Dean’s Book of Fairy Tales

When I was wee my Dean’s Book of Fairy Tales was one of my most treasured possessions – the others being Dean’s Alice In Wonderland, Dean’s Sleeping Beauty and my extensive Ladybird book collection.

What made Dean’s Book of Fairy Tales so special was the beautiful, spindly illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, twin sisters born in 1926 who lived and worked together until Janet’s tragic death in a fire in 1979. Anne worked on alone until 1998.

More info on them here: http://www.wordsandpics.org/2015/10/the-art-of-johnstone-twins.html

and more info on Dean & Son here: http://www.vintagepopupbooks.com/Dean_Son_Publishers_History_s/1853.htm#axzz4E3kHEVYf

Social Media Fiefdoms

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The other day I was reading a blog by a fat girl & it was weird. I’m fat (ish! ish!) myself so I can relate to the social / romantic misery of it when you’re young – and no one should ever treat you badly because of it – but what I didn’t get was the guff about diets being akin to genocide (you won’t be eradicated – you’ll be thinner) and the strange demands made of ‘allies’.

There was a whole list of things that thin people must do if they want to be an ally of the fat person.

They must say the friend is fat and oppressed,  they must not talk about their own body issues – in fact – they must not have body issues, they must acknowledge the emotional work that the fat girl must do daily to talk about her fat, they must care enough about her to feel ‘unsafe’ in these endless conversations about her being fat, they must not blame her for being fat, they must know that they can do harm even when they’re trying to do good & – finally – when she tells them what she needs, they must supply it.

So I wondered how & why this whinny bore would have any allies?

I’ve seen these kind of demands before – in the form of articles on sites like Salon, Buzzfeed, Jezebel or Everyday Feminism – made by depressed people, or trans people or WOC & it always makes them seem like high-maintenance leeches – but then – they also have concrete things they need to get – mainly help from doctors or justice in the courts – so it made a kind of sense. This fat girl wants nothing but an entourage.

And it occurred to me – all these Identity / Personality Cults – are the internet’s religion.

In a fusion of social causes, self-help, celebrity and Capitalism – there’s evolved a new kind of Feudal Chivalry.

The Oppressed or Famous Person is the King or the Damsel.

The Ally is the Knight who pledges fealty to the King and who fights on behalf of the Damsel.

Some Scandal / Demand / Product is the Joust or the Quest.

Attention / Praise / Virtue / Status / Love / Money is the prize / tribute / tithe / tax

Some groups – like Hackers – will function like a Monastic Order.

It’s not really a surprise considering the most active social media users seem to be immersed in fantasy video games with their medieval value systems and changeable avatars.

The dark side of this – is the dark side of any religion: Liars, con-artists, impostors, thieves, predators –  trolls, flamers, Edgelords – the murky cults (pro-ana, suicide, killing, child abuse, even truly unbelievable things like Erotic Cannibalism) – and the treatment of heretics, atheists, apostates and heathens who get doxed, outed, reported to their employer, stalked, bullied, harassed, slandered, shunned, told to kill themselves, threatened, and murdered.

It also stops a critique of a global economic system that puts the advancement of a few above the security and rights of the many. Worse – like a Ponzi scheme – it encourages the poor to give to the rich in the vain hope of joining them.

There’s also those of us who don’t realise we’ve stumbled upon a cult, try to make a point (apparently logic is oppressive to oppressed persons – even if they’re only oppressed in their own heads) and end up with a heap of Screaming Popes in our notifications.

I’m still bruised from the Torchwood forum.

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New Model Media

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Back in the 1960s a journalist found John Lennon writing while lying on a sofa, watching t.v, listening to the radio and reading a newspaper. He seemed to live in a state of information overload. She thought it was lazy and barbaric; Marshall McLuhan would call it a technological extension of man in the electronic age, but would agree it came with an amputation. We can witness anything anywhere on the planet – but not much is happening in that room.

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In 1991 the novel Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn was published. It mixed up the life story of the UK singer Alma Cogan with the crimes of UK serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. It was a comment on celebrity culture and the weird way the media impacts on our lives. Our brains must be packed with things we’ve only seen in print or on a screen. All those things must be mingling away in our subconscious and who knows in what combinations or to what affect they’ll resurface. And how weird must it be if you’re one of the subjects the media covers. What would you think about yourself?

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In 2008 Burns published Born Yesterday – the News as a Novel – a collage of things featured on 24 hour rolling news t.v. stations the Summer before. It happened to include the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal, Tony Blair leaving office and the failed Glasgow Airport bombing. Nowadays we can spend hours watching a hack stand in a field while every possible (and impossible) angle of a story is squalled back to the studio, then dropped and largely forgotten. You can know the minutia of a manhunt, while never being entirely clear what happened before or after he went on the run.

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In 2005 YouTube went live and brief moments could be filmed, uploaded, manipulated and commented on in an endless loop until the public was bored or the footage was removed. Ordinary people went ‘viral’ because of their cute pet, or a Star Wars dance, or lip-syncing a song or a funny remark their kid made. Famous people became embroiled in scandals because of racist rants, or couch jumping, or wardrobe malfunctions.

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In 2006 came Twitter and with it – arrests, sackings, reputation Armageddons and social media stars who judge all that comes before them in 140 characters including a link to their other platform. It matters intensely while you’re scrolling and – except for a few unlucky sods, the ones who get to play IT – not a jot when you’re out In Real Life. We lose perspective in the digital world. We over-share, lie, troll, flame, stalk, block, create epic dramas out of minor disagreements, plot revenge, post ‘cute’ selfies, and deactivate hurt and scared before coming back to do it all again. It’s like the Fame French Revolution except the young revolutionaries never take over from the heads they’ve rolled.  They stay in their rooms and wait for the next victim from the dwindling talent pool.

It’s a massive change and no change at all. You can fall in love, get therapy, find a new identity, shop, bank, game, crusade, feud, play detective, raise money… any amount of huge, life-changing activities – or you could never log on and pay no attention to it whatsoever.

This Happened: Robby Benson

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One of the movies I remember most from my childhood is ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ the tale of a country boy who dates a country girl, gets drunk at a Jamboree, ends up in bed with his boss & chucks himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge. I liked the lazy indifference of it. All that melodrama but life goes on.

And it turns out the star – Robby Benson – was in quite a few 1970s movies that all share a kind of earnest, drippy Catcher In The Rye via Fiddler On The Roof vibe. His films are glossy, schmaltzy, angsty, coming of agey – proto-Brat Pack without the high concept. He’s the missing link between the swinging teens of the 60s & the cynical teens of the 80s & beyond.

He retired from acting because of a heart condition and became a composer and teacher, which explains his unjust pop culture obscurity.

Here’s some of his 70s highlights.

Jeremy (1973)

A shy 15 yr old New York cello student has his heart broken by a 16 yr old ballet dancer who has to move back to Detroit. A slightly dodgy film beloved by middle-aged men for reasons we’ll ignore.

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One on One (1977)

A basketball player wins a scholarship to a college and has to overcome bullying and reading issues to get the girl and defy the coach. (similar to All The Right Moves – an early Tom Cruise vehicle).

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Ice Castles (1978)

A figure skater dates a hockey player and has to overcome cheating and blindness to win a championship… I can’t tell you how much I loved this film when I was a nipper – love and winning a competition – what more can a girl dream of (apart from ponies – obviously)?

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I love Dorothy Eden

Dorothy Eden is a writer of Gothic and Historical romances who was born in New Zealand in 1912, worked as a legal secretary, moved to England in 1954, wrote short stories and novels and died of cancer in 1982.

Her Gothics follow roughly the same pattern – a nice girl goes somewhere new and is menaced by two men, one of which will turn out to be the villain, one of which will turn out to be the hero. Dot died a genteel spinster – so I like to think she was working out the basic security dilemma lovers have – if you trust them and they do you wrong, you would be better off being alone, but the heart wants what it wants. There’s real danger in the books, she’s not afraid to kill off innocent characters or leave her heroine angry or yearning. There’s an underlying truth to it which is unusual for the genre – the books would make great 3-part t.v. thrillers and she deserves a revival.

A Traveler In A Dish Of Pain

I’m miserable about being OLD… I’m not actually old – I’ve just reached that age where I realise death is inevitable and not a remote melodramatic thing that might happen if no one likes my selfie on facebook.

I mean we’re for it. We’re doomed. We’re on a conveyor belt of relentless decay.

You will not escape.

So in a shallow and perverse way – this very sorrowful poem – by a young man whose unfair era murdered him before his time – cheered me up.

Chidiock Tichborne was a 24 year old Catholic who became involved in the Babington Plot to free Mary Queen of Scots, then imprisoned in England. Along with seven of his fellow conspirators he was eviscerated, hanged, drawn and quartered.  Their fate aroused so much sympathy that the seven remaining conspirators were hanged. Which is rather more gruesome and depressing than it seemed in one of my favourite childhood books Alison Uttley’s ‘A Traveler in Time’.

My Prime of Youth Is But A Frost of Cares

by Chidiock Tichborne

Written in the Tower of London on the Eve of his Execution. 

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain.
The day is gone and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung,
The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves are green,
My youth is gone, and yet I am but young,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen,
My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I lookt for life and saw it was a shade,
I trode the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I am but made.
The glass is full, and now the glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.