{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

December 31, 2015

10 Things To Do in 2016

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It's the end of 2015, already, and I know you haven't met at least one or all of those silly resolutions you made last year. I stopped making them long ago since I don't think I've ever kept to any of them.

But this year will be different. It is the year of 9 in numerology: a year of universal love, faith, and a completion of things to come. It is the year of the Fire Monkey, when every person on Earth is meant to meet some divine and profound inspiration into themselves and the world around them.

In line with these two predictions for 2016, I have made a list of 10 things you have to do this year:

1. Be kind. 

Think about what you say and how it will be interpreted before you say it. Think about the effect your words will have on others. Think about how your actions, vocal tone, and body language can emit negative undertones that bring negativity your way and inspire negativity in others.

2. Be grateful. 

No matter what you are without, you have much. Be grateful for what you have and, more importantly, who you have in your life. You never know when it will be too late to show your gratitude.

3. Tell your loved ones you love them.

If you're estranged for any reason, if you don't get along for any reason, if you forget to call because life is just life, a simple message of love is all someone may need to improve their mood for the day.

4. Send unexpected letters, notes or texts to those closest to you to share your love with them. 

Research has shown that unexpected messages from people you love instantly lift your mood.

5. Improve your posture. 

My posture is one of my worst problems. I hunch over without even thinking about it. I feel taller when I correct my posture but it becomes slouchy again within minutes. I hope to change that this year with some posture-improving yoga exercises, since good posture positively effects health, happiness, and self-confidence.

6. Listen to mainstream news less. 

The fact is that major news outlets are owned by individuals in the guises of corporations, so remember that when you watch coverage of any particular event. Many media outlets focus on the sensational with the specific aim of urging you to click on that link or tune into that report to make more advertising money. How is that trustworthy? If you want to know what's going on the world by watching the media, supplement this information with good research. Don't form opinions based on a single news report. It also makes you feel happier. After all, there is nothing you can do about most of it except pull out your hair. And that won't benefit anyone. Except advertising companies and corporates. They benefit, even when you're bald.

7. Read more books. 

I think this is something that appears on everyone's New Year's Resolution list. I haven't even met my target this year *blush* though I have accomplished things that cannot be measured. Firstly, books make you happy. Happiness makes you healthier. Reading makes your smarter, it makes you think for yourself. It teaches you to be alone, to enjoy being with yourself. It makes your more empathetic and increases your brain function. Tactile reading also helps your memory. So go ahead and challenge yourself to read books this year. Stick to it this time.

8. Don't become a lazy consumer. 

Read the labels of the products you consume and research items you're not certain about. Many cereals and crisps in South Africa are produced with products that contain genetically-modified organisms. Many items that are put into your food are only there to enhance flavour, so think about what it is that the food is lacking that it needs to be enhanced. Consider what inorganic ingredients in your soaps, dishwashing liquids, shampoos, and toiletries are doing to the environment. Recycle. Think about the animals you eat and make informed decisions about what you consume.

9. Laugh more. 

Do whatever you have to do to laugh more.

10. Appreciate your pets. 

If you don't have one yet, get one. Pets are always said to be the entry vehicle for those training to care for children later in life but everyone who has ever owned a pet know that every single one of them are your children and have significant other benefits aside from testing whether you'd at the very least keep a baby alive or not. Keeping pets welcomes lessons in responsibility, fear, regret, and empathy, lessons we all need in this day and age.

Here's to a 2016 that meets all your expectations, declines to meet those that won't suit you in the end, and gives you a reason to be happy every day!

{Image credit: By Magnus Johansson (HAPPY NEW YEAR!!) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

December 24, 2015

My Love-Hate Relationship with Christmas

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Like practically everyone else in the Western world, Christmas holds a strange position in my heart, a position of love and hate.

Traditionally, it is the time of year when family members have the chance to stay away from work, spend time at home, and just be with their family. That is why it is such a special time for the children, because having both parents around is a treat, especially when one does not see one of the parents as often.

This is why Christmas makes me feel warm and gooey inside - I remember holidays when my dad and I would spend all our time making paper models, or I would sit in the garage with him, hammering nails randomly into pieces of wood and calling it art, or just sit around and listen to music. It was also about spending time together as a family - not going anywhere in particular (we weren't the holidaying type) but just being with each other. Christmas was special because of this. Of course, the presents and the food were a part of it.

But this is where the hate part of my relationship with Christmas comes in. The presents and the food have completely overrun the entire concept of spending time with one's family. We need to work all year to deserve that performance bonus that will allow us to spend money on something big for everyone for Christmas and for a great feast, or pay off those mounting debts, and work no longer stops over Christmas. This means families spend all their Christmas time apart from each other anyway. This means the present has become the important part instead of the bonding that came with choosing and giving a special present to someone you love.

I understand the origins of the concept of gift-giving: it made sense back in the day when families lived far apart and only saw each other now and then. It even makes sense for Americans, who all seem to stay on the other side of the country. This would be the only time that these family members see each other, so a gift would be special and meaningful. It would also come from a place that may have different produce. Not so in this day and age, though: a Woolworths in Durban stocks exactly the same items that a Woolworths in Johannesburg stocks.

My point is that everyone seems to be caught up in the capitalist habit of buying everything. Disposing of everything. Racing towards the prize for biggest and best present of the year. No longer do children receive one truly meaningful present, but everything their hearts desire. I once knew a boy who would throw a tantrum if he received the same number or fewer presents than he had the year before. His parents literally had to ensure they purchased at least one more present for him, and if my memory serves me correctly, that one year he received 25 gifts. And that's just from his parents.

It's all about the stuff we get, the stuff we will likely never use, the stuff people think we want. It's not all about family any more. And family is the stuff we cannot do without.

So as I sit and grumble about Christmas, I am also gleefully admiring our Christmas tree and the pile of gifts under it and looking forward to the reactions on the faces of those who are receiving gifts from me this year. What might make this year special for me is Emma's joy as she celebrates the first Christmas she understands and thus might remember.

And with a torn and cynical heart, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (And if you don't celebrate the holiday, just Happy Holidays to you!)

December 17, 2015

Movie Review || Star Wars - The Force Awakens

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It has finally arrived. The moment that all 'Star Wars' fans and self-appointed geeks have been waiting 10 years for: the film meant to redeem the childish and disappointing prequels to the legendary trilogy.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is truly the signalling of the end of an era. Not only has the franchise been taken over and refreshed by Disney, but a star director has taken the helm. Not only will there be all-new characters to develop, but our old favourites from the original series are to return. While I was not lucky enough to receive tickets to the premiere on Tuesday night, I was amongst the first to watch the first official screening at 11am on Reconciliation Day. Beware, spoilers to follow.
The original 'Star Wars' trilogy is practically a cornerstone of my childhood. As soon as I was old enough to keep still long enough to watch the film with my dad, it was a regular re-occurrence. I was a teen when the prequels were out, and though already cynical about the word 'prequel', wanted to enjoy them so much that I did. Only after years of watching and rewatching, comparing and critiquing, did I have the the ability to recognise retrospectively that the movies were quite terrible, barring 'Revenge of the Sith' because this film had something the first two lacked: tragedy and character development, although just barely.

While geekdom groaned a collective objection of concern that the franchise would be ruined nine years after 'Revenge of the Sith' when the gigantic conglomerate that is Disney purchased the franchise, the hope mounted that the series would recieve the respectful creation it deserved, especially after the original cast members were enlisted for the film. This hope was clasped to the heart of every fan that entered cinemas showing the film yesterday.

The question remains, was this hope served well by 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'? Expectations were high and the cinema was filled with entire families, couples, friends, all eavesdropping on each other's conversations, which were all inevitably about 'Star Wars', the failure of the last three films, and the legend of the first three, and the hope and eagerness was almost stifling.

The audience whooped and clapped when the Lucasfilm logo eventually alighted on the screen, just as they did when 'Revenge of the Sith' screened, and a hush fell over us as everyone's hope focused straight ahead of them.

So what did I think of the film? I am pleased to say I was not disappointed. Nostalgia goes a long way in making a follow-up film popular. The first three films lacked this, with all-new worlds, all-new characters, all-new planets, and all-new technology. 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is chock-a-block full of nostalgia, from lonely desert scenes, sunset silhouettes, blown-up planets, a masked Sith, original characters, the Millennium Falcon, aliens drinking in taverns, crashed starships...

Overall, the film had an excellent balance of dialogue and humour, action, and character development, something I believe is most important in a good film. It also had tragedy (there is nothing like watching a character whom you have invested your emotions, interests, and conversation in follow a path they are likely never to return from) and mystery.

These things were starkly missing from at least the first two prequels, while 'Revenge of the Sith' improved in this department. 'The Phantom Menace' and 'Attack of the Clones' was filled with absurd statements meant to be witty and humorous but seemed to target the humor of children. The proliferation of CGI was an insult to the original franchise, which achieved so much with scale models and great filming and direction. They also failed in terms of character development (Anakin Skywalker, for example, always remained 'the little boy on Tattooine', throwing tempers because he could not have his way) and tragedy. And of course every mystery was explained away with too much detail about such things as midichlorians and the proliferation of political 'intrigue' was altogether too much for a fandom saturated with the war on terror.

In 'The Force Awakens', all these necessities occur in abundance. There is the tragic backstory of a young woman left on Jakku, of a stormtrooper pulled away from a family he will never see and forced into a life he never wanted. Families and lovers are torn apart by disappointment and murder, entire planets are destroyed, legends make way for new ones. There are the mysteries of Luke Skywalker's whereabouts, of the thirty years that has come between the last film ('The Return of the Jedi') and this one, of Rey's past and ancestry, of the new Sith leader, of the place Finn has in the story. Every major character grows through the film and we are left with a sense of the reality of the world we see on screen.

Meanwhile, the film did disappoint a little in terms of representation and diversity. While I think it is absolutely amazing that Rey is probably about to become Luke's apprentice and that a co-lead is a man of colour, there is still not enough representation, in my opinion. I know director JJ Abrams said he planned for girls to enjoy the film as much as the boys, and while there are many women seen in the film (such as freedom fighters and cockpit workers), the presence of Princess Leia is a given since she's not a new character and Rey is the only lead female. Maz Kanata's role is minor in comparison to Captain Phasma, and I really don't understand the hype around Gwendoline Christie's character being 'genderswapped' at all, since she could just as well have been a droid. I suppose that's the point though, that men and women are represented the same... That being said, not a single woman was objectified and sexualised, and that is a win!

Finn is the only man of colour throughout the entire film (that I saw), although I suppose you could throw the one set of smugglers chasing Han Solo into the mix to make the film seem more representative. I also enjoyed the fact that Finn and Rey's relationship is platonic (at least thus far - altogether too much film time is spent on building love relationships between men and women instead of friendships in the first trilogies).

Aside from this, I really, really enjoyed the film. Apart from appearances by the original cast members seeming a little 'cameo-ey', the story has come together very well, the humour resembled that of the original trilogy, the action was well-balanced with the quiet moments, and enough mystery has been thrown into the mix to inspire many a debate about how the story will progress from here on in.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is the film fans have been waiting for for thirty-two years. Now I look forward to reading all the books that detail the happenings of the last thirty years - they must have been interesting!

PS I really want one of those little BB-8 droids!

November 27, 2015

DIY || Applique cushion cover

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Applique is a really effective decorative technique, and it's really simple, too! Follow this tutorial to create your own cushion cover with an appliqued star on the front.

What you'll need for this project:

Fabric in your desired colour, enough for two 40cmx40cm blocks
A coordinating fabric for your star
Scissors or a rotary cutter
The star pattern, which you can download here
40cm closed-end zipper

How to make the appliqued cushion cover:

Start off by cutting your fabric into the correct size. Remember you are free to make the cushion the size you want!

Print out the star template and cut it out from the fabric. Pin it to the centre of the front of your cushion. Be sure to pin it on every loose seam so that when you applique it, the design does not move around. If you prefer, you can tack the design to your cushion front or even use a double-sided interfacing to keep it in place.

Set your sewing machine to medium-sized zig-zag stitch, with the stitch length as short as possible. On my machine the setting I use is the same for buttonholes.

Slowly zig-zag all the way around the design, ensuring that edge of the star is at the centre of every zig-zag stitch.

End off by going backwards a little and then forwards again.

Place both sides of the cushion cover right sides together and sew around three of the sides, leaving the bottom seam open - this is where you'll put in the zipper.

Pin the zipper's right side to either side of the right side of the open seam. I find that pinning both sides together before sewing prevents the zipper placement from shifting.

Before you sew it up, make sure the zipper is open, otherwise you won't be able to turn the cushion inside out.

Use a zipper foot to sew the zip onto the fabric.

Trim the corners of the cushion, turn inside out, and press if you wish.

(I apologise for the lack of photos - I made this without the intent to share it on the blog.)

November 25, 2015

7 Things I Would Have Done Differently With My Baby

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It's already been almost three whole years since Emma was born, but I can still remember the feeling of being thrown into the deep end and drowning. I'm the first to admit that my despair after Emma was born was something I kept hidden from everyone - after all, when a life is brought into this world, into a happy family, you should be happy, shouldn't you?

I suspect I had some sort of postnatal depression, possibly even bordering on the more serious postpartum depression, but I was not medically diagnosed with it. However, postpartum depression is a silent, guilty reality for many women and then what do we do about it? Nothing, because we simply feel too guilty to say how we really feel; we feel too ashamed because we should be cherishing every second instead of feeling the urge to bawl our eyes out.

It was a bumpy road for me emotionally when Emma was born and the one thing that helped me keep my sanity was routine. And boy, was I a stickler for routine! I did everything at the same time every day; I kept a pedantic record of how often Emma urinated or her tummy worked, how much she drank and whether or not she threw it up, when, how often and how long she slept. Getting her to sleep and keeping her asleep was another challenge I solved by instituting a bedtime routine, which had her falling asleep by herself and sleeping through the night when she was just eight or nine months old.

Looking back now, I realise that clinging to a semblance of a routine was the only way I could feel in control of a situation that had terrified me: the responsibility of looking after and raising a child in a world filled with tragedy and violence was altogether too much for me.

And looking back now, I have many regrets; things I would have possibly done differently had I sought help for my issues and settled on my own happiness instead of my guilt.

Here are seven things I would do differently that you should consider if you have just had a baby or have one on the way:

  1. I would have spoken to someone about how I felt. The despair was a terrible cycle that made me the perpetrator and the victim at the same time. I was determined not to let anyone know how sad and scared I felt, but lashed out at everyone around me because they did not notice.
  2. I would have had more naps. I am a terrible napper as I need about 20 minutes to become settled. This was difficult with a young baby, but as Emma became older, I simply didn't bother at all, even though her own naps were long and peaceful. A lack of sleep did nothing but exacerbate the emotions I was feeling.
  3. I would have relaxed more. I spent most of Emma's nap times cleaning the house. I washed dishes and floors, cleaned the bathrooms, tidied, moved stuff around, did knitting and sewing and embroidery. I kept myself busy at all times. I know this was to distract myself from my feelings, but I really did need to relax more.
  4. I would have tried not to worry so much about Emma's wellbeing. Before you think this sounds like a terrible thing for a mother to say, let me explain: Emma was the only thing I was worried about. I didn't eat, I didn't hydrate, I didn't exercise, I didn't go outside. I was so focused on making sure her stools were healthy and that she was drinking enough milk that I did not worry about myself. Many mothers forget that they do not disappear when their baby is born: they still have their own needs that they should fulfil, too.
  5. I would have cuddled more and listened to my intuition more. Now that Emma is a toddler, she very seldom wants to cuddle unless she is feeling sad or ill. Cuddling was easy when she was a baby, even though she didn't like it that much to begin with, being quite a wriggler. But I would have held her and rocked her and cuddled her more and followed my instincts about holding her instead of worrying about whether or not she was sticking to her nap- and bedtime schedules.
  6. I would have exercised more. My favourite exercise is yoga, which is really beneficial for my core and for its meditational purposes. I did yoga regularly while pregnant, right up until the middle of my last month, but stopped doing this entirely after Emma was born. The first time I did yoga after she was born was when she was a year-and-a-half old, and then very seldom. If I had kept up with my practice, I wouldn't have found myself as unfit as I am now and my mental and emotional state would have been better all through the postpartum stages of Emma's life. Even now, I cannot get into a regular practice. This has set me back almost three years in my health stakes.
  7. I would have asked for help. My genetics does not allow me to do this easily. As proof you can take the fact that I would rather teach myself how to do something than go to a teacher or on a course. But I would have asked for help. I did not ask for help with anything and then felt pained when no one offered.

I believe the last point is the most important thing you should do differently than me: ASK FOR HELP! If you have help, you might be able to solve all my previous regrets: speaking to someone about my emotions would have helped me feel important and listened to; having someone babysit while I napped would have solved the exhaustion issue; having someone to do the dishes and tidy up would have helped me relax; and all this help would have given me more time and less anxiety to cuddle with her.

I become teary-eyed when I think about how much I feel I have done wrong as a mother, about how I have done Emma an injustice through these actions I regret.

However, I have a very happy, very healthy little girl, who is affectionate, playful, kind, generous, and unbelievably smart, so I must have done something right!

{Image credit: By Irais Esparza (Own work Naucalpan de Juárez, Edo. México) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

November 12, 2015

DIY || Broke your favourite mug? Mend it and keep it around!

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Whether they're sentimental or simply a favourite item to drink coffee from, a broken mug can sometimes be heartbreaking. But follow my tutorial to mend your broken mug, and heart!

What you'll need for this project:

A mug that's not too badly broken: that is, the pieces should be able to fit together again relatively well
Liquid Lead (used for stained glass crafts)

How to mend the broken mug:

rebuilt-mugYour first step will be to rebuild your mug so that you have an idea of where all the different pieces go. If you skip this step, you may root around for the correct piece for too long.
liquid-liner-along-crackLine one of the cracked edges with a generous amount of liquid lead.
mug-pieces-placed-togetherPlace your pieces together and squeeze them so that some of the lead squashes out.
Repeat these steps for all your separate pieces, slowly rebuilding your mug as you go along. Sometimes you may have to wait for a section to dry first before moving onto the next one.
Your end product should look something like the above images. There are different liquid lead colours available nowadays, so you can mix and match or coordinate. Remember that the lead does not have to be perfect!

I did not do it with the mug in my example, but if you like, you can make random lines of lead all around your mug if the break is converges in a particular area and you don't like the way it looks. I did this with the black mug in the photo.
Please share your mended mugs with me!

November 9, 2015

Book Review || A Dance with Dragons I by George RR Martin

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Perhaps you've read my review of George RR Martin's preceding novel in the 'A Song of Ice and Fire Series', A Feast for Crows. If you have, you would know that it was one of the slowest and most unexciting novels I had read in a long time. Although I admit that the novel was somewhat spoiled by the television series, the focus on only a few of the characters - none of which are my favourite - was frustrating to say the least.

However, the next novel in the series, A Dance With Dragons I: Dreams and Dust has completely redeemed Martin and has even inspired me to consider boycotting the television show entirely.

I was told that A Feast for Crows was difficult to get through and that Dreams and Dust was much more interesting and exciting, and this is true indeed. A Feast for Crows left me hanging after A Storm of Swords II. Focusing on only a few of the characters didn't answer any of my questions about the whereabouts of Bran, for example, despite setting up the pieces for the game of thrones.

Dreams and Dust made up for this, throwing in all the familiar characters, adding new interesting ones, deepening the intrigue, upping the ante for all those involved in the chess match taking place in Westeros. I could hardly put the book down in places, despite the television series, because getting into the characters' heads is simply so interesting.

So if I loved the book so much, why do I want to boycott the series? Well, because many of the changes in the television show just have me shaking my fist to the sky and asking why. Martin's world and its story is so incredibly detailed, the characters so rich in personality and depth, the moves of the players so deliberate that I don't see any reason for the basic plot to be altered. But the screenwriters have changed so much of the story now that I believe they should add a subtitle to the series: 'Inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire'.

I actually wrote my Honours on the changes made to scenes in the first few novels and seasons, but the changes now are completely ruining the story for me. Even after reading the novel after the final season, the book completely outshines it.

[Please stop reading if you wish to avoid spoilers!]

One change that has not only made this humble writer ill is the alteration of the plot to send Sansa Stark to Winterfell to be wed to Ramsay Bolton (formerly Snow). In A Feast for Crows, she remains with Littlefinger and makes up some of the most boring chapters in that book. But in Dreams and Dust, it is not Sansa who is sent to wed Ramsay as Sansa, but Sansa's friend Jeyne Poole, who is sent as Arya Stark. In the series, Sansa is raped on her wedding night, and she is not even given any agency as we are treated to a view of Reek's face as he is forced to watch. Apparently Sansa has absorbed the characters of Jeyne and her avenging mother, Lady Stoneheart. And the producers loved the subplot. Which subplot exactly is perfectly summarised by GoT Gifs and Musings here. But my issue is that Sansa has gained so much power in her story arc in the novels and the show strips her of this, all of it.

And then Tyrion's entire journey to Qarth is altered inexplicably - inexplicably because on his trip he meets someone I think could change it all: Daenery's little brother, Aegon. I realise that the producers of the show wished to shorten the story to fit it all in but considering the wealth of the story that already exists I cannot see how leaving this detail out makes any sense, unless Aegon dies in the second part of A Dance with Dragons or they wish to surprise the viewers.

And what about the Prince of Dorne heading to Meereen to wed Daenerys? Everything is coming to a head in Meereen and all that doesn't matter to the producers!?

I really could continue but I think the point is made: I feel that those in charge of the Game of Thrones television series are doing the story an injustice by squashing everything into a 10-episode season. George RR Martin seems to agree, at least from what we can infer from vague statements he has made about the digressions. Remember, he cannot be too openly critical, as he has deals to work on three other television series for HBO.

Salon ran a piece criticising the books after A Storm of Swords as uninspired and rushed. The author even goes so far as to suggest that had the producers not taken the reins and rewritten the story, HBO's viewing stats would have petered out - in essence, the claim is that they saved the story from the author, who has admitted he may not even finish the next instalment before the series catches up.

However, I feel for those who have only watched the television series. If the producers have made the series 'better' for the viewing public, the viewing public is missing out on an excellent story and is watching one dumbed down to appeal to people who are only watching the show because dragons and 'booooobs'.

October 28, 2015

Disturbing Disney || Dumbo: Art Imitating Disturbing Life

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As any child does, Emma loves animated films. Perhaps television addiction is passed down through the genes, as I also watched a lot of films when I was younger. Of course, Disney was my favourite and, subliminal messages, propaganda and other issues aside, it still is. In my mind, if I can see their hidden messages, one day so will she.

Anyway, the baby elephant - Dumbo - is one of her favourites. I did not like it so much as a child, although I cannot really expound on why. I was possibly exposed to later films before Dumbo was available to rent or shown on television in South Africa. But rewatching the film now as an adult is quite eye-opening (so is watching every other Disney film).

I also realised that it is actually quite a disturbing film, especially considering that it is targeted at children. Apparently, at the time that Disney embarked on the film, the studio was in dire financial straits. It aimed to make an emotional piece to pull in an audience that was in the midst of union strikes and on the brink of the second World War. Its simple story's lightheartedness was much desired by the audience of the time and by successive audiences, and Dumbo has become one of Disney's greatest successes.

I think it was the darker side of the film that appealed to the audience sitting in fear and with little hope. Dumbo's development is from being ridiculed and cast out to being outstanding, all because of a little hope, something the pre-war audience desperately needed.

I know the disturbing nuances of the work are likely overlooked by children but they are still there, perhaps subliminally telling children the world is a dangerous and unfair place:
  1. The introductory song is an interesting reflection of the times: a conservative society would not wish its children to know the reality of mating, so the storks are a manner of avoiding this. Of course, the chorus saying 'Look out for Mr Stork' is more of a warning than a celebration of life.

    By the way, have you wondered why Mrs Dumbo has to wait longer for her baby? Well, elephants have longer gestation periods than other animals! They carry their baby for 21 months, almost two entire years.

  2. The lyrics of the music when the Big Top is being constructed are a reflection of the working conditions of the day and of the workers, with phrases such as:

    We work all day, we work all night
    We never learned to read or write
    We're happy-hearted roustabouts
    We don't know when we get our pay
    And when we do, we throw our pay away
    (When we get our pay, we throw our money all away)
    We get our pay when children say
    With happy hearts, "It's circus day today"
    (Then we get our pay, just watching kids on circus day)
    Boss man houndin'
    Keep on poundin'
    For your bed and feed
    There ain't no let up
    Pullin', poundin', tryin', groundin'
    Big top roundin' into shape
    Keep on working!
    Stop that shirking!
    Grab that rope, you hairy ape!

    Some of the phrases and stereotypes could even be seen as quite racist! And I hazard to guess that all the singers of the song were white, too.

  3. When Dumbo's mother protects him from boys teasing him, she is subdued by whip and elephant hook - no disguises as to how these elephants are reined in. When she is locked away in a cart, she is being broken in, a cruel practice that breaks the spirit of the elephant. If you have ever met an elephant, it is likely they have been broken this way. And when the elephants work to put the Big Top up, we don't see the hooks which are surely there.

  4. Elephants naturally have close relationships with their mothers. Dumbo is forcibly removed from her when she is taken away. While it is implied that he is removed simply because she is being punished, the practice is common today, as it's the best time to break an animal's spirit. Read more about this here, but don't visit the link if you're sensitive.

  5. When Dumbo is removed from his mother, he is seen rocking from side to side - this repetitive movement is often seen by animals in captivity.

  6. The pink elephant scene. To me, this cannot simply be explained by Dumbo being drunk, at least not with such a small amount of alcohol. Maybe the lack of oxygen from holding in his breath was to blame. Whatever the case, seeing pink elephants walking on the roof is quite odd. Apparently, the scene was included to add colour to the film and also to tap into the surrealist trend of the time.

  7. Finally, the way Dumbo is treated and thought of by the clowns is disturbing. He is poked and prodded to make him do tricks - he is poked twice during the film, once by Timothy himself. Of course, the writers really want us to think harder about whether or not animals have feelings, but the reality of a circus is that such cruelty is necessary to train the animals to do tricks.
I have other issues with the film. While it appears to pass the Bechdel Test, it represents women as cliquey gossips and shrews (and afraid of mice). It is also sad that Dumbo has absolutely no agency - he doesn't even have a voice! In this way he is taken advantage of by everyone in the film, even Timothy the Mouse, because he also benefits from Dumbo's fame.

Did you enjoy the film?

{Image credit: "Dumbo 1" by The Walt Disney Company - Trailer. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.}

October 22, 2015

DIY || Envelope cushion cover

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I love cushions. Just ask my husband, who does not understand their necessity, unless, as we had experienced recently, we find ourselves without a couch.

One of the reasons I like to make cushions is because they are just so easy, especially if you purchase a pre-filled inner and make your cover to fit. Even if you'd like to make the entire cushion yourself, it really is a simple process.

To me, cushions add something to your decor.

Here is a tutorial on making an envelope cushion cover.

What you'll need for this project:

About 90cm of fabric, depending on the size of your inner if you have one already
A sewing machine threaded with a matching colour thread

How to make envelope cushion covers:

Most pre-purchased inners are 40cm by 40cm. You will need to cut one square measuring 42cm by 42 cm (1cm for the seams) and two rectangles the height of the cushion (42cm) and half the cushion's width plus about 7cm (including seams.
In this photo you can see the square, which will be the front of the cushion, and one of the rectangles for the back, which will form the envelope.
Double-fold one side of each of the rectangles and pin in place. Sew.

Place the two rectangles on the front square, right sides facing, one on top of the other. Pin together and sew all around the square, making sure you strengthen the joints by going backwards and forwards over the openings.

If you like, you can serger all the way around the square. Then clip the corners and turn inside out.

Et voila!

October 20, 2015

Modern packaging: Seriously!?

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Jim Champion [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Why is the world so full of discarded plastic? Well, aside from people not bothering to dispose of their waste properly, is consumerism and capitalism to blame?

In just a single example, much of the software one can purchase nowadays is nothing more than a glorified piece of paper with a shiny code on it or a single CD packed away in an ostensibly useless box that will likely end up in a landfill (if we're lucky) or floating down a river or piled on the side of the road (if we're not). That piece of paper or CD could have been sold in an envelope creating less than a third of the waste the entire box would result in.

Kaspersky-Antivirus-Packaging More-Kaspersky-Antivirus-Packaging Even-More-Kaspersky-Antivirus-Packaging
While I am using a box from Kaspersky as an example, the complaint applies to all kinds of software. Sometimes you are even only purchasing a little license on a piece of paper and you need to go home and download the software anyway. And electrical items in double-sided plastic containers? Single batteries?

I understand that packaging is an important part of a manufacturer's brand and reputation, of a consumer's 'freedom of choice' in selecting particular brands, and also aids in the import and export of products. But with all the calls for 'Reuse! Recycle!' coming from retailers the world over, why do they not make it easier for us to purchase items without the requisite wasteful packaging? What will the retailers and food bars of the world say if I arrived with my Tupperware to fill it with my order instead of allowing them to pack it away in a polystyerene box? To be fair, I suspect some of them would gladly fill my Tupperware, but it's neither convenient for us to carry our own packaging around with us nor would it be possible because the company needs to brand its product and prevent theft. The convenience of it all is reflected by the fact that most people still purchase carry bags from shops even though they're around 21c each now.

Nevermind that as consumers, aside from possibly carrying around our own packaging, we are forced to purchase practically all items packaged in layers upon layers of card and plastic. Just one shopping outing for the basics will result in thrown-away packaging for every single item you've purchased.

In addition to this, most products are not manufactured locally, meaning they have to be packaged for their own protection otherwise they have no value. This value placed on something that does not truly exist is a reflection of our capitalist society, where 'money talks', and what we purchase supposedly speaks volumes on how much self-respect and status we have and it is not important how much waste we create as we go about our days. So we purchase our prepackaged items to package ourselves in packaging we shall one day also discard as we repackage ourselves according to a new brand.

Thus it is this interaction between being a consumer and living in a capitalist society that has turned us all into wasteful creatures who only think about convenience and ease instead of what we are leaving behind for the future.

{Top image credit: Jim Champion [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

October 13, 2015

Why be outraged over Cecil, but not the leopard?

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YouTube Screenshot
A few months ago, a lucky cameraman in the Kruger National Park caught the action as a leopard attacked a ranger.

Watching the video today still tightens my diaphragm in frustration and annoyance. In it, a leopard spotted in the bush suddenly disappears, only to reappear below the safari guide's window, where it proceeds to 'clamp' its jaws on the man's arm. With 'no way' of getting the leopard to release its grip, the man reverses his car. The incensed leopard won't give up, however, and chases the vehicle for some way.

Infuriatingly, one of the commentators behind the person filming the incident says, 'He's got to drive over it. Drive over it!' The ranger drives over the leopard and another driver decides to 'rescue' the safari guide by also driving over the animal. The leopard loses its passion and limps away from the scene.

This video makes my gut burn. Not only is the poor animal in his own territory surrounded by cars on every side but everyone thinks that it is perfectly acceptable to ride over it. It is a wild animal - why could no one keep their distance and respect it? It was later discovered that the leopard was in a poor condition, likely having been attacked by another leopard seen in the area, so it was obviously in pain.

Meanwhile, the way I see it, the guide really had no choice but to drive forward over the leopard and perhaps it wasn't even his intention to do so, but his way both forward and backward was blocked by convoys of vehicles. This proliferation of vehicles is a scary thing for me. SANParks has even said that visitors are under the impression they're going to a zoo when they drive through the Kruger, but they are not. Warnings abound that people should not keep their windows open when on safari because wild animals are unpredictable. Personally I would have been afraid that the safari guide did not back away when the leopard was initially seen so close to the car. You know, since the safari vehicle has no windows. But then I suppose he couldn't move.

It brings to mind another incident that went viral recently: that of a Kudu being taken by lions right in the middle of the road near Kruger's Orpen Gate, surrounded by the wonderful sight of cars and cars and cars. The Kudu is seen bursting through the bush and is clearly shocked by the car it almost runs into. It begs the question, had the car not been there, would the Kudu have made it to safety?

So after all this, there was no uproar about the leopard being euthanised, or indeed any other wild animal who was feeling threatened in their territory. The safari guide was cleared of all blame (This is not to say he was to blame - it is our society that puts value on lives).

But then, around the same time, the uproar over the killing of Cecil the Lion was stupendous in comparison! What made the situation different? Oh, Cecil is a national Zimbabwean treasure, was part of a study, and was lured by 'disgusting hunter' Walter Palmer (who has since been freed of any blame in killing Cecil). And he didn't attack a human.

So that is the determining factor in discovering whether an animal deserves death or not: whether or not it attacked man. Oh, and if someone paid to do it (Palmer paid around $54,000 to kill a lion).

And every time I hear that a wild animal has been euthanised for attacking a human, I cringe. Because it is we who have encroached on their habitat, we who have locked them behind fences to claim land for cattle and whatever else, we who continue to sell off bits and pieces of their homes for eco-estates and lodges and yet cry we love the wild, we who murder them when there are too many, we who are so populous everyone cannot be happily fed. Where is the justice in that?

And don't even get me started on canned lion hunting, or the game slaughtering festival, sorry, 'driven hunt', that took place on September 7, 2015.

{Image credit: By Daughter#3 (Cecil) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

October 7, 2015

Two years and counting: My favourite baby milestones so far

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So... I have been a parent for two and a half years already. It is absolutely unbelievable that the time has gone past so quickly and those moments I was warned about - cleaning dirty nappies, having half-digested milk thrown up on me, sleepless nights, and so on - have passed, and I am no worse for wear. I'm proud to say, neither is my daughter! :D

In the first three months of her birth I read a hilarious article by a comedienne whose similar experiences were a relief to me. 'Hey, I'm not the only one!'

Now, two years later, the baby milestones - such as their first bowel movements with speed and trajectory, the first time she falls to the ground despite flailing arms and hands desperately attempting to catch her, and the first time you realise, despite Googling like crazy, that you have absolutely no clue what you're doing - are completely overshadowed by the very real interaction and bonding that takes place once you have come to know your child.

I would suggest to parents to take some time out every day and document what their child has said and done at least once a week, because there are so many things they do that will warm your heart when you feel like going animalistic on them. (I keep intending to start a journal, but... procrastination is my middle name)

Every parent will have negative memories of their children's first years: the frustration of needing some time to yourself and they refuse to sleep; the heartbreak when they appear to love Granny more than they do you; the first time they bite to hurt; those moments when your heart falls into your stomach because they're lying and breathing so still they appear dead; the first time they choke on something; the first time you realise your television viewing is really inappropriate; or the time that you forgot to put away that sharp instrument only to find that she is quietly playing with it.

However, these scary and frustrating moments are exquisitely undone by the delicate embroidery of love and memories.

Here are some of my favourite moments thus far:

1. Greeting random strangers at the mall with her signature lightbulb wave from her carriage (at nine months);

2. The first time she reached out to hold my hand, and every time she still does it. Emma is a very independent little girl. I believe I was more upset leaving her at a sitter recently than she was at being left, proclaiming, 'Go Mommy!'

3. The smell of her hair in my face while I'm reading a book to her.

4. The moment her imagination had kicked in and the toy in each hand had its own accent.

5. When strangers are not interesting any more and merely make her cling to my leg (no more running into the arms of people I don't know for hugs! Phew!) Lately she simply ignores them, not even bothering to say 'Hello'. Is she already tired of street harassment?

6. Singing along with Norah Jones or Old McDonald, enjoying Round the Garden and Three Little Piggies and Pat-a-Cake way too much, making me do it over and over again.

7. Squashing her cheeks together to say the Chubby Baby Club rhyme.

8. Being proud of her artwork on my wall.

9. Every time she shares her meal or sweet or drink with me.

10. Sometimes being the only one who knows what she wants. :) This just makes me feel good.

11. The first time her shadow on the wall frightened her. She ran to me, of course.

12. Her expression when she knows she's just about to be praised, like when she's used the potty, or when she knows she's going to get her way. She has this adorable little skew smile and she juts out her chin with a nod.

13. Being (nearly) my only motivation to go to the gym: 'Wanna go to the gym, mommy!'

14. I know it sounds terrible, but the first time she was really ill. The little baby I had a few years ago had returned, eager for cuddles, lying on my chest, and just wanting mommy!

There are way too many though; I could go on forever. Every day is a new adventure with a child.

Do you have any moments you would like to share?

October 6, 2015

Book Review || Fair Stood the Wind for France by HE Bates

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Fair Stood the Wind for France is one of those unexpected gems that everyone simply must read. I am not a fan of war novels in general, but while this one is set in the war, it is a very personal tale about humanity, love, and faith.

Telling the bittersweet story of a young man and woman during World War II, it is filled with evocative, beautiful imagery and amazing insight.

Franklin, a British air force pilot, lands in occupied France after engine malfunction. He and his crew make their way across the French countryside in the hopes of finding someone who will help them eat, hide and escape. They find Francoise and her family, who are more than willing to offer them sanctuary and help them escape the country, feeling it is their small contribution to the war against Germany.

Franklin was badly injured when the aircraft crash-landed and in the rush of the moment and the confusion of the future, he is stunned at the calmness and faith of Francoise, who makes him feel that all his life had been leading to these moments with her.

The pair decide to escape France together, making their way to Spain along sunlit waterways and rugged pathways. Franklin meets up with one of his crew mates, who had left him long ago, in Marseilles and O'Connor gives him and Francoise a gift that changes their lives.

Bates' writing truly is beautiful, evoking the emotions of certain moments and burning some sights in your memory. It is filled with descriptions such as this:

Then there was another level crossing, and he saw a peasant and a boy with a brown horse and cart, waiting for the train to cross through. Sitting in the cart, the boy had his coat collar turned up, and Franklin could see the mane of the horse tossed suddenly upwards in a wild fringe by the wind.

From cover to cover, his enthralling writing is gripping and intuitive, and you won't want to put the book down.

Bates has amazing insight into the emotions of his characters and doesn't shy away from making criticisms about war itself, describing a belief in weapons as 'pathetic' in comparison to the real power of those innocents affected by the war. He tempers the sad reality of such tragedies with generous helpings of the power of love and friendship. Franklin is, and we are, forced to think about everything from faith and fear to patriotism, comradeship, love for our homelands, and sacrifice.

I was left in tears when I finished Fair Stood the Wind for France, aching at the honesty of it and reeling at the terror that wars have still not ended for many.

September 24, 2015

Book Review || Olivia by Dorothy Strachey

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Olivia, set in Paris, is about first love, sexual awakening, and all the confusion surrounding it. And imagine the confusion as Olivia bears her first loving, obsessive feelings for her schoolmistress in the 1950s!

Olivia is sent to a boarding school to further her education, finding what she believes is a kindred spirit in her beautiful, intelligent, and refined headmistress Mademoiselle Julie, who also takes a shine to her. But Julie’s relationship with her partner, Mademoiselle Cara, is complicated.

The big mystery of the novel turns out to be, not whether Julie reciprocates Olivia’s feelings, but what is really happening between Julie and Cara. Is Cara truly overreacting with regards to Julie’s behaviour? Has Julie betrayed Cara before? Have Cara and Julie truly been separated by the ministrations of someone with an ulterior motive?

Told from the point of view of Olivia as an older woman who has since experienced more of life, her anecdotes of the time are informed by these later experiences and are as such filled with insight.

Looking back on her first love, for example, she says,

at that time, I was innocent, with the innocence of ignorance. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t know what had happened to anybody. I was without consciousness, that is to say, more utterly absorbed than was ever possible again. [2008:8]

This is a lovely way of describing the selfishness of adolescent love. There is for the those falling in love the first time the feeling that no one has ever felt so deeply for someone as they do now. It was

...the feeling that some divine power had suddenly granted me an undreamt of felicity and made me free of boundless kingdoms and untold wealth... [2008:60]

which left Olivia morose and gloomy.

Of course, its controversial subject matter means that it often touches on issues of gender. As a girl’s school, it came to be seen as somewhat of a sanctuary for these girls, learning about academic subjects the same way that boys had been. When they write their devoirs, they are sent to a young male professor, held in more contempt than that of Julie, the very woman who picks the devoirs to send.

And yet beauty is so valued as a means to secure a future that the headmistress herself encourages those who are beautiful not to be ‘slaves of fashion’ or they will lose their charm, inferring that those who are not beautiful will have to be so. She says,

...remember you are so perfect that you needn’t bother too much about showing it. [2008:47]

This touches indelicately on the show of femininity, of women acting beauty if they are not beautiful, as much a necessity of patriarchy as acting masculinity was for men. This question of beauty is to Olivia the inspiration behind her sexual awakening, realising that she has a body and that it is attractive.

Olivia’s prettiness has no bearing on whether she and Julie can be together; rather it all depends on circumstance and death, which shows itself to her as an unapprehended and malignant power that consumes the people we hold dear.

The novel not only touches on these themes, but also considers ideas of art, philosophy, and literature.

Full of interesting and thought-inspiring phrases and ideas, Olivia is a quick read that is bound to get you thinking.

September 23, 2015

Book Takeaways || Japanese Nō Dramas

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I chose to purchase Japanese Nō Dramas from a second-hand store because I have an interest in theatre following my English Studies. My awareness of English, however, does not discount my awareness in theatre from all around the world and these Nō (or Noh) dramas were intriguing also because I’ve always had an interest in Japanese culture.

I would love to see Nō performed live one day, though it is likely only if I make my way to Japan sometime in my life. Until then, I had to sate my curiosity with this anthology and some videos from YouTube.

Nō dramas are interesting because they have a standard stage layout that is followed by the actors and playwrights, and the textual layout always consists of three parts, an aspect that resembles classical poetry in its adherence to standards.
"Noh-stage" by Toto-tarou - Image created by Toto-tarou.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noh-stage.png#/media/File:Noh-stage.png
What also makes the format interesting is its use of miming, music, language, and dance, as well as awe-inspiring costumes and masks. The latter consist of several defined types of masks, which aid the audience in discerning the different thematic characters of the play. They are truly beautiful and detrimental to the play: some change expression based on the position of the actor's head, enabling emotions to be displayed quickly and simply.


Some of the pieces included in this anthology are very beautiful. Many of them deal with spiritual aspects, since most were written before Shinto religious practices came into being, as well as love. They are also mostly about freeing spirits dwelling in the world because of some heartbreak and involve happy coincidences where someone, usually a monk, has the opportunity of meeting with the spirits and helping them move on. In some way, this reflects the overarching aspects of Japanese horror stories such as The Ring and the Grudge.

Below are my favourites and if I have found a video of a performance - which is rare - it is included below.

The Damask Drum (Aya no Tsuzumi) is about an old man who falls in love with a consort, who tells him to beat on a drum to call her to him. But she tricks him with a drum that makes no noise. When he realises what she has done, he throws himself into a pond. His spirit hounds her from hell. Yes, it’s not a happy tale, but the words are beautiful. The videos below are not the best quality, and don't have excellent sound. I really just wanted a visual to go with the text, which you can read here, if you're interested.

Lady Han (Hanjo) is about a singing girl who entertains a guest and falls in love with him. She goes to find him at a shrine, where he has gone to pray that he will find her again. I could not find a video, but here is the text in PDF format.
The Well Cradle (Izutsu) is about a pair of children who grow up next to each other. They use the wall of the well the houses share to measure their growth. They fall in love and marry. Soon enough, the husband begins to stray but become jealous that she may also have a lover since she shows no jealousy. To find out, he pretends to leave one night to catch her in the act but only finds her pining for his presence. He never leaves her again. Read the text here. The video below is only a section of the play.

Kantan is about a man who is searching for enlightenment. He is given a pillow to sleep upon, on which he dreams he is living a full life as a king. He wakes to realise that life is just a dream. Read the text here. I haven't been able to find a performance of this play.
Tatsuta is about a woman bathing a divine cloth in the stream at Tatsuta Shrine. A monk comes to cross the stream and she warns him not to break the brocade of red autumn leaves littered on the surface or he will offend the Tatsuta Lady. While the text itself is confusing, it is an idealised version of Chino-Buddhist spirituality and it is really the spiritual background and explanation of the play that is beautiful. As the author says,

...the red leaves weave their pure brocade as they flow down the river. Since the Tatsuta Presence is of waer and rain, the Lady is also a water-woman, and water and leaves join in the river-borne brocade... ‘Does she become clouds and rain, the Tatsuta Lady, to stain with colour the bright autumn leaves?’ ... She may be the leaves, but secretly, she is also the cold rains that colour them and the wind and waters that drive them away. Her brocade clothes the [Celestial] Spear in time and the passing seasons.

In the play, this brocade forms the Womb Mandala of the world.

I haven't been able to find the text or a video for this play. That means you'll have to read the book! ;)

If you have found videos to my favourites, please share with me! I would love to watch them!

{Image credit [top image]: "Noh-ekagami Arashiyama" by 不明(スキャン:Sat666 (talk)) - 武田恒夫・中村保雄『宇和島伊達家伝来 能絵鑑 百五十番』(淡交社、1981年12月). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
[image of masks: "Three pictures of the same noh 'hawk mask' showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head" by Wmpearl - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.}

September 14, 2015

Book Review || A Feast For Crows by George RR Martin

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It’s official - I am determined to read the next book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series before the next television series because a) the series is really ruining the literature for me and b) this book was altogether too boring to sate my Westeros fix.

I simply cannot bear watching the television series on HBO and being disappointed in the books. Books are supposed to be the better part of adaptations, are they not? Watching Season 5 of the show before reading the book really did spoil the book for me. Aside from the fact that the show is veering so far away from the original story, I was left railing at Martin for the utterly lacklustre novel.

Spoiler warning, by the way.

After the excitement of A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold, A Feast for Crows truly has nothing to offer in the excitement stakes. Seriously, Blood and Gold broke our hearts during the Red Wedding. It made us cringe when Tyrion and Sansa were forced to wed. It made our justice-loving hearts do victory punches in the air when Joffrey turned purple at his wedding and quickly destroyed our celebration with the arrest of Tyrion. It shocked us to find Littlefinger rescuing Sansa while her sister Arya slowly lost all hope and humanity. We witnessed Daenerys’ victory in the slave lands and watched the Night’s Watch defend the Wall from the wildling horde that finally fell to a surprise rescue by Lord Stannis and his Red God. We bemoaned Lord Oberyn’s head being squashed by the Mountain, even though we knew our prayers for him to live would go unanswered. We saw Jaime’s heart broken as his brother killed his father upon his escape and gasped with shock as Petyr pushed Lady Lysa of the Eyrie through the Moon Door. And we met Lady Stoneheart!

In comparison to Blood and Gold, A Feast for Crows was a windy summer’s day spent picnicking on Kipper’s Big Hill. The novel was almost unbearably slow, despite the underlying tension of other happenings in Westeros. Martin painstakingly attempted to keep up this tension with Cersei’s almost yawn-inducing narrative, which I believe not only served to show us how Cersei is working herself into a tight bolus of spider’s web but also kept us informed of the goings-on in the realm. I am not ashamed to say that just about the most exciting things to happen in the novel is the kingsmoot, Brienne’s single battle with a band of outlaws, and perhaps, at a stretch, reading about Arya’s experiences in The House of Black and White.

Other than that, we enjoy the company of Samwell as he describes the movement of his gut during the journey to Oldtown and Gilly’s neverending crying. The most enjoyment we get from reading about Brienne’s search from Sansa is cradling our face in our hands calling that she’s going the wrong way! Alayne’s fussing with food and clothing and the strangeness of little Lord Robert are all that happens see at the Eyrie - even the threat of lords kicking Petyr out as Lord Protector is damp and ends too soon.

I was almost relieved upon reaching the final chapter only to find that it was not a chapter at all but an apology from the author for not including anyone else in the novel. Imagine that! An apology! Well, after dealing with my outrage and not reading about Jon Snow and the Wall or Daenerys or Tyrion, or still being left entirely in the dark about the whereabouts of Bran and the Reeds, I understand his reasoning: if Martin had included everyone in this novel, the readers would have been thrown all over the place, even more so than in the first few novels where we were still learning our way around. However, my argument is that his readers are already invested in the story - already know their way around the world; perhaps they even have the poster of Westeros and the Land of the Summer Sea that they bought with the box set on their wall. His choice to only feature a dearth of action in the tales of a few people who do very little goes against the very tenets of a good narrative and I would argue that this is why the novel stays on the airport runway all the way through.

His clever use of ravens and word from the North or the South or the East is the most important thing that keeps this book alive: I would argue that the people he has chosen as narrators for this part of the story are only thinking of themselves and are not directly involved with the happenings of the realm. Not even Cersei is truly involved: she is more involved in eking out those unfaithful to her and defeating the ‘young queen’ of Maggy the Frog’s curse than she truly is in ruling the realm. It is all this introspection that has made the novel into a very long speedbump in the story.

I have heard A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust is much better. But Martin could truly not have done much worse!

July 19, 2015

Book Review || Possession by AS Byatt

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Possession is an extraordinary novel, twisted and melded around an invented poet and poetess’ love affair. The history in the novel is finely detailed, making the pair utterly believable and protagonists Roland and Maud’s journey to finding the truth of these literary figures and the truth about themselves is captivating.

Bearing in mind that this is a very academic novel, it is filled with poetry, epistolic writing, and even fairy tales. And thus it is also filled with the themes that English Studies is all about, such as identity, gender, and criticism. I enjoyed the novel immensely because of these aspects, as an English student, but this novel is not for everyone, especially if they have no interest in such questions and themes.

The novel is also about possession: who holds possession, who has the right to hold possession, what constitutes possession, what and who can be possessed.

It is this question of possession that gets Roland into trouble in the first place. He comes across undiscovered drafts of letters written by his idol, RH Ash, to some unknown woman. Here the question of possession of artefacts comes in: it is his discovery - does it make the letters his? Do they belong to Ash’s family? Should they belong to England? Should they belong to Mortimer Cropper, a man known as having the most complete Ash collection in the world. If not, to whom should they belong? Roland takes the letters, determined to solve his discovered mystery.

After some research, he decides the only woman to whom the letters could be addressed was Christabel Lamotte, a poetess in her own right but who is believed to have partnered with another woman. Roland decides to investigate Lamotte and meets Maud, who happens to be a relative of Christabel’s sister.

Together they uncover the truth of the letters but the mystery only deepens and it becomes something that possesses them as much as they attempt to possess it.

Filled with discussions about postmodernism, femininity, gender, liminality, and other academic interests, one of the novel’s themes is boundaries and the crossing of invisible thresholds. The women in the novel all have this boundary. Christabel Lamotte’s choosing to live with a woman was a way of living a life away from men. Maud, along with Leonora Stern and Beatrice Nest, also have their own boundaries. For Nest, it is her figure, which she has determinedly disfigured to gain the least attention from men. Heartbroken Maud uses her disguised and tightly wound hair to remind herself to be at all times in control. And it is men who attempt to cross these thresholds - albeit amiably - and it is seen as an assault by these women. They are all like Ellen Ash, who was unable to allow her husband entry to her body, and so fear the real entry of men into their lives and personal spaces. Even Roland has his own threshold to cross: that of his own self-deprecation. It is only once he crosses this boundary that he sees himself and allows himself to cross it.

The book also questions how our identities are so shaped by our ideologies that we sometimes do not see what is right in front of us: Beatrice, Roland, and Maud are so wrapped up in analysing the world and making everything fit into their theories and beliefs that they forget to consider to live. Roland and Maud eventually fall in love because they come to see through their own constructed boundaries into each other's realities.

While this highly-acclaimed novel won two book prizes and was made into a film, I believe that it will be very difficult for the average reader to remain interested. I highly-recommend this book for readers who habitually close-read and for readers who are looking for  unanswerable questions and philosophising about the answers. It is indeed a romance, but a higher grade romance that needs a bit of academic history to get through without losing the plot.

I watched the film after reading the book, and it left out much of the academics of the matter, instead becoming a romantic adventure centred around the mystery of lost letters and overlooking the aspects of identity and possession that the novel is inspired by. In essence, the academics of the story were erased, turning it into a run-of-the-mill love story.

Even more disappointingly, the bookishness that made Maud and Roland find a kindred spirit in each other was removed entirely. Roland was altered from a distracted and academic Briton to a stereotypical American, making vulgar jokes at every opportunity and being a typical 'man'. The writer of the film, and of the book, too, believed this was necessary to make Roland work on screen, but it is telling that he had to be turned into Maud's opposite for them to fall in love, that he had to become the everyman to appeal to moviegoers. Besides, there was no way that Hollywood would allow a lost man to be Maud's love interest.

This is not to say the film was bad, of course, just not the same. But how often are books and films the same in their readers’ eyes?