Monday, December 30, 2013

All The Books We Read In 2013

We turned our notebook upside down and back to front and used the other end to record all the fiction books we read in 2013. We didn't read all books together, but negotiated a running order. Some of the books we read together, one of us had read before. Some were audiobooks, some paper books and some e-books.

We also read some non-fiction books  but they're not so easy to rate or compare and Stephen read a lot of short stories.

So, the book-shaped works of fiction we read in 2013, worst to best:

Cross and Burn - Val McDermid - 4/10 (read by The Goldfish)
Dolly - Susan Hill - 5/10 (The Goldfish)
Blacklands - Belinda Bauer - 6/10 (The Goldfish)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Susanne Collins - 7/10 (read by Mr Goldfish)
One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night - 7/10 (read together)
The Accusers - Lindsay Davis  - 7/10 (together)
Guns in the Gallery - Simon Brett - 7/10 (The Goldfish)
A Darker Domain - Val McDermid - 7/10 (The Goldfish)
Squirrel seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris - 7/10 (together)
Reaper Man - Terry Pratchett - 7/10 (together)
World War Z - Max Brooks - 7.5/10 (Mr Goldfish)
The Broken Shore - Peter Temple - 7/5/10 (The Goldfish)
The Dark Adapted Eye - Barbara Vine - 7.5/10 (The Goldfish)

The Ides of April - Lindsay Davis - 8/10 (together)

Our Top Ten Books We Read In 2013

10. The Hunger Games - Susanne Collins - 8/10 (Mr Goldfish)
9. Bring Out The Bodies - Hilary Mantel - 8/5/10 (The Goldfish)
8. The Eye In the Door - Pat Barker - 9/10 (The Goldfish, on recommendation from Mr Goldfish)
7. Jagannath - Karin Tidbeck - 9/10 (Mr Goldfish)
6. Complicity - Iain Banks - 9/10 (The Goldfish)
5. The Cutting Room - Louise Welsh (The Goldfish - amazing audiobook read by Robert Carlyle) - 9/10
4. Watership Down - Richard Adams - 9/10 (together)
3. Regeneration - Pat Barker - 9.5/10 (the Goldfish, on recommendation from Mr Goldfish)
2. The Little Friend - Donna Tartt - 9.5/10 (together)
1. Oh Dear Silvia! - Dawn French - 10ish/10 (together - this was a particularly incredible audiobook production - it may not have been quite so amazing on the page.)

All The Movies We Saw In 2013

This year, we kept a notebook for all the films we watched for the first time and what we thought of them. We did this for fun and our own reference, but we might as well share our findings with you, as our tastes are impeccable. Avoid the Very Bad Films, Watch all the Very Good Films if you haven't already. Watch our Top Ten over and over and over, even the one about the giant crocodile and the other one about the sea monster off the coast of Ireland.

So, films we saw in 2013, worst to best. Where one of us had seen the movie before, the score is mostly determined by the person who was watching it fresh.

It is probably only right to disclose that one or other of us (usually me) slept through a number of these movies, but so long as one of us remained conscious throughout, we've scored it anyway - The Hobbit is the only one that scored higher than 4/10. We've left off Robot and Frank (2012) which I really do want to see the end of as Stephen says it's really very good - we'll save that for next year.

Very Bad Films 

Dark Shadows (2012) - 1/10
Carnage (2011) - 1/10
How To Rob A Bank (2007) - 1/10  
Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012) - 1.5/10
The Dinosaur Project (2012) - 2/10
Bottle Rocket (1996) - 2/10
Battleship (2012) - 2/10
Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters (2013) - 2/10
The Bourne Supremacy (2004) - First for Mr Goldfish (but I did warn him) - 2/10
A Good Day To Die Hard (2013) - 2.5/10

We disagreed about
The Master (2012) - Mr Goldfish gave 1/10, The Goldfish gave 4/10. Either way, it wasn't great.

Quite Bad Films

Dredd (2012) - 3/10
Abduction (2011) - 3/10
The Watch (2012) -3/10
Ice Age 4 (2012) - 3/10
World War Z (2013) - 3.5/10
Greenfingers (2000) - 3.5/10
Olympus Has Fallen (2013) - 4/10
Oblivion (2013) - 4/10
The Big Year (2011) - 4/10
Man on a Ledge (2012) - 4/10

Okay Films

Total Recall (2012) - 5/10  (1 for Bill Nighy, 1 for Brian Cranston plus 3.5 for set design)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004) - 5/10
In The Loop (2009) - First for Mr Goldfish - 5/10
Iron Man 3 (2013) - 5/10
The Handmaid's Tale (1990) - First for the Goldfish - 5/10
Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012) - 5/10
Silent House (2011) - 5.5/10
Pirahna (1978) - First for the Goldfish - 5.5/10
Little Man Tate (1991) - First for the Goldfish - 6/10
Paul (2011) - 6/10
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - 6/10
Loups Garous (2010) - 6/10
Despicable Me (2010) - 6/10
Dodgeball (2004) - First for the Goldfish - 6/10
One Hour Photo (2002) - First for the Goldfish - 6/10
Man on the Moon (1999) - First for the Goldfish - 6/10
Don't Look Now! (1973) - First for Mr Goldfish - 6/10
Point Blank (2010) - 6.5/10
Prometheus (2012) - 6.5/10
Skyfall (2012) - 6.5/10
Thale (2012) - 6.5/10
The Adjustment Bureau (2011) - 6.5/10

Quite Good Films

Brave (2012) - 7/10
Johnny English Reborn (2011) - 7/10
Source Code (2011) - 7/10
Unknown (2011) - 7/10
Shutter (2008) - 7/10
Orphan (2009) - 7/10
The Number 23 (2007) - First for Mr Goldfish - 7/10
The Manchurian Candidate (2004) - First for Mr Goldfish - 7/10
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - 7/10
Strange Days (1995) - First for the Goldfish - 7.5/10
Towering Inferno (1974) - First for the Goldfish as an adult - 7.5/10
The Last Samurai (2003) - First for Mr Goldfish - 7.5/10
Inkheart (2008) - First for Mr Goldfish - 7/5/10
The Hurt Locker (2008) - First for Mr Goldfish - 7.5/10
Don't be afraid of the dark (2010) - 7.5/10
Twister (1996) - First for the Goldfish - 7.5/10

Very Good Films

Heat (1995) - First for the Goldfish - 8/10 (but only just)
Tootsie (1982) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8/10
Warm Bodies (2013) - 8/10
Vantage Point (2008) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8/10
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8/10
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) - First for the Goldfish - 8/10
The Tower (2012) - 8.25/10
Argo (2012) - 8.5/10
Kick Ass (2010) - First for the Goldfish - 8.5/10
Man on Fire (2004) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8.5/10
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8.5/10
Mama (2013) - 8.5/10
The Bourne Identity (2002) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8.5/10
The Life of David Gale (2003) - First for Mr Goldfish - 8.5/10

Sightseers (2012) - Mr Goldfish gave 8.5/10, The Goldfish abstained due to the uncanny familiarity of a serial killer character rendering the film inadvertently uncomfortable and disturbing.

Top Ten Films We Saw in 2013

10. The Wrestler (2008) - 8.5/10
9. Rogue (2011) - 9/10
8. Grabbers (2012) - 9/10
7. Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) - 9/10
6. The Hunger Games (2012) - 9/10
5. Stranger Than Fiction (2006) - First for Mr Goldfish - 9/10
4. Paranorman (2012) - 9/10
3. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) - First for Mr Goldfish - 9/10
2. Les Miserables (2012) - 9/10
1. Das Boot (1981) - First for Mr Goldfish - 9.5/10


The Dajeeling Limited (2007) - First for the Goldfish - 8.5/10 for cinematography and soundtrack, 2.5/10 for everything else. It's very beautiful, but has very little substance and some of that substance is offensive.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - 8/10 for film-making, perhaps 3/10 for narrative, but we concluded that this is the wrong point in history - if ever a point exists - to document these events in the form of a movie.

The Blindside (2009) - 8/10 for heart-warming schmultz, 1/10 for social justice. I can't believe that this film was made in 2009. We had to keep retrieving our jaws from the carpet.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Ten days ago, my old friend Emma died. She was one of the most passionate and courageous people I have ever known, one of the very best friends I've ever had. Without her, I may not have survived the first years of illness. She had a brain aneurysm, then a stroke and died at the age of 32. 

Today is my thirty-third birthday. I had decided against posting my usual review of the year, but then it would be wrong to behave as if this has ruined the year. Emma was around for most of 2013. She won't be around at all in 2014, which makes 2013 an altogether better year in this respect. Death is a permanent absence, not a dark blot on a timeline, even if there is a particular point when it is more painful than it will be in the future.

In the end, I decided that the thing I can't do is write about the lows of the year, which have been numerous and some remain ongoing, but since none of them involve the death of someone I really love, they're all pale and pathetic just now. Meanwhile, I am very lucky and an awful lot of good things have happened for me this year.

Thus, the positive aspects of my year, in bullet points:

  • From the middle of February to the middle of March, we rented a cottage on the Norfolk Broads with a friend, to see how we got on living together. We got on very well. It was a beautiful place and there were several days when we watched a Barn Owl hunting up and down the adjacent field. It wasn't meant to be a holiday - we tried to carry on as normal - but it was as good as a holiday and a very nice one it was too.
  • In April, Mr Goldfish and I got legally married, amid an unseasonable blizzard. This was supposed to be a very quiet bureaucratic affair but, with the help of a small invading army of only-vaguely-invited family, ended up being really rather special. We became demi-husband and demi-wife.
  • Throughout the summer this year especially, we were lucky enough to see a lot of niblings Sophie and Alex. They're wonderful kids, if in completely different ways.
  • In July, we had our wedding in my parents' back garden. This was extremely special. We were quite nervous about doing everything differently and effectively leading the service ourselves, but apart from a slight panic the night before about whether it would be possible to broadcast on-line, it was everything we had hoped for and more besides. Thanks to all of you that helped make it so special.
  • About a week later, we embarked on what turned out to be a six week honeymoon in Ceredigion. This was blissful. I swam in the sea. I wrote and wrote. Stephen did some woodcarving. We both painted a little. It was wonderfully peaceful after months of stress and excitement.
  • During our honeymoon, we became a media sensation after Suffolk Police issued a press release about my pencil. At one point, my face appeared on the front page of Cambridge News. We were discussed on Heart FM. Google suffolk police pencil - it got all over East Anglia. Charting the progress of our media fame through a intermittent mobile connection was both surreal and hilarious. Especially as, when I told my folks about the first newspaper we were in, they wouldn't believe it.
  • I have done a hell of a lot of writing this year and have been generally feeling very good about it. If I hadn't been so ill in the last few months, I would have almost certainly finished my second novel. As it is, it's coming along very well.
  • My favourite cousin had a baby and quite unexpectedly, we got to spend an afternoon with them both soon after. New babies are always fascinating.
  • In mid-October, we celebrated my Mum's 60th birthday. She was terrified that we were planning a surprise party with all her friends and family there, despite explicit instructions not to and our reassurances that we wouldn't. So, as it was, the quiet gathering was a little like a surprise party, in that Mum had convinced herself she was in for something much worse.
  • Early in December, we learned that there's a good chance that we should be able to move out from our parents' houses into a place of our own at some point in the new year. This is very exciting news, only slightly complicated by the various and significant complications life holds at the minute.
Next year will be completely different. Right now I have many many feelings. They're not all bad, by any means; I count my considerable blessings. It is also impossible to lose someone so brilliant without reflecting on your tremendous fortune for ever having them in your life, for their good example and all the lessons they taught you. 

I hope you all have a super Christmas if you celebrate it, a lovely break if you don't and an extremely happy New Year. Thanks for reading, commenting and generally being around in 2013.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

It's okay to call Tom Daley bisexual, even if he isn't.

Young Olympic diving hero Tom Daley talked publicly yesterday about being in a relationship with a man, provoking a huge variety of responses in my Twitter stream. These ranged from the romantic realism of "Oh good, I fancy Tom Daley and I'm a man, so there's hope for us yet!" to straight people coming out as straight in hilarious parody because, in their world, homophobia is a thing of the past... last week sometime, whatever, they're over it already.  But there was also an argument raging about what labels should be sewn on the young man's swimming trunks.

Some news outlets described Daley as gay when he had said he is still into girls. There were a deluge of complaints about bi erasure, followed by a second wave of scorn for anyone who described Daley as bi, given that he hadn't used the label himself:
Tom Daley has not said he is gay or bi. Let him choose his own label, if/when he wants to. - @kindjourneys
Find bi carping over media calling Tom Daley gay as annoying as the media calling every MSM gay. Project rigid sexual identity? No thanks. @MxsQueen.
(A deluge, as you see - there were many others but these were most direct and to the point).

On the same day, I read an article from last week, daringly entitled: Lesbianism: Sexual fluidity is a fact of life for women. The headline is misleading - the author, Stephanie Theobold doesn't actually claim that all women can experience profound shifts in who they're sexually attracted to, but does suggest a widespread degree of fluidity based on a great hodgepodge of evidence, some valid (the author herself has experienced such fluidity), and some irrelevant (glamorous straight interviewees expressing an enthusiasm for lesbianism - as does my Mum. She will physically cringe at a scene on telly where two women kiss, but on hearing that a woman is gay, she'll always say, "Well, it sort of makes sense - with another woman, you wouldn't have to be clearing up after her all the time.").

Human sexuality is fascinating and strange and labels are never ever going to cover it. In her article, Stephanie Theobold tries hard, referring to the fact she now identifies as a Kinsey 4. reminding me of folks who offer their Myers-Briggs results by way of introduction (and the fact you remember your MBTI results and offer them as important information about yourself says a lot, regardless of the actual result).

In fact, I can easily imagine a future whether someone will devise a Myers-Briggs type matrix to describe sexuality. You'd need more letters, of course. I'd guess you'd need at least four options for libido, ranging from asexual to highly sexual. Then at least four options for sexual preference - hetero, homo, bi and fluid. Of course, bisexual is complicated - many people reject bi as referring to two genders as opposed to homo and hetero, so we may need pansexual to clear that one up. For some people, being monogamous or polyamorous is something they feel is absolutely hard-wired, so maybe that should be included too.

Recently, a friend described themselves as sapiosexual (attracted primarily to the minds of others, rather than any particular shape of body) which implies yet another spectrum between sapiosexuals and... carnisexuals? - people for whom, sex is all about flesh and circus performers. Added to this is kink, which throws us into a complex web of multicoloured handkerchiefs,

In a culture which wants to place us all in one of two boxes - straight or gay - and where those boxes are loaded down with expectation, it is understandable that folks seek to define their own special box with great care. To describe myself as bisexual is necessarily an over-simplification. Bisexual is not a love story. Bisexual is not even a story about sex. It doesn't tell anyone anything about my behaviour, it isn't clear what it says about my feelings and it doesn't say whether this is how I am now, or this is how I've always been.

But as a political word, bisexual is just fine. Perhaps disability helps with this, partly because medical matters are far less interesting than sexual ones, but mostly because I'm used to separating the social and political effects of an identity (disability) from the personal mess of how I come to it (impairment, chronic illness, however else you'd phrase it).

This is why it is valid to talk about bisexuality in the context of Tom Daley. Not to say that he's bi in the sense of having joined our club and why isn't he waving our flag already. This isn't about labels, but merely description. Bless him, but the poor lad is already experiencing (hopefully unknowingly) prejudice as a bisexual man; the assumption that he must be gay, the assumption that, by loving a man, all attraction he claims to women is the folly of youth or a strategic ploy to avoid seeming too queer. He is also experiencing prejudice as a gay man, because of general assumption that he is and all the homophobia that follows.

All this becomes harder to describe if we can't use the word bisexual as opposed to experiences attraction towards his own gender and members of at least one other gender. The media assumption that a man who loves another man is gay is something which effects all bisexual people. It's okay to discuss that.

Same if we were talking about historic or fictional characters. Unless someone has identified the words they would choose themselves, we have no choice but to use the words that best describe the feelings or behaviour we witness (and sometimes we have to override folk - the protagonists from Brokeback Mountain insist that they're not queer, Liberace insisted he was straight, but we wouldn't be able to discuss their experiences without accepting that they are wrong.)

As queer people, we should reject the idea of rigid sexual identity. It shouldn't matter if anyone was born this way or happens to feel this way for the first time in their mid-seventies. But worrying about using a word like bisexual in this context is the anxiety that bisexual is something rigid, unwieldy, a mantle which, once placed on someone's shoulders, will stay on them for life. Tom Daley may never describe himself as bisexual. As disabled people, we're very used to famous and successful disabled people telling us that they don't see themselves as disabled. But if we're to talk about the way they're treated in the media and society at large, we need to use these words about them.

There are many contexts where it is inappropriate to presume a label. In conversation, we should avoid assumption and never demand that people use words they're not comfortable with. Describing famous people with words they wouldn't use themselves is very different from talking about our friends and acquaintances.

But if we want to promote a world where sexual identity does become politically irrelevant, where our labels become far more nuanced, flexible and fluid, then we need to remove the weight from the language we have to work with now, the language that everyone understands.