Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 16 November 2015

It’s all very Taxing

We all pay our taxes.

One way or another, we all pay our taxes. OK, some of us don’t pay income tax, and there’s no reason we should if we fall beneath the thresholds. It’s only right and fair. But even if we don’t pay income tax, we still pay VAT, even on essentials like fuel to heat our homes, or sanitary products when we menstruate.

There’s been a whole big deal about VAT on sanitary products lately, but I’ve written a lot of feminist rants recently, so I’m not going to write about that this morning.

Today, I’m writing about a headline from my newspaper this past week. The headline compared the tax paid by One Direction with the tax paid by FaceBook last year.

Guardian: One Direction pay more tax than FaceBook
Yes, One Direction paid more UK tax last year than FaceBook… How is that even possible? It’s a pretty good headline, isn’t it?

It’s also shocking that a huge, global concern like FaceBook should pay less tax in the UK than four blokes who sing a bit. But that’s the point of headlines… to shock.

I wonder, though, what this article is really about. Is it about corporate corruption, or is it about One Direction? Is it great publicity for these four blokes who sing a bit?

One Direction earned about £45 million last year. They’re incredibly successful. We’re all very pleased for them. It’s all good. I can’t claim to be a fan; I’m not really their target audience, but I certainly don’t begrudge them their success. They’re popular; people like them; they earn a lot of money. They contributed £8 million and change to the country’s coffers last year, which sounds about right if they’re paying corporation tax, which I imagine they are.

One Direction came out of this article looking pretty good. Those four blokes contributed £2 million each to the wealth of the country. What fine men they are. Not for nothing, that left about £36 million earnings after tax, so I figure they’re not going hungry.

FaceBook paid a little over £4000 tax. Yes, that’s right, I did say four thousand pounds tax, last year in the UK. 

So my question is this:

Why did the newspaper compare FaceBook’s tax  bill with One Direction’s tax bill?

Do you know how much a person needs to earn to get a tax bill of four grand a year? Shall I tell you? 

To get the same tax bill as FaceBook in the UK, you need to earn £30K a year. That’s all… just thirty grand. Yes, I know to some people that sounds like a lot of money when the minimum wage is still less than £13k a year, but the average full-time salary in the UK is now thirty-one grand a year, putting a single earner squarely in the same tax liability bracket as FaceBook.

It might be shocking that One Direction pays more tax than FaceBook, it’s much more shocking that I do and that some of you do, too. It’s infinitely more shocking that every MP and every single doctor pays more tax in the UK than does FaceBook, and quite a lot of teachers do too, all of whom I consider to be undervalued and underpaid. 

It’s utterly horrifying that this government with its austerity measures and its mismanagement of the minimum wage, which will see the lowest incomes fall, in real terms, not to mention its de-funding of social security and the entire welfare system, singularly fails to collect taxes from big business. 

It would rather look the poor in the eyes and take them down, one by one, crossing their names off lists, while grabbing a handful of pounds at a time, than score big with tax bills levied on faceless corporations.

I just don’t get it.

I pay my taxes, and I am proud to do it, because I consider it a duty to contribute to the education of our  kids and the health of our sick, and the succour of our poor. I am happy to contribute to infrastructure and to culture, and I would love to have the chance to contribute to further education so that we could be rid of student debt… There are so very many political decisions that have been made and are being made by this government that I disagree with, but that’s the democratic process.

In the meantime, I think there are better ways to report the inconsistencies in our tax burdens. One Direction got a nice hit of publicity out of this news item, and that’s OK, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth.

Be a critical consumer of the news, and think about how much tax you pay in comparison to FaceBook, or in comparison to other past tax dodgers, including Amazon, Starbucks, Vodaphone, Experian, British American Tobacco, Tate and Lyle… And the list goes on.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Free to Read Addled Kat part VI

So this is if, finally, the last part of Addled Kat, and you can find out what happens to Kat and Bob at the end of the novel, and whether or not they work out their relationship.

All you need to do it click on the link above and have a read.

It was a fun ride, for me, at least, and I hope that some of you had fun along the way, too. I know that some of you have stayed with Kat to the very end, and I’m happy that you did.

Again, if you want to let me know what you thought, just add a comment here, or in the comments section at the end of the instalment.

I know that I’ve probably taken an average of eight to twelve hours out of your life… I hope that it was worth it.

It’ll be back to the usual blog from now on, for a while at least, and back to the usual variety of topics. Recently that has meant an awful lot of gender politics and feminism. 

I like to think Kat was a feminist. I think she’d think that she was, but perhaps that conversation is for another time.

To catch up on previous instalments of the novel chec out these links:

See you on the other side.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Free to Read: Addled Kat part V

And here we are back at Wednesday again. 

Today, you can read the penultimate part of my erotic novel Addled Kat. All you have to do is click on that great big link above, and you’ll be whisked away to the next chunk of the book.

This is part five of six, and you’ll be able to read the final instalment here on Saturday. I bet you can’t wait.

Yet again, I have to warn you that this book contains sex, and that there is sex in this instalment of the book, so here’s the lurid purple cover once again, just to give you a head’s up.

I’ve become pretty familiar with this novel in the last few weeks. I wrote it a while ago, and I generally don’t remember much of what I wrote once it’s finished and I’ve moved on to the next thing. Stuff that happens in my mind tends to make my memory a little bit odd. It’s a kind of blessing, at times I think. It makes me a better reader of my own stuff, and a more critical editor.

There were some surprises in this novel for me, and it was good to see them. I wasn’t surprised that Kat was feisty, but she was more brittle than I remembered her, so, perhaps a little more fragile. Bob is probably warmer and funnier than I thought he was… OK, not out-loud funny, but wry. And the swearing… Kat swears a lot! That didn’t come up with any of the people who read this book when it was being considered for traditional publication; no one seemed to mind. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times. I don’t remember making a decision to have Kat swear… The words just seemed to come naturally to her. It's never angry swearing. I hope she never seems aggressive. I don't think she does.

Would I do this again? Would I write another erotic novel? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s not a novel I wrote from choice the first time, but it was fun to write, and it’s fun to read back… So maybe I would do it again, if I was ever asked.

For earlier instalments of Addled Kat, check theses links: Addled Kat part I,    Addled Kat part IV

If you’re here to catch up on my usual blogs, full of my usual opinions, there are plenty of recent ones, so take your pick.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Cumberbatch Does Hamlet…

…Or Theatre Etiquette for the Elderly

The dort, as some of you will probably know, is studying for her degree. She’s been a busy woman since she left school. She worked for a professional dance qualification, made a film, did some tv and some videos, taught, and finally decided it was time to move into her preferred profession. To do that she first had to study.

She takes it all very seriously, including continuing to do some dancing. She’s all go, non-stop. I rather admire her for it.

The dort has always been a performer, so unsurprisingly, to get where she wants to be, she’s undertaken to complete her studies in drama. One of the first plays she’s looking at is Hamlet. This pleases me; I do like that they’re beginning with Shakespeare, and with something pretty demanding. It bodes well.

Hamlet, National Theatre Live
The dort is seeing a lot of theatre. She takes herself off to any number of local theatres, and into London to catch whatever performances she can. She tried very hard to get tickets for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at the National Theatre, but she was unlucky; it’s a short run, he’s a popular actor, and, in her price range, the play was sold out.

However, the University has very good facilities, including the Gulbenkian theatre, and the National Theatre has a very good scheme. The Gulbenkian put on a National Theatre Live screening of Hamlet, which the dort was able to see.

The play was filmed live at the National Theatre and shown at selected cinemas throughout the country, many of them attached to universities. I think it’s a rather brilliant idea.

The screening at the Gulbenkian was massively oversubscribed, so the theatre was able to have a second screening. Because the dort was so impressed with Cumberbatch’s performance she wanted to see it again, and because she knows that the husband and I take a keen interest in all things literary, she asked if we’d like tickets. We jumped at the chance.

So, on Sunday afternoon, four of us, including a friend of the dort, toddled off to watch the show.

I know Hamlet quite well. I suppose with my background, I really ought to, but I think this is probably the best version of it that I’ve seen. The acting was universally good, although Cumberbatch was outstanding, but, more than that, great sense had been made of the text. The director, Lindsey Turner clearly made a careful study of the play, found its rhythm, cleverly identified areas of light and shade and nuance, and was perspicacious when it came to characterisation.

Hamlet and Ophelia delivered stunning performances, and Horatio, Gertrude and Claudius were also standouts. There really were no weak links. The staging was beautifully done, and costuming was appropriate. I loved this production and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly those studying the play; this production had real clarity, shining a light on Shakespeare for another generation.

You all thought you were going to get through one of my blogs without a snark, didn’t you?

Well, almost.

The one thing I won’t do again, is attend the Gulbenkian Theatre on a Sunday afternoon. I thought nothing of it at the time; the husband and I quite regularly spend a couple of hours on a Sunday watching a movie, but it’s generally at home.

I don’t know what young people do on Sunday afternoons, possibly study or sleep off their hangovers, or maybe go for a cheeky Nandos. What young people don’t do on Sunday afternoons is go to the theatre.

The Gulbenkian offers a membership scheme. Anyone can join for an annual fee, and benefit from reduced ticket prices. The annual membership is further reduced for students, pensioners and the disabled.

On Sunday afternoons a great many very well-heeled old people turn up at the Gulbenkian theatre, having bought their cheap tickets to enjoy the benefits of this wonderful resource. I don’t blame them; as soon as I’ve finished writing this, I’m off to the website to join, too. I just won’t be going to the theatre on Sunday afternoons.

It turns out that old people are intolerant and bloody rude.

It began when we arrived to take our seats. We were on time, but the house lights were going down. It’s not unusual for people to have to stand to allow others passage to their assigned seats, but the tutting and sighing… totally unnecessary, particularly as we’d very politely excused ourselves and thanked all over the place.

We’d also taken drinks and snacks into the theatre, again not unusual. We work a lot, including the dort, it was two o’clock in the afternoon, and we hadn't found time for lunch. More tutting and sighing and the people in the row in front of us turned around to glare. I wouldn’t mind, but we’re extremely considerate people. We weren’t being noisy, we weren’t throwing food around, we didn’t have anything that smelled. We were simply sipping cups of coffee. I had a muffin for heaven’s sake! How loud can a muffin be? I chew with my mouth closed! The dort tipped her popcorn into her woolly hat and ate it out of that because she didn’t dare eat it out of the bag for fear it might rustle.

We were in a theatre for crying out l loud! The Gulbenkian has rules for what food and drink can be taken into the space, and rightly so, but it’s a living, breathing theatre with a living, breathing audience.

I like to feel like part of an audience; that’s one of the reasons for going to the theatre, and, in particular the cinema, for the shared experience. I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen with this group of people. It didn’t matter that someone in our vicinity had a chronic flatulence problem and was perfuming the air with his farts, or that one old gentleman had to get up every half an hour… He was one of them, but heaven forbid I should stifle a cough!

Unfortunately, at the interval, I needed to leave the auditorium. I was hot and uncomfortable, and I wanted some air. I would have preferred to remain in my seat, and I was right to want to remain, because, despite being polite, there was all that tutting and sighing again when the poor souls in the adjacent seats had to get to their feet to allow me to pass. I brought the dort a can of drink back with me, but made sure she opened it before the house lights went down. Nevertheless, someone in front of her turned and glared.

There’s no reason for this kind of behaviour, and it’s very sad. It suggests that old people expect bad behaviour, expect to be put out, expect rudeness and disruption in their lives and are constantly on the defensive… Or maybe they’re just entitled arseholes, although I prefer to think that they’re not. I do hope they’re not.

The old people around us couldn’t be described as the average pensioners. They were very well dressed, the women were made-up and coiffured, with smart shoes and handbags. They live in one of the richest areas of the country. The carpark was full of Mercedes and Jaguars… Very full, so full that we had to park our mini in the overflow carpark. Not for nothing, we’re also not exactly young, so I’m not sure what their problem with us was. We might have been wearing jeans and shirts, but we’re not exactly slobs, either. We were quiet, polite, thoughtful, our phones were turned off, and we were there for the Shakespeare, too. The dort had liked it so much the first time, she was there for a second viewing! And, not for nothing this was a screening of a play, so there was no way to distract live actors on a stage.

I can’t help thinking that Shakespeare wouldn’t have cared if we’d talked through one of his contemporary performances. I imagine that people did, that they laughed and cried, ate and drank, and danced in the bloody aisles.

The performance was great. We enjoyed it immensely.

When we go to see a play, we buy the programme, because we like to know who has contributed to the production. It’s a kind of acknowledgement on our part to read those names. We like to give credit where credit is due. When we go to the cinema, we like to sit through the credits for the very same reason.

There was no programme to buy at this event. At the end of the screening, the credits began to roll. The people in the row of seats in front of us all got up and began to talk and fuss about, putting on coats and collecting their belongings. I started to try to look around them to read the credits, but it was impossible.

The husband had no qualms about speaking out. He was polite, but quite firm. The woman in front of him made a curt apology, but continued to go about her business. Nobody sat back down or got out of the way. By the time they had said their goodbyes with a lot of cheek-kissing and waving, still standing in front of us, and then vacated the area, the credits had rolled on by, and we had missed them.

So, I loved Hamlet, and the Gulbenkian is a great theatre, but I won’t be going back on a Sunday afternoon. I’ll take my chances with a midweek, evening performance next time. I’ll take my chances with the younger, student audience, because I’m much more likely to have the kind of shared experience with them that I’m looking for.

Monday 9 November 2015

All Women are Lesbians

No… It’s true.

And do you know how I know it’s true? 

I know it’s true, because I read it in a newspaper, and what’s more I was able to read it in a newspaper, because someone’s done a study, and studies are always true… aren’t they?

Well, of course, that depends on interpretation.

This particular study was done by Dr Gerulf Rieger, who happens to be a man (although I don’t know his sexual orientation), and who works at the University of Essex, researching sexuality. His findings were reported in the Times last week by the science editor Tom Whipple, also a bloke. 

Dr Rieger’s research compares stated sexual orientation with actual arousal. Apparently, heterosexual women become physically sexually aroused when they are shown videos of sexually aroused subjects, regardless of the gender of those subjects. Heterosexual men are less aroused by videos of sexually aroused men, as are lesbians. 

Dr Rieger’s interpretation of this research is that all women must be lesbians, or at the very least bisexual.

He goes on to suggest that women become easily aroused because mammalian males are brutal, and that female mammals who are forced to have sex are in a better position to endure the experience if they are lubricated. This, to my mind, absolutely refutes his findings, because it suggests that rather than be aroused by videos of sexually aroused females, both genders should be more aroused by visual stimulus of sexually aroused males, including women who identify as lesbians. If defence against rape is to be constantly aroused, then to be aroused by aroused males is surely much more useful than to be aroused by females. Yes, indeed, this did just get very distasteful!

Dr Rieger’s conclusions actually contradict his research. That doesn’t read like good science to me… Or perhaps the reporter Tom Whipple misinterpreted something along the way. I don’t know.

The virgin (and of course we’re speaking almost exclusively about the female of the species) was invented a very long time ago. I said to the husband the other day that the virgin was invented by the Victorians. He laughed, but it was certainly institutionalised by them, more-or-less wholesale, not least because of the anarchic nature of female sexuality.

Men have always been in fear of the heterosexual woman, of her orgasm.

But it goes back long before that. My grandmother used to say, ‘It’s a wise man that knows his children.’ And in the days before DNA testing it was very true. After Magna Carta, when the Barons were permitted to pass inheritance to their sons, knowing who their sons were was pretty damned important. For any culture where wealth and status were handed down the male line, marrying a virgin bride was of paramount importance, and then maintaining a faithful wife was critical.

It would have been infinitely simpler in the centuries, millennia before DNA testing to pass wealth and status down the female line, but that would have broken the patriarchy, and what society could possibly countenance that situation?

So, the heterosexual woman’s sexuality was ever a threat.

The problem, evolutionarily, is, of course, that women give birth, and giving birth was, and still is, incredibly dangerous, and having given birth, raising children and potentially losing them is a constant struggle, one which comes with more danger. 

For most of humankind’s existence there has been very little incentive to bear children, and without the desire to bear children what would be the point of sex… unless sex was a whole lot of fun?

Now let’s go back to evolution again, and put a man and a woman together, having sex, in those dark days before civilisation and culture and whatnot.

Sex is dangerous. Sex exposes the participants to attack, it makes them vulnerable. In theory you might think that it would make the woman more vulnerable than the man, if we’re talking about heterosexual sex, except that the woman has the advantage of being able to expect the protection of the man.

During the act of heterosexual intercourse, the man is taking the bigger risk, because who knows what deadly creatures might be lurking nearby? He needs to remain as alert as possible for as long as possible, and he needs to recover as quickly as possible, but that’s OK, because he can also impregnate as many women as he chooses. He’ll get to have sex a lot. It stands to reason that his orgasm will be brief.

The act of heterosexual intercourse is really the least of the woman’s worries; she is risking nine months of pregnancy and its complications from which she might easily die, followed by labour and childbirth, during which she might easily die, followed by a lifetime of raising children, during which they might easily die. However, during the act itself, she has the protection of a male lover, stronger and more physical than she is. It stands to reason that her orgasm will be a substantial reward for her massive undertaking.

If you take another look at the research, I think this opens up a number of possible reasons why women become easily aroused when offered visual stimulus of aroused subjects. I’m not sure it’s got anything to do with the gender of the subjects at all. I think, and obviously I’m not a scientist and this is pure speculation, but I think it’s got more to do with the possibility that women might be more sexually receptive. It’s not that they’re turned on by men or by women or by both, but that they’re turned on by the idea of sex, because built in to the dangers of childbearing are the rewards of the female orgasm. Women might just be more suggestible.

If a heterosexual woman sees an aroused male subject, that might be directly arousing. If she sees an aroused female subject, it just might be very easy for her to empathise with that subject, to put herself in that subject’s position, to imagine how she feels and respond accordingly. It’s not exactly a huge leap, is it?

Sorry, Dr Rieger, I'm Straight
Scientists, in their various guises, have speculated on the anarchic sexual nature of women for generations, so have artists and writers. I wonder if it might take a woman to unravel the data and employ a little common sense or, perhaps, talk to some of the women who take part in the research to actually get to the bottom of this.

I just don’t think that anyone’s got it right so far, including Dr Gerulf Rieger. I have a great fondness for the lesbians in my life, but I can assure him that I am most decidedly not one of them.

If you're here to read the latest instalment of my free-to-read novel, just click on the link Addled Kat part IV but be warned, there's some graphic sex in it!

Saturday 7 November 2015

Free to Read: Addled Kat part IV

It’s the weekend again, and I can’t believe that Saturday has come around quite so quickly!

There’s also part of me that’s somewhat surprised that so many of you are still reading Kat, perhaps I shouldn’t be, after all, it’s a fun read and there’s quite a lot of sex in it… What’s not to like?

As promised, today, I am posting part IV of Kat, right here, right now. All you have to do is click on that great big title at the top of the post and away you go. I hope you’ll enjoy this instalment.

For those of you still with me and with this book, you’re past the half-way mark and into the meat of the story. You should have a pretty good grip on what’s happening, but there’s still plenty to come and, some new characters to introduce in the last two instalments and some big revelations. Only a week to go, as next Saturday will be the final instalment!

Although I was asked to write an erotic novel, and that’s what I set out to do, I hadn’t realised just how much sex there was in this book until I read it through to prep it. This section has yet more of the good stuff, if you like that sort of thing, so, yet again,  this instalment comes with one of my warnings. If you’re offended by graphic sex, and there’s some mild sexual violence in this bit, too, then please don’t read it. You have been warned.

If you have comments about this chunk of the novel, or about anything you’ve read so far, please feel free to leave comments here, or in the comments section at the end of the instalment.

Happy reading!

To Read earlier chapters click these links:

For those of you who dropped in for one of my regular blogs, there were plenty of them this week, so take your pick, or come back next week for more of the same.

Thursday 5 November 2015

The British Passport

Women are up in arms.

Women spend a lot of time up in arms. A lot of women’s time is wasted, and that’s a pity, because it means that everyone loses out on the time and energy that those women could be spending on other much more important things than fighting for the rights that we really ought to have by now.

We are equal and we always were. What will it take for society to recognise that?

The latest battle, as daft as it seems, and let’s not pretend it isn’t mostly symbolic, is over the British passport.

The British, it turns out, are pretty regular travellers, about 76% percent, or 42.5 million of us hold passports. (Only about 46% of Americans have passports, just for the sake of comparison.) A little over half of those passports are carried by women, assuming that equal numbers of men and women have passports.

The latest design for the British passport has just been launched. It has lots of new security features, which, of course is a good thing. The new passport will be in production for the next five years and will be issued to first time holders of British passports and to those renewing their passports. All good.

The problem is with the design of the passport, which is intended to celebrate arts and culture over the past 500 years and is titled “Creative United Kingdom”. The portraits of nine outstanding citizens were chosen to adorn the pages of the passport, including a watermark on each page of a bust of Shakespeare. Other portraits include John Constable, Giles Gilbert Scott, Charles Babbage, John Harrison, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor.

I’m guessing you’ve spotted the controversy by now… I haven’t yet included the names of any women.

The Royal Mint regularly chooses portraits to appear on the notes of the UK's currency. I took a quick look at those notes that have been issued and revised in my lifetime. Fifteen portraits are on that list, of which only three are of women. You will all have seen the recent debacle over the non-inclusion of a woman in the latest round of portraits. Jane Austen was subsequently chosen for the re-issue of the ten pound note in 2017. This happened only after several feminists, including Caroline Criado-Perez received vicious threats on-line from men. I wrote about her experiences here... And all because feminists were looking for some kind of recognition and representation of women.

Constance Mankiewicz MP
Apparently, the Immigration Ministry learned nothing from this, including the fact that the Equality Act 2010 commits public institutions to end discrimination. The thirty-four pages of the new passport contain seven images of men. They also contain images of the Penny Black, the London Underground, Steam Transportation, the Globe Theatre, Festival Culture and Brilliant Buildings (although I’m not entirely sure what those last two things actually are; the government website simply lists them).

The first woman to appear in the passport is Elisabeth Scott, the architect who designed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. It was the first public building in the UK to be designed by a woman. Not for nothing, but we’re back with Shakespeare again, and we’re talking about a woman in a traditionally male role. I’m very content for women to be doing any job, and equally happy that all professions should be considered gender-neutral. On the other hand, this doesn’t celebrate women or womanhood in any way that is particularly significant, or that resonates strongly with me as an individual.

Elizabeth Cowell BBC
The second woman to appear in the passport is Ada Lovelace, the mathematician. She shares a page in the passport with Charles Babbage. It was her work on early algorithms that got the Analytical Engine up and running. Of course, the Engine has Charles Babbage’s name on it. It isn’t the Babbage-Lovelace Engine, although I might just call it that from now on. She rather played second fiddle to him then, and I can’t help thinking that she rather plays second fiddle to him in this new passport.

Where are the women who didn’t work in a man’s world? Who aren’t associated with men’s achievements? Who were independent pioneers? There have been plenty of them in the past five centuries.

Where is Constance Mankiewicz or Virginia Wolf or Barbara Hepworth? Where are the Bronte sisters or Elizabeth Cowell or what about JK Rowling or Mary Quant? What about Marie Stopes or Tracey Emin, or Sarah Guppy or Beatrice Shilling?

Sarah Guppy Wiki
Now look at that list again, and tell me how many of those women you’ve never heard of. And tell me how much you knew about Ada Lovelace and Elisabeth Scott before I gave you their potted histories.

I’m not surprised.

I’m not surprised that there are only two portraits of women in the new passport and I’m not surprised that the committee putting the passport together lacked the imagination to include women who didn’t have obvious ties to famous men.

Feminists talk about writing women out of history. 
Beatrice Shilling OBE

The problem isn’t that at all, as I see it.

To write women out of history, women would have had to be written into history in the first place. Had women been as valued as men, if their accomplishments and achievements had been as celebrated as mens throughout history then they would automatically be included equally with men in any and all endeavours to represent and celebrate historic achievements in the present.

It doesn’t happen now, because it has never happened. The question is, how can we make it happen?

If you've come here looking for my free novel, click on your chosen link: 

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Free to Read Addled Kat part III

So... It's Wednesday again, and as promised, here's another instalment of Addled Kat, just click on the title above. It's the third, but if you haven't yet read parts I and II, you'll find they're both still available, simply scroll down to the bottom of this post and click on the links.

Part III brings us to the mid-point of the novel, so if you get to the end of it, you'll be halfway through the book. Huzzah! That wasn't so bad, was it?

People do seem to be reading this book, which is gratifying, and one or two people also seem to be spreading the word, which is rather lovely.

I did promise that I'd put warnings on any sections that contained sex scenes, so today's instalment requires one of those warnings. Consider yourselves warned: this instalment contains graphic sex scenes.

I had dinner with my brother and his fiancĂ©e at the weekend and we talked about Kat, because Vanessa was one of my original beta-readers for the book.  She’d amused herself by reading the novel on the blog; she couldn’t resist it. Vanessa found this funny, because she kept a PDF of the book on her computer so she can read it any time she likes, but she still couldn’t stop herself diving back into Kat when she found it here. She regularly asks me when I’m going to write the sequel. If that isn’t a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

For those of you who came here for my usual opinion posts with all their joyous snarks, don’t worry, I’ll be back with another one of those very soon, probably tomorrow, and certainly by the end of the week. I’ve always got something to talk about, and that doesn’t look as if it’s going to change any time soon.

Catch up on Addled Kat part I
Catch up on Addled Kat part II

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Inside Parliament

We know a man.

Everyone should know a man… this sort of man.

We know a man, who gets things done. He organises things and does stuff, and sometimes he makes us a part of that. Because of him, we’ve had all kinds of experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and we are extremely grateful. Neil Grant is my hero.

Visiting the Palace of Westminster: Westminster Hall
Yesterday, because of Neil, the husband and I ended up at the Palace of Westminster.

The truth is that anyone can visit the Houses of Parliament and take a tour, but I can’t help thinking that ours was just a little bit special.

It’s a weird and wonderful place, the Houses of Parliament, evocative of so much of the history that I learned at school and university. The events and stories, and even some of the dates came flooding back to me as we walked its halls.

We began by meeting under the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square.

Everyone has feelings about Sir Winston, mostly, of course, relating to his role during World War II. My feelings about him are rather more personal. My grandfather worked for Churchill. In 1947, Granddad took the job as head gardener at Chartwell. He was, quite literally, Churchill’s gardener. He lived in a cottage on the estate, and, after his retirement, moved into a flat in the main house, which was his home until his death in 1994. Churchill died in 1965, of course, not very long after I was born, and Chartwell was taken over by the National Trust. 

I spent a good deal of my childhood at Chartwell, we had the kind of access that the public couldn’t possibly appreciate, and we took it entirely for granted. My parents and grandparents knew Churchill personally. Chartwell was our family home. That doesn’t seem weird to me. It seems extraordinary to the people who know that about me.

Back to the Palace of Westminster.

The Victorians loved a bit of Gothic, and Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin were exuberant architects and designers. This building has been designed to within an inch of its existence, but it’s so very English and so very regal that it seems entirely fitting. It’s all wood and gold, and red and green. It’s orderly too, right down to the stewards in their black dress suits, men and women, alike, with their badges of office, all made in gold and silver gilt, each one unique, and every one an individual piece of the crown jewels.

The oldest part of the Palace, the Hall, built for William Rufus, is a thousand years old, and its later roof is held up by twenty-six individually carved trusses, thirteen on each side, representing the apostles and Jesus Christ. They reminded me of the figureheads on sailing ships.

Queen Victoria is represented everywhere, in paintings and statues, but also on tiles and frescoes. Stories of King Arthur are carved into wall panels, Alfred is there, too, the Tudors and the Plantagenets.

The Monarchy and Parliament are linked right down the ages.

Queen Elizabeth II is also well represented in portraits, and we visited the robing room, and the Norman Porch where she enters the Houses of Parliament to deliver the Queens speech. We looked at the marks on the steps where the Household Cavalry’s spurs press against the masonry as they form her guard.

We went into the chambers, stood among the benches occupied by our incumbent Lords and MPs, although we were not allowed to sit. Yes, of course I was tempted. We gathered in the lobby, and the divisions, on the NO side. We looked at rows and rows of shelved copies of Hansard: Bound in red for the Lords and green for the Commons.

We learned of all the rituals and protocols associated with both houses.

There is a good deal of art in the Palace, if the building weren’t a work of art in itself.

There are paintings and sculptures everywhere, and room for more. Every Prime Minister has a bust in the Members Lobby, although Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have yet to be added. They are loomed over by statues of four prominent twentieth century leaders: Churchill, Attlee, Lloyd George and Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher’s effigy was erected during her lifetime. I wonder whether history will be so kind to her in the long run.

We looked at the French paintings in the Royal Gallery, two vast pictures, one of Trafalgar and the other of Waterloo, painted by Daniel Maclise, and we heard stories of how they are covered or left in the dark when the French visit.

One of my favourite things wasn’t made to be art, but seemed beautiful to me, and has become art, I think, by association. The grilles in the Central Lobby are very special. The Central Lobby is the place where constituents can meet their MPs, and it is the very heart of the Palace. The grilles once belonged to the Ladies’ Gallery. They covered the windows between the gallery and the house so that members would not be distracted by the sight of women. Of course, the grilles also obstructed the sight of the women into the chamber, and made the gallery oppressive. Preposterous, I know. The suffragettes thought it preposterous too, and the grilles became a symbol for the exclusion of women from parliament. In 1908, two suffragettes chained themselves to the grilles, which had to be removed so that the women could be extricated. After the vote that finally gave women suffrage, the grilles were permanently moved to their current home in the Central Lobby.

I could go on and on about my visit to the Palace of Westminster. I could talk about the glass ceiling in Portcullis House, and the steps up the Elizabeth Tower. I wish I’d seen both of those things, but I had to opt out of the second half of the day, and live vicariously through the husband’s experiences of those things. An honest to goodness GLASS CEILING! Really, not funny! How men mock us! But I won’t go on, because I’ll simply thank our guide, Chris, who was absolutely splendid, and I’ll urge you all to visit the Palace of Westminster, because it really was a brilliant experience.

The Palace is a big, important building and it’s the heart of the country in so many ways, and not only politically, but historically and culturally, too. The pity is that the building needs a huge amount of work to maintain it and to bring it into the twenty-first century, work that has been put off or compromised over decades. I happen to know that the cost in time, money and inconvenience would be colossal to make the Palace as good as new, as good as it really ought to be. I think it’s time we spent the time and money and put up with the inconvenience. Good our bad, this is our heritage, and if we don’t look after it, nobody will.