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?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Not a Madonna or a whore.

Everywhere you look, there are conflicting messages about heterosexual girls' virginity. If you have sex, you're easy. If you don't, you're frigid.

It's amazing how prolific the Madonna/whore complex is, how it's permeated even modern-day life. In its most basic form, it's the idea than girls come in two models of sexuality: Madonnas, the image of purity and chastity; and whores, sexualised and seductive. Which one is portrayed positively depends on the tone of the writer, if either is at all. It's a hangover from ancient times, when women having sex outside marriage would ruin your reputation, and illegitimate children were a threat to inheritence. Thus Madonnas were idolised. Since the rise of birth control though, girls who won't put out are uptight; they need to loosen up. What are you meant to listen to? It's a tangled skein of contradictions.

Honestly, it seems like a wonder anyone has normal functioning relationships at all.

"Sex is everything!" scream some sources. "Sex is the whole point of human existence! People only exist to be eye candy! See this girl? SHE IS TITS AND A BUTT. She's there for you to fuck! See this shirtless guy? HE IS THERE FOR SEXYTIMES. If you're not having sex YOU ARE WRONG. Asexuality doesn't exist! People should want to fuck ALL THE TIME. The answer to any of your woes is to HAVE MORE SEX."

I exaggerate, but you know the sentiment. If that sounds overly familiar, and I'm not exaggerating, then that's just scary. The advertising industry is the worst. It seems like ANYTHING can be sold if you stick a pair of tits next to it.

Then there's the more insidious 'sex-positivity' that comes from Cosmo and that ilk - the sort that doesn't actually encourage you to enjoy sex, but how to "make your man" happy. Your own enjoyment should come from pleasuring your boyfriend/husband/one night stand! Your sex drive should be malleable to his! If you ask for him to do anything for you, you're a greedy scum-sucking road whore!

On the flip side, you've got the Modesty Police and all those conservative moral guardians. No sex before marriage, or you will be forever tainted and no man will ever want you again. If you get raped, it is YOUR FAULT for being a sneaky whore and tempting men! These are the people who think women should be meek and mild. You know those chastity balls where girls take vows never to even TOUCH a boy before marriage? That's the extreme end of it. 

Looking at these contrasting positions, I find it strange that I, as a person, seem to fall more in line with the latter - the chaste one. I've had a few chances where I could have had sex: my friend's drunk friend who asked me to eat her out; my crush and I spending the night making out heatedly on an airbed; the boy I'm dating staying over at my house. (It was great; he'd lied to his parents about where he was, the same way as I'd lied about who I was having for a sleepover. I loved the puerile secrecy of it.) But I've never gone there, not yet.

I think I must have been corrupted by television. For all my sex positivity - which largely comes down to "YOU DO YOU!" - I don't want my first time to be on a whim. I want it to be... as near to perfect as possible. I want it to be with someone who loves me, male or female. But that requires relationships. I'm normally too lazy for those: I am a virgin out of passivity. That said, I'm pretty ambivalent about my virginity. It's just a transient status which has no wider reverberations on my personality, akin to saying "I bleach my hair" or "I have asthma". It's hardly a sufficient summary of my whole personality, you know?

One of my friends lost her virginity to a boy she'd known for three weeks, and been dating for two. I was kind of surprised - another friend and I sat, over coffee, wondering if she'd come to regret it. We thought she'd get hurt. But while our concern for her well-being may have been valid, it was misplaced: we were treating sex as something dangerous. We were denying her agency, something I take up arms about in all other situations. If she wanted to have sex with him, why were we this surprised about it? It was like we were slut-shaming. I spent the next few days mulling over that conversation, hating myself for being so judgemental.

In the same way as over-sexualisation is bullshit, modesty is bullshit. The idea that girls should cover up lest they tempt men to rape them? Utter balls. But it's still permeated our culture.

I'm half-expecting everyone who reads this to raise their eyebrows, but you're probably young liberal sorts, more likely to wonder why a virgin is writing about sex than why a girl would talk about her sexuality on the internet.

If things keep going this way, there is a good chance I'll screw The Boy. It seems too far away to think about in detail; even last night, when we were rolling around in my bed in only our underwear, firmly established at second base, sex never really crossed my mind. (I thought I could feel his boner against my thigh, but I didn't want to ask in case I was wrong, or my intentions were misconstrued.) It's less about actively protecting my virgin status, more just a reluctance to do anything in case I regret it later. It's not even an aversion to sex - hell, just writing this is making me want to jump his bones - but an aversion to trying to force the pace of our relationship.

Maybe I need to live more in the moment. Maybe I need to stop second-guessing myself. I definitely need to stop judging other people. It doesn't matter if your first time is with someone you love or someone you barely know; as long as it's consensual, it's all good. I will lose my virginity when I feel comfortable, and I shouldn't be made to feel guilty if it's sooner or later than anyone else.

It doesn't matter if you're a nymphomanic or totally asexual, Jezebel or the Virgin Mary - judgement is bullshit. The virgin/whore dichtomoy is bullshit. Real sex positivity comes from just doing things that give you pleasure, and fuck other people's considerations: you do you.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Meditations on terminations.

April 4th marked my seventh date with the boy my friends lovingly refer to as my "ambiguous manfriend". It was just shy of seven weeks since we'd met, and just under six weeks since our first date. He was not my boyfriend. We were dating but not going out.

We met in Caffe Nero after I got out of work, and I watched him drink hot chocolate while telling him about my day. He'd had a haircut. It was hilarious. He offered to buy me coffee, but I refused; I'd spent the day in a tea-fueled haze and my stomach was full of sloshy liquid. After an hour of giggling in the coffee shop, garnering dirty looks from the rest of the pseudo-hip Oxford Street caffeine fiends scrounging for their next espresso shot, we decided to get dinner. We walked next door to get Chinese food and held hands across the single street we crossed.

Our conversation over dinner started out innocuous - the weather, shoes, Singapore. American politics.

"The South is scary," he said. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere with such lax gun laws."

"The Midwest isn't so peachy either," I said. "Like, North Dakota is fucked. They've just passed a law banning abortions after six weeks! And that's six weeks from your last period, not even the date the baby's conceived, so you could be pregnant for only two weeks and denied an abortion. Now that's scary!"

There was a silence which stretched slightly too long.

"Is it bad I think abortion's a bad thing?" he said. I glanced at him, then back down at my vegetable fried rice. I tried to remember my friend Emily's technique for using chopsticks, but ended up reverting to my method of shovelling the food with them.

"I'm not sure it's a good thing, necessarily," I replied, "but it is necessary. And trying to curtail it when there isn't a real reason is really stupid."

"But - ah - isn't there a real reason?" he said, eating his own rice. I realised what was about to happen. I was going to spend the rest of this dinner sat opposite a boy who made my heart flutter, arguing about an issue close to my heart. It was something people had died over before. I thought about Savita Halappanavar, the Northern Irish women denied an abortion because there was a foetal heartbeat; she died of septicemia, in agony, her baby along with her.


"It's all life, isn't it?"

Isn't it?

Is it?

In my mind, a foetus is not alive. It doesn't have rights. The point of viability - around 26 weeks - the point when a baby can live outside its mother's body: that's when life begins. When the brain can process pain, and has developed the startle reflex (and can react to external stimuli) - that's when it goes from being a hunk of cells into something real and living. Before that, in my mind, a foetus is nothing more than a parasite.

If you rely totally and utterly on another organism to keep you alive, all take and give, then that's hardly a symbiosis. It's all well and good if you want to carry the baby, and keep it alive: I recall hearing some mothers say that pregnancy is something sacred, something pure. But if you don't want to? If your own resources are being drained to feed an alien inside your abdomen? Nobody should have to suffer through that involuntarily.

I tried to explain this to the boy, and added that safety is another issue. Women have been getting rid of unwanted babies throughout history; better to do it safely, with medical care, than illegally and alone in a back alley.

"But whenever a woman has sex, and she gets pregnant, it's a risk she knew she was taking, so it's her fault - or, equally her fault and his fault."

I looked at him. I'm pretty sure the rice fell off my chopsticks. It was the sort of statement I'd expect from Todd Akin, not the beautiful cello-playing Tory-hating liberal biochemist sat across the table from me.

"So she ought to be able to rectify the mistake," I said.

"What about the father? Doesn't he get a say? What if this girl gets pregnant, and six weeks later says, I'm pregnant and want an abortion, and he says no, I want us to have kids? What then?"

"She has an abortion," I said. It was a stupid question. The baby wasn't going to invade him for nine months, get in the way of all his plans, strain to breaking point her friendships and physicality. The baby wasn't going to stretch his orifices, possibly kill him giving birth, make him gain weight or swell his ankles or strain his back.

"Is that it? You're throwing away a whole life because it gets in the way for nine months? Just think of the potential you're wasting!" he exclaimed. I raised my eyebrows.

"Okay," I said. "Say that couple was us. Say tonight, we get a bit carried away and fuck without protection, and in six weeks' time I'm pregnant. It's not you who's going to be pregnant. It's not you who will have all your future plans for the next almost-year fucked up. It's me. It's my body. And before the embryo turns into a foetus into a baby, it's just a part of me, which I don't want, so I have to be able to get rid of it."

He looked at me around his mouthful of egg-fried carbohydrates.

"Why are you prioritising the woman's life over the baby's?"

"Because she's alive," I said. "She's me. The baby is just... cells. Especially at six weeks. You don't issue stem cells with passports and birth certificates. The baby doesn't exist anywhere outside of a tiny triangle of uterus. She does."

When he replied, I smiled, tight-lipped, and carried on eating. He was an athiest, like me; but every argument he spouted sounded like the same old Sanctity of Life bullshit which the Church has used to enslave women for as long as written records stretch back.

"I don't think it's wrong," he finished, "just... I don't know if I agree with it."

"I just..." I started, but I couldn't go on. I picked up my spoon and ate the rest of my dinner with it, scraping up the last few vegetables. "Yeah."

The silence returned. We both cleared our plates, methodically eating every last item.

"I like your nails," he said, and I was glad he'd changed the subject.


At least our first argument was about something that mattered, rather than any of the usual trivialities like how to split the bill or where to go for dinner.

We returned to talking about lighter things, less fractious ones. We walked through the chilly London streets and went to a busy pub. We drank, leaning against a wall because it was too busy to sit down. Eventually a sofa became free, and I snuggled into his shoulder when he put his arm around me. Before we left I ran downstairs to the bathrooms, following the shiny signs to the shiny white ladies'. I ducked into a stall, and noticed the smear of new red blood in my knickers. Five days of stomach cramps and low-level mood swings and craving for sugar would follow. But it could be worse.

Well. At least I wasn't pregnant.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Looking up, looking down.

Last week, my friend Lydia turned 18. It's been a long time coming - 18 years, to be precise; but about seven months since my own 18th, to be less facetious. To celebrate, her parents paid for her and six of her friends to see the view from The Shard, the 306-metre London eyesore which is has earned the title of The Tallest Building in Europe.

The thing about being in strange places is that I find it crystallises my thought process. Things become a lot more insignificant when you're somewhere different, somewhere which stands as a testament to the creativity and doggedness of the human spirit.

These are my thoughts from the top of The Shard...

- Tall buildings are the most phallic of all phallic symbols. It's the evolution of the who-has-the-biggest-club competition from caveman times. What better way to overcompensate for your fragile manhood than constructing a 1000-foot skyscraper to sell as ludicrously expensive penthouse flats?

- Imagine living in one of those flats on the 40th floor and having the lifts broken. Imagine walking down forty flights of stairs to the ground floor, only to realise you've left your stuff. Like, "aww, man, I can't believe I left my gym membership card back in my room, I gotta go walk up another forty flights of stairs to get it back?! Fuck that, just walking back up stairs counts as exercise for the day."

- If we're on the highest floor you can be, and it's floor 72, then what's above us? What happens if I look up?

- How much time in the whole of human history has been spent looking up? Staring at building, staring at the stars, just staring at the world?

- How much history can I see just by looking out across the city? It's a big sprawling metropolis. Civilisation. Humanity's greatest achievement is just learning to live together, how to navigate the changes from village to town to city to concrete forest. And rolling through the middle is The Thames, which made it all possible. Look, it's St Paul's. How many times has that been rebuilt? Props to us, humans. We're really good at rebuilding things. But how much history have we lost through this progress?

- Is progress worth paying the price of losing the past? Does tradition really matter that much?

- God damn, my feet hurt.

- It's really windy up here. I'm glad I'm not wearing a hat. I'd be pissed if I went to The Shard and lost my hat.

- But where would the hat go? It might get blown the whole way out over London. It might land at the feet of any of the tiny people I can see walking around, going between the tiny buildings and getting in their tiny cars and tiny trains, living their huge lives. And my hat would just be a tiny thing to happen in their day. 

- I am that tiny person. You are that tiny person. We're all so, so tiny. We're the centre of our own universes, but when you look at us from that far away, we are all so small. All our worries seem really big, but they are so small too. They will not subsume the whole universe - only our own. And that's tiny. And everyone else has their own universe full of their own tiny worries. We have no sense of perspective.

- We spend too much time in our own heads.

We're all just people, doing the best we can, and sometimes we get too wrapped up to really look at what's going on around us. How much amazing stuff do we miss every day just because we don't take the time to stop and stare? How much did I not notice because I was too busy inside stressing the little things, worrying about texting and tweeting and technology?

Sometimes all we need to do is look around and enjoy the view.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Kiss me.

Kiss me the moment you see me.

Kiss me like an almost-drowned man kisses the land. Kiss me like an astronaut kisses the stars. Kiss me like a 19th-century Russian novellist kissed their typewriter.

Kiss me like you can't believe it's been so long since you last kissed me, like the time has gone by in an irksome crawl since then, like this waiting has been a mistake you want to rectify as soon as possible.

Kiss me like I'm a test you've been studying for all week. Kiss me like your last-minute nerves are kicking in your belly. Kiss me like you're going to get full marks.

Kiss me like there's a butterfly on my lips and you want your breath to tickle its wings.

Kiss me like there's a magnet under my skin and your lips are made of iron. Kiss me like we're hydrogen atoms and you want to covalently bond. Kiss me to get me to stop making terrible science jokes.

Kiss me like a supernova. I don't even know how that would be possible. But I want it to happen. I imagine it will be colours and lights and heat and spectacle, something rare and sharp and shocking. Kiss me like that.

Kiss me on the Tube. Kiss me in public, where everyone can see and judge us for being obnoxious and young. Kiss me when we're travelling, because it's not the destination that matters but the leaving, the going, the arriving.

Kiss me like I'm the love of your life. Kiss me like I'm a porn star.
Kiss me like I'm made of memory foam and every touch lasts forever. Kiss me like you're trying to corrupt me.
Kiss me virgin, kiss me whore, kiss me patriarchal dichotomies where, just for once, I'd win either way.

Kiss me like an absolution.

Kiss me like you're telling me your thoughts in another language we're both trying to learn.

Kiss me so hard that you've backed me against a wall and it's all saliva and teeth and lips and tongue and basic human anatomy, and all rational thought has been replaced by the need to be close, closer, closest.

Kiss me like a secret you can't bear to hide any more.

Kiss me like you could break me, fix me, bend me, shape me, mould me, push me, pull me, complete me, empty me, perfect me, ruin me, totally and utterly verb me.

Kiss me goodbye.

Kiss me like we're kids hiding in a tree house and learning what each other's bodies are for. Kiss me like I'm going to write a song about it, and you want it to be three minutes of heaven. Kiss me like you wish we could spend the night, like this wasn't the end of another date.

Kiss me like you want to keep me.

Just shut the hell up and kiss me.