Fairy Bells
Abi Frost

DING-DONG DING-DONG! I hope Caroline and Lilian and anyone else I've forgotten passed theirs too.
D O N G ! ! !

Rather belatedly I realized that I'd never been much good at exams that involved FACTS, from O-level Phys with Chem right up to Oxford Final Honour School Hist of the Eng Lang. Oops, I thought. So at the age of 32, when most people are starting to teach this sort of stuff to their children, I had to learn exam technique. (No, I tell a lie. At the age of 31 years 11 months and 2 weeks. See what I mean about facts?) Mind you, it helps when, as at LCP, the teachers drop heavy hints as to what's on the paper. Though when, as one of them did, they drop a heavy hint then set something else it is not at all funny. Oh dear, no.

Strange how the old responses come back. Read the paper through twice, mark what you're going to answer, make rough notes for all questions before writing any full answers, do your best questions first ... the voice of my old history mistress echoes down the years. Did I do all that for Schools? Can't remember. All I can remember of that ordeal was sitting next to a bloke called Bill Frost who I knew slightly, and who had the most ENORMOUS writing; it wasn't so much a question of being able to read it, as not being able not to. Decided there wasn't anything in his scripts worth copying; just as well -- he got a third, tee hee.

Back in 1973, young Andrew said to me 'Gosh, it's just like O-level!' All very well for him; he only took his O-levels six years ago, and anyway I failed half mine first go.

Not this time, though, I mean, I even passed Bookbinding, which was a stinker. Suddenly I have this ridiculous desire to go out and take lots and lots of exams just to show I can do it. I could even try O-level Maths, I thought ...

Because one of the ways in which the dreaded New Tech has improved life all round, in my view, is that you can now take calculators in to exams. And if that had been allowed in 1967 (or 1968, or 69 ...) then I wouldn't have had the dreadful ordeal of failing Maths O-level three times, I could have spent the time in retake classes on learning German. Because I didn't mind the logical side of it; geometry I enjoyed. I just couldn't calculate accurately, and consequently was so frightened by calculations that I got in a panic and couldn't even remember the way to work things. Now, of course ... Yes you're right, the time would be better spent learning German, if that's what I actually regret not doing. But I do have this idea of O-level Maths as a dragon from my past that I can now beat.

Well, we still don't see why bells, they say. Well, assuming this comes out at the Red Lion, there are 124 shopping days to .......

Interim Report of the Women's History Commemorative Marymas Present Collective Working Party

The Goddess rest you merry, sisterfolk,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Mary, Anne's daughter,
Gave birth on Marymas day,
To save our bodies from man's foul clutch
When we had gone astray ...

Many women have long been concerned for some time at the male appropriation of the Great Winter Festival of Semenless Birth, or Marymas, and have demanded that we take urgent action as quickly as possible to recover it into our own hands. Certain of the specific suggestions, such as that the BBC should be made to broadcast women's carols from Queen's College, Oxford have had to be rejected as impractical (as requiring co-operation from male-dominated structures such as the BBC), or ideologically inappropriate (Queen's College, it having been proved by the research of Oxford sisters, being a male foundation and presently co-residential). There have been further suggestions that the project be undertaken strictly in relation to the wider initiative taking place to restore to women's consciousness a knowledge of our heritage and the place in herstory of the many great women of history that lived in the past. It was therefore decided to concentrate for the present on the present-giving aspects of the Marymas tradition, those having the dual advantages of being totally under the complete control of the individual women, and being a part of the tradition which is undeniably female in its ultimate origins, since men plainly do not have the innate generosity and spirit of sisterhood which is implied in the act of present-giving by nature. (The 'Three Wise Men' of the story are obviously a masculinist corruption of the original characters, who wore originally Wise Women bringing herbal remedies to Mary in her child-bed, as is amusingly proved by the fact that they are frequently iconographically depicted in paintings etc wearing dresses.) Accordingly, the Women's History Commemorative Marymas Present Collective Working Party was therefore formed.

The Working Party is presenting this interim report in order that we nay have our sisters' reactions to the suggested presents (please send cash only, no cheques), in good time to start femufacturing the goods in good time for Marymas. So please contact us now -- don't wait for second thoughts.

The first of our presents is the Virginia Woolf Wellingtons. Available in all Women's sizes, they are ideal for sisters in town or country. Just the thing for those trips down the stream of consciousness. One Florence Nightingale per pair -- pebbles not included. Very young women (ages; 3-8) will love the Rosa Luxemburg Waterwings when splashing about in the Great Female Element at the swimming baths. 6.55 Nightingales (airpump extra). (It has been suggested that a larger size night be produced, for the benefit of those sisters who have been systematically denied by the masculinist education system the chance to learn the female skill of swimming. We would appreciate sisters' suggestions in this matter.)

A present for sisters abroad who are learning English? Easy-peasy. Send them The Emily Dickinson Rhyming Dictionary. This slim volume fits into an envelope and is light enough to send by airmail the sort of post that goes on aeroplanes. 0.695 Nightingales (envelope extra).

Fancy a flutter on the Oaks? The Emily Davison Guide to the Turf will make sure every one's a winner. Follow this guide to every thoroughbred filly in Britain, (full details of dams included) and your group need never be short of funds again. You can milk the male bookies every time! 1.5 Nightingales plus postage and packing.

Fed up with slaving over a hot gas-stove? End it all with the Sylvia Plath Oven-glove. This is available in two versions: Regular (0.5 Nightingales), handwoven in finest corn-silk, and heavily padded, and De Luxe, exquisitely embroidered by blind sisters with the text of what is possibly Sylvia's last unpublished laundry-list, and only 2.5 Nightingales. Ergonomically designed so that it is easy to turn the gas on while wearing it.

Another really practical present is the Great Isis First-Aid Kit, which will enable your health collective to actually carry out major replacement surgery (on women's parts only). It's also just the thing for all those serious fatal accidents that take place as a result of kitchens being designed by arrogant male architects who do not consult women. 1 Nightingale (Bandages, disinfectant, needle, thread, and scalpel-blades not supplied).

If your collective gives presents to other collectives (hint, hint), then splash out for a change on the Isadora Duncan Open-topped Riviera Mini-bus. Runs on ecologically sound hen-shit (no need to brave insolent men at petrol stations), and seats a whole subcommittee and their luggage. Only 1000 Nightingales -- and this includes a super free chiffon scarf for the driver!

Finally, what about some music to make your Marymas party go with a swing? A real treat for classical fans are our Dame Ethel Smyth Original Reproduction Antique Piano Rolls. Ethel plays The Wreckers and all her other old favourites in honky-tonk style. 2 Nightingales each -- send for details of pianola hire. Pop fans will love Women's Greatest Hits; all your favourite bopping numbers, such as Bessie Smith's Nobody loves you when you're down and out, Dusty Springfield's You don't have to say you love me, Joan Baez's Where have all the flowers gone?, Christine Perfect's I'd rather go blind, Yoko Ono's Don't Worry Kyoko, Mama's only looking for a hole in the snow, and Bonnie Brammett's I can't take it much longer. Original recordings re-created by the Women's Music Recording Project Jug Band; really happy listening for a fun occasion. Mono only, double album, 0.999 Nightingales.

Don't delay -- write off today. Buy now while stocks last, as the witch said to the hanging judge. Let's make this Marymas a real women's festival.

Send cash with order to Wizard Witch Fun of Poplar. NB: all payments must be in Nightingale (£10) notes, used and unmarked, as these are the only banknotes that relate to women, and we do not support the masculinist banking and Inland Revenue structures. Surplus monies will of course be donated to the Cause.

Please send me all the listed presents except the following ........

I enclose



Delivery not guaranteed.

If anyone wants to buy me a Marymas present, then I'd like Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces, by Nicolete Gray (Faber £20), please. Oh, and Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, currently available at the Booksmith for £20 (why am I telling you this? You'll go out and buy all the copies) -- and a bike. A proper decent godfearing ladies' roadster, none of these nasty modern racing things like what Lindsey rides. With a thing to stop my skirt catching in the chain, please, and a basket and a horn that plays the Red Flag. And none of these gear things; if god had meant us to go at different speeds she'd have given us four pairs of legs.

The only trouble with being no 4,000,001 is the lack of money, as far as I can see. I was just in the Basement Arts Project, doing the electrostencil for the cover, and this young lad came in and started doing the whole number -- 'Oh god, I must get a job. If I don't get a job I'll die ... I must get a job. What will I do if I don't get a job...' and so forth. The people there, rather sensibly for community arts workers, just ignored him and in the end he went away to moon at somebody else. But the lack of money ...

I mean, if I had a bike I would actually have almost enough to live on if I gave up smoking and drinking as well. Well, nearly. If I didn't do fanzines and extravagant things like that, or buy all the reduced yoghurts in Safeways because they are such a bargain. But I can't buy a bike because I never actually have enough money at once to buy a second-hand one, and I can't quite bring myself to use the credit card for a new one. Anyway, they don't sell the sort of bike I want new; it evolves in the back of second-hand bike shops, they don't make new ones.

I could borrow the money from Dick, I suppose, but I owe him vast sums already, and I don't like to increase the debt because until I pay it all back I would feel such a shit if I ran off with the milkman. Not that I want to run off with the milkman, you understand, he's about 90, and anyway I think I probably owe him almost as much as I owe Dick. But it would be nice to have the option.

So I think may be I should get a job, so I buy the Grauniad on Mondays, and read through and decide that I could definitely get the most ridiculous jobs. Then I eliminate all the ones where they say 'Send SAE for application form' (don't they realize how expensive it is for the unemployed that way? Why not just ask you to send in a CV?), and put the sensible ones that ask for a CV aside till I remember to run off some CVs and update my cuttings, and phone up the ones that say phone.

And then later (up to a fortnight in the case of the COI) the form comes, and I fill in all my O-levels (tactfully leaving out the grades -- at my age?) and then I come, to the bit that stumps me. Why do you want this job? it says, not always in those words but that's what it means, and I think -- well, I don't, actually.

So that's that.

FAIRY BELLS, which is dedicated to Molesworth II, comes to you from Abigail Frost, 69 Robin Hood Gardens, Cotton Street, E14, not the address Linda put last time humph grumble moan groan.

Thanks to Chris Tookey for remembering what it was called.

Thanks to Rob Hansen for the usual use of his equipment; unless something drastic went wrong he also printed the cover, stencilled at the Basement.

The Women's Periodical 8 (August 1983)