Monday, 19 March 2018

Two Seemingly Unrelated Stories...

1. The Born-Again Art-Lover 

There are some cultural things I get and some I don't. I love the theatre but I don't get opera. I love prose but not so much poetry. I am all about eighties music but fast forward ten years and most of the nineties output is lost on me. And then there is art. I mean 'pictures on the wall' art, not art in a generic sense. I am the proud recipient of a C grade GCSE in Art and Design. Yet sometimes art galleries leave me cold. I have been to just a few that stand out positively. In the mid-90s, the Tate in Liverpool had a David Hockney exhibition that I really liked. I walked around it while I waited for the bus. I think I was fifteen. Years later I saw Munch's 'The Scream' in Oslo. It was cool to see something I recognised as a famous painting. I also love the National Portrait Gallery. Blame my Tudor History A Level, but seeing real paintings of the Earl of Leicester and Mary Queen of Scots is pretty exciting. But paintings elsewhere, depicting seascapes and sunflowers don't really float my boat. 

So when a piece of art grabs me and forces me to stare for ages, it's quite a thrill. A few years ago, there was an exhibition about April Ashley in the Museum of Liverpool. (I visited on my birthday in 2014, when I was doing a 'food, drink and culture city-crawl'.) A large portrait was displayed as part of the exhibition. It was stunning. Huge in size, it dragged me in with it's vibrant colour and detail. And then, just as I was standing close, the detail became apparent. The entire background of the portrait was made up of smaller pictures of April Ashley from over the years. Her entire, trailblazing life was depicted in the background of her portrait. It only became clear when you stopped and really looked. I was mesmerised. I could have gazed at it all day.

Some time after that, I was idly scrolling through Instagram, when I saw a similar portrait. The writer Jonathan Harvey had shared a picture he had received as a present. Straight away I recognised it. Not exactly the same as the one in the museum, he had his very own version of April Ashley by what was obviously the same artist. At that point I looked him up. I felt the same gut-based-thrill as I had in the museum and I wanted to see more. Ben Youdan turned out to be a Liverpool-based artist. I followed him on all the social media formats I could find, and pondered how marvellous it would be, to be the sort of person that had real art and not just Ikea prints in their home. How marvellous it would be to mark a special occasion by having a piece of original art made, just for me....

Ah Ferris. You taught me how to look sophisticated in all manner of situations.

The End. 

2. A Pressure to Celebrate

A few weeks ago I wrote that I'm currently counting down to the big 4-0. Just as when I turned thirty, it feels an exciting time. A new start, re-setting goals and realising that age is all in the mind. And on top of that, it's something to celebrate. Woohoo!

My birthday has always been one of my favourite days. I imagine this is a product of big-family syndrome. It wasn't about expensive presents when I was a kid. It was about getting to choose what was for tea, and getting attention all day. Some years I had a party with friends in the house, some years it was just the family at home. At age six, it was a BIG DEAL. I had a party in a local hotel (now a nursing home) with Uncle Terry, the clown. (Sidebar - he was not my uncle.) I spent the morning of my eighteenth washing dishes at my weekend job before going home to an extended-family party-tea, and receiving a variety of kitchen-based presents ready for Uni. On my thirtieth, I woke up with a stonking hangover in San Francisco, and ended up eating minibar crisps and watching 'Enchanted' in bed. Some birthdays stand out more than others. Yet, regardless of what I actually do on the day, there is an inner glow that never fails to materialise as soon as I wake up. I walk tall and feel special. Even on past birthdays that I had to be in work, or the ones that I spent alone. 

So with the arrival of a new decade alongside the inner-sparkle of knowing it means something special, there has been a lot of pressure to mark it appropriately. Discussions started last year amongst my friends. The question, 'What are you doing for your 40th?' has incited a variety of responses from us all. From a simple, 'I don't know yet' to a pained expression and a heavy heart. The pressure to mark the event has been clear. It felt much easier at thirty. Possibly due to the lack of children in my friendship group, nights out and holidays were easier to arrange. Less responsibility and more freedom made celebrating the change of decade far easier. Things seem harder now. It's time to think outside the box. It's time to do something really cool to mark the next chapter of my life. I just need to work out what that is...

35 with Battenburg
39 with a personalised cake
37 up the Great Orme

The End.

So there we go then. Those are my two stories. La-di-da, la-di-da. So, yeah. Um... that's it I suppose. Except...HAVE YOU WORKED IT OUT YET? DO YOU GET IT? HAVE I MADE IT CLEAR?

Tune in next week for the conclusion of the exciting cliffhangers of 'How is Nicky celebrating turning forty' and 'Does Nicky become someone that celebrates a milestone by commissioning art?'*

*Spoiler alert - YES SHE DOES!!! Can you even believe it? As Ferris said, 'Life moves pretty fast.' He also said, 'You're still here? It's over.' Well it is for this week. All will be revealed next Monday. Join me!

Have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Never Too Busy For Me Time...

No green shoots today.
It's time for another seasonal update. Every few months I find myself being moved to write about the weather, time of year and specific routines that annually kick in. That time has come again. Usually this is something to do with the building excitement of Christmas, or the oppressive heat and sneezy allergies of the Summer. Today we are talking about Spring. 

Now, let's calm it right down. Spring in its own right, interests me not a jot. I can't get worked up into a tizzy of excitement about baby lambs and green shoots like some people can. That is not me. In fact, as I type, the North of England has just had its second bout of heavy snow, causing schools to close and cars to remain on driveways. Green shoots are not too visible right now. And I imagine the baby lambs are sheltering in a barn, rather than gamboling about the countryside. 

My desk top is FULL of it.
No, I'm not that bothered by Spring at all. But it seems Spring is bothered by me. This is the time of year that is without doubt, my absolute busiest. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I am run-ragged trying to fit in the usual work schedule alongside the list of additional chores and events that take place each year. To put it simply - hyperbole alert - pretty much everyone I know has a birthday in March. Everyone. There are presents to buy, cards to create (hey there, Moonpig!) and outfits to wash or buy for the accompanying meals and nights out. Plus, throw in Mother's Day and Easter and you've got yourself a busy few weeks. My iCal isn't enough this month so I've got a Word doc. carrying the extra weight of each day's tick list. This year seems more full-on than usual because of my own VERY SPECIAL BIRTHDAY at the end of the month. That in itself has it's own planning document. March 2018 is all about the paperwork. 

And so, in the midst of all this headfriggery, I need things to keep me sane. I need to stick to my writing routine even when it's busy, and I need relaxing things to do in the evenings, when I've hit my day's target and ticked off the extra jobs from my calendar. Let's take a look at some of those me-time activities now, shall we? Over to you, Nicky.

Thanks Nicky. Yes, first up, I have to share my latest Netflix binge. It is everything I need right now. Easy to watch, non-taxing on the brain yet ultimately profound in it's own quiet way, I urge you to watch Queer Eye. I never saw the original (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) back in the day, but the reboot is similar I believe. And yet Oh Em Gee, it is essential viewing. Via the power of a make-over show, five gay men - all of whom are utterly beautiful in their own way - are healing the rifts of Trump's America. Through open-minded, non-judgemental conversation, topics such as politics, religion, racism, homophobia, toxic masculinity, self-confidence and personal pride, are unpacked, sorted out and put away with grace and compassion. It hammers home how limiting and damaging it is to assume there's only one way to be a man. This programme should be shown in schools. Don't be confused by the fun concept. It's breaking down barriers and stereotypes, one moisturising tip at a time.  

My favourite thing about
my cinema card is that
I used a photo of me standing
on the Aberystwyth waterfront.
Not for me, a boring passport
photo. Oh no.
OK, next on my 'activities to chill me out' list, is a recurring topic. The cinema! Yes, I do pay a monthly fee to have access to films all the time, and yes I barely used it last year. 2018, however, is going so much better. As soon as Oscar season hit, I got excited. Not because I care about Oscar nominations, but because this years' Best Picture category was full of films I wanted to see. That never happens! Over the past couple of months, I've seen The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I, Tonya and Lady Bird. I'm not going to review them here, other than to say I loved them all (just call me Barry Norman with that incisive assessment) but that isn't the point. Instead, I've realised that the process of going to the cinema in the first place is good fun. Sure, I can wait for them to come to TV in a few months but then I miss out on the comfy seats and shared experience with strangers. Plus, after Lady Bird last week, I was so moved/impressed/mentally stimulated that I had to go to a bar for a glass of wine so I could type a bunch of notes into my phone before I forgot them.* So yeah, hurrah for the cinema. It's just a shame, after all my efforts, that the Best Picture went to something I hadn't seen. Hey ho. Congrats to The Shape of Water. I have no idea if you deserved it. 

Can you feel the excitement?
Right then, moving on. Look, there's no easy way to casually mention the next seasonal leisure activity on my list. I'll just have to say it quickly. IT'S ONLY BLOODY EUROVISION. Yes! We are creeping into that time of year and you all know how happy that makes me. Normally, I enjoy the build up to the event (this year on 12th May) without listening to the entries first. There's something about saving them for the week of the semis and final that has always appealed. But then last year I was invited onto Martin Adams' show on Wandsworth Radio to chat about that night's contest, so I had to do my homework. And now we are nearing the big day, I'm getting beyond excited about listening to the entries and trying to spot the favourites before I read about them. As the days tick by, more and more countries are announcing their entries. And so have we. SuRie is representing the UK in Lisbon. Her song, Storm, is the most Eurovisionny-sounding song we've sent in years. If politics didn't come into play one bit, I'd be putting money on this to win. But hey, let's not be naive and foolish. The left-hand side of the scoreboard will be more than enough. Let's have realistic expectations of our own success whilst revelling in the out and out spectacle of the entire evening. I'm getting giddy.

Behold the wonder of a yoga mat.
With Agatha Christie books for a head
Finally, let me tell you about my yoga practice. Ha! Did you hear me correctly? YES, YOU DID! Now, calm right down and let me explain. My messed up back is in no way ready for even the hint of a downward dog. Not yet. I am the very opposite of supple. But irrespective of that, I am always attracted to the idea of a roll out mat and comfy clothes. It's my kind of sport. So after my most recent bout of backache last month, I decided to do something. Ladies, Gentleman and those in-between, let me introduce you to the Alexander technique. To the outside world this looks like lying down. And it is. Except it is lying down in a way that makes your spine do the right thing for once. Twenty minutes a day is supposed to be the cure to all ills. We'll see. For now, I'd just like it so that I can sit and type away for a few hours every day without feeling like I've been run over by a steamroller when I stand up. Fingers crossed. Except for the twenty minutes a day when nothing is supposed to be crossed. Except for then.

So there we are. As my mad month of fun, games and frolics continues, that's the stuff I'm relaxing with in the down time. The stuff that will keep me sane and enable me to wake up refreshed each day until mid-April arrives. In the meantime, for those of you that are excited about daffodils and lighter evenings, I'm so happy for you. Knock yourself out. I'll be rolling out my yoga mat somewhere and telepathically demanding a second series of Queer Eye

Have a lovely week, folks.

*It appears my new book is a good impression of a prequel to Lady Bird. No word of a lie. It dawned on me in the opening scenes. I am depicting the frustration of being a ten year old living at home with a family that crowds her. Lady Bird has similar feelings at seventeen.  I expect me and Greta Gerwig would get on well.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Back to School for Bond...

Did we all survive World Book Day? Did we manage to get through last week avoiding eleventh-hour costume stresses the night before dress up day? Did we cope? Are we still here?

For me, last week was a bit de-ja-vuey. (Defo a word.) By concerning myself with the weighty (lol) matters of typing away willy-nilly since leaving teaching, I've been wholly oblivious to the joys of World Book Day (or Book Week, for many schools) out in the real world. I've not given it a thought since 2011. That is until I look at Facebook each year, and see a variety of superheroes, Disney characters and movie characters (yeah, tenuous) depicted by the children of people I used to know. 

But like I say, this year was different. I was asked to go into my old school and talk to the children - wait for it - about being an author! Yeah, totes hilar. I laughed at first. But then it dawned on me that I have written a book, and I do actually like doing this, and maybe I could have some stuff to say that would pad out a lesson. Besides, I believe JK Rowling was unavailable.

So I went. I spent last Monday talking to the Year Five and Year Six classes of Thatto Heath Community Primary School. I didn't know the children at all - all my classes have long since left - so it was lovely to be there in another capacity. My brief was to talk about the process involved when writing a novel. I planned it out like a real live teacher would. Like I say, very de-ja-vuey.

And so, like the benevolent life-force that I am, I share with you what I told them. Here are my seven tips for writing a novel. You're welcome. 

Imparting wisdom,
shaping minds.
Or something.
So there we have it. My fool-proof guide to cracking on with the book inside you. I stopped there because I was talking to the Upper Juniors and not delegates at a 'How Do I Get My Book on Amazon' conference. I didn't think the nitty-gritty of book-formatting or PDF conversions merited much of Book Week's time. Despite that, several children asked questions about the next steps, and I waffled away about indie-publishing, cover design and at one memorable moment, the cost of ISBN numbers. Thankfully no one keeled over in boredom or walked out in disgust. That was good. In fact, they seemed to accept I was there with insight to share. A lovely feeling! 

In all seriousness, I met some lovely young people, many of whom were filled to the brim with questions and enthusiasm. Despite the Government's best efforts, it was good to see kids' imaginations are still in tact. If events like Book Week do nothing else, they reminds us that reading is supposed to be a pleasurable experience. It's something to enjoy, not endure. It's something to chat about with other people. So now that dress-up day is over, let's raise a glass that we survived another year, and relax with a stiff drink and a good book.

Have a lovely week, folks.  


Monday, 26 February 2018

All Aboard the Forty Train...

Last Saturday marked one month until I turn forty. That's right, folks. I now have a remaining twenty-six days of living it up in my thirties before old-age strikes. This very blog's bio (to the right on the desktop - no idea where for mobile users, soz) states that 'I am a thirty-something writer...' This has been true for nine years and eleven months - thirty-something begins at thirty-one, yeah? - and soon it will be a lie.

Rather than weeping at my disappearing youth or surgically lifting a variety of body parts, I am quite prosaic about the ageing process. It is going to happen regardless of what I think, so I might as well get onboard and enjoy the benefits. I'm sure there are some. But in these final days of my favourite decade so far, I have amused myself with googling those lists. You know? The ones that tell you what you should have done by each landmark birthday. I wanted to see if I was on track or exceeding all expectation. What should I have experienced by now?

Boy, it was an eye-opening experience. First of all, a casual 'What to do before you're 40' search brings up 103,000,000 results. It seems everyone's got something to say about this. At the bottom of the first page were more specific searches - so many permutations on a theme. I got the sense I was already underachieving because I couldn't be arsed reading anything beyond page one of the search results.

When I did click on some of the articles*, they threw up interesting thoughts. Clearly, there's a wealth of people out there that have all the time and money in the world for 'experiences'. Not many mundane events such as 'buy a new kettle' or 'go to work' made the grade. Likewise, 'watch TV' or 'drive to the supermarket for a big shop' didn't crop up either. It was all 'travel to every continent' or 'visit a place of worship for all the world's religions,' Or 'run a marathon'. (Like, yeah, right.) There were, however, some generic events that made it on to more than one list. All worded slightly differently, there were some things that were repeated time and time again. You would think these must be the universal indicators of life. The rites of passage that we all go though, regardless of race, gender or sexuality. The defining facets of humanity. 

So, the most recurring things to do before you're forty, in my non-scientific study are...

  • Sleep outside 
  • Skinny-dip
  • Write a letter to yourself

Yeah, no shit. According to the Internet, that's what reaching forty is all about. So let me explain why I'm not going to be filling the next month with these 'must-do' experiences, just so you know.

I'm really happy to leave my
camping days behind me
1. I have no problem with camping. I've done it lots, but that was before I got to the stage of prioritising an actual bed for my holidays. It's OK though. People can get to forty and beyond without experiencing this aspect of life. It won't break anyone. It'll be fine. (I also threw up in a tent once, after bad pint. It wasn't pretty. I'm best near an en-suite.)

2. I did not grow up in sunny Cornwall. Maybe if I had, I'd have been skinny-dipping left right and centre, all the day is long. Instead, I grew up off a motorway junction, eleven miles away from a tidal river. I felt no inclination to get the 10A into town, take my kit off and jump into the Mersey, just so I could say I'd experienced life. Not for me. Soz la. 

3. I have too many other things to do than to write a letter to myself. If I did, I'd give profundity a swerve and say...

I think that is where my underlying cynicism about these landmark lists, comes from. We just have to get on with it. Living life to the full is an admirable aim. And some people have the good fortune to be healthy, wealthy and free to make life choices based on their own desires and needs. But equally, a lack of resources and time, alongside responsibilities that take priority, are also at play. And then there's old fashioned misfortune and bad luck. We have to make the best of what we have and what we can manage. It's OK not to have witnessed sunrise in Tokyo by an arbitrary point in life. The world still turns. As well as that, following someone else's idea of what you should have done by now, isn't the healthiest way to live. We can only march to our own beat, or something. (I think I got that from a film.) With this realisation in mind, I thought I should make my own list. What do I think I should have achieved by now? It makes sense to create my own if I'm going to dismiss others' ideas of what I should have been getting up to in my first forty years. But the thing is, I really can't be arsed. I've had lots of marvellous times so far, and I plan to have lots more. I have done some of the things that those lists have told me I should have done by now, and not done many more. But whether it's tattoos, exotic holiday destinations or classic books to read, I've done them because I wanted to at the time, not because I thought I should. In fact, if I thought I had to do them, the appeal would have truly been lost.

Just chillaxing, aged eight. 
Planning not to care about any
'What to Do Before Forty' lists in 
thirty-two years.
And so in the last month of my thirties, if I'm not going to be climbing Machu Piccu or learning to windsurf, then what will I be doing? What can I possibly fill these final days with? Firstly, as the letter to myself implores me to do, I'll be cracking on. The editing of the latest book continues, the food shopping will get done, and the weekend wine, will of course, be consumed. More excitingly however, I have some parties to attend. I know! I have two other fortieths before mine to celebrate - both long time friends who I've known for years. It's just like the year we all turned eighteen. Bashes or get-togethers every few weeks over the course of the school year, as the same faces catch-up and party together. Except it's way better now. That's because I have moved from Thunderbird to more classy and elegant booze choices (usually), I've worked out that if it's cold I'll want a coat and if I have to walk anywhere I'll need shoes I can walk in. But mainly it's better because I'm not eighteen. Nowhere near. And that is worth celebrating.

Have a lovely week, folks.

* If you want to check your own life's achievements against the many lists that are out there, here is a small selection.

1.  Forty Experiences Everyone Should Have Before They Turn 40
2.  My Before 40 Bucket List
3.  30 Things You Must Do Before Turning 40
4.  11 Things You Must Do Before Turning 40
5.  Forty Things to do Before You're Forty
6.  40 Things Every Woman Should Do Before She's 40**

**This one made me wince a little. Is it just me, or is there a focus on demure and ladylike pursuits here? I came over all Lady Catherine de Bourgh just reading it. It almost made me want to start cage fighting. Almost. 


Monday, 19 February 2018

Ten Years and a Ridged Finger Later...

Last night my Internet was slow and it was a frigging nightmare. 

I have started to take my good Internet for granted. And by good, I mean speedy. When I moved into the house I currently live, the Internet was slow but it didn't matter. I was at work most of the day and apart from a look at Facebook or Twitter for a short burst of time, it didn't affect me. I lived Internet-free, for many hours of the day. When I did venture online, I recognised that it took more than a fraction of a second to open webpages, but they still opened fairly quickly. I could have a quick glance at a couple of sites and then put my phone down for the evening. 

 'Ground control 
to Major Tom...'
It's nine years since I moved here and by now, a couple of things have happened. Firstly, my Internet is loads better. (Apart from the inexplicable blip last night.) At some point along the way, an impersonation of a massive piece of NASA equipment turned up on the telephone table, and from mission control the speed of the whole shebang improved dramatically. 

The other thing that happened, is that the Internet began to take over my life. I'm not even being hyperbolic for comic effect. Honest to God, it's true. The thought of a daily slow WiFi speed fills me with dread. These days, my life is run on a daily basis, by the Internet. Every aspect of it. It wasn't a conscious thing. I didn't seek out this state of affairs. But little by little, it's crept up on me. Now, everything I do is based around logging into something. (Or clicking a button that opens an app or site where my login details are permanently stored for ease of access.) And it is all on my phone too. The majority of my work is still a Word document saved to my desktop, most of the time. It's for everything else in my life that I reach for my smartphone. The facts don't lie...

In the past week I have...

  • Checked cinema times and bought tickets (Cineworld app)
  • Built up my weekly shopping list as items have run out (Shopping List app)
  • Listened to music I own that's stored in the cloud (iTunes)
  • Listened to Graham Norton's radio show (BBC iplayer radio app)
  • Voted in the leadership election of the Women's Equality Party (via emailed link)
  • Bid on a coat (and lost!) (eBay)
  • Watched TV as I have fallen asleep (Netflix app)
  • Checked directions (Google maps)
  • Bought shoes (Dune app)
  • Created and bought a personalised birthday card (Moonpig)
  • Chatted to friends and family (WhatsApp and Messenger)
  • Followed a recipe I'd saved (Pinterest)
  • Read news articles, comment pieces and opinions of others (Twitter)
  • Checked houses in my favourite places on a daily basis (Rightmove app)
  • Booked a taxi and tracked its progress (Britannia app)
  • Kept a track of the food I've eaten each day (Weight Watchers app)
  • Played Candy Crush for reasons unknown (Candy Crush game)
  • Scrolled through (mostly) people I don't know's, posts (Facebook)

Nick Nick and the Neph!
Yes, we're wearing underwear
hats! And yes, my phone
is centimetres from my hand.
And that doesn't even count the stuff that isn't Internet-based. The camera, the notepad and the calendar, for example. One thing I do know is my phone is rarely used for phone calls. (Except for when my two year old nephew rang to say 'Erro Nick Nick' the other day.) I don't really text that much, either. And in pointing all this out, I realise I sound ancient. I don't mean to. Most aspects of the list above have changed my life for the better. The Shopping List app is fab. It builds up over the week as things get added. It's become impossible to run out of milk or Lurpak. Likewise, the ease of buying products online from the comfort of home, cannot be overstated. We all know this. Whether it's shoes, cinema tickets or personalised birthday cards, it's so much easier because of the Internet, coupled with the handiness of being on my phone. The Internet and smartphone combo has been a good thing.

So it was really interesting to read this article by Sali Hughes about this book by Catherine Price. How to Break Up with Your Phone. Phone addiction, it appears, is a real problem. The inability to put it down for more than a few minutes, the multi-tasking of watching TV whilst continually scrolling, the gradual reduction in overall attention span - these are all things I experience. Then there is the amount of consolidated time actually being used. A couple of hours a day, I'd have guessed. At Hughes' suggestion, I downloaded the Moments app. It tracks the time I spend on my phone - daily and weekly. Blimey, it was an eye opener. I have a daily average of 6 hours, 30 minutes. I peaked on Wednesday February 7th with 11 hours and five minutes. I have no clue why that day was so phone-heavy. But once again, the facts don't lie. It also explains the ridge in my little finger.

I don't even realise
 I'm playing Candy
 Crush half the time.
Next month marks my tenth anniversary of being a smartphone owner. (I was an early adopter!) As a celebration of such a momentous landmark, I have decided to make a few changes. I am absolutely not binning my smart phone. (Have I not explained about the awesomeness of the Shopping List app?) but I do want to reduce my use of it. Mainly because I have been reading the same book since Christmas and I need to lengthen my attention span in order to get to the end. I miss reading before I fall asleep. Actually, I do read in bed, but it's my never-ending Twitter feed. I find myself getting riled about American politicians I don't know, or live tweets about that night's All Stars episode being broadcast in the US. It is not conducive to dropping off peacefully. 

My changes are going to be subtle. First of all, I'm going to buy Catherine Price's book. Then I'm going to draw up some rules about no phone periods. (Only for myself. I'm not a dictator.) I was thinking of meal times, the hour before I fall asleep, when I watch TV - stuff like that. I can work within those parameters. I also need to use my phone more fruitfully. Using the map app, sending a message and looking up a recipe are all positive uses. But according to the stats in my phone settings, I spent 7.8 hours last week playing Candy Crush. I could have read a medium sized book in that time! What am I even thinking? No wonder I was fidgety when the WiFi speed went south last night. 

However, don't be misled by my ramble this week. Reading this blog on your phone is exactly right. It's noble and worthy, and you should continue to do it every week. We need to take this one step at a time. If I suddenly end up with zero readers plus a load of empty hours on my hands, it would be awful. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Speaking of which, I should probably stop using my phone in the bath too. Food for thought, most definitely. 

Have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 12 February 2018

The Right to Bear Legs, or Not...

I was thinking in the bath the other day...

...Being a feminist means wanting equality between the sexes. The point of equality is, I suppose, the freedom to have choices regardless of sex or gender. So getting to choose how I present myself is, in itself, a feminist act. So yeah...I was pondering all that as I shaved my legs last week(Warning - an honest and non-arousing description of my legs is contained in the following paragraphs. Don't say you weren't told.) 

Disclaimer: These are not my legs.
I HATE shaving my legs (and for shaving, read waxing, depilation, tweezing or any other form of leg hair removal. I've done 'em all!) It's a ball ache. The process is time-consuming, messy (you want to see the bath after I'm done - like a massacre of the entire world's spider community) and on top of that, rash-inducing. For me, anyway. Some women do not suffer from dotty red stingy-ness after running a blade over their pins. And they are lucky biyatches. 

An artful display of grooming
products, casually arranged
on my bathroom floor. 

I should be a window dresser.
The whole thing does my head in. And on top of that, I don't even like my legs. They are wide (I refuse to use the F word. They'd still be wide even if I were a size zero) and they're short. I'm short all over but my legs are shorter than the length of my body implies they should be. (I'm the same height as much taller people when I sit next to them.) The thing is, I accept this and don't care. I dislike clothes that showcase bare legs. As we all know, I ABHOR the summer, so floaty skirts and denim shorts are nowhere to be seen. I'm happy that my legs work and can walk me places. I'm happy that in an airplane or theatre seat, I have all the room in the world. I'm also happy that I don't have sciatica right now. With those happy and accepting thoughts in mind, grooming beyond a basic shower feels unnecessary. My legs are encased in denim, black lycra - or more usually, PJ bottoms - on a 24-hour basis. So why bother shaving them, right? Am I a crap feminist because I continue to play along with this societal expectation? Am I propping up the patriarchy's power structures by funding Gillette so generously?

Me, getting out of bed,
the day after a leg shave.
I suppose it's because I like my legs not-prickly. I like my legs not-hairy. I like the feeling of smooth shin-skin. I like the aftermath of the ball-achy process, even if the journey to get there takes time and energy, and wrecks the bath. Granted, this smoothness lasts about half a day before the prickles come back, but still. For that half day I feel lovely. I sleep with bare legs in cool, clean sheets - who am I kidding? As IF my sheets are clean! - and I wake up understanding what it is like to be an Amazonian goddess, rising from her slumber, legs up to her neck, striding about like she owns the place. (I am woman, hear me roar. Or something. I mean, WTAF is that about?) But for such a small window of shinned-smoothness, it can often feel not worth the faff of hacking through the thicket. But still I do.

As much as I feel no obvious external pressure to shave my legs (guys, they are literally cloth-encased, all the day is long. No one cares!) I am sure the world around me has contributed to this internal conflict on a subconscious level. If I'd grown up with non-smooth-legged women sexily advertising lipstick, I might feel differently. Or if Angela Rippon had done her Morecambe and Wise dance, emerging from the the news desk with week-old stubble, would I still feel like I want to keep up the shaving malarkey the way I do? If I'd seen any woman on any advert, TV show or film, positively depicted with hairy legs, would I have hit puberty with a different outlook? We'll never know for sure. But for now I tell myself it is a choice I make. One that I think I knowingly choose even if the reality is that I've been nurtured to think this way by a shaved-legged society. 

In related, but slightly different news, I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the other day. It was fabulous and there's a review here for those that want it. When I came back from the cinema, I googled to see what other people thought, to check if they agreed with me. (It's fine. They did.) But I also stumbled across a couple of articles about the lead actress, Frances McDormand. Happily, they were wholly positive in tone and referred to her recent Golden Globe win where she chose not to wear make-up for the awards ceremony. On the one hand, oh for the day when this isn't noted. But on the other, hurrah for Frances McDormand not giving a shit, and making choices that worked for her. She looked ace, by the way. Her face did all the acting in Three Billboards so I get why she wouldn't want to mask it with feature-altering coloured-grease. Plus she won! Her face was chock-full of expression and emotion. And her speech was witty, meaningful and sincere. Inspirational and aspirational in equal measure. Yet for all that marvellousness, this morning I spent twenty-five minutes applying make-up to my face, for a day spent largely alone at home. 

And this is just the everyday
stuff. You want to see me go
to town in a Sephora.
It's back to the internal struggle again. Do I wear make-up because society tells me I should? Is this really my choice? Do I want to waste twenty-five minutes of my day this way? I'll be honest, this one feels less of a struggle than the leg-shaving question. I've realised as I've got older that I actually quite like make-up. It's fun. It makes my eyes look bigger. I find the process relaxing and creative. I enjoy its application as well as its result. I didn't have to put any on today. No one forced me. It isn't a job requirement. It was a pleasurable experience. And on Sunday when it's my have-a-shower-then-put-on-clean-pyjamas-and-watch-Netflix day, I'll be barefaced and choosing that look just as much. I love that I get to choose, just as much as I love that Francis McDormand got to choose how she looked for her Golden Globe win. At the Cheltenham Literary festival of 2011, Caitlin Moran said that we'll know when feminism has worked, when a woman accepts a Best Actress Oscar in flat shoes*. I have no idea what shoes Frances McDormand wore to the Golden Globes, nor do I care as long as she was happy with them, but I'd bet money they were her choice and not the urgings of a bossy stylist, pushing this season's latest impractical offerings.

Classic Bond - late 90s to late 00s. 
So far I've (over) shared that I shave my legs and plaster on the slap. I choose to do things that, on first glance, look like I'm supporting the patriarchy, even though exercising the right to choose what I do, is enough. But when it comes to shoes, I am a million miles away from the patriarchal construct of high heels. (Although the appearance of longer, slimmer legs and a higher arse is something I could probably manage to accommodate, if pushed.) Regardless, I am so over heels. I'm currently on the look out for what to wear for my 40th birthday and it's going to be flat shoes all the way. I want to be able to walk, stand up all night, even dance if I get pissed enough. I do not want to be up on tip toes, carefully and deliberately placing one foot in front of the other, feeling the creak in my knees, worrying about the heel skidding from under me on a shiny floor, and taking twice as long to walk to the loo than I should. I don't want to feel the aching after-effects in my back for the rest of the week, I don't want to waste silly money on something I'll kick off after twenty minutes, and I don't want to fall arse over tit. Reader, I am no stranger to any of these experiences. I'm done with them. No more.

Unfortunately in my quest for the perfect pair of flats, I've purchased four that aren't quite right. They are very nice (and obviously I'll be keeping them) but they're not what I want for the event in question. By the time March comes, I'll be fully stocked in walkable, formal shoes for a life time of conscious and knowing feminist choices. 

Have a lovely week, folks.

* That was totally paraphrased. I'm casting my mind back seven years here. However, Caitlin has a whole chapter on fashion in How To Be a Woman, and a decent rant on heels. One of my favourite quotes about the topic is on p202.
"The very few who can walk elegantly in them look amazing, of course - walking in heels is a skill as impressive of being able to tightrope walk, or blow smoke rings. I admire them. I wish them well. I wish I could be them. But they are a tiny minority. For everyone else - the vast majority - we look as inversely elegant as we think we will when we purchase them. We waddle, we go over on our ankles, we can't dance, and we wince incessantly, whilst hissing, 'These SODDING shoes. My feet are killing me."
I hear you, Caitlin. I really hear you.