Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Royal Wedding: The Other Queen Catherines

On Friday, Catherine Middleton will marry into the British Royal Family and one day, all being well, she will become the sixth English queen to be called Catherine. In a spirit of patriotic delightfulness, here is a run down of the other five!

1. Catherine de Valois (1401 - 1437) Probably best known today for being a character in the Shakespeare play Henry V, Catherine was the daughter of King Charles VI of France and his German queen, Isabeau of Bavaria. Her elder sister, Isabelle, had already been Queen of England before her when she had been married off at a very young age to King Richard II. Catherine's marriage in 1420 to England's handsome warrior king, Henry V, marked the end of the current wars between France and England. A tall, slim and beautiful blonde, Catherine was basically the medieval period's picture-perfect-princess. Unfortunately, the so-called "bride of peace" didn't have very long to enjoy life as Queen of England. Two years after the marriage and not long after the birth of their son, Henry, the King died on military campaign and Catherine was left a widow at the age of twenty-one. She caused quite the scandal a few years later by running off with her handsome Welsh servant, Owen Tudor, with whom she had three more sons and helped found the Tudor dynasty. Tragically, the ex-queen died in childbirth in 1437. In a much more creepy end to the story, Catherine's body was buried in an air-tight coffin which was discovered centuries later in the time of King Charles II - perfectly preserved! In what I think is a totally disgusting and pretty weird move, the famous 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys was allowed to view the body on his birthday and kissed its lips, boasting that his birthday treat had been to kiss a queen. Eh, yes, but one that's been dead for three hundred years. Weirdo.

2. Katherine of Aragon (1485 - 1536) The first of Henry VIII's six unlucky wives, Katherine was born in Spain in 1485 and initially married Henry's elder brother, Prince Arthur. When Arthur died during the plague epidemic of 1502, Katherine was married off to his younger brother, Henry, once he became king in 1509, despite the grumbling of certain English churchmen that marrying your dead brother's wife contravened Old Testament law. The marriage was a satisfactory one, with Katherine being both dignified enough to carry out the duties of a queen perfectly and she was prepared to look the other way at her husband's numerous affairs, which started almost as soon as the ring had been slipped onto her finger. However, Queen Katherine's six pregnancies resulted in only one healthy child - a daughter, Mary. By 1524, after fifteen years of marriage, she had passed the menopause and Henry was already considering divorcing his wife when he fell violently and obsessively in love with Lady Anne Boleyn, the nineteen year-old French-educated "it" girl of the Tudor court. Katherine, a devout Catholic, fiercely resisted the divorce but in the process, her stubbornness and bravery may actually have contributed to England's famous break with the Roman Catholic Church. She was banished from court in 1531 and stripped of her title in 1533. She refused to accept that her marriage was over right up to her death from cancer in 1536.

3. Catherine Howard (?1523 - 1542) The fifth of Henry's wives, Catherine was a party-loving teenager when the enormous, middle-aged monarch made her his mistress in 1540. He divorced his fourth wife, a German princess, in order to marry Catherine, much to the delight of her ambitious family who used Catherine's rise to the throne to destroy several of their political enemies. Catherine took no interest in politics and for the first year of the marriage, she seemed quite happy to spend, dance and party. She spent a fortune on clothes and jewels. However, after a royal tour of the north, she was placed under house arrest when allegations emerged that she had not been a virgin at the time she married the king. The investigation into Catherine's private life eventually uncovered strong evidence that she may have been having an affair with Sir Thomas Culpepper, reportedly the most handsome (and badly behaved) man in London. A love letter found in Thomas's rooms showed that this affair had started when she was actually married to the king. The poor, traumatised girl was sent to the executioner's block before her twentieth birthday. Today, she is still buried in the Tower of London.

Tamzin Merchant as Catherine Howard in Series Four of The Tudors

4. Katherine Parr (1512 - 1548) Henry VIII's sixth and final wife, he married her eighteen months after executing Catherine Howard. An intelligent and elegant thirty year-old, Katherine had already been widowed twice by the time she married the king. Terrified at what had happened to his other wives, Katherine Parr fairly obviously didn't want to become queen of England, but there was no way of saying "no" the marriage proposal without destroying her family's position. A devout Protestant, Katherine nearly suffered a nervous breakdown trying to cope with her bloated husband's unpredictable mood swings. One minute he was smothering her with gifts and affection, the next she was being threatened with arrest if she didn't learn to tone down her support for evangelical Protestantism. Henry died in 1547, leaving her one of the wealthiest women in Europe. She married again, this time for love, but died in childbirth eighteen months later.

5. Catherine of Braganza (1638 - 1705) This daughter of the King and Queen of Portugal was not beautiful, or even pretty, but whilst her husband King Charles II had numerous mistresses and over a dozen bastard children with them, he always treated his wife with great respect. In fact, it's almost certainly true that Charles II's best friend was his wife. Married in 1662, gentle Catherine was described as "a saint" by her royal mother-in-law and along with bringing the ports of Tangiers and Bombay to the British Empire as her wedding presents, she's also credited with introducing the custom of drinking tea to the British Isles. Which, frankly, makes her a hero. Seriously, though. Anyway, Catherine's failure to produce any living children meant that many politicians were urging King Charles to divorce her and marry the beautiful socialite, Frances Stewart (who formed the inspiration for the figure of Britannia on the 50p pieces, apparently.) Charles, however, gallantly refused to subject his faithful wife to such public humiliation and declared that if he couldn't have children with Catherine, then the throne would just have to pass to his younger brother James when he died. Despite her kind nature, Queen Catherine was the target for a public hate campaign in the 1670s because of her Catholic faith and she was briefly forced to avoid making appearances in public. By the time her husband died of kidney failure in 1685, she had recaptured the public's respect, as she deserved. Seven years later, though, she left Britain after becoming increasingly uncomfortable at the ultra-Protestant regime then in power. She went back to Portugal where she surprised everyone with her unexpected political skill by taking over the government on two occasions when her brother, King Pedro II, suffered a nervous breakdown. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Problems of Banter

Today I got to thinking about the ways in which friendships can go wrong. There are dozens of ways, obviously, but one way in which things can really get messed up (and more often than you think) is when banter gets taken too far. Either too far or too repetitive. It's often not a massive row which ruins friendships, but when it reaches the stage where it's like, "Okay. Insulting each other was funny the first four hundred and fifty seven times we did it, but either get a new line of chat or shut up!" Even worse when it reaches the stage where you think, "Why did they just do that to me in front of these people? Now I look like a complete moron. Nice one."

I love nothing more than making fun of my friends and I seriously enjoy it when they do it to me. Some of them are really funny about it - with an honourable mention going to Ciarán, Kerry, my sister Ashleigh and Eric. (NB: And Ellen!) But there are definitely mutual limits and I think that limit is when it's taken to the point either when it's happening all the time or where something that looks like banter, but definitely doesn't feel like it. Plus, when it's being done in front of other people, to whom the joke hasn't been explained, then that's very annoying. When this happens, the person being targeted often ends up being humiliated or made to look ridiculous, rather than simply teased. Plus, tone is everything, isn't it? A lot of Northern Irish banter is pretty brutal, but you can always tell it's good-natured by the person's tone.

Friends who take a kick out of making you look stupid or who enjoy changing banter into belittling don't actually like you. You may think they do, but they don't. Banter is supposed to make you laugh at yourself, not wish it was legal to punch your friend square between the eyes. When that line has been crossed, they are no longer your friends and have instead become the dreaded "frenemies." Ditch 'em.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Embarrassing much, gym?!

I was nobody's favourite in the Down High P.E. department. Perhaps it was the time I turned up to the cross country run in a light blue t-shirt and pair of Dolce & Gabbana jeans or maybe it was the seven or eight times I was caught in the steam rooms with a choice selection of my posse who had taken the (wise) decision to swim to the end of the pool during Games, hop out and run into the steam rooms for some much needed R&R. Upside of the steam? No-one can see you. Downside? You can't see a very angry gym teacher coming your way.

Anyway, post-uni I finally accepted that I needed to do more physical exercise. I think everyone feels better about themselves when they're feeling good physically or just doing something active. I have carefully avoided turning into one of those health freaks though. We have a friend who recently lost a shed load of weight and now anytime anyone feels like a munch, she's like "Oh, how are you going to eat all that?" Next time she does it I'm going to remind her of the New Year's Day morning when she hoovered up a KFC bargain bucket all on her own. If you can't support your friends when they crave junk food, get out!

Anyway, I joined the DW Fitness gym on the Boucher Road and I do actually really like the gym itself. At first, I attempted to do it myself, mistakenly and mysteriously believing that despite not knowing what 80% of the equipment in the gym actually did, I would be able to handle this and achieve some sort of Zac Efron style physique in about a month. Weirdly, this turned out to be incorrect and having been going to the gym for a few months, I decided to invest in a personal trainer.

Now, I should be quite clear: I have a great personal trainer. Honestly, it is the best money I have ever spent - outside of a bar. Allan has learned that the moment I become bored, things become tricky and therefore keeps up a steady stream of banter. When I'm not sure which arm to use and start flailing around Allan knows it's time to shout out, "Use your drinking arm!" Plus, it has thankfully gotten to the stage where I actually do enjoy the gym now and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. Only caveat is take advice, because without Allan telling me things, I think I would still be running on the treadmill and achieved practically nothing for a year's work. My personal fitness is up and so is personal strength - and I feel great. Also, I've learned a lot about diet and fitness that I literally wouldn't have had a clue about and it's great to have someone who can correct various myths about weight loss and fitness.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Meredith Harper and the Return of the Bitch

I can still remember the moment when Meredith Harper strolled into my head, fully formed... 

Alright, that sentence is more aimed at being a snappy opening for this article, rather than the full, actual truth.  It took a little bit more work than that and maybe one day I'll talk a little about that process. But, to be honest, anyone who thinks the truth should stand in the way of a good story or a witty anecdote, quite frankly isn't interesting enough to live. I'm not saying lie (necessarily), but cut the dull bits out! If you want to know what it's like to listen to the story of someone who lets things like facts get in the way of a punchline, then let me inform y'all of a time when I sat next to a "friend" in a restaurant who proceeded to regale those of us miserably trapped at her end of the table for twenty-three minutes about a time when she had visited a buffet with her boyfriend. (I can only assume he's deaf.) And she then proceeded to tell us everything they had eaten at that buffet. You think stories should be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Then I defy you to sit through anything like that. Twenty-three minutes on a buffet menu? If she'd read the actual menu out loud to us it would have taken less time! And in order to hear this pile of conversational bilge, my friend Scarlett and I had been interrupted from telling another of our hilarious stories in which we'd face-planted in a Morroccan themed nightclub and she'd accidentally attempt to seduce a dwarf! Good call, moron - your story about the sweet and sour rice which you couldn't decide was more sweet or sour was definitely much more entertaining.... Idiot.

Anyway, Meredith Harper mentally shimmied into my life in all her bon-mot dispensing, designer-loving, hyper-elegant, "never explain and never apologise" splendour when my friend Ellen Buddle handed over an article from the Guardian by Julie Burchill called Bring Back the Red-Blooded Bitch. The main giste of this article was that no-one writes great mean girls anymore. Okay, we have Regina George, Tanya Turner and Blair Waldorf. But they either learn a lesson or lose every ounce of viciousness once they fall in love. No-one writes Scarlett O'Hara, Margo Channing, Alexis Carrington or Crystal Allen these days and Julie Burchill is of the opinion that that's a pity. To quote: -

"These days, bitching is low-fat, decaffeinated and kick-free. Worse than that, it is, above all, phoney. Though the great bitches of Hollywood were dressed to kill and magnificently shallow, there was something incredibly honest about them - whether they were real, like Bette Davis, or imaginary, like her character Margo Channing in All About Eve. In the old days, a bitch came on with all guns blazing, talons sharpened and a neon sign a mile wide above her head... She may have been a gold-digger, a back-stabber or a ball-breaker - but she was never a hypocrite. She got a tremendous kick from being a bitch and didn't care who knew it."

The more I read, the more I realised Julie Burchill was right. In fact, prophet like, frankly. Look at The Other Boleyn Girl, in which Anne Boleyn is presented as a soulless, incestuous, murdering witch. In reality, the worse thing the real Anne Boleyn could have been accused of was having a nifty repertoire of put-downs and being a bit catty to people she didn't like. (Wasn't her fault Jane Seymour looked let a bulldog's butt ugly cousin!) Not everyone who's bitchy  evolves to poisoning bishops and trying to seduce their gay brother, Philippa!

When I created Meredith, I wanted to create an unashamed, unapologetic super-bitch, who wasn't doing any of this because she was insecure, unhappy or, most laughably of all, jealous. She's doing it because people annoy her and she is really funny! She's not doing it to hide her own insecurities. Hitting or mocking the weak kid, the different kid, the bright kid, the poor kid or whatever is just plain disgusting and, what's worse, it's pathetic, too. It's basically a flaming declaration to the world that your own personality simply isn't interesting enough to attract attention without making people either afraid of you or participants in the neandrathal pantomime you call your life. That's being a bully and there's a big, big difference between a bitch and being a bully. One is about being nasty to those who cross you; the other is about targetting those who are weaker than you or threaten your vast but unstable ego. Never confuse being bitchy with being a bully. It's like confusing Dom Perignon with buckfast.

Meredith Elisabeth Anne Harper is supposed to be gloriously and unrepentantly bitchy. I'm not saying she doesn't have feelings. She does. She's not a sociopath. But  I wanted to write a character who harks back to an age when "a bitch came on with all guns blazing, talons sharpened and a neon sign a mile wide above her head." Well, maybe not neon ... that's a bit tacky.

For Julie Burchill's full article, click here.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Fifth Year Indie Posse

"Every school has one of these and they vary only in degrees of how annoying they are..."

Although they spend their whole life trying to prove they don't care about cliques and popularity and all that kind of lame, cool-kid stuff, Coral Andrews' circle of friends are about as cliquey and judgmental as they come. If you want to measure  it, just mention any type of music that's actually in the charts or a recent X Factor winner. Rage against the machine, fo' sho'.  


Clique Nickname: "The Hipsters," "The Indies" or "The Zoo" (Note: The last one was created and used solely by Cameron Matthews and Imogen Dawson, BT9ers.)

Clique Leader: Coral Andrews (16)

Other Members of the posse: Joanne Sexton, Paula Flockley, Eóin McEveritt, Patrick O'Shay, Philip Rodgers, Pauline Saville and, on the fringes, Hector Colliner, Callum Quigley, Alice Fenchurch and Patsy Harris.

Trademark/s: One guy or girl who secretly self-loathes themselves because they've fallen in love with one of the popular kids; a searing hatred of Simon Cowell, one accessory that clashes totally with everything else they're wearing, the exchange of far too many song lyrics with one another to prove how much they love each other and at least one guy friend who believes that wearing skin-tight trousers makes him genuinely attractive, when the reality is that skinny jeans make anyone who wears them instantly look like a castrated ferret. 

Never Without... Their i-Pod, skins or maybe a copy of "The God Delusion" to show how liberated and independent they are.

Group Heroes: Any philosopher so obscure that no-one else has ever heard of him. Same goes for their taste in music.

Favourite Belfast Haunts: The Empire, Fresh Garbage, outside City Hall

Most Frequently Spotted in school: The music rooms

Least Frequently Spotted in school: The sports fields

Most Infamous Quote: "I hate how soulless and evil capitalism is." - Joanne Sexton, whilst plugging earphones to her i-Pod.

Least Likely to hear them say: "I think it's really great how excited people are getting about Kate Middleton" or "I'm saving up for a Barbour jacket."

Key Phrase to avoid in conversation with them: "Isn't it great what the X Factor is doing for the music industry?"

Other Profiled Groups: The Upper Sixth Popular Girls, The First XVs

Monday, 4 April 2011

"Gone with the Wind" (1939)

"Why does a girl have to be so silly to catch a husband?"

"Gone with the Wind"

Director: Victor Fleming (won the Oscar)
Running Time: 3 hours,  58 minutes
Random Fact: The "hunt for Scarlett O'Hara" was allegedly the most competitive casting race in Hollywood history
Based on the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

Vivien Leigh .... Scarlett O'Hara (won the Oscar)
Clark Gable ..... Captain Rhett Butler (Oscar nominated)
Leslie Howard ..... Ashley Wilkes
Olivia de Havilland .... Melanie Hamilton
Hattie McDaniel .... Mammy (won the Oscar)

Also won the Oscar for: Best Art Direction,  Best Cinematography,  Best Film Editing,  Best Writing , an Honorary Oscar for  its pioneering use of colour, Best Technical Achievement and, of course, Best Picture

Gone with the Wind is justifiably one of, if not the, most famous movie of all time. Based on the 1936 bestseller by Margaret Mitchell, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, Gone with the Wind was an epic achievement, both technologically and artistically in its day. At Oscar season, it predictably swept the board, winning ten Academy Awards. It was not just the longest movie ever made in sound when it first premiered in 1939, running to three hours and forty-four minutes, but it was not only one of the first movies shot in colour. So incredible and so expensive were the techniques used to shoot Gone with the Wind that the Academy created the Oscar for cinematography in its honour and for the next two decades it was remained the most visually stunning examples of technicolor too. It was so commercially successful that as well as being released in 1939 and running in most world cinemas well into 1941, it was re-released in cinemas in America, Europe, South America, Australia and Britain in 1947 (when its message of society adapting in the aftermath of a devastating war was especially relevant), 1954, 1961 (for the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the American Civil War), 1967, 1971, 1989  (its fiftieth anniversary) and 1998. Adjusted for inflation, it is still the highest grossing domestic movie in American history.

Gone with the Wind tells the story of a spoiled Southern belle, Scarlett O'Hara (played by British actress Vivien Leigh), and her experience of ten years of American history, beginning when she attends a high society barbeque (above) at a neighbour's plantation on the day the American Civil War begins. Manipulative, brazen, deceitful and often spiteful, Scarlett O'Hara is also flirtatious, ruthless and monumentally self-absorbed. Yet, somehow, she is undoubtedly the heroine everyone is cheering for throughout Gone with the Wind's four hour extravaganza. As romance after romance fails and the lavish lifestyle of the Southern upper-classes is swept away when the South loses the Civil War in 1865, Scarlett proves that whilst she is a woman likely to hurl herself onto her bed weeping for days when she doesn't get her own way about what dress to wear to a party, when it comes to the major catastrophes of life, she is definitely the ultimate survivor. Surveying the ruin of her homeland in the aftermath of the Civil War, Scarlett vows that if she has "to lie, steal, cheat or kill" she will overcome the poverty and chaos which has swallowed up the life of wealth and privilege she once enjoyed. She vows she will hold on to the family's plantation at Tara and despite the fact she claims to find them useless and irritating, she fulfils all four of her vows in order to keep her family safe from the invading Yankee armies, famine, defeat, mental illness, political turmoil and crippling taxation.

Related Posts with Thumbnails