A Question of Character

my son and I are creating characters for his story. So that we have nice, rounded characters that feel real, these are the questions we have asked ourselves:

1) what is your character called?

2) how old are they?

3) are they male/ female/ neither, are they human, and if not, what are they?

4) do they run away from danger, or run towards it?

5) if somebody is hurt, does the character stay to help, go and get help, or run away?

6) would they rather look after a small child, or fix a machine?

7) which characteristic is dominant (there are two words to describe similar but slightly different attributes): 

– bravery/glory hunting,  

– wisdom/seeking knowledge, 

– ambition/ seeking power or 

– kindness/loyalty?

8) would the character prefer to solve a problem alone, or with their friends?

9) does the character trust people immediately, or are they suspicious of others?

Thinking about these elements gives great opportunity to set up conflict, which is essential for any story. For example Maisie is an eleven year old, she doesn’t like dangerous situations, and would prefer to run and get help than fix a broken ankle by herself. She is clever enough to know what she is good at,  she’d rather help a person than rebuild a machine, and would always rather be with her friends, sharing knowledge to solve a problem. 

Therefore, Maisie’s conflict situation would separate her from her friends, make her rely on only herself to help someone and possibly mean she has to make something rather than use her knowledge to solve the problem. Voila, instant plot developed through character!

Turning to my own novel, which is complete but could alway use another edit, my main character is a twenty year old called Saffron. She has a comfortable, safe life (boarding school education, rich parents, nice friends, enjoying studying) and she doesn’t challenge herself much. When this is undermined (she finds out who her real father is), her sense of self is shaken too. She discovers that she runs towards danger – she has to know who he was and what he did even though knowing will upset her and others. Her quest is for knowledge, and she seeks it alone, closing herself off from friends. However, to do so she has to rely on others to tell her, and they are not always willing to share, in order to gain an advantage, or to protect her or themselves. She also needs help to get a crucial piece of evidence that will help her help someone she immediately cares for. Learning to trust and feel a positive connection with others again will help her develop on her journey.

A few years ago, I wrote a character who I felt I knew well, and I decided to put him through a Myers-Briggs test to see if I knew how he would react in different situations. I did, and he felt like a real person. I guess the above is a simplified version of that.

Jake’s Ghost

Jake’s Ghost. It’s finally done. 130,000 words, perfect for holiday reading… Here’s the synopsis…

Jake Goodman is dead.

The women most affected by his life are dealing with the fallout, not least finding out about each other.

Zoë, left behind by Jacob as a teenage mother. She has a fantastic new life with the famous Pat Meadows. But will Zoë’s relationships survive the revelations?

Rachel, Jack’s ex wife, is mother of his two young children. Heartbroken over the divorce two years ago, Rachel has been barely surviving, raising her children with the help of her oldest friend. Living with Jack the stand-up comedian was no laughing matter. Can Jack’s death give her closure and help her choose to move on?

Jessica thought she was the love of Jake’s life. He was the perfect trophy partner for her, the antidote to her stressful, high-flying career. Will knowing more about Jake help her or destroy her?

And then there is Bex. What she knows about Jay will change everything.

Who was Jake Goodman? He seems to have lived many lives, reinventing himself as he moved on.

Saffron was Jake’s biggest fan. Now she is his daughter and nothing about him seems to make sense. She sets out to piece the story together, following the tale from tropical islands to Parisian garrets, from deep in the English countryside to live on stage.

She hopes that, in finding out who her father was and what happened to him, she will find herself too. Then perhaps she can lay the ghost.

Morpurgo, Music and the Mozart Question

IMG_1935How do you explain the holocaust to children? If you are going to try, the good news is you can do it as engagingly and sensitively as Michael Morpurgo does in his current stage show “The Mozart Question”.

In a rare treat, the former children’s laureate was in Ashford, Kent today at Revelation St Mary‘s (the town centre church which is a stunning arts venue in its spare time). Accompanied by Alison Reid, violin soloist Daniel Pioro and the Storyteller Ensemble string quartet, Morpurgo tells his short story with drama and humanity.

The Mozart Question is NOT in the Da Vinci Code mould, using a famous historical name to build an improbable and inexpertly written thriller.
Instead it is the fictional story of Paulo Levi, a fifty year old virtuoso violinist who is interviewed at short notice by a cub reporter who has heard him perform and knows only that she must not ask the Mozart question.
Using well known classical violin music (which was slightly different from the selection featured on the 2012 CD of the show) to tell the tale, with Pioro stepping into the roles of both Paulo and his father.
The music left my 7 year old totally unable to sit still (sorry if you were there and thought he was fidgeting, he finds it easier to listen to music while moving I found out today!) His absolute favourite’s were Monti’s Czardas and Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – super fast violins-  and something he referred to as a Barber’s Shop Quartet. I explained that this last one is actually completely different music, but it’s a good term to use without totally giving away a nice surprise scene.

There were some lovely moments of humour, real poignancy and Morpurgo’s love of both language and music shines despite the potentially difficult material about the role of orchestras in Nazi extermination camps. I managed not to cry. But this was a performance primarily for children, so I asked my son to name his favourite bits:
– “I liked the story. It was really sad and happy at the same time”;
– “the fast music was really good. I played air violin when it came on”;
– “Mummy bought me the book, so I could read along a bit. The pictures in the book helped me listen a bit more”;
– “I was a bit scared about going to meet the author, but he was really nice and shook my hand”;
– “I wasn’t completely sure what The Mozart Question actually was, but I think there were three really… why did that music calm people down when they were going to die? Does that bad thing happening with the music make the music bad to listen to? And was his daddy silly to not want to hear it?” (These three questions emerged over the hour after we saw the show).
Once home, it was also the perfect opportunity to explain about Naziism and what happened to Jewish people, gay people, disabled people and more who didn’t fit in with that world view. He was a bit worried about using the shower tonight, a bit sad, and didn’t think anyone should decide that four million people should be killed. Then he decided to play Star Wars figures. It’ll be interesting to listen in and see if those games change as a result.

As always when taking a child to a performance, you have to be relaxed about how they are. At the beginning, my seven year old said loudly “Which one is he?” I replied that the author was the one in the red shirt. “Oh. He’s really old, isn’t he?” says my son.
He asked repeatedly why one violinist wasn’t playing at first (this became clear five minutes later), and later, during a quiet moment e asked why one spotlight wasn’t on.
But for a 75 minute performance without interval, I was really impressed that he basically listened, even if he squirmed.

At seven, my son reads confidently but has so far only read Morpurgo’s “Kaspar, Prince of Cats”. He was inspired with today’s performance though, so I expect we’ll have the full library soon.
Having bought the book that was performed, we hoped to get it autographed but it turns out Morpurgo is a fellow sufferer of RSI. Instead, he handed out signed book plates and came around chatting to everyone and shaking hands. What a nice man!
I mentioned how much my wriggling child had loved the music and Morpurgo asked if he learned an instrument.
“Not yet.”
“I think you will very soon,” says the author.
When we got home, my son announced he wants to learn the violin at school next year.
And he wants to play the Monti.
That alone was worth the entrance price.

Seaside Poetry

A proud Mummy post today. My big kid was set homework this week which should have been right up his street. The “beachcomber” topic that they have been following at school is interesting to him, but he is suffering from end-of-term-itis and really didn’t fancy doing extra poetry on the theme of creatures in rock pools at home.

Once I’d explained that he had to do it and no, I wasn’t going to do it for him, he sat down with me and decided to 1) do the poem on just one rock pool creature and 2) research that creature to get the information to go into the poem.
He also had to make sure there was an adverb, an adjective and a simile…

This is the result – an acrostic poem. Getting there was a bit blood-out-of-stone but worth the effort in the end…

The Beadlet Anemone

Aggressive animal, stings like a bee;

Nobbly blue beads on a blob of orange jelly;

Exciting red tentacles wave slowly to and fro;

Mouth on its bottom; slippy-slidey foot to go.

One hundred babies will come out of it one day;

Nestled in its rock pool, eating its prey.

Enemy anemone, keep away!

 

Three screens: Sherlock silliness

Following a prompt on the Writer’s Circle Facebook page, here’s a short scene featuring my favourite consulting detective…

You find the last room when suddenly three monitors turn on at once. What do you see?

I removed the hood and looked around shakily. Three screens.
The first screen showed my face, in black and white. I moved my hand and felt and unfamiliar momentary confusion as the image moved its hand on the other side, an image not a reflection.
I found I was staring at my hair. Is that what I looked like to other people? Used to mirrors, it felt as if my parting has changed sides. Unlike the Biami tribe of Papua New Guinea, I resolved my psychological anguish in microseconds, the specular image morphed seamlessly with the referent self. A process accomplishable by the average two year old of course, but only the most unfortunate toddler would have experienced chloroform and behooded abduction.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement in the second monitor. It was me, monochrome again, this time in profile and from a distance. I found I was drawing in my stomach. Did I really resemble a runner bean when viewed side on?
A flash of colour drew my eyes to the third monitor. The image was of my back (again, the hair!) but unlike the other two, this image was moving, the unseen camera encroaching, unstoppable.
Almost at the last moment, i realised that the momentary flashes of colour were a warning. A red dot, sliding back and forth across my back before stopping, the target acquired.
I spun on my heel, facing my would be assailant.
“For the last time, I don’t want to go on Big Brother. I’m a consulting detective, not a performing seal.”
Mycroft put down the gun, removed the night vision goggles and frowned.

Creating our own worlds

It’s been ages since I did a writing course. I wasn’t sure anything could top the last one I did – I persuaded my employer to take one Wednesday afternoon a month off to attend a course at the ICA. I really did not think it would happen, but working an extra week of overtime a month was the norm there for all us bright young things, and developing writing skills was considered staff development, so it worked out well as a way for me to be out of the office and still doing something useful as well as enjoyable.

The course was led by creative writing teacher Greg Mosse, husband of author Kate Mosse, and used as a point of reference a book she was writing at that time. It turned out to be Labyrinth, book one of her now famous Languedoc series. It was fascinating to see how the ideas around research, character development and world building that we explored played out in her novel – and how different that book was from the book I thought she was writing.

Ten years on, I have lived abroad, married and had children, but I still haven’t had a novel published. I have one complete one, which I’m starting to talk about with agents and publishers. I have one that’s nearly there, but I couldn’t decide if my lead character deserved a happy ending and it rather paralysed me. I have one written in partnership with a friend that has a climax at the Beijing Olympics, so its time has passed – or it needs a substantial rewrite. There’s a time travel novel aimed at the Percy Jackson/ Harry Potter market. There’s also a promising series, again for younger readers, on which my son is my main consultant…

So to encourage me, and get back on the developing and editing track, I’m doing the FutureLearn online introduction to creative writing course.  I’m relieved and pleased to find that I have kept up the basics – my writer’s notebook is still beside my bed, my phone full of thoughts and observations, my Facebook status a mess of little notes I know I will one day pull out and use again. I can still respond to a writing prompt, pull meaning from a paragraph of someone else’s text, play the word games prescribed as homework.
I may not “need” a creative writing course after completing such a superior one before, but FutureLearn is free, easy to access online and each module is reminding me how to think about what I am trying to convey.

Of course, the best way to write a book is to write it. Style, technique, creating worlds… these things matter, but – as Dorothy Parker is supposed to have said, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat”. Or Kingsley Amis: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.” Or Mark Twain. Or Mary Heaton Vorse. If you haven’t written it down, you haven’t written a book. It’s that simple.
So I probably better get on…

Pink for a Princess?

Welcome to the world, Princes Charlotte of Cambridge. You are only a few days old, but in your honour, the Royal Mail are producing pink stamps and Westminster is being lit up pink.

You may not even have worn anything pink yet.

You probably don’t even know if you like pink yet.

But don’t worry, you will.

You see, there’s a sweeping assumption in our capitalist economy that women like pink.

You only have to walk into the toy aisles of any supermarket or store to find that girls like pink. They must do – so many of their toys are pink. Their toys? Yes, we know those are for girls because they are pink. It’s an unwritten gender identifier.

Women must continue this love of pink into adulthood– there are pink versions of mobile phones and computers, and the dominant colour of mother’s day cards and gifts this year was again pink.

Pink is soft. Pink is feminine. Girls are sugar and spice and all things nice, so pink is for them.

The colour name comes from the flower (as it does in other languages, albeit a different flower, usually rose). Girls like flowers, so pink is for them.

Always has been this way.

What do you mean it hasn’t?

Some people get very upset when they hear that pink for girls, blue for boys, is not innate and is in fact only a convention that is around one hundred years old. They write angry comments on the Internet about trying to turn boys into girls and things just ARE, so GET OVER IT.

But it is nonetheless true that the pink-blue divide didn’t really happen until the first decades of the twentieth century. The reasons appear to have been a combination of technology, and fashion.

Until this point, babies of whatever gender tended to wear white clothes (yes, boys in white dresses and long hair, something probably regarded as horribly feminising today!) which could more easily be boiled clean and which couldn’t fade unlike the dyes in brighter clothes.
Boys were more likely than girls to wear pink, because men wore red uniforms and the convention was that boys were simply small men. Blue was associated with the Virgin Mary and so a more feminine colour.

This changed when sailor suits became fashionable – it was the height of fashion to dress small boys in these blue and white outfits and, with the advent of faster chemical dyes and mass production of children’s clothes, it was easier to dress children in colours more generally.

The transition of pink to a colour for girls took place gradually over the 1920s-1940s. Somewhat more horribly, its softer, feminine connotations were one of the reasons it was chosen as the colour of the Nazis’ symbol denoting homosexuality during the Third Reich.

But it’s SCIENTIFIC FACT, the online comments tell me. Little girls like looking at pink more. Well no, it appears that the test which “proved” this actually found that both adult men and adult women prefer blue tones, and that at the margins women preferred the red-purple spectrum and men the green-yellow, but children and the colour pink itself were not actually tested (thanks Wikipedia!)

More worrying is what pink has come to symbolise.
It is used as shorthand for what is expected of little girls, and by extension of women.
The focus of “girls’ toys” is so often physical appearance, shoes, clothes, nurturing and motherhood, art, romance, and domestic chores, as if those are the only things in adult women’s lives. Make the toys doing that pink, covered in hearts and sparkly, and you send the message that the subject and the colour things are interrelated.

The focus of “boys’ toys” is so often war, action, saving (in the superhero sense), science, technology, mess and trouble, and blue, black, dark green, and sludge colours. Include no female figures, or write “no girls allowed” on the front, and girls soon learn that these are not toys aimed at them.
Pink is only a problem when it becomes a barrier to children discovering their own interests, either because they learn to reject what is not “appropriate” according to their peers, or because an adult simply never thinks to give them a toy because it is for the “wrong gender”.

In the same toy range, boys get play tool kits, girls a play make up purse.
Boys get a whole train set of boy characters (girls get one or two added-in pink engines) while girls get a whole dolls house of women and baby characters with cupcakes to eat, and boys get maybe a “Daddy” or a boy with a football, if they are lucky.

Boys get war games, superheroes and science kits, girls get pink play versions of domestic appliances, princesses and they can have a science kit as long as they use it to make perfume or cosmetics.

I’m not saying one set of toys is superior to the other, just that there are some assumptions being hidden behind the colour pink and it is being used to stereotype our kids.

We should be aware of it.

If we have become accustomed to it to the point that we RAGE VIGOROUSLY against anyone suggesting that it is not the natural order of things, then we have a problem.

At this point, we often meet the just-ignore-it brigade.
“If your daughter wants a toy aimed at boys, she can.” But how much better if it was just a toy, that didn’t make her feel a bit excluded?
If a boy wants to play with a pink toy, he can, of course, and we’d support him in so doing. I just wish no peer or social judgement would be made of him, that he won’t have assumptions made about him, his masculinity or his sexuality?

What we tell our children in our words and actions and assumptions is not consequence free. But it is our job to try and help them to be themselves just as hard as they can be.

What I’m trying to say is that, if a real Princess wants to wear a plastic tiara, sparkly plastic high heels and a pink nylon dress to pretend to be a “princess”, she can.
Equally, if she wants to wear trousers, get muddy, fire weapons and make weird coloured science experiments she can do that too.
But she can also pick and choose, no child is a stereotype and finding what she loves to do and be is the secret of happiness.

There’s more than one way to be a girl.

There’s more than one way to be a princess.

Let’s hope Princess Charlotte has the freedom to work out what she enjoys, even while the world’s media try to watch her every move and commentate on it.

 

Lego Egg-on-face shaped silliness

 

 (Image from blog at today’s parent.com)

Over the past week there has been an absolute outcry about the latest issue of the Lego Club magazine. I don’t have my own copy because my little Lego club subscriber gets the boy-oriented edition in which the item didn’t feature.

The item in question was something you would see in any women’s magazine, how to get a haircut that flatters your face. I’m sure when producing the magazine the Lego team just thought, well that’s what girls like, beauty tips, spa days, cupcake recipes… And do you know what, they do.

They didn’t really have spa days as a thing that normal people did when I was growing up. Spas were health farms- dreaded places with austere diet regimes and hard work, not pampering and luxurious body oils. If someone had told me about spas, I would have loved it. My best birthday present when I was seven was some pink, brush on peel off nail varnish and a bag of eleven brushes and combs (30 years on I thought I had broken the last brush, but no, my mum turned up with two more!) 

The thing is, while my best friend and I wanted to be Snow White and Rose Red (now there’s a fairy story that Disney hasn’t covered), we also liked imagination play, running around, reading, cooking, trying to find a climbable tree, building space buggies with Lego Technics, played with Sindy (Barbies were too vulgar),  dressing up as all sorts of things and people, maths games, fuzzy felt pictures, making potions with all the stuff in the bathroom… Obviously we liked clothes, and playing pop stars, and curling our hair and girly things too, even ending up as models for painter Dianne Flynn but – and this is the important bit- we did all of these things.

My experience of growing up was multifaceted, and I know I am lucky that my childhood sounds like a Joyce Grenfell sketch. It was a time of confidence and happiness. I didn’t worry about how I looked, and even pre-Harry Potter getting glasses was ok for me – if they called me speccy four eyes at school I must’ve been too busy off doing fun things to hear it.

Which is why it is sad that girls today are being pigeonholed. Why should their toys be pink plastic irons (mine was cream coloured metal!), why should their science kits be for making lip gloss rather than indoor firework snakes, why are  building blocks coloured pastel pinks and purples “for them” rather than part of the whole rainbow available to all kids? Why are there now three girl-oriented Lego ranges, one linked to Disney princesses and two in the same limited palette offering spa options?

Can’t girls be interested in more than just how they look nowadays?

Which brings us back to the Lego Club magazine. Haircuts to suit face shapes.* Because girls of seven ought to be worried about whether their hair looks prettier cut a different way? No, Lego, just no. Your are best when your figures are standard, yellow faced, interchangeable. Where what the best hair looks like is a question of which one clicks on that matches the character the player is building for the story they are telling. Stay in the games, get out of the real world. You have already made long-haired, big-eyed special (non-compatible with normal Lego) Lego Friends figures, then shortened the Lego Friends clothes, exposing midriffs, showing more leg. Now you are explicitly making those Friends characters tell our girls about what is beautiful. Just no. I think the backlash is telling you you have egg on your faces with this one. I hope you have haircuts that make them the prettiest they can be…

* sorry about the link to the Daily Mail. The reader comments underneath show what the problem is! 

Ashford town centre: revival

Dear local politicians – we have a problem with Ashford Town Centre. It doesn’t work. Here’s why, and what to do about it…

ashford Adam Coulton

The Problems

1) Town Centre retail doesn’t cut it

  • There are far too many hairdressers, charity shops, discount stores, betting shops and estate agents,  and not enough shops to actually buy essentials. How can these shops afford the rents but others can’t?
  • Ashford town centre has no shop selling fitted shoes. Children need school shoes, that necessitates a trip into town (which with pester power and attractive shops around bringing additional spending), but that town cannot be Ashford.
  • The retail units are too small – M&S and Debenhams in Ashford don’t stock a big enough range to be attractive to a broad spectrum of shoppers, so they lose out. They are therefore not the destination stores that they could be.
  • Without destination stores, other stores cannot flourish unless they are competing to offer bargains over quality. Independent stores, such as Savia, are closing down.
  • In any case, the traditional high street no longer reflects how most people shop.
  • The parking is expensive compared with the delivery charges on internet shopping.

2) The Designer Outlet shopping is an alternative centre

  • People go for a shopping trip to the centre they can walk around and where they can park for £1. With a footfall of over 3 million a year, this is a success story.
  • The outlet is too far from town for shoppers to easily choose to go between the two.

3) The non-retail side of Ashford is played down

  • The town centre has still got some history and heritage, but the tourist office is hidden and doesn’t even offer the two walks guide any more.
  • The memorial gardens are the only significant green space centrally, but don’t offer anything except grass for young children.
  • Revelation St Mary isn’t as full as it could be.
  • Cafes are scattered, you have to choose which part of the town you want to go to to get coffee. those that are there haven’t thought through who their clients are likely to be – no space for push chairs, no children’s area, no outdoor seating.

The solutions

Some radical thinking:

1) Retail alone is not the answer:
Ashford is not a city filled with students with loans to spend, and is too close to Canterbury, Maidstone and Tenterden to compete with all the destination stores they have. In any case, the sort of units available to stores don’t seem to match what people say they want. A town needs more than just filled units, it needs people to want to go there. So Ashford needs something different.

2) What does Ashford have?:

  • There is a thriving craft scene. Many of the businesses that went into the (now closed) pop-up store were crafty in some way.
  • Ashford has a railway heritage and is conveniently located for business and tourism.
  • Ashford has an international station.
  • Ashford has a giant outlet shopping centre away from the town centre, and other satellite destination zones (John Lewis, Eureka park etc.)
  • With the arrival of residents in the Panorama building, the town centre will have residents! There are also quite a lot of families in the villages and estates around Ashford (just think about Repton, Orchard Heights, Singleton, Finberry, Park Farm/ Kingsnorth, Kennington, Willesborough, Great Chart, Stanhope, South Ashford and that’s just the first three miles from the town centre!) but Ashford has little for families in the centre.
  • Ashford has plans for Elwick Place, including a hotel and a cinema, plus decent restaurants. Elwick Place spans the gap between the International Station and the town centre.
  • The Borough Council is buying Park Mall. This gives local democratic control over a significant area of town and a chance to do something with those empty units…

3) So…

Start with the outlet. yes, expand it. But if you do that, it needs to link to the station (that’s probably on foot but it needs to be safe, well lit and frequently used) and to town. An irregular bus service won’t cut it. Instead, the transport needs to be the destination. That means something like this…

CnstSent07…although there is something a bit Simpsons about a monorail (this one is a Hitachi, photo from the linked webpage). But given the investment needed for the set up and the cost of running, that’s clearly a no-go. So, instead, you need one of these…

petit_train2_560

This is the Petit Train Touristique at Le Touquet, as pictured on the town’s tourism website (NB the weather is no better in Le Touquet than in Ashford). Great Yarmouth has one already, but no photos easily available online. You can even get these little trains with disabled access and luggage space.

This is not just something for parks or seasides. Ashford has a great railway heritage so it is entirely fitting to have a little train for transport as well as being an attraction for tourists in its own right. The point is, if you have regular little trains, people are more likely to get on it at the outlet and therefore get a chance to see the rest of the town. People in the surrounding area who do not come into Ashford may bring their kids for the ride. As I said, the transport IS the destination.

4) Think beyond retail. Think Residents

The Council has bought Park Mall – they could just flatten it!
Seriously, given the number of empty units in the town, Poundstretchers could take its pick elsewhere in the town, same for the hairdressers, tanning salon and DJ supplies stores. Wilkinson’s could probably stay where it is, or even increase in size taking over a number of empty units elsewhere, which would be very welcome.

This would give an opportunity to either put in a hotel (necessary if tourism and promotion of Ashford as a best placed place to stay took off), or, more likely residential housing. I guess they’d propose flats but wouldn’t it be great if these could be family homes, with room to spare for gardens and a play park.
Either would help general regeneration – people in the town centre need services, places to eat out, things to do and, yes, shops to shop in. In any case, the town centre is about to get more residents with the conversion of the ugly Charter House office block to decent flats.This means entertainment in the town centre will be needed that suits younger urban residents with disposable income- that’s restaurants beyond fast food, too.

5) Or, think more radically.

The town needs rezoning  because rather than an eclectic joy it feels a mess – there’s the bandstand for live music but flanked by the 99p store it doesn’t send a positive message about the town. The cafes are randomly off down Bank Street, and on the lower High Street. Relocating the cafes in a group around the bandstand would create a positive, outdoor ambience for the centre.
Given that Poundland has just taken over the 99p Store, I wonder how much longer it will stay there taking that prime central site anyway?
The tiny Tesco could relocate to the old Blockbuster or Pizza Hut buildings where it could help regenerate that end of the High Street because people actually want to go there. There are few places in the centre of Ashford where you can buy decent bread!
Demand more historically sympathetic shop signage, and fine businesses and landlords that do not maintain historic buildings.
01_184034176_31b16621d320by20lin20mei
There’s a lot of empty shops and grubby blank walls – make Ashford a town of murals. This has been done successfully in Sheffield (Tasmania, Australia), Nar Nar Goon (Victoria, Australia, pictured below by Leon Sims on the melbourneourhome.blogspot.co.uk website), Jonesboro (GPicture 018eorgia, USA), Angoulême in France, in Brussels, Belgium (the picture here is from the inspiringcities.org website, by Lin Mei), and all over the world to attract visitors. Where the murals are culturally appropriate, which both of these examples are for the locations they are in, this can look amazing. It would also be a chance to reinstall the town mural in the town centre, which has been in storage since the library was rebuilt as the Gateway Plus Centre.
While we are on an arts and culture theme, Revelation St Mary is trying hard with classical music and opera, but honestly, stick on a few more 1990s bands and you fill the place and keep it in business. It’s a question of matching dispensable income and the group that has it to what you provide. Ashford’s not quite in the space of high arts at the moment.
harmonic-motion
But really, Ashford needs a USP. The town’s big thing is arts and crafts. So my most radical proposal is this: buy a Toshiko Horiuchi-MacAdam installation (big, beautiful crochet thing that kids can play on, really fun and usable indoors or outdoors, see one pictured here on the roof of MOMA Roma and another below in Japan, taken by Masaki Koizumi). Install it in the centre of Park Mall and use that as the centrepiece of an arts and crafts revival for the town. If you did this in Park Mall, you could invite Emporia, Cross’s, the sewing centre etc to move into the units around it. If kids go to play there, then adults need coffee, so that’s more units needed, and little independent craft shops attract local foods shops, and local shops… You might even attract outlet shoppers if you really go kid friendly and set up a heritage trail too. Destination play, reached by Destination transport. Now that’s a town worth a visit.
crochet7
So, dear politicians of Ashford, here’s my challenge to you. Think a bit more radically about what the town centre is for in the 21st century and how we actually shop. Look forwards, not just backwards, preserve and protect heritage where we still have it, but be willing to replace mid-20th century rubbish with something new if it will attract destination stores. Remember the residents. Rezone the town, think about what makes us unique, and take a risk. After all, if any more shops go, we really will have nothing to lose.
Thank you. Feel free to get in touch if you want a bit more consultancy on the future of Ashford.

Tits up

So, as we feared, the disappearance of the topless Page 3 girl for one day was a publicity stunt.

Perhaps merely covering the expected daily vision of a young woman’s nipples with bikinis somehow didn’t result in a massive surge in sales from women? But wasn’t Page 3 the only thing holding back these potential readers? What did those wretched Feminazis want? 

It was a piece in The Times, the sister paper to The Sun, that set out that this was the end for page 3. The proprietor Rupert Murdoch had tweeted that, after 44 years, page 3 was looking “old fashioned” and ”aren’t beautiful young women more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes?”

The Sun treated it all today as a big joke: a “mammary lapse” in fact, a correction and clarification. The editor tweeted that they had never said bare boobs on page 3 were going.

Jodie Marsh tweeted to say that perhaps No More Page 3 campaigners should put their campaigning effort into something that matters more like ending FGM… and that’s a point worth looking at just a bit more.
The vitriol about some of the population asking a mass circulation newspaper please to stop portraying them merely as decorative objects or giving them twee little snippets to say about world events shows us that there’s a problem here.
Comments on feminist stories online range from go knit your lentils in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, to don’t you get it it is all just supposed to be like this… If it’s not go away and campaign about female genital mutilation, it’s you’re putting female models and photographers out of work, not very sisterly of you is it? Or you should be concentrating on low pay for women not this metropolitan elitist obsession. Or well it’s not stopping Boko Haram so shut up, and even suggestions that somehow this apparent prudery in only showing female celebrities in skimpy bikinis rather than full-on naked nipples on a nineteen year old from Northampton was brought about by pandering to the fear of religious fundamentalists – as if the key argument here were let’s publish bare tits or the terrorist have won!

Bare breasts mean – what? Babyfood and sex.
But breasts are political. Although breastfeeding in public is not only allowed but is supposed to be encouraged given that breastfeeding passes on nutrients to babies, people are embarrassed about seeing a breast doing what it is naturally supposed to do. They concentrate on the breast as a body part emitting milk rather than that the baby is using its food source to gain sustenance (which explains why people think it acceptable to ask that breastfeeding be done in a public loo, comparing breastmilk to urine rather than thinking what it would be like to ask them to eat their lunch in a smelly cubicle) and demand it be covered because breasts have become so sexualised in society that seeing them is rude. Tits for titillation only.
This is what Page 3 perpetuates.

No More Page 3 is a totemic campaign.
It’s a small thing in the big scheme of things, yes.
Except it is not, is it? 50% of the population is being told that what matters is their beauty and their breasts, not their brains.

Some are probably ok with that. Women as well as men.
No, really, it’s a judgement thing.
Imagine a kind of scale that has Disney Princesses at one end of the scale (the old fashioned ones with their passivity and waiting to be rescued, the modern ones with the sass they have in the movies drained out of them to be pretty dolls, still with unrealistic and unattainable figures etc.) and pornography at the other (women as objects, to be used, for the sexual gratification of others).
Somewhere in the middle like a complicated bubble is freedom to dress how you want, live how you want, do what you want. Something we in the West apparently stand for.
Everyone has a point on that scale at which they stop thinking that’s ok, and that point will be different for each individual.

For example, some women treat themselves as living dolls, pump themselves with silicone, publish multiple biographies that read basically like soft porn with themselves as the star. Everyone likes soft porn (maybe some don’t. Maybe it depends on the storyline).
Well, good for them, exploiting the patriarchy to make themselves a fortune.
But maybe, just maybe, we should recognise their business sense as a great thing and still not be too happy that the product they are selling is themselves as a woman.
This is objectification.
And the thing about an object is that it is there to be used.
It sits right alongside the concept of entitlement: e.g. she owes me sex because I bought her dinner. She’s putting it on display so I should be able to have it. I want her so she ought to comply.
Oh.
That’s a message all women should be afraid to see sent out into the world.

Maybe that all feels a long way from a teenager’s tits on Page 3.
But really, it’s not.
Focus on being pretty and happy, say the glittery, pink girls babygros and t-shirts. Have domestic chore related toys!
I’m a princess! I’m a princess! Yes but apparently one that’s going to have to do her own ironing and hoovering with pink plastic appliances.
You want construction toys? Have pink meccano to build wands and butterflies! Have Lego Friends, so that you only have a female-focused consumerist world to play in, and your male friends never get to see that as a normal part of life.
Computers? I only do the design ideas, I need Steve and Brian to do the programming, says Barbie.
“I’m too pretty to do my maths homework” says your next t-shirt.
Science is hard, why not ice a cupcake or make a lipgloss from a special science for girls kit?
Music! Blurred Lines! He said WHAT now? Hang on…
You’ve worked hard, got a degree, got a job (statistically with a slightly higher starting salary than a man’s, don’t worry, that changes)…
You fall in love…
Sex tapes! Break up – you did delete it, didn’t you?
Working hard again, new relationship, proposal…
Wedding! OMG bridezilla, I must have a £2000 dress and a balloon arch otherwise it’ll be the worst day of my life.
Working hard… it’s a blue line, look, a blue line!
Baby – wow – was everything really this blue or pink when I was little?
Oh wow – childcare, childhood illnesses, actually it’s only my hours I’ve reduced my brain still functions perfectly well, yes I’m still ambitious, constantly tired, constantly trying to balance everything… And I couldn’t cope without the support of low paid nursery workers, a cleaner etc. and can’t afford a nanny or househusband…
Another baby! Have you seen the size my incredibly painful boobs have swollen to? I need to feed her for my own relief as well as her hunger…
Sorry? Cover her up when she’s feeding? Go and sit in the toilet?
Because my breastfeeding tits are rude?

It was always a risk that the end of Page 3 wasn’t for real, and it is a shame.
There’s such a swirls of things going on… and we haven’t eve touched on the fact that society doesn’t value parenting because the adult is not in the workplace, or how race, disability or LGBQT makes this even more tricky…
You can’t take on everything all at once. You can’t expect everything to succeed. You shouldn’t be told by others why are you doing this, there are other bigger problems you ought to tackle instead. Winning any tiny battle won to get women treated like equals not objects is like pebbles on a slope – if enough of them move there’s a chance of a landslide.

So it hasn’t gone tits up for feminism because there are nipples on Page 3 again today. One little pebble didn’t shift this time, that’s all. It doesn’t mean we should stop kicking them as we walk along life’s beach.

PS What about the men? OK, well, men are affected by the patriarchy too.
Page 3 is part of you being told to judge women by their attractiveness rather than listen to what they have to say. That’s the patriarchy, setting out what you “should” think.
You are told from a very young age that you need to be into building, computing, vehicles, war games, dinosaurs, have “here comes trouble” on your dark coloured t-shirt, that it is wrong to love a kitten or butterflies because they are for girls (even though male butterflies are the ones with the most beautiful wings!), that you need to be tough or a geek, play football not dance, skateboard not choir, that you can get any woman you want and if you can’t that’s her doing something wrong in holding out on you.
You may be entirely comfortable with all this- if so, good for you. I hope you have the job and the relationship you want if that is what you want, and are very happy.
Or you may not. You might think it is odd to have your choice limited in that way. In which case, hello. If you think men and women are different but equally important and have equal rights, feminism is here to help. The word might be a barrier to you, but as comedian Aziz Ansari says:
“People think feminist means like, some woman is gonna start yelling at them. … If you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist, you have to say yes because that is how words work. You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.’”