Disney: Love at First Sight?

After lots of dillydallying, I finally got around to watching Frozen at the weekend, the latest Disney film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Snow Queen. It is superbly funny with fabulous music and wonderfully crafted characters, and it has been praised for being one of the only Disney films where the heroine is not rescued by a man, but by the true love of her sister.

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Refreshingly, the film also acknowledges the stupidity of ‘falling in love’ with someone after knowing them for about five minutes, a plot point which has often featured in many Disney love stories. The Prince falls in love with Snow White after hearing her singing at a wishing well (I know from experience that a good singing voice does not guarantee sweetness of character). Even more disturbingly, Prince Eric falls in love with Ariel when she doesn’t even have a voice, and let’s just forget about the dancing scene in Sleeping Beauty..

So is there any hope for Disney-loving feminists? Yes there is! Here are four Disney heroines who aren’t immediately seduced by the first man they stumble upon:

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Belle Beauty and the Beast

After her father is captured by the Beast and locked in his castle, Belle steps forward to take his place as prisoner. Needless to say, she is hardly mad about the Beast until he proves his human side to her, and she realises he’s actually a pretty nice guy. At this point she develops Stockholm Syndrome and it all gets a bit Freudian.

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Jasmine – Aladdin

Bored by the countless suitors her father forces upon her, Jasmine is by no means gagging for it. When she first meets Prince Ali, she is put off by his arrogance and nobility. Eventually, she realises he’s just a humble street-rat and falls in love with his mischievous ways.

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Meg - Hercules

It’s only fair to point out that Meg has already had her heart broken by some tramp she sold her soul for, but the important thing is she learnt not to give in so easily again. It takes Hercules an awful lot of flattery and kindness to make her even speak to him, and eventually she realises he is worth endangering her life for. In the end he even sacrifices his own immortality just to be with her, which definitely shows commitment.

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Lady - Lady and the Tramp

When Lady first meets the Tramp, she is far too preoccupied with family issues to give him much consideration. It is only when she finds herself lost on the street that she sees how kind and caring he is, and they soon begin to fall in love over Italian cuisine. At the end they have tiny puppies because ladies, just because you want to have children doesn’t mean you’re a bad feminist.

Time for teapigs

The weather is finally starting to brighten up! The trees are blossoming and all the birds are singing merrily, and we can finally say farewell to rain and misery.

To welcome in the Spring in style, I have kindly been sent a delicious array of teas from the lovely people at teapigs! Famous for their ‘tea temples’, their tea is served as whole leaves, herbs and flowers enshrined in a biodegradable mesh pyramid, which allows the tea to float around freely and release all its sumptuous flavours. It’s the perfect way to enjoy loose leaf without the hassle!

With warm, sunny afternoons in mind, I chose four light teas that will compliment perfectly the months ahead. I also have four boxes to give away to one of my lovely readers, so scroll down to enter!

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One can never truly judge the quality of a tea brand without trying their basic breakfast. If you can’t get this right, there is little hope. Fortunately, the teapigs english breakfast is superb! It’s malty and rich without bitterness, and makes for the perfect morning cup. I like mine über milky with a hobnob.

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Working in an office full of grey drinkers, I brought this in for a team taste-test, much to everybody’s delight! I find the reason people don’t like earl grey usually is because the fragrant bergamot scent can be overpowering. This hybrid tea is a perfect solution, as the musky taste of Darjeeling offsets the perfume.

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Jasmine tea always reminds me of my first year at uni, living in halls next to the ‘oriental supermarket’, as it called itself. My friend and I used to drink it when we were feeling hideously hungover. These ‘pearls’ of tea unfurl into whole leaves when placed in water! Most pleasant.

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This fruity tea is an olfactory feast. It’s made of actual chunks of fruit, and smells like purple jelly babies. It’s also a great caffeine-free tea for when you’ve had a few too many coffees and you’re getting a bit twitchy. An antioxidant super tea!

Finally, I have four boxes of tea to give away to one of my lovely readers!

If you would like to win them, simply comment on this post with your twitter handle, email address and your favourite thing about Spring!
For an extra entry, you can also follow me on Twitter here.

The giveaway ends on Wednesday 30th April at 6pm, and I’ll email the winner after that time. I’m afraid this giveaway is open to UK residents only, sorry!

In the meantime, you can also get 10% off all teapigs products online with the discount code tiffanyimogen until the end of April. Hooray!

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Hoot hoot

I thought I’d share my latest illustration, which is a female Eurasian eagle owl.

If you like my illustrations, please consider donating to my MA fund and I will send you some of my greetings cards, even if you’re international! Hooray!

Click here for more info…

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Lambing

Last weekend I went home to Hampshire to see the brand new lambs that have been born! My bro-in-law is one of the directors of Butser Ancient Farm, a working farm that doubles as an iron-age educational facility and open-air archaeological laboratory. They have massive pigs and scraggly goats, and each spring lots of tiny lambs appear.

There are usually one or two ewes that have difficulties during the birth, and the lambs are left to fend for themselves. This means that most years there are a few lambs that need hand-feeding and extra care. This year one mama sheep developed mastitis and was unable to produce milk, and so it came to be that we spent the weekend watching ‘Kevin’ lollop around the garden. He was joined by another unfortunate pal ‘Paddy’, and together they had a lovely time hopping around and eating soil.

If the abandoned lambs are found within two hours of their birth, they have a relatively good chance of survival. If not, their fate will be decided when the first round of infections hit later in the year. Kevin and Paddy seemed very perky, so I have high hopes!

If you’d like to see the lambs, the farm is now open 7 days a week! I highly recommend visiting for Beltain on May 3rd. They burn a huge wicker man to welcome in the warmer months, and you can enjoy live music, real ale and cider, hog roast and falconry. I’ll be selling my greetings cards and illustrations, so see you there!

Note: Apologies for the quality of some of these photos. My camera lens is broken so I have to manually focus everything, and with wriggly lambs it is really hard to get good shots..

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Welcome to my Campaign!

Hello lovely readers!

As many of you may know, I have been accepted onto a very cool MA English course at University College London. It’s the top university in the country for English and I am so excited to start in September!

The course is a crucial part of my life masterplan, which also involves completing a PhD, writing my own fiction and becoming a freelance illustrator. I am determined to get there with lots of jolly hard work.

The one very, very small problem is that I don’t quite have enough pennies to fund my tuition… The course costs £8,500 full-time and although I am planning on studying part-time, this means I have to find £4,250 before September. What a pickle!

This week I started my own crowdfunding campaign to try and raise the money from all my friends, family, readers and networking contacts. The campaign means that when people kindly donate me some money, they receive little rewards from me as a thank you, like greetings cards, illustrations and blog posts.

So far I have raised £562 which is fabulous! I even received a donation from Hugh Bonneville (aka Downton Abbey’s the Earl of Grantham) – what a lovely man!

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I would be so unbelievably grateful to any of my wonderful followers if you could spare a few pennies or pounds. The Arts don’t get much help these days, and after a lot of Googling I found there are no postgraduate funding opportunities available this year.

In exchange I will send you nice greetings cards and personalised wildlife illustrations! Please take a look at my crowdfunding website here and see if anything takes your fancy. You can even pay with PayPal, although a cheque is preferable as the greedy banks pay the fees! If you would like to send a cheque, please email me at tiffany2.francis@gmail.com for my address.

Thank you so much for reading! Here are my first range of greetings cards..!

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Sunflowers

This weekend Toby and I visited our friends in London because we’re moving there in three months and it’s all rather exciting. We decided to visit the National Gallery for no other reason than it was free, we are poor and Toby hadn’t been before. We both like our arty tarty and do a bit ourselves, so after clambering around on the lions by Nelson’s Column for a while (I couldn’t get down), we stepped inside.

To our great delight, we stumbled upon the latest exhibition on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings. Aside from the usual version belonging to the National, they have borrowed the one from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and placed them alongside each other. What a lovely opportunity! It’s common knowledge that artists have often created multiple versions of the same painting, but to be able to compare them and identify the differences was really fascinating.

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The painting above is the National Gallery’s own, acquired in 1924 with assistance from the Courtauld Fund. The painting below belongs to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, which I visited in 2011 when I went interrailing! I’m definitely no stranger to squiggly sunflowers. The National’s version was painted a few months before Amsterdam’s, but Toby thought it was interesting that the earlier painting actually appears to be an older, wilted version of the later one, almost as if the flowers had been left to wither for five months.

The colours are undoubtedly brighter and bolder in Amsterdam’s, and the deep red pigment seen in the heart of one of the flower heads below is unique to this version alone. The shades of Viridian green, Emerald green and French ultramarine were all new additions to artists’ palettes in the nineteenth century. Van Gogh had his tubes of oils sent to him in Provence from his brother in Paris.

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If you can get to the National Gallery before the end of April, it is well worth a trip. The exhibition is running until 27th April and if you’re still not convinced, you can literally buy anything sunflower-themed in the gift shop. Visit the website here!

Review: Dirty Dancing at Bristol Hippodrome

Dirty Dancing has always been one of my favourite films. Set in the 60s and made in the 80s? That’s a recipe for success. To my great delight, I was offered tickets to see the fabulous new stage production at the Bristol Hippodrome. After first visiting a Caribbean restaurant and dosing my boyfriend up on rum-based cocktails I managed to drag him into the theatre, and we sat down in an audience made up of around 97% women. I gazed sympathetically at the bald little heads of husbands and fathers who had been pressured into such a glamorously pink affair. Such sympathy was soon forgotten, however, as my vision became flooded with fabulous fabulous fabulous dancing.

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If you like the film and you don’t like change, this show is perfect. It manages to stay true to the original whilst providing an extra injection of funky dancing. Johnny Castle was played by Lewis Kirk (above), and although at first I was reluctant to be seduced by anyone other than Patrick, I eventually fell in love with him. Especially when he was dancing. Oh my, he can dance.

Baby was played by Roseanna Frascona, and she played it fabulously. I thought her on-stage relationship with her father was very convincing and her dancing was also superb, although not so superb that it was unbelievable. After all, she only learns how to dance in one week. She isn’t going to dance like Penny (played by Claire Rogers, above), who was simply mesmerising. Strangely enough, having watched myriads of dancers flashing their lovely legs all over the stage, I felt the sudden urge to visit the gym the next day.. Squats galore.

Lovely legs aside, the show also provided some excellent musical numbers and plenty of crooning. Wayne Smith’s solos were particularly atmospheric and really mellowed the show out during a couple of intimate moments. The crowd was rather rowdy, and we all died when Johnny came down the aisle, jumped on the stage and delivered that super line: ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a little frightened by the crowd of hooting females jeering and cheering, but it was jolly fun.

If you love singing, dancing, pink lights, jazzy tunes and pretty people, Dirty Dancing is playing at the Bristol Hippodrome until 5th April 2014.

Writing Ukraine

I’m not routin’ for Putin. As the leader of a country that persecutes homosexuals, suppresses free speech and generally has far too much power, I just don’t like him. The situation in Crimea has recently encouraged me to do a little research into Ukrainian culture. Seeing as I don’t have any armies, money or land, there is sadly little I can do to support Ukraine at the moment. Instead, I’ve been reading about their literary history, and I hope that by engaging with some of the best works of Ukrainian authors we can very indirectly support their independence. Of course, if you believe Putin’s coup d’etat theory and you don’t much care for Ukraine, here’s a picture of an elephant instead. Otherwise, here are four intriguing writers who have influenced the Ukrainian literary canon..

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Lesya Ukrainka
(1871-1913)

Aside from being a poet and playwright, Lesya Ukrainka was also a political, social and feminist activist. Her family were devoted to the advancement of Ukrainian culture, and she was educated at home to avoid public schools teaching Russian as the first language. An active opponent of tsarism, she was also the first to translate the Communist Manifesto into her native language. Among her most remembered works is The Forest Song, a mythical play and folkloric love story.

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Mykola Kulish
(1892-1937)

Possibly the most famous Ukrainian playwright of the 20th century, Mykola Kulish was also a veteran of the First World War and the Red Army. He wrote political plays about his impoverished nation whilst touring Southern Ukraine and helping the starving. In 1934 he was arrested by agents of the NKVD and died three years later in Solovki prison camp. His most famous works include Commune in Steppes97 and Farewell, Village

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Iryna Vilde
(1907-1982)

Writing before, during and after WWI, Iryna Vilde wrote a number of short stories and novels about the life of Western Ukrainian intelligentsia and the petty bourgeoisie. She wrote about the clergy, workers, peasantry and students, as well as documenting the activities of various political parties and organisations, the economy, education and culture. In 1943 her husband was shot by the Gestapo, and she died after a long illness in 1982.

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Yuri Andrukhovych
(1960-)

A prose writer, poet, essayist and translator, Andrukhovych is known for his pro-Ukrainian and pro-European views. However, he rejects the idea of Ukrainian nationalism, and respects both the languages of Ukraine and Russia. His works include The Sky and SquaresExotic Birds and PlantsTwelve Rings and The Devil’s Hiding in the Cheese.

A Long Walk to Justice

‘To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.’
Clause 40, Magna Carta

It’s been almost 800 years since the Magna Carta was first sealed by King John on the bank of the Thames in June 1215. In that time we’ve witnessed the abolition of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement and the introduction of gay marriage, as society has pushed forward to bring equality and security to all its citizens. By 2015 we should be entering an era where the money in your pocket should not determine your entitlement to basic human rights. Why is it then, that in February 2014 the Lord Chancellor announced what will amount to a 25% cut in legal aid, the service that provides a fair trial to those who cannot afford to hire a private solicitor?

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As the first Lord Chancellor since the 17th century not to be a qualified lawyer, it comes as no surprise that Chris Grayling has been accused of knowing as much about the legal industry as Alexa Chung knows about the Ukraine Crisis. On Friday 7th March, legal aid lawyers marched from the Houses of Parliament to the Ministry of Justice in protest of the latest cuts. Despite being branded ‘fat cats’ by the prestigious pages of the Daily Mail, the reality facing solicitors and barristers is bleak. Being a solicitor advocate at Shentons in Winchester, my sister Chloe has been telling me how many of us will be seriously disadvantaged by these proposals…

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“I became a criminal lawyer because I really feel there could be nothing worse than being convicted of a crime you didn’t commit.  People constantly ask me how can I defend people who I believe are guilty and I frequently give the example of a young, black male from London who was arrested for drug dealing in Southampton. He had dealt a wrap of heroin to an undercover officer and there was a DNA match to saliva on the wrap.  The client told me he was innocent and had never even been to Southampton.  I advised him of the strength of the evidence against him but in the end I put forward his defence because it is not up to me to draw my own conclusions.  Weeks later whilst awaiting trial he was released because the DNA samples had been mixed up and he was in fact innocent.  If someone tells me they are innocent it is my duty to advance their case to the best of my ability.

In the nine years that I have done this work my perception is that people accused of criminal offences are generally those who find themselves on the margins of society, often for a myriad of reasons.  A high proportion suffer from mental health problems and/or drug addiction.  They frequently come from a difficult upbringing with domestic violence, sexual or physical abuse and generally very little in the way of support or discipline.  They characteristically have learning disabilities and struggle to articulate themselves properly.  These are often the reasons they have failed to secure employment and have turned to crime for financial gain.  Similarly they may be the reason that they struggle to deal with situations when they are angry and they commit acts of violence.  

All of these problems mean that when I come to meet a client there is often so much that they do not say.  Sometimes they are in denial about the full extent of their problems, or they simply find them too difficult to talk about.  It is therefore my job to look into these issues and to help them as best that I can.  I had a client last year who presented as perfectly ‘normal’ in the sense that he was able to give me instructions and indicate that he had committed an offence of arson.  However when I dug deeper with him it became apparent that he did not know why he had committed the offence and certain answers that he gave to my questions deeply concerned me.  He was a man with several convictions and he had moved about having a different solicitor each time.  I adjourned the case for the preparation of psychiatric reports and we discovered that he had suffered a brain injury when he was young and that he had also developed a significant mental disorder.  He was eventually sentenced to mental health treatment in a hospital and the psychiatrist said to me that she could not believe it had taken this long for him to get the treatment he needed.

Hopefully you will agree then that it is vital for lawyers to have the time to consider a case fully.  Sadly this is already in jeopardy due to legal aid firms already functioning on an average profit margin of 5%, we are under considerable pressure to take on as many cases as physically possible to make enough money to continue.  Mr Grayling is now implementing a 25% cut and its pretty much impossible for anyone to stay in business at all.   There will simply not be the money for people to look through the pages and pages of unused material for example, that can often hold the key to a defendant’s acquittal.  ‘Unused material’ is the evidence obtained by the police during an investigation that does not assist the Prosecution and therefore is not going to be ‘used.’  It is disclosed to the Defence for them to analyse it but even with the current system they are not paid separately for doing this and therefore if there are hundreds or even thousands of pages the fee is the same as if there were none.  Currently conscientious solicitors and barristers spend considerable time looking through this material.  With a big company like Tesco running things and a 25% reduction in the fee, my very great fear is that this will simply not happen and if someone does look at it, it is likely to be an unqualified individual who will miss the significance of what they are reading.

On Friday we hoped that we might draw some public support, but people find it hard to sympathise or care about a group of people who they believe are well paid despite the fact that the average criminal solicitor earns less than an NHS nurse.  We were joined by Maxine Peake from Silk and Dave Rowntree from Blur, the latter of which is a criminal legal aid lawyer.  He pointed out that the greatest celebration of the Magna Carta next year would be to continue to honour the liberties and principles enshrined within it.”

Click here to sign the petition to save legal aid, or click here to contact your MP to express your concerns.

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80s Film Night: Ghostbusters

When I heard that Harold Ramis had died, I wondered why I didn’t share the pain of the other mourners littering my Facebook feed. The truth is I had seen neither Ghostbusters nor Groundhog Day, so my sadness was regrettably minimal. Therefore, it made perfect sense for my boyfriend and I to continue our 80s movie trend with a screening of Ghostbusters from 1984. In my defense I did used to watch the cartoon.

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I loved it, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be so creepy ghosty. I always imagined it to be in the Casper realm, whereas in reality it was almost heading towards Dawn of the Dead. Biblical passages, apocalyptic visions, rotting taxi drivers and possessed Exorcist-esque women were more than enough to convince me this was a far cry from Stretch, Stinkie and Fatso.

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The Ghostbusters start out as a group of university parapsychologists, who are kicked out for not producing the right results from their experimental research. They decide to start a business in getting-rid-of-ghosts, and are soon called upon by Sigourney Weaver after she finds a parallel world in her fridge. They get straight to work, and eventually find themselves on top of an apartment building fighting off a bitchy demi-god, two satanic dogs and a rather large Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Needless to say, everything works out in the end.

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The Ghostbusters themselves, played by Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), are a fabulous troop. I also feel really sad that Egon/Harold has passed away, especially after Google told me he also wrote the film with Aykroyd. Perhaps I’ll watch Groundhog Day next?

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