Sunday, 29 November 2009

Mooching in Malton

Yesterday, when the rest of the world descended upon York for the St Nicholas Fair, Daniel and I escaped by train to the market town of Malton. What an exciting little town it is! We perused the market and bought cake and vegetables, and I went weak at the knees for some adorable guinea pigs and their funky fringes in the big local pet shop. Malton is incredibly old fashioned in its ways - there was a town crier, a livestock market, and an admirable recognition of the fact that meat is actually dead animal - displayed in a rather morbid fashion outside the butcher's:

Like York, Malton has its own Shambles, and it is lined with exciting and unusual shops. Piles of jumble everywhere, from floor to ceiling in every shop!

Of course, we couldn't resist buying a selection of books from Britain's smallest bookshop! It may be small, but it had a great selection; I need buy no more books until next year! (Of course, I probably will, anyhow)

We stopped for tea and muffin/pork pie nourishment in a prize-winning local deli, before heading off on a walking tour of the area. We came across 12th Century churches, Thai pubs housing ancient crypts which we weren't allowed to visit, breweries which didn't brew beer, muddy fields with mosaics, and much more. It was cold cold cold, and we walked for a good few miles, hands biting and visible breath. The visit ended with hot white chocolate/ale in a local establishment before we headed home. I am enjoying our new visiting places hobby - there are many more locations on the list, too!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Let the festivities begin!

I've just spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the christmas markets at the St. Nicholas Fair (who would think I was in the midst of MA overwhelm-ment?!). I refuse to spend my Saturday, my only free day in the week, pushing through bustling crowds of people - at best I am rather misanthropic, but at worst...well...I wouldn't like to think what I might be capable of! So, Friday afternoon it is; though there were still hoards of people pushing, shoving, fighting to get the free cheese samples! All part of the spirit, one could say!

The St Nicholas Fair is the busiest weekend in York's calendar, and rightly so! It seems that all of the best parts of our yearly market stalls gather, with added festivities, costume and plenty of samples! The first stall was selling lovely christmas liqueurs, and I was very nearly £20 down in the first 10 minutes after a sip of some local port! We continued to mooch, anyway, and being the foodies that we are, spent plenty of time admiring the breads, cheeses and fudge. The pork pie stall was omitting such heavenly aromas - not quite heavenly enough to turn my vegetarian tummy meat-wards, but I did have a slight wave of regret towards my moral choices! And I couldn't help being excited about the meringue mountain at the curious breads stall!

All in all, it was a productive peruse of some lovely products. I only bought two gifts, one of which was for myself, but I did pick up some inspiration for some crafty ideas - never a market visit wasted!

I have been searching for a while now for a milk jug, as I hate having the milk bottle on the table next to my teapot. Well, I found a lovely one - not only is it perfect in size, but it is also greeeeen!!

It will sit quite happily by my teapot - and I see it as an investment in my degree; assignments and reading need no longer be interrupted to boil the kettle!

We finished our trip with hot chocolate and some sit-down time to talk properly. Such a lovely few hours; I haven't been mooching in town, or even had a real hot chocolate stop, in way too long.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Chez les Cavendish

Finally I have a spare minute (or rather, a need for some procrastination) and I am able to write about the second and most exciting installment of my weekend antics!

Since summer my Mum had been planning on having a day trip down to Derbyshire, for the Chatsworth Christmas Fayre; she went to the Autumn Fair and brought back many lovely treats and tales of sumptuous grandeur, and so I could not resist inviting myself to her christmassy market bonanza!

Typically, on the one day we had 2 hours of driving ahead and a hours to spend out in the open, the weather was horrendous. But weather-resistance is a main requirement for being British, I suppose. The drive was rather frustrating; communication between pilot and co-pilot broke down for a while, to say the least. When we finally left the motorway for the Peak District, I was all fluttery inside - I've recently watched the film The Duchess, and highly recommend it (even if, like me, you can't bear Kiera Kniteley's excessive pouting), and as the lanscape started rolling upwards, I expected to see her house nestled in the hills around the next corner. It's a really lovely part of the country, and I'd love to go back soon to explore the Peaks! Finally, we pulled into the drive. Wow. Even though half the place was covered in scaffolding, the scale of the house and its grandeur was incredible! From the gardens behind, a giant flume of water was gushing upwards, blown at an angle by the wind.

We headed for the markets, and instantly spent £3.50 on a bag of exciting fudge - get the important things done first, I say! The stalls were selling alsorts, from lovely wooden ducks to pidgeon pies, and I bought a selection of organic soaps set out in an egg-box for a christmas gift.

We decided to miss out a tour of the house and have extra time in the gardens, as they are immense, with more to see than we had time for. The landscaping was done by Capability Brown in the 18th Century, I am told, which is something not to be missed (though, actually, I think we missed that bit...)!

The gardens really were wonderful, and we were able to carry on the 'sculptures' theme of the previous day, as a sculpture sale was taking place, and many lovely (and not-so-lovely) works were scattered around the land. In the misty afternoon everything felt so fresh - my favourite part was the woodland, where the trees towered towards the Peak District and the ground was damp and wintery. We spent a lot of time admiring the Cascade Fountain too, which is designed so that each step makes a different sound as the water gushes over it.

A really lovely day - one that I wish I could nip back to now, and escape the huge pile of work looming ahead. So, I must dash and get on with things, especially since I am being wined and dined this evening :-)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sculptures on a Friday

Using a much-needed dentist appointment as my excuse, I spent yet another weekend at my parent's house, which in fact turned out to be one of the nicest home-visits I've had in a long time.

With the freedom of a car, on Friday we headed over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Set in Bretton Country Park, this is a lovely place to while away an autumn day, wandering amongst work by some of the biggest names in sculpting, with a suprisingly beautiful backdrop of the West Yorkshire countryside. It felt quite naughty to spend a weekday doing something that slow and unnecessary, and I needed half an hour to really relax and accept that study could wait. But the weather was perfect; a mix of bright sun, blustering winds and spattering rain, which created exciting light and shadow effects on the sculptures.

There is a lot of work by Henry Moore at the park, and I was especially excited to see a sculpture by Anthony Gormley, which was incredibly eerie looking over us from high up on a tree stump. I can't say that sculpture is something that really moves me; it takes something really special for me to really appreciate it, but One and Other does just that, it was captivating!

And of course, time was taken to reflect on the artwork in the café. Yorkshire parkin - yummm!

I will update on Saturday's activities at a later date! Night night :-)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Rhodie Bashing

Yesterday I spent the morning cutting down rhododendron plants (or 'Rhodie bashing', as it is known by those in conservation circles) in Hagg Wood, a gorgeous woodland just outside of York. I went along with the University Conservation Volunteers group, and we met Friends of Hagg Wood and people from the British Conservation Society in the woodland, who were leading the morning's hacking and chopping.

The wood was absolutely beautiful - a real magical woodland space, just how Enid Blyton would like it. In May bluebells grow there by the gazillion, but in November everything is brown and shadowy, with long silver birches holding up the canopy.

The air was bitingly cold, and it was wonderful to get wrapped-up warm and be out in it, chopping and dragging and pulling and hacking. I have lots of tiny scratches all over my fingers where brambles scratched through my gloves, and we were all covered in moss and leaves and branches. There were so many great people there, all getting wholly involved in destroying this incredible plant before it took over the whole space.

You can see a 'before' shot of the plant in this photo, lurking behind the silver birches.

We stopped for a picnic after two hours. People had made cakes and there was tea, coffee and hot chocolate in flasks. Everyone was so cheerful and keento hear about the University and our studies.

There was 5 or 6 different cakes to choose from! Mostly homemade too!

When we stepped back to look at our morning's work at the end of the meeting, it was amazing to see how much we'd cleared! There were huge piled of chopped-up plant, waiting to be burned away at a bonfire party in two weeks.

And an 'after' shot, with the piles of plants ready for burning!

Needless to say, we were tired out and achey! We felt we'd earned a lazy afternoon and a tasty tea, so we went home to sit around on sofas, all wrapped up in blankets. For tea we made spiced winter vegetable stew; my most favourite wintery meal making it's premier for the year. Then we sat down with stewed apples and homemade custard to watch La Haine. I can finally say that I have found my favourite film scene ever, and much ado was made about winding it back to watch it again (which inevitably lead to circles of the "too-far back, too-far forward" scenario typical of any such re-winding). The scene I am talking about, in case you know the film, starts with the DJ in the Cypress Hill shirt, when the camera zooms out through the window onto the skyline of suburban Paris, and the hip-hop music intertwines with Je ne regrette rien by Edith Piaf. I thought the film was brilliant, and not as violent as I had feared it would be. Daniel disagreed. I had already noticed that reactions to it are very mixed.

Today I work. Tonight I work. My eyes are heavy with the screen, my brain is full of french transcriptions and IPA symbols. I need tea and bed!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

In Press!

You may or may not remember back to the summer months, when I was writing an article. I didn't go in to it much on here, as I was worried that it would be rejected. Well it wasn't!

It's an article for the York University Women's Committee magazine, The Zine, which was released on Tuesday, and I am so proud to see my name there, in print, for the first time!

So, I will shre my article with you! I decided to question the future of feminism, the purpose of it, etc, and at the time I was writing Caster Semenya and her gender were all over the news. It was my first time writing something which would be potentially recieved by a large audience, so be nice!

De-Scribing Gender

The role of women’s organisations in today’s society

As far as it is possible, I consider myself to be “anti-gender”. That is to say that I am against any male/female segregation in society, and that, for me, the idea of gender is simply a biological one, without any innate social construct. Simone de Beauvoir famously described this idea in the first line of her book The Second Sex (1949), when she states that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”; we are typically “male” or “female” in the sociological sense because of the way society has built us, not because of any innate set of “female” or “male” characteristics which we may possess. As far as I can philosophically allow, I consider gender in the social sense to be a matter of preference, not really any different from preferring tea to coffee (especially if you bear in mind that even a group of tea-drinkers would all choose to drink their tea differently). For this reason, the fact that I also call myself a feminist often surprises and confuses me when I come to think too much about it. And when questioned on my involvement with women’s organisations I sometimes struggle at first to defend my interest in feminism against its stereotype of being a man-hating and old-fashioned ideology.

Of course, the majority no longer sees feminism in this way, rather, I get the impression that it is perceived as a somewhat apathetic and outdated struggle for something we still call ‘equal rights’. As far as female suffrage goes, the feminist movement has by-and-large succeeded in reaching its goal of narrowing the gender gap, to the point where it is now a mere crease in society, lying undetected until pointed out by someone intent on ruffling the feathers of cross-gender harmony. So why does feminism exist today? Why do universities across the country have Women’s Committees when the Struggle as it was has been overcome? Indeed, many people have pointed out to me the sexist implications of a Women’s Committee – a committee which includes only 50% of the university’s demographic is surely hypocritical when it is based on 100 years of struggling for gender-equality. Really, there is no longer even a ‘struggle’ as such; women have a voice, an outlet and an equal-footing with men. The feminist movement has opened all the doors for a fantastic, novel or simply unusually ‘masculine’ career. Women have a tight grasp on their sexuality, an understanding of their bodies and a voice to say no or to call for help. A male ‘other’ is no longer necessary in a woman’s life for her to feel satisfied or whole. Women can have a marvellous career, a large family of sticky-faced children, a team of cats, a live-in female companion, a house-husband – all of the above and much more. But the fact remains that feminism in some form is still alive today, be it third-wave feminism, post-feminism, womanism, ecofeminism, libertarian feminism... the list goes on. And it is not only a woman’s plight. When asked if he was a feminist, a male friend of mine responded with “isn’t everyone a feminist?”, and although I wouldn’t say that gender equality is a constant in our society just yet, I would argue that it has come as far as being the norm, and that sexism, rather than feminism, is the anomaly. Of course, no one can deny that women still suffer at the hands of their gender; sexual abuse, violence, religious discrimination, political under-representation, the list goes on. But likewise, men suffer at the hands of their gender and sexuality, and such issues must be resolved with unity between the sexes, rather than distance. The word ‘feminism’ is indeed misleading when it comes to giving a title to a movement with gender equality as its centre point, especially today, when the feminist plight is no longer what it was. The gender gap is closing, and individual identity, independent of historical tradition and what’s “in your pants” is taking over as the priority for women and men alike. Take the case of Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was recently made to undergo a gender verification test to confirm whether she could compete in female athletic events. The result of this test, which involves complicated DNA testing, will take several weeks to determine, and this case proves how deep the issue of gender runs in society and in science. What is “male” and what is “female” is not always as obvious as appearances would suggest, and so separating the sexes in this categorical way simply widens the apparent gap between “male” and “female”, deepening the root of many of the problems central to women’s issues. It is for this reason that we need women’s committees in our society; not to protect the rights of a single gender, but to bring the issues of gender and sexuality together, and to break the boundaries for men and for women set by past societies, which need no longer exist today.

There is no link to an online version, so an extra long blog post will have to do!

Anyway, I've become quite addicted to journalism now, and so will hopefully be appearing in the GSA GradMag in the coming months!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Weekend Activities

Ahh I just spent a lovely weekend (or rather, long Saturday) at my parents' house! Usually, going back leaves me frustrated and desperate to get back to York - I am sent reeling back to my teenage years, pent-up teenage angst rises beyond control and I end up angry and bitchy and even more argumentative than usual!

But since I arrived back late friday night, and left again on Sunday morning, there was no room for any of this. Instead, I sat up chatting with my Mum until 2am, forgoeing some much needed rest and recuperation to discuss daydreams, old friends, politics and love with my wonderful Mum.

On Saturday, we held the annual Winter Party, which took place at our house for the second year in a row. Mum assured me that she didn't need any help, so I spent the morning outside, clearing the massive drift of leaves which was covering the whole garden. This is one of my favourite jobs in the world (as with all of my favourite things, it is the job I loathed most as a child, when me and my brother were each given a rake and some gloves and were expected to earn our pocket money reluctantly freezing to death in a pile of smelly rotten leaves); I love to be knee deep in the different colours and shapes, starting off wrapped up in multiple layers, and finishing hours later, all sweaty in cords and only a Tshirt. Probably my main reason for enjoying this job is the inevitable labourer's lunch - this time being a veggie sausage sandwich and a lovely cuppa :-)

After lunch, I decided to continue with my angelic helpful ways and assist Mum in the kitchen. Despite claiming regularly that she hates cooking, as usual she had made some rather grand plans: homemade bread and dips for starters, followed by steak pie (veggie pie for me), jacket potatoes, mushy peas, spiced red cabbage and gravy, with a selection of baked rasberry cheesecake, carrot cake and marzipan fruit cake for pud. One woman, one kitchen, one small Aga, one day: a lot of stress! I won't bore you with the gritty details, but imagine our rather sizeable kitchen piled high with dirty dishes, covered in grated carrot and chopped cabbage, mushy peas boiling on one plate, cakes being skewered, cheese cakes being cooled, water being boiled for washing up...

As usual, she pulled it off. More than just pulled it off, even. It was amazing. We had fireworks and amazing wine (I love going home because I always get really nice wine - it is turning me into a wine snob!) and I ate more red cabbage than one small person should. And 3 slices of cake. It was great to be surrounded by friends and family, away from the trials of my degree just for a day, laughing and getting drunk and fat.

Now I am back and getting stuck in to the middle of the term. I went for a fantastic run this afternoon, and finally I have found some energy - time to work on that half marathon again. This is my favourite time of year, and it seems to be more enjoyable and more vibrant than ever.

PS. The marzipan fruit cake I mentioned above can be found in Nigella's books (Express or Domestic Goddess I think). It is possibly my favourite cake ever, and I don't even like marzipan (there is no marzipan in it, only ground almonds). TRY IT, I urge you!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Winter Maladies

My neck aches, my face aches, my head aches, my shoulders ache. My lovely scarf and duffle coat are too heavy and pull me down towards the soggy street. My face is burning and my toes are freezing. My poor sniffly nose is running the tissue box down to the recycling box. Trips to make tea are woozy and unsteady....despite my regular consumption of tasty echinacea tea, and bags upon bags of oranges, I have not been successful in avoiding this achey tiresome thing, which everyone else has seemed to have had.

But it isn't all bad! How can I complain when I get to sit all queasy and smug while my lovely man makes me warm Ribena, which of course, is the answer to every question.

And there are more good things! I did manage to make it to the cinema, to see An Education, which I thoroughly recommend! Lovely 60s dresses and handsome men and the sort of film which makes you weepy and giggly all at once. A perfect film to help me forget my aching self.

I also recieved a lovely letter today, on the prettiest writing paper I have ever seen :-) I love letters, especially when they contain soup recipes! So, Annika, I will make this soup very soon, in the hope that it will make me feel better (which I am sure it will!!! It sounds perfect!)! And I will report back!

But for now, I must sleep. Night night.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Bit o' celebrity!

Last week I e-mailed in to my favourite radio show, BBC 6Music, to submit a request to appear on their morning feature called My Morning Racket. The idea is to pick a song which you love to wake up to, then you get to chat with Shaun, the presenter (and a favourite 'personality' of mine) and have your record played on air.

While in the supermarket this morning (every week I try and get there earlier than the week before - next week I'll be there before it opens if I succeed...), trying to decide whether to buy light or dark soy sauce, when I got a call from Lisa at 6Music, asking if I wanted to appear on the show! They gave me enough time to get home, where I waited eagerly with sweaty palms to chat to the lovely Shaun.

I just listened again to my appearance (2 hours and 12 minutes in),

and dear lord I sound like the queen! Where is my northern lilt these days?! I put it down to my southern friends with their long vowels and neat codas. Today officially marks my trek back to my West Yorkshire roots, dark l's, short vowels and clipped codas. No more standardization! If everyone made such changes to their speech, I would have no subject to study! It's funny that my brother sounds like he's straight out of Pontefract Colliery - it makes me appear quite pretentious in comparison. Argh.