Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It was a wrench, but I managed it.

Tonight I walked down to the hardware store to buy a large crescent spanner. It was dark and raining and two things happened. The first was that I nearly got hit by two turning vehicles despite my having the right of way and the traffic lights with me. Huh! The second was that a young man outside the McDonalds asked me for money. I don't as a rule give money to young men because in my part of town* they use it to buy artificial cannabinoids. The local store has a $120 tab for artificial cannabinoids, and they must be its only source of regular income apart from cigarettes and junk snacks. Up until very recently the artificial cannabinoid K2 was legal and very dangerous it was, bad for my business. The newest version, Kryptonite, is less toxic according to a chemist acquaintance of mine. It would have to be.

Anyway, when the young man said 'Miss, miss have you got two dollars please' I responded 'No thanks'. Why did I thank him? Did I think he was offering me the opportunity to give him money? Was I just being polite? Why would I be polite? Because he said please?

I am happy to walk around the streets at night. I am protected by my giraffe hat and my below zero cool attitude. I honestly believe that short plump older women should damn well be able to walk around when and where they like. As should young slim tall women. I also mostly believe that I am invisible to men. This has been the case for several years. It gives me a position of being permanently 'othered' where I can observe from a vantage point. I like it. It keeps me safe and amuses me.

A little while ago, however, I was briefly not invisible. I was on the bus going home from work. The bus was about two thirds full and a young ruffian sat down beside me, choosing my seat rather than some empty ones. His friend sat across the aisle. This man asked me the time. He then began to tell me very explicitly what he wanted to do to me. Very explicitly, but in a quiet monotone, so that the people around me probably could not hear. I was shocked, for sure. I sat stony faced (I hope) for the duration of the ride, and felt more and more alarmed as the bus approached my stop. To get out I would have to get past him. What if he wouldn't let me out? What if he did something to me as I squeezed past him? I realised to my growing horror that I may have to Make A Scene. I decided if he did not let me out I would stand up to my full height (ahem!) and say in a loud but calm voice 'This man is sexually harassing me. He is refusing to let me out'. While I doubt that anyone would actually intervene, people would stare, and I hoped I would be able to exit the bus while they watched and the man would be unable to do anything to me. After all, as a respectable looking short plump older woman I could not be considered to be complicit in his sexual harassment of me. They might have a laugh at the thought that this rough looking young guy would be harassing me, but they would not disbelieve me.

Even at the time I noticed that I was just as alarmed about having to Make A Scene as I was about the man sexually harassing me. When I was young, feminists commented on this. Women were expected to be polite and sweet and put the needs of others first. Women did not Make Scenes unless they were morally dubious, or their children were at immediate risk. Women were not loud or dirty or expansive, and they did not walk around at night.

In theory all that has changed. Women can drink and shout and fight and even beat box. Younger women really are more assertive. I didn't think, until that incident, that I still had that resistance to standing up for myself. How deep these social fears run, even over decades. How is it that I think I have to be older and less conventionally attractive in order to be creditable. To be safe.

As it happened, the bus came up to my stop. I rang the bell and said to the man to let me out. He rose, stood aside, and I got off the bus.

So maybe the next time a young man tries to beg money off me when I am walking at night I won't thank him. Or I may offer him my 10" crescent spanner instead.

* Aahh Linwood. Motto of Linwood: Linwood - 87% of residents prefer it to prison. Alternative motto of Linwood: You're never bored in Linwood!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On knowing how to be medieval.

The Abbey Medieval Festival in Brisbane is the biggest in the southern hemisphere.

We knew there would be actual jousting from the website and there was a place on the form for buying tickets where you had to register your weapons. We expected something cute - a few stalls, some rented costumes. We were way impressed.

There were hundreds of exhibits. Vikings were commonplace and there was a big camp of Varangian guards. Outremer was also well represented. We liked the catapults and siege engines. We watched a display of archery where guys with mostly English yew longbows shot a running pig.* We really liked the Italian style fencing where unarmoured rakes in doublet and hose fought each other with two rapiers each. Very flashy and theatrical. We missed a lot, including being too late for the display of medieval surgery. There were tree nymphs on stilts and Gypsy dancers and a blacksmith and plague victims. I hadn't seen so much hand tooled leather since 1975.

There were some hard core re-enactors and some very period costumes. Overheard at the Hornmaster stall, a young woman looking at a knife: 'I would buy it but the handle's not quite period'. 'Yes', replied the Hornmaster's wife, 'He usually makes them for about a hundred years earlier'. There were also some very strange mashups of costume and style bleeding into Gothic and vaguely Romani-ish hippie. There were quite a few vampires. A group of Goths got told off by the security detail for smoking, and sulked like, well, stereotypical told-off Goths. I ate stew and drank elderflower cordial.

We had tickets for the jousting. I have to explain here I am married to a pedant. I sat on the bleachers and watched them warm up their horses, and thought, if they couch their lances wrong I will just have to walk out, I will just have to, or my husband will never forgive me. All the time on the TV they couch their lances wrong and it infuriates him. I sat there and nobody tried to sell me a rat on a stick, and I thought well, I won't be able to walk out because the place is packed, but I will just have to delete all the photos or he will wave his arms around and shout.

So, they came out on their horses, and bless my soul they did actually couch their lances correctly. The horses were so eager to go they had to be held back by mounted squires, and they took off at full noise, and being unhorsed wearing 40 kgs of armour looks truly painful I can tell you. It looked a bit like this (these are mine and my daughter's photos):

I enjoyed everything, from the people who saved greyhounds** to the pen with all the small kids racing around whacking each other with wooden swords. And I watched the kids in their toy armour shouting Huzzah! and Have at you! and I wondered, as you do, how come we know how to be medieval?

By medieval I don't mean feudalism, crop rotation and the invention of the stirrup. I would suggest that medieval means two vital things:

1. lace up tops, on all sexes including underwear (seen it), and
2. hair, as much as possible, worn long by all sexes

It is true that the most ordinary people look stunning in medieval garb. Plump women look comely. Stocky men look fierce, especially with lots of hair. And if all else fails you can just wear armour or go as a nun.

We think of the medieval world through many historical filters. They used to be called the Dark Ages, meaning the times between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. They seemed mysterious. During the Victorian age the Pre-Raphaelites found this attractive. They wanted to react against industrial-strength modernity and valued things that were artisan, bucolic and spiritual. I think of Pre-Raphaelite art as being a filter - think the Lady of Shallot, Arthurian legends, dim forests, floating hair, death and the maiden. It is very romantic and somewhat airless in large doses.

1960's hippiedom also harked back to medieval-ness as being innocent and free. I am a bit young for this but I knew slightly older people who were still into this - Merry Pranksters, Hurdy Gurdy men, folk music. This is another filter.

Now you can play a heap of games that are based on alternative medieval-type worlds, such as Mount and Blade which is set in a parallel Eastern Europe. You can watch or read Game of Thrones and almost think Westeros exists. At the Abbey Festival, a stall advertised 'Game of Thrones Cloaks'. You will find a medieval costume section in your local costume shop.

All this has its charm, and it means that when I go to a medieval festival I know pretty much what to expect and how to behave. However, even the most dedicated re-enactors who replicate the tech down to each link of ring mail is seeing her world and her actions through filters of time and thought. You can never really get it right. And that is part of the fun.

* not a real live pig.
** 25,000 greyhounds are bred in Australia. Hundreds survive their racing careers to be rescued and adopted. The rest, well, the racing industry has a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From Crazy Clarks Warehouse in Brisbane I bring you...

Seventeen days in Brisbane.

A suburb. Another suburb. A McDonalds. A BP station. A KFC. A Coles supermarket. And across the road - a McDonalds. A BP station. A KFC. A Coles supermarket. A McDonaldsBPKFCColesHungryJacksRedRoosterWoolworthsJayJaysBestandLessKMartBigW.

Shopping mauls. We went to ChermsideBlueWaterDeceptionBayMargatePeninsulaFairMyersStrathpineNorthLakes.

Motorways. M1M3GympieArterialBruceHighway.

Actually, I admit to loving the motorways. Fast and smooth and 110kms an hour into town and the traffic just segues and merges and carries us and suddenly we are at the bottom of a giant triangular structure and it is a bridge and we are going up it and then the car beeps and somehow we have paid a toll. And petrol is so cheap. Cruising and swirling in the stream, what you think is, wow it was totally worth wiping out a few thousand Iraqis for this.

And it took two days to do the Art Gallery, and one whole day to do the museum, and I learned some very sobering stuff about Australia's truly shitty history with its indigenous peoples.  I stayed in a cute suburb with cute apartments, and took the train (which I can do because I have been TRAINED haha). The sun was shining and the fish were jumping and the cotton was high, and you could almost believe capitalism is wonderful and will last for ever.

And I found this. Now you will have seen the famed internet meme the Three Wolf Moon tee shirt for sale on Amazon. It is famous particularly for its comments section, where people make witty comments about the shirt along the lines that it is associated with WalMart, poor people and bad taste. And it makes the wearer sexually irresistible, and so fabulously manly he can impregnate women simply by walking down the street while wearing it. One of the top comments is from the awesome George Takei, who is almost an internet meme himself.

Go here
Now, I can do better then this. From Crazy Clarks Warehouse Where Everyone Gets a Bargain, from one of Brisbane's better suburbs (I might add), I give you this, and I was lucky to photograph the last one before a slim middle aged well spoken Chinese man grabbed it off the rack. Note the brand tag: Oz Rocks. Of course it does.


This will make you sexually irresistible not only to humans but to Harleys (and probably dragons).