Sunday, 26 January 2020

Hard to Swallow

Picture from this article.


I very rarely have a major political waffle on here, but I'm about to.

This one's about the Chinese coronavirus. I recently unfriended someone after the sheer vitriol on their feed about it.

There's been some articles circulating that the market it came from was selling a lot of different animal products in unhygienic circumstances. Part of the story was about cooking certain animals alive, including bats, which is where the virus might have spread from. And, yes, this does bother me. Animal cruelty is something I'm very much against.

However...

The issue I had was the sheer level of hate speech towards 'them', meaning the Chinese population in general, and suggesting they deserved this virus because of what they eat. Whereas I don't agree with the preparation methods, it was incredibly divisive language and a few things that ran throught my mind were...

  1. Ebola is also thought to originate from bat or gorilla meat. However, when the Ebola outbreak hit Sierra Leone and DRC, it was largely referred to as bushmeat and I didn't see many people saying 'disgusting Africans, they deserve it.' There was definitely a more sympathetic tone.
  2. People who frequent markets to eat local food often don't have a Sainsbury's next door and, if they do, probably couldn't afford it. Local markets are a source of cheap daily sustenance for most of the world's population.
  3. Most of the world's population who buy from local markets haven't had a high level of education. Food hygiene and virus transmission probably aren't on their radar. If someone does something because they don't know it's a bad idea, is the correct response: well, you deserve it?
  4. Generalisation is the death of reason. To say that 'all' of 'them' (the entire Chinese population) do something or eat the same food is strange. It's also an observation that people do something, not a constructive solution. 
  5. Diet is often something hugely culturally ingrained. Every culture eats something that another culture finds disgusting. I have a hard time eating zingalo in Rwanda, which is a delicacy made from cow intestine. Aborigines eat live witchetty grubs. Bushmeat is a staple part of millions of people's diet and has been for generations. Saying 'eww, that's disgusting,' isn't really helpful when trying to change mindsets. If it took centuries to evolve, a few irate westerners screaming racial insults online isn't going to have an impact, it just shows that some people's mindsets are as disgusting as they find other people's food to be.

You don't agree with something, fine. But what do you hope to achieve by shouting slurs and outrage? You need a conversation.

Conversations are changing dietary habits in many economically developed countries with an awareness of plant-based diets and eating less meat. But it happens slowly. It happens through education on how mass farming affects the environment, on health implications, and when demand for alternative foods makes them convenient to source and brings the market price down to a level that more people can afford. As for food hygiene, it's taken centuries for western countries to introduce health safety standards. We used to put chalk in bread and hang meat up outside butchers' shops like markets still do in many countries. It didn't happen overnight. Animal rights certainly didn't, it's still a completely new concept in many countries.

The idea that people eating traditional food for a price they can afford deserve to die because of that is very strange thinking, and more than a little disturbing. It shows an extreme lack of compassion. They may think it's justified because 'these people' don't always show compassion in the way they prepare food, but it neglects any reflection on socio-economic circumstances, access to clean water and cold chains, or education.

Anyway, just my thoughts on the matter.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Pretty Lights


I've been spending Sundays over at Kigali Heights lately, researching ancient Sumer whilst watching the lights of the Convention Centre swirl. Taking lots of notes for my next novel. It's going to be a while until I start writing, but I'm looking forward to it.

The only thing that could make this better would be...



Nomnomnom.

Talking of pretty lights, my dad posted these pictures the other day. It's a beautiful display at Gloucester Cathedral in support of asylum seekers. Really pretty. Wish I could have seen it.


 

And, in other news, the gloomy start to the year seems to be resolved. Health is back to normal and patched things up with my fella, who is hopefully returning from India in a month. So, light at the end of the tunnel - and hopefully not an oncoming train. Feel I've got my bounce back.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Fulu Miziki



Shout out to a fantastic band, Fulu Miziki, who completely rocked Kigali last night. Kinshasa's answer to glam rock. They were so much fun to watch. Incredible energy.





Most of their costumes, and some of their instruments, are made from recycled materials. If you ever get the chance to see them, get right on it.


Saturday, 11 January 2020

Born Lippy: How to Do Female




New Year was bloody awful and I spent much of it under the duvet waiting for it to be over. My partner left me on New Year's Eve. 

I mean, left, left.

The country.

I've just about sorted myself out, but I was not doing great at the time. When I'm not sure what to think - I try not to. I look for distractions, and that's what this book was. A brilliant distraction.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman and sometimes it's time to be a hard woman... This is a book for all those times.

Once upon a (very very) long time ago Jo Brand was what you might describe as 'a nice little girl'. Of course, that was before the values of cynicism, misogyny and the societal expectation that Jo would be thin, feminine and demure sent her off down Arsey Avenue.

The plot thickened, when due to a complicated fusion of hormones, horrible family dynamics and a no-good boyfriend they hated, Jo ended up leaving home at 16. Now she's considerably further along life's inevitable bloody 'journey' - and she's fucked up enough times to feel confident she has no wisdom to offer anyone. But who cares? She's going to do it anyway...

Born Lippy is a gathering of all the things Jo Brand wishes she'd known, all the things she's learnt, and all the things she hopes for the future. A century after women got the vote (albeit married women over the age of 28) it's time to take stock of exactly what it means to be female today. And if there's one thing women are entitled to, it's having a bloody good moan about things big and small - so here goes...

I really like Jo Brand, and I listened to the whole thing in two sittings over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. It was exactly what I needed at the time. No-nonsense, practical advice for surviving life. 

It's true, books are there through the good times and the bad. Who needs therapy?

It opens with the line:

No men have been harmed in the writing of this book.

 And goes on to say:

I worry about writing a book in which I impart my ‘wisdom’ to my ‘daughters’, or in other words, ‘females who are very much younger than I am and have some hope and optimism left.’

Preach away sister, it's running thin. 

Excuse typos, transcribing again. 

There were some great bits on language and female anatomy:

If we go back in time, language has always been sexist, misogynistic, and any other word you can think of for unfair etymological treatment of women. So, 'hysteria' comes from the Greek word for womb, and I'm sure you're all aware that if women lost their equilibrium in those days it was assumed that it was because their womb was wandering unhelpfully about their body and confusing them. Vagina is the Latin word for 'sword sheath' - ouch - and the term for the general genital area, 'pudenda,' literally means things to be ashamed of.


*

So let's start with the wonder down under. Vaginas are amazingly stretchy. Well, babies come out of them, and that's a conjuring trick far stranger than anything covered by the Magic Circle. But the really surprising thing is the clitoris. Although anatomists have known since the 1800s that the visible bit is just the tip of the iceberg, it has remained a medical curiosity unmapped by many a male explorer. Five points if you spotted the man-can't-find-the-clitoris joke. While the penis is described in exhaustive detail in anatomies and textbooks, as late as 1948 Grey's Anatomy chose not to label the clitoris at all. Maybe Grey should have gone to Specsavers. Ten points.

Apparently the clitoris has 8,000 highly sensitive nerve endings. Double that of the entire glands of a penis, and considering its much smaller surface area this makes it fifty times more sensitive. We are fantastic creatures.

Wouldn't it be great if women everywhere embraced the idea that their vagina could be such a powerful weapon, rather than something shameful that needed to be silenced, or at the very least some extra storage when you're shoplifting in John Lewis.

She also mentioned the tampon tax, which is something Rwanda abolished in December. Apparently, periods cost women an average of £18,450 over a lifetime. 

Why are tampons luxuries? Because men don't have periods. That's why.

What she was saying about reading and the importance of reading was also good:

Most people I know who don't read books say that school put them off. The relentless, tedious analysis of character, motive and structure, and all those other things that thankfully I've forgotten, which shows how interesting they were. No one is denying that Shakespeare is a fantastic writer, but most kids come out of school basically wanting to shove his winter up his discontent.

I've had a bit of a gripe about this myself.

And I especially appreciated her chapter on How not to fall in love and other advice you'll ignore. How to avoid mooning about in 'a psychotic bubble of love' - it really isn't good for your health - and how to rescue yourself from yourself.

Of course, the reality is, we're forever being forced into boxes marked 'that's what you are,' and if we try and crawl out of them it makes some people's brains melt.

The book is full of coping strategies for life, disastrous relationships and disastrous jobs. At one point she quoted the statistic that 40% of bosses in big business have an identifiable personality disorder, and was surprised it was that low. For more on that, check out The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.

She ends on the following thought:

I think what women would like is a world in which they can be lazy and average and yet still be superior to men, rather than having to be 2.5 times better than their male equivalent. This has been calculated by social scientists, I haven't just made this up, and if I had I wouldn't be quite so restrained. I'd be suggesting women have to be ten or even twenty times better than men. That's really shit isn't it? That we have to be 2.5 times better just to be equal. And the fact is that a lot of men don't like women who are more competent than they are, and that is why they regress to playground name-calling and attempting to belittle women.

But she also states that she has a lot of hope for the future, and I'm with her on that. I work with a lot of young women packing confidence, and a lot of young men with respect and decency. I think things are progressing. I've also been lucky enough in my life to have dated people with strong values and kindness, even when personal dynamics didn't always work out. Sometimes it's difficult to separate what feels personal from who a person actually is. Time helps. 

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. It was what was needed at the time. A bit of sound wisdom and some funny jokes. Things happen and we carry on, because women do tend to be resilient, especially when they have good friends, a good sense of humour and good gin.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Still Life in Motion


First day back at work today. Lots to catch up on, but I put my last few days of holiday to good use and started combing back through Still Life - publication title Secure the Shadow. It comes from an old Victorian advert for photographic studios: Secure the Shadow, Ere the Substance Fade, Let Nature imitate what Nature made.

I completed the first draft of this in February last year, but for some reason I've found editing difficult. It's not quite the book I thought I would write, but that might be okay. I'm just in the process of polishing it up. I'll do a proper cover reveal soon, but it needs brightening as there's some detail on the woman's dress which is beautiful but lost to Amazon's dark matte finish.

I took myself down to Kigali Heights for a scoop of Delizia ice-cream to help me work. I think the ice-cream probably deserves centre stage.


I have to admit, I've never had a first draft of a book with more correctional notes than this one. It was a paper rainbow by the time I'd finished. Now I just have to transcribe everything to the soft copy and try again.


Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Picture of Dorian Gray


I'm illustrating this with a still from the 2009 version of Dorian Gray, which was really well done. Ben Barns was a convincing Dorian, though I think my favourite portrayal, the one that just really seemed cast to match, was Reeve Carney in Penny Dreadful. Speaking of which, I would never have realised without IMDB that Harry Treadaway (Victor Frankenstein) was in the last season of The Crown as Roddy Llewellyn. Rather a transformation. 

I do find it interesting that when you Google Image Dorian Gray, most images are dark-haired, whereas he's supposedly blond in the book? They also tend to do that with Christine from Phantom of the Opera and Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials. It's interesting.

It's a story I was familiar with but hadn't completed. I started reading a few years back but got sidetracked, so decided to finish up on Audible. There's several versions. I had the one narrated by Simon Vance and thought he did a really good job.

Dorian Gray, a handsome and narcissistic young man, lives thoughtlessly for his own pleasure - an attitude encouraged by the company he keeps. One day, after having his portrait painted, Dorian makes a frivolous Faustian wish: that he should always remain as young and beautiful as he is in that painting, while the portrait grows old in his stead.

The wish comes true, and Dorian soon finds that none of his wicked actions have visible consequences. Realizing that he will appear fresh and unspoiled no matter what kind of life he lives, Dorian becomes increasingly corrupt, unchecked by public opinion. Only the portrait grows degenerate and ugly, a powerful symbol of Dorian's internal ruin.

Wilde's dreamlike exploration of life without limits scandalized its late-Victorian audience and has haunted readers' imaginations for more than a hundred years.


It was completely by accident that this book was next in my TBR pile after How to Stop Time, yet somehow extremely apt. 

I found How to Stop Time more believable, simply because Haig placed such emphasis on the problem of continuing to look young whilst everyone around you is visibly ageing. Apart from a few friendly comments on how good Dorian is looking, this seems to have been neatly sidestepped when in reality it would have been pretty startling, especially for the times. 

But it's still a great concept. 

I recently read Hemingway for the first time because I'd heard so much about his straightforward style. What I really like about Wilde is that he crams his prose with adjectives, but they really sound good. They're elegant. Two very contrasting styles, but they both work.

How exquisite they were! As one read them, one seemed to be floating down the green water-ways of the pink and pearl city, lying in a black gondola with silver prow and trailing curtains. The  mere  lines looked to him like those straight lines of turquoise-blue that follow one as one pushes out to the Lido. The sudden flashes of color reminded him of the gleam of the opal-and-iris-throated birds that flutter round the tall honey-combed Campanile, or stalk, with such stately grace, through the dim arcades. 

*

For there would be a real pleasure in watching [the picture]. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. And when winter came upon it, he would still be standing where spring trembles on the verge of summer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind a pallid mask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of boyhood. Not one  blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one pulse of his life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he would be strong, and fleet, and joyous.

Honestly, the language is really beautiful.

I took so many notes, but they'd take a long time to transcribe here. Most of it was of poetic language and just some really sharp social observations. Wilde was a seriously honed mind. 

Glad I finished it, and glad it followed Haig's book. A study in ageing - or not.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Musical Interlude: Draculeic Chancers



I posted yesterday about my cousin Billy. This is another cousin (his sister), Sali. She's had an incredible year gigging around the world. This is her latest, which came out on 31st December. Her videos just blow me away. Check out Howl at the Moon and Cwch Bach Coch.

I had such a painful end to last year and still feeling pretty bruised, but every day I draw inspiration from my wonderfully talented family and friends. We each produce art in such different ways, but when I feel like my own flame is fizzling, I look at what they're doing and I am renewed.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Romeo

Image from Red Bull Interview

Huge shout out to my cousin, Billy, who has just performed Romeo for the Royal Ballet. It was cinemised. You can visit the website and, if you're in the UK or have a VPN, you can watch it for the next couple of weeks on BBC iPlayer.



I love this behind the scenes glimps.


Also, listen out for his sister Sali's music, she's very good.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Oath, Boast, Toast 2020


Well, I have to admit, I'm really happy to see the back of 2019. There's been some nice experiences, which I'll mention below, but on the whole it's been pretty rough. Marked by a number of health issues and the death of a relationship.

Didn't fulfil my oath last year of going to see Martine and RuairĂ­ in Italy, but they've been moving around a lot since. Maybe this year. I certainly need a holiday.

Highlights:



Low Points:

I don't usually include any lows in these annual updates, but it's been a tough one this year.

  • Sickness: I had an entire month of malaria in October. It was fairly hellish. It broke at the end of my mum's visit, but the medication didn't fully work, so it spent two weeks festering in my system before it broke a second time. The second round of treatment killed it off, but my immune system doesn't seem to have fully recovered since then and I keep coming down with unpleasant things. It's been a constant conveyor belt of medication. Ended the year with an infection that took a stab at my kidney and left me on antibiotics over New Year, so I couldn't even drink.
  • Heartache: Fell in love with a guy I was hoping to spend 2020 exploring the world with, only he flew home on New Year's Eve. It's a complicated story, he had his reasons. Was hoping for the fairytale up to the end, but that's why writers write, right? We get to invent an ending for stories that never get told in real life. 
  • Loss: Lost two cats - Gizmo and Akantu. Akantu went out one night and never came home, so I suspect he was hit by a car. Gizmo went to the vet (we had a car crash on the way) and somehow escaped their care. I looked for him for weeks but we never found him and he never came home. He was a real character and I miss him very much. Also helped to nurse a very sick stray cat called Hobnob, who sadly died. So, I've gone from five cats to three this year.

Definitely not the year I'd hoped for during my last OBT, but the year I was dealt. Times like this just make you grateful for the amazing friends you have who pull you through. Heart goes out to anyone else who's had a tough year. Let's reset the clock.

The year 2020 makes me smile because, back in 2007 when I first came to Rwanda, we were all working towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals in line with Rwanda's Vision 2020, so the year 2020 has always been drummed into me as a sort of ending of one strategic plan and a time to set new goals.

I think the year ahead will be a time to focus on my job and perhaps return to the page. There's a novel at the back of my mind and I haven't written for a long time. Should wrap myself up in that. I suspect work is going to be pretty full on for the first couple of months, which is good because it provides focus.

Oath

I will take a holiday this year. I will go somewhere nice, with people I like, and do fun things. 

*drink*

Boast

I published two novels this year - Creeper's Cottage and The Children of Lir, and wrote the first draft of a third, Secure the Shadow, which I'm picking apart at the moment. 

*drink*

Toast

To a better year than the one before.

*drink*