Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Nothing to say

Following the recent shootings in America, the author Lionel Shriver was approached by the media for her opinion on the tragedy. Having written the novel 'We need to talk about Kevin' the story of a juvenile serial killer, she was expected to provide some kind of explanation for events that have shocked the world. To her credit she declined, she had nothing to say. She is a novelist who uses a dramatic narrative to explore the darker aspects of the human experience, in her opinion the facts speak for themselves.

Sometimes there is nothing to say. Since the news broke we have not watched the conventional news. From experience I know that the media cover these incidents in such a distasteful way, that one can end up feeling like a voyeur of other people's grief. The bare facts spoken are enough, without the endless images, videos and exploitation of people's grief, the close ups of emotional agony that have no place being broadcast across the globe. It as though these people have stumbled unwittingly into a reality show at a time when they deserve privacy the most.

And then there is the coverage of the killer. A disturbed individual who was let down by their society, a society that made it possible for him to access lethal weaponry. I haven't been able to avoid all media , the front pages on display in the supermarket today illustrate the usual attempt to create a new story from one which needs no further dramatisation. Computer games, music, Gothic clothing are to blame not the gun or the mental illness that goes untreated. An isolated and evil individual remote from the society to which he belonged. I deplore this aspect of the media, the hunt for new stories, utilising the techniques of dramatic writing to wring the emotions. There are few people who will not be touched by the facts, the rest is cheap and fuels a macabre fascination that dehumanises us all.

My child is six. One night he walked into the front room and looked at the television. I wasn't watching it but I looked up to see a grainy black and white image of the Yorkshire Moors, a child's body was being lifted into an ambulance.  'He was sexually abused and killed' the voiceover said. My son looked at me but we said nothing. It was a moment we shared but there was nothing to say.

I haven't watched the news because I cannot bear to see. My sorrow changes nothing but a change in gun laws could have saved lives.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Standing by the flag

Proud :Feeling pleasurable satisfaction over an act, possession, quality, or relationship by which one measures one's stature or self-worth: proud of one's child; proud to serve one's country.

Fear not dear readers. I have not become a poster girl (sic) for British nationalism, a royalist or a patriot. I was asked to pose for a portrait at Vintage Nation before the bargain hunters piled in to paw the second hand wares. I was asked if I minded posing by a Union Jack, to be honest I was ambivalent. I was more concerned about my double chin and the prominence of my baby belly/wine waist. Post Jubilee I had become de sensitized; bunting with polka dots, retro 70s, retro 40s, in shop windows, even French fancies popped up in red, white and blue.I didn't give it much thought but on reflection it has forced me to examine why I feel no connection to the emblem of the nation, if
I am even proud to be British.

I was born in London, hence I am British. This is a fact and standing by the flag illustrates this if shown overseas. In this country however it could be misconstrued, a symbol of my pride, of standing up for British values, institutions, history and foreign policy. Am I proud to be British. No. Am I ashamed of being British. No. Nationalism has no bearing on my feelings of self worth or identity.
Much British history involves the subjugation of other nations, a jingoism that taints much of what people feel being British is about. In this sense Britishness is measured on feelings of Superiority and racism.I spoke to a Brazilian friend of the family today who chose to leave England because of the racism and bigotry he faced teaching in British Schools. I felt sad that young people can still be so closed minded in this day and age, that their bigotry and agression limit their experiences and that their rejection of the 'foreign' is to embrace a monoculture that exists not as a celebration of its own culture but as a rejection of others.
I am not highly patriotic but I'm not ashamed to be British.I dont feel the need to apologise for actions that are out of my control. I don't perpetuate hatred in my daily life but by the same token I haven't personally faught against Fascism as my fellow Stallholder Cyril did in WW2. I have great respect for him as one of the last survivors of the Normandy Invasion. He defended his country and as an ex dairy farmer he provided milk for the other soldiers by miking cows that had been deserted. I have great regard for him but it's not pride.Im grateful that he gave a part of his life to protect us against a fascist invasion.He did that, not me.I can only be proud of my achievements, my children's and family's highpoints. I have a hand in this. If I am proud of my nation and stand in the golden glow of its achievements, I would also have to apologise and stand shame faced as drunk Britons invade Europe or attack international students on the streets.
I am ambivalent not reactionary. People often critise this country as a teenager would their parents. It can't do anything right. I am disgusted at the way politicians are dismantling many of loved institutions but there are worse places to live. Britain is culturally diverse, vibrant and eccentric in places. Like human nature it is good and bad simultaneously. It is what it is. And in the context of the above photograph the flag is a backdrop, a piece of cloth signifying the country the photograph of this short woman was taken in.
No, I dont find pride in a flag but in things and people I have a hand in making, achieving or developing. I has a surge of pride today in the corner shop. My tiny daughter elbowing her way into the crowd of kids huddled round the penny sweet shelf. She nearly sent a man flying as she returned with her bounty 'Nake' she hollered as she held a rubbery sweet snake aloft in her fist.That's my girl.
Copyright for the above photograph belongs Emma Duggan

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Down From London

'Brighton: the capital for people who can't handle London. Unless they move to Lewes, which is for people who can't handle Brighton' Oliver Bennett -The Independent.

A year ago this week we moved out of my mother's spare room and into a two up two down in Lewes. We had sold our furniture and were waiting for the call to board a plane to Melbourne, we signed a six month contract not expecting to see out the full term of the tenancy. After six months of sleeping on a borrowed futon we bought a bed, then a fold up table,gradually we accepted that the job would never come up and that I secretly didn't want it to. I had fallen for Lewes a little and realised that emigration was a dramatic cry for help, an escape route from negative equity and my loathing of Suburban Eastbourne. It's not Brighton or London I couldn't handle, it's the burbs. The terraced house we bought was no longer a home but a pact with the devil. The property ladder had become a circus act without a safety net and I was tired of clinging on for dear life.

Despite its middle class credentials: a castle,  twittens, patisseries, journos  and DFLs (down from Londons) , I love the place. I've met more than my fair share of eccentrics and bankrupts, people who have been around the block and have nothing to prove. After years of living in a cultural desert I am chuffed that Lewesians  have warmed to my bright ideas and money making schemes. They have supported me with genuine enthusiasm, putting their money where their mouth is and attending my events.  I have experienced genuine kindness and generosity in what has been one of the toughest years of my life. I often question why at this junction in my life I didn't move back home. Back to London were there are jobs aplenty, my favourite city in the world.

Last week we took the train back to London for Mr Porter's 40th. As the train pulled in past Battersea Power station I felt that warm feeling of coming home. The brown slopping river, the new flats with the coppery facade, the old blocks of social housing to the left. Down into the tube station with our one day travel cards we forged, no longer needing to go southbound. A day out in London simply for the fun of it .Although  London is my favorite city, despite the fact that I want my ashes scattered on the little beach on the Thames, I cant imagine moving back .
I will always love London but living there could often make you feel like a child with her nose pressed up against a toy shop window. You cannot beat the looming stone buildings, those urban cliffs of the London skyline,the diversity of people, the fact that my own personal history is inextricably linked with its streets, that its perpetual movement soothes me in a way country lanes and quiet afternoons in the suburbs do not. But unless I can live in a flat overlooking the South Bank, a move back would be a step back. My London reality would be waiting at a bus stops  with shopping bags and a pram.

 In reality, many of London's poor are being pushed out to the margins of the city. Rough , ugly places, the overspill caused by gentrification, the rise in house prices causing a form of social cleansing. I made the choice not to return because I knew id never be able to live in a desirable location. I'm too long in the tooth to prove I can hack it in a rough area. There are no prizes awarded for being hard and I like the fact that my son can walk barefoot in his lobster pendant, hate football and shouts 'Nib!' as a form of abuse. Being a Londoner I am impressed by cows in fields, country beer gardens and tractors passing my front room window. I never tire of the novelty factor.

Once the kids leave school I'll be free to run away with Mr Porter and have a mid life crisis in Copacabana, In the meantime Lewes is a fine place,  'to park your arse'. I can walk everywhere (albeit up cobbled streets), swim at the Pells Lido, learn to love real ale, write my stories, visit London, bring up kids, walk the downs, visit the seaside, and generally mooch about. I am a DFL (down from Londoner) via Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne. I am staying the course, I may even replace my makeshift bedside table, constructed with a hardback book of nudes and several shoe boxes . Australia. Can you seriously imagine me wearing thongs?


Michelle Porter is Looking for work in the writerly profession and donations of real furniture.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The other day someone I hadn't seen for a while asked what I'd been up to. I actually found myself responding 'this and that', my daily has no routine, im all over the place work wise.

I call myself a writer but I haven't written a word in over six weeks. I haven't blogged, scribbled or even picked up my ever evolving opus 'Not Moving to Eastbourne' . It is my passion but I simply could not find the time. If I loved it would I not live it? Write 500 words a day like Graham Greene did, follow the artists way and pen a few paragraphs each morning before breakfast? If writing is a discipline I'd be in line for the cane.

Instead of writing I have been making money. Until something pays it is a luxury pastime, a hobby at best, the vicious circle being the fact that fiction needs a lot of work before it makes any money if ever at all. Re writing, drafting , chopping, editing down to the bone before fleshing it out again. In the meantime money must be made and the writing suffers. And so I had no option but to lay down my pen and pull my petticoat back on. I didn't get on my bike to seek work in a neighbouring town, I laced up my boots, hired a hall and resumed my classes in the art of the cancaneuse. High kicking (jippy hip doing well considering), making people whoop and smile and earning more than I would if I took a job offering minimum wage. And then there's the stall. If its not nailed down I sell it. Every Tuesday I drag my case and wicker busts up the hill to the market and create The Wild Pearl, a stall selling vintage inspired items. They all sound very glitzy my part time jobs, but all that glitters is not gold.

I miss the quiet part of me. The part that does not need to be performed, the part that lives in my heart and on the tip of my thoughts. The part I can express without making my body ache. This last few months has been an expression of me through the physical, needs be when the devil has raided your purse, but I need a little of the quiet me too, the Michelle who writes.

I have not written, but the writer in me has been listening and watching; getting out there and living. I have met people who are not literary, people of all ages and from all walks of life. If I was paid as a full time writer would I miss this, would I end writing about a writer, my stories would begin to eat themselves. I haven't written for six weeks but in a way I have been living as a writer, not by writing but by listening, by observation.

Last week I met a man of 82 who was selling at the same market as me. He had hands like shovels and a twinkle in his eye. Over five hours we bantered and discussed our takings. By the time we packed up I knew that his father had not survived the injuries he suffered during WW2, despite their moving to Lewes so that he could recuperate. His first wife had died of cancer at 52, he told me that he had broken down and didn't even care if his house burned down around him. A poignant moment was shared before we had a giggle at some saucy postcards.We concluded that life is as simple as pulling yourself back up or choosing to throw the towel in. I wouldn't have heard that story at home alone behind a desk. He wouldnt have short changed me either, but at 82 I'll give him that.

So yes, I still call myself a writer. In between showing my knickers and haggling over vintage brooches. To write about life is to live it first. This is living as a writer. That and justifying your procrastination in such an effective manner.

Michelle Porter is wondering wether or not to call her short story collection

A) Not Moving to Eastbourne

B) vintage Tales : because everything old has a story

All of the stories are Unexpected tales about people over 70

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Unfunny Gag-the silence of the female comedian

Why aren't women funny? Are you joking! I'm not even going to answer that question, women are frigging hilarious. Women have always had me in stitches and I'm even funny apparently, unintentional on my part , a bit funny rather than ha ha. The question we need to ask is why people assume they are not.

People think women are unfunny because there are so few female stand up comedians. This is the logic of a sexist society, the same logic that concludes women are not top chefs because they can't cook, 'if you can't stand the heat don't come into the kitchen ladies'

'if you can't enter the pissing contest, don't come anywhere near the comedy panel show'

Funny women on T.V are being gagged and it's not a joke. There is a fear that women may crack jokes about periods, body issues, and god forbid CHILDREN! What, like Michael McIntyre? People love it he's hilarious. Mothers and fathers weep into their wine together. Even if they do joke about 'women's,' topics, women do make up half the population, there is a market for crying out loud. Silencing people's humour gives the message that we only want to laugh AT them not with them, that we do not want to hear about their experiences. Laughing together is based on empathy and it bonds people.

No, women are not underrepresented on panel shows and prime time stand up comedy because they are unfunny, but because the most interesting, prestigious, and well paid jobs in this country still go to men. Directors of films, companies and countries. Kerching. Cue cynical canned laughter.

Enough of our absence. I want to celebrate the moments women have made me wet myself, spit out drinks, made me hoot and laugh in the street when I remembered their jokes/comments. Women who make me feel a little happier. Here are some of my top comedy moments entitled laughing my tits off:

1. Margot in ' The Good Life' trying to play pass the balloon between the legs

2. Alison Steadman as Beverley in 'Abigal's Party'. I could watch that on a loop I never tire of it. The voice, the shoulders. the observation.

3. Not a fan of Corrie but Deidre Barlow and her mother!!!! When she died, Deidre pronounced in her camp manner ' she should never have gone to Portugal, it was madness!'

4. Lisa Lynn -Daugher of Evesham -(not famous) One fine sunny day in Eastbourne sipping cold lager in the Wish Tower Cafe, Lisa looked over and pronounced 'I can't wait to be old, you can throw your fashion sense to the wind' I looked round to see a couple of elderly women in bum bags, brightly coloured ankle swingers and huge sunglasses. I laughed so hard beer came down my nose.

5. Sue Perkins-I would marry her if I was a lesbian, not already married and famous. Too complicated, but the sentiment is there. Sharp, funny, and inoffensive-you don't have to bully people to make other people laugh. And she's posh! Having a GSOH is a turn on for both sexes.

6. Jennifer White (Little sister when 6) Opened the door to my husband wearing bike leathers and a helmet. She slammed the door drolly stating 'we didn't order a pizza.'

7.Jo Brand and all the women she enabled to drop those expected, feminine manners. Women can now be crass, rude and gross. Dull women at school gates take note, let's rant and moan it's a riot and it breaks down barriers.

8. Louise Almeida (The other sister) All round ginger loon. The only person who can make me belly laugh even when the chips are down. From humming the theme tune to 'Hawaii Five O' as the priest came into the church, to her impersonations of Beverly 'you have very beautiful lips'. It's true that those who grow up together laugh best together.

9. Caitlin Moran- When 'How to be a Woman' came out, Lewes was awash with women laying in the sunshine snorting, shoulders shaking as they read her book. I have a horrible habit of trying to stifle a laugh when walking along the street, it comes out as an unattractive demented cough. I still find her funny even though she wont RT me on Twitter. I should unfollow that would show her. Ok. Ok. That was cringey.

10. Me!! You have to laugh at yourself in this life or you'd go mad. I Once walked into a cinema and when asked 'How many tickets would you like?' I responded '50 Please' The man looked bemused, I thought I was on the bus. (That was a while back, 50p from Preston Park to Hove!) There is a fair chance I had a hangover.

So yes, women are a laugh a minute, a hoot, great comedy actors, social commentators, wry, witty loons. We are all becoming bored with the macho bullying style of humour. There is nothing entertaining in seeing the way some panel shows treat the token woman guest. In my mind humour should not be a contact sport, it shouldn't be sparring but a way of connecting and making us feel better when our spirits are low. Women, your country needs you, male dominance in comedy, it's time to stand down (ummm, not sure that works.)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Growing up with Kate Moss

As the nations favourite waif turns 38, I'm taking a pause to think about my body. Whatever I think of the most succesful model of all time, she's always been there for me to compare to. I can barely remember a time she wasn't around.

I first saw Kate Moss on the front cover of The Face magazine. I was about sixteen and unimpressed, she was young and skinny, so what. I was 6.5 stone wet through and was fed up with being mistaken for a child, being ID'd for cigarettes, being overlooked and patronised in adult conversation. I was 4ft 11 and I hated it, I wanted to look like a 'real' woman, tattoed with boobs and long legs, one that couldn't be mistaken for a child. In those days they didn't sell size 8 let alone a 6, fortunately for me grunge was all the rage, ill fitting was par for the course. No I didn't want to be Kate Moss, I wanted to be like the goths I saw at The Harp club New Cross (Now the Venue) the immaculately groomed uber Goths who worked in Kensington Market (No longer trading.) This story is dating me by the sentence.

So my first body issue was not about weight, it was height. I hated being short, Petite, even my clothes size is patronising. Acceptence of my height eventally came via an unlikely source, the polar opposite to teenage angst and goth, Kylie Minogue. Here was someone of 5ft that would become one of the world's sexiest women. She is the poster girl for short women and she is my guiltiest musical pleasure. At forty I would even go as far as to say that I like being short, you've got more room in the bath and you can sqeeze into vintage shoes.

Since our early teenage years most women over 35 have grown up with Kate Moss. We have been bombarded with images of her skinny jeans and chiselled features for so long we've forgotten there's an alternative. Until recently, until the campaign for the appreciation of 'real' women. Burlesque buxom beauties took to the stage, the retro curves of Christina Hendricks hit the newstands, bigger women now had positive representation, curves were back in Vogue. Christina looks fanbloodytastic, but I have a problem with the notion of 'real' women. For one, curves look incredible but when most people put on a few pounds the only curves in evidence are convex they grow a gut not an hourglass shape to die for. And what is a 'real' woman. Cut me at 7.11 stone and I still bleed, I squeezed two kids past these 31inch hips. I am all woman believe me. The problem is not unreal women but the persistant representation of beauty coming in tall, thin and young packages. We don't need to pit curves against cheekbones, we just need a bit of variety.

Most women have body issues and i've had my fair share, I have bored my husband and family rigid with my obsessive moaning about my stomach. I've started to wonder how I stop my daughter inheriting this body obsession that has plagued the last few generations of British women. I can't think of anyone I know who is confident in the body they have been given to wear and i'm seriously at a loss as to how to stop her falling for the same vanity trap. I can tell her she is beautiful and that this is irrelevant because she is capable and intellegent, but this doesn't cut much ice when it comes from your mother.

At forty I follow the progress of Kate Moss as you would a girl you went to school with. I no longer think 'she's skinny, so what?' I wonder how the hell they airbrush the fag and booze damage from the corners of her eyes and mouth, how she kept that stomach so flat after having a child. By the time my baby Pearl is sixteen, there will be some other model setting the body beautiful trend. Whether she considers herself beautiful may depend on whether she matches this girls colour, height, look or shape. I hope however that we have moved on by then, that our daughters have learned from our pathetic navel gazing. Alternatively Kate Moss may still doing the rounds, radicalising how we see the older woman, fag hanging out of her mouth on the front cover of Vogue.

Happy Birthday Kate Moss, you're persistant I'll give you that!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Relative Poverty

It is estimated that 2.5 million British children are currently living in poverty. This week channel four 4thought TV are running a serious of short films looking at children's experiences of poverty. As I listened to the first child I thought of my own childhood and what I would have considered poverty to be in 1978.

My first home was a rented flat with no bathroom or inside toilet. No phone, washing machine or central heating, This was the seventies and despite pampas grass and leopard print bedspreads, mod cons were still not accessible to all. Unscrupulous landlords peddled shoddy accommodation, splitting houses without proper conversion and renting them as flats. When the front ceiling fell in we waited weeks for it to be repaired, watching television together in my parents bedroom. If you had asked us if we were living in poverty we would have been shocked, my parents would have been offended.

We ate good homemade food , chicken cobbler, whitebait, stuffed marrows, fish and chips from Andy's, the occasional giant Chinese spring roll. As a child I was well turned out, to be honest I knocked spots off even the most wealthy judge's daughter in Dulwich Village. I went to to the pictures, on holidays , received treats, toys and pocket money. No, poverty was other people, people who were starving, Sometimes we would take an evening walk into Dulwich Village and look at all the big houses as a form of after dinner entertainment. Window shopping, we didn't expect to live like that, in the seventies you knew your place. I am possibly one of the last generation to remember a time before general home ownership and mass consumerism. Posh people lived differently, it was accepted.

No, we felt sorry for people who were uncared for, the scruffy girl whose mother walked about done up to the nines, kids who looked like they hadn't had a wash for a while. I learned to fear emotional poverty from an early age and it still knots my stomach to hear of children with no human kindness in their lives. I have met people who have risen from poverty to wealth who are still searching for that lost experience of early family life. Family is still vital in determining a child's experience of poverty on both emotional and material levels. A child living with a single parent on benefits without family will suffer far more than a mother who is helped financially by their extended family.This by no means suggests that single parents cannot provide a loving and secure home, its just tougher for them, especially for those without a supportive network. Help with clothes and extras make a big difference when money is tight. When the state is failing to provide, those without extended families suffer the most.

My parents were determined people. My mother walked to the phone box and hassled the housing until we were rehoused. We eventually ended up living in one of the more salubrious parts of West Dulwich until I left home for university. In 2012 most families will not have this option. Social housing is thin on the ground and high rents and rising fuel costs are driving people to cut back on social activities, clothes and food. Further Education will be out of my son's reach. We may have phones, washing machines and computers coming out of our ears, but once these goods are worn out we are left with less than the the children of the seventies. For all of our progress we are relatively poorer today, if hope is gold we are reduced to counting coppers.

The question of poverty and how it is defined still remains a hot potato. Does it matter how we lived in the past, that we don't know we are born today. Relative poverty is not about who has the latest Wii or comparing ourselves to Victorian England. It's about deciding how we want our children to live today. Properly fed, warm, clothed, educated to the best of their ability, socially engaged, treated and loved.

Photo of me enjoying a 1970s holiday