Women You Should Know

A side step from the wedding stuff for a moment, and a look into some info on women we should know but most likely don’t. It’s International Women’s Day today and a chance to celebrate being a woman, acknowledge how far women and feminism has come, and to research all those women – who should be famous, but because they are women from history, we just don’t know about them. Or enough about them.

Yes, we know Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Galileo – and the list goes on. In fact, I just googled ‘100 Scientists to Shape the World’ and there was one woman who I had heard of. ONE! Marie Curie. Well, we need to get to know the other women who did amazing things. This is in no disrespect to the fantastic things the above men did. It isn’t to compete. It isn’t to show women are better. It is to uncover history. It did happen. Men did amazing things, yet so did women. We should know about both.

So, without further ado – and with thanks to the Women’s Rights Page that I follow, let me introduce you:

WOMEN

  • Maris Mitchell was an astronomer in the 19th Century and discovered a comet. I never knew this. The comet was named after her as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet.’ I find this interesting that it needed the title ‘Miss’ – anything named after a man doesn’t tend to need the title ‘Mr’, but maybe I’m reading too much into it 😉

  • Emmy Noether was an influential mathematician – again in the 19th Century, who was known for her contribution to algebra and theoretical physics. Go her!

  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell was an astrophysicist and discovered the first radio pulsars. I don’t know what these are, but she sounds clever 😉

  • Valentina Tereshkova – still alive today – was the first woman in space, (the fifth Russian cosmonaut)to go into the Earth’s orbit when her spaceship Vostok VI was launched from Moscow.

  • Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin was a British-American astronomer and astrophysicist, who proposed in her Ph.D. thesis an explanation for the composition of stars in terms of the relative abundances of hydrogen and helium. Wow!

  • Lise Meitner was a physicist who worked on nuclear physics and radioactivity.

  • Caroline Hershel  – an amazing astronomer, who worked alongside her brother Sir William Hershel for both of their careers. High five for also managing a working sibling relationship!

  • Rita Levi-Montalcini: A neurologist  who was a Nobel prizewinning Jewish scientist. She carried out her cell growth research while hiding from the fascists during the second world war.

You see, with my background, I have always been fascinated with women like Jane Austen, The Brontes, George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans) who were trying to write in a male dominated world – writing with pseudonyms in some cases to just get noticed. But, I haven’t considered the Science field before. The above women have all succeeded in Science (arguably an even more male-dominated field).

Their history is there in black and white: we just need to read it and share it 🙂

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Seeing Shakespeare

Yesterday was a first for me. I finally got to see Shakespeare! My boyfriend said that I can’t actually see him -but why not? I saw people dressed as him and also his grave… good enough.

Yes, Stratford was a lovely day out and the perfect place for the complete Shakespearian geek like me. I let my inner geek out first thing in the morning as I took out my William Shakespeare bag out  – basically a small shopping bag with his head on. Haha. And I got out my Shakespeare trivia cards for the journey ; -) Luckily, my boyfriend’s Mum, my sister and good friend, weren’t put off and we all had a lovely day.

We saw four main places…. either walking or hopping on our partly open-top bus:

Shakespeare's birth place

Shakespeare’s birth place

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DSCF4584 Ann Hathaway’s pretty cottage – the place that she grew up in and where she and Will ‘courted’ as a young couple.

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Nash’s house. The house Shakespeare is believed to have spent his last days – belonging to his granddaughter and her husband. This is the beautiful garden outside the house.

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… And finally his grave in the Church of Holy Trinity.

It was all very historical and interesting. It was fascinating to see inside the houses and get an idea of what life was like then, in addition to just admiring the beauty of the outside. You could imagine Shakespeare walking up to Ann Hathaway’s cottage (which is actually a massive farm house and has fondly been referred to as a cottage because of idyllic appearance) to ‘court’ her. Would he have been nervous to see her family? And tipped his hat off to her father out of respect? We even saw the bed that Will may have had-a-way with our Hathaway 😉 The ‘cottage’ was so lovely, that I would have happily moved in (add some heating, electricity and take away the millions of nosy tourists of course 😉 ).

A personal highlight for me was the character room at Nash’s house. Naturally, a purpose built room for tourism – but it was great to see displays of the ‘top ten characters’ and you could add your own favourite Shakesspearian character to a board too.There was a quiz on the wall too! I felt like I was at some sort of Shakespeare convention – not a ‘Trekkie’ but a ‘Shakey’ if you will 😉 I added ‘Othello’ to the favourite character board. That is my favourite play and I love that Othello himself is a little different to other charcters. He is black, yet in an important position and very well-respected for the time period. He is a calm, collected and gentle character, yet jealousy results him in him murdering his own wife. I love the dramatic change in him throughout the play and shows, perhaps, that jealousy (or another strong emotion) can drive any of us to murder. Sadly Othello didn’t make their top-ten though:

Top Ten Characters

  1. Juliet (Romeo and Juliet)
  2. Hamlet (Hamlet)
  3. Bottom (A Midsummer’s Night Dream)
  4. Beatrice (Twelfth Night)
  5. Mercutio (Twelfth Night)
  6. Romeo (Romeo and Juliet)
  7. Falstaff (Henry IV part 1 and 2 and Merry Wives of Windsor)
  8. Macbeth (Macbeth)
  9. Henry V (Henry V)
  10. Cleopatra (Anthony and Cleopatra)

 

The hop-on, hop-off tour bus gave us much entertainment. One reason being, we went on the open-top section and it was freezing and blowy! We also kept having to duck when we passed trees (which was a lot), which was scary but also extremely funny! The tour guide on our bus (when we wimped out and sat inside the bus) was very informative and entertaining. She told us a few facts about general Tudor life:

  • As we drove past a road, she told us it used to be a popular highway. In wet conditions, it became very soft and poor people would come and ‘cup’ mud in their hand in order to make pots. This left many holes in the road… and you’ve guessed it, that’s where the term ‘pot-holes’ comes from!
  • Tudors used to use frog salvia to aid their sore-throats. Scientists have since found that there is infact an enzyme in frog saliva that has antisceptic in it. So they weren’t (too) crazy… and that is where the term ‘a frog in your throat’ comes from.
  • Four-poster beds became popular in Tudor times. I thought it was a warmth related reason. It comes from the fact they had hatched roofs though. There wasn’t any ceilings in bedrooms, so rubbish and bugs would fall from the hatching onto people in bed. Someone ( a man apparently -I’m not convinced!) invented the canopy like part in order to catch the bugs and rubbish. Clever! It then became a fashion statement too.
  • My favourite fact also links to the thatched roofing. When Tudors realised that thatching was a fire hazard, they all had to change to tiling. A team from the town committee went to an inn to tell the keeper that he had to change his roof to tiles. He gave them so much free ale that they forgot to ask him! So it is still thatched today:
Old Thatch Tavern

Old Thatch Tavern

 

So I had a very Shakespeare-y day and I loved every second! The nearby buildings were all named after Shakespeare quotes or plays or characters. I even had a milkshake called Much A Do About Oreo!

I fully recommend a day at Stratford to anyone who is interested in Shakespeare – even if you are not there is still so much to do. We paid £25 and this included the bus (which you can get on and off as much as you wish) and also the entry to 3 houses. There are still 2 main other houses to see and a boat trip that we didn’t do – so there is just so much! And I’ll be definitely going back….. no ‘to go or not to go’ question 😉

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For a recent post about Shakespeare’s birthday, take a look at this:

https://samanthagray9.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/celebrate-this-23rd-april/

Moral to the story

There is a moral to every story, they say. I believe this and that a part of life is learning from things. From childhood, we learn in fairy tales that the baddies don’t come off good and that everything will be alright in the end. (We also may learn that this a bit unrealistic too 😉 ) The point is, we learn that what goes around comes around and that their are consequences to actions.

I mentioned a while ago that I have a Nook. I acted even more like a crazy book lady the other night and downloaded a load of ‘classic’ reads. Amongst them was Aesop’s Fables. I remember reading some of them as a child, having a beautiful coloured version littered with pictures. But I didn’t realise until adulthood, that Aesop was a slave believed to have lived in ancient Greece. Amazing, that they are still so well-known and relevant today. I’m sure, we have all heard of The Boy who cried Wolf and The Tortoise and the Hare? Well, there are loads more and I want to share with you, a less well-known one (well at least to me) with you today:

The Fox and The Stork
A fox one day invited a stork to dine with him and, wishing to be amused at his expense, put the soup which he had for dinner in a large flat dish, so that, while he himself could lap it up easily, the stork could only dip in the tips of his long bill. Stork, bearing his treatment in mind, invited the fox to take dinner with him. He, in his turn, put some minced meat in a long and narrow-necked vessel, into which he could easily put his bill, whilst Master Fox was forced to be content with licking what ran down the sides of the vessel. The fox then remembered his old trick, and could not but only admit that the stork had well paid him out.

The moral at the end of this one says: ‘A joke is often returned with interest.’ I think it can signify others though, like; ‘What goes around, comes around.’ Or ‘treat people as you are treated’… or we could argue that the stork was wrong to act like that as ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ Alternatively, we can think about the actual moral and link it to the simplicity of the story and think it how it reflects life. People play jokes; they take the ‘piss’. People then return this and ‘get their own back’. That’s life. I’m sure ,we have all been the fox at some point and also the stork 😉

I’ll keep reading the fables… I love thinking about them on a simple and then a deeper level. Fun, childhood bedtime stories, yet also so much more 🙂

fox and stork

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Ironic Writing Block

Regular readers among you will realise that I haven’t been posting as much recently. I could claim that it’s lack of time; I should say it’s because I’m busy writing a great novel; I would say both of these. But it’s not true – and I like to be honest in my blog if nothing else. I’ve had writer’s block and a lack of inspiration.

My GBF text me today and said he had listened to a debate on Radio 4 about writer’s block. I am not sure what what was said in detail – but it would be great to hear your theories and what you do when you have it? Like an illness in the writing world really! Stopping us doing what we need to do…

So, this inspired me to write a block and naturally, I picked up on the fact that a subject of writer’s block had helped to cure mine. This also led me onto the other topic of this post: Irony. I love irony, and I think it is a great tool that helps us laugh at the world and life when things go wrong.

When kids at school ask me what irony is, I rarely try to explain it without referring to Alanis Morrisette’s titled song Ironic I think it sums it up perfectly… one of my favourite lines being;
‘10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife…’

Love it! And with other lines like ‘It’s like rain on your wedding day…’ (but I don’t think this can be classed as ironic in the UK – since it rains most blooming days!) …. ‘It’s like meeting the man of your dreams then meeting his beautiful wife!’ Fantasic lyrics and so true that the one thing you don’t want to happen, or don’t need or you don’t think will happen – does.

The actual dictionary definition of something being ‘ironic’ is as follows:
‘Happening in the opposite way to what is expected, thus typically causing wry amusement.

So go on and spot the irony in your life. It helps to make the hard times a little more bearable, if not slightly funny. And yes, I love how the first thought of writer’s block (thanks to my GBF) gave me an idea for this today….. love the irony!

P.S if you do have writer’s block, just tell people. I have had a million ideas thrown at me now (thanks to another good friend!) so my writing mind has become unblocked 😀

Spot the irony in the apple!

Spot the irony in the apple!

Celebrate this 23rd April!

Today is a day of celebration. It is:

St. George’s Day

William Shakespeare’s Birthday

World Book Night

And I think they all tie in nicely with us here in the UK. St. George’s Day means we should generally feel proud to be British today. Yes, people complain that there aren’t as many celebrations for that, as there are St. Patrick’s Day for example – well to those people I say, ‘Don’t complain – Do!’ Arrange something to celebrate if you feel you should. Me? I’ve just read a good work of fiction, in the British summer time, drinking a glass of Pimms and lemonade – very English and also ties in with World Book Night too 😉

So, that’s St. George’s Day taken care of. And I think you all know how I feel about books and I celebrate them very regularly anyway. (Take a look at A Book Lover’s Post in my ‘Love of Books’ section at the top, if you need reminding). That leaves Mr William Shakespeare to discuss. I am sitting here writing this drinking tea out of my Shakespeare quote mug, bought for me, funnily enough, by my friend from France. It has many quotes from his works that are well-known phrases today. It is amazing really, how much he has influenced our language. I know it is argued that many others helped him write his plays, so it is uncertain how much of the words are his own – but there is enough evidence to show he had a brilliant way with words, I think 🙂

Before I share with you some Shakespearian words of wisdom  – straight from my tea mug (nobody can say I don’t plan for these blog posts 😉 – I just want to exclaim my fascination with his actual birth date. Even though, his birth date is actually unknown – it is estimated that he was born on the 23rd since his baptism was the 26th April and this normally occurred 3 days after the birth. He then died on the 23rd April too.   I love how he died on his birthday, therefore. I just  think it made his life completely rounded off , complete, like one of his plays 🙂

Today he would have been 449 . Amazing really that we still study work of someone who was born centuries ago.  It is also the 397th anniversary of his death, as he died at the age of 52. They say his greatest achievement  was surviving his first year in the harsh, cruel Tudor period – where many new borns didn’t survive. I think some of his great words can challenge this achievement:

‘A fool’s paradise’ ‘Rhyme nor reason’ ‘A dish fit for the gods’ ‘The Queen’s English’ ‘It’s all Greek to me’ ‘in stitches’ ‘heart upon my sleeve’ ‘a green eyed monster’ ‘star crossed lovers’ ‘wild goose chase’ ‘all that glitters is not gold’ ‘fair play’ ‘make your hair stand on end’ ‘vanish into thin air’ ‘fancy free’ ‘love is blind’ ‘lie low’ ‘for ever and a day’ ‘in a pickle’

and my personal favourite, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

‘The course of true love did never run smooth’

Too true Bill!

The kids at school complain; ‘Why do we have to learn this old language?!’ I tell them, that to understand it (and they don’t need to understand it all), they need good analytical and communication skills. It is also interesting, yet they may not think that until years later. You must admit that you use a lot of the above phrases, or at least have heard of them.  Meaning, his words are still relevant today in their modern context.

Here’s to William Shakespeare, much-loved Bard and playwright  – then, now and forever 🙂

p.s – I guiltily admit that I have never been to Shakespeare’s birth place, but I am going in a few weeks and I’m very excited 😀

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Miserable Cinderellas

‘There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.’

I saw two productions over half term. The Burton Operatic Society did a production of Cinderella at a local school. (I have discussed a production in a previous blog: https://samanthagray9.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/good-vs-evil/) I also saw Les Miserables (finally!) at  the cinema. Both productions were fantastic but naturally they are every different in terms of context and plot. But in this case, they are both musicals and me being me, I wanted to draw some comparisons from the characters. (Call me lazy if you like for not writing two separate reviews!)

I must confess that I didn’t really know the story of Les Mis. before I went. I know, I know, English graduate who has not read it or seen a version of it. Reasons, or excuses being, well for starters the book is reallllly long! I have since downloaded it to my Nook and it is a worryingly long 4000 pages! (You may not see so many blogs lately 😉 ) Also, I just never saw a production through reasons such as money, opportunity and I never particularly studied it. It was worth the wait though!

I loved the film of Les Mis. and recommend anyone who has not seen it, to go. Or wait for the DVD 😉 It was a brilliant portrayal of Paris after the French Revolution. It focuses on the poor – or asles miserables’ can be translated as ‘the poor ones,’ ‘the miserables,’ or ‘the victims.’ Then there is the juicy part of the plot of the June Rebellion also known as The Paris Uprising of 1832. This was good viewing and really gave a depiction of this battle between the rich and the poor man. I don’t want to go too much into the story because that isn’t the purpose of this blog. But just a few more thoughts of mine about the latest film version: the singing was good overall. I was well aware it was a musical and was fine with the characters singing when there was a vital part to the plot, when they had to sing their own thoughts or sing as a group  – fine. I wasn’t so sure about them ‘singing’ conversations to each other. That was a bit odd! I know that that is the case with all productions of Les Miserables but it just seemed a little odd to me. Russel Crowe singing seriously was even odder – he was the only one that I cringed in my seat a little when he let the notes escape his mouth. My other main point that comes to mind, is the children. They were fantastic little actors and really did the characters justice. Brilliant.

Cinderella I would think we all know a little about. It was a great production by Burton Operatics and an old story with a new twist, yet it still kept the original magic. I laughed out loud when the mice came out though – as they were played by children, they were nearly as big as Cinders herself! The actress playing Cinderella was amazing and had that inner happiness to her that only resurfaced when she was with the mice, or day dreaming or when she meets the prince. She played the miserable and slave side to the character equally as well. (The other actors and everyone involved did a fantastic job too – to risk a shout out!)

I started to see the old fairy tale in a new light though last week. Possible because it was the first time I had seen it as an adult. It really is about a poor orphan girl, treated badly because of the times and bad luck of being left with an awful family. We are talking 17th century when this first was written, reflecting the role of women at the time. If women had no family or husband then they were worth nothing really. It isn’t until she meets her Prince Charming that her life becomes livable. The feminist in me, sobs at this.

This is what got me thinking when I saw Les Mis. Cosette is a lot like Cinderella. Think about it. They are both;

  • orphans and are left in terrible circumstances because of this.
  • slave like characters who like to dream and hope. The song at the top is from Les Mis. and sung by Cosette but it also reminded me of Cinderella.
  • young and beautiful
  • women in society who are not able to help themselves
  • (in the end) married to their heart’s desire who happen to rescue them from their misfortune. (I will admit Cosette was already saved early on by Jean Valjean – but again saved by a man)

So whether fairy tales or historical dramas, women were still depicted and were indeed treated in the same, awful way years ago. In terms of fairy tales, I do sometimes think why didn’t Cinderella (or Snow White, or any other) put the broom down, go out get a job, fend for herself and forget about men? But as Les Mis. shows, it wasn’t as simple as that indeed in France or England or anywhere. I was horrified by Cosette’s Mum in the film (played by Ann Hathaway) and how she had to have her head shaved to sell her hair and have her teeth pulled out for money. Definitely showing the hardships of the time. Poor women then had to resort to prostitution if they weren’t lucky to get rescued by the Jean Valjeans or the Prince Charmings of the world.

I suppose, though, the Valjean character does show us just how hard it was for men too. He wouldn’t have been able to turn his life around (well firstly if he didn’t steal a lot of silver!) if he hadn’t the run and under cover, carving and scraping a life for himself along the way. But being a hero of a story, he still managed to save Cosette on the way also. Like fairy tales, there is some sort of happy ending.

So how many Miserable Cinderellas are out there today? Women that have nowhere to turn or are so desperate that they turn to a horrible way of life. Because, unlike fairy takes, there isn’t always a happy ending in life. 😦

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Numbers

I have never had a head for numbers. You may have realised that I am more of a words kind of girl. 😉 That doesn’t mean that I am not fascinated by numbers though – even if I can’t always add them together very well 😉 For this reason, I would like to say that is why I was drawn to reading the book Numbers by Rachel Ward. But I was bought it randomly by my sister and her boyfriend for Christmas – random, just as numbers can be.

Numbers is a trilogy  – Numbers 2 Chaos and Numbers 3 Infinity completing the trio. So far, I have read the first two. And they are fantastic. Full of drama and twists and turns. And, I know we shouldn’t judge a book by the cover and all – but they are pretty ace too. Numbers also litter the pages and I swear I could see numbers along the closed pages when the book is shut – but I wasn’t sure if I was going a little crazy like the characters and thinking I could see numbers 😉

The first in the fantastic series….

But I haven’t told you enough to make you want to pick up a copy yet. In the first book, Jem is a troubled teenage girl and she can see numbers. In people’s eyes. It is a date. Of when they are going to die. As soon as I read that on the blurb, I was intrigued. I like psychological plots and I knew this would be one. Like, would she ever tell someone their number? Could she save lives? Will she find out her own number? It is compelling stuff because if you think about it, we all have a number. A death number. Without being too morbid, we are all going to die some day. But we don’t think about it because there is no point. We don’t know when it will be. Even if we have a terminal illness, we don’t know the exact day. Would you want to know? I sure as hell wouldn’t. I would be terrified of that day getting nearer. We all like to believe that we have a long stretch of life in front of us and maybe that’s what gets us from day-to-day.

But Jem does know. She sees a number each time she looks at someone, meaning that a lot of the time she doesn’t want to look people in the eye. She is a typical teenage girl in that she avoids eye contact and is awkward in social situations. She is not so typical for the reasons though: She not only sees the date that will end a person’s existence but she has lost her mum to drug addiction, she has no other family and gets shoved from foster home to foster home and she has no friend in the world. Depressing yes – so maybe not get it your teenager to help cheer them up 😉

It is however action packed and this begins when she meets Spider. Jem is a small, delicate, white girl. Spider in strong contrast is a tall, black, gangly bloke. They are opposites, yet find that one thing in common. They are both outcasts and both lonely.

The plot thickens when Jem and Spider are out for the day. Hanging out in London like teenagers do, they want to go on the London Eye but realise it’s too expensive. Jem quickly realises this is meant to be, as all the people around them, have the same death number. The date of that day. She manages to convince Spider, without telling him why, that they need to go. Minutes later, the London Eye explodes. Taking lives and reinforcing the fact that the numbers must be true! But they are seen running from the London Eye just before the explosion and the police think they are responsible for it. So they go on the run.

I won’t give more away but it all gets very intense as these two naive teenagers go on the run. Spider steals cars yet he has never driven one before. The whole country knows their faces so they have to keep hidden. And remember, as soon as Jem looked Spider in the eye, she knew his number. And she knows his fateful day is going to be soon. So it’s all about can she change his number? Can they stay hidden from the police and the press? Or is she going to have to come clean about her number visions?

It really is an amazing story and they are believable characters. Spider’s gran adds a lot of humour and wackiness to the story, whereas Karen, Jem’s foster Mum brings in the realistic and sensible elements – and tries to bring in some stability for Jem.

I’ll discuss the second book in a separate post – but if you like drama, action and romance, then this book is a great combination of all three! 🙂

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