The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

This book is one of my favourites. I’ve read it repeatedly since first being introduced to it at school. It is beautifully written and Plath’s prose is as poetic as her poems. She has a knack for capturing the essence of anything in just a few lyrical words; from a thought or feeling to a whole situation or personality. It is one of the few books I have read that  portrays someone with serious mental health issues and manages to emphasise the severity of their experience alongside their humanity, or ‘normality’ if you will. Esther Greenwood may be increasingly detached, depressed, delusional and struggling to engage with the world around her, but she is still just a girl who loves a bath.

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure but I don’t know many of them.

I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath

And just try to tell me you have never stood somewhere beautiful, looked around and felt this..

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

Plath shows you someone who is incredibly vulnerable and almost naive about life, but she is also intelligent and has had to make her own deductions about what is going on and what is expected of her. She also shows you other people’s reactions to mental health, and while some of the treatments have moved on since this was written in 1963 not all attitudes have. Continue reading “The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath”

Muggins Here takes over: The Internet

[Background: BBC R4 Woman’s hour gave 5 prominent women the chance to discuss topics that interested or moved them. The resulting programmes were so powerful that Muggins Here is joining in and lining up real ideas for an imaginary #WHtakeover.  Comment and join in  – what are the topics that matter to you? NB: Woman’s hour is not just for women, in 2013 44% of its 3.9 million listeners were male, but it remains a space to discuss overlooked issues such as the increase in unpaid carers or including sanitary products as a vital part of international aid. *All text links are articles, TED talks and sources NOT ads or spam.]

First up, the Internet. As Bill Gates said, ‘the Internet changes everything’ but just as it has changed the way we live, we have changed how we use it. It is no longer simply a resource but also a tool. The potenital to empower and improve lives has been shown to have a particularly positive effect on those with low income or education, those in the developing world and women in general. It gives us all autonomy, security, access to community and a voice. However, it is not perfect; navigating the hackers, stalkers and trolls (who aim to cause hurt and distress by making extreme comments anonymously) can be difficult. It seems the Internet has the power to bring out the best and worst of human nature.

While we talk about the new generation of ‘Digital Natives’ and the Queen’s speech talks of the right for broadband in every household in Britain, there are still those without Internet access or the necessary computing skills to get online. Several organisations are looking to address this imbalance and introduce people to the advantages of internet use.


Virtual Empowerment

Troll Control

Helping Digital Expats

Continue reading “Muggins Here takes over: The Internet”

BBC R4 Woman’s Hour Takeover makes waves…

…so naturally Muggins Here has to stick an oar in.

5 different Guest Editors took to BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour to talk about the topics that moved them in 5 special broadcasts last week; Mary Berry, Eniola Aluko, Jackie Kay, Sunetra Gupta and Angelina Jolie Pitt. The choice of topics varied from theraputic gardening to international aid and made each programme very personal to the incredible women sharing their experiences, knowledge and passions. People are always at their most inspiring when they talk about what they love and every discussion felt all the more meaningful for this. The programmes are also better insights into these personalities than any documentry could manage, comprising hopes, concerns and what inspires each of these inspirational women.

The natural conversational style of the standard programme structure really lent itself to feeling that you were being welcomed into a real sobremesa at their kitchen table (or in Mary Berry’s case, in the garden with vast quantities of cake and tea). There were so many thought provoking conversations and a few laughs along the way so go check them out if you haven’t already!

The best conversations make you think, learn and reconsider your own ideas and opinions. I was so impressed by the programmes (and so excited for the listener’s takeover starting on the 11th of July) that I’m going to draw up my own ‘Muggins Here takes over’ line up with a wish list of topics and speakers this week. Please do join in, comment or make your own and share them.

A little more conversation…

BBC Woman’s hour has a brilliant calm and constructive discussion about the BBC 3 show Is this rape?

Listen to the first 17 minutes of the show to hear Jayne Bullough calmly put so many of my earlier points. The summary at the start is also a good alternative to actually watching the show if you are worried about it being too traumatic or sending your blood pressure through the roof.

Find it here

BBC3 open discussion on consent

BBC3 program ‘Is this rape? sex on trial’ has had a lot of coverage on Twitter and stirred up a lot of conversation and a lot of emotions too.  A group of teenagers are given a scenario with increasingly more information and asked to discuss what they think is going on and whether it constitutes a sexual assault. This show picks at the idea that everyone agrees rape is wrong, but people seem to have different understandings of what rape actually is, what consent is and how it should be dealt with.

The Good

  • It highlighted how much we need to educate people as to what consent is
  • The teenagers weren’t judged for their opinions, they were honest and open. We need this to be able to highlight where the misconceptions are and to correct misunderstandings of what consent is.
  • Quite a few teens changed their view as the program progressed and that is encouraging. So often people become defensive but students were prepared to take on each others ideas and consider them. Great example to set.

The Bad

  • The program did not mention once that victims of rape could be male or female, or that rapists could be male or female. There was a lot of ‘oh but girls this’ and ‘oh but men that’. There is no gender divide. That may be the most common scenario but it is not the only one. It was great that they managed to pick so many other assumptions apart, such as previous relationships, alcohol levels and not saying no – but this is a big big one to miss out. If anything, this show perpetuates that myth.
  • Bringing in the legal standpoint was a good idea, but it should have been after the vote as it is not an opinion or a scale. Explaining that yes, this was rape along with the consequences for the rapist and the support for the victim should have been the conclusion of this session and maybe a discussion on how they might act, advise friends or respond to the situation in future – it isnt the system that needs to change, it is our awareness about consent. The reactions to the length of the sentence etc should be about how do we make sure people know what consent is and don’t rape, how do we protect potential victims and alert people who rape out of ignorance (which is still rape).

The Ugly

  • The name of the show. There is an answer to that question. It is not subjective. It is legally and morally rape. It is not a judgement to be decided by the masses.
  • The coach trip part. It’s a serious topic. Let’s not belittle it by reducing it to reality tv tropes.
  • The replaying of the rape scene. We saw it. We understood. Replaying it over and over is traumatic and plays up to the media idea that rape is just another form of sex to be used as titilation. Once was enough. You made your point.
  • The focus on the scary trial and the fate of the rapist will put people off reporting rapes. This would have gained so much respect from me if it had concluded with the legal decision of rape and someone from RapeCrisis coming in to talk through how things are actually handled from the first call. There are fantastic support workers who talk you through all your options and will support you with any prosecution and talking to the police, and will even go to trial with you.
  • The impression was that it was all over after the physical act and there was definite conclusion when the verdict was given. Someone talking about PTSD and living with the experience of having your trust and your person violated would maybe have provoked a bit more sympathy and understanding from the students. It is not just that you were assaulted once, it is the replaying of that terror, a continuing fear and mistrust of others and the constant questioning of what you did wrong, how you could have prevented it or even if you encouraged it that make daily life difficult and can lead to such a high number of victims ultimately committing suicide.
  • Encourage discussion, yes, but please please please then challenge the incorrect views on consent. This could be such a powerful tool to start discussions in schools where education about consent is sorely needed,but I would not have that show played in a classroom unless there was a commentary detailing that ‘she let him in eventually’, ‘she didn’t move’ ‘she led him on’ ‘he’s got his whole life ahead of him’ are not valid reasons to justify rape. If this is to educate, rather than just stir up controversy, then let’s make sure the facts are set out clearly. Rape is not just sex without consent, sex without consent is a violent and abusive act regardless of context.

Patience by John Coates

This is a glorious book. It was such a magical read and I think it’s my favourite, a bold statement from someone who is too indecisive to decide on a morning cereal, let alone a favourite anything. Adopted from an Oxfam shop purely for its sleek style and beautiful 1950s patterned endpapers from Persephone, this book was one wonderful surprise after another.

Beyond a delightful heroine who sees the world in a dreamy detached way, this is a frank commentary on feminism, religion, sex and social expectations that is still fresh and really very funny. Patience’s self discovery, her wonder at life and her straight forward perception of the world that was often mistaken for ignorance resonated so strongly with me that I was stunned to see it was written by a man, and a man in the 1950s at that! It felt like a small miracle. Please don’t think I’m under any impression men can’t empathise, I was just delighted to find that someone had done, and with such clarity, so far ahead of their time (and no I didn’t clock the name on the cover, I tend to get a bit over excited and just dive headlong into books!).

There is a great and much more articulate review over on Yasmine Rose’s book blog that puts all my feelings about it into words, while I’m still waving my arms about and exclaiming ‘fabulous’, ‘incredible’ and ‘you simply must read it’.

Reading it for the second time, it was just as funny, I had slightly forgiven it for the whole orgasmic mountains and violins metaphors and really enjoyed the forward by Maureen Lipman that gave me the confidence to start waving the book under friends’ noses and insisting they sit down and enjoy it immediately.