All posts by Katy

Entrepreneur, activist, thinker, writer, speaker on business, equality, diversity, human rights, gender, LGBTIQ, motivation, economics, social change, faith, language. Polymath, geek, comedian, Hebraist, linguist, theologian, philosopher, techie, bibliophile, gardener, cook, guitarist.

The legacy of Sue Townsend, social commentator, book-lover, author of Adrian Mole and his Secret Diary

Adrian Mole Secret Diary Sue Townsend book cover montage
A montage of just some of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole book covers over 30 years by Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend (1946-2014), creator of Adrian Mole, aged 13¾, has died of a stroke, aged 68. Despite failing her 11-plus exam, leaving school at 15, and being a three-child single mother by 23, she went on to write 17 books, 11 plays and receive half-a-dozen awards including two honorary doctorates. She shared the Freedom of Leicester, where she was born and based the Adrian Mole books, with Leicester-raised singer Engelbert Humperdinck. Her humble writing roots were not dissimilar to JK Rowling’s and she wrote for 20 years before being published. The first volume of Adrian Mole’s Diary was written was working 3 jobs and living on Leicester’s Saffron Lane estate.

Stephen Mangan, who played the television role of Adrian Mole in 2001, said on hearing of her passing, “Greatly upset to hear that Sue Townsend has died. One of the warmest, funniest and wisest people I ever met.”

A Portuguese edition of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
A Portuguese edition of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

The Adrian Mole books described the growing pains and internal worries of a teenage boy, his loves and woes, such as glue sniffing and ending up with model aeroplane stuck to his nose! Her first book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ became one of the bestselling books of the 1980s in which it was also set.

Within a decade the first book had sold in excess of 2 million copies. To date some 20 million+ copies of the books have sold, as it has spawned numerous sequels and translations, making both Sue Townsend and Adrian Mole famous.

“Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13 3/4 year old undiscovered intellectual.”

Indeed, that is how Adrian saw himself, an aspiring yet unrecognised intellectual with the following catch or caveat:

“I have a problem. I am an intellectual, but at the same time I am not very clever.”

This was evidenced by his confusing “Pride and Prejudice” with “Prejudice or Pride” and not getting the association of Pandora and Box – a tenth unpublished Adrian Mole novel was to have been titled “Pandora’s Box”. Similarly he confused the genders of Evelyn Waugh and George Eliot. His mother found his poetry funny rather than deep, because “she was not an intellectual”.

“Now I know I am an intellectual. I saw Malcolm Muggeridge on the television last night, and I understood nearly every word. It all adds up. A bad home, poor diet, not liking punk. I think I will join the library and see what happens.”

Books offer both the ticket and journey out of dead-end life circumstances. Townsend saw a life littered with literature and books as an opportunity for economic, mental, and social escape.

“To unlock the heavy outer door and to walk into the hushed interior, with the morning light spilling from the high windows on to the waiting books, gave her such pleasure that she would have worked for nothing.” – Sue Townsend, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year

Sue Townsend, Rebuilding Coventry
Sue Townsend, Rebuilding Coventry

In “Rebuilding Coventry“, a 1988 Townsend novel about Coventry Dakin, a woman on the run in London after killing her neighbour with an action man – he was in turn killing his wife at the time, she again writes of her novels characters’ love of books:

“I’ve always loved books. I’m passionate about them. I think books are sexy. They are smooth and solid and contain delightful surprises. They smell good. They fit into a handbag and can be carried around and opened at will. They don’t change. They are what they are and nothing else. One day I want to own a lot of books and have them near to me in my house, so that I can stroll to my bookshelves and choose what I fancy. I want a harem. I shall keep my favourites by my bed.” – Sue Townsend, Rebuilding Coventry

One obituary, in the Telegraph, describes her self-taught literary Damascene journey: “the internal, secret world of books increasingly played a central part in her existence. Having started on Richmal Crompton’s Just William, she quickly graduated to Jane Eyre, and from there to Dostoevsky. ‘Jane Eyre was the first book I read right through, non-stop,’ she said. ‘It was winter, freezing cold, and I remember seeing this thin light outside and realising it was dawn. I got dressed reading, walked to school reading and finished it in the cloakroom at lunchtime. It was riveting.’ She devoured ‘all the Russians, then the French, then the Americans. I remember getting in trouble for reading The Grapes of Wrath under my desk in a boring lesson.'”

Whilst Adrian Mole’s father read Playboy he read Charles Dickens by torchlight and wanted to escape his housing estate existence and find true love with Pandora. His were the trials of a teenage boy, intellectually and sexually thwarted, at one and same time. “Somehow,” writes David Walliams, “Townsend understood what is was to be an adolescent boy better than any adolescent boy.”

“I have realised I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.”

Her novels featured wry humour, social commentary on class and economic inequalities, and an independent feminism and socialism. The working classes were seen as separate to the pro-Royal “Marks and Spencer set”.

“Well, there are people and people, aren’t there? It was hardly the Marks and Spencer set, was it? Tattooed grandfathers, single parents, Alsatians, delinquents and maladjusted children. Hardly a discriminating public was it?” – Sue Townsend, Bazaar and Rummage [Gwenda speaking]  (see more on this)

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch
Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

Although she is most famous for creating a teenage boy and all his adolescent angst, it was her female characters that most reflected her own ideals. For instance, Pauline Mole, Adrian’s mother reads Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch“, cuts her hair short, goes on an assertiveness course, camps out at Greenham Common and seeks to become an independent woman. Similarly, love of Adrian’s life, Pandora, wants to be a free woman yet also a feminist mum, saying:

“I should like to have one child when I am forty-six years of age. The child will be a girl. She will be beautiful and immensely gifted. Her name will be Liberty.” – Sue Townsend, True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole

Sue Townsend, Ghost Children
Sue Townsend, Ghost Children

In 1987’s “Ghost Children” Townsend explored heavier themes of abortion, body-image, abuse, bereavement, reconciliation and redemption – quite a departure from her usual fare but no less observationally sharp.

Her books appealed to boys and girls, and adults, alike and captured a snapshot of over three decades of British social and political life from Thatcher to Blair (see the satirical “Number Ten“). The Falklands, Old and New Labour, Tony Benn, old-school Communist OAP Bert, even the break up of the SDP all featured. Adrian espoused mixed political beliefs between his desire to get a paper round so that he could afford to go private to sort out his acne and his confusion over the cult and personality of Mrs Thatcher:

“I’m not sure how I will vote. Sometimes I think Mrs Thatcher is a nice kind sort of woman. Then the next day I see her on television and she frightens me rigid. She has got eyes like a psychotic killer, but a voice like a gentle person. It is a bit confusing.”

Tony Blair did not get off lightly in the books either:

“Glenn has been excluded from school, for calling Tony Blair a twat.”

Adrian’s obsession with Tony Blair is described in excerpts from Adrian’s middle-aged diary and his description of Blair surrounding himself, not with “Blair’s Babes” but rather, “Alpha Males” such as Margaret Beckett!

“I am not a trained psychologist but I am wise beyond my 40 years and think that I have discovered why Mr Blair was so keen to become a war leader and to swagger alongside George Bush. He thought it would give him another pair of testicles and would promote him to Alpha Maleness.”

She had planned to write one or two more Adrian Mole novels, the 10th and 11th, to cover the Coalition years of the current Government.

Read more reader suggested memorable quotes from Adrian Mole in the comments section of this Guardian piece.

Sue Townsend, The Woman Who Went to Bed for Year, Sue Townsend
Sue Townsend, The Woman Who Went to Bed for Year

Her last published novel in 2012, “The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year“, described as “a funny and touching novel about what happens when someone stops being the person everyone wants them to be.” Reviews said it was “deeper and darker than comedy” (Sunday Times) and “Bursting with witty social commentary as well as humour” (Women’s Weekly). It is a witty and wry observation on life that will be missed.

Sue Townsend, will undoubtedly be missed, despite her few critics and doubters – as evidenced in some comment threads, but most especially for her warmth, generosity and a style of satire, so eminently British, that is paradoxically both sharp and soft on its targets. She was never vicious and left enough humanity in each character she penned or real people she had her creations criticise for each reader to be left to make up their own minds. Take just a sampling of some of the endearing praise on this theme that the media has printed over the last few days:

“…a political fantasy where the Queen is invited to move to a council estate after the creation of the British republic. It’s a gentle approach, but no less powerful for that. Her humour allows you to rise above the politicians and the divisiveness. No one ever got hurt or beaten up because of a Sue Townsend novel, but their conscience was raised nonetheless.” – Bob and Roberta Smith

“A lot of modern comedy is based on cruelty and snobbery, but she found decency and even heroism in Adrian’s delusions of genius, his pointless adoration of Pandora, and his loyalty to Bert Baxter.” – Frank Cottrell Boyce

“While her satire was sharp and scabrous, she treated her characters with a warmth that made them stay with us over the years…warm, satirical style” – Luke Wright

“So funny, without ever being cruel or mocking.” – Isy Suttie

“There was also a kindness in her writing. She treated her characters – and her readers – with such humanity. Always funny, always inclusive, and never cruel.” – Leviathan212 

“She was loved by generations of readers, not only because she made them laugh out loud, but because her view of the world, its inhabitants and their frailties was so generous, life-affirming and unique.” – Tom Weldon, chief executive of her publisher Penguin Random House UK

“However, what I love most about this book is that unlike a lot of modern comedy (and yes, I am partly to blame), Townsend’s writing is full of warmth.” – David Walliams (who wrote the foreword to the 30th Anniversary edition of the Secret Diary)

“Sue Townsend did social satire without contempt and cruelty.” – Linda Grant

Remembered, but never to be forgotten. Sue Townsend – through Adrian Mole, will keep a place of affection in readers’ hearts as strong as JK Rowling and Harry Potter.

The Adrian Mole series
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982)
  • The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1984)
  • The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989)
  • Adrian Mole From Minor to Major (1991) including Adrian Mole and the Small Amphibians
  • Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993)
  • Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999)
  • Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004)
  • The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999–2001 (2008)
  • Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (2009)
Other books
  • Rebuilding Coventry (1988)
  • Mr Bevan’s Dream: Why Britain Needs Its Welfare State (1989) [non-fiction]
  • The Queen and I (1992)
  • Ghost Children (1997)
  • The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman (2001) [non-fiction]
  • Number Ten (2002)
  • Queen Camilla (2006)
  • The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year (2012)

This article first appeared here.

Immigration controls, an arms race of rhetoric over rational realities and positive benefits

The Labour Party Shadow Cabinet Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has promised today to clamp down on immigration, yet a year ago, said Labour will not enter an “arms race of rhetoric on immigration” … yet does. What is more, she clearly believes in recycling as half of today’s speech on immigration is 13 months old.

In the polls Labour is barely a few points ahead of the Conservatives, despite their expenses debacle over Maria Miller, and is little more trusted than the Tories. Nobody trusts the Lib-Dems for having gone to bed with the Tory government in coalition leaving Nigel Farage and the further right UKIP free to wipe the floor with Nick Clegg in the TV political debates, that Labour and Conservative leaders refused to partake in. Politics and politicians are back to an all time low. So to resurrect trust, they pick an ‘easy’ subject, soft target – immigration, one on which UKIP do well at the polls, in order to gain political traction and voter empathy. If only it were not the wrong policy, feeding on fears and not hopes, as with  Clegg and Farage’s clash in the televised EU debate. Polls show UKIP on 25-29% for the European elections.

Russian immigrants disembarking from a ship at Brisbane in 1931It’s also bad timing as Britain’s first Asian male, of Pakistani immigrant parents, whose father worked hard as a bus driver, so that he could become Chase Manhattan Bank’s youngest VP at 25, becomes Equalities Minister in the Government. So as someone of ‘immigrant stock’ gets to the top, Labour complain about non-graduate immigration, the very parentage from which Sajid Javid emerged.

It is another form of class discrimination to have Australian-styled points systems for immigration, to only allow in highly skilled and qualified foreigners, and to turn away low-skilled desperate working class migrants – not very socialist.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “exploitation attracted low-skilled migrants, when the UK should actually be trying to attract university graduates.”

Labour allegedly got it badly wrong on immigration in their last decade in power, as Cooper admits today, again, “the last Labour government got things wrong on immigration”, and that they were committed to reintroducing full exit checks at UK borders, previously scrapped by the Labour when they were last in government. Not an apology as such, and not really necessary, if, like me, you believe in immigration, multiculturalism and healthy workplace competition.

Protectionist policies are actually very nationalistic and counter globalisation and international aid. People willing to enter this country at their own expense to take on low paid jobs, to literally “get on a bike” – to coin a phrase that when last said by a Tory minister, didn’t go down well – to find a job, even if in another country, should be praised not pariahed.

Socialism only for one’s own country is a nationalistic self-interest. Worldwide betterment and welfare of all would embrace anyone working to feed their family. So long as decent minimum wage controls are in place to prevent employer exploitation then a fair wage is on offer to anyone willing and able to take the job. British people should already have a natural advantage due to their location, education, and own-language fluency – should, I say, but may not due to poor education, training, mobility, motivation etc. There is no need or ethical basis to protect ‘our own’ over ‘immigrant’ competition. To do so, rubbishes the ethics of socialism and international welfare in the name of national interest – for which, read, political self-interest, a phrase that David Cameron has also repeated today, “Britain’s National Interest”, which apparently “sum up everything we are about in Europe.”

So, as Yvette Cooper claims, if Labour win, they would make the exploitation of migrant workers a crime, I wonder if she is protecting their political interest rather than the welfare of migrant workers, who in the same breath she would restrict the numbers of, which is not protecting them. The real aim is to reassure British voters that they will not have undue competition for their jobs and hence Labour votes. But even Patrick Wintour in the Guardian sees the proposal as “legally fraught … giving the state greater control over the setting of wages in the private sector above and beyond the minimum wage.”

It is already illegal to exploit migrant workers, it is just hard to enforce, and workers are unlikely to complain for fear of losing their jobs, or not knowing their rights. So Labour is not bringing in anything new, just tinkering for political gain and to reverse their reputation on immigration.

Her measures are nothing new, and the current Government are already “doubling the maximum fine for employers found using illegal workers … a four-fold increase in fines for firms not paying the minimum wage and increased penalties for landlords housing migrants in illegal premises.” Blatant employment of substantial illegal immigrant workers already merits potential jail terms of up to two years and unlimited fines.

Yvette Cooper also said, “When people go to work in other countries in Europe they don’t expect to be able to claim benefits as soon as they arrive and likewise, I don’t think people should expect to when they come here,” – that could have been said just as easily by a Tory or UKIP spokesperson. The current rhetoric on immigration is knee-jerk political fear that it will cost them votes unless they at least ‘sound’ tough on immigration, and the causes of immigration.

Yet Cooper kept harping on about not having:

“an arms race in rhetoric, but practical policies instead”

She used the same phrase 13 months ago:

“But we won’t enter an arms race of rhetoric on immigration – and we hope the Prime Minister won’t either. That’s not honest, or good for Britain.”

It seems to be her favourite soundbite of the moment, if a moment can last over a year. Today, according to the  Guardian she was planning to attack the approach of UKIP, saying that having simplistic solutions:

“ramps up the rhetoric, raises false promises and expectations, undermines trust and confidence, and creates division and hostility …”

“We won’t engage in an arms race of rhetoric, and we reject the divisive politics of the right that promotes hostility instead of building consensus .”

“We will never compete in an arms race of rhetoric. We will never conduct the debate in way that whips up tensions and hostility.”

Last year, in the same speech, she accused the current Government of being:

“engaged in a frenzy of briefing and rhetoric

and ended by saying:

“It means no rhetorical arms race, just sensible and practical proposals…”

So, all that has changed is proposals have become policies, yet the rhetoric remains the same.

Take, for instance, last December, when Yvette was still on the same song in an article she wrote in the Daily Mirror that the Government’s ministers’ had:

“ramped up rhetoric looks more like panic than plan. Instead of chasing headlines that increase concern and hostility, David Cameron should concentrate on sensible policies to help. Labour won’t join in a Dutch auction of tough language that helps no one.”

Yet that is all Cooper’s words are, “tough language”, allegedly in response to having “listened and learned”. Rather, it is all politicians fearing the rise of UKIP and losing the moral and media battle on immigration. They are listening to the polls and not their political principles, afraid of losing the next election not of making a better world for us all to live in, one with a great multicultural Britain, without racism, prejudice and phobias of several kinds.

Cooper also chooses some strange examples and stereotypes in her speech, suggesting that immigration has given us “Trinidadians on our hospital wards” and that the Norman Conquest was immigration not invasion!

Brits living abroad in EUDespite some of the highest levels of immigration in Europe we also have one of the lowest unemployment figures and now the highest growth figures of all Western developed economies. So, clearly, immigration is good for us. We should not forget that over 2.2 million Brits have emigrated to Europe alone from our shores. It is time to end the “arms race of rhetoric” over immigration, by Labour, Tory, and UKIP, combatants and to start seeing immigration and multiculturalism as a blessing to British society, adding to its richness and diversity. Nobody is selling the positives of healthy immigration.

Motive for UK immigrationThis is an edited, updated version of an article I first published here. I’ve previously written about the scaremongering over Romanian and Bulgarian immigration and the positive benefits of immigration and multiculturalism since migrants are less likely to claim benefits, more likely to contribute fiscally and 99% come here for work, education and family, not for the alleged welfare benefits.

International Transgender Day of Visibility

Transgender Invisibility?

Yesterday was the International Trans Day of Visibility (ITDoV/TDoV), as such I shrugged off my Harry Potter cloak of invisibility and ‘outed’ myself – oh no I did that 7 years ago, or rather my partner did that for me! Ironically, as transgender people we are often all too visible to society if we do not “pass” well – something that many trans aspire to and many find psychologically and socially distressing if not achieved. What is true, however, is that for every trans you notice another 9 or 99 are invisible, because they’ve either disappeared into the general hubbub of society and are accepted as people first, and gendered persons of trans history second, or, they may be part of the invisible iceberg of trans not yet out. KJ in hat Industry Networking Night

This latter group, for whom gender identity becomes a self-aware issue typically by the age of 7 may on average stay hidden till coming out in their 40s. If families, partners, media and society were more accepting, less judgemental and ridiculing, then I am quite sure more would be out and visible. Perhaps, like International Coming Out Day, today is a day we can celebrate increasing safety for more trans to come out, not to be ‘outed’ as I was at first. People call me brave for being ‘out’, but I had no choice, being ‘outed’ to friends and family by my then partner. By then it was “in for a penny in for a pound”, a “sink or swim” choice.

Transgender Day of Visibility was started in 2009 by trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, of Michigan, USA. It began as a Facebook event but grew to encompass all kinds of awareness and visibility-raising events.

Events on the day have included protests, actions, sit-ins, poetry, educational and social events, anything to show that the transgender community is a valuable part of society to be accepted and respected.

These positive publicity events are in contrast to the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) held each 20 November where the tone is remembrance and commemoration of all those who’ve lost their lives, often violently, for being out or outed as trans. A Transgender Awareness Week has now formed in the week leading up to TDoR.

Prevalence of transgender people

The prevalence of transgender people in our communities is a hotly debated subject and one which is subject to several studies that are each seen as underestimates by the next one to be carried out. Numbers are made all the more likely to be on the low side by the difficulty of polling people who are not out or maybe trying to live discreet post-surgical lives. Surgery figures may only reflect those via recordable national health clinics and not those going privately or abroad for surgery.

Similarly being trans covers everyone from transsexuals at various stages of hormonal and/or surgical transition, occasional and full-time crossdressers/transvestites, and some trans who identify as a third or non-gender outside the binary of male and female.

Whilst transsexuals may represent just 0.1% of the population, non-surgical trans may be 1% or higher as only a fraction pursue surgery and many are not ‘out’ to everyone. Figures as high as 1.5% have been quoted and the numbers coming out each year are escalating as exponential rates as it becomes more safe to do so. I live in a city of 200,000 adults and know over 100 local trans personally and of another 50-100+. There will obviously be those I don’t know and those not out yet so 1-in-1000 is a gross underestimate and yet that is a figure considered high by the NHS.

More prevalence research data here: http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Medpro-Assets/GenderVarianceUK-report.pdf http://tgmentalhealth.com/2010/03/31/the-prevalence-of-transgenderism/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transsexualism#Prevalence

Reducing Transphobia

The best thing you can do on this Transgender Day of Visibility and on every day following it is to reduce the tacit acceptability of transphobia in humour, toilet/bathroom access, and general gendered sexism and stereotyping. Allowing teens to grow up in the gender or expression they are comfortable with. Encouraging teens to be free to be tomboys and/or effeminate, irrespective of birth gender.

In another article Mey, an Idaho based Latina transwoman activist, outlines 15 ways to support trans people on the day of visibility and every day.

Visible Trans Persons

In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, Turner Prize winning artist and speaker Grayson Perry, LGBT Pink List topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, Roz Kaveney; Prof of Equalities Law at Manchester Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and many more besides. In business there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. There’s comedians Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill, and several other comics too, musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. I could go on and know of 100s of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life here in the UK alone.

In 2011 Channel 4 broadcast My Transsexual Summer and launched 7 British trans people into the limelight including friends of mine like Donna Whitbread, as well as Maxwell Zachs, Sarah Savage, Drew Ashlyn Cunningham, Lewis Hancox, Raphael Fox, and Karen Gale. Big Brother (UK and worldwide) has seen several trans winners and contestants including Nadia Almada, Luke Anderson, Lauren Harries, Alex Reid and Rodrigo now Rebekah Lopez.

April Ashley, Jan Morris and Caroline Cossey are all well known British women with open transgender histories. In the US Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves. Recently we’ve seen big names like Lana Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams, who recently advised Jared Leto on his Oscar winning role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Nor is “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.

The names above are just a sprinkling of the hundreds of thousands of out trans people worldwide and possible even over a million or more yet to come out, I mean 1-in-1000 it would be 6-7 million worldwide. Here’s hoping that more trans feel comfortable being more visible each day as that would not only make their lives happier but society itself all the more accepting and embracing, which is good for everyone. We are not invisible nor scary – but a little afraid ourselves, talk to us. For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.

Transgender Visibility Day (31 March) Bisexual Visibility Day (23 September) Intersex Day of Awareness (26 October) Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November)

Porphyrophilia – Purple Passion, What about Pink & Blue?

Porphyrophilia – Purple Passion

Why purple? I grew up mostly being dressed in navy blue by my mother – it was her favourite colour, yet also was not blue for boys, and I was being raised one? After a school non-uniform day dressed by my mum in stripy tee-shirt resulted in a severe ribbing I was keen to wear mostly black without any Goth pretensions for the next 25 years. It was slimming after all, but at 9 stone that was not the reason. Instead, I feared that if I ever wore colour, particularly anything pink, purple or pastel, I would be outed as feminine or queer. Funny that my father’s favourite shirts were pink!

Keep Calm and be PurpleAfter coming out I went through a whole spectrum of colour, feeling gloriously liberated, I wore browns and golds, pinks and pastels, finally settling on purple as my colour of choice. I love its combination of pink and blue, rich depth and royal roots. I could mix it with turquoise and teal which had become my favourite blues and with hot fuchsia pink which had replaced all the other pink shades in my world.

Wearing and carrying purple so much led me being known as “purple Katy”, as opposed to the illustrator Purple Ronnie!

My love of purple, and indeed now all colours except perhaps orange and navy blue, led to me organising my Pinterest  boards by colour, suiting the arrangement of my colour coded house too. One is, of course, dedicated to Porphyrophiliac purple love.

Purple shades

What about Pink & Blue?

Historically, pink and blue rather than being gendered as we annoyingly still see them now, were, if anything, reversed.  Pink used to be masculine, full blooded, halfway to red. Blue, was effeminate, soft, sky and gentle. Victorian children might be dressed accordingly or wear ribbons in their long hair, pink for boys, blue for girls.

Back in the 1900s, the Women’s Journal explained it thus: “That pink being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” DressMaker magazine agreed. “The preferred colour to dress young boys in is pink. Blue is reserved for girls as it is considered paler, and the more dainty of the two colours, and pink is thought to be stronger (akin to red).” Even in 1925, in the Great Gatsby novel, a man in a pink suit meant simply that he might not be a member of the intellectual elite rather than that he was effeminate.

Don’t erase the rainbow and make it just about pink or blue,
Boy or girl. We are every shade, any of a hundred hue.

We shouldn’t have to choose soft or hard, pink or blue,
Girl or guy. It’s about just being me and simply you.

Caucasian boys are all pink and girls at Oxford – blue,
What matters is not what we wear but being true.

Lighten up, and see through the prism not only red and blue,
But yellow and green, sat in between, violet too.

Orange came later, and indigo joined right after blue,
But pink never made it or broke through.

Have you ever stopped to think, that in light, pink is part blue,
Mixed with red, and no wavelength of its own to view.

Toys, clothes, gender – If you are stuck on pink or blue,
Isn’t it about time to change your world-view?

Pink or Blue? Just be you! Katy J Went ©2014

Sapiosexual silliness: Making fun of myself, my sex & my mentality

Stand-up Comedy & Lie-down Laughter

Doing stand-up comedy began in 2011 as another fear to conquer, I ended up loving it! Along with deep sea diving it was another case of “feel the fear and do it anyway”, to quote Susan Jeffers.

2007 was the year I came out as trans. My first gig was almost as terrifying, but in the end, almost as exhilarating. Fear and fun have been closely allied ever since.

Performing Stand-up comedy during Pride week
Performing Stand-up comedy during Pride week

 

I remember school when one had the choice of being a bully, being bullied, or being the class clown – I chose the latter. Many comedians have similar stories and many have mental health challenges.

Making fun of yourself – before someone else does, is a defence mechanism. It is also, comedy wisdom if you want to be ethical and attract empathy. Putting yourself down, in a tongue-in-cheek way, rather than attacking others is the comedy high road. The low road attracts hecklers and picks on the audience, minorities, and plays on negative stereotypes. That said, I often make the joke that as trans I am doubly lost, being unable to either read a map or ask for directions.

For all my cleverly written material, the best laughs always came from embarrassing real life stories and narrative humour. It both exposes oneself and draws people in. 

I guess, the most extreme example of that was a major suicide attempt in 2012. Three months afterwards, I was mocking myself in a deadpan stand-up at a Pride fringe event. Someone came up to me afterwards and said how good it was, and how it was so believable, as if I’d actually done and felt all those things – I had! Truth really is stranger and often funnier than fiction.

Feedback seems to have drawn attention to two features of my material – that it is intelligent and that it is often naughty – sapiosexual filth! It is actually not that dirty I just have no limits to self-deprecation, transparent tales of trans embarrassment, and finding a triple-meaning in every word, not being satisfied with mere double-entendres.

One is always, in the end, upstaged by children and animals, and my most laughs came from relating the ear-greasing push-me-pull-you tale of a  British Bulldog that got stuck in my cat-flap.

One gig blurb ran: “Mental madness and lexical lewdness from Katy Went who clutters her way through life with a mind like a cross between the multi-laned M25 and a broken sieve that lacks the ability to distinguish between the good, bad and downright inappropriate.”

Reviews

“Educational filth, occasionally funny, always interesting”
“Katy Went with the filthy mouth”
“Sharp and intelligent”
“Exceptionally engaging and fascinating”
“Making fun of the darker moments in life, with some (really) long words and lots of lewd innuendo…”

Gigography

Dysfunction Room: LGBT History Month, Norwich, 22 Feb 2013
Gypsy in the Field, Aylsham, 22 September 2012
Clyde Fontaine must come out, Farmer Browns, Norwich, 27 July 2012
Bethany Black, Kafe Karma, Norwich, 17 Feb 2012
Zut Radical Cabaret – Hell Bent, Kafe Karma, Norwich, 30 July 2011

Gagography

“Bailiffs & Vampires, bloodsuckers the both of them, same rule applies though – don’t ever invite them over your doorstep”
“Gays tend to come out of the closet whereas Trans prefer to go in them, only in Narnia do you go through them. C.S.Lewis’ unpublished 8th volume A Transvestite in Narnia never got beyond the first page as she refused to leave the Wardrobe!”
“Did you know that, on average, women use 15,000 words a day while men use just 7,000? That makes me Superwoman. I’ve been trying to talk my way into passing as a woman!”
“When I was on sleeping pills the pill advice said ‘To avoid side affects try getting up slowly.’ – Is mid afternoon slow enough?”
“Stand up comedy is an oxymoron as I do my best work lying down”
“Thesbianism – that’s an acting lesbian till I get my membership card”

My technology path: first computers, software business, web development

Computer Software, Technology & Web Development

I founded BMSoftware back in 1998 but my computer background began at school in 1982 aged 15 with BBC B 32k computers, tape decks, BASIC, then aged 18 an Amstrad CPC464 CP/M with all of 64k memory. I spent a year designing a historical Napoleonic wargames programme only for it to run out of space saving it on the tape cassette!  I could not be bothered to rewrite the game code I had written from an earlier saved version and abandoned my career as a software game designer.

At University I studied Fortran 77 an already ageing engineering computer language. All this was pre-Internet, pre-Windows. My next computer was a gifted Sanyo twin 5.25″ disk desktop and daisywheel printer. I bought my first 386 laptop for £1400 back in 1992,  it had a 20Mb hard drive, 640k RAM and ran MS-DOS 6. It blew up after 14 months and I managed to get a free upgrade to a 486, 120Mb drive the next year, running Windows 3.1 – I still have it and it still works! I did my first writing on it for a correspondence degree in theology that I undertook post-Uni degree in Economics.

I began reselling computer software via BMSoftware because of a need to multilingual wordprocess in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Cuneiform and more for a Hebrew course I was writing. That led to contacting suppliers and being offered trade prices if I resold the software to students.

That led to setting up my first sales website, learning HTML and Javascript in the process, which has grown to over 3000 pages and 1000s of software products. Basically, I figured if I wanted something why not buy it trade for myself and resell it to others if I liked it!

That led to me reselling IBM Thinkpads, the only laptops I have used for 20 years. They are so well made and I’ve travelled the world with them, to wet British festival campsites along with a solar panel and spare battery packs, to Kenya and the dry Egyptian desert. I once dropped one 3 feet onto concrete and it still worked with barely a scratch. I even have an IBM Thinkpad 701c Butterfly (1995) with a clever fuller sized keyboard that splits and retracts to fit inside a smaller laptop clamshell.

I’ve a touch screen laptop from 1998 running Windows 98 so Windows 8 with touch screen is hardly innovative! It was made by Palmax and similar to the Toshiba Libretto. It was 8.4×4.8″ and with a 6″ screen and stylus pen/mouse, just like the Samsung Note phablet and Thinkpad X41/X61 tablets. Enough of memory lane!

For a number of years I became a leading retailer of religious research software especially academic, Hebrew, biblical, Talmud, Koran etc. I bought the business and stock of a London-based Jewish software seller to add to a portfolio of 1000s of education and religion software titles and stock.

Because of my interest in languages I ended up specialising in translation software and supplying numerous UK prisons and public authorities with wireless free (for security reasons) laptops and HP iPAQ handhelds with dictionary and translation software in 40+ language for working with foreign nationals.

As Amazon and Ebay took off and Microsoft and others went Cloud and Subscription-model for their software offerings, the software business had to evolve again. So now I specialise in both the old and the new. Much software has moved to download provision and that is great to supply, almost zero effort but often reduced margins as manufacturers realise they don’t need resellers anymore. Many rivals have gone bust as a result. I added some contingency to my portfolio by also selling old software – or vintage as I prefer to call it. As a result I shift multiple copies of software from as far back as 1995 on a daily basis with a profit margin that exceeds that of the newer software I sell.

The technology world remains a passion of mine, and the software websites I run still bring in revenue streams that are low-effort and because of my SEO knowledge rank well on search engines for products, usually on the same first page as Amazon, Ebay and the maker’s own site.

For example search for “Davka Biblical Hebrew” on Google and the first 4 sites after the 3 by the manufacturer are all mine. Alternatively search for “translation software” on Bing and one of my sites comes #1.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) was an early field of expertise and paid better than web design itself, particularly with owning 200+ domain names. I managed to be an early adopter back in the days when domain renewals were costing me £1000s each year. Fortunately, many have made their money back and more. One keeps earning several thousand a year in affiliate income for no work at all. I paid £2,500 ten years ago for one domain name and was offered £10,000 for one name I own.

Social Media Marketing (SMM) and Optimisation (SMO) have become bigger areas of interest now as I seek to publicise my speaking, writing and campaigns for equality, diversity and human rights that I am involved in. I’ve been on Facebook since 2007 with 2000+ friends and followers, Pinterest appeals to my very visual OCD outlook but I’ve only just started to enjoy the immediacy of Twitter for news and comment, nonetheless I was able to gain 100+ followers a week as I grew my Twitter feed and following.

My computers have to cope with my multipassionate 4 browsers with 150+ open tabs working environment (on my worst recent tally I had 220 tabs open!). I was drawn to multiple screens when I watched Sandra Bullock in the film The Net (1995) ordering pizza off another screen whilst working on another! As a result I use a dozen laptops and screens in various offices, studies, bedrooms and the garden.

Putting my purpose, passions & projects – all in one purple place

Polymath, Polyentrepreneurial Scanner!

An impossible task as I own over 200 domain names, running a dozen or more as full web sites, publishing half a dozen blogs, writing on several sites and am shamelessly present on most Social Media platforms.

Still, it has become tiring giving out multiple contact details, business cards, different bios etc and so I thought I’d put them all in one place.

Be who you are Dr Seuss
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”, Dr. Seuss

Please read my Bio, About, Quotes, Film and Comedy pages, they are diverse, like me, and much may not interest you, some may surprise or shock, some are relevant to my business interests, others to my social activism, public speaking, writing or stand-up comedy. I am not ashamed of who I am or what I do in any way. I’ve learned not to hide myself, to be honest and transparent in everything. So there will be “spill” between all those facets – but that is a good thing.

I am professional, passionate, and polyentrepreneurial – there are just so many things I do and want to do. I can juggle 3 balls and several businesses and projects, all at the same time. This leads to an excitable eclectic, though almost-balanced, multi-disciplined approach to everything. I may be a niche person, after all we are all unique, but my skills and interests are across the board.