Tale #76: Of Wolves And Women

I heard the following tale from both my aunts when I was a child, a year or so apart.

I’m not sure if you’re supposed to think of your aunts this way, but I always did, when I was young – one of them was from within the family (my mother’s sister), the other from without (my dad’s brother’s wife). That one of them was a real aunt, the other merely playing one.

Nowadays, I’m not sure what to think.

Anyway, they both told this story slightly differently – different setting, different details, different phrases, different folksy claims of authenticity – but beyond that, they were the same tale, in all the ways that mattered.

The same body clothed in different clothes.

The story went like this.

A long time ago in a land far away (or, in the other telling, in the town where I grew up), there lived a princess (or a girl, just like you or me) in a castle (or a house). She had no brothers (nor any sisters) and her parents were too busy with the affairs of state (or, quite simply, too dead) to pay her any mind. So the girl/princess would wander the halls of her castle (or the streets of her town) all on her own, searching, always, for something, some sign, some proof that she was loved (or had been loved).

One day a woman came to see the princess at court (or, more simply, knocked on her front door) and said, “I’m your aunt, and I love you as if you were my one and only child.” And the woman stayed with her for the rest of the year, accompanying her on her walks, reading her stories before bed, helping her get dressed in the morning, and always, always, treating the lonely girl with love and tenderness and the utmost care.

On the princess’s 8th birthday (or the girl’s 9th), the aunt said, “I must return to the land where I live. Come with me, little girl, and leave this sadness (and loneliness) behind. Be free of your neglect, and stay by my side.”

And it was here that the tales diverged.

The tales ended very differently, and these were differences that were genuine rather than merely cosmetic. Not different hats so much as entirely different faces. A wolf revealed beneath the mirrored kindnesses of my aunts’ smiles.

In the first, the princess goes with her aunt. But when she arrives in the distant land her aunt called home, the aunt’s demeanour changed. “Obey me, now-child-of-mine, and do as I say. Serve me as a servant and a slave, from dawn until dusk, else I’ll eat you up for my dinner and that will be that.”

So the girl lived in fear, for the rest of her days. And no-one came to save her, for none knew where she had gone.

The moral of this tale as I perceived it then, whether or not that was what was intended: quit your whining, accept your place, for there’s a world out there worse than whatever you hate about home.

The second telling, the one I preferred, the orphan girl again goes with her aunt. She leaves behind her empty house, her lonely town, and walks with her aunt across the country.

Each time the girl feels discomfort, her aunt moves to help. The sun shines too brightly, so she gives the girl her wide-brimmed hat. At night it is too cold, so she gives the girl her coat. To stop the girl being pricked by thorns as they make their way through the woods, she gives the girl her gloves. When the girl loses her shoes in the mud of the brook, she gives the girl her boots.

Finally, the girl can walk no more and collapses to the ground. The aunt removes her clothes, takes off her mask, gets down on all fours, and leans over the girl, her jaw wide, her teeth sharp, her tongue as red as blood. And in her lupine voice, she says, “I’m not your aunt, I never was. I came to you because you were alone and unprotected.”

The mouth gets closer, opens wider. The girl waits for the snap of the jaw, the rasp of the tongue, the bite of the teeth, the pain that will surely come as she’s gobbled up and eaten whole.

But instead, the wolf says, ”I will carry you the rest of the way, my child.”

And with a deft flick of her head she flips the girl into the air and onto her back, and together they travel over the hills, into the woods, far, far away, living happily together ever after.

It was a fairy tale, after all.

The moral of this one: there is kindness in strangers, there is love out there if you will let yourself look.

After I heard this second telling, I wondered which of my aunts was the woman, which the wolf. Always, from then on, I’d be looking, checking, staring, hoping to see some slip of the mask, whether real or metaphorical, to catch the truth of the smile, see a glimpse of the real teeth beneath the false.

To see if their kindness masked cruelty, or if it hid an even deeper kindness, hid love without want, without need, without end.



1. Written in June 2018
2. There was a documentary about Angela Carter on BBC Two with the same title as this
3. Which was first shown in August 2018
4. My use of the same title is purely coincidental
5. But nicely serendipitous


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Tale #75: The Woods In The Woman

There were some woods that lived in a woman.

They hadn’t always been there. But once she ate an apple and with it swallowed some of the pips, and then a few weeks later she ate some grapes that were supposed to be seedless but were not. One spring afternoon she swallowed some grass by accident while mowing the lawn, and a few weeks afterwards ingested a surprising amount of pollen while cycling around the Norfolk broads.

They all took root inside her, and as they grew they thought that the walls of her body were the walls of the world. They never imagined there was anything more, never imagined any world above, dreamt of no worlds beyond.



1. Written on August 13th, 2014


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Tale #74: The Woman In The Woods

There was a woman who lived in the woods, in a tower as white as bone and as bright as teeth. The people of the town considered her a witch, and set the forest on fire in the hope of driving her away. But although the trees burnt to ash, her tower did not burn at all, for it was built of stone, and she survived unscathed.

In fear of her retribution the townsfolk fled.

Eventually the woods grew back around her tower, and in time, too, over the town. And the town passed into myth and beyond memory and was soon forgotten by all.

The woman who lived in the woods went on with her life, and was thankful to be forgot.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. A man came to her house and said, “You are a witch,” and to this she did not reply. For she thought it was not to for her to defend herself from baseless accusations of witchery, for was not witchery itself a projection upon her from another, and therefore a manifestation from without rather than within, and not within her capabilities to control.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. The people of the town considered her a witch, and warned their children never to go near her.

One day, when she was washing her clothes in the river, a group of concerned men captured her and brought her back to face the judgement and justice of the good folk of the town.

“Why do you torture me? the woman asked. “Could you not let me speak for myself?”

“The utterances of a witch cannot be trusted,” replied the inquisitors, and went on with their work.

It was only upon her death that any definite conclusion could be reached as to her nature, but alas by then it was too late for justice.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was known by all to be a witch, and was therefore shunned, pilloried, despised.

She liked weaving, stargazing, and the reading of poetry (although she had no time for the writing of it). She claimed the friendship of wolves in lieu of human contact. She spoke the language of crows.

She prospered.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. No one had ever seen her, or if they had, they had not spoken to her. But it was true that their fathers had seen her, or at least so their fathers said.

She was exactly as evil and beautiful and as wise and treacherous as she was, and there was nothing that could be done about her.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was the woman who lived in the woods.


There was a woman in the woods. She sat beneath a tree and watched the rain fall all around. When it stopped, she stood up and continued on her way.


There was a woman who lived in the woods, far away from any other people. This was exactly how she liked it, and she lived quite happily to a ripe old age.


There was a woman who was sent to live in the woods. For the first few years of her exile she was sustained purely by the strength of her anger and the constancy of her defiance, and so she did not perish.

But anger can never be eternal, no matter how righteous the rage, and eventually she fell into a wellspring of despair, which, fed by her heartbreak and her betrayal, and shaped by means of its flow within and around her heart, built up a complex structure of misplaced guilt which shifted the blame for her situation from those that deserved it onto herself, who did not.

Just as anger can not last forever, even despair has its time, and eventually she drifted through many years in a haze of deadness and nothingness, and slowly she forgot there had ever been more than this, that there ever could be, ever would be.

Whatever help she needed was denied her, and where she went from there who can say.


There was a woman in the woods. They left her there to rot. But she would not rot. She would live her life. Hers and hers alone.


There was a woman who lived in the woods
and spent her days painting pictures
of sheep
and cows
and other things
that she never saw in the woods


There was a woman who lived in the woods
She wrote herself a poem
on the bark of a tree
that said
we make stories of ourselves
we make stories of others
we make stories of our children
and they of their mothers


There was a woman who lived in the woods
She sat beneath the trees
and stared at the leaves
and dreamed
they were clouds


There was a woman who lived in the woods
She went out every morning
and sat by the stream
and recorded every word it said
onto cd


There was a woman in the woods
walking around
christ knows where


There was a woman who lived in the woods. They said she could follow you around for a mile or more, and you’d never know she was there.

But she was there

the woman

who lived in the woods


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told no-one her story, and after she died, no-one told it for her.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told others her story, but everyone ignored her.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told no-one her story, and after she died, others told it for her, as if it were there own.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She grew up, married a man, had a child, and then another. Eventually her children grew up, and went on their way.

One morning, at breakfast, she looked across the table at her husband and thought, “It has been so long since we were alone together. An emptiness has opened up between us and there is nothing now to fill it.”

She had know idea what to do, what to say, where to go. She would slip out during the night and scream her frustrations into the hollows of trees, whisper her desires to the crows in the branches, weep to no-one but herself in the shadows, and finally steady herself beneath the moon before going back inside for another day, and another, and another.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. When she got in from work she was always too tired to cook. She would make herself some sandwiches and eat them where she stood.

She dreamed some nights of a world wider than she could see.

She dreamed some nights of something unseen above, its shadow wider than the world, and widening evermore.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. One day a travelling merchant came to her house and showed her many things. She bought as much from him as she could afford, for she was lonely and hoped to keep him there as long as possible.

Eventually he left with her money, and she never received the goods that he promised.


There was a woman in the woods. The bass pulsed through her body, louder and louder, heavier and heavier. She closed her eyes, let it consume her.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She drank too much and she ate too much and she wasted what money she had on frivolities and indulgences and she dressed badly she never brushed her hair she was coarse and vile and rude and often unpleasant she was awful she was a disgrace she was shameful a wastrel did she have no respect did she have no self-respect did she have no idea of responsibility she should get a job she should learn how to behave she should learn how to dress she should get herself a man she should settle down and do as she was told she should do as she’s told she should have herself a baby and do as she’s told


There was a woman who lived in the woods. The woods were the world, the world the woods. She tried to escape but there was nowhere else to go.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She dreamed of the city, she dreamed of the sea. She dreamed of the plains and she dreamed she was free.


There was a woman who lived in the woods.

She wandered into town once. Went to the library. Looked at all the books. Counted them. Imagined reading one a day, for the rest of her life. Never even getting through a quarter of them.

She imagined all the other libraries. All the books, in all the languages. All the films. All the plays. All the episodes of all the tv shows.

She imagined the seven billion people alive. Imagined meeting every one. One person a second, 31 million a year. No sleep, no stopping. 200 years to meet them all, assuming death was abolished. Death, and also birth.

Outside she looked up, saw for once the whole of the sky. She saw the stars. Saw the milky way. Imagined everything from which it was made. A 100 stars for every person.

She dreamt of all the galaxies. A 100 galaxies for every star in our own. A thousand maybe. A million. A trillion.

An infinitillion.

She began to weep. A single tear for every one. Every galaxy. Every star. Every person. Every word. Every thing she would never see, every thing she could never know, every thought she would never have.

That was why there was a woman in the woods.


There were four billion women who lived in four million woods and every one of them was different and every one was the same and every one of them deserved more than they had and more than they got and more than they were given and more than they could give.

And every one of them lived and every one of them died, and every one of them was remembered and every one of them was forgotten and the forgetting lasted longer than the remembering and that was the way of the world and that was all there was and all there every would be.

A moment of not-being. A moment then of being. A moment more as echo. And after, silence.


There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was born. She lived. She died. Now there was no woman who lived in the woods.



1. Written in August 2014
2. Except for a few bits
3. Written here and there
4. Between then and now


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The earliest when

This is a list of earliests.

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won Best Director at the Oscars is 2111. [4]

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won Best Director at the BAFTAs is 2068. [5]

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won the Nobel Prize for Literature is 2104. [6]

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is 2050. [7]

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won the Booker Prize for Fiction is 2035. [8]

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won the Turner Prize for Visual Art is 2034. [9]

The earliest it can be when as many women as men have won the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year award is 2058. [10]

The earliest it can be when women have been president of the USA for as long as men have is 2252. [11]

The earliest it can be when women have been Prime Minister of Britain for as long as men have is 2289. [12]

The earliest it can be when women have been Queen of England as long as men have been King of England is 2723. [13]


1. This was written in January 2019, so facts are correct for then (except for any mistakes I’ve made, of which there are probably many).
2. I was going to make a thing that auto-updated these dates each year but it was too hard, so I gave up.
3. Below follow some clarifying notes on the items above.

4. There were no women nominated for Best Director at this year’s Academy Award (which was the catalyst for this list). Although this year’s Oscars is the 91st edition, there’s actually been 94 different winners (including whoever wins it this year), only 1 of whom has been a woman (Kathryn Bigelow in 2009). At the first Academy Awards in 1928, two different directors won, because they had two different film categories (Serious Films, and Not Serious Films), and in 1961 and 2007, two different directors won because the films were co-directed (West Side Story in 1961, and No Country For Old Men in 2007). But for this list I’m assuming one winner per year from now on, ignoring the possibility of joint directors, ties, etc, because otherwise you could just say the earliest is next year and be done with it and then what’s the point of even talking. (In the ten years since Kathryn Bigelow won best director, of the 50 directors nominated for this award one has been a woman – Great Gerwig for Lady Bird. Meanwhile, David O. Russell has been nominated three times in those ten years.)

5. BAFTAs for best direction have been awarded since 1968. Depending on whether you count Fargo as having been directed by just Joel Coen or by Ethan Coen as well (The BAFTAs only gave it to Joel Coen, there have been either 51 or 52 winners of this. All but 1 have been men (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker again being the only exception). For this list, I’ve counted it as 51 (and again, I’ve assumed just one winner per year from now on). This years nominations include no women, mirroring the Oscars.

6. There’s been a 100 men and 14 women who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Although there’s been a number of times multiple authors have been awarded in the same year (there were 2 winners in 1904, 1917, 1966, and 1974), I’m again assuming just a single winner per year (and anyway it’s more common to have no winner than multiple winners in any given year).

7. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded in 1918. There have been 92 winners of the award since then – 62 men, 30 women. Interestingly, the actual answer to the earliest when was various times between 1924 and 1943. 12 out of the first 23 winners were women, after which the next 15 winners were men, with no woman winning the prize again until Harper Lee in 1961.

8. The Booker Prize has been going since 1969, and thee have been 53 different winners so far (there were 2 awards in 1970s – although one wasn’t awarded until 2010 – and a couple of occasions where two books were joint winners – 1974 and 1993). Of these 53 winners, 35 were men, 18 women. The date assumes a single winner each year from now on.

9. The Turner Prize is an annual award given to viusal artists in the United Kingdom. It’s been running since 1984, and there have been 35 winners – 25 men (including both Gilbert and George in the year they when they won it), 9 women, and the art collective Assemble, which has an indeterminate number of ever-changing members, which really messes up any possible calculations for this. You can always rely on artists to cause a right old mess. So to cope with this I’ve just ignored them, and also assumed just a single winner from now on each year. Please don’t hate me. (As an aside, the last three winners have all been women – Helen Marten, Lubaina Himid, and Charlotte Prodger.)

10. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year award has been running since 1954, and is awarded by public vote (at least it is now, I don’t know if it originally was). There have been 66 winners in 65 years (Torvill and Dean won it together in 1984). Of these 66 winners, 13 have been women, the last being Zara Phillips in 2006.

11. I’m assuming Donald Trump will be president until the end of his current term at least, rather than being immediately impeached, along with everyone else in his administration, and replaced by, I don’t know, Nancy Pelosi or someone.

12. I’m counting from 1721 here, although it’s not until about 100 years after that that the term came into use. In those 300 years, there have been just over 14 where the Prime Minister has been a woman (Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990, and Theresa May since 2016). You can add on anywhere between 500 and 1000 years to the date quoted in the post if you want to get into the various different forms of leaders of parliament, government, etc, immediately beneath the monarch, for all the various countries of the present kingdom, but rather than a list this’d turn into a branching tree of hellish density and complexity.

13. In the 1132 years since Alfred The Great took the throne, there have been 918 years of Kings, 203 years of Queens, and 11 years of Cromwells. There’s also been a few years of overlapping/competing monarchs, but I haven’t counted them twice (this means I’ve had to leave out any time Empress Matilda potentially might have spent on the throne).

14. Any mistakes in these numbers are almost certainly mine (although they might be wikipedia’s).

15. If we do this again next year, it’s quite likely most of these dates will have shifted even further away (with the exception of the last two on the list), as every time one of these prizes is won by a man, it’ll take two subsequent years of women winning to get back even to this depressing distant schedule.


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