Identity

This post arises from the happy coincidence of two books I have been reading recently, books which, at first sight, don’t seem to have much in common. The first is Maya Angelou’s “See How The Caged Bird Sings.” We discussed it this morning at the monthly Birmingham Feminist Book Club. Part of a wide-ranging discussion revolved around literature as a means of self understanding, this arising from Angelou’s won discussion in her book of what reading the classics of English literature, and especially, Shakespeare, meant to her, and how she was able, by engaging with the texts, to make sense of her own experience.

This was a concept that was made real for me a couple of years ago when I was a volunteer buddy for a Community Interest Company that worked with adults experiencing mental health difficulties, in particular by encouraging them to read literature and sharing their experiences. To get a flavour of what they did I was invited to attend one of the meetings. We were reading Rose Tremain’s novel The Road Home. The group consisted of people of varying ages, many of whom lived in considerable isolation, an isolation made worse by anxiety and phobias. Some of them only left the house for the weekly meeting in a local library. Most of them had little experience of serious reading. From the discussion, however, it became clear that the book was opening doors for them and all of them were able to use the text to make sense of their own lives, at the same times bringing their won experiences to bear in interpreting the text. As they talked they gave me new insights into the book. This experience was both illuminating and humbling.

These experiences and thoughts are particularly relevant to the other book I have been reading. This is an anthology called Identity, whose contributors all attended the recent Eroticon conference. I have to declare an interest. I was one of the contributors. But that is now why I am writing about it. The content is pretty eclectic, some of it personal reminiscence, and painful reminiscence at that, some of it fantasy, some of it opinion, some of it seriously hot, you know, the stuff you read one handed.  And then there was Meg-John Barker’s piece on erotic fiction as means of self understanding which got me reflecting again on my own identity, or in this case my sexual identity and what it means to me. This short essay was in my head as I read the other pieces and enriched my reading experience.  This really is as a wonderful anthology and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Erotic fiction has changed my life. I really don’t know why, one day in 2012, I felt the urge tio write a story about a carer in a elderly person’s home who has a relationship with a gay man whose carer he is. Other stories followed. I went online, I set up a Twitter account, I read voraciously, I discovered Eroticon and became part of a community. And a new Eve emerged, an Eve who is kinky, bisexual, who is proud to know sex workers she can call friends, an Eve committed to the freeest possible expression of human sexuality (subject to consent). In short an Eve I could not have imagined even existed only 6 years ago. It is through erotic literature that I have discovered what was previously latent, and been able to articulate it.

The main protagonist of my first story was Eric, an Oxford graduate who had been jailed for “gross indecency” in the dark days before 1967 and who experienced late sexual joy with a younger man. I killed him off at the end as the younger man had to move on and make his own way as a gay man in a different age, but acutely aware of the debt gay men, indeed all of us who are in some way not heteronormative, owe to those who suffered for daring to be different. I made sure, however, that Eric died happy, at peace with himself. I knew then that I owed him that. I know now that I owe him much more.

He’s In Love With Rock’n’Roll Woah

This year seems to be quite big for anniversaries. I have probably heard enough about Sergeant Pepper and anyway always preferred Revolver. The 40th anniversary of the first Clash album passed yesterday with rather less fanfare but it is a milestone of its own particularly for those of us old enough to remember it (and buy it). A lot of the songs still stand up, fast, frenetic and angry. Career Opportunities is probably even more relevant in an age of zero hours contracts than it was when it was written. Those who don’t remember the 1970s may not know who the first song on Side One was about. When I listened to it first, aged 15, I remembered this story from three years earlier.

I remembered reading about the singer Janie Jones being jailed for 7 years in  1974 for “controlling prostitutes”. What this amounted to in practice was procuring sex workers for prominent people who wanted paid sex, in this case at parties she organised. In effect she was a middle woman putting sex workers in touch with clients. The press reported extensively on this, with no end of titillating detail. The News of the World printed lurid stories about Janie in  Holloway, and the pink silk sheets she allegedly had on her prison bunk. These stories were really the fetishisation of Janie as “caged woman”, and evidence, if any were needed, that this was a newspaper for wankers. In 1977 Janie herself was not long out of prison and, seeking to lie low for a bit, not thrilled to hear that a punk band had recorded a sing about her. That is, until she heard it. She apparently loved the song and later worked with the band.

Her case is another example of the prurience and hypocrisy that still surrounds sex and sexuality in this country. She was made an example of to protect the better connected people who had been guests at her sex parties. Her 7 year sentence was, by the standards of 1974, an era before the sentence inflation of the last two decades, incredibly harsh. The cycle of hypocrisy was: it happens but we pretend it doesn’t. If it becomes public we find a scapegoat and fetishise them for the benefit of the plebs who also have to sign up to the hypocrisy.

If attitudes to sex in 1974 were essentially infantile, we may ask if anything significant has changed. In recent years we have had the ATVOD rulings on the depiction of things like face sitting and squirting, all this from a body whose Chief Executive, according to those who have had direct dealings with him, knows an awful lot about BDSM practices for a man who thinks mature adults need to be protected from them. We now have the Digital Economy which will bring in its wake further chilling of sexual self-expression. And all the time we have the tireless and rather unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists and radical feminists who think that consensual sex with an exchange of money is “violence against women” and that sex workers need to be rescued, even if they don’t want to be. Thus we have the ludicrous spectacle of feminists trying to control the bodies of other, usually less privileged, women in the name of giving them bodily autonomy.

And, in 2017 no less than in 1974, it is women’s sexuality that is stigmatised, women’s bodies that need to be controlled. We should be angry. Just as The Clash were forty years ago.

OH I WISH IT COULD BE 1965 AGAIN

Sang the Barracudas in 1980.  That, apparently, is also what a lot of Brexit supporters think according to one recent article. This seems to confirm what many of us thought, that Brexit is all part of a nostalgia for simpler times, when a policeman told you the time, when children did as they were told, when murderers got their just desserts, when Heinz tinned spaghetti was the nearest most Brits came to exotic foreign food.

I am not sure why they alighted on 1965. There is actually a lot to like about 1965. Consider the continuing post war boom, full employment, strong trade unions, in short rising living standards for everyone, greater equality too.  It was also a good year for music and fashion. This was the year The Who released My  Generation, the year that Andre Courreges and Mary Quant gave us the mini skirt. Each, in their different ways , were signs of the times, signs that Britain was shaking off the dead weight of the past in cultural and social terms.

It is true that Britian still had the death penalty but there were no hangings. Labour had returned to power in October 1964, two months after the executions of Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans and Harold Wilson appointed as Home Secretary Frank Soskice, a long standing opponent of the death penalty. This ensured there would be no more, particularly as Soskice secured government support for Sydney Silverman’s Private Members Bill, suspending the death penalty for murder for a 5 year trial period. This passed into law in October 1965 and was made permanent four years later. 1965 was, therefore, the year in which the death penalty for murder was finally abolished.

By this time Soskice had been replaced at the Home Office by Roy Jenkins and further massive change  was coming into view, including the decriminalisation of sexual acts between consenting adult men,  the decriminalisation of abortion, reform to divorce law, abolition of theatre censorship and so on. 1965 was also the year that the UK embarked on metrication, something that an awful lot of people seem to think was imposed on us by the EU. It wasn’t.

So, dear Brexit supporters, 1965 really isn’t the year for you despite what the Huffington Post says. Any point of time is a snapshot of something becoming something else. 1965 is a snapshot of a country in the process of becoming a freer, more tolerant, more exciting, above all, more civilised place.  Will the bloggers of 2069 be able to say that about 2017?

The Remains of the Day

As I don’t own a pair of leather trousers I suppose I can claim just two things in common with the Prime Minister, a second class Oxford degree and the fact that I was an unenthusiastic Remainer in last year’s referendum. I was actually active in the anti Maastricht campaign in the 1990s and have a longer Eurosceptic pedigree than she does. Yet I could see no advantages on leaving rather than  staying and fighting for reform.

Unlike her I remain a Remainer. Zeal of the convert is hardly an adequate expression for her change of heart and the way she has sided with the hard core Brexit headbangers, attempting to bypass Parliament altogether and then, when the courts reminded of what the law said, treating it with contempt with a 137 word Bill, guillotined debate and a three line whip. A narrow result in a flawed (and advisory) referendum has become the “will of the people”, immutable, immune from challenge, to be interpreted by Mrs. May and no one else.   She claims that the country needs to unite but apparently considers that the 63% of the electorate who didn’t vote Leave or the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland are of no account at all. She took over a bitterly divided country (some of my family are still not speaking to each other) and has made it more divided.

What bodes even less well is the refusal of Brexit advocates to take ownership of the situation they have created. As I commented before the referendum I thought much of what they were saying was wishful thinking. I have heard nothing to make me change my mind. Worse still, they seem prepared to blame everyone but themselves if it goes wrong.  It will all be the fault of their opponents, traitors, enemies of democracy, enemies of the people, talking down Britain etc etc.  If it has been nasty so far, it;s about to get nastier. Because we already know that the Government has no plan beyond platitudes, no adequately trained negotiators, no time either. The decision to trigger Article 50  by the end of March has no justification other than the need to keep the Daily Mail happy.  Nothing much can happen until the autumn because of pending presidential elections in France and then parliamentary elections in Germany and,with six months needed at the end for all the various national and regional parliaments across Europe to ratify the deal, they have a year to come up with something. It isn’t going to happen. The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg will, of course, glory in this.

We don’t, of course. need the EU to shaft us as we have a Government that is doing that for us. I sometimes think I will wake up and find it was all a bad dream. Unfortunately it isn’t and I think that the 29th March 2017 will be the day the United Kingdom became a smaller, nastier place.  The problem is that I have to live in it.

I’m Off to Eroticon 2017

There are just two weeks until the most awesome weekend of the year. Erotioon is the sex writer’s conference to end…….Ok cliche over. Here is my online Meet and Greet. Please check out the other awesome posts by following this link

NAME (and Twitter if you have one)

Eve Ray @EveRay1 although I attended last year under a different name. This is the name I always wanted to attend under and now I finally am. As such this is the closure of a significant chapter in my life. If you really want to know why I didn’t come as Eve before buy me a cocktail and I will tell you.

 What are you hoping to get out of Eroticon 2017?

Just as last year I just want to spend time with awesome people, a number of whom I can call friends. This is actually a precious opportunity to talk freely about aspects of my life I simply can’t tell many people about. Even on the local kink scene I don’t feel anything like the freedom I do at Eroticon.

I am also looking to learn and be inspired. I have not had anywhere as much time for writing as I would like but if I came away with my head full of ideas it will all have been worthwhile.

This years schedule at Eroticon is pretty full on but which 4 sessions do you already have marked down as ones you want to attend?

Myles Jackman is always worth listening to. I will go to Kate Lister’s Sunday session. Sex work is something that I once write about extensively and it remains a significant interest and campaigning focus for me. Sarah Bryn –Holiday’s session sounds interesting and I hope I have made the cut for DJ Fet’s rope class. I was totally awed by her scene with Lola Day at Eroticon 2015 and determined to learn even though it had never particularly been a kink of mine. I am a slow learner though!

Tell us one thing about yourself that not many people know?

I am a published poet under my real name.

If you made the papers, what would the headline be?

Revealed: Saucy secrets of the cocktail drinking pin-up girl (News of the World if still existed)

If you could have one skill for free (I.e. without practice/time/effort) what would it be?

I would love to be able to swim

Complete the sentence: I love it when…

Gentlemen stand up and offer me their seat. ……..I may be debauched, I may be a feminist but I’m an old-time gal at heart

 

 

OF GIRLS AND CARS OR ….THIS GIRL AND THIS CAR

I am still looking for a recording of the Arena programme “The Life and Times of the Ford Cortina” broadcast in 1982, the year that Cortina production stopped, this iconic car  being replaced by the initially unpopular Ford Sierra, referred to by many as an upside down blancmange. The programme was an exploration of the car as cultural icon and featured Tom Robinson singing this hymn to the Cortina.

This was the car that the young me always dreamed of owning, ever since I set eyes on an aubergine one with a vinyl roof  on the car park at Whistling Sands in North Wales in 1969. My siblings were keen to get down to that lovely sandy beach in its sheltered cove, to build sandcastles, explore the fascinating aquatic mini-worlds of the rock pools left behind by the retreating sea when the tide turned. But I only had eyes for the car, the dark majesty of its paintwork, the shine of the rostyle wheels, the radio aerial leaning rakishly back from above the windscreen, the racing car style pod wing mirrors. Inside there was a wooden dashboard with a rev counter with its shock of red (a bit like the hair I have at the moment!), the steering wheel with holed steel spokes. This was an executive sports saloon built for those for whom such a car would have been beyond their budget previously. I walked around it, admiring its perfect form, its understated beauty and fell in love.

There has always been a prejudice in certain quarters about girls and cars.  Not just the jokes about women drivers (boys, we pay lower premiums than you, ever wondered why?), but also the mansplaining wisdom that the female brain cannot accommodate engineering concepts in its tiny form. Why these prejudices persist is unclear. There have, for example, been a number of successful female rally drivers, going back to the days of Pat Moss, there are excellent female motoring journalists, indeed Top Gear pre the Clarkson testosterone revolution always had at least one female presenter. In the last few weeks there has been Girls and cars on Radio 4, were female celebs come on to go through their automotive autobiography, talking knowledgeably about cars they have owned. Women can be petrolheads too and we don’t need gimmicks like “Girly” versions of cars (Mini Design anyone?)

So here is an extract from mine:

After an initial infatuation with a Mini I finally bought a 1600E, amber gold with a black interior, a but rusty in places but it looked the business, much more than the XR3 and other sporting Fords of the time. It was probably even by 1986 an old fashioned car, with its steering box, dynamo and cart spring rear suspension but the bonnet hid the delights of the engine with its twin choke Weber carburettor nestling under an air box that looked like an upturned frying pan, and  the four branch exhaust manifold on the opposite side of the head, like a clutch of serpents. There was even a sticker on the head sayinh 1600GT in red letters. It all looked purposeful. And it was. The crossflow version of the Kent engine was a fine unit, with a lovely whine on the overrun that gave plenty of torque low down. With well chosen gear ratios you could pull from 10 mph in 3rd gear and 15 in 4th. A car for the open road really, and not a car for motorway cruising, (you couldn’t hear the radio once the speed got past 55 mph!) but, then again, there weren’t that many motorways in 1968.

I had the car two years before rust spread and became terminal, but two good years they were. And even though I am a 50s girl at heart and have a pic of a Mk 2 Zodiac on my Facebook profile, it is for the Mk 2 Cortina that my heart beats,

There aren’t that many 1600Es left and hardly any in daily use. I did see one last week and it turned heads, mine included. I felt a pang, about like seeing a former lover, remembering the nights, the beds where you explored each other, and wondering if he tastes the same today but reflecting wistfully that you will never find out.

This is meant to be a sex blog so I will mention the car’s biggest plus, vinyl seats, and you surely don’t need to ask why.

Why I Write

I’m going to start with a piece of advice. Windmills of Your Mind is a haunting and beautiful song that lodged itself in my head nearly 40 years and, I am sure, will never leave. It is, however, a song that has rather more than its fair share of bad interpretations. The bad ones are all bad for the same reason; they are too slow, stretching the melancholy of the lyrics into sickly and maudlin sentimentalism. This is a song that needs to be suing at a tempo that reflects these lyrics. These are full of motion. They are also, as we see as the song develops, about the remorseless passage of time. Noel Harrison’s interpretation, whilst not perfect, captures this and its 2 minutes 18 seconds are just about right. My advice is, therefore, to stick to this version but of you want to look elsewhere avoid all those versions that stretch the song out to 3 minutes plus. In particular avoid Barbra Streisand’s version.

It is with this song that I want to start, One section, in particular, speaks tom me with increasing power as I grow older:

“Lovers walk along the shore

And leave their footprints in the sand.

Was the sound of distant drumming

Just the fingers of your hand?

Pictures in a hallway,

A fragment of a song,

Half remembered names and faces

But to whom do they belong?”

Consider the fragments of songs. My life, like that of everyone of my age has had its particular soundtrack and particular songs take me back to places and times, not all of them places I want to return to. The last part is the most striking of all. I am constantly reminded of the number of people I have known, family members, people at school, at university, at work, friends who have come into my life and, in many cases, drifted out of it again.  There are those I remember well, those who are simply “half-remembered names and faces.” Even the half remembering can be troublesome or maybe burdensome. Who were they fir me? How have they influenced my life? Where are they now? Do they remember me or even half remember me? At times it seems that these people, or maybe the years of life already lived that they represent, weigh heavily on my spirit. There are days when I will suddenly remember someone from the past and start to think about them.  Sometimes when I do this I feel that memories can be destructive of memory, the sheer number of them defying any attempt to order them and make them into the coherent whole that, for me, is memory.

This is really why I write, to make sense of tall and recreate my own past. When I write I may well be living in it but a creative and ordered sense of living in it, that, I find empowering, I am taking back control from an oppressive melancholy and to misquote another song “I free my mind, I free my soul.”

Writing fiction takes this a stage further and helps me to mould my lived experience into new realities. Like reading, like learning a new language it is a genuine broadening of experience, an enrichment of my life.

And those who are half remembered are in there somewhere. I may have given them a new name, a remembered face and placed them in sexual contexts they never dreamt of, (or maybe they did!). But they are there as one day, dear reader, you may too, when time has continued its remorseless progression and

“You are suddenly aware,

That the autumn leaves are turning

To the colour of her hair.”

.