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“What a wonderful contribution to National Vegetarian Week”

@FlorentineMuray said it so eloquently, ‘When you cook something you love, you add that little bit of a special spark’.” The Green Beret

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The Anachronistic-Office-Drone

It’s not often that I feel out-of-place in life, but I did tonight. My Friday Night commute was disrupted when my usual train was cancelled (“Shortage of Train Crew”), and I had to get the posh London-Virgin Train home from Liverpool to Runcorn. This is a 10 minute journey (and train) that has been part of my life for Saturday shopping trips, and evenings at the Theatre since I was 11, and is now my journey to work every morning, and home every evening. Tonight, with the combination of it being Friday Night, and the previous train being cancelled, the train was absolutely packed full, but I did get a seat. It was mainly full of trendy hipsters travelling back to London; with their cutting-edge clothes, and bottles of water, working at laptops, and talking on the phone with their alien southern accents. To be frank, they were cool, and they wore patterned trousers. I suddenly became very aware of myself, and my Office-Drone Uniform.

I’ve been an Office Drone since I was 17 years-old, and for all of those 16 years I’ve been a firm subscriber to the Office Drone Uniform. Interchangeable for men and women, the Uniform consists strictly of: mac / tench coat, pencil dress / skirt and blouse / suit, and a very particular type of sensible handbag. Either heels, or ballet flats / loafers, depending on (a) how far you have to walk, and (b) how strong your insteps are. The Office Drone can also be identified by their extremely well-developed calf muscles. I am comfortable with being part of this breed.

Over years of working in Manchester, Chester, and Liverpool, I have grown to love the daily routine of bumping shoulders with the same people every morning, and every evening, although never acknowledging them, and then walking as part of a mass through the City Centre in the morning. The early morning in the City belongs to the Suits, before the normal people are awake, and take over the City with their shopping, and everyday lives, the Suits walk through the quiet, clean streets, when everywhere smells of coffee, and fresh bread, and bacon, and newspaper. They stop at Starbucks, or wherever they get their morning coffee, and croissant. They carry umbrellas, and newspapers, and blue paper bags from Cafe Nero. They walk the same route, same streets, same corners, same shortcuts every morning, and they arrive at the same Office to start their day. They repeat the routine at lunchtime, and in the evening. I am very happy being one of these people, and part of the morning drudge, carrying my coffee, stepping over the same puddles. I love that we are all dressed the same, and can identify each other. It has always made me feel like a character from a John le Carre Novel. I feel like George Smiley every morning, and I love it.

Roald Dahl wrote a number of short stories about commuters, and how we stand in the same spot on the platform every day, and get into the same carriage, and sit usually around the same few seats. He wrote about how we never speak to each other, but notice instantly if somebody is missing one morning. He understood everything I love about commuting, and what makes our working lives and daily drudgery a little more meaningful.

But, on the train tonight, the other thing that I felt was provincial. I became acutely aware of something that has always been at the back of mind; that London is another Country, separate to the rest of us. These hipsters with their patterned trousers were totally different from the hipsters in Manchester. It’s hard to define, but it’s something about the way they speak, and the way their hair falls; they’re sharper, harder, more aware of the world, but a different world. It reminded me how narrow, and un-urban my life is, and how anybody who lives outside London is comparably an uncultured hillbilly. We’re basically the Waltons.

All of this lead me to think that perhaps this breed is being left behind by the modern world. As the new generation takes over, with their beards, and grime, and social media, all of the old stereotypes of old-school English castes are being fazed out, and slowly disappearing with the last generation, which makes me very sad. Two generations ago, there were very distinct social pidgeon-holes, and people fitted very neatly into one of a few moulds, but they are being overtaken by new and trendy social identities. It makes me very happy that I am a living part of one of the last castes to die out, and I hope we can keep our Le Carre trench coats, and umbrellas firmly in place, and let our meek flags fly. See you at Starbucks in the morning, I’ll be the one behind The Times.

Like a Girl

 

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I was on New-Brighton Beach with my family last week, on May Bank Holiday Monday.

I heard a Father say to his son; “That’s not a proper jump, you little girl.”

As angry as I still am by what the Father said, I’m more angry with myself for doing nothing. I was so dumb-founded, all I could do was burn silently with internalised rage. I wish I’d been brave enough to stand up, and say to this Father; Have you ever seen a little girl jump, or run, or punch, or climb a tree? They’re like Olympian frogs. Also, don’t use “Girl” as an insult in front of your son, he’ll grow up to be a misogynist.

I’m still angry with myself, over a week later. Angry that I didn’t stand up to be counted. Angry that I wasn’t braver. In the Society we live in; a lot of women (including me) are afraid to stand up and be counted, for fear of looking stupid, which is unladylike, and unattractive. Men can say what they like; the stupider the better.

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This is me around the age of seven.  My best friends were boys, and I spent all my time wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweatshirt; climbing trees, running, and riding my bike. My knees were always bloody, and my hands were always black.   I grew up with a Father who taught me how to fight, and only ever called me “Mate” until I was twenty-five, never anything else, and a Grandad who let me dress up as Ming the Merciless, and shoot plastic suckers at his head at point-blank range, when we were playing Defenders of the Earth.

Why has the term Girl been used as an insult for so long?  Why do men have this pre-conception that girls can’t jump? Even the very girly-girls in frilly dresses, playing with Barbies, are strong enough to out-arm-wrestle a boy any day of the week. Little girls are a force of nature; formidable, indefatigable, fearless. They are Amazonian warriors, and wolf-mothers to whatever doll, or teddy is their baby that week. They are fireworks, exploding all the time. They’re fighters.

Anyone who has ever watched a little girl for five minutes will know that there is nothing weak, or feeble about them, whatsoever, so where did this idea come from? I would imagine from the same place as; “The weaker sex”, “The little woman”, “Her indoors”, “The fairer sex”, and every other limitation placed on women since the dawn of time.   You can also bet it was a man who invented all those words like petite, and dainty, and made women want to be them.

Try telling Olympic Hurdler Denise Lewis that girls can’t jump! Try telling Serena Williams that she hits like a girl. They would knock your pretty little head off, son.

One of the biggest, and very first breakthroughs in the current feminist revolution was the Like a Girl campaign by Always. I remember vividly the first time I watched the video when it appeared online, at the very crest of the current movement, and I was bursting with so many emotions. The film starts with an interviewer asking a selection of men and boys of varying ages, and disappointingly some women, to demonstrate how a girl would run, jump, fight, throw, etc. They all give farcical performances of stereotypically flouncy, weak, ditsy girls, with pathetic, flailing arms, and no strength. Then they ask young girls the same thing. The girls are strong, fast, and brave. There is no flailing, and nothing pathetic about them. The first reaction of the young girls is to carry out the physical task to the maximum of their ability; to jump as high as they can, to run has fast as they are able to; to draw their fists back, and punch as hard as they can muster. They are fierce. They are impressive, and beautiful.

It is incredibly sad that the boys they interviewed, boys who spend every day of their lives surrounded by, and being cared for; fed, loved, and protected by mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, classmates, teachers, dinner ladies, lollypop ladies, and so many other strong, formidable female figures, rather than allowing that strength, and protection to form their opinion of what a woman is, instead allow the prejudices, and small-minded assumptions of their fathers, grandfathers, and male classmates, to colour their image of womanhood. The heritage passes to each new generation, creating wave after wave of men who think women are weak, because that’s just how things are.

I would wager that most of the men who hold these beliefs, and keep alight this mythical image of flapping femininity, have never seen a woman give birth, received treatment from a female paramedic, or been raised solely by a single mother. It would be very hard to witness the unimaginable strength of women in tough situations, and still hold the boorish view that women are the “weaker sex.”

Have these men ever seen a woman building a flatpack wardrobe? Have they ever watched the female athletes in the Olympics, and Paralympics? Have they ever seen Serena Williams playing Tennis… or Serena Williams doing anything? Or seen all the women running in marathons?

Have they ever met a woman who has just suffered a miscarriage, or has a bald head and flat chest from Breast Cancer, but still gets tea on the table for her children; still runs in their Sports Day race, because that’s what they need today?

Have they ever felt what a woman feels when she’s in a meeting with men, being totally ignored, or patronised? Ever felt what a woman feels when she’s dressed smartly in her best professional suit, and nice shoes, but still gets called sweetheart, or is presumed to be somebody’s secretary, rather than the person doing the job?

I wish I could have said all of this to the Father on the Beach. Actually, I wish I could have said it to his son. I wish I could have said; Have you ever seen a single mother doing the weekly shop, keeping three children under control, while trying to stretch every penny, because she doesn’t get any help, choosing which essentials to sacrifice because there isn’t enough money for everything they need, whilst simultaneously settling six arguments, and keeping three children alive, safe, and within eyesight, making sure they don’t miss the bus, so they’re not late for karate/school/a party, while making sure three school uniforms/football kits/party dresses are washed, ironed, and ready. All this before she goes to work for nine hours? Have you ever seen a woman doing that? She won’t break a sweat. She won’t swear at her children. She won’t cry. And they will all have a meal on the table at the necessary time, because that’s just what needs to be done. Or, what about the married woman, who gets abuse shouted at her in the carpark for being a stupid ‘woman driver’, whilst keeping three children under control in the back of the car, and doing the weekly shop, and getting home to clean the house, and cook a meal for her husband, who will walk through the door and lie down on the sofa until it’s ready, and then she’ll wash his clothes, and iron them, and then deal with the children, and then go to work for nine hours, all while keeping her hair neat, and lipstick on.

So, if you want to tell your son that he’s jumping like a little girl, you’d better bloody realise everything that that means, because little girls grow up to be warriors, and they’ll wipe the floor with you, and your chauvinistic bullshit. Please, tell your son that.

The second cultural lightning bolt which had a big impact on me personally, and fundamentally changed the way I think about the world, was a video by Mayim Bialik called Girl” vs. Woman: Why Language Matters.” It’s really interesting that we call women ‘girl’ well into adulthood, probably until late 40s, or when they start going grey, and yet we generally stop calling boys “’boy” sometime during teens/secondary school. There are lots of transitional terms, and other words, such as ‘lad’, ‘bloke’, and ‘guy’ that enable us to define a male person between boyhood and manhood, but we only have ‘girl’ or ‘woman/lady’ to define a female person. I’m as guilty as anyone of using phrases like; “a girl at work”, “the girl in the shop”, “she’s a lovely girl” to describe women who have degrees, and PhDs, and important jobs; who wear suits to work, have mortgages, drive cars, and have husbands, and children. They are most definitely women, but we still call them ‘girl’ so widely. On the other hand, we would never refer to a man anywhere above twenty, who had a job, and wore a suit, and had a family, and a car, as a ‘boy’. Actually, we wouldn’t call a man who had none of those things a boy, either. It just feels wrong. Our mindset as a Society so naturally protects manhood, and masculinity, it goes against the grain.

The effect is to keep women small, in a state of childlike dependency; reliant on men for money, guidance, and protection. In reality, women don’t rely on men at all. Any woman who has raised a son, or any woman who has married a man who was too dependent on his mother, will know how heavily men rely on women for basic everyday care. I have always believed that instead of fathers walking their daughters down the aisle when they get married, mothers should give their sons away, because many men are just handed from mother to wife, and remain completely dependent on a woman, often any woman, for cooking, cleaning, buying underpants, and basic survival.

Language is a big defining factor in how we perceive each other, but it is not the words themselves that matter, but the intent behind them. If my Grandad calls me Sweetheart, because it’s clearly done with love, and affection, demonstrable in the intonation of his voice, and my prior assurance that my grandad respects me as a person, I don’t find anything negative, or offensive in the word whatsoever. It’s lovey, and a term of endearment. Whereas, if a Builder shouts Oi, Sweetheart from some scaffolding, I know that the intention is to deliberately and specifically make me feel small, and objectified, and therefore bad about myself, and so it’s offensive, because it works.

I was also really affected by a speech I saw recently made by Reese Witherspoon at the Woman of the Year Awards. She has started her own production company so that she can make films with strong, and varied female roles. She was tired that in so many films, where women are reduced to one-dimensional stock characters as the wife/girlfriend/assistant of the diverse and complex male character, there is so often a point in those films where the woman turns to the man, damsel in distress, and asks; “What are we going to do?”, and looks to the man for guidance, and protection, and a way out of the problem. Reese pointed out, quite correctly, that women in real life don’t go around asking for help from men, and not knowing what to do in situations. Women get shit done. She talked about how they teach children in schools that if they are ever lost, or in trouble, or in a disaster, or crisis, or dangerous situation, they should find a woman to ask for help. It’s the women who will look after them, and know what to do. Women in real life know what to do, so why don’t they in films?

The problem is not how women behave, it’s how the media portrays them, which constructs our pre-conceptions.

Take those stereotypical female secretaries in films from the 50s/60s/70s; the image of a perfectly turned out, airhead sex-kitten, who doesn’t know what day of the week it is, or where Japan is on a map, but has perfect nails. Women didn’t start acting like that, film producers invented that idea. Have you ever met a secretary in real life? They are terrifying. Granted, they will be well turned out, but they will know every person in the building, they will know their boss’s life better than his wife, and know what he needs before he does. They run his life, and the company, without being told what to do. If something needs to be done, they get it done. If something is impossible, they make it possible. Have you ever used their mug by mistake? Have you ever missed them off an email list? They will take you down. But somewhere along the line, Hollywood turned these intelligent, capable, ultra-efficient, hard-working titans, into plastic sex dolls without a thought in their head. They even made the word dirty.

At the time that Hollywood was creating these limiting stereotypes of single-faceted women, the real women in the outside world were dealing with World War II. They had no men, because they were all away fighting, and they had children to look after, and feed, but no food because everything was on ration. They kept their homes and families safe, they fed them inventively and healthily on very little food, they made their clothes themselves from patterns, and wore hand-me-down shoes. They built machines in the factories, so that we could carry on the war, they taught the children in schools, they looked after the injured soldiers in the hospitals, they cleaned up the Blitz, and kept an entire country running; women by themselves. They won the war just as much as the men fighting it. Without those capable women, what would the men have come home to? And yet, Hollywood reduced that generation of women, who had their sleeves rolled up, hair scraped back, covered in dirt and grease, carrying a child on each hip, boiling socks in a pan, to a generation of bimbos and airheads on film.

The wonderful thing that’s happening at the moment, thanks to #metoo #timesup #likeagirl, and all the women’s marches, and the fantastic feminist uprising over the last couple of years, spurred on by Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, et all, is that women are becoming less ashamed to be women. Women have lived in the dark for years; ordinary, working-class women, who carry too much shopping home on the bus, hiding a black eye with their fringe to protect their husband (because women are mothers, and mothers protect little boys), with no money in their purse, and holes in their tights, who curled up into themselves, trying to hide their womanhood from the world, because the world was men, and they were scared.

Slowly, timidly, those women are moving from a time, only a few decades ago, when my own grandmother wasn’t allowed to buy a washing machine on finance without her husband’s signature, which he wouldn’t give, into a time when Beyoncé posing as a majestic Madonna, in her heavily pregnant, heavenly photoshoot, is both completely normal/unremarkable, and also joyous, and momentous. When Beyoncé performed at The Grammy’s, the image of perfect, womanly motherhood, enormously pregnant with twins, but still working it, still owning the stage like the best performer the world has ever seen, being lowered electronically backwards on a specially made chair, just because it was daring, wearing massive heels, it was a big victory for all those women who had to spend their pregnancy in convalescence homes, being hidden away in asylums, or ‘laundries’, and all those women who were made to feel so ashamed of their womanhood, for all the women who had to hide away, under headscarves.

How can we be ashamed of something which is so inherently in ourselves, our very genetic and physical make-up, the body and bodily functions that we are born with, that we can’t choose, or control, but are forced to hide, and change, and fight against, and disguise, for the benefit of men? What’s more, why should we want to? Womanhood is the very thing that gives life. All those men who are so vehemently misogynistic, and fight fight fight against short skirts, and blood in Tampax adverts, and breastfeeding in Costa, who are incidentally the same men who enjoy Page 3 topless teenagers, and the extremely male fantasies portrayed by women in porn, and men’s magazines, wouldn’t have life itself without a mother; a woman who bled, and laboured, and birthed, and fed them at their breast, and nurtured them. That is, of-course, the eternal dichotomy. The little boxes that men have created, meaning that all women must be either wonton sex slaves, or perfect immaculate mothers; Mary Magdalene Whores, or Virgin Mary. Nothing in between.

In Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, she included words by poet Warsan Shire;

Baptize me … now that reconciliation is possible. If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.”

Men, if you let women be women; flawed, often late, or early; leaking, covered in hastily applied make-up, with laddered tights, and bleeding, you will be much happier. We’re awesome, and we get shit done.

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Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl! 

 

I grew up in a house with no books. There were, of-course, a very small selection of baby books in our room, and the obligatory Dictionary, French Dictionary, and Medical Dictionary in the living room drawer, never opened. Aside from that; nothing. My parents, although possessing many wonderful qualities, are not academic. They read the redtops, if anything; never pushed me to do homework, and were only ever concerned when I was in trouble for not handing it in. 

It is remarkable then that I started school being able to read, and read well. This was thanks to one shining light in the darkness; Roald Dahl, and one stark exception to our bookless house. Each night, my mother would read to get me to sleep; a few chapters from three battered old books; The BFG, The Witches, and Matilda. I think the copies had come from a mixture of an older cousin, and those shelves in library doorways, selling dog-eared books for 50p.

It didn’t take long for me to reach that moment. I can’t remember precisely how old I was, or even when it happened, but I know distinctly that there was one night, when I’d started reading Matilda back to my Mother, instead of her reading it to me, that I realised. I realised it all. I had, without knowing, been learning the very important fact that you can be different to the people in your house, and it doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, just different. If your parents read The Sun, you don’t have to. If your parents think that books are irrelevant, and lofty, you can still love them fiercely (the parents, and the books).  

That was the moment when I understood. I am not alone. There are hundreds of shelves, in hundreds of buildings, with millions of words on pages, written by people who know how I feel, and what I think, because they thought the same thing. They may have thought it two hundred years ago, but they thought it. And I knew I would never be alone again. As soon as I could read, I belonged to a rich and limitless world full of people, and places, and thoughts. I belonged to them, and they belonged to me.
There are children who have never discovered Matilda, who believe that because they are different to their parents and siblings, and because they want to read The Famous Five in a corner with a lamp, instead of watching quiz shows with their family, it makes them stupid, odd, and abnormal. I wish I could tell those children how special they are. I wish I could shine the light for them. 
Shining that light is precisely what Roald Dahl does. Like the BFG’s long golden trumpet, blowing dreams through children’s bedroom windows, Roald Dahl, with his words, and characters, and help from Quentin Blake, reaches through the darkness of children’s lives, and shows them that they are normal, and crucial, and noble. He makes children see the nobility in their everyday actions.

What makes Dahl remarkable, for me, is that he did it all without really intending to. Roald Dahl was not a saint-like messiah, setting out on a selfless mission to do honourable deeds, and save children from awful lives. He was a battered old RAF pilot, who nearly died when his fighter jet crashed in the desert, who spent his childhood away from his family, being beaten and caned at boarding school, and lived his adult life as a spy, passing messages in the Second World War directly between presidents and prime ministers. He was an unsuccessful writer, writing books for adults without much notice, and the odd screenplay here and there, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, managed to bring extraordinary magic into children’s lives, and arguably changed the world, and the way we think.

Who else was brave enough to tell children that their parents and teachers might actually be catastrophically wrong, and even unintelligent? Who else told children that the monsters and dangerous things they’ve been warned about for their entire young lives might actually live in their own home, or school, in the next bedroom, or classroom, or down the street? And he gives children the bravery to fight them. For so many children, myself included, Dahl’s words give them the strength to fight back; to stand up. He lifts their chin up.

Owing solely and unequivocally to Roald Dahl, our bookless house is now full of books. Downstairs is filled with crammed bookshelves, and in my own tiny bedroom, the walls are covered in shelves, filled to drooping, and the room is filled with bookcases, and piles of books on the dressing table, chair, and floor; piled just high enough on every surface that they won’t fall over. All of them are mine. My parents still read the redtops. I can pay no greater respect or thanks to Roald Dahl than that. 

Happy Birthday, Bill : A Love Letter to Shakespeare

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Happy Birthday, Bill: A Love Letter to Shakespeare.

Dear Bill,

The 23rd April marks both your birthday, and the anniversary of your death. 1564 – 1616. I know those dates without even checking Google, since that day ten years ago when they passed me on the side of a bus with a picture of your face, and I have remembered them ever since. I take this day to express my thanks, and respect.

I call you Bill, as I’m certain that’s what your friends would have called you, and that’s definitely what you are to me. I think of you as a friendly arm around my shoulders in the pub, on a rowdy Saturday night.

I call you Bill because from a faded portrait on the wall of a gallery; a musty anachronism with stiff collar and balding head, your words transform you into something breathing, and visceral, and vivid; a tangible, vibrant part of the modern world; a crucial part of our 2020 lives. It is your words that change you from dull oil colours into a bloke down the pub, and you would be the clever life of every party, if only you still had flesh and blood.

As a student of English Literature, I feel about you the way other people feel about God; that you are father to us all.

With ink-stained hands, you gave us words where we had gaping holes in our native tongue. You gave form and names to emotions we couldn’t identify. You gave us stock phrases to perfectly express those ideas we had previously been unable to articulate.

You showed a dark, and frightened world that it is a clever, and noble thing to write words beautifully, and to let them shine like gold.  Which is why, at two o’clock in the morning, when my hands are covered in ink because I insist on using a fountain pen, and I’m in the dark with my i-phone lighting up the covers instead of a candle, I remember you.

To writers, you give words, and entire dramatic conventions. You built the foundations of their profession, and fleshed it out with wealth, and depth.

To actors, you give the best role they will ever play. You have become the mettle by which actors prove themselves. You are their Olympics, Grand National, and PHD.

To theatre audiences, you give unbound excitement, and breathless thrills every week, for the price of a seat. Four hundred years after your first audiences huddled together in rancid crowds, now we do the same, to listen to the same words. In 2014, I saw Maxine Peake play Hamlet at The Royal Exchange in Manchester. I was six feet away from her. It was breath-taking. You gave us that.

You hold a mirror to all human life, from the lowest to the highest, every corner of society; every beggar, and every king. You teach us how human beings love, and hate, and why, and the often terrible consequences. You show us jealousy, and revenge, and misery, and every facet of human emotion. You show us why siblings have all-consuming and co-existing adoration and contempt for each other, and the constant struggle that will always exist between them.

With the help of hundreds of actors over four hundred years, your characters have become part of our social consciousness. Just by the mention of a name, they are a shortcut to expressing paragraphs of description and backstory.

Like JK Rowling borrowing ideas from Tolkien, you may have patchworked ideas, and words together from different languages and cultures; merging characters from Commedia del Arte with plots from Ancient Rome, and Latin words with Dutch metaphors, but the skill is in the merging; in the sewing together with golden thread. Like Rowling, your magic lies in that final beautiful patchwork, and the sparkling world created by your words, and no-one else’s. The magic cannot be borrowed or counterfeited. The magic is in the golden thread, which lives only in you.

You gave us Morrissey, and Oscar Wilde.

You gave us; “A scratch”, and Mercutio’s death, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s; “I was adored once, too”, and a thousand other lines, and people to break our hearts, and heal them again.

You show us that the pen is mightier than the sword, always.

Whenever I draft a Contract Clause, or Client Disclaimer, or particularly assertive response to an argumentative opposing Solicitor (I am in the legal profession); that flourish in my turn of phrase, which I enjoy with so much relish, is there because of you. You are there in the excited hammering of my keys, and in that moment, I am Shylock, and the satisfied smile as I press the send button is for you.

Every text message I send in full sentences, with correct grammar instead of abbreviations, is because of you. Because when I was fifteen, in a comprehensive school, in a grey northern town in the nineties; you taught me how beautiful, and important language is, and how much it says about the speaker.

When I passed my GCSEs, and A-Levels, and Degree; in every exam, and rehearsal, and at the side of every stage; every time I hit the final full-stop to the conclusion of an essay, you were there. Every time a Literary Journal arrived in the post, with one of my poems published, the elation and pride I felt belonged half to you, and half to my English Teacher, Mr Blake.

At University, for a production of As You Like It, whilst memorising speeches that are three pages long, I learned how rich, and complex your language is. I learned how it flows like music, or water.

You handed us words like ‘moonbeam’, and ‘shooting-star’, and ‘arch-villain’, and a hundred others, like precious gifts to be passed through generations like heirlooms, and we do.

Here is a small selection of phrases that we use every day, because you carved them out of dirt and darkness, and left them as a glittering legacy, to articulate our thoughts, all these years on;

A fool’s paradise
A foregone conclusion
A plague on both your houses
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
A sorry sight
All corners of the world
All of a sudden
All that glitters is not gold
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players
All’s well that ends well
As cold as any stone
As dead as a doornail
As good luck would have it
As pure as the driven snow
At one fell swoop
Bated breath
Be all and end all
Beast with two backs
Beware the ides of March
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks
Brevity is the soul of wit
But screw your courage to the sticking-place
Come what come may
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war
Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Eaten out of house and home
Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog
Fair play
Fancy free
Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man
Fight fire with fire
For ever and a day
Frailty, thy name is woman
Foul play
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
Good riddance
Green eyed monster
He will give the Devil his due
Heart’s content
High time
His beard was as white as snow
Hot-blooded
Household words
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child
I bear a charmed life
I have not slept one wink
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
If music be the food of love, play on
In a pickle
In my mind’s eye, Horatio
In stitches
In the twinkling of an eye
Is this a dagger which I see before me?
It is meat and drink to me
Lay it on with a trowel
Lie low
Lily-livered
Love is blind
Make your hair stand on end
Milk of human kindness
More fool you
Much Ado about Nothing
My salad days
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Night owl
Now is the winter of our discontent
Off with his head
Oh, that way madness lies
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
Out of the jaws of death
Pomp and circumstance
Pound of flesh
Primrose path
Rhyme nor reason
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
Send him packing
Set your teeth on edge
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Short shrift
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em
Star crossed lovers
Stiffen the sinews
Stony hearted
Such stuff as dreams are made on
The be all and end all
The course of true love never did run smooth
The Devil incarnate
The game is up
The Queen’s English
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on
There’s method in my madness
This is the short and the long of it
This is very midsummer madness
To be or not to be, that is the question
To sleep: perchance to dream
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Up in arms
Vanish into thin air
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
We have seen better days
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Well-read
What a piece of work is man
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions
Wild goose chase
Woe is me

Your language is everywhere in the modern world. Adaptations, like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which is one of my favourite films, demonstrate how vivid and current your language can sound, and how freely it flows, as easily as if it were today’s grimiest street slang. This is the talent of the actors, and director, of-course, but mainly your shining words. In the right hands, your words flow so easily in modern culture, like rap lyrics, or spray-painted graffiti on a wall.

You are the beating hearts of Wuthering Heights, and the entwined plot turns, and many intricate misunderstandings of The Importance of Being Earnest. You are with Samuel L Jackson and Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction; every speech is yours. You are in Alan Bennett’s monologues; you invented the rise and fall of their form.

You are in every sentimental greeting card verse. You are in every one of Alex Turner’s lyrics; every couplet is yours. You are the reason tourists come to England every year for rainy holidays.

You are the reason the English go to parks on hot Summer nights, and eat strawberries, watching your plays on cushions. We sit utterly spellbound, noticing the dew-drops on the evening grass, because you make them into characters before us, and give them life, and names. You make us notice the grass as vividly as the velvet of the costumes on stage.

You are with us all. All the time. Every word.

I’m ending with a poem by Kate Tempest called My Shakespeare, which was the inspiration for my writing this letter. It was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and perfectly articulates what I would like to say, better than I can say it.

I’ve also included a link to the project website, and a video of the poem being performed live, which is the best way to see it.

http://myshakespeare.rsc.org.uk/gallery/my-shakespeare-by-kate-tempest/

My Shakespeare

by Kate Tempest

He’s in every lover who ever stood alone beneath a window,
In every jealous whispered word,
in every ghost that will not rest.
He’s in every father with a favourite,
Every eye that stops to linger
On what someone else has got,
and feels the tightening in their chest.
He’s in every young man growing boastful,
Every worn out elder, drunk all day;
muttering false prophecies and squandering their lot.

He’s there – in every mix-up that spirals far out of control – and never seems to end, even when its beginnings are forgot.
He’s in every girl who ever used her wits. Who ever did her best.
In every vain admirer,
Every passionate, ambitious social climber,
And in every misheard word that ever led to tempers fraying,
Every pawn that moves exactly as the player wants it to,
And still remains convinced that it’s not playing.

He’s in every star crossed lover, in every thought that ever set your teeth on edge, in every breathless hero, stepping closer to the ledge, his is the method in our madness, as pure as the driven snow – his is the hair standing on end, he saw that all that glittered was not gold. He knew we hadn’t slept a wink, and that our hearts were upon our sleeves, and that the beast with two backs had us all upon our knees as we fought fire with fire, he knew that too much of a good thing, can leave you up in arms, the pen is mightier than the sword, still his words seem to sing our names as they strike, and his is the milk of human kindness, warm enough to break the ice – his, the green eyed monster, in a pickle, still, discretion is the better part of valour, his letters with their arms around each others shoulders, swagger towards the ends of their sentences, pleased with what they’ve done, his words are the setting for our stories – he has become a poet who poetics have embedded themselves deep within the fabric of our language, he’s in our mouths, his words have tangled round our own and given rise to expressions so effective in expressing how we feel, we cant imagine how we’d feel without them.

See – he’s less the tights and garters – more the sons demanding answers from the absence of their fathers.
The hot darkness of your last embrace.
He’s in the laughter of the night before, the tightened jaw of the morning after,
He’s in us. Part and parcel of our Royals and our rascals.
He’s more than something taught in classrooms, in language that’s hard to understand,
he’s more than a feeling of inadequacy when we sit for our exams,
He’s in every wise woman, every pitiful villain,
Every great king, every sore loser, every fake tear,
His legacy exists in the life that lives in everything he’s written,
And me, I see him everywhere, he’s my Shakespeare.

Love always,

Vikki.

Victoria Wood – Let’s Do It: The Ballad of Barry and Frieda

VW

Victoria Wood – Let’s Do It: The Ballad of Barry and Frieda

Freda and Barry sat one night
The sky was clear, the stars were bright
The wind was soft, the mood was up
Freda drained her cocoa cup

She licked her lips, she felt sublime
She switched off Gardener’s Question Time
Barry cringed in fear and dread
When Freda grabbed his tie and said

Let’s do it, let’s do it, do it while the mood is right
I’m feeling appealing, I’ve really got an appetite
I’m on fire with desire
I could handle half the tenors in the male voice choir
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I don’t believe in too much sex
This fashion for passion makes me a nervous wreck
No derision, my decision –
I’d rather watch McCalmans on the television
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight

But she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it till our hearts go boom
Go native, creative, we’ll do it in the living room
It’s folly, it’s jolly
Bend me over backwards on the hostess trolley
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, my heavy-breathing days are gone
I’m older, I’m colder, it’s other things that turn me on
Yes, I’m boring, I’m imploring
I want to read this catalogue on vinyl flooring
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Come on, let’s do it, let’s do it, have a crazy night of love
I’ll strip bare, I’ll just wear stilettos and an oven glove
Don’t give me no palaver
Dangle from the wardrobe in your balaclava
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I know I’ll only get it wrong
No angle for me to dangle, my arms have never been that strong
Stop shouting, stop pouting
You know I pulled a muscle when I did that grouting
I can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

But she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it, have a night of old romance
Poetic, frenetic, this could be your last big chance
Read Milton, eat Stilton
Roll with gay abandon on a tufted Wilton
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Then he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I’ve got such a lot of jobs on hand
Don’t grouse around the house, I’ve got a busy evening planned
Stop nagging, I’m flagging,
You know as well as me that the pipes need lagging
Can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it while I’m really in the mood
It’s years and years since I got you even semi-nude
Get drastic, gymnastic
Wear the baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I must refuse to get undressed
It’s chilly, I feel silly to go without my thermal vest
Don’t choose me, don’t use me
Mum sent a note saying you must excuse me
Can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it, I really absolutely must
I won’t exempt you, I want to tempt you
I want to drive you mad with lust
No caution, just contortions
Smear an avocado on my lower portions
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Be mighty, be flighty
Come and melt the buttons on my flame-proof nightie
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Not meekly, not bleakly
Beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

How I Feel about David Bowie

Bowie

 

It has taken me a long time to start writing about Bowie.  I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say.

For most of the last two weeks, since his death on 10th January 2016, I have been listening to his music, and continually watching Youtube footage, and generally Googling images of him.  That in itself is not unusual; I very often spend my morning train journey to work listening to one of his albums or another.
But since his death, the songs have taken on new meaning.  I now listen to every note, every off-vowell, and every hitch of breath, with renewed ardour.  I look for it all.  Now that this sparkling commodity has run out, and there will be no more Bowie, his music has become all the more precious.  Whilst in some sense, Bowie has become a non-renewable energy; so fortifying and affirmative to so many, and now sadly run out, he will never really run out.  It is such a blessing of modern life, and the electronic age that we all hate, that generations to come, in fifty or a hundred years, will be able listen to those same off-vowels, and hitches of breath.  Our great, great grand-children, long after we are gone, will discover Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane, and will laugh at the lines in Jene Genie, and choke at that final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide, when he announced that Ziggy would never perform live again.

Those songs, and recordings, and shaky video footage, and photographs can’t be extinguished.  They live on, where mortal Bowie can’t, as a wealth of fortification for people who haven’t been born yet.

For me, Bowie’s message is; you’re okay.  David Bowie says you’re okay.  It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, whether you dance like a square; you’re okay.  “Hey Babe, your hair’s alright.”  Even though your face is a mess.  At those moments when you feel helpless, and like your life is out of control, and your body doesn’t look the way you feel it should, just remember that you’re okay.  David Bowie knows what’s inside you, and knows you’re a good person.

As an artist, what I find remarkable about Bowie is that despite his persona being ostensibly superficial; constantly changing, all glitter and sequins, and smoke and mirrors, it was all him.  Popstars nowadays are the public face of an army; in front of talented people behind the scenes who write the songs, and mechanically engineer the sound, and their voice, and promote them, and produce their outfits, find their clothes, get them dressed, style their hair, perfectly apply their make-up, and everything about them.

The classic image of a popstar sitting in a chair with people all around, producing a perfect appearance, is all too true.

However, everything you saw about Bowie was himself.  He dyed his own hair bright ginger over the sink. He applied his own make-up, even those distinctive images of Ziggy, and Aladdin Sane, with lightning bolts, and glittering alien foreheads.  He created every inch of those mystical, iconic characters, and the images which have become integral to our culture.

When you listen to one of Bowie’s records, every instrument is played by him.  Read the credits on an album sleeve; vocals, guitar, piano, saxophone, harmonica.  All him.

Bowie didn’t have a team of choreographers, and songwriters, and musicians (apart from Mick Ronson), and stylists, and hairdressers, and wardrobe assistants.  It was just him.

For me, that is the mark of genius, and true talent.  He was a star, with no help from anybody else.  Just him.

The other thing about Bowie is that he wasn’t copying anybody.  Uniquely in the music business, he didn’t follow in anybody’s footsteps.  He didn’t tribute history; he made it.  As Tracey Thorne says in her book Naked at the Albert Hall, Bowie invented whole new vowels, not content with those already available.

Many people, over the last two weeks, have commented on how personal this loss feels.  On the morning it happened, I opened my eyes, reached for my phone, and the newsflash had just appeared.  I immediately went in to tell my mother, and her reaction was exactly like I had told her about a family member.  There was no moment when she thought I might be joking, or it could be a hoax.  Just immediate grief.

David Bowie has always been in my family, as my parents were both enormous fans, and passed that love on to me.  I grew up listening to his songs.  When I was in my teens, we called our German Shepherd Ziggy.

Two years ago, I left home in the North at midnight, and travelled down to London with my Mother, on National Express overnight.  We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and stood in a queue of people for over two hours, all waiting to see the David Bowie Is… exhibition.  The tickets had been sold out for six months, so we were risking getting tickets on speck, as a small number are released every morning for that day.  As we approached the final stretch, with around five people between us and ticket desk, they brought down a barrier, and announced that tickets were sold out for that day.  After approximately two minutes of being distraught, we signed up for an annual membership to the V & A, and walked straight in. The experience of seeing his outfits, and shoes, and hand-written lyrics was something I will never forget, and one of the most special experiences of my life.

Part of the exhibition was a screen showing the video for Heroes.  I just stood, mesmerised, and watched it through around four times; watching his face come forward out of the dark background, and listening to his cracking, imperfect voice.  When it cracks, I can hardly handle it.  As Caitlin Moran says it perfectly, it’s like breaking ice.

My favourite part of the whole exhibition was a tiny scrap of tissue with his red lipstick blots on. It seemed so human, and at the same time so extravagant and glamorous. It was like looking at him.

The culmination of the exhibition was a circular room, with 180 degree screens, around 60 feet tall, screening his final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide at Hammersmith.  I had never seen it before.  I just stood there, with my mother, for around 40 minutes, watching it over and over.  That performance is unlike anything I have ever seen.  It’s unlike anything anybody has ever done.  Charisma like that, and a voice which is so flawed and imperfect, but absolutely breath-taking, and when the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile, like he’s pleased with himself at his own lyrics.  It’s magic.  I came home from London, and watched that video on repeat, solidly, for two weeks. I was even watching it silently, when I was talking to a Client on the phone in work.

Since the news broke, I have looked to Caitlin Moran.  As with all matters in life, I can always trust that she will perfectly articulate exactly what I want to say myself, but can’t.

In her Times piece, Caitlin opened;

“What a lucky planet we were to have had David Bowie. So lucky. Imagine how vast all of space and time is — how endless and empty, how black and cold. Imagine a tracking shot across the universe, nothing happening nearly everywhere, nearly all the time. And then, as it scrolls past our galaxy, you can hear, quiet at first, but getting louder as we close in, Rebel Rebel, coming from our Planet, from our Country, in our time, playing on tinny transistor radios, in a million bedrooms, as a whole generation, and the next, and the next, straighten their spines, and feel their pulses rise, and say; “This.  This is how I feel.  Or at least, this is how I feel now.  Now I’ve heard this”

And that’s how I feel.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000px

 

It’s Time We Knew The Truth About Kate and Gerry McCann

mccann

None of us knows what happened to Madeleine McCann.  There are only a couple of people on Earth that do know, and we don’t know who those people are.  All that most of us can offer is speculation and conjecture, based on tabloid headlines, and news reports.  Some of the information might be accurate, and I’m sure there is certainly a lot missing.  I will therefore not presume to make any kind of bold statement, siding against or with the McCanns.  I don’t think anybody should be totally committal with their opinion until the information available is definitive.  Many people seem to have an absolutely categorical opinion, one way or the other, based only on a few words, or snatched rumours, or a glimpse from the corner of an eye on the news.  People argue vehemently, either for or against, without knowing what actually happened.  What I will do, however, is try to articulate the uneasiness I feel about two parents.

I should say, before I begin, that I am not an ardent researcher in this subject.  I know that many people spend a great many hours scouring the internet for facts.  I am not one of them.  Nor I have I particularly read a great deal on the subject, mainly because so much in the tabloids is untrue.  Any information I cite, I should warn, has been gleaned from the media, and websites, and newspapers, and has not been vigorously researched.  I am not a McCann expert.  Therefore, I apologise if any of the information I discus in incorrect, or inaccurate.  In truth, most of the information in circulation on this subject, and any subject, is sketchy at best.

As I said in my previous blog, the first thing that struck me as strange, when Madeleine first went missing, is Kate McCann’s words when she ran into the Tapas restaurant after discovering that Madeleine was missing.  She shouted; “They’ve taken her, they’ve taken her.”  Who are they?  If you use the word ‘they’, you must surely have a particular person, or people, in mind.  Either that, or you’re improperly rehearsed.

On the subject of Kate’s return to the restaurant after the discovery, I was interested to learn today that one of the questions the police asked Kate, one of many that she refused to answer, was why she left the twins in the hotel room.  Having discovered Madeleine missing, purportedly taken by an intruder, Kate left her twins in their beds, and ran down to the restaurant to raise the alarm.  The police wanted to know why Kate did this, and why she would leave the twins in bed, when whoever took Madeline could still be around, even still in the same room, concealed.  Why, if you knew there was someone in the vicinity capable of taking a child, would you leave your two toddlers alone?  Kate refused to answer this question, like all the others. 

The second thing I found amiss was Madeline’s Cuddly Cat.  From the first day that Kate McCann appeared on the news, she was clutching Madeline’s small toy cat.  In the subsequent weeks and months, every time Kate was photographed, or appeared on the news, at press conferences, or meeting the Pope, she was holding the apparently named Cuddly Cat.  An image was projected to the world of a grief-wracked, distraught mother, in a foreign country, clinging to the only small piece of comfort she could find, the only thing she had to hold onto of Madeline’s. 

I found it interesting to learn, some time ago, that apparently this cat of Madeleine’s had been rigorously washed in a washing machine during the initial days of her disappearance.  Why would a parent want to wash away any trace or scent of their missing daughter out of her most loved possession?  That cat would be something so close to Madeline, it would have her smell, and smudges, and sweat, and tears, it would have slept with her from birth, Madeleine’s whole presence would be tied up in that cat.  As a parent, why would you wash away the last traces you had of your child?

The facts and details of the Police reports are so uncertain, and so often contradictory, that I won’t attempt to dissect the intricacies of the case, because it is impossible for anyone other than the people in that apartment that night to know what is truth.  I will, however, briefly mention one or two facts which have particularly caught the collective attention.

The fact that cadaver and blood odour was detected by dogs, both in the boot of the car, and on Kate McCann’s clothes.  How did it get there? 

The fact that the entire hotel room had apparently been bleached and deep-cleaned from floor to ceiling.  If your child had been taken, why would you sterilise the crime scene with bleach, removing any evidence or trace of whoever had been there, and taken her?

The fact that the McCann’s continually make a theatrical performance of offering to take polygraph tests, and then back out, and have so far refused to take any lie detector test. 

The fact that Kate McCann refused to answer any of the questions asked by Police.

The fact that she felt she needed legal representation.  

If you wanted to find your daughter, and you had nothing to hide, why would you refuse to co-operate, and answer any questions?  What harm could be done, if you were innocent, by giving honest answers to the questions, and helping with the investigation. 

What I find is that the people most defensive of the McCanns are basing their support for them on very little, and are simply unwilling to believe that such nice, upstanding people, and doctors, could be in any way responsible for the death or disappearance of their child.  On the other hand, the people most critical of the McCanns appear to base their opinion on the facts presented, rather than emotion. 

Personally, I think we should focus on finding Madeleine, and give no further time to the books frequently published by the McCanns, and the publicity stunts, and television appearances.  I think it would be beneficial for the Police to be more forthcoming with the information they do have, and for us all to focus on the little girl, rather than her disturbing and media-hungry parents.  One thing I would like to know, however, is why the McCanns seem so unwilling to help the investigation, if they have nothing to hide. 

I think it’s about time we knew the truth about these people, one way or the other, so that we can either offer them our love and compassion as devastated parents, or bring them to justice as criminals.

 

 


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

Share book reviews and ratings with Vikki, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

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