Lez Miserable: How to survive a lesbian protest march

Social awkwardness, men being disgusting, "feelings", bad vagina puns - Eleanor Margolis talks you through what goes on when large groups of lesbians gather to make their voices heard.

Rallies, marches, protests: if you’re a lesbian, you’ve probably been to at least one. Either voluntarily, or you were dragged along - possibly by your least hygienic friend (the one who insists that tampons are tools of the patriarchy). Last weekend, I got my stomp on, willingly, at Dyke March London – an annual celebration of fanny jokes and lesbian visibility. Having lived in Brighton for three years, I’d say I know a thing or two about what goes on at these scruffy girl-fests. For the uninitiated though, here are seven things that you’ll see at any lesbian demo.

1. Social awkwardness

“Did I meet her at a party, or is she that girl my friend briefly went out with who always brought pistachios with her on their dates?” is the kind of question you’ll ask yourself every time you clock a familiar face. She’s probably neither. Maybe she’s that girl you follow on Twitter who mostly tweets pictures of her lunch (lesbians are obsessed with lunch). Either way, you need to remember quickly, before she comes frolicking up and asks you how your second cousin’s ailing goldfish is doing. The lesbian scene is minute. You will have to make eye-crossingly goofy conversation with someone you know (from somewhere. . .).

2. Arguing couples

Gay Pride in particular is known to put strain on relationships. The atmosphere is thick with humidity and Rihanna, and all the rainbows are starting to hurt your eyes. You’re all riled up about feminism and stuff, then you and your girlfriend run into her most recent ex. The one who broke her heart. The one she still mentions at every opportunity. Looks like we have ourselves a situation referred to on The Scene as Lesbian Drama. There’s an old Lesbianese saying that roughly translates as: “Should a couple of dykes survive their first Pride together, they’ll get married and have nineteen cats.”

3. Rain

It’s common knowledge that it’s rained on every gay parade since the beginning of time. I’m sure the weather is usually great on Lesbos. But I bet that if Sappho and her mates had decided to shake things up a bit and smash some amphorae in 600 BC, it would’ve chucked it down.

4. Inexplicable communism

So, you thought this march was about dyke visibility? Wrong. According to a small but vocal group of attendees, it’s about liberating the proletariat. “But what if I once ate macaroons with a Tory and I sometimes sit in Starbucks when I have twenty minutes to kill? Am I not allowed to march for lesbian equality?” Apparently not. Go home to your Le Creuset casserole dish, bourgeois scum.

5. Men being disgusting

They’ll gawp. They’ll take pictures on their phones that they’ll send to their mate Craig (all men have a mate called Craig, who’s a dick). They’ll wolf whistle, even though that went out of fashion in 1943 after Mickey “Slim” Maguire did it to some broad, she didn’t take it so good and she busted his head with a flatiron. Certain men will treat the march as a kind of poorly choreographed burlesque show that’s been put on for their personal, sweaty-crotched amusement. If you’re part of a lesbian parade, chances are you’ll end up safely deposited in the wank bank of a guy with a popped collar and a photographic memory.

6. Feelings

Army of queer girls + gender politics + catchy chants = “feelings”. All sorts of feelings. Love for the sisterhood, irritation towards the sisterhood, indifference to the sisterhood. Something to do with sisterhood. Maybe the community spirit is turning you into a great, blubbery, joy-oozing marshmallow and you want to hug everything that has a face. Maybe the girl you’ve been trying to get with is having a worryingly intense conversation about the latest Jeanette Winterson novel with someone who isn’t you, and you want to kick everyone in the shins.   

7. Bad vagina puns

There are two things that lesbians love more than anything else in the world. One is vaginas and the other is puns. On special occasions we combine the two. Public demonstrations are the perfect place for us to show off our genital punning skills. At the start of Dyke March, I was handed a placard that read, “Snatch the day”. Such was my appreciation of its cleverness that I hung onto it and it now has pride of place in, uhh, my parents’ living room. I like to think there’s an unwritten “the more tenuous the wordplay, the more kudos you get” rule, but I try not to get too in-vulva-d. 

Women taking part in last year's Gay Pride march in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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