Thursday, 23 January 2014

From Bristol with love

I took this.
Or: "Naughty Badger's* step-by-step guide to an awesome couple of days away".

*Not sure if I've explained this nickname. It's not as deviant as it sounds, unfortunately.

Step one: Set off alarmingly early, because your significant other needs to renew their railcard and is confident that this can be done at the station before 7am. On a Sunday morning. Resist the urge to tell them not to be so ridiculous.

Step two: Find that, indeed, it is not possible to renew said railcard. Resist the urge to hiss "I bloody knew it, you moron". A conductor tells you to get off at Clapham and do it there - but the conductor does not understand that you are booked on a specific train from London Paddington and if you miss it, there will be financial consequences.

Step two, part b) Get off at Clapham. Wait for significant other (SO or "Boy" from now on) to take passport photos and fill out form. Assure him that his face doesn't look "wonky" in the photos. (It does look a bit wonky.)

Step three: As expected, miss scheduled train. Fail to remain chipper - it's cold, and you've been up since about 5 - and snap briefly. Then feel bad. Have fruitless exchange with member of station staff, who rightly asks "why did you get off at Clapham if you had booked tickets for the 9.03 from here?" Pay for new tickets.

Step four: Once on train, doze off on Boy's shoulder, but keep sliding down into his lap, causing him to worry about what this looks like to other passengers.

Step five: Get to Bristol and feel high as a kite that you're back. Chatter like a [well-rested] child at Christmas. Discuss lunch: "I really feel like soup. Something healthy but warm." End up in 'spoons with a cheese toastie and a pint. Which both go down an absolute treat.

Step six: Because you have an exceptionally cavalier attitude to deadlines, spend the afternoon writing feverishly in order to meet one. The Boy is fine with this, as he has John Niven's latest book and, unusually for him, a Nintendo DS.

Step seven: Drink strawberry beer. Realise at about half-ten that you're starving. Make plans to take pizza back to your hotel room (do it once and you'll have a glorious tradition for life. Trust me). Head to nearest pizza place, scoff at prices. Head to nearby Tesco Express, whip out iPhone, find a deal, order pizza. Return to pizza place, collect pizza. Worry about how disapproving the hotel staff will be when they see you carrying the pizza box to your room. Boy assures you repeatedly that no-one will notice or care.

Step eight: The hotel has locked the front door, and you must show your keycard to be let in. Which means you and your pizza have been noticed. Refuse to make eye contact, feel mortified. Once inside the lift, hiss at Boy: "Sorry, what was that you said? No-one will notice or care?!"

Step nine: Forget feeling mortified, demolish pizza in bed while watching CSI: Miami. Realise that far from being cool and exciting, eating pizza in bed with fairly awful American TV and a nice young man beside you is actually the dream. Also realise that the main dramatic device of CSI: Miami is... the way... Horatio pauses... to make every utterance seem... really... significant.

Step ten: Following a pretty poor night's sleep - partly due, no doubt, to being chock-full of cheese and pepperoni, but also because you seem to be in The World's Hottest Hotel Room - drink a bajillion cups of coffee. And find that Brendan Cole, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is staying at the same hotel, with a group of musicians and dancers from his show.

Step eleven: Go shopping. While in Topshop, receive an e-mail saying that one of the five pieces of copywriting you did the previous afternoon has been accepted. Figure that the company is going to e-mail you about each piece separately, which means you have four more to go (you're good at maths). Immediately think back and realise that you wrote a lot of bollocks. Narrowly avoid having a full-scale panic attack in Topshop. Think, for the ninetieth time in your life, that coffee and an anxious personality do not mix.

Step twelve: receive four other e-mails telling you your pieces have been accepted. The red fog of anxiety clears.

He took this.
Step thirteen: Head to Clifton - the only reason you come to this city at all, really. Time it perfectly so that you're standing on the bridge as the sun goes down. Let the views knock you sideways, like they always do. This is the bridge where it all began, two and a half years ago. It will never not be the most beautiful place in the world.

(Give any readers permission to be a little sick, if they haven't already.)

Step fourteen: Get cold, go to a pub. Drink more strawberry beer, try a pilsner called Veltins, which is honestly one of the best things you've ever drunk. Go and eat a terrifying amount of glorious Indian food at Clifton's Thali Cafe. Wonder how on earth you're going to fit in a cocktail or two (we had vouchers for free ones).

Step fifteen: Walk back to the hotel, seeing the city lit up around you. Debate whether the definition of true love is both "finding the person you want to annoy for the rest of your life", or "finding the person you can stand being annoyed by for the rest of your life".

Step sixteen: Decide that you can probably stomach at least one cocktail, so reluctantly shoe-horn yourself into a dress and head down to the bar. Watch as Boy promptly sloshes quarter of his first drink over his jeans. Feel old because the amount you've eaten and drunk over the last thirty-something hours is catching up with you, and you just want to sink into that big hotel bed.

To finish: As the train leaves Temple Meads, remember that year you spent in Cardiff, flitting to Bristol whenever you had a few days spare, and how flat you felt when you had to get on the train alone on Sunday evenings. Feel grateful and relieved that you don't have to do that anymore.

Get home, Google "jobs in Bristol".

You really need to listen to this guy. Saw him last night, and he is disgustingly talented.

Friday, 17 January 2014

A double whammy. Whatever that is.

Instead of one big, lofty, I'm-totally-changing-the-world-here post, today you get two little ones. They're just little oddities I can't put anywhere else. 

The reluctant runner... 

Dressage is NOT "horse ballet"
I've never been what you call "sporty". The only remotely energetic things I was interested in while at school were hockey and horse riding. (I now get disproportinately cross when there's any sort of equine sport on TV and people think it's OK to take the piss out of dressage. There's a metric fuck-tonne of skill that goes into that, all right? It's not just horses dancing. It's not.)

I went through a phase when I was about 15 or 16 where I got a bit obsessed with being skinny. Nothing major, no medical intervention, and it was cured by a bout of food poisoning - after five days of whimpering on your bathroom floor, you start to miss the ability to keep food inside you - but that was when I started dragging myself out running. Which, incidentally, was another thing cured by the food poisoning, as it took a good month or so to not feel totally drained by everything. I digress. Running was exercise I didn't mind doing. I pretty much forgot about it while at uni, but in late spring last year, I decided to go back to it. I figured that I might as well get into good habits now, before I get to the wrong side of 27 and all that cheese and wine weight suddenly comes out from wherever it's been hiding for the last few years.

And so now I run. The first ten times, it was painful and knackering. But then one day it felt easier, more natural, and that in turn made it easier to keep at it. I remember my doctor telling me, at the height of That Anxiety Thing I Had, that exercise could really help work off the excess adrenaline that was making me feel so bloody mental. I'm still not sure if this is true for me personally - as at least once every run I become briefly convinced a heart attack is imminent - but it certainly boosts my mood. In the damp, drizzly winter months, it's incredibly hard to want to go out and get moving. You can be putting on your trainers and opening the front door, repeating "no, I don't want to, can't I just stay in with biscuits and Netflix?" but by the time you've done a warm-up jog, you've come around to the idea. Your legs - and ideally, your energizing playlist - take over, and you think "look at me go! I'm doing it. I already feel awesome!"

And then you come home to a warm house, and biscuits and Netflix, and you're snug and smug. Because that, I've found, is the thing about running - sure, it gets your heart, lungs and leg muscles engaged, it burns off some calories - but it makes you feel jolly smug. And if that's not a reason to keep doing something, then I don't know what is.

Not even a bit related...

The very tip of my make-up iceberg


I've written about make-up before, and as a rule, I try not to write gender-specific posts, but I read this yesterday and had one of those "Oh God, yes!" moments - and, as something of a rarity, all the comments on the piece are lovely, and worth a read. (If you don't know who Sali Hughes is, she's the Guardian beauty writer but also does a lot of other journalism work. She's mates with Caitlin Moran, and seems like an all-round good egg.)

So yeah. I love make-up. I can spend hours - and a small fortune - in Boots. I'm not insecure about my looks - well, I am, but no more than the average woman - and I don't wear it all the time, but I do love make-up. It's fun. I like the possibilities, the playfulness. I like not having to leave the house with the face I woke up with. You can be anyone - smudgy eyeliner a la Kate Moss, or classically red-lipped like old Hollywood stars. Though, if truth be told, I've yet to master either of those without looking like a child who's got hold of Mummy's make-up bag. The point stands though - it's fun, it's transformative; it can make you feel bolder, more confident. And when you're confident, you function better. You literally have your game face on.

Male friends - and I say this with love, and an unwillingness to make sweeping generalisations - don't get it. "You look great without make-up, you don't need to wear it." OK - a) I don't look "great" without it. Honestly. I don't. I see my face every day, I know it better than anyone. B) I want to wear it. I like it. I like the ritual of it - it's ten minutes at the beginning of the day that are calm; just me, doing my thing and trying not to get mascara on my eyelids. And on bad skin days, a bit of foundation and concealer can make the difference between a good mood and a bad mood. Another favourite line trotted out by men is "I don't like women to look fake... lots of eyeliner, false eyelashes - nah, just doesn't do it for me". You know what? That's because it's not for you. We do it for us. We really, really do. (Weirdly, on the rare occasions the Boy has noticed and complimented my make-up, it's been when I'm wearing more eyeliner than usual. Maybe he likes the slightly gothy look? Who knows?)

I don't like having to downplay an interest in make-up and beauty as a guilty pleasure, as something that's too "girly" and not useful. I'm properly geeky about it at times - a lifetime of problematic skin has given me a genuine curiosity about ingredients and techniques that work, and those that don't, and why. The idea that you can't be smart and bothered about your appearence refuses to die. If you express an interest in beauty, and appear to enjoy spending money on new products, you can still expect to be thought of as a bit vain or superficial. And that's frustrating, and wrong - on the Sali Hughes piece, find the comment about the woman who escaped a violent partner, got to a refuge and asked for, amongst other things, her favourite face cream. Sometimes your beauty routine - however basic or complex it might be - can keep you together, emotionally. Like I said, it's a moment of calm, a ritual. Therapeutic, almost. During WWII, American cosmetic brands gave their lipsticks names like "Patriot Red" or "Fighting Red". And in the fifties, beautiful, quirky powder compacts became all the rage - after years of rationing and the dark times of war, reclaiming a little bit of luxury and glamour became important.

OK, I've rambled on enough now.

On the subject of beautiful things, here's this.

Friday, 3 January 2014

This old chestnut...

Happy New Year and all that. Personally, I'm hoping that 2014 is going to be a vast improvement upon 2013, which was - to put it politely - patchy at best. I'm going to kick off the year with a feministy rant. Sorry.

I love a daft stock image.
Shortly before Christmas, I spent most of a day writing a piece on whether society still judges women who choose not to have children, as part of a staff writer application (miraculously, they liked what I wrote). Now, normally, I'd be all over that shit. As someone who has always found the whole pregnancy and childbirth thing utterly terrifying, and who has only recently started to think "aww, kids might be fun", it's something I could bang on about for yonks. But my word limit was around the 400-mark, so not nearly big enough. I like to throw all my thoughts at the page and see what sounds good, so small word counts are tricky. I also felt a bit bored by the topic - like "we're really still having this conversation?" But we are. I even asked my mum - not that she's the best person to ask, Mrs Daily Mail - and she shot back straight away "yes, we do judge childless women, without a doubt".

So here's the unabridged result of me throwing some thoughts at my laptop.

For all the progress we've made in a few decades (the vote, education, employment, equal pay - in theory if not in practice - and contraception), feminism's still got things to do*. It's got to deal with all the insidious stuff - the attitudes, the media's representation of women, how women are treated by the legal system - stuff that is, arguably, harder to tackle. If you want legislation changed, there are procedures you can follow - campaigns, petitions, advocacy groups - you get the picture. It might not be easy, it might not be successful, but there are ways and means, paths that have been trodden. To change attitudes, you have to shout into the wind and hope that enough people hear you. You have to call people out when they say things that are narrow-minded, unintentionally offensive or just plain stupid. At best, they might accuse you of not having a sense of humour, and at worst, they might be hostile, aggressive and threatening.

*Despite what Angela Epstein said on Newsnight a couple of months ago, when they did a piece on Everyday Sexism. I didn't know Ms Epstein wrote for the Daily Mail at the time, so I sat there and seethed about how contrary and deliberately obtuse she was being. When I looked her up afterwards, it all made sense.

Anyway, back to the thing. Womanhood and motherhood remain inextricably linked, despite all the progress that's been made. The notion that you're not a fully-fledged human being until you've produced a new one persists - if you're female. Women who choose not to have children, and instead throw their energy and intelligence into their careers, travelling the world, or simply going about their own business - quite happily - still have to deal with questions and remarks that are loaded with judgement:

"When are you going to settle down?"

"Give it time, your hormones will kick in."

"You'll change your mind."

From aging relatives hoping for grandchildren, you might expect it. But I've had the latter two said to me by male friends my own age. In my case, I happen to think they're right - I would like children, it's the personally having them I'm not so keen on. If it was simply a case of planting a tree and plucking a baby off when it was ripe, I'd be all for it. Or growing one in a tank, like Sea Monkeys. It's the giving up my body in order to grow a little human that I have the issue with. And then forcing it out into the world. It's the biggest physical commitment there is, and only women can do it, so when it's men saying "oh darling, you'll change your tune", I get a little riled and want to spit back "how the bloody hell would you know?"

The flip-side of this was pointed out to me by a very wise friend - it's incredibly rare that you hear parents saying that it's not all it's cracked up to be. There must be some people out there who have children and have found that were they able to go back, they wouldn't have had them. You don't hear those stories, because it would be horribly damaging to the children in question to find that out. There are people who never planned on kids but had them, and wouldn't change a thing, but that's a far more socially acceptable position to take. Society needs to catch up and recognise that motherhood isn't something that women have to cross off the list - we need to stop having conversations that run thus: "she's very successful, yeah, top of her field. Never had kids though". Making and raising new humans is such a commitment, such a life-changer, that you have to really want to do it. It's the unwanted children, the resented ones, who will suffer.

One day, women's choices and decisions aren't going to be the subject of endless judgement and debate. One woman's way of doing things won't be seen as representative of the whole of womankind. We will all - men included - just be allowed to get on with things. And let's hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

I don't have a sex playlist (well, not as yet, but you never know) but if I did, this would be on it.

And when I went for a very chilly, rainy run the other day, this song made me feel invincible.