Share and Share a ‘Like’

Ever since I’ve started this blog, people have contacted me, often secretly by direct message, to tell me how ‘brave’ I am for sharing such personal information in public.

I’m not brave, I’m a Sharer. I tell people stuff. Not stuff that is top-secret business stuff, but all the other stuff.

That’s partly why my friends were encouraging me to write this blog – I was forever regaling them in the pub with my stories of fortysomething dating or my theories on why women shove each other in clubs. And those stories and theories were always connected to a personal experience that I didn’t mind telling people about. Why the hell not? It gives the story more power and the theory more credence.

I think people are either Sharers or they’re not, and I tend to prefer the former. Social media has given my sharing a whole new level of exposure. No longer confined to the pub, I can share my thoughts and feelings, stories and theories, with a whole bunch of people who share too, although maybe not quite as much as me.

Within my group of Facebook friends there are those that share, and those that lurk. I’m connected to the Sharers on almost every form of social-media and we interact on every one. The Lurkers maintain that they’re ‘just not that bothered’ about looking at Facebook or Twitter but they’re there.

And boy, are they taking in everything you post.

They usually come up to me at parties and mutter darkly into my ear, “I’ve seen your blog…” like it’s a dirty secret.

“OH YEAH?” I shout, “DO YOU LIKE IT??” Then watch them flinch because I’ve outed their secret lurky behaviour in public.

Ha.

You see to the Lurkers, I am giving away my very core of power in nuggets of information about myself. This sort of person thinks that others will take those nuggets and somehow use them against me. They guard their own information fiercely, thinking that the moment they let their guard down, the vultures will move in and steal their nuggety strength.

Not so.

In my experience, people take the nuggets you are most fiercely guarding and use THOSE to bring you down. The minute you put everything out there, they’ve got nothing to take from you. You spoil their game. And boy do I love spoiling that sort of game.

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m laying all my nuggets out there, where they can be picked up by other people, examined and put back. Like exhibits in a case in a museum, most people will move on by without even stopping to read the descriptions. Some will stop and admire one or two or more of the nuggets, ask questions about where they came from, tell you they don’t like what they see, or marvel at what you’ve laid out and the rarity of the pieces.

And of course, the Lurkers will wait for everyone else to leave the room and secretly roll the nuggets around in their hands before tiptoeing out.

Maybe I’m taking the museum metaphor too far, but you get my drift.

My parents’ generation kept everything a secret. Growing up, I had to learn what you could say and what you couldn’t say to adults, and like many families, we even kept secrets from ourselves, refusing to say out loud those things that might rock an otherwise stable world. Maybe that’s why I enjoy saying things out loud now – the relief of getting the information out of my brain, and into the world.

I’m the same at work. People that have worked for and with me will know that I Say Things Out Loud and it’s become somewhat of a trademark. I call it the Honesty Policy, with its ‘Nowhere to Hide’ remit. I like information out there, in the open, where everyone can see it and I like to communicate it. It has really good results, once everyone gets used to it.

There is always a period of discomfort where the Lurkers are forced out into the open and made to discuss information with a team. Others take to it instantly, thankfully, or find themselves enjoying the openness and the calm it creates. I don’t do game-playing or politics – straightforward, direct, rational, open and honest are my key words.

So really, I’ve started to direct the Honesty Policy to my personal life, because for years, I wasn’t honest with myself or with other people about my thoughts or feelings. I kept them secret and they ate away at me. I’d blurt them out occasionally and then pack them away for another few years.

I’m being more honest with myself now, but I’m still not at the stage where I can go up to someone and say, “I really need to speak to you about that thing that you did because it upset me.” For me, that is the worst-ever scenario and I admire people who can do it enormously.

I genuinely think that I watch The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea because both series consist entirely of people doing just that, continually taking each other to one side to ‘clear the air’. I think by watching it, I’m seeing if I could handle the confrontation. Nope – probably not. I’d just rehearse with a friend in the pub and then not actually do it.

Do other people actually do this stuff in real life? I’m not so sure. Perhaps that’s why both series are both so successful – they live out our Fantasy Confrontation Lives for us.

A few people have said to me that they don’t share because they think people wouldn’t be interested in the information. Well unless it says something about them, they won’t be. People are fascinated by personal information and opinions and I’ve had nearly 8,000 views so far that prove it.

It has been scary, posting some of what I’ve posted, and I’ve had moments in the middle of the night where I’ve inwardly screamed, “You told everyone that thing!!! THAT THING!!!” But then the next morning, I’ll invariably get a message from someone saying that they loved ‘that thing’ and want to read more.

So I carry on.

Because I can.

——————-

http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml

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Ice-Breaker

I’ll admit that I’ve been struggling with the Ice-Bucket Challenge phenomenon.

On the one hand it’s raised awareness and millions of pounds for an underfunded charity while making people laugh.

Undeniably good things.

On the other hand, it’s raised my hackles because it taps into two pet hates of mine: viral chain-messaging and so-called ‘sporting’ behaviour.

Let’s start with VCM. You know the sort of thing I’m talking about – ‘share this email with 10 friends who mean the most to you or your hair will fall out by Christmas’. This means instant deletion for me. I think the very nomination process of the Ice-Bucket Challenge preys on people’s insecurities: a) not to pour a bucket of icy water over your head is to be seen as not part of the ‘gang’, and b) something bad will happen if you don’t do it.

When I was younger, this was referred to as a chain letter. Back then you’d get a paper copy handed to you by a friend, telling you to write out ten copies and hand them out to ten friends, who’d then write ten copies… You get the picture. It was quite prevalent in a highly superstitious Catholic community, but at a certain age – I think I was about 14 – I decided to stop the chain. I’d rip up the letter and refused to carry the chain on. I delete emails that do the same thing now.

Job done.

Still alive.

Now this activity is transferred to Facebook. ‘Like this if you think our soldiers are brave’; ‘Share this if you have lost a loved one’; ‘Nominate a friend to neck a pint of wine to prove you are fun.’ It’s purely a con to get you to share something – the person or company that started it wants to see how far it will reach. I don’t blame a charity for using something so seemingly addictive to spread their word – I just marvel at the extent to which people adopt it, beyond the point at which they’re aware of why they’re doing it. It’s just for ‘fun’.

Ah fun. That word I’ve never quite got my head round. For many Brits, ‘fun’ is to be found in debasing yourself or others by various means, usually in large groups – wearing comedy fancy-dress costumes, throwing water or snow over each other, or playing a team game you’re crap at to show you’re a ‘good sport’.

I’m so not a good sport. I wear glamorous fancy dress, if I can be bothered to do it, I’ve never been in a snowball fight (just why?!) and I actively avoid team sports. To me, the national sport is showing how ‘orribly ‘umble you are by looking like a fool in public. We love it when our celebrities are forced to do it in jungles and in the Big Brother House – it somehow makes them ‘part of the gang’.

I’m also fascinated by the fact that people (including me) are more likely to donate to charity if they witness someone doing something either ridiculous or majorly ambitious that they can hang the donation on. Why can’t we just do it?

I recently went on a thirteen-mile hike and people asked me which charity I was doing it for. Er, my wellbeing, actually. I have two charities I actively focus on and donate to them monthly. They are tied to personal events in my life and I think many people have set up direct-debit donations in this way, enabling them to quietly donate in the background.

When we’re asked to donate to something with no link to our personal experience, we clearly need more motivation. I’ve recently given to two very worthwhile causes for which work colleagues have completed gruelling physical challenges. I could see how much they cared about their charities by the extent to which they were prepared to push themselves physically. When I volunteered for Crisis, I raised over £2000 for working over Christmas – people were astonished that I’d give up my Christmas Day to look after homeless people and dug deep into their pockets (thanks again, guys).

Do I have the feeling that the Ice-Bucketeers really care about their cause? Not really, no. I think about 1% of them have actually had personal experience of motor-neurone disease, either directly, or through friends. Good for them for showing that they care. But everyone else? I think they’re bandwagoning. (I felt the same about the no-makeup selfie, but was more astonished in the end at how horrified I was at the thought of showing my bare face in public – that’s for another post).

No one’s nominated me yet, as they probably know me too well. In an E. L. James way, I’ll just take my Inner Spoilsport for a lap round the building and quietly make a donation.

Fun times.

———————–

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/26/dodge-ice-bucket-challenge-avoid-fun-retain-dignity?CMP=fb_ot

Why I’ll Never Stop Trying to be Kate Bush

I have tickets for two performances of Kate Bush’s Before the Dawn at Hammersmith Apollo – her first major appearance since the groundbreaking Tour of Life in 1979.

Thirty-five years ago.

Wow.

Unbelievable.

A few months ago in March, I was in the office almost in tears trying to get hold of tickets, but they’d sold out in fifteen minutes whilst I was manically refreshing about seventy ticket-website tabs online. I put a desperate call out on Facebook and Twitter and friends magically produced two separate tickets to performances in September.

I’m a very lucky lady.

But what if I’d missed the only opportunity to see the goddess, the woman I’d worshipped since her debut as a 19-year-old in 1978, when I was eleven years old? I can’t even bear to think about it.

I have spent my whole life since 1978 Trying To Be Kate Bush. She has single-handedly encapsulated everything I long to be: creatively, physically, audibly, kinetically. I don’t know how she’s done it, but she seems to gather all my passions: Irish music, contemporary dance, literature and physical theatre and do something brilliantly original with them. For some reason, my musical tastes tend to favour male voices but she stands out in my collection as the only female artist I’ve gone crazy over. Every album, every picture, every book, every set of hair crimpers.

Wuthering Heights. I was 11 years old when I first saw La Bush whipping around in white on Top of the Pops. I didn’t know what she was singing about – I hadn’t read Emily Brontë‘s novel at that point – but later I would become obsessed with it. All I knew was, there was a young woman I wanted to be, on my TV. The long flowing hair, the floaty white dress, the shapes her body made as she danced. Oh Kate. I was in love.

I was living in North Wales at the time and we’d moved to a hilltop village called Brynford after my dad had died a couple of years earlier. I had started secondary school and had begun to wake up to the world – I often found myself roaming around the surrounding moorland, constantly looking for something to happen, with our Jack Russell terrier, Sherry, running in circles around me, chasing sheep.

I was in that yearning stage – the one that is now partly satisfied in the reading of Young Adult novels, but for me, yearning was done Kate Bush-style. I did actually have a couple of long white dresses, and long, crimped hair that my mum used to plait when it was wet to make it really Bush-like. I was Being Kate. When I finally read Emily Bronte’s astonishing novel, I was in full ‘looking for Heathcliff’ mode, certain he would pop out from the rough bits of the golf course near my house where Sherry and I roamed. He never did, the bastard.

Let’s just stop for a moment and consider how brilliantly original Brontë‘s work was, never mind Kate’s rendition of it. From a Victorian parsonage in deepest Yorkshire, this woman writes a supernatural doomed love story of such tremendous passion and power that she allows the heroine to die half way through. It’s written partly in Yorkshire vernacular, and begins with the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw tapping at a window, one victim of the “unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” Heathcliff, he of the Byronic tortured soul, is the dark and demonically brooding love interest that won’t let her sleep. Emily B – you rock. You were the Kate Bush original of your day and I will always love you, too.

Back to Kate. She wrote that song at the age of 18 and summed up every young adult’s yearning:

Ooh, it gets dark! It gets lonely
On the other side from you
I pine a lot. I find the lot
Falls through without you
I’m coming back, love
Cruel Heathcliff, my one dream
My only master

I pined a lot, too.

Kate’s voice then became the soundtrack to my teenage life. She sang about love and sex a lot (Feel It, The Kick Inside) but in terms I didn’t quite understand, so veiled were most of the references. I didn’t mind it all being a bit veiled back then – I was brought up Catholic and went to a Catholic school where we didn’t talk about stuff like that. Much. I quite liked the fact that it was all a mysterious force somewhere out there, waiting for me.

In the mid-1980s, Kate released the Hounds of Love album, cementing my love for her. It was conceptual, with the two sides (when albums had two sides) differing completely. The first was fairly mainstream (for Kate), filled with what would become ‘popular’ hits, and the second had a narrative that was based around the idea of someone stuck out at sea at night, waiting for death.

Once again, Bush blew me away with her creative originality and intelligence. Her videos – notably Running Up That Hill – featured contemporary dance sequences because she had studied with choreographer Lindsay Kemp (as had David Bowie). By that point I was obsessed with ballet and dance and she just fed my passion. I’d also started to listen to Irish instruments and musicians and forming a passion for all things Irish, and they featured heavily on the ‘Ninth Wave’ section of Hounds of Love.

Nailed it again, Kate.

I have always striven to be as original and creative as Kate, in work and life. Why do what everyone else is doing when you can carve out something for yourself and show it to the world? I find ‘me too’ activities uniquely demotivating and soulless.

I remember trying to choose an English Literature dissertation topic for my degree and briefly toyed with the idea of doing one on something feminist before realising that almost every other woman was choosing ‘Women in Victorian Literature’ as their subject. I went for Masculinity in Shakespearean tragedy – the exact opposite. I still think it’s a good PhD subject, should I ever go there. I find it fascinating.

Recently I pitched a panel idea to a publishing seminar group where almost everyone chooses the theme of ‘digital’ or ‘ebooks’ to hang their debates on. “I’ll do print books, then”, I thought. Might as well go for the polar opposite. Even this blog is the reverse of what everyone might’ve expected me to write about: publishing.

‘Me too’ publishing is a thing – where publishers choose to publish almost exactly the same thing as another, if the original book has sold well. I give you Fifty Shades of Grey and its billions of copies. I know it makes commercial sense, but it’s the death of originality to keep churning out the same thing. I’m always tempted to do the opposite – I think that’s why I prefer parody books if I’m going to do a bit of ‘me too’ – Fifty Sheds of Grey was a brilliantly original, humorous take on E L James’ über trilogy, based on a Twitter parody account. Loved it, and at one point it was outselling the original in the UK.

So once again, back to Kate: alongside Bowie, one of the most brilliantly original artists in the world. Who chooses to make a breathy sexy song out of James Joyce’ stream-of-consciousness modernist novel, Ulysses? Kate does. Who uses a Bulgarian female voice choir on a song about tying yourself to a rocket and shooting off into space? Kate does. Who shoots a video of themselves dressed up as a young boy whose father is being arrested for making rain? Kate does.

I could go on.

One of Kate’s most profound songs for me is Moments of Pleasure, from The Red Shoes album. You get little glimpses into her visual memory bank – her mother, her guitarist in the studio, her producer in his chair at Abbey Road – people who aren’t necessarily in her life any more. It’s glorious. And then, she just sums it up:

Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
Just let us try
To give these moments back
To those we love
To those who will survive

I’m going to enjoy my Kate Bush moments at the Apollo because they’re glimpses into my own visual memory bank and a gift from time.

I love you, Kate, and I’ll never stop trying to be like you.

Playlist in order of mention:

Wuthering Heights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1pMMIe4hb4

Running Up That Hill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp43OdtAAkM

The Sensual World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1DDndY0FLI

Rocket’s Tail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yeimyOsdrA

Cloudbusting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K69hEnLpSY8

Moments of Pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW5hjWVS3ho

 

 

 

In Praise Of Younger Men

I date younger men.

Or rather, they date me.

All of that ‘cougar’ predatory-female stuff is just nonsense – they’re the ones on the prowl. They sometimes try to laugh it off by saying that I’m ‘on the hunt’ but I’m not. They are. And more often than not, they’ve made the first move.

When I was 38, I started to notice that my ‘attention demographic’ had shifted. I’d never really attracted the attention of twentysomethings when I actually was one, but suddenly I started noticing a glance here and there, a cheeky grin or even a wink.

At first I thought I was imagining things but I ‘checked in’ with one guy who was at a party I was at, clearly giving me the eye and he confirmed it.

He was interested.

At that time I was still married so nothing happened but I started to notice furtive glances all over the place. By the time I was set free I was keen to test the water, so to speak.

And oh, the joy.

Once you’ve weeded out the PUAs (look it up) and the ones just ticking a box on their life to-do list, there are some really lovely guys out there who just like dating older women.

I’m going to change the names of the guys involved, but here are the moments that have been some of the happiest times in my life, brought to me by this unexpected target audience.

The Spontaneous One
Liam met me in person for the first time at a Muse gig in Wembley Stadium (Timehop app is telling me this was four years ago this week). It could have gone horribly wrong: we’d met online and I found myself offering him my spare ticket (not a euphemism). I spotted him outside the venue, looking a bit uncomfortable. By the time we’d had a beer, and I’d convinced him to remove his shades, we were getting on really well. Luckily.

An older couple were sitting next to us in the stands and Liam told me later that after we’d kissed, he’d turned round and found the woman scowling at him and the guy giving him a thumbs-up and a wink.

Brilliant.

The Risk-Taking One
Niall was an apprentice engineer and lived at home with his god-fearing family. Under the guise of doing ‘overtime’ at work he came to meet me, on his motorbike. He was beautiful, and a really bright, emotionally mature young man. He boasted to all his friends that he was seeing an ‘actually hot 43-year-old.’

How we laughed.

Particularly on those occasions when he avoided church and worshipped me instead. Ha.

The Thoughtful One
There are actually a few of these – guys who bothered to arrange days or nights out and put in the effort.

There was Harry, who bought a load of ingredients round to my flat after work and made me dinner, followed by a day out at a stately home.

Back then, I was worried what people would think, seeing me hand-in-hand with a gorgeous tall, blond twentysomething, but he insisted. No one even blinked an eye and it was one of those magical days.

Then there was Zayn, whom I always arranged to meet in a pub. He always texted beforehand to tell me exactly where he was sitting so I wouldn’t have an awkward moment in the bar, and when I got there, he’d have bottle of wine and two glasses, ready to go.

One night, while Zayn was at the bar, I overheard a woman in the pub bemoaning her relationship woes to her male friend. She pointed at me and said, “I want to do what she’s doing.” As my date returned to the table I beamed with pride.

And then there was Louis. Half-Irish, half-Jamaican, about six foot five. Last summer he took me to Regent’s Park and when I met him, he’d bought champagne, strawberries and lots of other good things. I laughed as we strolled through the park to find a picnic spot and everyone – male and female – gawped at his beauty.

He once drove past me unexpectedly, shouted my name, stopped the car, ran across the road to tell me I looked gorgeous, ran back to his car and drove off. What a guy.

The One That Asks You Out Properly

I can count the number of times I’ve actually been asked out from a cold, standing start, on one hand.

Less than one hand, in fact.

And the ones that have asked me out on a date, properly, are younger men who aren’t British. Go figure. The sweetest one asked if he could take me out for a cup of tea. Just lovely. Of course I said yes.

The One That Slightly Breaks Your Heart

Of course, one of the sidebar themes of dating younger men is that it can never be a ‘thing’. It’s very much ‘dating in the moment’ and there is usually an unspoken, or spoken, agreement at the start that it won’t lead to a relationship. There is both joy and sadness in being together, and with one particular guy, let’s call him Justin, we even cried a little at the start because we knew we had strong feelings for each other.

Against my usual rules, I let myself become more than just a lover with Justin. One of the things that is so intoxicating about a younger man is their engagement with life. Everything is exciting and new, even a fortysomething woman. I loved how Justin lived his life – he worked hard, played hard, and wanted to know and experience everything. To me, it was an elixir of life I couldn’t stop imbibing.

This situation could not be sustained and after a couple of months it became clear that it wasn’t going to work. I was thrown for a while into a mini mid-life crisis. I realised that I was so jealous of Justin’s youth – that he could simply find someone else straight away (he did) and carry on opening all of life’s doors. I had to cut off all social-media contact so that I couldn’t witness it – it suddenly seemed like a relentless stream of The Joy of Youth and I had to turn it off at the source.

But as the months went by, I found myself looking back on that time with increasing gladness. Dr Seuss’ maxim: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” became my way of describing the feeling.

I’m still smiling.

The Years

Some friends say to me that it’s all very well having fun with these young guys, but when am I going to get serious and find someone my own age, or older? Guys my age aren’t interested, I reply. They want someone younger, especially if their dream is to have kids (and it usually is). (They’re also often threatened by someone successful with a brain, but that’s for another post.)

That’s been one of the really unexpected twists in my post-marital world. I thought there might be guys my age who would pop out of the woodwork. Instead, I was met by a vast silence, punctuated with approaches from married men (I’m afraid so), and the stealthy advance of the younger guard. And I say again, it’s their advance, not mine.

For months, and maybe a couple of years post-divorce, I found myself trying to recreate the same-age coupledom that I’d had with my ex-husband. It was ‘almost’ irritating to have young men buzzing around me, with the promise of nothing long-term. Almost.

But as time has gone on I’ve realised something: what if these are The Years? The ones where I have the most fun with the beautiful young men that I didn’t date when I was their age? What if these moments of joy with these great guys are the things I will whisper about happily when I’m on my deathbed?

I am definitely a late-bloomer – I look and feel so much better than I did in my late teens and twenties and back then, I led a very sheltered, Catholic-upbringing, worried-about-everything, date-free existence. Is this the time I make up for all that?

Well, yes I think it is.

Because I can.

 

The One Where I’m Absolutely Not a Yummy Mummy

Last night, getting off the London Overground at Kensal Rise, I was accused by a group of drunk, loud-mouthed, relatively posh boys of being a ‘yummy mummy’.

I had heard them shout, “Welcome to middle England!” as the train pulled into the station and had scowled in their general direction. This prompted them to follow me on the platform, saying, “I bet she’s married to an advertising executive!” (wtf?) and then shouted, “She’s a yummy mummy wearing jogging bottoms!”

It took all my strength not to turn round, face them on a full platform, to say, “Actually, I’m a single, childfree, publishing executive who eats boys like you for breakfast.”

In reality, I was on my way back from a day-long hike, wearing leggings and cross-trainers. The boys had confused me with the mums’ yoga tribe that is part of the rich fabric of the Kensal Rise and Queen’s Park community. They’re everywhere – usually in their late thirties or forties, skinny, wearing drapy jersey items, holding a juice or a green tea from a local cafe and either looking zenned-out from yoga or looking a bit fraught. The only bit of that list I tick is the age one, and maybe the odd drapy jersey item. And yeah, ok, I was looking a bit frazzled after the hike.

The YM is the predominant fortysomething-female tribe in my area and I’m not part of it. I moved here two years ago, two years after my separation, and thought a lot about how to infiltrate its ranks, wanting to make new friendships with women of my own age. I joined a local group that has events for women but the tribal subsets were already set in stone. You see I’m not at the school gates, in the morning yoga class or at the coffee meet-up at our local deli so to them, I’m pretty much invisible.

After a while I stopped trying to infiltrate. In the main, the friendships I’ve forged here are with younger people. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a great set of people in my building – the infamous ‘gold building’ in Kensal Rise – and we socialise a lot. I set up a Facebook page for residents to facilitate it and I’ve met some really wonderful, genuine people.

At first I was acutely conscious of the age gap – they’re anything from late 20s to late 30s – and kept pointing it out every time we went to the pub. There were genuine looks of puzzlement: “What are you on about?!” they’d say. But there is a societal stigma about middle-aged people who hang out with younger ones, like they’ve never matured enough to keep up with their peer group or they’re trying to hard to hang on to their youth.

But what if you’ve done the whole mature couply thing for quite a long time, decided it wasn’t for you, re-entered non-couply society and found that most of the people at your age are still at the mature couply party? It is one party I’m happy not to be attending right now, but I’ve had to accept that I’ve left the cosy weekend dinners for six round at someone’s house, planned weeks or months in advance, for spontaneous meet-ups at the pub with whomever happens to be around, followed by dancing at Paradise or a party back at someone’s flat.

Long live spontaneity, in my view.

Because my new local friends have welcomed me into their lives as a person they want to hang out with, I no longer feel the urge to refer to myself as ‘the oldie’ – it just seems inappropriate now. What’s particularly lovely is that I have a couple of young couples in my circle of friends whom I love dearly. Back when I was in coupledom, we’d never have thought about hanging out with a single friend, so strong was the tribal urge to bond with other couples, and the stigma around their situation. Thank goodness that little ‘rule’ has been broken.

One thing I’ve grown to loathe in life is the way some people try to box you up, in a category that is age-appropriate. I cringe when I hear people say, “But he’s 18, so of course he’s just going to want to hang out with his mates, get drunk, have lots of sex and go wild at music festivals.” What if he’s 18, wants to concentrate hard on his studying, hang out in a coffee shop on his own, have a little bit of sex, or no sex, and camp with one good friend in a remote village in Wales?

Why do we pressure people to tick all the age-related boxes?

Similarly, one might hear someone say, “But she’s 35, she’s going to want to find a man quickly, marry him, have a child, buy a house and enjoy weekends at B&Q.” Aaagh! What if she wants to take a gap year to travel, concentrate on her career, date several men without marrying them, and rent in a really cool place that doesn’t require DIY?

You can see where I’m going with this.

People assume stuff about me. I know they do. They see me on a train, running in Queen’s Park or walking down the road to Portobello and think, “Married, just been to yoga class while the kids are at school, off to have lunch at an artisanal cafe that sells vintage furniture on the side, before picking up Tarquin and Oberon from school and making them eat quinoa for supper.”

Sometimes I feel like wearing a ‘Baby On Board’-style badge that says “Single, childfree, not doing what you think I’m doing.”

I assume stuff about people too – I wish I didn’t. I assumed younger people wouldn’t be interested in getting to know me, I assumed other fortysomething women would want to welcome me into their tribe even though I wasn’t wearing the right headdress, I’ve assumed fortysomething men would want to date me.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

But there is something so right, right, right about not being in a tribe.

Or building one of your own.

Because you can.

 

——————

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/11025549/Class-in-21st-century-Britain-the-new-signifiers.html

 

Elizabeth Pamela Mary

It’s funny how the day that A-level results are out is the same day as my late mother’s birthday. Elizabeth Pamela Mary – ‘Pam’ – Edwards would have been 86 today.

It’s funny, because she was someone who was a teenager during the Second World War, who aced her School Certificate at the age of 14 in 1942 (it was meant to be taken at 16 and was like a set of GCSEs) but couldn’t carry on into further education because the War forced her into work.

As far as I’m aware from family lore, one of her jobs was as a telephonist in Hawker Siddeley, North Wales. Hawker was a founding member of British Aerospace and it made Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft that were instrumental in the Battle of Britain. Her telephone voice earned her the moniker ‘The Girl with the Dark-Brown Voice’. Or maybe it was just my dad that said that, I’m not sure.

Anyway, I grew up with a mother who was clever. By the time I knew her properly, she was a housewife who helped my father run his newsagents in our town, Holywell in North Wales. But my early memories of my mum include her racing through the hardest cryptic crosswords, doing my maths homework backwards to prove that the answer was right (!!!) and being annoyingly good at shouting out the answers to University Challenge or Mastermind before anyone else could.

Gah. She was good.

When it came to my O- and A-levels I struggled with the pressure. She never pushed me, never put me under any further pressure, because I put myself under enough and she could see that. I did well at O-level but fell down at A.

I don’t know what happened – I was getting good grades in coursework but tried too hard to learn everything by rote for the exams. I could practically recite Hamlet from memory, but it did me no good.

I needed to think for myself.

I then spent the next four years teaching ballet and tap in what is still an amazing dance school in North Wales – the Whitton Morris School of Dance. I forgot about academia as I plunged myself into technique and tutus, thinking I’d end up being an examiner for the British Ballet Organisation. My mum supported that path I’d decided to take, and I think she enjoyed having me at home.

But something switched in my brain in year three of that time. It seriously felt like a cog had inched round in my head, and the message was loud and clear – Go To University. I found a dance course at Roehampton, which I paired with English Lit because you had to choose something, and that was it.

But that wasn’t the whole story. I started to do much better than I thought I would in English essays. I remember phoning my mum from the halls of residence telling her that I’d got an A* for my first essay. Then another one. And another. She was so delighted, and I felt delighted that I could do what she hadn’t been able to do.

Back when I’d done dismally in my A-levels, my mum had told me that ‘there is always a time in your life that is right for studying, and it’s not necessarily when you’re at school’. How right she was. And when I got my first-class degree, majoring in English, I was on the phone to her straight away, and she was joyous.

And my career in publishing started back then when I started the Roehampton Arts Review magazine with a couple of friends. I caught the bug and never looked back.

I only ever look back at Elizabeth Pamela Mary and say, Mum – it’s all for you and it always will be.

Happy birthday.

Written on the Body

There’s no doubt that the tattoo is having a renaissance.

I used to have one or two friends, male and female, with the odd Thai symbol on their hips, ankles or across their backs, always covered up for the office and only exposed at work dos or on holiday.

Now, in a post-World Cup world, everyone’s boasting a sleeve or two and maybe even a Cheryl Cole full butt. (I wouldn’t know…)

One of the great things about the Tatt Renaissance is that they’re no longer taboo in the workplace, particularly in the media industry. Creative types are wearing them with pride because they instantly say something about who they are. (And I for one, find them really sexy.)

I’ve never had a tatt but I’ve started to think about having one. Where once I thought it would have to be in a hidden place, I’m now thinking it could be on show, as an expression of who I am.

Then I realised that I’ve already got one, an identity marker, written on my body. Not an appendix or C-section scar, no childhood dogbite or school jab on my arm. It’s actually a burn on the side of my wrist. It’s quite big, and white, made even more obvious by the very slight tan I acquire in the summer (I’m Welsh – give me a break).

People have tried to get me to get rid of it by using various creams and potions but I resisted for some reason. You see, it’s the scar from a huge blister I got one night.

From a hot-water bottle.

Yes.

I’d moved out of the warm marital bed in February 2010 into a cold spare-room one. I’d made a hot-water bottle and hugged it for warmth in bed. Even though it was busy giving me a third-degree burn overnight, I was so exhausted it didn’t wake me up. When I did wake up, the blister was the size of an egg.

Yowch.

Then came the urging of friends for me to use Bio Oil to get rid of the scar – it’s the lotion women use to get rid of pregnancy stretch marks. Nope, I said, almost rather proud of my war wound. And to be honest, it has become something of a badge of honour.

I see people staring at it and if they ask me how I got it I tell them. Because for me it signifies at moment where I took the leap into the unknown, out of a warm bed of coupledom into the cold sheets of singlehood. And even though the warmth I desperately clung to hurt me at first, it’s part of what defines me. (Interestingly one of the first bits of human warmth I did cling to hurt me very badly. So you see, it’s symbolic.)

Now I smile when I see my hot-water bottle scar in the mirror. It’s on the same arm as my birthmark, which nestles weirdly below my little-finger nail. In Tudor times I’d have been burned as a witch: I’m left-handed, have a birthmark on my left little finger, weirdly foreshortened third fingers on both hands and no discernible knuckles on said fingers.

I know, right?

When I was at school I was really self-conscious about my hands and I endured a tiny bit of bullying about them. But one day, a teacher (Mr Dowling) overheard the teasing and told the assembled group of taunting kids that all of that just made me more special. They stopped the taunting immediately.

Thanks Mr D.

Ok so I have often felt I had to explain to manicurists what’s going on there but they seem to mind less than I do. In fact, they seem surprised when I start pointing out all my deformities as they push back my cuticles. They must have seen hands in a lot worse state than mine. They just want to ask me if I’m going on holiday.

Now I quite like my hands and their quirky details. And the scar that accompanies them is just another talking point and a memory jolt to remind myself where this phase of my life began. I never worry about it or try to heal or hide it. It’s just what it is.

Me.

 

The Silence

I had intended to publish something very very different today – fun and some may say frivolous.

Then I woke up and saw the news about Robin Williams and the outpouring of love and sorrow all over my social-media feeds.

One of the main themes in my Twitter feed is the silence surrounding depression and mental illness: the great taboo you can never give voice to, for fear of making people around you feel uncomfortable.

I’ve not talked about this for years, so here it is. The Great Taboo.

I tried to kill myself when I was 19 or 20 – the event is so shrouded by silence I can’t even remember exactly when it happened. I won’t go into why I felt so crap about life, but I did. I now know that what I did was a cry for help, that I wanted to be found and thankfully I was.

What was so shocking about that time was how quickly The Silence descended. No one talked of it, then or since. Even I found it hard to tell people. I told a boyfriend once – he couldn’t believe that ‘someone like me’ would attempt it. Well it’s always ‘someone like me’, isn’t it? It’s not a special sector of hidden people going around planning it in the dark.

They’re right in front of you. In the daylight.

I wonder if people can’t handle the idea that someone might want to remove themselves from the earth because it’s a latent dark thought in all of us. Some of us are used to it emerging at difficult times – it’s the ultimate get-out clause, after all – but others steer well away from it, unable to even admit that it’s lurking there.

This week, I am attending the funeral of a person whose life was tragically taken away from them by a terminal illness. They entered my life for only a few months but my eyes are still blinking from the glare of their brightness. We find these situations incredibly difficult to talk about but we console each other with a stumbling shared disbelief of the circumstances.

Robin Wiliams’ life has been tragically taken from him too, by depression. It is the illness that dare not speak its name and one that we find much more difficult to talk about.

Let’s talk about it, shall we? Too many amazing people are being lost to it, or living with it on a daily basis to ignore it.

RIP Robin.

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http://www.mind.org.uk/

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/04/who_publishes_first_global_report_on_topic_shrouded_in_taboo_suicide/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Caroline Criado-Perez on anxiety and depression:

http://weekwoman.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/ssris-it-doesnt-have-to-be-this-way/

Going Commando

I’ve just started watching Royal Marines Commando School on catch-up TV: a documentary on Channel 4, following a group of guys as they undertake the toughest military-training programme in the world.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/royal-marines-commando-school

I’m only a couple of episodes in, but I’ve started to realise that what is captivating about it isn’t the actual end game: becoming a Royal Marine. It’s watching humans forcing themselves to go through an extraordinary experience to see if they can make themselves into better people.

Whether it’s because they know they’re a bit prone to laziness, or feel the need to accelerate their journey from boy to man, or just want to provide a better life for their families, each guy has their own personal reasons for joining the training course. And these reasons have much more to do with setting themselves a personal challenge than actually becoming a fighting machine.

After watching a couple of episodes, I started to think about how we set ourselves challenges in life, and met a friend who’d read my blog post about choosing not to have a baby (see: Ping Pong). She admitted that one of the reasons she’d had one was to experience something beyond being herself. She’d had a fairly stable, happy upbringing and could see herself just cruising on through to pensionhood just remaining in stasis as her original self. Having a baby has brought such a huge personal challenge into her life that she is permanently altered. But for the good.

There are the challenges we set ourselves and the ones that challenge us – the ones that are beyond our control. My early life was marked with the trials of parental decline and death. My father died when I was 10 and although my mother lived until she was 71, she had a slow decline with dementia, and died in my early 30s. There is absolutely no doubt that these events have had a huge and profound effect on my life, and the lives of my family, but they’re not all bad.

One on hand, they have given me a level of fearlessness that means I know I can handle huge upheaval and change, such as leaving a marriage at the age of 43… I’m still scared when these things loom up at me (thankfully not often) but I always know in my head and heart that everything will be ok.

It was, and it is.

On the other hand, I don’t need to prove I can face a big challenge, which is possibly one of the many reasons I’ve chosen not to procreate, but I still set myself fairly sizeable tasks to overcome, such as leaving a perfectly good job (at Liberty in the ’90s) to move to Brighton to do an MA.

I was on my own in a new town, crying into my pillow at night, but eventually I found my feet, and my first job in publishing (the MA went by the wayside). I still look back on that time with immense pride – that one leap into the unknown was a game-changer in so many ways.

Liberty had given me a part-time job in their store in Brighton (sadly no longer there) and when I decided to leave the MA, they supported me with more work. I remember not being able to afford public transport, and walking to and from the shop along the seafront during that winter. I loved it!

I got myself on a business-skills course and researched local publishing jobs in the big business directory in Brighton Library. Yes, an actual directory in a library. I walked into Wayland Books, off the snowy streets of Hove and met MD Steve White-Thompson, in his stockinged feet. He gave me what would be now called an internship on the spot and that was it. I was in and on my way.

I’m now beginning to wonder if my life isn’t some massive commando obstacle course that I’ve set myself. There are the bits when I’m forcing myself to crawl through mud, pull myself up to the top of the rope, or fling myself over a ridiculously high wall. I look at the guys in Commando School doing that and think, “Why on earth would you put yourself through that?!”

But actually, I do. All the time.

And so do my friends.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to ‘be nice to Lisa’ because I think I’m quite hard on her. I think she always wants to be perfect at everything and has to be told that it doesn’t have to be like that all the time (oh god, I just referred to myself in the third person – had to happen at some point…)

Whether it’s publishing a big brand, trying to look glamorous at all times, or going on the coolest holiday to the perfect hotel, I set my targets high, and only end up exhausting myself.

On holidays of yore, I used to march my ex-husband around all the sights listed in the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to a place just so I could tick them all off and feel happy that I’d achieved something. And guess what? The best bits of the holiday were always that last day where there was nothing left to see and we could just relax. Funnily enough, that’s what I do on holiday now: see a few things but mainly relax. (And I bet he does too.)

Sometimes I tell my friends to go easier on themselves because I can see them doing it too. The best house! The best holiday! The best job! Best, best, BEST! Even writing that makes me feel exhausted.

So while I’m watching Commando School and actually shouting at the screen, encouraging the would-be soldiers to get to the top of that rope or run that extra mile, part of me wants to say, “Mate, just sit down in the mud for a minute. Take a moment. Regroup. It’ll be fine.”

Because you can.

And it will be.

 

 

When Push Comes to Shove

One of the great things about this summer is that I’ve discovered the whole ‘walking to work’ thing. I woke up one morning a month or so ago, suddenly full of the joys of the season, determined to walk the path from Kensal Rise to Fitzrovia, which takes me along the Grand Union Canal, through Paddington Basin, down Edgware Road and along Seymour/Wigmore Street.

I love it. Every day there are Canadian geese, herons, coots and dogs doing Instagrammable things, and a variety of people going about their business on barges. There are runners, cyclists, speed-walkers, drunk people (at 9am), builders, commuters, men smoking shisha outside the Lebanese Edgware Road restaurants. It’s brilliant.

The one thing I really didn’t expect to encounter on my walks were The Women Who Bump Into You. This is a thing and I’m starting to think it’s deliberate.

It happened only this morning.

I was gaily walking along the canal through Little Venice, smiling at an approaching little dog and its lady owner, when WHAM she rammed straight into my shoulder rather than move out of the way. It was like one of those moments where one minute Pharrell Williams’ Happy is playing in your head, but it’s followed by a sudden screech of a needle on vinyl.

WTF?

This has happened to me before. On buses, in shops, in bars and clubs – a sudden elbow in the side or a shove to push you out of the way. From a woman. Not to mention when I’m running. I’ve rammed into someone who seemed to think that she could beat me through a gateway when she was walking and I was running.

What’s with that?

And why don’t men do it? (They actually do step out of the way – most of the time…)

I’ve always been very spatially aware – and aware of how other people aren’t. I find it amusing, when out running, to see people flailing about in front of me, unable to decide which way to go or what to do. Inside my head, I scream, ‘MAKE A DECISION ON WHICH WAY TO GO AND COMMIT TO IT!!’

I’ve also reviewed that Tumblr feed: Men Who Take Up Too Much Room on the Tube, with a very big sense of how men do carve out space in the world for themselves, without even thinking about how it impacts on others. Totally unaware of us ladies squished up in the corner, next to their widely spaced knees. And of course their widely spaced elbows, that often find themselves stabbing our breasts unexpectedly. (If I could teach a man one thing it would be ‘just keep your elbows under control’.)

One of the best bits of my walk to work is down Edgware Road, knowing that this pavement space is largely inhabited by men, but for that moment each morning I own it. I stride forward, hair flowing and head held high past all the cafes, knowing that I’m taking up a place in a very male-oriented environment, wearing whatever I want. “Ha!” I think. “Gotcha.”

But when I turn onto the busier Seymour St and head into central London proper, I get whacked by handbags, forced into the road and nudged out of the way. By women. All manner of unsisterly behaviour goes on. I may well be imagining it, but I don’t think I am. It’s barely there, just a subtle thwack here and there, with nary a ‘sorry’ in sight. (Nobody says sorry – or nary for that matter – in London. You’ll get a slight hiss as a presage of the full word if you’re lucky).

I’ve given lots of thought to why this happens and I think it’s this:

Women are so used to having to carve out a space for ourselves in this world, that we carve other women out of the way too.

Literally.

And in many ways we’re easier prey than men. Nudge a guy out of the way and you might be in trouble (although if they’re really slow-moving, a quick prod with a bag is a good way to get them moving faster. I’ve tried it). We know that women won’t fight back, in general, so it’s an easy win.

I just think about all the ways that women are nudged out of the way in life and think it might be a little easier if we were nudging each other the right way.

 

Forward.

 

http://powderroom.jezebel.com/a-open-letter-to-men-on-the-brown-line-train-at-rush-ho-1636395516?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow