In which I discover that I am not too cool for Pokemon Go

I am much too cool to be playing Pokemon Go. It should be obvious just from looking at me, in my high-waisted trousers and the Nike shoes with the big gold ticks on the side. Sometimes I just sit and look at them on my feet, and feel pleased about my life. People with shoes like that, as cool as that, they live good lives. I am much too cool to be playing Pokemon Go.

Yesterday, I took the bus home, rather than the tube. There are many feasible reasons for this. The Tube is London’s armpit, a dark, festering, hairy, prickly, fetid space, moist and sad and sticky and awful – and for that reason I avoid it when I can. The bus is less expensive, which is good, since I just bought an entirely unnecessary bomber jacket, covered all over in palm leaves (nothing necessary in your life ever comes covered all over with palm leaves). The bus drops me much closer to my house than the tube – it’s all relative, since the walk from the tube station to my house is 5 minutes, and the walk from the bus stop is 40 seconds, and so neither journey is likely to involve a ring and some elves, but even so, even so.

I could tell any of these reasons to anyone and they would believe me, while also wondering why on earth I was telling them about my commute when they really wanted to talk to me about how best to market their new mascara with a magnifying mirror embedded on the side of the tube (why did no one think of this before) – but they are not the reason. They are not my reason.

My reason is three electronic eggs, green and white, which I am incubating, quietly. This could be a comment on my fertility, an oblique clue to my mother, but it isn’t, since any offspring I ever have is unlikely to bear any similarity from what is due to hatch from these eggs: a blind grey bat fluttering frantic wings, a small yellow electronic mouse. My children, since you asked, will be unusually good looking but humble; academically gifted but also able to ace a serve even in bright sunlight. Since you asked.

If you asked me which Pokemon I most relate to, I would have to say Jinx, the hovering frantic frightening woman, with round red breasts and long blonde hair. That might be why I’m disappointed when I see her, but still try and catch her. There’s a teaching in that.

Sometimes the bus goes too fast, through the London traffic, and my app won’t be tricked into thinking I’m Usain Bolt, sprinting through the crowded streets to hatch my egg. It stops and waits, stalling the distance tracker, as Trafalgar Square and Regent’s Street flash past. I’m slightly judgmental of the hoards of tourists with yellow bags, darting between the buses like they want to die. But I’m not really watching them, not really, as my avatar sprints through blue streets, sometimes lost, sometimes pausing.

She and I have things in common. We both carry more than we need. We both like shorts and tights. We both get lost easily in the streets of London, waiting for an arrow or a sign to draw us back on track.

I toss balls with abandon on the bus (not really. London drivers wouldn’t have it, though no one complained when an old man spat throatily into my hair, once). This is the virtual part of my reality, watching white and red balls spin and tumble past children in prams and the hunched hoods of teens. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m not very good. I miss a lot.

I’m much too cool for Pokemon Go, but I’m still sitting at my desk with my app open and my phone plugged in, slowly heating up from the pressure of all the Pokemon; a man named Rob has set a lure in the office and I’m waiting to fill in all those shadows with forms, with my own coterie of Pokemon.

I was much too cool for Pokemon, but then I thought about it: I have a pocket full of monsters. Comparing that to Tinder (a pocket full of assholes), I’m doing all right.

A short and incomprehensible note on love

Here is what I do: I worry, I fret. You forget to reply to one single email; you neglect one text; you bypass me with empty eyes and I know immediately a number of things – that you hate me, that I have wronged you, that we are over and through and done with, and that nothing I can do will fix things. Things are broken forever.

Things are not broken. Things are very rarely beyond fixing, unless, of course, they are, which is a more than useless thing to say, it is the worst thing to say. If things are approaching beyond fixing you pull back on the beyond, you push down on the brakes, and say wait – we will pull over, we will stop, we will prevent the thing that is going to send this old car over that there cliff.

 

The thing about the people you love is that they probably love you back.

 

Unless you’re terrible (you’re not terrible), unless they’re terrible (they’re rarely terrible), unless you’ve vastly, embarrassingly, awfully misinterpreted things, and actually they think less of you than the man at the reception desk or the boy who stood on your new white shoes (rarely happens, outside the movies). What comes with experience (I have none) is the knowledge that love comes in a hundred forms, and that some of them are abrasive – that it can be love, actually, if they turn away, stand aside, stop, fail, fall. Love, unfortunately, doesn’t always means large-scale physical embraces in public locations. Roses, chocolates, balloons with your face on them. Love is not all heart-shaped lasagnes and awkward poetry.

Love, sadly, for some people, is unkind, because the very fact of the existence of this form of very unlovely love means that they must be cold, they must be cruel, because love has opened them up when they very much wished to be closed. Locked, in fact. Far away from anyone, including you, in fact, and so this love, that has served them up to you, is a bad thing that must be frowned upon and walked away from and that you are the form that this particularly intrusive love has taken means only that you are the body in which the arrows embed.

Love is not Cupid, though I’ve borrowed his arrows for my lengthy metaphor which has ended with you, lover, punctured all through and bleeding that lovely red blood that has love immortalised in every bit of it, the pricked finger, the pulsing heart.

 

But they do love you. That is what we call it, though it doesn’t always come.

 

There’s an awful lot of terror in loving someone, as much as there is in being loved, maybe more. You can’t break off from it, or cool off from it. It demands you.

Here is what you should do, if you love me, lover – and I don’t mean lover in the naked on the floor way, I mean it in the open way, the giving way, the way you love any thing or person or being or it: email. Message. Call. Be as open as you can, even if it lets the bats out.

Opening isn’t breaking, you see, though it feels like it when the air rushes in. The cracks in things, where the light does the getting in, and the bats do the getting out.

Thinking about university

I was a good student. Have always been. Teacher’s pet, hard-worker, bit of a suck-up. Also, though, corner-cutter. Short-cutter. Not interested in any extra miles, in any direction, except maybe for English, because that felt less like running and more like moving.

But still: there’s something that you know if you’re quitesmart but not verysmart and actually prettylazy, and that is that you could actually be a lot better if you really tried, but finding that motivation to really try is really hard in itself, and so you really don’t, and then you find yourself in the same spot. The secret is: the person who finishes assignments ahead of time isn’t necessarily the good student – they’re the rushers and the pushers, and they’re not the ones doing the extra reading. Tell someone that they’re smart, and they’ll believe it, smartly, and to the core, and stop working because smart people are smart already, and smart people know enough to know that they know enough. Nobody tells me I’m smart anymore.

I was a good student, see, but not a great student. Motivated, but not compelled. Above average, but not impressive. By-the-books, as long as reading them didn’t take too long.

All of this to say: I’m back at university, and it all comes back. Not proper-back, life-changing back, in the way of my friend who’s thrown it in on his good law job and is backing himself for a Masters. Lazy-back, average-student back, in the way of my company wants me to upskill and is putting me through a short course (9 weeks, which two weeks in, feels long). That kind of back.

So, one day a week now, I set aside copy and promo lines and spreadsheets and get my teeth into it – a digital marketing course complete with videos and readings and tutorials and class discussions led by a small blonde woman with dark roots and hands that she clenches tightly in front of herself.

You revert really quickly, is what I have found.

There’s an element of gratefulness that I didn’t have before, one that I recognise from the mature students in my own law lectures, absorbing things and asking questions and contributing. I thought they were really fucking annoying. I’m probably still not quite mature enough to be a mature student, though my 22 year old sister might disagree. Old as the hills. Past it. But apart from that small element, which largely comes from Not Having To Do Real Work For A While, I’m the same student I was: competitive, easily frustrated, rushed.

I’ve done some growing up since my law school days. I ask more questions. I’m more willing to get involved in group discussions (20-year-old Scarlett wasn’t giving away her insights into the material, no way, no how, though she was quick to latch on to the cleverness of others, if it would help. Thanks, Conrad, for getting me through that summer paper). I’m also a lot more willing to read the additional resources, though I’m also more dismissive of poorly written articles. I’ve become a sponge – I blame Twitter, you can read forever on Twitter, though that’s how you come to believe you’re living in a left-leaning-Euro-loving-feminism-friendly-fantasy – and I always want to know more.

Probably inevitable, then, that doing this will make me want to go back. Reading and writing: they’ve always been the bits I loved best.

I still remember the first time I got a D on a paper – law, of course, public law, taught by a woman who so clearly thought us all stupendously stupid that I, in rebellion, began to believe I might know more about public law than she did. And then that paper, which confused a class of 300, and resulted in 70% of the class failing. Still, a D is a D, the teacher’s pet failing is still an unheard-of horror.

I rang my mother and cried, 20 years old in a heap on the hallway carpet, watching my career as a lawyer going up in smoke (only kidding, that had been smoked away months ago, the second I realised how much all the other people in my class wanted it, and how deep the depths of my particular apathy towards it all were). From a landline, because making calls from mobiles was expensive, and I wasn’t going to sob my heart out for $1.99 a minute. At least if I get a D this time around, the call will be cheaper.

A love letter to my black long-sleeved top(s)

It was first called to my attention in my first year of university, though I suspect the addiction started long before that. “You always wear that top,” the words of a man from Palmerston North, with bleached hair curling into his eyes, eating a pie sandwich. A pie sandwich, in case you were wondering, is a pie eaten between two pies, with tomato sauce for decoration. Not the kind of man, then, who one would expect to be making sartorial judgments, but this is university. A new world. He also liked to bet on grey hounds.

I did wear it a lot, this black striped long-sleeved top from Glassons, but not as much as he thought, because I owned three, identical and circulated. A bargain at two for $20 – which calls into question why I owned three, and I cannot answer – and the staples of my university wardrobe, partnered with jeans, and more jeans, and the one skirt I owned with screen-printings of Marilyn Monroe’s open mouth.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about the black long-sleeved top, except that it’s comfortable. It’s easy, and it suits me, covering the arms stippled with chicken skin and providing me with a comfortable camouflage for breasts that aren’t enormous, precisely, but big enough for me to notice when they draw focus from my hair, say, or my lipstick, or my sharp wit. Black suits my colouring, and it’s not a flattering thing so much as a familiarity thing. White makes me feel foreign and glaring, like stepping out into sun. Black is soft. Nicer, more interesting, people talk to me when I’m wearing black.

If pressed I could count them: the one from Zara that’s cropped with flared sleeves, and the other from Zara that’s a soft merino knit. The ASOS number with inside out sleeves and a V that gives things away. One from New Zealand, pilled with age, but with just the right neck, that balls to nothing in a bumbag or a front pocket. The body, with snaps at the crotch, that sits just right under a leather A-line skirt. The one with leather patches on the shoulder, another with leather sleeves. I like leather. The one emblazoned with Adele’s face (cheating, maybe, but it’s Adele, so we’ll allow it). The one I shrunk, but won’t throw out, in case it chooses to grow again, like one of those sponge dinosaurs in water.

There’s always a black top incorporated somewhere, under a romper or tied around a waist, stuffed in the bottom of a bag. And, of course, I can never find the one I want – the curse of owning at least 8 long-sleeved black tops, all of which serve a unique wardrobe purpose. My mother doesn’t understand. I don’t expect you to either.

It doesn’t stop with tops. It never does. I own at least 7 black dresses, and as many black skirts. Black singlets are mine in abundance – I think I have numerous pairs of black tights, but it’s summer and I can’t tell anymore, they’ve made love to each other and exist now in a Maniac Magee snarl. There’s no saving them, at least until October.

As I sit here in my long-sleeved black top, I wonder what will happen when I am a grown up, which is what will have happened when I don’t sleep in a garage or buy hard-boiled eggs because I don’t know how long to boil them for. Will my love affair with the black top end, brought to an abrupt cessation by a new capacity to buy blue silks and green chiffon? When I am an adult I will know what chiffon is, and how to say it. Like chignon. I will know about them too. And the UN.

The part of me that is already a grown-up (she sounds and looks like my mother; she spends a lot of time immersed in warm water with her toes controlling the taps) know that this is what will happen: I will buy just as many long sleeved black tops, but they will be softer, and lovelier, and blacker and the addiction will grow worse. In this ever-growing house of dreams, there is an entire wardrobe filled only with long-sleeved black tops, each catering to a different black top need.

And in this universe I will be equipped with the ability to put things on hangers, rather than shoving them by the fistful into drawers, so that when I need them, I can find them. The tights snake-nest, though, will still be there, growing and writhing and twisting, each day getting larger, incorporating more. You can only conquer the stocking nest by ripping it into separate pieces and setting each on fire, and who’d do that when each pair was a fiver?

In the writing of this piece, I have remembered why I only had three black long-sleeved tops at university, when four would have been the sensible number: I decided, on one shopping occasion, to branch out, and get the same style top in a different colour.

Coral. Fucking coral. Grown up Scarlett would never make that mistake.

There’s a freezer in my foyer

This is not an old house, by English standards, the standards that scoff at anything that’s been standing for fewer than two hundred years. It’s modern inasmuch as modern means “not very well put together”, with awkward corners and creaking floors. It has a green gate. It has four bathrooms. People are impressed by the number of bathrooms. “One between two,” I say, “and one for guests”. It feels nice to have a guest bathroom, even if the toilet roll holder falls to the floor every time you try to get some toilet paper. A small price to pay.

These are the things that are broken in the modern-ish house with the green gate: the freezer (we have two – there are higher numbers of most things in this house than is usual; Australians, X Boxes, televisions, vases, cupboards, copies of 50 Shades of Grey) (and also lower numbers of other things – spoons, bowls, wine glasses, full boxes of laundry powder), one of the four hobs, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the upstairs shower, the fan, the toilet roll holder.

Other things aren’t broken so much as old. The television, which hums. The couches, on which the leather peels like so much old skin. The paint job. The microwave. Whatever dripped slimily from U-bend when I unscrewed it to recover a pearl earring.

Things break one by one, toppling, as if the failure of one contributes to the load of the next, though the dishwasher did not have to freeze our ice cream, and it was never the job of the upstairs shower to keep control of the toilet paper. It’s become a bit like a tolerance test. You can handle a cold shower, but what if it’s coupled with no clean plates? The rankness of a dead freezer isn’t the worst thing in the world but if the television then doesn’t turn on when you want to watch Love Island… well. You don’t have to be an unreasonably intolerant person for that to rankle.

Of course, when something breaks, it gets fixed or replaced. Slowly, because this is London. Unwillingly, because of the same. We had a rat trapped in our dishwasher for 24 hours, which throws the 2 weeks without a working freezer into perspective. One stays with you; the other just makes for a room temperature gin and tonic, and there are worse things. I know bartenders and blondes who would disagree with me on the last, but they’ve never had a rat with a broken leg crying in their dishwasher, so they don’t know.

It’s almost a badge of honour, the breaking, when they’re simply worn through. We’re  a few in a long line of people who have resided in this space, bounced on these springs, stood beneath the sporadic spray and wondered, again, why seated showers weren’t more of a thing. The fridge has been stuffed with their choices (me: four different types of cheese and a brown bag of kale), their cupboards with the same (7 jars of canned tomatoes, 2 bags of chili flakes, some jam). We’re all just passing through, breaking things. We’ve broken the most, I feel certain of it. I know because there’s not much left to break.

He said to me the other day, “This is the nicest place we’ll ever live”. I scowled because plastic plants, and purple bath mats, and weeds on the balcony and the Christmas tree we’ve not taken down since 2014. Because our room has no windows and is built of cinder blocks, one stacked on the other like the work of toddler destined for not much. Because I am not a car even though I sleep in a space intended for a car and don’t mind it most of the time. Humans are smaller than cars, for the most part. Having a car’s bedroom as your own isn’t so bad. It’s about the same as a room temperature gin and tonic. The dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are intoxicating.

I don’t think I’m going to be a billionaire, exactly, I haven’t pictured a house on the Thames and a flat on Old Compton street, with a timeshare in the French countryside for good measure (except I did just then), so it shouldn’t have been a shock, being informed that I’ll probably never do better than 1/6th of a £3 million pound property in Marylebone.

But: we spent the weekend away from London, in a 16th century house with low beams and a spinning wheel on the staircase and casement windows – with lawns the size of London parks and a private cricket pitch and it suited me quite well, in case you were wondering. I’m not what you call an outside person, but I wasn’t against the space. And the lights. Cars don’t need sunlight to survive, but I’m beginning to suspect that I might.

It’s not that things were perfect. There’s plenty of falling apart in the putting together of a 16th century house, held up by scaffolding and the skin of its old wooden teeth. It’s just that: if it’s yours, breaking something simply means a broken thing. It doesn’t mean 9 electronic apologies, phone messages, meeting a fat deliveryman at the door who refuses to carry the freezer up the stairs.

I’ve lowered my expectations thusly: windows. Windows, and a freezer that resides anywhere but the foyer. And a timeshare in a farm house in France.

On having a choice

No one has ever spit on me, and told me to go home. Yanked at my clothing on a bus, informed me I did not belong. My passport is the same colour as yours, the maroon cover tells me I am British, I belong, this is home.

I was born here, but it’s not my home. Having my first home in Fulham, living in Marylebone now, having a British boyfriend: none of these things make me British to anyone but the government, the passport office, the conservatives of this country, all of whom would have me know that I am welcome, and that I can stay.

My home is New Zealand, which is what my other, blacker passport tells me, and my heart confirms. It has its flaws, but for all the failings I found, daily, for years, it’s the place my accent and all the cells in my body ties me to. The wide skies and the growing cities and the water, water everywhere, open seas around every corner.

I moved to London after years of pining for it, a yearning instilled in me by my mother and my movies and my certainty that New Zealand wasn’t quite the right fit. I wanted to be somewhere bigger and older and more full of possibilities; where everyone was a stranger, and strange. I wanted to be closer to other, and much much further than the familiar. I moved away as soon as I could, far, and then further. I settled myself. I was welcomed. It was easy.

The London I moved to was an invention of my own, but the place I found was better, much more swollen with things I never knew I needed – and then peppered, brilliantly, with the brightest sparks from home. A whole melted, mashed, marvellous pot of the unknown, laced always with the things that were hardest to leave, and ultimately refused to be left. Everything is much closer than I could ever have imagined. You can go half a world away and still be closer than ever before, and I did not know that.

The person I have become in London is much like that person who left New Zealand, but older, a lot more humble, more knowledgeable but less clever, and better for it. Blonder, and paler, and with a better palette for beer, too. I own a lot more raincoats. I’m more cautious. I’m more violent. You lose things, and you gain things.

The London I find myself, this new and changing person, in, has changed too. Suddenly, violently, like a personality switch, except that it’s not: it’s my old innocence telling me that. What bubbles up now has been there before, but I didn’t know it, or refused to acknowledge it: this white, well-employed, well-financed adventurer who after all has done nothing all that adventurous, and who has suffered nothing much worse than a round accent mocking. Don’t say “deck” to a British person, maligned fellow New Zealanders. You’ll suffer.

But you won’t suffer like other travellers, immigrants, movers, suffer. You won’t be sworn at, harassed, fired, chagrined. You won’t be sneered at, belittled, bullied.

London has changed and what I have now is a choice. In between shrinking from the racism and choking down the impossible rage, I have the choice to disappear. Waiting for me, a 35 hour plane ride away, is another land which hasn’t made this political decision, that mistake, a historical vote that might be a fuck up, could change the world, has shaken everything.

It’s easy to look at it now with longing eyes, that place where the dollar stands still, where jobs are un-compromised, and where my mother can look at me with eyes I know and tell me things will stay the same. It’ll take me back, no questions asked. It’ll have me.

There are plenty of people plotting their exit, because they can, and most of them are like me: the ones who can stay, if they want, but are choosing to go. The ones who run only because things have become worse, and harder – not because they might die if they stay. Not because running is marginally better than waiting to be chased.

The point of this is that choice is power, bound up with luck.

Alternatives and options are nothing but blessings. So I won’t talk about my choice anymore because I’ve already made it: to be here, to keep changing, to hope that London and England will do the same. Change isn’t always good, and choice isn’t always easy. I could run away, of course I could. I’m here because I ran away; that compulsion isn’t something that ever leaves you, but lies dormant, waiting for things to get difficult. I recognise it as weakness.

I came to London because I needed it. I’ll stay because maybe now it needs me – not the runaway, not the traveller, but the ally. And if I’m not that person yet, then I hope that soon I will be.

 

 

73 questions I hope the Gilmore Girls reboot answers

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  1. IS THERE A MR KIM?

 

  1. When did Jackson stop being Town Selectman, and Taylor start again?

 

  1. Did Jason have to move in with the Enron boys?

 

  1. Did Luke and Lorelai have babies?

 

  1. Who owns the Twickem house?

 

  1. What did Kirk do with all his money?

 

  1. Did Madeline and Louise ever leave Spring Break?

 

  1. Did Barack ever find out about Rory’s criminal record?

 

  1. Did he…. notice that she doesn’t “have it”?

 

  1. Did her criminal record get expunged?

 

  1. Does she work for Hilary now?

 

  1. Are Steve and Qwan hot now? (sorry)

 

  1. Did Brian ever get with the Replacement Laine?

 

  1. Did Hep Alien ever make it?

 

  1. Has Laine realised she’s better than Zac?

 

  1. Does Miss Patty have another husband (apart from The Business We Call Show)?

 

  1. Is Dean still surly and hot?

 

  1. Did Lindsay remarry?

 

  1. Did Michelle get a new Chow puppy?

 

  1. Did Rory ever send her stuff to Christian Amanpour?

 

  1. Arguably the worst guest star Gilmore Girls ever had.

 

  1. Come on, you know it’s true.

 

  1. Did Jackson get a vasectomy?

 

  1. Did anything else catch on fire?

 

  1. Did anyone ever fix the bells?

 

  1. What is Al’s Pancake World serving now?

 

  1. Has he finally run out of napkins?

 

  1. Has Lorelai killed Paul Anka yet?

 

  1. How is Emily doing without Richard?

 

  1. Pauses to cry

 

  1. Pauses more

 

  1. Carries on

 

  1. Did she get a dog?

 

  1. Has she managed to keep a maid yet?

 

  1. Is she angry at him for dying, given that she demanded to go first?

 

  1. Cries more

 

  1. How is Penolin Lott?

 

  1. How on earth do you spell Penalyn Lot?

 

  1. Where are Tool living now?

 

  1. Did Roy ever go to Fez?

 

  1. Did she maybe go to Fez right after Richard’s funeral?

 

  1. Cries again

 

  1. What’s April up to these days?

 

  1. Is she studying science at Harvard?

 

  1. Does she still wear that helmet all the time?

 

  1. How many rock polishers does she currently own?

 

  1. Are we ever going to get to see her mother and Jess’ Dad’s partner in the same room?

 

  1. NO BECAUSE THEY’RE PLAYED BY THE SAME PERSON.

 

  1. What is Jess up to?

 

  1. Is he a famous author now?

 

  1. How many surly babies has he accidentally fathered?

 

  1. Did Anna Fairchild ever make it to Yale, or did she drop out and become an erotic dancer?

 

  1. Does Logan have an avocado tree?

 

  1. Does he work for Rupert Murdoch?

 

  1. Did he marry the girl with the gorilla mask?

 

  1. Or maybe Finn? #GAY

 

  1. I would marry Finn. #Australian

 

  1. Finn is probably dead.

 

  1. RIP Finn.

 

  1. Marty?

 

  1. How is Marty?

 

  1. Is he still a fucking miserable wet rag with good Snap-Crackle-Pop hair?

 

  1. LUCY AND OLIVIA?

 

  1. Maybe they could do a crossover where Olivia has scored a starring role in a Marvel Netflix spin off?

 

  1. Yes?

 

  1. Is Olivia still making things out of trash?

 

  1. Yes?

 

  1. Are Paris and Doyle still together or did she accidentally-on-purpose kill him during a Krav Magar training session?

 

  1. Has Gill cut his hair?

 

  1. How did Luke give everyone back all of their tents and raincoats after he sewed them all together? Did he unpick them all? What about the holes? Were they mad?

 

  1. Did Emily sneak out to the Dragonfly Inn and install a tennis court covered over with a bubble while Lorelai was sleeping?

 

  1. WHY ARE YOU ONLY MAKING FOUR EPISODES?

 

  1. WHAT WILL WE DO WHEN THEY’RE OVER?

 

 

 

 

The politics of Glastonbury

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She’s wearing a pink tutu and a leather vest and her eyes are rolled all the way back in her head in a combination of mirth and something chemical. One foot, planted in a boot, planted in the mud, pulling, and the other stuck, deep. Her friends hover around her, working their fingers, working their jaws, a thousand strangers in the dusk, in the rancid reek of muck. A man behind her goes to his knees, yanks her boot free, plants it back on her foot. She thanks him, plods away. He stands, caked, wipes his hands on his shirt. He was already covered in mud. He doesn’t care.

Nobody cares, even though everyone cares. We’ve woken up to rain and hangovers and deflated mattresses, and whispered noises. Out, out, out. We’ve done something historical, or not done it, railed against it, but not loudly enough. 80% of the voters at Glastonbury voted remain, but that wasn’t enough. “He’s resigned.” “We’re out.”

Somebody has stolen £140 out of my backpack, which I left zipped in the tent, but by the door, with the money zipped in the smallest pocket, where everyone would have left it, the first place a person would look, because I was drunk and hungry and because we all do all the same things.

It’s raining and we move the camping chairs inside, in a circle, the Wellington boots kicked on their sides by the door. We are the festival-goers, three days in, three days wrecked. Eating meals in between dancing with pints, gathering beneath green flags flickering with an octopus, a yellow submarine, a walrus, a strawberry. Beatles-themed, you see.

We all live, now, in this muddy blue tent, railing against the guy ropes, sucking against the mud. We break Berocca into drink bottles. Later we’ll mix in vodka. The normal rules don’t apply here. Somewhere, out there, people sit in brick houses, in armchairs, sipping tea, and nodding their heads at their decisions. Get them out, they nod, make them leave.

We’ve left, left the politics behind. Last year there was no signal in this fenced-in silver circle that reeks of soil and silage and shit and throbs with grime, they say, but this year they’ve erected more poles to catch more signal, and this year there are just enough bars for us to know: we’ve left, we’re out, we’re gone. We’d message people on the outside, maybe, but what’s the point? It’s ours to deal with, later. For now, vodka in your Berocca, extra socks in your boots, tissues in your bumbag. I’d rather not have the signal, given the choice. Except for the weather forecast. Rain, obviously.

The people on the stages with the microphones feel a certain kind of responsibility as the clouds open and the crowds are drenched, lifting their hands and securing their hoods, lifting their feet so they don’t get stuck, stuck, stuck. “We’ll weather it together,” they croon, “we’ll fix it together,” between songs. But we’re not together, some of us stuck in the mud, and some of us elevated, and maybe that’s precisely what got us here in the first place.

There’s a girl in the crowd behind us with daisies in her hair, she might be eight years old in her pink raincoat. In the crowd, she looks like she’s floating, standing on a small folding stool, anchored to her spot by her father who clutches her, grinning into Adele’s first verses. He has a spare, and the shortest members of our parties suddenly find themselves up, out, higher, taller, up with the flags and the six foot men. “There’s so much more air up here!” Maybe that’s the point.

The world changes all the time, whether you’re wearing denim shorts and tiger ears, if there’s glitter in your beard and chemicals in your brain, if there’s vodka in your Berocca and if you haven’t sat down in a real chair since you can remember.

Jeremy Corbyn cancels his speech because the world is falling down, and when the world is falling down you don’t go to preach to a festival full of the converted. When the world is falling down, you bear down, go to your knees, form a last foundation. The bones of this festival are tent poles and caravans and canvas, skin and hair, crumbling and crushable, and there’s nothing here that’s worth any kind of permanent salvation. The work to be done is elsewhere, outside, inside marble houses and tall buildings made from old wood. Jeremy Corbyn, I suspect, would much rather be at Glastonbury.

I’m not, we’re not, the only ones who know how lucky we are. In a circus tent filled with children sitting on plastic bags, two tattooed men in black shorts climb each other and a rope, hand on hand, wrapped and clutched, set to fall, or fly. A woman in a red glittered bustier announces them, prancing across the stage, catching the light. Her tights are black and pigtails flick with her words. “I suggest,” she says, “that we just stay here! We voted remain! Why don’t we just remain? Why not?!” She clutches for claps and we do applaud, because we could do that. We could close it off, shut it down, eat pulled pork rolls and falafel until the end of our days. Adele could sing nightly, Coldplay serenade us to sleep. We have tents, sleeping bags. We have toilets. We have each other. Chris Martin, you have me. Beck, are you OK? Do you need some gum?

Sitting in that tent-circle with rain spitting against the plastic, a few hours since the votes were counted and done and everything went, as they say, to shit, they give me – some of them strangers – £10 each, one by one, none holding back until I have in my lap a pile of crushed bills, and all my stolen money back. Someone out there has my neatly folded notes, but he doesn’t have what I have.

We have, for the next couple of days, certainty, because here, behind the silver fence, we know what to expect. Piss-smeared seats and mud-tumbles, £5 sweat-warm beers and rain, rain, rain. Spitting on footpaths and swearing into the sky, bright lights and old smells and base thuds like quick hearts. Arseholes and idiots and awkwardness and theft. Constipation and ugliness.

So much shit. There is so much shit.

Telling Her Stories – Chapter 32

This is a chapter from my second completed novel, Telling Her Stories. If you wanna publish it, you know, call me. This is a second draft, and full of errors, of course. Mind your step. 

There’s not a chance that she knows; no chance at all.

If she knew, I don’t think there’s any way she’d be able to avoid asking me, even if she knew she could never have answer. She would ask me all the questions that I ask of myself, all the time. How did you let it happen? Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you tell anybody? Even selfish people want those kinds of questions answered. When the questions are that big.

The answers to those questions have changed over the years.

When I’m lying to myself, it’s easy enough to say, “I don’t know”. Plenty of women in abusive partnerships manage to trick themselves into believing that things will change, or that things aren’t that bad. That their partner doesn’t know what they’re doing. That they want to be different. That things will only be worse if they leave.

That’s not the truth for me, though. I knew exactly who he was, and what he was capable of. The war changed a great deal of men in my generation, and did it in differently insidious ways. Some came home physically scarred but mentally unchanged, and I suspect they had no idea that they were the lucky ones. Others came looking much the same, but with a look in their eye that had shifted; something almost like suspicion, that came of having seen the worst that the human race was capable of, and the subsequent belief that it must be watched for, and quelled.

Joe was never someone who would be described as kind, but that was not a fault, exactly. Kindness is not everything, though I suppose it’s a good starting point. It’s never mattered all that much to me because I was always able to be kind enough for the both of us. It sounds ridiculous, but then in a partnership, if you’ve both got all the same characteristics, it gets boring. Someone has to be a bit worse, don’t they?

Or that’s what I thought. Anyway, he was smart, and he was curious and he asked a lot of questions. I like people who ask questions. He always wanted to know how things worked, which was a bit like how I was, but he took it much further than me, taking things apart. When I cooked for him, he would sometimes question the science, or what made this rise or this flat, and I had no idea of the answer to any of it, I just knew that it did. I realize I’m making him sound a little like one of the men off The Big Bang Theory – I watch a lot of TV – but it wasn’t like that. It was just living his life with his eyes wide open. I liked that.

After the war a lot of people stopped living like that, even if they might have been that way before.

It just started to seem like a way to get in trouble, I think, like asking too many questions had got us there in the first place. And, of course, when you’ve made it back from something that so many people didn’t, where you never expected to come back from, it does change you. Most people I knew, it closed them down a bit.

So that was a good thing, about him. But with questioning things like that comes a degree of expectation, and it also meant that he always thought there were answers he hadn’t been given yet, like I was keeping things from him.

And that’s where it all starts to fall in together in my head, when his curiosity became cruelty. I know it seems like a big leap.

One thing I remember: I’d been out, across the park, where I’d stopped for a bit to sit and read, because it was warm and dry and because I wasn’t in any particular hurry. I was a housewife, you see, after the war, which I’d never particularly thought I would be. Before the war, I was at school, and working in the store. And during the war I was a nurse, thrust into it, like so many others left behind. And while I didn’t love it, the sudden housewife thing, I must confess that the amount of time I had to myself was something. This is pre-Elizabeth, pre-all of it, pre-everything, and everything was wide open, including my days. Or I suppose, thinking about it, it wasn’t exactly pre-Elizabeth. She was in there, tucked away. I just didn’t know it yet.

And then, after I was finished reading, I went to the market and picked up meat and vegetables, talked to a few people, and headed home. It was warm and quiet and I walked slowly, because I could.

I got home and started to cook, and he came into the kitchen, leaning against the doorway in that way he had, blocking out the light from the hall. I knew from his tread that something wasn’t quite right, and so I didn’t turn around, staring out the window into my little garden and kneading the pastry with a little more energy than it needed. My heart rate went up.

It’s silly isn’t. Here I am telling the story of when I first realized, when I first thought, but it’s all wrong. It’s full of flaws, like the fact that I didn’t turn around. Why not, to face my young husband? Why not, to tell him what’s for the dinner? Why didn’t I smile? It couldn’t have been the start. It doesn’t make sense.

The fact is that trying to point out one moment when something switches, when you look into a face and see someone different: that moment doesn’t exist. It’s not a gun being fired or a punch being thrown. It’s a leak. It’s a crack. Things come through slowly.

“You were gone for a long time”, he said.

“It was such a lovely day,” I replied, still looking out into the garden where the last of the sun was playing in a large square on the bench, and where I wished I was sitting, instead of hewing a large piece of meat into chunks for stewing, the smell of flesh rising to my nose and working into my fingers. “I sat in the park and read for a while”.

“What did you read?”

“Oh, something I borrowed from Sally. I don’t even remember the title, it’s in my bag. It’s alright, she really liked it but I…”

“There’s no book in your bag”, he said, and then I did turn around, holding my hands in front of me, to where he held my bag wide, and where there was no book.

“Oh,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “I might have put it in the bedroom. I hope I didn’t leave it in the market”.

He slapped my bag onto the table, so that my purse slid out, along with my diary, and with a lipstick.

“Where were you really?” he asked, his nose pinching up and his chin pinching forward, so that he looked like himself only older.

“Don’t be silly, Joe! I can find the book. I don’t know why you’d think I’d lie”.

He moved around behind me, not quite touching me, but close enough that I could feel his warmth. “It’s not warm enough to read anyway. You’d have mud on your dress. There’s nothing here”. His palm on my thigh, hard. Not a caress.

My fingers in the meat, the pastry to the side, the bloody strings. “It’s dry in the park, we should go there tomorrow and read the paper, you’ll see. It’s quite lovely, on the right day.”

“You were seeing him.” Not even a question this time, not even a chance at a denial. “You were seeing him, and you didn’t think that I’d figure it out”.

“Seeing who?” I asked, and this time I washed my fingers and dried my hands because I couldn’t fight with bloodied palms. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Joe, why are you so angry?”

“I don’t like being lied to,” he said, and he was so close, his face above mine like a moon, close and far, not even looking at me, but above my head and through the garden and further.

“I’m not lying,” I said, and I put a hand on his arm, damp against the white cotton. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, but I promise I wouldn’t lie.”

He took his hand and lifted mine, dropping it like a tea towel. He looked down at me then, but it was still like the garden, there was no focus. “Don’t lie to me again,” he said, and he left the kitchen and left the house, closing the door quietly behind him.

I followed him to the doorway and watched him walk down the street, briskly. He might have been going anywhere, but I thought probably to the pub, where he could hunch up to the brown bar and talk about sport, or not talk, and certainly not think about his wife. I locked the door. I threw the meat in the bin. I went and sat in the sun. That was the first time, that I remember.

Small, medium or large: why high street retailers continue to confuse us

When we go to a store and pick clothes from the rack, we know that the numbers on the label shouldn’t matter. What they should do, however, is guide us as to which garment to choose, in order to find the item that will fit us best. 10, 12, 14, whatever – we all think we know our number, or near enough. And yet, being forced to exit the changing room half dressed and grumpy when the zip won’t close on the medium you chose is a feeling we’ve all experienced far too often. All the time, actually.

It’s not just the inconvenience, of course – it’s the sudden doubt that you might not know your own body as well as you thought. Or that it might have changed, despite the fact that the person looking back from the mirror is the same as yesterday, and the day before.

“I’m in between sizes right now”. But are you – or does the fault lie with that leather skirt, those ripped jeans, the shirt that won’t even button down the front?

Inconsistency in sizing is a problem that women face regularly, and never more so than in this era of online shopping, where we’re often forced to resort to buying two identical items in order to be sure that one might fit. And one man hailing from Pennsylvania, US, took public umbrage against this very fact recently, taking to Facebook to air his anger over the classification of his girlfriend’s clothes.

Upon discovering that many of the items in her wardrobe were sized extra large, Benjamin Ashton Cooper donned them himself, illustrating with his slim build and deeply unimpressed face how very unreasonable he found the sizing.

“So I’m helping my girlfriend clean out her closet… and I noticed that a lot of what she was getting rid of was of the XL size,” he wrote.

“That didn’t look right to me, and here’s why: They fit me. I don’t say that to be silly or ironic. It p****s me off.

“I am not an extra large man, and, more importantly, a woman my size is not an extra large woman.”

He then went on to blame the misrepresentative sizing for the proliferation of eating disorders among women, as well as pointing the finger at our glorification of thinness as the reason why “even nominally curvy women” get verbally abused on the street.

Whether his anger stems from the classification of his or his girlfriend’s body, at least one point is salient, and one that every woman knows well – how are we supposed to dress ourselves when retailers’ conceptions of our bodies are so very different from our own – and vary so much?

White knight Ben might be US-based but sizing discrepancies are an issue we also face in the UK – and there’s no shortage of people complaining about it.

In a survey run by Which UK in 2010, 91% of women surveyed stated that they took different sizes into the changing room when shopping, due to a lack of certainty about their size. We’ve simply come to accept inaccuracy. So where do the sizings for most clothing on the high street actually come from?

Surprisingly, they’re largely sourced from one company – SizeUK, which runs a National Sizing Survey annually in order to analyse the core shape of the average UK shopper. According to Andrew Crawford, Director of SizeUK, this “enables retailers to understand the distribution and overall size and shape profile of their target customers, to improve the sizing and fit of their garments and maximise the percentage of their target customers that can fit their clothes.”

Despite having this information, the sizings used for hip, waist and bust by a range of high street retailers can vary by as much as 4 centimetres, as a quick analysis of their sizing charts illustrates. This is often explained away by “vanity sizing”, which sees brands inflating the measurements for standard sizes in order to flatter women into a purchase.

If this was the only problem then we suppose you could learn your measurements, and the correlating sizes across your favourite stores (a drag, sure, but not impossible) – but it’s not just the charts. Quick and inexpensive manufacturing processes frequently mean that the same size in the same shop might have completely different measurements.

There’s no shortage of recent research on the subject, either – market research firm Mintel ran a study in 2015 which found that one in three women are now resorting to having their clothes altered in order to find garments that properly fit.

All of this was so frustrating to one computer programmer (and frequent shopper) Anna Powell-Smith, that in 2012 she was moved to create a simple website, What Size Am I, which uses a graph to compare the measurements for all sizes across a range of high street brands in both the US and the UK. It’s useful, certainly, if you’re shopping online, know your measurements and need a quick answer – but it would be completely unnecessary if sizings were standardised.

The upshot of all of this? That Benjamin from Pennsylvania, standing pensively in his girlfriend’s bedroom clad in a purple lace top, might well have a point. His partner might not be a size extra large. She might be a small, or a medium, or something else altogether, while never changing in her measurements at all.

But for the time being she, as well as the rest of us, is going to have to continue the practice of trying on multiple garments in order to find her Cinderella slipper (or blouse, or jacket). Because although millions of women around the world are shouting their displeasure at a system that is frankly nonsensical, as long as we also continue to shop in the very outlets that are causing our angst, little is likely to change.