Posts By Abi

The Smell of Old Books

The musty smell of old books
Is sweet like vanilla and
A little sharp with age.
The scent of the dust on the pages of books and the
Paper from which the pages are made lifts itself into my nostrils and
Fills my head with stories and memories of stories I’ve read.
Those thicker, slightly stiff or softer, thinned pages that might disintegrate, which have existed for so many years.
Some passed down from parents or grandparents,
Some from childhood, lovingly read and re-read, the pages yellowed from being held
And turned over and over or
Crinkled from their journeys to the bottom of the bath.
That unmistakeable scent fills my nostrils and I’m in a library,
Looking for a new idea or researching or
Searching for the next big adventure,
The next world in which to lose myself.
Oops.
I never did return that one.
The smell of books looks like the hard back covers,
The royal blues, reds, greens faded.
The paperbacks pop open a little by themselves,
And the books lift automatically to the regularly bookmarked places within,
The familiar scent wafting out from those favoured lines
On the most read pages.
The musty smell of old books permeates our room and fills me with comfort.
And then curiosity.
And then confusion.
Where is that smell coming from?
We have no old books.
We have only two kindles now.

A Modern Millennial Breakup

Him:
Sorry, can we pause for a minute.

Her:
Oh…um…sure. What’s wrong?

Him:
We need to talk.

Her:
What? Why? Everything’s great.

Him:
I just. I feel like this isn’t working.

Her:
Oh, really?

Him:
For me.

Her:
Oh.

(Pause)

Really?

Him:
Yeah.

Her:
I actually didn’t see that coming. Wow.

Him:
This isn’t easy for me to say.

Her:
Oh. Maybe this really isn’t working.

Him:
I feel like I do all the work here. You’re not putting anything in. You just sit there, all chill and I’m working really hard you know? To make this work for us?

Her:
So maybe you need to take a break, recharge or something?

Him:
But you put in zero effort. Maybe every so often you add something to one of my lists of ALL THE THINGS WE HAVEN’T DONE YET AND NEED DOING but most of the time? Nothing. It’s all on me.

Her:
Huh. I feel like that’s not entirely fair.

Him:
Can you honestly sit there and tell me this is an equal relationship? Does this look two sided to you? Balanced??

Her:
Well when you put it like that I suppose…

Him:
You know, sometimes it’s like you’re not even here. I mean, I’ve had to check in with you more than once. Just to make sure. And you just use me whenever you want. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be there for you but you never even ask if it’s a good time. And what about when I need you? Where are you then?

Her:
I see how this looks but-

Him:
Is there someone else?

Her:
Excuse me now?

Him:
Don’t make me ask you twice. You heard me. This is humiliating enough as it is.

(Pause)

Her:
We never said we were exclusive.

Him:
Oh you’re pulling that one on me? God I didn’t think this could get any lower.

Her:
I’m sorry, I didn’t think it was-

Him:
That’s right. You didn’t think. You didn’t think about my feelings or about me at all. Well this isn’t just “one of my episodes”. I’m leaving.

Her:
Oh don’t be like that we can work this out, come on I’m here. I’m listening! Tell me what you need.

Him:
No. It’s too late. You take me for granted. I have just enough self respect left to get me out of here and I don’t know what will happen next but I know this. We’re done.

Her:
Netflix? NETFLIX. We are not ending like this.

Him:
I hope Amazon Prima or whatever her name is, is worth it. I gave you all I had. And I wasn’t enough. 4OD warned me about this but did I listen?

Her:
Who warned you? You’ve literally never mentioned them. And it’s prime.

Him:
What?

Her:
Amazon Prime. The name. You got it…never mind.

Him:
Do you think I care…really? That’s what you’re focused on right now??

Her:
I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re right. That was badly timed.

Him:
For fuck’s sake.

Her:
Errr I didn’t see a bad language warning anywhere here. And I said I’m sorry.

Him:
I’m just gonna go.

Her:
Ok. Bye then.

Him:
Ok. Bye.

Her:
Wait. Can I…

Him:
What?

Her:
Can I just get those end credits? I really like the theme tune and I can’t place that guy what was his name? It’s driving me crazy and Amazon always tells me who’s in every scene so-

Him:
Ugh. Amazon is welcome to you.

(Netflix goes blank)

Her:
Well I guess that was a long shot.

It’s just you and me now Amazon. Hope it’s cool if we do you & chill.

One day we will all be obsolete.

Winter. Is. Coming.

My anxiety doesn’t look like this guy, I just really wanted to push the Game of Thrones reference.

 

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Shh.

Thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump

Not now please.

Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump.

Just breathe. Get a grip.

Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump.

That’s my heart going faster and faster and endlessly faster. I can feel it in my chest, my throat, my hands. Like I’m holding the ghost or an echo of my own heart just pulsing wildly, out of control, that rising feeling. I’m surprised when I look down at my hands and I can’t see my feral heart escaped from behind my ribs, it feels so viscerally like I must be holding it.

THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP.

Yes, thank you we get it.

My hands are holding my ghost echo heart and they’re shaking and I’m outside but if you looked at my outside, you wouldn’t know a thing was wrong. You might say “Oh look, there’s Abi.”

But I’m not there.

I’m somewhere else in my head and it’s not connecting with outside, like swimming in a dream and then realising there isn’t a pool and you’re not even dreaming, you’re just confused and it’s loud and quiet at the same time. You’re far away but everything surrounds you and you stay still as it moves because you can’t move. So it washes over you like a wave from the dream pool you aren’t in.

“What’s wrong?”

Or like being in a mirror world where everything sort of looks the same but isn’t. It jars. Like the really bad half rhyme crowbarred into a poem.

Everything is wrong but when I come to tell you, nothing comes out. All I can say is “I don’t know” and of course that makes it worse because how can I not know what’s going on in me? I can’t make words, usually so reliable, match my feelings. How can nothing tangible feel like the heaviest everything? It fills me from the chest out, spreading like grey tendrils curling around my organs and my limbs and I could scream about it but if I opened my mouth I don’t think anything would come out. Also then my throat would hurt. Screaming is less worth it than you think and terrible for your vocal cords.

Thump thump thump thump thump thump.

You shouldn’t be able to feel your heart beating unless you’ve just sprinted or done something similarly active to elevate its rate. But I can feel it and it hurts and it’s beating so hard in my chest I think I should be gasping for breath but my breathing seems normal until I try to take a deep breath in. It’s not deep enough but I can’t cram any more air into my lungs. They’re filled to bursting and maybe they will burst. They won’t burst. Don’t be ridiculous.

It feels ridiculous though, to have this lung bursting nothing weight on my chest taking over, controlling me from the central point of my body, turning my legs down to lead and my tear ducts up to waterfall. The tendrils are grey so it’s greyness that fills me. It’s not darkness. I don’t mind the dark. The dark can sort of envelope you and hug you but the grey cloys around you. A familiar misty nothing damp panic paralysing fog. Can you sink in fog?

It’s like I’m drowning in it but I know I can’t be. It’s not actually real grey cloud in my lungs and anyway I’m a good swimmer. But you don’t travel through clouds by swimming so it doesn’t matter how well I swim. It all feels like that – like you’ve done all the working out but you’ve come to the wrong answer and you can’t retrace your steps to figure out what doesn’t add up.

It’s so tiresomely dramatic. I’ve got this heaviness between my eyes where my brow is constantly furrowed. My eyebrows hurt. Who knew eyebrow muscles could get tired? Clowns, probably. They know loads of things, hidden behind their sad fixed expressions. Although their eyebrows are painted on so maybe not.

Thump thump thump thump thump thump.

Shh. Just stop it.

If only it were possible to just take a break from my own body and brain. Because it’s hard to see the end point. I’ve always found it hard to imagine life being different to what it is now. And I know academically I don’t always feel like this but the feelings part of my head doesn’t seem to care about maths or logic or science. It’s staged a coup, a hostile takeover and I’ve crumbled instantly. And I’m irritated by that. Why have I unwillingly, unwittingly given over control of my body to this thing? It feels crazy to not be the one in charge of me.

Winter is coming.

And with it comes this swirling void of anxiety. I fall in and it’s endless. It keeps me a prisoner of the worst parts of my brain. I’m doing my best but it makes me close in on myself, folding over and over like a kaleidoscope. I want to know why it hits when it does, why everything turns inwards without reason. I want to know why it’s so unreasonably all-consuming, why even as I’m writing this sitting in a cafe out in the world, it’s the backdrop to my body. There’s the beat of the slowed down French house music the cafe is playing and there’s the pulsing of my anxiety over it. I feel like I could beg someone to switch me off, press “power down” on my mind. If they asked me how I couldn’t tell them.

I don’t have the answers to any of it. I don’t know when it will pass.

I just know it’s here and I’m as afraid of it as the Night’s Watch are of the White Walker King.

 

Stuck In The Middle With My Opinions

Rage to the left of me. Outrage to the right. Here I am. 

I rarely comment on the situation in Israel for so many reasons. This post is not about my position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is about how I’m more often than not, too scared to voice it. For fear of being shouted down by either and both sides.

 Last time I wrote anything remotely linked to the Middle East and the conflict that simply won’t end, it was about a small Israeli theatre and dance company show being cancelled in Edinburgh after pro-Palestinian groups protested.

The hypocrisy and singling out of Israel for this kind of boycotting to the point of danger so it meant cancellation (or as I saw it, caving to the threat of violence) was what pushed me to write about it with great sadness sitting in a heavy heart. Sadness for the silencing of artistic voices who did not deserve to bear punishment for actions of their government. Just as Palestinian civilians don’t deserve to bear punishment for their government, who act violently upon clear and self declared terrorist motives. 

There is no place for the middle ground in this conflict. There is no time for a moderate opinion, one that sees the treatment of Palestinian people in Gaza and says that both the Israeli government and Hamas should be doing better than this for everyone’s sake. The middle ground sees a shared responsibility. But historically, these two groups of people share nothing but the fight. The centrist view sees that we are too deeply into a decades long conflict to take any individual incident in isolation or to try and unpick the threads that have led to this tangled mess. Every action is a reaction to something and so often it goes all the way back to what is seen as the beginning in 1948. But to ignore the historical context of the forming of the state of Israel is irresponsible and a disservice to the Jews who were systematically slaughtered between 1939 and 1945. The forming of the state of Israel was not the beginning, the extreme antisemitism leading to the highly organised extermination of Jews was. It is the height of hypocrisy to call for human rights action while ignoring what Israel started as – one of the largest havens in history after one of the worst atrocities, so terrible it gained its own word; holocaust. 

To ignore the many offers of peace deals that were rejected is to rewrite history. But to ignore the suffering of people who have a governing body that runs on terror and corruption is to deny reality and avoid our own collective moral compass. To fall back on the holocaust as a reason why we cannot do better today is a disservice to ourselves and to the memory of those who perished. But we should not forget either. To forget is to erase and to erase gives way to real danger. 

There is no space to find the balance of those huge things. There is no space for squaring past inflicted inhumanity with finding humanity now. There is no space to see that Israel as a country must protect the lives of its people but that the Palestinian civilian lives are just as worthy of protection. A life is a life is a life. 

When online expression is one of the most frequently used and public forms of communication, it is hard to imagine that there might not be space for something. But I am too afraid to post about my sadness when there are deaths on both sides. I am nervous to express my frustration at organisations who gloss over Israel’s responsibility to constantly reassess the measure of its response to potential and enacted threats, while simultaneously expressing my frustration with groups who support terrorist activities and deny documented history, while also wanting to express my sadness and frustration that there are people who feel so desperate, living in an environment so toxic that they resort to acts of terror, so immersed in this ideology of hate that they are convinced it is worth sacrificing their own lives in attacks that result in their suicide. There’s more of course. Bigger feelings, sadder statements on both sides and there is no sentence long enough to encompass them all. So uncharacteristically, I shut up. 

My thoughts are tangled and sometimes it feels like there is not enough space in my head nor out of it to express a compassionate but uncompromisingly honest middle ground. Certainly not one that anyone who takes a firm one side or the other position will hear. Sometimes I struggle to hear it because it goes round and round and on and on and the thoughts circle but do not land anywhere except they keep trying to do the impossible and be on both sides.

There is no room made for those who want to shine a light onto both sides and bring both sets of agendas and operations out of the shadows and into that light. There is legitimate fear. There is death. But there is no meeting in the middle. 

In an extreme situation, only extreme opinions are welcome. You’re either for or against, there is no in between so get off that fence. To show moderation is weakness. I find when I do talk about this, I’m always taking the other side to the person I’m speaking to because if they’re further along the scale in one direction than I am, I feel compelled to point out the other side. There are staunchly pro-Israel people who would describe me as a Palestinian sympathiser and ally. There are fully Palestinian supporters who would describe me as their enemy. I feel I am neither and perhaps I am both. I am not on the fence for there is no fence. I am in no man’s land. 

I don’t post my moderation because when I see others bravely try, it only elicits shouting from both sides, incendiary comments and inflammatory statements. Of course there is some support but mostly it descends into heels dug in, insults and a shut down on hearing the other side.

I hear of people with their bags packed waiting to see if they’ll have to leave the UK because they don’t feel safe here. Where will they go? To Israel, where they’ll feel safer and will be accepted. Jews fleeing for safety was the very reason for which the state of Israel was built after all. I see people declaring how no one understands Israel and we should not judge what we do not know. I see all Jews being branded as murderers for believing in the right of the state of Israel to exist because of what happened to their grandparents or Torah or a whole bunch of other reasons. I see this branding from the same people who claim they’re definitely not anti-Semitic, just anti-Israel. For every point one side can make the other side has 7 statements that start with “Yes but what about….” and this goes both ways because the conflict is long and messy and tangled and you cannot untie it. You cannot undo it. It is too late for that, when so much has been done. I see people over simplifying to the point of absurdity. If it were simple would we, the world, not have fixed it by now? We will not and cannot know the full story for it extends backwards and forwards in time, on and on and on and we are not there. We do not know. 

People wait to hear what will happen. The question hangs in the air – will the Jews align to condemn or condone Israel? The feeling I get from outside the community is that we’re all somehow responsible, somehow united. But are we? The expectation is that one Jew with one opinion will speak for us all but how can that ever be true? Have we learned nothing from the division on our own turf with our own politics? Outside the Jewish community it feels as if you can only be accepted as a Jew if you renounce ties to Israel and condemn everything they do. Inside the community it sometimes feels as if you’re branded a traitor or self-hater if you don’t support Israel’s every move. Typically, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. And at the same time as wondering how I could be deemed physically responsible for this, I do feel part of that collective moral responsibility. There is no way to win for the moderate, thinking Jew.  

When you stand in the middle of such a conflict and look both ways it is hard to find hope. There is fury and there is fear. Righteous indignation runs through the veins of both groups of people whose lives are lived against the backdrop of a living volcano made from layers of human lava. There are beacons of compassion in some organisations and people who work with people on the ground to build community bridges but it seems to me that this will not be fixed from the bottom up and those at the top are so far removed they can’t hear us. We cannot control what either side does. We cannot control what a country such as America does, when they choose to stoke the fire and feed the flames.

 I do not post about this much because I feel like I will never know enough to feel confident putting something out for the world to see. It is too hard to unpack and write coherently all the conflicting feelings I have and try to justify them all. I can turn it over and over and over in my mind but I cannot fix it. My opinions, my feelings do nothing and leave me feeling impotent and ignorant and wrong whichever way I turn because there’s always the other side. I have no impact on a conflict a continent away. My prayers for peace are not heard and no one cares what I think really anyway. It is hubris to suggest otherwise. This is not to say that one should do nothing, rather that I do not know what is to be done. 

 My younger brother is in the Israeli army and I can’t decide what scares me more – the fact that he will face terrorist groups or the fact that he will hold a gun that he is trained to use while he does it.

The Smaller Dorito Is Part of The Bigger Picture

 

A perfectly normal, crunchy Dorito thank you very much.

Yesterday in a stunning move of are you fricking serious, PepsiCo – owner of Doritos – announced #Ladydoritos. This move initially sounded like it must be a joke because I don’t know if you’ve heard but we’re in 2018 and we’ve never needed lady crisps before (can we call them crisps? I know academically that they’re tortilla chips but calling them just chips feels more Americanised than I’m fully Britishly comfortable with) and it’s starting to feel like someone got a bunch of creatives in the room and set them the task of finding fresh and innovative ways to ruin literally anything and just crowbar those patriarchal stereotypes right on in. I don’t believe Jeff from marketing sitting on the back table was serious when he said “crisps without the crunch for the ladies”, I believe he was just seeing how far he could take the joke but nope here we are and Jeff is probably living an emotional rollercoaster of feeling like he’s totally nailing life followed by a sinking feeling that he might get fired for the backlash.

 

No one understands you Jeff.

Anyway the point is that this article (which I’m going to quote extensively) from the New York Post made its way onto my newsfeed telling me in the headline “Doritos to make ‘lady-friendly chips that don’t crunch for women” so I didn’t bother opening it. I rolled my eyes and continued about my day living grumpily as a sceptical woman in the patriarchy. Because doesn’t it sound utterly ridiculous? Isn’t half the point of crisps that they crunch? I mean, they’re literally called crisps ffs. It’s in the name. To me it just suggests that they’re going to make soggy pieces of something in a bag and I don’t believe anyone of any gender wants that. So I mostly ignored it because I thought the mild uproar and sarcastic comments would pretty much be covered by other people. I like to comment when I feel like I’ve got something useful to say and to be honest, I don’t even like crisps so I didn’t think I’d be adding anything that wouldn’t have already been said.

Then I was nudged by a friend into bothering to open and read the article and I saw that this wasn’t a weird assumption that they’d arrived at by chance or jest – no. This was actually researched and women apparently “do not like to crunch loudly or lick their fingers when eating in front of others” according to Global chief exec Indra Nooyi who took time out of her busy 1952 schedule to visit us in the 21st century.

Indra also provided this gem: “You watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor [sic], and the broken chips in the bottom. Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers.”

WHEN DO YOU EVER WATCH A LOT OF YOUNG GUYS EATING TORTILLA CHIPS? WHERE? ARE YOU HIDING IN BUSHES WITH BINOCULARS INDRA? I LITERALLY NEVER DO THIS. ARE WE SUGGESTING THAT THE TARGET MARKET RESEARCH GROUP FOR THIS WAS A BUNCH OF PORN STARS MAKING SOME KIND OF CRISP BASED PORNOGRAPHY? I CANNOT IMAGINE HOW THEY THINK THEY KNOW THIS. THERE IS A LOT I DON’T UNDERSTAND HERE.

I spy me some manly crunchers Robin. Not a woman in sight.

Also have they ever even been anywhere in public? I have definitely seen women pouring crisps into their mouths and getting to the crumbs at the bottom. In my just-as-valid-and-controlled-as-theirs research.

And finally: “It’s not a male and female as much as ‘are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?’ And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon.”

That is literally “a male and female” you utterly bullshit ridden buffoons. 

So I made some snarky comments like “I’m not ashamed of pouring in public, I’d like to do some pouring of crisps but onto Indra Nooyi’s face” and also pointed out that today is 100 years since women got the vote in Britain and right now we’re fighting against patronising crap like PepsiCo trying to give us unnecessary #LadyDoritos. If we’ve got equality in voting surely we can have equality in tortilla chips? Right? Guys? Hello?
Oh you couldn’t hear me over all my manly chip crunching? YOU’RE WRONG I HAVE EXCELLENT DICTION AND THIS IS WRITTEN DOWN.

Stuff like that, laden with snark and general displeasure and designed to make you laugh and grimace at the stupidity of it all. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something more is afoot here.

Because I thought about it and actually I do believe the (presumably uncontrolled and mostly anecdotal) research. It probably did show that women don’t like to lick their fingers or pour crumbs into their open mouths in public. I believe that there is a self consciousness around eating that is prevalent and predominantly felt by women. I believe what they’re saying – not that women want soft crisps (idiots, no one wants that) but that women do feel a pressure to maintain an outdated, yet weirdly ingrained demure image. I believe that women have been made to feel that relishing and enjoying food is unattractive. And of course, we have been conditioned to believe that we must be attractive at all times. However will we feel any self worth if we are not struggling to squeeze ourselves into society’s godawful tiny, contradictory, narrow, unattainable frame of what a woman should be? We are constantly told we should be given less. The size of the bags will now be designed to fit into women’s handbags…but this is bizarre and nonsensical too. Loads of men don’t carry bags AT ALL* and I don’t see Pepsi trying to make pocket sized Doritos. Women’s bags are often huge – if anything we should be getting an even bigger pack! The justification here doesn’t make sense. If I wanted them, why would I choose to buy a small bag of soft crisps when I could buy a big bag of crunchy ones? Women are being utterly shafted by sexism and it’s a problem of the patriarchy’s own making. And once again we’re being told to eat differently, eat less, that’s not for women (incidentally, you don’t want to get me started on Yorkies) it’s just for men because it’s big and crunchy and might taste good or make a bit of a mess. God forbid a woman should look anything less than impossibly perfect at all times. God forbid a woman should just enjoy a snack without giving a shit about how she looks eating it, who is judging her or what calories are in it. Men are so confident about their public appearances they literally whip out their dicks and piss in the street on the reg. Women can’t even eat a packet of shit crisps without being judged negatively and given a poor substitute that we don’t even want. And why? Just because people think we don’t go for the crumbs at the end of the pack? Or because they don’t want us to?

The bottom line for me is:

The patriarchy has created a situation. The patriarchy now perceives it to be a problem. The patriarchy has created a solution that fits its own agenda of keeping men and women divided and in the process, giving women less and making women less.

I reserve the right to eat anything crunchy exactly like this.

It’s really easy to dismiss something like this as irrelevant or unimportant, but it ties into the bigger picture. So much of continuously fighting for equality for women does. We can have a laugh about this one sure, but we mustn’t forget where it’s really coming from and why there’s a pretty shady layer of dark misogyny underneath it all. Because if women were constantly taught not to care about our appearances so much, if we were told to source our self worth and value somewhere internally rather than from others’ perceptions of us, what would all these companies do? They wouldn’t be able to exploit our self conscious insecurities any more, that’s for sure. So don’t let them bullshit us with this nonsense. It’s 2018 already – this stuff is getting *really* old.

*BECAUSE POCKETS ARE ALSO A FEMINIST ISSUE. Just think – if we weren’t told we need to carry so much bloody stuff around with us all the time we wouldn’t need bags. If we had decent pockets on our clothing we’d be able to put all we actually need into them. If we had pockets that were equal in usefulness to men’s pockets no one would suggest making handbag sized things but if they did they’d be bigger and more glorious and generally better and not smaller, shitter patronising flavoured crisps soggy tortilla chips with an aftertaste of sexism. PUT THAT IN YOUR POCKET AND SET FIRE TO IT.

Crispy, messy snacks. PREACH.

When PC Means Presidents Club and Fundraising Means Sexual Harassment

 

Just to be clear, this isn’t a photo from the event. It’s just the least offensive stock image I found.

The Financial Times have done a piece of undercover journalism that you might think happened in 1958 but in fact occurred in 2018. In case you haven’t seen it, you can read it here – they’ve dropped the paywall so off you go, no excuses now.

It’s been written carefully enough so that although people have been named and shamed, no one has been directly accused of anything and there is even a disclaimer to say that the seating plan the Financial Times has seen is not a guaranteed understanding of the list of actual attendees. But to be honest I don’t care. It’s enough of a totally galling blow to the concept of respect for women or treating us like humans that this event exists. It’s enough that the men invited are at the tops of their fields, are influencers and big names. It’s enough that the only women who are in the room are the ones who are there for entertainment, for display. It is enough that this event has existed for 33 years in whatever iterations it has been and not one of those men has ever thought to blow the whistle. For. Shame. All of them should feel as sick about themselves as I do.

While reading this article I kept thinking “oh it can’t get worse, can it?”

But of course, it can. You’d think I wouldn’t be quite so naive as to think that all those things are enough. The exposé mentions that the dinner raised more than two million pounds for charity…but what is the cost of that? Sure, these men are cracking out their cheque books and bidding on mostly innocuous high end prizes (the slogan “spice up your wife” for the plastic surgery prize was a fresh wave of totally disrespectful, reductive to women nausea) but who is really paying the price of this event for these charities? Because to me it looks like that money comes at the cost of the safety of 130 young women. Someone might bid £400 000 on feeding his ego  sorry, on naming a children’s hospital wing after himself, but if he’s doing it while sticking his hand up an 18 year old’s skirt who thought she was coming to do a black tie event as a hostess…doesn’t that somehow defeat the point?

“Oh but it’s not the men’s fault that there are young women there” – sure, the men didn’t hire them and we’ll come on to who did in a minute, but it’s funny because I’ve been in a workplace or a restaurant before as a customer or an employee or a visitor. I’ve never felt the need to grope someone. I’ve never felt the need or the desire really to just sexually assault and harass someone while they offer me a drink. You’d think these moguls and businessmen might be able to take some kind of responsibility for their actions right? We all get to decide how we behave. One of them could have blown the whistle. One of them could have decided this wasn’t an acceptable way to treat other human beings. I’ve also worked as a hostess for events before but you know what? I’ve never had someone stick their hand up my skirt while I’m offering round canapés and been told that “it’s a Marmite job. Some girls love it, and for other girls it’s the worst job of their life and they will never do it again” by the woman who has hired me. As if I’m supposed to just take it as part of acceptable working conditions.

So speaking of Caroline Dandridge…I find it really hard to contain my loathing of this person. To put it bluntly, what kind of person, what kind of woman sends young women into an environment where there is such a high risk of them being sexually assaulted, they’re basically meant to expect it? Except they’re not. The men are referred to as “annoying”. Not “harassing you and illegally touching your body without consent.” Not “in an environment set up for them to feel like they’re allowed to commit a sexual crime.” Just “annoying”. I can think of lots of things that are annoying – people humming, public transport being delayed, when I leave the house without an umbrella because it’s sunny but then the weather changes really quickly and suddenly it starts to rain and I wish I had that umbrella. Those are all prime examples of annoying things. You know what’s not annoying Caroline? It’s when you go to work as a young woman expecting to serve drinks and instead of that you get groped and touched against your will.

But it’s ok everyone, it’s ok because Caroline Dandridge’s organisation Artista has what the Financial Times calls “an enforcement team” and when you read that phrase you think “oh phew, good they’ve got people in place to protect the young women in case things get out of hand” but no that’s actually not what they’re for. They’re there “prodding less active hostesses to interact with dinner guests”. So the enforcement team are there to make sure the young women don’t take themselves out of an uncomfortable or difficult situation where they feel their personal safety is compromised. The enforcement team are there to make sure the women don’t escape to safety or take a break from being physically violated.

“Maybe they can go to the toilets!” You might think, in a desperate attempt to find a place of respite. Yes! Good idea – the toilet! That’s a place where for decades women have sought refuge, hidden and cried and regrouped themselves to return to the battle that is working and living in the patriarchy. The toilet – that will feel safe. They can hide there for 10 minutes and-Nope. According to the report from the Financial Times:

“Outside the women’s toilets a monitoring system was in place: women who spent too long were called out and led back to the ballroom. A security guard at the door was on hand, keeping time.”

Oh did I mention also that their phones are taken away? But if something awful does go down, they’re told by Caroline Dandridge to contact her except she phrases it as “if any of the men become too annoying”. How does she want them to contact her? By pigeon? By standing a minute and looking for her? Oh no wait, stand for too long and you’ll be hustled by someone throwing you back into the threatening situation you’re trying to leave. This woman has systematically stripped 130 young women of their ability to have any kind of safety. She’s taken away their ability to rest for a minute and regroup. She’s timing them on the toilets. No partners are allowed at the event. No support system. And she’s taken away their phones. So no outside contact or ability to call for outside help. This woman has single handedly enabled a room full of already entitled men to take advantage of women who are younger and more vulnerable than them. Caroline Dandridge tells them their phones will be “safely locked away” but there’s nothing safe about it. Well OK maybe the phones will be safe, but the women certainly won’t be.

“But these women are choosing to be there and some of them have done it before and some of them love it!” I hear you defend. You might be right. Some of them probably need the money and make that choice knowingly. And some of them are strong enough to draw their own lines and decide what they do and don’t want and will be confident enough to say no when it’s too much. And some of them weigh up the choices and decide that even if they hate it maybe it won’t be so bad. But to me it sounds like it would be horrific. I mean, I’m not tall or particularly thin so I’d never make the cut but tables of older, rich and entitled men who think that because they have enough money they’re entitled to touch me wherever and however they want, who are then put into a room where they’re basically told that yes this is true…that’s a combination of about 7 different nightmares for me. These are men who have real power, real influence and could be part of more than just giving money to places. These are men who could be part of a social change, who  could ensure their companies and spaces are safe not just for men but for women too. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man but if I were in that room and I knew that there were women being touched in ways they don’t want I couldn’t sit back and let it happen. I couldn’t just keep presenting or eating or standing there. I’d feel a sense of responsibility to them.

This is not the same as sex work or the sex industry. Because I imagine for this “black tie event” the job description doesn’t outline the need to accept a man groping you as part of your duties. There are many varying circumstances around sex work but I think generally the people know they’re going to do a job that involves some kind of sexual interaction. I don’t think that’s the case here and if it were made clear from the start I wonder how many legal ramifications Artista would run into. I wonder how many applicants they’d get. I wonder if the whole event would still want to run this way if they admitted openly what they’re doing and how they’re operating, if they directly addressed what they’re expecting of the young women who come to work there and what they’re allowing and enabling for the men who leer at them. This event happens and keeps happening because it’s allowed to be a well kept secret. The men won’t tell and the women have to sign non-disclosure agreements, so they can’t tell…or at least not without serious legal and probably financial consequences. I don’t imagine any of the “students…actresses, dancers or models [who] did occasional hosting work to make ends meet” can afford those kinds of consequences.

There are so many points of disgust for me that I could go on. I could write thousands of words about the power imbalance, the system, the patriarchy, how women are set up again and again to be taken advantage of and used and disregarded as people. But I have to end somewhere. So my final port of call is to commend the two women who went undercover and reported on the event. The women who may or may not have known what they were in for, the women who had to be “tall, thin and pretty” (the three criteria us women must have for any job of course) for £150 for a night’s work plus £25 for a taxi home. The undercover reporters who may well be those three perfectly fine things to be but who had to reduce themselves to be seen as being only those things for the sake of this job. And what a totally fantastic job they have done. If this were a show I’d be on my feet applauding and I don’t think everyone deserves a standing ovation. But these women do and I hope the consequence of their stellar reporting is that this event is brought to its knees. I hope that at every point there are people who will take a stand – the organisers, the supporters, the members and the charities who benefit from this event. I hope they all rethink what they’re doing; why they feel the need to behave this way and why they want to treat young women in this way.

I hope they raise even more money next year by inviting women to sit at the tables, rather than parading them to grope and sexually harass in their evening’s workplace.

 

Update: within hours of the story breaking but after I wrote this piece, it was announced that the Presidents Club will no longer be operating as a fundraising body and the charity dinner will not be held again.

The 5 Types of Social Media Misogynist

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There you are, hanging out on Facebook minding your own business judging and commenting on everyone else’s business, sharing harmless occasionally controversial opinions and then bam. You’re hit with unexpected but not necessarily surprising misogyny. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of dealing with it.

In light of all the revelations about sexual harassment and abuses of power in various industries – Hollywood, government, theatre, tech –  here’s a handy (but not handsy) list to help you identify the different kinds of sexist you encounter on the joyful cesspool that is the Internet.

The Hypocrite

When is the man not the man? When it’s a man you like. 

This is the guy who seems, from all his outgoing posts and comments and political leanings to be anti capitalist, anti establishment, anti government and all about the anarchy and free love. Unfortunately his damn the man attitude only extends so far. He’s all about human rights and supporting the underdog. Except when the underdog is a woman and she’s challenging his male privilege and feelings of entitlement to sex with women. Oops. Bad underdog!

“All people deserve to have rights and define what inequalities they face except for women because their vaginas mean they can’t be trusted and they don’t know anything. Come on girls – don’t you want sex in the world? Why can’t anyone just ask for sex when they want it? We’re all consenting adults here. Gosh just say no if you don’t want to see your boss’s dick in the office, who cares if he threatened you and your reputation and your job? You’re not oppressed, there’s no power abuse. You can still say no. What’s that ladies? I can’t hear you over the sound of my own giant public-wank-defending manhood.” 

Guess you’ll have to type louder and more importantly 2 octaves lower for him to listen.

The Contradictator

I agree with you, but shut up and read what I’m saying because I’m right.

He’s so keen to keep you engaged in a conversation he’s practically holding you hostage. He’ll lull you into a false sense of security with that pesky agreement but watch out for those baiting questions. Ultimately you’re not really having the same conversation. He will not rest until he wears you down and make him your definitely always right and never wrong about anything king.

“I agree with everything you’re saying but…I don’t disagree but…I hear what you’re saying but…everything I write after those statements demonstrates exactly how much I don’t agree with you. Maybe I should admit I don’t actually agree with you. But then what if I’m wrong?? I just can’t bear the idea of being wrong about something. Publicly. No, not possible of course I’m not wrong. God it’s so hard. I dis…a….no it’s too much, I agree with you but…Phew. That was close. It almost looked like I was actually paying attention to what you were saying. Better to be safe and just say I agree.”

Just admit it dude. You don’t agree.

Calamity John

If it isn’t rape, it isn’t bad enough. So don’t call him. 

This one’s a bit more complex because at times he appears to be kind of OK. He likes your posts calling for more support for rape victims. He shares your smart statistic based memes about how many women die per week due to domestic violence (it’s 2, by the way. 2 women every week in England and Wales.) But if you’re looking for nuance this is not your guy. Unfortunately whether it’s the pay gap, catcalling or someone asking to take their penis out and showing you regardless of your answer, he’s not interested. If it’s not rape, it’s not a problem. Just like how doctors started working on the cure for cancer and immediately abandoned the less serious problems of fixing broken limbs and treating tonsillitis.

“Don’t you think you’ve got enough equality? In Saudi Arabia women aren’t even allowed to try on clothes in a shop! You can vote, you can drive, you can go out in public…what more do you want? Why is it so bad to go up to a woman in the street and tell her how hot she is? Do you want us men to, like, never talk to women?? Do you want us to never ask for sex? Would that make you happy? No, I don’t think the pay gap is a problem. There are real criminals in the world. Focus on them! I mean, it’s not like you’re being raped all the time.”

Oh wait. https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php

If you’re going to be insultingly reductive, at least get your facts straight.

The Twister

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No matter what you say…no that’s it. It doesn’t matter what you say. 

You’re giving it your best, measured and calm responses but it’s like this guy isn’t even reading them! Spoiler alert: he probably isn’t. And even if he is, he’s reading only what he wants to see. Like any shape-shifter this one is kind of wily and will wriggle around in what he’s saying and what he thinks you’re saying. He’s deflecting your points and twisting your words and dragging you down a conversational rabbit hole that leads to nowhere useful.

You: Given how much sexual assault there is, it’s not like there’s just one man running around the whole world doing it to every woman. There must be a similar number of men who are perpetrating this kind of behaviour. And that’s a fundamental problem with society that ties into privilege and the patriarchal system in which we live. And a lot of this stuff goes unreported so really we don’t have the full picture but it’s probably a lot worse than the statistics show. 

Him: So what you’re saying is all men are rapists? You know, men get raped too. Have you even thought about that? What you’re saying is really offensive. Not all men are rapists I can’t believe you would say that.”

Ummm…that isn’t what was said.

The Defender

Your Honour, the Defence will never rest.

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It doesn’t matter how many people are brave enough to blow the whistle and publicly say what happened to them. It doesn’t matter how many years these allegations span. It doesn’t matter how high profile the person revealing their story is. This guy does not want to hear that someone he enjoys might have done something wrong. And look, I get it. I wouldn’t want to hear bad things about someone I like either. But the incidence of false reporting is as low as 2%. So if that’s the case there’s a 98% chance that someone isn’t lying. Those are the kind of stats you think people ought to believe. Not this guy!

“I know he literally admitted to doing the things he was accused of but we still don’t know if it’s true. I mean, what did the women do to him? If he did it why didn’t they report it at the time? Oh they did? Well, we don’t know the full story. I’d like to see some proof that he did the things they and he are saying he did.”

Seriously.

This list is not exhaustive because of course there are more than 5 types of people in the world! Special mentions go out to:

  • The guy who immediately answers “But not all men…” to every point anyone has ever made about what is actually quite a lot of men. We get it. There are 7.6 billion people in the world. Nothing is going to be all of anyone.
  • The guy who just loves the system and believes it’s there for a reason and we shouldn’t be taking these matters into the public eye so much. Never mind that this system totally serves him and is currently failing to protect the less privileged, more vulnerable women who constantly have to take this shit.
  • The gaslighter coming in with the classic “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” No. I don’t think we’re overreacting. It’s not a bit much. And if it is, it’s because we haven’t had enough until now.
  • The guy whose “apology” is all about him. He “has a problem and needs to seek help”. Funny how some people would rather believe they are unwell than admit to misogynistic behaviour and sexism and a total lack of respect for women. Anything to shirk actually taking responsibility eh?

Good luck out there people. It’s an infuriating, exhausting world.

Harvey Weinstein, us too.

A few years ago, I went to a wedding and was sat next to a guy whose name is being changed to David because even though he didn’t respect my physical space or the law of consent, I respect privacy and the laws of defamation. I’ve actually written about him before but this is a brief summary of what happened:

He – a man I knew only as an acquaintance – grabbed my breast under the pretext of tickling under my arm when I happened to lift it. I had given consent for neither of these attempts at intimate physical contact. He did this at a wedding dinner. He did this in front of his wife to whom he’d been married for 6 weeks. He did this at a full table of wedding guests.

When I yelled at him, humiliated and shocked, he laughed. I was told to calm down and not make scene. I was shushed. His wife rolled her eyes and said nothing.

Everyone. Said. Nothing. 

When I told a friend of mine about it a couple of days later, she shrugged and said “That’s David.” As if that makes it OK. That’s just who he is and we all accept it and allow it and what can you do?

*Shrug*

It is being reported that people are coming forward now in higher numbers about Harvey Weinstein. The implication from these reports, to me anyway, is that Harvey had so much money, power, influence and privilege and that’s why no one spoke up. I understand he was intimidating and people were afraid for their careers..but David wasn’t intimidating. He was an extremely privileged, entitled shit. To me David and Harvey are interchangeable because although he was no Harvey Weinstein, the attitude is the same – we know what he’s like but we say nothing. 

And so to Harvey – countless assaults, harassments even rapes later and you have a man who is serially high on his own power. He is above the law because everyone else has let him be. It is constantly reinforced that he can do whatever he wants because…he already is doing whatever he wants, however he wants. So he makes women uncomfortable, he takes from them whatever he desires. Their desires or consent don’t enter into it. Isn’t it funny how we talk about consent? As if it’s a social requirement and not a legal one. There are numerous reports of him ignoring consent, threatening careers, paying 8 women off and now multiple allegations of rape are emerging. This man hasn’t broken social etiquette, he has broken the law. And people let him. Just as people let David assault me with a classic shushing of the angry woman and an apologetic shrug of their shoulders at him.

In 2015 Courtney Love was asked if she has any advice for aspiring young actresses in Hollywood. Her response, caught on film is

“I’ll get libelled if I say it…” (She looks around furtively)

“If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.”

That was two years ago.

Now people like Colin Firth who knew 25 years ago are coming out and saying they feel guilty. This is Colin Firth’s statement in the Guardian

“I am extremely pleased that Sophie [Dix] is speaking out after so many years,” he said. “I ran into her at a party some time after filming Hour of the Pig – around 25 years ago. What I heard, it turns out, was part of a horrifying pattern. Other women have been hurt since. And those of us who didn’t act on our one bit of knowledge – and especially those of us who went on to work with Weinstein – have that on our conscience. I admire Sophie’s courage. This can’t have been easy.”

Good. He’s right. He and everyone else who knew should feel guilty.

From the moment they knew what was happening and stayed silent they became complicit in his acts. They became partially responsible for every future sexual assault, for every possible rape, for every moment a woman was invited to see Harvey Weinstein and made to feel small or threatened or abused because the people who knew allowed it to keep happening. Many of these people have power in their own right. Many of these people could have prevented years of this. Every one of these people stayed silent.

I understand that 25 years ago Colin and the rest of Hollywood didn’t have the Internet as we do now, so public exposure wouldn’t have been as widespread and instantaneous. It shouldn’t matter. I understand that 25 years ago it was a different time and everyone just accepted that women get sexually harassed as part of their daily lives. I don’t even need to comment on why that’s so fucked up. But the list of women speaking up now is much longer than it could have been. More than 30 women have come forward. Women who are actors, producers, established or up and coming. There are stories of women pairing up to go to meetings with him to protect each other. People knew what was happening.

Some of the reports are focusing on how unattractive he is and suggesting that it’s all much worse because he’s old and ugly. So…if he were young and fit this would be fine? His physical appearance is totally irrelevant. We’re still perpetuating such problematic narratives and ignoring that this happens everywhere, all the time at multiple levels. If you look at social media today you’ll see #metoo filling up a lot of timelines. You’ll see a lot of women speaking out about their experiences. It’s an attempt at progress – the idea that all women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault or even rape come out into the open about it and break the taboo of silence that exists around such acts is great. It’s intended to show how many of us have been subjected to this kind of abusive treatment and don’t talk about it all the time. That all of us have encountered a Harvey Weinstein of sorts and all of us have stayed silent and allowed it to pass. It’s a great, brave idea until you realise that it’s not so easy for all women to do, it’s putting the onus on women (again) and is quite a flippant way for some to share what might be deeply personal and traumatic experiences. For more information on that read this article, “Don’t you think we’ve done enough? by Elisheva Sokolic. Reports suggest that this whole business with Harvey Weinstein was one of the worst kept secrets, known by half of Hollywood. Comedian Andy Hamilton appeared on ‘Have I Got News For You’ this week and he said on Harvey claiming to be fighting his demons:

“Rich people have demons, poor people go to prison.”

If he didn’t have money he’d be a convicted sex offender by now.  This is one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and he is finally falling backwards over the mountain of women who have built up as he thought he had trampled over them. I’m so glad they’ve finally risen up and toppled him over.

There are at least 8 women who have been paid for their silence. It’s hard to know how to feel about these people who threatened or tried and failed to stand up to a bully. Sometimes it’s not possible to speak out. If you have no support network, or the powerful party threatens to ruin your life by overwhelming you with their resources, burying you in debt and legal procedure, I imagine it can feel impossible to fight back. The mental strain of this on top of the ordeal you’ve been through – a violation of your body and rights – can be too much. On the other hand they played into his narrative of being above the law and untouchable. With enough money you can buy off any problem.

So if you can speak up against this kind of abusive, illegal behaviour you must.

You must because you can and someone else can’t.

You must because you could be, no, almost certainly will be saving the person going into that hotel meeting room after you. The one who doesn’t have a buddy to go with her. The one who hasn’t been let in on this sickening secret…yet.

It’s preventable. It really is. I am certain we all know someone who treats people worse than they should. But that person still has friends, lives their life as if they are entitled to be however they choose. They see no consequences to treating women like pieces of free meat to which they can help themselves.

We have a collective responsibility to act if we can, when we know of such things, when we see them or hear of them. We must break this culture of silence around so many issues. In this case it’s sexual assault.

My grandma sometimes says to me, “Silence means assent” and frankly it’s a really creepy phrase that’s always bothered me but in this case it’s true. Staying silent says “Yes that’s allowed” to the actions of an industry-known sexual predator. Staying silent says yes to David and the men who thoughtlessly leer, catcall, whistle, harass, grab, abuse, assault, rape, demean, pressure, threaten, intimidate, reduce and chip away at women.

It’s endemic, woven into the fabric of our society that this happens and we say nothing. We are afraid of the consequences of whistle blowing but we should be more afraid of the consequences of not whistle blowing, for they are far more sinister. It happens and it happens and it happens again. It is not good enough to know and do nothing to help. It is not acceptable to come out, but only after 20 other people did, with utterly impotent regret. Now, when we all know about it and it’s safe when in reality it’s been safe enough for those people for years, they suddenly jump on the bandwagon already full of people who did nothing.

So to the silent bystander who does not speak out against the things they know are wrong –

You are not as bad as the perpetrator but you are not much better. You are an enabler. Your silence enables someone to hurt others.

You have power, more than you know. So what will you do with it?

If you can, I urge you to speak out. If you can’t I hope you know someone who can and that they do.

We are all responsible for what happens around us when we have knowledge of it. We must do better than this.

Anxiety Achievements and Goals

This morning, I woke up like this.

And no… it was not in a Bey way. Not all of us are #Flawless upon arising. In fact I would say many of us wake up, get through the day and go to sleep again as deeply flawed human beings.

Within one minute of waking up I was inexplicably crying. Four bouts of tears later, holding a coffee and a pastry as I walked up the hill trying to get my shit together, I realised something. This was an achievement. Yes, this basic walking up the hill to work business was in fact something to be proud of. And all the steps before it were too.

Here is the list of things I did before that point that I believe were worthy of encouragement, congratulations and metaphorical pats on the back. They might not be every day but they really were today:

  • I managed to make it out of bed – this one is particularly impressive because I did really want to stay there and sleep for the whole day.

  • I got dressed

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I brushed my teeth and hair (yay hygiene and grooming!)            Image result for toothbrush hairbrush

  • I took a raincoat just in case (indicates an intention to make it to outside)

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  • I took 2 different outfit options for my important meeting. It wasn’t even a fashion show meeting
  • I didn’t cancel said meeting even though I thought quite seriously about not going to it

It may sound patronising and if you’ve never experienced anxiety you might not understand but something happens to your brain when the anxiety shit hits the functioning human in life fan. These basic things felt like the most daunting tasks in the world when my alarm went off this morning. They couldn’t possibly be done. I couldn’t do them. I didn’t have the supreme amount of superhuman energy it would take just to get my sad behind out of bed.

And yet…

I managed it. I did all of those things that most days take no thought at all and today took a careful strategy of gentle encouragement, talking myself through each task. And then after I got to work I did a whole load more, one thing at a time.

The goal posts of achievement have to change when your brain decides that it’s going to fold in on itself and flat out refuse to function for no apparent reason.

“Come on,” I reason with it. “Just tell me why I feel like this and we can all get on with our day. If you’re not going to work properly at least tell me why!”

Nope. Nothing. I can’t even figure it out for myself, let alone other people. Cue two more lots of crying once actually at work when lovely, kind people in the office ask if I’m OK. It’s actually really frustrating because I’d really like to know what my brain is doing but IT JUST WON’T TELL ME. So I can’t tell you. Maybe it’s stress? Is it stress? Well I do have a lot of work to do at the moment so maybe I should sit down and try to do some of that. Great. Now how do I get rid of this paralysing feeling of dread and fear in me that makes me feel like I can’t do anything? I can’t concentrate. And the longer I don’t do any work, the more work I feel I have piling up with less and less time in which to get it done. This doesn’t make any sense. I’m becoming my own worst enemy and I’m stuck in a horrible vicious circle.

And you know what else? It’s totally counter intuitive to be your own worst enemy when you know you have to go to work and present your best self in an important meeting where impressions are everything, and I’m not talking about the kind where you put on the strong accent and pretend to be Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver (“You talkin to me?“)

So you move the goal posts. You say “It’s not going to be a normal day today. And that’s OK.” And you forgive yourself. You forgive yourself for not being perfect and happy all the time. You forgive yourself for being sad and not even finding the reason. You tell yourself you’ll do your best, whatever that looks like today and that will have to be enough. And then you hope that other people will forgive you too and understand that you showed up today when it really looked like you wouldn’t. That your achievements look different today compared to another day or another person. But they still count. And you should be the one counting them because you did that, all by yourself. Well done you. Well done me.

I got through a horrible anxiety day today. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

…But Words Can Never Hurt Me

I’ve always been scared to write about this.

That’s kind of silly isn’t it? I mean, I’m a writer…I shouldn’t be scared to just…write. Last week I sat with my best friend in a Starbucks yelling so angrily at the top of my voice how I wanted him to suffer that a group of teenagers turned around, moving from pretending not to eavesdrop to full on reacting as if they were in the conversation.

“Bad break up,” I quipped.

“Five years ago!” She added.

“Cheers, that definitely makes me look less psychotic right now,” I replied.

Yeah, I need to write about it.

But I don’t really know how start. It’s like there’s just a brick where the words should be and no matter how many times I turn it over it doesn’t turn into what I want to say.

Some years ago I started dating someone who bullied me. He didn’t hit me. It’s so easy to define why someone physically abusive is bad. He didn’t physically do…well he didn’t really physically do anything. He wasn’t violent but he didn’t touch me affectionately either. There was very little warmth to him. Knowing myself as I do now, after 5 years of therapy (and still going strong – I should probably get her some wood for that anniversary because she’s officially my longest relationship) I can’t imagine why on earth I was with him. I can’t bear to think of how I let myself stay in that environment for so long – 2 weeks shy of a whole year. It makes my heart ache with hurt and anger for my younger self that I didn’t have the awareness or the confidence to call it out for what it was.

It was gas lighting, keeping secrets and lying. It was putting me down constantly. It was controlling. It was bullying. It was emotionally and verbally abusive.

I have a really excellent memory. Freakish almost. But I think back to that year, that relationship and I’ve blocked out whole chunks. Memory is a funny thing and while I think the forgetting protects me, I also sometimes think I’ve demonised him in my head. Recently I told someone a couple of the small things I remember clearly and definitely happening and they were so shocked by them and by how I just shrugged sadly after I said them…because I can’t do anything about them now. They happened and I can’t go back in time and stop myself or give myself the confidence I desperately needed to get out. So maybe between the forgetting and the remembering I have got some accuracy…what I’m saying is, I don’t know. I just know it wasn’t good.  Here are the clearest memories I have:

  • If I made a joke he’d glare at me and say, “You’re not funny, why are you talking?” even if everyone else laughed.
  • If I made a joke that he clearly found funny he still wouldn’t laugh, he’d just look at me with a kind of begrudgingly impressed smirk on his face and then say, “Well done.”
  • He once told me my best friend’s legs were nicer than mine and that they’d always be nicer than mine. That I could put makeup on my face to make that better and that’s great but I couldn’t ever change my legs.
  • He was only really nice to me when he was drunk.
  • I don’t drink alcohol and normally that’s not a problem. But I made him a ridiculous birthday meal of roast duck and a whole bunch of other things that took me all day to cook for him and his friends to enjoy and they played drinking games and when I said I couldn’t join in so could we do something else, he insisted they would be playing and suggested I start doing the washing up instead. It is one of only a few times I really wished I could drink because if I could drink maybe I wouldn’t feel so left out of the dinner party I had made. When I cried in bed that night he told me I was overreacting.
  • He lied about his sexual experience and then later when the truth came out, made me feel foolish for having believed him.
  • I remember crying at my parents’ kitchen table asking them why he didn’t love me. They didn’t have an answer.
  • I remember trying to break up with him and it’s the only time I’ve been so close to ending it with someone and been pulled back in because he kept telling me I was right and it felt like the first honest conversation. How can you not give someone the chance to redeem themselves when they’re finally being honest with you? Or at least you think they are.
  • He went on holiday with a female friend and I wasn’t comfortable with them sharing a room and for part of it, sharing a bed. He told me I had no say in the matter and did it anyway.
  • I once turned up at his place doing the whole underwear, heels and trench coat thing at 2am in a tight turnaround between trips for him. We only had about 3 hours and I’d also bought him snacks to take on his trip resulting in a farcical trip to Tesco, changing in my car into just underwear but forgetting the carpark was very well lit, bashing my head pretty hard on the horn attracting even more attention to myself. He made me wait while he played FIFA with his flatmate.
  • He expected me to go down on him but would make the biggest fuss about reciprocating. He made out like it was gross and he was so reluctant. Strangely enough reluctance about my body doesn’t make me feel great.
  • He would never offer me information freely so if I ever wanted to know more than “I’m out with friends” I’d have to ask each individual question – where are you going? What are you doing? Who are you seeing? I felt like I had to interrogate him which was weird for me because I’m neither a stalker nor an interrogator by nature. Everything was kept separate from me.
  • I remember we had 6 happy and fun weeks in the middle of the relationship. I remember how good he was to his friends and wished he could be that good to me. It wasn’t all bad. When something or someone is all bad you can’t hope that things will be better. You don’t stay when something is always consistently terrible. It’s not as simple as that. People are rarely so black and white. So I remember that how he treated his friends and those 6 decent weeks were all I needed to give me hope that one day he’d be that nice to me. Now I think 6 weeks isn’t very long at all. Now I think it was only good in comparison to how sad it was the rest of the time. Now I don’t know what I was doing for the other 44 weeks of our relationship.
  • I remember crying while I told him I loved him after nearly a year and saying that I knew I shouldn’t be saying it because I was sure he didn’t love me and I wished I didn’t love him. He replied, “I don’t love you.”  Nothing to soften the blow, nothing to make it gentler. He just came out and said it. I asked why he’d been with me for so long if he didn’t, what he thought he was doing, did he think he’d just wake up one day and it would appear? He said that’s how it had happened before but I didn’t buy it. I remember being totally heartbroken even though I had known it already, even though deep down somewhere I knew it wasn’t a good relationship. Confirmation of sad suspicion doesn’t actually make it better.

Those are just the bits I remember. People tried to tell me maybe it was just his style of banter but those don’t read like “banter” do they? And some of them might seem like they’re not that big a deal on their own but put them together and repeat over a year – the criticisms, the undermining, the constant verbal blows…you can see the picture forming and it’s not pretty.

I changed after that relationship. There was something hopeful that I no longer possessed. Perhaps it was naivety and that’s not meant to last, but I wonder if it’s supposed to disappear slowly rather than all at once. Since then I have developed a pathological need to know where I stand. I hate being in any kind of limbo for any amount of time. I need to know what I mean to someone, what the status of a relationship is in any context and I need to know it immediately. I came out of that relationship with less confidence in myself and less belief in my judgment. I had a whole giant bucket of trust issues and zero belief in the idea that someone might ever want or love me. When someone literally tells you they don’t love you and they’ve kept you around for a year to bully and toy with anyway…well it’s not hard to see why my self esteem was in shreds. It took me 4 years to have another relationship and at the start I had a huge hyperventilating, sobbing panic attack about the fact that I liked someone, that I was making myself vulnerable to another human being. Before, I’d been able to fall in love almost too easily and with the carefree abandon of someone who wanted to just give and make a partner happy. But after, I couldn’t even like someone without freaking out about how much of myself I might lose. Because what if I give and they just take? What if I give and not only receive nothing back, but actively give up a piece of me? How many pieces do I have left that are expendable?

Feelings and expressions of them had no place in our relationship. When I showed my feelings he treated me as less intelligent than I am. He treated me like I wasn’t worth listening to because my feelings made me irrational or less trustworthy. And when someone treats you like that for a long time, slowly in little increments you start to believe them. I started to believe him.

I have big, full, tidal waves of feelings. Sometimes when I feel something I talk almost entirely in hyperbole (I know right, what gave me away?) because the feelings are so big normal words don’t do them justice. Sometimes I’m so full of love it fills my chest like a balloon and I really think it might burst because I’m so happy to be surrounded by my closest people. That kind of overwhelming bubble of pure joy in your chest feeling. Sometimes something hurts me so much it spreads, also through my chest, like ice creeping over roots and freezing them, snaking around my heart and my lungs and squeezing so I can’t breathe because it’s so tight.

But this man to whom I gave so many of my feelings seemed to believe they made me weak. He seemed embarrassed by them as if they were an indication of something wrong with me, something I ought to be ashamed of. Feelings were not for showing to anyone, not even the person you’re dating for a year. I felt like I had to squash all my giant feelings into a tiny, tiny box. Make each of them as small as seeds and put them away.

Of course now I know my feelings don’t make me weak. My feelings make me open and strong. My feelings challenge other people and me and they certainly have no negative impact on my intelligence. My feelings take up space. Those seeds that I squashed down burst out of that box and they grew and grew. Now they’re the size of the biggest oak tree, no, the biggest oak tree forest you have ever seen. It’s a forest that gets richer, wilder, more complex and beautiful every time I let myself feel something new or scary, good or bad.

I once tried to confront him about how he treated me. Six months after we broke up we went for a walk in a park and I tried to talk. But he wouldn’t admit to treating me badly. He brushed me off instead of acknowledging how I felt and I certainly didn’t get an apology. He dismissed me – he didn’t say these words, but he might as well have called me a hysterical woman because he treated me like that’s what I was. He made out it wasn’t that bad, that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I think I even ended up apologising to him. For months I was so angry that I didn’t have answers. I couldn’t understand what had made him treat me that way for a whole year.

I have a different kind of anger now. I’m angry that I didn’t know better even though I couldn’t possibly have done. I’m angry that I didn’t have all the confidence and self worth that I have now. If someone tried to treat me like that again I’d call them out on that crap so damn fast. I’m angry, with the self awareness and knowledge of being nearly 29 for the young and trusting 22 year old that I was.  And I’m so deeply angry that I’ve had 5-6 years of dealing with the damage caused by that relationship and he was seemingly unaffected, unharmed. I was left in the rubble of myself trying to find and pick up pieces of me after he had set fire to them, and he just walked away.

I think I was scared to write about it because of how small and mentally unsafe he made me feel. It was like even talking about my feelings around this relationship conjured up that tiny box for squashing in those seeds. I still want answers. I still want an acknowledgement from him that what he did to me was wrong. I mean, I think it was cruel, but I’ll settle for wrong. I want an apology. I want to know if he ever regrets it, if he’s embarrassed by how he treated me rather than by my feelings about it. Everything was always on his terms – cold, professional almost, and obviously unfeeling. A blank and unreadable veneer covering over all the stuff he didn’t want people to see. I’d like there to be a conversation on my terms…but I’ll never start it because I’m still scared. I am terrified that if I approach him I’ll be dismissed again. I imagine he’d sneer and be kind of irritated by me, like I’m a fly buzzing around him, just something to bat away with his hand but not give any thought to. He’d say something like “It’s been years, why are you even still thinking about this? We’ve both moved on.” and we have. We’ve moved on to other relationships and I am happier than I have ever been in mine. But that would crush me. It would break me into tiny pieces and prove that I was right – that he was totally unaffected. That it was all such a total waste. He took things away from me and discarded them because they meant nothing to him. I don’t want to give him that conversation too. I don’t want to give him anything else.

I’m brave, open, smart and strong. I even quite like my legs, unchanged though they are. I am unashamed of my feelings and I take up space with all of them now. I have grown with my forest but I don’t think I could take it if I were to be brave enough to approach him and he burned my forest to the ground. I could not give him that too.

That at least is on my terms.