Monthly Archives: October 2015

Women in Folklore

I remember reading a review of the Penguin Book of Witches, which pointed out that so often the driving force behind witch hunts was a fear of the “other”. I blogged about it here.

But the reason that figures of fear like witches are so often portrayed as haggard old women is also a fear of women’s power.

NPR has a great piece on this that takes a whistlestop tour through the folklore of different communities from Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Russia.

It’s not all negative though. Stories of scary old women who cause harm and danger abound, but there are also traditions in which these women are wise and life-giving:

“Old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.”

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Real Dogs Keep it Real




Vicennial Hot 8

Yes, it’s that time again. I’m going to post about Hot 8 Brass Band. They’re touring right now, supporting their Vicennial album and 20 years of great music. You can listen to 30 second snippets of their new album, which has remastered favourites like Sexual Healing and some good new tunes, here.

Or if you’re really lucky, you can catch them tomorrow night in Cambridge, supported by the effervescent, lively and irrepressible Brass Funkeys, who I heard for the first time earlier this year at a brass band bash at Shoreditch Blues Kitchen.

So much good music.

So much work the next morning. 😦

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Ethical African Fashion

You know when something is on your mind and then you see it on TV?

That’s how I felt when I saw this report from the BBC Business team on fake fabrics threatening the African fabric industry.

I buy a lot of African print clothes. I love buying things from all over the continent and I’m pleased that they all have the clothes made ethnically in the respective countries, using fabric sourced on the continent. But after visiting Africa on the Square this year for Black History Month, the African celebration in Trafalgar Square, I was struck by how many businesses there were selling African print clothes. There was no discussion of ethical fabrics or processes. Since I know some of the brands that were there, I know some of the sellers definitely are ethical, but it was not advertised because it was not seen as a pressing issue.

I think it’s a discussion we need to start prioritising. In February I heard an insightful talk on this subject by Lorene Rhoomes of Akhu designs at the Women Fashion Power exhibition at the Design Museum. She explained in painstaking detail the history of African print fabrics, both on the continent (with a focus on West Africa) and outside (the Dutch and Indonesian connection). She also highlighted the problem of Chinese mass-produced fabrics stealing traditional designs and then undercuting craftsmen in the market place.


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Great Gothics

A fascinating article on NPR about why we (definitely I) love the gothic genre.

“Though their definition is fluid, Gothic novels (and movies) generally offer equal parts delighted horror and breathless sentiment. And regardless of plot twists or historical pastiches, they’re preoccupied with contemporary problems; the essential horror of the irreconcilable world. For early Gothics, this meant the Industrial Revolution, eulogizing the natural in the face of modernity (Anne Radcliffe’s 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho equated love of nature with virtue until it was practically a superpower). Udolpho — and countless other crumbling castles — reflected both worry and rebellious glee about the fate of traditional social structures in the modern order; estates declined alongside their nefarious masters.”

Penny DreadfulI love gothic – books, TV series.. I love the melodrama and ugly beauty of it all. Three things I’ve enjoyed in recent years:

  • The Shadow of the Wind series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The second book in particular, Angel’s Game – is delightfully OTT.
  • Penny Dreadful – Sky Atlantic’s original series is eminently watchable for the hypnotic Eva Green who really….commits to her part. But I also love how it references and remixes all the classic tales: Frankenstein, Dorian Gray.. all the characters are in there. It’s atmospheric and sometimes ridiculous, but then that’s part of the fun. Another of my favourite actresses, Helen McRory was wisely retained for the second series as the main villain after making a few great cameos in the first series.
  • I want to add Sherlock Holmes – the new books by Anthony Horowitz – or Ripper Street, the excellent TV series that went from BBC to Amazon and is now back on BBC2 again. They’re not quite full-on gothic, though. But maybe half and half makes a whole? Highly recommend Ripper Street at any rate, especially the first series.
  • Not sure if I’m creating a new genre here but The House that Will Not Stand, by Marcus Gardley at the Tricycle Theatre, was a thrilling play set in the American South, during slavery, focusing on a family of Creole women who are reeling from the death of their (illegitimate) white patriarch, and a diverse community coming to terms with laws on slavery and freedom. It was haunting and lyrical, rhythmic and a little creepy. I am going to file that under gothic too.


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Cracks in the Wall

It’s interesting that despite all the polls telling us that no one knows about Corbyn’s policies, and the almost daily pledges of rebellion and revolt from Labour MPs, that he (or at least the Opposition) is making a difference in how we think of austerity. As in, now we’re thinking about it.

Tax credits are hitting home and there are a flurry of articles and screaming editorials from all the tabloids, left and right, urging a rethink. There are reports of restive Tories possibly losing their seats * and so many economists and commentators discussing the tactic of tax credit cuts.


No longer are we in the rigid hegemony of apparent common sense that austerity is the logical response the crash of 2008. Instead there is a subtle shift in language. Now the talk is of “choices”. It’s not much, but it’s a few cracks in the wall that suggest that there are other options. This is a change.

Like many, I doubt Corbyn will lead Labour to the next election. I don’t think he wants to. But in the short time he is there, he will hopefully continue to shift the conversation.

After all, the way we frame the problem determines the solutions we consider feasible. Suddenly, competing framings to Osborne’s are getting more of an airing.

*I doubt it. After all, they did win the election. And despite the squeals from people who were happy to vote for pain as long as it wasn’t theirs to bear, I think the same divisive, selfish politics could yet win another election as people continue to vote for “everyone else” to suffer. (until they are “everyone else”, of course).

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Beautiful Sundays

Three things to savour this Sunday, with a little of the watery sunshine that’s trickling through the clouds.

  • This delectable article on Jamaican Sunday dinner from Buzzfeed: Yuh Jus Haf Fi Use Yuh Eye.
  • Southern soul/rock/blues from JJ Grey and Mofro: 
  • Figuring out how to wear my new African print reversible waistcoat/cardigan: sapelle-reversible-sleeveless-coat-101
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One Helluva Friday

Friday was the end of a long, hard week that saw me stifling tears (unsucessfully) in the middle of Clapham Junction station after a racist encounter.

Meanwhile, on a train to Liverpool the poet, editor and activist Siana Bangura was racially abused and physically attacked while fellow commuters stood by.

A few months ago a female friend of mine was punched in the face in front of her young child in a racially motivated attack on the way home from church. Passers-by stood by.

I hear more and more from my (particularly black female) friends that they are having racist encounters, some more threatening than others, many for the first time though they have lived in this country for years. Siana and my friend (and so many others) were told to “Go Home”.

The blame for these behaviours lies squarely with the racist individuals concerned. But, context: When the government puts this phrase on vans and posters; when ministers make rhetorical riffs on the theme for political gain and the media uses dehumanising language about people of colour and migrants – it creates a context of permissiveness. It says that your racist feelings are legitimate even if your actions are illegal and possibly socially unacceptable. I say possibly because in too many incidents people stand by, which is what happened in Siana’s case and that of my friend. It makes me wonder.

What happened to me on Friday was not comparable but I will say this: I felt a sensation that was new to me.

Fear. Usually I feel like I can hold my own, but that day I felt isolated and unsure.

I was accused of trying to steal a woman’s handbag in Superdrug. I think she felt I stood too close to her in one of the aisles because as I selected my product she started to mutter under her breath. I didn’t think much of it, though I did hear her say something about “space invaders” and concluded that she felt uncomfortable. But she moved away.

Then she came back and pushed right past me, slamming her shoulder into me. I left it.

I overheard her loudly telling a shop assistant in the next aisle that they should watch me because I was up to something. She talked about how London is “full of these people”. I left it.

Then the shop assistant came over to look at me. I challenged him and he backed off, but she kept on talking to anyone who would listen about what I was supposedly up to.  No one said anything but they came to look at me.

So I went over to her and confronted her. She had her back to me and when she spun around her expression was triumphant. As she ranted on about “black women like you” (me) she had supposedly encountered in her job working for a judge and I responded, she seemed exultant, as if she was proving her point. My anger was exactly what she wanted to see. When I realised this, I disengaged.

But it was more than that. I’m often teased by my friends for speaking Queen’s English. I’ve been called “proper” and even “posh”. Like most people of colour especially, I code switch depending on who I’m talking to. When the shop assistant came to talk to me I employed my most chippy, cut-glass accent. It worked and he widened his eyes and backed down, as if this was all a mistake. What if I had an African accent? What if my English was bad? I had already started to feel a hum of unease.

When I confronted the woman and she spun around with that triumphant look on her face I realised suddenly that I was in a double-bind. The hum became a drumming as I weighed up my choices.

If I let my rage fly she clearly wanted to manipulate the situation and might try to upgrade me from bag snatching to bag snatching plus abuse. But keeping a lid on my feelings was a capitulation in the face of her lies, lies which everyone apparently believed or at least were keeping an open mind about despite her very loud racist ranting. The shop assistants had already said that this was my word against hers and I felt that the only reason it was now a toss-up for them between me and the other lady was because my accent had thrown them off. I felt like I had started at minus one and was now on zero, but that she started at one. There wasn’t really a choice.

So I left. Mechanically, I paid for my products (?!) and left.

And when I got outside, I cried. I felt ashamed and humiliated and angry that I was feeling these emotions when I had done nothing wrong.

I felt angry that I had allowed this woman and her false allegation to get to me, that my accent functioned as some sort of patronus to prevent me from being directly accused by the shop staff. I was angry at their inaction, which implied that it was an objectively fair fight.

I was dismayed by the surge of emotion that had prevented me from doing anything sensible* (call the manager? and the police? ask for her to back her allegation or back down and ask for CCTV footage to prove my case? Take a photo and other details of the encounter for a complaint?)

But more than anything I was afraid because it felt like Superdrug was an alternative universe where this woman made the weather and I had to play defense and not get sucked in. Her words had an authority in that shop that mine did not. That’s what scared me. I realised that this situation could escalate and I was not on an equal footing.

This is nothing compared to what other women I know have gone though. It’s partly from knowing their stories that I felt afraid, unsure of where this would go, keenly aware that I had no one in my corner.

*and why did I just leave it when she started to kick off? Come on, woman.

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I Dunno

Things that make no sense:

The TV show:


The Leftovers is just plain weird. Set in a post-rapture world, with a lot of traumatised characters and unexplained occurrences (not least the disappearances) it’s still not clear if this is going to go the way of Lost or stay finely balanced and thrilling like The Returned.

And yet I’m still watching.

The Crush:

I blame the Best Man for this – I saw it at a very formative time in my life and my enduring crush on Terence Howard was born. So was my crush on Morris Chestnut – but at least that one makes sense.

The Book Series:


The Harry Hole Detective Series by Jo Nesbo. Ok, the first few were great, but not he’s getting more and more ramshackle but is apparently catnip to the ladies. Not as smooth as Bond, not as alluring as Luther, a walking cliche.

And yet I have every  single one.

The Clothes:


Dungarees. I have been waiting for over 20 years for them to make a comeback. They have and I look awful.

And yet.


Notes on a Fiscal Policy

Tonight the fiscal charter is being discussed. From what I can see, George Osborne continues to steal Labour’s rhetoric – “Now we are the true party of labour” – but reality belies this, such as the cuts to tax credits and the rise in people earning below the living wage (the real one) even as unemployment falls. Oh and the firesale of national assets – Royal Mail, shares in RBS…

I suspect it will pass anyway as some Labour MPs are plannng to abstain. It’s a shame that Labour’s bitterness and inner tumult is hampering its effectiveness as an Opposition. George Osborne is a political master; the fiscal charter was always a trap and unfortunately the simplicity of the stupid idea is easier communicated than the arguments against. But, here are some great tweets on this anyway.

Like, for instance, Osborne rejecting this silly idea in 2010


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