Sometimes, my latent talents as a stalker worry me.

I was talking with a new friend about internet habits the other day and found myself explaining that one of my weaknesses is googling people I know / have known. She mentioned a friend of hers who said that he’d had a visit on his blog from someone who had searched for her name (because you can, of course, monitor that kind of thing now with software like sitemeter). I was fairly certain that hadn’t been me, but after the information I’d just divulged, I knew she must have been thinking that it could have been. Which left me feeling self-conscious and guilty despite my innocence in this particular instance and with the thought, God, people I’ve looked up might know that I’ve looked them up. Which, for some reason, terrifies me far more than being looked up myself.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessive about my crushes. There was one boy I fancied who I used to phone up with relative frequency; when he answered I’d ask for a friend and pretend to have got the wrong number. I guess I just liked the thrill of speaking to him. But I couldn’t leave it there: it wasn’t enough. Eventually I asked him, ‘did I accidentally call you last night?’ I said it had sounded like his voice (which was stupid because he didn’t really sound like himself on the phone). Did I want him to know? Or could I just not resist the temptation to find out more about him: how do you react when a girl you’ve no interest in is stalking you?

Over the years, my stalking habits have become less focussed on an individual. Any time I’m bored or (more likely) procrastinating, I dive into myspace or google and search for people I used to know. There’s no purpose to it: rarely is it useful to my writing and rarely does it rekindle an old friendship. All it does is satisfy my curiosity and my need to finish stories. It fuels my nostalgia, which is perhaps the main reason I do it. One of my favourite melodramatic pastimes (and don’t we all have them?) is to wallow in nostalgia.

Talking about this with my friend the other day, made me wonder what people think when they find this out about me. I assume it seems slightly sinister. Perhaps it is. And no doubt it sparks an element of ‘but what did she find?’ (the answer to which, more often than not, is ‘not a lot’).

Talking about it also made me aware of what people would find were they to google me. I do come up a fair bit when you search for my name but less than half of that is stuff I’d like people to find. But what I mind more than people I know finding it is knowing that people I know have found it.

Now, writing this, I feel a bit exposed. If you know me, it’s fairly safe to assume that at one time or another I’ve googled you. So why am I telling you? Perhaps I’m trying to absolve my guilt. Perhaps I am conceited enough to think that publicly dissecting the more dubious aspects of my personality gets me off the hook. Perhaps I want someone to tell me it’s fine, that everyone does it. Or perhaps I just want to tell you before you find out some other way and think badly of me.

One of the things I dislike about myself the most is my tendency to draw attention to things I dislike about myself.


Marianne Morris

Last night, we went to see Marianne Morris at an event organised by 14 Hour.

Her work is awe-inspiring and she read brilliantly. She mixes the personal and the political with humour and precision, her poems sharp and her voice clear. Watching her is like touching cold glass over a warm radiator.

Have a listen:

Also performing were AnnMarie Eldon and Barnaby Tidman, who are entirely different but both worth investigating.

Although the idea fills me with a creeping sense of dread, the evening made me realise that I really should start to dabble my toes in reading myself, although to perform with the likes of Marianne Morris would be terrifying and possibly suicidal.



Last night, we got egged. By which I mean, several raw eggs were thrown at our house because we didn’t answer the door to some trick-or-treaters. We actually didn’t answer the door because the doorbell doesn’t work and we didn’t hear them, but it’s true that we probably wouldn’t have answered the door anyway. We tend not to on Halloween.

We have done in the past. We used to stock up on sweets and admire the costumes of the little people in the early evening and then endure the incredulous stares of the teenagers who really would have preferred money. But I’ve never been ‘tricked’. Actually, I always assumed the tricking part was fairly minimal these days, if only because most people make sure they have treats available so they don’t get caught out.

I wasn’t allowed to go trick or treating when I was growing up. I used to ask every year because my friends wanted me to go along but I always knew that the answer would be no and I never pushed it because honestly, I never really saw the appeal. It wasn’t that I disagreed with it as such at that point; I just didn’t like the idea of knocking on strange people’s door and asking for treats. So I never pushed it and I never did it behind my mum’s back; I just stayed home and was quietly grateful for my mum’s moral codes. Though perhaps I didn’t understand that they were moral codes at the time.

As far as it goes, I’m happy for children to go to neighbours their families know and who are expecting the visit. And certainly the dressing up is harmless, a nice tradition even. But I think there is something a little suspect about going to strangers houses and threatening them with an unpleasant ‘trick’ unless they provide treats for them. Are we saying that it’s acceptable to expect to be given whatever you want by people and that if you don’t get it you have the right to punish them for it?

And as for the eggs, it just strikes me as disturbingly wasteful. All those eggs that could have been eaten, laid for no purpose but for someone to have to clean up. And if they were battery eggs – which presumably they were, those being the cheapest option – the horrible lives of those chickens are even more pointless they are when they’re providing our tea.

I was disturbed, when I went into school this morning, by the number of children who had been involved in ‘egging’ last night, not just property, but people. They couldn’t comprehend the wastage factor when I talked about it with them, and on the whole, they couldn’t see past how funny it was.

Perhaps I should have got them to clean my front porch.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

A Review

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the most stylistically interesting novel I’ve read in a long time. Possibly ever. Jonathan Safran Foer is a brave and original writer with a unique voice that hinted at something great in Everything Is Illuminated but didn’t quite make it. Everything is Illuminated was in many ways, a beautiful book, but it’s original style was clumsy-footed and confusing in places. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, however, Foer’s voice manages to remain strong and clear while maintaining it’s unique style.

The book is written from the point of view of nine-year-old Oskar Schell, described on the back cover by Glamour as, ‘The most incredible fictional nine-year-old ever created’. Oskar is an entertaining and unreliable narrator. He is naïve yet incredibly articulate; he is obsessive and creative; he is intelligent and philosophical. The reader follows Oskar’s quest across New York to solve the mystery of his father’s key, discovered in an envelope in a blue vase shortly after his father’s death. Thomas Schell died in 9/11, but what is lovely about this story, is that the focus is on the human tragedy and not the political hysteria associated with it. The point really, is that people died and other people have to live with that, specifically Oskar, who is determined to find out exactly how his father died so that he can stop imagining all the horrific ways it could have been.

There are two other points of view that the reader is privy to: Oskar’s Grandmother and his estranged Grandfather, also both remarkable characters. As Oskar’s mission develops, so too do the stories of his grandparents, both shaped and dented by an event that took place before they were even together.

Each narrator has a distinctive voice and stylistic quirks. The Grandfather, who does not speak, writes down everything he wishes to say on a single page and answers questions by showing either his left or his right hand (tattooed with yes and no). He tells his story in a series of letters to Oskar’s father, entitled, ‘Why I’m Not Where You Are’. The Grandmother tells her story in a single letter to Oskar entitled ‘My Feelings’ spread out over the course of the book.

Graphologically, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an interesting piece of work. Dispersed throughout the book are photographs of images that Oskar comes across on his quest, or images representational of what is happening. Letters are marked in red by their readers and when Oskar looks at a test pad for the pens in a stationary shop, we are also able to see it. The most widely discussed and most striking image comes at the end of the novel in the form a short flick book, in which an image moves as the reader flicks through the pages. It would be like telling someone the end of the story if I gave it away though; it is far more powerful when you catch it unawares. So if you haven’t read it yet, try to resist the temptation to go straight to the back!

The writing itself is original and precise. The first line of the novel is loaded with intrigue and provides an irresistible yet unconventional hook: ‘What about a teakettle?’ Oskar’s unique voice remains consistent throughout the novel; any notions you might have had about him being precocious or unrealistic will surely dissolve as you slip further into his head as he carries out his mission. He talks about his ‘heavy boots’ when he is downcast, he invents things when he needs distraction and he has a turn of phrase that captures the moments that in everyday life, pass unnoticed.

Foer consistently manages to fuse the feeling of loss with humour in a manner both quirky and powerful. It was the Russian Formalists who first described the idea of defamiliarisation in literature: taking something familiar and making it strange (to ‘make the stone more stony’). When this technique is used, the audience can re-engage with a familiar concept or feeling in a new and fresh way; this, Foer has achieved remarkably.

This is a book that's worth the experience... even if you end up hating it.


Looking into the Fire

Postfeminism: Keep your bra and burn your brain.
- Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

With several hours to kill at the airport the other day (and no book), I decided to buy a magazine. I’m not normally a magazine reader but three hours is a long time to spend staring at a wall. Dave, also bored and looking for something to do, went off on a magazine hunt and returned with Cosmopolitan, which we read together to fill in the time.

The feeling it left me with was a kind of mental representation of how you feel when you’ve spent a whole day eating junk food and haven’t so much as looked at a vegetable.

Every few pages there is an advert for perfume or make up (and that’s before you even get to the 16 consecutive pages of ads at the back). The writing is shoddy and the myths it perpetuates are disturbing. In the issue we bought, for example, there’s an article entitled 50 Reasons It’s Great To Be A Woman, including such gems as 'we’re actually born to shop' and 'if we haven’t shaved we can wear trousers to cover the evidence' and 'we don’t have to do the asking out (but we can if we want to)'. If you had arrived from another planet to do a study on the human female, you would have a very peculiar impression of her from reading this article. She apparently cares for little more than shopping and handbags, she has to shave her legs, and, while she is better than men in a quiet sort of way, she is also subordinate to them.

There’s also an interview with four blokes about what they find sexy in a woman. They say things like, "saggy isn’t sexy" and "I think it would make a big difference" if a girl puts on weight. They subscribe to the idea that it’s sexy when a girl ‘acts dumb’ and that glasses make a girl seem more intelligent. This is a very small sample of men who are very far from any of the men I know, yet when you read it, even as a cynical and free-thinking reader, you find yourself thinking things like, "so maybe I shouldn’t wear flip flops then" or, "no one will find me attractive unless I lose some weight".

But that’s okay, because there’s a selection of ‘health’ pages to provide you with diet tips and exercise ideas. And if that doesn’t do the trick, well then just flick through to the adverts at the back, where you’ll find 13 adverts for cosmetic surgery. Slogans like, ‘come back beautiful’ and ‘when you look in the mirror what would you like to see?’ flash out of simple, elegant boxes. Yet according to Cosmo’s ‘Love the Skin You’re In’ survey, only 22% of women (or at least Cosmo-reading women) want to change how they look. So who then are these adverts for? The boyfriends? The women who are too shy to answer the survey honestly? The women who didn’t answer it all? I find it hard to believe that only 22% of Cosmo readers have a negative body image for two reasons: 1. I don’t think I know a single woman who hasn’t, at one stage or another, battled with her self-image and 2. Cosmopolitan does nothing (however much it claims that we should be happy with who we are) to help you feel good about yourself.

Cosmopolitan is for a particular kind of woman. She’s a hard-working, hard-playing kind of a girl; she probably works in marketing or P.R. She’s pretty clued up on healthy eating (but she does like her chocolate) and she goes to the gym regularly. She earns quite well but she’d like more. She ‘does lunch’ with her friends and she loves shopping. She could be single or in a relationship; either way, she’s strong and independent. This is girl power with a lipstick and an unhealthy lack of feminism. If you’re not this woman, you’re supposed to aspire to be her. She’s a Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City) kind of a character or a more intelligent version of Rachel from Friends: beautiful, funny, charming and totally self-absorbed… and she has more fun than you ever will.

Cosmopolitan doesn’t tell you that you should be this woman but it assumes you are. It treats you as if you can afford to buy the clothes it advertises, have the face to carry off the latest lip-glosses and have the time to spend hours discussing men with your best friend over a skinny latte. And what that does, is make you realise that you can’t or you haven’t… and that makes you feel inadequate.

Of course, Cosmopolitan doesn’t intend you to feel inadequate. What it wants is for you to strive to become the perfect woman. If you feel inadequate, go on a diet (or get yourself some implants); get a good job; find the perfect man (who’ll apparently only be interested if you go on the diet and get the job). In the mean time, buy this, buy that, buy the other to make yourself feel better while you’re making yourself worthy.