Posted a wide variety of documentaries, with a slant towards British history (the tumblr page is something of a clusterfuck of add-ons and annoying cursor-follows).
Made an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to make custom lipsticks using wax crayons!
Reported that science populariser and neurologist Oliver Sacks struggles with prosopagnosia, or “face blindness”, a neurological disorder which prevents him from recognising faces. The article itself is being used in part to promote Sacks’ new book, The Mind’s Eye.
Today at last I began reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom, having acquainted myself both with the mind of the man who wrote it, and his mythology.
A lot of words have been spent already by other readers on his style and the oblique and poetic approach Lawrence took in a lot of his writing (including letters): many have complained it makes him hard to follow, although I rather suspect that was at least partially his intention.
I find it beautiful, and oddly immersive for writing which is supposedly so dense that it forms a barrier between the reader and the naked memories of the writer (again, I think, deliberate). There is a solid kind of pleasure in the vivid-but-dreamlike recollections and his romantic, florid prose: there is a grounding an earthy effect in his descriptions of privation which neatly counterbalances both his obsession with purity and the more spiritual or esoteric passages.
Even in the first chapter Lawrence ricochets back and forth through identities: here I am an English man proud of never spilling a drop of English blood and exhorting my countrymen to never serve another’s race; here I am an Arab who yearns for Arab self-determination and state; always I am a man without country or people.
In short within the opening pages I already find it a sublime and moving book, which is only to be expected given my attachment to the author. But the enjoyment is a guilty one, because my happiness at it is too profound, and I imagine serious bods sitting in judgement over it. Lawrence has been repeatedly deemed arrogant, problematic, an attempted White Saviour (none of these are charges I would entirely dispute except to utter the adage “I think you’ll find it’s a little more complicated than that”), and I must find a more fitting hero in line with the sensibilities of my era (although I’ve no idea what those are) and those of my peers (who cherish obscurity instigated by oppression and little else). Happily they are not reading over my shoulder and not privy to every emotion a book inspires, but the derision at ‘looking to the past’ with positivity remains.
It’s true, I am more inclined to take an interest in historical figures whose peers have mostly expired than to celebrate those whose mistakes are yet to come. With the dead there are no alarms and few surprises.
It is my desire to say when faced with this, “it’s alright, even Lawrence himself pitched tent in the past”, and indeed his youthful preoccupation with chivalry, archaeology, the Crusades, and the short-lived William Morris-esque press are typically English (for all that he later identified himself as an Irishman in his wandering man without country grasping at identity): a legitimation of the present ideals by rooting into the past and an escape from the harsh emotions of the present by the same. But it occurs that the same people who would denigrate this obsessive interest of mine would hardly accept Lawrence himself as an authoritative end to the argument, much like the Christian who learns that “it says so in the Bible” is not a rhetorical tactic that holds much water with the average atheist. We do not recognise the authority of that which we do not respect or even believe.
Religion, and laterly “scientific experts” (as dubbed by the press: learned men and women rarely refer to themselves as such, being all too aware of what must still be learned) are often attempts to provide a universally-accepted authority to which disputes can be deferred. It says so in the Bible; it’s a psychological fact (the latter will rarely cite sources or studies with commendable methodology, and often these ‘facts’ suppose that ‘the world’ is equal to ‘the West’); there are however many whole subsections of humanity whose role is to reject any authority but their own. Science is flawed because it is conducted by people who are flawed, and questions of ‘is this morally acceptable?’ are, as scientists are the first to admit, not really within the remit of the scientific method.
“Morally or societally acceptable” is a very mutable variable. History is in part the record of changes in acceptability, as cultures try on and reject acceptabilities: ownership of other people, ownership of specific groups of people, imperialist ideals, self-determination, individualism, bodily integrity, empiricism, responsibility to the state/family/self, all come up out of different roots and fade or are mutated or held to be inviolable.
Is it socially responsible to turn one’s gaze with affection upon fragments of the past, and if so, to which members of society does the right to determine the object of affection fall? In elevating one historical figure do we betray another? Is it possible to admire both Edison and Tesla?
Living as we – or I – do in an age of purported individualism and self-determination, in which individual experience and stories are to be given worth alongside the accepted narrative of nations, I believe my position is this: I like Lawrence. He speaks to me in ways others do not. If this bothers you…
A venture into arts and crafts (sadly not the William Morris arts and crafts, because I have neither the patience nor the draughtsmanship, and my book of gift cards is being slow in arriving), with decoupaging. I received the tip “don’t wait the 15-20 minutes between coats, just dry it with a hairdryer” and this was the result:
There are a few ridges, and it’s a little bobbly in places, but for a first try using an unnecessarily narrow brush – because that was all I had – I’m not wholly disappointed. This particularly iconic image of Lawrence was one I was intending to put on a badge until I remembered that I disdain badges and wear only brooches…
Matimeo Calvisia, spy and rake, finds himself in 16th-century Venice and faced with an apparently insurmountable challenge: the widely-read but narrowly-lived Padre Vito Bonifatigo is calling his credentials into question. The prickings of Matimeo’s pride lead him through a moral maze and dog him all the way across the Atlantic, but sooner or later something has to give…
Available from the Amazon Kindle Storeonly, this ridiculous tale of swash, buckle, and a lot of kissing should keep you entertained for a good many commutes. It has intrigue! Romance! And men wearing dresses! Bandits! Pirates! Spies! And someone who is hilarious inept at riding a horse!
This no doubt staggering work of literature can be on your Kindle/Kindle-app-supporting-device for the princely sum of $1.99 USD, which Amazon informs me is currently about £1.30, a price at which most Londoners would be hard-pressed to find much else, including a cup of tea.
You may notice that the author name on this book is “Melissa Snowdon” rather than “Delilah Des Anges”; it’s still me, I’m just engaging in what I’m informed is called brand management. Basically, since The Breaking of M is a rather different tone and genre to the rest of my books, it’s sensible to have it under a nom-de-plume and not confuse strangers too much with the sudden change in tempo.
That aside: please buy my book! Read my book! Recommend it to your friends! If you want to, obviously.
I’d forgotten, but it’s T. E. Lawrence’s birthday today.
I write a lot about Lawrence, and this is proportionate to both my affection for him and my admiration for the idea of him: the self-contained enabler who knows himself too well to allow himself real happiness, but who nonetheless repeatedly turns his mind to the improvement of the world for others. Not just his well-publicised and morally questionable attempt to “lead the Arab peoples into freedom” (morally questionable because it smacks rightly of White Saviour), but also later as Shaw, as Ross, striving to protect his fellow servicemen – and throughout his life, handing away his money and selling his possessions to help his friends without a thought for how he would survive.
It is therefore appropriate (in the light of this and of it being his birthday and all) perhaps to use Lawrence as a jumping-off point to talk about the importance of modern legend to the individual psyche, not least because he was both opposed to and attracted by the growth of his own legend in his lifetime, creating a golden caricature of himself and attempting to flee from it in order to become Lawrence The Man rather than Lawrence The Legend. He was also keenly self-aware when it came to this dichotomy of the public perception of a man and his private self.
While a public figure is alive there are two versions of that figure: the person they are, and the shadow cast by the myths, rumours, stories, and scandals attached to them, which is almost always larger and distorted. Once the public figure is dead, the actual person at the centre of the shadow is no longer there to anchor it. He or she may live on in the memories of their intimates, but those too will be coloured by time and emotion: as they start to die the legend – no matter how hard biographers may try (and they really cannot work against it, only add to it) – is all that is left of the figure, like an indentation in the sand where they once lay.
This is a natural process in a world in which society continues past the death of the individual. I would argue that this business of creating new versions of the dead – and later “debunking” them with new evidence – is also healthy and necessary for the social psyche. It demonstrates that, in enacting deeds or in merely taking credit for deeds individuals live past their natural lifespans (very important to a social animal afraid of mortality and impermanence). With each new allegation, reverence, or debunking (the latter especially as it requires renewed focus on the figure) we are reminded of the individual and their deeds, in the manner of a ritual.
It becomes immaterial to fact if Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays as long as the argument keeps people recalling the 16th century; it becomes irrelevant that Hawksmoor’s occult connections were largely manufactured post-mortem when they renew a passion for his architecture.
Likewise, then, it is of no real consequence when a parade of books assert that Lawrence was a good man, a bad man, a good man, and occasionally a complex and morally ambiguous man in the right place at the right time. The glittering and factually inaccurate tall Lawrence of the cinema screen remains, embedded in the social consciousness. The tiny, compact, thick-chinned Lawrence with his childish humour and terrible self-knowledge remains in the hearts of his devotees. The real Lawrence has been dead for a lifetime, and no amount of new research will resurrect him, or Wilde, or any other of our legendary personal heroes. We will never know them.
What we have access to is the legend, and that, as a product of public consciousness, is the property of anyone who experiences it. Lawrence The Man is gone, Lawrence The Memory belongs to those who knew him. Lawrence The Legend, a vast shimmering shadow beast who expands and contracts to fit the needs of the time (heroism or empiricism, Empire or self-governance) and of the individual, this Lawrence is eternal for as long as there are audiences willing to participate in recreating him.
The last couple of years have been heavy on the death front, in what feels like an “all of a sudden” manner. Last year handfuls and handfuls of famous people I’d admired began dying off in droves, instead of in the isolated incidents I’d been used to before (Douglas Adams, John Peel, these were aberrations rather than a pattern), three people ranging from a friend to someone I’d met once and rather liked took their own lives in differing states of emotional extremis, and a friend of a friend was murdered. This year the idols and celebrities continue to drop like flies, and the personal death toll has moved from friends to family, with three family members already taking their leave of me this year so far.
A sudden upsurge in mortality has been reflected by a preoccupation with it in my own writing: in (currently at 3rd draft) As Simple As Hunger in prose, and a significant amount in poetry. It snuck into my reading material too, with books about death, treatment of the dead, and short stories which can be interpreted as a fairly plain death wish (Dr Woollacott). The culmination from an apparently amused universe has come in the form of a short-term job which involves reading post-mortem reports.
In my late adolescence I blundered through a medium-length Goth period, which in the fashion of all my flirtations with subculture involved taking the concept of “rules” very seriously indeed and trying to work my way through a kind of cultural checklist in the hopes of becoming acceptable in my identity (this is utter nonsense, but I fell for it every time). This involved tedious activities like poncing around graveyards in a ballgown purchased from a terrible shop in Camden, shagging on gravestones, and reading books by Poppy Z Brite in red light that has probably done something unfriendly to my eyesight. Curiously enough despite all the trappings of mortality I was a great deal more interested in living, as it stood – I was frequently miserable and for about two years clinically depressed but the nature of it all remained quite full of vitality. I’d have committed suicide in a very lifelike way, had I succeeded.
My approach to death is more contemplative now. Embracing the very first mention of death I remember, which is a quote from the delectable and apparently still in print People by Peter Spier (“And in the end we all must die.”), nihilistic leanings, and a certain amount of animosity for the mentality which implies that somehow actions “to the good” on one’s own part will somehow cause the grim reaper to swerve and leave one alive, I’ve become a little antagonistic about it. Not only the post-Stoic tattoo, but regular assaults on the consciousness of my friends in the form of “your daily reminder that no matter what you do with your time, you are going to die”, or “the moral high ground will not grant you immortality” and other such pretentious homilies.
This is all well and good, but today I received my own reminder of mortality from an odd source. As I mentioned above, I have been reading post-mortem reports. Having a vivid imagination it’s easy to reconstruct things like “died from head injury sustained while falling down a flight of stairs in a pub while intoxicated”, but the real moment of unexpected awareness of my own death was when I found a post-mortem report on a girl who had been born a few months before me, and who died about ten years ago.
It shouldn’t have done, but the shared birth year and the suddenly huge distance between her death and my observation of her death put me outside myself and made me think not the usual, egotistical thoughts about dying: who will miss me, will they be very sad, I can’t bear it; nor the depressive’s yearning for an end to all the hail of living. It was one quiet moment in a basement where I contemplated what it means to die: before the body becomes soup or ashes, before the bones become safe ornaments, before the whole grisly but inevitable process of decay; the fact that once the current in the brain goes away there is no more you. There is no way to experience death, only dying. “Death” lies outside of conscious experience, and there’s no way to back-pedal and become a person again once it’s done.
Naturally I followed up this discomforting realisation by going for hot chocolate in the kitchen but as insights go… it’s probably one most people have when they’re 12 or so. I’ve never been the swiftest on the uptake.
Long-term readers will be aware that I have an unsightly emotional weakness for all things relating to one Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 — 19 May 1935).
Having revisited the infamous/famous/Oscar-winning/definitive (if factually wildly inaccurate) David Lean movie of 1962 while on holiday recently, I was already awash with renewed fervour for depictions of the man’s life, and when the same woman who led me back into my Lean/O’Toole/Sharif/Guinness rewatch informed me that she’d found another film: this one relating to his exploits in the diplomatic kerfuffle after the war … I scrambled over myself to find a copy to watch.
The content of that period is a surprisingly painful watch or read in any case. Knowing, as the participants could not at the time, just how much deceit was taking place, and what continued trouble would arise as a result of France and Britain dividing up the Arabian Peninsula willy-nilly as if they had any business to do so, it can lead to melodramatic book-hurling or film-pausing if there’s no pressure to keep going. I was fortunate this time to have someone to watch with me and not let me stalk off muttering angrily about the idiocy of history and slide into a funk about how little anything has truly changed
A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia was released in 1990, as a sort of sequel to the re-release of the 1962 film, and while it is in part based on false information (Col. Meinertzhagen’s diaries), it could be argued that it takes a stronger basis in factual events than the more fanciful David Lean epic. However, as has been noted by a friend (G. Ragovin) writing on the mythology of Oscar Wilde, the purpose of biopics is not necessarily to render documentary truth but, as the original films of Lowell Thomas which brought Lawrence to the public imagination initially (and whose screening Lawrence attends in this film,both bookending the events and providing a flashback for the audience), to sell a legend. What people take from depictions of established cultural heroes is not the actuality of events nor the truth of the man or woman themselves but a sense of greatness and aspiration/inspiration: in the case of Lawrence (and indeed Wilde) this greatness is tempered and highlighted by tragedy and hubris. The element of the tragic hero provides Lawrence the status of Queer Icon regardless of his own sexuality, in the same way that at the time his exploits in the desert provided him with the status of “Hero of the Empire” regardless of his own allegiance.
In this particular depiction of a difficult chapter of Lawrence’s life, the man himself is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. Prior to watching this I would never have picked Fiennes as a candidate for the role, but there is no question that he carries it off masterfully. He incorporates, as the film incorporates, elements both of the Lean epic (and O’Toole’s performance) and of historical footage of Lawrence, bringing about the soft-spoken, upright, erratic, and incredibly driven Col. Lawrence in a touching and very believable fashion. Over the course of the negotiations in Paris – and the codicil to this diplomatic failure – he demonstrates the oft-discussed facets of Lawrence’s personality: not only the showmanship of spontaneous translation (and the accompanying spontaneous round of applause), the effete-seeming self-containment, the nervous explosions of laughter, but also his impish schoolboy humour, and the depth of affection for Prince Faisal (فيصل بن حسين بن علي الهاشمي – I’m not getting satisfactory answers on the Romanisation of his name). Considering that this performance is required to weave through potentially tedious political manoeuvring, moments of high stress (a probably-invented attempted seduction by Polly Walker’s Madam Dumont and several frustrated altercations with Faisal, for example), considerable sadness (“I arrived too late to see my father alive and left too early to see him buried. What more could I do for you?”), and bittersweet reconciliation between dear friends, with lashings of emotional instability, strength, and frailty throughout, it is of infinite credit to Fiennes that it is hard to imagine anyone else handling it as well.
During the negotiations, Faisal’s growing irritation with the stalling, deceit, and racist colonial attitudes of the countries which were supposedly his allies during the war had to be plausibly performed about from a position of initial optimism. His anger with the distracting accolades and media circus surrounding Lawrence and the damage this unwanted intrusion did to their friendship also had to be shaped from an opening in which the two men trusted each other so intimately that Faisal allowed Lawrence to speak for him and Lawrence allowed Faisal to repeatedly stab a knife between the spread fingers of his hand. Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi, credited as Saddig El-Fadil and known better to most as Alexander Siddig (or to me as “Dr Bashir from DS9” because I am a nerd), expertly guides the relationship between the two men through its nadir and out to the seemingly positive conclusion, in the aftermath of all the betrayals, of “They are watching us.”In this single line, perhaps, the film moves from historical fiction/documentary fiction into meta-commentary: after all, we are watching Lawrence and Faisal, and will doubtless continue to do so.
A dramatic narrative needs a solid antagonist, and while in Lean’s epic of the war the antagonists presented to Lawrence were rather faceless, in Lawrence and Faisal’s post-war fight the multitude of obstacles (Gen. Harry Chauvel, Clémenceau, Gertrude Bell with her favouring of Ibn Sa’ud, Valence) are memorably headed by Lord Dyson. Nicholas Jones does exceptional work in providing a singularly unlikeable Dyson, and steeps potentially dragging scenes of debate and negotiation with such animosity towards his character that it’s impossible to stop shouting “YOU UTTER SHIT” at the screen for long enough to be even the slightest bit bored.
The structure of the film bears a number of superficial similarities to – or homages to, if you prefer – the Lean epic. Like the Lean film, it begins at the end, with Lawrence watching the Lowell Thomas illustrated lectures which are mentioned throughout. He is clearly unwell, and from my estimation this is meant to take place during his post-Paris breakdown wherein he shut himself in an attic, lived on chocolate, and drafted and redrafted Seven Pillars of Wisdom while trying to hide from the press. The structure is a classic in media res, as with the Lean epic: in A Dangerous Man, it is clear when a full circle has been reached and the coda arrived at by the return of the Lowell Thomas lecture and the shabby, exhausted iteration of Lawrence spawned by his furious writing.
In the coda, reconciliation and the conclusion of Lawrence’s oft referred-to book are reached, in a touching scene between Faisal and Lawrence (the former of whom left in anger, the latter in disgrace). Of particular note is the dishevelled appearance of Lawrence, matched by Faisal’s lack of finery: throughout the film Faisal has donned the suits of the European delegates “Because if he dresses like them, he might be treated like them”, and Lawrence the garb of his friend’s delegation (because it is distracting to his enemies, comforting to him, and ensures that he will be underestimated). They have traded finery, Lawrence has worn uniform in varying degrees of identification with “his” country, but in the conclusion Faisal is dressed for prayer and Lawrence for writing. They are humbled, and acknowledge each other’s gifts as a hollow but emotionally sound gesture. Faisal, recognising the futility of the campaign to retain Syria, wryly calls them both “uncrowned kings of Arabia” (the press’s wince-inducing epithet for Lawrence), and Lawrence – in what is both a heartbreaking lie that they both understand is a lie, and a statement of their friendship – says, It’s not over.
At which point, the film ends.
In any depiction of the events of Lawrence’s life, the narrative shape is already set: triumph, hubris, despair, cautious optimism, with the eye of history wreathed in tears at the understanding that no matter how visionary the dreams of the dreamers in the day, their attempts to change the world for the better met with nothing but obstacles, and a state of murderous conflict that continues nearly a hundred years later.
17 inches / 43 centimetre black lace ribbon choker, 2 3/4 inches 6.5 centimetres wide, two-popper closure, with brass frame and resin cameo.
Delicate lacy Victorian mourning choker perfect for goths, lolitas, cosplay, or just adding a little old-time style to an outfit. Wear it over a high-necked top, or on bare skin!
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19 inch / 48 centimetre gold plate chain, acrylic bead, glass pearl necklace with vintage glass pearl accents and vintage pearl and green paste gem spider pendant.
Have you ever seen a spider web holding the morning dew? Now everyone who passes you will get the benefit of that beautiful experience too!
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16 and a half inch (on smallest strand) / 42 centimetre three-strand necklace with gold plate chain and findings, acrylic and glass beads including glass lampwork pendant and glass foil bead, gold tone connectors, gold tone charms, Czech glass crystal beads and a paste gem pendant.
This luxurious, extravagant green and gold bee-themed necklace is perfect for summer, bringing to mind grass meadows and wildflowers and the gentle humming of bees going about their business. Although very striking, it can even be worn during the day with the right outfit. A great gift for any glamorous gardeners in your life!
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7 and three quarter inches / 19.5 centimetre coppertone stamping and bronze link bracelet with antique gold-hued acrylic rosebut beads.
This classic, fetching Art Nouveau bracelet in autumn colours is perfect for warm colours and steampunk outfits; an excellent little tricket for the Wildean in your life!
25 and a half inch / 65 centimetre black satin ribbon TIE CLOSURE Victorian style choker with brass framed black and white floral cameo in resin, glass and acrylic beads, ceramic lustre and glass pearl drops, and a rose cake cut glass crystal bead. Cameo features a brooch pin back: ribbon can be removed so cameo can also be used as a brooch.
This one of a kind, dual-function necklace is perfect for flower-lovers of all ages, goths, steampunks, and those who just really like to dress up an outfit. As a choker it is charming and comfortable, the satin ribbon adjustable to tie for almost any neck size; as a brooch it is unusual and eye-catching and looks smashing with a smoking jacket or blazer.
21 centimetre / 53.5 centimetre antiqued brass chain, freshwater pearl, green glass crystal, acrylic bead, gold plate findings, brass charms and setting, resin cameo, copper wire, and rhinestone necklace.
This exquisite Victorian-inspired necklace looks fabulous both on its own an paired with a choker.
A little light character drawing to occupy my time. On my return from Australia I plunged ahead and finished the first draft of one book (The Breaking of M, which will be published under a pseudonym because it’s a significantly different genre to the usual fare and I’d like to keep those facets of myself if not separate then at least available under different Google searches), and then started editing the second draft of another (As Simple As Hunger). Having blustered a good 130,000 words out in the last couple of months I’ve promptly but not entirely unexpectedly been hit with chronic block, and am amusing myself with drawing until it goes away.
Here, then, is one of the three major players in The Breaking of M, Padre Vito Alessandro Bonifatigo:
The observant will note it’s more of a coloured sketch than a proper picture: it turns out that not really doing anything for a while does cause everything to atrophy.