"An underground movement of women who deface 'offensive' adverts and magazines on the Tube is gaining momentum," the London Evening Standard reported recently. "The group targets adverts for cosmetic surgery, images of thin models and posters they believe sexualise children, placing stickers over the pictures carrying slogans such as 'YOU ARE NORMAL. This is not'." It was only a tiny "news in brief" but it made me smile. Someone had noticed our handiwork! And not only that but something that started out as a very informal group – on Facebook, for goodness' sake – had been elevated into "an underground movement".
I have been carrying these YOU ARE NORMAL stickers around in my handbag since my friend Kirstin invited me to join the Facebook group "Somewhat Strident But Who Cares?" at the end of the summer. She said she was founding the group as a response to the flood of unhealthy media images: emaciated fashion "icons", adverts for cosmetic surgery, demeaning lads' mags. These, as she put it, "immediately make me feel shit about myself to the point where I am spitting with rage" (I told you it was an informal thing). So why not express this rage through the time-honoured protest medium of stickers?
For me, this was one of those moments when a vague and vaporous feeling that has been gathering within you for a long time is suddenly condensed into something tangible. Something sticky, and angry. An angry sticker! The ones my friend Kirstin made were brief. They were to the point. They were not compromised by direct affiliation with a movement (movements get so unwieldy, don't they?). They were gobby, basically. They said: "Fake boobs are vile!"
Soon 300, then 500 of us had joined ("Yesss... I knew you were all as strident as me") and we were out there targeting adverts on the Tube that we found, well, distasteful. Usually, I would hesitate to use that word, with its nagging, prim connotations but being in a 500-strong group called "Somewhat Strident But Who Cares?" makes you start using that kind of word with new conviction. We were getting distasteful all together, which made it seem a lot less shrewish, somehow. Facebook is a social utility and, suddenly, it was coming in useful for a lot more than just "poking" people we fancied.
The first target was the poster for Victoria Beckham's new book, in which she appeared crouching, childlike and airbrushed almost beyond recognition. Splat! Right in the forehead: "YOU ARE NORMAL. This is not". It was not an attack on Posh Spice herself so much as a note of scepticism that someone could have had three children and still look more like a faun than a woman – an airbrushing alert, a squeak of alarm that this should be held up as female physical orthodoxy.
Next up was a truly creepy advert halfway up the escalator at Holborn: a picture of a woman in a bikini with a diminutive bosom, looking whey-faced and miserable, then a shot of the same woman with cosmetically enlarged bosom, looking smiley and airbrushed. It was laughably awful. It could do with splatting immediately. But where were my stickers? As I rummaged in my handbag, I nearly tripped off the end of the escalator. It's not easy being an underground feminist. In the end, another member of Somewhat Strident got there first, hitting the poster with their own bawdily humorous slogan, so knowing, so typical of this Naughties dilettante activism: "Special couples deal – boob job, penis surgery and double lobotomy – only £3,666! Book now."
Give us a queen with some heart and stomach
Tonight is the premiere of Elizabeth – The Golden Age, a stunning evocation of the mid-Elizabethan period and the Armada. Written by Michael Hirst, the man behind The Tudors on BBC2, it has everything we have come to expect from a modern period drama: stuttering cannons, blazing beacons, lusty unbuttonings – and precious little analysis. There's also something missing from the Queen's speech to the fleet at Tilbury: her famous line "I have the body of a weak and feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king." It's a hoary old chestnut, but still, you don't cut "To be or not to be" out of Hamlet. It's every new production's challenge to make these touchstones come alive. It would be refreshing to see a period drama that isn't all wilful excision, pomp and spectacle. An academic script consultant might do the trick. Send for Stephen Greenblatt!
J K Rowling has revealed that Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, is homosexual. It's a shame his vivid private life never made it on to the page.
Philip Pullman was commendably more forthright about the orientation of the angels in The Amber Spyglass. But on consideration there are plenty of other characters in children's literature who live quite differently beyond the public gaze. George, the tomboy from the Famous Five, grew up to be a frequent visitor to the Gateways club. Tinky Winky, off set from the Teletubbies, is often spotted down Old Compton Street. And in between chapters of Wind in the Willows, Toad would often sojurn in Paris, where, it is said, he was a confidante of Oscar Wilde.Reuse content