Don’t mention the Quorn

CONTROVERSIAL
CONTROVERSIAL

I’m with two women I don’t know too well.  We go for a  pub lunch. It’s not a pub of gastric delights or hipster gentrification, instead the sort where nothing on the menu costs over a tenner. One of my companions asks what I’m having. I pick up the wipe-clean menu.

I’ll see what veggie stuff they’ve got, let’s have a look see…

Why?

I don’t eat meat.

What! You don’t eat meat!

No, I don’t eat meat.

I can’t BELIEVE you don’t eat meat! Who doesn’t eat meat?

Me.

I hope you’re not one of those who goes on and on about it when someone eats meat in front of you…

Oh no, I’m live and let live, me.

Because if you are, you’ll HATE me!

You’re grand.

Because I love meat, me.

Do you.

Yeah, I do. Lovely, dead animal (rubs belly)

That’s..erm…nice.

There’s nothing I like more than a day out in an abattoir!

 

It goes on like a Monty Python sketch, I’m waiting for a goose-stepping John Cleese to appear and Michael Palin to tell me I’m lucky to live in a hole in the road (or something) but there’s no one to rescue me. My jaw hurts with all the grinning and bearing and I’m tempted to escape through the toilet window just to get away.

An hour later it’s over, they’ve run out of steam or so it seems but I don’t trust anything anymore, it’s all too weird. I make a run for it.  As the quiet air outside soothes my nerves I start to think maybe the 21st century isn’t quite ready for me and my controversial lifestyle as yet. It will be soon, though. Soon.

 

I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst, Jan 2015).  More details of published work here.

@cathbore

Stolen

 

dance 50

STOLEN

In the dance hall he takes Helen into his arms, her hair smelling of apricots and soft against his cheek. Such sweet grey eyes, they make his wits quicken and sharpen like morning frost. He knows he should mention that the top button of her cotton print dress is undone but sneeks a peek instead, humming into her hair as they dance. The lights come up. That’s a shame. He prefers the lights dimmed, low and gentle.

Feet trot on tiles. Heels click out of time. The mashed potato, the shag, he knows all the dances, wants to do each with Helen but she murmurs his name and adds ‘you’ll have to leave.’ Helen’s grey eyes are stern now, turned blue, icy not sweet.  ‘I’m sorry,’ she says to the people watching. ‘This gentleman is known to us.’ He blinks. He’s not in the dance hall anymore, and this mardy cold woman, she is not Helen.

He is marched out of the supermarket but pushes an apricot into his pocket first. Walk it off, he’s told.

What, walk off the apricot? He slouches, legs as heavy as wet sand but in his head he waltzes home, both feet in a percussive shuffle, arms full of warm as the stolen fruit bumps against his hip.

Cath Bore January 2014

I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst, Jan 2015).  

@cathbore

Unfortunately there isn’t a budget for this, but…

This is a piece  I wrote last year but is still very relevant .

 

I received an email from a casual acquaintance informing me of his new job (hurrah! Many congrats! said I) and associated project.

How exciting, I enthused. In these austere times it is always inspiring to hear of a fellow creative doing well.

“I’m looking for a short film script to be developed by my students,” he says.  “Would you be interested?”

My instinct was, bloody hell yes. That’d be marvellous. As a freelance writer, I’m always interested in new ventures, how lovely of you to think of me…

Then I read further.

“Unfortunately there isn’t a budget for this, but your work will be seen by top industry professionals”.

I can hear the collective groan from fellow writers as they read this. It’s a familiar missive, not just for us writers but other creatives too.

We shouldn’t have to spell it out, but writers need money to live.  To some people this is news, that writers have bills and mortgages much like anyone else. Writers, we sit by the magic money tree and pluck tenners from its branches; this is what some people think. The truth is, if I had taken on this unpaid work (I didn’t), the hours and days spent on this script would replace my paid writing work. You know, the thing that pays my bills and mortgage. What can I say? It’s greedy of me, I know, but the cats need new shoes and I in fact have no magic money tree at my disposal.

That’s my first point, the whole cash thing (or lack of it). Point two is the top industry professionals part. The problem is for me, if I write a screenplay for nothing, those “top industry professionals” will know it. How brilliant for my image!  I may as well have a sign over my head saying “mug”.

My current mug, my "Farage F*CKING MUG"
My current mug, my “Farage F*CKING MUG”

far2Farage Fucking Mug Pop Sex

Low pay is an issue affecting so many people. Minimum wage is still too low, but the £6.50 for adults is underpinned in law. For creatives though, minimum wage is often seen as a luxury.

Last year, I was offered the opportunity to lead a project. It wasn’t writing, but creative in nature, and paid £17.50 per hour for a 2 hour session each week. Hardly a fortune especially for the skills the role required, but a rate easily leapfrogging over minimum wage. By the third week, language shifted from “rates of pay”, to “we don’t want you to be out of pocket”. £25 was suggested to me, in cash. That’s rather a dramatic cut, I thought, then on the way home it slowly, horribly dawned on me. They meant not the original £35 per week, but £25 for the entire three weeks.

That’s £4.16 per hour. £8.32 per session.

Let’s do some sums.

My bus ticket to and from my home to the venue is £4.80.

For the first two weeks I took a bottle of water to drink, but on the third I forgot (sue me) and bought a cup of peppermint tea, at £1.60.

I was asked to promote the venture too, adding more hours of work for the money.

Adding up the pennies, this project was costing me money. If I wasn’t working on it, I’d be at home on my laptop, writing for people who give me money to work for them. If I continued with this project, I’d be paying to work.

I’m sorry, but this isn’t morally right. It just can’t be, from whatever angle you look at it.

In the past I’ve had suggestions that pay rates should be less because there’s been an “element of (my) training” involved in a project, that it’s good publicity for me – a very common line, and the big one – “when we get some funding…” or “there’s a possibility of paid work in the future”. Heartfelt at the time, I’m sure.

I don’t mind doing some work on a voluntary basis, if the cause is close to my heart. Us creatives are generous with our time, we realise it’s a privilege to earn a living doing something we enjoy. There’s so many people out there doing jobs they can’t bear, I’ve been there myself. I don’t even have to get dressed or drag myself out of bed to earn a crust, I know I’m on to a good thing. But I believe in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I note, as other creatives do, that those generously offering such bonanzas as free publicity and access to faceless, nameless top industry contacts, aren’t doing so for free.

Or even at £4.16 per hour. Interesting in itself, I think.

@cathbore

I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst, Jan 2015).  

Role Modelling

A role model is a “person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people”. That’s from Wikipedia, so it must be right.

I’m reading a lot about footballers this week and about how they are role models. This is whether they actually want to be role models or not and is seemingly not dependent on signing a piece of paper promising such. Footballers are role models and that’s that, no arguments.

What we really mean here by role model is someone who is rich and famous. Excuse me if I have a problem with that. The rich and the famous are so because they’ve made pots of money and have managed to get lots of people to like them (or dislike them – people still give you very well paid work if you are an unsavoury character, as long as the public complains about you a lot on Twitter). The definition of role model, the one we use every day, the rich and famous one, is so flawed it is now meaningless.

When we use the phrase role model, we mean “role model for young people”. Lots of young people aspire to be rich but soon find out only a small number will manage that, and that being famous isn’t much cop, not really. Most young people I know don’t want to be a footballer or marry one, but are largely after jobs and careers that will give them a good life. This sounds sensible enough to me.

I couldn't find a decent role model illustration - everything was an annoying meme - so here's Vicky. A clever, funny woman, seems nice enough.
I couldn’t find a decent role model illustration – everything was an annoying meme – so here’s Vicky Coren Mitchell. A clever, funny woman, who seems nice enough.

To me, role models can be anyone. They can be any gender, be plumbers, teachers, employed, unemployed, disabled, pensioners, politicians (no matter what your pals on Facebook tell you), refuse collectors, whatever. And yes even footballers, if they mind their Ps and Qs. They don’t get the role model badge automatically; they have to earn it like everyone else.

To me, role models are good people, nice people. Good and nice are the only essential ingredients really. Yes they can be flawed and make mistakes. They don’t need to give to charity (this to me is not a definition of goodness, it’s just a personal thing) or do ice bucket challenges or whatever,  but they do need to be fundamentally good and nice.

So, can I suggest that footballers are not role models to young people? Ok, we get told they are, but they aren’t really, are they? Come on. Think about it. You know I’m right.

@cathbore

I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst, Jan 2015).  

Elvis & Me (and you)

I gave a talk at Ignite Liverpool this week. Held at Leaf Cafe on Bold St, the event takes place every three months. People are invited to come along and talk about things they are passionate about. I spoke about Elvis Presley. This is loosely what I had to say.

Elvis fans

Elvis, he died 1977 when I was 9 years old. I’ve been a fan since I was five. That’s a long time.

When people find out I am an Elvis fan they act in two ways. The first is of embarrassment on my behalf, as if I’ve let a deep dark dirty secret slip out. To them I should be ashamed, hang my head low.

The second response is laughter.

“What, YOU?”

Yes, ME.

They think I’m joking. I am not.

Some people are strange about Elvis, this working class boy from a background and childhood of grinding poverty miles and oceans away; they get aggressive about him. It’s odd, how he stirs such a reaction still, even after all these decades. They start challenging me on my fandom, try to convert me to proper music, whatever that is. The mansplanations on the error of my ways are plentiful and so often recited to me; the mansplainers, they must learn them by rote.

I’m told Elvis didn’t write his own songs. This is not news. (I’ve been a fan since I was five, remember?).

He was a manufactured artist. Apparently. Oh, and the Sex Pistols weren’t?

One person compared him to Justin Beiber. I’m still trying to work that one out.

Then there’s “he died on the toilet you know”. His wasn’t a rock n roll enough death for them. It lacks that needle in the arm authenticity.

For the mansplainers, I have a well-rehearsed speech of defence.

I talk about his influence. On other singers, fashion, the art of self-expression. How he mixed genres to make something exciting and new. His sheer power of performance.

My speech, it makes people back off and concede the “Sun Sessions are good, and erm, the 68 Comeback Special, but…” followed by a mumbled “yeah well, I’m not a fan but I appreciate what he did”, eyes toggling, searching for an escape route.

Then I say, you’re missing out on the country, gospel, the true quality Vegas era. The good films.

They like that! It tickles them, no end. They grin delightedly, smugly, think I’m a liar, or just stupid. I’m a sheep, following the herd. I need to listen to some Pink Floyd. That’ll sort me out.

This is why when I meet another fan I’m made happy. We are a broad church us Elvis fans, but have one fundamental thing in common.  Him. There’s an Elvis impersonator where I live, I see him in Asda sometimes. Just before Christmas, I spied him. He must be well into his seventies. I never looked at him properly before but  on this day, I followed him. I took in what he was wearing, the stonewashed denim jeans, distressed and bleached.

I thought, Elvis would not wear those.

He had these right white trainers on too, dazzling and bright and huge on the end of his legs.

I don’t think Elvis would like those either.

He wore a black blouson jacket.

Elvis died before they came out. Things weren’t looking up, at all.

Then I noticed he carried a long brolly, a long black one with a curved handle. He used it like a sceptre, brandished it as he walked. Like a king.

Oh yes, I thought. Elvis, he would  love that.

 

So I’m following the Asda Elvis impersonator, notice he is smiled at and nodded at as he does his shopping. I start thinking people are laughing at him, see Elvis as a joke. They’re laughing at my Elvis, my boy! I want to punch them, give each a good talking to.

Then I realise no, that’s not it. People are smiling because the Elvis impersonator in Asda, he reminds them of Elvis, and Elvis makes people happy. He really, really does.

We live in very divisive times, where neighbour is set against neighbour. It’s employed vs unemployed, striver vs shirker, hardworking vs lazy bastards. Them vs us. Elvis, he brings people together. And that is bloody beautiful. We all need to look deeper than the lies spoon fed to us, about the stereotypes about people who use food banks, stereotypes about those who have to sign on, question every stereotype going. Or indeed stereotypes about Elvis Aaron Presley. Because stereotypes by rote, they are rarely any good.

@cathbore

I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst), out this week.  

 

 

People shouldn’t need telling, but unisex toilets are very bad

The bar I’m going to has no sign outside. Still, I find it. My friends arrive with kisses and hugs. We go inside. I acclimatise and nod yes, I’ve been here before. It is familiar with its cheesy fries served in tin mugs. That’s not the sort of thing you forget, a place that puts cheese on your food without asking first, in an Old Prospector mug.

The bar is full of the beautiful people who shop at John Lewis or Waitrose and the only second hand furniture they have at home is antique, passed down as a family heirloom. The men have designer beards ironed flat and trimmed or blow dried, one has a seaman’s woolly hat warming his skull. He works in computer coding.

Still, the bar is small and all goes well with our drinks and chats and catch ups.  After a glass or two of wine and because I’d blanked out my first visit to this place I ask, “does anyone know where the toilet is?”

Fingers point to an oblong block of white in the corner. The toilets are through the doorway and down a Kafkaesque corridor of too much light, harsh and glaring like it hates me, the sort of blazing light that call centres turn up to eleven to keep the worker drones awake.  Conditions you hear about in testimonies from people released from Guantanamo Bay, tales of sensory overload or deprivation, or both. I walk towards the light and follow the long straight corridor and am confronted by a pig trough. It is metal and deep, taps hanging over the side. I’ve had wine, so my mind rambles. They must turn the taps and swill spurts out runny and brown and nutritious for the pigs, splashing against the backwash and mirror. It’s wipe-clean. This is a progressive pig house, consideration given to the swine who want to look nice after they’ve eaten.  How nice, and right-on for the pigs.

This is not the pig trough toilet I'm talking about, but it looks like a urinal too, so...
This is not the pig trough toilet I’m talking about, but it looks like a urinal too, so…

But I see no pigs. There is no pig swill. I realise, slowly, that this is not a pig trough.  It is a washbasin, a long one with men and women’s toilets on either side. I am in fact in a unisex toilet.

In the 1990s men and women were for a brief and ugly time seen as the same. Someone decided young women were like lads, though what that made lads no one was quite sure. Zoe Ball and Cerys Matthews are and were tremendous women but never lads, no matter how much the ladette inventor (a man) wanted them to be. I’m linking the ladette thing and unisex toilets together because for the life of me I can’t think of any reason why either concept existed, and why at the same time. The ladette label has long jogged on but unisex toilets? No one wants them and yet they still exist, and new ones built.

I’m torn as to why they are still here, these years on. Are designers, bar owners or whoever comes up with these ideas believing unisex loos right-on, or are they eager to save space and make more money? I’m thinking it’s cash related, for the life of me I can’t think of another reason. Back in 1990s most realised the concept of unisex toilets as a grim one, men and women doing toilet things so close is very wrong. We are not the same. Men and women are equal but not the same. There is a tremendous difference between us and that’s okay. I’m grateful for the differences and feel like holding a bloody party to celebrate them if the differences mean that we get separate toilets.

We do our toilet business differently, but some right on-ers, they will not let it go. Stubborn digging in of heels is never good. The definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Madness barks and gallops in these bars and clubs, the ones with unisex toilets.

I go to the women’s cubicles, a row of white doors. I am in The Trial, unsure what I’ve done wrong but at least I know how to get out of the place at the end and that is a lifeline. The cubicles, they are as I imagine men’s conveniences, blocked toilets with crumpled wads of toilet roll sodden solid and grey like old chewing gum. Not Waitrose toilet roll, I note. Funny, that.

I soldier on because I must then go to wash my hands in the trough. It is not a sink, no matter how much my mind tries to convince me. The trough is functional dull steel, it will never earn a shine and wouldn’t look out of place in a 1950s sci-fi move.The Revenge of The Uni-Sex Toilets filmmakers, I fancy they imagined we’d be living on a pill a day by now and not have to work because robots do everything for us. Hollow laughter, I know you well.

I give washing my hands a try, the things hanging over the side of the trough shaped like a tap are ones where you put your hand or whatever else it is you might need to wash underneath and water comes out of its own accord. Only tonight it doesn’t and I’m standing there with damp hands under a shy dribble as a painfully young man as mortified as me washes his hands in his part of the trough. There is no man and woman part of the trough but I pretend there is, we both do. We finish the washing and drying at the same time and leave simultaneously.

‘You first,’ he says. He is a gentleman.

Somehow, this makes everything worse. We both stare at the ground, not wanting to look at each other because we both know we’ve been to the toilet and it’s just too awful to think about, the individual toilet business. I’m northern and working class and he has an imagination too. So I’m walking along this horrifically well-lit corridor with a twenty year old boy behind me to get away from the toilet as quickly as I can and thinking “why do people in bars hate their customers so much?” Because I think they do. They must, or why else would they carry on with the unisex toilets thing? No good can come of it, ever.

@cathbore

Book news

There are two books out this week with my work in them.

On Monday 5th Jan, Sisters Born, Sisters Found (Wordforest) is out via ebook. In paperback already, it carries my feminist essay “You women! You’re such bithes!”. The book is an exploration of sisterhood in all its guises. Thanks to editor Laura McHale Holland from Wordforest for all the hard work she put into producing the book.

cath bore

On Tuesday 6th Jan, the ebook version of Slim Volume : No Love Lost (Pankhearst) is also released, with the paperback available since December. I help celebrate anti-romance with my flash fiction “Good Times”. Edited by Kate Garrett, the book is a full of beautiful stories and poetry. I read “Good Times” on YouTube:

A (slightly late) launch for No Love Lost takes place in Sheffield on 29th January, details here.

@cathbore