We're back to three judges. Thanks to Taliesin for stepping up last time. He'll probably be a trivia question in years to come. Who judged a single round in Stretcher Season One? Or possibly not.
pailaway's still around though, sending impertinently cheerful e-mails and generally being irrepressible. His exemplary motivation is clear in the note that came with his comments: "I have not accepted any smileys or other valuable goods for a favorable score, but then there have been no offers either. One begins to wonder what's the point if not for gratuities". Fine sentiments indeed. Couldn't have put it all that much better myself.
I got paranoid about the Stretcher this week. First somebody said that there's clearly only one contestant, who's writing all the Entries. I took me a while to persuade myself that we started with at least three, and quite possibly as many as six real people. Then something about this weeks' Entries suddenly suggested that the remaining five (or three, or however many it really is) are all pretending to be each other, and I was going to have to spot who'd really written what, or else look stupid. I'm still not sure it hasn't really happened, but hey, I look stupid anyway.
Oh yeah. And this is the last round before the final. Now we really need your votes, so see below, and do as you're told.
Ill-Fitting Bras by Alex Ashman
Alex, Alex, you could have asked me, or your girlfriend, or Sho (a large-busted lady who jogs; her journals are legendary) for a quote, and used it for an intro. There was opportunity here for some light humour, and you'd need to hear it from the horse's mouth, as it were. The book quotes make it too dry and clinical, like you're talking to a group of medical students about the repercussions of ill-fitting bras. If it had included ditties from your Mum or a middle-aged Auntie or friend, the replies suitably grumpy and careworn, it would make for better reading.
'In women with macromastia and those who are overweight or obese, there is a tendency to compress excess flesh when fitting a bra, the result being that they opt for a tight band that is compensated for by an overly-large cup' is practically guaranteed to alienate your female readership. 'In women with macromastia and bigger girls, there is a tendency to squash in their boobs when fitting a bra, the result being that they opt for a tight band that is compensated for by an overly-large cup' is much kinder. 'Big girls' is a mantra; not all overweight women are on permanent diets agonising over their weight and groaning as they step on the bathroom scales, (I don't even own a set). Lots of women love their big boobs and relish the effect of the cleavage-impact on the male of the species.
Nowhere do you mention the big-boobed girl's best friend - the brastrap extender, which I would have happily given you a quote about, if you'd asked. This wonderful invention can transform an ill-fitting bra in seconds. I disagree 'there is little room for error in women with a size A-C bust' - a C cup is bigger than my own size. My bust size is 40B and it's practically impossible to find that size bra, but there are some fancy lace and ribbon-bedecked treasures to be found on the 38B rail so I buy those and a corresponding-coloured brastrap extender.
My final nitpick: 'Women may intentionally opt for a tighter band so that they can wear a bra with a smaller 'footprint' or due to concerns that the band on an expensive bra will loosen over time. This is all hardly surprising if you consider that one in four women buy bras primarily as a form of indulgence' (footnote: Greenbaum et al, 2003). Every woman I know buys bras as a form of indulgence, but I can't think of one friend who's bought a tight one for the reasons stated. Slack bra? Bin. Head for the shops. Simple!
This review reads back like a bit of a rant, sorry, but I trimmed it drastically and you may find me in the PR-thread next week.
5th out of 5
While I'm not sure that this is clearly written from a woman's point of view, I'm certainly going to give credit for the fact that it seems (to me) at least sufficiently over the neutral point. Here is an example of exactly something that a woman writing this would have said, "Breast reduction surgery is not without risks and is currently poorly funded, and so any alternatives that might reduce the need for surgery should be looked into." Where it seems a little short is here for example: "...one in four women buy bras primarily as a form of indulgence." Only the reference document is given instead of an explanation for this cryptic observation. I think that a woman would have conveyed this fact differently - so that I would know better what it means, perhaps. On the whole though, I think this is a good honest stretch.
4th out of 5
Lots of surprises this week, but here's one of the biggest. I never thought that any of the blokes' female perspective would be more physical than psychological. That said, credit for finding the subject and greater credit for delivering it. In an entirely personally-useless way, I found this informative, well-constructed and oddly compulsive.
How did he research this anyway? I can only assume that he pestered some long-suffering and astonishingly tolerant lady into suffering these indignities. I really hope the poor woman doesn't know what he's done with it.
3rd out of 5
The Grumpy Rant by Beatrice
More Victor Meldrew than Alf Garnet but still, it hit the spot. Wasn't sure about rhyming quality of 'orange' and 'Laurence' but that's my only gripe. The second time I read it through (after reading the comments thread) I definitely heard Meldrew's voice, with visions of his poor wife in the kitchen rolling her eyes. I loved that programme, so thanks for the memory-evocation.
2nd out of 5
This would do well as a narrated piece - very well indeed. Being a foreigner, it took me until seeing the word 'kirk' before I could settle on a place of origin for the grump - then on the other hand, Clapham is in Britain, right? - so I'm still wondering where the grumpy voice it ought to be is from. By the way, even though a foreigner, I was still able to enjoy the little joke of rhyming 'bankers' with 'scoundrels'. So anyway - this is clearly enough written from a man's point of view - but safely so. It would be nice to see the boundary pushed a little - go ahead and blame the entire supermarket experience on women. And health? - let's mention peeing and places to pee. The author gets her subject grump up to 80% ignition in Crime and punishment, but not actually to the flash point - he ought to be red-faced-apoplectic by the end of that one, imo. Then when he slumps back into his chair and gives a sullen warning to clear off, as I picture it, it's more like what a guy would do.
3rd out of 5
A cross between TB for misanthropy and Danny B for structure, but one that lacks the subtlety of either. It's funny in places, but it's basically incontinent. It's too long and too persistent in its cynicism. There's no part of it that counterpoints any other part.
The Challenge, if taken on at the level of assuming a persona, implies all the usual requirements of character development. Characters need contradictions, or they turn out boring. This guy is one-dimensional, and the wise-cracking isn't good enough to carry him.
5th out of 5
It Started with a Kiss by Danny B
Heh heh, be careful what you wish for, indeed. Very observant, and satisfyingly amusing.
4th out of 5
Stretcher aside for the moment - I like the short and clean title, plus starting with 'Once upon a time' is a short and clean beginning. Back to the Stretcher - I see that this is a sequel to something already written from a woman's perspective. And it's a fine sequel. Well done. I'm going to have to subtract points for 'staggered to the kitchenette' - guys stagger, women lurch, I don't know why. When I recall having read or heard women use the word stagger- it's either to describe men's reaction to alcohol, or women's reaction to news. It's just noticeable here, that's all. I'll have to add points back though for 'Yet sometimes he can be less frog than toad.' I think any woman would be pleased to have written that.
(addendum: I've just checked with my wife and she thinks 'stagger' is a perfectly good word, but what does she know?)
5th out of 5
Imaginative, clever and delightful. This is the Entry that triggered my identity-swapping paranoia, though I'm no longer even sure that the self-parody is deliberate. It's probably just fun, and a Challenge dutifully interpreted. Among h2g2's monstrous regiment, what else could womanliness be than careworn dipsomania?
Two pieces this week are basically doggerel. Offering doggerel in writing competitions is on the whole a reckless tactic, but if you insist on doing it, then you should do it well. In particular, it should never be possible to discern the awkward hesitations and padded narrative where you're scratching for a rhyme. Not really Stretchy then, but I think you've earned a life. Think yourself lucky I'm not Rich and you're not Matt.
4th out of 5
Grace Gifford's Wedding by dmitrigheorgheni
A unique take on the Stretcher challenge, and a fine piece of history writing. Well done.
3rd out of 5
In case anyone is wondering just how capricious judging is, I shall offer that I am giving points to this for including May 3rd as an Important Date. In case anyone is still wondering, consider how capricious it is for one guy to judge another guy on how well that guy writes like a girl. If that's not enough, then consider what it means to judge a guy on writing from the perspective of a girl on the subject of a guy. It's really gotten too various for me and I wish there had been some warning that this competition would stretch the judges too. Honestly! Ok, here's at least one legitimate bit of scoring: Would a female author have used 'his' in: "Occasionally, they make something of the moment - and themselves - that stops the observer in his tracks." Didn't think we'd notice that? Right there at the beginning? Out go the points for May 3rd! The author is just lucky that the rest is well enough written to warrant an arbitrary 2nd place.
2nd out of 5
A powerful tale in itself, so the judgement has to be on how well it's told. Fortunately dmg is so quick off the mark with his Entries that it's possible to acid-test this by re-reading him after a couple of days. I expected it to diminish when the poignancy of the story had been used up, but instead I enjoyed it more the second time. The shifting of the tenses was a distraction first time round, but I feel it works now. And the piece has a nice balance of indignance and propriety, even if its literal balance is questionable in PR terms – not that that matters here.
The compliance with the Challenge is perhaps a little doubtful. As a fully paid-up misogynist, I don't really believe that selfless loyalty is a recognisably female perspective, but who am I to judge (except a judge, that is)?
2nd out of 5
Splat by Tibley Bobley
In a word, excellent. This is the kind of writing I was hoping for when I set the sex-swap challenge. If you'd slapped this on my desk anonymously I'd have said Skankyrich wrote it, or Pinniped. Very well done, indeed.
1st out of 5
While I personally like each of the entries on their own terms, I think this one is a superlative stretch - the subject, the character, the narrative - it's all-guy. Too, the character is developed so that the segue from passive aggression to physical action is smooth (ie, from 'Day two, I disgrace myself' to 'I'm cold, tired and irritable and I badly need to kill someone.'). It's well written, each of the elements (twits, bosses, bugs) moves the story forward - upon reflection, the nuthouse may be a better place of repose than jail, but I won't quibble. Again, I think it's the furthest stretch.
1st out of 5
Beautifully constructed and paced, inviting the reader to be as twisted as the subject. I thought this Challenge might give TB a chance to work in her strongest genre. This is good black humour from a very able practitioner.
It's pretty good male-think too, I reckon. At least it's a pretty good rendition of an underachieving middle-aged male with disturbing misanthropic tendencies. It's probably exactly what I'd be like, in fact, if only I were human.
1st out of 5
These are the consolidated Judges' positions for the two rounds since the last evictions (ie this sex-swap round, plus the recent bout of tropical sophistication). No public votes are yet factored in, but if you don't like where this looks to be heading (or even if you do), you'd better get your vote in, and water down the contemptible opinion of the Judges.
TB's perfect sweep this week has changed the table somewhat. She's gone from last to first! It just goes to show that the scoring's close, and that in turn means that your vote is vital. Whoever are 4th and 5th after the public vote will leave the Stretcher in the final eviction.
Have Your Say!
Please email your votes to The Stretchers. If you can't use this direct link, hovering your mouse over the link should reveal our email address. If you cannot get the link to work, simply post below and we'll try to help you. You must quote your username and h2g2 Researcher number (U-number) with your vote; votes without these will be rejected without query.
Votes received after the deadline or cast onsite will not be counted.
If you're taking part, do not ask other people to vote for you. This is not a popularity contest, and we hope that everyone will vote for the piece they genuinely feel is best each issue. We reserve the right to discount votes if we feel that contestants are canvassing, votes are being traded or unusual voting patterns are developing.
Contestants are perfectly entitled to vote for their own pieces if they feel their writing is the best submitted; however, please note that we will be on the look-out for dodgy voting patterns, and that includes contestants who consistently vote for themselves.
Votes will be tallied using a formula that normalises the votes cast and scores given, then returns a number between 0 and 2. We will publish the rankings, but not the actual scores as they are rather undramatic, relative rather than absolute, and fairly meaningless to look at. In the event of a tie...err...we'll think of something.
Vote, vote, vote!
No New Challenge, of course, because we need your votes. See 1 above for how to do it. The cut-off will be at 12 noon UK time on Sunday 5th July, so any votes not in by then won't be counted.
We want you to vote for one of the five remaining contestants, ie Alex, Bea, Danny B, Dmitri and TB – whichever you want to see in the final three. It's OROV (One-Researcher-One-Vote) and in the event of multiple votes by a given Researcher we'll only count the most recent, so if you've already voted but have since changed your mind, you just need to vote again.
Rich might be oiling his bat somewhere but his cunning scoring system still persists. We'll let you know the final three in the Post on 9th July, and set their final Challenge, too. Then their final Entries will appear in full in the Post of 23rd July, the last before the summer break, giving you all plenty of time to vote again. The winner of the Stretcher will be announced in the first Post of next season.
One more thing. That's it for the Judges, except for possible vestigial commenting in an amateur capacity. The table above is our final verdict. Well done - you've seen us off, and after this times' Skankulations are computed, we're mere voting mortals along with the rest of you. So it's so long and thanks for all the fish, which you should put in that bucket, please. Plus whatever she's having. (That American guy sounds as if he'll be ungrateful unless bribed properly, so if I were you, I wouldn't even bother with him).