Fiona, Seriously


Here are some things that I am going to do.

I am going to start putting my phone down at nine o’clock, because holding my Twitter feed three inches from my face while I’m allegedly trying to sleep is decidedly not awesome.

I’m going to toss that dried up, miserable packet of baby wipes that sits on my bedside table. At night I’m going to take off my makeup with creamy cleanser and a hot cloth and breathe a long sigh as I feel the day slide from my face. I’m going to floss my damn teeth.

I’m going to get into bed and light my l’Occitane candle and delight in the fact that it is my most frivolous and favourite indulgence. I’m going to ask the boy how his day was and I’m going to actually listen when he answers. I’m going to read and write and stretch, even if it’s only wiggling my fingers.

I’m going to dust my bedside tables and deal with the piles of things that mysteriously accrue around me. I’m going to do my dishes and buy fresh flowers, because I deserve to live somewhere beautiful.

I’m going to stop pouring £20 a week into mediocre supermarket sandwiches and revive my budget spreadsheet, because clawing my way to the end of the month like Leonardo DiCaprio in the freaking Revenant just isn’t cute any more.

I’ve written a little before about the fear of taking myself seriously. Isn’t it scary, to admit that we want things, or worse, that we think we deserve things? It’s so much easier to be the quirky, ditzy, ever-so-relatable girl, than to try and become a woman to be reckoned with.

I’ve always been a bit of a calamity. Recently, I was listening to a serial killer podcast on a bus, when a woman’s elbow became entangled in my hood, yanking my coat back into my throat. I naturally assumed that Ted Bundy had risen from the grave to murder me on a central London bus. Upon sharing this story with my friend, she laughed and shook her head.

“Why does this stuff always happen to you, Fiona?” she asked.

Reader, I don’t know why this stuff always happens to me. But it does. I am unlucky in deeply unlikely but often hilarious ways. I’m the clumsiest person that I know. I snort when I laugh and have absolutely zero control over my limbs or my hair. I’m a relentless overenthusiast. I’m never going to be described as stoic or graceful or even particularly composed. None of that gives me an excuse for being a perpetual teenager. Just because I’m not serious, doesn’t mean I’m not serious, y’know?

But being serious sounds like the worst, doesn’t it? Serious women are unlikable. They’re high maintenance. They’re uptight. So we go the other way, leaning gleefully into the “hot mess” archetype that has sprung up around us. We brag on Twitter about having 17p in our bank accounts, or eating pizza for breakfast four days in a row, or showing up to work hungover for the third time this month. We watch films and TV shows where women buy clothes instead of paying their rent and show up late for everything and don’t know how to turn their ovens on. I think sometimes we make bad decisions and justify them to ourselves in the name of “self care”. And while I’m a big fan of taking joy wherever you can, this kind of stuff isn’t working for me any more. At the age of twenty six, it just isn’t cute anymore. Sometimes self care means getting off your ass and getting your shit together.

I have no intention of becoming high maintenance or uptight. I have no intention of aiming for perfection because…well, where’s the fun in that? But I also can’t justify treating myself like garbage and then expecting other people to take me seriously. So I’m getting out of my own way. I’m taking a little responsibility for my life. I’m daring to see myself as a woman who deserves better than the bare minimum. I’m going to make a real effort to live with purpose, with determination and with as much grace as a calamity like me can reasonably aim for.

Visit Slovenia: Cobbles, Castles and So Much Cake

Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, is one of those places that feels as though it’s been lifted straight from the pages of an old picture book and dropped accidentally into our world. Bric a brac houses scatter up impossibly green hills, little splotches of burnt orange, sunflower yellow, periwinkle blue. Ornate bridges and cobbled streets wind around the river that cuts through the centre of the city. The boats that meander up and down often carry musicians, so soft music mingles in the air with the smells of water and cooking and hot stone. The castle perches on its hill, watching over Ljubljana, its towers visible from almost anywhere in the city.

This isn’t a city that lends itself to a rushed, metropolitan city break. The pace of life here is slower. Tourists and locals alike drift gently through the pedestrianised old town, drinking in the beauty of their surroundings. At night, the restaurants along the river throw open their doors and light their candles and the people spill out onto the riverbanks, eating and drinking and dancing and laughing. It’s impossible not to be charmed.

On our first day in Ljubljana, Niall and I plan to do a walking tour of the city. Unfortunately, we settle a little too comfortably into the laid back lifestyle and end up snoozing and eating pastries in our apartment until 11am, missing the start time for the tour. C’est la vie. Luckily for us, Ljubljana old town is tiny, easily walkable from one end to the other in no time at all. We wander up and down the river, snapping photographs of the beautiful buildings and bridges, occasionally stopping to point and say “I wonder what that is. Dunno. Lovely though.”

Reader, we probably should have gone on the walking tour. But reader, we have such a wonderful morning that I don’t really have any regrets. If you’re there for the history, absolutely get yourself on a tour. If you’re just there for the pretty things, you’ll be fine just wandering.

If you’re planning to visit Ljubljana between March and October, make sure you’re there for at least one Friday. On Fridays, one of Ljubljana’s biggest squares is home to a street food market like no other. The Open Kitchen gives Ljubljana’s best chefs a chance to show off their wares at a fraction of the price you’d pay in their restaurants. Striped green and white tents fill the square selling gourmet pad thai, vegan cakes, enormous burritos, local gin, barrels of mussels, Slovenian sparkling wine. The white wooden tables fill quickly, so we perch on the steps of the square and watch the world go by. We originally wander in for lunch and end up being so bowled over by the food that we come back for dinner. Steaming spoonfuls of spicy chicken served in crisp, warm roti wraps and plates of soft, pink filet mignon piled on herb crusted potatoes…this is no ordinary street food.

Niall genuinely looks a little frightened as I unhinge my jaw like a boa constrictor and shove this entire plate of steak into it.

After lunch, we head for Ljubljana’s castle. You can walk up to the castle but I am spectacularly full and Niall politely declines my request that he roll me up the hill, so we take the funicular railway. The railway has us at the foot of the castle in a few minutes and also gives me the opportunity to make “putting the fun in funicular” jokes several more times than is really necessary. At least I make myself laugh, and I think we can all agree that’s the important thing.

The castle is an amazing building, a bizarre warren of wooden beams and formidable flagstones spiralling upwards to a gorgeous courtyard. If your other half is, for example, a geeky structural engineer, they’re sure to enjoy the step by step explanations of how the castle was restored. But don’t worry, the castle also houses plenty for us normal folks too. While we are there, we explore a National Geographic photo exhibition, a tiny little chapel, a free outdoor library and of course, spectacular views of Ljubljana.

There is also a museum of puppetry squirrelled away somewhere so if you’re into being terrified, go wild!

On our second day, we head out from Ljubljana to the very place that had caused me to book the trip in the first place: Lake Bled. Pals, I booked a holiday based on someone else’s Instagram post and I have absolutely zero regrets about it. Bled is about an hour outside Ljubljana and the bus runs straight from Ljubljana bus station every hour for about €7. If you’re planning to go on the weekend, book the bus in advance. I did not know this was a thing you had to do and end up only getting on a bus because I look so crestfallen that the nice lady calls us over when she got a cancellation and sells us two tickets on the spot. Great success.
Lake Bled is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in real life. Maybe with the exception of seeing the Northern Lights, I can’t remember many other things that have taken my breath away like this does. I literally scream on a bus when we round the corner. Never go on holiday with me, I am an embarrassment.

I feel like the rest of this post should just be photographs but this is the kind of scenery every writer dreams of describing, so I’m going to give it a go. The lake pools in front of us, glassy and impossibly, impossibly blue. If you lean over the edge, the water is clear enough that you can see all the way to the bottom. People swim alongside tiny fish and haughty swans and I am furious that I haven’t brought my bathing costume. The snowcapped peaks of the Alps stretch out in the distance, giving way to emerald hills. Bled Castle clings to the rocky cliff face on one side of the lake, on the other side, is a tiny island, housing only a church. To say that this place is like a fairytale is hackneyed. It doesn’t do it justice. And also, since In Bruges, I can’t hear that phrase without hearing it in Brendan Gleeson’s accent. But really. It is.

We take a rocky wooden pletna boat out to the island and climb the 99 steps to the church. I inform Niall that traditionally, men are supposed to carry their wives up the steps as a sign of strength and devotion. Niall tells me to piss off. I make him take a romantic selfie. He is furious.

The church houses a Wishing Bell, which you are supposed to ring three times. If you truly believe in God, your wish will be granted. As I’m not sure me and God are entirely sympatico, we settle for tossing a lucky penny into the lake and directing our wishes to the goddess of love whose temple stood on the island before the church.

You can walk all the way around the lake and also up to the castle. But we only have a few hours in Bled and I have other things on my mind. If I haven’t yet convinced you that Bled is where your soul belongs, brace yourselves. You see, Bled is home to a proud culinary speciality. One which has become so iconic that it has actually become a symbol of Bled. And that speciality is a cream cake.

Find you a person who looks at you the way I look at cream cakes. We head to Hotel Park, the original home of the cream cake and sit on their terrace overlooking the lake. The cake is a little like a vanilla slice, but twice the size and with double the cream. It is gorgeous. Go to Bled and get one immediately. Waiters fire out cream cakes at a frequency I’ve never seen: it genuinely seems like everyone on this terrace has come for the cake.

This is another excellent thing I discover about Slovenia: going for cake is a thing. It is a completely normal, acceptable thing to go into a restaurant or a cafe and only order dessert.
This is Lolita’s bakery in Ljubljana. We nip under one of their umbrellas to shelter from a sudden rainstorm and end up ordering rather a lot of cake. I eat multiple different cakes each day. Sometimes, waiters suggest specific wines or liqueurs to match the cake you have ordered. I genuinely think this may be the secret to happiness.

Cake and liqueurs at Vander Restaurant.

Slovenia is a beautiful, surprising little country and one I’d definitely like to see more of. Book yourself a flight, and make sure to pack a couple of princess dresses.

Scarlet Ladies: Sex Without Stigma

Preamble: HI THERE FAMILY MEMBERS AND PEOPLE OF A DELICATE NATURE! As the title of this post would suggest, the content of this post is going to be sexual in nature. Why don’t you preserve our relationship and read this nice apple pie recipe I wrote instead?

I climb three sets of dark stairs and enter the room through a door disguised as a bookshelf. A young woman with a clipboard takes my name and hands me a glass of prosecco and a small blue box. Upon investigation, the box contains two packets of condoms, a fingertip vibrator and a veritable wealth of information on safe sex. The room is lit in scarlet and the comfortable armchairs are occupied by a tantric masseuse, an orgasmic meditation coach, a member of the BDSM community, a sex columnist and the cofounder of Scarlet Ladies, a sexual empowerment organisation for women. This is my first Scarlet Ladies event and honestly, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I take a gulp of my prosecco and giggle as I remember that outside of this room, London is proceeding with a perfectly ordinary rainy Tuesday evening.

The small room fills with women: young women, old women, black women, Asian women, trans women. We swap salacious grins as the evening’s panel take their places. The night is presided over by Alix Fox, a tiny, blonde hurricane of a woman, who cracks jokes that would make Christian Grey blush and whose writing has been featured everywhere from Vogue to the Guardian. She keeps the conversation flowing throughout the night, tackling sensitive subjects with tact and sensitivity and making lascivious comments about her low chair placing her knees around her ears at every available opportunity.

The first panellist is Claudia Melli, an orgasmic meditation coach. Every hand in the room shoots up as she starts talking, all of us with one question on our lips: what the hell is an orgasmic meditation coach and how does one go about getting that job? Orgasmic meditation is a practice which distinguishes between orgasm and climax, focusing on bringing our attention to the state of orgasm and enjoying sensations in the moment, rather than racing towards climax. The practice is about connection and wellbeing as much as about sex. Claudia makes a point of having two orgasms before she gets out of bed each morning and while I can’t confirm that this is how she looks 27 while in her fifties, it certainly seems like she’s doing something right.

Next up, we have Alyssa Black, whose involvement in the kink community helped her work through her transition. She eases us in gently, confiding that she still has bruises on her thighs from the weekend’s activities, before opening up on London’s thriving kink scene. Some audience members start to look a little pale as she enthuses about creating in-body corsets using surgical staples and ribbon but other members look decidedly interested. We chat about trust, communication and enthusiastic consent in BDSM relationships. Huge focus is placed on consent in kink relationships and it’s easy to see why – if you’re approaching someone with a surgical stapler, you want to make damn sure that both of you are having a good time.

Then, tantric teacher Catherine Dunworth speaks. Catherine is probably the most serene person I’ve ever come across and with three lovers and a career as a tantric masseuse, it’s no wonder. She talks about tantra as a practice that opens up your whole body, as well as your heart and mind. Once again, the topic of sex as communication comes up. She offers a tantric massage as a prize in the evening’s prize draw, an experience encompassing meditation, yoga and massage – all while completely naked, of course. She peaks everyone’s interest when she lists the mind boggling types of orgasms she’s experienced and takes issue with the term “alternative sexual practices”, posing the very good question – alternative to what?

Finally, we come to Jannette Davis, confounder of Scarlet Ladies and self-confessed orgasm evangelist. She talks about founding Scarlet Ladies to help dispel the shame and stigma that surrounds female sexuality, and to provide a safe space for women to have these conversations. Many women feel isolated with their sexuality, sure that they’re the only one having complicated thoughts and feelings. An evening in a room with these women proves that none of us are alone in having complicated feelings about sex. She talks about her experience of growing up in a conservative household and how she balances her upbringing, her experiences as a black woman and her love of sex. She truly is evangelical about having the confidence to ask for what you want in the bedroom and both her confidence and her enthusiasm are infectious.

By the time the first half of the evening rolls to a close, the room is abuzz with chatter. Questions are whispered and scribbled on colourful post its, the air is pricked with stifled giggles and gasps as glasses are filled with more bubbles. Alix draws us back together and opens the floor to questions. At first, questions are surreptitiously handed to Alix on post its, but she is wonderful at making us laugh and putting us at ease and by the end of the night, we’re all talking at once, shouting over each other, screeching with laughter, having conversations that I never would have dreamed we’d be confident enough to have at the beginning of the night. We talk about exploring kink in relationships. We talk about the opposing pressures of the media and feminism in sex. We talk about whether some sexual acts are fundamentally un-feminist (Spoilers: no, they are not. If you are having consensual, communicative sex, it’s *all* good). We talk about boundaries and sex toys and using lubricant as moisturiser. No topic is off bounds and no one is ever made to feel uncomfortable or strange for asking a question or expressing an interest in a particular area. Over the course of the evening, it becomes clear that everyone is different, everyone has slightly different kinks and limits and the only way to have great sex is through – yes, you guessed it – great communication. Alyssa rounds off the evening with perhaps the best piece of sex advice I’ve ever heard: “Every day’s a school day”.

Flushed, slightly tipsy and more than slightly titillated, I head out into the rainy Tuesday night feeling thoroughly inspired and empowered, although not quite empowered enough to stop me panicking that I’m going to drop my goody bag of sex toys on the bus home.

Scarlet Ladies run weekly events ranging from presentations with inspiring women to blowjob workshops with professional dominatrixes. Whoever you are, whatever you’re into, you have something to gain from becoming a Scarlet Lady.

What to Expect When You’re Electing

Election day is drawing nigh and campaigning is reaching fever pitch. You forget what it was like to have normal post. All of your TV shows have been replaced with party political broadcasts. You pick up a piece of fruit and it starts talking to you about dementia tax. That’s what it can feel like anyway.

This Thursday, the nation will take to the polling station to choose what kind of a country we want to be for the next five years. The opinion polls are doing their best but there’s one unknowable factor that will genuinely determine the election’s outcome: who turns up to vote on the day.

Hopefully, lots of people have become engaged in the last few months. Say what you like about our times, they’re certainly not politically boring. If you’re new to voting or are considering voting for the first time in a long time, this post is for you! I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, that’s entirely your call. What I am going to do is run you through exactly what happens on polling day, telling you where to go, what you need to do and hopefully showing you how quick and easy it is to make your voice heard. After all…

uk election 2017

Before election day…

In the run up to election day, there are a few things you need to do.

Most importantly, decide who to vote for!

All party manifestos are available online, but if you’re not particularly enthused by any of the parties, a non-partisan website like Who Should You Vote For will ask you to rate some of the main policy ideas of the three major parties and tell you who will best represent your interests.
If, on the other hand, the only thing you want from this election is to see the back of the Conservative government, this website will tell you how to use your vote to the best tactical advantage.

Check where your polling station is!

Your polling station will be a public building, for example a community hall or a school, in your area. Shortly before election day, you should receive a polling card through the post, telling you where your polling station is. If you do not get a polling card through the post, don’t panic! You can vote without one. If you don’t get a polling card and you’re not sure where your polling station is, get in touch with your local elections office. They will be able to point you in the right direction. Contact details for local election offices can be found here. You must vote at the correct polling station, so if you’re not sure, it’s worth checking!

On election day…

So, the day has finally arrived and we’re all ready to exercise some democratic rights. Hooray! Now what?

When to vote

On election day, your polling station will be open from 7am until 10pm. You can show up at any point during this time but bear in mind that the early evening is likely to be busiest. You do not need to book a slot, just go along whenever you are ready. If there’s a queue, rejoice that so many people are taking part in our democratic process and stay there. This shit is important, you guys. As long as you are in a queue by 10pm, you will be allowed to cast your vote.

What to take (and what not to!)

If you have it, take your polling card with you. If you don’t, or you forget it, don’t worry! You don’t need it to vote. It is just a handy tool that can help the polling station staff find you on their register quickly.

You do not need ID to vote. There have been hints that this might change in the future but for the moment, you can leave that passport at home.

Another thing to leave at home? Your “I Heart Corbyn” t-shirt. Political clothing or paraphernalia is not permitted inside a polling station, as this could be intimidating to other voters.

You do not need to bring a pen with you. Pencils will be provided in each polling booth.

What happens inside a polling station

When you enter the polling station, there will be a registration desk in front of you. If you have your polling card, hand it to the polling station staff. If not, they will ask you for your full name and address. They will mark you off on their register and give you your ballot paper.

If there are other people waiting, you are welcome to talk to them about the weather, their lipstick, the Great British Bake Off…anything except the election. No election chat is permitted once you are inside your polling station.

There will be a number of private polling booths set up. Take your ballot paper to one of these booths before making your choice. The ballot paper will show all of the available candidates for your constituency. The name of the party leader will not be on your ballot paper. Your ballot paper will show the name of your local candidate, and which party they represent. If you’re voting for Corbyn, select the Labour candidate. If May is your dream Prime Minister, you’re looking for the Conservative candidate. You get the idea.

Put one cross in the box opposite the name of your chosen candidate. For general elections, we use a first past the post system, which means you only make one choice. Do not make any mark on your ballot paper other than your cross, as it might render your vote invalid.

Once you’ve put a cross in your candidate’s box, fold your ballot paper in half and put it into the ballot box. The box should be clearly marked but if you are not sure, your polling station staff should be able to help you.

Once your ballot is safely in the box, you’re done! Go buy yourself a pint and congratulate yourself on participating in our democratic process. If you fancy taking a selfie, this is the moment. Photography inside polling stations is frowned upon, as you may accidentally reveal your ballot paper or someone else’s. Once you’re outside, however, go wild! I love an election day selfie.

uk polling station

The result of this election absolutely hinges on who turns up on the day. Historically, the most privileged among us are the ones who turn out to vote. If you feel like politicians don’t represent you, this is the moment that you can take back the power. Make them sit up and listen. Use your voice. Use your vote.

The Story of a Story

The door was green, was the thing. Rockpool green. Christmas tree green. Proper fairytale green. The kind of green door that you could definitely imagine a dream come true waiting behind.

Her name was Sophie, was the thing. Like my sister. It made me feel a little like I had my Sophie there with me. Could feel her squeezing my hand, see her rolling her eyes, hear her telling me to stop fannying about on a cold doorstep and just knock on the green door already. She’s always made me brave, my Sophie.

In September, I wrote a post about admitting that you want things and having the courage to really back yourself and go after them. Lots of people reached out with lovely comments. One of them was Julia Silk. Julia is a literary agent. She had seen that I had written a book and wondered if I was still looking for representation. I was.

I sent her over my manuscript straight away. She came back quickly to say that she loved the book but as it was a YA, she didn’t think she was the best person to represent it. I was a little sad…I mean, what a story, right? Getting an agent directly because of a post about asking for what you want. The stuff of fairytales.

(Like that door. Don’t worry, we’re getting there.)

Julia and I stayed in touch on Twitter and chatted often. In December, she retweeted a tweet about a writing competition into my timeline. The deadline was that night. I almost didn’t enter, you know. There was an entry fee and after a year of pretty brutal rejection emails, I’d started to think that maybe this book I’d written just wasn’t the one. In the end, I decided I had nothing to lose.

At the beginning of December, I found out my book had been longlisted. From 715 down to 26.

At the turn of the new year, I found out I had been shortlisted. From 715 down to 5.

At the end of January, Gareth Osborne was announced as the winner. You can and absolutely should read his amazing opening chapter here. I wasn’t too disappointed about not winning. It was incredible just to see my name and my photograph on the site, to know that kids had read my book and they’d loved it.

The day after the shortlist was announced I got an email from an agent, congratulating me on being shortlisted. Her name was Sophie, was the thing. It turned out that she worked at the same agency as Julia and Julia had passed my first chapters to her. She wondered if I’d like to come in for a cup of tea and a chat.

I painted my nails soft eggshell grey, because I always feel more together when my nails are done. I stood in front of my colleagues at work, squinting at my outfit and asking “Does this make me look like a creative young professional?”

They assured me that it did.

And this was how I ended up standing on the doorstep of that lovely green door. I’m not sure what I expected a literary agent to be like, but I was terrified. I had built the publishing world up in my head to be an army of stern headteachers, wagging their fingers and tutting at my book. But of course it’s not like that. Of course, like everything else important in this world, it’s run by women with twinkly eyes and firm handshakes, who laugh loudly and often, who have shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Women like Sophie. I went in expecting a job interview. I got a conversation instead. I’m not sure I paused for breath for the entire time I was in her office. Her excitement about my work made me excited and I talked quickly, waved my hands around wildly, cracked a thousand terrible jokes.

She wanted to read the rest of the book.

I sent it over and tried, unsuccessfully, not to refresh my email every five minutes looking for a response. I’ve had lots of agents request my full manuscript, was the thing, and thus far, none of them had decided to take it on in the end. I went for breakfast with Julia, who assured me that Sophie had been incredibly excited after our first meeting.

I’d been so excited too. But she could still hate the book.

At the end of last week, I got an email from Sophie to say that she’d be reading the book and getting back in touch this week.

I took a few photos that would go nicely with an announcement blog post. Just in case.

On Sunday, I put a tiny bottle of prosecco in the fridge. Just in case.

On Monday, I opened this blog post and wrote the first sentence. Just in case. Then, I slammed my laptop closed, sure I’d have jinxed it.

On Tuesday, I spent two hours on my hands and knees fixing a toilet. I hoped that the email would come. What a story, right? It didn’t.

When the email finally came, it came on International Women’s Day, because of course it did. I was on my way to a drag show, because of course I was. I was wearing lots of purple lipstick and the biggest earrings in the world and I was drinking terrible wine out of a plastic pint glass. Because of course I was.

I signed with Sophie Gorell Barnes of MBA Literary Agents at 5pm today. What a story, right?

What You Deserve

This week, apropos of nothing, I started to make a list on Twitter of things that, in my opinion, make life worth living. The list ranged from ducklings to lipstick to that moment when someone unexpectedly understands a really obscure reference you’ve just made. People started to join in and before long, my notifications were filling up with tiny little pleasures and moments of everyday gratitude.

Things are so difficult for so many people right now and I have very little time for those who insist that we should all just be a bit more positive. Positivity doesn’t help the women who can’t access domestic violence refuges or our Muslim friends who are being harassed and intimidated or the people who are denied the healthcare they need. When “being positive” means refusing to acknowledge that things are hard, it stops being helpful and actually becomes oppressive and harmful.

But. The flipside of this is also true. Just because things are difficult and the world seems to be falling apart, you don’t have to stop enjoying things. In fact, I think that when the world is collectively struggling, it’s more important than ever to take as much joy as you can wherever you can find it. We will all be fighting the good fight for a long time and honestly, it seems likely that things are going to get worse before they get better. Which means we need to keep ourselves strong. We need to remember to feed our souls as well as our rage, to keep our warmth as well stoked as our heat. So without further ado and with no more half baked philosophising, here are some little joys that you (yes, you, reading this right now) deserve to have in your life.

  1. You deserve to put your pyjamas on the radiator in the evening so that they’re all toasty and lovely when you put them on. There is no reason in the world for you not to do this every single night.
  2. You deserve to wash out old jars and fill them with tealights. You are a magical princess (this is very not dependent on your gender, people of all genders are magical princesses) and deserve a grotto of beautiful light to live in.
  3. You deserve to own a really sharp can opener and a really sharp vegetable peeler. This is a very boring thing that will improve your life immeasurably.
  4. When you get into bed, you deserve to take hold of your duvet by the corners and whip it upwards, letting it slowly settle back down onto your body. This is the best feeling in the whole world. Double points if you can get someone else to do it for you.
  5. You deserve to cook yourself really brilliant food. I am the queen of eating cereal for dinner when the boy is away because it seems silly and frivolous to cook a proper meal just for me. It is, in fact, neither silly nor frivolous. You deserve to eat food that makes you feel brilliant. Whenever you can, invest that time in yourself and cook yourself up something amazing.
  6. You deserve the biggest, softest towels you can get your hands on. You should probably also put these on the radiator when you get in the shower for the toastiness reasons outlined in point 1.
  7. You deserve to sit in front of a crackling real fire at every available opportunity.
  8. You deserve a few quiet moments every day to have a cup of tea (or whatever you fancy) and just breathe.
  9. In addition, you deserve to drink from a beautiful china teacup, or a gaudy patterned teapot, or an enormous tankard, or a champagne flute, or anything else that brings you joy.
  10. You deserve cream on your hot chocolate.
  11. You deserve to stomp on really crunchy leaves.
  12. You deserve to pet that dog over there.
  13. You deserve to laugh, to proper belly laugh until your sides hurt and tears are streaming down your face, regardless of whether or not anyone else found the thing funny.
  14. You deserve to light a beautiful candle by your bedside and read until you fall asleep.
  15. You deserve to stand outside on bitter cold nights and look up at the stars.
  16. You deserve fresh flowers.
  17. You deserve to stand still and watch the sunset, from the moment the sky starts to turn pink until the very last embers of light dip beneath the horizon and know that no matter who you are, how successful you are, how much money you have, it will always be this beautiful.
  18. You deserve cheese and onion crisps in your sandwich.
  19. You deserve sandwiches cut into triangles.
  20. You deserve a hot water bottle under your feet.
  21. You deserve a really good stretch in the morning. I’m not suggesting you get up and do sunrise yoga every morning because, seriously, not for everyone. And by everyone, I mean me. But you deserve a proper, joyous stretch from your toes all the way to the ends of your fingertips.
  22. You deserve to eat really delicious cake with a fork and pretend that you’re fancy.
  23. You deserve scalding hot showers with incredible smelling soap.
  24. You deserve soft, clean socks.
  25. You deserve joy.

Three’s A Charm

Well folks, today is a bit of a special occasion. The Escapologist’s Daughter is three years old today.

Three years ago, I sat at my computer and typed out my biggest secret for the whole world to see: that I had no idea who I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be doing. The past three years have been a fantastic and often frustrating adventure as I continue to find that out.

In the past three years, I have done things I never thought possible. I have stood up against injustice. I have had my arse featured in the Daily Mail and lived to tell the tale. I have written a book. I have watched my little voice grow from a whisper into a roar.

Now, a lot of the time, I’m still not totally sure what I’m roaring about. It’s a learning process, you guys. And inevitably, that sometimes means that I roar something only to come back five hours later and roar “I AM SORRY ABOUT THAT. I WAS HUNGRY AND CONFUSED.” like the Honey Monster. I’m still not entirely sure who I’m supposed to be. But I’m sure that what I’m supposed to be doing is telling stories.

I guess I’ve always been telling stories. As a kid, this manifested in scribbled pamphlets all over the house, long suffering parents watching another four hour play and the occasional whopper of a lie. I once fell in the swimming baths and cut an enormous great gash in my back. I told my entire class that I had been caught up in a car explosion. I was the most talked about person in the school for weeks. Everyone was so impressed.

I have gotten distracted. That tends to happen. But if you’ve been around this long, I’m sure you’ve noticed that.

What I’m trying to say is that I never stopped telling stories. This entire blog is a story. This is my story. My life is virtually unrecognisable to what it was three years ago and that is largely because of this little blog. This blog has made me brave, given me the courage to do things and ask for things I never would have dreamed of before. You, every one of you, have made me brave. I hope that whatever my future holds, I can continue to tell you stories. And I hope that sometimes, those stories feel like a hand taking yours. Because my darling, you are not alone. If you don’t know who you are, you are not alone. If you feel like everyone else is doing better than you, you are not alone. If you are wondering when adulthood hits and everything sorts itself out, you are not alone. This blog has seen some of my absolute lows as well as many of my absolute highs. I created it to chart the stories and the scars as much as to flaunt the pretty things. This life is a funny old mixed bag. It really is. But I promise you, you can do it. You just need to figure out your story.

Thank you for hanging out with me, for seeing yourselves in me, for letting me be a part of your life. The thought of someone reading these words standing at their kitchen counter with a glass of wine, in bed on a Sunday morning, on a rainy commute…that’s what it’s all about. There really isn’t anything better than that. Thank you for being a part of my story and for letting me be a part of yours. I love you to the moon and back.

 

 

We Came. We Marched. Now What?

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be a part of something momentous.

womens march london

All over the world, in all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica), people of all genders came together to march against the rise of oppression and fascism epitomised by Donald Trump’s ascent to power.

Millions of people took to the streets, waving placards splashed with hopeful, hilarious messages and the key message was this: we’re not going to let the bastards get away with this.

It was an amazing thing to be a part of and everyone I know who attended has been quite rightly riding a wave of feminist euphoria since. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more feminist than passing a flowery hip flask of rum around a group of freezing women clutching sweary placards.

It was an amazing, inspiring day and no one can ever take that from us. But. If we are really not going to let the bastards away with all of their nonsense, the march has to be a beginning, a jumping off point, not an ending. We have not yet “done our bit”. If we’re serious about stopping this massive, terrifying threat, we need to commit to fighting every day.

For a lot of people, this march was the first time that they had been involved in a protest. If that’s you – welcome! Come on in, we have felt pens and rum. I hope that the march left you feeling all fired up and ready for battle. We’re going to need you to keep that fire burning. If that all sounds good but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ways you can resist every day:

  1. Give money to the people who need it. Homelessness is an epidemic in the UK. Hate crime is on the up. Domestic violence services, LGBTQIA+ support services, food banks, shelters, refuges and our welfare system are being absolutely gutted by our government. Cut out your morning coffee just once a week and set up a standing order for £10 a month to a charity providing much needed support.
  2. Volunteer! As much as cash, these vital services need bodies on the ground. Whether it’s serving food at a homeless shelter, manning the tills at a charity shop or teaching English to refugees, I bet you have some skills you could share around.
  3. Teach. If you don’t fancy volunteering at a support service, why not volunteer at your local girl guide group? If we’re really hoping to bring about lasting, meaningful change, we need to empower the kids coming up behind us. Teach them well and let them lead the way and all that.
  4. Join a local protest group. Sisters Uncut are a brilliant, intersectional direct action group and if you’re UK based, they probably have a group near you. If not, they have instructions on how to set up your own group on their website.
  5. Sort of an addendum to number 4, but don’t just show up when things affect you directly. Feminism as a movement has been built on the backs of women of colour, LGBTQIA+ women, disabled women, refugee women, poor women, fat women, sex workers. Women belonging to these groups have been experiencing the sort of oppression and violence that we now fear for their entire lives. If we had listened to these women to begin with, maybe we could have halted this whole fascist movement earlier. This isn’t intended as a rebuke, just as a little something to remember. Go to a Black Lives Matter march. Write to your MP about detention centres. Send welcome packages to refugees. If each of us is only looking out for ourself, we’re never going to get out of this damn mess.
  6. A tangent from the addendum in number 5: listen to the experiences of those who are different from you. And when I say “listen”, I mean really listen. Don’t wade into conversations and talk over oppressed people to show off how clever and feminist you are, or look for reassurance about how great an ally you are. Twitter is a frankly unbelievable resource if you’re willing to acknowledge your privilege and listen. And look, I know it’s hard to be called out on your privilege. I’m a skinny, straight, white, cis girl. I say stupid stuff all the time and when I get called on it, it’s tempting to throw a huff and write a long, meandering blog post about how my intentions were good. But your intentions don’t matter if your actions are hurting people. Instead of doing that, I sulk for a minute, then take a deep breath and suck it up. Because accepting that you are wrong and learning to listen to the people who are traditionally silenced is how we move forward. If people are taking time out of their day to give you a free education, don’t throw it back in their face. Listen, listen, listen.
  7. Once you have listened and you’ve started to learn stuff, apply that knowledge. Challenge prejudice and microaggressions wherever you see them. If, like me, you have lots of privilege, odds are you have the choice to let shitty attitudes and comments slide because they’re not directly hurtful to you. Choose differently. This is a fight that will be won or lost over a dining room table, over whether you’re willing to pick your little brother up when he makes a racist joke.
  8. Okay, we’re back from the addenda and tangents. Campaign for abortion access, sexual healthcare access and better sex education. After the US election, a lot of people, myself included, made donations to Planned Parenthood in new VP Mike Pence’s name. This was worthwhile and also hilarious. But this fight is equally important much closer to home. People in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland  do not have access to safe, legal abortions. Lend your voice to their cause. Sign up for the FPA’s newsletter. Find a local Repeal the 8th meeting.
  9. Drop off a load of sanitary products at your local homeless shelter or food bank. Getting your period is bad enough as is, imagine having to go without sanitary products.
  10. Stick a big box in your office and ask people to bring in donations for your local food bank. Keep an eye out for 3 for 2 or BOGOF deals in the supermarket: pick up extras and donate them! (Remember: people who rely on food banks often won’t have access to fridges, freezers or cookers. Focus on things that can be made without these)
  11. Get informed. I know that the news is horrendous and it’s completely fine to take breaks and look after yourself when it gets too much. But if we want to win, we need to know what we’re fighting against.
  12. Write to your MP! Your MP will have an email address and a Twitter account. Get in their face and demand that they represent you.
  13. Vote. Please, for the love of god, vote.
  14. Keep going. There are hard, hard times ahead. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. Take a break, get yourself together and keep on keeping on. Giving up is an act of privilege. There are people whose very survival depends on them continuing to fight. They don’t have the luxury of deciding that it’s too hard. We will not abandon them. We will stand with them. Keep going, loves, keep going.

Well, this turned into a bit of a monstrous post. Apologies if that was a bit overwhelming. Of course, you don’t need to do all of these things (except the listening and challenging prejudice. You really do need to do those ones). If you try to take on everything, you’re going to burn out. We need you strong, so make sure you’re feeding your soul as well as your anger. Switch off the news and take a bath. Hang out with the people who love you. Watch a video of that Nazi guy getting punched in the face (No, violence isn’t normally my bag but if we can cheer John Smeaton for kicking a terrorist in the balls, you bet your ass I’m going to cheer a literal Nazi getting punched in the face. I’m an Indiana Jones fan, after all.) Pick a few actions, do them consistently, do them well. In fifty years time, your grandkids will be asking you what you were up to during this strange, tumultuous time in our history. Make sure you’ve got a good story for them. Courage, my darlings, courage. We’re on the right side of history.

womens march placards

25 at 25

As I may have mentioned just once or twice, I turned 25 at the turn of the New Year. It’s an odd sort of age. You move up an age category, into the 25 and overs, so everyone younger than you thinks you’re completely ancient, while everyone older claws at your face in empty horror and yells about how you’re still just a teeny tiny little baby. Regardless of whether you think I’m utterly over the hill or basically a jumped up toddler (both true, if I’m being totally honest), I’ve now been on the earth for a quarter of a century. And during that time, I like to think I’ve learned a couple of things.

People who are older and wiser than me, feel free to turn away now. Everyone else, here are 25 extremely important things I’ve learned in my 25 years.

  1. Girls are brilliant. Seriously, really brilliant. I spent a long, long time as one of those girls who was only friends with boys because there was, like, so much less drama. Now that I have a girl gang, I literally don’t know how I got by without them. Turns out, boys are just as dramatic as girls. It’s just that girls are socialised to see each other as competition. Bust that cycle. Lift each other up. Who runs the world? Girls.
  2. Don’t use those spot pad things on your face. Your skin will never forgive you, even if you spend ten years treating it like a god damn princess.
  3. Everything you are wearing and doing right now is going to make you cringe in ten years, especially the stuff that you think is super cool, so wear what you want. Those folks laughing at you will be cringing just as hard as you in 2027.
  4. It’s important to know when you’re standing up for yourself and when you’re picking a fight just to be a dick. I will deny this vehemently if confronted but about 80% of the arguments I start are entirely me being a needless dick because I’m in a bad mood/have hurt feelings about a totally different issue/am tired/hungry/cold. Learning to swallow that impulse to lash out has made every single relationship in my life better.
  5. Most things can be made better with a kitchen danceathon, a long bath, a cup of tea, some Sudocrem or a really good red lipstick.
  6. The best, scariest things in your life often take only ten seconds of mad, terrifying courage. Take a deep breath, summon your courage and do the thing.
  7. Food has no moral value. Eating only green things is not a substitute for a personality. Nor is always being game to finish a packet of biscuits. Cake is not naughty. It’s a basic human right.
  8. Sleeping naked on clean sheets is the second best thing you can do in a bed.
  9. Don’t save your best things. You deserve them now. Use them now.
  10. Say “I love you” when it’s true. Say it often.
  11. Sometimes “self care” means planting yourself in a squishy chair and bingeing 8 hours of TV. Sometimes it means getting off your arse and doing your damn dishes. Be honest with yourself about what you really need.
  12. If the dress is pinching a little at 7am, you’ll be dying in it by noon. See also: shoes that hurt just a little when you put them on.
  13. The best love is about warmth just as much as it is about heat. There is nothing more underrated on this green earth than someone who makes you feel safe, someone who makes you feel cherished.
  14. You will never regret taking that photo. Even if you think your hair is a mess, even if you’ve worried people will think you’re a bore or laugh at you posing. You’ll never regret having it.
  15. Conversely, THERE IS NO REASON TO VIDEO GIGS ON YOUR PHONE. Your video will be dreadful and your tiny, grainy screen is in the way of everyone trying to actually see the stage.
  16. Having savings is a really good idea.
  17. Never apologise for taking joy in things. Disney movies, corny pop music, obscure metal bands, foreign literature…surround yourself with things that lift your soul.
  18. Taking a really long walk is the best way to get to know someone.
  19. Having travel plans go horribly awry is also a good way to get to know someone, but in a less awesome way.
  20. Asking for help almost always goes better than you think it will.
  21. People have the boundless ability to surprise you, sometimes with their cruelty but more often, with their kindness.
  22. Time taken to hang out with people you love, read books, cuddle animals or stare at large bodies of water is not ever wasted time.
  23. Don’t let this big, weird world turn you hard and cold. Cynicism is just a way for people to pretend that they’re clever, without actually putting in the work to be clever. Stay soft, stay kind. If anyone gives you shit for this, set them on fire.*
  24. It’s okay to have no idea what you want.
  25. It’s okay to change your mind.

*Please do not set anyone on fire.

The New Year

And that’s it over. The champagne has been drunk, the kisses exchanged, the confetti swept up. The new year is upon us and it’s fat and glorious with possibility.

I wrote last new year about why I think new year’s resolutions should be about becoming, rather than changing. A fresh start should be something exciting, a time to be celebrated, not something to beat yourself over the head with. I promise, no matter how much growing you have to do, you did fine last year. You did great, in fact.

When I sit down to write my goals for new year, I try to think about what parts of me I want to make bigger, rather than the parts I want to make smaller.

This year, I’m going to take scalding hot showers, even though they’re bad for my skin, because they make me feel alive. I’m going to read dusty old classics and trashy crime novels and appreciate that both of them feed my soul in different ways.

I’m going to wear lipstick in a wild rainbow of colours and learn to walk in those shoes that make me look a million dollars. I’m not going to go running, because I hate it. I’m going to stretch because I want to take care of my body, not because I want to change it. I’m going to dance in my living room until my heart pounds.

I’m going to eat my vegetables and I’m going to have seconds of pudding because both of those things are nourishing if you allow them to be. I’m going to bake outrageous cakes, even if the boy and I are the only ones who ever see them. I’m going to stop splurging on makeup only to scrimp on skincare. Goddammit, I’m going to moisturise.

I’m going to call home more and take more photographs. I’m going to laugh louder and sing when I cook. I’m going to seek out adventure, whether that’s halfway across the world or in the park at the end of my road. I’m going to pet more dogs. I’m going to climb more trees and take picnics and go paddling in the sea. I’m going to practise my German until the rust falls off.

I’m going to wear pretty dresses and slouchy jumpers and flirt with my boyfriend and kiss as much as I can. I’m going to think more and smile more. I’m going to be grateful. I’m going to be brave. I’m going to get involved in my community and speak up against the things I think are wrong. I’m going to write write write.

Whatever you choose to do with your 2017, I hope it is spectacular. I hope that your year is filled with love and laughter that makes your sides hurt. I hope you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and think, hey there, awesome. I hope you have the courage to be the most yourself that you can possibly be. Happy new year, darlings. Happy, happy new year.