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, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. 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.

Goth 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, the expression of that in Goth rock. It 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 (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, 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. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Slenderness, Diet and Exercise

Two things recently have got me thinking about this. One is Adora Batbrat's recent vlog saying that dieting is better than anorexia.

First of all, thin and beautiful are not synonyms, and while people may find certain proportions more pleasing than others, a lot more goes into personal beauty than shape alone, and every person has a different ideal for beauty. Thinking that self-starvation is productive and unhealthy levels of thinness are necessary is, to be frank, stupid, illogical and heading very close towards mental health issues like anorexia and bulimia. 

Adora's vlog (which is ::here::) was interesting, but I am divided in my opinion towards it.

I think they are a reaction to seeing herself on 'thinspo'  and pro-anorxia blogs. I sadly have to agree that those (especially girls) who really want to be very thin will go ahead, regardless of what people tell them, to try and get very thin, and that it is better to eat healthily than to starve oneself. I'm not a nutritionist, and therefore not entirely sure on how healthy the Montingac Method is, but as it advocates eating a lot of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and quite a range of foods, without quantity restrictions, it seems reasonably healthy.  I think pointing out the harm psychologically and in terms of brain health that is caused by self-starvation and other drastic measures is certainly a good thing, and trying to steer people away from anorexia and other eating disorders is a good thing, but I don't think her video explores enough - perhaps Part 2 will elaborate further. 

Anorexia, in my experiences helping friends who have suffered, is a mental illness with broader root causes than simply wanting to attain a shape or weight - the desire for thinness is a manifestation of deeper issues, and anorexia significantly about control and obsessive, unhealthy levels self-control as well as thinness, and I'm not sure how many of the people who are drawn towards that self-destructive path will be swayed away by being able to attain the same results without the deliberate self-denial.

I do think she should also perhaps mention that she is naturally quite thin (or at least I presume she is from looking at photographs of her wider family) and she is also quite tall and dresses to accentuate her slenderness, and I would imagine her active lifestyle pays a part too (she's always busy!). I do think there should be a frank acknowledgement that some people cannot be as thin as she is healthily because genetics and natural build plays a huge part in that. To many, that may seem obvious, but perhaps her younger viewers would find that helpful. She does acknowledge that not everyone wants to be thin, which certainly is step away from blanket ideals of beauty, and that her slender aesthetic is a personal one, which implies that it is not something to apply to everyone or that everyone ought to adopt, but I think that this could have also been made more explicit. 

I know that the title was selected in order to grab attention, particularly of those wanting to be extremely thin, and I think that perhaps in order to retain the attention of those who are looking to be very thin she has decided not to explore the motivations behind wanting to look very thin, or go into detail about how people have different standards of beauty.  

Away from Adora's video, I have noticed people keep asking me how I stay slender, what diet I am on and similar questions. The answer is simple: I am not on any diet, and I make no conscious effort to stay slender. I eat a good variety of foods, with a lot of whole-grains and as an ex-vegetarian, a lot of fruit and vegetables and not a lot of red meat, and I eat however much I want - last week I went to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and got through a starter, three large plates of assorted 'main meal' food, two slices of (double chocolate) cake and three bowls of desert, and that was my monthly 'treat' of a meal out of the house - but I lead an active, sporty and outdoorsy lifestyle and I am genetically prone to be skinny; I come from a long line of tall skinny people who don't have to watch what they eat to stay skinny, and actually have to deliberately eat more to put on weight. 

My natural, healthy shape is how I am now; I am just under 5'10, have a 27 inch waist (accentuated by regular corset-wearing), and most of my weight is muscle rather than fat. I wear between a UK size 10 and  UK size 12, with my bust and thighs tending to be what push me towards a 12 as I have an ample bust and powerful legs.  In recent years as I have done more sport I have certainly gained muscle, which of course does make me look larger, so I am not willowy any more, and I am not the "beanpole" I was as a teenager any more. Everybody has a different healthy body-shape - some people are naturally more slender (like Adora Batbrat) and other people are naturally stockier, and the range is quite broad and varied - but forcing your body too far out its individual healthy shape, either by becoming to skinny or too fat for your natural build, is unhealthy. 

Diet should be about providing your body with the full range of nutrients required to stay healthy and enough energy to power you through the day, it should not become an exercise in obsessive, unhealthy levels self-control and starvation, and it shouldn't be too centred about what shape you are unless you are trying to bring yourself within healthier parameters. 

Food should be fun, taste good and be enjoyable. There's nothing wrong with eating cake, strawberries and cream, chocolates, and all other sweet treats as long as they are in moderation within a balanced diet. I adore food, I adore cooking, I love eating a range of foods, trying new foods to experience new tastes, always altering how I make familiar recipes to explore the variations etc. Food should be fun, enriching and enjoyable, and should never, ever, be seen as the enemy. I don't think too much processed foods and fast food is healthy, and too many sweet treats these days are very processed indeed. Fresh grapes, for example, can be really sweet, and not at all processed!  A home-baked cake is going to use ordinary flour, milk, eggs, etc. and you can control exactly how much sugar you use and what kind, how much salt etc. and still have a delicious, moist, sweet, wonderful cake at the end. I don't deliberately pick what I eat around staying slender; I pick what I eat around what is delicious and varied - staying slender is a 'byproduct' of that. 

Drat, now I want un gateau au chocolat but I've caught a cold and am supposed to be resting, not baking. 

Food and exercise are not some equation where you have to constantly think about balancing the two and making sure you do enough exercise to counterbalance what you ate, they are both meant to be fun. I do sport not to stay thin, but because I find sports a lot of fun. Roller derby is brilliant fun, martial arts are challenging mentally as well as physically, as is fencing, archery is an exercise in focus, hiking, rambling and climbing let me access vast tracts of glorious mountainous Scotland, industrial dancing is both art and fitness etc, etc. I do exercise in order to improve my sports performance, I am active by nature and always on my feet. None of these things are a concerted effort to become slender, being slender is a natural byproduct of having fun doing the things I enjoy. 

Be happy and healthy, and beauty will come naturally. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cilgerran Castle & Teifi Gorge

I've been on holiday! 

Day 1 of my holiday was in Wales, in the South West of the country. I visited Cilgerran Castle in Pembrokeshire with Raven. Raven, though Irish, lived in Wales for over 20 years and has been teaching me snippets of Welsh vocabulary. 

Afon - River
(Hence the River Avon in Somerset, West England, as 'f' is pronounced like 'v' in Welsh)
Pysgod - Fish

Raven drove in the sunshine across the Welsh countryside along narrow winding roads with spectacular views until we got to this small village above the Teifi Gorge. We went down a particularly steep and narrow lane to a car-park down beside the river where there were some remarkably posh stone-built public toilets with a sheltered display on the outside wall of informative plaques telling of the river's history in both Welsh and English. As it was Easter Sunday afternoon and actually sunny, it was quite busy with families out to enjoy the outdoors.
Path above the River Teifi
Photograph by the Housecat
We strolled along the riverside and up the wooded slope, and rapidly I figured that a long skirt and even low-heeled granny-boots were both a bit impractical as I snagged my skirts on brambles and walked very carefully up the many steps indeed. Raven rather enjoyed photographing every interesting thing he came across, as did I. In the end I took over 100 photographs that afternoon, even if I am only showing a few here on this blog entry - things could get rather slow on the loading time otherwise! We walked past an old slate quarry and up alongside the river. 
Taking notes
Photograph by Raven of Chance Photography
I sat for a bit in this wonderful slate-encircled seating area amongst the trees, which if I go again I will note as a nice picnic spot. In the photograph I am writing in a notebook I bought especially for this holiday, to take notes for both my diary and my blog. 
The Sally Gate
Photograph by the Housecat
We walked beneath the castle for a bit, looking up at the towers and in through the 'Sally Gate' as I heard someone call it. I over-heard a father tell his son that it was not named after a woman called Sally but thus called because one sallies through it! I took several photos of the gate, but I liked these two detailed photos most of all. 
A closer detail of the gate.
Photograph by the Housecat
At this point I could hear distant strains of music on the wind. I couldn't make out quite what it was that was playing (I presume it was a radio or other recorded music) but it sounded like a woman singing in Welsh. It seemed quite beautiful and a bit magical to hear just these snatches of wonderful singing. Anyway, around this point I dropped the pen I had borrowed off Raven, so I didn't take many notes for a while! 

Castell - Castle
Tŵr - Tower
(These two are quite similar in both languages)

We then walked a bit further along and down to the river at a different point. Raven skimmed stones and I walked on the shallow shores where the water was an inch at most above the water and had a go at skimming stones too, but I am quite useless at this! 
Raven at the River Teifi
Photograph by the Housecat
I was wearing a scarf about my hair because even though it was sunny, it was a bit breezy and my hair kept blowing into my eyes. At least you get to see the skull scarf I was wearing, which is a cheap one from Primark, but does have a nice lace-like skull pattern on it. 
Looking out across the Teifi
Photograph by Raven of Chance Photography
After a brief hunt for the lost pen, we walked up to the castle and entered it properly. The castle is pay-to-enter and owned by the National Trust. Raven paid for my entry and I used my entry money to buy my little niece a children's book called 'The Little Dragon' and deep plum-coloured quill to carry on my note-taking with. 
Tower and cloudy sky
Photograph by the Housecat
There has been a castle on the site since around 1100CE, but the castle in its present form was built between the 13th and 14thC, with a lot done in 1223 by William Marshal Jr. (See, reading those plaques in the Castle grounds is educational!).
Walkways within the castle
Photograph by the Housecat
One of the wonderful things about visiting the castle is that you can walk inside the buildings as it is reasonably well preserved for a ruin, and as bridges have been built between the remaining stairwells. Raven took a photograph of me from above - he on a walkway, I in the base of the tower.
The Housecat with camera
Photograph by Raven
All the roofs are gone, as is often the case with ancient buildings as the timber rots once the slates or tiles fall or are salvaged (I would imagine slates at this castle, as there is so much of the stuff locally) but the stone, if built well, seems to withstand the centuries so much better. I took the photo below looking upwards in one of the towers. 
Into the light!
Photograph by the Housecat
One of my favourite things about looking at ruins is it gives such a glimpse into how the building was built. The rows of holes in the wall of this tower are where huge wooden beams would have once kept the floors up, for example. The whole castle is built of quite small (relatively) and flat blocks of slate - the local stone - and it is interesting to see something other than roof tiles as an architectural use of slate. I also like seeing the 'fans' of slate above the windows - you see that done nowadays still! Slate is quite an interesting material, with a good variety of uses. 

Anyway, I hope the castle photographs are pleasing, as there is another castle post on its way tomorrow. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Well Done Manchester Police and S.O.P.H.I.E

If anyone needs to know the importance of this in the UK, just look up the tragic, horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster and the vicious, violent assault on her boyfriend. 

And all the other cases that have got nasty enough to hit the news. 

I was not originally going to explain the good sense of including Goths and other subcultures into this legislation. Subculture, as I have mentioned before, is a life-altering choice as great as the choice of religion, and subculture, for many, is a stronger influence on daily life than local or national culture, but having read through comments on various articles reporting this story, I will.

Now I don't think the "hate crime" legislation as it stands is right. It has this rather specific set of groups of victims, and defines the hate crime by its victim rather than the hatred within the perpetrator, and I think it could be better worded to include any baseless hatred towards a random stranger due to a difference rather than personal attack. The kind of savage thugs that attacked Sophie Lancaster are liable to target anybody isolated, different, or perceived to be weak. Yes, they are as likely to attack someone for looking foreign, non-stereotypically gendered, of an unusual religion or disabled. It is just as vile and prejudiced to attack someone on the grounds of being ginger, or looking 'geeky' or having any other visually apparent difference, or even for having the wrong accent.  These things are unlikely to ever be added to the legislation. I also think that legislation that goes to further mark the victims out as 'special' is in itself divisive. 

It is the perpetrator that is more evil for being judgemental and prejudiced as well as violent, not the victim more special because they belong to a minority. 

The idea that anyone who beats up someone for being Goth or Punk or Lolita or Metal in Manchester will hopefully get penalised for their motivation and vicious intolerance of difference in the same way as the hate crimes already recognised as well as their violence is at least one good thing. This world could do with vast decrease in vicious intolerance, and the message that acting on it is wrong should go out.

I know that the hate crime legislation is partly there to promote a sense of safety amongst communities that have been traditionally the victims of institutionalised prejudice. I think the creative, self-expressive types who have formed the backbone of various subcultures (and proto-subcultures since at least the people inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites and Arts & Crafts movements) HAVE faced a certain amount of institutionalised prejudice that can best be summarised by when, at one of the primary schools I attended and before I was even vaguely Goth, I was fed up with being bullied and ostracised by my peers and got the response "well, they wouldn't pick on you if you weren't so different' as if I could suddenly change my IQ (high enough to have meant I was into secondary school things by the time I was half-way through primary), my personality (far more imaginative, I would say, than many of my peers) and my personal circumstances (terrible, and I am not explaining on the public internet). I am who I am, and I have tried being more "normal" - I couldn't deal with the stress of having to permanently act, to permanently maintain an elaborate charade of normality and the cost to my then quite fragile mental health was huge. 

Even with that, I don't think the Goth community has faced, in the UK at least, anything quite as bad as the legislated prejudices that have historically caused vast and terrible harm to people of different races and nationalities, gays, bisexuals and lesbians, transgendered people and those of non-traditional gender and gender expression, the disabled, and women. 

But that does not mean to say that we have not faced problems. 

People think I am brave because I go out of the house looking visibly Goth, as if this is some act of deliberate defiance. It isn't; I just do what everybody else does and go about my life wearing my ordinary clothes. I know my clothes look different, but that is it. I know people who adore their Gothic finery, their Lolita dresses, their cybergoth creativity, but only wear it to clubs and events and go there by car or hide under long coats. Some even only wear it at home. It's not just those who are afraid of being beaten up, or having insults yelled at them by strangers, it is those who find the stares and whispered comments, the being treated with suspicion and alarm, or as some strange curiosity rather than as a curious human. If this addition goes some way to make people feel more comfortable in public as themselves, then that at least is a good thing.