Monday, 29 November 2010

That 'All-Boys' School' Thing: The Ardingly Reunion

When you tell people you went to an all-boys’ school, their reaction is somewhere between envy and disbelief… or a nudge and a wink and a ‘that must’ve been fun, love’.

In fact, it was one hell of an experience – but not for the reasons you’d think.

In 1982, Ardingly took in nine girls in the ‘Shell’ year (we were 13). Unable to board, we were firmly ensconced under the Headmaster’s House, in a study of our own where James and Mary Flecker, the Headmaster and his wife, could keep a bead on us. Mary was protector and defender; Mum and Aunt and big sister. We were going to get into trouble (it was inevitable) but she was there to deal with it.

In retrospect, it was a fucking crazy thing to do – as an adult, the boldness and sheer bloody dangerousness of the manoeuvre awes me. We were what?? There were those among the staff, public school tutors of long-standing tradition, who were opposed to our presence – GIRLS??!! - we were invading their territory, stalwart British standards were about to come tumbling down…

They cut us no quarter – but they were never unfair. We were expected to work and train and sport just as sodding hard as the boys did. And that was normal to us; it made us. I wonder how such treatment would be received in modern schooling?

The point to all this reminiscence and waffle?

Last Thursday, we had a school reunion – at the House of Commons, no less. It’s an astonishing building – exquisite, with a heavyweight of impeccably polite security more familiar to an episode of ‘Spooks’ – but it has a chill feel, an emptiness, that’s palpable. In spite of breathless beauty, paintings, plaques in the floor and vaults in the ceiling, it feels hollow.

But we didn’t linger long in the echoing-cold Corridors of Power.

Instead, we found ourselves at the very back of the building, right by the River… and twenty-three years in the past.

Coming full-circle, it was system-shock to see so many familiar faces that had changed so little. Badge peering was prevalent, wine was free-flowing and sneaking out for an illicit smoke brought back many memories (though the scenery was better). It was uncanny, too, that the old social groups drifted back together. Teenage tensions may have passed, the scenery may be spectacular… but friendship and character in many ways remain unchanged.

The thing that had changed the most was the generation gap – or the lack of one. When we were teens, James and Mary, Lady Whitmore, many others, were our teachers and caregivers, far more so at a public school than teachers at the modern comprehensive. At forty-plus, standing in the Houses of Parliament themselves, these shapers of our lives are no longer ‘masters’, they’re just people. In many ways, they’re equally unchanged (though the urge to call James ‘Sir’ is almost too deeply programmed to shift); they may be shocked by our age and treating us with choice anecdotes of our teenage years – but their affection remains. It’s enormous, and very moving.

We wouldn’t be who were are without these people, and the way they have touched our lives.

As the evening ended, we wound our way into the cold London night promising we would stay in touch, and come back next year.

I hope we will – and I hope the reunion continues to expand, bringing in more years and more OAs. In this world of FaceBook, you forget how catching up with people’s faces is so important.

Thanks to Jen for the inspiration, and Jane for making it all happen.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Facebook and 'Targeted Advertising'

(Rant Warning!!)

So, Facebook, I’ve changed my relationship status.

Yes, I’m a forty-plus year-old woman, and it now says that horrifying, mortifying word – ‘single’. Apparently, I’ve shifted demographic and found myself in Hell.

No longer am I a happy and successful Mum, career professional, writer, fighter, fitness fanatic; no longer am I exactly what I was a word-replacement ago. That one change, that one little thing, has torn a massive hole in my feminine credibility.

And through it seethe the advertisers, minions of Cthulhu.

I can cope with the dating site ads – I’ve no wish to sign up to Zoosk at the minute, but I understand why they're there. Fairy snuff.

What really fucking bugs me are these: -

eHarmony – no, I’m not looking for a life-partner. Perhaps I may be in the future, but for the moment, I’m enjoying my independence. Do single guys get eHarmony ads? Or is this the adult version of Jackie magazine – all girls really want is a boyfriend? I think someone’s been watching too much Twilight.

Dress ads for ‘plus’ sizes – when I changed status, I didn’t automatically gain five stone. I could put an upright and a guy line in the dresses you’re offering me and use them as tents. In fact, offering me the tent would far be more sodding useful.

Self-help books – you fucking what now? So, I’m looking for a life-partner while comfort-eating cream cakes and reading ‘How To Start Over Yet Again’. Are you seriously scanning my keywords or have your malfunctioned here?

Wedding advice – this one left me speechless. Because I’m a single woman, I must want to get married. Would this be before or after I fit the size 32 dress?

Fertility treatment – my absolute favourite. It has to be a mistake – I’m single and over forty and it’s offering me what..?! I’m only guessing that after I gain five stone, fit the hot tent-dress, finish the self-help book and get married, then 2.2 children (all right 1.2 children) will complete my life.

Oh look, I’m a formula. That’s so much easier to manage!

Seriously, marketeer or no, this is too much. It’s assumptive, it’s insulting and it skating closely round the edge of outright sexist. Yes, I realise that demographic streamlining has become a part of our existence and that we all get boxed into corners who’s angles don’t fit – but if you’re going to target ads, that for chrissakes target them efficiently.

And that means I’m an individual. I’m exactly the same individual that I was when I had that diamond on my finger.

If this is your ‘targeted advertising’, then you may want to adjust your sights.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

#MADMONTH! BristolCon and Other Stories

Every so often, life at Forbidden Planet goes balls-to-the-wall crazy.

We’ve done Star Wars Days and Hallowe’en Celebrations, we’ve had signings with some of the most exciting names in the industry and we’ve taken our butts and our books to the Bristol Ramada and drunk far too much beer at BristolCon… and had a great time doing all of it. No matter how busy the business may be, there’s a sense of involvement that keep the energy levels high.

As Doctor Tim, manager of the Bristol Megastore said: we do it because we love it.

Honest, guv’nor.!

Seriously, though, sometimes, this stuff is just a privilege. From the wondrous (and hair-raising) tales of Michael Moorcock’s youthful antics, to stealing William Gibson’s ebook signing pen (erm… sorry about that), to remembering the basement days of Denmark Street with Iain Banks, to rediscovering the warm and open friendliness of Simon Pegg… there’s never a dull moment. The tales of Denmark Street remind me that all of these people started in exactly the same place as the rest of us – and each one still values the opinion and input of every single one of his fans. Props to the lot of them!

The #madmonth has ended with a day at BristolCon – a new venture for the local SF/F collective and a perfectly slotted-together event. In the Dealers’ Room as ever, it was still good to see a full and engaging programme of events (we at least got to Nick’s pub quiz – Walters, you’ve missed your calling as a stage comedian!) and (inevitably) to the bar… plus we got to chat to a guest list, all local, that all pitched in to make the event a success.

And the ‘local’ is absolutely the event’s hand-on win. There’s a strong genre family in Bristol, a gathering of authors and bloggers and podcasters and fans who’ve helped build a city hub that’s become big enough to host a Con of its own – and to make it a success. The atmosphere was very chilled - and there was a togetherness to it that can be missing from larger gatherings.

As with the signings at the Megastore – it’s gone to underline that we’re all the same at the root, and we all have the same things dear to our hearts. At the risk of sounding a scrape too cheesy… do we all do it because we love it?

So - props to Jo and her team for a fantastic event that will grow into something even better next year. It was absolutely bigger on the inside!

And yes, we will be back!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Toy Launch: Lunartik at Forbidden Planet!


We're delighted to be hosting the Launch Event for Matt ‘Lunartik’ JOnes’ latest range of vinyl figures Lunartik in a Cup of Tea: Mini Series 1 at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JR.

Matt JOnes’ debut figure, Lunartik In A Cup Of Tea, was an instant and refreshing success to the UK art toy world; Lunartik was the base design for the gorgeous Custom Tea Tour involving such artists as Pete Fowler and Jon Burgerman, which also made its debut at Forbidden Planet. Now, Matt JOnes brings us his first set of blind-boxed mini collectibles, including 12 fresh favours and four hidden special brews!

And from 1pm on Saturday 20th November, Matt ‘Lunartik’ JOnes will be in our store to make you a cup of tea – as only he knows how – along with beautiful cakes supplied by Hidden Crumbs.

Matt JOnes is also the designer of the 3D version of our famous ‘rocket’ brand, originally created by Rian Hughes.

Forbidden Planet has always been on the forefront of the art toy sensation in the UK, hosting events with Tara McPherson, Jon Burgerman, Pete Fowler and James Jarvis as well as being the only UK venue on the Custom Bart Qee Tour in 2007 and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Research Trust with the MonQee Project, as supported by Terry Pratchett and Toy2R.

Visit Matt's portfolio at: