Every now and then, when occasion arises, you sort of have to face the fact that on occasion you have to look…at your face. Not just glance at it in the mirror and casually observe that, yes, you have been wandering around with jam on your cheek, not just check to see if your specs are on your conk because you can’t find them anywhere else, but really take stock of what you’ve got going on in the General Visage Area.

There are times when you want to poke your tongue out at yourself in disgust. When you feel glum and dissatisfied with what you’ve got. And there are times when you don’t mind it. Your face. Like when you pop to the loo after kissing someone you like and you catch the flush of colour in your cheeks. That’s pretty nice. Because it’s evidence of happiness, exhilaration. Sometimes it’s nice to catch yourself smiling; to take stock and realise: “I am…happy.”

It’s not generally the done thing to stare at your own face for too long as it usually means you’re a narcissistic vain twit who needs a ruddy good punch. But it does seem apt that when we find ourselves in front of a mirror it’s usually when we’re alone in the bathroom, during our most private moments. It’s the best time to look at our reflection, reflect, and while performing the perfunctory checks that we dress up lightly as cosmetic ablutions, actually candidly consider not ‘how do I look?’, but ‘how do I feel?’

I had a horrid moment in the mirror the other day when I thought my hairline might be receding. Then I realised my ponytail was just wonky. Phew. But in the moments between intense follicular panic and huge sighing relief I did it; I performed the almost surgical inventory of my outer being. MAKE A LIST, SADIE; WHAT ELSE DO YOU HATE ABOUT THE MASS OF CONTOURED CELLS WHACKED ON THE FRONT OF YOUR CRANIUM?

There were the eyebrows that are scarily like my father’s if not kept in check. There was my John Travolta chin. STUPID CHIN. There were the concentration burrows in my forehead that make me wonder if Boots do own-brand Botox. There’s the tooth I don’t remember chipping. The mole that’s a bit bigger than it was. The pale blue eyes that always seem like dull puddles without mascara. The ski-slope nose that still pangs with junior school jeers. The little lines gathering in my corners like the pages of a book read more than once. The beginnings of changes that will ring in older ages, the warning bells of a greater dissatisfaction with this silly old face.

But there also were the eyebrows that are like my Dad’s. Hello Dad. The nose like my Mum’s. Hello Mum. There were the genetic gifts, the remembrances of people I’ll never meet. There were the imprints of kisses. There were the bits that the people who love me look at while they’re loving me. That’s pretty nice.

We sort of have to make friends with our faces, don’t we? No matter which one we’ve got. Take our quiet moments and use them to be kind to ourselves; make peace with the future of our faces, of our bodies in general, before it happens and hope to squish our self-consciousness before it assaults us with manifold discontent. Our faces are the foyers, the welcome mats, the armchairs, the open hearths for all the company we keep, for all the love we’re lucky to have. And you should sort of make the effort to respect that a bit.

Even if yours is covered in jam and showing you up in public.



Filthy Heathen

This morning, as I stood on my doorstep waiting for my dog to piddle out his overnight wee reserves, I yawned and pottered along my path. I did it dressed, against all sartorial advice, in black leggings and a tight black top. Like a chubby 30 something who has decided to give everything up and fulfil her teenage dream of going to study mime in Paris, unable to feel spiritually sated until she can hire herself out to weddings and bar mitzvahs for general ‘climbing a glass-fronted building while eating a banana and looking a bit sad’ larks.

I felt no shame in standing on my doorstep like this, just as I feel no shame when standing there in heinously mismatched clothes as I often do, (when I suppose I must look like a children’s TV presenter having a breakdown), or when standing there in pants and vest, (when I probably look like I’m a washed-out mum of ten screaming kids, barbecuing raccoons on a trailer park in Albuquerque). Is this nonchalance something you earn as you get older; the carefree oblivion you wish you’d had when you were younger, when you had a better body?

There’s something quite nice about standing on your doorstep for longer than it takes to find your keys. You notice more. The tree buds, a cat napping, a proud new fence soaking up its stain. This morning I was treated to the delicate strains of a violin undulating across the road. Must be new neighbours; the old ones used to drink cans of beer at any hour, and shout. I fancied I have more of an affinity with the violinist, when in reality I have drunk beer and shouted way more than I have ever played the lilting opening bars of a Brahms concerto, which is never. But I listened to the violinist like they were an old friend, like we’d been at the same conservatoire in the 80s and got chucked out for smoking pot. Music pinched us together, gave us an imagined history.

I wandered out in my bare feet and stood at the privet hedge, looking up and down the street. The sensible mumsy part of myself thinking “Ugh, you filthy heathen, get back inside, this pavement is probably covered in the dried spatterings of rabies flobber, fox diarrhoea, and Tennants Super Head-Exploder.” The non-sensible part of me just thought it felt nice and natural and warm, and that no one had ever died from dirty soles. (I’ve often worried I am just one Jasmine joss stick away from becoming a total hippy. If you ever see me doing Tai Chi in the street with pigeons on my head, slap me.)

While I wouldn’t want to set up a permanent deckchair in my front garden, ready to pass the time of day with any passerby that didn’t look psychopathic, I do think it’s a shame we’ve lost that ‘chatting over the washing line’ culture that film-makers feel compelled to use in anything set in the 50s. I suppose it depends where you live, but it seems that most people hurry in and out of their houses with their eyes lowered so they don’t have to talk to their neighbours. It’s sad really. There’s something peaceful about wandering out into your lesser-used space in a state of morning disarray, unconscious of image or societal norms, to just watch a snail go by, to watch the world go by, and of course, to watch your dog pee.

You’ve just got to remember to wear clothes that’s all.


Destiny. Serendipity. Houmous.

I first tried houmous in the late 90s. Hey, it was crazy times, everyone was doing it. I also wore tie-dye with conviction and thought about getting a fringe but didn’t. It was the bit of time just before Toploader came along and changed everything. The bit before the constant playing of Dancing In The Moonlight made everyone love everyone, which was the bit before the constant playing of Dancing In The Moonlight made everyone want to kill everyone. You had to cut your emotions from other stuff before Toploader. Like Esther Rantzen, Benetton ads, or real life. It was only natural that I should eventually come to try houmous amid all that madness and change. Destiny. Serendipity. Houmous.

I won’t lie; the event took place in a garden in Ilford, the Morocco of Essex back then. I found myself there visiting a university friend of Kosher Organic Shopper heritage who wanted to introduce me to beetroot juice. Despite the retching and the indignant shrieking of “WHY?” I stuck around long enough to try the beige goo in the pot. The houmous. (Or hummus if you don’t like the letter O. It’s not for everyone.)

And that was that. Houmous was in my life.

I think of houmous now, writing this in lieu of anything other to say, because I woke up this morning with some on a plate by my head. I got in late last night, famished, and went to the fridge. A friend had texted earlier in the evening to say he had made some. It’s a thing now apparently; ‘making houmous’. Like blogging, or guyliner. Having some houmous in his honour seemed like a nice friendly idea. Plus I hadn’t been shopping and it was either that or old mushrooms. So I ate some houmous and fell asleep without cleaning my teeth, which is okay every now and then but not often unless you want to lose your teeth and your diet be restricted to swallowable pastes not dependent on molars, like…houmous.

I awoke, my teeth intact. There was the houmous, unfinished. Beneath it the swollen corpse of a ryvita. Beside that its wailing orphaned crumbs. I stared at the houmous and for the first time actually thought about houmous. My brain wasn’t capable of much more. I’m not a morning person.

I thought of my first time, back on an Ilford lawn of 1999. So soft, so smooth, so beige. I thought of my beetroot juice drinking friend who now lives in Israel, who I miss. Houmous is him. I thought of my other friend who spent his evening making chickpea paste, who tries to make people happy through food. Houmous is him now too. Houmous is lots of other people I’ve known and eaten with, out there. Houmous is Israelis and Palestinians eating the same thing as each other every day and not thinking of that instead of prolonging their hate. Houmous is the bank holiday picnic; everyone out in the park in this year’s sun. Houmous is my dog staring hopefully at me, waiting for some to drip-splat on the floor for licking. Houmous is finishing my play, saying goodbye to being a hermit for a while and going to meet friends I haven’t seen for ages; it’s knowing the houmous is there and coming home to the dependable light of the fridge. Houmous is houmous.

We store our lives in such ordinary things. They become emblems for our time. Every time we do something again it’s a salute to the time before, and all the times, all the people, all link up and meet in your memory.

In short, Houmous is awesome. (And beetroot juice is evil. But that’s another column.)


The Maths of Rape: Deed + Time = Does It Still Count?

Last week on the oracle that is Twitter I learned from a journo friend that another name had been pulled from the hat of secrets. Another of the nation’s avuncular darlings inconveniently reminded of their past misdemeanours. People erupted over the latest in a long line of disappointing media males, questioned then charged over an allegation dating back to the 60s. I’m ashamed to say I thought “Christ, does that still even count?”

I fired off a casual reply without thinking: “He tickled my midriff while posing for a picture when I was 14.” I instantly got a capitalised ‘WHAAAAT?” from my journo friend and a similarly enlarged exclamation from a female comedian. I was surprised at their incredulity. Then various women I don’t know from Eve either followed me or retweeted me in silent almost eerie sisterhood. Solidarity. Why? I hadn’t meant to ‘say’ anything.

I certainly didn’t think it was sinister back then, and even now, hearing of his rape charge, I’m still not overly suspicious of his ‘harmless goosing’ of me as a 14 year old girl; there were a lot of men starting to show me and my friends attention whether they knew our age or not. It happens.

But in my automatic instinct to reduce this to nothing lies the bigger problem. Women (young girls, people, everyone) don’t even acknowledge stuff to themselves sometimes, let alone share it.

I wrote in last week’s column about my behind being touched in a New York bar recently and my not wanting to make a fuss. My insistence to myself that it was harmless. All the recent accusations against media men have made me think of something else I downplayed – an event I have only a few times dully acknowledged to myself as a sexual assault. It was a long time ago. I think I’ve only ever vaguely told two people.

Do I think that I should be retrospectively handed the term victim? God, no. Would I if pressed reveal his name? No. Would I even, if I knew he was reading these words now, expect him to show signs of recognition or remorse? No.

But do I now, despite all my inner impulses to not make a fuss, believe I was definitely raped? Yes I do.

I was pinned to a passenger seat, my feet by his feet, my arms by his arms, my knees by his knees, my voice said no, all strength to counter the act snuffed and my choice taken away from me. It was quick, he zipped up, and he drove off. I felt numb and thought no more about it. If it’s quick, contained, and it doesn’t make you cry it can’t be rape, right? Rape is a big word.

Afterwards I even thought ‘the sex’ had been his right. We were ‘seeing each other’, we’d ‘had a drink’, I’d probably ‘flirted’. Perhaps even some part of my nascent sexuality thought it was normal.

Because I have not been terribly affected by it I feel guilty for using the word when others have suffered far, far worse. But there should be no degrees of rape. It is, or it isn’t.

I think just one of the many problems women have with reporting rape is that some women struggle to conciliate themselves with the times, in lust or intimacy, they might want the man to be forceful. Maybe that is why we stay quiet.

As a culture we have exploited and sanitised submissiveness and dominance. High street shops sell handcuffs. Music videos and movies and bestselling badly-written books use the language and the imagery of victimisation in sex. Our sex, our liberality, our pursuit of satisfaction strings us up.

We’ve probably made it harder for women to realise (to admit, and to tell) that they’ve been raped, not easier. Even now, I am struggling to decide whether after so much time has passed the act still stands. I share my own experience so that people dubious of all these belated accusations in the press might come to appreciate that it can take a while to say anything to anyone, particularly yourself.

Perhaps women are feeling a solidarity in the air; are being given the courage to come forward, irrespective of the time lapsed. Perhaps we’ll remember this time, now, this horrid muck, as something that made women stronger, and men better.