Wednesday, 7 November 2012

All about sex

[Another article written for university.]

Her life is all about sex. She reads, writes, and talks about it. Thinks about it - a lot. And on her office window high up above the city, there is a three-letter sign: SEX. Some people might say she is obsessed with it, but for Jocelyn Wentland sex is her job. She is a sex researcher at Ottawa University, and has been studying relationships, both sexual and otherwise, ever since she took a sexuality class as an undergraduate. Wentland is very outspoken person who feels comfortable with using straightforward street-level sexual words, which don’t always sound exactly scientific or academic.

"Stefan Franke" /
For her honours thesis at the University of British Columbia, she looked at why women have casual sex. Wentland says, "We found that women engage in casual sex for the same reasons men do: They are drunk, they are horny, they want to do it, the guy is hot and they want to take him home from the bar."

Since then she has moved on to focus on how both gender's definition of relationships have changed, on which she focuses for her PhD thesis. "Classically, you hear ‘relationship’ and think of committed, long-term, monogamous situations, ending in marriage, kids and a house in the suburbs. But for many people, especially young adults, the notion of what qualifies as a relationship is very different."

Many might only think of strangers and the classic one-night stand when hearing 'casual sex', but Wentland sees a more nuanced definition in her research. There are three other types of relationships she looks at: the 'Booty Call', 'Fuck-Buddies' and 'Friends With Benefits'. "They are casual sex relationships, but they are ongoing, and there is an element of knowing the person, which is definitely not there with the one-night stand," she explains.

But with all these nuances, there's also the problem of defining casual sex. "Are we talking about intercourse, any kind of sexual activity, oral sex and do both people get oral sex? That is a big problem with the literature, that researchers don't define casual sex." Her very own definition for casual sex is the “sexual activity that happens outside the context of a committed relationship”.

While friends and family know what she does for a living, Wentland is a little careful in telling other people. She has two ways in which she answers what her job is. If it is a friend, or someone who she thinks can handle the truth, she says sex researcher. Other people get the more diplomatic answer, a psychologist or a relationship researcher. But the reactions can still be quite interesting. "I've heard everything from 'I can't believe you're getting a PhD in that' to: ‘You must be some sex-crazy nymphomaniac' and everything in between", says Wentland. That might be why many of her fellow researchers identify themselves as relationship researchers. "That's safer, essentially. Maybe I'm just pushing the envelope, but I'm happy to do sex research."

And for all the time she spends researching relationships and sex, she cannot define her own sexuality. "I will have to think about that", she says with a shrug. "Yes, I do sex research, but my personal life is pretty private to me." She continously tries to separate the research from her personal life: "My career is very different from my sex life."

She pauses a moment to think, then says, "I notice that I am immersed in this pretty much full-time: Reading about sex, writing about it, researching it, analysing sex results and findings from my study. I am always in it, and I am able to talk about really intimate and personal things, but they are not that intimate or personal to me, because I have that researcher's hat on. For me, sex is not something that only happens behind closed doors." She has had dating partners in the past who had problems with her being a sex researcher. "They would ask me whether this was Jocelyn, the sex researcher or Jocelyn, the girlfriend," she says. "It's a balance. Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone lives the life of a sex researcher."

Sunday, 4 November 2012

“I gave up everything”

[This is an article I wrote for university.]

Born in India and educated in Scotland, Tessa Ransford founded the Scottish Poetry Library in 1984. Now aged 73, she lives on her own in Edinburgh and still writes poetry every day.

I have rheumatism, so when I get up in the morning, I first do around 20 minutes of exercise. At the same time, I'm listening to radio programmes like “Start the Week”, or “Woman's Hour”, depending on what time I get up.

I have porridge for breakfast, but that's partly because of a thyroid cancer operation I had last autumn - I couldn't swallow hard things like cereals, so now I have porridge. I sometimes eat bread and marmalade, but I always end up throwing away the rest of the bread, because it is very hard to get through a whole loaf if you live on your own. It's not fair, the supermarkets say “Two for the price of one”, but you don't want two if you live alone.

After breakfast I buy the paper and go for a walk. I love listening to the birds while walking though the park. I do any shopping I need, come back, have a coffee, and then I write until lunchtime. I'm writing every day. At the moment I am working on a review of a book in which Scottish poetry was translated into German. But I don't get paid for this work. I don't make a single sou, in fact I lose money by being a poet.

In the eighties, I had my first two or three books of poetry published, and although they'd been reviewed, I didn't have anyone to talk to. I was a housewife, I didn't have anyone to get feedback from. In those days, even if you had poetry published, you didn't mention it to anyone. It was very isolated.

So in 1981, I started a workshop for people writing poetry, called the “School of Poets”. There were twelve of us. It was a workshop for people who were already writing, not for people who thought they might like to write. I called it “practicing poets”. People rather jeered at that, saying that any genuine poet wouldn't need any teaching. It was incredible what some said. But my reply was: “You don't know what you need to know until you need to know it”. You're always learning and experimenting. You're absorbing new ideas. So the interaction with other poets is vital.

After that, through meeting those other poets and realizing the emptiness of the literature scene for poets, I founded the Scottish Poetry Library in 1984, and we got some funding and got the project started. I felt, no one else is going to give up everything for this, so I did. Lots of people contributed wonderfully, but me, I gave up everything. Everything, that's what it took. I don't regret doing it. There's no point regretting things.

I ran the library for 18 years, until it moved to the building it's now in, and then I retired. My work wasn't for nothing, it succeeded, the Poetry Library has got a huge amount of money now and it's doing really well.

I got an OBE for the work I did with the Poetry Library. It was very exciting. I felt that it was important to accept it because of all the work other people had done to make it possible, it wasn't just for me. It was in Holyrood Palace, and Sean Connery was getting a knighthood the same day. I was in the same building with the Queen and Sean Connery, and the captain of the Scottish Rugby team.

You can almost see Holyrood from my window. When I first came to this flat, I wrote poems looking out of the window for a year. “Shadows from the Greater Hill” consisted of poems from different seasons and different times of day. Since I had the operation, I've used the view over Arthur's Seat once again for inspiration. The painter Cézanne painted this mountain Mont Sainte-Victoire over eighty times. Well, Arthur's seat is my Mont Sainte-Victoire. It's so close, you can almost touch it.

After writing, there's lunch. I like rice, tea, marmite and butter. I love butter. I always put lots of butter on my bread and lots of butter in my cooking. I don't care about cholesterol. I think that's because we were short of everything when I was a child during wartime. I try to have salad and fruit often. I used to have chapattis for lunch, but now I have pancakes.

After lunch I check my e-mails, and usually work until 5.30, if I don't have the grandchildren here after school. I have eight grandchildren, six boys, two girls. The eldest is 25, she's a professional dancer and singer, the youngest is seven. They are all amazing.

My father was a Royal Engineer. After the First World War, he was posted to India. That was what happened in those days, it was quite normal to go to India, and he stayed there for 25 years.
I think it was a big culture shock for me coming to Scotland having been born in India, but I was only a child. What made me realize that it must have been pretty traumatic was when I came back again, having spent eight years in Pakistan, when I was 30, and then I felt the culture shock consciously - that, what I must have experienced unconsciously as a ten-year old. I was married to a church of Scotland missionary, and went with him to Pakistan. I learned Urdu and Punjabi by using index cards. 300 sentences written on little cards with a bamboo quill. In one of my books that comes out this year, there's this poem called “Don't mention this to anyone”, which uses some of the Urdu model sentences we had to learn.

I consider myself Scottish, and I want independence for Scotland. I want it badly. Desperately. I remember being in the Poetry Library once and this man in a long black coat came in. It was a cold winter's night, and he walked around the library without saying anything. But then he came to my desk, slapped a book down on the table and said: “This is the best poet in Scotland.” And I said, “Oh, that's interesting, where are you from?”, and he replied “London”. And that's just typical! I mean, I was so furious, I was livid, but I just smiled and said: “Thanks for coming from London to tell me who the best poet in Scotland is.”

After writing all afternoon I look at the news and have supper. I don't eat much meat. If the children are coming, I might get some to make a stew, but not for myself. I make things like macaroni cheese, risotto or fish pies - simple food. I used to cook for four children, so it had to be simple.

A person I would love to invite to dinner is Lynne Truss. She wrote this amazing book about Tennyson, “Tennyson's Gift”. I read it in hospital and it kept me alive. She's incredibly witty and funny. We'd have lots of laughs. So I would have her and Maggie Smith. She's got that bitter edge, and I like people like that. I don't like people who are too goody-goody.

If I'm not going out in the evening, I read and watch the telly and do my knitting. I decided to take up knitting again when I had the thyroid operation, because I had to rest, and with not being able to dash about, I thought it would be nice to do some knitting. So I knitted a big scarf. I asked my daughter, who's a midwife, what to knit next, and she said that they're always looking for little squares for the premature babies. So I'm knitting squares for premature babies now. It feels nice, I like doing it. I'm contributing to the future.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A walk in the (pine) woods

The pine grove trail

Just came back from walking in Ottawa's green belt, and had to shake the last remaining ladybugs out of my hair. They are absolutely everywhere, and they seem to have taken a special liking to me - at one point there were a rough dozen clinging to my clothes.

It's a lovely day today, all warm and sunny (and it feels even warmer when thinking of all the cold weeks before), and it felt really great to wear a T-shirt, and not shirt-hoodie-coat-combination outside.

So when I saw the sun, I just had to go out and do something - and decided to try out the "pine grove forest trail. As soon as I had entered the forest, I could see why it was called such. Anyway, let's stop babbling and have a look at some pictures instead...

Love this picture - I think it looks like a painting

Pine wood

Spiders seem to love needles

Fun walking on this strange trail
Calm, calmer, Buddha
Another close-up

Dozens of ladybugs descended upon me - and my phone
If there's someone in Ottawa who now wants to walk this trail to, here's a map.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Broke? Free book


just a quick notice:
My book is free this weekend on - it's in German, but you can always try to read it anyway. Download it, tell other people, spread the news...
Thanks! :)

Friday, 19 October 2012

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


There's been a tiny earthquake in the Montreal region, which, reportedly, could be felt even in Ottawa. I didn't feel anything, I was sound asleep, but when I saw all the wonderful Twitter posts, I couldn't resist writing to a few earthquake experts to find out how often things like this actually happen.
The first scientist that answered wasn't in Ottawa. She'd flown to California to do earthquake research. How ironic - she traveled 500 miles to get closer to earthquakes, and then missed the one in her home town.

Anyway, I will try to get some nice radio interviews with earthquake experts and will then publish them on here sometime. Stay posted. Don't let the big bad earthquakes get you.

Just when you thought you knew everything about busses

Canadian busses can be overwhelming.
First, they (almost) always seem to be on time, and often too early.
Then, if you want to get off, don't start for handy little buttons to press. Nope, much cooler than that - you have to pull on a yellow cord that is drawn once around the inner walls of the bus.
Thirdly (I should have made this a bullet-point list), the back doors don't open automatically (which could be an advantage during the winter to avoid having the cold draft over and over again, but could also be a disadvantage for all the unassuming tourists (and new students) that wait desperately for the doors to open by themselves. But no matter how long you wait, they won't open. Unless you press a yellow bar which at first glance resembles a holding post - but it isn't. It's soft and squischy and yellow and you can never be completely sure how hard you have to press it.
While the doors might be a slight inconvenience, the Ottawa busses make up for it by having a bike rack at the front - outside. You can just pull it down, put your bike on, and hope that the driver won't be distracted by having a dazzlingly pink bike in front of him.
Picture: STW

Monday, 23 July 2012

Ode to traffic lights

My dear reader,

have you ever wondered whether you appreciate the little things in life? Take traffic lights. They shine for us, they even change their colour twice (or even three times) within a few minutes, just to please us - isn't that service?!

They look out for us, but what do we do? We ignore them. Cold-heartedly we walk past them. We look at them dismissingly without ever feeling guilty. We don't spare them a second glance.

But they were built to protect us. Do we feel so indestructible that we can renounce them?

Remember: Traffic lights do have feelings!

So the next time you stand there in the pole position, your whole body leaning towards the other side of the road, your mind already five streets away - relax, take a deep breath and think of the things that might go through the traffic light's bright little head.
Don't ignore it.
Smile, and say thank you.

Then the world will be a better place.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Blogging for somebody else

For the German speakers among my readers: I am currently in Berlin, reporting from the BDEW-Congress (energy and water suppliers) for the German youth press. We'll be producing a newspaper at the end of the event, and we are blogging and tweeting regularly until Thursday. So please feel free to have a look at our blog and tweets.
Cheers :)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 6 - Land of the thousand lochs

When I wake up, my legs are covered (well, almost) in insect bites. There must be something living in the bed. Well, at least I managed to feed a few hungry creatures.
The guys arrive quite late, but as soon as start walking, we are back in yesterday's fast pace again. We pass a little church, and then walk along the shore of the loch, enjoying the splendid views over the crystal-clear lake.

Using tiny paths leading around some farm buildings, we come to the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail outside of Kincraig. Frank Bruce, who died in 2009, was an artist and sculptor who used woodcarving as a way to express himself in a way that words did not offer him (he was dyslexic and left school at 13). The sculptures are very impressive and thought-provoking, and it's a pity we don't have the time to look around a bit more.
If you want, have a look at Frank Bruce's very inspiring biography:
“Essentially, the reason for the sculptures was to say that I’m still here. I am here and I’ve got something to say.”

Soon after we arrive at Feshiebridge, where one of the men decides to take a bath in the icy waters. He takes off his clothes, and jumps. I take up position on the old bridge and get some lovely pictures of him hurling himself from the rocks. Enjoy :)

Brave man...

After some trouble finding the right way (some signs and way marks mentioned in the guidebook no longer exist), we continue walking on broad forest tracks. There are several junctions, and as I seem to be the only one with a map/guidebook, I lead the group (fun).

We're having lunch at Drake's Bothy, where I also scale a lovely climbing tree (and notice that I'm a bit out of practice).

Now out of the forest, we walk through an open heather landscape, with birch trees and little muddy mini-lochs scattered all over the place. There are fantastic views over the Cairngorm mountains, the highest of which are still covered in snow.

After passing small Loch Gamhna, the track is plastered with puddles. The men have fun dropping heavy stones into the mud to have brown water splash over everyone and everything - including me :) It's getting even more hilarious when the people at the top of the group start building tree barriers for the rest of the walkers:

Mud-splattered, we arrive at the beautiful Loch an Eilean, where - after taking a wrong turn once again - we finally make it to the visitor centre (lovely ice-cream). From the shore of the loch we have a fantastic view over the loch and its island castle. No wonder this was voted "Britain's best picnic spot".

From the loch, we use some nice paths to get to Aviemore, passing another small Loch and the Rothiemurchus Estate, which offers a variety of activities, both on the water and on land. I wanted to do the Treezone activity there, but I was too late that day.

Soon, we arrive in Aviemore, and after having a quick drink in a pub, it's victory photo time - at the station opposite:

In the evening, the men put away their kilts and step into weird and wonderful costumes. There's a 3-course dinner at the hotel they're staying, and I'm invited along. It seems to be tradition for them to have this costume evening, and there are some really great disguises present. There's Darth Vader (who looks great sitting there texting on his phone - ever seen him do that before?!), a pink hippo (who wins the prize for best costume), a very serious looking Sherlock Holmes, and many, many more.
In the evening, when it's time to leave for the station, Darth Vader, a pirate, a clown and Elvis accompany me there - very much to the amusement of the passengers of an earlier train (before which the station manager actually announced "Elvis, please move away from the platform" via the speakers) and later, my own one.

Now, this has been it - my East Highland Way trip. It was full of surprises (who could have guessed I'd end up walking with twenty men in kilts?!), sunshine, rain and blisters. And it brought me about 600 photos. I might post a few more over the next couple of days, and I also plan to write something of a concluding text, with some tips and ideas for other people wanting to do the walk (i.e. the practicalities). Until then, have a look at the fantastic EHW website...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 5 - Of cows and men

The bed in Newtonmore Hostel is the best ever! It's extremely hard climbing out from under the comfy blankets, especially when seeing the rain running down outside the window. After five days with fairly good weather, the rain god has decided to stir things up a bit.

I'm having breakfast in a lovely tea room (Betty's Pantry and Tearoom), where the owner lets me copy her tablet recipe. Something to try out at home...
The guys turn up late (again), this time, only a few are wearing kilts, most are - like me - in heavy rain gear. But thanks to the rain the air is fresh and cool, and the clouds give the mountains a mystical appearance.

Because we don't fancy walking several miles on a tarred cycle path and because it is too wet for the alternative boggy route, we take the vans to Kingussie, from where we start the walk. The first leg of the trek takes us to the impressive Ruthven barracks, built in 1719 after the first Jacobite uprising. There's a Highland cow standing directly in front of it; it almost looks as if she (?) was posing for a picture.

After the barracks, we leave the road and begin to follow the way marked Badenoch trail. It takes us on small footpaths through lovely birch forests and over open farm- and moorland. There are several bird hides on the way, but unfortunately we don't stop to have a closer look. Our walking speed is the fastest yet; luckily my blisters have disappeared and my fitness seems to have improved quite considerably.

We have lunch on an old stone bridge (built in 1728) leading over a gurgling river. I manage to drop a few oatcakes into the water, but at least that might feed the fish in there.

By now, the rain has stopped, and we rid ourselves of the sweaty rain gear. The men are all wearing bright orange T-shirts with the name of their charity and all the walks they've done in recent years on the back. Next year they will walk the Great Glen Way and have already invited me to come along. Tempting...

After the bridge, the forest becomes darker and darker - at least compared to the bright birch forests from earlier - and the forest track gets thinner until it's no bigger than a comfortable path. After all the tarmac roads of the past days, this is heaven for our feet (or maybe - a bit more down to earth - like a nice massage).

We pass through two tiny villages nestled deep into the forest.

The path ascends quite heavily, and with our pace being as fast as it is, the group splits up - as so often -  into two parties, the fast and the slow. But this time, I am in the faster one - yippieh :)

The trail passes over some boggy ground, and one of the walkers slips and lands on the muddy ground. Luckily, he's alright - and a source of amusement for the next hour or so.

After some time, the forest gets less gloomy and we begin to meet some other people - walkers, elderly gentlemen walking their dogs and a group of people looking at fallen trees on the ground (maybe they plan to plant some new ones). Soon, Loch Insh comes into view, a large lake close to the village of Kincraig. After a lot of up-and-downs on tiny footpaths, we arrive at Loch Insh Watersports Centre. The vans with the other charity walkers that didn't take part in today's leg are already there, and together we sit down for a pint (and some lovely ice-cream). There's a large group of children out in the water being taught how to windsurf - it must be freezing in the water today.

From here, the lads drive me to my hostel, Cairngorms Christian Centre in Kincraig. I have to wait for half an hour or so for someone to arrive and let me in - mobile reception here is as bad as it was everywhere along the way, and the nice lady who then shows me around the centre never got my message. After leaving my stuff in the hostel, I have a look around the village shop (and get a newspaper - more sudokus for later on), and because it has started to rain again, I seek refuge in the Ossian Inn, a hotel in the village (and the closest place to get some food). The kitchen is still closed, so I sit down with some tea and read the paper, until the chef arrives (but the food later on is very much worth the wait).

Here a final group picture that didn't fit into the entry above:

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Day 4 - Wildcats of the Glen

The Rumblie Guesthouse feels more like a hotel. I have a wonderful twin room with an ensuite bathroom (boasting a shower with two shower heads that make the water rain down on me from all directions) and even a little TV. This morning, I'm having smoked haddock and poached eggs - after that I am so full of energy that I can't wait to start today's walk.
Just after 10am, the men in kilts arrive. Just outside Laggan, we pass Cluny Castle, which - according to the owner of last night's accommodation - is now owned by a Norwegian businessman, who only lives there a few weeks a year.
Behind the castle, a track leads up into the hills. The route follows the (way marked) Glen Banchor trail, so this time the chances of us taking a wrong turn are fairly slim (and we actually manage to follow the official EHW route all day). Today, there are almost as many men walking as on the day I first met them.

The path is much nicer than the tracks yesterday, and the route is the best so far: It takes us high into the glen, sporting a rugged, beautiful landscape.

After crossing a shallow stream (oh, how I missed all the stream crossing), we arrive at a lonely stalker's bothy. Sitting on the ruins of some former dwellings, we have lunch (and meet a German couple walking the EHW there - in the Highlands, all people you meet seem to be either Scottish or German), before proceeding over more and more boggy ground.

There are more streams to cross (after some time you develop a tactic that works most of the time), but all of them shallow enough to cross without much effort. We come across several frogs and toads, some very interesting birds, some of which I have never seen/heard before, and even a pheasant.

But we are probably too loud to see any deer or wildcats. After about three hours of walking through beautiful Glen Banchor, the path becomes a more sturdy trail which leads down towards Newtonmore.

But some of us decide to take the slightly longer, but much more beautiful wildcat-trail into the village. This area is known for its wildcat population, and there is not only a way marked trail through this cat territory, but there are also dozens of painted wildcat statues to be found all over Newtonmore.

Newtonmore is a nice little place, with my hostel in the middle of it. I'm in a private twin room, because the owners didn't want to out me into an all-male dorm.
Later, I go to the pub opposite, where I meet the German couple I saw near the ruins earlier today. With a delicious haggis and some local Dalwhinnie whisky, we get talking. It's strange speaking German...

Read more about my East Highland Way trip here.

Day 3 - Blisters, bogs and bridges

Yesterday, walking with the men in kilts was so much fun, that they arranged to pick me up at my hostel after breakfast. When they come (half an hour late), they take my backpack into the van and off we walk. Belinda at the Station Lodge recommended a shortcut, which we - well, let's just say we try to take it. With very limited results. Limited to walking on railway tracks, climbing under a viaduct, crossing rivers (again), and climbing over a few more fences. It's definitely never dull walking with those guys.

After even more river and fence crossings (just to add to the fun), we end up on the same railway track we have left half an hour earlier. But this time, we think we see a path (the one we've been looking for the whole time), so we climb over the rustiest fence so far - and from then on we are lost. We climb a steep hill while navigating around dead wood and broken branches, until after what seems like a very long time we arrive on a forest track (not the one we were looking for, but better than no track at all).
We have some trouble orientating (phones have no connection up here, and compasses are so old-fashioned), and so we manage to walk into the wrong direction (again) for about a mile, until we realise our mistake when the dam we are supposed to be passing is on our left instead of on our right hand side.

While taking some pictures on the dam, one of the men drops his guidebook into the water. Even though he manages to get it out - after several attempts - it's too late. The book is ruined, and we leave it behind as a warning to the next EHW walker.
So back we go, and then onwards following the forest track for a very long time. It's nice and cool in the forest, especially after the last two days of extreme heat, but the forest road is uncomfortable to walk on. Unfortunately, there won't be many nice tracks today.
After a steady ascent we leave Corrour forest and are rewarded with fantastic views over the Moy reservoir and the hills behind, shrouded in mist.

After a short break we're back in the forest again, descending towards Moy Bridge.

It's early afternoon by the time we get to Moy, and - to save time - we decide to cross a field - only to discover a bit too late how boggy it is (probably the reason why the road leads all the way around it). One of the men, Paul, has to discover this the hard way by sinking knee-deep into the mud (poor kilt).
After some time, we arrive at Loch Laggan. By now, my feet are starting to hurt, and our energy levels are dropping rapidly.

After two hours or so on the banks of the loch, we arrive at a EHW signpost - the first one (it's not an official trail yet, so there is no way marking otherwise). It marks the diversion around Ardverikie estate, where the TV-Series "Monarch of the Glen", and - more recently - the film "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" were filmed. Because the diversion was mentioned on the EHW website, we decide to follow the signs just to be on the safe side. But soon we regret this decision, when we see how far this route is taking us away from the banks of the loch. So we take a turn marked on the OS maps, and arrive at the estate. There is no one to be seen, and we use the beautiful house as a backdrop for dozens of pictures.

From then on, it's getting tedious. We're exhausted and our pace has decreased to an all time low. We can see the sandy beach (the largest freshwater beach in Europe, or at least that's what it says in the guidebook) we want to reach, but it takes over half an hour until we're finally there. 

Near the beach, we get picked up by the vans, and they give me a lift to my Guesthouse in Laggan. Another day has ended, after 33 kilometres :)

Read more about my East Highland Way trip here.