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, 29 August 2013

Neil Gaiman: Talk And Book-Signing

I met Neil Gaiman yesterday evening!

I'm the blur on the left, Neil Gaiman is the blur on the right.
I think my friend Eilidh's hands might have been shaking with excitement.
Several of my friends (mostly Goth types) went to the signing as a group as we are all fans. The talk was part of the launch of his latest book 'The Ocean At The End Of The Lane" which marks a return to writing fantasy/magical realism for adults rather than children's fantasy. The book itself is about a young boy who meets some peculiar neighbours in the aftermath of the suicide of the family lodger. The peculiar neighbours are three preternatural/supernatural women (well, two women and a girl) who very strongly resemble the Maiden, Mother, Crone archetype. A series of fantastical events intertwine with the ordinary, and altogether it is a book that is mesmerising, if rather dark at points. While clearly aimed at adults, the fantasy elements remind me of such things as The Graveyard Book and Coraline, where mundane and magical worlds collide. 

Mr. Gaiman explained about how it was written initially as simply a story for his wife, but kept growing and growing until he'd realised that it was a full novel, and that it had never initially been intended as a novel for publication. He described it as a novel written by accident. His talk was very interesting, full of insights and anecdotes, and I feel it was a privilege to hear him talk. If any of you get the chance to hear one of his book talks, go for it. 

He also read a short excerpt of the book, and I think there is nothing better, in  literary terms, than hearing an author read his own work. It was spellbinding and I didn't want him to stop! 

The most exiting thing was actually meeting him in person. We waited nearly an hour in the signing queue. He mentioned that I had clearly made an effort with my outfit and I was chuffed indeed. I can't actually remember what I said to him - it was all a starstruck daze! - but I mentioned how much I liked Silas from 'The Graveyard Book'.  Anyway, he drew a gravestone with my name on it in my copy of 'The Graveyard Book' and signed it. . After I was out of sight (and hopefully hearing), I did a gleeful little dance and squeaked with joy. 

We had waited so long in the queue that I had long since missed the last bus, and had to walk home all the way from Inverness (a long way, in the dark, in heels) and I felt like I was gliding home on a cloud of spooky happiness, signed book safely in my bag. I met a woman in the city centre, waiting for a bus, who looked vaguely Goth-ish (turned out she's not Goth, though), and vaguely familiar, and asked her if she had been to the signing - apparently she hadn't, but was quite the fan, and she was quite impressed with my signed book when I showed it to her. 

On the way home, walking through the park, I saw an owl flying around. I ended up spending about a quarter of an hour just watching this bird as it flew close with perhaps curiosity, either that or my walking through the park was disturbing tasty prey for it. It ended up perching on a fence post not too far away from me, and we watched each other for a while before leaving in opposite directions. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Sophie Lancaster: Six Years On

Six years ago, on August 24 2007, Sophie Lancaster was murdered for looking different. 

I have posted before about who Sophie Lancaster was, and what happened to her. It was a horrible and evil thing, and that is not what I want to focus on here. I want to focus on what has changed and what the S.O.P.H.I.E foundation set up in her memory has done to make at least the UK a better place for visibly Alternative people like myself. I think that setting up the S.O.P.H.I.E project was probably one of the best things that could be done in her memory. Hopefully through their work, the likelihood of such an attack happening again will decrease. In February 2014, the staged version of Black Roses by Simon Armitage will be playing at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. I am not local, too far North in the Highlands of Scotland, but I suggest that those Goths and alternative people in Manchester show their support. Quite a few creative endeavours have been inspired by Sophie, which reminds me of the songs written in memory and honour of murdered Texan punk Brian Deneke.  

Please watch this short film; it's very sad, and I always cry when I watch it, but I think it is important to see. This is the official Dark Angel video. It is beautifully illustrated and animated. I will say to more sensitive readers/viewers, that it does deal with some dark and violent material, and might be quite upsetting. For those who are of a sturdier disposition, though, I think it is definitely important viewing. 

This year, in Manchester, attacks based on subcultural affiliation have been recognised under the same hate-crime legislation as attacks based on things like religion. I think this is an important step because while some hatred types are about things a person cannot choose (like skin colour, disability, sexual orientation where they are from, etc.) some are about lifestyle choices (wearing non-traditionally gendered clothes, symbols of choice of religion, etc.) which are important to that person being true to their inner selves and being outwardly Goth or whatnot is as important to many as those other choices. It might be just clothes, but is also an outward representation and show of affiliation to the subculture we belong and our inner selves, and heck, I feel like I am dressed up as someone else when I am NOT wearing my Goth clothes. I really hope that this is adopted nation wide. I have written about this topic at greater length ::here:: in a full-length blog-post. 

Their work with schools, and the creation of ::this:: pack including the Sophie Game, and a DVD of the video above,  that gives a tangible resource for teens to learn about tolerance for those who are different is probably my favourite contribution, because it focuses on the intolerance that is the cause underneath the aggression and harassment on the streets. Most of the harassment I have had, and undoubtedly the worst instances, were perpetrated by teens, and not just by my peers while I was a teen myself. I have been harassed by gangs of teenage boys who are otherwise complete strangers to me right up to a couple of months ago. It is an important demographic to target, and from the responses I have read on the S.O.P.H.I.E page, many teenagers have found both Mrs. Lancaster's talks to be very moving, and the work they have done in school based on the packs to be educational. I completely encourage the education of young people about prejudice against alternative types, especially as it is often in their teen years when people will experiment with joining various subcultures, that it was a gang of teens that murdered Sophie Lancaster. 

Goths will always be outsiders, because we like things that most people don't, and come from a perspective that is often radically different (we tend to go "cool!" at what others go "eek!" over.), but that does not mean we should be outcasts and the victims of hatred. We might not want to join the mainstream, but that does not mean we should get abused, beaten and, in the case of Sophie Lancaster, killed. Tolerance and an acceptance of different is not a lot to ask, but sadly it is so hard to get. 

Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred & Intolerance Everywhere

In terms of any more can be done, I think diversity education aimed at the attitudes to difference in primary school children would be a good idea. I also think it shouldn't be up to a small charity to do these things. 

I think several primary-school aged children have written into Gothic Charm School as interested in the subculture, and I know that while I wasn't a Goth as a small child, I was gender-stereotype non-conforming and dressed pretty much as a boy, and that didn't always garner a pleasant reaction. I am not saying that young children should be taught about Goth and Punk and Lolita, etc. except in the broadest of terms - along the lines of that there are people that like wearing clothes that might look unusual and listen to a variety of kinds of music, and have unusual hobbies, and that this doesn't make them bad people, just different. I do realise that, especially with Metal, Goth and Punk, that there are aspects of those subcultures that are not age-appropriate for primary children. Goth is, after all, a subculture founded on appreciation for things that are dark, scary and morbid. What I am saying is that there should be work to prevent the basic attitudes of 'different = bad' from forming. 

Aside: There are age-appropiate versions of traditionally Gothic themes; just look at Monster High dolls and the Hotel Transylvania film, not to mention a good few of the movies Tim Burton worked on! I read 'Goosebumps' books and Point Horror, the Little Vampire and plenty of other children's books that were both spooky and age appropriate. Toned-down versions of Gothic themes do exist and there are plenty of children that enjoy them. 

Education on the existence of alternative and minority groups should not be entirely focused on specific groups, and when it is, it should run a bit deeper than festivals, landmarks, symbols, clothing and food. I remember doing a project about Pakistan, a project about China, and a project about Islam, but I know little about life in any of these cultures, and I was hardly the kind of student that didn't pay attention. I do, however, know about Chinese New Year, that the Great Wall is nearly 4,000 miles of wall, a bit about painted vehicles, that Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan, and how to wear a head-scarf in a particular way, and that having take-out for lunch is far tastier than school dinners. Instead I think there should be an emphasise on learning to appreciate difference instead of feeling threatened by it, about learning to be politely inquisitive instead of rude and assuming, about learning to differentiate between popular misinformed stereotypes and reality etc. - skills equally applicable for interacting with any group of people outside the pupil's own communities, and learning to see people as individuals rather than as members of homogenous groups and stereotypes. 

Most small children are actually quite curious anyway, and the prejudices and closed-mindedness are things they seem to (from my experience) start to pick up on around aged 7 to 9, and they pick it up from closed-minded adults around them. Sometimes even younger children pick up on this. I guess the important thing is to aim attempts to build the skills that keep them curious and open-minded about other cultures, subcultures and lifestyles and that help them to identify unpleasant stereotypes as what they are before the negative attitudes have become ingrained. While it isn't impossible, it is a lot harder to change someone's mind once they have latched onto an idea, and remedial action based on dispelling stereotypes and undoing prejudices are again generally targeted on specific groups (e.g tackling homophobia, tackling racism, tackling Islamophobia, etc.). I also understand that certain groups have historically and contemporaneously been marginalised and oppressed, and learning about these things is important too, but the world is really too diverse a place to teach about every single form of diversity individually. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Celebrating 2 Years In Scotland

Yesterday evening Raven and I celebrated 2 years in Scotland
We had a small gathering yesterday - Raven and I, and eight friends (some of which are not pictured in the photographs - N. left before we were photographed, Suzy_Bugs and her husband don't do flash photography, and the chap photographing us was behind the camera, not in front.)

It started off as a garden party in our back garden. I do quite wish I had taken a few photographs as I worked quite hard to make it atmospheric. Anyway, this isn't a post about silver doilies and piles of cushions, this a post about having lived in Scotland for two years now, and what that means to me.

First of all, it doesn't feel like I have lived here for two years - I still feel so new to the area, and feel like it was only a few months ago that I moved here, and that I don't really know the area. I certainly don't feel like I have been here for an entire 24 months!

From left to right; M.W, K., me, Raven, Brian, and M.G.
Photograph by S. Goodwin
Secondly, moving to Scotland was a whole change for me; so many new and different things. I moved to a new country, moved in with Raven for the first time, moved into our very own apartment, both of us moved to completely new jobs  - both twice, after I was made redundant a month into my previous job, and after Raven decided that moving into hospitality from nursing was a bad idea and went back into nursing - new friends, and a very, very long way between all that and what we had once known. I was previously living in the Thames Valley, and Raven was previously living on a farm in Wales, each of us were a good day's driving, or a couple days by train, from where we had once lived. 

I have never been homesick; while where I lived was beautiful, and while I had friends there, I knew I had to go. Sometimes I miss my friends, sometimes I miss my cat and my Dad, but I never miss the actual place. When I left I was so excited; I packed all of my things into the car and could hardly move (I had cans in the footwell and was sitting on cushions...) and just went North and more North and more North... I had no realistic idea how much of Scotland I still had to cross before actually getting to where I now reside, and thought getting as far as the Scottish border had been a really long way. The drive itself was through some incredible scenery. The UK is mostly known for gently rolling hills, little fields with livestock and nice woodlands, for rivers winding through small towns and villages and generally quite a tame view of rural life; Scotland does not look like that. I travelled past mountains and waterfalls and heather moors and ancient castles and suddenly realised just how much the landscape called out to my sense of adventure. Scotland good be Westeros or Middle Earth.

Aside: A lot of Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland (which has quite similar landscapes), some of it was actually filmed in Scotland, and Lord of the Rings was filmed all the way on the other side of the planet in New Zealand.

Every day I open my curtains to a view out across mountains (snow-covered in winter), the river, forests, farmland, and often birds of prey soaring on thermals. I would love to post a picture up of the view from our flat, but I think it would be too easy to locate where I live from it, so you will have to take my word for it when I say I have a broad panorama of dramatic and beautiful scenery. I've stayed in places with some nice views (like from the gable windows of my friend's Victorian garret flat overlooking Bristol; it was a sea of lights at night.) but now I get to actually live in one. I never, ever get tired of looking at the view. My favourite thing is watching how varied the skies can be, and how colourful. 

Four lassies
Photo by S. Goodwin
Up here it is also quite a different place to live in terms of people. I have noticed that people here are a lot friendlier than where I used to live - total strangers often acknowledge each other with a "morning" or "afternoon" as they pass, people talk to you on public transport and it's not considered weird or even rude, and I actually get a lot more friendly and positive interactions for my clothes than I do get snooty or rude ones.  I have noticed that it is generally speaking (there will always be exceptions) the case that the further from London you get, the more friendly people on public transport are, with West Wales and Scotland being the places I have experienced as the most friendly. It is not perfect, and have been insulted in the streets even here, too, but I have experienced less than I did when I lived in the Thames Valley, even if there are far fewer Goths here, so I stand out from the crowd more. 

No place is perfect though. I guess the thing I dislike the most is the sort of wind-blown driving rain we get here. It falls so far off vertical that it gets under my umbrellas and into my coats. It falls for a lot of autumn, winter and spring, and I end up wanting to stay at home in the warm and yet I have to go out for work. The wind chills, too, so I sometimes end up quite wet and cold, despite being thoroughly wrapped up in several layers. 

Altogether, I am really happy that I moved here, and I feel that it really is something to celebrate, as is living with Raven for two years and still being in a happy relationship. I think the initial period after moving in can be the most difficult stage of a relationship as dating someone and living with them are two wholly different things, and I am glad we have managed to negotiate a peaceful coexistence and never really argue much at all. Two very happy years and a nice party to round them off. May many more happy years follow!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Confidence, Competitiveness and the Goth Community

Maybe it is just amongst twenty-something clubbers and bloggers, but I've noticed an air of competitiveness, especially about appearances and being 'Gothier than thou' - I know that in mainstream society women can get competitive and jealous over appearances, and that it is often linked to low self-esteem, but (and this was perhaps foolish of me) I thought the Goth subculture would lack this. I don't think it is a judgemental and external competitiveness -I don't see Goths belittling each other over their fashion and appearance very often- I think it's a personal desire amongst certain Goths to be the prettiest, most 'gothiest' Goth in the room/club/blogosphere, to always be seen in their best, most flamboyant outfits, and to be seen as never missing a music reference or subcultural reference.

I know all of us want to give a good impression to others, and even I fall into the trap of wanting to have a flawless public image on this blog sometimes, but it can get too much. If it starts impacting your confidence to the point where you think that you are somehow lesser than the rest of your Goth community, then it is time to take stock. And sometimes, yes, I do think that I ought to have memorised more of Bauhaus' discography or read more vampire books, and sulk when my friends can afford Iron Fist shoes and Lolita clothes from Japan (and be petite enough to fit in them) and I criticise myself for my makeup not being neat enough, my hair not being wild enough, not owning enough dramatic garments and not being able to afford everything I like.

We don't need to do this; we can relax. We are all human, none of us are perfectly Goth ALL of the time, we all make mistakes, have fashion off-days, forget the lyrics to songs, get band-members mixed up, trip over our own feet once in a while and have days when our hair just decides to be a frizzy mess however much we try. There is no point in pretending that we are beautiful vampiric creatures perpetually elegant and perpetually clam, and always socially gracious. 

The Housecat, dressed down.
Phone-cam selfie.
Here is a no-makeup, scruffy photo of me in my casual clothes. This is how I look a lot of the time when I am not going out for any reason, or if I am going out, am going out to do something where practicality is the key. I am wearing a cheap black tank top (from Tesco of all places), a pair of Raven's combats and a webbing belt, with my pentagram necklace and a silver .308 round for hunting werewolves (non-functional, obviously). My nail-polish is chipped, my face is blotchy from hay-fever and my hair just has two sets of tails at the front and a clip at the back. Nothing fancy at all.

Selfie, phone-cam.
Here are some photos of me dressed up in a Lolita-esque skirt by Banned (bought online at Kate's Clothing) with a ruffled blouse that was bought for me as a midwinter present by Raven, and a lovely thrifted lace shrug that was originally from Tesco! (Yes, really!). I have done my makeup, I am wearing lace gloves, which I can't remember if they are from Accessorise or Claire's Accessories (yes, I occasionally shop there...), but they were from the Eastgate mall in Inverness, anyway. Hair in the same style as for the first photograph. I am wearing makeup, I have brushed and straightened my hair, and am generally a lot more dressed up (and a lot more traditionally 'feminine' looking).

Selfie, phone-cam.

There is exactly the same person under both sets of clothes. I might look a bit more butch in the first photograph, a bit tougher, perhaps more into Industrial music than I am. I also don't look like I've put much effort into my appearance, with a "keep my hair out of my eyes" do and no make-up.  In the second photograph I look a lot more "put-together" with much fancier, more impractical clothes; perhaps I look like am more "ladylike" (such a nebulous term...), gentler, sweeter, and more Romantic and more 'Goth'. In reality, I am always the same person, I do not construct a new persona for each outfit (although I must admit I feel tougher in practical clothes because it's simply easier to be practical and athletic if you don't keep catching your ruffles on things) and I know just as little about Industrial music and love just as much Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins in both outfits, I am just as artistic and creatively inclined and like elaborate aesthetics just as much. 

Selfie, phone-cam.
I also don't somehow stop being Goth because I'm going for a walk in the woods or am staying indoors to do chores and therefore have no need to raid my wardrobe for my fanciest things. Yes, sometimes I do get all dressed up for nothing more than going to the store, or even bimbling around at home, but other times practicality trumps, and other times I am just having a lazy, relaxed day where such extravagances would be too frumpy. Nobody should feel like they somehow loose Goth credibility for not wearing the most 'uber-Goth' outfits ALL the time, or for that matter, for not listening to Goth music all the time, for not reading ONLY vampire books etc. etc. 

I know I am not the first blogger to write about these things. The Lady of the Manners addressed this issue in the second half of ::this:: article, which I think is definitely worth reading. Amy at Stripy Tights and Dark Delights wrote two posts that are related to this topic: ::"So You're Not Gothic Anymore?":: which deals with people who make assumptions when people are having less fancy days, and this  ::Pretty vs. Practical":: which shows two sides of Amy's wardrobe.