Thursday Photo Challenge is Changing.

I’ve been doing these photo challenges for six months, now, and despite the fact that I’ve been part of the photography wordpress community, I wasn’t prepared for how bitchy and cliquey people can be. So far, I’ve had to delete more than a handful of really nasty, shitty comments from people who think they’re photographers, people sending me emails telling me who do I think I am running a photo challenge, and people telling other people to avoid participating in my challenge. In six months of running the Thursday Photo Challenge I have had ONE person share their (awesome) photos with me, and that was via Twitter.

Until I started this challenge, I always thought the WordPress Photography Community was a welcoming place where anyone could participate. Obviously, I was wrong about that. Apparently you have to be approved by the right people to be allowed to do photography on WordPress these days. It wasn’t like that when I started this blog in 2014, and I never got that vibe in all the years I participated in other photo challenges on WordPress, but times they have a-changed and some shitty, bitchy people have installed themselves as gatekeepers.

With that in mind, and given that my blog started 6 years ago so I could share my travel photos with my friends and also keep a log of how I did certain things like put up curtains in my car campervan, I’m going to continue posting my photos in relevant travel articles. Since I’m also a professional author and I largely don’t care to be part of the photography community if they’re going to be fifty-something men acting like the thirteen-year-olds in Mean Girls, I’m going to change my weekly Thursday posts to writing prompts.

Let me be clear. Nothing is STOPPING me from continuing to blog, but I can blog about anything I damn please and I am not interested in the pathetic drama that the photography community is sending my way so they can all get stuffed. Perhaps bitchy comments is why the original weekly photo challenge died a death. I’m sure a fiftysomething man called Roy will be along any minute now to enlighten us all about the things us mere female mortals could never possibly understand.

I just want normal trousers

I have a shopping problem. Tops are fairly easy. But every time I need to buy a pair of trousers, I take hours. I don’t know why clothing retailers waste money making trousers in shapes and sizes that no one actually wants. I mean, let’s say you’re in a marketing meeting. You’re working for a big company. You’re well respected and until now, you have quite a good track record at making sensible decisions about products.

Then someone gives you the trouser account. And instead of thinking, legs haven’t changed for tens of thousands of years, let’s just go with what works, you decide that the way for you to make your mark on trouserland is to change everything. And to test the market, you decide to manufacture these monstrosities in size 2-4 only.

Not satisfied with your contribution to the world, you flood every single online retailer with your stupid designs. Cropped jeans. Skinny jeans. Super skinny jeans. Ultra-high-waist jeans. Jeggings. Wide leg jeans. Extra wide-leg jeans. The low-rise. The high-rise. The rise-and-shine (now made without leather)…

And that’s just the jeans!

Dear God is it too much to ask for a fucking pair of trousers that go on past my feet, and go around my legs, and fasten at the waist without making me look like one of those nurses from the 90’s with those awful elastic belts, and simultaneously not gaping at the back showing my knickers to all and sundry? How hard is it to just… make a pair of jeans? I don’t want options other than “these ones will fit you”. I don’t have some weird body type. I am a normal-sized woman with average-sized bones. I am 5’6” tall so my legs are regular. I don’t want jeans that scrape the floor when I walk and therefore the seams get ruined after about three hours and I have to buy another pair. I don’t want jeans that look like someone dropped paint on them or vomited on them. I don’t want them to look like the man at the dyehouse was drunk and incompetent and somehow made the seams dark blue and a big oval around my arse light blue so everyone behind me thinks I sat in bleach.

When men buy jeans? They walk to a shelf, pick up their size, pay and leave, knowing this pair will fit exactly the same as all their old pairs did.

I want that. I want to find all the jeans and trousers in one category in any given online store, and I want two options. Jeans or trousers. We only have 500 options because every last one of them is an inadequate trade-off designed to ruin our self-esteem so we are forced to go shopping again.

I am sick of taking on the mental load of thinking about clothes. I just want to not be naked in public. That’s really all I want from my clothes. Why can’t the clothing industry make that happen with the least amount of fuss and fanfare as possible?

Could you imagine if some totally random industry, like the car industry or the gardening industry, had options as stupid as women’s trousers? They’d never get investors!

“Uh, yeah, so I want to bring out a brand of car that has seats that are too short, so the headrest stabs people in the back. I want the steering wheel to be triangular so it looks really cool but doesn’t turn the car around corners. And I want no cupholders or those little door pockets. Gloveboxes are right out. Every car owner will need to buy a trailer which will be sold separately and may or may not actually fit their phone and purse. Oh, and the paint will flake off after six months so you have to scrap it and buy a new one every year, and we’ll manufacture them in Shantytown, Nowhereistan, so those people who attend protests all bully their friends for owning our cars. For colour ranges? Why don’t we just get a cat to shit on it and sell it like that? We’ll call it post-post-postmodernism.”

“Hi, I’m designing a new seed for people’s vegetable patches. The plant will have no leaves, flower heads, fruit, vegetables or petals and the root system will only work in a climate that’s Everest in the summer and the Sahara in the winter. We’ll make it sell by removing any actual vegetables from the seed catalogue this year. Oh and we’ll size it so there’s half a seed in each packet. It will be inedible. We will call it post-foodism and target 18-25-year-old gardeners with about two acres of land who live in the inner city.”

It’s like clothing companies utterly misunderstand the average requirements of their customers. And they’re wondering how the Arcadia Group and Debenhams collapsed within about a year of each other, emptying half the British high street in any given town. We don’t want to be sold shit that is impractical and has a lifespan of about 3 months unless you wash it. There’s only so many times you can rip off customers before they just stop buying.

So if you’re a clothing designer and you just got your first big contract, how about making trousers like this:

  1. They actually fit. Around the waist and the leg. At the same time.
  2. They are made of a fabric that you can’t see daylight through when you hold it up to a window.
  3. The seams are stitched so they don’t tear apart or unravel in normal use.
  4. The button holes are big enough for the buttons.
  5. The colour is something you could see the average woman wearing on a rainy day in Sutton Coldfield or Twickenham.
  6. There are no stupid words on them. If you must put your brand name on them, the only appropriate location on trousers is a leather patch near the belt loops.
  7. Don’t ruin them by embellishing them with some stupid ribbon down the sides of the leg that means I have to buy new trousers in a year and can only wear them with two jumpers unless I buy more.
  8. Refer to an actual size chart with measurements before calling something a size 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 etc. In this day and age, people don’t want a size 8 that only fits a size 10, or a size 16 that a 12 couldn’t get into. People are shopping online and returns are expensive and make people mad because they didn’t get to wear their clothes when they wanted to. Standardize your fucking sizes. I had to send about £125 of a £200 order back to ASOS.com recently because sizing is meaningless to clothing companies. I am a very consistent middle-of-the-road 8. There is no reason for jeans to be sized with a different system to trousers, they both go on my same legs. I don’t know what a 26, 27, 28, S, R or L mean, or how you’ve sized the hips if 28 is the waist. I know I am an 8. Make trousers in an 8. Jeans are trousers, stop kidding yourself that they’re special or different.
  9. If your clothing is targeted at over 30s (which I recommend; there are a lot of us and we’d be more economically active if you sold stuff we wanted to buy), consider the fact that we are likely to have had at least one pregnancy, and therefore our ribcages and waistlines have shifted. Letting out the waists by about 1-2 inches would give a much better fit for each size.
  10. Don’t bother making clothes in a size 2. I can 100% guarantee you’ll have several thousand pairs of trousers left over in a size 2 which you won’t even be able to get rid of in a sale.

Sort your shit out and make normal trousers for normal people. What is normal? How about stop wasting time on pointless unanswerable pontifications and go make some better trousers, fashion industry!

How to get a China visa if you’ve changed your name

China is famous for its bureaucracy. And when we were looking to move, this highlighted a huge feminist issue with western society. I found that most countries were happy to accept the name on my passport, but China was different. If you’re a woman having issues getting a China visa, maybe my story will help you.

Flash back to 2017. Rainy northeastern England. No skilled job opportunities for people with Polish last names (I had a lot of phone conversations with agencies that went like this: Thanks, but my husband with a PhD actually doesn’t want to work in a warehouse, he’d like to work in his in-demand field, also stop being so surprised I speak English, I was born in South London).

My husband had been offered a job in China, and I’d decided to go along with him. This wasn’t an easy decision because I was finishing my master’s degree and my own career as a writer was taking off exponentially at the time. This was something I didn’t know if I could do in China, because I wouldn’t have a tax identifier (required to earn money from any US company), which was a whole separate saga and which took me to San Francisco the following year to sort it all out.

We went across to the other side of the country to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office in Manchester, which was a day’s expensive travel from where we lived. We had taken all the documents we had been told we would need. Passports, our marriage certificates, and my husband’s qualifications. I was travelling on a spouse visa so wouldn’t need proof of qualification, but I know many women who had the same problem I did with their degree certificates rather than marriage certificate.

We went to the office and took a ticket to wait in the queue. We first were denied our visas because we hadn’t photocopied our visa application forms and they wanted two copies. Then we were sent away. We photocopied our application forms. We took a ticket and queued again.

I was denied my visa this time because our marriage certificate had my maiden name on it and my passport had my married name on it. My husband, because this was a joint application, either had to apply again separately and leave me behind, or we had to find some way of proving I had legally changed my name.

I tried to explain that the marriage certificate should be enough and I pointed to where my old name was and where my new name had come from but they weren’t having any of it.

I actually had done a deed poll when I changed to my married name, because I had double barrelled (put my name then my husband’s name, which is common in Spain and other Latin countries, but not in the UK, so I’d been prepared for all sorts of nonsense), but I didn’t have a copy of the deed poll because no one had ever asked for it before; all the banks, even the passport office, had always accepted my marriage certificate because double-barrelling is actually an acceptable (if unusual) thing to do in the UK after you get married. As long as you take your husband’s name somehow, they don’t care. If you want to really confuse people in the UK, phone the bank and tell them you’ve changed to “Mrs” or “Ms” but that your name is the same as before. Heaven forbid you get used to your identity as a woman.

We didn’t have the time or money to go back across the country to try and dig out this deed poll then return before the office closed, our home was too far away, so we thought we would have to abandon this attempt to get the Chinese visas. We talked about how bad would it be if we separated for the two years and I stayed behind, because I didn’t want to stop him going.

Then, inspiration hit. I found a local newsagent down the road which, despite this being 2017, still had internet access and printing/photocopying for customers to use, and I went online, found an online deed poll, filled in my name and the date we got married, and printed it.

We hurried back to the visa office while the ink was drying. We took a ticket. Waited another 45 minutes to speak to someone. Got to the front of the queue. FINALLY handed over the last document and waited to find out what they would deny the visa for this time.

They approved it.

Relieved, we stepped out into the sun with our Chinese entry visas now glued into our passports. And in that moment, we both looked at each other and with dead certainty said the same thing: This was only the beginning.

As it happened, this was the only time we had a problem like this and this was the hardest piece of bureaucracy the whole time we lived in China. Once we were actually in the country, the visa process worked efficiently.

I did hear of other women having problems where their degree certificates were in their maiden names and their passports were in their married names. Again, I would encourage deed polls to show what went before and what your name is now.

It’s completely rubbish that the situation is like this because only women get stripped of our names, and identities, in western society, for the sake of having a permanent relationship with someone, and we are paying the price here for the patriarchy.

China doesn’t understand this as well as other countries because in China, you don’t change your name when you marry. Your family name as a woman stays the same. You have permanence. You exist as an entity separate from your husband. Whereas in the UK people wonder what’s wrong with you if you don’t take your husband’s name at all. I didn’t especially want to because his name isn’t good and mine was amazing but I felt I had to.

So if you need a visa for China and have changed your name, or if you’re looking to move to China and you’ve changed your name due to marriage, especially if you’ve then divorced and have some documents in both names, I’d suggest making a paper trail to prove it. Get deed polls if you need to, like I did. They are accepted.

I had a maternal request elective C-section for tokophobia

I’ve just posted this somewhere else but I wanted to mention it here too because I think there’s too much stigma surrounding Tokophobia (fear of childbirth) and maybe it will help someone else:

 

I have always had tokophobia and it put me off wanting children for years because I was so scared of childbirth. I thought we would adopt instead, and justified it because the world is overpopulated (and isn’t it the height of self-indulgence to be a Millennial in the position of being able to afford a child). I had so many little justifications but underneath it all, I wanted kids. Twenty of them. Enough to fill a minibus or a classroom. Smashing the Idiocracy, one baby at a time.
 
With my first (unsuccessful) pregnancy I got such bad hyperemesis and I think a large part of it was because I was so anxious about giving birth, despite desperately wanting a baby. I was sure I would die. I ended up in hospital on IV fluids because I was so scared of having a baby that my body stopped digesting food. At the time, maternal-request C-section was not an option in England. In many parts of England, it still isn’t, and I find that abominable while on the other hand we tell women to trust their instincts about reduced foetal movement etc.
 
With my most recent and finally successful pregnancy, I had all my antenatal care in China where a C-section is the norm, which took away 99% of the stress. I got “normal” amounts of morning sickness, which isn’t great, but it also made me realize just how bad my hyperemesis had been several years earlier, despite so many people dismissing it as part and parcel of pregnancy.
I finally allowed myself to learn all about pregnancy and childbirth, and the whole thing fascinated me. I think I talked about random obstetric facts non-stop whenever my husband was home. I found myself craving the British model of pregnancy – midwife-led care, with emphasis on normality. In China, a doctor makes all your decisions and they get quite offended if you refuse any tests they’ve recommended (and they loved recommending tests).
When I got to Northern Ireland, there was uncertainty about my due date so they wanted me to have an induction. This was something I hadn’t really read about because I didn’t like it as a concept. It seemed unnatural to fill the body with gloop to force a baby out when it wasn’t ready. It really didn’t sit right with me, but no one said I had any alternative, and the baby had to come out somehow, so I actually psyched myself up to go for an induction.
I think I would have been okay except I had a cervical sweep three days before the induction and it was agonizing, and it left me unable to walk very well (I suspect this is when the baby accidentally got turned). I still kept telling myself I could do this induction, but now I had a lot less confidence because if that was just a little membrane sweep, how much worse was labour going to be. I was resolved that I was going to try and have a normal birth though (in between bouts of crying and telling my husband I was going to die because I was completely terrified).
I tried practising hypnobirthing and meditation, and even wrote a birth plan about 2 days before the induction date. On the day, I spent 6 hours having the worst and longest anxiety attack of my entire life, convinced my baby would die and so would I, while the poor midwife in the induction bay was trying to calm me down because I was crying and shaking, blood pressure through the roof, and she ended up getting the registrar to come and go through what an ELCS would entail with me.
 
Until a C-section was offered, I’d been too scared to ask for one in case they said no.
 
The registrar then did a scan to look at my baby and said he’d shifted to an oblique lie so couldn’t have come out any other way. She drew a diagram in my notes and everything, but I still don’t know if she was just trying to make me feel better.
 
When I was going into theatre to have the CS the consultant-midwife asked me why I was having it and I said about the baby being oblique because I was too ashamed of how scared I’d been. Of course, she could see my notes so I should have just been upfront but anxiety isn’t rational.
 
My notes say “maternal request c-section” but that doesn’t quite cover the time I spent agonizing over this, feeling like I’d let my baby down because I was too scared to try and push him out, or the fact I still mourned the loss of my envisioned “perfect” birth, a waterbirth, surrounded by delicious snacks, with my husband in the water with me and holding my hand. It doesn’t come close to making me feel better about what happened, when I know what the statistics say about C-sections and the chance of babies developing respiratory issues and digestive problems.
 
I dreaded having to tell my family what had happened so I didn’t tell anyone I’d had a C-section for weeks before I finally admitted it, and everyone was fine about it. This is the first time I’ve openly admitted it was partly down to my own terror of childbirth.
 
It’s taken me months to come to terms with the fact I “failed” at having a baby the “proper” way but I know now that a lot of that stigma comes from within me, from the phobia of having a baby, not from other people’s genuine opinions. Literally no one has said anything nasty to me about having had a C-section.
 
I wish I’d been honest with my consultant about my fears and felt brave enough to ask for a C-section when I first got back to the UK instead of letting the situation go on for weeks with me thinking I was going to be able to try for a vaginal birth. But I know why I didn’t. I was hoping I’d just “get on with it” on the day. Within minutes of us arriving for the induction I’d been told I was too high risk for a waterbirth because of the baby’s size (because he was broad-shouldered), and that was when my anxiety got the better of me and everything fell in on itself in my mind.
 
I also wish I’d been honest about my history of mental health issues, but there is a lot of pressure on us as women to be fine when we’re not, and I was trying so damn hard to be ok with something I just couldn’t do. If the baby had been low-risk, I would have gone home and waited for labour (and maybe even freebirthed) but I was terrified of refusing the induction and putting my baby at risk of death so I got paralysed with anxiety.
I was also terrified of social services being alerted that I had a history of bipolar on my medical notes (we still don’t know what’s actually wrong with me, currently Autism, type II bipolar, borderline and ADHD are all being floated around) and taking my baby away. I was convinced they were going to take my baby and nothing anyone said could divest me of this belief. I might have had a teensy bit of psychosis over this but it seems to have resolved itself and I managed to keep enough of a lid on it that I didn’t get mental health sectioned over it (just C-sectioned haha) despite being sure at several points over the last few months that I was going to be an inpatient and separated from my baby (we don’t have mother and baby units in Northern Ireland so women with post natal psychosis or severe post natal depression get sectioned and put in a normal psychiatric hospital).
And despite at least 2 suicide attempts post-partum I am still at home and with my baby. Turns out NI don’t really intervene beyond community mental health teams unless you’ve set yourself on fire so that’s relieving because I don’t think being imprisoned in a mental hospital without my Jellyfish would help me to recover very well, and anyway I’d have to stop breastfeeding.
 
Overall, I am glad I had a C-section rather than a prolonged birth in a strange place where I couldn’t be myself because there were too many strangers, and where my husband would get sent home outside visiting hours. But I still really wish I could have had that water birth. I’m looking towards a second baby, and I’m pretty certain I want a homebirth (homebirth after C-section, or HBAC, is allowed in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK but as far as I know it’s not allowed in Southern Ireland) with a birthing pool. I’ve seen some beautiful videos on Youtube of vloggers who had natural waterbirths at home. 
 
The first mental health keyworker I saw said to me that it doesn’t matter how your baby came out as long as they are healthy. This effectively shut down the conversation about why I was there, lost in the depths of post-natal depression. While I do think a birth is just a means to an end, at the same time it is a part of our story and lived experience as a woman and for that reason we should respect each other’s decisions and hear each other’s words about birth, especially when that has deeply affected someone’s outlook or mental wellbeing. I don’t think dismissing this as unimportant actually moves anyone forward or helps them get over things.
If I am lucky enough to get onto a midwifery course (yeah I haven’t told the fam about that, either, because I might not get on a course), this is how I want to work for my pregnant ladies; I want to ensure they know their options and get the closest thing possible to the birth they want.

Victoria Wood yesterday, Chyna today.

Two women whose contributions to the world were greater than it wants you to believe. Victoria Wood died yesterday at the age of 62. Cancer. Chyna died today aged 45.
But the whole world is only talking about the loss of Prince, with a sidenote about Guy Hamilton, director of the James Bond movies.
Let’s talk about the two women who deserved the spotlight today:
Victoria Wood was a writer and comedian who was and still is a household name in Britain. Her style of comedy was insightful and witty. She often worked with Julie Walters, and was known for a multitude of sketches along with “Dinnerladies” and “Acorn Antiques.” Irritatingly, everyone was going on about how she was an “inspiration to women” as if, because she’s female, she couldn’t possibly be an inspiration to men. It’s so annoying when you go out and become inspirational as a woman, because as we all know, your uterus pops out and inflates like an umbrella and anyone taller than 5’6″ can’t see you any more. It’s happened to a lot of women. It’s an outrage that the BBC, in their rush to get the first obituary out, to boost their views, produced an obituary for her which was riddled with proofreading errors. As someone whose parents were such fans of Victoria Wood that they named me after her, I thought it was very disrespectful of the BBC to write such illiterate rubbish.

But it was better than what they did with Chyna. They called her a “wrestler and porn star.” Because of course women aren’t allowed to shine out in male-dominated sports. She’s the only female wrestler to have defeated a slew of male WWE champions in the ring, the first (and possibly only) female wrestler to win the WWE Championship belt, and yet the BBC chose to focus their headline on the fact that she had also worked in the sex industry. In the entire article, they never even mentioned that she taught English in Japan.
To put it into perspective, calling Chyna a “Wrestler and Porn Star” would be like calling Vivienne Westwood a “fashion designer and schoolteacher” or JK Rowling a “writer and unemployed single mother.” It’s just not necessary and it’s not appropriate, it’s to remind you that she’s a woman and has worked in a profession society considers degrading.

Do you know why they’re trying to downplay her achievements in the wrestling ring by focussing on the porn?  Because she was a female wrestler who defeated men at wrestling.  This isn’t the sort of thing the world wants women to know.  That it’s possible for us to become physically strong enough and skilful enough at fighting to overpower men who are also physically strong.  Oh, they’re scared shitless that if we work that out, it’s game over for the men who try to keep us down with their fake “feminism” (where they tell us what to think about feminism) and their “fear of rape culture” culture that they’re crippling us with.  By focussing on the porn rather than the wrestling, they’re hoping to distract us from the fact that she beat HEAVYWEIGHT men in the wrestling ring.
Here she is doing some wrestling:

They would never say crap like that about a man. If Jeffrey Archer died tomorrow, the obituary would read “Jeffrey Archer: Writer and politician has died” not “Jeffrey Archer: Ex Convict has died.”

But then, if Jeffrey Archer died tomorrow, he might actually get a word in edgeways as he’s a man and the world might actually see that his death was worth making a fuss over.

I’d love to see what (if I ever make anything of myself) they wrote about me. Slut?  Actress? Writer? Youtuber? Teacher? Model?  Checkout Assistant? Archaeologist?  Comedian?  Car enthusiast?  Adventurer?  Person who got paid to hold a sign for two days one winter? Atheist? Roller skater?  Probably nothing at all.

What would they write about you? Single mother? Homeless person? Dog lover? Runner? Blogger? Peanut Butter Factory Operations Labourer?

I’d like to hope that by the time we die, women are actually allowed to have careers and impacts on the world beyond a) sex and b) “inspirational to women.” I mean, there’s nothing WRONG with being a porn star or inspiring women, but it’s pretty narrow and sexist to make that the focus of a person’s obit just because that person is also female. I’d like to think that Victoria Wood inspired people of any gender. She sure as hell inspired me, she was one of my biggest formative influences in performance and comedy when I was growing up; I used to read the credits in amazement, seeing with awe that she’d written, acted in AND done the music for most of her TV programmes. She should be EVERYONE’S inspiration for so many reasons, she was a wonderful person and a fantastic comedian with a real gift for natural, approachable comedy. Most comedians can be divided into two groups, either they make you feel more stupid for having watched them, or they are so highbrow that you won’t get half of it. Victoria Wood was neither. She was completely accessible but her jokes were never stupid.
Earlier today, I saw her in a sketch with Alan Rickman (I’d never seen this one before):

This is more her usual style though:

What do you think they will write about Caitlyn Jenner? I dread to think what they’ll put in her headline, I bet it won’t be “Decathlon Winner and Olympic Champion Caitlyn Jenner has died.” They’ll shoehorn something else in. That’s what they do to women. She’ll be an “inspiration to transgendered people” instead of just an “inspiration.” You’re not allowed to go round contaminating good honest white men with your inspiration unless you’re a white man too. Just to clarify, please understand that when what I say sounds like the opposite of reasonable, I’m being sarcastic; it’s what happens when I resent the inherent prejudice in the system.

It’s funny how every time a male celebrity dies at the same time as a female celebrity, the male one overshadows the female one. Did you know that Farrah Fawcett, the bombshell pinup from Charlie’s Angels, died the exact same day as Michael Jackson? No, of course not, because they latched on to Michael Jackson and turned him into a saint and she faded into obscurity. Like women are supposed to. They do it when we get married, they do it when we have babies, and they do it when we die. We’re just supposed to disappear. So Guy Hamilton and Prince get the spotlight today, and Chyna and Victoria Wood, the real tragic losses of the past 48 hours, have just disappeared.

Sorry about the ranty tone of today’s article, but this whole inequality just makes me so angry. Death happens to everyone. Why do we only publicly see and seem to mourn the deaths of men? It’s a throwback to the dark ages (or Islamic Shariah states such as Afghanistan) where women never left the house and weren’t seen to do anything of any importance, and by that token the important contributions of women were invisible. In death, the ultimate reality, we see that nothing has changed for women despite all the “rights” and “freedoms” they have been accorded.

It’s also the Queen’s 90th birthday today.  At least SHE got a headline.

Why Daisy Ridley shouldn’t play Lara Croft.

So I saw yesterday that apparently Daisy Ridley is in talks to play Lara Croft. Because, y’know, she’s got brown hair and has been filmed running around.

daisy ridley
Daisy Ridley will not make a good Lara Croft for another 10 years or so.

When are the people making Tomb Raider movies going to get it through their thick skulls that they are doing it wrong? They just keep repeating the same mistakes.  I’ve seen a lot of changes since I started following the Tomb Raider franchise in 1996, but this is utterly ridiculous.

Lara is English. She should be played by an English actress, they’ve got as far as working that out. However, there’s plenty of English actresses other than Daisy Ridley. They can run around and point guns at stuff just as well as American women, it’s not a “talent” that’s unique to Daisy. Not only that, but any English actress will be able to point out anachronisms in the script “we don’t usually eat that food, we don’t actually say that phrase” etc.

The main issue is that Lara is 29 in the first game. Twenty. Nine.  She gets older as time goes on.  Her official date of birth was February 14th, 1967 until the marketers stepped in and de-aged her.  Because, y’know, women aren’t allowed to age, we hit 25 then they rewind and rewrite the history and get a new actress to play the part, redesign the video game character, all that jazz.  But Lara started out as 29 and she aged 1 year in every subsequent game up to Tomb Raider Chronicles (Tomb Raider 5) where it gets a bit confused due to her being thought dead.  Of course, women stop ageing when they’re believed to be dead and it was implied (but never stated) that the clock rewound at some point because Angelina Jolie was too young when she played Lara.  Why make the same mistake again?

Hiring someone who is 23 but looks 16 isn’t going to make a great Tomb Raider movie. She needs some gravitas.  If you don’t understand this, think about an analogy – would you hire a 23 year old actor to play James Bond? It’s exactly the same.  The role of James Bond generally goes to someone aged in their very late thirties or early forties, and they play him through their forties and sometimes into their fifties.  Lara has life experience, she’s supposed to be laid back and a bit sassy, and (here’s the really important part) in her original bio, she was completely self made. She got disinherited and EARNED her money from writing travel books. You need time to establish that sort of money.

In order to win the all-important over-21 female audience, you are going to need to give them something inspirational, instead of sending the message out (yet again) that women’s lives are over at 25 and they’ve peaked.  The reason Lara did so well with the female demographic in the first place (in the video games, and she really did) is because it was the first time we’d had a character like that; older, smart, physically active, totally independent AND didn’t feel the need to look like a man to make it in the world (but wasn’t frilly and uber feminine either).  Give us Lara Croft at her actual age with someone who can really get inside the character, and I promise you, it’ll do MUCH better than whatever you’ve got planned.

Lara’s physical appearance is wrong for Daisy Ridley. Her hair is a medium brown (and in the original games she had a henna rinse). Angelina Jolie’s hair was nearly black. What’s the point in them making such a big fuss about the physical characteristics such as boobs and waist, and then consistently getting the hair wrong?

The marketing geniuses behind the Tomb Raider films seems to think that tokenistic Britishisms and the right costume are all they need, and that they should just throw it at some popular-today actress. They probably don’t understand why Cradle of Life flopped. Lena Headey would be the ideal Lara Croft in every way shape and form.  If they need more suggestions, Keira Knightley would be a MUCH better choice than Daisy Ridley; her face looks exactly right and she is a good age to play Lara convincingly, or how about Emilia Clarke (who also played Sarah Connor), these are fantastic English actresses who could really do the role some justice.  If they consider hiring an American actress (given my reservations outlined above), they should be looking in the direction of Angelina Goddamn Jolie. Really they need someone over 30 with enough life experience to actually make a credible Lara Croft, and maybe some experience in a similar role.  The only obvious reason I can think of for why they’re not considering Keira Knightley is boob size.  And that’s a disgraceful excuse.

Actress Knightley poses as she arrives for the European premiere of the film "The Imitation Game" at the BFI opening night gala at Leicester Square in London
Keira Knightley is the right age and she has the right appearance to play Lara Croft.

lena headey
Lena Headey would make a MUCH better Lara Croft than Daisy Ridley.

Lara Croft is Sarah Connor without kids. She’s not some petulant and 2-dimensional little girl who lives off daddy’s money and got into daddy’s gun cupboard. If you look at the original bio before it all got sanitized and changed to fit the films, the conflict between Lara and her parents (and getting disinherited) is what drives her to be so independent. Without it, you’ve just got an uber-wealthy spoilt brat running around third world countries damaging old stuff. Not only that, but she’s supposed to be tongue in cheek, like James Bond or Indiana Jones.  She has balls.

Characterization is where they went badly wrong with the first two films – they just didn’t understand the character when they wrote the script, turned her into some laughable idea of British Upper Class and, while the first film pulled through due to canny marketing and product deals, the second one flopped. Nobody even knew when it was out because all the advertising posters didn’t have the date on them.

They need to return to the original character concept – it worked for Batman, there you have a strong body of evidence that the modern audience wants authenticity, not some popular-culture influenced, re-styled version of the original idea. It doesn’t need to appeal to 14 year olds, it needs to appeal to twenty-and-thirty-somethings who own action figures, because the rest of the market will follow where they lead when it comes to things like this, and they will determine whether the film becomes a classic or is totally forgotten in a year’s time.  It all starts with hiring the right actress to play Lara Croft.

Marketers aren’t usually this stupid. They know how the audience thinks and they know how to market things. If they’re hiring Daisy Ridley for this, there’s something wider going on here – they want it to fail. Why? Because if they can’t reboot Tomb Raider then it’s proof positive that consumers don’t want female action heroes. Ghostbusters was a shockingly fake nod to “diversity” and following it up the next year with a terrible Tomb Raider movie will really turn public opinion against female action protagonists. Which means they can get back in the kitchen and bake cakes instead.

Edit: To reflect Lena Headey’s nationality, I have amended this article.  She really is the ultimate Lara Croft.

Want more about my Lara Croft obsession? Tutorial: Three classic Lara hairstyles.

21 tips for writing a bestselling travel article

This article will give you 21 tips and tricks to help you to write a bestselling travel article: In the style of a well known travel website which also sells guidebooks.

I look to magazines to show me the best examples of how to write. Sometimes I have to wonder why these people get paid in money rather than in bananas. That’s right, I’m implying a relationship between monkeys and typewriters. Bearing that in mind, here are some tips on how to write the perfect bestselling travel article, including photo editing tips:

1. Pick a place that’s easy to get to, but far enough away that normal people can’t actually afford to go there.

2. Take one or two photos that are probably unrepresentative of the place as a whole, particularly if it involves the sea, rugged landscapes, or any view you can only get from a helicopter.

This is exactly what you will see if you go to Egypt.
This is exactly what you will see if you go to Egypt.

3. Touch up the picture with Photoshop to enhance the colours, to make it even more unrepresentative of the place, and edit out the unsightly evidence of real life taking place, such as litter, insects or children.  Your aim is for travellers to be disappointed when they get there, so they go somewhere else (and buy a new guidebook) next year.

Those peaches have been colour enhanced to make you disappointed if you really see them.
Those peaches have been colour enhanced to make you disappointed if you really see them. Source: Wikipedia.

4. Write a story, embellish the details and make up interactions with semi-stereotypical characters who are always unusually aware of their global context for a farmer/mechanic/factory worker, to really show people an unrepresentative slice of life in the place where they’ll never go (because if they did, they’d find out you made it all up).

5. The opening paragraph – use at least four adjectives per sentence, the whole paragraph must be exactly three sentences long. The first sentence should have no more than 8 words in it. The second sentence can be a little longer.

6. The body of the article: Basically the first paragraph serves to describe the place in its entirety, from here on you will be talking about the history, climate, etc, and never, ever tell people anything useful such as what they could find there, how to get there, what petrol is called, what side of the road to drive on. Instead, you should find the most obscure language in the area and throw around one or two words that don’t mean anything, because it makes people feel like they now know enough lingo to go there. You never know, they might just find that one person who speaks that actual language and talk to them for long enough to use the two words they can now understand. More likely, it’s an insular community who are sick to death of white people, since their only contact with white people is when they turn up, gawk, take pictures of them as if they’re objects, then talk loudly at them and leave.

7. It is probably a place of conflict. Briefly mention the conflict, and don’t hasten to embellish on exactly how this conflict has changed all the people who live here, even if it only happened a few years ago or only happened for two days, or only affected one village that was eight hundred miles away from where you stayed. The only exception to this is if the conflict is ongoing. If the conflict is ongoing, you must mention it in less than one sentence, or even better, don’t mention it at all. They can find out for themselves when they get shot.

8. Don’t mention cultures or customs (with the exception of high days such as Carnevale or Divali, people need to know what they could have done, had they picked better travel days), after all, wouldn’t it be really funny if all the unescorted white women got arrested for immodesty, driving or being out unaccompanied. Better still, don’t tell them about the kidnap/rape problem, because that’s no biggie if it happens. The absolute best practice, though, is to tell your audience all about the cool exciting awesome things you can do in this country, which women aren’t actually allowed to do, and adding a tiny sentence at the end saying “women are not allowed in/on/at the …”

9. Do mention pickpockets or begging children, people will then think your article is honest and reflective of the “real” place.

10. Do mention that drugs are illegal. After all, the fact that they’re illegal EVERYWHERE is such a good deterrent that telling people what happens when they get caught abroad will REALLY stop them doing it. Seriously, this is like secret code for “everyone does drugs in this country.” Those are the only countries they ever point out the legality for.

11. Don’t mention any of the potential diseases you can get in the country you’re writing about. Or any of the necessary vaccinations. Who cares if some tourists die of malaria, AIDS, dengue fever or cholera as long as they bought your guidebook before they departed on their trip?

12. Don’t mention the state of the hospitals or other emergency services. People won’t take out travel insurance if they find out it’s utterly useless due to the fact that there aren’t any hospitals within 800 miles. And then you won’t get money from advertisers.

13. Don’t mention whether the destination has decent food for coeliacs, vegans, Muslims or Jews. They don’t need to eat. As a travel writer, you don’t know any of “those people” personally, so clearly they don’t exist.

14. Do talk in great detail about the “traditional dish” or “national dish” (which nobody really eats who lives there) which is usually meat stuffed with meat in meat sauce with meat and/or possibly cheese.

15. Leave out information about electricity. No-one charges their phone when they’re on holiday.

16. Keep pushing those sponsored hire car articles, but don’t tell readers ANYTHING about the various highway laws. Getting tickets abroad and putting the wrong fuel in your car is fun! Hey they could even get their car impounded!

17. Keep talking about budget options, but don’t actually make an effort to include anything that’s truly cheap. Whatever the hell you get paid to write those shoddy articles is too much if you think £80 a night is a budget hotel/hostel.

18. Never mention anything to do with accessibility. People who are disabled, people who have a guide dog to accompany them (or other support animal) and people with kids in pushchairs don’t travel. Only rich able bodied people do that. That’s why there are ramps and lifts and things all round the world.

19. Don’t discuss travel money options. At all. That’s not worth a single word of an article.

20. Don’t mention which religious groups reside in the area or where the local churches are, or what denominations can worship here. People stop believing in religion when they’re on holiday.

21. DO mention architecturally famous places of worship. Particularly if nobody can worship in them any more. Because travellers want to see the stunning results of religious buildings but don’t want to actually thank the people that made it all possible.

If you follow this guide, you too can produce financially lucrative, but boring and uninformative travel articles with exaggerated details, that editors will pay to publish. That’s a highly popular way that you can make a living off travel writing – because selling out and selling lies to the Man is everyone’s dream come true right?