Things I am worried about: September 2016


The tectonic plates of the Pacific Northwest

The wonderful Bim Adewunmi tweeted a link to this article the other day: 

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

It is compellingly written and utterly terrifying. I am glad that I’ve already been to Seattle because it is very clearly going to COLLAPSE INTO THE SEA or be CONSUMED BY A TSUNAMI or BOTH. In our lifetime! Probably! And there will be nothing anyone can do to protect themselves, because all the settlements and skyscrapers and Starbuckses were built by people who felt invincible, and put no disaster readiness steps in place.

FRIENDS IN SEATTLE: START RUNNING NOW.

I am not joking.

Move inland. And high up. Or maybe to Japan. 

Seriously.

Thanks.

Drunk, fighty wasps

We have been locked in a battle of wills with a nestful of wasps this summer. We don’t know where the nest is, exactly, but it’s close enough to our bedroom that they all want to come in on their scavenging expeditions.

They come through the window, through the air vent, and seemingly through the walls. Every day for the last four months, there has been at least one wasp somewhere in our flat. Sometimes dead, sometimes alive. 

I’ve found them caught in the collars of cardigans, nestled in my makeup bag. They’ve drowned in the toilet or parched themselves out on the windowsill. One day, I came home to find seven of them dead on the bedroom carpet. 

“WHAT DO YOU WANT???”

They cannot say.

Our letting agent has stopped pretending they are going to do anything to tackle the problem, and have instead helpfully told us that it’s ok because they’ll all die soon.

In the meantime, though, they’ll be getting drunk on overripe fruit and buzzing around in hedonistic abandon. Which would be fine if they weren’t doing it in my bedroom – but they are. 

Go away, wasps.

My Big Nephew is too big

I am sure that your life is rich and full, but if you have never been hugged by my nephew Jack then you are missing out on one of the world’s great joys. He understands that a hug is something you really need to commit to, you know? 

He is a total clotheshorse, and has at times looked like he was fifteen since he was about five and a half.

But now he’s actually eleven which might as well be sixteen and he is going to get too cool to hug me for at least a decade and this is an enormous tragedy. 

(He is so great and sweet and funny and smart and I love him).

My Little Nephew is also too big

He is 10 weeks old now and seems to have notions of continuing to get bigger for the next 20 years or so. Selfish.

I can’t read all the books

I’ve been rereading all 8 books in the Anne of Green Gables series because it is important to revisit your kindred spirits from time to time. But rereading is time that isn’t being spent reading something for the first time; and reading something newly published is time that isn’t being spent discovering a neglected classic; and reading a famous book is time that isn’t being spent reading a personal gem; AND HAVE YOU SEEN HOW BIG THE WATERSTONES ON PICADILLY IS? 

Dust

No matter how much cleaning we do, new dust will always arrive. 

Brexit

Obvs.

Why is turkey mince A Thing but chicken mince not really A Thing?

Is there a poultry cabal we should be concerned about?

I have an appointment at the dentist in a month

I hate the dentist. (Not mine specifically; she is perfectly nice, but what on earth drove her to want to spend her time dealing with people’s teeth? Teeth are HORRIBLE).

There’s a lot of fruit in the house and I’m not sure of the optimum order to eat it

#FirstWorldProblems

I have two big angry spots on the front of my left shoulder, and what if that’s a place I get spots now, and people start calling me Spotty Spotty Leftshoulder and avoiding me at the swimming pool? 

What if, though?

I just remembered about these dogs with human hands from Sesame Street

Surprisingly specific men in the mirror

I’ve never been starved of images of myself in pop culture. (In fact, I even get to see myself where I shouldn’t. I heart JLaw, but she ain’t no olive-skinned Katniss Everdeen).

That said, in the last few weeks I’ve encountered several weirdly specific mirrors. I feel deeply understood and a little bit put-out; I thought I was such a special snowflake.


 

Eleven (Stranger Things)


My nose has been bleeding of its own accord for as long as I can remember. I have memories of standing over a rectangular sink in the corner of my Year 4 classroom, scrunching a rough blue paper towel over my face and dripping blood clots over the white porcelain and dirty paintbrushes. For my 13th birthday, my brother took me on a surprise trip to London. I started bleeding over the keyrings in the Oxford Street Disney Store. The nominated first-aider looked at me warily, asked me to sit on a chair outside the staffroom, and told me he was going to get a plaster. We made a run for it.

At fourteen, I had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop.

After hours in A&E and an improbable number of tissues, it finally calmed itself down. To prevent the same thing happening again, I was referred to the Ear, Nose and Throat clinic to have my nose cauterised. It is brutal. A blob of chemicals is put on the end of a pointy stick, which is then poked up your nose and scratched around viciously until all the capillaries are burned away. There is no anaesthetic and you are told off very sternly when you inevitably sneeze, as if sneezing had suddenly become a voluntary action which you were choosing to do for fun. If you are super duper lucky, some of the chemicals will leave a nice black stain under your nose for the next week or so, so that your kinder classmates can demand to know what’s wrong with your face.

And, as far as I can tell, it will make no difference whatsoever to the number of nosebleeds you will have.

I’ve had it done twice, with the same level of success each time (i.e. none whatsoever).

From time to time, when I am bleeding on the tube/in the shower/at my desk/in the back of a safari vehicle, someone will ask: don’t you think you should go and see someone about your nose again? Usually, I say: yes, probably, maybe, you’re right.

Now I can say: Don’t you know it means I’m a total badass?

Ways in which Eleven is not a perfectly perfect representation of me:

  • I haven’t been brought up in a terrifying lab environment and forced to do horrifying things by a sinister man.
  • I don’t actually have psychokinetic superpowers.
  • I’m not bald.

 


 

Fleabag (Fleabag)


My very own Great Tragedy is so common, so banal, so unremarkable.

I have a dead mother.

Yeah, you and literally millions upon billions of other people, since the very dawn of humanity.

I am sometimes embarrassed by how completely formative an event her death was in the making-of-current-me. The sting of immediate grief has ebbed away to leave the low-level ache of loss in its place – often imperceptible, but always there. The gentle ground bass underpinning everything. The decisions I make, the job I do, the blog I write, the food I cook, the books I read, the friendships I nurture (and those that I don’t): they’re different because she’s dead. I can’t quite explain how I know this to be true, but I do and it is and there we are. And I think it’s OK. I’m happy, you know? Really, honestly, bone-deep happy.

Occasionally, I remember that there were added stresses in the midst of the bereavement.

Like: my dad wrote us a letter within three months of my mum’s funeral to tell us that he was marrying someone else.
Like: the someone else was my sister’s godmother.
Like: the wedding took place in the same hotel that we went to for food and drinks after the funeral.
Like: he’s so much happier than I’ve ever known him.
Like: their house is at once full of my mum and devoid of my mum.
Like: my relationship with him – never brilliant – shattered into thousands of tiny, sharp pieces. Trying to reassemble them hurts. It’s easier, less painful, to leave them lying in shards around my feet; a broken hall of mirrors that reflects what’s worst of us both.

Mostly, I try to pass it off as a funny anecdote. My dad got married to my sister’s godmother! What larks!

Fleabag’s dad lives with her godmother, in the house where her mum lived and died. It is grimly humorous but starkly awful, for all of them in different ways. I watch through the gaps in my fingers. I want her to skip ahead, to show me what the future holds – to give me a glimpse of a frame full of mirror fragments glued back together in a semblance of their original form. I want it to run for 20 years. I want; I want; I want.

Ways in which Fleabag is not a perfectly perfect representation of me:

  • My sadness has not been compounded by the death of my mad-but-brilliant best friend.
  • I have no time for guinea pigs.
  • My sister is a delight.

 


 

Rebecca (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)


I’ve mentioned before that I spent my teenage years endlessly crushing on basically every boy who crossed my eyeline. I have my own private, retrospective, introspective theories about just what gap I was trying to fill for myself – but it’s possible that the actual explanation is no more deep than hormones.

There are a few that stand out for their particular intensity, and they all have one thing in common.

PERFORMING ARTS, you guys! The highs are so giddyingly high. Sleep deprivation and adrenaline and costume changes in confined spaces and bucketloads of talent spilling out all over the shop. Sometimes you’re play-acting at adulthood. Sometimes you’re pouring your heart and soul into music. It is all very, very serious and important.

My first love was forged over a set of timpani. I dedicated dozens of diary entries to the complex tapestry of relationships that was woven through every rehearsal at the Jersey Youth Wind Band. (It’s for good reasons that Sexually Active Band Geeks formed one of the core cliques in the Mean Girls cafeteria). One of my deepest and most overwhelming crushes was on the Romeo to someone else’s Juliet.

(I played Peter, the Clown).

Rebecca’s almost-revelation at the end of Series 1 that the formative emotional moments in her life have all been linked to performing arts comes as no surprise to me. Of course they did. Of course.

It’s not only that in which I see myself in her, though. Rebecca is, of course, utterly mad. But the situation’s actually a lot more nuanced than that. Her mental health is Not Great, Bob, but she’s still really good at her job (when she manages to turn up for work). It is such a joy to see the two things represented in tandem; I wish it were not so rare.

Ways in which Rebecca is not a perfectly perfect representation of me:

  • I could never, not even for big-old-lols, bring myself to wear a skintight bodysuit.
  • There is no way on this earth I would choose Josh Chan over Greg Serrano. IT IS OBVIOUSLY THE WRONG CHOICE.
  • Rocks With Words On are not for me.

 


 

All flippancy aside: representation matters.

May this world give you mirrors, whoever you may be.

 

 

Caliban’s dream

I have never felt as uncomplicatedly patriotic as I did at the moment the letters N H S were spelled out in lights during the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. 

I had been such an Olympic sceptic. I would tell anyone who would listen that it was an outrageous waste of money; that London’s transport infrastructure could not cope and would inevitably collapse; that I had no interest in sport, anyway.

The handover at the end of Beijing 2008 had prepared me to anticipate the worst. Into China’s glitz and splendour shuffled shabby, shambolic Boris Johnson, signalling: we will do this so much worse. Then the logo was so ugly, the mascots so bizarre. I was convinced it would be a disaster. 

I’d set myself up for an evening of snark, imagining that Twitter would be playing host to puns and wit and moments of collective WTFery – like Eurovision with more PE kits. 

I’d even purchased ironic snacks from Sainsbury’s, The Official Olympic Supermarket. Chocolate caramel shortbreads printed with that ugly logo, and fairy cakes topped with “a white chocolate flavoured compound”. Mmm… legally edible.

Lest you think I’m making this stuff up.


Then Danny Boyle, that beautiful sneaky genius of a man, presented this Opening Ceremony of such brilliance that I wept with delight until I was more drained of electrolytes than the athletes themselves would be over the course of the next three weeks. 

It is testament to the sheer irresistible loveliness of Mark and his family that I am able to maintain functional relationships with them without being overcome by all-consuming, debilitating envy knowing that they were there in person. (For realsies! I know!)

Then the whole shebang was just a delight, wasn’t it? I fell in love with each and every sportsperson, rooting for them all: superhuman and underdog alike. 

I’ve never been sporty. 

That’s an understatement. I’m improbably uncoordinated, aggressively inflexible, and lacking in both stamina and drive. 

During on PE lesson when I was 14 or so, we were supposed to be practicing the high jump. I could not even begin to understand how to make my body move in the way necessary to propel it over the bar. The whole class lined up, taking it in turns to leap onto the crash mat. In theory, each of us kept going for as long as we were clearing the bar, and it moved up a little on each rotation. I, of course, could not even make it over the lowest setting. My PE teacher insisted that I try again – to no avail. While others dropped out, she made me keep trying. The bar got higher, higher, higher and I ploughed straight into it over and over and over again. I think she genuinely believed that if I tried enough times it would eventually click. 

She was wrong, of course.

This week, for possibly the only time in my life, I have undertaken my NHS-recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. I can only attribute this out-of-character occurrence to some kind of latent Olympic neural programming, reawakened by the sporting heroics currently taking place in Rio.

On Monday, I went to my currently-beloved swing dancing class. It’s run by a jovial Italian man called Riccardo and a sparky, redheaded Canadian woman called Nancy. I’ve been going for six weeks or so, with a couple of my colleague-friends, and it’s really an enormous amount of fun. 

You spend an hour or so prancing around a sticky-floored bar, dancing for 90 seconds at a time with a succession of friendly strangers. There are some recurring characters we’ve come to know and love: the man whose parents wanted him to learn salsa “because grandchildren”; the woman with an endless array of novelty earrings; the man who is so floppy I am convinced that he may not have a single bone in his body. 

I am not particularly good, but as I bounce around I can convince myself that I am basically dancing this Charleston:

(Remember Strictly Dance Fever? I loved it so much more than I could ever love Strictly Come Dancing. It’s right up there in my heart with How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria/Joseph/Dorothy/Jesus).

From swing to spin.

A little while ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted super enthusiastically about her experience at BOOM Cycle. She – not terribly fit, lacking body confidence – had been to a session and had been surprised to find herself loving it. The instructor had been peppy without being patronising, encouraging the class to focus on themselves: their inner strength, their personal motivation for being there.

I created an account for myself on their website, and spent weeks receiving regular marketing emails to remind me: you have totally not been to one of these classes yet. 

I read dozens of blogs and reviews, all of which were tremendously positive. Finally, in a glow of post-swing endorphins, I stopped reading and actually booked a session.

You guys: spin is not for everyone. Specifically: spin is very much not for me.

I haven’t written about it much, but 4 years ago or so, my brain decided to make some room for a generalised anxiety disorder to move in. At its worst, I was struggling to get on public transport or make my way around a supermarket. Mostly, now, it’s less intense and I’ve learned how to cope when it does intensify. But there are still moments when I am gripped by complete terror in the most innocuous of situations. Its irrationality is the thing I hate about it most: a situation that I am in every single day – like getting on the tube – can become suddenly impossible.

When anxiety strikes, it feels like:

  • Things are in the wrong place; there are too many things moving in my peripheral vision.
  • Colours are too saturated.
  • Noises are incomprehensible, and too loud – an overwhelming wash of sound in which individual elements are indistinguishable, getting louder and louder.
  • My heart is beating too fast.
  • I am hot; getting hotter.
  • I can’t breathe.
  • I am trapped.

Going to spin class was like voluntarily inviting myself into a deliberately created anxiety attack.

The room is dark and made of mirrors and steps. You can’t tell where the studio ends and the reflections begin. Every movement that you or anyone else makes is duplicated in every corner of your vision.

The dim lighting makes the neon of the other riders’ workout lycra garish and surreal.

The music starts loud and gets louder. The instructor encourages you to ride to the beat; it is all you can do not to clamp your hands over your ears.

You cycle as hard as you can – you’ve paid money to be here, after all, and might as well get some value out of it – and your temperature and heart rate rise. You know, rationally, that everything is fine: that your heart is racing because you’re exercising, and that you’re in a safe space. But anxiety isn’t rational, and suddenly the positive energy of voluntary exercise is replaced by the similar but terrifying adrenaline rush of panic. 

And your feet are clamped into the bike, and nobody’s explained how to release them. You are literally, physically trapped. 

So.

I wanted to love it, I really did. The rest of the class seemed to be having a great time. 

Let me channel Amy Poehler:


Spin if you wish. Spin if you must. But rest assured that I will not be joining you.

You know what creates the absolute opposite feelings to spinning, though? Swimming.

Yesterday I wandered happily through the streets of Belsize Park, making my way to Parliament Hill Lido. It’s a thing I’ve been meaning to do for years and years, since I was living in Archway and walking to Gospel Oak each morning to get on the Overground. I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

It’s a perfect piece of 1930s architecture – all neat curves and angles. The pool is lined with stainless steel, catching the sunlight and radiating sparkles. And the people! What a microcosm of loveliness. 

The three friends – one heavily pregnant – in goggles and Outdoor Swimming Society caps, putting in efficient, determined laps.

The bearded man who wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn but might as well have been, swimming a leisurely backcrawl.

The gorgeous black girl in a white cutout swimsuit, looking like she’d fallen straight from the pages of a fashion magazine, repeatedly dipping her toes in the water and recoiling in horror at the temperature.

The tweenagers on an awkward date.

The four little girls playing an elaborate, acrobatic diving game.

The succession of beautiful, bored teenage lifeguards. 

The woman, defiantly nude, luxuriating in the hot water in the communal showers. 

And me.

Plodding happily up and down the pool. Breathing deeply. Looking around; looking around.

How lucky I am to be alive right now. 

If Tanzanian safari animals were Londoners

Wildebeest are third wave hipsters – paranoid that the next cool thing is on the other side of town; running after each other but never quite knowing where they are heading; stupid hairstyle and scraggly beards.

Zebras are the new colleague who joins your office who you instantly know you will like. They have sturdy hips and quirky shoes and rocking haircuts. They fill their spare time with interesting hobbies: maybe roller derby, or folk singing, or crochet.
Baboons are the hoodies who hang around aimlessly outside Swiss Cottage station. It’s not that they’re doing anything specifically menacing, per se, but they are low-level sinister nonetheless.
Leopards are effortlessly glossy and needlessly haughty women. They might be Italian.
Cheetahs are scruffy and a bit chaotic. They carry too many tote bags and do their makeup on the train. Their highlights are growing out and they hope that people think it’s balayage. (People don’t). They drink fruit cider and are enormously good fun.
Lions eat organic food and live in Stoke Newington. They don’t need your validation.
Vultures are polite, smart men in their mid fifties. They carry briefcases and rolled newspapers and proper big black umbrellas. They always step aside for women on the tube. At lunchtime, though, they lurk menacingly in internet comment sections. “THIS ISN’T NEWS” they rage, incensed, having deliberately navigated to the TV and radio blogs section of the Guardian website.
Flamingoes are a big deal on Instagram.
Hippos work as customer service agents for TfL. They’re pleasant and helpful – but gruff, too, having been worn down by years of tourist confusion and commuter abuse.
Impala are on grad schemes. They’re wide eyed and neat in their over-shiny brand new business wear. You never see that many of them in one place, but somehow they are everywhere you look.
Bush babies get on the 390 bus at 4.30am outside Egg in King’s Cross. They are wide eyed, jittery, probably harmless but deeply unsettling.
Elephants go on protest marches, carrying resplendent banners. They are union members. They believe in solidarity. They identify with Jeremy Corbyn politically, but have significant doubts about his capability as party leader.
Rhinos are the good men on dating sites: real, apparently, but elusive.
Pelicans are the jolly, pleasantly drunk people who start singalongs on the night bus. At first you resist them, but you are a bit drunk too and – let’s face it – you wish your life was a musical so spontaneous collective singing experiences are kind of your jam. 

Lilac breasted rollers [are totally a real thing, even though they sound made up, and] are the girls you see on the tube with ombre pastel My Little Pony Hair and denim jackets covered in enamel pin badges. You hope they know you share the same heart, even though you are wearing a grey dress and have your hair in an unflattering ponytail.
Rock hyraxes are your unassuming, down-to-earth mate who’s secretly a massive corporate high flyer.
Buffalo are aggro commuters. “MOVE THE FUCK DOWN THE CARRIAGE,” they shout, at children and pregnant ladies alike.
Gazelles are singers/dancers/actors who just-for-now are working as waiters/baristas/Zumba instructors.
Giraffes are impossibly beautiful teenagers. They have willowy limbs and improbably long eyelashes; their skin is perfect, porcelain, poreless. Their boxy, jewel-toned blazers are ill-fitting; their sports bags are too big; their laughs are self-conscious and showy. They are heart-breakingly gorgeous.
Tsetse flies work for Foxtons, the utter utter bastards.

Half-written posts about Brexit

I’ve tried to write about Brexit. My brain, my heart, my fingers lock. To write is to process and make sense of things, and I don’t think I yet believe that there’s sense to be made. All conversational roads lead back to the EU. Context has become irrelevant. Work, pub, Twitter, wedding, birthday party, dinner party, work, pub, work. Brexit, Brexit, Tories and Brexit. Labour implosion. Misery. Doom.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to get a coherent post together anytime soon. But I also fear that I will remain blog-blocked and bloated for as long as I fail to get a post out. So here, for your reading pleasure, a brief overview of some of the posts I have not managed to write properly:

The love letter to Europe

In which I write dreamy, romantic odes to some of the Europeans who have enriched my life. The well-spoken, beautiful Austrian with whom I nursed a broken heart at 19. The sweet-hearted Spaniard who once sent me a framed photograph of a lamp. The strong-fingered Italian who has become an Instagram star. All true; a bit mushy; really intense.

Ponderings on our voting system (I)

In which I am saddened that our political system means that people genuinely feel disenfranchised and that their vote cannot possibly make a difference.

Ponderings on our voting system (II)

In which I am filled with righteous anger that people are too stupid to realise that a 2-option referendum is obviously a completely different kettle of fish to a general election, and obviously their vote matters, idiots. 

Ponderings on our voting system (III)

In which I am filled with an even more righteous anger that it is legal for sixteen year olds in the UK to get married. Sixteen year olds! In the UK! Child marriage is not ok, you guys! And tie myself in knots trying to decide if I think that that means that they definitely should also be able to vote and trying to reconcile how completely nonsense I was at 16 with how brilliant all the 16 year olds are who I now meet.

PortmantNO

In which I am filled with the most righteous anger of all at how ugly a word “Brexit” is.

LEOPARDS

In which I riff off this tweet and try to link Brexit to my recent (also distressingly as-yet unblogged) holiday in Tanzania. A spectacularly unsuccessful format.

My Friends Have Opinions!

In which I challenge myself to explore my friends’ pub claims, including but not limited to:

  • Anybody who is not a registered member of a political party is an irresponsible citizen whose opinion should be disregarded.
  • Brexit is actually a good thing that will lead to a resurgence of the radical left.
  • Referendums are fundamentally undemocratic and are tools of fascism.

Hey, come to the pub with me you guys. It’s totally fun and chill.

Guys?

This one

In which I desperately try to get to 500 words so I can let myself off the hook.

OK, BYE.
x

Plane speaking

Spent the bank holiday enjoying a splendid long weekend in Portugal, where we attended a joyous wedding – the first of 8 that we’re going to this year. 

It had everything you could want in a wedding: happy couple, beautiful setting, charming toddlers, free-flowing wine, playlist primarily centred around dance-pop bangers of the mid-2000s. Perfection.

We then spent 24 hours getting intensely sunburned hairlines, as is inevitable when venturing outside in the summer months. (Have you ever thought about how truly miraculous sun cream is? It’s easy to take it for granted – but I would be completely housebound from May to September every year if it weren’t for the magic of Factor 30. Thank you, sun cream scientists of the world).

So far, so lovely. 

The journey home, though. Goodness me. We encountered some characters. 

The narcissist baby

There were more babies on the flight than seemed plausible. Every other seat seemed to have a baby in it. I am emphatically pro-baby, but even for me it was a bit overwhelming.

Like the menstrual cycles of ladies living in close quarters, these babies had somehow synchronised. Before the plane had even made it to the runway they all, as one, began to scream. It was not clear what they were cross about specifically, but it was evident that they all thoroughly disapproved of air travel. (They say that millennials are more environmentally conscious than Gen-Xers, don’t they? Perhaps the members of this new, as-yet-unnamed generation are voicing their concerns about carbon emissions early. Good for them.)

Over the course of the flight, they gradually settled down. One by one, they settled to naps or babbling or iPad time. All of them except the baby who was sitting across the aisle from us.

His parents tried many tricks. Was he hungry? Yes – but a bottle didn’t calm him. Was he wet? Yes – but changing him made no difference. He was unwilling to submit to distractions. He could not be coddled. 

Then: the big guns. Out came his mum’s iPhone. What would it be? A visual survey of his peers suggested that Peppa Pig might be the answer, but it clearly held no charm for this baby. He wanted one thing only: VIDEOS OF HIMSELF. 

His whole body relaxed as his screams gave way to chuckles. This was what he’d wanted all along: to watch himself in happier times. He had no upper limit for how many clips he wanted to watch, nor how many viewings of each were needed. Meta baby. I loved him. 

The nervous flyer

Takeoff was turbulent. The first time the plane jostled, the woman next to me flinched. The second time, she gasped. I, being Terribly British, stared fixedly at my book and pretended that nothing was happening.

(Have you all read Nancy Mitford already? Why didn’t you TELL me?)

The third time the turbulence came, the woman turned to me with panicked eyes.

“Will you talk to me?”

Unexpected plane small talk: a suggested list

  • Where have you been? 
  • How long for?
  • Did you have a nice time? 
  • Hot, wasn’t it?
  • It’ll be cold when we land though, won’t it?
  • Haha.
  • Haha.
  • Yes.
  • Um…

Finally, improbably, we hit upon something that meant we actually got chatting. Would it take me long to get home from the airport? Oh, no, an hour or so. What about her? She actually had another flight to catch. Where was she going?

Jersey.

Hold. The. Phone.

We’d been to the same school (but not at the same time). With shared reference points, we both visibly relaxed. (She relaxed even more when the drinks trolley finally arrived, obvs; I am not nearly as soothing as a G&T).

She’d lived in London for a while, and had interviewed at the place I work now. She’d moved back to Jersey a few years ago, and worked for a while as a fundraiser at the local branch of a big charity. Further shared references. Lovely.

All going swimmingly, until she told me about her current job.

“Oh! Fakename Von Pseudonym works there, doesn’t he?”

“Yes! You know Fakename!?”

Oh no oh no oh no oh no.

I do not know Fakename at all, really. More than a decade ago, our social circles overlapped. I remember him as being achingly cool and worldly wise, which seems improbable in retrospect given that he was seventeen and lived in Jersey. But he was the exact sort of cool that I found (and find) almost debilitating: losing the power of speech, becoming stilted and stuffy and stultified. He tolerated me, at best.

But he also did one of the kindest, best things that anyone has ever done for me. I owe him a debt of gratitude that – as the fog of embarrassment has gradually lifted over the intervening years – I have become acutely aware of.

At a mutual friend’s 18th birthday, I drank much, much too much wine. The situation was exacerbated when a well meaning friend who was meant to be making sure I drank water believed my assertion that I was totally fine and subbed it out for a pint of More Wine. 

I kissed a boy. He was the son of my (awful) Year 7 CDT teacher, and was wearing a necklace made of an old car part, and I was proving a point about something that is now long forgotten. 

It gets a bit hazy, here.

I was put to bed, and I was definitely alone. And then, I wasn’t.

I wasn’t saying no, but I also wasn’t saying yes, exactly. I wasn’t saying anything much: I hardly knew my own name. I really do not like to think about where the evening could have gone. 

It didn’t, though. Fakename Van Pseudonym burst into the room, pulled him away, shouted, shoved. He made sure the room was guarded, so I could safely sleep it off.

I think embarrassment stopped me from ever thanking him (or from looking him in eye, even), but I have never forgotten this noble thing he did.

It is beyond me how we ever became Facebook friends. A fit of enthusiasm in the early days when it was still a novelty, perhaps. But Facebook friends we are, and so I have an ambient awareness of what’s going on in his life.

“You know Fakename!?”

“Oh. A bit. Not really. I knew him slightly when we were teenagers.”

“Shall I say hello from you?”

“That’s ok. I bet he doesn’t even remember me.”

The Worst Man In The World

There was barely any queue at the ePassport gates, but the need to wait for any time at all had made the man behind us incandescent with rage. 

We were in the queue at the far left, just by the desks where the rejects get sent when their passports and the machines won’t play nicely together. 

“WHY DO THEY GET TO GO AHEAD, THEN? HAVE SOME PEOPLE GOT SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS?”

Largely, we all ignored him.

“OI.”

The security officer continued to ignore him. 

OI.

“Yes?”

“WHY CAN’T I GO TO THAT DESK? THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

“If you just wait a couple of minutes, sir, you’ll be through quite soon.”

A lady with two small children was escorted to the desks from the main, snaking, old-style-passports queue.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? WHY DOES SHE GET TO GO THROUGH THERE? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

There are not enough bold capitals in the world to capture how loud or how obnoxious he was being. The lady with the children snapped, “I have a disabled child!”

We all thought that would stop him. We had underestimated just how awful he was.

DISABLED? WHAT’S THAT THEN? WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THAT MAKE? IT’S IN A PUSHCHAIR, ISN’T IT? IT DOESN’T HAVE TO WALK ANYWHERE.

The entire queue was now united in a common hatred for this man.

Out of nowhere, the return of The Nervous Flyer! She was at risk of missing her connecting flight! Could the security man help her? Of course he could! She slotted into the line ahead of us.

WHY DOES SHE GET TO GO AHEAD OF ME!?

“She’s got a plane to catch!”

SO!? I’VE GOT A TRAIN TO CATCH.

I really do not feel I am adequately conveying this. He was, genuinely, The Worst Man In The World.

Something went wrong, and the bags from our flight took another 45 minutes to reach the baggage carousel. I enjoyed every delicious second that he had to wait. 

Feminist cheeseboard

I want to revisit my last post. Specifically, this poster – and how utterly awful it is.


(Sorry for making you look at it again. This will be the last time, I promise).

When Mark read that post, he said, “I’m glad you’re not like that anymore. I wouldn’t have wanted that person to be my girlfriend.”

I desperately wanted to be able to say truthfully, “I wouldn’t have wanted that person to be my friend! She is clearly awful!”

And yet obviously I didn’t think she was awful. In fact, I thought she was brilliant and hilarious and had excellent taste in posters. 

It is hard to reconcile that past self with my current self. This weekend, Mark asked, “Why can’t I get your phone to fit in your pocket?”.

“THE PATRIARCHY”.

(He is very patient).

A few weeks ago, I went for dinner with Becky. I say, “dinner”. We got a bit confused by the layout of the place we’d arranged to meet, and never quite made it to the restaurant level. Instead, we sat in the bar, methodically making our way through a cheeseboard and a bowl of chips. As we have often arranged to meet with the specific goal of devouring a cheeseboard, this was no great hardship.

Becky and I have two main registers of conversation:

  1. Full on deep and meaningful
  2. Surprise horses

This evening veered towards the former.

We talked at length about the nonsense people we had been when we first became friends. Becky works at a student union now, where she spends her days interacting with politicised, articulate, impassioned young people. When we were at university, we not only weren’t those people, we didn’t know any of those people.

We laughed at rape jokes. (“It’s not rape if you shout surprise first.”)

We unquestioningly attended an event where our table had been assigned the fancy dress theme “Pimps vs. Hoes”, and did not think it was anything but hilarious that this was so the theme-allocator could see our friend Dan in fancy underwear.

We allocated ourselves the fancy dress theme “Playboy Bunnies” for a night out, and pranced around town in high heels and small skirts and jaunty ears and what on earth were we thinking???

So Becky and I sat, munching cheese, and pondering. The students she works with seem to arrive at university as fully-formed feminists: woke, angry and ready to fight the good fight. Were the LSE students of a decade ago equally fired up? (We think: possibly). Are the Durham students of today? (We think: probably not).

What’s unclear for both of us is at what point we actually became aware of the awfulness we were perpetuating. Ironically, the one module we took which might have equipped us with the tools to identify and challenge our own idiocy – Introduction to Literary Theory – is the very module for which we sat together, writing silly notes and drawing cartoons and giggling. (I do not entirely regret this. Without our nonsense, we might never have asked nor answered the important question: What if a pig had a moustache?)

Anyway, neither of us had a lightbulb moment. Every morning, I wake up slowly. My feminism was as heavy a sleeper as I am. 

I can’t discount the influence of Twitter. While there are enormous pools of festering misogynist hate lurking in the hashtags, at the same time it plays host to so many interesting, challenging, funny, clever, angry, generous women. I have learned so much by looking through the windows they present.

Should you be looking for your own bubble of social media smarts, here is my (obviously non-exhaustive) primer for Interesting Feminist Women Of Twitter. Follow them and learn stuff.

  • Roxane Gay. To steal one of the endorsements for her book, Bad Feminist: “Praise Roxane Gay for her big-hearted self-examining intelligence, for her inclusive and forgiving stance, for her courage and determination, for humanizing the theoretical and intellectualizing the mundane, for saying out loud the things we were thinking, for guiding us back to ourselves and returning to us what was ours all along. Now that she’s here, it’s impossible to imagine what we ever did without her.”
  • Tavi Gevinson. When she was 15, she found it difficult to find strong female, teenage role models. So, she built a space where they could find each other, in the form of Rookie Magazine.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She doesn’t actually tweet much, so perhaps you’d be better watching her TED Talk, “We should all be feminists“.
  • The Everyday Sexism project will make you feel disheartened…
  • …you may wish to enjoy some light misandry courtesy of Mallory Ortberg as an antidote.
  • If that’s still not enough, try Danielle Henderson. She’s excellent in her own right, and she created Feminist Ryan Gosling. Hey girl.
  • Lindy West and Ijeoma Oluo. I present them as a pair because they are Uber Feminist Sisters-in-Law Extraordinaire. What a family! You might be interested in what they have to say about the intersectionalities of race and gender, about fat and feminism, about internet abuse, about sexual abuse, about raising boys, about pop culture… They are never not interesting. 
  • Nerdette Podcast. Follow them, yes, but also go and actually listen to the podcast. Their series “GREAT LADY NERDS OF HISTORY” will make you feel like you can change the world.

Just for the avoidance of doubt, here are some of the specific ways in which that poster is terrible:

  1. Use of the word “hooker”. There are some sex workers who are sex workers by choice, who are exercising their right to choose what to do with their bodies. There are some sex workers who are very much not sex workers by choice, and who are in dangerous, desperate situations. There’s a whole spectrum of people in between. I do not have the right to call any of them hookers. It’s neither cute nor funny.
  2. Implication that sex workers are stupid. Some might be; many aren’t. Belle De Jour certainly wasn’t.
  3. Suggestion that pursuing someone for their money is a good thing to do. It isn’t. This is so misaligned with the way I feel about money and love and financial independence. Mark and I are currently getting used to having a joint account for our household expenses, and I’m so aware of the responsibility of spending his money that he has to check after every visit to the supermarket that I’ve actually brought myself to use the shared account. My mum used to joke (?) about maintaining a “running away from home” fund: an account that was hers and hers alone. While typing that has made me feel a bit sad for the veiled truths I wilfully ignored, it’s a sentiment that resonates with me. I’m proud of the career I have and the salary that I earn, and the independence that it affords me. I recognise that a huge degree of unearned social, cultural and financial privilege provided the cushion that allowed me to follow the path that I have. Talking or writing about money makes me really uncomfortable in ways that are probably worth examining in a lot more depth at some point, but this bullet point has already got quite out of hand and I’m not sure how to deal with paragraph structure within a numbered list so I think I’ll stop here for now.
  4. It’s not even a nice design. 

Perhaps there are other ways in which you hate this poster? Do share in the comments! HATEFEST.


[Do you like colouring? Do you like swears? Have you always wished you could find a way to combine your interests? You will enjoy Becky’s book very, very much.]