Shopping with dinosaurs

“People who push for this should be shot and burnt.” What do you think has made Daily Mail commenter Ben (now deleted) so angry? Yep, it’s the labels on John Lewis’s kids’ clothes. According to many tabloids’ commenters, by not labelling clothes as boys’ or girls’ John Lewis is pandering something something librul snowflake SJW muslins etc etc etc it’s political correctness gone mad.

One of the items that’s attracted a lot of comment is a cute wee dress with dinosaurs on it. And I just happen to have an opinion on both dresses and dinosaurs.

I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl, and when my daughter was 5 she was told by her male classmates that she couldn’t be interested in dinosaurs because they were for boys. She’s also been told that girls aren’t allowed to play with dragons, because they’re for boys too. Girls have to play with unicorns.

You don’t need me to tell you that this gender bullshit starts very early and is reinforced by the unnecessary pinkification of so much girls’ stuff. Finding practical, comfortable shoes for my son is easy. It’s much harder for my daughter, whose trainers are hidden in shops behind a wall of high heels, glitter and sparkles. It’s the same with t-shirts and tops: it’s not unusual for us to leave a shop with an armful of stuff for my son and nothing for my daughter because she doesn’t like pink, sequins or slogans about being pretty.

This is a relatively recent development: children born in the 60s and 70s lived in a more gender neutral world, at least in terms of clothing. Here’s a Lego advert from 1981, before pinkification.

It’s not pink that’s the problem. It’s the constant reinforcement of exaggerated gender differences, to say that girls can’t do A, B and C and boys can’t do X, Y or Z.

John Lewis isn’t trying to change biology, as Facebook poster Susan Perkins suggests. It’s making a little change that tells my daughter that hey! Dinosaurs can be for girls too!

But that’s not what’s caused the “backlash” and “anger” the tabloids report. As ever with gender things, it’s the prospect of boys wearing dresses that’s got people upset, because it’s okay for girls to do boyish things but not the reverse. And discussing that opens up a great big box marked Pandora: it’s a very visible sign of a society that doesn’t value supposedly feminine traits, where what Grayson Perry calls Default Man dominates “the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.”

As Perry writes: “The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as “normal” – and “normal”, along with “natural”, is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.”

Boys in dresses? We’ll be letting girls play with Lego next. Or as one Daily Express commenter puts it, it’s…

The ongoing Marxist plan to feminise boys, who wont have the desire to fight for their country when it all kicks off.

Hmmm.

Ultimately, though, it’s really very simple. John Lewis isn’t forcing anybody to be gender neutral. It’s just saying that maybe we shouldn’t force dinosaurs to pick a side.

If your son doesn’t want to wear a dress, don’t buy him one.

Focus, man, focus

I know this lifeless blog makes it seem like I’m doing nothing, but behind the scenes there are many things, only some of which are frightening. David and I have nearly 70 unfinished DMGM songs at the moment, which says a great deal about our inability to focus on one thing and actually finish it, and I currently have three unfinished books on the go: two fiction, one non-fiction. And I’m doing loads of work too, so I haven’t really had the time for much more than the odd tweet. EXPECT CONTENT SOON. Honest. Not like before. I mean it this time. Etc.

Too fast, too soon

I wrote a piece for Beyond The Binary on how not to come out as trans.

Coming out as trans/NB was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Not because I did it, but because I did it in a spectacularly stupid way. I didn’t so much come out of the closet as roar out of it on a glitter-powered rocket cycle, waving the Trans Pride flag and putting all of eBay on credit cards I already couldn’t keep up with. I binned my boring boring boy clothes, wore skirts to the supermarket, talked about being trans on national radio to 400,000 people and spent months getting dirty looks from old women in ASDA who don’t think bolero tops go well with manly beards.

With the benefit of hindsight, that wasn’t the best way to do it.

Quiet, quite busy

 

This is one of those sorry-for-the-lack-of-updates updates: I’ve been neglecting the blog for ages due to a combination of work, creative stuff (writing, songwriting) and extreme barbecuing. I’ll share some of it soon, but in the meantime if you want to stay in touch and we already know one another please hit me up on Facebook, or come and say hello on Twitter.

Bye bye, blog?

I’m thinking of shutting this blog down and replacing it with a static site: WordPress is under pretty much constant attack and the hassle of removing dodgy files, patching vulnerabilities etc is becoming a bit too much for me at the moment. If there’s anything here you particularly treasure, such as my legendarily busy article about defrosting plates (no, really), then it’s maybe worth downloading it just in case.

I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, of course.

You’re so Venn

Bands are musical Venn diagrams: each member has their own tastes in music, and the music the band makes is located where those individual tastes overlap (in most cases, anyway: it’s different if the dynamic is more like Oasis, where one strong personality basically bosses everybody else about).

That means bands tend to be fairly consistent, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – for example if one of Chvrches wanted to do a death metal song or Angus Young decided to embrace jazz-funk, you’d hope the others would veto it – but it does narrow your musical horizons a little bit.

If you’re making music, is that a good thing?

I haven’t played in a band for a long time – ten years or so, I think, maybe more – but of course I’ve continued to write and record music with my brother and partner in musical crimes, David. And because there’s just two of us, and because we often write separately, and because we don’t have the issue of wondering how we’d play something live, we don’t have the consensus or compromise that you’d get in a larger group. The songs we’re working on at the moment include straight-ahead rock, grinding EDM, very delicate acoustic stuff, shimmery pop and at least one track that sounds like Donna Summer.

The thing is, though, while that’s an accurate reflection of the kinds of music we like, it isn’t a reflection of individual bands we like: each of them does a fairly specific thing. For example, Faith No More will do the odd bit of mexicana or a Commodores cover, but 99% of what they do is what you’d expect Faith No More to do. Eels are so consistent they often record the same song with different words. Chvrches aren’t going to start doing ska.

The only bands I can think of that don’t stick to a single recognisable sound or genre, who’ll flit from genre to genre without a care, are parodists. And that worries me, because I don’t really want to be part of a club that includes Weird Al Yankovic and the crap songs on comedy sketch shows. I’m not using arpeggiators and drum machines because I want to parody dance music, or big guitars because I’m taking the piss out of metal bands; I’m doing these things because they’re what the songs demand. The Donna Summer-esque song needs that Moroder chug. The shimmery pop needs those synths. The declaration of intent needs to sound like an invading army. And so on.

And yet I feel that I’m doing something wrong.

Am I?

I’m not a Nat

One of the irritating things about post-election reporting is the way many (English) publications keep banging on about a nationalist surge. The SNP vote was based on many things, and for some people I’m sure nationalism played a part. But for me, and for many of the No voters I know who voted SNP in this election, it wasn’t about nationalism at all. So kudos to the LSE for today’s blog on the subject of Scottish nationalism and voting:

To just make the point absolutely clear: Scottish identity or sentiment has not been increasing, but decreasing gradually since the advent of devolution…  the strongest determinants of both independence and SNP support were pragmatic evaluations about economic prospects, trustworthiness and political personnel. For most people in Scotland the SNP is a normal party, that they like, hate or are indifferent to, but those evaluations for most are based on whether people agree with their policies and how they evaluate their representation.

In The Night Garden is Jacob’s Ladder for kids

You end up watching quite a lot of kids’ TV when you’re a parent, and it gets pretty boring pretty quickly. So you let your mind wander. You create imaginary backstories for the presenters on the assumption that the perkier the presenter, the more depraved the private life. You take things out of context for your own amusement, such as the bit on Baby TV where a creature dressed as a scoutmaster growls “I will take the little ones.” And more than anything, you imagine what the programme is really about.

A good example of the genre is Chris Brown’s Teletubbies video, which is based on the discovery that the Teletubbies in black and white are quite frightening.

But I prefer the theory that In The Night Garden is Jacob’s Ladder remade for kids.

If you’re not familiar with the film, Jacob’s Ladder was a 1990 film directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins. I’m not sure how it’s aged, but I remember it as one of the most frightening and disturbing films I’ve ever seen. It’s very difficult to explain without giving away the whole story, so let’s just leave it at this: it’s about death.

In The Night Garden is about death too.

The programme starts with the main character, Igglepiggle, alone in a boat. It’s dark and the seas are high. Igglepiggle takes down the boat’s sail, lights a light, and is transported to the Night Garden where he meets the love of his life, Upsy Daisy, along with a cast of characters including midget families and giant inflatables with faces on them. After a bit of excitement everybody goes to bed and Igglepiggle goes to sleep on his boat.

Here’s an episode I’ve just watched with my son.

It’s all very lovely, until somebody on the internet tells you that the whole thing is desperately sad. Igglepiggle has been shipwrecked. He’s out of food and water. He’s hallucinating. And everything that happens in the episode is a fever dream as his body shuts down.

Viewed through that prism, it all makes sense. The weird characters. The voice of God (well, Derek Jacobi) talking to the characters. The way everybody leaves, leaving Igglepiggle alone in the garden, wishing the fun would never end. And through that prism, when Derek Jacobi says “Don’t worry, Igglepiggle. It’s time to go”, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s the equivalent of this bit in Jacob’s Ladder (spoiler alert!):

“Don’t worry, Igglepiggle. It’s time to go.”

The camera returns to the boat, where Igglepiggle is silent and still, and the melancholy theme tune swells as the boat disappears into the horizon.

Devastating.

Next week: why Peppa Pig is secretly about Satan.

Sometimes winning elections is very simple

As an elderly woman told our newly elected MP during last week’s canvassing, she was voting for him because he was the only person coming to her door with reasons to vote for a candidate. The only thing the other canvassers talked about, she said, was why she shouldn’t vote for their rivals.

See ya, Saab

A friend of mine drove one of these off a cliff, and survived.

A friend of mine drove one of these off a cliff, and survived.

I’ve written before about my love of Saabs, but sadly it’s reached the end of the road: I’ve just sold my knackered old 9-5 estate to WeBuyAnyCar.com (who offered me exactly what it’s worth – I was selling it because it wasn’t viable to repair anything any more) and I very much doubt I’ll get another one.

That isn’t just because Saab went bust. My budget means I’m always in old-car territory, and there are plenty of pre-closure 9-5s out there. Certainly, if I wanted to I could drive Saabs for another decade or so.

Sadly, I don’t want to.

Saab is a great example of what can happen when a marque knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Before General Motors came along, Saab was famed for its engineering and its unconventional belief that throwing all the power in the world through a car’s front wheels was a good idea. And it was, because hot Saabs were an absolute hoot.

And then General Motors got involved.

All of my Saabs have been GM-era Saabs: a 900 hatchback, a 9-5 petrol estate and a 9-5 diesel estate. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the 900, which was the one least messed about with by GM, was my favourite. My most recent 9-5 was essentially a Vauxhall Vectra in drag with one of the worst diesel engines imaginable – a tractor engine teamed up with sports suspension and low profile tyres, a match made in hell. I think it’s safe to say brand loyalty blinded me to the hopelessness of that one.

Before GM got involved, Saab was mixing it with the BMWs and Mercedes of the world. Once GM got involved, quality plummeted and despite Saab engineers’ best efforts, the cars weren’t mixing it with BMW and Mercedes any more. If I’m honest, my wife’s 14-year-old VW Golf is a better car than either of my 9-5 estates were.

I still have enormous affection for the Saab of old, but not so much that I want to drive an old Saab. So, like many Saab owners before me, I’m going for a German car instead.