Highlights of 2016

THERE WERE NONE, I hear you cry. Well, the other day I found a piece I wrote this time last year on highlights of 2015. Apparently I thought 2015 pretty much sucked in terms of news items as well, although I don’t remember it being particularly bad – apart from the Conservatives winning the UK election. Reading back through the post I remembered lots of little things I enjoyed about that year, and although 2016 was rubbish in terms of democratic votes, gun shootings, and celebrity deaths, it’s important to also think about the good things. This isn’t going to be one of those list of good news for the environment etc which have been doing the rounds lately, but rather a list of my own personal highlights. Some are tiny, and some are life-changing. What were your highlights of 2016?

The Guilty Feminist Podcast

This year I finally started listening to podcasts, and this was the first one I tuned in to after it was recommended by a friend (thank you Gillian!). Female comedians discuss a range of topics, from shoes to periods to nudity, and examine their complicated and at times contradictory relationships with femininity, feminism, their own bodies, and the people around them. It is hilarious and thought-provoking, wonderfully forgiving and a real tonic if you think feminists are shouty and irritating. Some are like that, but some of us don’t have a clue! The show starts with a list of brilliant ‘I am a feminist but…’ quotes, such as: ‘I am a feminist… but I often find myself promoting this podcast by saying, it’s about feminism, but don’t worry, it’s funny.’

Dancing at weddings

I’ve been to a few weddings this year with my partner. I struggle with weddings. I find the logistics of getting there, finding somewhere to stay, talking to people you don’t know, and figuring out when it’s okay to leave very stressful. But I’ve discovered that dancing at weddings with my partner is the best. This summer we went to a stunning wedding of a friend of mine (the same Gillian who recommended the Guilty Feminist podcast – congrats on the awesome wedding too!) in rural Kent, in a big marquee and the groom’s family’s back garden. I was panicking about what to wear up until the last minute, and got changed 30 seconds before we had to leave into navy trousers and blazer and a red shirt (then got self-conscious when my partner said we looked like we were heading to a business meeting). Anxiety + free champagne meant we were both wonderfully silly by the time we sat down to eat, and still pretty tipsy when the music started. We both love dancing and we barely stopped for the next couple of hours. Several people complimented us on our dancing, which felt wonderful and all in all it was a fabulous evening. I like weddings now.

Lazy corgi fight video

I love the beginning of this video, with a corgi lying on its back with its feet in the air. What is it doing?! And then the “fight” – I’m going to snap at you… and then just go and lie over here… and bark at…nothing… These dogs are just ridiculous. Corgis themselves make no sense. How are their legs so short?! So comical.

14th May, Canterbury

I moved to Canterbury this year after ten years of living in London. This was one of the life-changing highlights to the year: I moved in with my partner and started a much longer commute to work. For the most part living together has been lovely, and although the commute isn’t my favourite thing in the world, I love living in Canterbury. When I got back after Christmas it felt like home. And although there are pros and cons to being out of London, I certainly don’t miss the tube or the weekend crowds. Or the exorbitant rent. Although the rail pass does its best to make up for that!

Started anti-anxiety medication

This might be a strange thing to put as a highlight of the year. Having to take medication is bad, right? I certainly thought so for a long time. Even though I’ve been blogging about mental health for a while now and I am very supportive of friends who are on medication, I really fought going on anxiety medication myself. I realised that I still saw it as a sign of weakness. I thought I should be able to get past it on my own. And I put a lot of work into that and when I was feeling generally okay, the self-care worked. But when you’re tired or something knocks you so you take that lift back down to the beginning again, sometimes it’s too tough to haul yourself back up all the stairs on your own. I’ve been on anti-anxiety medication for six weeks. I’m on a very low dosage and it still sometimes gives me nausea, but I also have some more space in my head to combat anxious thoughts. I’ve achieved things that I’m not sure I could have done if I hadn’t been on medication. I don’t know what will happen, whether they’ll keep working, whether I’ll need to switch, or whether I’ll need to up the dosage, but right now I think they’re working. It’s easier for me to take a step back from anxious thoughts. There’s no point saying to myself “you don’t need to worry about this” because that doesn’t work. But I am finding some relief from going a step further and thinking “you don’t need to think about this. There is nothing saying you need to spend time and energy going over this. Let it go.” Just gaining that step and finding a bit more stability is feeling great. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it stays good.

Dyeing my hair

While in most areas of life I’m quite frightened of change, as we all are (I heard someone on the radio recently say everybody is scared of change, and if someone says they’re not, they’re lying) when it comes to going to the hairdressers I LOVE change. The bigger the change, the better. If I have a haircut and come out looking more or less the same, I’m a bit disappointed and have generally forgotten I had the haircut by the time I get home, so someone saying they like it confuses me. You like what? It’s the same! This year I dyed my hair red for the first time. I’ve wanted to do it for about a decade so it was pretty exciting for me. It didn’t go quite as bright as I wanted so I’m planning to get it done again soon. I look so quiet and demure that most hairdressers are worried I’m going to get upset, so they tend to – consciously or not – tone down what I ask for. But my current hairdresser in Canterbury seems to trust I want what I say, so I’ll ask him to dye it next. Hopefully it won’t come out some dreadful shade of pink.

Driving home for Christmas

I passed my driving test four years ago, then only drove on the odd weekend at my parents’ house for the next four years. Now I’m living in Canterbury, I have my car with me here. Unfortunately the years off and the fact I was driving somewhere I barely knew meant I started getting extremely anxious about getting in the car. Panic attacks and heated arguments with my partner while driving ensued, and although I kept at it, I was still struggling with nerves. I would be so anxious about driving fifteen minutes to the nearest stables for a riding lesson that I could barely stand due to extreme nausea. Then I started anti-anxiety medication, and although I was still anxious before I left the house, once I was in the car I was fine. So I took a somewhat bold and impulsive decision – I do this sometimes – to drive myself from Canterbury to Suffolk to stay with my parents at Christmas. I hadn’t been on a dual carriageway for four years and had never driven on a motorway. But for some reason I decided that having a parent come down and sit in the car with me, or drive in front of me so I at least knew where I was going, was not as good as going solo with the Google Maps app and ‘winging it’. Well, I was right. I had a couple of fun moments at roundabouts and risked speeding tickets here and there (with added adrenaline rush because when you take my little car over 80 miles per hour, the steering wheel shudders) but the sense of achievement was second to none. Definitely a highlight of the year.

Other people’s achievements

I am very lucky to have an amazing circle of friends, family, and partner. They share in my achievements and my worries as I share in theirs. Although there have been difficulties and sadnesses this year, several of my immediate circle have also had wonderful news that I have loved sharing with them. My best friend is pregnant and expecting her baby very soon. I love that I was one of the first to know about the pregnancy, and I’ve loved keeping up our dinner routine while we can and checking in on how she’s doing. Apparently my general cynical nature has been a great tonic to her when all she wants to do is complain about feeling fat and having rib pain and most of the people around her are saying OMG YOU MUST FEEL SO BLESSED!!! My ‘yeesh, poor you, that sucks’ has been very useful, she says, which I’m very happy (and relieved) about. In other news, my partner had his first academic book published this year. It’s a huge moment and I felt so very proud going to the launch and hearing him talk about it. Getting to read a published book by someone you know and love is really wonderful, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

There are more great moments but I feel like this post is already quite long and gushing. I encourage you all to note down a few things that went well this year, even if it was just a great book you read or a brilliant movie you saw. Looking back on them in the future is really encouraging, and god knows we all need some good things to remember about 2016.

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Going home

Recently, I had a worried conversation with my Canadian, reliant-on-a-work-visa partner. He works in academia, already intensely competitive, and possibly soon to be chronically under-resourced. Getting a job here if you’re from outside the EU has already become more difficult in recent years, and with the recent hateful headlines from our home secretary and PM, the situation looks like it could get significantly worse in the near future. If this government go ahead with their plans, his name will be on the list of ‘foreign workers’ his university will have to hand in. If he wanted to move on from his current position, would anybody take the risk and hassle of employing him without British citizenship? I told him I was frightened, that if things get worse, he would want to go home.

Go home. As I said the words I felt a jolt. Were we not already at home? Where would home be, if we moved to Canada? We would both likely know nobody, and have only each other. Would it be home for him again? Could it ever be home for me?

I’ve been musing on what home means for almost a year. I use the term to refer both to the flat I currently live in, and my parents’ house where I lived permanently from the ages of 4 to 18, and where I’ve stayed at various intervals since. In the last ten years I have moved house ten times. Looking back, were all those places home?

Do any of you ever have that experience of thinking, “I want to go home!” when, technically, you’re already there? Home isn’t just a place, but a feeling. I lived in a flat for three years and it never truly felt like home to me. I never settled properly there, rarely had that warm, comfy, I’m at home feeling about it. I consider this feeling to be similar to the suddenly trendy Danish idea of hygge – that warm, comfortable, safe, and entirely without stress feeling. I suppose the time I lived in that flat was full of stressors, not least a deeply unsatisfying and, In the end, mentally damaging work environment. Would anywhere have felt like home, under such circumstances?

I left there and moved home to my parents for six months. Going back to my family home is such a complicated feeling for me, in part because I’ve never fully left. This is true in a physical sense – my old bedroom is so full of stuff it looks like it is still occupied day to day, with clothes in the drawers and wardrobe, four bookcases full of books, and a dresser covered in jewellery. I go back and feel the pull of all those belongings that I still, aged 28, cannot have with me as I can’t afford somewhere with enough space. I am wondering, like many people my age, if there will ever come a time when I’m not storing some possessions with my parents.

Mentally, too, I am still deeply connected to this home. I get on very well with my parents and deeply enjoy their company, and they mine, so trips home always feel too short – even when they also feel constrictive, being back under their rules, and feeling the pain of things they do and think that I cannot change. This is one of the pains of growing up: some people find it fairly easy to start a life on their own terms, in their own space, with their own chosen people, and don’t feel much guilt at having flown the nest. For me, it is more difficult. I have never had a Christmas away from this home, and with all the emotional ties of Christmas traditions, this is one holiday when I feel I should be at home. I feel guilty for not visiting more often, and for not staying longer when I am there. Whenever I leave, it is painful on the one hand, and like getting out of an effortlessly warm and comfortable bed on the other. It is still, and always will be in some ways, my home, even though it is not without difficulties. For most people, the family home has some elements of push and pull, as all families are rarely entirely without tensions.

Recently I moved out of London after ten years, settling in Canterbury and commuting back to the city every day. Canterbury, the town, does not yet feel like home. I am too transient, spending most of my waking hours still in London, and still feel like a weekend guest here. I have joined the library, the cinema, the gym, but only know small bits of the town and have barely begun to join them together. The flat I’m in is starting to feel like home – but for the first time in a few years there is no space here that is mostly mine. My partner has the “spare room”, which really is his office as he works so much at home. I only go in there to hang laundry. It contains none of my possessions and the futon we have for guests, but also for me to sit on, is both very uncomfortable and currently facing a wall. My space to sit in is the living room, but it is a communal space, no corner to hide in, and no part of it to which I can withdraw. It feels sometimes like trying to make a nest in a corridor. It is too open and there is too much traffic to make a properly cosy, individual space.

If I feel unsettled sometimes at the lack of a specific room I can go to to be at home and shut the door on the world, how must people feel who are home-less? The number of people unable to afford a roof over their heads is on the rise, as renting rules get more and more out of hand, combined with a still struggling economy. Many families find themselves in temporary spaces and individuals find themselves on the streets. I cannot understand how having a home isn’t a basic human right. It is the bottom of the pyramid, the base on which all wellbeing is built.

And if homeless people here are feeling desperate, imagine being one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe. The people trying to scrape a life in the camps in Calais, and those waiting to hear the verdict on whether they’ll be allowed to claim refuge. The newly settled refugees in Germany, who I’m sure are hard pressed to feel like they can build a home there, knowing how much anti-refugee sentiment is present. Even the people hoping for better in Canada, where so many have offered to take refugees in, trying to find jobs and their own ways forward.

Recently I read the news that tens of thousands of Afghan refugees will be sent back to their country, in a deal between Europe and Afghanistan. They lie and say that it is safe for them to return, even though the Taliban are now controlling more territory than they have since 2001. One of the largest cities, Kunduz, has been without electricity and water for days at a time. They are not being sent home. There is nothing akin to hygge on offer there. And what of the Syrians, whose home is being bombed out of existence? If they ever get back, what will there be? It will not be the place they remember, perhaps ever again.

Even here, in England, in this affluent and apparently civilised society, I am struggling lately to feel that this country is my home. The words and actions of this past year, from citizens and especially from politicians, have made me very afraid. I would be afraid even if I hadn’t had the audacity to fall in love with someone who wasn’t born here, but the fear of being separated or forced to make a huge decision about our futures is pressing on me. Theresa May said there is no such thing as a global citizen, that if you are a global citizen then you belong nowhere. She is telling the people who live here and have done so for years, and paid for the privilege, and contributed to this society on so many levels, that still they do not belong. This is not their home.

I don’t understand. Why is it so wrong and bad to have not been born here, and to want to live here? Why do these people want to stifle our differences, and force us all to be the same? Rudd talked of the injustice for poor English people of having no job “because of immigration”. I would like her to show her working. I do not believe this can be the case for the majority. More likely that the jobs market has shrunk as investment in infrastructure and public services has been cut.

I am frightened that this country will continue to change and no longer feel like home. I am frightened that one day in the not too dim or distant future, my partner’s work visa will be one of those ‘clamped down on’. That we will have to decide whether to keep together through money and a piece of paper, supposed to be held due to love alone, or to run across the sea together, me leaving behind everywhere and everyone that have felt like home to me.

Home is a place, and a feeling, and a sense, and sometimes a person, or a set of people. If you are very lucky, you will meet someone who immediately feels like home to you. But even then, it takes effort and love and time and peace to build a home that will last. For people without all those things, and even perhaps for some of us who are not quite settled where we are, we will still know that emotional rush and ache of wanting to go home.

Theatre review: Violence and Son

This week I went to see a play called Violence and Son at the Royal Court Theatre. If you have any intention of going to see it, stop reading now. The play dealt with a lot of difficult themes, and it made me think of a lot of stuff, so this is going to be half review/summary of the plot, and half my own thoughts and experiences.

The basic premise is that a 17-year-old boy, Liam, has moved to Wales to live with his estranged father after the death of his mother. Liam is a massive Doctor Who fan (the play begins with him zapping lights with a sonic screwdriver, making me wonder briefly if I’d walked into the wrong play) and is clearly head over heels for his friend Jen, also a huge Doctor Who fan. We begin thinking that she’s into him too, and everything is rosy, but then… she asks him for his advice on her boyfriend, and we see it’s a classic friend zone situation. The script cleverly moves between feeling sorry for Liam, feeling irritated for Jen that she can’t just be a person but has to be a sexual thing, and wondering from Liam’s side how much encouragement he believes he’s been getting. There are a lot of articles written these days about ‘friend zoning,’ classically with men being friend zoned by women although I hear about it the other way around too. Sadly, the truth is that when you like someone, everything they do becomes imbued with special significance, and it’s hard to see through that. I once thought a boy at school MUST fancy me because he lent me a pencil sharpener. I was about ten, but still. And it’s even worse if you’re good friends with someone, because even if they suspect something and try not to encourage it, it’s damn hard to find a line between being friendly but distant enough not to hurt anybody.

Enter Liam’s father Rick, nicknamed Violence because he has a habit of beating people up, although, apparently, not so much recently apart from a guy who felt up his girlfriend. Second interesting theme of the play is sexual harassment. Rick’s girlfriend, Susan, tells a story about a man who stuck his fingers inside her in the middle of a pub. We learn that this is a common occurrence in said local pub, which Jen has “of course” experienced despite only being 18. She explains that it’s difficult to decide what to wear, because jeans mean direct access albeit with the protection of a layer of fabric, while skirts mean men’s hands have to go down and up but, if they get there, there’s no further barrier. Liam is shocked and appalled and apologises on behalf of the male race. I don’t know how common this is in general, the only experience I had of it was in high school when a couple of boys had a habit of walking behind you and putting their hand between your legs, right on the entrance to your vagina (through trousers – thank god for allowing girls to wear trousers at school, which only came in in my home town when I was about eleven). I didn’t complain about it because I didn’t really understand what was going on, I just knew it made me feel violated and ashamed.

Next fun theme was domestic violence, father to son. After a bit of a row, Liam tries to get past his dad and they have a bit of a wrestling match. Liam ends up falling off to the side and hitting his head on the wall. It seems to the audience that his father half-threw him. Rick disappears and Jen has a long conversation with Liam about this violence, and whether this is the first time his dad has hurt him. It emerges that it isn’t, that he’s done it before, and Liam even goads him into it sometimes because his father is sweet and contrite for a little while afterwards. He tells a story about a time he needed stitches, and told the doctors he’d fallen when drunk. Rick and Susan come back in, and Susan talks to Liam about what he thinks happened – it seems that she’s trying to persuade him that he just fell, his father didn’t push him at all. Jen is incredulous until she finds out that the time Liam needed stitches, he actually HAD been drunk and didn’t remember exactly what had happened. Suddenly, as an audience, you’re not sure who to believe. Even though we’ve just seen Liam’s latest fall, they were both off balance. Are we projecting onto what we saw because we’ve heard so much about Rick’s violent reputation? Or is Liam really in danger? The exploration of guilt and contrition is very interesting, particularly Liam’s view point of trying to get his father angry so that he’ll slip over an edge and then fell bad and be kind to his son. Clearly Liam feels he is to blame for these incidents. The discussion of whether his father is hurting him or if there are other explanations for Liam’s injuries is full of blurred lines, but feels like the kind of speech someone would give to try and dissuade someone from running away from a violent partner. They’re always sorry, it’s my fault really, maybe I did just slip and fall… very dangerous discourse.

Jen wants Liam to leave with her anyway but Liam is reluctant because he has nowhere to stay long term. Then Rick flips the situation on his head by announcing that maybe he can’t trust himself not to hit Liam when he’s drunk, and that Liam should get out just in case. Liam is now in a position of having to beg his drunken alcoholic father to keep him in, and pleads with him to stop drinking if he can’t trust himself when he’s wasted (Alcoholic parents: fun theme number 4). It’s only a few months until Liam has to go to university, and he begs Rick to go sober until then. To everyone’s surprise, Rick agrees with gusto, and throws out all the alcohol he can find. Liam and Jen are jubilant. I am deeply sceptical. Sure enough, within about half an hour of getting back from throwing out alcohol, Rick finds a can of beer behind the sofa and opens it up without thinking. He throws it down the sink when he realises what he’s done, but it’s obvious that giving up an addiction is not that easy. This isn’t really explored any further, and the scene when Rick starts drinking again right away is played for laughs, despite the potential consequences.

Rick talks to Liam about Jen. He’s already tried to persuade him earlier that Jen is keen for him based purely on the fact she’s wearing a short skirt. Liam scoffs. Rick advises his son to tell Jen that if she wants to keep seeing him and doing Doctor Who stuff together (they’ve just been to a convention) it can’t just be as friends. Perhaps against his better judgement, Liam issues Jen with this ultimatum. She is not impressed, and rightly so. Again, we have two sides which are shown to us clearly: Liam is sad and perhaps not seeing each other because he has feelings for her would be kinder to them both. But for him to go about it in such a way, essentially saying: date me or piss off, is not fair and is pretty insulting. For Jen, suddenly she’s not allowed to have a friend because of how she looks. She leaves, but returns shortly after because it’s raining solidly outside.

Rick tells Liam when Jen is offstage that Jen returning means she “wants him”. Long story short, Jen has to stay the night because of a lack of taxis and Rick has drunk too much to take her home. Jen and Liam talk and decide they do like each other but Jen should break up with her boyfriend before anything happens. Liam gets sad about his dead mother and Jen asks if he’d like to come and have a cuddle. Liam declines, Jen goes to bed. Rick gives Liam a long speech about how he should “take what’s being offered”, should sleep with Jen and “seal the deal” so she will feel too guilty to go back to her ex. Slowly, Liam gives in. The audience is conflicted. Rick’s arguments make sense if you’ve only got half your brain switched on: she’s staying over at everyone’s insistence and because she has little choice, and without speaking to her, how can Liam know exactly what’s going through her head? Jen seems to be into Liam but how much of that is sympathy for Liam’s situation? Is she wanting to comfort him in the moment or is this a thought-through decision?

The next morning. Liam is on top of the world after sleeping with (and presumably losing his virginity with) Jen. Jen is very quiet. We assume that this is because Liam was not terribly satisfactory in bed (first time, you can’t blame him). Jen explains that she just didn’t think that was what they would be doing last night, she thought they would wait until she’d broken up with her boyfriend. Liam asks her if she didn’t want to sleep with him. She said she just didn’t think it would happen last night. Oft-repeated “It’s fine, though” from Jen. Liam is surprised and saddened and says, “well you should have told me.” The audience is not sure what to think but is perhaps mildly exasperated with Jen, feeling sorry for Liam, until Jen says: “I did say no, though.” Wait – what? Liam is thunderstruck.

When?

When you were pulling my knickers down. I said no, and then no, stop.

I didn’t hear you.

I thought you did – you sort of paused, and then carried on.

Well why didn’t you stop me?

Because I didn’t want to spoil it. We’d had such a lovely day.*

The atmosphere in the theatre, very small and with the stage a circle in the middle with seats all the way round, is deep and intense. I noticed then that a girl in the audience on the far side to my left, who at the beginning of the second half was laughing loudly with her friend, is now sobbing. If you’d ever had any experience of rape, this scene would be traumatising. I found it extremely difficult. I’ve never said no to anyone and been ignored, but I’ve certainly slept with people because it was expected, or because I didn’t want to spoil things, or make a fuss. The other elements of the play come together here, in this fifth and most disturbing theme. We know this is a society where women are seen primarily as sexual objects: Jen wearing a skirt means she fancies Liam, women are periodically abused in a public place with no repercussions, Jen is assumed to be willing to sleep with Liam because she is there. Sex has been cheapened, become something that women are available for as and when, all men have to do is take what is being offered, and if women aren’t up for it, they just shouldn’t be there. Jen is very upset, Liam doesn’t understand. Of course I didn’t hear you, he says, how could you think that I’m like that? “I don’t know what you’re like until you show me,” cries Jen. This is all the experience she has, being treated as though her feelings don’t matter, so why should she be surprised when Liam doesn’t turn out to be any different, despite his anger at the casual harassment in the pub and his ‘constant breaking down of gender norms’ by having a pink toothbrush? Jen asks him to apologise, because she would feel better if she knew he hadn’t meant to do it. “What exactly am I supposed to have done?” asks Liam, coldly. He has checked out of the situation. He doesn’t believe he’s in the wrong. It must be her fault.

The next day, or a few days later. Liam has been receiving messages from Jen’s friends accusing him of rape. Rick and Susan are asking him about it, about whether he forced her. Of course not, says Liam. Are you sure, says Susan. Yes, she said afterward that she said no but I didn’t hear her. Didn’t you, asks Rick. No, of course not… I don’t… I don’t think so. Rick says, “ah, was it like this: she says no once, and you think that’s just what women do, if she meant it, she’d say it again. She says it again and you think, ah, she’s just playing, if she meant it, she’d stop me. She doesn’t stop you, so you carry on. Was it like that?” Maybe, says Liam. Susan is astonished. Liam tries to stand up for himself: but she was in my bed, we were kissing, she had me all riled up, you can’t say no then, can you?

ER, FUCK YES, says Susan.

But that’s not fair! cries Liam.

Susan explains. Imagine you’ve gone into a shop, and you really want to buy this toy car, and you’re really excited about it, and the shopkeeper believes you’re going to buy it, and then when you get to the counter, you suddenly change your mind, and you’re not sure you do want it. But the shopkeeper whips your money out of your hand. Has he robbed you?

By this point the poor girl in my audience is utterly distraught. I’m curled in on myself and hugging my jacket. Everything is tense. Rick steps in, and apologises to Liam: this was all me, son, I persuaded you to do it, I convinced you that she was up for it, this was all me. Liam realises that his whole future might have been turned over because he’d listened to his father and trusted his appalling attitudes towards women. Rick says he’ll “sort it,” and threaten Jen so she won’t go to the police. Susan tells him that’s too much and too horrible and so Rick physically throws her out. Liam is left sobbing in his dad’s arms, hating asking him to do this but not being able to see what else to do. If Jen accuses him of rape, it’s her word against his. And he could go to prison, and that’s his life over. Does he deserve it?

Where’s the blame here? Jen could have been more vocal, but Liam should have been paying more attention. He should, in this deeply confused situation, have TALKED to her about what she wants. Rick should not have got involved. And most of all, there should have been a more respectful attitude towards women and consent in the whole play, as it showed that even with men like Liam who seem to be all about respect, there is still this sense of entitlement sitting underneath.

With this kind of attitude towards women around constantly, it is too easy for men to see women too much as sexual beings. Of course, we are sexual beings, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but there are much finer lines than were shown in this play about how to treat women, particularly during sex. It’s a theme I’ve thought about before but this play made more obvious to me, and which I’ll be exploring further in another blog post soon. On the same note, it is easy for women to expect behaviour that makes them a little (or A LOT) uncomfortable and to put up with it because it’s expected, or they feel it’s all they’re going to get. Ladies, stand up for yourselves. You are worth everything. And just because the media treats you like a sexual thing every day of the week (see the blog My Tights Won’t Stay Up and their The Week in Sexist News posts: there’s a weather presenter on some channel who there is a NEWS PIECE about nearly every week, because she’s wearing clothes. Holy shit) doesn’t mean that you can’t tell people when their behaviour makes you feel small and dirty. It can be really little things, like saying something specific in the bedroom that you don’t really like, or someone you only know casually always commenting on your appearance, or men never being able to speak to you without making it flirty and sexual. If it’s making you feel crappy, shut it DOWN. I know it’s easier said than done, but this play made me think very hard about not putting up with any of it. It all feeds into these horribly dangerous attitudes, and this sense that women are not the same as real people, but just around for sex.

*(this is the gist of the dialogue, I don’t have a copy of the script)

Families // Foxcatcher

The end of 2014 and 2015 so far has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. There have been two deaths, my Grandad and the mother of a close friend, and two births amongst people I know well; on top of my Grandma being diagnosed with cancer (she already has dementia). I’m feeling a lot stronger than I would have if all this had happened this time last year, and definitely this time the year before, but it’s obviously still very emotional.

I’m not close to my grandparents; they’ve always lived quite a long way away and are very keen on spending most of the year on cruises (good for them), but it’s still strange when one of them dies or when they become very ill. They’re both my mother’s parents, which makes it worse as it’s so much for her to cope with all at once. I feel like I should have made more of an effort to see my Grandad, but it’s difficult with relatives who don’t seem that interested – should you invite yourself to stay with people who are essentially strangers? With my Grandma it’s tougher because I see her a few times a year. Her second husband (her and my Grandad broke up when my mum was about 20) died several years ago and as the dementia has got worse she’s become much more lonely. It’s heartbreaking. Her and my Mum have never really got on so times when she comes to stay have always been tense. It’s like most situations with your own parents: I can never really see what the problem is, but to Mum so many of the things Grandma says are tiny barbs, or cloaked insults. I normally go home when Grandma is visiting not just to see her, but to help Mum to cope and to help Dad cope with Mum. I realised this Christmas for the first time that I also need someone to help me, but that’s me again (by taking myself for a walk mainly).

Family is such a strange thing. We see these people, often out of obligation rather than pleasure, to avoid feeling guilty the rest of the year. A study of people travelling home for the holidays in America found that for a large proportion the reason they were bumping themselves up to First Class for the trip was to make themselves feel good before they had to see their relatives. Why do we keep seeing these people if they don’t make us happy? Why do we keep striving to impress people, because they’re our relatives, even though they make us feel small? I’ve been thinking about this particularly after watching Foxcatcher yesterday, which has some very complex relationships between a mother and a son, and between two brothers. I haven’t fully worked through what I think about it all yet but these are initial thoughts. The difficulty of having a parent who is disappointed in you, and doesn’t try to hide it even when you’ve done your best, must be one of the most destructive things for a person psychologically. Competing with a sibling and always feeling second best must be almost as bad. The love that continues between the two brothers in the film, despite everything, is something else. I suppose that’s the best side of family love: supporting someone even when all they’re throwing at you is hurt and hate, because you know them well enough and you love them enough to stay, to know where it’s coming from and that it’s not you they’re trying to hit, but the pain that’s inside themselves.

Although OBVIOUSLY people having babies is wonderful news, and I’m so happy for my friends who are new parents – or parents again (congratulations Lucy and Emily!) the news of new babies is also emotional for me. There’s a little bit of me that panics every time, making me feel a step closer to deciding if it’s something I want – even though it is by no means a pressing question at the moment. I genuinely don’t know if I want to have children at all. To a lot of people that will be very strange; I know a lot of people don’t need to think about it, that it’s a given for them that they want to be a mother or a father. I really haven’t made my mind up, so every time someone else is pregnant or has a baby, I panic both that it isn’t me and that it might be me someday. It isn’t helped by watching Call the Midwife with my Grandma (most depressing programme ever! I cried about five times without even knowing who all the characters were) and watching someone give birth. She started talking about how awful it was and how she had to do it four times, which was all pretty awkward, and then she asked me if I was looking forward to it. I told her I was hoping to avoid it, but she didn’t hear me so I just said yes so that I wouldn’t get a questionnaire on whether I want children or not.

These beginnings and endings are always difficult to cope with, especially when there are so many in such a short space of time. It’s a time when you start asking yourself a lot of questions too, even though it’s probably not a good time to do so when you’re in a heightened emotional state. I hope you’ve all had a good start to 2015- congratulations to anyone with new babies, and my sympathies to anyone who has lost somebody. To the rest of you, I hope you got through the break without murdering a relative who you only see because of the pressures of social convention, even though they tell you how to boil the kettle every time you walk into the kitchen. All families are weird – you aren’t alone.