Every time I view the stats on this blog, I am surprised. Surprised that so many people seem to give a toss about CG-guinea pigs and whether they’re feminist.
These are the Top Ten Most Visited Posts on postgradpanopticon, and the number of times they’ve been visited:
I googled that guinea pig thing. Or at least, the search terms that led people to it. It’s on page 7 of Google. Why do 564 people care enough about the names of the guinea pigs in G-Force to go to page 7 of Google and find my odd, Christmas-spirit-inspired (and I’m not talking incorporeal happiness here, I’m talking liquor) post on Disney’s feminist guinea-pigs?
When it overtook Twilight, I knew there was a problem.
Ought I to be tailoring my posts to this silent majority? I could write only about Twilight, body image and guinea pigs from now on. What do you say?
Saying “no” is a really important skill in life. Hearing “no” is just as important, if not more so. There are a number of situations in which it’s appropriate to hear and accept a refusal to your proposal, and a multitude of ways in which a rejection of this perfectly valid response are unfair and totally incorrect.
If your boss gives you work you can’t manage, you need to be able to politely decline, and they need to be able to understand that. If your housemate insists you do all the washing up, you need to be able to say no, and they need to be able to hear that and compromise. If your husband or wife asks for sex, you should be able to say no, and they need to hear, understand and respect your wishes.
In light of the recent ridiculous remarks on rape and rape culture in the media lately, from Julian Assange to George Galloway’s “no need to ask permission before every insertion” (excuse me while I throw up in my mouth), to tools on Twitter who just don’t know better but really, really should, I just want to express my astonishment that this is still a question.
Does no mean no? Why, yes, it does. Sometimes “no” has the context of ‘well, I’d really like to, but we shouldn’t', but going ahead regardless is refusing to acknowledge “no”, and therefore being at best an idiot and at worst a criminal. Sometimes “no” has the context of ‘no, not on your life, get away’, and if you go ahead knowing this then you are an idiot and/or a criminal.
It surprises me that people seem to justify imposing themself on another by claiming that it’s in some way unromantic to actually ask/check that the other party’s ok with what’s going on. Because, sure, what’s more romantic than being violated, forced into something against your will, andhaving your right to free will ignored because you might give the answer they didn’t want to hear?
I can’t think of another explanation, so this must boil down to a fear of rejection. We’re all scared of rejection. We’re all scared of getting the wrong end of the stick, misunderstanding, or making a fool out of ourselves. Have we really reached the stage where we’d rather be criminals than just plain wrong?
And when I say wrong, I don’t mean going ahead with sex and saying ‘oops’. I mean misreading the situation: thinking someone was interested when they weren’t, being too worried to bother reading the visual/aural cues that a person makes when they’re uncomfortable, being unwilling to stop a second and say ‘is this ok?’
I’ve mentioned before on this blog, that the ‘fear’ around sexual harrassment (by which I mean the fear that you might be seen as a harrasser), has something to do with the (un)willingness to take no as an answer. For some reason, we seem to feel that we ought to be perfect when it comes to relationships, but it’s ok to be wrong about these things! You can make a move, it can be rejected, and then you can get on with your life! If I accept that the person I want to have sex with might not want to have sex with me, then I’m ready to hear ‘no’; I’ll be embarrassed but I’ll get over it – and so will they. Isn’t momentary embarrassment better than going ahead without asking and doing what you want at the expense of someone else – condemning them, and possibly yourself, to a lifelong remembrance of something terrible.
Similarly, it’s perfectly acceptable for someone you’ve had sex with before to not want to do it again – maybe not now, maybe not ever. Assuming eternal consent is stupid. If you were asked if you liked cheese on toast for dinner once, and received it every day for the next month without anyone asking your opinion, wouldn’t you be annoyed? And I’m using this sort of example because I think that the people who need this explaining to them will probably understand better if I use shorter words.
“No” always means “no” at the time it is said. “No” can be retracted at a later date to “yes”, just as “yes” can at a later date be changed to “no”. Be prepared to hear no, and be prepared to cope with rejection. That way, although you might be a bit embarrassed, you’ll be showing empathy and not end up a criminal.
Of course, I’m assuming here that people trying to justify ‘not quite a rape’ rapes, aren’t selfish, heartless bastards who are going to go ahead with whatever they want because their opinion is the only one that counts and their needs are the only ones that need to be met. I could be wrong. But let’s hope I’m not.
I’m just genuinely amazed that this is even debated. People – men and women – change their minds! Men and women change their minds! Refusing to acknowledge this is plain ridiculous, and if you really can’t understand this very simple concept you should probably steer away from sexual contact with other people and educate yourself.
I’m going to tell you something weird now. As if my Phonebox collection wasn’t weird enough.
I’ve always wondered why we don’t make friend in odd places. More precisely, odd, places where we spend very little time, but can feel like an age. In queues for the shops, a music festival, a bus. At traffic lights. In traffic jams. In bookshops.
Whenever I’m in traffic lights, as mentioned, I like to be the one with loud music and the windows down. I lay no claim to a decent taste in music, but just once I’d like someone to wind down their window and go ‘Hey, you’re listening to Genesis! I love The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway!” Then, we could both drive off, one of us turning right at the lights, the other straight on with a sense that we’re not alone in the world, even though we’d never see each other again. Is that too much to ask?
Once, on a drive down to my boyfriend’s parents’ house in Folkestone, I got stuck on the M25. This is not surprising. The guys sitting in the lane beside me started waving. To my embarrassment, at first I turned away, and used the first opportunity to shuffle my car forwards slightly. I scolded myself, as I knew this was a perfect chance to make a weird friend in a weird place. But I did feel a little safer six inches ahead of them.
Turns out we were all stuck there for about 40 minutes. In that time, the traffic before them inched forward a little, and suddenly they were beside me again. They waved. I laughed at them, and at myself, and waved back. For the next 39 and a half minutes we nudged past one another, alternately waving and laughing and pointing at other drivers around us. They were three quite tall, confident-looking guys all crammed into a small red car – something like a Micra. Something you’d be surprised they all fit into. I had no idea where they were going, they probably couldn’t care less where I was going. But it was amusing enough for us to make a short-lived connection while we sat in the baking sun, waiting for every other bugger to get out of the way.
When we finally sped up enough that one of us could pull away, they were in the inside lane and so overtook me easily. Then, the traffic stopped again. One of the guys stuck his head and torso out of the sunroof to wave and blow kisses. I had enough time to crack up laughing and mouth “Get back in your bloody car!” before the traffic picked up again, and they were off for good.
It’s little moments like that that make the tedium of traffic jams and the dreaded M25 manageable. I’ve never understood why we all ignore one another in our cars, when we all know we’re there. So thank you, idiot men, for ticking off a box on my bucket list.
To weird friends in unfamiliar places.
How does it feel to hold someone’s heart in your hands? How do you tell a young patient that he’s dying? What do you do when, on a quiet ward in the middle of the night, a patient you’ve grown close to invites you into his bed? This vivid portrayal of the day-to-day life of young female surgeon, and the medical and moral dilemmas she faces, is based on the memoir by Gabriel Weston. One of few women in an alpha male world, she finds herself continually questioning where a doctor should draw the line between being detached and being human. And it’s the conflict between these opposing forces – the personal and professional – that lies at the heart of this powerful play, which has been adapted for radio by Tina Pepler.
A BBC/Cymru Wales production, directed by Kate McAll.
I listened to this play on Monday, fully expecting to be alternately shocked, appalled, saddened and intrigued by the life of a young surgeon from first day as a Junior House Officer to the more experienced surgeon Dr. Weston. I was warned before listening that I might find the vivid descriptions disturbing, the subject matter upsetting, and I was slightly on edge by the time I pressed play.
What I got, for 58 minutes, was the overused trope of tired, philosophical doctor, talking to me in a droning monologue of the apparently life-affirming experiences she has had while at no time raising the tone of her voice to anything that might suggest she has or had any feelings about anything. Yes, some of the experiences were painfully sad, some horribly out of control, others poignant and surreal – but they were dictated to the audience as though they were being read off the page, not acted at all. I wanted to feels something from the protagonist, other than that a life in medicine had worn her down to the point of disillusion, but I was left feeling that the emotion was too little: I was as distant as one of her patients, and never quite satisfied.
Direct Red jumps from timeframe to timeframe with very little change in tone or setting, and also without any discernible explanation. As a train of consciousness, the narrative works well, and as this is a story in which “nothing happens”, it doesn’t really matter that the telling isn’t linear. I got the feeling that these short bursts of memory were just a selection of what Dr. Weston could have told us about her life in medicine, but was struck again by the lack of compassion or personal detail. It is mentioned frequently that being a doctor plays havoc with your sex and social lives, yet we are not given any details of her current situation – other than an almost illegal dalliance with a patient that I found myself clinging to in the hope that it would wake Dr. Weston from her spell of colourless monotony.
I was disappointed. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that for a narrative that promised so much, it delivered very little. What it did deliver was nothing that I felt any creative writing student could have produced – there was no indication that a doctor’s insight was in any way meaningful to the story: the situations were typical, the descriptions obvious and the overall tone well-expected. Although the blurb claims that the “conflict between personal and professional” is at the heart of the play, I felt from the very beginning that professional had won the battle off-stage before Dr. Weston and I had even been introduced. There was a lack of development, or reminiscence, in the protagonist’s escalation from medical student to doctor, and I would have been interested to know how such a distant and cautious professional woman appeared from, presumably, a vibrant and motivated young student.
A year ago Caspar was locked up and declared criminally insane. Finally he breaks his silence to reveal a deadly tale of love and politics. But is he telling the truth? A psychological thriller by Adrian Penketh.
Directed by Toby Swift
***** Adrian Penketh has written a number of plays for Radio 4, including THE WATERBUCKS, which was shortlisted for the Imison Award, and an adaptation of Balzac’s THE WILD ASSES SKIN which was runner-up for the Prix Italia in 2011.
Caspar: Paul Rhys
Helene: Fenella Woolgar
Felix: David Schofield
Baptiste: Christopher Fairbank
Elodie Testoud: Matilda Ziegler
TV Director: Sam Alexander
This is, rarely, a play that may take more than one listen to fully appreciate. As simple as the summary above sounds, this play is layered and complex in its narrative style, yet gives very little away. This works well in some respects: although Casper is for the most part our narrator, his telling is often so unrealistic that we question the reality of his other statements and claims of innocence. Yet the fact that the play repeats its beginning once the story has been told leads me to believe that the directors knew that what they had done was unclear and felt that it was necessary to remind the audience what they had heard so that they could finally join up the dots.
Other plays, such as the three-part drama (not reviewed here) earlier in the year Pandemic, managed to achieve this non-linear, layered narrative over the course of three days and three separate hours, each with different characters in different timeframes. So my primary criticism of A Special Kind of Dark is that it could not keep clear the story it was telling.
To unpick it is relatively simple: Felix, a candidate for First Minister, and his quiet poet wife Helene live in an apartment block near Caspar. He strikes up an affair with Helene after she comes to him to escape from her husband’s beatings. In between alarmingly cheerful dinner dates during which Caspar feels panicky and often quite ill, he is bombarded with odd and seemingly random questions from Inspector Baptiste. After deciding that he and Helene should run away together, he is invited round to dinner once more only to find that she will not acknowledge him as a lover. Feeling very faint and sick, he is taken home by Helene at Felix’s behest, only to wake the next morning to find Inspector Baptiste standing over him and the bloody remains of Helene in his bed. Off-stage, he is arrested, charged and – according to the blurb – declared criminally instance. Elodie Testoud becomes his psychologist, interviewing him in the intervening year about his actions, yet when he finally tells the story from his point of view – that it must have been Felix who murdered his wife and framed Caspar – she is visited by Baptiste to be questioned, and also informed that Caspar has committed suicide. Testoud takes as many of the recordings of her interviews with Caspar away with her, but is killed on a level crossing before she can take the matter any further.
The story is told, however, by beginning with Testoud. She is determined that Baptiste will not get his hands on the recordings, as she does not trust him, so she takes them with her. We join her in her car trapped on a level crossing between two vehicles which refuse to move. She is killed by the train. The narrative them jumps to Felix’s address as First Minister, promising to make level crossings safer for all. Then, back to Testoud, this time talking to Baptiste about Caspar’s death, and finally we hear Caspar’s voice as he relates the story of Helene’s murder to Testoud. It is after an atmospheric rendition of the story that we are returned to the ‘present’: hearing Felix’s address again, this time with a new subtext as we hear him/his voice telling Caspar that he ought to take his life and join Helene. Finally, Testoud’s death is replayed.
My feeling is that if we need to hear Felix’s address twice, then something is missing early on. Testoud tells us that she “would have to hear the story a number of times before drawing any conclusions”, indicating that the audience too must listen carefully, if not again, to the piece. On a second listen the plot is clearer, but exposition is slow, although the seeds of Felix and Casper’s connection are planted early on, it is often unclear who is being referred to and when the conversations are taking place. Tales within tales need to be carefully paced and perhaps this drama needed more thought to ensure that the scene is properly set. The dramatic beginning, as loud and brash as it is, perhaps spoils the pace in this way.
The question this drama asks is simple: was Felix so desperate to become First Minister that he murdered his wife and framed an unstable man so as to improve public perception of him, thereby necessitating the murder of Testoud – making it look like an accident, of course – with Baptiste by his side as a corrupt police officer? Or did Caspar invent the affair with Helene, the abusive marriage, and the voice of Felix in his head telling him to drown himself, and in fact murder Helene after luring her back to his apartment? Is Caspar insane, or manipulated?
Casper is an unreliable narrator, and it is through his narrative that most questions are asked. We are told that he is a fan of film noir, and then he begins his tale of meeting Helene with the line: “Being along made me happy. It was like a free seat on a plane. Then someone sat in it.” When it just so happens that Helene becomes a noir-like damsel in distress, Casper feels that he is able to play the role of hero, albeit unsuccessfully. Is this too good to be true? The dialogue is cinematic, confessional: “I wake up in the morning and I savour that first minute in which I’ve forgotten how much I’m going to hate every minute after that”, if it seems unrealistic perhaps that’s because it is supposed to be. The more Helene and Casper speak, the more the audience wonders whether they are an invention of Casper’s imagination. Phrases echo throughout: ISFJ, “the quality of mercy is not strained”, “You win” “I always do”, as does the quiet jazz in the background when Helene speaks.
Baptiste’s questions, too, are so bizarre that they could be imagined, but could also be misconstrued security vetting. The strange dinners with Felix and Helene are more confusing. Is Casper being poisoned, or is he merely nervous? Does Helene remember the meetings Casper remembers? Is Helene in on the plan? Is he merely being tested and manipulated into being Felix’s scapegoat? Felix’s lecture on the haiku is strangely reminiscent of Bateman’s essays on Genesis in American Psycho. But we don’t know if this is merely Casper’s perception, or whether we can trust him. By the end we are unsure whether Felix is with Casper in his cell – and whether he has the means to – or whether we are hearing the voice inside Casper’s head.
Noise is used well in the drama, the clamouring confusion in Casper’s head brilliantly shown in the final dinner scene, where music, dancing, Felix’s shouting, the sound of the pipes causing a cacophony that almost hurts. Felix’s voice lilts, throughout, seeming to dip in one ear and out the other – this causes a dizziness that surely intends to mimic Casper’s confusion. “He was not well”, we are told. “I need you,” Felix tells Casper, but we don’t know at this point what we are hearing.
I’ve written too much on this play, so I think what I mean is that it’s worth a listen. Surreal, loud and fascinating, I’d love to know what everyone else thinks!