No Complaints #15: Bonkbusters, Brownies and Gertrude Stein's Bath

Thanks to some early NC-adopters being very kind and plugging my thing on their things, we've got quite a few new readers with us this week. Welcome! Long articles, short videos and out-of-context medieval marginalia is mostly what you'll find here.

Things to read

“The system was controlled by a laptop. The laptop died. I removed the hard drive to get at the config files. This project went on a lengthy To Do list and never rose to the top. The lights kept turning on and off. Over time their schedules got out of sync. The driveway lights would stay on for days. The porch lights would never come on, or turn on at 6:15 pm and then off at 6:27. Sometimes they’d just blink on and off and we’d be all “Did you see that?” My sister and I kept lists, tried to discern patterns. I pulled the switches off the walls, only to find that they were just stuck on with tape, with no actual wires underneath. Somewhere in some wall there was a transmitter sending out signals that only the lights could hear.”

What do you do with a dead loved one's browser bookmarks? How about their email account? Or their house, which they have set up to run automatically on a series of systems you don't understand and can't access? When Jessamyn West's father died, she started to wish he'd left her a user manual to his life. Email to Pocket.


Fifty Shades of Grey deploys every bonkbuster cliché in existence – powerful men, private planes and multiple orgasms. But the trilogy also responds to a new measure of doubt in the recession culture of today: Anastasia, towards the end of the first volume, becomes uneasy about the money thing. Before splitting up with Chris – don’t worry, they’ll be back on the thwacking sled, and more vigorously, in Fifty Shades Darker – she gives him back the laptop, the car and the BlackBerry. There’s a crunch to the gravel beneath her feet as she walks away: I’m not a whore, she thinks. If you want to buy me you’ll have to up your game and tell me who you really are. I deserve love. The real deal. Then we can go to the Red Room and then we can spend your money.”

A certain film is out. I don't know about you, but I'm already braced to endure the inevitable fresh wave of “but what does Fifty Shades of Grey really mean for women” pieces. Avoid all of those, and just read this one by Andrew O’Hagan that ran in the LRB when the books first took off – excellently, he places it in the context of the previous few decades’ worth of “bonkbuster” novels and eschews the “but whither feminism after this?” angle completely. Email to Pocket.

“[For a previous post] I needed to visit one of every kind of tube carriage, and I wanted to do it as quickly as possible. How to travel on each of the London Underground's eleven lines in the shortest time? And that's the All Lines Challenge. This is a much simpler version of the more well known Tube Challenge, where intrepid travellers attempt to visit every station on the London Underground. But in this case the target is simply to travel on at least one section of each line, making the challenge much easier and quicker to complete.”

Not only is this a real thing people dash around my city doing, my favourite London blogger went straight into the league table at number 35. Email to Pocket.


“Miss Stein has an outsize bathtub that was especially made for her. A staircase had to be taken out to install it. After her bath she puts on a huge wool bathrobe and writes for a while, but she prefers to write outdoors, after she gets dressed. Especially in the Ain country, because there are rocks and cows there. Miss Stein likes to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. The two ladies drive around in their Ford till they come to a good spot. Then Miss Stein gets out and sits on a campstool with pencil and pad, and Miss Toklas fearlessly switches a cow into her line of vision. If the cow doesn't seem to fit in with Miss Stein's mood, the ladies get into the car and drive on to another cow. When the great lady has an inspiration, she writes quickly, for about fifteen minutes. But often she just sits there, looking at cows and not turning a wheel.”

A New Yorker piece from 1934 about Gertrude Stein's daily routine. Email to Pocket.


“Along the way, Brownies were there when history happened. In 1912, 17-year-old Bernice Palmer was travelling from New York City to the Mediterranean on the SS Carpathia - the ship which was diverted to pick up survivors from the sinking of the Titanic. Palmer had with her a Brownie camera - her pictures of the survivors being hauled aboard the Carpathia and the iceberg which had sealed her fate are among the only recorded images of the disaster.”

The BBC profiles the Brownie camera, arguably "the most important cardboard box ever". Of course, the piece comes with some incredible photos, and there's a follow up with even more. Email to Pocket.


Things to listen to

I'm having a bit of a Virginia Woolf renaissance at the moment – I've just finished Mrs Dalloway, and I'm about to start Jacob's Room. Browsing the interweb looking for Woolf-related stuff, I came across this, the only known recording of her voice. It's from 1937, and is a section of a BBC radio series called Words Fail Me. Woolf's contribution was titled “Craftsmanship”. Her accent is mesmeric.

Things to watch

Severus Snape in the right order.

A mumuration.

Two girls, one Bach toccata.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Please. Go. Away. Sleeping.

The guest gif

This one is for every woman in the UK who has been asked what she thinks of a pink bus this week. The fightback starts here.

THE END. See you next time*!

*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links