Sunday, 30 August 2015


A place name, plucked from the air during an argument about our future – “what about Brighton?”

“Brighton could be an option! I can get the train back to work – for now at least – and there’s bound to be more going on, musically, for you.”

And so here we are. DB took charge and had a couple of frantic weeks of booking viewings of studio flats and being let down by lettings agents, and then decided to go through Spare Room in a bid to ensure we didn’t end up in one dingy basement room. Every day, Mother Dearest would ask “have you found a place to live yet?” and make her disapproval at the lack of progress known – which, you’ll be surprised to know, wasn’t especially helpful. You can choose your friends…

It was my gamble that paid off in the end (she says, not at all smugly). I answered an ad on Spare Room that had no photos but promised a sea view and a central location, and one sunny Sunday, we headed down there.

Driving past the royal-icing houses that are just so Brighton, hopes were high. And then we came to a brick block at the end of the road. “Looks like that’s it. Oh. Well, it might be nice inside.”

Up to the third floor (DB: “I don’t have a good feeling about this”) and to be honest, I was getting some faintly 'crack den' vibes.

But inside it was …fine. Not perfect, but certainly not the fleapit DB and I were expecting, in our middle-class anxiety.

Tiny kitchen that can only really have two people in it at a time. Tiny bathroom that DB attacked with bleach on Wednesday night and now looks shiny and white – but may not stay that way, given that it’s going to be used by one woman and 3 men. Lucky me. And our room – well, they weren’t kidding about the sea view. Two large windows look out over a little park and straight on the sea.

And that’s my second-favourite bit (the first being the simple fact that it’s our space, away from parents, in a city full of real people and not middle-aged Tories) – I can see the sea every day. I wake up and it’s there, smooth and endlessly blue, sometimes with rain-filled mists rolling off it towards us, sometimes clear and dotted with boats. I come home and I can see it as I leave the station. After work, I charge down there to have the office cobwebs blown from my head by the breeze, and to listen to the roar of seafoam on shingle. For someone who’s terrified of being in it and eating things from it, I can’t get enough of being right by it.

I don't know how long we'll be here for - he needs London, really, and I crave Bristol - but for now, it will certainly do. More than that - I think I could fall in love with Brighton. We're already off to a flying start.

On the Bambi bookshelf


We know how I feel about things that are over-hyped - I'm childishly reluctant to partake in them - but Drummer Boy's mother gave me this beautiful hardback copy of The Miniaturist for Christmas, so it would have been churlish not to give it a go. I don't think I can emphasise enough just how far from my reading comfort zone this is - I mean, Amsterdam in the late 1600s, what? Thanks but no thanks - but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with it. Yes, it's set in a time and a place that I couldn't be less familiar with if I tried, but it's so readable, and has stacks of drama and a touch of the supernatural, and really, if you haven't read it yet, you should.

Current inspiration

Apologies once again for the slightly wanky subheading, but really, nothing else fits. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about having a God-awful week, and that streak of shit luck is only just beginning to move on and bother some other poor sod. When everything goes a bit wrong at once, you sort of want to rebuild yourself. Rip up your life as it is and start again. The trouble is, after the age of 20, 21, this is considerably harder to do - you're tied into things more, like jobs and relationships and habits. You can't change it all, but you can make the best of the bad bits while you gradually unpick and re-stitch the bits that have potential. 

Caitlin Moran's novel How To Build a Girl deals with this exact problem; that feeling of "this is not how I want my life to be, so how do I change it? How do I get from here to there?" What Johanna, the protagonist, does is steal bits from other people - so with that in mind, my current source of inspiration is Sali Hughes, journalist, Guardian beauty writer, author of Pretty Honest and all-round good egg. Not only is she a brilliant writer, she also worked her way up from literally nothing. If you read nothing else about housing benefits, you should read her take on the issueThis is also a fantastic piece, and this interview's a good'un.

Over and out.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Corbyn, carriages and catcalls

Image-searched "woman on train". This seemed the least ridiculous result.

I’ll admit, I sort of missed the whole Jeremy Corbyn thing blowing up. I don’t know where I was  - crying over a fruitless flathunt, probably* – but I looked up a few weeks ago and suddenly he was everywhere. With the face of a Geography teacher and, what's this? Proper left-wing politics? Interesting.

*DB and I live in Brighton now. Hurrah! It’s a room in a small third-floor flat, and I’m one girl living with three boys so it’s not as clean and tidy as I’d like - but we can see the sea , we’re close to the station and we have a power shower. What more do I need?! To quote the never-not-brilliant Sali Hughes, it’s “a locked door between [us and the city]”, and that’s what counts.

View from bedroom window. Not relevant, just showing off.

Yesterday, Twitter was all a-flutter with the news that Corbyn had suggested implementing women-only carriages on public transport in an attempt to tackle harassment, after British Transport Police reported that sex offences on trains and at stations have risen to 'record levels'.

The facts of the matter are this: harassment on public transport is a known problem. A poll released in October 2014 found that 32% of women in London had been verbally abused on public transport, and 19% had been physically assaulted. It is done to women by men far more than any other gender combination.

And no, not all men - of course #notallmen. I don’t doubt for one moment that men have been harassed by women, and other men, and women have harassed other women. I’m simply saying that if you looked at, say, twenty incidents of harassment on public transport, it wouldn't be hard to spot a trend.

An easy way to test the sexism waters (Are You Sure It's That Bad 101, if you like) is to ask a group of women if they’ve been catcalled in public – when walking home from the supermarket, or going for a run, or just minding their own business, cracking on with their day. I can almost guarantee they will all say that they have. Ask a group of men if they have had comments of a vaguely sexual nature shouted at them while walking past a building site or trying to beat their p.b. on a 10k, and not many of them will say yes. Some will, obviously. But far fewer than the women.

And while we’re on the much-discussed subject of catcalling – it is very rarely a compliment. It is unasked-for, unwanted attention. I mean, personally, I don’t care – I usually walk with earphones in anyway so if it does happen, I either don’t hear it or can pretend I don’t hear it. But just because I don’t give a shit what a group of blokes digging up the road want to shout at me, doesn’t mean other women and girls can shrug it off so easily. The thirteen-year-old girl who happens to look older than she is, walking home from hockey practice – she might not be able to. The woman who was once attacked and now hates walking home alone but has to, because she won't let herself be limited in that way - she might not be able to. Any woman, in fact - any woman at all, pick one at random - she just might want to get on with her day and not be reminded that there are some men that will only ever think of women as sex objects.

Anyway. So along came Jeremy, and he was reported as suggesting women-only carriages as one way of dealing with this very real problem.

First things first though - he did not actually say "if I become Prime Minister, I will introduce women-only carriages". Of course he bloody didn't. What he said was he'd be willing to consult with women on the suggestion (you can read this - written by two of the women who were involved in suggesting seven proposals for dealing with harassment. Straight from the horse's keyboard).

Obviously the problems with this particular option are myriad. For starters, the very word 'segregation' has some pretty dodgy connotations. South Africa. Jim Crow laws. The Troubles. It's not a Memory Lane anyone wants to re-open.

Secondly, it's another way that women would have to modify their behaviour to avoid being harassed, rather than the perpetrators being taught to modify their crappy behaviour.

Thirdly, it raises the question - if a woman didn't want to travel in a designated carriage and was then attacked, would she be blamed? People do still say things like, "dressed like that? She was asking for it, mate" - I think it's just limited to Daily Mail readers, but I've heard these words uttered. There is still a culture of victim-blaming; you only have to look at how the tabloids report sex crime (trust me, I wrote a dissertation on it, what larks) to see this.

So perhaps it's not the solution. When the news made its way onto social media, and all the Guardian think-piece writers downed espressos in unison and started typing frantically, people were making the above criticisms left, right and centre, as well as plenty more scathing and ludicrous ones.

And that's our biggest problem right there. Not that a politician made a suggestion that, at face value, seemed almost reasonable, but after seven seconds of thought turned out to be a touch misguided. But the fact that these ideas can't even be thrown out there without being ripped to shreds. It's one idea. If you've got a better one, brilliant. Let's hear it. The more ideas, the better. The more brains working to solve a problem, the quicker that problem is reduced to mere dust.

But if we keep tearing down, ripping up - destroying, instead of creating - there won't be any ideas.  No-one will suggest anything new because, well, why even try? We're not going to get a feminism superhero who has the perfect solution for all the problems women face. We're not going to get a superhero of the Left who can do everything we want. That's not how life works - it takes more than one person. It takes everyone.

We need to question new ideas, we need to criticise, we need to examine them closely from all angles. But we also have to acknowledge that it takes guts to tackle things no-one else is tackling, and not make it harder for those who are trying.

Friday, 14 August 2015

What we did on our holiday

If this was always my writing view, I feel this blog would be a whole lot cheerier.

I haven't been on a family holiday in years - I can't be the only one who hit 17 and decided that the thought of spending a week in one place with only people I'm related to for company was, well, A Bit Much. Plus, my family are strongly in favour of beach/pool holidays, whereas I can do that for about three hours and then start to go a bit crackers and need to find a museum or an art gallery or a church tower to climb, stat.

But something about working in an office 9-5, Monday-Friday, has made the whole doing-nothing-for-a-week holiday seem much more appealing, so when my mum asked if I wanted to join her and my sister in Greece for a week, I said yes bloody please.

It's beautiful here - all I've done since Monday is eat, swim and gaze in stupefied awe at the crystal-clear Aegean Sea (sorry sorry sorry). So the following is what happens when I don't really have anything to write about...

1) Hotel restaurant buffets make fools of us all.
"What do you mean, I wouldn't dream of having a bowl of bircher muesli followed by French toast and an entire pot of tea for breakfast at home?"

2) Related: no-one does any exercise on holiday.
I tried doing some 'proper' swimming - it's a pain in the arse being one of those irritating people who's just found out how good exercise is - but people kept getting in the way, being leisurely and having fun - so eventually I gave up on that one.

3) You quickly identify that one family you either want to befriend or be adopted by.
It happened on day 2. They arrived at the pool - two couples, with five children between them. Dads in Ray-Bans and Boden shorts, mums trying to keep track of little ones (more on that in a moment). One dad looked a bit like an older version of Drummer Boy if I closed my eyes and thought about it really hard. Children with names like Oscar, Florence and Oliver - obviously. It was love at first sight.

4) You quickly identify that one family you hope either suffer a freak incident of food poisoning or all get nibbled to death by mosquitos.
It happened on the evening of day 2. They were on their way to the marina, as were we, and I overheard them say something incredibly rude about the Russian family standing about eight feet away. Who does that? In front of their kids? Come on.

5) Mothers are mothers, no matter where in the world they may be.
During the course of the week, Mother Dearest and I came to verbal blows over the following: Caitlyn Jenner, me asking to borrow my sister's lip balm, my relationship choices, her refusal to eat anything more interesting than salad. For us, that's pretty good going. She also managed to plan my entire wedding (I'm not even engaged) before we even got off the runway. She'd written a guest list on her boarding pass.

I am now even more convinced than I already was that, whenever the time comes, myself and the unlucky gentleman are going to elope.

6) Airports are weird. 
Our flight was at 6am, so we got up at 2.45. Ouch. Pro-tip: don't spend the afternoon before a 3am start drinking beer and talking nonsense in the sunshine, no matter how much you enjoy listening to your love interest's folk band. You will go to bed feeling mighty strange and full of regret in every shade. You will feel even stranger when you find yourself wandering round Duty Free at Gatwick at 5 in the morning, trying to buy perfume and/or sunglasses and wondering why your heart's not in it. Dude, it's 5am. You are not meant to be shopping, you are meant to be in the land of zizz. Sit down and doze off. Right after you've done Smith's, though.

7) Boys will be boys to the end.
I was finishing a glass of wine in the hotel bar, after Mrs Lightweight and Sister had gone to bed, minding my own business and having a Facebook Messenger "difference of opinion" with DB, when a young man approached and offered to buy me a drink. I declined, but he sat down anyway and we started on the small talk. He looked rather nonplussed when I asked what he did, so I asked if he was a student, and when he rattled off the four subjects he was studying, the penny dropped. "Ohhh, you're an A-level student".
"Yeah. Are you at uni, or...?"
"No... I'm 25."
Conversation over.

8) Gender stereotypes rule on holiday.
When the family in (3) arrived, it was the men who took off with the kids - they couldn't wait to throw their sons into the water and teach their daughters to swim without armbands. One mum was left holding the baby for a good hour - and yeah, it was a super-cute baby, but all it could do was lie on a sunlounger and dribble a bit. Not much fun for mum. After a while, dad came over and said "do you want a go in the pool, darling?" If it had been me, the reply would have been brief. YES PLEASE, AND A COLD BEER. NOW.

On the Bambi bookshelf: poolside edition

Holidays are basically made for reading all those books you mean to get around to but never do, and so far I've done The Rosie Project and Don't Point That Thing At Me.

The former I picked up when I went into a charity shop to donate some books, somewhat defeating the whole point of the visit. It's brilliant. Genuinely funny and touching - though some of the characters aren't entirely realistic, but hey, they're characters in a book - I can't wait to read the sequel (The Rosie Effect).

 The latter was given to me by Drummer Boy at Christmas, because he was very taken with the description of the protagonist, and knew I would be too: "I am Charlie Mortdecai. I like art and money and dirty jokes and drink. I am very successful". And while I wouldn't have chosen it myself, it's a strange little treat - chock-full of so many evil, but oh-so-quotable lines:

"Women are great advocates of sex in bed because they have bad figures to hide (usually) and cold feet to warm (always)."
"I weakened some of the coffee with some of the whisky and drank it, suppressing a gagging shudder".
"...I was wearing my Complete American Disguise: a cream tussore suit, sunglasses and a cocoa-coloured straw hat with a burnt orange ribbon. The effect was pretty sexy, I don't mind telling you. Mr Abercrombie would have bitten Mr Fitch if he'd seen it".

It's like Withnail, or Black Books, but with art - equal parts wit, whisky and skulduggery (was trying to go for another 'w' there but nothing really fitted).

Got to go now, pool awaits.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

How to survive a Truly Terrible Week

I didn't start this blog so I could use it to complain about my life (no, really). I mean, yes, I do a fair bit of complaining here, but I either try and make it relatable, or, if it's personal, do it with a sense of humour and a hefty dose of self-awareness. (Life tip: make jokes at your own expense before anyone else has a chance.)

But God, this week's been a bit of a shocker. I won't go into details, because it would be very tedious - and if you work and/drink with me, you've probably already heard - but in short, there's been at least two work-related disappointments, many flat-hunting setbacks, and lots of arguing and crying. I have a pathetically low tolerance for stress at the best of times, being rather feeble and easily panicked, so I'm glad this Terrible Week is nearly over.

I'm no Pollyanna; it's hard, when nothing seems to be going as planned, to not take it very, very personally. It's also a shame, when you have a job, qualifications, a functioning relationship (by the skin of its teeth, anyway), and a bunch of good friends, to still feel like something of a failure. No, I'm not doing quite what I want to be doing, career-wise. No, I'm not earning as much as I'd like. No, I don't have my own place. The best I can do right now is stick a "yet" at the end of those sentences, and resolve to keep on keeping on.

So, in the interests of this post having at least some redeeming qualities - and not simply being, as a dear friend said the other day, "just a wank on the page", here's how to get through your own Truly Terrible Weeks.

1) Caffeine.

In tearful times, there's a lot to be said for the great British tradition of a nice cup of tea. Ideally, it should be made by a love interest - all other romantic gestures are trumped by a well-timed, unasked-for cup of tea. They just are. 

In sleepless times, you need to up your caffeine game and hit the coffee. If you're ploughing through a tough day/week/year at the office, and trying to do it while sleep-deprived, you're going to need good, strong coffee.

2) Talk to your calmest, most interesting friends. One of the week's few bright spots was having a long chat with one such friend about everything from growing tomatoes to Go Set a Watchman. It was soothing - as long as I didn't focus on the fact that he was due to leave for Japan within 48 hours and I probably wouldn't be seeing him again for well over a year.

3) Remind yourself of, and keep chanting, all the motivational quotes and sayings you can think of. Make your own up if you have too. You'll feel like a walking tumblr, but it will help. Useful ones are as follows:

"Success isn't permanent, and failure isn't fatal."

"For every thirteen no's you hear, the fourteenth answer will be a yes".

"There will always be someone else who fucked up worse, and managed to turn it around" - I don't think this is a common saying, but it should be.

And two old favourites: "it could be worse" and "onwards and upwards".

(You have to believe this nonsense otherwise you'll go crackers or jump off a bridge.)

4) Don't hate-stalk. We all have those Facebook/Twitter/Instagram friends who are achingly smug, and sadly have much to be smug about, so don't do it to yourself. You'll only end up hissing things like "she's 25, how the bloody fuck can she afford a cleaner?" to yourself, at 2am.  

5) It's sod's law that the day you receive bad news is the day someone in your social circle gets a promotion/engaged/baby/frankly obscene payrise. Smile, nod, congratulate through gritted teeth, and take a large gulp of gin.

6) Gin. Wine. Beer. Pick your poison, have a couple of glasses. Any more than a couple and you stand a good chance of weeping yourself hoarse, or restarting a really old fight. Neither of which will make you feel any better, despite what 'drunk brain' may be telling you.

7) Remember who's on your side. And remember too that anyone who gives you advice or criticism is doing it from only one place, one perspective - their own. Parents and grandparents grew up in different times and different circumstances, which will have formed and shaped their opinions and outlooks.

8) You are not obliged to let the bastards get you down. You are allowed to say "sod it, I'm going to enjoy my evening and worry about this tomorrow". If it gets to Friday, and it's sunny, and you're in good health and not alone in the world and still have some money in the bank, then put your face on and get yourself a drink.

9) Shut Up and Dance. The day that massive, camp, super-poppy choruses like this fail to cheer me up is the day I walk into a lake, to be honest with you. Being someone's "discotheque Juliet teenage dream" sounds like a shedload of fun, too, where do you think one would apply for such a position?

On the Bambi bookshelf

Normally, I'd give books that run to 600 pages a wide berth - being of the opinion that if a writer can't finish a story in less than 400 pages, they're just showing off all the words they know as opposed to actually dishing out a plot - but something about this one made me want to give it a go. And I'm so glad it came home from the library with me. Part family saga, part forensic examination of a marriage, part something else entirely, it's incredibly well-written (no overblown, flowery prose here), and quietly addictive. It doesn't feel like an Epic Novel, even though it's been hailed as one. I can definitely recommend.