An incomplete list of the things I love

Wine. For drinking.

Marian Keyes. For her humour and her brilliance and her rawness; for making me laugh more than any other books can; for an irrepressible voice.

Gilmore Girls. For speed and boldness and cultural references that fly over my head and for comfort when other things provide none.

Baths. For total immersion in water, for floating and warmth and the ability to lie very still behind a locked door.

Hair dye. For letting a human be a chameleon, for letting change be impermanent, for a box of a bit of something different.

Leather. For making me feel a little bit more exciting when I walk down a road on an early morning when I haven’t slept enough and don’t look like much.

Jewellery. For being gifted. For being different. For making a black outfit look like something. For being an easy birthday present.

Makeup. For hiding, for experimenting, for playing, for confidence.

Prawns. For being delicious.

Steak. As above.

And cheese.

Food needs its own list, really.

Neil Gaiman. For imagination and strangeness and not running away that time on the banks of the Thames.

Family. For safety and certainty and being around, always.

Change. For making things happen.

Friends. For love and for rants and martinis in dark bars; for holidays in familiar places and ideas and suggestions and possibilities. For shared interests and complete difference and never indifference.

Boyfriends. Singular. Boyfriend. For keeping things together.

Balsamic vinegar. For making everything taste better.

Blue cheese. FOOD GETS ITS OWN LIST.

Airplanes. For making distance nothing.

Snapchat. As above.

Skype. Same.

Afternoons in the park. For beer and grass stuck to skin and lying down and clouds and leaves and sitting in circles and tree trunks.

Endorphins. For climbing out.

Sports bras. For making breasts possible.

Late nights. For the things that can’t happen anywhere else.

London. For long walks and for distances; for everyone in it, even the bad ones; for food and drinks and smog and salt, for sadness and the cracks in the pavements. For the tube, and the bridges. For the small bits of sky between the buildings.

Water, anywhere. For life, obviously. For forming a margin. For finding an edge.

Books. All books. All the time. For escape and for comfort.

Grey’s Anatomy. For a reminder that life isn’t that bad.

Beds. For hiding.

Couches. For hiding, slightly less.

Rainy afternoons. For writing and sleeping and watching three movies in a row, all at once. For coffee and pizza and Pringles.

Writers. For writing.

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.

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.

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.

 

10 possible replies to men who comment on your makeup

The fact of makeup is that it’s on your face, and the fact of your face is that it’s usually the first thing the world sees, unless the world is looking at your breasts or your sweet new kicks. 

Makeup

The world, deluded and strange as it is, will often see fit to comment on what you choose to daub on your gob, and in that case the world will most often come in the form of a man, a confused man, a man who has never been subjected to the delights of Ruby Woo, and probably doesn’t deserve it.

You can keep your head down. You can walk on by. Or you can reply.

10. “You look so different without makeup!”

“My foundation costs £40! My mascara cost £21! I spend more money on makeup than I do on food! I would probably have enough money for a deposit on a house if I didn’t keep buying bloody NAKED palettes! If I looked the same I’d be gutted!”

9. “You’re probably single because men like natural girls”. 

“I’m single because I like men who are non-judgmental and interesting and funny and YOU SIR are none of these things and are also MAYBE an actual alien if you think I’m single for any other reason than those I’ve chosen, like wanting to draw on my eyebrows and watch Netflix for 48 hours straight instead of pandering to the whims of an IDIOT, GOOD DAY SIR.”

OR

*Stand really still and pretend to be a tree*

8. “I prefer less makeup”.

“So, wear less makeup. WTF does that have to do with me?”

7. “You know, I’d probably date you if you weren’t so high maintenance…” 

“I would probably date you, if you didn’t look like Donald Trump mated with a rat and ran his subsequent offspring through a blender, then stuck it back together with Prit Stick. Here, try some concealer. You might be surprised. You might. It’s makeup, it’s not f*cking magic”.

6. “Woah! Baby! Why all the makeup?!”

Lean in, whisper “Because of the voices”, lick his face, run away.

5. “Why do you always wear so much makeup?” 

“Because without it, I’ll die. Literally die. Men will stop noticing me on the street and trying to give me their number in bars, and when that happens, my sense of self will completely disappear, washed down the drain with my lipstick, and my mother will disown me for failing to win a man and society will offer me a cat and turn its back, and that is when I will waste away, reading Daily Mail articles and weeping, and eventually be eaten by that same cat. That is why.”

4. “When women wear makeup, they’re just lying to men”. 

“The whole world is a lie, David. Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams”.

3. “That’s a lot of face paint!”

“I’m a professional clown. If I don’t wear this much makeup, I’ll get fired from my job and cease contributing to the economy and then I’ll have to leave London because I won’t be able to afford rent and actually I can’t afford my rent as it IS, clowns are not very highly paid, DO YOU WANT A BALLON ANIMAL IT IS TEN POUNDS BUT YOU WILL LOVE IT LIKE A CHILD, STAND STILL WHILE I BLOW THIS UP WHERE ARE YOU GOING”.

2. “You’d be so much prettier without all of that on your face…”

*grab his shirt and slowly clean face, revealing engorged aspect of demonic creature, ready to feast on male flesh* “Thank you!”

  1. “Girls just wear makeup to impress men”. 

“F*** off”.

NB: The final response is adequate for all above questions. Alternatively, just fling a tampon and run away. That shit is like a GRENADE. 

My London Self

My London self is kind of an asshole, and I’m trying to work on that.

I’ve always been a bit sarcastic, a bit ruthless. I was mercilessly bullied in high school by a group of girls who turned on me for being rude to them one too many times, which might seem a bit like fighting fire with fire, but certainly worked on me, for a while. I was cowed. Never called anyone a loser again. But I still had a certain amount of venom running in my veins, which would work its way out through other avenues.

In London, that venom is visceral. I don’t use words or eyebrows, I use elbows. I use forcing people into walls, I use nearly knocking people down escalators, I use shoulders and my general, solid presence to remind people when they’re being careless or thoughtless, or in any way lacking that offends me.

I realized I’d developed a problem when I did this: walking to Regents Park in running gear, preparing for a lap around the park, I approached two small Asian tourists, staring attentively at a phone between them. They weren’t looking where they were going. They were in the centre of the footpath. They were forcing me off to the side. It was inconsiderate, but what I did was worse: I held true to my path until I knocked the bag of one of them so hard that she dropped her phone. It smashed.

They tried to chase after me to pay, but their English was broken.

“You broke her phone!””

Me, snidely: “You weren’t looking where you were going”.

Me, realizing I am an asshole, relenting, feeling like a cruel and bitter person: “It’s just the screen. It won’t be expensive, you should have been looking. It wasn’t my fault”.

They tried a couple of times, but realized either that I wasn’t going to yield, or that it was a bit their fault. They turned and left; I went on my run.

I think about that stupid phone and their sad faces every day on the tube now, as I try to stop letting that incredible travel-induced rage bubble up in me. It’s hard to stop once you’ve started – the internal tirade, the glare, the deliberate nudge in the back of someone who’s resisting going down the aisle of the tube to make more room at the door.

I do NOT want to be this person who uses their bony bits and their bulk to take the place of a polite “excuse me”. But sometimes I can’t help it, and I can’t stop. I am a seething, steaming pile of anger and indictment and I can’t stop until everyone learns transport etiquette, and since that’ll never happen I’ll never stop.

I’m so sorry about the phone. But still not sorry enough to think, a little bit, it was really their fault. So, realistically, I don’t think My London Self is going to be any better any time soon.