My Favourite Childhood Toy

April 28, 2008 at 1:10 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve got an hour and a half left of home internet access, and Llew’s still at work (10:34 pm Sydney time), so I thought I’d better take advantage of the time and opportunity to offer you a bit more than I managed earlier today. If you read the comments attached to last week’s blog about content, then you won’t be surprised that I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired today. After a dip in morale, it usually takes me a few days to recover, and my latest MS assessment, for all its positives, certainly felt like a slug in the guts. I’m past that now, but until about half an hour ago I hadn’t quite recovered the appetite for writing that is ordinarily such a constant. I recognise the pattern now, so I no longer panic when I sit staring at the screen and find I have not one thing to say.

My friend Sarah sent around a ‘get to know your friends’ quiz to a few of us this evening. You know the drill: what’s your least favourite food? What do you fear? What colour crayon would you be? And two of the questions reminded me of things about myself I would never have thought to tell anyone, quite personal things in some ways, but perhaps only for being private up ’til now (I enjoy those quizzes, so I dutifully sent it back to Sarah with my own answers and forwarded it as instructed to nine other girlfriends).

The first was do you wish on stars? My answer was ‘No, but I do sometimes pretend that they’re deceased loved ones, and I have been known to attempt the occasional chat.’ It made me wonder if anyone else has ever done this… I’ve done it ever since my grandma died. I was 16, so not a child, but I found it hugely comforting to pick a star and pretend it was Grandma. I’d tell her things, I’d worry about stuff, I’d ask for help and strength and wisdom. Perhaps that does qualify as wishing on a star after all. Grandma isn’t alone up there in my night sky anymore. My star spirits now include Granddad and Sam, my niece. I still do gaze up there some nights and imagine they’re in the stars above, and I still whisper things to them, and it’s still a comfort, silly as it is (and as embarrassed as I’d be if anyone came up behind me and caught me in the act). I don’t know that I’ll ever stop.

The second question was what was your favourite toy as a child? For a second, this had me utterly stumped. I couldn’t think of a single toy. Sitting here now I do remember a doll called Baby Alive, but I’m not sure if it was mine or my sister’s, nor if it was I or she who spitefully drew blue crayon whiskers all over the doll’s vacant face. Time has erased the culprit’s true identity, but the look of the doll is vivid in my mind. At any rate, Baby Alive was not the answer. The answer was Granddad’s Jaguar.

Granddad was a mechanic. He owned a white Jaguar when I was a kid that imbued in me a deep, abiding love for a car’s physical beauty. I am a great admirer of graceful vehicles, although I still do not drive myself (hey, I’m all for being driven). I loved that car. It was definitely my favourite toy, by miles, because to me it was practically a movie set. A world unto itself. Oh the stories I made up for myself sitting in the back of that car. It didn’t have to be moving for me to play with the Jag. Nope. Many an afternoon of almost ecstatic contentment found me sitting on the tight red upholstery in the back, primly upright, walnut tray table out, pretending to be a lady at luncheon during a long, always delightful country drive that took place entirely in the driveway of my great grandmother’s Randwick house, Granddad’s garage in Darlinghurst, or out on the street outside his Bondi home. Not going anywhere in no way restricted the action or the excitement. Some days I’d wear one of Grandma’s furs and be on the way to the opera. I’d hand Granddad wrenches and watch him disappear underneath. I’d conduct very important business meetings and wave to the people who’d turned out for the parade… there was no limit to the scale of the Jag’s adventures. It catered for every mood, every menu. I was as fascinated by that car as some children are with dolls, and I’m so glad for the quiz I received tonight, because perhaps without it I wouldn’t have ever stopped to wonder about my favourite childhood toy, and so might never have paused to ask myself, and remember.

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Technology Bites

April 28, 2008 at 8:27 am (Uncategorized)

Hi all
I’ll be trying to sort out a new internet provider in the next couple of days – Telstra has helpfully phased out my portable modem and as of midnight tonight, I’ll be without internet access at home until I find a new deal and a new provider. Having endured an unbelievable and constant shafting payment-wise from Telstra for the past two years of our contract, whereby we’ve experienced long, unhelpful, expensive, ultimately useless conversations with various members of their staff over their persistent billing violations, needless to say I am somewhat relieved that the two frustrating, enraging years of dealing with Telstra are at last at an end. I won’t be going back.

So… I’ll be trying to post from an internet cafe until I’m back up and running at home, but if there’s a day or two of silence, you know why.

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How Do They Do What They Do?

April 24, 2008 at 2:40 am (Uncategorized)

As I started sweating through my shirt, clutching with clammy hands the sides of the slippery, narrow white mattress on which I lay with my legs immodestly spread, I looked up at my impassive beautician’s face and I thought “How do you do this for a living?” At some points in my bikini wax, her head is virtually buried in my crotch. It’s an extraordinary display of self-control on her part – her face reveals nothing. I just know I’d be full of helpful observations and nervous verbal dribbling to try and take my and the customer’s attention away from the fact that I am all over their inner sanctum with a pot of hot wax. Not Sherie. She’s too busy concentrating on what she’s doing (no bad thing, and just one more indication that she’s the right woman for the job and I’m not). I’ve detailed the full horror of this experience in graphic detail before, but today I was struck anew by the sheer distance between Sherie’s job and mine. How can she face it? Day after day after day of other people’s hair and skin, the disrepair of both being the defining feature of getting customers through the door. Ewwww. It’s just… it’s just that… well, pay me all the money in the world and I still couldn’t face coming into work each day to a 2008 desk planner filled with other people’s coarse ingrown hairs, blackheads and dead skin.

Dentists. Gross. Morticians – clearly something wrong there. Crime scene cleaners: kinda quirky, but also kinda off. Poultry people: disgusting. Butchers oddly don’t bother me even nearly so much as people who handle raw chicken all day. They make me gag – audibly – as I walk by their shopfronts no doubt helpfully drumming up extra business for them. I can’t help it, I look at those greyish raw quivering chicken breasts and experience a full visceral meltdown. Anything involving operating on animals or people is pretty much out for me too – I can’t even watch glamourous autopsies on CSI. Proctologists. Please.

I know it probably becomes really, really normal for those in the job – and let’s face it, it’s an important job that really needs doing, and thank goodness there are people out there with the stomach for it – but it’s still so alien to me. How do you find out you’re good at something like, say, dressing a body for viewing? It takes a certain kind of person to be able to do that, and that person is not me. I do have admiration for them, I do, just from a distance, and preferably behind glass.

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Staring Down the Barrel

April 23, 2008 at 3:38 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t think I’ve told you all this before now, but the fourth draft of my MS is currently with the Lynk MS Assessment Service for a second round of critique. I’ve got another week and a half to wait for the report, and I don’t mind saying it is proving excruciating. The longest few weeks of my life. What will my assessor (the same one who got it after the third draft) say this time? What won’t be working? What will remain for me to do? I have no idea what she – I know only that it’s a she – will say. I do know that I know, even if no one else does, that I threw myself into the latest rewrite like a woman possessed. Actually, I think I am a woman possessed. I keep wondering what my assessor does for a living, for I don’t imagine MS assessment is her full-time gig. I keep wondering if, in fact, she’s any better qualified than me. That’s one of the oddities of this process: I’m eminently qualified to critique a manuscript – I have a book review out in a national magazine right now – just not necessarily my own. I can’t see all its faults clearly, although if I’m to be entirely honest, and I suspect you trust me to be, then I must say I do see most of them. My woefully immature response to the gaping flaws in my MS was initially simply hoping like hell no one else would notice. Bugger and damnation; they always, always did. So I owned up to them, in the end, or at least I feel like I did. That’s what makes this second assessment so interesting: where have I failed now?

In the interim, I am (rather optimistically) turning my mind to my next project. Since 2006 I’ve started three other manuscripts, and I also have several screenplay ideas – some of them quite well fleshed out, at least in my head. So it seems quite important to me that I consider carefully what my next move will be, since any way I decide, I am staring down the barrel at about the next two years of my life, once research and redrafting and redrafting and redrafting are taken into account.

(do you know I love the fact that I just write this blog and put it straight up? Oh the glorious freedom! Sometimes there are typos I don’t see until it’s posted, which I then correct, but not before some of you keen ‘stream’ type people have already been sent the original version, mistakes and all – that’s how free and easy it is. I love it. It’s such a load off not having to rewrite it over and over again).

I wonder what you think I should do. I’ve been talking to my mate Ruben about free content and the unpublished fiction writer (hello, Rubes), and it makes me think that perhaps he’s right, and I should consider posting the beginnings of some of my fiction on this site. I’m not sure I’d like to open it up to a public savaging (it’s okay, Miriam, it’s safe to look now), but there may be a way for me to share something of what I’m doing with you… if you’re interested, that is. I am still mulling all this over, but it’s part of what I see as I stare down the barrel, wondering how to deal with the fact that it’s fully loaded no matter which way I turn.

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My Sub Simmer Turns Into a Slow Burn

April 22, 2008 at 1:40 am (Uncategorized)

Sometimes being a freelancer is very disempowering. I am speaking particularly of the sub-editorial process, which keeps letting me down. My Vanuatu story appears in one of today’s newspapers as part of a travel lift-out on the South Pacific. In publications across the board, it’s standard practice for certain cuts to be made from filed copy (ie. the words I submit to my commissioning editor). There are a number of reasons for this: space restrictions, contentious or overly political content, dull writing. Obviously this last I try my utmost to avoid. But as a freelancer, I am finding it harder and harder to accept being excluded from the final proofread.

Here’s why. For the third consecutive feature, a mistake has appeared in my copy that was not there when I filed. I can’t even begin to tell you how this makes me burn. I am so angry right now I feel like punching a bag designed for the purpose. Or whoever made this latest cock-up appear in my story. I wouldn’t mind a swift jab in their direction, true. What I despise about bad sub-editing most of all is that to the average eye (ie. reader), it looks like the sloppiness is mine. After all, it’s got my name on it.

There’s a sentence in my story that no longer makes sense. Now it says “…tables in Tilly’s restaurant face out over the stunning and the effect is of being miles from anywhere.” Over the stunning? Over the stunning what??!! I’ll tell you what, as I did the first time when I actually wrote the damn thing: over the stunning Fatumaru Bay. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? I didn’t think so.

It shits me because it’s someone’s JOB to get this right. I do understand and fully appreciate the need for sub-editors to be on hand picking up mistakes, but it is much, much harder to swallow sub-editors taking it upon themselves to put mistakes in. What goes on that this is even possible? What happens there at HQ that means this is the third time in as many stories that some unnamed, unknown gremlin has tampered with my work? What kills me is that I have no recourse. Nope. I shot off an email to my editor asking if he was overworked or if it was someone else that needed a sharp clip around the ears, and he naturally apologised and expressed his own frustration, but that’s the end of the road. He doesn’t know what happened. Neither do I. No one ever does. But what I can tell you is that I have a copy of what I filed, and the mistake is most assuredly not mine. Unfortunately no one reading my story knows that, and yes, that bugs the hell out of me because I take pride in my work. Maybe too much pride, because right now I am fuming.

I’d be more than happy to sub the final copy. For my own stories, I’d commit to doing it free of charge. Of course I would; it’s my own reputation that is at stake. My own work. When you’re in the office, it’s easier to maintain ownership. You’ll be included in the round of checks that usually numbers around half a dozen pairs of eyes making sure nothing gets through that shouldn’t be there. But as a freelancer working out of the office, I don’t get to see the final proof. I file the story as a basic Word document, and the next time I see it, it’s in the paper or magazine in question. And now I’m thinking it’s just plain inadequate. I should get a final opportunity to look for errors, mine or someone else’s. I hate to say it, but so far, they’ve all been someone else’s. And yet whose name is at the top of the page, who wears the ‘sloppy’ tag? Only me. Honestly? I could scream.

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Oh, Mr Rose!

April 21, 2008 at 7:33 am (Uncategorized)

I lost my virginity on Friday night. Not virginity of a sexual kind – no, that was a long time ago in circumstances that don’t bear repeating – but the luxe shirt variety instead. Didn’t know there was such a thing? Well, permit me to educate you.

Unlike the time I lost my actual virginity, Friday night involved beautiful roses displayed abundantly about the room, atmospheric lighting, silken fabrics, French champagne, and soft music. It seems the dapper Mr Rose is quite the seduction artiste. All around me was beauty, and it was intoxicating. I wanted to settle in for the night, and so I did.

I was not alone, Mr Rose attracting the attentions of many a woman about town in recent months, and for whom his charms have quickly proven irresistible. His already potent popularity is set to soar, too, now he has his very own super sexy store… Yes, we’re talking about shirts here. Shirts, but not as we know them.

If I were able, I’d dress exclusively in Mr Rose shirts. Oh, if only. Sigh. I’ve always been a shirt lover, so it’s not so very surprising that Mr Rose and I were so hot and heavy on Friday night. I was putty in his Swiss Cotton hands. But these shirts, goodness, they made my heart race so! The label is the brainchild of a good friend of ours, a quality item herself, Sophie Toohey. Then there’s Bespoke by Sasha, a stunning, hand-crafted range of rose-inspired accessories. A room teeming with gorgeousness: that’s Mr Rose’s first home.

Yes, the Mr Rose boutique is officially open for business, and you’ll find the great women behind the mysterious man at 31 Norfolk St, Paddington (corner of Gurner St, near Five Ways). I wanted to be good. I meant to behave. I went with every intention of looking but not touching because… well, I can’t afford it. But surely that’s why the retail gods invented VISA?! Remember Veronica, from the Archie comics? One of my favourite comics was when Mr Lodge stormed through their mansion fuming and brandishing an enormous stack of credit card bills at his over-spending, shopaholic daughter.

“Who do you think has to PAY for all this???” he screams.

Veronica looks at her spluttering father, glances at the bills in his hands with the look of an innocent angel, and then says mildly, “Someone has to pay?”

I love that comic, I’ve remembered it faithfully since I was a child. And it came back to me as clear as day as I held out my champagne flute for another glass of Veuve. Sometimes being a girl is just like that, and sometimes even good girls are very, very bad.

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Jamil’s, But Don’t Hold It Against Him

April 18, 2008 at 2:27 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday was unpleasant. I’ve been dragging out the whole process with a very versatile, verging on acrobatic display of procrastination tactics, but in the end there was no getting out of it, so I had to just force myself to get the damn thing over and done with. Tax. Make it go away.

One of the few downsides of being a sole trader (aside from patchy income, chasing unpaid invoices, no super annuation, illness or leave entitlements and boring adult things like that) is having to be really quite well across tax deductions and receipt hoarding. It is so deathly dull I can barely stand talking about it, so let’s stop. I’ll just say PHEW, at least that’s 06/07 out of the way.

I was so disconsolate after my day with the calculator that I first of all binged on about a kilo of salted cashew nuts (belch) and thus developed a desert thirst that good intentions were simply no match for. I urgently needed a drinking buddy, and my husband kindly volunteered. Bless that team spirit. He got a head start, knocking the top off a beer on the way home. I waited, staring at the wine rack with a drooling, wolfish hunger. We met up at the wharf and wandered around to the surfside to what has to be one of the best spaces in Sydney: Jamil’s. I know. Dumb name. But there is actually a Jamil, and it’s hardly his fault. I kind of wish he hadn’t named his restaurant after himself (he’s also the owner of the much better named and equally fabulous Bower restaurant) because it doesn’t at all serve to entice one in the door, but take my word for it: it is beautiful in there.

Jamil’s is in the old Will and Toby’s site, pretty much unchanged except if anything it’s somehow even more atmospheric than it was before. And Jamil opens those unbelievable and enormous windows all the way across, so the effect is of totally collapsing the distance between outside and in. The Norfolk pines and the inky breaking waves feel close enough to touch. It is so superb. Also the Tunisian-inspired food is much, much better than Will and Toby’s always pretty ordinary fare. We had scallops six ways, duck spring rolls and chilli prawns, and it was all delicious, although some of the scallops were overcooked and all of the sauces a little too busy for my personal preference. I like scallops to be uncluttered. But the duck was great, as were the prawns. We also had fantastic service from our informed and amiable barman all night. It was very easy to stay, but very hard dragging ourselves out the door at the end of the night. Very hard, although perhaps that had something to do with the 7 litres of alcohol coursing through our veins. Regardless, it’s a lovely restaurant, but as a night-time space it’s quite simply got to be the best bar in Manly. I think it’s absolutely brilliant, and my word we’ll be making a habit of going back. Tax return? What tax return?

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The Dig Tree

April 16, 2008 at 7:24 am (Uncategorized)

Well, no thanks to my primary or indeed secondary school education, I am finally developing an interest in Australian history. They used to refer to the centre of Australia as ‘The Dead Heart,’ and that’s kind of what the whole subject produced in me after decades of neglect. There was simply nothing there. Whenever I tried to focus my thoughts, I’d find them slippery and half formed. For the majority of my life, I’ve focused my learning elsewhere. This habit is also reflected in my reading material and my travels. I’ve confessed before to the big ‘Australia’ shaped hole in my bookshelves and photo albums; bar a few exceptions, I’ve avoided Australian literature like it carries some kind of taint, and I’ve stuck to the coast fairly faithfully as I’ve covered but the slightest fraction of this vast Australian ground. Bizarre, really. You could say I’ve made a point of ignoring it, although I would never have thought to describe it that way myself. There was just a lack of excitement, which is never a great start.

Belatedly, I am beginning to appreciate just how extraordinary and fascinating Australia’s history is. And of course that includes the fact that Indigneous communities managed to thrive in utterly hostile parts of the country for the none too shabby term of tens of thousands of years. This the same country that confounded and cursed early white settlers. Everything was going along pretty swimmingly before white men showed up and starting dragging oak dining tables and silver serving dishes into the desert to make themselves more comfortable during various doomed explorations. No kidding. They actually did this.

I don’t know when exactly my interest started to shift. Maybe it had to happen. But there’s no question that interest has been inflamed by Sarah Murgatroyd’s quite excellent non-fiction account of the Burke and Wills story, The Dig Tree. That Murgatroyd herself – a 35 year old Brit – passed away just a few weeks after her book was published is one more total tragedy to add to the litany she records with such verve and detail.

I knew sketchy details at best about Burke and Wills. I knew the bare bones of their accomplishment and their ordeal. I don’t think I’d ever consciously taken note of anything called ‘the dig tree,’ but it’s one hell of a story. And the idea that all these mistakes and miseries and mishaps are all true – and the number of missed chances makes EXCRUCIATING reading – well, it’s a real turn up for the books, no pun intended. We have book club tonight to discuss The Dig Tree, and I’m really looking forward to it. This book is the first non-fiction title the group has read since we formed, and it may single-handedly transform the structure of the club. Before I read it, I was pretty attached to the idea of keeping our club fiction-based. I am, after all, predominantly a fiction reader. On the strength of Murgatroyd’s engaging narrative style and what is undeniably a bloody great yarn, I’m rather inclined to change my mind. If all history, and all non-fiction books, were written as well as The Dig Tree, well, who knows? We might have even learnt something of Australia’s wild and demented history in school.

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Who Invited You?

April 15, 2008 at 6:22 am (Uncategorized)

I’m not at all ready for winter to land on my doorstep. I’m not even ready for winter to hit the neighbourhood and pitch a tent on national parkland. Quite frankly, winter is an unwanted guest. Take the way it always turns up before you’re ready. It always catches me in a state of near undress. I think it does it on purpose. I can see the Today Tonight expose now. Winter: the Hidden Peeping Tom.

I also don’t appreciate the way winter overstays its welcome time after time. Not wanted in the first place, it never seems to get the hint that it’s time to shuffle off back up north and leave us southern hemisphere sunlovers to do what we do best: worship the sun. I don’t worship the sun in a bare-breasts-lathered-in-coconut-oil-arse-in-a-Brazilian-piece-of-string-tilted-toward-the-lifeguards kind of way (how long is a piece of string, you ask? Any man on any given day on any Australian beach can probably tell you the answer to that old conundrum very, very precisely), but I am one for the tropics. I like to be able to say “It’s hot, damn hot” the way some people say grace. And this summer was shit, so my averages are well below par for the year. If there was a store for all seasons, this is where I’d be producing a receipt and asking for my money back.

You know what else I hate about winter? The way it thieves all the moisture from the air as surely as a bastard house guest breaking into your newest unopened tub of million dollar skin-care. I hate winter skin, winter skin makes me feel scaly and reptilian and, yes, old. My skin goes all crepey and wrinkly and arid and it’s like I’m being sucked apart from the inside. Nothing helps, except winter fucking off. I have one pinkie finger (but you can imagine it’s my middle finger, winter, and this one’s for you) that takes particular umbrage to the feel of winter in the air. It sort of shrivels up in protest like when they speed up the life cycle of a flower on Planet Earth. Overnight, as soon as winter is in the house, deep angry red lines coarse down my little finger like darts. It’s the finger of a 90 year old woman, and I’d really like to know what it’s doing on the end of my hand.

I also hate winter for my poor circulation. I turn blue, ritually, like I’m an unwilling superhero. “Wonder twins, activate! Form of…an iceberg!” I pity Llew, I really do. Going to bed with me on a cold winter’s night must be like hopping into one of those shelves at the morgue. Luckily, I do eventually thaw. Sometimes, I hasten this along by spending the night blowing on my hands. Yes, it’s non-stop seduction around here in the winter months. This year I’m even thinking of introducing a hot water bottle. Maybe some long-sleeved flannelette jammies.

Don’t even get me started on the loss of daylight hours. Like whose stupid idea was that?? How miserable – how thoroughly demoralising – is it to have darkness fall every night while you’re still at your desk working? It’s the lowest of the low, I hate it. At the end of the (TOO BLOODY SHORT) day, I’m just not ready for it to be winter. This is Sydney, you know, Australia. This is not what I signed up for. I love it here because it’s hot and humid, not because it’s arctic and aging. I don’t want any. I’m not prepared. It’s not a good time. Come back later. Nobody’s home. I gave already. Never open the door to strangers. No cash kept on premises. Closed. Relocated. Gone Fishing. At the beach. Bugger off, winter, you’re just not welcome around here.

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Australia Has Its First G-G-G…

April 14, 2008 at 3:07 am (Uncategorized)

It’s not all boulangerie-based concerns here at Carbohydrate H.Q. No, I have also been meaning to discuss PM Rudd with you all in recent weeks, and Tibet, and the republic debate, and Rudd’s visit to China, and all sorts of other things, but since I have already posted once today already, and really need to turn my attention elsewhere for the remainder of my working day, I just thought I’d start with the appointment of Australia’s next (and possibly last, if Australia does move toward becoming a republic, as I hope it will) Governor-General. Yes, it’s no longer to be simply the G-G but the G-G-G: Girl-Governor-General.

It sort of irks me that there’s media discussion along gender political lines about the Queen’s appointment (under advisement from Rudd) of Quentin Bryce. After all, G-Gs have been named in Australia for the past 107 years. If there is any discussion to be had, it’s about why it took so bloody long for there to be a female appointment, not that there’s finally been one. It’s all a bit topsy-turvy, don’t you think? A bit of a non-debate, if you ask me. Is Rudd playing gender politics by naming the first woman? Er, on that painfully superficial model, do you not think he’d just as easily qualify as playing gender politics if he’d appointed another man?

As I’ve said before on this blog, it’s never once occurred to me that I’m not as intellectually or socially or culturally capable as a man, and therefore it’s never once occurred to me that my successes might be less than a man’s, nor that my future appointments might be subordinate. The very idea the G-G-G has been appointed on the basis of her sex is frankly laughable – from the CV I’ve just read, she’s a really accomplished, switched on, engaged, terribly smart Australian. The only reason it’s even relevant that she’s female is that it’s taken 107 years for a woman to fill the role. Had gender imbalances of the past been corrected over time, women would have been named as often as male contenders, and the fact of their femaleness would have ceased to cause a stir like we one we witness today. Think of women in university lecture halls and polling booths. In my lifetime, it’s never been odd. Today it’s a given that we are allowed inside spaces where once women were seen to have no place. But it was contentious once, and both men and women of the past worked hard to ensure it would not always be so, and I am part of a generation reaping the rewards of their efforts to create a diverse and fair society. Clearly, given the fuss the first G-G-G appointment is causing, there is still work to be done before such things are no longer regarded as strange.

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