Avoiding Lectures…


I was not, I will confess in all honesty, a particularly reliable student when it came to lectures! Basically, I went to the ones which interested me (Old English, Middle English Romances, Anglo-Welsh Literature and maybe a couple more) and gave the others a miss! Shakespeare, for example: Aberystwyth’s Great Hall, in the Old College, did not get one single visit from Ali Browning in TWO YEARS!

I do have some excuse for this: Having moved out to first Llanfarian and then, a bit later, Llancynfelyn, travel was a problem in the days before we got a car. The first bus from the latter village got into town at ten, which meant that nine o’ clock lectures were buggered; the last bus left at 3pm: No chance of attending 4pm and 5pm lectures, then!

But I think there is more to it than geographical inconvenience: I do not like, and never have, being lectured to by sanctimonious, or tedious, or long-winded ‘teachers’. What I am about to say might sound really mean-spirited to some, or disloyal, or just nasty – but I don’t care: There are an awful lot of boring and inadequate educators (at every level) in our educational system. There are those who get top degrees at Oxbridge, know their subject intimately – and have the communication skills of a brick and the ability to relate to young people of an Elective Mute.

I do not warm to those who swan on to the stage (be it in a school or a university), just behind their own bulging egos, all the books they have written on their subject piled perilously on the table – and then, adopting the timbre of Marvin, the Paranoid Android, maunder on, like a form of verbal Chinese Water Torture, for two hours, while even the most biddable students are drawing gallows in their notebooks and stringing the moaning droning wazzocks up.

I take exception to the hypocrisy which drives so many to lecture everyone around on moral values, behaviour, attitude and so forth, while clearly being crammed to the gunwales with hatred, prejudice and a vast sense of entitlement themselves!

I have a latent capacity for disruption when lectures, or meetings (aggghhhh!) go on longer than the Thirty Years War and have the Excitement Quotient of drying paint. I get restive when being preached at by garrulous gonks who wouldn’t be able to enliven a lecture if you passed eight trillion volts through them.

Lecturing, or teaching, needs, in my view, to be far more than the imparting of knowledge. It should be fecund, funny and feisty, not dry, drear and dull. Lectures need to inspire, enlighten, amuse, excite, wake up the bodies stuffed into seats. If lecturers can startle, shock, surprise their clientele; if they can vibrate with energy and passion and pass that on; if they can keep their minds open and the door to fossilized opinions closed; if they can relate to those who flock (whether willingly or not!) to see and listen to them; if they can exchange pedantry for pleasure, and genuinely engage both with the subject matter and their students, they will become those rare individuals who light a fire of academic passion within the bosoms of the younger generation, and who are remembered for the rest of many lives because of their brilliance and engagement.

I did not miss a single Middle English Romances lecture in two years – and can still hear, in my mind, Professor Maldwyn Mills reading to us from ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’!

And that was nigh-on forty years ago!

I rest my case!

A Week from Hell

We get times like that, don’t we? Days, weeks and even months when everything seems to go wrong; when energy is all drained away; when physical symptoms flare up and moods plummet; when connection with loved ones and friends seems to have been untimely severed; when everything we touch appears to turn to rank ordure…

This past week has been a particularly fine – using the word ironically and sardonically – example of human Hell.

For reasons of confidentiality (and respect for those I care about), two main strands of this week’s ball of stress will not see the light of day on here. It would be insensitive and wrong for me to share what are, in essence, other people’s stories, traumas and points of vulnerability. All I will say, as a kind of general summing up, is that almost everyone I know has been going through it, in some cases horribly.

The barrage of stuff thrown my way has been hard to field. I just begin to feel that I can more or less cope with Situation A, when, lo and behold, Situations B, C and D erupt. I have never been an adept juggler – and trying to fling myself around the metaphorical stage to catch multiple plates in the air was doomed from the start. Shards litter the boards, and my fingers are a tapestry of cuts.

Does it make me feel better to know so many people who are going through their own painful juggling act? Yes, and no. Yes, because I feel less alone and can appreciate that something in the air, the planets, the stars, the weather is having this deleterious effect upon we human bags of liquid and organs. No, because I hate seeing others suffering.

The resumption of some of my physical symptoms – pain, mainly – is as predictable as it is depressing. This is how my body, and my mind, react to sustained stress. The drop in my mood, my ability to cope, my usual bright energy, is also par for the course.

Having to build a high wall of protection for myself on here has been an additional energy-drainer – and the events that precipitated such a move have been highly distressing. But, the effort I have taken (hauling all those bricks; laying them one atop another; cementing the cracks; putting in a sturdy gate with a strong padlock) will be of benefit, not just now – but for as long as I continue to express myself in blogging form.

I am physically tired because I have been very busy this week – but, as much of this is private and not appropriate to share on here, I shall say no more on that one.

Many people are hibernating at present. I don’t blame them – and have been tempted to do so myself. It would, in many ways, be lovely to stay in bed, snuggled under the duvet, all day everyday until I feel better.

But, I know of old that this does not work for me: I brood; I mull things over in a negative way; I stiffen up and the pain increases.

No. As with the recent online spat, I have a need to face things directly, head on – and not bury my heard in the proverbial sand, no matter how warm and shell-strewn it may be.

Besides, as the old saying goes, this too shall pass. Ghastly weeks do have a habit of opening out into a few delightful, relaxing days. In my own way, I am an optimist about such matters, and perennially hold out the hope that today’s storm will give way to tomorrow’s sunshine and bright prisms dancing their rainbow ballet upon my walls, carpet and chair.

Hail has battered and spattered, leaving treacherous white chunks; but, above it, a white and blue sky gives the promise that sun, and Spring, and colourful flowers, and rising sap will, eventually, take over the earth – and the seeds and bulbs (both garden-related and in human terms) we all planted last year, will blossom and bloom, and add their scent to the increasingly bright warmth, soon.

A fragile snowdrop, disdaining the pouting spite of hail and wind, pushes up from deep within the soil and begins a shy flowering.

Blogging as myself and the need to insist upon firm boundaries!

Most of us need to insist upon firm boundaries in our lives eventually. I have reached that point now, both on here and behind the blogging scenes!

This is a controversial one – and a choice every single writer has to make eventually. Do we expose ourselves (to potential ridicule, bullying and vulnerability) by being who we actually are – or do we, as many writers have done and continue to do, adopt a writing alter ego?

There is no right answer to this. Writers have their reasons – for wishing to call themselves by a different name (or, in the case of the Bronte sisters, to publish, initially at least, as men), or, when blogging, to give the blog a name which does not name the writer.

I decided, early on, to be myself as a writer (in every sense) – and have not regretted that decision. Yes, it has attracted problems (bullies, inappropriate photos, mind games from disturbed persons) – but the majority of those who visit my site – and read/review my novels – are respectful, acknowledge (tacitly) boundaries and, if disagreeing with something I have said, do so in a civilised way.

Actual abuse has been rare, thank goodness – and attributable, I feel, to those who lack boundaries themselves and feel that it is acceptable to be over-familiar and then dodge responsibility for their actions. Frankly, as on line, so in life!

I do have to highlight one danger, however – and it was, and always will be, a calculated risk: Writing from a position of vulnerability, and coming clean about the reality and effects of long-term abuse, DOES, unfortunately, attract a very small coterie of unpleasant and/or manipulative people.

My own view is that, as with anonymous and inappropriate phone calls, such behaviour is both unnecessary and intimidating. I am also very clear in my mind that writing openly and as me does not merit any kind of attack by another. The self-justifying arguments used by bullies hold as much water as the one that insists that all women who wear revealing clothes deserve to be raped.

I have always made it clear that I do not consider myself to be either perfect (who is?) or an authority on any particular subject. My opinions are precisely that: Opinions. I am not trying to claim that I am right, or have absolute authority or any high-faluting nonsense of that variety. I simply try to paint a picture of a particular mood, or event, or scene, or passion, in words.

I do not regret being open. Many people have, I know, felt great relief when reading some of my more distressing/distressed pieces – and have felt the comfort of knowing a) that they are not alone and b) that they are not imagining the abuse/bullying they are suffering.

I do feel a need to explain more clearly one of my comments the other day regarding anonymous responses to my work: Several of my readers use a non-identifying name for their blogs. I have come to know these people, recognise their writing styles and feel we have a bond even if I do not actually know their names: Their Blog name always comes up on the comment. Similarly, some personal friends, who do not have blogs, struggle to sign on (as do I on other people’s sites!) and have to adopt a temporary ‘Someone’ handle – but, they always show themselves in some way, usually signing their names at the end.

If a person writes using ‘Someone’, ‘Somebody’ ‘Anyone’ (or other such labels), does not have an obvious blog name and is unwilling to name him or herself, while also leaving comments of a hostile or nasty or overtly sexual nature on one of my pieces, I count this person as a troll and, as I said a couple of days ago, will send the comment to Akismet!

Let me say one more thing: There is an unspoken etiquette when it comes to telephone use, which I think can be applied readily to blog-related manners. Most of us start by saying who we are, and then go on with the conversation. We would not dream of unleashing a barrage of weirdness/hatred/sexually inappropriate imagery and then hanging up!

I take a very firm line on the rare occasions when I get a weird phone call. The same applies on here. As a teacher, I learned very quickly that, if I did not follow warnings up with some form of action, I was seen as weak and pathetic – and the poor behaviour continued and got worse.

If I, as a writer, allow behaviour I find unacceptable to go on and on, I have only myself to blame when the other ups the game and becomes ever-more egregious!

Ninety-nine percent of people reading my posts are here because they, like me, are writers and love working with words. The other one percent are, I fear, people who sneak on because they have multiple axes to grind, or desires unmet, and find, in my openness (and the openness of other writers), a target for their rage or their libido.

I shall continue to write as me, while maintaining firm and clear boundaries.

Fair enough, I feel!

Naming and Name-changing…

We do not have a choice when it comes to the name, or names, our parents give us at birth – and, more often than not, we have no power over that naming process when we are children, though adolescents do rebel. Many children I taught asked me to call them by a name not on the register, and I was always happy to do this.

I was Christened Alienora Judith Browning. The ‘Alienora’ was taken, as I have said before, from the Browning Family Tree (an Alienora Fitznickle, who lived in the fourteenth century and married Sir John Browning) – and, although I can see that it is both unusual and, in its own way, beautiful, it has been, in many ways, the bane of my life.

Or one of them…

Brief summary: I was teased, taunted and bullied physically about my name, and my ‘posh’ accent, when at primary school in Headington (a suburb of Oxford). Few teachers were able to pronounce the name correctly (often giving it four, instead of five, syllables) – and I was too shy and introverted (even at secondary school) to correct them. This, of course, made the bullying worse, as the nasty little kids, and then teenage girls, picked up on every gaffe made by a teacher and used it pointedly.

Worse still, my parents – who agreed on little – were unable to reach a compromise in terms of my name in every-day life, so each called me by a different moniker. ‘Alienora’, however, was the name by which I was told off and shouted at from my earliest days.

My sense of personal identity, weak from childhood onward, was not helped by the Name Conundrum. I wasn’t sure who I was.

But this post is not just about me! Many of my friends have changed their names completely. For some, the original name was associated with unhappiness, even abuse; for others, Body Dysmorphia and/or Gender Dysphoria have created great anguish and a need to adopt a name more suited to the inner, emotional or preferred gender.

I absolutely respect this (and both identify and sympathise) – and, although I am assuming that each person had a birth name, am not interested in ferreting that information out (unless the individual chooses to share it with me for their own reasons): To me, each one IS the name – and, indeed, the gender – he or she has chosen. End of!

I think that, in the end, we are the name we choose. We are under no obligation to keep a name we personally find difficult, a name which comes from a gender we no longer wish to embrace, a name which has traumatic associations.

It is nobody else’s business, either. It is not up to others to sneer at us for our names or condemn us for the act of changing them. Names are an essential part of our identity, and for some of us – and I am one of them – the name we were given by our parents does not enhance, match or support the person we actually are inside (though, in my case, Alienora is a cracking name for a writer).

When I was in my late teens, I opted to call myself ‘Ali’ – and have stuck to this decision, albeit waveringly at times, ever since. I do not give anyone permission to call me by my babyhood nickname any more (other, that is, than my four siblings if they wish).

If a name is used as a weapon, it is very difficult to reclaim it safely. As I said in a much shorter status on Facebook, my full name was intimately bound up with punitive measures, taunting and bullying from the age of four onward. It was a name that made me feel profoundly powerless, left out, unsafe and isolated.

I will always be Alienora…

But, for the first time in my life, I am asserting myself with regard to the name I wish to be actively called: Ali.

I long to be a BITCH…

I have allowed this post to take its own raging path, without in any way censoring it or denying myself the emotional immediacy of a specific moment. It is an inner state I normally keep to myself. I think many of us do, having been taught, as children, not to be rude and angry and swear and say horrible things.

But, is it better, I ask myself, to let it out on occasions – or bottle it up and implode? This rage is part of the journey I have been going through in recent months. It is not NICE – nor should it be!

I hate being nice and kind and patient and, to be frank, a bit of a dreary old martyr at times. Because, when you have the ‘kind’ label affixed, those with cold hearts and the dark side of will-to-power WILL try it on, see what they can get away with, drain your resources as their RIGHT. They will expect you to give way when they walk past, to doff your hat and, if necessary, bow or curtsey – because, as superior beings, this is their entitlement in life.

I want to be a bitch! I want men to grovel at my feet, strive for my attention, fight one another to be my bloke (the way they used to back in the old days of chivalry). I want to have the power to make men desire me above all others, and to know that they have to wait in the queue to get anywhere close to me. I want to be on top of the Bitch Heap! And yet, I am terrified of that too.

I want other women to be frightened of me, and watch what they say lest they offend me. I want them to see me as a role model for assertiveness, creativity – and, when the need arises, utter Evil Queen-ness.

I want both sexes to realise that, under my normally-helpful and sometimes even sweet exterior, there is a ravening lioness, a veritable Sekhmet, clawing her dangerous way out.

I want to be demanding, my every whim obeyed! I want to be a spoilt princess, and have major tantrums when I don’t get my own way – just for an hour or so because it doesn’t half wear the larynx and it does get bloody tedious after a while!

I want people to look up to me – and think twice before they speak; three or four times if they know, or suspect, that they have incurred my wrath.

I HATE being seen as a nice and kind person – because, when you get right down to it, down and dirty in the muck of truth, what do these adjectives actually mean? They mean someone who is easy to take advantage of, who commands (and merits) no respect; someone who can be left to wait outside the cat-flap while the more dominant felines (er, females) go out hunting, bring in dead rats, spray the carpet, crap in the linen basket and are still stroked to cat orgasm eighteen times a day JUST FOR EXISTING, and purring when it’s politic to do so!

I loathe being polite and considerate (both of which are treated as weaknesses by those who walk all over others in their stiletto heels); I despise the part of myself which allows others to take me for granted, even abuse me, in the sure knowledge that they will be forgiven, or that I’ll be too scared to tell them where to go.

I hate the fact that I am, for some, a thing of jelly and weak tea and boring plain biscuits and Sunday afternoons in long-forgotten sea-side resorts.

But, above all, I detest the part of me that is so scared of, and stressed by, any kind of battle that I back off, give way, allow the other victory – or, if I do stick to my guns and blow the other out of the metaphorical ring, dissolve into floods of guilty and desolate tears as soon as the smoke has cleared and the bullets have been collected.

It is unbelievably hard for me to be a Belladonna, a Cruella de’Ville, to treat others with nastiness and spite and cruelty and blackmail and indifference and murderous rage. Even when they throw such dubious gifts my way.

Details have to remain confidential on this occasion – but this wail of anger is very raw and very real and horribly recent. Suffice it to say that I have been emotionally bullied once too often and, yesterday, I fought back, like for like, with my own claws and teeth and stubbornness and rage and utter determination to win…

…and then wept, like a small child, and woke, terrified, in the early hours, the sheer battle-stress causing nightmares so horrific that my heart thudded and trembled like a netted wild bird.

I hate being nice. It is a useless, dangerous thing to be.

But, it seems to be part of me, like my curly hair and blue eyes and writing ability and uselessness at sporting activities.

And maybe the Top Bitches miss out in other ways. Who knows? I am not a femme fatale, a fairy tale evil stepmother/queen or a heartless cow – and wishing I were is the work merely of the storm-battered moment. But I am keeping these thoughts as I wrote them – because this mood is as valid as any others I experience.

Sometimes, I look in the mirror of heart, body and soul and can write paeons of praise about my qualities. Today, scratchy from tears and fury, I cannot.

Anonymous Comments

I have twice recently had to ask someone commenting on one of my posts to identify him or herself – and, over the past six years, the most trouble I have had as a blogger has come from people who have refused to divulge either who they are or their real names.

Now, I totally understand the need to blog anonymously, or, indeed, to adopt a pseudonym for safety’s sake – and I have every sympathy for those who need to do so because they have come from a background of abuse.

However, there is something insidious about those who choose to nip onto a writer’s site, leave a comment which is, in some way, personal or slighting or provides information an anonymous commentator should not have access to – but who also want to both own and eat the ‘cake’ of the mask, the security of anonymity, the tease.

It is intimidating and unnecessary.

When I respond to comments, I never know whether the name you use is truly yours or not; I have to take it on trust that you are who you claim to be – and that, if you have chosen to hide your true identity, there is a good reason for this.

If you know me well enough to provide private information, and yet refuse to divulge who you actually are, this, to me, smacks of game-playing and an unfair division of power.

I will shoot this warning across the bows – openly, because I am open, and clearly so that everyone gets it: If I ask you to identify yourself, you have already played unfairly; if you refuse to comply, I will treat your comment as Spam and send it straight to the bin.

Similarly, I have the right, as the owner of this blog, to decide – often on gut instinct – whether something feels okay (and most do) or off, and to take whatever action I deem necessary.

Frankly, if you know me, you have no business hiding behind an anonymous label anyway.

Enough said, methinks…

Hatred of the opposite sex – and conversion attempts

Human beings, especially those riddled with hatred and insecurity and self-righteousness, have this crazy desire to fish for converts in every body of water. This becomes especially dangerous when their fishing rods are built with misogny or misandry. Catching a fish and preparing it with your own anger and poison does not a genuine feast make!

I freeze when I hear someone say, ‘I hate men!’ or, ‘All women are bitches!’

Why? What’s the point? What an unintelligent and narrow decision! Just because one man (or woman) was a shit (or shittess) doesn’t mean you need to tar them all with the same (toilet) brush, does it?



It has always really annoyed me when misandrists have tried to recruit me to their ranks. This tendency has increased since I went public on here with aspects of my divorce and its aftermath. Man-hating women are drawn to my posts like sharks to a swimmer’s slight wound, and some of them make it abundantly clear that I should be one of them.

But equally toxic is the following: Misogynists who, sensing that I have always got on very well with men, try to usher me into the Church of Woman-loathing women.

People are people, for heaven’s sake – and I choose my friends on that basis rather than on their gender per se.

It is, actually, far healthier, if you think about it, to have both male and female friends when going through life’s traumas. They have very different, but equally valuable, perspectives on, in my case, marital breakdown; even more importantly, though, friends of the opposite sex reassure you that not all apples in that gender’s basket are rotten. They show, by example, the good, kind, loving and supportive side of their sex – and we all need that hope held out for us when we are immersed in the devastation that is divorce.

It is true that some scars will take longer to heal than others – and that, as a result, certain interactions with the opposite sex will be off the agenda for an indeterminate length of time – but eschewing half of the human race because of the behaviour of one member is as short-sighted as it is stupid.

We can rail against the Patriarchal Society we live in, or historical male dominance, without having to turn our backs upon the human beings we like (who happen to have been born boys!) and who are our close friends.

We are all composed of a complex mix of male and female characteristics – and, if we loathe all of one gender, we are also hating that side of ourselves.

No, I love my female friends and my male ones, equally if differently, and have no desire to join the ranks of the haters!

So, if you are fishing for another member of the Gender Hatred Squad, do not come anywhere near my lake. Pike lie deep, grow to enormous size, taste revolting and are vicious when any attempt is made with line and hook.

All conversion based upon fanaticism and closet hatred works on the Divide and Rule Principle. Many people (quite rightly, in my opinion) feel unease at some of the techniques used by the mainstream religions – yet fall into the Despise another Gender trap with terrifying ease.