My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Friday, 24 February 2017

Pentacle Shelf (Review)

I bought a pentacle shelf from ::Casdesign:: in Berlin. 

This is the first time I have bought a proper piece of furniture new that isn't something like a cheap folding chair or flat-pack shelf. Most of our furniture has come secondhand from the likes of Gumtree, or been bought in a charity shop, with some of it (like the book-cases in our living room, my study desk, and our corner table) was built by Raven. 

Pentacle shelf by Casdesign, Berlin.

This, however, was something special, and a custom piece. It is a 60cm diameter pentacle shelving unit/display unit. I bought it back in January, as a custom piece and a New Year's present to myself and the house, to function as a display shelf for Pagan objects that don't go on the altar below (not pictured). It cost me €79.95 to have the shelf made - it was made in a workshop by real people rather than by automated machines in a factory, so I was rather happy with the price, especially as this included a custom paint-job. Shipping to Scotland was quite dear, at €22.99 but considering the VAST box it arrived in, and how much it weighed, that is actually a very reasonable transit cost.

For the green I was given a colour-chart from which to quote a colour code, and I chose the colour "Farngrün", which I think is fern green in English. This goes with the green theme to the décor in our living room (which is where our household altar is), and I think is a lovely colour for a shelving unit honouring objects from a nature-based spirituality. The wood was originally stained in 'dark oak' per my request, but once the shelf arrived I realised that this was actually lighter than the furniture that we already had - my mistake - so I stained the wooden parts a darker colour. All the original stain was done in very even coats, any unevenness in staining is my fault entirely. 

The unit is very sturdy. The circle appears to be made of some sort of formed plywood, but it is solid and not at all flimsy. The pentagram in the middle is made from some sort of laminated wood- each leaf of the laminate a millimetre thick, so a very sturdy product. There is also a beautiful grain on the pentagram parts, which sadly this photograph does not convey. I tried to deliberately dismantle the unit by unscrewing it so I could repaint the wood with darker stain, but found out it was both glued and screwed, so it is definitely put together rather permanently. I think it's very high quality, finished to a good standard, and considering what I got for that money, a very reasonable price. 

I actually like it so much that I am saving up for a second pentacle shelving unit - one of their standard models, with a black pentacle over a purple background, which will go in my study, and store items for my personal altar. 

I would rate this product as: 

Construction: 5/5
Quality laminated timber products are frequently stronger than natural timber due to the grain of the laminated being arranged in varying directions, and this has been assembled with joints, glue and screws (not nails!) which seems pretty sturdy indeed. I couldn't even take it apart when I was actually trying! 

Time: 5/5
I payed on 11th January and it arrived on 3rd February. I think it was made in good time, and the only minor delay was in shipping, but that's more due to the sheer distance the shelves had to travel. 

Packaging: 4¾/5
It was double-wrapped in plastic wrap, which I felt was a bit excessive from an ecological perspective, especially as it was shipped in a very sturdy cardboard box with plenty of packing materials, but perhaps a little wasted plastic wrap is better than a scuffed shelving unit, especially when shipping internationally. I feel like I might be nit-picking slightly, but I'm trying to be committed to reducing my waste output.

Edit: Although I only deducted 
¼ of a point for this, I have had feedback from the company about the packaging, which I think should share: all the inside packaging they use is actually reused left-overs from major furniture manufacturers, so it gets one more use at least (depending on if the person that receives the package reuses the packaging again... I try and save packing materials for shipping the things I sell on eBay). Apparently there are also insurance requirements for levels of wrapping; their insurance would not cover mending or replacing a unit unless it is very, very well wrapped indeed. New score: 5/5 for using reused materials. 

Communication: /5
Mostly excellent. The company's primary language is German, but all our e-mails were exchanged in English, which is great as I don't know a word of German. Their translation to English was mostly pretty clear, and they were very prompt in responding to correspondence. I was notified of shipment via Etsy rather than e-mail despite not buying this through Etsy but directly, but other than that everything ran well and I commend them for communicating in a second language with a customer. 

Coolness: 5/5
It's a pentacle shelf, in my own custom colours, and is the perfect addition to my ritual space. Plus that fern green is one of my favourite colours. I have only seen one other company offer pentacle/pentagram furniture, and that is in Australia, so it is something different as well as something for my sacred objects and Pagan things. 

I think I will have to create a room-tour video for the living room to talk about my ritual space and how Neo-Paganism is a part of my life, not just a collection of objects. 

The company make pentacle shelves in different sizes and colours as well as coffin shaped furniture. I thoroughly recommend them after this very pleasant ordering experience. I will be buying a second pentacle shelf unit, but not until I've saved up more money. I definitely think it was worth the money, and highly recommend getting pentacle shelves from them. 

As to what is on the shelf:
✪ Draped over it is a naturally shed snake-skin. Snakes shed their skins periodically as they grow, and this one was relatively intact, so it now hangs over my pentacle shelf as a symbol of transformation.

Clockwise from top:
✪ Top point includes a pentacle and Celtic knot-work coaster that I sometimes use to place my chalice on if it is actually containing a liquid.

✪ In the upper right compartment there is Raven's crystal ball, and a little pewter Celtic knot-work box.

✪ The right point has a fox's jaw-bone we found in the garden, and an athame belonging to Raven with a bone handle and knapped flint blade. It was a gift to him from one of our close mutual friends.

✪ The right section is empty.

✪ The bottom right point has a raw amethyst chunk and some tumbled stones and crystals that are green. I don't use crystals for symbolic or otherwise associations, and just have them as a reminder of the beautiful things that come from the Earth.

✪ In the bottom section is a sage bundle I was given as a house-cleansing incense, which we will use when we have finished refurbishing the property for its ritually becoming 'ours' (we have done other cleansings already, we're just saving this bundle of sage). There's also a pentagram made of twigs I bought in a market in Cardigan, Wales, and an ammonite fossil.

✪ In the bottom left point is an orange carved translucent stone that Raven uses to represent the sun, and a heart carved from some pretty sort of green stone.

✪ In the left section is an old Victorian perfume bottle I am saving for a special use. It's got perfume residue in it, but it doesn't have a scent any more, sadly.

✪ In the upper left point is a big chunk of quartz.

✪ In the top right section is little statuette of Bastet that I've had ever since my period of obsession with Ancient Egypt when I was about 11, and a stone oil-burner with a pentacle window which I bought at the Thunder In The Glens festival of Harley Davidson motorcycles and biker stuff in general, which is held each year in Aviemore.

✪ In the centre is a hand-made green witch's face, made by the very talented chap at ::Mystery Star:: back when he had a shop in the Harris Shopping Arcade in Reading... I've kept it as a memento of that little haven of spookiness ever since and even re-dyed it after the sun over many years faded it to khaki. It will end up nailed next to the kitchen door as I've always had 'her' by my kitchen doors, but for now it's in the centre of the pentacle until I find a suitable sun-and-moon disc.

This is just the start of what will be kept there, I'm keeping a little bare for now so there is space as I slowly accrue more. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Be True To Yourself

This is something I feel like writing up for the young ones, those in their teens who feel like they don't have a space in the world because they're too different. I'm going to share my experiences growing up, and I hope that I can provide some consolation those who are going through something similar. 

Even though society has progressed quite a bit in many places since I grew up in the late '80s, '90s and early '00s, there's still a level of expected conformity ("be yourself, but not like that"). I have resisted this since my mid-to-late teens after all my trying to fit in failed rather catastrophically - all my attempts to imitate my cool peers and act like the others, to seem like just an ordinary member of whatever demographic my current school had, always resulted in my being exposed as a poseur, and me constantly double-thinking myself. I ended up literally driving myself mad with worry, spiralling into deep anxiety about being found out and exposed as the fraud I was, and deeply miserable because I felt there was no place in the world for the real me underneath the disguise. 

I became deeply, deeply unhappy, self-destructive and quite mentally ill. I descended into my own personal hell, one fuelled also by the abusive and traumatic experiences I had survived, as well as this sense of alienation and the unhappiness I felt in my fake existence. I don't want to recall the exact specifics of how bad it got, but it really was the most awful head-space I have ever been. 

One of the things about me, which I have alluded to on this blog before, but which I haven't spelled out exactly, is that I am neurodivergent. I have Asperger's, which I had suspected for a long time, but it was only about 3 years ago I went to a specialist centre  and was officially diagnosed. It is suspected that I have quite severe dyspraxia, too, and possibly ADHD, but the symptomatic overlap with Asperger's makes it difficult to diagnose, plus there is no NHS service in my region for adults to seek official diagnosis or treatment for either ADHD or dyspraxia. This means there are many ways in which I fundamentally can't be normal, however hard I try to be. 

[I didn't want to admit it, because I am worried that in doing so, people will just see me as someone with Asperger's, and this will be used to overshadow and 'explain' me away, as if all people with Asperger's are the same, and as if Asperger's is all there is to me]

When I was a teen, I didn't know why I was so different, struggled so hard socially, why I everyone seemed so alien and confusing to me, why it seemed like my senses were so much keener than others, why crowds seemed so awful and chaotic to me, why I couldn't see the logic in other humans, why everyone seemed to think, in some fundamental way, differently from me. I sought out explanations, some quite fanciful, I will admit, but they were all lacking. I tried my best to blend in, to capitulate to the rather socially conservative expectations being put on me , to be what others wanted, but eventually I realised that this was impossible. Some of it is my inherent nature - Asperger's, bisexuality, my being essentially agender, these are inherent traits - some of it is something between personality and choice, where my underlying nature probably contributes significantly, but ultimately it is my choice; I'm Neo-Pagan, I'm Goth, I'm a Romantic, I'm a little bit "hippie", passionately green, and have a lot of 'eccentric' tastes and interests, some of it was just my background; there are people who don't have much care for immigrants and their children, or for those who are poor, or come from unconventional families. 

Even if I made all the "normal" choices, I would still be innately different - I still was, when I tried to - and I was miserable because I was suppressing all the things that made me happy. If you cut yourself off from the things you enjoy to fit in better, all you'll do is limit your own happiness, and probably still not fit in any better, or at least, that's what happened to me. Eventually, at about 14 or 15, I gave up pretending and ran headlong into being different. Sometimes I was awkward, obsessive and a bit cringe-worthy growing up (I'd get a bit obsessive about fandoms, and was also a bit of a 'weeaboo' for a while), sometimes I did things out of petty defiance, and sometimes I took 'flying my freak-flag high' a bit too far, sometimes I experimented with different identities trying to find my own, but eventually I levelled out and found myself. I do think there's a place in the world for tact, for moderation (especially as I have obsessive tendencies), and situational awareness, but I learned that there are always ways of being true to myself. 

I learned a lot. I realised that often the world will not just automatically make a space for those who are a little too different, so it is up to us to make our own spaces, and to seek out the others like us. I learned that politeness, compassion and competence can get people to see past difference, especially with patience and kindness. I came to see that being true to myself, and giving myself the freedom of divorcing myself from the pressure to live up to other's expectations, was the key to my happiness. I learned not to really care anymore about the opinions of strangers and busybodies, and to live for myself. Life wasn't about external acceptance, and my self-esteem was no longer predicated entirely on validation from others. 

I also met other people with common interests, and while I will say that my self-worth comes from inner acceptance, it is certainly easier in life when you have support from others. I'm naturally a bit of an introvert, and not the most actively social individual, but even I have found a value in community; a tree can be strong and sturdy on its own, an ancient solitary oak living hundreds of years, even over a millennia, but a whole forest is something else. Goth and Neo-Paganism have been where I have found like-minded individuals, and a sense of homecoming; certainly I'm different even from other Goths, and Neo-Pagans, and will probably always be something of an anomaly in all situations, but this subculture is where I've found my people, and there's something to knowing I'm not completely alien in this world. I don't have to pretend around other Pagans and Goths, I don't have to hide who I am. 

I also learned that it was a waste of energy and time, as well as quite misguided, to be consumed with bitterness at the rest of the world, to define myself by opposition to others, to rail against the "conformists" as terrible people, and bristle with defiance. Instead, I would focus simply on being myself and doing what I enjoyed. 

What this little bit of autobiography is trying to say is this: be yourself, live life for you, and don't let the world break your spirit if it wants you to be something you're fundamentally not. This world has many strange people who are proud of being strange, and who have found, or carved out, their own niche, and have happy, successful lives - even if some of them measure success by different yardsticks. Often the road less travelled is a harder, rougher path, but it is worth it for what you find on the journey. As long as you aren't hurting either yourself or others, do what you enjoy and live life your own way. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Radio Carol?

I have been interviewed on two different radio stations; BBC Radio Scotland (NATIONAL RADIO! Terrifying!!) and on the podcast/internet radio page Cemetery Confessions, where I was a guest in the discussion as well as specifically interviewed.

My name is Carol (by abbreviation), hence the title. I tend to use 'The House Cat' on this blog rather than my full name, but that would sound odd on those platforms for people who don't know me.

You get to hear what I actually sound like, which means you hear my awfully polished English accent. I live in Scotland, but I'm not Scottish, I'm 'Franglais' - French-English. My French accent got pushed out of me by the time I'd hit my mid teens, sadly. I'm a bit self-conscious that I now sound a lot posher than I actually am; I'm not upper-middle-class. I was raised in poverty from a working class background, but ended up attending a private school on scholarship which is where I got the polished speaking voice. I think this was also made more apparent by my deliberately trying to enunciate clearly to make sure I was understandable. 

BBC Radio Scotland Interview
Firstly the BBC Radio Scotland interview. I was contacted by a represented Kaye Adams Programme to talk about hate crimes against Goths in the wake of the excellent news that the ::Sophie Lancaster Foundation:: has been granted substantial governmental funding to continue their work. I was interviewed alongside two people who have done a LOT more work towards the Goth subculture - Sylvia Lancaster, who is Sophie Lancaster's mother and who spearheads the Foundation and does a huge amount of work to tackle bullying and prejudice, not just against Goths but against all people who are different, and sociologist ::Dr. Paul Hodkinson:: who is a Goth himself and also a researcher who has studied the subculture he is a part of and is one of the preeminent sociologists studying us in an academic sense. 

The BBC Radio Scotland interviews can be found ::here::.  The show is quite long and in different sections, and the section about Goths starts at approximately 1:41:20 (hours, minutes, seconds), and starts with the interview of Sylvia Lancaster. I think it pretty much speaks for itself, and I will not write much about the content here, especially as it is a relatively short section.

I was really nervous about the interview, as it was on live radio, and not just that, but live national radio. I get terrible stage fright at the best of times, and I was literally shaking in the studio before the interview began (and needed the glass of water I was drinking to keep me calm). The first "hi" I say is so meek, with a nervous trying-to-sound-perky tone of voice, and the whole interview had me so nervous that I was talking really quite quickly - I'm sorry if I am a little too fast for some listeners, especially for those for whom English isn't a first language. 

Cemetery Confessions Episode 
I was also a guest on the latest episode of Cemetery Confessions, which is ::here::. We mostly talk about ::an article:: on Darkest Goth magazine. We're quite critical of what was said, but I certainly think the article's heart was in the right place. Even if I disagree with a lot of it, the general push towards Goth being inclusive and keeping away from elitist gate-keeping is a good thing.
I admitted in my discussion that I'm not hugely educated on the music theory and technical aspects of rock music of any sort. This one of the reasons I've not really written much more in the 'Music Monday' category on this blog. I know what I like and that most of what I like falls into genres in and around Goth, but I don't know much about guitar playing, drumming or poking synths - my music education has been mostly classical, and I don't have a deep musical understanding of what I enjoy. 

I was interviewed specifically about being a Goth in the Highlands. I did say that we don't get gigs - this might not be true any more, as one of my friends is trying to get some bands to play here, which should be brilliant. Our community isn't the largest, but it is very vibrant, and because it's a hybrid between subcultures we can get people involved that are outside the scene. I have talked about this at length both in Gothic Beauty magazine and in ::this:: article.

One thing I noticed in retrospective listening, is that I think that some of what I said could be interpreted as a resentment of Christianity; the only resentment I have is to the people and institutions in my childhood who used Christianity as an excuse to be judgemental and restrictive towards me, and those who now couch their prejudices against me in religious terms, although I think is more an expression of their self-righteous and hypocritical bigotry than an expression of Christianity itself, and I know personally a lot of Christians, Goth and otherwise, who are very tolerant and kid people, for whom standing up to injustice and prejudice is a Christ-like action. While I certainly appreciated the artistic, architectural and musical culture of my mixed Anglican and Catholic upbringing, I also did appreciate the sincere faith of those around me, even if it was something I couldn't truly share in myself. 

[One thing I mentioned was how physical suffering is often a component to the path to spiritual attainment in the stories and lives of martyrs and saints, as well as the crucifixion itself, and I didn't mean this as a negative or a criticism, more wondering if that was the origin of the attitude in Western culture for seeing a nobility and spiritual or psychological learning in suffering. As someone who has suffered quite a bit physically and emotionally, back when I was Christian myself as well as since my conversion to Neo-Paganism, I actually found that framework personally helpful. I don't want to romanticise pain as the path to enlightenment, but I found that sometimes I learned the most about myself and life when I was pushed to my limits by terrible circumstances. I don't really know how to express myself well on this topic.]

Again, I was quite nervous, but I think I spoke less quickly than in the more recent BBC interview, but I did stop-start quite a bit - my speaking was somewhat choppy, and I think I got more fluid as the interview progressed and I became more nervous. The interview about being a Goth in the Highlands was definitely marred by my having a cold and breaking out into a coughing fit. 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

New Year, New Me?

I'm doing that modern tradition of 'New Year's Resolutions' and so far I'm managing to stick to them, but I hope I'm not one of the many people who let them drop by the wayside throughout the year. I am hoping that if I post them publicly, this will encourage me to live up to the expectations I have declared of myself - especially if people encourage me.

Recent photograph of me by Raven
My resolutions are in three main categories: healthier living, happier living, and college.

Healthier Living Resolutions:
  1. Eat less cheese, chocolate and other less healthy foods that I tend to over-indulge in. I'm actually not eating either for January - I've eaten the last of what was left over from the festive season, and I'm not buying or eating any more until at least February, and trying to replace these parts of my diet with healthier options - primarily fresh and dried fruit. 
  2. Get fitter and less fat. I've put on fat due to a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet of convenience food, something I have mentioned before. I managed to loose a little fat and ended up about 2 inches thinner all around last year, but then I gained it again. I need to make sure being a student doesn't also mean living unhealthily and not exercising enough, eating unhealthy snack foods, etc. I don't have a problem with this as primarily an aesthetic issue, but as one of me recognising that it's a symptom of my lifestyle in general having become less healthy. 
  3. Go for regular walks. I live in a beautiful, beautiful part of the world and I don't spend as much time exploring it as I ought to. Part of that is because I'm really busy with the house and college, and part of that is because I spend too much time on Faceboook, Tumblr, etc. I need to do less of the latter, and I need to do more exercise, in general, and walking is both relaxing and gets me fresh air, exercise and relative quiet, especially if I stay rural and keep away from populated areas. 
  4. Go back to martial arts classes. I have loose joints and a co-ordination disorder, and as long as I'm careful in what exercises I do (that I'm doing them properly, and that I work on having the muscle-strength to control the over-flexibility of my joints) and strap up my knees and ankles properly, martial arts help both of those issues. A complex discipline like martial arts really helps with co-ordination, proprioception and kinesthesia. It helps me become far more aware of where all of me is, basically, and what each part of me is doing, and while I'm still clumsy, and I learn things like martial arts far, far slower than my class-mates (I will never be some badass MMA fighter type!), all the time I'm practising regularly I see the improvement in my everyday life. I also found being allowed to hit things a good stress-reliever. I quit to spend more time on my studies, but now I regret it. I need the exercise, but I also need to do these things that really tax my abilities in order to improve them, otherwise I'm a klutz that trips over air, bumps her hand on the hot parts of the cooker and breaks crockery... I suppose I could substitute any other discipline that requires similar co-ordination, like dance or yoga, but martial arts fits my personality better, plus while I'm no expert, I would like to improve my self-defence abilities, especially when I know how rough things can be for those of us who choose to look different. 

This is my "the photoshoot will be ruined by rain" face.
Photograph by Raven. 

Happier Living Resolutions:
  1. Spend less time on the internet. This blog is a fun hobby, and e-mails are a useful form of communication. The internet is also a great research resource (Google Scholar is so useful!), but it has its downside; getting into arguments online with strangers, spending too much time idly on social media, being distracted by pages of funny cat/bat/snake memes, and generally wasting time unproductively. I need to less of the latter, and perhaps spend more time on this blog! Last year I only managed 29 blog posts, and that is not enough content!
  2. Learn to say "no" to social engagements. I've been trying to override my introverted nature and be too social for my own good, leaving me exhausted. Just being around people too long wears me out, and I get plenty of that at college. I have to be balanced about this, too, as I have reclusive tendencies, but I also have to respect my own boundaries and not just blindly agree to every time I am invited to see friends or have a coffee. I'm also very much not a fan of loud, busy places - so a lot of bars and clubs are more torturous than fun in my opinion, and I need to be more assertive in saying that I don't want to go to those sorts of places. I am a "yes" to cemetery picnics and a "no" to Friday night drinks. 
  3. Draw and paint more. I love art, and I love working on artistic projects, but these days I haven't done much in the way of art and crafting - a lot of the time it's because college has to take precedence, but keeping my artistic skills up to scratch is important to my architecture studies, plus it's very rewarding. I also have quite a few unfinished art projects that I just want to get done. 
This was a test photo of me looking at a tree by Raven
Studious Resolutions:
  1. Spend more time on Revit. Revit, for those who aren't in architecture, is a piece of software that is 'building information modelling' - which in ordinary terms means that it models various properties of a building as well as its 3D shape, and allows for information like which company makes something, what phase of construction it's in, or whatnot, to be included. Very powerful software, and an important part of my college course is learning to use it, but I really struggle with it; it's so different from anything I've done before - heck, before uni, I hadn't done any 3D modelling at all. Learning 2D CAD and technical drawing was more a case of applying what I know of doing it traditionally to a new medium, but 3D building information modelling is something completely new. The only way to improve is to practice, and I hate practising because it's an unrewarding battle with something that mostly frustrates me, but I have to, so I will. 
  2. Tidy my study. My study has ended up something of a storage room instead of a quiet place to work; it's full of crates, books, etc. It's hard to move in there, let alone get any studying done, so it needs a clear out! Because of the amount of junk that has been shifted in there as we decorate (and really, refurbish) other areas of our house, it's become rather cluttered, so this is a significant task. 
  3. Manage my time better. I struggle with time management - partly because I have a couple neurological issues that mean I have problems like no sense of how much time has passed, and with remaining on task (I have short-term memory issues), but I've got a tablet computer now, and apps and software to help - I use countdown timers a lot, for example, and it's easier to have one on my computer than keep taking the one from the kitchen - plus I'm trying to schedule my time better with time-tables, etc. I got behind last term, and I don't want to repeat that.  

Those are my 10 resolutions for this year. I really hope I can keep to them.
The photos interspersing these are the best photos from the first attempted photoshoot of 2017 and are all by Raven. Unfortunately, bad weather came in and ruined it all, which means I'll have to try again soon. The jacket is by DarkStar and the jabot and shirt by PunkRave. My hair is dyed with Directions Apple Green, Stargazer UV Green and Directions Alpine Green, with the UV Green as highlights at the front, and the Alpine Green as lowlights in the lower layers. It's washed out a little since I did it, hence why it is a little more pastel than my usual vivid green. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Japanese Punk-Goth In Culloden

Another instalment of my 'Highland Goth' photography series. These were actually taken last summer, but I've been so busy with college that I haven't had the time to process the images. These are photographs of K. which, if you have been reading my blog awhile, will know is one of my good friends and also someone particularly interested in Japanese fashion. For the majority of her appearances on my blog, you will note that she is into Gothic Lolita fashion, but she is also into other aspects of Goth-related fashions, including Goth itself, and Japanese Goth. In these photos she's wearing an outfit that's very much based in the aesthetics of Japanese and Asian Goth brands; it's got the deliberately tattered look of punk, the bright colours and stripes from late '90s Burtonesque looks (I think there's Burton graphic on the skirt), and an hint of 'kawaii' about it. 

Photograph HouseCat

I did K.'s make-up, and lent her a few of my things as she was visiting us. I don't actually have an eye-shadow that red, so I used a little lipstick for a really vibrant red. The hat she's wearing is actually Raven's - I think he got it for a General Bison (Street Fighter) cosplay, but it wasn't quite right - not enough red. However, military style hats seem to be common Visual-Kei style headgear, and it went with the outfit, so it was donned. However, Raven is a lot bigger than K. so the hat is a tad large. K. is a keen cosplayer, so it also seems fitting that she wear a hat that was initially intended as part of a cosplay. 

Photograph by HouseCat

This particular photoshoot very nearly ended up quite badly because I managed to get a cut on my eyeball. Originally we planned to take this photoshoot in the underpass in Culloden that has a very psychedelic looking 'Alice in Wonderland' mural the local youth group did in graffiti style - it was done by teenagers, so they took a rather interesting and colourful approach to it. We went there, but I forgot that the school year is different to the university year, and that a lot of teenagers from the local secondary school were about to be funnelled through one narrow underpass... I was using my partner's camera, as mine was out of battery power, and his has a little sun-hood over the rear screen, and this is spring-loaded, with a little thumb-flick thing to release it. As I was photographing K., I was interrupted by a gaggle of teenagers, and tried to step out of the way of the flow of people, and moved the camera away from my eye, and just as I did so, accidentally released the sun-hood and a sharp plastic edge caught my eyeball. 

Photograph by HouseCat

Initially, I thought it was just a poke, and no real damage was done, so we moved on to the Doocot, where things were quieter, and I tried to complete the shoot - difficult as I had to use my other eye as my good eye was streaming with tears, and my other eye is always terribly out of focus without my glasses, and is it was bright, I had my sunglasses instead (I can see pretty well out of the eye I hurt without glasses). I'm surprised any of the photographs were even in focus! I finished the shoot, and started walking home, and was beginning to realise that it was more than an ordinary poke in the eye, and that my eye was really burning and streaming. It hurt pretty badly indeed, but I could see out of it. After consulting NHS 24 to make sure it wasn't a waste of hospital time, I went to the minor injuries unit at the local hospital, they put some yellow-orange dye in my eye and took a look - turns out I'd managed to scratch my eyeball - just on the edge of my iris. If it had been a few millimetres further up, I'd have scratched it on the lens of my eye. I have a friend who got a scratch on his cornea, and as the scar tissue is cloudy, he's now partially sighted in that eye, so I feel quite lucky, as it could have been much worse. 

Ducky and K. Photograph by HouseCat

The plan was to also do a photoshoot with K.'s partner, Ducky (also a good friend of mine).  I actually spent a while doing Ducky's make-up, but because of my eye injury, the photoshoot didn't work out. I did, however, get this photograph of Ducky and K. together. They're a lovely couple and I'm so happy for the both of them. In future I'd like to do a set of photographs of them as a pair - a proper 'couple' shoot. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Ethics Of Goth Clothes

I have been stalling writing this blog post... It's one of those topics that is very easy to sound preachy and self-righteous about, and I'm not wanting to dictate other people's shopping habits - rather, I would like to start a conversation (feel free to comment!), one that occurs about mainstream fashion, but which seems overlooked within Goth. 

Manufacture & Sweatshops
Quite a few mainstream 'fast-fashion' high-street brands have come under criticism for having garments made in sweatshops where working conditions are poor, workers have long shifts, health and safety is overlooked, wages are a pittance, and sometimes even children work. Investigative reporters and groups interested in sustainable and ethical have tracked back their supply chains, produced rankings and reports to check major companies, and some retailers have since moved production to different manufacturers after public scandals, but the issue of sweatshops remain. Imported clothes at impossibly low prices, for example, make me question where the customer saving comes from, and to where that cost has been shifted.

When it comes to Goth brands, especially the larger ones, the supply chain is pretty opaque to the average customer- we rarely even buy them from the brands themselves, but from resellers. These are often niche companies, ranging from very small businesses run by either one person or two or three, to small companies, to much larger companies making thousands of garments, maybe tens of thousands, but very few are anywhere near the scale of the big high-street retailers selling millions of garments each. They are not large enough companies to attract the attention of the groups monitoring sustainable and ethical production, and it's often very hard to find out if the companies just design and distribute the garments, or if they also produce them in their own factories rather than contract that out.  This makes it very difficult to know anything about the production and supply chain.

Some, like ::Holy Clothing:: (fantasy, Medieval-inspired and bohemian styles, usually available in black, dark purple and other colours that make them very Gothic - great place to get gowns!), make a point to say their clothes are 'Ethically Made' and even have a section on their website about their workers, and Dracula Clothing also seem to be treating their staff in their tailoring workshop in India well, and others like ::Alchemy Gothic:: are very proud of their production methods and tell you all about it if you look on their blog (part 1 of the process is ::here:: and you can find the rest of it on their site. Their jewellery is made in Leicester, England). There are also companies like ::MoonMaiden:: and ::Hysteria Machine:: that are very small operations, making their own garments and accessories.

I thoroughly endorse Alchemy Gothic's products, and I'm not being sponsored to say that or anything! I've been collecting their jewellery and homewares for several years now,  and am a very happy customer, and I think their jewellery designs are gorgeous! 

A lot of what Goths actually wear isn't sourced from Goth-specific brands - it's from mainstream retailers. These often ARE assessed in terms of sustainability and ethical production, and there's been quite a lot done to research exactly where our high-street fast-fashion comes from. With those, I strongly recommend looking up exactly what is made where. Personally, I now buy nearly nothing directly from fast-fashion mainstream retailers, although I will buy stuff manufactured by them from charity shops etc.; I don't want my money to support an unsustainable fashion industry, but also understand that clothes waste is a serious issue (which I will address later in this post), and so would rather buy second-hand clothes and put my money towards a good cause. 

Production & Pollution
There is also an issue that is part of all fashion - the manufacture of fabric, especially synthetic fabrics made from what are essentially plastics derived from the oil industry, and the dyeing process. The dyeing industry is notorious for water pollution issues, With fabrics derived from natural materials there is also the concern for the farming methods used - for example pesticide use on cotton grown on irrigated land and the leaching of pesticides back into the water system, especially as cotton is often a crop grown with high use of pesticides. Check out ::this article:: for an overview of the issues relating to specific fabrics. One piece of bad news for Goths is that one of our favourite materials - PVC - is a plastic with a particular issue when it comes to production.

It is important to look at what materials a garment is made from. Personally, I think this is a good reason to look towards either secondhand or recycled clothes as much as possible rather than towards brand new clothes made of brand new materials, thus not encouraging further excess production. Of course, that's not always practical, plus there'd be a pretty big negative economic impact if everyone suddenly stopped buying new clothes!

When making our own clothes, it also important to think about where we are sourcing our materials. Some fabrics and trims are made in factories that are just as much sweatshops as garment factories can be, sometimes even worse as the dyeing and synthetic fabric production processes use a lot of harsh and dangerous chemicals. There is also the issue of health and safety, especially in factories that use antiquated machinery and child labour. Conditions in some places aren't much better than the lethal cotton mills of Victorian England. It is unfortunately very, very difficult to find out the conditions in which our trims, buttons, lace and fabric were made, as we are usually at the end of a very indirect supply chain. It is certainly possible to reclaim materials from used garments and furnishings, but this isn't always practical, and good quality materials secondhand can be hard to come by - especially as another aspect of fast-fashion flooding the market is that cheap, substandard materials have become the norm, and therefore the secondhand market is full of things that are simply already too worn-out and damaged to be easily up-cycled. 

Carbon Footprint & Air Miles

There are two issues with clothes being manufactured a long way from where they are consumed - relying on imported goods and outsourcing cheap manufacturing overseas damages the domestic manufacturing industries, and shipping things half way across the globe is bad for the environment - those ships and planes pollute. Some companies, such as ::Cykxtees:: and Moon Maiden manufacture their clothes in the same country as their primary market (in the case of Cykxtees, that's the U.S.A, Moon Maiden the U.K.) but many have their primary sales markets in Europe or America, but have their clothes made in India, China, etc. While this is obviously economical in terms of cost of production, it does have an impact on the environment, and while it might beyond the scope of small companies to make much change in the economic forces that drive manufacturing to far away places, there is an issue with that, too - but the economic growth in many of those countries has in many cases spurred a huge increase in the local standards of living (and in other cases, contributed to local pollution to toxic levels!). It is a case where there is not always a clear and definitive ethical demarcation of whether it is "good" or "bad" - but I think it is something that needs to at least be thought about. 

Cheaper & Greener

I really recommend shopping secondhand for Goth clothes. It's how I get about ⅔ of my clothes, initially only out of budgetary concerns as I just can't afford most new clothes in the Romantic Goth, Gothic Aristocrat and Gothic Lolita styles that I like, but now also because I don't want to contribute financially to the encouragement of overproduction.

It takes a bit more time to look through charity shops and online to find what you want, but I think it is definitely a worthwhile endeavour; I've bought fancy buckled pointy boots for £1 and a heavy winter woollen coat that was probably £100 or more new for under £4. One thing I will note is to always check the cost of postage, and from how far away someone is selling. It requires patience, and knowing the nuances of how to shop secondhand; something that is outside the scope of this particular article, but there are plenty of guides out there, including ::this one:: I wrote.

Reuse, Recycle and Resell
There is also the issue of what to do with our clothes once we no longer have use for them, as well as how we get them in the first place.
If something no longer fits, alteration is also an option, especially if a garment is now too big. Things can also be made larger with the insertion of fabric panels, or where the seam allowance allows. If something is damaged, see if it can be mended before you throw it away.

Reselling clothes in good condition is certainly an option. There are many second-hand sales communities on the internet, as well as second-hand marketplace websites. You can often recoup a reasonable amount of money, especially for the more elaborate and unusual items, especially if you're in the right targeted group for a niche community. People will still buy fancy garments with minor damage if they're informed of it up front, as buttons can be changed, tears mended, etc. Permanent stains are often more of an issue, especially if they're obvious. There are also Goth swap-meets and bring-and-buy sales in person in some areas.

Donating old clothes to charity is also an option. Charities prefer clothes without tears, damage or stains, because they are selling them to a broader market, and most people outside of looking for a niche garment where there's less of an availability issue, will reject damaged clothes. Some charity shops can sell on damaged clothes by weight for material recycling, but this isn't possible with all fabrics and with all shops - some shops are actually charged for the disposal of clothes they can't sell.

There is also the option of reusing garments as something else. The staples of this in our subculture are long socks with the feet cut off and a thumb-hole made used as arm-warmers, and ripped tights being ripped up even more on purpose for a textured, layered look, especially in post-apocalyptic and ruination inspired fashions, Deathrock, and Trad-Goth. With more sewing skills things can be dismantled and the fabric, trims, etc. all reused. Plenty of my clothes are repurposed from the fabric of something else; a torn lace skirt turned into a 'butt-cape', a over-sized neck-tie turned into a headdress, an old jacket turned into a hood and cowl, etc. The internet is full of crafting ideas for reusing unwanted and damaged clothes. I have a stash of reclaimed fabric, trims and buttons.

Fast Fashion vs. Goth Fashion
For the most part, Goth is what I would call a style rather than a fashion - what is fashionable is often fleeting and transiently cool, whereas what is stylish remains stylish through time. There are plenty of Goths now that dress pretty much like Goths did 40 years ago, or 25 years ago, etc. and we often buy clothes, especially statement pieces, with the idea of them being an investment we're going to keep for a good few years. This, I think, is a lot more sustainable than what mainstream fashion seems to be like - ::this:: recent video by Huffington Post asserts that mainstream garments are now worn only an average of 5 times before they're thrown away, and retained for an average length of just over a month. (Which, with how long many of us hold on to clothes, must mean some people wear things once and throw them away straight off, for that to be an average!).

We hold on to our clothes longer, have less of a demand for new clothes, and are more likely to buy secondhand, or to make our own clothes, including up-cycled clothes, all positives, and it is good to acknowledge this is already an aspect of the fashion of our subculture and the attitudes within it. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Old High Church Revisited - Photographic Friday

This building is probably very familiar to all of my readers - it's the Old High Church in Inverness. It's somewhere I really enjoy going, especially the accompanying graveyard, and it is a building I have already extensively photographed, especially the unusual tower. The oldest parts of the tower date from the 14thC, but most of it was rebuilt in the 18thC. There's apparently been a church there since the 500s as it is one of St. Columba's original churches, and there was a pre-Christian religious site before that, possibly dating back millennia as many ancient sacred sites in the area do. 

I've finally taken a picture of the Old High Church from across the river! This seems like it would be the obvious thing to do, but for some reason I have never gotten around to doing so. It was such a cloudy day, and this was a lot less dramatic a picture than I would have liked. However, I do think this picture shows how the church is built on a mound - which I have heard called 'St. Michael's mound' - so many sacred hills, hillocks and mounds are associated with St. Michael, but I don't know why. I know some have specific legends, but many don't. If anyone wants to educate me on this, please do!

I have recently got LightZone, which I am still learning to use. The first picture in this series was edited with G.I.M.P (Gnu Image Manipulation Program - minds out of the gutter!) and the second I think was with ::PicMonkey:: - a free online photo editing website, where you can do basic edits via your browser, which is what I use for the majority of my selfies. There's a premium version if you want to pay for it, too, which is has more capabilities.  This final picture of the Old High Church is the first picture I have ever tweaked in LightZone. I was very quickly able to bring out the details, and I am getting used to the primary method - the 'zones' which are, in black and white images, areas of a greys within parameters, eg. white, very very light greys, very light greys, light greys, moderately light greys, moderate greys, etc. It's had to explain in words! Anyway, I think it is something where the interface and approach to editing would work quite well with how I process images. 

There is a low headstone in the foreground with a notch in the top - that notch was carved as a rifle-rest after the Battle of Culloden for the executioner's rifle. Just out of shot, beyond the left edge of this photograph is a wall, against which Jacobite prisoners were shot. There's still dents in the wall from it. I mentioned this in my Graveyard Walk post, and it's something that really stuck me. It's such a cheery graveyard now - or at least as cheery as a graveyard can be - with a nice view over the river and charming trees and plenty of wildlife, especially birds and rabbits, it's darker history is easily forgotten. It is quite moving to me to think of what awful things happened there. 

That's all for this instalment of Photographic Friday. I've got quite a few more blog entries in the works; getting time to work on all of them around college is a bit trickier, but I hope you have all found what I've been writing about recently to be interesting. If you like architectural photography, don't forget to check out my Tumblr ::Architecturally Gothic::. Domesticated Goth also has a Tumblr ::here:: where I post more selfies, links to what I post here, snippets of my life, and also reblog stuff from other bloggers that I find interesting - everything from illuminated manuscripts to Gothic models.