Treehouse Built By Girls

When I found out I’d passed my 11+ I cried. All that slog had paid off. It may have taken endless revision, sitting in a hall with a bunch of kids once a year for 24 years, and latterly some serious backhanders to the local authorities, but finally, now, aged 34, I can count Key Stage 2 examination glory amongst my successes.

Not really. Passed first time, aged 10. I think my parents would have taken me back to the shop if I hadn’t so the pressure was on.

That pass marked the start of a change. Because it meant that I got into my local girls grammar school of choice, and that ultimately would find myself in the company of, well, just…girls. How would I fare without boys? I wondered.

Who was going to do all the orange squash belches after necking a Kia-Ora carton in one? Who was going to chomp Space Raiders into mulsh then flob it on whoever had the newest shoes? Would all that stuff have to stop now that I was a lady-in-training?

Well of course I fared very well. I loved my new friends, I worked harder and performed better than I ever would have if I’d had the distraction of boys once hormones kicked in, and it just became ‘normal’. Boys were creatures on the bus, they were weekend things. And there were discos with the boys school to hook me and my pals up with studs. We pretty much all took it in turns to snog the same set of boys for about three years. Value for money.

When I left my cosy girls grammar years later and went to university, I had a rude awakening. Here was I with my arms full of books, being met by men doing their flies up as they walked down the corridor. Their winkles were in there. Ugh. Here was I sitting in a lecture hall, smelling the manly composites of Lynx, yesterday’s t-shirt, and hour-old farts. Here was I suddenly conscious that someone with stubble was staring at my boobs while I squinted at lessons on the whiteboard. And then I would leave seminars to go back to my halls of residence where there were…more boys. Men. I did not live with men. It had mostly been my mum, my sister, and I since I was five. How odd it all was.
But I adapted. We all do, all the time.

Since then I have not really encountered any environments that divide the sexes like my days at school. Men are everywhere now, we’re all mixed up in the jumblesome stuff of life, and so I have similarly not had that sense of being part of a singularly girly world. Until last week.

I have been contributing to a new magazine set up by Sarah Millican, Mickey Noonan and a gang of other indomitable dudesses to challenge the material on offer in established women’s magazines that all exist largely to make us feel bad about ourselves. It’s called Standard Issue. It’s a fabulous mix of stuff by some brilliant ladies and I am very privileged to write for them. It’s been nine months – long enough to brew a baby – of hard work.

To celebrate, last week Standard Issue staged a massive gig for Comic Relief, and while watching the cream of the country’s female comedians take to the stage, I felt that feeling again. Despite there being men in the audience, it felt like the best kind of girls club. Not to the exclusion of boys – all are welcome in our treehouse – but something for, by, and of our own sex.

And it sort of felt like school, but it felt grown-up and important and inspiring, and it definitely felt like home.

Check us out if you fancy – http://www.standardissuemagazinesafe_image.phpsimag


Madam Bam Bam

I beat myself up quite a lot. There’s a little club in Soho, Madam Bam Bam’s. I go there once a month. You get to pick your birch from a rifle rack on the wall, go into a mirrored booth, and flog yourself for everything you’ve done to annoy yourself in the last 28-31 days. Then either Wendy, Janice, or Big Bob (if his leg isn’t giving him gyp) fling you a little hand-towel and a disgusted look as you leave. Sometimes, as a treat, I pay for the extra treatment – Loud Simon comes in wearing a cowboy shirt and shouts at me while I’m hitting myself. “YOU’RE NOTHING, YOU’LL ALWAYS BE NOTHING.” It’s expensive but it gets the job done.
Ok. Fine. So Madam Bam Bam’s doesn’t exist. I made it up. I do my beatings in my head like normal people. It’s free and has very few restrictions. But because it’s a constant ongoing process rather than just one big monthly splurge it can be quite draining. Being hard on yourself is hard. It takes work. Hard work.
I’ve administered (and thus taken) a good few beatings this week. Just your average common-or-garden flushes of vitriol in the dragging effort of Being Alive.
First was forgetting to feed the dog, getting halfway up the road then having to turn back, let myself in to his perfectly-practised ‘glare of judgement’, before I gave him extra biscuits and a jumbone. Beating number 1: swift, uncomplicated, low level on the pain threshold. It’s not like I’d left him in the garden overnight with a chicken bone after all.
Then I had to shoot a short film for something, and when I watched the first edit I felt so violent towards my face and voice that I asked the film-maker to cut out some bits of me. Then a few more bits of me. Then I wasn’t in it much and I felt much better. Then I beat myself up for giving him extra work. The beating was under the radar and sustained, like the jabs of a clever bully.
And this morning. My sister mentioned to me that she hadn’t been able to take Elliot, 8, to school because Viola, 5, was sick and there was no one who could run him there for her. I felt sick. Here was a healthy boy I love to distraction missing a day of school because his auntie is a useless turd who can’t drive. My sister didn’t think to ask me because I’m ‘always busy’ and don’t live quite close enough so am of no practical use at the last minute. I am a rubbish sister. This was a high-level beating, with numerous props and a side order of shouting that would put Loud Simon of Soho to shame and by god he is loud.
Tonight I will beat myself up in rehearsal. Standard. And I will probably hate myself for any number of the following too: stubbing my toe/dropping something/saying something stupid/forgetting something/doing something I shouldn’t/being distracted/eating something I shouldn’t/drinking something I shouldn’t/thinking something I shouldn’t/looking in the mirror accidentally while pulling a horrible face/generally being me in my own life.
I’ll be ruddy exhausted when my head hits the pillow, have a sleep divided by psyche-prodding dreams and patches of inert insomnia which make me want to lay myself out with a mallet, before ploughing into the next day.
Hey, guys, why can’t we all be a little more like Kanye West and just…love ourselves? He never wants to beat himself repeatedly in the face. It’s other people that want to do that for him, and that seems far less tiring. If you’re being beaten by others you can have a lie down during. Luxury.1419743372022

Bundle Me

I can tell I’ve been feeling a bit jaded because the other day I saw a friend had written a status about how they were consigned to bed with the tail-end of a horrible stomach flu, and I thought “you lucky cow”.
I read it with the same sort of sniffiness that other women read people’s statuses about losing loads of weight or having to take a job in Dubai even thought they really don’t want to because it’s almost too much cash. That sort of “Keep the bragging to yourself, love” type reaction. I glazed over and imagined the utter bliss of being stuck in bed for three days. Being forcibly pushed down under the covers by my boyfriend, saying “if you even think of getting up and jeopardising your health, I will break up with you. Now drink this perfectly made cup of tea and stow these emergency biscuits under your pillow for god’s sake. I’m going to make you a ‘get better, darling’ cake as quick as I can”.
I began picturing the big stack of books I would keep by the bed, to flick through between naps. I could reread Harry Potter; all of them. I mentally highlighted the series on Netflix that people keep telling me I should watch, but which I never do. For instance, I have never even watched an episode of 24 or Lost. The whole world turned on that stuff for a while and I couldn’t tell you one thing about them except that Lost was a thrilling race against time and 24 was about being stuck on a desert island. I could finally put this right. I could watch Kiefer Sutherland weaving bamboo huts for his fellow crash victims. Finally.
I began wondering how I might invoke such wondrous affliction, such bliss. I found myself wondering if I ate some raw chicken or licked the fox wee off the bins whether I would be plunged into some kind of impotent fever that would buy me a week of horizontal liberty. Something so awful that I couldn’t type a word. A rare strain of malaria of the fingers, or gastro interitis of the eyeballs so I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I usually do, like read and write. What have those things ever done for me, anyway? I didn’t even want the physical facility to be able to surf ebay for a chaise longue upon which to see out the spell of my infirmity. I just wanted my normal bed with the gathering squeak, my usual covers, my dog lying on my feet, and the promise of nothing for the next few days. Absolute nothingness.

Then I realised I could probably just get one of those colouring books for adults that are all the rage, or a Mindfulness download or something rather than barfing up a lung for 36 hours or wheezing with a rejuvenated strand of an historical ailment after licking a Victorian lamp in an antique shop. There are other ways to rest, aren’t there. I just am not sure what they are. Even when I’m asleep I seem to ruin it with dreams about being murdered in a haunted house or pets dying or Sting being my Dad. That’s not rest, that’s the ring of Hell that Dante left out because he didn’t want to put his readership off completely.
I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that any of you want to bundle me into a plane to your villa in the Andalucian hills under strict instructions to make full use of your artisan cook there who is just going to waste, I wouldn’t kick up a fuss over the intervention.