Anne Lister

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating historical diary – The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister. This was roughly the era of Jane Austen and the Brontes, but the added twist is that she was a lesbian and talks about her relationships and feelings about other women. (Rather like Samuel Pepys, she wrote those parts in a sort of code she had devised.)

It is predictable that she would be seen as some sort of heroine by feminists, but trust me girls, she wasn’t. She was simply a lesbian at a time when it was impossible to be open about it and coped the best she could. There is some nonsense in the blurb by Jeanette Winterson extolling her as ‘a woman exercising conscious choice. She controlled her cash and her body” etc. She controlled her cash because…well, she was rich. She controlled her body by not getting married because she was rich enough not to need to.

She wasn’t open about her lesbianism, but in fact reading between the lines it seems clear that everyone realised that she was one (one obituary euphemistically referred to her ‘masculine singularities of character’) yet it didn’t seem to cause her any problems.

The fact is that she wasn’t any sort of trailblazer (but then, why should she be?) and in fact I was surprised that far from being an outcast, she wasn’t shunned because of her sexuality but because she was clearly a terrible snob, who constantly refers to people of a lower class (ie most people) as ‘vulgar’, and who missed out on the chance of a relationship because it was beneath her to visit her family.

But she was fascinating, it is a great read, and I would have loved to have met her – though she would have considered it highly impertinent that someone of my class should try to engage her in conversation!

Apart from the business about her sexuality, it’s the little things about daily life that I love about diaries like this. Take this from 10 Jane 1824:

Washed and scaled my teeth with my penknife (in previous similar entry said she was sure she’d got rid of all the tartar with her trusty blade). And on another occasion she had a tooth extracted – no anaesthetic of course – and although didn’t come out easily, she tells us, it went very well considering –  he only took a little of the jawbone with it.

On the 12 January she recounts two stories. The first concerns  ‘Cockle Dick of Halifax’ – His wife used to drink & he sent the bell-man [ie the man who walked the streets ringing a bell and declaring the time, and perhaps also acted as a town crier regarding news] to give notice that he would not pay her debts. He turned her out of the house, & being summoned before Dr Coulthurst [probably a magistrate] to take her back, he declared he would not for she would be the ruin of him.

Then there is the tale she was told of wives being Cried [ie the bell-man again] two market days at the market cross & sold the last day & ‘livered in a halter. He said Phoebe Buck, the leech-woman still living…was sold in this way & bought by Buck, the man she lived with ever after.

Beats online dating, if you ask me.

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Amazon Reviews

It’s time for more helpful Amazon reviews. The ones in this latest short collection are all book reviews, and they do raise a more serious point, particularly from my point of view as an author. If you’re not a best selling author you are unlikely to get many reviews in the first place, so it only takes one or two numskull offerings which have nothing to do with the writing itself (like the ones below) to lower the overall rating and quite unfairly give the impression that a book isn’t very good. The first one is particularly ironic in from that point of view! (And as ever with these sometimes semi-literate offerings, I’ve left the spelling as it is.)

I haven’t started this book yet hence only on star. I bought it on the strength of the reviews so I’m looking forward to reading it soon (1 Star)

Can’t say as bought as a present for someone else (3 stars)

Described as in good condition but sruffy (2 Stars)

The Wind in the Willows should have been in Helvitica font, not Garamond – NO STARS, MR GRAHAME!



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Financial Matters

Well, a major royalty cheque has flooded in today and I thought I ought to alert my hordes of regular readers. I want to reassure you all that it won’t change the nature of these blog postings, but I may well be taking someone on and dictating to them to in the near future.

I’m planning to set some money aside for good causes, and will obviously look after family and friends, but I welcome suggestions from my loyal followers as to how best to dispose of the rest.

(Knowing my fans as I do, I must point out here that I won’t responding to begging letters.)

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The Green Man

One reason I’m a Buddhist is that although I was spiritually inclined from an early age I could never believe in God, at least not in the form of a decision-making being, a man-with-a-plan as is usually portrayed – something which has never made any sense to me.

I am, however, drawn to the concept of ‘spirit of place’, the pagan idea that trees and sacred groves, pools and streams and suchlike are either inhabited or watched over by some sort of ‘spirit’ for want of a better term. That’s why this week  I’ve really enjoyed researching and writing a Green Man article for Aquila children’s magazine (June issue – make a note in your diaries!). I like that kind of idea because it’s not necessary to believe that there is literally some sort of little being hovering around, but just to adopt a willingness to suspend disbelief as a way of bypassing our over-developed intellectual and rational side. I sometimes think that humans need symbols like the Green Man as means of accessing something primal and profound within us (and around us) that can’t be discovered by the intellect.

I have come to believe that healthy societies need their myths and stories and songs, and we’ve lost ours in the modern world – especially England, where we seem to think that everyone else’s stories – the Celts for example – are wonderful but ours are rubbish, nonsense or forgotten. Even though I’m not a Christian I’d rather we’d remained a nominally Christian country than be a place with no stories of its own. But still, I like to think the Old Ways take us that bit closer to our roots.


Wassail the Green Man!

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A Bum Rap

I’ve long been interested in true crime, and this disturbing major case has come to my attention today:



Is everything illegal these days? I’m putting two pairs of underpants on today just to be on the safe side.

Stop in the name of the law!

Stop in the name of the law!

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Save Our Libraries

As a child I loved escaping into the world of books and I quickly became a voracious reader. My parents weren’t big readers and we never had many books in the house, so my discovery of these amazing places called libraries was a magical moment for me, and I can even still remember the plots of some of the first books I took out. (I just wish I could remember the titles so I could try to track them down!)

But government cuts have meant that hundreds of libraries have closed over the last few years, and thousands of jobs have gone. The lovely little library in the place I was living last year was kept going half the time solely by unpaid volunteers. I know they had some sort of electronic counter to see how many people were coming through the doors, and I suspect others do too. So keep your local library open by going down there and running in and out a few dozen times! Take your friends! Set up a relay!



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More Exam Howlers

A while back I revealed that I had come across a notebook belonging to my old English teacher, which had been digitised by his son and put online. It was from the days when he was working for the University of Cambridge examinations board, mostly in Africa but occasionally in other countries, marking the exam papers of sixteen-year-olds. Some of the answers made him chuckle, and he began to record the funnier ones. Here is my second selection from his book:

  • Some of the patients were plastered, and some were hanging from the ceiling
  • [Regarding the exotic game of table tennis] Two coloured & carved planks with red, green or blue rubber is used; they are flat, and are in the shape of a gourd when looked at upside down
  • A footballing team has eleven players on each of the two sides; there is a gall-kipper, 2 backmen, 3 half back-men, a left out & a left in, a centre forward-man, a right in and a right out. These five centre forwardmen pass the balls to themselves.
  • She lay there semi-naked, semi-conscious, and semi-hopeful
  • He closed his eyes in a gesture of despair; he contorted his face, praying for strength, & then lifted his leg, aiming it towards the horizon
  • These peace-loving animals start their life as small, furry balls, & they grow up and with any luck will find a mate, & have small, furry balls themselves
  • My aunt has been unduly disturbed of late, having two small children through the utter carelessness of the local dustman
  • Death is one thing that does not affect people till several days later
  • The dream in every newly-wed couple’s head is to marry
  • The octopus wrapped his testicles round the diver & strangled him


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