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..

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Oops! Accidental Comment Deletion

I've messed up; I thought I was simply deleting my replies to comments from my inbox, but it turns out they were being deleted off the blog too. I guess this gives me an opportunity to reply all over again! I apologise to anyone this may have inconvenienced. I've sadly lost the responses to about 5 months' of posts, so it might take a while for me to reply a second time to everything >.<

Fashion, Self-Expression and Goth

Fashion can be a symbol of resistance and rebellion, of rejecting mainstream values, but sometimes that symbolism is a projection from those around the wearer, not the wearer themselves. Sometimes it is from the wearer - hippies utilised this as a tool by wearing clothes they made themselves or made from costumes to be walking symbols of what they believed in, wearing CND logos (Peace symbols), natural designs, or vivid, almost lurid colours full of vibrancy and conveying an experiential zest for life. Punk, the subculture that is Goth's antecedent, became stylistically manifest in deliberately ripped and tattered clothes, a D.I.Y ethos and unnatural hair colours and fierce styles that made the wearer immediately visible as a Punk and thus making the wearer carry everything that such a style stands for. Punk style started as a visual manifestation of an anarchist attitude, of a D.I.Y ethos that rejected the consumerist materialism of high fashion, of colourful and and sometimes painful self expression, of being oneself at any cost, even if over the decades, like Goth, it has slowly become something that is bought and copied. Goth inherited a lot from that, especially styles like Deathrocker.

Anyone going out in public in the complete regalia of any subculture is marking themselves as visibly outside the mainstream, as visibly part of a different 'tribe'. Goth is no exception, and if anything, less socially acceptable than being a Hippie or Emo, as Hippie has gradually become accepted as an extension of being "a bit Bohemian" and Emo fashion in terms of actual garments, is more a darker turn on mainstream garments such as hoodies and skinny trousers than something wildly different. 

If a Goth walks down the street in leather trousers, knee-high stompy boots, a leather corset with steel bones and steel studs, a short-sleeved shirt and torn fishnets for an under-shirt, with spiked cuffs adorning their neck and wrists, leather fingerless gloves adorned with even more studs, hair dyed black and purple and wildly styled, face pale and painted up with black designs that accentuate their eyes, and with ears and face full of metalwork, that Goth is expressing their inner beliefs and selves externally; one that to a degree, because it is so removed from mainstream fashion, includes a certain amount of defiantly doing your own thing. They become immediately visible by how different they look to the majority of the people around them, and while they are probably not dressed that way to garner attention, they know they will receive it. A lot of the attention they will get will be negative, and sadly a lot of young Goths eventually give up the subculture because they do not want to face the harassment and sometimes violence that will be heaped upon them for their choices. 

While Goth is not something to take up in order to rebel, anyone who is a Goth is innately going to be seen as a rebel because they are, with varying levels of deliberation, taking the alternative path and not choosing the mainstream, popular options. It may not be the active rebellion of Punk, but it as an act of separation. Even if it is merely a rejection of mainstream fashions, aesthetics and music, it is still an act of separation. It's not always a case of drawing a line in the sand to say "I am not like them", but by looking different, it often becomes regarded as such from those outside of the subculture. Goth is a path where those who live it tend to end up walking a very self-determined road, something inherited from its punk ancestors. Personally, my rejection of the mainstream goes further than a rejection of mainstream fashion, aesthetics and music. I am opposed to to quite a few aspects of modern society that have become all-prevalent and which I find insidious, worrying and are not something I wish to be part of, but how much individual Goths reject mainstream values really depends a lot on the individual Goth; a lot of us tend to be quite strong on the idea of people thinking for themselves and not defaulting to what is popular or given media prevalence, but other than that Goth doesn't really come with any ideology beyond an appreciation for the darker things in life. 

Goth is not a political movement, and so it does not carry the same anarchic connotations as punk, or the same pacifist, environmentalist and psychedelic connotations of the Hippies, if anything it is a philosophical or artistic movement that seeks beauty in the darkness, as inspired originally by the songs of certain bands, but with a history that draws on creativity from many periods. Goth is not about railing energetically against mainstream society, the systems of authority, or the many injustices of the world, but it does have that strong individualist ethos within it. Goth is also about looking in dark places, and if you look in the dark corners of the world, you will be moved by what you see there. Each Goth will believe their own creed, politics, spirituality and vision of the world, and generally allow other Goths, and other people in general to also have their own opinions - that said, Goths can turn political, philosophical and religious debate into a flame-war or argument too, as we are after all a collection of strong personalities that will sometimes clash, and no group of people is perfect - but overall, we seem to have too strong a sense of individuality to all come with a similar set of opinions. 

Goths tend to see their clothes as part of their identity, an outward manifestation of their inner selves as much as an identifier of membership of the subculture. The clothes we wear within the broad umbrella of Goth are hugely diverse, especially as, despite the fact there are now goth 'brands', that there is a huge creative element that hand-crafts, hand-sews, modifies and designs things for themselves, and those clothes will often be very carefully thought out before being worn, dressing to match the person's mood, their self image, the the values they hold, the place they are going to. Goths do not tend to wear something to "fit in", nor do they generally wear things because they are popular amongst other Goths (although in the age of the internet there has been an increase in 'trends' within Goth - a couple years ago it was wearing horns, probably inspired be Maleficent, then it was wearing buckled and studded 'harness' inspired straps, currently it's the "witchy" or "occult" trend, which I have strong opinions on, etc.). Goths, while often dressing in sexualised ways, tend to do this to express their own sexuality rather than to pander to someone else's.

Goth fashion can be highly gendered, but at the same time, gender-bending, androgyny and transvestitism are generally accepted within the Goth community. Men can wear skirts and make-up without the assumption amongst other Goths that they are doing so because they are gay, and they can also do so in ways that are not traditionally un-masculine - for example wearing a Rivethead utility kilt/skirt and black eyeliner and black nail-polish, in an outfit clearly inspired by dystopian science fiction rather than by drag queens. The Goth community tends to towards equal standards and expectations of behaviour  amongst gender; women are encouraged to be strong, men are allowed to be emotional. The confidence gained from outwardly flouting gender norms in terms of dress within the Goth community often translates to a confidence to continue doing so in a wider context. 

As Goth encourages visible self expression through fashion, piercings, tattooing and other personal, aesthetic avenues, it fosters an atmosphere where people are proud to be themselves, something at the core of every civil rights movement. It also allows people who are trying to be the change they want to see in the world to be a visual manifestation or representation of that change, in the way of being a walking work of art. Also, once someone is visually different, that often gives them the confidence to be behaviourally different - it is often the start of acting according to one's true self rather than according to the expectations of mainstream society as once someone is visually part of the "other" then they feel freed of the constraints of being part of the norm. This though, is not linear cause and effect, as it takes a certain amount of confidence to so visibly reject the norm, as the mainstream can be particularly cruel over things as seemingly unimportant as clothes, because clothes are a manifestation of the inner self, and are therefore some of those in the mainstream act out against people they think do more than look different (otherwise 'edgy' hipsters misappropriating Goth would  get the same harassment Goths do) especially if there are prejudices and assumptions about the specific kind of "looking different". Being visually different does not necessarily mean being as radically different as taking on a subculture such as Goth, Punk, Hippie or Lolita, or even dressing in a way culturally attributed to another gender, it can be as simple as wearing clothes that belong to the mainstream, but are ones that you like from a few years ago, and not updating your wardrobe every six months because last season's clothes are out of fashion, or simply dressing in less gendered or less sexualised way. 

If you approach clothes, personal aesthetics and style from the standpoint of using it as a form of self expression, as a manifestation of the inner self and ones tastes, rather than from the standpoint of worrying about trends, "being fashionable" or from the standpoint of trying to fit in, look "normal" or caring about what others think of your appearance, then you become freed from the effects of fashion advertising. You cease to think in ways that most advertising targets - adverts generally work by trying to sell the product as being part of a lifestyle, or by targeting insecurities, and once you are no longer interested in those lifestyles and no longer have those insecurities, you begin to see through advertising. If your beauty ideals are based on your own tastes rather than on the appearances of celebrities and models, then the products those celebrities and models endorse no longer seem better by association. This does not necessarily entail being Goth, but it does entail thinking for oneself, which is something Goths tend to be good at - I'm probably going around in circles in saying we tend to be ardently individualist! A lot of people who aren't Goth tend to be good at it too, though, and being Goth is by no means a mark of superiority above "sheeple" masses. 

Once you see clothes, personal aesthetics and style from the standpoint of self expression, and tend towards creativity, then it provides a way of being a walking artwork, from designing clothes to designing tattoos and everything in between. As clothes are an outward manifestation of my inner self, I'd rather make that statement myself instead of mass-produced designs. This does not necessarily mean making clothes from scratch, but includes modifying things and customising them. Having a broad choice - and the main chains and high-street stores do actually sell a good variety - is not the same as getting your own vision fulfilled, and that is where making and customising has its greatest strength: you are in control of the project. Yes, there are still the limitations of findings and materials, although even those can be overcome, albeit sometimes at quite a cost, but there is still so much more scope for fulfilling personal vision. 

I'm probably going to write at length in future about how my clothes express my inner self, and about some of the choices I make - for now, here's ::a post:: from a while back that covers that to some degree (and in general, don't be afraid to read and comment on older posts; I do still get informed about comments, and I do tend to reply!) 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Being A Goth In The Highlands

I have been recently electronically interviewed by Gothic Beauty magazine about being a Goth in the UK. I was asked quite a few questions, and one of them was about my experiences in different locations - I obviously couldn't write an essay in answer to every question, and even the answers I did give ended up quoted rather than published in full. 

I have moved around quite a been to and stayed a lot of places - some for longer than others - in the UK and in Brittany, where my mother's family are from. My main locations have been Oxfordshire and Berkshire, then Peterborough and Bristol, before moving here to the Highlands. I've also spent time in Brittany, France. I could probably write reams upon reams on my experiences in each of those places, but as I've been writing this blog since I moved to the Highlands, and as I have yet to find another Goth blogger hailing from this far North in Scotland, I feel it's important to share this perspective.

I will also make it clear that my perspective is that of an immigrant; I have lived here several years, but I am not someone who was born here or has lived here since they were very young. Other people's experiences and perspectives will vary. 

The Highlands has been the most radically different place I have moved to and been to! Even Glasgow and Edinburgh have their paralels with cities like Bristol, Oxford and London, but the Highlands is most different place I lived compared to the others. I have lived in the countryside before, in Oxfordshire, but even that was nothing like here. The geography and climate is also rather different here, and I think it's important to understand that regional geography really does still impact on people's way of life, wherever you are, even in the 21stC. Highland culture is also pretty different from other regional Scottish and British cultures that I have experienced,and as such the Goth that exists there will be different than the Goth that exists in places with other local cultures. Goth is an interesting thing; it is its own culture, but it i also in many ways a subculture to the parent location of wherever it springs up.

The Highlands' alternative scene is very vital, vivacious and vivid, but due to the area being mostly small downs and villages with Inverness as the largest centre of population (and Inverness is not very big, as far as cities go), there's just not a lot of us. I think, in terms of percentage of the local population, there's possibly actually a higher than average number of alternative people of various sorts - and I would imagine that this may be a consequence of the Findhorn Foudation being in the local area, over near Forres. A lot of the alternative folk in the area tend to be of a more 'Bohemian' or 'Hippie' variety (although I am sure quite a few would eschew such labels), rather than the darker forms of alternative lifestyles. That being said, there are a fair few metalheads in the area too!

The Goth scene here is not a distinct entity from the other local alternative-lifestyle scenes - there are a lot of overlaps, and every person seems very individual; there's less pressure to form little cliques of subtypes - probably in part because there's simply not enough of any one subtype to make this work, except for perhaps the Skaters, who seem to be less engaged with other local subcultures - although I do know a few people in that group, they're a separate group in many ways. In general, though alternative people here participate in a variety of different alternative groups - alternative people connect with other alternative people, and it there's a definite intermingling of groups; I'm a Goth, but I'm intertwined with the Metal scene here, the small but burgeoning group of Lolitas,  and the Pagans, and a lot of people who are more close to being hippies or 'Bohemians'. This means there's a lot of cross-polination of ideas from the varied subcultures, and a lack of exclusivity; what group or groups you belong to does not exclude you from other groups. Those who have been reading my blog for a while will have seen the diverse assemblage of eccentrics I have the honour of knowing!

One advantage in the local scene being so small is that we don't seem to have that "Gothier than thou" competitive element (I have only come across this in a couple of younger Goths, and I think it was more about their own insecurity rather than them really believing they are some sort of Gothic elite), and folk here are not afraid to talk about their interests outside of subcultures, whether that's shinty or welding or being a chef. Small numbers make gatherings easier to facilitate, but as most gatherings are small, it is easier for us to find venues for some things, and harder for other things. The small scene also makes it easier to make friends, because it is quite a tight-knit group and a welcoming group, so once you know a few members of the scene, it is likely you will soon be introduced to more. Some of the disadvantages are that the scene ends up feeling a bit 'incestuous' - everyone ends up sometimes a bit too tightly connected to everyone else, and it can seem like a bit of variety and changes could be beneficial. I don't know literally every Goth in the area, but I do feel like I know a good few of them. 

The Goth scene in the Highlands seems to be a rather intergenerational Goth scene - I think due to there being fewer Goths in general, we tend to be more open to talking to Goths of any age. I certainly have friends here who were Goths "the first time around" who joined the scene when they were in their teens or twenties during the early 1980's, and I am acquainted with a few much newer Goths who are 18, 19, etc. There are even younger Goths in their early and mid teens, but I don't know them personally, although some of my younger friends do and as such I guess they're acquaintances of a sort. I try my best to support the younger Goths because I know I could have benefited from that when I was a younger Goth and a babybat, and it wasn't really something that occurred for me. 

Also, the Highlands do not have the numbers of Goths (or even darker alternative types) nor the geography (Inverness is the hub, but scene participants come from a rather broad geographic area, and that makes the practicalities of transport an obstacle, to support any specifically Goth retailers or venues. Our club nights have become rarer and rarer, and Inverness no longer has a specifically Goth shop. It's not a dying scene, though, and I find quite a few teenagers are still becoming involved, but it is a very small one. Life here is, however, connected to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the rest of Britain, and the Cairngorm mountains do not provide an inpenetrable barrier (even when the trunk road north to us is closed by avalanches and snow), especially in the age of the internet, and a lot of us go to places like Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh for events that happen there - but the cost of transport is restrictive. There are a lot of things I miss out on because they do not happen in the Highlands, and travelling down to a bigger city is very expensive. It's also time consuming; it's just over 4 hours by car or coach, and somewhere between 3 and 3 and half hours by train to get to Glasgow, and Stirling is closer, Edinburgh further. There does not seem to be many events in other Northerly towns and cities such as Perth, Aberdeen or Elgin. 

Being a small group here, we stand out more. I am certainly known as visible figure, and have had a lot of strangers come up up to me with some variation on "I've seen you around as that lady in the Victorian clothes with green hair, and..."  but I am probably one of the more visually distinctive Goths (and my fashion isn't actually accurately Victorian, but I guess that is what people identify it as). I am often asked if I know other visually distinctive local Goths (and mostly the answer is that I do, or am at least acquainted, and it will turn out that there will be someone in common that we know; it is really that sort of small scene). Being visibly rather different probably contributes to the attention, but I love how I look more than I dislike the attention. There are also practical concerns because of the climate; I have ended up with skull-pattern wellie boots worn over layers of stripy socks and vine-pattern tights, a big collection of Gothic scarves in varying warmths and thicknesses, lots of gloves to wear under my gloves, and an ability to put together layered outfits that are both adjustable to the ever-changing weather and still within the Gothic aesthetic, I have bought an extensive selection of sensible footwear that keeps relatively within the aesthetic, and have all-black wet-weather gear and then high-visibility skull stickers to add to that! Here I end up wearing a full-length trenchcoat out of warmth rather than aesthetics, and wear it buttoned up against the cold. Compared to Southern England, the weather is noticeably colder and more changeable, and the winters much harsher.

Urquhart Castle - photograph by the HouseCat

There is a lot of dark and bloody local history. My last apartment was in walking distance from Culloden Battlefield, and I've been to ::Rait Castle::, the ::Old High Church::, the remains of ::Craig Dunain pyschiatric hospital:: (which used to be Inverness District Asylum) and plenty of other places with dark and turbulent histories. The current division of the landscape is still a derivative of the landscape carved up in the Highland Clearances. Artistic interpretation of past events is part of what makes Goth very attractive to me, and part of how I engage with Goth myself. The land has millennia of human history, back to the Picts and even before. Historical inspiration is a big part of being Goth - and while we ought not glamourise or exploit the sufferings of the real people involved in these events (or ignore their contemporary ramifications), it is important not to forget them, and I think that artistic exploration of the more troubled parts of history not only facilitates a greater understanding of that history - as long as it is done with good scholarship - but also can act as a way for us to understand more contemporary struggles.  

I find a lot of inspiration in the regional architecture, history, art, etc - as I have in Oxford, Bristol Edinburgh (I love Edinburgh!) and Glasgow. I visit the local cemeteries quite regularly, especially the one at Tomnahurich, which is practically a necropolis, and I visit and photograph the many local castle ruins, ecclesiastical ruins etc. I actually have personal project to visit and record as many of the cemeteries in the area as possible, and I find the local traditions of symbolic carving to be fascinating. 

There's a uniquely Scottish style of architecture called Scottish Baronial, different to Gothic and English medieval fortified and vernacular architecture, evolved from late medieval and renaissance 'castle' architecture specific to the needs and purposes of the how the semi-fortified and fortified estates of the Scottish functioned. It is aesthetically different despite there being parallels between castle architecture the world wide, and in the same way that the Gothic style evolved to be used for more than its original use as an ecclesiastical architectural style, Scottish Baronial went on to be applied to things other than castles and the estates of the nobility. In the same way that Gothic architecture has shaped the atmosphere of the Gothic mindset in the literary aspect of that term (after all, it was named after the architectural settings), Scottish Baronial architecture fills that role to a degree in Scotland, especially in the Highlands. Yes, we have ruins of Gothic architecture too (::Fortrose Cathedral ruins::, ::Beauly Priory ruins::, Elgin Cathedral ruins, Pluscarden Abbey...) but the Scottish Baronial style is more ubiquitous, especially as it was adopted in a revival manner in Victorian times, and even more recently, buildings like the newer wing of the Eastgate shopping mall in Inverness hark back to it, and castles are certainly a lot more common in these parts (surrounding Inverness there are several castles - Rait, Kilravock, Cawdor, Brodie, Urquhart, Inshes (only the doocot left), Inverness, Aldourie, and Dingwall had one that is now a manor, etc.).

There were two more paragraphs on this blog entry and then BLOGSPOT ATE THEM. I will fix this when I have time. Coursework is priority. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Newcastle Emlyn Castle

This is a post from March 2013 that somehow got relegated to a draft! I'm not sure how it never got published! Have a look at some castle photos from Wales! 

I went to where the last dragon was slain.

There isn't much left of the castle at Newcastle Emlyn (Castell Newydd Emlyn) but I have visited what remains a couple of times before. My most recent visit was on Day 3 of my holidays. 

I didn't get a photograph of the gate, but there is a rather grand wrought iron gate with a dragon breathing fire at the top, and an oak-leaf design. The dragon is painted gold with red flames. It is a modern tribute to both local legend and local history. 

Photograph of the castle by the HouseCat
Most of what remains are the two towers either side of the main entrance and the castle mound. The castle was quite small (by castle standards) when complete, and now that it is ruined it does not take long to walk around it. Or clamber. I must admit that I like being able to touch and clamber on my history, to explore every nook of it. I try to be careful, as although the walls are old and have remained for centuries, some bits are loose and I neither want to fall or damage the walls. 

It was a lovely, bright and sunny day, but cold. It was not as blustery as when I visited Cilgerran castle. I still ended up wrapped up in my long leather coat, but didn't need to wrap my hair to my ears with my scarf this time. We were there in the mid to late afternoon, and the sun cast strong shadows across the stonework. 

Inside of one of the towers.
Photograph by the HouseCat

The sky was a good clear blue and the surrounding countryside and river looked absolutely gorgeous. It was nice to just stroll around the grounds, take photographs and chat to Raven. 

See, I CAN take colour photographs of buildings!
Photograph by the HouseCat

There are quite extensive grounds about the castle, with nice gardens and a picnic area. We didn't, however, eat a picnic, but went to ::Pachamama Bistro::, which is in the town itself. I had this lovely goat's cheese and onion chutney sandwich in lovely crusty bread with salad (dressed with tasty dressing!) and a few crisps. It was really tasty. I also had a 'Mellow Mallow' hot chocolate which I can highly recommend as a delicious hot chocolate. As well as a range of delicious Western sandwiches and salads, they do a range of Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes. It's a lovely cosy place to eat and the staff are very friendly.

Light through the old windows of the castle.
I managed to have a rummage around a charity shop and  a browse of some of the other shops. Dave was very lovely and gave me a £1 coin (I was all out of cash as I rarely cary much/any, and it was too little to pay for on card) with which I bought a rather nice four-candle black metal candlestick. I also went to   'The Maker's Mark' which is run by a lovely lady called Nada (I hope I spelled that correctly) who remembered us from our last visit. I really enjoy shopping in Newcastle Emlyn; for a smallish town, it has a lot of good quirky little shops, more than Inverness, which is a city.