Tuesday, 24 December 2013

12 Days of Student Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, university gave to me:

Twelve physics friends
Eleven funny flatmates
Ten posters hanging
Nine reindeer galloping
Eight slices of bread toasting
Seven bottles of wine
Six burnt potatoes
Five glasses of wine
Four books to be reading
Three average essays
Two relatives arguing
And a very drunken Christmas.

It's that time of year again, and so I suppose I have some amends to make.

To my friends: I'm sorry for not being a better friend.
To my brother: I'm sorry for not being a better sister.
To my grandad: I'm sorry for not listening as much as I should.
To my parents: I'm sorry for listening as much as I do.
To the ones I hurt: I'm sorry for hurting you.
To the ones I didn't: I'm sorry that it'll only hurt more when it happens.  
To my (few) readers: I'm sorry for taking so long to write my blog.
To me: I'm sorry for not being true to myself whenever possible - and it is always possible.

That's it. That's all I have to say. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday. I shall endeavour to return to updating this blog semi-regularly in the dear future.

Until that happens, I'll be the one in the corner with the bottle of Bailey's to myself.

Monday, 26 August 2013

An apology.

It may be a tad presumptuous to apologise. It assumes people have noticed my absence, that someone has missed my blog being updated on a semi-regular basis.

So, I am sorry.

To tell the truth, since I arrived home from Japan nearly two weeks ago - sleepy, sweaty from the flight, and blinking in the runny English sunshine (so different from the sharp shards of light that pierce Japan!) - I have been trying to marshall my thoughts into another blog post. I cannot leave the story half-told, even though it has been over for days now.

I am no longer jet-lagged. I have stopped craving okonomiyaki and ramen and inari sushi. My tan is starting to fade, but the white lines left from my socks and swimming costume are still visible. In fact, the whole thing is starting to fade a little, and I woke up last night wondering if it had really happened at all. Life has gone on. I opened my A-level results, celebrated getting into university, and started on my reading list.

It's not like I changed dramatically, like I found a new understanding of myself and have gained wisdom and knowledge previously beyond my ken. Nothing like that. I'm just a bit less ignorant about the rest of the world. All I've really learned for definite is where to get dinner in Bangkok for less than 40 baht.

The reason I can't finish writing is I can't get past Ise. Ise was a game-changer. It's this place slightly off the standard beaten tourist track, across the bay from Nagoya, home of the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan. It is demolished and rebuilt every twenty years. The inner temple is said to contain one of Japan's 3 sacred treasures, the Sacred Mirror, but nobody has seen it for centuries. The outer temple is bustling with temple-goers, but they are all Japanese. It is a site of holy pilgrimage. The signs telling you not to take photos are written in archaic kanji. There is no English anywhere.

I went to Ise on a whim - because I met a boy in Tokyo and he was going. Because I wanted to spend more time with him, because I had fetishized the idea of a whirlwind romance taking place across a whole country. Because I was scared that if we were apart for too long, he would just vanish. Evaporate. It seemed like he was too perfect to be true.

We went to the temple in the morning, and then went to Meoto Iwa, the Wedded Rocks, a pair of rocks tied together by a huge rope. They have been enshrined. They are officially gods. I took a photo of us in front of them, wondering how two deities would feel about being such a tourist attraction.

After that, we went to the beach. The ocean was so blue, and the sand so white, it looked like somewhere else, some tropical paradise, not the sort of thing you would normally associate with Japan. I wore a bikini, despite the fact the only other girls at the beach were either a) skinny as models, b) fully covered up, or c) both.

Lots of stuff went wrong that day. We fell asleep by accident. Trains were delayed (shockingly!). I got a sunburn so bad it blistered. He lost his umbrella. We got lost in Osaka and had an argument over which way to go. The internet cafe we eventually found was too expensive, so we slept fitfully on a sofa outside it, stealing the WiFi without ever going in.

And yet, it kind of didn't matter.

So, I'm sorry for not updating my blog sooner. I can't explain how, or why, but I'm stuck at Ise, with cheap sunglasses from Malaysia and a borrowed travel towel and a boy who kissed me under a parasol.

I'm now dating that boy. But I still haven't managed to write my bloody travel post about Japan.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Remembered Postcards 2: getting crunked.

I woke up with Bruno Mars in my head. Today, I don't feel like doing anything. It's a sentiment I share. Travelling takes a lot more out of you than I expected: I need some time to just kick back and think.
This post will be rather more detail than my last, seeing as there are fewer days to cover.

Day 18. Hong Kong. Had I been travelling alone, I would have spent the whole day in museums, as entry is free on Wednesdays. As it was, the morning was spent sorting out my friend's lost camera, and we only managed an hour each in the History and Science museums. But, on our last evening in Hong Kong, we managed to eat Chinese food - and vegetarian Chinese food at that! I loved knowing I could eat anything on the menu: it made me want to visit a vegetarian restaurant back home.

As the sky got darker, we visited Temple Street market for our final Cantonese trinkets, before taking the famous Sky Ferry from Kowloon back to Hong Kong Island. I stayed up until 2am, talking to a lovely Spanish guy called Josu in the dorm and writing postcards. My alarm was set so I had time to pack in the morning before our flight; I was to be awake at 4am.

Day 19. Tokyo. If you asked me what happened on the flight to Tokyo, I wouldn't be able to tell you. The cabin crew could have stripped naked and sung the national anthem backwards for all I know. I fell asleep before the plane was even in the air and woke up as we came in to land.

We had been warned that the Tokyo metro and rail system is more tangled than demonic spaghetti, but we actually found it alright. I crashed out again at the hostel, then ventured out by myself to buy food. It was the first time I'd walked around a foreign country on my own, and I actually felt really safe. In the laundromat next to the hostel, I befriended some Americans from Utah, and also discovered that bento boxes are the work of benevolent gods. I also realised that smiling and saying "sumimasen" - excuse me - was standard procedure in busy pedestrian areas.

Day 20. Tokyo. Mary's grandmother is friends with a Japanese couple called the Ishikawas, who decided to meet us while we were in Tokyo. They were absolutely lovely. We ate in a tempura restaurant and saw the last two scenes of a kabuki show (traditional Japanese theatre), and had a look at the fantastic external architecture of Tokyo International Forum.

However, from that night, my time in Tokyo really came to life. The other guests at JGH Hostel were funny, fantastic people and I somehow got roped into being the only girl going to karaoke with 7 guys (2 English, 1 Scot, 2 Dutch, 1 American and 1 Aussie). Bizarrely, 3 of them were younger than me - I wasn't the youngest, as I had been in every previous hostel! Success!

Karaoke finished at midnight. The adventures didn't. Devin (the American) and the 2 English teenagers, Fagin and Connor, decided we should have an explore of our area, Nishi-Kawaguchi - a decision perhaps affected by the unlimited free bar at the karaoke. We left the hostel for a wander. 2 hours later, we realised we were really lost, and didn't return back to the hostel until 3am. I went to bed at 5, after falling asleep on Connor's shoulder.

Day 21. Tokyo. Today, my travel companion felt very unwell, and so I had a day of doing whatever the hell I wanted to by myself. I went to Ueno and watched abnormally huge crows in the park, and realised that the Museum of Western Art had a free exhibition of Rodin's statues outside it. I visited the National Museum of Tokyo, which was fascinating, and then a group of us headed out to the fireworks festival in the evening. It involved getting on the infamous Tokyo Subway system, which literally has people whose job it is to cram as many people in as possible.

The fireworks were marred by a thunderstorm. The rain was so hard, the streets turned to streams. For a while, it was impossible to tell if flashes of light were obscured fireworks or faraway lightning strikes. We lost most of the group on the way back to the station, but Fagin, Connor and I got coffee and waited for the crush to die down. Back in Nishi-Kawaguchi, Devin and another guest, Veda, made runs to the drug store for candy. Connor recommended we try Crunky, a chocolate bar filled with crunchy puffed rice. Apparently, the brand is well known enough to spawn its own verb: to eat Crunky is to get crunked. Fagin had the genius idea of putting it inside Oreos, and thus Crunkeos were born. We drank White Russians on the terrace outside our dorms, and Connor and I ended up sharing a tiny capsule bed because I couldn't be bothered to go up the ladder to my bunk.

Day 22. Tokyo. After three weeks sharing everything, the cracks in my relationship with my travelling friend were beginning to show. It was her birthday. We went to the Studio Ghibli Museum, which looked like it was built of pure whimsy but did nothing to soothe our injured spirits. Our passive-aggressiveness of the last few days, both inadvertent and deliberate, had come to a head. She snapped, and I did, and I suppose we were both at fault. We separated ways at Tokyo Central, and I went to Harajuku to see the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi-koen (the park). I watched hip-hop dancers and a multinational drum circle, and even caught sight of a Harajuku girl on my way back to the station. 

A group of us went out for dinner, and my "sakana tempura" turned out to be literally a whole fish fried in batter. Eyes and all. I needed more food after that, so I picked up an onigiri from the all-night bento store, and we laughed at how expensive all the other karaoke joints were. One of the guys and I decided to stay the night in an empty 2-person room we found, abandoning our assigned bunks in crowded rooms for some peace and quiet. 

Day 23. Kawaguchiko. Unfortunately, the hostel owners weren't aware of the fact we stayed in an empty room, and at 9am we found our screen door had been padlocked from the outside. While hilarious in retrospect, at the time it was a cause for major panic, and we had to send someone to reception to unlock our door, to much confusion and many quizzical looks. It was my last morning at the hostel, so we celebrated by buying Crunky and Oreos for the breakfast of champions... Crunkeos.

My friend and I took the train out to Kawaguchiko, which is a village near Mount Fuji. The scenery here is beautiful, and the air is much cleaner than the city, but we can't climb the mountain as we didn't leave enough time, and there are too many clouds to see it. On the plus side, we're on speaking terms again. I'm just glad I can have a day off from rushing around being cultured. Writing is therapy, and I feel so much better for today's session.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Remembered Postcards 1: don't you forget about me.

First of all, an apology. I haven't written anything recently. This is because WiFi is somewhat hard to come by, and often by the time I'm back in the hostel I just want to go to sleep or read my Kindle, not be productive.

I hope you haven't missed me too much. I've missed writing more than I thought I would. Without further ado, here is a rundown of some of the odder bits of my adventure so far...

Day 1. Dubai airport. We ate in Starbucks while a muezzin sang the call to prayer.

Day 2. Singapore. We shared our room with a group of Thai people. Only two spoke English. Sisters. Lovely girls. I say girls; they were 23 and 25.

Day 3. Singapore. I spent all night watching thunder shake the city and fell asleep in the small hours. We visited the Night Safari and watched nocturnal animals come alive.

Day 4. Singapore. I purchased a lucky charm in Chinatown, a dog (my zodiac symbol) and called her LB for Little Bitch. She is keeping my bag safe.

Day 5. Kuala Lumpur. We arrived by overnight train and stared at the buildings, a mix of colonial architecture with Chinese, Thai, Indian, Muslim and modern influences thrown in like spices in a soup. We climbed to the Batu Caves shrine and I fucked up my ankle.

Day 6. Kuala Lumpur. The Skybar at Traders Hotel offered booze, a swimming pool, and views of the Petronas Towers. I didn't get ID'd.

Day 7. Penang. Another sleeper train to Butterworth and a ferry to Georgetown. We met an American teaching English in Bangkok in the station, and spent hours talking. In Georgetown, every building has a story.

Day 8. Penang. It is a well-known fact Thai trains are always late. Were this not the case, we wouldn't have made our train to Thailand, as we tore down the platform 20 minutes after the train was due to leave, the guard changing his GO sign to a STOP one as we ran, rucksacks bouncing on our backs.

Day 9. Bangkok. A week of hot weather hit me and I nearly passed out from dehydration in Siam station.

Day 10. Bangkok. I felt like such a tourist, having one of the most Thai experiences imaginable: getting a massage in the grounds of Wat Pho, staring out the window at the raging monsoon. In typical luck, the one day we decided to see the Imperial Palace was the one day that the Emerald Buddha temple was closed for a ceremony. We ate lunch twice.

Day 11. Ayuthaya. We went to see the temples lit up at night and visited a night market where they sold rabbits and birds in cruelly small cages. I felt sick.

Day 12. Ayuthaya. The day was spent staring at the temples which earned Ayuthaya its World Heritage status. A teacher from the Bronx at the hostel took a liking to my friend and accompanied us back to the station. I didn't trust him. He mentioned that at 24 he had been married... To a 15-year-old.

Day 13. Chiang Mai. We spoke to a Buddhist monk and toured temples in the rain. Our hostel was Japanese-style, with tatami mattresses on the floor. A Dane and a German also staying there ended up accompanying us on a jaunt to the Night Bazaar.

Day 14. Chiang Mai. We saw Christian, the Dane, again. He's the only person I've met who is too lazy to go for a massage. We had seen to many Wats, we were at wat saturation point. Waturation?

Day 15. Bangkok. The day was spent seeing the city from river taxis. The night was spent drinking with two Dutch guys we met by accident and a taxi driver asked if the four of us were on honeymoon together. I kissed one of them, and we were out dancing till past two.

Day 16. Hong Kong. I wonder if my Dutch paramour talks about me as much as I keep mentioning him. The hostel would be lovely, save for the overweight Obama-hating fifty-something who seems allergic to wearing shirts.

Day 17. Hong Kong. We got away from the oppressive fumes by visiting Victoria Park, and then took a tram up to The Peak where we spent too much money on substandard coffee shop food just so we could sit in the window and watch the city glitter in the Light Show.

I don't know when I will write again, but I love you all. Stay safe. Have adventures. Be happy.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Bullshit Bell 4: The perfect body

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

 I have the perfect body. My body is perfect. Why? Because it's mine. Because it functions. Because it contains a heart and two lungs and a liver and kidneys and a ribcage and muscles and ligaments and tendons and nerves and a brain. It gives me the ability to see and hear and taste and smell and touch. I can feel things from my toes to my head. I can walk. I can run. I can laugh. I, when the situation demands it, can even swim. I eat fairly well and take medication to fix my only chronic health problem. My body is perfect, because it is me.

Unfortunately, I am aware not everyone agrees with me.

Previous readers of my blog (hi, YOU EXIST?!) may remember the time I wrote about body diversity in advertising, and concluded that I ought to buy a bikini.

So... I bought a bikini. To follow is a picture of me wearing my bikini. But, to make it easier for you, I've listed 10 things wrong with me. Don't worry, you're welcome to add more.

1. My hair. For a start, it's not very evenly dyed, and bits of pink are poking through the brown. For another thing, it's short. And if the media has taught us anything, it's that Real Girls have long hair. Anne Hathaway even postponed her wedding after cutting off all her hair for Les Mis. So, hair makes the girl - and I don't have much of it.

2. My make-up. Admittedly, you can't see my face in this picture, but let me elaborate. I have a few blackheads and a few spots. My skin is not flawlessly clear. Additionally, I wasn't wearing any make-up, and that is a cardinal sin. But wait! I was wearing eyeliner! Oh, actually, that's a sin too - if the make-up doesn't look natural, it's fake and tacky.

3. My arms. I don't have neatly defined triceps and biceps. I can't fit my hand around my upper arm, and it's not rock-hard and toned. I have low-level bingo wings. If I jiggle my arm, it wobbles.

4. My tits. They are not pert tits. In fact, they are beholden to the force of gravity. Luckily, a decent bikini top helps out with this, but that leads me on to another problem: I am above a D cup. This apparently means that I am either a) fine with having minimal choice in most high street shops, or b) affluent enough to be able to spend £30 or more each time I need a new bra.

5. My... I don't even know what to call this. But, in short, I bulge out slightly under my bikini top. Yes, it is squishy. Yes, it is probably fat. Yes, I have never seen a girl in real life without this, even a little bit, no matter how skinny they are. But everyone knows models and celebrities don't have underbra handles.

6. My waist. It is both too small for my hips according to standard clothing size measurements, but also too thick for me to be attractively curvy. Apparently, the ideal waist-to-hip ratio is 0.6: mine is more like 0.75.

7. My stomach. I have a bit of a Buddha belly, and child-bearing hips, so despite my large breasts I think of myself as being pearshaped. Pearshaped girls with tummies don't wear bikinis, lest they frighten onlookers and drive the public into a state of shock. If you have a chubby tummy, the magazines kindly advise you, in the way of a condescending but well-meaning aunt, to wear a tummy-sucking swimsuit and sarong. That way, nobody - not even you - will have to think about the horrors of a convex abdomen.

8. My bikini line. I don't shave it.

9. My thighs. Again, they are wobbly, which is repulsive because it is a sign I do not dedicate my copious spare time to doing squats and leg lifts. They touch, which is repulsive because it is a sign I have not taken the tumblr thinspiration posts seriously enough. There are numerous white stretchmarks along the top of them, which are repulsive because they are a sign my body has changed and may even change again.

10. My calves. I haven't shaved those either. Plus, sometimes, I have trouble zipping up boots over them. This is not a sign that the boots are too small, but rather that I am fat and nobody will ever love me.

What else is wrong with me? Come on. Tell me. Shout it at me in the street. Because your opinion does not change anything. My body does not exist for you to scrutinise and mark out of 10. My body does not exist for a mysterious other being to find attractive or hideous. My worth is not dependent upon my sexiness, which in turn is held up to standards that are perpetuated by media with a vested interest in lowering body confidence.

I do not have to prove myself to some ethereal arbiter to be deemed thin enough to wear a bikini. I will wear one, whether you like it or not.

My body is perfect. And yours is, too.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Anecdotally... 2: The manwhore

"There's one thing I should make clear," he said. "I am a total manwhore."

I couldn't see why he couldn't have just said whore. The gendering of it seemed frivolous, surplus to requirements. The effect would have been the same.

"What else?" he asked. I looked at him blankly. I didn't know what else. It must have been a rhetorical question, because he continued without waiting for me to answer. "Oh yes. I'll try anything one. Or anyone."

That was definitely more than one thing. That was three things which he had clarified. He couldn't count. That said, if a pretty girl was lying in my bed making very clear she wanted to kiss me, I'm not sure I'd be able to count either.

Our protracted make-out session lasted several hours, but there was surprisingly little kissing involved. They tended to happen in short bursts, interspersed with long lingering eye-fucking, and bizarre fragments of conversations. We discussed his scars. He had one in the back of his leg from an air rifle. The result of growing up in the countryside, he said. He told me about the girl he'd met on a night bus in London while out of his skull on champagne, and the holodeck he was building at work. I offered stories about my parents' education and why straight vodka was always a bad idea. We had an argument over the ambiguities of the English language which ended in stalemate.

He was a self-described universal pervert. I was an unspoiled flower. It was something he would "bear in mind". It must be strange, the inequity in sexual experience. I wasn't bothered, but I wondered if it made him uncomfortable.

"You are a universal pervert," I said, quoting his own words back at him

"I resent and resemble that remark."

"If you're a manwhore, I suppose there is hope for the least of us yet."

"I'm not sure how to take that. Are you calling me easy?"

I wasn't sure how I'd meant it either. It was more an observation. He was not the epitome of attractiveness, coventionally speaking - and yet, he was rolling in women. It could be lies, but I doubted it. There was no air of boasting or arrogance to his words. They were just words. Really, I had meant it as something of a comparison. If he managed to have lots of sex, then I figured my prospects were also fairly good. If I felt that way inclined.

We were awake most of the night, but he never tried anything untoward. He didn't push or make me uncomfortable. He dozed off with his hand on my thigh. Later, he turned over, and I spent a long time with my face buried in his bare back, breathing in his scent.

I had problems with trying to be sexy. Make out sessions inevitably involve me dissolving into a fit of the giggles (though whether out of amusement or nerves, I could not say), no matter who my partner is. Often, he would stop, and look at me.

"What?" he asked, and I would laugh and tell him the random, inane thing which had triggered my giggling. Sometimes they were to do with him. Sometimes they weren't.

At one point, he had broken away trying not to laugh.

"What?" I asked, a parrot, reflecting his inflection of the syllable.

"The things parents say," he said. "About not getting into strange men's beds."

He's right, I suppose. He could be a murderer for all I know. He could have chainsaws in the oven and an axe stowed under his bed. I said as much to him. Why else would he have two sheds, unless one was for storing corpses? But I also know that he drives a vintage MG, which doesn't have the boot space for the discrete transport of dead bodies.

"Hasn't done me any harm so far," I said.

I wondered if he was upset by my lack of reaction to his promiscuity. Whether he had thought it would phase me. If anything, I felt reassured: he was a safe pair of hands. He knew what he was doing. I supposed I trusted him, at least a little, or I wouldn't have been prepared to share his bed.

In the morning he woke up for work and had a shower. I lay in bed a little longer and wondered if I would do this again. I drove home, dropping him off outside his work on the way, and he pecked me goodbye in the traffic jam.

I wondered if I would see him again.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Anecdotally... 1: Smiling at strangers on trains

Welcome to Anecdotally..., another semi-regular column. But rather than calling bullshit, this is just going to be me telling you stories. Anecdotes, if you will. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we shall begin...

It had been a long, mostly enjoyable day. I had wandered around Hyde Park and drunk chai lattes in a coffee shop, crossed to the East End of London via the Central line and DLR, watched a band I love play a show, and then sat in a pub with an old friend drinking and laughing. By the time I got on the train home, at just past midnight, I was starting to fall asleep.

Instead, I got out the book I was reading, which went by the unwieldly title of This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You. It was a collection of short stories which I had taken from the Bloomsbury marketing room on my last day, and after slogging through a 500-page novel alongside my exams, I fancied reading something a bit lighter. Everything was ready for a normal train journey home: I sat down in a window seat facing backwards with my iPod in my ears, a book under my nose, and the rest of the world blocked out. Someone sat down opposite me, but I didn't pay them much attention.

About five minutes into the journey, I heard the drumming of fingers on the train wall. I saw a hand just beneath the window, on top of the "no feet on the seats" sign. I glanced up. I checked my feet weren't on the seat.

The boy opposite me raised his eyebrows. He was too old to be called a "boy", really: in his early 20s, I thought, with dark hair and thick stubble. He wasn't quite attractive in the conventional sense, but there was something interesting in the way his face was arranged. I smiled slightly, shyly, the way you smile at a stranger who is encroaching your personal space when you want them to stop.

I looked back at my book, and he drummed again. He motioned with his hands, and I realised he wanted to see what I was reading. I showed him the cover wordlessly, but my attention had been diverted from the paragraph I was staring at.

"That's in my pile of books to read," he said, and I was taken aback by how nice his voice was. "Though, the pile is about this big," he added, and held up his hands about two feet apart. Before I could stop myself, I laughed.

"I have exactly that problem," I said. "I just picked this because it was the smallest book on my list."

"That's the smallest? Then what's the longest?"

"Probably A Dance With Dragons," I said.

I couldn't help it. I'd been sucked in. We started talking about Game of Thrones, and science fiction authors, and how trains were better than buses. After a couple of minutes, I took out my earphones. After ten, I closed my book and put it in my bag.

I could remember two other times in my life when I had engaged in long conversations with strangers on public transport. The first was when I had been 15, on the day of the General Election, when a handsome bartender had spoken to the guy next to me and swapped seats on the crowded tube, purely because he wanted to speak to me. He'd mentioned his job. He said that talking to strangers was how he amused himself on his commutes. I thought him incredibly brave. He'd asked who I voted for, and I lied and said Lib Dem, flattered he thought me old enough to be able to vote. I was sad to get off at Chalk Farm, because I had to leave this interesting conversationalist behind. His name had been Robert, or Richard. He had smelt of cinnamon.

The other time had been on the train home, wedged in a table seat opposite two American Football fans who'd seen a game that day in London, and next to a Canadian on his way to the airport. Once the football fans had left, I'd talked to the stranger next to me: he had been from the Yukon. He was catching a flight to Portugal, where he intended to pick fruit and then catch buses across the country. He had lived on his own since 13 and had hitch-hiked from Germany to India (or possibly the other way round). He features, occasionally, in conversations: I contribute his existence whenever the subject of hitch-hiking comes up. I don't remember his name. Perhaps he didn't tell me.

"I'm V, by the way," I said, feeling emboldened by my drinks through the day. I'd had three in the last few hours, which - on an empty stomach - had the effect of making me giggly and confident.

"Oliver," he said, but I heard it as Holiver. We had a long conversation about this, our hands still clasped. "Oliver," he said again, "like Twist, the little street urchin. All-singing, all-dancing crooks. That's me."
"Yes, I know," I told him, "I just misheard you, added an imaginary H. Very cockney."

He had moved to the same town as me - counting on his fingers - four days ago, as the office for his job had moved. I let slip I was 18, and though he claimed he'd had me sussed, I was pretty sure he'd assumed I was older. People always do. I guessed he was 23; he was 25. His favourite band was The Eagles and he worked in 3D modelling, which sounded terribly interesting but had little to do with what his degree was in.

"About a year and a half ago, when all the stuff about Blackfriars 1 was on the news - that was our company."
"I don't remember that," I told him.
"It's a weird building. A skyscraper. Looks a bit like a thumb."
"A thumb?"
He demonstrated what he meant by half-bending his thumb. "Yeah, it goes up, and then it's got a kink in it."
"My thumb kinks the other way," I said, because I quite like showing off my weird hands. I have a thumb that, when straightened, bends back at about fifty degrees. Everything about my hands is weird: the tips of my index and middle fingers bend off at angles too. My peace signs have a definite tilt to them. He laughed, and pressed the ends of my index fingers together, the way I always challenge people to do, and laughed more as they sprang back and I told him that no, it didn't hurt at all.

As the train approached our stop, he stood up and I realised how tall he was. I also decided that I wanted to keep talking to him, this stranger who had started a conversation with a girl with pink hair based purely on the book she was reading.

"I kind of want to have lunch with you sometime," I said, and his wallet was out. He pulled out a business card, with his number on it, and a QR code underneath, in case I was "that kind of geek".
"Consider it done," he said.

My dad was waiting in the car for me outside the station. I texted Oliver once I got home, with one kiss on the end, and he said he'd "been about 15 seconds" from asking me out too.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. It's not often you end up organising dates with strange men you meet on the train. He doesn't seem like a potential murderer, but then again they never do. Still, I'm intrigued, but mostly amused. And if nothing else, I have a vaguely interesting anecdote to tell my friends.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Bullshit Bell 3: Everyday sexism

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

If you don't know about the Everyday Sexism project, then you've clearly not been paying attention to the internet for the past few months (in which case, how did you find this blog? Go follow them! Go read through some of their tweets! It's okay, I'll wait, I'll still be here when you get back.)

It's such a simple idea, just collecting stories of the shit women have to deal with on a daily basis. Some of it seems relatively harmless - people shouting from across the street or honking as you walk down the road, or bosses just assuming a male colleague will do a better job. Some of it is genuinely horrifying - girls and women getting groped or masturbated over in public, for no reason other than their gender, and nobody stepping in to help out. All these actions, be they acts of violence or just microaggressions, add up to create a culture where women are taught we are to blame. That it was our fault for dressing like that. That it was our fault for being there at that time. That it was our fault for going into a sector where we are a minority. That our bodies are not ours.

Yup, you've got it. This is bullshit.

I was thinking about it today, trying to work out some of the things that have happened to me. At first I thought "I don't have any stories". Then I realised, "actually, I have a lot of stories", but I didn't realise at first. Because they just seemed so... normal. Like they were my fault, or else like they were too trivial to complain about.

1. Age 15. Camped out with a friend outside a venue so we could be first in line for a gig. A drunk guy came over to talk to us. I wanted him to leave, but my friend was busy being nice and polite. He ended up lying between us, his arms in our sleeping bags. He groped my stomach and my thighs, and undid my friend's belt. I told him to stop, and he went back to his hotel room. When we went to the police station, the officer told us we should have gone to the nearest CCTV camera and waved for attention. Since then, whenever I've been on my own late at night, I've always stood directly in front of a CCTV camera.

2. Age 15. Walked into the village to buy some bread for my mum. It was a hot day, so I was wearing shorts. A bloke honked at me from out a convertible and made blowjob motions as he drove past.

3. Age 14. Walking down the hill from school to my grandparents' house. Some construction workers yelled at me to "get your tits out, love". I was in school uniform.

4. Age 17. Sat on the platform at St Pancras waiting for a train home with my friend. A guy, maybe 50, sat next to me and asked if the next train went to Luton airport, so I said yes. He decided to ask my another question. To attact my attention, he stroked my thigh.

5. Age 16. Walking about two miles to get to a hotel with two friends. I lost count of the number of times we were honked at. My friend said she "took it as a compliment."

6. Age 18. Was groped in a club trying to find my friend. When I asked the guy what the fuck he thought he was doing, he told me to "chill out".

7. Age 17. Walking through Cambridge town centre at about 5pm in October, when it was still light. A drunk man yelled at me to take my top off, and called me a frigid bitch when I ignored him.

8. Age 17. On work experience, where I went along with my boss to interview a moderately-famous musician. He commented his phone in his pocket had unlocked itself in his pocket, and it must have rubbed against his leg. I suggested he take it out of his pocket for the rest of the interview, and he responded by asking me I wanted to come over there and rub it for him. Nobody else commented. I blushed very hard but didn't say anything. When I told the story to my friends back at school, they unanimously told me that I was "lucky".

So, there you have it. Everyday sexism is bullshit. Together though, maybe we can do something about it.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bullshit Bell 2: I don't want kids

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

So human beings are designed to do various things. We eat, we sleep, we have sex, repeat. On a basic level, that is what our lives consist of. And, as we are animals, we are also designed to have kids to ensure the progression of the human race as a whole. Therefore, I believe this to be bullshit. Not the act of having kids, per se - but the expectation that I will, that it is inevitable, and that my life will be incomplete without popping out a couple of sprogs.

It's kind of not even that I'm making a political point. Though these days I've taken to analysing all of my actions through a pseudo-political scope, trying to answer the question of "if I saw a girl do this in a TV show, would it provide a feminist message to the audience?". It's reached the point where I question my choice of drinks. Two glasses of white wine with dinner? Are you a person or a stereotype? Drink a beer or something!

But I digress. No, my not-wanting to have children actually has remarkably little to do with the discrimination mothers face in the workplace and attempting to be employed, or the notion women "can't have it all", or the ludicrous cost of childcare, or the stigma still attached to same-sex couples who want to raise kids and the idea one of them must be an equivalent of the opposite-gender parent. It also has nothing to do with fears about my ability to raise a kid and whether I'd be a horribly negligent mother or else just fuck them up for life. No. I mean, all that stuff sucks, but it's not particularly relevant.

The reason I don't want kids is because I hate the little fuckers. They're noisy and stinky and don't follow the cause and effect of logical thinking. They don't do anything you ask them to, and they ask ridiculous questions, and - while occasionally I will concede that they are interesting or insightful or cute - mostly they just annoy the hell out of me. I don't want to see a 6-year-old mangling Call Your Girlfriend on YouTube. I want to watch Robyn sing it, complete with her flowing dance moves and bizarre blonde bowlcut. Don't do something when a professional can do it better, kid.

I don't consider childbirth a miracle any more than I consider the sun rising in the morning a miracle: it's just a think that happens which is part of life. You are welcome to squeeze all the babies you want out of your vagina, but I am perfectly happy not to have my body invaded by a parasitic life form for nine months.

The real kicker though is what happens when you say to people you don't want kids. Because some form of these words will almost certainly escape their lips: "You'll change your mind."

You don't say that to men, do you? Nobody would go up to an 18-year-old boy and ask him if he wants to get married and have kids, hear the answer "no", and immediately respond with "ah, but just wait until you're older and your biological clock starts ticking!". And even if you do, it's not a particularly fair comparison. Biologically, men can create a child in 30 seconds and then fuck off out of its life forever. Back in the old days before abortion, women had to wait nearly a whole year before they could abandon this mistake - you made one wrong move and you paid for it forever...

Who knows. Maybe I will reach 35 and look around at my life as a semi-decent novellist/sub-par journalist/very professional waitress, and think "OH MY GOD I HAVE WASTED MY YOUTH QUICK SOMEONE APPLY A BABY TO MY FACE BEFORE MY BODY CLOCK STOPS TICKING AND I SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST", but that seems highly unlikely. And even if it does happen, it won't be from social pressure - it'll be a personal decision.

I do not intend to change my mind. And it's such bullshit to assume that I will, that every woman wants kids and by denying this fact, I am lying or not listening to my biological destiny. I'll tell you what is my biological destiny: to die. I can also explain to you how my body was adapted to be good at surviving the conditions that cavemen had to deal with, so my body is also decent at long-distance running and keeping me warm in freezing cold conditions. My body might be designed to bear children, but it was also designed to survive sleeping in a cave in -20oC conditions with no such thing as radiators or duvets. I'm not going to start camping out under the stars every night just because it's what I am theoretically able to physically cope with.

The fact I was born with a uterus, though, does not automatically mean I have to fill it in order to become a fulfilled person. What kind of message does that send to women who can't have children, or to transwomen, or even to girls like me who just don't want them? We are not defined by other people, be they parents or partners or babies: we are defined by our own actions and our own choices.

Not wanting children does not make me any more or less of a woman. It just makes me a girl who doesn't want children. So I will thank you not to tell me I'll change my mind, in the same way I'm not going to start listing all the shitty things about kids when you tell me how you want five children who you will train to sing in pentatonic harmony. Contribute to the overpopulated world all you want. But expecting me to do the same on the mere virtue of my gender? Bull. Shit.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Bullshit Bell 1: Killer heels

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

I have a confession for you: I'm short.

Not short the same way my mother is short - she stands at exactly five feet, a perfect example of what 150cm looks like, and I have been taller than her since I was twelve. She has to ask assistants to get things from the top shelves when she's out shopping, and needs a footstall to reach the cabinets in our kitchen. I am forever grateful I'm not quite that short. No, like all things in my life, I don't quite fit neatly into measurements, and hover somewhere between 5'3" and 5'4" - slightly below average height, but it's enough for my slightly-above-average-height friends to call me short. They use their additional inches in a way which implies they have some sort of authority over me. "I'm taller than you, so there."

In the run-up to prom, talk in my circle of friends always came back to shoes. My highest heels were a paltry two inches, and even those made walking in a straight line after a few drinks a precarious exercise in providence. So, surrounded by my tall-friends discussing their high heels, I decided that I didn't want to look six inches shorter than my best friends. I wanted to look awesome.

This led to the purchase of a pair of prom-worthy shoes, stiletto-heeled black faux-suede ankle-boot-shoe things, with no grip on the soles. The sort of shoes that look more like an antiquated impliment of castration than footwear. The sort of shoes that I sometimes see career women wearing when I'm in London, and I find myself mesmerised by the way anyone can walk that fast while balanced on anything quite so small.

Walking up to my friend Emily's gravel driveway in these shoes, I nearly broke my ankle. But it was fine, because when her brother opened the door he said I looked great. And, of course, prom itself was an event fueled by freely-flowing wine, compliments, and complaints about the state of everyone's feet.

There is no good reason for us to wear anything that seem so counter-productive to the task they were designed for. Shoes are made for walking, so why wear shoes that it hurts to walk in? If you're at a high school dance, why wear shoes you can't dance in? And then you start taking your shoes off, and walking around in only your stocking-feet, and before you know it someone has accidentally stabbed their stiletto through your squshy toes and you spend the rest of the night in hospital, the hem of your dress stained irrevocably red.

I understand the appeal of high heels. I really do. They make your legs look longer. They add to your height without affecting your weight, so your BMI appears reduced. They close the gap between you and a potentially-taller significant other. The act of being taller can increase your authority, so if you're in a room where you need to be the boss, they can help. Sometimes, they're fun to dance in. They make a really sexy noise rap-rapping across a stone floor.

They are still bullshit.

All clothes are performative. What we wear is our conscious statement of how we present ourselves to the outside world. Women have to go through enough extraneous painful crap already - plucking and waxing and bleaching and straightening and curling and dieting and exercising and squeezing - that to add another layer to the proceedings seems ludicruous. We know you are very attractive. You don't need six-inch rhinestone-encrusted platforms that render you barely capable of hobbling to let us know that. Who are you trying to impress?

Really, the whole thing faintly reminds me of that traditional Chinese practice of foot-binding, where women with small feet were considered desirable - so women's toes were bent underneath, and their arches crushed to stop their feet from growing garishly large. Sarah Jessica Parker noted that wearing high heels as Carrie Bradshaw had wrecked her feet. Why are we voluntarily injuring a pretty vital part of ourselves just to look "hot"?

I'm not calling for all women to burn that one pair of Louboutins you have that were totally worth the $400 price tag because they make your calves look great. I am equally not implying that all high heels are greviously painful and impractical (though the abundance of articles in women's magazines called things like 'The 5 Comfiest High Heels For Summer!' makes me wonder). I just feel like we ought to think about it a bit more. Why are we making such an effort? What is wrong with going out in flats?

Either way, my own pair of killer heels are now sitting, dejectedly, at the bottom of my wardrobe. I feel like, considering the amount I spent on them, I ought to wear them again - and then I remember the horrible pain in my feet in the day after prom, and think maybe not. I would rather be short and able to walk than artifically tall, and unable to enjoy myself for the night.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

"Zip it", hypothetical futures, and class.

When I was fifteen, I had a crush on a guy who I knew from local gigs. He was about three years older than me. Tall and skinny, he stank of cigarettes, even when he couldn't afford to smoke. He played guitar and had those long guitarists' fingers. He had snakebite piercings and hair that was curly and shaggy and cute in an unkept sort of way, and brooding eyes with long eyelashes. He always wore the same striped hoodie, and he had a way of seeming very old and very young at the same time.

When I met him, he had a girlfriend. They split up at some point, but I was never really privy to how or why. He texted me with inordinate amounts of kisses, and I would blush, but I just put it down to his affectionate nature. We only hung out together a few times: usually it was in the context of seeing bands, surrounded by acquaintances.

One afternoon, after school, I went down and met him in the shop he worked at. We were from fairly different worlds, even then. We wandered round St Albans and he smoked, and we discussed music and we ended up going to Burger King, because he saw his mates inside through the huge windows. He chatted to them - kids from the "rough" local schools, probably the year above me. Maybe sixth form. They eyed my uniform, identified me as a private school kid, and I remember feeling irrationally vulnerable. One of them saw the copy of Kerrang! I was carrying and trying to steal it off me - it got ripped in the tussle, and the guy mawkishly stated he was "just messing". Someone else told him to zip it. (The phrase always bemuses me: I tend to think of Zippy from Rainbow, and someone forcible tugging his mouth shut. I wonder if it hurts.) They started a food fight, throwing tepid chips at each other, and I left before the management came over to throw me out.

I didn't like his friends. I was soft and posh and, though compared to people at school I might be acceptable, I realised that I was a snob. Well, I thought, they could have behaved better around a guest! It seemed he and I moved in very different circles.

I remember him kissing me goodbye on the cheek, and I didn't mind the smell of nicotine on his breath. He promised to hang out again soon, and I smiled and said yes. He got fired from his job the week after.

That was a good three years ago. I lost contact with him, but every so often I check his Facebook page. He's 21, engaged, and has a son who must be nearly two by now.

I think about him in passing every so often, because it intruiges me. What if I'd done what a mutual acquaintance had suggested when she told me to "go for it"? I doubt it would be the same situation - not least because of my intense hatred of babies and utter refusal to get married - but would my life have been different, in a big significant way? Would his?

Or would future always flow like a river, and find any way possible to revert to its original course?  I imagine he probably still would have met his fiancee, just a bit later. Their kid might be a bit younger. Or perhaps it would be exactly the same and I am over-estimating my own hypothetical significance.

I hope he's happy, the boy with the shaggy hair and snakebites. I'm not sure it's the life he intended, but that's the way things work out, isn't it?

There's one piece of advice he gave me which still comes into my head every so often, usually when I walk past a tattoo parlour and am tempted to get my long lusted-after scaffold piercing.

"Never get piercings. They're addictive."

Eight piercings and counting says my life would be a bit different if I'd listened to him.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Yesterday, a child came out to wander.

It was the end of an era.

The day dawned gloomy and grey. It started raining before the sun even rose and it carried on throughout the day, a persistent drizzle occasionally peaking in bursts that drenched you in six seconds. There was one moment in the day when I saw the sun: it reflected off the puddles on the road and left me wincing, half-blind.

It was the last ever day of school, and I was stood on a wall. There was a water gun in my hand and my friends on either side of me, and a lipstick-and-eyeshadow lighting bolt daubed on my face, covering my left eye and reaching down to my jaw. I was dressed as David Bowie, my red hair slicked back, my legs encased in a pair of non-stretch silver leggings.

It was the last ever day of school, universally known as Muck-Up Day, and the theme was "Space". The evening before, the whole of Year 13 had stayed an extra three hours after school. We had blown up a thousand balloons in pink, silver and black. We had hung paper stars from the ceiling and taped square metres of bubble wrap to the floor. We had filled a bathroom with cups half-full of water and draped the lower corridor in black fabric and photoshopped teachers' faces into Top Trumps cards, which were all over the walls. Classrooms were filled with balloons, or aliens, or turned into impossible stacks of tables and wrapped in toilet paper. Outside, the sign hanging from the library window proclaimed "WELCOME TO URANUS".

We got to school early that morning, and arranged the finishing touches. Once the lower years started to arrive, we soaked them with water pistols and laughed. Lydia painted herself green and we affectionately mocked her for it, as well as for her decision to wear shorts in the freezing cold. We were all dressed as spacemen or aliens, singing along to McFly's Star Girl, and it was an utter denouement when we realised that the fun and larks were over and we would have to clear up.

I was assigned a classroom with the desks arranged in a pyramid. While attempting to lift one of the desks off the third tier, I fell off a desk and spilt the cup of tea I'd left on the teacher's table. It covered a German dictionary, and - laughing hysterically - I reflected how my final contribution to school life was ruining someone else's property.

Emily drove me home once we'd tidied up, and I was so tired I fell asleep with the Bowiebolt still on my face.

That evening was Leavers' Ball. It seemed strange, how close together the events were - how we had to wake up at 6am for our last, curtailed day of school, and then stay awake until 11.30pm for the black-tie celebration that our formal education was over. We met at Sarah's house and drank champagne and took photos. I was in a dinner jacket and my friends were in long floating gowns. Everyone looked so beautiful that I felt a lump in my chest. I still have it now, thinking back: there was so much beauty in one room that it ought to have come with a warning.

I lost count of many things that evening.

I lost count of how many photos were taken. How many times my friends cried. How many hugs we doled out. How many times someone complained about their shoes hurting their feet. How many compliments we gave out, to everyone we saw. They flowed fluidly and easily, like the free wine - and I meant every one.

I definitely lost count of how many glasses of wine I drank. How many times we announced to people we barely knew - despite having been at the same school as them for years - that we would miss them. How many times I looked at all the happy couples, and sighed inwardly, and mourned my lack of a date.

How many times we laughed.

"This is it," Gill said. "We're grown-ups now. This is the end."
"I've been a grown-up for a while," I said. "Legally, at least."
"We'll be 20 next year!" Emily said, looking at me, and we exchanged shocked grimaces.
"It's gone so fast," Gill added.
"It's all over," Lydia said.

The moment I remember the most from the evening was not accidentally outing myself to the lighting technician, or dancing the Macarena in killer heels, or telling Gill to start working on having "a reasonable number of babies". It was before dinner (and before I drained two bottles of rose, which might explain my clarity of memory) when the Chaplain said grace. Or rather, sang it. She sang The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell.

I watched a tear track down Sarah's face, taking off her foundation in a neat line. I heard Gill next to me sniffling, so I grabbed her hand, and Lydia's on my other side. Gill took Georgina's hand, and Georgina took Emily's, and in a moment we were all sat there, connected.

I don't believe in God any more than I believe in the Tooth Fairy, but I do believe there are things we can't properly understand. Things we can only feel. In the end, love is what keeps us all here, and keeps us going, and love is what we have when we're hand in hand realising that this is a paradox. This is the end. This is a new beginning. It's bittersweet and glorious and full of ghosts of the past and spectres of the future, and this is what we have when everything else is stripped from us.

We have each other. We have love.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Xeroxed bodies.

It is the middle of May and this means that summer is stood on the corner, chain-smoking cigarettes and pulling her skirt down over her grubby knees, waiting for her moment to step into the light and be loved.

And apparently, the only people who are allowed to enjoy summer are the beautiful ones. The skinny and athletic ones, with soft legs and hair. The boys with muscled chests and speedos and the girls with flat stomachs and matchstick arms. They adorn newspapers and recline in full-page full-colour advertisements and smile at us from our flat television screens.

Get a swimsuit body in six weeks, cry the magazines! It's easy! All you have to do is stop eating, start exercising compulsively, teach yourself that this perfect human body you have somehow isn't enough. Not good enough, not thin enough, not toned enough - not enough to wear a bikini or a pair of trunks.

This is clearly BULLSHIT.

I don't want to see the same gurning models selling me everything, be it toothpaste or holidays in Malta or even a zebra-printed two-piece from Next. I want to see real people. I want a mother-of-two with dimpled thighs and bingo wings in a bikini. I want pale girls, entirely uninterested in fake tans, with a booty and big feet. I want five foot women, disabled women, black women and Asian women and women who kiss other women. I don't want the same xeroxed bodies photocopied all over my media.

I want a media world that reflects the real world we live in, that celebrates diversity, not attempts to curtail it.

Summer isn't just for those that have arbitrarily been defined as beautiful. I defend everyone's rights to wear as much or as little as they want.

What good does it do you to tear down someone who weighs twelve stone when you think they ought to weigh eight? Nothing. And it does us no good either when we direct this loathing and shame upon ourselves. We are enough. Even if the brains in advertising haven't cottoned on yet.

You will always get more mileage out of selling an aspiration than a reality. But the unobtainable is only attractive until you realise that perpetually lusting over what you cannot have is destructive. Yes, it is POSSIBLE for you too to be thin, but will it make you confident? Or happy? You can love the skin you're in without buying expensive products to improve it - you can just love it as you are.

So I, with my wobbly stomach and bruised hips and half-submerged collar bones, am going to buy a bikini. And I am going to fucking wear it. Maybe I'll terrify some poor moral guardian trying to protect society from the terrors of imperfection. Maybe I will get called fat - as if that's the worst thing I can be, as if being called fat will sting me more than being called shallow or cruel or dull.

When I pass summer and her smokes on the street, I'm going to stub out her cigarette and grab her hand. The sun is shining. Let's go dance.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

What we talk about when we talk about stress.

Recently I've been sleeping a lot more, and dreaming a lot less.

This isn't how you're supposed to respond to stress. You're supposed to lie awake long into the small hours of the night and twitch with anxiety. Stress is supposed to give you nightmares or patterns of interrupted sleep. You're supposed to eat less and less and slowly wither away, consumed by a vague but lingering sense of panic, in the back of your mind or the pit of your stomach or some other fringe of your body.

I haven't been getting that.

My A-level exams are looming. For my international readers (hi, I kind of can't believe you exist), A-levels are the standardised tests you do in England at the end of your last year of school. Their results arbitrarily determine your future, if you get into the university you want to or are sent to your insurance choice or have to go through the confusing process known as clearing - which seems like a January sales-type deal, where you apply to empty places that other universities have due to their applicants messing up - or if you need to retake your exams. Of course, if your future doesn't involve university, then they are a lot less relevant.

But the fact of the matter is that I am relying on my grades to get to university. My offer from the University of York is fairly low and pretty easily achievable for me; I can drop a grade from my predicted mark in each subject and still exceed it. Perhaps this is why I'm not stressing the way my friends are.

Of course, with everything I do, I feel like there is a niggling fear that I will fuck up, and I will fail. Every time I write an essay, I turn it in thinking about how I could have improved it, and how it's my own laziness which is preventing me from doing so. When you don't have to work hard, sometimes you stop caring. I'm worried that this will happen to me, that I will become complacent from treading water and suddenly sink. I am cool and nonchalant, but inside my head I am afraid of doing it wrong.

This is what stress is to me. I don't down bottles of wine or party into oblivion to forget, but I don't obsessively revise either. Stress over my impending trip to Japan is probably compounding issues - it's less than two months till we leave and we haven't finished booking accommodation! That is stressing me out! What if we get to Kyoto and have to illegally camp in a park?! By comparison, I'm finding it a little difficult to care about the GOP position on immigration or William James' essays on religious experience or the dramatic presentation of power in King Lear.

Sure, my future might hinge on how well I can bullshit about Webster's poetry, but what if I don't book a hostel in Hiroshima in time and have to pay an extra five pounds a night?!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have no sense of proportion. I am a little bit stressed over a lot of things, so I focus on the most innocuous because - well. That's just it. I don't know why. Maybe because it's the least scary.

It'll all be over soon, and until them I guess I will continue to sleep less and eat about the same amount, and hope it all works itself out in the end.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

V bakes cakes, paints nails, feels conflicted.

Sometimes I get concerned about weird things. I get paranoid that I'm too girly. I get worried that I'm not girly enough. I get anxious over the fact I am a walking feeling fumbling contradiction.

For example, I like baking. And baking is such an intrinsically female hobby, right? It's one of those things which is a key building block of modern-day "quirky" girls, those of us who (willingly or otherwise) follow in the footsteps laid by Zooey Dechanel's characters: we bake. It's what Kristen Wiig did in Bridesmaids and 20-something writers the world over seem to either revel in or lament their lack of talent in. It's kind of retro and kitsch, and we can recognise its cliched nature, but it doesn't stop us from whipping up a tray of brownies every weekend and acting like it's no big deal.

While considering why exactly baking is such a girly thing, I suppose it comes back to the old idea that a woman's natural place is in the kitchen, and furthermore that women have a sweeter tooth. (Actually, that comes up a lot - how many times do you see a male character on telly curled up with a tub of Ben & Jerry's, sobbing into the slowly-melting mess on his spoon?) Producing food is a nurturing thing, and sharing it is displaying maternal virtues of generosity and kindness. It is a girl's job to prepare food, and bring it forward as an offering to appease and please others... but I like giving people cake. I like making people happy, because it gives me an ego boost. (But having an ego isn't feminine! We're supposed to be meek and mild and gracious! We can't actually REVEL in the fact we're good at something!)

Cupcakes in particular are the "in thing" right now to an almost revolting extent. Cupcakes are child-like and whimsical and cute, qualities we associate with women, but also with kids. And kids like to bake. Does a love of baking therefore infantilise women, somehow reduce their status? I can recall reading various feminist blog posts arguing as much... but it upsets me, because I am a really good baker. And it makes me worry that I shouldn't be. Like anything traditionally feminine is instantly bad - which, of course, is bullshit.

On the other hand, I never strike anyone as the sort to bake. People are surprised by it, even - especially - classmates who have known me since I was 12. I'm brash and opinionated and pugnacious. I will argue with anyone. One of my proudest moments was being 17 and in the House of Commons, talking to Conservative MP Damian Collins. I was in a room with maybe a hundred other Politics students, and watching him glibly wriggle out of question after question about tuition fees and foreign policy. I stuck my hand up, and asked him why exactly the Conservative party's MPs were so homogenous and socially unrepresentative - and he opened and shut his mouth and couldn't answer. My teacher high-fived me.

This leads me to come across as aggressive, and I'm aware of how this quality is perceived differently in men and women. It's praised in guys, a laudable trait, but not so much in girls. Apparently, having opinions and voicing them leads to me being... a bitch.

But what am I actually good at except baking and arguing? Recently, I've started painting my nails in increasingly intricate ways, which demonstrates creativity and an endless capacity for procrastination - but it's even more typically feminine than baking. Am I really girly enough to spend hours slaving over my nails once a week, trying to paint the perfect tuxedo or penguin, when I can't be bothered with any of the other demands that society places on me? I don't wear make-up or even shave very often, and yet I delight in decorating my fingers with twee patterns and pictures.

I will also admit to being arrogant. I know I am academically very intelligent; I do well in exams, probably undeservedly. I generally consider myself good at most things I put my mind to. I'd think of myself fairly attractive (though I'm probably the only one who would). Like everyone else, I've grown up being told that I'm special - but I'm stubborn and deluded enough to believe it, that I am the one in a million, that everyone else might fail but I will be that one makes it.

But this is where I get all self-contradicting. I am also full of self-depreciation, and it's as genuine as the bragging. Take everything I just said in that above paragraph. I've qualified all of it. I recognise both that I ace exams, and that I don't deserve to. I might think I'm good looking, but that means nothing if I'm the only one who thinks that. I think I'm special, but I also think I'm probably mistaken. And I will never compliment my own writing.

It is the thing I love above almost anything else, but I refuse to think I'm good at it, and I shake my head whenever anyone says I am. I will say I'm an amazing baker, but a good writer? Hell no. Self-doubt is an innate part of being a human being, but being vocal and public about it? Yet another feminine trait, though I'd argue this is deeper rooted than my love of baking.

It feels like my artifices are traditionally feminine - the baking, the nail varnish, the hair dye - whereas my personality leans on the more masculine. But even that isn't true. I play video games. I get edgy on dates when I eat more than the other person. I'd rather have a tuxedo than a ballgown. I fetishise high heels, even though I know it's stupid and I'll never be able to walk in them. I'd rather be behind-the-scenes than on stage. I love being the centre of attention.

I feel guilty for not pursuing a field in science, where there is an appalling gender inbalance. Men are still responsible for more artistic creations than women are. Even in a typically feminine academic field like English, the highest fliers are still men. That pisses me off.

This is what people are like. We are the sum total of all the bits that don't fit together properly. It's less our constituent facets that make us interesting and unique, but how they all intersect. I have to reconcile conflicting elements of my personality, just like we all do. None of us are perfect - we're not hypocrites for recognising that we have internal disagreements. We're just prototypes.

So I might still feel a twinge of guilt for baking or painting my nails - like all I'm doing are confirming outdated stereotypes about women - but I'll mainly put it aside. Because I'm pretty damn awesome at both of them.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Ugh. Prison rape jokes aren't funny.

I get offensive jokes. Of course I do. I've laughed at a few. Everything's offensive to someone. But saying as much can get you branded as that lowest of the social pariahs, the one who doesn't have a "sense of humour".

Anyway, what I really mean is that I understand the mentality behind making offensive jokes. There's the shock factor, the need to make people think "did you really just say that?", the moment of disbelief before the hysterical surprised laughter. The need to prove you're edgy and cool. The ease at which you can pick a target, and then moan how anyone who doesn't like your joke is just being politically correct.

People are slowly getting better at this sort of thing, I think. Jokes about homosexuality tend to revolve less around the heinous practices of being gay and more around the uncomfortable reaction it genders from conservatives - and I love that. There are countless posts about why rape jokes aren't funny and why comments about minorities are thing which have to come from within those communities rather than from outside them. Generally, gratuitously bad-taste jokes are getting more sensitive, or at least smarter.

The thing is, apparently prison rape is still totally a-okay to mock.

Think about it. No matter the medium - sitcoms or drama or magazine editorial, left-leaning or ardently conservative. Whenever the chance of being incarcerated crops up, there will almost always follow a comment about what will follow in prison.

"I'm too pretty for jail!"

"Don't go dropping any soap."

"Be careful in the showers."

It all makes me feel like throwing up.

We've established generally, as a society that raping a woman is wrong (unless you're one of those cave-dwelling neolithic things known as a "lad", in which case you probably thing it's "mad bantertainment"). Putting something in someone else's orifice without their express permission is a kinda literal dick move.

Apparently, this doesn't apply to criminals. You robbed someone's house: therefore, alongside being locked up, I am totally fine with the idea of you being sexually assaulted as part of your penalty - and not only that, I will gleefully laugh about it. It's just how things work.

I remember having a guy come into my school and talk to us about his time in a prison in Arizona. It sounds like the stuff of nightmares, feculent and sweaty and putrid, full of people who fell out of horror stories. There were gangs set up strictly along race lines, and getting beaten up was a regular occurance. This guy told us about one event he witnessed where another inmate had a glass bottle inserted into his rectum and then shattered.

And it's something we get jokes about on primetime television.

Prison rape is a humanitarian problem, but we don't care about it because the victims of it aren't children being sodomised by Catholic priests or women suffering at the hands of abusive boyfriends. Of course I'm not saying those things are fine - they are heinous. But they aren't mocked with the same crushing regularity. Rape is a horrible thing. It's not about sexual attraction, it's (broadly) about exerting power over another individual in any way you can, proving your dominance. And suddenly, an action which we deplore when directed towards women is hilarious when directed towards people in the criminal justice system.

I suppose another level of it is the masculinity aspect of it. Rape against men is even more underreported and underrepresented than rape against women, and I guess it's because the shame aspect of it is that much more heightened. Women get caught up in the idea that if they'd been less provactive it wouldn't have happened: men assume a "real man" wouldn't get raped, and the silence continues.

Worse, consider the conditions inside prison: if it's the sort of place you will be raped in the first place, trying to get councilling for it will be impossible. Imagine trying to recover from such a destructive event in an actively hostile environment. You'd just be expected to get on with your day. You'd gain no sympathy, from anybody. That's horrible.

Is that why we laugh at jokes about people being anally assaulted? Being it's emasculating? Because we think that murderers and kidnappers and drug dealers deserve it?

They might be horrible people who did horrible things. They might equally be entirely unremarkable people who made a mistake and got busted over it. But whatever their moral status, prisoners are still PEOPLE. And no person ever deserves to be raped.

Trying to sort out the actual institutionalised practise of prison rape is a serious problem in and of itself. The very least we can do is to stop half-assed writers using it as a cheap punchline whenever they want to try and be controversial.

So prison rape "jokes" aren't funny. Cut that shit out.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

This little corner of the internet.

"It's incredibly comforting to know that as long as you don't create anything in your life, then nobody can attack the thing you created." - David Wong, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person

This little corner of the internet is mine. I have staked it out with my own hands.

If the internet were a physical space, a garden, this would be a 1m x 1m allotment I had somehow acquired for free by merely asking for it. I would be tending it every few days, talking to the grass, planting rainbow flags in the corners, telling anyone who came to look for me that this is mine. Amazingly, some people would come to look at my little space in the allotment, and I'd smile and tell them that this is mine. I created this. It's not much, but I can safely say it belongs to me.

We scoff at people with ideas, don't we? We roll our eyes, and say "sure, like THAT will happen". We're so quick to destroy other people with drive and ambition, and I feel like it's because, on the inside, we all think we're lacking that.

I have no drive. I have been trying to write a politics essay for seven hours. I was literally given the paragraph headings, and yet I haven't managed to write into the gaps. I have no drive to do that because it's important. I'll have to hand it in, and get a mark for it, and the chances are it won't be as good a mark as I want. And instead of thinking about how I should have worked harder to get that grade, I'll just sigh and tell myself that's what I get for doing anything. I have to deal with the gulf between what I hoped for and what really happened, and that's disappointing? And the easiest way to not have that gulf is to, uh, not do anything.

If you don't do anything, it can't get ruined.

This is my corner of the internet. This is basically my diary, except that it's in a public place so I can't yell at my brother for violating my privacy if he reads it (though I never kept a diary as a child, so I never had to deal with him doing that). Sure, there are some people I would rather wouldn't read this, but I can't stop them. And they can't stop me from writing.

The very act of creating anything is so important. It's a contribution to society. It's why I think girls are kind of indoctrinated into the world of baking from a young age: you are taught that by contributing, and giving things to other people, you will receive love. And while the baking thing does have a gender skew and sexism and stereotypes of femininity and a woman's supposedly natural role all rolled into it, the priniciple is the same: we are only worth as much as we can give to others. (For reference, I didn't bake much as a child as my mother hates it, but over the past two years I've become FUCKING AMAZING at it.)

I am giving you my words. I am giving you my thoughts. I'm aware that they aren't very good, but I am trying. I am producing something new. This blog post has been written by thousands of other people with exactly the same sentiments, but this is new. Because this is my take on it. I'm very lucky that I've never had any negative comments on here; I'm all too aware of the backlash you can suffer simply by being someone (especially - gasp - a WOMAN!) on the internet, with opinions. In other places I've been called an "angry lesbian", a walking cliche, a privileged hipster trust fund kid. I've been called dirty and unhygenic and lazy for admitting I don't shave particularly regularly. They are accusations levelled at me for what I am, or perceived to be. Not because of what I do.

But at least I try. At least I produced something for you to use to insult me. If I hadn't have tried, I wouldn't be in this position.

So come on, come at me bro. Come to my allotment. Kick my flowers. Pick my fruit off all the sapling trees and trample it into the ground. Snap my twigs. You can't stop the fact I created these things in the first place.

This little corner of the internet is mine, and I've invited you to come have a look around. Come in, have a look around; and if you don't like it, get your own garden. Grow your own words there. I hear it's free. All it costs is a little time.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Some things he ruined.

So, in the manner of a girl who gets ahead of herself, it turns out my future planning has come to naught. My ambiguous manfriend is now just a "friend", of the "I think we should just be friends" ilk (and I catalogued my emotions pretty thoroughly on Thought Catalog).

It also occured to me that pretty much every post on this blog is about him in some way, seeing as I started writing it the day before our first date. It was the day he quit his internship, and yesterday was the day he started a new one. I'm just the stop gap amusement.

I think I'll have to make this the last post about him, as he's not The Boy any more. He's just a boy, who I thought I knew, but I guess not. I'm letting myself wallow for the moment, because I am upset, but I know I'll need to start feeling better sooner or later. It's not heartbreak, just heartbruise.

But for the moment, here is a list of things that remind me of him:

- Triathlons (because he runs them)
- Whole Foods in Kensington (because it was where we had our first date)
- My dress patterned with locks (because it's what I wore the first time we made out)
- Red-eared terrapins (because we watched them having a fight and laughed)
- Margherita pizza (which I am very annoyed about, because HE RUINED PIZZA. Because he described it as "naked pizza")
- The word "pugnacious" (because we argued about its definition and he couldn't believe I was right)
- My ceiling (because he made jokes about my posters)
- The Crane Wife by The Decemberists (because I spent ages trying to get him to listen to it, and then he didn't like it much)
- Picnics (because we promised to have one. Which never happened)
- Panda cupcakes (because he asked me to bake them as a joke, and I did)
- The music of Passenger (because he introduced me to it)
- London Aquarium (because it's where we had our last date)
- Scuba diving (because he insisted I should try it out)
- Nail varnish (because I painted my nails differently for every date)
- Fight Club (because we watched it together, and guessed the plot twist, and I fell asleep on his shoulder and missed the ending)
- Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude (because he was told to "play it to any girls he was courting", and didn't play it for me)

Every time I see or hear or think about one of these things, I get that feeling of being sucker-punched in the sternum all over again. He ruined them. But luckily time has a way of healing all wounds. It won't be long before they're fixed: it'll just be a while.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Rubine hair and rules.

There is an ongoing skirmish in my life between what I want to do and the rules which prohibit me from doing it.

I'm not talking about anything socially harmful, like killing my next door neighbour or stealing someone else's shoes. Those are against the law. I'm not even talking about smoking weed or anything as transgressive as that... I am, of course, talking about my hair.

For those who know me, you'll know that my hair doesn't tend to stay the same colour for long. It's been bleached blond for about two and a half years, but that gets dyed over on a regular basis: purple, red, black, blue, green, orange - all colours I had in 2012. I miss having weird coloured hair, but I also know that school kicks up a fuss, so I tend to keep it fairly normal in term time. Usually blond. Occasionally red. Once or twice purple, but that doesn't tend to last long.

Last week, I got bored of my four-month stint of having hair the same colour, and decided to dye it. I chose a colour called Rubine, which has been kicking around my cupboard for around a year. It was a dark red, so I figured it would give me gorgeous burnished locks for the final five weeks of formal education. Unfortunately, my hair must be extra-porous or something, because it ended up a lovely shade of magenta. Which, while not my fault, is not something I was going to complain about.

Apparently my hair is closely linked to my academic performance though, as my new pink hair raised a few eyebrows. More than a few, to be specific, and so the last week has been spent trying to get teachers off my back. I've been told to wash the colour out of my hair. I pointed out this will just make my hair a paler pink. Apparently that's fine. However, upon washing my hair, I was told it was still too bright.

I haven't had a good week. The Boy's sister hasn't been well, so he cancelled a date to look after her; I managed to lie on a red ants' nest and have bites all over my shoulder; and someone I know died of cancer.

I've spent the week wanting to laze in the sunshine and eat picnics and dance to Frank Turner songs. None of these things have happened. Instead, my weekend started with the deputy headmistress calling my mother to complain about my hair. It is "inappropriate". It must be changed.

I don't appreciate being told my hair is inappropriate. What, exactly, is so harmful about pink hair? Does it affect my academic performance? Does it distract my classmates? No. Apparently, it's just about what other people will think. "How will my actions reflect upon the school?" quaver the teachers. Well, if parents would suddenly decide against sending their child to my school just because one Sixth Former has pink hair, are they really the sort of narrow-minded people you'd want associated with your institution? Oh. Wait. All sources point to yes.

I don't appreciate being told to acquiesce and play by the rules. When there are things you disapprove of, I've been told - by the very school, no less - that you're not supposed to lie down and play nice. You have to fight. So yes, I am fighting about something ridiculous: hair isn't a key philosophical or political issue. Nobody gets hurt because of it. Which is another reason why I'm pissed I have to change it. Of course, by far the easiest and most sensible thing to do would be to dye my hair black and stop giving the powers-that-be anything to complain about - but I'm not known for being sensible.

Mum told me about the phone call. We got in a fight. She sighed, and said she didn't know where my rebellious streak had come from - except for maybe my Gran.

My Gran loved my hair. She said that you might as well do things while you were young. Remembering this made me cry, those ugly snotty jarring sobs in between long bouts of silence that sound exactly how I imagine heartbreak does. She wouldn't have wanted me to give in.

Therefore, I will not dye my hair black. I will wash it, and cover it in whatever colour dye I have left in my fridge. And if the school can't deal with that, then they should consider whether they really support individuality and creativity the way they claim to.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Queer. Here. Happy.

The day I made peace with identifying as queer also happened to be the day of my first date with The Boy.

I had been at a talk on YA literature the evening before, and was struck by the way these panelists threw around the word "queer" as an umbrella term to encompass LGBTI identities. Of course I'd heard it used that way before, but only online. Here, on the internet, it feels like a little separate bubble - people talk in a different way. A lot of them are from different places and live in a different societal context to me, with different privileges and prejudices, fighting the same battle different ways or different battles that I will never have to face. And now, there were people in front of me, talking in a way I'd only ever seen written down before.

"I'd hestitate to call my character a lesbian," said one of the authors. "I prefer queer - it's more general."

Queer. Originally meaning strange. Peculiar. Different. It has a degree of fluidity to it. While gay originally meant "happy", and has since been accepted in our daily vernacular to mean (a typically male) homosexual, queer hasn't been shoehorned and strongarmed in quite the same way.

It was a term of abuse originally, wasn't it? One which we reclaimed? And in that time, the mainstream seem to have become more accepting of sexualities which aren't just a binary of straight or not-straight. Queer did mean gay. It also meant bisexual and pansexual. Straight transpeople can identify as queer if they so please. Hell, it's not something we police. You don't get stopped by a sexy butch with a crewcut and ferociously pink uniform, brandishing a clipboard, who demands you fill out a survey in order to qualify for using the term.

And yet, the term never quite sat right with me. I was bisexual, pansexual, sexually fluid and - sometimes, contrarily - "label-free". Other people were queer. I was a girl who sometimes liked boys and sometimes liked girls and sometimes liked people of an indeterminate gender, or people who identified outside of two genders. I preferred jeans to dresses, felt a thrill of transgression at wearing formal mens' suits (and looking damn sexy in them), and cheerfully joked about being the "token not-straight person" - but I was never queer.

It's not like sexuality is something I can turn on or off either. I can remember dating a girl and commenting to my friends about an attractive guy who walked past - and they looked at me, and said "don't you have a girlfriend?", an accusation, a rebuke. As if, while dating a girl, I should only be attracted to other females. But it doesn't work like that. And it doesn't work the other way, either: going out with a boy does not magically erase my attraction to girls or androgynes. 

Stood in a pub on Friday, a skinny musician sort with long ginger hair and a shirt unbuttoned to the sternum smiled at me. There was a tattoo on his chest which I couldn't quite make out, and he was wearing biker boots. Pretty rather than handsome. The sort of guy who, a year ago, I would have fallen for in an instant.

"Are you from round here?" he asked, closing the distance between us slightly, and I wondered if he was flirting with me. I was in my denim jacket studded with badges, shorts and laddered tights, my short hair recently dyed a lurid shade of scarlet and the metal ring glinting in my nose. I looked a bit edgy, I supposed.

"Ah, no," I said, smiling. "I'm just a visitor. I'm here seeing someone."

"Oh! Seeing the guy who just went to the bar!"


"Your boyfriend, I presume?"

"I hesitate to say boyfriend... he's my... person that I'm dating."

"Ah! So the person you're having sex with, you mean."

"No, actually."

"Really? Well. He seems nice. Polite. Said "after you" to me and all."

"Yeah. He's one of the good guys, I think."

We started discussing Alkaline Trio and Reading festival, and moved away from the topic of my relationship. The above exchange lasted maybe a minute at most, but I wondered if he would have made the same comments had I walked in with a girl. If he would have broken into that creepy over-interested schtick, or made a lurid invitation for a threesome, stuff I've dealt with before and become almost resigned to as the associated bullshit of liking ladies.

(My ambiguous manfriend, on account of being a generally decent human being, has never done anything like that. He just accepts me the way I am. He sympathises when I complain about microagressions that he as a straight white cisgender guy has never experienced. He laughs with me while I crack jokes about the rainbow painted over my door - "really, my parents should have known better; I shouldn't come out to them, I should just point at the paintwork" - while knowing I'd be pissed if he made that joke himself. So far, he is definitely a good guy.)

Hetero relationships comes with privilege. I'm mistaken for straight as a side-effect of being in a straight relationship. I've yet to deal with being thrown out of a queer space for being mistaken for an interloper, but it's definitely a fear I have. It's called bisexual erasure - when bisexual people are misidentified as straight (when they date someone of the opposite sex) or gay (when dating someone of the same sex) and somehow shunned by both camps as being capricious, greedy, indecisive.

But - to me - being queer means being able to embrace who you are, contradictory personality aspects and all. I am queer when I am drunk and asking boys to rate my tits (which still makes me cringe when I think about it). I am queer when I am rebuffing advances from straight girls looking to titillate their boyfriends. I am queer when reading about lesbian sex or when kissing The Boy goodnight.

I kind of feel like this is what life is about - finding who you are, coming to love it, working out the words that suit you rather than trying to change to fit into expectations. That's why I'm coming to like the term "queer". It's not as specific or narrow as other words. It's not the whole of my identity, just one of the pieces I'm putting together. It's a puzzle. There are gaps I haven't filled yet. I'm okay with that.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Perhaps I will write love letters.

The English language is an amazing thing. It's malleable, and adaptable; it grows and changes and, magpie-like, picks up words and phrases from other tongues. We are a country forged by invasion. We speak words every day that we inherited by Romans and Saxons and Vikings. We are influenced by Greek and French and German. And yet, we only have one word for love.

On Wednesday, I looked around a university to find out if I wanted to go there. It was St Andrews, a pretty university in a pretty village on the pretty coast of Scotland. It wasn't so pretty when I was there. It was raining so hard the drops bounced off the ground, forming a grey mist for several feet around. I knew all about the course and I had looked up the different halls of residence. But I had to visit.

It's like online dating. You might be the perfect match on paper, but you have to meet in person, to find out for sure. To see if you click.

St Andrews and I didn't click.

On my third date with The Boy, on his birthday, we were sat in a bakery in London, on barstools, eating cake with shiny metal forks. I sighed, and told him all about the fact I was torn between two universities. It had been a long time since he was in my position. I don't know if he ever felt that indecision. I just wanted to talk through my feelings, and had arbitrarily decided he was going to listen to me.

One university was a more logical choice than the other. It was a case of practicalities, I supposed.

He looked at me over his carrot cake (all our conversations seem to happen over food) and said, "Don't make a logical decision. Base it on your feelings. Go with your gut."

I had assumed, therefore, that I would fall in love with one or other university. Naively, I had thought that when I found the place I wanted to go, I would just know. I would become enamoured with the campus, the town, the dorms. The very feel of the place. I would leave, and know in my bones I wanted to go there.

York was... nice. I could imagine myself there. St Andrews was also nice. But neither one made my heart pound and flutter. Neither one gave me that swelling in my chest, or the sensation of my blood skipping in my veins, that made me think "...oh. I want to come and study here." Neither town felt like home; they felt like places I was passing through.

And so, with no emotional component to make me select one place over the other, York seemed more sensible. It is closer home, closer to a big city, and with better travel links should I wish to escape the campus for the weekend. I don't love it, but I feel that maybe I will come to. Love at first sight is all well and good, but it's got a limited scope. I think I prefer the love that grows and develops, which falls for flaws as well as the pretty veneer over them. 

I firmly believe you can fall in love with things other than people. Love is a word with many sub-categories. Saying "I love you" to my friends is different to saying it to my grandad, or my paramour, or my cat. When we talk about "love letters", we think of notes written in copperplate to a husband, a girlfriend, a romantic partner who makes your lungs feel squeezed and gasping for air.

I think we need to write love letters to everything and everyone we hold dear. I need to write love letters to my friends, to my family, to individual aspects of life that makes it worth holding onto.

If I could, I'd write a love letter to a place. I'd write it to Bawdsey, a village in Suffolk, a place which smells how I imagine 1955 would smell. I would pen the letter on a rock from the shore; write it with a stick of chalk; fashion an envelope from the leaves in the graveyard where my paternal family are buried; post it out to the slate grey sea and watch it wash up on some other beach, in some other town that smells like another time.

Perhaps one day I will want to write a love letter to York, to its castles and history and cobbled streets. Perhaps one day, I will want to write a love letter to The Boy (because it's so much easier to communicate when there's a piece of paper to act as a barrier between you. And a text just wouldn't be the same. It's all very well having the versatility of English, but that counts for nothing when a smile can wipe your mind blank. I can't imagine heaving my heart into my mouth; I'd rather keep it in my fingertips.)

The way I see it, we all cultivate our own language. It's a personal amalgamation of slang and phrases and injokes and gestures and expressions that is so uniquiely us. It bends according to how others speak, what we read and what we hear. It's our own little take on English. And in my take on English, love still means many things. I love home. I love my laptop. I even love you, dear reader. I think I mean love most when I write it down, because letters on a page are a solid record. They are there long after the whispered Iloveyous have evaporated into the air. I want love to exist than more than just a memory: I need the proof.

Monday, 15 April 2013


I have been in a few scary situations in my life.

I have driven down a motorway in a thunderstorm, when all my headlights did was succeed in elucidating the rain coming down in opaque sheets in front of me. I have watched my father cry on a day so cold his tears froze to his face, knowing there was nothing I could do to make it better. I have witnessed a man getting beaten up on the Tube - and to this day, it haunts me that I didn't step in to stop it. I jumped off the train at the next platform and ran around the station trying to find an official, but it was late at night and I couldn't, and I cursed Transport for London for not having CCTV on the underground to record the events.

But none of these things were quite so scary as Friday evening, when I left my date in the living room, googling a Fight Club stream, while I went to sort out dinner. When I came back, he was paging through my favourited sites - and he had found my blog. He was reading my post on abortions, which is a rough transcript of a conversation we had on our last date.

"What are you doing?" I asked, my breath catching in my throat. He was stretched out on the sofa in a perfect copy of my usual pose, an exact and unintential mirror image of how I spend my days.

"I'm reading your blog," he said.

"That's my post on abortions, isn't it?"

"Yup. I can't help but feel like you misrepresented me," he said.

I opened my mouth to defend myself, and closed it again because I have no defence against that charge. It was true.

Yes. I did misrepresent him. Because this is my blog. It is full of my thoughts, delivered in a subjective first-person fashion. Other people appear on this blog not as three-dimensional beings, but as plot points - they give voice to an opinion, which I then either agree with or disagree with. Deep, nuanced conversations are reduced to a one-line springboard for my own ideas. Because this isn't a place where I write character studies (though maybe it's something I'll consider for the future). This is a place where I write about what goes on inside my head.

My head.

It's all about me.

Another guy, who's been mentioned in some of my Thought Catalog articles, got very annoyed last night, and sent me a message: he said he wasn't comfortable being written about by someone he doesn't know very well. Which is fair enough. I probably ought to respect that.

But the articles aren't actually about him: he just happens to exist on the periphery of my life, to have said or done something which triggered thoughts inside my own head. These reactions are the actual focus of my ramblings. Everyone is the centre of their own universe. He is no more than a minor character in my life - an extra who got handed a name and a line.

In the same way, my ambiguous manfriend (aka "The Boy", who will probably still be referred to in these terms no matter what the stage we reach in our relationship) is not actually he himself: he is a representation in general terms of someone I am dating.

In real life, the ambiguous manfriend is someone I might one day fall in love with - clever and sarcastic and sweet and sexy and kind of a jerk but only in jest, someone who's honest and curious and physically active and musically-inclined and a pretty good kisser. He's a guy with two big sisters he absolutely adores, a medical condition which minorly impigned on our make-outs, who longs to own a husky and get a job in medical PR.

In that paragraph, I described him with specific reference to him: to his qualities, to his actions, to his quirks and desires. But normally on this blog post, I describe him in relation to me: a boy who makes my heart flutter, a guy I am dating. Someone I might one day fall in love - and never mind if he ever falls in love with me. I don't think I've ever mentioned his name here, either. He's only defined in relation to me - because I am writing this. I am the narrator. He only exists because I felt the need to mention him.

Why was I so scared of The Boy realising this, when I've just openly admitted it? Why was I so upset that this guy I barely know felt he'd been misrepresented? Perhaps because it's proof that I don't write objectively. That I don't write down the truth exactly as it happens. I write the truth as it seems to happen to me; I bend the facts to create a better flow, chop and change conversations to suit my own ends. And I'd been caught out on it. Does admitting this affect my integrity as a writer?

I don't know. Maybe. If I were a professional writer, it would be a far bigger issue: I could be sued for libel and defamation of character, or fired for making quotes up, but only if I purported them to be objectively true. And on here, I don't do that. It's just my chaotic corner of the internet where I turn my brain into a Jackson Pollock painting, splattering sentences against a screen in the hope that something good will come of it.

Maybe I should come with a yellow sign above my head, letting everyone around me know about my nefarious self-absorbed navel-gazing*. "Warning", it will read, "this girl is a (pretty crap, egotistical, aspiring) writer. By merely being in her presence, there is a chance you will end up being written about. To avoid this soul-crushingly mediocre fate, please keep a distance of fifteen feet from her at all times."

I've promised not to mention the second boy again. I've clearly already broken that promise, but I'm okay with that. Because I'm not mentioning him, am I? I'm mentioning an action he has performed, and how it's impacted me. He could be anyone. It's anonymity through genericalness.

So, if I do mention you in my articles, don't take it personally. I'm not thinking of you as a person - only as an aid to my own introspection. And if you think being reduced to supporting character status is degrading, don't get mad: I do it to everyone.

* You know what the fancy, pretentious word for navel-gazing is? Of course you do. It's the title of this blog post. Omphaloskepsis just sounds so much fancier, you know?