and the number dialled at 8.29am.  Just a brief aside, I've worked in the service industry.  I know it's not particularly well-paid, and it's where the worst in people tends to come out, because they're FRUSTRATED, dammit. They want to be CROSS with someone, and that someone will be YOU, because you're the person at the end of the phone/behind the bar/behind the counter/whatever. So I'm always, but always, polite.  I do not raise my voice, swear, shout or anything like that.  I may, on occasion, get a bit snarky (sort of the equivalent of my caps EMPHASIS, but I don't shout.  I promise.)

The phone is answered by generic call centre girl (GCCG).  I'll now go into she-said, I-said mode.  Apologies.

GCCG: Thank you for calling TIC.  Can I take your policy number?
Me: [gives policy number] Can you please put me through to the underwriting department?
GCCG:  Is there something I can help you with?
Me: [brief explanation of problem and request for more info/clarity]
GCCG:  I'll just put you on hold while I talk to the underwriters.
Me: ...

<Recorded music>

GCCG: It's a standard mini-medical.  All that will happen is a nurse will come round to check your height, weight, blood pressure and take a blood test.
Me:  I realise that.  I'd like to know various things, but most importantly, what my blood will be tested for.
GCCG:  It's standard practice.
Me: Ok, I understand that, but I would like to know exactly what my blood will be tested for.  And then I'd like to know which lab it's going to, how it gets there, how you dispose of it post-testing and what data protection/confidentiality safeguards you have in place to protect my biometric data. But mainly, I want to know what it's being tested for.
GCCG: Let me put you on hold whilst I talk to the underwriters again.
Me: ... 

                                                                  <Recorded music>

GCCG: So I've spoken to the underwriters who ask me to assure you that this is just a mini medical and it's standard practice...
Me:  Can I speak to the underwriters please?
GCCG: Can I ask what your query is?            (Honestly, I wish I was making this up!)
Me:  Yes.  I would like to know EXACTLY what the blood you are proposing to take will be tested for. 
GCCG: Please hold.

                                                                <Recorded music>
Underwriter: Can I help you?
Me: [explains query again]
UW: It's standard practice.  It's just a mini-medical.
Me: Ok, I understand the mini medical. I have no problem with my height, weight, blood pressure etc being measured but I'm concerned that no-one seems to be able to tell me why I need to have a blood test.
UW: Well, it's standard practice.
Me: So WHAT are you going to test for??
UW: [pause] Well, it will be a standard set of tests.
Me: Such as?
UW: Umm, I'm not sure.
Me:  Ok.  let's start again.  I need a blood test because...?
UW: The system has flagged you as needing one before we can provide you with life cover.
Me: Ok, and that, I assume, will be due to my BMI?
UW: Ummm, maybe.  Yes.
Me: So your system has flagged me for a blood test but doesn't detail what test is needed?  So when you have my blood, how will anyone know what to test it for?
UW: It'll be a standard set of tests.
Me: Such as?  Iron levels, blood cell count, platelet count?  HIV? Cholesterol? Communist tendencies? What?
UW: Uh.  It's a standard set.  It's procedure. 
Me: [breathes] The problem is, that I find it really quite unfathomable that no-one is able to tell me what tests will be carried out.  And I haven't even started asking you about the labs that will do the tests, or the data protection policies yet.  I worry that if no-one can answer the simple question about what tests will be done, no-one will be able to reassure me about protection of my biometric data either. 
UW: Oh, there's no biometric data.  We just need a blood sample. 
Me: Blood IS biometric data.  Possibly the most sensitive sort there is!  You realise when someone is convicted for, say, murder, it's forensic data that often identifies the killer?  The forensic data is often DNA. And unsurprisingly, your blood contains your DNA? 
UW: ...
Me:  So unless someone can tell me what my sample will be tested for, as well as all the other queries, I'm not sure that we can proceed.
UW: But this is standard procedure.  It happens a lot!
Me:  Has no-one ever asked you these questions before?
UW: No!
Me: Never?  You mean people just let a nurse roll up and take a blood test and they don't want to know what it's for?
Him: Yes!                             (I find this both terrifying and probably true.)
Me: Right.  Well, I'm afraid that I'm not going to have this done until these questions are answered.
UW: So you're refusing to have the blood test?
Me: Yes.  Until someone can provide me with both a verbal and a WRITTEN set of explanations and policies.
UW:  I'll get someone to call you back.

Honestly, I was beyond baffled!  Just... what the hell?  I'm supposed to let a nurse from a private (i.e. non NHS) agency come to my home, take my blood, send it to goodness knows where, test it for goodness knows what, dispose of it... somehow, and I'm supposed to be ok with this?  Because, apparently, everyone else is? That's insane!

However, 20 minutes later, the nurse calls back to say that can she come round and do the other tests, because, apparently, TIC no longer requires me to have a blood test.  I ask about the urine sample and she tells me that it'll be tested for sugars (i.e. diabetes) and proteins (i.e. high blood pressure or impaired kidney function) and that it'll be dipped here and then I can dispose of the sample myself.

Now, that's fine and dandy.  I haven't got to give a blood sample and I'm ok with the rest of the tests, but I am deeply concerned that a large, well known insurance company was unable to answer those fundamentally basic and important questions.  And more concerned that, seemingly, people don't bother to ask. Is it me?  Am I being over-cautious?  Would you fine folk be ok with doing that, or would you want more details as well?  Help me out here - I'm feeling like Marvin
Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Changing direction

I'm en-crossened by many things at present: the purchase of our house that is moving at a snail's pace, the fact that it's February, which means that in a week I'm 35, my lack of positive pregnancy tests, and the fact that during a recent conversation with Himself I couldn't think of a single female scientist other than Marie Curie.  Having ranted about that last fact for some time ("I'm supposed to be a FEMINIST!  How do I not know these things?!") and having hit a similar road-block with female philosophers, I decided that Something Had To Be Done because I'm fed up with my own ignorance about the under recording of female achievement.  How can I nag my kids for not having role models (other than the ubiquitous Katie Price) when I can barely name more than a handful myself?  And thus Women We Should Know was born.

Whilst I'll continue to write my personal rambles here, and I don't actually expect you to necessarily be interested in slightly obscure women, I thought it was only polite to let you know where I might be hanging out for a while!  I've literally only written one post, but I have a stack of women in draft form (as it were) so if you do decide to mosey on over, please don't judge me on the lack of postings :)

Much love folks!
Thursday, 19 January 2012

Hardwired to ritual? Or Greed?

As a devoted devotee (tautology is ftw today, folks!) of The Hairpin (mainly for the Ask a (Married) Dude, Ask a Lady columns, and OMG!11! Ask a Clean Person, (best column evaaar!) but really, all the regular slots rock...) I occasionally come across stuff that really makes me pleased to be living in a culture that doesn't make an incredibly big deal about some stuff.  Ok, I growl and grump at Halloween being vilely commercial nowadays, I realise that we've lost the prom battle (both daughters are 'omg squeeing' about theirs already) and I'm happy to be an unpleasant generalist and blame America for both of these imports, but we do not, as yet anyway, have baby showers.  With cakes like these.  I know I was horrendously superstitious about buying nothing other than the absolute minimum before my kids came along, because ticking away in my brain was the terrible, so-awful-you-can-barely-manage-to-acknowledge-it thought that if anything went wrong I'd have all these tiny bootees and clothes and things and, oh gods, no baby to go into them.  Maybe that's just me... But still.  In my world, people give the baby gifts after it's born. Even if there is no Christening, or naming ceremony (neither of mine are Christened, nor did we have a 'do' of any description) people still want to buy you/baby stuff.  But, y'know, after the event is fine...

Nor, as far as I'm aware, have I ever been invited to a 'wedding/bridal shower' because again, gifts after the event, people! I have, however, been on my fair share of hen nights, which is kind of why I didn't have one.  I never have had one, just for the record.  Three marriages, and not one hen night to be had - haven't I done well!  I know that it's possible to do a pseudo 'hen night' which doesn't involve L plates, feather boas, glittery tiaras and public drunkenness; I've been to some very nice, low-key suppers and even once, to a spa day (which was heaven, doubly so because the bride to be paid!) but the go out, cut loose, get falling down drunk and really misbehave a week before you get married thing I just don't understand.  Why???  Ok, I concede that people like an excuse to go out with their mates, sure, no problems with that, but why does it have to be quite so... naff?  Apologies if that sounds unpleasantly snobby, but there you have it.  My blog, my opinions!

Neither Himself nor I had any form of 'do' prior to the wedding;  I was completely hysterical, and therefore Himself was trying to cope with keeping his shit together and trying to hold mine together for me. Plus we genuinely didn't have the time.  But, but but!  I finally got my shit together at the beginning of December and organised a post wedding 'stag do' for Himself.  So next weekend he goes off to a cottage by the sea, with all the other RPG lads, to have a weekend of tabletop gaming.  I know I sent a 'help help' email to various members of the WoW blogging community that I thought might have some ideas, and I was amazed by how helpful people were.  If you're reading this, thank you!!  I've done the renting a cottage thing and thankfully, Himself's best mate (and best man) has written the most awesome scenario that's both really cool and really sweet, tailored, as it is, to Himself's interests. I think there's a chance that I'm more excited about the whole thing than Himself is... I'm so excited, in fact, that I'm quite sad that I won't be there.  Clearly, there are two excellent reasons for this: 1) I've never done any non-MMO RPGing in my life, and 2) it's his stag weekend...

So, you may well be thinking, if Himself is doing something after the event, why aren't you? Well, much as I'd like to say it rested purely on the snob thing of despising hen nights, it's also a bit more complicated than that.  Himself has a core of about 8 or 9 friends who he's known for 20-odd years.  They geeky-gamed together, went to parties and festivals together and headed towards (and into) middle age together, acquiring partners, mortgages and kids along the way.  The nature of Himself's friendships seem to be both much less intense than the relationships I have with my female friends and much longer lasting. Part of that is due to the fact that when I moved, in my early 20s, I deliberately severed all contact with my 'former' life, for various reasons.  After I'd moved, working fulltime for a fairly pitiful wage, and bringing up two children left little room for a hectic social life, and then moving again, 200-odd miles away, has meant that I've had to start over with friends... again. Himself, on the other hand, has lived in the same area for over 20 years. I've also always preferred a couple of close friends over a multitude of acquaintances.  I'm not sure how many friends I could muster together for a hen night.  But... I will have something.  I have every intention of holidaying with Feebs at some point in the next ten years (preferably to Japan - watch out Sanrio shops!!) and I have a long standing agreement with another close friend that once the kids have left home, we'll have a week somewhere hot, to lie by the pool whilst a waiter brings us mojitos (mojitos and moar mojitos...), and to reminisce about the spring (of 2011)  that we didn't think we'd get through with our sanity intact.  They will be my (very) delayed celebrations.
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