Paper

The answers to the questions were within and scattered around him. They hid on scraps of paper, in notebooks and pads. He scribbled them down in earnest, never to be read again. Or worse to be read again through the tired eyes of one who had forgotten. One who no longer recognised them.

He wrote his name down on a piece of paper each day and hid it within saffron pages. The answer would always be in the books. He had only to select an edition to find himself again. But soon it was not only his name, but places, people, poems, verse, prose. Scraps became sheets, essays, novellas. Folded pieces of paper within pages, a vellum city, which he tiptoed around at night, as the towers swayed in his presence.

In autumn light, he would shuffle from room to room, his hands filled with lined sheets, folded notes, envelopes stuffed with precious words that he struggled up foot stools and ladders to preserve. Sometimes he unwittingly returned quotes to the very books they originated from. He nestled his thoughts and rumination between the very pages that had inspired them almost instinctively. Inside them he preserved the part of himself he wished to keep immortal.

There had been a time when their wisdom had been entrusted to his memory. The wisdom of his books would be effortlessly shared over wine. He would amaze friends and guests with his ability to orienteer himself around the dizzying collection that enshrined them, even in a haze of alcohol. He knew where each word lay.

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Lovers teased him for living like an old man before his time. Friends patiently navigated tomes and limited editions like weary parents who had asked a child to clear away his play things for the last time. Family urged him to assemble shelves, offered Swedish names and their able hands to help contain the chaos he was constructing. He would laugh and refuse. It would not be the same, neatly filed onto shelves. He took comfort in the rustling of loose leaves, felt at peace in the nest of knowledge he had constructed for himself.

As time passed the laughter, visits faded like pencil on paper. He struggled to remember the words he treasured so much, tracing sentences with his fingers, mouthing words like desperate prayers to his mind. The edges of his memory yellowed and became brittle. Fragile. The comfort once offered by the origami city he had constructed turned into a torment. A monument to a fading glory.  He gave up the spoken word for written ones hoping to seal them what remained inside him and preserve what remained in the books that he loved.

His mind was treacherous. It tottered and wobbled, escaped him when he most needed it. Made him look like a fool. Books wouldn’t betray him. But even after each memory had been filed away and his untrustworthy synapses had been replaced with rice paper, he would waver like the towers around him.  His handwriting became unfamiliar. The words foreign in his mouth. He became lost for them and in the ensuing panic would scribble and squirrel away prose within the pages of once majestic pine. Then he would pine for the thoughts he had misplaced.

His mind housed ghostly voices that drowned his own, too scared and unsure of himself to decide whether to believe one or the other. His faith in himself was unshakeable, until shaken. His mind an Oak, admired for its strength and presence, now it trembled with a breeze, falling memories pooled around him, leaving him feeling old and bare. Which book now housed his childhood? What edition had he selected for his lost love stories? 

His name was on the tip of his tongue, but never to leave his lips and he looked around in a panic, at the silent books that towered around him. Bullies keeping his most precious possessions from him. Playing keep away with memories he had treasured. Or at least this was the story he had told himself, feverishly written down and drunkenly espoused to strangers, who politely nodded before helping him home to sit in the shadow of his fading thoughts.

One morning he awoke and nothing was left inside. Empty of words, empty of thoughts, He fell to the ground like a useless draft, balled up and carelessly tossed across a room. The books towered over him. Solemn. Pitying. His sobs shook the room. A collection by Rumi was the first to fall, tumbling carelessly between wavering stacks. They rocked and swayed nudging each other until like dominoes they toppled. His anguished moan was greeted with a confetti of quotes, poems and nostalgia.  As they thundered down he remained prostrated at the feet of his once immense knowledge. His name was restored to the world, blanketed in books. His last breath raised the first quote that he’d ever memorised before it came to rest on his lips.

” Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

 

Main image by
Aaron Burden

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Waking Sleep

I’ve started sleeping where and when I can.
I sleep with my keys between my knuckles, jaw clenched. My dentist says I’m grinding my teeth. He gave me a retainer. Putting in a retainer on public transport and passing out like a narcoleptic is not a wise move at the best of times. It’s not going to end well where I live. Gurning, on the other hand, implies instability. It wards off potential perverts, thieves and weirdos. But it concerns my dentist.
You can’t keep everyone happy.
I’ve started sleeping on TfL. Unreliable, but I’m an insomniac so I’m used to unreliable. I plan my journeys as I lie awake in bed. Acton to Clapham. Willesden to Camden. Ealing to Mile End. Leave an hour earlier. Find a seat in the middle so I don’t feel bad when I open my eyes to a pregnant lady being ignored by the entire carriage. Clutch my bag, take my keys out, and breathe deeply. Metal groans and gasps lure me to sleep. I can the feel eyes every time the doors kiss their teeth at me. I rest my head on a stranger. They recoil and I jerk awake to see a Greek chorus of sombre faces floating in front of me like defective holograms, flickering in and out of the light.
I’m staring with my mouth open.
I let the creaks and whines pull me back to sleep as we go underground.

Light hits my face and I immediately wake, check my phone. I’ve got 20 minutes to kill. There’s a park near the next stop. Sleeping in public places provokes the unnecessary concern of mums, fearful pensioners and the unwanted attention of the police. I think I was once moved along by an officer on horseback. But it may have been a dream. I can still hear the hoof beats trailing me as I walked away.

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Shit. I zoned out and missed my stop.

I check my watch: five minutes. I get off at the next stop and cross the platform to get the next train back. ‘Parallel Jalebi’ plays in my head as brightly coloured saris, excited children and annoyed commuters move along in synch with the music. An impromptu MTV moment brought to me by chance. I move through the crowd like water, slowly, clumsily, eager to get out.

I’m late. They haven’t arrived yet. I watch couples wander off hand in hand down Roman Road. Tourists stand in front of me like I was a lamppost and work out how to walk to Shorditch. Uni students marvel at the man in Hammer pants and a gold flat cap pushing a scooter past the pub where they are drinking. A hand rests on my shoulder.

I talk too much. It has been a while since I had a face-to-face conversation with someone. A real conversation, not an argument, or a sales call. I remind myself to shut up. Silence often scares me. I enjoy moments of quiet, but then I feel afloat in space and I worry I’ll disconnect from reality completely. Tom blames social media.

I blame social awkwardness.

Easier to work out what Disney character I am than contemplate the fact that I’ve been alone for over 5 days, and haven’t spoken to a person IRL for weeks. A huge chunk of my life is virtual.

I’m seeing friends, something that’s become harder and harder to want to do. Being around people. Seeing people, physically seeing people, messes with the illusion I’m asleep. I can trick myself into thinking it’s all a dream. Just bursts of noise, or colour, weaving in and out of silence that I can watch like a painting or ‘Gogglebox.’ But right now I’m confused. I don’t know if it’s real or not real. I zone out, smile, look vacant. I drift in and out of conversations that I’m certain I’ve already had with people who felt the same but dressed differently. Indifferent. I’m bored. It feels like I’m trapped inside my body and someone is punching me repeatedly. I excuse myself to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I fall asleep.
I sleep soundly on the tube. I think in part it’s because I’m surrounded by people. I’ve never liked sleeping alone.
The banging wakes me up. I exit the bathroom ignoring the pissed, pissed off overweight woman dying for a slash. Everyone’s left. The tightness in my chest disappears.

Adrenaline stops me from sleeping on the journey home. I feel awake. Everyone on the tube has a greenish hue. The lighting on the tube does that. I catch the person in front of me staring and I stare back. Embarrassed, he plays with his phone. He glances to see if I’ve stopped looking. I’m still staring. He gets off at the next stop.

I like watching people. Looking at their faces as they read the paper, hold their children, hold hands, doze off drunkenly. The sun is setting. As we leave the tunnel, faces go from green to gold. Eyes squint. The train feels silent as I get off at my stop.

When I get home I lie on the wooden floor in the living room and stare at the strange shapes on the ceiling. The wallpaper is peeling. I drift off to a conversation I’d had with a man I’d loved, in a place I’d seen in a painting once. The intimacy makes me sob myself awake.

It’s 4.06.

I plan my journey into work.

Trials and Tribulations of Cupping

A truthful account of the first time I used a cup.

“Don’t panic,” I said to myself. “There’s nothing to panic about.” It was just a 6 cm silicone cup trapped all up in my lady parts. I was lucky this had been a trial run.

I had decided to try a menstrual cup after ranting (once again) about Tampon tax. The cup was appealing for many reasons; cheap, reusable, environmentally friendly and easily transported. It was perfect for me. I spent about 10 minutes on Amazon, found an economic generic model named after a Greek goddess and decided to give it a whirl.

What could go wrong?

Mistake #1 Lazy research

I thought any brand would do. I thought they were all the same and after a few hours practice I would be a pro. What I wasn’t counting on was my over zealous high positioning and short fingers leaving me with a foreign object trapped inside me.

I think it’s important to mention to any women reading this: you can’t lose a menstrual cup inside yourself. Your cervix isn’t a vacuum that hoovers up foreign objects. A fact I soothingly repeated to myself during my panic.

Mistake #2 Over-confidence

The easy to use instructions you receive with your cups seem a little nonchalant in retrospect. I got my fold right and whacked it up there without considering how I was going to get it out. What ensued was the gynaecological equivalent of trying to find the end of a roll of sellotape.

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a one finger job. There was a level of intimacy that left me feeling like I owed myself a steak dinner and two bottles of red. I may actually be a qualified gynaecologist now.

Mistake #3 Thinking I was in charge

The vagina is in charge. People who use pussy as a put down clearly haven’t tried to wrestle a cup away from its vice like grip. It had claimed the cup for it’s own and was not going to give it up without a fight.

Happy Endings

Rather than run crying to my nearest Family Planning clinic, I made a cup of tea, watched some Youtube videos, did some Kegel exercises and tried again. The cup had shifted, I was able to get a better grip on it and I sit here typing, cup free and knowing a lot more about my cervix.

The experience has not put me off in the least. I think it’s great women are getting to know their bodies better. And I stand by my choice to use the cup.

I’ve done my research properly this time and found a cup that’s right for me. I’m sure with some practice I’ll be a pro in no time.

What’s the deal with the cup?

Curious about cupping? Let this idiot be your guide.

I‘ve long been outspoken on periods and how they are viewed and treated within society. I’m baffled by the fact we have to pay for sanitary products when it’s part of our biology. To add insult to injury these products are then taxed as a luxury. If this was happening to men, there’d be a riot. To top it off, sanitary products contribute to the burgeoning quantity of waste loading the world’s landfills. This is why I chose to go the way of the cup.

Here’s a bit of information you might find helpful if you’re planning on giving it a go.

All shapes and colours

Surprisingly, there are many different kinds of cup, in different colours and different shapes. The most well known brands are the Diva Cup or if you’re UK based, like I am, Mooncup. I use a Lunette because it was an affordable price, suited my flow and has a long stem which makes it easier for me to position and remove. It’s worth doing some investigating before you make a purchase. I speak from experience. Most companies will offer you a 60 day money back guarantee. So if the cup you choose is not for you, try again with another.

Find your fold

To insert your  in order to do this you need to fold your cup. I recommend watching a few Youtube videos before going in there. The U fold pictured below is the most common. I prefer to use a narrower fold. Pick the fold that’s comfortable and suits your shape. You may also want to wet the rim or use some lube to make insertion easier. I’m going to be honest. You’re about to get real up close and personal with your vagina. The kind of intimacy you may have only known after a bottle of wine and a fancy meal. It’s an educational experience.

Positioning

This is the tricky bit that makes you feel a bit like an amateur gynaecologist. Don’t give up! It can be frustrating, but if you’ve endured someone else fumbling down there, you owe it to yourself to persevere.

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Courtesy of LENAcup

The cup should be fully open and positioned beneath the cervix. If it doesn’t open it can move and will leak. The advice is to rotate it, but this is easier said than done. What I found was easier was to run my finger around the outside of the cup a few times, do a few squats and check again. Give the stem a pull when you think it’s opened. If it’s offering some resistance it means it’s open and the suction is working. If it doesn’t, try again.

Comfort

A good way of checking that it’s correctly positioned is comfort: like a tampon, you shouldn’t feel it. So if the stem is digging into you or you feel uncomfortable, remove it and try again. I found practicing when I wasn’t on helped me feel more confident.

Cleaning

Wash your hands before inserting. Pour the contents down the toilet. If you’re at home rinse your cup out in the sink with warm soapy water. You can buy special wipes if you plan to remove it when you’re on the go. Once it’s clean you can reinsert it. At the end of your cycle, sterilise the cup with boiling water. I don’t bother with all the wipes and washes, but they’re available if you prefer them. I like to use my little Meeno pot rather than crossing boundaries and sterilising my cup in the communal saucepan. But that’s just me.

I’m still getting used to mine and researching. If you’ve got questions or advice feel free to comment!

Social Media Take the Wheel

When you’re in times of trouble, document your rage online.

Daniel was tired. I was tired.

The customer service call was just going round and round in circles. He kept telling me there was nothing he could do. My claim had been rejected. I calmly repeated that by law I was entitled to that refund. The airline had lied.

I’d had a flight cancellation the month before. There’s actually been a surge in cancellations and airlines going bust. Subsequently, consumer rights were being published everywhere.

When my flight from Amsterdam was cancelled at a minutes notice the first thing I’d received was a text from a mate with my rights. The airline gave me a poxy food voucher and the assurance that my hotel and transport would be refunded. My rights would be observed.

As I heard Daniel sigh and repeat once again that there was nothing he could do, I regretted staying so calm. While everyone else grumbled, I remained positive. One jackass in particular, demanded compensation there and then. He practically wanted to be piggy-backed to a hotel and then back to his rescheduled flight.

Clearly that angry little man could see into the future.

A month on my claim had been rejected on the grounds I hadn’t tried hard enough to get help. Unless you’re yelling at someone you’re not trying. I wish I had been as forthright in person as I had been on WhatsApp.

Why is it when you don’t cause trouble people take that as a sign that you’re a pushover? I can be angry. Anyone who knows me knows I got sass coming out…well, my mouth. I just pick my fights.

This was fighting talk.

Providing evidence of something that didn’t happen is like getting home with a new CD and opening it up to find nothing in the case. Vueling was saying I’d already gotten the CD.

This made me want to kerb stomp someone. But before my rage got the better of me, I did what I always do when angry: I took to social media. And that’s when I realised where my evidence was.

I may not have yelled at them to their faces, but I yelled into the void that is the internet. It saved my experience in slideshow mode to be enjoyed as Memories at a later date.

Never before had calling someone fucking useless been so useful. I got to send them every abusive message I’d written on the topic. I even sent them a video. It wasn’t nice.

I just got an email saying they would refund me the total amount.

The next time someone moans about you doing a Facebook you tell them you’re doing the online lord’s work.

Follow me on Instagram to make sure you don’t miss a rant that could potentially be state’s evidence: @BeigeGurl

It’s Everyone’s Problem

 

I’m a people person. Everyone knows this. There’s nothing that warms my heart more than meeting a kindred spirit.  There’s something reassuring about finding another person whom you have something in common with. All it takes are two little words of solidarity to make a large and anonymous world less lonely: Me too.

But when that common ground is a collective experience of harassment and abuse we all need to pay attention. Men and women. This isn’t a random phenomenon like the sky turning yellow. This is an indicator of the extent of harassment, aggression and assault within our society. And it needs to change.

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We’re no longer living in an age where a man can drag his chosen woman back to the cave. But it’s an age where a guy can show you his dick, make you feel unsafe on your journey home and violate your personal space with little or no fear of retribution.

Harvey Weinstein’s outing as a sexual predator has reignited a polemical outpouring in the media on an age old issue. But whether this will lead to any real change in male attitudes and society’s treatment of women is yet to be seen. Let’s not forget that only a year ago the pussy grabbing President of the USA  was caught on camera bragging about his ‘conquests’. That bombshell didn’t stop him getting elected. What was also troubling was it didn’t stop women from voting for him.

Who’s responsible?

It angers me that a discussion on harassment and assault is inevitably dragged back to the role the victims have to play in the situation. Let’s be clear, there’s one problem here and that’s the predatory males victimising and manipulating women. However, every time something like this comes out women are asked to reassess what it is we’re doing that’s driving the boys crazy.

Donna Karan’s mindless rhetoric in the wake of the Weinstein allegations raised more than an eyebrow. Was a woman whose fortune had been made selling sexy clothes and perfume to women really implying that women were asking for it? Ok, she took it back. She was jet lagged. Some of her best friends are women. We get it. But why does this argument always come back to how women act?

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Mayim Bialik’s op-ed in The New York Times is also problematic. A well educated actress and feminist, familiar with Hollywood, Bialik’s editorial reads like the cautionary tale of how awkward looks and demure dress sense steered her safe of sexual predators. Though she takes care not to do a Donna, and tell women they’re dressing too sexually, I wonder why she feels the need to highlight her opinion (after all it’s only an opinion) that her own looks had spared her the horrors of harassment. I always thought she was pretty.

Bialik’s insinuation that the pretty ones are the one’s getting harassed and assaulted is reductive. It’s why the Me Too status started. To show this a problem that happens to women. Period. Bialik’s focus on women building their esteem away from their appearance overlooks the way girls are sexualised by strange men every day. Whether they want to be or not. And in doing so it implies it’s the job of women to control men’s behaviour.

I won’t disagree that there is more to a woman than her looks. Indeed, a woman’s worth doesn’t lie in her push up bra and contour kit. But I don’t understand how a sexual predator’s actions have brought us to an after school special on female self esteem and worth. There is something patronising about the idea that a plainer gal, who models herself on Eleanor Roosevelt, would never be subjected to such misfortunes. It’s simply untrue.

People need to stop thinking this is the curse of the beautiful or provocative. This is a problem endemic to our society.  This doesn’t just happen to certain women. And it’s not a woman’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem and staying silent on the matter, ignoring it or trying to cover it up won’t get rid of it. The onus to change things isn’t only on women, it’s on men too.

#MeToo #HimThough #HowIWillChange

Adult Fun

Clubs are playgrounds for adults? No, PLAYGROUNDS are playgrounds for adults.

The most fun I’ve had in ages was an alcohol free romp in a children’s playground. I love this kind of fun. It’s free.

Why am I not constantly running around screaming loudly whilst being chased by my adult friends? Maybe because embracing your inner child in this way, is a sure fire way to elicit their concerns.

I have started skipping again, it’s healthy and great fun. Why should kids have the monopoly on skipping? I have taken to skipping when there is a lull in Skype conversations with the fella, just to mix things up. I am trying to convince him to buy a yoyo so we can virtually play together. I mean we’ve known each other since we were 16, that’s some kind of green flag to be able to bounce up and down on beds together and have PG fun right?

It’s a shame that maintaining contact with your inner child in this way is something that is generally an indicator of waning mental health. A warning sign that you are some kind of sexual predator. After all, no self respecting or upstanding adult with no kids would own a bouncy castle unless they were a child who had wished to be big and woken up to find they were an adult. Or Michael Jackson.

I often think that’s where MJ went wrong: his insistence that his playmates be thirty years younger than him. Had he called me to Never Never Land, we could have torn that shit up; I’m talking skipping, super soakers, sack race, roller coasters, candy floss. Sadly he will never know what we could have had.

Unfortunately for me, these situations would never take place in society outside a Tom Hanks movie. If they did they’d be met with a string of character damaging lawsuits and headshaking from all sides.

These children games still exist for adults, the swings, the pogo sticks, the running; only now they are more dating metaphors or have been turned into sex toys, so we can all relive the joy of being a child with the adult bonus of bouncing up and down on each other’s private parts with the help of swings and a jump rope.

Actually it is quite unnerving that something like a swing can be turned into a sex contraption, there is something Brave New World about the parallel. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and my love of swings was in fact erotic play. In which case, the dream is alive people.

If only there was a place adults could go for fun that wasn’t a brothel or a bar. On many a sunny afternoon, whilst hogging a swing from a sour faced child, I have looked to the skies and pictured a playground, just like a child’s, only capable of sustaining heavier body weight, with more rubber flooring for the adult who likes to drink and where being childless and wanting to join in on the fun didn’t put you on a sex offenders list.

There’s still hope someone may read this and build this place. Until then I’ll be lurking around people’s garden sets, trying to get my fine ass down a kiddy slide.