What Learning to Drive Taught Me (Other Than How to Drive a Car)

Yes, that is me. I’ve always looked fantastic in hats.

At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a resolution. And you guys know how I feel about resolutions. But this one…well, let’s just say I had some reservations.

That’s right. I decided I was learning to drive. My youngest cousins were now zipping around the road with gay abandon, while the thought of so much as sitting in the driver’s seat of a car still filled me with unmitigated dread. It was time. My other half and I made a deal: by the end of the year, both of us would have learned to drive. All well and good. Until the traitor actually booked some lessons.

I was furious. And then terrified. And then furious again. One of the many excellent things about my other half is that he is constantly challenging me, pushing me, believing in me so ferociously that it forces me to back myself. He is my biggest cheerleader, refusing to let me away with ducking out on myself, especially if he suspects I’m doing it because I’m scared. He is the best and I hate him. I passed my test on December 18th, with a whole 13 days to spare.

So, what did the experience teach me? Well, it taught me how to drive a car. I am now judged to be safe on the road. Most excellent, and god help us all. But it turns out I picked up a few other things along the way.

I am bad at being bad at things

Oh, friends, this is one of my least affable qualities. I know it will come as a shock to all of you that I too am a mere human with flaws and hangups, despite the unflappable paragon of grace and elegance I’m sure you see on this blog. But dear god, I am so lucky I was smart at school.

I talked about this a little when I took up yoga a few years back. I absolutely cannot cope with not being immediately good at things. I don’t know how. If I can’t do the thing straight away and if I am not instantly better than everyone else at the thing, I tend to flounce off, insisting that the thing is boring and that I never even wanted to do it anyway. I know, I know. This is categorically Not Great. I’m working on it.

It is impossible to be immediately good at driving. Yes, some people might be quick learners, or have brilliant reflexes, or amazing spatial awareness. But no one gets into a car for the first time and knows how to drive. I found this endlessly hard and frustrating to begin with. I’d trundle along, sweating buckets and internally screaming at my instructor to please, please, for the love of god, please just tell me that no one has ever driven so beautifully at seven miles per hour.

During one particularly massive huff, one of my pals gently suggested that not immediately being good at driving was why I was paying someone vast sums of money to teach me. This gave me some very sound logic with which to battle my ridiculous ego.

Don’t get me wrong, the ego was still there, but with great effort and practice, I forced it to just sit there and deal. It became apparent very quickly that being defensive and impatient was not going to get me anywhere, figuratively or literally. I forced myself to admit when I wasn’t sure, to ask for specific practice on things I knew I wasn’t good at, to appreciate the process of learning and improving. I’d love to tell you that this was a huge awakening for me and that I’m now throwing myself into new learning experiences but alas, I am still the worst. But we survived. Sometimes, your ego gets bruised and that is a thing you just have to deal with. You will survive. Which brings me rather neatly to…

You can live through a bit of discomfort

I’m a bit of an overthinker. I can go from zero to existential crisis in seconds. I once ruined my own Christmas holidays by wholly convincing myself that I had left the oven on and my flat was going to burn down and kill a bunch of innocent children, probably on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t, of course. It was totally fine. One of my gravest regrets in life is teaching my other half the word “catastrophise” and therefore giving him the vocabulary to call me on my shit.

Anyway. This overthinking tendency combined with the aforementioned ego means that when I am not good at something, it inevitably gets blown way out of proportion. I work myself into complete, overwhelming panic. And when that happens? I flake.

I thought about cancelling every single driving lesson I took. As I improved, I started to enjoy the actual time in the car but the hour before never got any easier. Somewhere between the evening before and the hour before, the dread would set in. I’d notice that my jaw was clenched, that I felt sick, that I was lightheaded. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was worrying me but the feeling was clear: I was terrified. Literally every time, I’d pick up my phone to call in sick. One text message, and I could make the fear go away for a while. I didn’t cancel a single lesson.

Partly, this is down to the nature of driving lessons. I was working to a deadline, somewhere in my future, the magic number of lessons when I would be ready. Cancelling would have meant adding two hours onto that total, somewhere down the line. It wasn’t really getting rid of the fear, it was just kicking the can down the road.

So I learned to sit with my fear. To accept that it was there and do the thing anyway. Even when my legs felt like wooden blocks and my teeth were literally chattering with terror, I forced myself down the stairs and into that driver’s seat. I’d talk to myself gently, like you would to a very little kid, telling myself it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be over soon. I learned that running away isn’t the only option when you’re terrified. You can accept that something is going to be hard and uncomfortable, but that it won’t last forever. You can go through it and be absolutely fine. No matter what that fear tells you, you can learn to drive in Tottenham and live to tell the tale.

The right teacher is everything

I think we have established that I can be a delicate little flower when the mood takes me. The upside is, I know where my weaknesses are and I’m pretty good at insulating against them where I can. So the first thing I said to my instructor was, “Just a heads up, if you shout at me, I’ll cry. Sorry, I don’t mean to, it’s just an embarrassing reflex.”

He laughed and recounted the time one of his pupils got so terrified, they decided to shut their eyes on the road. He took the wheel, told them to take a deep breath and open their eyes again when they felt ready. I knew I’d picked the right guy.

He gently coaxed me down residential streets at seven miles an hour, made me stick my tongue out when he noticed I had stopped breathing and when I blithely followed a double decker bus straight into a bus stop, interestedly inquired, “So, what we doing here then?”

When I informed him that we now lived in the bus stop, he laughed uproariously, made me stick my tongue out and softly coached me back out onto the road.

Driving is hard. Getting on the North Circular roundabout is hard. Learning to do anything new is hard. There’s no sense in making it harder with the wrong teacher.

I’m taking my first road trip at the end of this month.

I learned to drive with Chris at BSM. This is not a sponsored post or a collaboration, I just had a really great experience with them and would wholeheartedly recommend for anyone learning to drive in North London.

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, 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, 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, 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 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, 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.

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

Beach Body Already

This week, my Twitter exploded for the second time when new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that he would be clamping down on body shaming adverts on the Tube. A lot of you lovely folks first found my blog through my fight with Protein World (if you’re a newbie, welcome to the party! You can read all about it here, here and here!) and I’m thrilled that people are still talking about it.

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I want to talk about privilege for just a second before the celebrations start – and make no mistake, this is a celebration blogpost. Body positive victories like this one are always, always built on the tireless work of brilliant, gorgeous, fat women who get a hundred times the abuse and none of the media attention that I did. I am so, so proud of the stand that I took against PW and continue to be blown away by the support I received but it’s worth asking – would the stunt have been so well received if I was fat? Even between Tara and me, two relatively thin girls, she bore the brunt of the abuse, I got the majority of the press. So please, continue to send your congratulations and I shall continue to bask in them because I’m a big millennial narcissist, but I’ll stick a list of excellent folks at the bottom of my post who fight for body positivity every day and often get nothing but abuse for it. Go show them some love.

At the height of the Beach Body debacle, one of the things I heard over and over (and over and over and over) was that we were wasting our time fighting against something as trivial as an advert. And there’s a grain of truth there. Women, especially fat women, face discrimination in much more overt, dangerous ways than having the beach body brigade shoved down their throats every summer. But I dare you to go speak to someone suffering from an eating disorder and dismiss body image issues as trivial. Anorexia is the deadliest mental illness faced by humans. It carries a higher risk of death than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. This isn’t about an advert that hurts a few people’s delicate feelings. It’s about taking a little bite out of a culture that is actively killing people. So this might be a small victory, but it is absolutely 100% a victory.

take back the beach protein world

Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I’m not claiming that our protest single-handedly led to all of the changes that are happening, but I can’t remember the last time I saw an article about body shaming that wasn’t illustrated with a photograph of the Protein World advert. The advert, the protests, all of the trolling and argument, they made body image an issue that was suddenly worth talking about, worth writing about for the mainstream media. And that happened because we refused to shut up. We shouted louder and louder, over and over again, “This is not okay and we’re not going to take it anymore”.

The whole thing: the photograph, the TV interviews, the worldwide media, the Hyde Park party, the speeches Tara and I have given since, all of it was the product of a funny idea and about 12 seconds of mad courage. Everything hinged on the few moments it took to take a deep breath, steel each other and pull off our dresses in the middle of Charing Cross. Hundreds of thousands of women saw the advert and we just happened to be two of the many who dug our heels in and said no.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t think that you’re too small to make a difference. I took one photograph, had two mad weeks and held a protest party that was only about 100 people strong and the ripples of that are still being felt over a year later. We have the power to change things, if only we are brave enough to let ourselves care, if only we are brave enough to try. To steal a line from my blog’s namesake, even if you’re little, you can do a lot. I believe in you. And even at a time when it feels like the world is falling in on itself, I believe that people can be good. People can be great. And if we let ourselves, people can be powerful enough to change the world. Courage, dear heart. Courage.

 

Brilliant Body Positive People

Tara Catstello: my excellent partner in crime through the beach body furore, runs an amazing feminist blog that talks body issues, feminism and what it means to be a woman.

Bethany Rutter: plus size blogger and asskicker extraordinaire, made a huge batch of body confidence cards to hand out on the tube in response to a fatshaming asshat.

Hayley, Curves & Curls: pin up sasspot babe, runs a gorgeous plus size fashion blog.

Daisy Says: fabulous, opinionated, fierce as hell. Spends her days doling out positive vibes and dispatching trolls with gay abandon.

Lottie L’Amour: award winning blogger and ambassador for the Body Confidence Revolution, a project celebrating bodies in all of their glorious diversity.

Callie Thorpe: gorgeous blogger, Marie Claire columnist and longtime body confidence warrior.

MurderOfGoths: unreasonably talented plus size illustrator, creates the most beautiful, beautiful artwork of other plus size babes.

Danielle Vanier: fantastic plus size fashion blogger who campaigns for body acceptance and delights in breaking ridiculous “fashion rules”.

George Horne: plus size blogger and model who fights relentlessly for better representation of plus size women.

Because of the troll risk, I don’t want to add anyone to this list without their permission, but if you are or know an amazing body positive/fat positive activist, please shout! I’ll keep adding forever.

 

Schmoozing and Boozing: #IRLPanel

My favourite thing about the internet is having the ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

My Twitter timeline is constantly full of amazing, inspiring women; women with stories to tell and brilliant, brave voices to tell them in. Women who are grabbing life with two hands and making it work for them. Women who have overcome unbelievable, devastating things. Women who really, really give a shit.

I’ve written before about Laura Jane Williams, one of the best and most beautiful writers I’ve encountered. I’ve followed her blog for a while now and had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a Debrief event a couple of months ago. So when she and fellow fabulous person Emma Gannon decided to throw a real life get together for these great Twitter women, I basically fell over myself in my hurry to get a ticket.

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Fittingly, the theme of the evening was friendship, so I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants and decided to go along on my ownsome and make as many friends as I could. I had chatted with a lot of the folks who were going on Twitter, but I suffer from that eternal writers’ conviction that I am infinitely funnier and more charming on the page than I could ever hope to be in person, so I was pretty nervous.

I headed into the room, made a beeline for the prosecco and spun around to introduce myself to the nearest person before my confidence had the chance to desert me. Reader, the Universe sent me an angel. Halfway through our introductions, I realised I had met the woman I was speaking to before but hadn’t recognised her, due to my vision being impaired upon our first meeting by a knight’s helmet. We were taking part in a non-sexy pants photoshoot. No, really, we actually were:

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Me being unsexy in some pants.

She was the excellent Daisy Buchanan, whose writing you will probably have read if you have picked up literally any newspaper or magazine this year. Spurred on by this realisation, I introduced myself to another bunch of ladies standing nearby and spent the next half hour pouring prosecco for people and enthusing about how great Daisy’s writing is.

The panel of speakers took to the stage and I quickly scurried to an empty seat. I smiled shyly at the girls beside me, only to have one of them ask “Sorry, are you Fiona?”

Turns out that curly red hair and a big Scottish accent are good identifiers. My favourite thing about events like this is that everyone introduces themselves with their Twitter handle.

“Oh hey! Aren’t you @EscapologistGl? I’m @flo_robson!”
“SHUT UP, it’s so nice to meet you!”

The panel was made up of Nadin Hadi, Lucy Sheridan, Jade Coles and Emma and Laura themselves. The five women were strikingly different but equally excellent as they picked their way through the thorny topic of friendship.

Wisdom was doled out in bucketloads:

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
A good friendship is one where you don’t both fall out of love at the same time.
You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited friendship.

But the wisdom was cut through with fast-paced, biting hilarity: Lucy recalling how her husband falls in friend-love at first sight, Nadin outing herself as Helen from Bridesmaids, Laura exclaiming Oh god, I’m Kristen Wiig and I HATE YOU.

I frantically tapped half nonsensical, typo ridden notes into my phone and nodded furiously at every word spoken. The truth is, these women could have been talking about anything in the world and I would have listened. There is something so uniquely wonderful about a group of women who are absolutely owning it. I wanted to stand up and high five everyone in the room when Nadin followed up her Bridesmaids comment by saying “People are intimidated by me and that’s fine. I am intimidating.”

In no time at all, the panel was over and people started to mill around the room. Self-consciousness soothed by prosecco and shared experience, we poured out our stories of love and loss, of friendship breakups, finding your tribe and whether or not you always want to sleep with your friends just a little bit. Scrolling the hashtag on Twitter, I found that a couple of my favourite bloggers were in the room and went around squinting at people’s faces until I found them. Once I met them, I tried to be cool, but ended up snuggling them instead. Such is life.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

There’s always something a bit magical about meeting people you admire and this night was absolutely no exception. If you didn’t get a ticket for this one, make sure you come along to the next. But be warned, I’ll probably snuggle you.

It Starts Now

I’m so excited that I arrive half an hour early and have to sit in the lobby of the uber stylish Hoxton Hotel, people watching and becoming increasingly frantic that everyone walking past looks infinitely cooler than I do. The beloved imposter syndrome sets in but has to take a back seat; there’s nothing in this here world that would make me miss one of my favourite writers in conversation with one of my favourite websites, especially when the odds of free cocktails are high.

Photo provided by the lovely folks at Aperol UK.

Photo provided by the lovely folks at Aperol UK.

The event is called It Starts Now, a name that runs up my spine and reminds me of that whispered promise that the New Year brings. It’s run by the Debrief, sponsored by Aperol and plays host to three amazing bloggers who will be telling us exactly how to grab 2016 by the unmentionables.

I’m at the event solo. This is the undeniable downside to having cool friends…they are literally always booked out. I tentatively introduce myself to another girl in the corridor, Hannah, and by the time the doors open, we are already cheerily discussing micropenises. We are ushered into a bar that looks like it leapt directly out of Pinterest: black and white chequered tiles, bright orange everything, squashy armchairs, warm white fairy lights, bottles of stinging orange Aperol scattered artfully around. We’re given a cocktail each and advised to hang onto our glasses for top ups. This is excellent news.

Hannah’s plus one, Sarah, arrives shortly after and turns out to be just as excellent as Hannah. They very nicely let me gatecrash their evening and it is definitely their fault that I don’t have a single non-blurry photo of the night. I’m far too busy giggling and drinking Aperol Spritzes to stand still enough for a photo.

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After a little mingling, we are brought into a tiny cinema room and this is where the fun really starts. Jo from food blog Jo Eats London, Laura from lifestyle blog Superlatively Rude and Zara from beauty blog Mouldy Fruit sit in front of us and reveal the secrets to making 2016 a truly great year. Laura’s blog has been one of my favourites for a very long time. She’s one of the most stunning, truthful writers that I know, and if you haven’t read her blog before, you absolutely should. When I meet her, I instinctively throw myself at her, before panicking a split second too late that she isn’t a hugger. Of course, she is, so when I say goodbye, she gets a proper hug. Jo and Zara are both new discoveries for me but hearing them speak is amazing.

Jo talks about what’s going to be hotting up and what’s going to be cooling off in our kitchens. Cupcakes are over, thank the lord. Give me a slice of proper cake any day. So are spiralisers. Pasta is the way forward, says Jo. I think we’ll get on just fine. Jo is warm and sweet and funny and completely succeeds in making me very hungry. Apparently, in 2016, we need to be eating cauliflower. And doughnuts. And I’ll raise a glass to that any day.

Laura chats about life, love and social media, not necessarily in that order. Chat really is the right word for it. She goes off on tangents and laughs at her own notes when they get pompous – “I regularly prune my social media garden…what does that even mean?”, she chuckles at one point – and has all of us in stitches as she mourns the loss of her slightly uncool imaginary celebrity BFF Khloe Kardashian. Her message is the same one that rings out through her writing: do what feels good. She talks about authenticity and truth and beauty and I feel like standing up and doing a little victory dance every five minutes.

Zara is talking beauty. More specifically, beauty trends that will look just as good on your actual face as they do on Instagram. As she so aptly puts it, we’ve all gotten to the stage where we feel like we should have five Instagram filters on our faces before we even walk out the door. Excessive contouring is swapped for dewy, glowy skin, nude Kylie Jenner lips are replaced with bold cherry lips and swipes of turquoise eyeliner. I’m excited. Like the others, Zara started her blog because she felt like somehow, she had something to say. And she certainly does. I take a full page of notes of beauty products that I want to buy.

Zara, Jo and Laura.

Zara, Jo and Laura.

All three are warm and fun and gorgeous in every sense of the word. I leave the room feeling like 2016 is probably going to be the year that I take over the world. Sarah, Hannah and I head back into the bar where we sit and put the world to rights, drink a few more Aperol spritzes than is really appropriate for a school night and swap social media links and story ideas, before being politely ushered out after everyone else has left. What else are ya gonna do on a Wednesday night, right? Take a deep breath, my darlings. 2016 is here. It’s going to be a big one, if you’ll let it. Relax. Do you. Do what feels good. Introduce yourself loudly. Throw yourself in for the hug. Order another drink. Laugh too much. Get inspired. This is your life. It starts now.

Camille In The Round

As much a storyteller as a singer, Camille O’Sullivan has one those raw, heartrending voices that seems to tear the very fabric of the air, before reaching through and punching you right in the heart. When I lived in Edinburgh, I made a point of seeing her at least once a year when she rocked the Fringe festival, so last year, finding myself stuck in London throughout August, I was pretty gutted. It didn’t even occur to me to check whether she was playing in London and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should always date someone smarter than you. My lovely boy bought me tickets to see her for my Christmas.

Camille O'Sullivan London

From a tiny Edinburgh festival venue to London’s beautiful Roundhouse, Camille’s set remains familiar. It’s like wandering into the mind of a fairytale character; dresses hang in the air, filled with fairy lights, a rabbit lamp sits on top of a battered leather suitcase, an assortment of hats lies to the side of the stage, a microphone stand drips with chimes, a pair of ruby slippers glitter conspicuously in the dim light. Camille herself is equally surreal. She enters in a sparkling black cape, wrapped in yet more fairy lights, painted red lips the only colour among orchid-pale skin and dark, shining hair. I always have a certain amount of love and respect for beautiful women who could choose to be hot and choose to be weird instead (see also: Kate Bush). Camille lurches and sashays and bunny hops wildly around the stage, miaowing, swearing, drinking wine, before assuming whatever character she’ll be occupying for the duration of the next song. All of which isn’t to suggest that she isn’t sexy as hell. She’s basically the love of my life. She shifts between spurned lovers, spurning lovers, heartbroken daughters, deranged freak-show nightmares, salacious temptresses, often huge caricatures with enough truth in them that every one feels familiar. Changing characters are accompanied by changing costumes, a glittering array of shoes and dresses and hats and face paints and lipsticks. Different voices, different faces, different walks. Her singing veers between soft, whispering crooning, scratching rock and roll belting, rich, deep instrumentals. She has a voice that feels as though it is physically surrounding you, filling you up. I cry three times: once at the lovesick beauty of Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo, once at the raw, scraping power of Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam, once at the ironic, understated loneliness of Fascinating Aida’s Look Mummy, No Hands.

Having seen her at least ten times before, I’ve got a list of firm favourites, songs that give me goosebumps or make my heart start thumping after just a few notes. I couldn’t have written a better set list for this show. Niall laughs at me as I bounce and squeal and grab his hand every time I recognise a new song. The show opens with Gillian Welch and closes with Nick Cave, stopping off at Bob Dylan, Kirsty MacColl, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel and a rollicking tribute to the Starman himself, Mr David Bowie. Camille covers songs that I would ordinarily forbid people to cover and she makes them better. She makes them more beautiful. She makes me understand them in a new way.

Between songs, she chats affectionately to the audience, trips over microphone wires, talks lovingly about the artists she is covering, marvels at how much easier it was to salsa Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes when she started ten years ago. Despite all of the glamour, all the theatrical glory of the performance, between songs, you’re made to feel as though you’ve just bumped into her in the pub. She exudes warmth and fondness for her audience, and performs with the air of someone who still, after all this time, feels so privileged to be sharing her favourite music with them.

She’s back in London on the 29th of April. Go see her. Miaow.

A Hot Date With You

During the summer, the boyfriend headed back to Ireland to spend a weekend with his family, leaving me on my ownsome for a few days.

An artist's impression of me on my ownsome.

An artist’s impression of me on my ownsome.

I like to think of myself as kind of a Badass Woman but here’s a secret: when Niall goes anywhere for more than a couple of days, I tend to get a bit pathetic. Not full on sitting by the window in a crinoline, waving my handkerchief, but definitely a bit sad and mopey. This is combined with the novelty of having the flat to myself, having lived with Niall for five solid years. This combination of factors means that when he’s away, I’m generally to be found in my pyjamas, eating slices of cheese, surrounded by dirty plates, watching the worst movie available on Netflix. And that’s an awesome way to spend a day! But after a whole weekend of not seeing the outside world, I tend to feel a bit less awesome. So this time, I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I decided that instead, I would go on some super hot dates…with myself.

I washed my hair and painted my nails and put on my brightest lipstick and wore my fancypants patterned tights. And you know what? I looked hot. I would totally date me. Dressing up for yourself is kind of great.

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The coolest thing about your significant other being away is that you can relish doing things that they totally hate. So, I headed for Leicester Square, marched up to the half price ticket hut and bought myself a ticket to see Wicked that evening. £40 lighter and deliriously excited, I skipped off for what turned into a very boozy lunch in the sunshine with my friend Suzanne. I guess this is technically cheating on my spending-time-with-me plan but hours of girl talk is one of the things that I so deeply miss about sharing a flat with a load of people, so I’m totally counting it. After lunch, I wandered slowly along the Southbank, pausing every five steps or so to gaze at the river and share a romantic moment with myself. It was glorious. I arrived at Wicked, literally bouncing with excitement. At first, it felt pretty weird being by myself and I was sure that everyone was staring and pointing and such, but that evaporated as soon as the lights went down. I bawled and beamed my way through the entire show without once having to worry about whether my date was bored…I knew she was loving every second.

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The next evening, I did something even scarier: I took myself out for pizza, wine and a movie. There’s a little Italian in Stoke Newington called Trattoria Sapori that does pizza, a drink and a movie for £12. Every day, I walk past it and every day, I peer wistfully in the windows. So this day, I decided I’d go. I booked my ticket, confirmed that it was just for one, took my seat, confirmed that it was just for one, confirmed with the couple who came in after me that I wasn’t saving a seat, it was just for one, confirmed with the waiter that I was by myself…turns out that people aren’t used to seeing a gal out on the town by herself. Again, it felt pretty weird to start with but I was starting to quite like my own company. I struck up a conversation with the couple beside me, ate an entire pizza all to myself, didn’t stop to check whether my companion wanted to head home or whether I could order another glass of wine.

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Of course, when my boy came back, I threw my arms around him and didn’t let go again for about three days. But if you’re not used to spending time with yourself, I’d absolutely recommend it. I’m big on being comfortable in your own skin, so it was pretty strange how not comfortable I felt hanging out with myself at first. I’m so used to having other people to bounce off of and chat to that I wasn’t sure me, myself and I would have much to talk about. A lot of the time when we talk about love, we talk about someone else completing us. And that sounds nice in theory but in practice, it’s much nicer to be a whole person and have someone else compliment that. In fact, when you’re a whole person, there’s a whole lot more of you for them to love. I know, I know that’s a little long to fit on an inspirational quote instagram. I’m working on it.

The Happiness Project: August 2015

The Happiness Project tracks my efforts to live a happier life by relishing in the little moments of joy. Inspired by Only Do One Thing, I’ll be doing monthly roundups of my favourite happy moments from the month. Part one can be found here!

Hiya pals! It’s time for another Happiness Project roundup! I appreciate that it is no longer August and so this is officially late. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been swamped being busy and important but truthfully, I’ve just spent most of September so far drinking wine and watching Luther. And it’s been wonderful. No regrets.

So what did I get up to during August?

Picnic, Famous Five style.

This was the very first Only Do One Thing nudge of the month and I was utterly delighted. There’s a gorgeous park near me and I like to drag Niall around it at every available opportunity. We loaded up with sandwiches, apples, crisps and lashings of ginger beer (the kind that the Famous Five weren’t allowed) and parked ourselves on the grass for an afternoon. It was blissful. Apart from the bit where a big green spider dropped from the tree we were leaning on and dangled in my face. That bit was rubbish. But 10/10 for boozy picnics in the sun with my favourite person.

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Good news, I saw a turtle. Yes that is an Elf reference.

Good news, I saw a turtle. Yes that is an Elf reference.

Play air guitar like you mean it.

Man, every single day. My mum instilled the value of occasional dance breaks in me at a young age. There is very little that isn’t made at least a bit better by shaking your thang to You Shook Me All Night Long.

Challenge someone to a game.

I badgered Niall for about a bajillion years to play Monopoly with me because I love board games. He was all like “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really know how to play Monopoly”. He ended up with SIX HOTELS and I ended up with £60. You better believe I threw all the Chance cards at him and flounced off. But up until that point, it was a totally brilliant way to spend a lazy Saturday. I’m already bugging him for a rematch. Love a board game, me.

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Hang out with an animal.

There is a little white cat who lives in our courtyard and I stop to pet him every time I see him. On this day I sat down to play with him for a little while and he climbed into my lap and started batting my pigtails and then went to sleep. I LOVE HIM AND I’M PROBABLY GOING TO STEAL HIM DON’T TELL ANYONE.

Non-Only-Do-One-Thing Happy Stuff

These ones weren’t nudges, they were just happy-making things that I did this month.

Bought myself a fancy cupcake and had 3pm afternoon tea at my desk.

Sure, I had one eye on my inbox but everything is better with half a cupcake in your mouth. Next time I’ll do a full cake stand with scones and stuff, see if anyone says anything.

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Took a detour on my way home to nosy down a pretty lane.

I walk past this lane every day and always wonder what lives on it. The answer was pretty fantastic: a creperie, a vintage clothes shop straight out of the movies, a million antique shops and general pretty things shops and more cobbles and flowers than you can shake a stick at. Definitely dragging Niall to the creperie for breakfast some time.

Made homemade peanut butter.

Okay, okay, my contribution to this was largely licking the spoon. And by largely, I mean entirely. Seriously though, this stuff is to die for.

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Overall, August was a pretty tasty month. Let’s hope September lives up to it! What made you guys happy during August?