The standard perception of Scandinavian society is one replete with liberty and freedom of expression. We think of ‘openness’ as a byword for the Nordic way of life. Sadly, this may not always be the case. Mathilde Grafström is, in her own words, ‘just an ordinary girl from Jutland’s countryside in Denmark’. But beyond her modest and self-deprecating manner, Grafström turns out to be a scintillating photographer of female beauty – a natural beauty with an edge of innocence. 'For some reason I have a talent for spotting beauty in others, when they themselves cannot see it,” she told me in an exclusive interview. “I hope to increase the self-confidence and self-esteem of young Danish women, who often feel surprisingly bad about their bodies.'
We live in a time where there is no longer one concrete set of traits that make somebody a “woman.” How is it, then, that we have no qualms about telling each other what “feminism” is and is not? Despite what the dictionary might say, I think the shooting range that is the internet has obliterated any one definition of what it means to be a “feminist.” In fact, it’s discouraged me from fully believing in the word. Let me start by acknowledging my own basic circumstances: like many of the women writing about this topic on the internet, I am white, have received a liberal higher education, and come from an upper-middle class background. In other words, I am privileged. Born and raised in New York City and spending my life in the theatre, I am very sympathetic to and supportive of the plights of queer women, trans women, and women of color, but I still have no idea what it is like to live in those circumstances, and I can only write about what I know.
It has been a quiet time in the Old Doom Bar. The automated milking is operational, the wild life has gone to ground and the weather discourages outdoor activity other than a quick check on the sheep and cattle. As inhabitants of a west coast borderland we feel particular sympathy for the folk of Cumbria bashed again by the weather. Nonetheless, we are encouraged to believe ‘tis the season to be merry. Hence one evening us ‘boys’ (as the women call us) shared a relaxed evening of general chat and banter in a safe space.
Recent events in Paris have led to a subdued mood in the Old Doom Bar. Even our host’s normally ebullient promotion of his Festive offer has been muted. We watched the France v England friendly in almost neutral spirit and although pleased enough by the England win took little satisfaction from its promise. Rather, we shared the inevitable tropes of sympathy, bewilderment about terrorism and hopes that all sectors of our multi-cultural society would rally behind the cause of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. This slogan seeming much more meaningful than the anodyne ‘British values’ trotted out by our leaders.
There is arguably no greater parliamentary spectacle than watching lords debate pornography. It's a rare treat. I've never seen the matter come up in the chamber before. But we must hope it comes again soon, because this afternoon's debate, launched by famed pornography expert the Bishop of Chester, was far more enjoyable than anything in the cinema. The Bishop began by admitting that his "first-hand knowledge of pornography is very limited", but – as you may guess – this did not stop him from holding very firm convictions on the 'ugly squalid degraded sex' he had been told it contained.
Surveillance and censorship were much on the agenda at The Old Doom Bar this week. This was partly inspired by the presence of a London-based Barrister in our midst. As with so many of his trade he was a fund of anecdote. Much of it either reassuring to those seeking to avoid justice or depressing to those who sought it. It is the same with medicine. Both sorts of practitioners of these professions, once drink has been taken, are apt to cast off their normal considered demeanour and treat their audience to the comic version of their work.
I’ve never had it with a doctor, but it’s a common fetish to take relations outside the office. I imagine it would be really sexy if they whispered all the side effects while we stared into each other’s eyes and fell into a simultaneous rhythm of lifting and lowering. Throw some ice cubes into the mix or crank the heat up: there’s a new way to get your temperature taken.
Pick any social problem, real or imagined. Whatever it is, the solution proposed by well-meaning busybodies is always to get it on the school curriculum. Obesity crisis? Get schools to teach healthy eating. Financial crisis? Teach kids how to budget. Doctors over-prescribing drugs? Teach kids about the correct use of antibiotics. Rape culture? Compulsory 'sex and relationships' education. Earlier this year, wannabe Prime Minister Nicky Morgan argued that sex education in schools does not go far enough and proposed new measures to make such lessons compulsory and cover a wider range of issues – such as consent. Morgan might have been surprised to discover just how much Jeremy Corbyn agrees with her on this point. He also wants children to be given lessons in ‘age-appropriate’ sex and relationships education in order ‘to help end sexism and tackle violence against women and girls’.
Stephen Fingleton passes on the offer of coffee, thanks. He’s got an hour – before he’s goes off to a meeting round the corner in Soho – to impart his wisdom about sex, evolutionary psychology and film. More history professor than film director in appearance, he looks at me as though I’ve handed in a mildly disappointing essay. I get the feeling I’m about to be schooled. His towering frame sports a tweed jacket and an unexpected cravat. A bushy beard camouflages his youth of 32 years. The combination creates an academic’s air of chaotic brilliance. He removes his glasses to expose the full power of his hypnotic stare… repeat after me: ‘You will go and see The Survivalist’.
Zoë Apostolides: Tell us how it all started. What are you trying to achieve? Were early audiences receptive? Ursula Martinez: In a way, my new show, Free Admission, is a simple response to a lot of the feedback that I got from my last show My Stories, Your Emails. A lot of people commented on how much they had enjoyed my autobiographical stories and felt they could have heard more. And so that is what I decided to do. Although my stories and observations are quite personal, I tackle a range of meaty subjects that resonate with a wider audience, including religion, the Internet, gender inequality, war, racism… as well as the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of my bum-hole! I premiered the show this summer at The SouthBank in London and got an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences.