Archive | November, 2013

“Don’t hate me because I’m rich”

26 Nov

The other day I found myself at a train station, bored out of my mind, and I spied ‘Grazia’ – the big fashion issue! – in the newsagent.  I had some spare change in my pocket which y’know I could’ve saved because I knew what would happen.  I’d buy it, flick through it in fifteen minutes at the most, then that would be that.  But I went against my better judgement and bought it, flicked through it in ten minutes and then that was that.  Only one article in particular piqued my interest – a piece by Catherine Pickering on the prejudice she gets for being rich.

This piece was actually in response to a blog by wealthy New York student, Rachel Sacks, who had written about the problems she faces as a rich girl which received a barrage of criticism.  I suppose I’ve been out of the loop with things so I hadn’t heard about this controversial blog entry, so I read the Grazia article with curiosity.

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I really did try and read it with an open-minded attitude and an impartial view.  I thought to myself, perhaps these girls really are victims of jealousy and insecurity from others – but before I even finished Pickering’s first paragraph, I knew where I stood, and it definitely wasn’t in their current season Manolo Blahnik’s.

Firstly, the tone of the piece is snobby, condescending and imbued with a misplaced sense of security.  Perhaps if it was written more sensitively, some of the points could have even be argued persuasively but, as it was, the whole thing came off as a whiny, spoilt rant.  Apparently, Rachel Sacks was inspired to write her entry after ‘getting attitude from a grocery-store cashier last month simply because she was carrying a Mulberry shopping bag.’  If this was the case, yes, I do think it’s wrong.  Casting judgments on people you don’t know based on superficial things is wrong.  Everyday I see plenty of people carrying Mulberry shopping bags but I don’t always assume that this is because they have been handed everything on a plate.  Indeed, most people work hard for their money and are allowed to treat themselves because, life’s short and you might as well enjoy yourself.  The sad fact is that everyone is judged by how they look.  While richer people may feel like they are victims of prejudice, poorer people are equally victims of prejudice in a consumer-driven world where the media makes you feel as though you’re practically a second rate citizen if you don’t keep up with the trends.

Pickering seems to be the queen of bitchy comments – when talking about a ‘working-class’ friend, she mentions that ‘she still hadn’t been abroad when we met and she was 21!’  She goes on to say that it isn’t her fault that she has ‘high standards’ and that this income disparity creates a gap in her friendships as ‘I often stick out like a sore thumb when we go out, dressed in my designer gear while everyone else is in high street.’  It is rather clear Pickering gets a kick out of distinguishing herself from everyone else so her flimsy protestations that she tries to understand her friends’ concerns about work or competing for a promotion are laughable.  She couldn’t try any less.  

And her comment that she ‘simply can’t relate’ to those less fortunate than her is not a concern reserved for the more financially fortunate than others.  It is reserved for those spoilt, vacuous and narcissistic beings like Pickering or Sacks, but that is not an issue to do with one’s wealth or lack of it, but rather of one’s complete and utter lack of class.

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Queenie by Alice Munro

21 Nov

I’ve found it difficult to blog lately as I’ve been snowed under with uni work, which has left me little time to write or read anything that isn’t a textbook.  Probably because of this, I suddenly felt the urge today to enter a fictional world, something away from cold equations and facts, so I found myself wandering round Waterstone’s before meeting my friend at lunch, looking for something small that would satisfy my literary craving.

I came across a tiny little book and was immediately drawn to it, especially as I can’t justify spending too much time reading for pleasure at the moment.  The book I picked up was a short story called ‘Queenie’ by Alice Munro and branded across the top of it was ‘Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.’  I’m never too sure quite how I feel about all these literary awards; many times, I’ve read books on the basis that they have won an award or received a glittering review in a newspaper that I read, only to be disappointed.  That said, it ticked the necessary boxes at the time and was only £1.99 so there wasn’t much to complain about in that department.

queenie

Needless to say, then, I started reading ‘Queenie’ with great expectations.  I’ve always been intrigued with the short story form and ‘Queenie’ was a great insight into short story writing at its most proficient.  Immediately I was immersed into the protagonist’s world, and her account of her stepsister – the enigmatic, troubled and idealistic Queenie.  The story revolves around Chrissy (the protagonist) recalling the day Queenie left home to marry a much older man.  Munro writes concisely and unpretentiously and the reader learns about Queenie through Chrissy’s eyes and fantasies.

I especially liked Munro’s characterisation of Queenie’s husband, Mr Vorguilla, who is portrayed to be a repressed, controlling man with violent tendencies.  This is relatively straightforward to portray but what is skilful is Munro’s ability to incite some form of empathy for such an outwardly unlikeable character through fleeting moments of tenderness.

The reader sees only snippets of Queenie via Chrissy’s memories and it is clear that Chrissy has always admired and looked up to her stepsister.  Already the name Queenie conjures an image of a flamboyant and outgoing creature and it isn’t long before I found myself desperately wanting Queenie to find happiness.

One thing is clear: Munro portrays the loss that Chrissy feels and the complexities of the human character beautifully.  In particular, the often misunderstood and fraught relationship between the sexes is explored adeptly here, with Queenie’s sad ingrained beliefs of marriage and men, evident in her knowing comments – ‘Men are not normal, Chrissy’- that block any chance of stability and happiness for her.

I found the ending incredibly moving – Chrissy, much older now, married with grown children, describes how she has started seeing Queenie now and then randomly.  The normalcy of Chrissy’s life which seems to have followed the normal route deeply contrasts with Queenie’s life or the life that we imagine she went on to lead.

Chrissy has never been able to let go of Queenie and the short story is infused with a sense of loss and regret.  At the end, Chrissy, unoccupied as an older woman is less able to stop thoughts of Queenie infiltrating her life again and she starts to see her everywhere. One time she sees Queenie as a ‘wrinkled woman with a crooked mouth’ in the supermarket and  Chrissy walks on by, supposedly content to continue in ignorance with her new life.  However, of course, she isn’t content with this and then returns afterwards to try to find her.  She has spent her whole life wanting to be close to the elusive Queenie and even at the end of her years, Queenie still remains out of reach.

Beautiful and moving without being sentimental.  I am definitely looking forward to discovering more of Munro’s writing.

Writing from prison – an evening at Southbank

7 Nov

This evening, I went along to the Southbank Centre to read and listen to writing by offenders, secure patients and detainees.  I’ve always thought that the arts, and particularly writing, has a therapeutic, calming effect and when I read about this exhibition I was intrigued.  I didn’t know much about arts in prison apart from having some vague notion that while in prison, prisoners are sometimes encouraged to express themselves through art classes, library services etc.

I learnt a lot about the Koestler Trust, an organisation that promotes art by offenders, that hosted the event and it was fascinating to take a peek into the lives of those that often remain hidden.  Before the specific writing event I had booked to attend, I walked round The Strength and Vulnerability Bunker which showcased visual arts by offenders, patients and detainees.

A sculpture exhibiting the escapist qualities of art

A sculpture exhibiting the escapist qualities of art

There is something strange about knowing that the artist who has sculpted the model/ sketched the portrait/ painted the scene before you is behind bars.  For me, it made the atmosphere feel strangely charged with emotion and I found myself contemplating the sheer abnormality of imprisonment.

An Atheist Creed

An Atheist Creed

The art varied in all aspects and I’ve included some rough snapshots to give you an idea – some seemed  purposely crude, almost childlike in conveying a message whereas others were technically brilliant and it was clear to see that there is a huge amount of talent among such institutions.

You never really grow up

You never really grow up

The actual event was celebrating the works of writing that won the Koestler awards and a former prisoner, Clifford, whose poem was shortlisted in the prestigious Bridgport prize, read his two platinum-winning poems – my favourite entitled ‘Waiting to cross Croydon High Street in the rain.’  These poems are all published in the impressive magazine, ‘Not Shut Up’, that is distributed free of charge to prisons and other secure establishments around the UK.  Obviously some of the winning poems were read on behalf of the winners, many of whom are still behind bars, and there was a particularly moving part of the night when the mother of a winner (a prisoner with severe personality disorder) talked about how proud she was.  There was a talk with two successful former prisoner and I was particularly intrigued by Chris Wilson, who read a passage from his debut novel, Horse Latitudes, which had me thoroughly hooked.  A former drug addict, self harmer and teenage prostitute, he found his passion in prison – painting.  Since then, he was accepted into Chelsea College of Art and Design and alongside his painting, he writes and films documentaries.  I was pretty gobsmacked at his talents to be honest.

The event definitely confirmed my belief in the transformative powers of writing and I came out feeling inspired and rather humbled.  I questioned all my preconceptions about what it is to be an ‘offender’ as this evening smashed all the stereotypes I had in my mind of prisoners/ criminals/ detainees with one powerful sweep.