What you haven’t heard of could fill the surface of the sun in eight point Perlin, please don’t go thinking just because you’ve been voted into the House of Representatives that means everything you believe is fact and everything you don’t is fiction. Surely you have someone who is paid to stand beside you and brief you on the go, declaring your ignorance as if it were a badge of honour reflects poorly on you, your office and your voters.
Apologies if this makes no sense or is just plain wrong. Recent news articles have just got my back up and it’s this or get in a fight on Twitter about it.
In the last couple of days there have been several high profile statements on the issue of rape that have shocked me, and so I decided to write about it. It’s not just the last couple of days, this same issue has been discussed a lot in recent memory (i.e. mine) and every new stupid comment that is made to the media by someone who I would hope would know better brings them all to the forefront of my mind, and so this is going to be a bit of a long and winding road. I hope to have a conclusion by the time I’m done, though.
Congressman Todd Akin, U.S. Representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district said the following of pregnancy as a result if rape, and subsequent termination;
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist”
This is outstanding, really, this man must be outrageously confident to sit in front of an entire nation upon whom he relies to retain his position in Congress and spout such utter bollocks. I know you know it’s a stupid thing to say. I know this has been debated online until all the original ideas have been drained out of it, but here’s my piece anyway.
Firstly, ‘legitimate rape’. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. It’s not helpful to say that not all rape reports are true, but it’s a fact. What’s even less helpful is to imply that the vast majority are false, which I do not believe is true. I’m going to try not to make any sweeping statements that haven’t been proven in a court of law, but I don’t think crying rape is a thing most women do to pass the time. Nor do I think abortion is something most women do without thinking it through. I understand that there are people who think abortion is murder, and evil, and twisted and sick and wrong. But then there are obviously people in the world who think they have the right to force sex on men, women and children against their will, so let’s not start by assuming that having an opinion makes you right.
This whole blog might be nonsense, for that matter. It’s just what’s in my head, the world as I see it through me-tinted eyeballs. But I digress.
Let’s assume that by ‘legitimate rape’ Congressman Akin meant genuine rape, and not just violent rape, or stranger rape, because that would just be silly. Not potentially getting yourself punched or stabbed or killed does not equal consent, and neither does knowing your attacker. Let’s assume Congressman Akin knows this.
The female body does not have ‘ways’ to ‘try to shut that whole thing down’. Were the female body to have such ways, they might be better served by preventing non-consensual penetration rather than waiting for it to happen then somehow neutralising the risk of pregnancy. If I had a magic power related to rape, it would be to not get raped, not to not get pregnant when I got raped.
“Let’s assume they didn’t work or something”. Yes, Congressman, let’s. Let’s assume that for some reason my ‘ways’ are not working. You know how women can get all rubbish sometimes, I’m probably on my period or something.
“I think there should be some punishment,” well that’s mighty Christian of you, sir.
“But the punishment ought to be on the rapist.” Damn straight it should. But what is being proposed here is that the rapist be punished, but the foetus not be punished, and the woman who JUST GOT RAPED needs to just shut up about it and let the government decide what happens next. Never mind that she is carrying the foetus of a criminal, a man who has hurt her, betrayed her trust in humanity, put her through an experience she will never forget and made it awfully hard for her to carry on, although in most cases, of course, she will, because women have ‘ways’, remember.
Abortion is not a punishment. Stating it as such is ludicrous. No less ludicrous than it is to imply by word choice that should a woman become pregnant she was not ‘legitimately’ raped.
In conclusion to this part of my brainleak, this man, this Congressman, this Republican man, needs to go back to school. He needs to better understand the limitations of the human body, both his own and those of his wife.
A statement was later released stating the following;
“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”
And yet this deep empathy does not appear to be reflected in his consideration, or lack thereof, of any of these thousands of woman who may be non-consensually impregnated during their ordeal.
On the subject of abortion and rape, I read an article today (in the Guardian, here) about a cartoon strip published daily in several newspapers, which had been dropped by some of those newspapers for one strip set in an abortion clinic. The strip refers to a ‘shaming room’ and the article describes a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound as state-sponsored rape. There are those who believe this is ridiculous, that an ultrasound of this type is absolutely necessary in order to make the woman aware of the foetus she carries, in order to convince her to change her mind about terminating her pregnancy. In reality, this can only be considered consensual insofar as it is performed under duress. Undergo this awful, invasive procedure and you might get the abortion you seek. Refuse, and you definitely won’t. I don’t see how this is all that much different from “lie still and be quiet and I won’t hurt you”. Of course, should this attempt at shaming or scaring women into not going to abortion clinics fail to deter, perhaps the next step will be that the doctor performing the procedure is allowed to let his friends watch.
Roman Polanski. That name stands alone. It is a man who disgusts me and always will. Frankly, I am a little bit disgusted by all the celebrities who stood up to justify his not standing trial for a rape to which he has confessed, although I’m sure they don’t care what I think, and neither does he. What I wanted to mention here was the statement, from Whoopi Goldberg, that what he did was not “rape-rape”. I assume what she meant by this was that he didn’t beat the child he raped as he was raping her. He did not hold her down as she struggled. Maybe the implication is that the girl was consenting and ‘cried rape’ which, in itself, seems to imply it’s a lie. Is it a parallel with “crying wolf”? Anyway, whatever Ms Goldberg said, it was not helpful. There is rape, or there is not rape, there is no rape but not rape, and there is no rape rape. There is rape where the victim is beaten or threatened or dragged into bushes, and there is rape where the victim is thirteen years old, given alcohol and controlled substances, and left alone in a jacuzzi with an incredibly rich, famous and powerful man, and this is taken as consent from a child in an altered state by a man who wants to have sex with her. With regards to those who point out that Polanski survived the Holocaust and the horrific murder of his heavily pregnant wife, I say, there are sex offenders in our prisons who were themselves sexually assaulted as children, and none of those was handed a free pass on rape. Polanski did a thing that it is not OK for a human to do, and I don’t care a bit for excuses. Perhaps he was damaged by his experiences. Does that make it OK to pay it forward?
Julian Assange is a man who has been accused of rape, and obviously there are a lot of accusations and complications flying around about him, I’m not going to get into those. I’m not even saying he’s guilty, because he has not stood trial. Which, of course, is a huge part of the complications surrounding him. This issue has been discussed a lot online, and a while ago I saw a woman say that the women who have accused him are clearly lying. I can’t remember the details but essentially the idea was that these women were known to be a bit slaggy, and therefore they must be lying. Because a woman who’s been around a bit can’t get raped. A woman who consents to some consents to all. A woman who wears a short skirt is asking for it. Now, I don’t even know whether this is true, I don’t know anything about these women, even who they are, I know their actions are being held against them by some as proof that they are lying. And yet, nothing has gone to court. If Assange has his way this will never get to court. And since it hasn’t gone to court, why is some woman telling me what a pair of slags his alleged victims are?
It is really, really unhelpful to pass comment on people who have made a rape accusation in this way. It is not welcome, it is not gossip, it is character assassination, and I don’t see why that is appropriate outside of the courtroom and outside of proveable facts.
George Galloway said something today that left me dumbfounded.
“Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100% true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape. At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this. Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him, claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know. I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.”
Amazing. Unbelievable. I’m kind of gobsmacked right now.
What Galloway says here is that if you’ve consented once, you’ve consented evermore. You’ve basically handed over right of way to your vagina.
This is one step away from saying if you’ve consented to be a man’s wife, then nothing he does thereafter is non-consensual.
It is a semitone above saying if you’ve consented to one man you’ve consented to all.
Yes, George. You don’t need to get written permission, but there does need to be some form of encouragement before each insertion. Nice choice of words there, too, by the way. If you meet someone, bring them back to your flat, make them dinner, go to bed with them, have consensual sex with them, that does not then give them the right to have another go while you’re asleep. ESPECIALLY not on the first date. Imagine that dear George invites me over for dinner one night. There is no sex, and I go home after coffee. Imagine the next morning he wakes up to find me sitting at the breakfast bar. Is that OK? I think not.
I find it so depressing that this is even a matter for debate, that there is not a clear agreement on what does and does not constitute rape, that there are people saying, yeah, there’s rape, but it’s not as bad as RAPE-rape. Presumably the worst of the worst, then, is rape-rape-rape. I find it so depressing that it is considered acceptable to claim that a woman’s character bears any relation on her experience, that a woman can be ‘asking for it’ to the point where when a man forces himself on her, it’s her fault.
I remember clearly reading about the case of Lindsay Armstrong when it happened. This was a young woman who was shamed in the witness box at the trial of her rapist, forced to hold up to the court the underwear she was wearing when she was attacked, and having seen him convicted, committed suicide. It is thought that she did not feel she could go on, but could not give up until her rapist was safely behind bars.
How is it OK that shaming women is condoned in this day and age? How is it acceptable that a woman who cannot entertain the idea of seeing her pregnancy through to the birth of a child, or a child who is raped by a stranger, should be shamed into keeping their mouth shut, scared into putting up with her lot, threatened into accepting what someone else decides she should go through in life? How is it that men who have no clue about basic human biology are able to use their ‘knowledge’ to justify making their personal opinions law? How is it that women are happy to call other women names, to imply that whatever happens to them, they deserved it, to gang up against a stranger and decide that they’re a liar because of past actions completely unrelated to honesty or lack thereof?
Why can’t we just wait and see what the court decides, with all the evidence in front of them? By all means, trust those you trust, believe those you know, but if you don’t know someone from Adam, be they alleger or alleged, why would one need to state an opinion as fact? Why can’t we assume that the termination of a pregnancy isn’t a decision taken lightly? Why can’t we give people the benefit of the doubt we would hope would be given to us?
And please, please, if you are a politician and you suddenly think “hey, how come nobody’s mentioned this really important definition or bodily function?!”, can’t you please just look it up before you state it as fact?
Seven years ago today was about six weeks after I moved to London. I had just finished the taught part of my masters course and I was working in a City law firm while I wrote the dissertation that would turn my achievement into an MSc.
I moved to London from Glasgow. Before that I’d lived in Dundee, Salford, Paris and Castellon since leaving home. With no euphemism intended, I’d been around. Seven years ago today, I was new to London, living in Whitechapel, near the Royal London, and starting a new career that I already knew I loved.
Seven years ago today my mum and sister were on holiday in the Highlands and my dad was in a hotel in Heathrow, flying in or flying out, I don’t remember. We were supposed to have dinner that night, he was going to call me to make a plan.
I left home early that morning, it was warm and I was awake and I thought I’d go and read my book in the quiet office before the day began. So I left early, and got on my bus.
The bus went past Aldgate at about half past eight.
I got to work and I read my book. My colleagues started arriving. We knew nothing of what was going on, most of us having arrived at the office before there was anything to know, or having been in the area of Holborn by that time, and therefore not in the direct path of anything. My dad phoned me, I don’t remember when, and said there had been an explosion. There was nothing on the internet yet and we didn’t know it was a terrorist attack. He said there was something about a bus. I remember wondering whether it was a bus or a tube, I remember wishing there wasn’t so much misinformation. I remember it didn’t cross my mind for a while that it was both. And then some.
We spent the day half working half finding out bits and pieces from the internet, from friends, from people. I couldn’t get through to my mum or sister on the phone to let them know I was OK. I was terrified they would think I wasn’t OK. I hoped they hadn’t yet heard, in a croft in the approximate middle of nowhere, that there was anything that might have made me not OK.
At the end of the day I walked home. It was like the opposite of 28 Days Later (which I hadn’t seen yet, incidentally), a mass exodus, people setting off to walk miles and miles, some people getting on boats to commute home. As a newcomer to London, born and raised inland, that seemed very odd. But we were all walking home because someome had blown up the transport system, which was odder.
I don’t remember much else about that day. I don’t remember getting home, I don’t remember what I ate, or what time I went to bed. Seven years have faded most of the memories.
Seven years ago next week a friend stayed at mine because he had something to do down in the London end of the country. The buses were running again but not reliably so I went to see him off, to avoid him getting stranded should there be a diversion or a connection not running or anything.
Seven years ago next week I saw walls and bus shelters covered in missing persons fliers. Bits of paper, faded photocopies of photographs of friends and family members. At that point they hadn’t yet identified all the victims, living or dead, and people were living in limbo, waiting to know. I looked at all the faces, all the pleas, and I wished I’d seen someone, but nobody was familiar.
I’ve never felt so awful, so empty and hollow and useless and hopeless, at not recognising a face on a poster.
Seven years ago in a month or so from now I saw a documentary about the events of seven years ago today. I saw things I hadn’t seen before when I was locked up safe in my office behind bomb-proof windows, just in case. I saw footage of helicopters bringing people to the Royal London. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a helicopter land at the Royal London, and I broke, and I wept.
I am one of the luckiest people affected by the events of seven years ago today, because the only direct effect on me was that I had to walk home.
Five days ago I watched a documentary in which people who were directly affected, or affected by the loss or injury of a loved one, or affected by attending the scene and having to make decisions about the rescue, spoke to camera about seven years ago today, seven years ago yesterday, the past seven years.
I watched these people speak and I thought, they’re superheroes. Every one of them. Those hurt, those left without one they loved, those forced to make hard decisions, they’re just people, but they’re superheroes. I wonder if I had been involved, if I would have been a superhero too. That’s a stupid thing to think, a selfish thing. I mean it not in envy, but in genuine wonderment at the power of humans to endure. I pray I never find out. I’m sure the superheroes wish they never had. The power of survival seems an expensive one at the cost in this instance.
The last man who spoke, bravely and through tears, spoke of a woman near him, his age, in his profession, who had not survived. He spoke of coming to terms with his survival with the reassurances of her brother that she had truly enjoyed life, and had she survived she would have continued to do so wherever possible.
I cried as this man expressed guilt for surviving. I cried as he implied that he had considered whether she should have survived instead. I cried because neither of them should have had an eventful day that day, and the fact that they did was due to the actions of strangers. I cried because “there but for the grace of God” became “there but for the incompetence of hatred and flukes of physics and train carriage design”.
Seven years ago today I had to walk home.
And today, with gratitude that that’s all that happened to me seven years ago today, with regret for the awful things that happened to others seven years ago today, and in awe of the people who were affected and still now walk and talk and work and live and love and swim and read and commute and laugh and inspire, I will cry.
Addendum: this is the documentary I watched, it is available on iPlayer until 9th July and if you’ve any interest in the subject, and no aversion to strong emotional responses, i suggest you watch it too.
Do you know what’s in this season? Misogyny. Not just any misogyny, but girl on girl misogyny.
Recently there has been a spate of articles published that have been written by female journalists, and that discuss how awful women are. Often with the clarification that while not all women are that awful, all women who aren’t the journalist and a couple of her friends are.
The problem with this is that not only is it patently nonsense, akin to saying that all humans are awful, but it is also a very basic form of trolling. The argument goes that women are so awful that they hate other women, and that any women who disagrees is clearly demonstrating hate towards the journalist, and therefore the point is proved, let’s go for a drink with our friends,most of whom are men you know, cos women are too awful to like us.
I don’t have time for that. I do not have the breath to waste, i do not have the hours to burn, i do not have the energy to spare, for the fruitless fight against such utter, utter nonsense.
Now, i’m not saying there aren’t bitches out there, nor am i saying there isn’t a little bitch in all of us, but surely that’s embedded quite firmly in the part of us that has ensured the survival of the species throughout ice ages and droughts and dinosaur attacks and killer robots and i could go on but you get the picture. You can’t be a species with no predatory instincts, unless you’ve got poisonous skin or spines or, like, the ability to make folk leave you alone by telling them to straight into their brain.
That said, the ideas that have been put forward are frustrating and, for want of a better word, bullshit, and while it’s annoying even having to address it, it keeps on coming and so unless i get this out of my head every new article telling me what a fucking cow i am will drive me batshit crazy.
First things first, if you’re pretty you have a hard life, and what’s worse, you will be punished for it by women whose envy knows no bounds.
This is a special kind of arrogance. It is putting yourself on a pedestal and demanding to be pitied for being better than everyone else. You’re not saying it’s tough being pretty, you’re saying it’s tough being so much prettier than me that i could never hope to understand how it feels. Long story short, you’re calling me, at best, plain, at worst, ugly. Who’s the bitch here? This isn’t a Breakfast Club moment, this isn’t you tearfully stating that i’m less popular and that that isn’t your fault, it’s just life. This is some woman who has NEVER SEEN the vast majority of the women on this planet stating outright that she is prettier than most, if not all of them. So much so that her world is a different place. I, for one, took offence at this because, and please forgive me some arrogance of my own here, but i AM pretty. I have my good days and my bad days, but in general my bones are put together in the right order and my features weren’t mashed on with a spatula. A lot more women are pretty than would say so, i suspect, but they are. YOU are. Some of you are downright beautiful. And that bears no relation whatsoever to how you, or i, treat our fellow human beings.
But let’s not get this confused, because what i am doing is stating facts. What i am not doing is claiming complex yet universal psychological implications of being a 5 rather than a 6 out of ten. And what i, as a self-proclaimed pretty woman, am not doing, is accusing my friends of being so intimidated by me that they stand between me and their menfolk, or of being mere livestock in the world of Pretty People.
Another article, one i read just yesterday, explained that two famous women did something mean to another famous woman not because they’re mean, but because they’re women, and this is what women do. They are horrible to each other. They drag each other down, they gang up in packs to ensure the destruction of the one refused entry, they hate each other on a primal level, an almost genetic level, anyone they’re not related to, by blood or by sharing screentime on a reality talent show, is doomed.
This is another cretinous argument, which i would have hoped was beneath a civilised person. When a woman does something horrible, it is only because she is a woman, and watch out, because it could be YOUR WOMAN NEXT. It’s like some kind of plague, only the best we can hope is that it remain dormant, because it’s definitely, definitely inside us all. I know this because women who have been bullied by other women tell me so.
And it couldn’t possibly be that what all mean women have in common is that they’re mean.
It must be that they’re women.
I suppose one might argue there’s an element of misogyny in this blog too. I am, after all, ranting about female journalists. But some of my favourite journalists are female. The reason i’m ranting about some specific female journalists is that i’m truly disappointed they don,t know better. It feels to me like courting controversy, baiting the public for a reaction, which it frustrates me that i’m even giving them. But this thing of claiming to be one of a very few who can see, and are prepared to speak the truth, is playground stuff, surely.
You can’t just walk around claiming that human beings are such and such a way because they have this chromosome. More precisely, you can’t walk around saying things like that and expect me, or any significant proportion of the population, to take you seriously.
There but for the grace of god, right? Thank god you’re so pretty and clever as to have a modicom of grace and class.
Imagine what a bitch you’d be if you were only average.
This morning someone brought to my attention an article in the guardian, which has kind of wound me up. The article in question was written by a lady called Bibi Lynch, and was entitled, ‘Mothers, stop moaning!’
Ms Lynch has found herself unable to conceive, but she would desperately love a baby and the opportunity to bear one of her own. In the article she discusses women who have children and complain about aspects of motherhood that she would love the opportunity to experience. I won’t put words into her mouth (and I hope what i’ve written so far was fair, if not then i apologise and will retract it, no question) but i would suggest that if it’s a subject of interest to you, that you read the article, here.
Before I get into my thoughts on the article, a little about me. I do not have children, I do not now and have never wanted to have children. I’m 32, and my biological clock must be digital because I’ve been listening for it and there’s not a hint of a tick. This might be for the best, because I’m diabetic, which doesn’t mean i *can’t* or *shouldn’t* have children, just that there would be extra levels of precautions, i would need to spend months preparing my body before i even started trying to conceive, and would then probably be monitored to the point of stalking throughout gestation.
I read this article from the viewpoint of an alien, a woman who understands neither the trials of motherhood, nor the agony brought by my body refusing to do what i consider to be a biological imperative, and which i might have spent decades assuming i would do at the drop of a hat when the time was right.
In this article, the writer bemoans the insensitivity of those who have children, she wishes they’d stop whining about inconveniences that she would give her right hand for. She feels misunderstood, sidelined, a second class citizen, and that someone complaining that the healthy baby growing inside her isn’t of her preferred gender is unfair, and ungrateful, and wrong.
I happen to agree with this. I happen to think that if you are going to have a baby, you’re going to have a baby. If you decide to try for a son, and you get a daughter, then boo hoo, but yay, BABY.
However, i feel like this article, written very articulately and movingly straight from the heart of a woman going through something that i’ve yet to see a clearer insight into, landed on the page through a prism of bitterness. I know she doesn’t want to take away your baby if you mention you’re tired because baby’s teething, but that somehow feels like it’s only a step away.
What she is going through is awful, i cannot imagine the pain, i really can’t, and if you didn’t get bitter from time to time, i’d find it even harder to understand. Hell, i’ve had flashes of rage about someone else being allowed to eat cake when i can’t. But i do not feel that this one aspect of a very complex issue is worthy of a whole article.
The article reads to me like a woman i kind of want to hug at certain points is having one of those moments where you know you’re being irrational but you don’t care because why should someone else have what you want? I feel quite bad for her that for all this whole situation puts her through, *this* is the moment she chooses to publish for posterity.
I can imagine the desire, the urge, the physical pull, must be all-encompassing, but i can only imagine it, and i really don’t want to give the impression that i have any experience of either side of this. I’ve already said i didn’t. And i’m not negating what Ms Lynch feels, because if something makes someone angry that’s no business of mine.
However, i don’t feel it’s appropriate to attack a group of society that falls under the label of Mother, using your own label of Childless to hide behind. These two groups should be able to cohabit on this earth, this shouldn’t be made into a polarising issue, but that’s what this article does. Women with children are understandably angry at being told what they can and cannot say, being told that they should be ashamed of what they feel, that they should shut their mouths when they’re tired, worried, restricted, sick. Women who can’t have children are grateful that this article brings attention to what they’re going through, and resent mothers arguing against it, feel that they’re being told to shut up again, that they can’t understand what it’s like to be a mother, a reminder they can scarcely be expected to be thankful for, when there is nothing in this world or any other that they desire more.
Speaking as self-appointed referee, i propose that women who are unable to have children be allowed to say to moaning mothers, ‘what i wouldn’t give to be in your shoes’ and that moaning mothers be allowed to reply ‘i truly wish that one day you will experience a love so strong and biological that it can exhaust you so deeply as this’ and that these women might sit down for a coffee, discuss politics and red lipstick, hug goodbye and arrange to meet again next weekend.
Nobody should be discouraged from sharing their woes, whatever the source. OK, so i wouldn’t complain about mt diamond shoes being too tight to a friend who’s e-baying her jewellery to pay her rent, but if i did, i must say i would be fine if she told me to fuck off back to my turret. What we need is tactful dialogue, understanding through discussion.
I was fascinated to read this article, i am a person who sees all sides of any argument, which is not to say that i won’t pick a side after considering the options. I can see, from the outside, both side of this argument.
I just fundamentally disagree with it having been made into an argument at all.
I love Christmas as much as the next person.
Except that I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like Christmas, it’s a lovely time of year and people are generally happy (in sporadic outbursts) and there’s snow sometimes, which is great. But I don’t like Christmas *because* it’s Christmas, and I think that might be why I don’t love Christmas as much as the next person.
As a child there was always snow, not always a white Christmas but then I believe a white Christmas is defined as a single snowflake falling on Christmas Day, regardless of whether it is accompanied alone, whether it stays as a snowflake when it hits the ground or whether it even hits the ground at all, so maybe there was always a white Christmas. There was snow every year, often lots of snow. I may have rose-tinted memories but it seems like every single year there was at least one week when the schools were closed because of snow. My high school’s catchment area was very big, because of being on the edge of nowhere and all the kids that lived in the middle of nowhere having to come down to us, having attended primary schools with four pupils and one teacher, or whatever. Because of the middle of nowhereness their homes would get blocked off by snow relatively early on and so they would be sent home because better safe than sorry, and who wants to strand children away from their parents in winter? I have photographs of the year my mum’s car was completely covered, and by covered I mean you wouldn’t know it was there. That same year the wind drifted the snow up the back door one night, and when we opened it in the morning we were faced with a white wall, top to bottom, not even a little bit of sunlight poking through. I once had to dig a path for the dog to go out for a wee. Another time we got bored of snowmen and built a snow dog, big enough to sit on.
Snow doesn’t make Christmas, but snow helps me to like Christmas.
Christmas is a good time of year to spend with family and friends. Lots of people get holiday time from work at Christmas and as a result it’s as good a time as any for everyone to gather in one place, hang out, eat, drink, be merry because they will feel crappy tomorrow cos of all the eating and drinking but at least they don’t have to go to work. In my hometown there was a big thing about going out on Christmas Eve. It was like Hogmanay only without having to wait up for the bells, lots of people were around, home from university, from wherever they’d settled or wherever they worked or whatever, they would come home to see their family but on Christmas Eve they would go to the pub and be with their friends. Everyone is happy because they don’t have to go to work and because they get to see their family and friends and because there’s snow.
Family and friends don’t make Christmas, but they help me to like Christmas.
When I was little we had quite a big garden with trees in it, and every year dad would cut down a tree from the back garden for us to decorate in the living room. There was a huge tree in the front garden that we would put lights on out there, it was kind of hidden away from the rest of the street behind a bush so it wasn’t a showy thing but we knew it was there. But the one in the living room was grown in the garden, and decorated in the house, and it was a thing. One year a squirrel attacked our dog on a walk in the woods, and she killed it. It was brought home, stuffed and put into the Christmas tree with the decorations every year thereafter. For as long as I can remember we had a star that my dad had made, out of wires and green and red LEDs and a wooden star covered with foil, with holes punched through for the LEDs. It would flash in a pattern, alternating green and red, and it was just the star we always used. There was a fairy we hung sometimes. By a little tinsel noose. This tree, with its odd, homemade, slightly twisted decorations, this was our thing. We had decorations, stuck to the walls and ceiling with thumb tacks, lots and lots of christmas card holders, heaven forbid we got a card that wasn’t put on display. Decorations don’t make Christmas.
Decorations don’t actually mean that much to me.
Now I am all grown up and shacked up with a man who isn’t that into Christmas, we don’t decorate. The first Christmas we were together I had a little pang of regret but that’s OK, I don’t want to make him live in a grotto when he doesn’t want to. Now I find I prefer it that way. The Christmas of lights and decorations and tinsel and trees is outside, and when I’m on the bus going through Brighton or walking through the Lanes I think how beautiful these lights are, that the council puts up, they are so huge and bright and pretty. But back home, inside is our haven, all year round, and there are no holes in the walls from thumb tacks, no bits of tinsel or tree to get stuck in my feet or to hoover every day without ever getting it all. I’m OK with decorations elsewhere. But I am glad of our haven.
One bittersweet part of Christmas is the presents. You get to buy people presents and sometimes you feel crappy about it, because you can’t afford what you consider ‘decent’ presents for people to whom, if you could, if they needed it, if you were a match, you would donate a kidney. You would be terrified, because hey, it’s a big operation and then you only have one kidney and what if something happened to your last kidney, are they going to give your other one back, or does someone *else* have to give you a kidney, and if that happened who would give you their kidney, and is this really some kind of kidney domino rally going on right here? But there are people in everyone’s life that make us all wish money was no object, but it is an object, and it’s quite a little object, so sometimes it is the thought that counts and so you have to spend a LOT of thought. And then, if you think of the perfect present, and it doesn’t make you need to live on cold beans til February, then you get this amazing feeling of “this is so perfect, they will love this, this will make their life better in some way, for some small period of time, and my cheap, selfish, financial constraints haven’t ruined everything after all” and everything’s OK. You still want to buy them a home cinema as well, but if you don’t, it’s OK, because what you’ve got for them doesn’t suck at all, and they will still know you care. And getting presents, well, that’s quite nice too. Because other people have spent a lot of thought too, and they have gotten the amazing feeling out of what they found for you, and they want to see you open it and watch you love it, and you love it all the more because of how much they want you to love it, and it’s just a big old circle of love. I used to think I loved presents, I assumed I was as selfish as the next child about it, until one Christmas I confused myself quite weirdly.
My sister and I went into the living room one Christmas morning to look at our presents, and my sister had a little pile of presents, and my brother had a little pile of presents, and I had one present. I opened it, and it was a bottle of shampoo. Body Shop shampoo, I think, something pink, it smelled lovely. I watched my sister open present after present and I thought, oh, she loves them so much. I love my shampoo. And that’s all I thought of it. I later found out that we didn’t see my present cos it was huge, Santa brought me a hifi, but it was behind the door which we had flung open to get to the shampoo. But oh, how I loved that shampoo. Actually it’s making me want to buy a big bottle of fruity shampoo. And that is how I found out I wasn’t as greedy as I thought I was.
At least, that’s how I remember it, maybe I threw a massive tantrum, or maybe I was fighting back tears and trying to put a brave face on being the Least Favourite Child as well as the Middle Child. I do not remember how that shampoo smelled. I do remember that I loved it.
Presents don’t make Christmas, but they make it easy to like Christmas.
I was raised Catholic, and so I know the story of Christmas. I now have my own beliefs and they do not include Jesus Christ, so the religious bit of Christmas isn’t a thing for me. I do think it’s become too commercialised but then what hasn’t? When everything comes down to who’s got what, every opportunity to obtain Stuff is an opportunity to get one up on someone else, or even if it’s not about everyone else, it’s an opportunity to get something else to love like another limb. And I’m not saying that’s got to be a bad thing, there’s nothing wrong with sharing what you’ve got with those you love, or those you love sharing what they’ve got with you. But I really, really do believe that the best bit about Christmas is the bit where the people I love open the presents I’ve bought for them, the one that stayed under my skinflint budget but cost me easily a hundred thousand thoughts, and, hopefully, love the presents, recognise the sentiment and the logic behind it, maybe even get some use out of it, this thing I have gifted, this thing that made me think of them, and that will somehow reassure me, if they love it, that I got it right, who they are and what they like, that I do know them and that I do understand them, to this certain extent, to this certain degree. That if I buy someone a DVD it is because I know they will love the movie. If I buy them a t-shirt, I know it will make them look gorgeous. If I buy them a Pornography Woodlouse I know it will make them laugh.
Shut up, it’s a thing.
Presents don’t make Christmas. Giving presents is why I like Christmas.
Spending time with family and friends is why I like Christmas.
Snow is why I like Christmas.
Time off work is why I like Christmas.
Jesus is not my homeboy.
After a short discussion with my little sister, I feel it is important to tell you what this coming Christmas, which I will spend with my mother and siblings for the first time in five years, will mean to me.
Kir Royale for breakfast.
That is all I want for Christmas. If I could include Mister in this list, he would be at the top, but it’s just not possible. So he will be top of the list of what I want for the rest of the time instead.
This is the story of why I am scared of stairs.
Today a man who nobody knew was suffering took his own life. Depression and suicide are being discussed on the internet, and this is a good thing because it’s not discussing these things that lead people to believe they have no options.
Before I say anything else, I want to say this. I don’t suffer from depression. As far as I’m aware I never have. I do feel very detached from things sometimes, and as a teenager I thought about suicide, but no more than I assumed everyone does when they’re all hormonal and angry. But there was never an actual chance of me actually doing it. I never felt like it was my only way out, nor did I feel that everyone else would be better off without me. If I ever did feel that (hormonally and angrily) I thought about leaving town, not about destroying myself.
So no, I don’t have depression. I have stress, stress is my poison, if you like. Stress is a completely different animal, and I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two.
I also want to say that this blog isn’t about me. It is written from my perspective, but I am not asking for anything. If anything, this is an apology for all the things I don’t understand. And I write from the perspective of someone who understands that they don’t understand, and if I write something that is incredibly stupid, then I need to be set right, because I do want to understand, I do, I want to understand as much as I am able, and if that involves backing off and dropping the subject, then let me know. Because I’m not trying to crawl inside someone’s head where I’m not welcome. I just don’t want anyone to feel alone if it can possibly be avoided.
Today people who do suffer from depression, and people who know people who suffer from depression, are talking about it very authoritatively, and this is important I think because all we can do is try to understand. Some people find themselves disagreeing… not so much disagreeing as not expressing themselves clearly, or not being understood properly, or whatever the case is, and what’s being thrown around a lot today is this.
“You don’t understand.”
This is true. This is very true. I do not understand. I do not stigmatise, I do not blame, I am not impatient, I am not cruel, but I do not understand. And I never will.
It’s like trying to explain the colour blue to someone, without them ever having seen the colour blue. How could they possibly understand?
They can learn about shade and tone and hue in theory, and they may become an expert in the colour blue, but would they know it if they saw it? Would they be able to feel the feeling that the colour blue might evoke in someone else? Someone whose lover has blue eyes? Someone thinking of the “something blue” from their wedding? Someone who has spent parts of their life on the ocean? How could they possibly?
I don’t understand.
I try to understand, but it’s all maths to me. I can recite what I’ve been told, and I can imagine in my head what it might be like, although imagining what it might be like can’t possibly come close to feeling it, because one of the things I am led to understand about depression is that it can be all-encompassing, and you’re not standing on the outside watching it, like I am, purely by the nature of my involvement being third party.
What I can do is listen, and try to keep an eye on the options that someone in a pit of depression can’t see, because it seems to be really, really dark down there. What I can do is be there, and I can do whatever needs to be done, whatever might help, or whatever will have no effect on the depression but might take someone’s mind off something for an hour or two.
I don’t understand. But do I need to understand? I’m not judgmental, I understand that you can’t ‘snap out of it’, I understand that nobody wants to have depression. Someone who’s depressed isn’t wallowing in it relishing the extra attention. I understand that.
Is that enough to understand?
I understand that some people commit suicide, or try to commit suicide, for various reasons. If I were to list the reasons, it would be me reciting the maths again, reasons I’ve been told and reasons I’ve heard, not reasons I’ve felt. As someone who’s never felt depressed, the only understanding I have is from the other side, the side of the person left behind, and even that I have only ever felt from a distance, I’ve never lost a loved one, but I’ve lost an acquaintance. And as an acquaintance, I’ve been close enough to see the loved ones in their grief. For this reason I kind of feel like it’s not my place to say anything more about suicide. But if someone has failed in a suicide attempt, is it enough that I understand that whatever they need, it’s not scolding? Maybe their ability to scold themselves is part of the healing. Maybe when they reach that stage it means they’re starting to do OK again, get out from under the shadow. Or maybe not. I don’t know, because I don’t understand.
The thing that this all reminds me of is the scene below, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, I know, this seems incredibly crass. But it actually makes me cry every time I watch it, because it is a very powerful scene. Anya is an ex-demon, she has lived for 900 years and is now human again, with human friends for the first time in almost a millenium. Buffy’s mother has just died and her human friends are grieving. Anya doesn’t understand, because Anya has never lost anyone she loved, and isn’t used to grieving. She doesn’t understand.
I feel like Anya. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that someone needs something, but having no idea what it is, or why it’s happening, or how to help, or even if you can’t help, and if you can’t help, why can’t you help, which idiot invented this? I am very lucky, I know, I am so thankful that I don’t have the inside track on depression.
So tell me, am I supposed to ask questions, or does the fact that I don’t understand mean I should just shut up and back off and stay out of it? I don’t even know whether my concern is welcome or whether it will be perceived as something else.
All I want to know is what I can do, what I can say, or where I should stand.
So what I will do is listen, and stand at your shoulder, and offer you the things I know you like, and hope that at least you realise that whatever your options, I am present and I care.
Incidentally, I read this by Allie Brosh, and I found it amazing.
I love Paris. The first time I left home, it was to move to Paris. When I went to university, I did it with the full intention of earning part of my degree in Paris. When I remember back to the days when I was young and pretty and smiling in the sun, I’m thinking of Paris.
So this is my love letter to Paris.
The very first time I went to Paris it was for a weekend during a three week exchange trip that I hated. The girl who didn’t want me hanging around went to spend a weekend with an old friend and I was dragged along. I was very obviously the third wheel. La porte-chandelle. But I remember this as the weekend I heard Don’t Speak by No Doubt, a song that will always make me think of that weekend. Luckily the memory works in a loop so when the song reminds me of the weekend it reminds me of hearing the song, and I’m not likely to think about that weekend for any other reasons. It was rubbish. Apart from Gwen Stefani on the verge of tears as she tried to persuade her lover to shut the fuck up and let her grieve.
The second time I went to Paris it was the first time I left home. During my gap year my mother saw an ad for job vacancies at Eurodisney and, knowing that I had deferred for a year my degree in French and Spanish, very discreetly and with astounding subtlety circled the ad, tore it out of the paper and stuck it to my bedroom door with a drawing pin before she left for work one morning. I applied, was called to interview, and was interviewed along with a girl who spoke about as much French as your average sixteen year old. We were both hired and told to be at Disney University one week later.
Yes, I said Disney University. I had to spend two days at Disney University learning about Disney, the park and general stuff I can’t remember before I was allowed to start work in a shop that sold trinkets, sporting goods and Star Wars memorabilia.
This was to be the first of my Mickey Mouse degrees.
Now as some of you may know, Eurodisney, otherwise known as Disneyland Paris, isn’t really *in* Paris. It’s at the very end of an RER line, about an hour outside the centre of Paris, but this is close enough when you’re working and earning and living away from home. And when grew up in a town that’s an hour’s bus journey away from the nearest cinema, HMV or McDonalds.
I made some wonderful friends at Eurodisney, and I met some utter, utter scum. I threw a party for my 19th birthday and tried to drink champagne straight from the bottle. It came straight back out my nose. I got so drunk with a friend whilst getting ready for a party that we forgot to get ready and went in our pyjamas and each other’s shoes. I went on a road trip in a BMW with a German and an Italian, and I bought Nirvana’s Nevermind from a street vendor in La Baule. I worked for eight hours a day, five days a week, in the shadow of Space Mountain listening to the Imperial March, taking only one day of unpaid leave because the boss didn’t approve of us taking the time off we were owed by law. This was fine, because it meant I’d built up quite a backlog for Disney to pay me for instead when I left.
I spent hours sitting in the sun on a dusty kerb with an American girl who was once Miss Colorado, and to this day when I smell Marlboro Lights, in an instant I am sitting in the sun on a dusty kerb with Miss Colorado puffing away, telling me dirty jokes and rambling about Taco Bell and drunk driving convictions, because who the hell wants to go to Canada anyway?
I had two days off a week, and I spent at least one of them in Paris, almost every weekend. Ordinarily I would go with some friends to the Frog & Rosbif on Rue St. Denis, in the heart of the red light district. We’d get there early and enjoy the fruits of the microbrewery until it was time to leave for the last RER home, which we often caught with pint glasses in our hands. One for the road, as they say. I went to the World Cup 1998 opening ceremony and afterwards, trying to find a pub, walked past the Auld Alliance because it was too full. I think it was later that night, in the Auld Alliance, that Stan Collymore went ballistic at Ulrika Jonsson. The first match of World Cup 1998 was Scotland v Brazil, and the next morning, after Brazil had their LUCKY WIN, I bumped into Ronaldo, not recognising him until a colleague told me who it was I’d just stood on. It was an accident. I promise. To this day it feels like a personal slight that Brazil got to go to Disneyland as a reward for beating my home team. My sister had sent me the Scotland World Cup song for my birthday, but not having been in Scotland for its release all I knew was that I’d been sent a CD of Del Amitri telling me, repeatedly and straight from the heart, “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”.
I got really rather good at French.
That summer came to an end and I returned to Scotland in September for twelve days, before moving out again into University accommodation to start my degree. After a year and a half I had to go abroad, six months to learn French and six months to learn Spanish, and knowing I loved Paris, and knowing I wasn’t so good at Spanish, I went to Spain first and saved the best (Paris) for last.
When I finally got there I was assigned a job as a bilingual secretary and translator at a global insurance firm. My boss was eccentric but very nice and his secretaries were very, very Parisienne, which is to say, not so nice to me, but I didn’t care. They were middle aged women and I was 21 years old and back in Paris.
I lived in a foyer in rue de Charonne, round the corner from Père Lachaise. I became very close friends with some people from my own university who I’d barely known before, and found that people I had considered friends were less suited to me than I’d thought. Or maybe it was Paris, maybe they were less suited to Paris Me. Maybe Paris Me was a bitch. Maybe Paris Me had a lower tolerance for bullshit.
This time round I went back to the Frog & Rosbif but it didn’t feel the same, so I started to frequent the Floozy & Firkin at the other end of Rue St. Denis, which had recently become The Oval but which I will always, always call the Floozy. Once, when a friend and I got a taxi home from a night out, the driver pulled over at the wrong foyer. We finally managed to ascertain that he had stopped there because it was a female-only foyer, and he didn’t approve of the mixed-sex foyer where we lived. This didn’t help us much but he point blank refused to take us home, so we just had to walk from one to the other. Laughing all the way, because what a ridiculous thing to do. This time I went to different places. I went out on the Champs Elysees, I went out in Pigalle, and Nation, and the Bastille. I loved, and love, Rue de Lappe. I particularly loved a bar that wasn’t there last time I went back, a Rolling Stones themed bar called Some Girls. The wallpaper was leopardprint and the music was kickass.
I went to the Jean Paul Gaultier shop and there were TV screens in the floor, so I stood on Naomi Campbell’s face. There may have been a little skip. I took a friend to Montmartre for her birthday, we ate crepes, and McDonalds, and sat in a Haagen Dazs cafe, and got portraits done by an artist in the market, which were not good likenesses of us but which were obviously a picture of one particular girl, if she had had short blonde hair (like my friend) or shoulder length brown hair (like me).
I lost weight, because I had no way to store food in my room. My employers paid for my food in the canteen so I would eat lunch and take a yoghurt for the next day’s breakfast, and in the evening I would either eat or not eat, it depended on what plans I had, and had very little to do with anything else. If I went out to eat, or stayed in to eat, I would eat. If I just went out, or stayed in, I wouldn’t. I didn’t mind, I didn’t notice. Until I went clothes shopping and managed to buy a pretty dress and do it justice. This was in spite of finding an amazing kind of takeaway I’ve only ever seen in Paris… a shop with a rotisserie in the doorway, full of chickens cooking and spinning and dripping their juices into a huge tray of carrots and potatoes, which fried/roasted in the chicken fat until someone came along to eat them. Excuse me a moment while I reminisce about that…
I also stopped drinking, which is a less fun story because my friends didn’t take it seriously. I would ask for fruit juice and I later found out I would be handed fruit juice with vodka in it. For weeks and weeks I thought I was having dizzy spells, in fact I was just tipsy. But imagine how scary it would be to feel tipsy when you KNEW you hadn’t touched alcohol in weeks?
I have been to Paris a few times other than these two mini-emigrations. I went there on a weekend by coach, from Salford to Paris and back between Friday night and Sunday lunchtime. I went for just under a week with my mother, which is when I went to Versailles and nearly missed the Eiffel Tower because the tree we were standing under was in exactly the right spot to block my view and walked until my legs nearly dropped off. I went on a day trip with colleagues, from London to Paris on a Eurostar day return, and had a wonderful time but nearly missed the last train home.
Overall my memories of Paris are beautiful. They make me think of sunshine and street names and exploring and making friends and learning slang and eating steak frites. I don’t think of the bad things that happened when I think of Paris, although if I think about those things I am aware that that’s where they happened. The only possible exception to that is the ‘toilet’ that was actually foot-shaped grips either side of a hole, in quite a trendy bar in the Bastille. That wasn’t exactly fun at the time, but it makes me laugh now. Paris is bittersweet because it made me miss the end of My So-Called Life when it was being shown for the first time, but at the same time it helped me to miss Billie Piper’s entire musical career.
When I think of Paris, I remember it as the place where I was free, the place where I was young and free and independent and responsible and if I could wish any part of my life on any young woman, what I would wish on her is Paris. Actual Paris or a place to make your own.
Find your Paris.