Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The F Word

I have, oh constant blog reader, designed a little test for you. It goes something like this.

1. Do you think that men and women deserve the same rights?

2. Do you think that men and women are the same?

3. Do you think that men and women are as good as each other at everything?

3. Do you think that women are better than men?

4. Do you think that men are all bastards?

5. Do you think that all penetration is rape?

If you answered yes to question number one - congratulations, you are a feminist. The rest, I hope you will have spotted, are trick questions.

So very many of my well-read, liberal, clever and independent female friends don't think that they are feminists, and this makes me so sad. It makes me sadder than if it turned out Madonna was actually drowning baby horses at night in order to preserve her talents, and anyone who knows me will realise that would be a pretty damn bad day for me right there.

(NB - I have said female there because I've only really had this conversation with women, but everything I'm saying here applies to men too. Men - do you believe women deserve the same respect as you? Then congratulations, you're a feminist - now go and get that tattooed across your forearm, cos godDAMN will it help you get laid!)

Feminism is the simple concept that men and women deserve equal amounts of respect in this world. It is not about thinking that women are better then men, it's not about hating men, it's not about trying to get by without them. I would be lying if I didn't say that men frustrate the hell out of me a lot of the time and confuse my poor pretty little brain with their strange lumpish ones. But that doesn't mean I want to live in a world without them! Hell no! That's a world that would get tiring very quickly. We'd have, true, probably a lot less wars and a lot more chocolate, but there would also be a lot more passive aggression and paranoia and flat tyres. If you'll allow me to just generalise wildly for a moment.

Why has feminism got such a bad rap that women who I KNOW believe we should all be respected equally are scared of the word and don't want to be associated with it? It seems like it's as scary a word as paedo or Tory or racist for some people. Hell yeah, none of us want to be those things, and for very good reasons. But feminism? Why are so many bright people so scared of it? This is 2011... aren't we past that yet??

The popular answer given to this question is that the extreme feminists came along and ruined it for us all... that Andrea Dworkin said that all penetration is rape, and that's what feminism became about. Of course, we all know that that's nonsense - some penetration can even be rather fun at times, or so I've heard - so it makes sense that people don't want to align themselves with that.

But there are several things wrong with this argument. The first is that the most minor of Google searches reveals that she didn't actually say that at all, any more than Humphrey Bogart actually said “Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca. I've not read enough to know exactly what she WAS on about, bless her, but, in a shock turn of events, the meeeja picked up on something that they knew would shock us, and twisted it so that it shocked us a little bit more, and scared people away from some liberal views which might actually start to even out the balance between the men who write the newspapers and the women who clean their offices.

Which leads me on to my next point. Yes, there probably are some feminists out there who are crazy. Is this really a big shock to you? If so, you might want to sit down to read this next sentence, because I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you... there are also dentists out there who are crazy. And socialists. And researchers. And sales assistants. And pop stars. And next door neighbours. And Christians. And Muslims. There are crazy people everywhere, readers! Wake up and smell the lithium! If we believed that the few crazy people who make it into the press represent everyone they claim to speak for, then we'd believe that all Muslims are suicide bombers who are just itching to start a Jihad, and I KNOW my beloved blog readers have more sense than that.

I would really like to hope that we, as a generation, have grown past being so obviously lead away from what we know is right by the Right and being able to see the glaringly obvious for ourselves... ie that men and women deserve the same amount of respect.

How you want to interpret that is, to a certain extent, up to you. I hear people say that Sex and the City is misogynistic. I hear people saying that wearing high heels makes you a tool of the patriarchy. I hear people saying that changing your surname if you get married means you're giving yourself away as a possession. I love Sex and the City. I love high heels. If any fool ever wants to marry me, I won't have an issue with taking his name. However, I am still a feminist.

Let me take these points one at a time. A friend of mine (I don't know if she considers herself a feminist or not) recently said to me that she thinks Sex and the City is misogynistic because (I think I'm quoting her correctly here) it's all about women as sex objects. I outright disagree with that, although of course she's allowed to think whatever she likes. To me, Sex and the City is a feminist show because it shows that we like sex too! That sex isn't only a man's domain... but that we don't have to become mini-men in pinstripe suits and with dulled down emotions when we do go out and sleep with people. We can continue to be complicated, emotional, pain-in-the-ass women when we sleep around, and it can still be fun. I approve of this! However, I do also think that Sir Mixalot's Baby Got Back is a feminist anthem because of the lines 'Cosmo thinks you're fat - well I ain't down with that,' so you don't necessarily want to listen to me about everything.

High heels - yeah, I can see the argument more there. They make your legs and your arse look nicer and they hurt. So I can see why feminists would take issue with them. I don't, because they bring me great joy, and to me, they are more about comparisons and, hell why not, a little healthy competition with other women than they are about hooking men. In fact, most of the men I know hate high heels. I don't understand why men want to play squash - men don't understand why I want to beat my friend's heels by that extra inch. This is one of the mysteries of the universe, but as far as I'm concerned (unless I've been so brainwashed I can't even see it myself) high heels don't make me respect myself less than I respect men, so I have no feminist issue with them.

The marriage/name change thing... oh of course, I can certainly see why some feminists take issue with them. And in the past, when women did, in a much stronger sense than today, become men's property, I would have railed against it a whole hell of a lot more. But I do think that if you're going to be in a family, it's nice to all have the same name. And I also think that it would take more than me taking a man's name to make me his property. If he was doing anything else that suggested he thought that, I wouldn't be marrying him in the first place, I hope to god, so I think as long as we're sharing the washing up and opening doors for each other and taking it in turns to kiss it and make it better, whose name we have is a little immaterial. Of course, if he were to want to take my name, that would also be just dandy.

My point here is that feminism is what you make it to be. There is no list of scary rules about wearing dungarees and sensible shoes, eschewing make-up and sex, becoming humourless about every tiny issue... of course, if you want to wear dungarees and stop laughing, then I salute you sister, because that's your goddamn choice and more power to you! But seriously... the only thing you need to believe in order to be a feminist is that men and women deserve equal amounts of respect - something that in itself has so many implications in this sad and fucked up world we live in - and so if you believe that, please do me a favour and stop being so scared of the F word. Thank you.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

On drinking and not drinking and drinking again

So, oh faithful blog readers, the more attentive of you (and I shall reward you in heaven, believe me) may have remembered that I haven't been drinking this year.

Of course, that's a bold faced lie if ever there was one. I've drunk plenty... but an awful lot less than in the previous 10 years of my life. I've probably drunk alcohol once a month this year, which compared to three nights every weekend and a couple of weeknights too for the previous few years is quite the difference.

I made this change for one reason and one reason alone - the same reason I've given my life the massive overhaul it's had in the past almost two years, in total now - insomnia. I was so sick of not sleeping and of the knock-on effect that was having on my ability to not cry every time I looked at a squirrel who I thought might have been being bullied by other squirrels, never mind deal with any serious shit like my library books being overdue that I was ready to try pretty much anything to sleep better.

I would say that the most helpful things I've done in my quest to sleep like the dead (ah, that's the dream) are: only using my bed for sleeping (rather than using my bed also as a cinema or dining table, you understand, I don't mean I used to sleep on the bathroom rug); getting black-out curtains; getting rid of the TV in my room and - undoubtedly - quitting the booze. On the rare occasion I have drunk in 2011, I've been awake from 3am onwards hating myself, hating the world, hating the inside of mouth that feels like I've slept with a sheet of Bounty in there (not a Bounty bar, that would be much better) and remembering why I Don't Do This Any More.

Not that I've been cross with myself on those occasions. I've got one rule with alcohol, and that's that when I want a drink, I'll have a drink. I'm not an alcoholic. I don't think I've got a problem with the demon drink - but then again, who does - so it's not like I need to never drink again. It's the lack of sleep that turns me into a mental, not the delicious gin. So I've drunk at weddings, on holiday, whilst trying to pluck up the courage to kiss boys (always a good plan when you don't drink much any more and the smallest drop turns you into a puking wreck... mmmm, yeah, I know what the boys like) and so on. I've also NOT drunk at weddings, at birthday parties and meals out this year, so I'm quite proud of myself for doing that.

The advantages to not drinking, as well as the oh-so-plush sleep, are numerous. No hangovers, of course. No hideous, sinking drinkers' remorse, where you are just so sure that you mortally offended someone or disgraced yourself in some way, and yet no-one will tell you how because the incident was so shameful that everyone you know - no, everyone in the world - has taken a solemn oath to never speak of it again. No throwing up in your friends' garden so that the puppy has to eat it (this is a True Fact From My Life - how you like me now?). Being able to drive everywhere! This is a great bonus of not drinking, especially when it's teamed with my lovely sat nav which means I no longer get lost and panic and start screaming and bashing the steering wheel like an escaped lunatic wherever I go. Yeah - driving is a good one. Cars are, in case you're wondering, definitely better than the night bus. Oh, and you save money.

And you know what? It's not actually been that hard. I think knowing that I won't sleep and I will be a quivering wreck if I do drink helps immensely because now that I am sleeping properly, I can see how very very fragile I was when I wasn't, and I'm pretty keen not to go back there. Plus, as wanky as this sounds, when you're around a bunch of drunk people anyway, you do start to feel sort of... well, giddy and silly and giggly just from being around them and their intoxication anyway. Ok, I tried to dress that sentence up, but if you're thinking I just said 'hey man, I don't need alcohol cos I'm high on life,' you would be correct and you must feel free to line me up in the crosshairs of your shotgun right away.

But it's true. I've found myself at numerous times thinking I must have been dead drunk on such and such an occasion and then looking back a bit more carefully in my memory and remembering I'd had nothing stronger than sugar-free squash all night. There was one evening when, on the actual night in question, not remembering it later, I wished I had a trashy magazine to read on the tube home as I felt sure I'd be far too drunk to concentrate on the dull PhD book I had with me - but then realised that was tosh and I'd been sipping So-de-lime-ful (yes, I'm THAT cool!) all night long. I think I still let myself off the boring reading. ;-)

However - having said all that - it's December now, which is the month of festivities. And in the spirit of 'I'll have a drink when I want one,' it turns out I want to drink this whole month long. I've had a drink every day since deciding this last Wednesday, and damn it's good. As surprisingly easy as it's been to (pretty much) stop, it's surprisingly even easier to slip back into it, isn't it? My sleep's been a bit messed up in the past few weeks before this anyway, so I've sort of used that as an excuse to get up to all kinds of silly japes, but I'm getting away with it so far. We'll see what becomes of me in a few weeks, if I'm sober enough to type an update. Meanwhile - cheers!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Ever decreasing circle

I wanted to write this morning. But there isn’t anything very positive in my head right now. Work, my PhD, many things are snarling me up at the moment, and I couldn’t think of a way to make that witty and urbane so that you guys would be interested in reading about it. So here, instead, is a poem. Happy Hallowe'en, everyone.

The Ever-Decreasing Circle

If, during a lapse of concentration, a snake starts to chew on its own tail, there is no way to back out.
The jaws of the snake can only go forward.
This foie gras feeding will never be finished.
The tip of the tail tunnels to throat, forcing forward into the belly.
From that very first moment, the snake is lost.
An ever decreasing circle.

The brighter you rage, the tighter the knot, burning acid into your stomach.
As you choke and retch on what should have sustained you,
you can panic, sweet panic, and fight to feel free. But
the knot will only close closer and
your teeth will only tear sharper and
your words will only be silenced and
the circle will never end.

Monday, 10 October 2011

When I'm (not) takin' pictures

(Please sing the title of this blog to the tune of When I’m Cleaning Windows. This has been stuck in my head intermittently since I first started thinking about writing this blog, many months ago, and I wanted to share the love. My little gift to you.)

I’ve been taking photos since I can remember. I first started wanting to take really good photos about three years ago, mostly because I had a friend who took really good photos and I wanted to be like her. I got my first good camera two years ago, and my first SLR for my birthday last year. Taking photographs has become a huge part of my life, so much so that I often dream in photos – my sleeping senses see life through a lens, and I’m often disappointed to wake up and realize that the fabulous photos I thought I’d taken were only subconscious snapshots and not reality.

This blog is also a big part of my life, and so I’ve wanted for months now to write a blog about photography… but I’ve never quite managed to get the right angle on it and to know what, exactly, to say. However, I had an experience on a weekend just gone which really bought it home to me how much my camera is now an extension of my hands and my eyes, and gave me a way in to waffling about it in an engaging and delightful manner to you guys. Aren’t you lucky?

Last weekend was the Hottest October Weekend Evar – like actually, officially, records of October temperatures were broken. And, as luck would have it, myself and two of my best friends had a trip down to Brighton planned, to celebrate one of their birthdays. What perfect timing!

The run up to the trip – including preparation time – was less perfect. I had a really busy week, and got home on the Friday night much later than I had planned to due to the bloody trains, another whole rant I could (but won’t) go into. I was dog tired – the kind of tired that makes you want to cry, the kind of tired where you feel like you have to pick your legs up with your hands to make them move. The idea of starting to pack for Brighton was making me want to self harm, but I managed to get a pile of clothes together, wrap my friend’s presents and put both my phone and my camera battery on to charge.

I then fell into bed, and got up early the next day to go swimming (yes, outdoors, I’m still doing that and it’s awesome!).

I had thought I’d have half an hour or so between getting home from swimming and heading off to Brighton in which to get my bag out of the loft and finish the packing off… and the irony is, I probably would have done, as I actually ended up getting to Victoria way early. However, I had to get petrol on the way to the pool, then I got stuck behind a slow van, then it took a while to get away from the pool, etc etc, so in the end I only got home 5 minutes before I had planned to leave for the station.

I got the bag out the loft and chucked everything in it. I picked up my camera and even thought, have I put the battery back in? And for some unknown reason, the answer my brain gave me was ‘yes.’ I don’t know why, as I hadn’t, and I am cursing myself for not checking, but there we go. Off I set to Brighton, and it was only as I was walking past some beautiful graffiti, 10 minutes out of the station, that I realized the battery was still in the charger back in London. What a tool!

I was a bit annoyed with myself, and felt bad that I’d told the birthday girl I’d be official photographer for the weekend and now couldn’t be, but I hadn’t been prepared for how much the loss of my camera would sting. Of course, this amazing, best ever sunshine didn’t help in this situation! Here are some things that would have made amazing photos from the weekend:

• The graffiti that plastered some buildings on a back street from the station to the beach; if graffiti is the right word, which I’m not sure it is. These bold, bright and beautiful murals covered walls and breathed life into an otherwise grubby looking street.

• The carousel we sat beside for hours; children and grown-ups delighting in the horses, the golds and pinks and Romany look of the façade around the top, so busy and bright and like the promise of summer.

• The seagulls that swooped overhead and perched on a metal box that housed deckchairs, courting and fighting, bigger than I expected, and greyer – quite ominous and majestic against the cloudless blue sky.

• The sea, the sea, the sea. During the day and into the night. Ripples and glints and reflections, brightly coloured sails turning black under the sun, pirate boats and windsurfs and jetskis.

• The sun, the sun, the sun. My favourite thing at the best of times, boy was he in his element this weekend. Especially at sunset, as I watched him through the pier – the oranges and golds and purples and blues that turned the pier and the people on it into black stick figures. These are the photos it most ached to miss.

• The circle of bikes that my friend’s friends made, wheels aloft, that we sat inside – the spokes divided what we saw outside them into neat segments. I could have played tricks through those spokes, so that when you looked at the photos, you didn’t know what you were seeing.   

• The view from our window, especially as it got dark and the different colours from the pier reflected in the water like God’s own oil slick.

• The dodgems – although I guess if I had wanted to take photos, I might not have been able to join in… and that was awesome fun. So maybe we’ll let that one slide.

• The red, yellow and pink balloons I saw floating across the bluest sky I’ve ever seen on Sunday morning.

• The delight in a tiny child’s face as she bounced impossibly high with toes ballerina pointed on those trampolines that are assisted by bungee cords – the wonder, dash of fear, and total curiosity in her face.

See, this is the thing about taking photographs all the time – it teaches you to look at things differently. Taking photos makes me feel somewhat like a pushy mother, for whom every conversation is a networking opportunity for my precocious daughter. Everything is a photo opportunity. Everything could be framed and cropped and snapped. It makes me very tedious to take anywhere, as I will stop 100 times a minute to take pictures, and having it taken away from me, especially in such beautiful circumstances, was so much more painful than I ever would have imagined.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Mice, mice baby

To all intents and purposes, I think I come across as a fairly confident person. Inwardly, people fill me with terror, but outwardly, I know I’m generally fairly good at dealing with them. Anyone watching me DJ and observing that I cannot stop lepping around like an eejit showing off and trying to make the world and her toy boy look at me might fairly assume that in fact I traverse the line from confident to cocky. And it’s true that there are some things I’m very confident about – counselling, wearing high heels, and manhandling spiders from ceilings to the great outdoors via a pint glass. However, there are also many, many, many things that terrify me to my core. I’ve already regaled you all with tales of my motorway phobia. I shall now hold forth on my deeply ingrained fear of mice-in-my-house. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy emotional ride.

You will have noticed, being the intelligent, keen-eyed and tasteful reader that you are, that I am scared of mice-in-my-house. I am not scared of mice per se. Mice as pets? Adorable! Mice on the tube? Couldn’t be cuter! Mice at work? I’ll probably try to feed them and make them a nest under my desk. Mice in my house? Cue standing on a chair shrieking EEK at the top of my little lungs and ringing my daddy for help. I know it’s pathetic. I wish I could rein it in. But sadly, as is the way with those pesky irrational fears, there’s no talking me out of it with mere logic.

I am of course crazy about animals. I haven’t eaten one since the summer of 1986 and my dream is to one day run a sanctuary for horses that have been knocked about a bit. I am the kind of crazy lady who even thinks that stick insects are cute, and I have a special passion for rodents, having owned, loved and cried rivers of tears over the deaths of more hamsters and guinea pigs than you could shake a sesame seed treat at.

Given this last fact, it really makes no sense that I am so terrified of mice-in-my-house - or mice, as I shall call them from now on, for ease of my poor typing fingers. If I found a stray hamster dashing across the bedroom, I would squeal with delight and start anthropomorphosising the fuck outta him before you could say boo. Why is it different for poor wee mice?

I think it's at least partly because of a student house I frequented during my first degree, which was rented by 5 friends of mine, one of whom was my then-boyfriend's brother, so I was there a lot. This house was, quite literally, over-run by mice. They weren't scared any more. They had little parties in the hallway, gossiping over Tesco value crisps crumbs and thimbles full of K cider. They had chewed holes in the all the cupboards and clearly thought that the bags of rice and bowls of apples were socialist snacks. One on memorable occasion, a member of this household woke up to find one on his pillow, staring him in the eye. Looking back on it now, it's a wonder my friends didn't all die of some hideous mouse-borne virus... or of being mistaken for a wedge of cheese and nibbled in the night.

This was my first introduce to house-mice, and I assumed that this was the way it would always be if you had mice in your house. I didn't understand that there was a middle ground.

However, I still wasn't scared by these mice. The reason for this is, I think, two-fold. Firstly, the mice weren't scared of us, so ambled around... they didn't do that scuttering, dashing, sprinting thing that mice and spiders do, and which make our primeval limbic systems seize up in terror. They were chilled, and so was I. I seem to remember trying to feed them chocolate on several occasions. Helpful, huh? Secondly, I didn't live in this house. Despite being a frequent visitor, I never stayed the night. So it was a problem removed, which everyone knows is a problem halved, if not quartered. It was, to be honest, a novelty to me, not something to stress about. However, it did, as I said, plant this idea in me that where there was one mouse, there would be 500 of his closest chums, just waiting to start a karaoke party in your chutney cupboard.

The first time I saw a mouse in my house, I was living with my brother in Manor House. He had gone out for the night, and I was in my room, working on a not-very-good novel that never got finished. In those days, I could write, listen to music and sing loudly all at the same time. Don't ask me how I could do this... these days I need silence to write properly. I was very into what I was writing, but also had the music on very loud, and was having a marvellous time alone and lost in myself.

I spun round on my chair to head towards the kitchen and get a drink, and standing there, cool as a cucumber, was a mouse, several foot away from me, clear in the middle of the room, staring at me as if transfixed.

My reaction - which was like something out of a cartoon - surprised me. If someone had asked me three seconds before seeing the little critter, if I was scared of mice, I would doubtless have scoffed NO very loudly and carried on typing. However, I would have been wrong - and cue the standing on a chair, screaming my head off, total panic that ensued.

Oh, the shame, dear blog readers... I must confess that I hopped across pieces of furniture to the bedroom door, ran down the corridor, jumped on the sofa, picked up the phone and rang my dad to come and save me. Which, god bless him, he did, searching the house for the mouse and (I seem to remember) taking me back to sleep as his and mum's as I was too scared to sleep in my room.

Ridiculous? Yes. Laughable? Oh, I know. I'm not proud. But I only need to think about it for about 3 minutes before I start freaking out that much again. I can kinda tease my brain with it, the way you might after seeing a scary movie, and then laughing with your fella in bed in a dark bedroom afterwards about how funny it would be if you were really scared - and then you start talking about it and before you know it, you're jumping at shadows and bashing the cat across the nose with a frying pan because you mistook him for a knife-wielding serial killer. I start thinking about how stupid I would be if I were to imagine 5, 20, 100 mice, all under my bed, teeming over one another in a black, writhing mass that I might accidentally plunge my hand into when looking under the bed for something else... it starts out as a joke, but before I know it, I'm back on the nearest piece of furniture with my heart in my mouth.

I've had many more mice incidents since that first one - incidents that have necessitated running to boyfriends' houses, back to daddy, even just to high-pitched phone calls at the crack of dawn - but I won't go on. Keen followers of my Facebook statuses will realise that there has been a recent plague of the little buggers in my house, waking myself and my DJ life partner/best friend/tenant up in the dead of night. The first time this happened, I was woken up by a scratching noise under my bed which chased me over to the chaise longue... I couldn't work out if it was a mouse or a monster, and I think I would genuinely have preferred the latter option. On that occasion, I had to be talked out of my room by a lovely, understanding boy... who possibly could have laughed at me a wee bit less. ;-)

I have - with the help of the same understanding boy, god bless him - now taken everything out of my room in an effort to de-mouse it, and I think the little feckers have fecked off. Please keep your fingers crossed for me. More updates as and when.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Dream a Little Dream of Me...

I live in monochrome. I dream in multicolour.

This is obviously a ridiculously overblown statement which I’m mostly saying for effect and to make you read this blog. However, there is some element of truth to it. My life is not all monochrome, not by any many of means – I’m far too much of a drama queen to allow that. However, my depression, such as it is, when it manifests itself, is definitely grey. I’ve read about other people describing depression as being black – was it Winston Churchill who talked about his black dog? – but mine is grey. Sepia. Like black and white TV. It is the exact nothing colour of the sky when that vast emptiness above us is bleached out with clouds and looks hollow and bleak. When I look at the sky and it is that blank, I always think of a Sylvia Plath quote – I talk to God, but the sky is empty. How can anyone be happy under a sky like that? I don’t understand it. And when I’m depressed and it’s bad enough to seep into even sunny days, I feel like I’m carrying that grey sky in a big, dense, heavy lump in my chest, a lump that drags me down and makes it hard for me to lift my head to look at the blue skies anyway.

(Now there’s a cheerful opening statement for you!)

My dreams, however, are a totally different matter. I never dream in tones of grey – or if I do, it’s a cine camera, stop motion, Film Noir kind of grey, like at the beginning of Moulin Rouge, not the hopeless void of colour that fills the sky and sucks out my soul on down days. Let me put it this way – I’ve just come back from a wonderful psytrance festival in Hungary, full of sunshine and crazy hippies floating about with face paint smeared all over their happy little fizzogs, and yet the most colourful thing I’ve seen in a month is the lion that mauled my parents’ next door neighbour a few nights ago.

My parents live in Southgate, north London, not in the African bush. This was, natch, part of my dream some nights ago. I was watching the lion from my old bedroom in my parents’ house, with them, out of the window. We were amazed at first, as we’d never seen a lion up close, and one doesn’t expect to see such a creature strolling down a suburban Southgate street – especially one so dazzlingly golden, with such a bright, flowing mane. It walked very calmly and confidently down the road, and we were more than a little thrilled. I assumed it had escaped from a zoo – you read these stories sometimes, don’t you, about big cats living in the most unexpected locations, having escaped from this place or that place – and felt lucky to be looking at him. It didn’t feel so lucky when he tore down Rita (the next door neighbour’s) door and started mauling someone he had found in there, flaying the skin from this poor man’s back as he screamed and cried, still alive even as he was swiftly being torn, quite literally, in two.

I woke up from this dream needing a drink – water, not the stiff gin one might assume, I hasten to add. Generally, I’ve been sleeping so much better lately, but some of my good habits are starting to slip a little bit, and the occasion of this dream, some nights ago, was one of those times that I woke up during the night. The dream (I won’t bore you with all the details) (or maybe, as it turns out, I will) had already transmuted into my brother having been taken over by another being and being about to kill me… and yet I still found myself trying to get back inside the dream as I got back into bed, mouthing the words I’d been saying when I’d awoken, trying to get back to the scene I had just left.

All the signs would point to that having been a nightmare, right? I mean, seeing the lion in the street was pretty damn cool, but then the flaying alive, and the eerie creepiness of someone else in my brother’s body (I knew it wasn’t him because he had an upside down tattoo of some script across his shoulder blades, and my brother would NEVER get a tattoo, let alone a creepy upside down, Satan-ish looking number) accusing me of killing the neighbour, when I could see in his eyes that this was part of his elaborate plan to kill me – this shouldn’t be something I want to get back to, right? And yet, and yet… the simple truth of the matter is that sleep is so prized to me, so cherished, so tied up with my mental health in ways both good and bad that I would almost always rather be asleep than awake.

Sleep is good for me because when I don’t get enough of it, I lose a layer of skin – things affect me way too much and I cry and crumble way too easily. If I’ve not had enough sleep, a broken nail seems like front page news, and the actual front page news (lying politicians, house fires, murder victims, starving children, orphaned baby tigers) is enough to completely dissolve me. The ups and downs of relationships (romantic and other) that most people seem to take in their stride completely confound me when I’m not sleeping well. I dwell and dwell and dwell on slights and rows and treatment that has made me feel small, and something within the sleep-starved version of my soul is a greenhouse for these things, making them grow rich and lush and all-entangling, like a creeper weed choking a rose. This is why I mustn’t lose too much sleep.

Sleep is bad for me because when I have too much of it, it’s all I want. Not that I would know, but it’s like heroin. It’s all I want – to return to the world of my dreams, where I swim with crocodiles (last night) or talk to ponies (the night before) or perform onstage with Madonna (over and over and over again). When I wake up from too much sleep, I feel drugged. My mouth is fuzzy and dry, my head is thick and suety, I can’t think anything through or get anything done. It’s the same thing that happens to me when I watch too much television, but if anything, it’s even more addictive.

In fact, my most deadly entrapment of all is a combination of these two things – sleeping with the television on. There’s something about the recorded voices of people talking, with the occasional laughter track or incidental music thrown in, that is a totally soporific lullaby for me. A DVD would get me to sleep better than a valium – until it finished, at which point I’d be spewed back into the real world, which mostly consisted of that black and red screen in all the different languages telling you not to show this DVD on oil rigs. Hence why I always slept with one hand clutched tightly around the remote control, so that I could press play and sink back into my paddling pool shallow sleep once again. I can’t really do this any more since getting rid of the television from my room so that I would sleep better.

As a brief aside – I was SO confident that, although it was painful doing it, I wouldn’t miss the television from my room at all, and that I would become one of those annoying people who say they would never dream of having a TV in their room in the first place, and who point out what a lowly slacker anyone who does harbour such a filthy secret must be. Turns out, I was wrong. I know it was the right thing to do, as I do sleep better, but godDAMN I miss my bedroom TV. I use audio books now instead, but it’s like switching heroin for methadone. It does the same job, but it’s nowhere near as good.

The sensible thing, one would think, on waking up from too much sleep and finding oneself in this impaired state, would be to go swimming or do some yoga, or at the very least some star jumps – anything that’s going to wake myself up so that I can come home to my fully operational brain and get on with my day. Right? Wrong! That’s the problem with impaired states after all… you don’t think right. At the time that this is going on for me, the only thing I can think of that will solve the lopsided hardship of being alive is going back for some more of that delicious sleep. It’s like a mini-suicide to which you don’t have to commit, is sleep. And what could be more tempting than that? Left to my own devices, it’s possible that I would spend the rest of my days slumbering to old episodes of Gilmore Girls, only waking up to change DVDs and eat the occasional bit of cheese.

I don’t suppose I’m unique in these feelings. After all, who doesn’t love a good slumber party? The party where, ultimately, you’re the only guest and your dreams are your own personal cinema. What could be better? My dreams are bigger, and fuller, and bolder, more colourful and linear and complex than those of anyone else I’ve ever met, with the possible exceptions of my friends Rosch and Adam. I don’t know if my dreams really are as linear and novel-esque as they so often seem, or if it’s the writer monkey in my head editing story lines together as I wake up, but it doesn’t really matter – they keep me entertained either way.

The one downside of having made my sleep so much healthier (apart from having to get rid of the TV) is that I don’t remember my dreams as much. For the first month or so that I was sleeping right, I don’t think I remembered more than a wisp of a dream for the entire four weeks, something that had never happened to me before in my life. I was bereft! This was something that was so puzzling about my insomnia days. I was convinced I hadn’t slept for more than, say, seven minutes the entire night, spread out over several hours, and yet my dreams had seemed to go on for millennia. Of course, this is because the dreams we remember are the ones we have as we’re coming up to the surface of sleep – as we’re about to wake up. So I was asleep, but never very well.

I’ve started to remember my dreams more again. I know this is because I’ve stopped doing everything Paul McKenna tells me… I never leave three hours between food and sleep any more, I sometimes sit on my bed to fold my washing, I sometimes try to sleep before I’m tired. But like a manic depressive skipping out on my medication, hoping to tempt just a tiny bit of the temptress of mania back into my life, I’m not doing anything about it just yet. Stop dreaming? People who say that are blaspheming, as Mike Skinner once said. I don’t think he meant the literal dreams that I do, but still. If I can twist someone else’s clever words and use them as my defence, you can’t stop me. Even if you try it with both hands (Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll).

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Gym teachers I have known and loved

In my many and various years of going to gyms, dance classes and yoga lessons, I have discovered that gym teachers are, for me, the living, breathing equivalent of the hype on Marmite. I either hate them – and I use that word lightly all the time, but I think I actually hate the gym teachers I hate, poor souls... there's just something about someone forcing you into phsyical exercise that I don't want to do, in the way I don't want to do it, that seems to inspire VERY strong negative feelings in me – or I am 100%, giddy as a teenager, head over heels in love with them. There is no middle ground. Fortunately, I’ve felt the latter way about way more of them than the former way, and that, fair readers, is the topic of today’s blog. The teachers I have hankered after.

As so often is in the way in life, the first cut was the deepest. Patrick, the street dance teacher. Oh, Patrick – how did I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Let’s have a little background info. Many moon ago, having watched a few videos of David Elsewhere online and been agog at the famous Mint Royale car advert, I decided, in my most wisdomous way, that the only thing missing from the Twisted Kitten experience was not, as one might think, an ability to mix, knowledge of how to wire up speakers properly, or even the nous to check sound levels – no, no, no, how VERY passé, all the DJs know how to do that boring stuff. What we needed, I decided, was to learn how to body pop. I laugh at myself now, but in truth I’m still pretty sad that that dream didn’t come to fruition.

We tried to make it so, though! We found a street dance class in a Stockwell YMCA, and along we trotted to learn the basics of popping, locking and breaking. Or to try at least… a word to the wise – NEVER try to learn breakdancing unless you’re *really* fucking strong. Otherwise it is just a lesson in feeling foolish. Fortunately, we mostly learnt the kind of dancing you see people doing in big triangles behind Will Smith, which I now know is called locking, and is loads of fun. Even more fun than DJing itself – or was that just because of Patrick?

Oh my goodness, I could have spread him on a cracker. Do you remember - those of you out of my talented and tasteful readership who fancy men - Theirry Henry in those va-va-voom car adverts? The way he drove past you, tipping you that cheeky sideways glance for which I’m sure many saner women than I have downed their knickers, knocked back their drinks and ran into the breach screaming yippee. Well, that was what Patrick looked like. Only better. He was big, black, muscled and French. And he liked hip hop! And he could dance! He would teach us steps, and say to us ‘lower, lower’ (which, in his lovely French accent, sounded like ‘low-air! low-air!’) and made us both quite afluster.

Elaine and I would chat about being in love with him while we weren’t actually in the classes, and it all felt like a jolly joke, nothing too serious – but every week, once we were back in that sweaty Stockwell basement (oh, the romance) and he was fixing me with his big eyes and playing the Notorious BIG and commanding me to go ‘low-air, low-air!’ I realised this was actual, real, genuine bone fida love and that I wanted to marry him. Elaine saw him on the bus once and didn’t pounce on him and ask him out, and I nearly died of jealousy.

Sadly, the class was drastically under-subscribed (many weeks, we were the only two people there, which pleased us just FINE) and got cancelled. Without even as much as a warning, Patrick was whisked away from under our noses, never to be seen again. This is, I’ve noted, the way with gym teachers. I don’t think my poor little heart has ever been quite right since.

The next healthy hottie to be the apple of my eye was my belly dancing teacher, Fleur. Do you think that was her real name? It’s a name that screams belly dancing, isn’t it – or at the very least, a gymnastic ribbon. I can’t imagine a bus driver called Fleur, or a sub-editor somehow. Which came first, I wonder – the flowery name, or the flowery job? Who knows? I could never have concentrated long enough to actually ask, such was my adoration.

(An aside: I consider myself to be straight, most of the time. Being a metrosexual woman of the world and all that bullshit, I, like Katy Perry, have kissed a girl, and I’ve liked it. I don’t really think it’s anything to write a bragging, look-at-me, aren’t I ker-razy little song about, personally, as let’s face it, which of us hasn’t kissed a girl? It doesn’t make you special, you know! However, it’s rare that I really fancy women. It happens very occasionally in my day to day life, but seems to happen all the time at the gym. I guess it’s no massive mystery, really. If I’m going to fancy a girl, it helps if she’s really fit and bendy. Shocking.)

At first, I wasn’t sure I was so keen on Fleur. She was undoubtedly beautiful, but I wasn’t totally sure that she didn’t just spend more time admiring herself in the mirror than actually teaching anyone. Not that I could blame her. If I looked like that – tiny frame, hip bones jutting like mini mountain ranges, waist length hair as black as a tar barrel, cat-like eyes, smooth caramel skin - I'd be gazing at myself in the mirror all day as well. Plus, not unsurprisingly, she could dance bewitchingly, twitching her little hips in a way that, frankly, made me drool.

I don’t know if she was a better teacher than I first thought, or if I just gave up caring and let the lust take over, but I quickly changed my mind and decided she was the best thing since crunchy peanut butter on fat, golden toast. I think, as much as anything else, I just really wanted to be her. I had to stop going to her classes after two terms (and she clearly IS a good teacher, I learnt a lot from her which I still use when I’m dancing now, three years later) because I couldn’t afford to keep going, and again, another little piece of my innocent heart was chipped away.

There was a long, dry spell until my next love came along but again, this was a big one. My yoga teacher, Rebecca. Clearly, I have a type when it comes to the ladies, as she was not a million miles away from Fleur in terms of looks. Tiny, hip bones, smooth skin, dark hair, so beautiful I could eat her. Plus, she managed to strike the perfect yoga teacher balance between too much hippie nonsense and not enough. You might think it wouldn’t be possible to go to a yoga class with too little hippie bollocks, but I used to go to an Inyengar class taught in a slightly smelly school hall by a woman who talked exactly like Marsha from Spaced, and it was oddly disconcerting. You need a bit of plinky plonky music and the odd reference to ‘letting yourself find downward dog’ or it feels like a swizz. Rebecca was perfect at slipping the odd hippie phrase in while retaining a sense of humour and – there’s no other word for it – spunk that I greatly admired. And the crazy shapes she could twist that edible snack of her body into… people who are good at yoga are gods. See Madonna for reference, if you’re having a doubt.

Rebecca winked at me once during a class and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life before or since. My friend who comes to classes with me sometimes called her a ‘beautiful angel of perfection’ and she wasn’t wrong.

I had slightly more warning that she was going to be taken away from me than I did with Patrick, but not much. I used to have two classes a week with her, on Mondays and Wednesdays – and she announced on a Monday that that Wednesday – two days hence – would be her last day. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Devastated, so I was! I took her a card to say goodbye and thank you on the Wednesday class, like the bum-licker I am (or at least, wanted to be, ha ha) and tried to make my peace with being taught by lesser teachers. It felt like I’d been dumped, though, and suddenly found myself going out with my ex’s way less good best mate.

So all the while that I was being taught twice a week by Rebecca, I was having a third lesson, on Fridays, from Tammy. It took me a while to warm to Tammy simply because, poor girl, she wasn’t Rebecca. And she doesn’t look like my apparent blue-print of girl perfection (tiny and dark haired). Don’t get me wrong, she still had a body I’d cheerfully claw my aunty’s eyes out for, but she was taller than Rebecca and Fleur and therefore not quite so titchy. She also had a lot more attitude than the previous too ladies. Somehow, when I thought about her, she always seemed to be wearing a baseball cap, chewing gum and getting ready to smash a home run out of the park, even though she sounded like she was from South London. She was ballsy and out doorsy and tough.

As I said, I spent my first few classes with her huffing and puffing (in an ujjai manner of course, ho ho) in resentment at the simple fact that I was in a class that wasn’t taught by Rebecca, but I soon cottoned on that actually Tammy was every bit as good as Rebecca, and a girl-crush was of course around the corner. This was a crush, rather than full blown love, but I still found myself going a bit shy and giggly when she spoke to me, and I was still pretty crushed, if you'll pardon the pun, when I got back from holiday to find that she’d left while I was away, never to be seen again.

I was on the brink of giving yoga up – one of the only remaining teachers at my gym is definitely on the other side of the Marmite gym teacher division and actually made me cry during a class once (not that hard, I will cry if you prod me too hard with your toe, but still) – when salvation arrived in the form of muscular, tattooed, barely-legal gym treat Sam (male), who taught me on Friday.

You know how Justin Timberlake looks a bit like Tumnus the Fawn but is somehow still sexy? Sam the yoga teacher is rocking this same look. I’m gonna guess he’s 23, but that’s probably unfairly ageing him to make me feel like less of a pervert. He’s all buff and muscled, but in that understated way that means he still has a tiny waist. His shoulder blades have cut my heart in two. He has curly hair, clear eyes and a smile that I swear to god he only shows to me. He couldn’t go around smiling like that at everyone he meets – it would be criminal!

I’ve only had one lesson from him so far, but I will be having more. You may all need to buy a hat, readers… watch this space.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy, Amy, Amy

I assumed it was a joke when I first heard it. This is usually my reaction on hearing that a celebrity has died - I'm guessing it might be yours too? Celebrities live in a world that doesn't seem real to us. They live in a cartoon land full of four week marriages and four million pound divorces, packed with heroin addictions, pairs of shoes that cost more than my house, bank balances none of us can comprehend and paparazzi none of us will ever need to deal with. When you first hear that Amy Winehouse has died, it makes about as much sense as hearing that Homer Simpson has died. How can she die when, in so many ways, she wasn't real for us anyway? Maybe I'm wrong saying us, maybe I should be saying me. She's never been as real to me as my parents, my debts, my stomach aches and my research, so it's hard to believe that she could ever die.

But she has died. When I was shown proof on it on a friend's iPhone, I had to believe that it was real. Not that I was surprised, as such, just - unbelieving. The way we all were about Michael Jackson. The way I felt about Lisa Lopes and Aaliyah.

I love Amy Winehouse. Her voice, her words, her music. I am a very big fan, let's just get that clear. Even as I write this, I'm sitting under a picture of her that's stuck on my wall. She's wearing a zebra striped coat and she is beautiful. I smile at that photo and wave to it and say hi to her all the time. Please don't think I'm insane.

My first reaction - or at least, the first reaction I could put a name to - was anger. Anger towards her for not having the strength to sort it out. I like to kid myself that if I had her staggering talents, I would be making the most of them and being happy and healthy and thankful, but that's probably nonsense... I have some talents in some areas myself, and I'm mostly way too lazy to do anything about them, and I still get miserable. However, it is of course so much easier to see how things should be for other people than it is for yourself, isn't it? And Amy had more talent in her little finger than most of us poor suckers will see in a lifetime, so it's difficult and upsetting to try to understand why that couldn't equal happiness for her.

I also felt angry towards the people who didn't help her. I have long had a pet theory about Amy Winehouse, which is that she has been surrounded by people who say yes to her too much, and didn't give her the boot up the bum she needed. People who weren't her real friends. This theory is almost entirely built around a line from Rehab - 'I don't ever want to drink again/I just... mmm, just need a friend.' And so I felt the white hot, self righteous rage of the morally indignant. "If she was MY friend," I preached to the people I was with, "this would NEVER have happened." But what bullshit that is - like I have no friends at all with issues that might get them into trouble one day. I mean, please, who do I think I am? Maybe she had good friends around her, maybe she didn't, but if there's one thing I ought to have learnt by this point in my life, it's that all the good, concerned friends in the world don't mean jack shit if people don't want to change - and have the strength to change - for their own sakes.

When I got home last night, and started to read the news stories and think about it, really think about it, I cried. I cried a lot - way more than I was expecting to, fan as I am. I haven't cried this much about a celebrity dying since Freddie Mercury, when I literally don't think I stopped for three days. And my first thoughts on waking up this morning were a deep, black sadness that she had died, and I've worn black all day in her honour.

Where does this come from, this genuine feeling of mourning for someone I didn't really know? In some ways it feels ridiculous, as though I'm putting on a show and don't really deserve to feel this sad about it. I mean, I never met her - isn't it ghoulish and grabby to try to claim some of the grief for myself?

I have several more theories about this, you'll be amazed to learn. The first is that, despite the fact that, yes, I never met her and, as I said at the beginning of this blog, she wasn't real to me in some ways, in other ways, she is desperately real to me, and has been ever since I first saw her singing You Know I'm No Good on one of Russell Brand's short lived chat shows (yes, I admit - I'm a Johnny-come-lately fan who bought Frank after Back to Black. My brother had put In My Bed, now one of my favourite of her tunes, on a compilation for me, but I somehow hadn't really noticed it, don't ask me what that was about).

I love music, as I may have mentioned once or twice in these blogs before. One of the only five bands I like that are still going today (as opposed to solo artists, of which I like a million... all the bands these days are lame, if you want my opinion. And if you don't, stop reading this blog, I'll suggest) (the good bands, if you're interested: Cake, Art Brut, Death Cab for Cutie, Muse and the Stamp Collective) is pretty much entirely instrumental. So yes, music does do it for me. But words, man... words are my thing. I love music, but it's lyrics that get me addicted, it's lyrics that do more than any dick did, to paraphrase Amy herself. And her lyrics... they are sublime. She wrote words that were touching, funny, beautiful, heart-wrenching and that felt so incredibly true. I have listened to her words for probably five or six years now, and they make me feel like I had some kind of kinship or closeness with her, even though it was somewhat one-sided. How, then, can I not be sad that this person I had a connection to has died, and so young?

This connection, unreal as it is, makes me feel like if we had known each other, we might have been friends. We could have been our own best friends, and not fucked ourselves in the head with stupid men. And if I was about seven years younger, we even actually might have been friends, as she grew up in Southgate, where I grew up, so who knows, our paths may even have crossed somewhere along the line. I think that connection, of her coming from somewhere as dorky and unknown as my home town (also home town of Luke Haines out of the Auteurs, fact fans - I saw him outside Cafe Rouge once and told him what a fan I was) makes that connection feel stronger for me. Daft, isn't it?

And plus, I guess in some ways I do have a bit of Diana syndrome going on. I could not understand the mass of grief that the nation experienced over Diana at all because, not to be harsh about the dead and all, but being a staunch anti-royalist, I didn't really care about her. So I theorised at the time that it was a safe way for people to get out the sadness they didn't otherwise feel able to express. This isn't entirely relevant to me, since I don't *think* I have a problem expressing my sadness - generally the problem is stopping it up, ha ha - but I think there probably has been an element of catharsis about this reaction I've had - pure grief, untainted by complications or self-blame or guilt - just total sadness. I think it's healthy to feel that way at times, and perhaps the death of a celebrity gives us that chance. Is that a terrible thing to say? I'm not implying in any way that her death was a good thing. I think it's a horrible, horrible tragedy and I sincerely wish she had been happier and stronger and that this hadn't happened. I hope I've made that clear.

Of course, her death came on the same day as news about a horrible massacre in Norway, and there has been some ill feeling on Facebook and my other internet sources o glee that many are getting so much more upset about the death of one singer than they are about the deaths of nearly 100 people in Norway. I can see why that's a reasonable stance to take, of course I can. And what happened in Norway was also horrible - ugly, unimaginable, sickening and horrifically saddening. Impossible to get one's head around. And perhaps that's, in part, why some people, myself included, are feeling sadder about Amy than about Norway - one death is a tragedy, 100 is a statistic. I also refer my readers to my points made above... in some small part, I feel that Amy was my friend. I'm not going to apologise for my heart being a tiny bit broken about the death of my friend.

Wake up Alone - Amy Winehouse, 1983-2011

It's okay in the day I'm staying busy
Tied up enough so I don't have to wonder where is he
Got so sick of crying
So just lately
When I catch myself I do a 180
I stay up clean the house
At least I'm not drinking
Run around just so I don't have to think about thinking
That silent sense of content
That everyone gets
Just disappears soon as the sun sets

This face in my dreams seizes my guts
He floods me with dread
Soaked in soul
He swims in my eyes by the bed
Pour myself over him
Moon spilling in
And I wake up alone

If I was my heart
I'd rather be restless
The second I stop the sleep catches up and I'm breathless
This ache in my chest
As my day is done now
The dark covers me and I cannot run now
My blood running cold
I stand before him
It's all I can do to assure him
When he comes to me
I drip for him tonight
Drowning in me we bathe under blue light

His face in my dreams seizes my guts
He floods me with dread
Soaked in soul
He swims in my eyes by the bed
Pour myself over him
Moon spilling in
And I wake up alone
And I wake up alone
And I wake up alone
And I wake up alone

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Sorry for the delay in getting blogs out to you lately, blog fans. I’ve been trying to write entries about taking photos and about ennui, but I haven’t got very far with either of them – I haven't really started the first one and, hilariously, I haven’t been able to be bothered to finish the second. I also wrote one about trying to kiss boys but decided not to put it up just yet. I might change my mind about that one now, though, as I think the topic has become a bit less sensitive than it was.

However, the idea of writing about festivals occurred to me on the way to work this morning, so I am going to try to write about that and actually finish writing this time.

So… here’s my question… has anyone ever been to a festival and, at some point in the process, not had a heart-felt wish that they simply hadn’t bothered? I’m not saying I spend the entirety of every festival I go to wishing I wasn’t there – absolutely not, I’ve had many of the best times of my sad little life at festivals – but always, at one point or another, there comes a point when I can’t think why on earth I ever decided it was a good idea to go on such a jaunt and genuinely wish with all of my bones to just be able to zap myself home, without all the back-breaking carrying and panic-attack-inducing driving that that involves first. And yet, I always go back for more. I think it must be a bit like childbirth.

There’s one aspect of festivals that is definitely like childbirth in my poor deluded mind, and that’s the packing. I always seem to think that I only need one rucksack, and that’ll be it, and, further, that that’s all anyone needs, so of course we can absolutely fit five people in the car no problem. I *might* remember that I also need a tent, but I will, with absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, forget about the mattress, the duvets, the pillows, the food, the booze, the extra shoes… if I’m DJing, I’ll have forgotten that I need to pack CDs and headphones… and it’s only when I’m standing, looking at the mountain of totally-essential-stuff-that-I-can’t-live-without-even-if-it-is-just-for-one-weekend that it all comes screaming back to me.

A recent example of this quite ridiculous memory loss comes from the most recent festival I went to. My friend and I went to the supermarket before the festival to buy the food and alcohol we needed for the weekend. I took a bag for life with me cos, well, a) it’s good for the environment, innit, and b) I know they’re quite good for lugging stuff about at festivals without breaking. So yeah. I took A bag for life. One.

I never thought I’d say this about myself, but apparently I am ever the optimist. James and I spent £135 on food and alcohol and took approximately 10 Tescos bags with us to add to the one puny bag for life I had oh so hopefully taken with me. And I was genuinely surprised, although this must have happened to me at least 65 times in my life by this point.

So of course, the many, multiple bags and food and booze one has with one – and invariably, apart from the booze – totally ignores – adds to the cargo.

Which leads to the first problem I have with festivals... I hate carrying stuff. I really, really hate it.

I'm going to guess it's probable that hefting stuff around isn't top of anyone's list of fun things to do, but I genuinely believe it I hate it more than most people do. I’m weaker than a kitten with three legs and pneumonia, which doesn’t help… I have trouble opening slightly stiff doors, never mind carrying half the contents on my life on my back. One of the most miserable memories of my life was standing in the queue for the Glade at Mattingly Bowl with a rucksack, a tent and a load of food bags strapped to me. The queue was up a really steep and rocky hill, in the blazing heat, and lasted for what seemed like at least eleven and a half hours. I actually wanted to vomit from the pressure on my back and shoulders. Of course, every time this happens to me, I swear that next time, I’ll bring less piggin’ stuff with me. But does it ever happen? Of course not.

Given my hatred of carrying, it’s only natural that I would want to reduce the amount of it I have to do. And that leads me onto the next big festival dilemma… train, or car? Car, or train? Since I can drive, and I have a car, and I hate carrying, it seems only natural and sensible to drive, right? It’s one of the major perks of having a car, really, not having get the train to festivals. And it means instant popularity in the form of being able to offer your mates a lift. Well, yes, in theory… apart from one thing… and that thing is that if there's one thing I hate more than carrying stuff, it's driving on motorways. I have a roaring, phobic fear of motorways that leads to me having the screaming ab dabs, as my mum would say, at the sight of them, and seems to be raging more and more out of control with every year that passes. And please don't be telling me about how motorways are actually safer than normal roads and how easy they are to drive on etc etc. The point of phobias is that they're not very rational. You're not going to be able to talk me out of it, I'm afraid.

I used to be fine on motorways – I used to be absolutely dandy on them. When I got my first ever car, I lived in a small village called Alsager, in Stoke-on-Trent, during term time, and home with my parents in London during the holidays, and my boyfriend, the lovely David, the Platonic ideal to which all following boyfriends have been held up and, frankly, found failing (ah, the magic of rose-tinted nostalgia-specs – don’t you just love it?), lived in Leicester. So I spent a lot of my time driving on motorways between the three places, totally on my own, listening to compilation tapes as loud as I could and having a whale of a time. I used to positively look forward to driving here and there as it was the only sustained time I had to sing as loudly to the Wu Tang Clan and Prince as I really wanted.

It’s actually only as I’m typing this that I’m really, really remembering what that used to feel like - the freedom and the confidence of it - and goddamn I’m jealous of my younger self. How the fuck did I used to do it? I didn’t have a sat nav, I didn’t have an especially hardy car, but I used to get myself about on motorways all the time with no problem at all. It merits saying it again – how the fuck did I used to do it?

I had to sell that car to a scrap yard, much to my eternal sadness, when I left uni, and for about a year I would borrow my mum’s car occasionally, but never had any call to drive on motorways. That changed the day I went to visit a friend in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I was just getting onto the M25 at Potter’s Bar when it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on a motorway in a really long time, and that I hoped I’d be alright. As I was thinking this, I glanced across to the other lane, and there’d been a really big accident. The way I remember it in my head now, there were 18 - no, 25 - no, probably 150 vehicles piled up, police choppers overhead, cars in a million pieces, bits of mangled body strewn hither and tither… of course, I’m sure it was nowhere near as dramatic in reality, but it was enough to shit me up and make me realise how really, really wrong things are capable of going on motorways.

I spent the entire drive to Amy’s hunched over the wheel, gripping it with fingers that were locked to the wheel, willing myself to get there as quickly as possible but feeling scared to go too fast… it was not a good scene. And ever since then, every time I’ve got on a motorway, it’s been worse and worse, and I now get actual panic attacks – or at least, that what I think they are – whereby I start to feel pins and needles in my fingers, traveling up to my arms, going into my shoulders and my neck, especially just behind my ears, and then to my face and, most crucially, my lungs. These pins and needles make it impossible to move or relax, and when they hit my lungs, it’s like Sauron has got his hand inside my chest and is squeezing my poor little airways into a pulp. It’s really unpleasant, and it’s really unsafe.

And so, when I’m in my right mind, I remember all this and don’t drive to festivals. Yeah, I can go on A roads, but even those have started to freak me out a bit, and sometimes they turn into motorways for a junction and there’s nothing you can do about it. And it’s just seeing the signs in blue rather than green that makes me start to panic these days. But then that means going on the train. And that means carrying everything. And that sucks arse, so I do that for a year or so and then kid myself that it’ll be ok to drive again.

What I actually need is more than one other friend who can drive and owns a car. There’s only two of us in my close group of friends, which means we always do all the driving. Come on, the rest of you! Get behind the wheel – it’s loads of fun, I promise! ;-)

Ahem – anyway… I was meant to be talking about festivals, right? The carrying stuff and the driving, those are my two main dilemmas. But let’s not, for heaven’s sake, forget about tents. Oh, how I hate tents. Wet walls. Muddy porches. Freezing cold at night. Baking, sauna hot by 5am. Never being able to find the one thing you’re looking for, whilst everything else you own (and that you were looking for the night before) is everywhere. Needing a wee in the middle of the night but not being able to face the troop to the portaloos until it’s pretty much too late and you have to run and pray there’s no queue. Slopes that make your sleep all funny. Mattresses that deflate after 15 minutes. What I really, really need is a camper van. And, natch, someone else to drive it for me.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that camping is just about up there with being poked in the eye with an overly long finger nail for me. And that moment I was talking about at the start of this diatribe, the moment when I wish I’d never even heard of festivals as a concept, never mind this one I’m at right now – that often comes when I alone and shuddering, juddering, shivering and quivering enough to make the canvass walls shake, freezing my behind off in a loathsome tent and longing for my lovely, civilized bed.

And yet. I do keep on going to festivals, don’t I? I swore to myself not two weeks ago, alone in a tent feeling cut off from my friends, blank inside, and wishing I was home, that I wouldn’t go to ANY festivals at all next year, but I already know that that’s nonsense. Because, despite all this moaning, festivals generally are the greatest weekends of the year. And yeah, I could have chosen to focus on the positives instead of doing all this moaning, but I didn’t want to alarm you all and make you think my mortal coil been taken over by some kind of optimistic, cheerleading body snatcher.

And anyway… you all know the positive sides to festivals, right? You all know about the unbridled joy that sitting in the golden sunshine with your greatest friends, listening to your favourite music can bring. You can remember the thrill of a glass of rum and a packet of hula hoops for breakfast brings, right? I don’t need to remind you about the thrill of bumping into old friends that you haven’t seen since last time and that have a million funny stories to regale you with. I’m sure you don’t need telling about the amazing clothes and hats and bargains you can pick up on festival stalls… which you generally don’t wear until the next festival, but which seem like treasure at the time. I guess I might need to tell the non-DJs among you about how DJing in the sunshine to a whole new crowd of enthusiastic people is the best time to DJ there is. But I’m sure you all know about how even tents can become fun when you’re giggling tent to tent between friends and getting ready for the next fun-filled, unexpected, bursting over adventure of a day.

Yeah… festivals. I’ll probably go back.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Love is the Drug

So, as I think I may have explained in a previous blog or six, I have no vices any more. For one reason or another, I’ve had to give almost everything up over the past year and a half, and it’s left my life with a fairly different landscape from the one it had not so long ago. Mostly, things have changed for the better. Sometimes it feels worse, but not very often.

What I have realised, since the whole Bang Fail thing, followed by a pretty miserable weekend or two, is that I am going to have to start looking for some new things to fill the time that used to be filled with these long-lost extra-curricular activities. This has happened naturally somewhat anyway. I now go to yoga on Friday nights whereas before I would have been going clubbing. I have a New Hobby in the form of taking photographs, which I am enthralled by… I even tried to do an evening class, but not enough people signed up and it didn’t happen. Hopefully I might do one in September, though. I think I want to do more with my writing as well – like maybe join a writers’ group or do an open mic night every now and again with some poetry. It seems a bit odd to me that I had over a year of New Lifestyle before I realised that I needed to do something to fill the gaps, but I guess, as I say, it was partly happening without me making a conscious decision anyway, and my head was somewhat occupied with other things throughout most of 2010.

However, having said all that, I do still have one vice, one addiction left… one thing I use as a go-to thrill, that has all the allure and bedazzle of the purest marching powder… and that wears off and leaves me needing more just as quickly. There is one more thing that gives me a hit and that I doubt I will ever be able to give up. As Bryan Ferry said – oh, ho, can’t you see? Love is the drug for me.

I’m saying love, but that’s not really what I mean. What I mean is flirting. Possibility. The thrill of the chase. The best bit of any relationship, as we all know – the bit before it actually starts and reality can come crashing in to ruin everything, reminding us that no-one is perfect and nothing ever lasts.

In this post-modern, 21st century, multi-media world that we inhabit, there are numerous ways to flirt with people that don’t actually involve the horror of having to speak to those people in reality. Emails. Text messages. Private messages on forums. And the Mac Daddy of them all – Facebook. Facebook walls, Facebook statuses, Facebook messages, Facebook pokes, Facebook instant chat… each of these can be utilised as a weapon of maximum flirtation and used as a method to, let’s face it, massage my ego. I realise how horribly self-involved that makes me sound, but I’m going to guess that I’m not the only person in the universe that engages in this process in order to make said person (me, in my case, obvs) feel better about themselves. If I am – well, then I guess I am horribly self involved. I can live with that, though.

What is it about the thrill of flirting via the written word sent over telephone wires in one guise or another that feels so compulsive? Perhaps it is partly that I feel more myself when writing than I do when speaking. I can command a keyboard much more masterfully than I can command my own vocal cords. I am better, bolder, bigger when I am typing than when I am orating. Online, I can talk to strangers, and I can say the sassy things I could never say to a man’s face, especially now I’ve had to quit the old Dutch courage.

And of course, the messages that I get in return can be saved, pawed over, held up to the light like precious jewels, rather than forgotten in the transient haze that life is. Not that I ever forget a thing that anyone says to me, of course (how could I have become this bitter if that were the case?), but the written word is so much more tangible than the spoken one.

Of course, we all know that this addictive thrill is in its purest, most uncut form when it’s with one person and you know it’s really going somewhere, somewhere possibly really big. At least, I say of course we all know that, but even as I type this I realise what nonsense that it. That’s when the thrill is biggest for me, because I harbour occasional fantasies of getting married one day and don’t want to do the ‘juggling’ thing I read about in American novels… I don’t know how anyone can do that in reality without spending their entire time wanting to vomit from the guilt, even if everyone has agreed it’s all ok… I’m just not that modern. However, I realise that for some people, lots of low-level, non-committal flirting is the most addictive sort of all, and that’s why the idea of being with one person forever terrifies those people so much. So I shall amend that sentence and say that for ME, the flirting you get at the beginning of a real relationship is the biggest thrill of all – the 90%, weapons-grade, top shelf Colombian.

When that’s the situation for me, that is, when I think a relationship might be in the offing, I don’t think I go more than ten waking minutes without checking my phone, my emails, my FB page for any communication. And every one that comes in feels better than the last, each one tops up the buzz… and each time I check for communication that isn’t there, it’s like I’ve taken the plastic baggie out of my wallet expecting it to be full, but instead it’s already been turned inside out and licked clean. It becomes my whole life. I know it shouldn’t. I know I should be more independent than that. But I am what I am, and ‘hopeless romantic,’ with all the different levels that implies, are probably the first words that will get written in my eulogy when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil.

However, in the absence of any promising relationships, I have noticed that I will tend to try to gather a collection of potential flirtees around me. All the better to boost my confidence with, my dear.

Because that, ultimately, is what is going on here, for me at least if you not for you, dear reader. My opinion of myself is a tricky, double-time dance along the mountain ledge of wellbeing, with narcissism and self-loathing as dancing partners. Sometimes narcissism takes the lead, and I think I am the new best thing since the last best thing, which probably involved me on some level anyway. But frequently it is self-loathing that heads up the dance, whispering with every footstep that I am too difficult, too forgettable, too awkward, too fat, too clichéd, too eager, too gauche, too plain, too miserable, too demanding to ever deserve love. The older I get, the stronger in some ways that voice becomes – although in other ways my self-esteem seems to grow in equal measures, so that the end result is actually just that the shouting in my head is louder than it was before, and I still have no idea if I am the greatest gift god ever gave the world or something that most people would wipe off the bottom of their shoe, given half the chance. Of course my rational brain knows that I am somewhere in the middle, just like everyone else, but rational is not my middle name.

All the received flirtation is ammunition for the narcissist’s side. And although I hate the narcissist, because she’s loud and screechy and she makes me squirm in bed at night when I remember what she’s done, I hate her less than I hate the other one. I’m happier when she’s winning – or at least I think I am. Each rush of seeing that I have a new text, more notifications, noting that I’ve got mail – each one is a new high. But is that high just as empty as the highs I have already cast aside? I don’t know. Communicating with people has to be better than communicating with a mirror and a straw, but if none of it means anything, then really, what’s the difference? Have I just replaced one shallow attempt to fill the hole where my soul should be with another? Am I the new Russell Brand? On a much less real and showbiz level, I must point out – I am in no way addicted to sex. But to the thrill of being absolutely sure that I meet the approval of some man or other? Yes. That is my poison. And I as I type this, I realise that I hate myself for that.


Hmm, this blog was meant to be funny. Sorry – not quite sure what happened there. I want to find a positive note to end things on, but am not in a fabulous mood, so I don’t think that will happen. Instead, perhaps, I shall show you a new poem I’m working on, the intention of which is to make people laugh. I hope it works. It’s a bit of a work in progress, so if there are any bits you think are rubbish… well, those are the bits I’m gonna change. ;-)

My life as a middle-aged fuss pot.

There’s oh so many things in life
that I don’t care to do.
Competitive sport brings me out in hives
I’m bitter 'bout dark chocolate too.

No tea – drinking dampened leaves
like you’d peel off you shoe seems wrong.
No coffee – I’m the only person alive
who finds the smell a sickening pong.

I won’t eat meat – I can’t eat wheat,
don’t talk to those I don’t know.
A single raindrop puts me in a strop
and a thunderstorm fills me with woe.

My ears are a-buzz with tinnitus
so I’ve thrown my iPod away.
I can’t stand next to speaker stacks
or listen to bands when they play.

Of course, I’ve got a banjaxed back
so I can’t use my new trampoline.
I’ve an irrational hatred of Buffy –
I think she’s a waste of my TV screen.

Eating chillies will give me the hiccups –
I’ll take a pass on those any day
and I’ll have a phobic panic attack
if I drive on a motorway.

For years I suffered insomnia.
Couldn’t sleep, so I had to quit drinking.
I could get lost inside a paper bag,
and I’m hopeless at positive thinking.

So what is there that’s left in life?
What can I bend to my will?
I think I’ll have to eke out my days
in my bedroom – sat terribly still.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Let's Get Fizzy Cool

I have never thought of myself as being a person who enjoys exercise. I think this is principally because sport of any description – with the notable exception of horse riding, natch - brings me out in a rash. Hearing about it, watching it, and most especially being forced to play it – ugh. It just makes me shudder… a long, cold shudder that has been pulled up from the very bowels of hell.

Where does my deep-held loathing of sport come from, I wonder? Is it all just sickening secondary school memories of ducking out of the way of netballs, running miles to retrieve tennis balls, and being whacked in the shins with hockey sticks? That would probably be enough, really. Games and PE were up there with maths and physics as being my most loathed subjects ever at school, and the fact that one had to undertake sports in hideously unflattering gym knickers that left unsightly elasticated grip marks where no elasticated grip marks should be puts it, let’s face it, on top of that pile of misery. At least in maths lessons I could attempt to look intelligent and just be re-running dialogue from Moonlighting in my head. I couldn't do this while I was trying to be sporty in the world’s most unflattering outfit.

Games and PE lessons were – and I won’t go on, because I’m telling you something you all already know – an exercise in the popular, shiny-haired girls lording it over the under-confident bookish nerds like me. And really, what closer definition to hell is there than that, especially when you’re in your formative years?

The fact that I literally have less strength than a hamster (I struggle to open envelopes sometimes, let alone jam jars) meant that things like rope climbing and push-ups were especially torturous for me. I HATE to do badly at things. I really hate it. And boy, was I bad at school sports. I can’t run, not for toffee, not even for a delightfully creamy brie. I have no accuracy or aim. I can’t jump over things, I can’t climb things, I can’t… well, do whatever else it is sporty people like to do. When it comes to all that stuff, I am a big fat zero and it makes me loathe myself when I try. I used to say I wasn't competitive, but then I realised I just don't like to compete if there's no chance at all of me winning, and every chance of me looking like a puffed out loser or getting smacked upside the head with a tennis ball.

I cannot get my head round people doing these things for pleasure, but I guess almost anything is fun when you’re good at it, right? Calculus, torture – possibly even badminton?

Added to this, I used to live within spitting distance (don’t tempt me) of a football ground. I think they wear red, I forget which team – apparently that sort of thing matters a great deal to some people? I’ve never quite fathomed out why. I’m a little bit ‘alt’ looking (you’re a little bit rock n roll) (points for who gets the reference…) and at that point in my life, with my crazy waist-length red, orange and yellow plastic dreadlocks and my youthful waist meaning I still wore pretty little outfits on a fairly regular basis, I looked a lot damn weirder than I do even now with my Mohawk which I love so much. The football fans didn’t like this very much and used to shout pretty nasty things at me as I walked down the street to my own house on match day.

This didn’t happen very often, but enough to be another factor in my general sport-hating attitude. Oh, and pubs that show sport – that’s another one. Being old and grumpy, I refuse to go into a pub unless I know I can sit down. Living in London, this can mean I have to go into a *lot* of pubs before I find one that’s acceptable. There is very little more disappointing than realising that, having trudged around 3 billion pubs, getting more and more thirsty, hungry and irritable, like a child that really needs to go to bed, searching for somewhere quiet to sit and imbibe, thinking you’ve found your oasis – and then realising it’s actually got a big screen showing the f**tball at ear bleeding volumes, and that the other patrons, who were all sitting alone and quiet, nursing their pints like good, peaceful little alcoholics when you walked in (naturally during half time), are going to start leaping to their feet and screeching like monkeys as soon as the ‘show’ begins again.

You’ll be glad to hear I’ve found the perfect solution to this last problem. It’s called giving up drinking and never leaving the house again.

Anyway, I should really stop venting about sports and sports fans, as some of my closest fans fit into that latter category, and we all have our sicknesses, don’t we. I shouldn’t judge. The point of this blog is to say that, despite my loathing of sport, I suddenly seem to have become a person who exercises. A lot. I am even finding myself getting up early to do so. Quite frequently. When did this happen to me??

My first foray into exercise probably began around 12 years ago, when I started doing yoga with the friend I’ve had for longest in my life. I can’t really remember what made me decide to start doing yoga, but it was probably because I wanted to be a bit more like Madonna. Let’s face it, I started counselling because I wanted to be more like Frasier, so Occam’s Razor would suggest that that is the forgotten explanation.

My very first yoga class I remember as being the exact incarnation of the seventh circle of Hell. I can’t think where it was held, but it was in a very big, very bright room somewhere, and all I can really recall is a sense of total outraged indignation that no-one had told me it would be anything like that difficult – and if I had known, there was no way I would have been there. That indignation translated itself into hatred for the teacher, a hatred which burnt red and hot within my stomach. My legs trembled throughout the lesson as if they had the worst DTs in history, and I can recall swearing to myself upon leaving that I would never, never do that to myself again.

However, I somehow ended up going to a regular class with my same friend, first once a week and then twice a week, at a class I could walk to from my house, and I soon realised that I actually loved it. The challenge of it. The magic of the poses that the more experienced people could do and I suddenly realised that I wanted to be able to more dearly than I wanted diamonds. Seeing myself improve, inching along, a tiny bit better each week. The feeling of calm when I left. I was addicted, and for a couple of years, I went to yoga twice a week, went on retreats, knew the chants, was a total convert.

There was one thing that made it very frustrating, though – my total lack of strength. There were many poses which seemed as if they would be forever out of my reach because my arms are weak as matchsticks. I know that there’s a lot more to yoga than arm strength, and that some of the poses I couldn’t do also needed core strength and better alignment and all that. But trust me – my puny arms really let me down. And so I decided to do something about them.

I joined my first gym entirely in order to make my arms stronger so that I could be better at yoga. That was my only ambition - there was no other reason. I remember telling my then boyfriend that I was going to have arms like Sarah Connor's in T2 (the only thing I like about that movie is her arms - otherwise it's *such* a let-down compared to the first one) and him being vaguely horrified. He needn't have worried, it never came to be - my arms are still weaker than a three-year-old child's.

I joined the gym near where I was working at the time and went three times a week at lunchtimes. I would spend the whole morning of every gym day dreading it, but then usually end up quite enjoying it. Aside from anything else, it was the chance to listen to music really loudly for 45 minutes whilst watching aspirational videos on the big screens (I think it's *very* cunning that gyms always seem to show MTV base... no matter how much we all exercise we're never, not having been photo-shopped to fuck, gonna look like those girls, but we keep believing we might one day, so we stick at it), which has always got to be good. In fact, the best thing about that gym was when they got a stash of exercise bikes that let you play Tetris as you cycle. The quicker you pedalled, the quicker the blocks moved. I adore Tetris, I think I probably play an average of 20 games of it every day, so that was an amazing motivator.

I ended up quitting yoga for the gym, something which seems impossible to me now. But no matter how many weights I lifted, my arms never got any stronger, I never got any better at the poses I couldn't do, and it didn't seem cost effective to keep doing both, so I dropped yoga and became a gym bunny. Three times a week of cardio vascular workouts. I shudder at the thought now.

Exercise is a funny thing. It's a bit like cigarettes, or cocaine. No, really, hear me out. You don't necessarily enjoy it while you're doing it, but once you're in the habit, you keep wanting more, and you don't feel quite right if you don't get your fix. I never really loved the gym, but I stuck with it, went to various different ones, even, for a brief insane period, went to spinning classes two or three times a week - if you've never been to a spinning class, don't, you actually think you're going to die the whole way through it - and kept it up until I got made redundant and had to leave due to severe lack of funds.

I was in the habit of exercise by that point and didn't really want to stop, so had a sort of no-man's land period of sometimes going swimming and sometimes riding my bike round the park and sometimes doing nothing at all.

Going to dance classes is actually my all-time favourite way to exercise, and for a brief and wonderous period my DJ life partner and I went to street dance classes that were taught by a French man who looked like Thierry Henry (I might not know about f**tball, but I watch car adverts, alright?) only better looking. And he liked hip hop. I was actually, fully, 100% in love with him which certainly helped, but those classes were ace. They were part of - the only part of, to be fair - the master plan I had that what Twisted Kitten (our DJ duo) really needed to make themselves a professional outfit was not, in fact, learning to work the mixer, but instead learning to body pop. Don't ask me where where I get this stuff... it just comes to me. ;-)

Sadly the classes got cancelled cos mostly we were the only people there, otherwise I'd still be doing them to this day and would probably be dancing onstage with Madonna by now. We tried to find another class, but most street dancing classes seem to be for 13 year olds, or they were on nights when I had uni, so we gave up.

I finally re-joined a gym when I started my PhD. I love my uni gym. It's so cheap it's practically free and it has a pool, which none of the other, much more expensive gyms I've belonged to have. I started off by doing two CV workouts and a swim every week, but somewhere along the line - and again, I can't really remember when or how - I started going to the yoga classes again, and once again got hooked.

This is partly, strangely, the result of my tinnitus. I can't listen to my iPod any more (a lament I could write an entire blog about, oh reader), which really does make the gym interminably boring. True, if I time it right I can watch Gilmore Girls on one of the tellies with the subtitles on, but as soon as I move away from the bikes and onto the cross trainers, I can't really see it any more, so that's not much use. Heaven forbid that I should just concentrate on what I'm doing in the gym. It hurts! You need distraction! As much as is humanly possibly!

Hence, I have pretty much given up on cross trainers and treadmills - my most loathed piece of gym equipment anyway - and am now going to three (count them!) yoga classes a week. As I said earlier, there is something magical about yoga. You watch people do poses that seem to defy possibility. It's like watching Derren Brown, watching a yoga teacher demonstrate a move. And at first you feel like an unfit, lumpen hippo as you attempt to emulate, sincerely believing that they are a shaman employing trickery to fool you and that you will never, ever be able to do what they are doing - which is of course no-one's favourite feeling... but week by week, little by little, you start to improve, until you realise you're doing those formerly impossible things yourself. And that's a pretty awesome feeling. Of course, there's always more impossible things to learn, but isn't that true of life generally?

It was yoga that was responsible for this crazy early morning exercise trend that seems to have sprung up in my life over the past few months. The gym put on a class at 7.45 on a Wednesday morning, which means me leaving my house around 6.45. In the dark and the cold, it was very hard to motivate myself to get there, but now I almost look forward to it. Or at least, I had been until now. To continue the theme of gym-teachers-I-am-in-love-with... I am also, actually, fully, 100% in love with my yoga teacher, Rebecca. My friend P from uni comes with me sometimes to yoga and completely accurately described Rebecca as 'a beautiful angel of perfection.' She's so tiny and bendy and beautiful, I just want to bite her. And she makes me calm and happy. But - the reggae, the reggae - she's leaving! Has, in fact, left! My tiny heart is broken into a million pieces, and I'm convinced the new girl won't be a patch on her. I hope I can continue to get up at 6.45 for this Johnny-come-lately, whoever she may be...

I think it was the fact of all this early morning yoganess that made my first foray into early morning outdoor swimming, as chronicled in this very blog a few posts back, a possibility. I'm swimming in the London Fields Lido every Saturday before work now, and I love it... and I've just started going to the outdoor rooftop pool in Holborn for 8am on a Friday with some of my friends as well. That means almost half of my mornings, I am getting up early to exercise. Twice a week, I get to see sunshine and water doing that beautiful waltz they do with each other and I can kid myself I'm on holiday. I'm sure it can't last. Is this really who I am now?

The thing is, though... it's just so good for me. And I know that sounds stupid because of course it's good for me, that's the whole point. But it's not good for me the way that lentils and broad beans are good for me... things I have to suffer through to get to some benefit which I'm told is there but never really notice until it's taken away...

Exercise, and especially yoga and outdoor swimming, is good for me the way sushi is good for me. I can't believe that sushi is good for me because it's so goddamn delicious it really shouldn't be. And yet I know it is because when I come away from eating sushi, I feel good, not all laden down and guilty, like I do after a Chinese. Yoga and swimming out in the sun iron my brain out. They force me away from the petty little things that I pick at and pick at, the way other people pick at scabs. They are like a magna-doodle for my brain, erasing all the crap and starting afresh. I hope I able to keep this up for a very long time.