Loving Girls

I never used to ‘do girls’. Let me quickly rephrase before you think I’ve made a surprising life decision.

I never used to ‘be a girls’s girl’. I used to think I was a lad’s girl. If you stuck me in a room with a gang of Lynx-wearing boys (or Brut for the more sensitive souls) who hadn’t washed their Nirvana t-shirts for a month, I was home. Fast forward a few years later, stick me at a bar with men who swigged pints and chatted about ‘non-girly’ things, and I was home. I didn’t want to sit obligingly at tables with birds who were wearing something nice they’d bought that day, with heels that made them walk funny and perfume that smelled of sweets, talking of nice things. I belonged with the men. 
But women who sell this nonsense to themselves for whatever reason are denying themselves a wonderful thing. Because I now suspect that I told myself I was a boy’s girl for one main reason. Which is…
Boys seem dead exotic when you haven’t got any at home. I liked seeing what they got up to. And that meant getting up close to them. So I didn’t have much time for standing next to nice smelling women who chatted about girl things because I understood all that stuff because I was a girl and I had other girls at home. More of the same was a waste of time. I wanted to wander around the zoo of the possibilities of my own life. Men were like the monkey cage. The familiar and the curious and the unknowable all in the same skin. Similar to me but different. No one leaves the monkey cage without wanting to go back. 
I suspect some girls feel comfortable around men because they either grew up with them, or some may even genuinely feel like they are more like the boys they know than the girls they know. But for me, I think I just needed to observe. Because one day I might want to be with one, to love one and understand one, maybe even stay with one and die with one. Maybe even feel that strange knowing that swirls around your heart with the tag ‘soul mate’ flickering in the breeze of complicity. It was like going to the movies and being able to walk into the film and stand beside the thing I did not know. And who doesn’t want to do that?
I think now that I get older – and this is something which is possibly now more important – actually what I, and other ‘non-girly’ girls like me, was identifying with was not the boys themselves, but with a refusal to be pigeon-holed. 

Perhaps I had enough feminist spirit lurking somewhere as a kid and as a younger woman to know that I didn’t want to be told what kind of woman I should be. I equated men with freedom and choice and power. I equated women with the confines of all the nice behaviour and accepted femininity I had observed. And I didn’t want that.
I spend my time now with more women than I do men. Talking to, writing to, hanging out with, hugging, confiding in. I have had the beautiful luck to have somehow ended up with a network of female friends who fill my inner chambers with light and love, who challenge me, stick up to me, tell me when I am wrong or being dumb, who tell me when I’ve done well, who hold me and stroke my hair and hold my face and look into my eyes when I am crying. I have women I would actively go to in a heartbeat after a life of telling myself I don’t need anyone or anything. I need them. And every day throws up a succession of little sweetnesses that fills me with gratitude.
I do women now. They’ve got my back. They’ve got my boobs and bum and head and heart and blood. I am boob-honkingly burptastically in love with women. Because I am one, whatever I want that to mean. Through loving other women, I am really beginning to love being one myself. And that is something I’ll get to keep for life.
  

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The Little Pool

I’m on the tube. To my left I have a man who smells of rice and has paint on his jeans, and to my right I have a lady holding a wet umbrella. The umbrella is dripping on the floor and making a little pool of water which jiggles as we shunt along. I can’t stop staring at the pool of water; it’s hypnotising me as my body is rocked by the motion of the train. The pool is holding itself firmly in a rotund jelloid oxbow lake, like a capsule with an invisible skin. Every time the train jerks, the pool threatens to break and spread out into thinner rivulets, but does not. I want to see what happens. I’m invested in this little sucker now.
I’m in a bit of a trance because I’ve just come out of a meeting at the BBC for which I felt overwhelmingly unqualified. The development team liked my play and wanted to meet me and when someone at the BBC likes your stuff and wants to meet you, you ruddy go. It was a bit of a shame that I got stopped and frisked by a big security dude on the way in for having a weapon, my trusty Swiss Army knife that goes everywhere with me, but then I suppose it’s good to be kept on your toes. There’s nothing like being made to feel like a terrorist on your way into an important meeting; it’s very energising. Maybe even better than two red bulls and an espresso chaser like that other meeting I went to where I spoke really fast and then thought I was having a heart attack in the lift.
I’m in this trance because when you go to a meeting and have to talk about yourself it’s quite hard. You have to answer questions and have thoughts and formulate it all in words that hopefully come out of your mouth in a stylish sensical fashion. More than anything you can’t believe anyone wants to know what you think about anything. And then when you leave you enter a fog where you recount what you’ve just said, and wonder which bits sounded dumb and which bits sounded alright, and then you get on the tube and because you can’t punch yourself in front of people without looking mental you do it in your head instead and then enter a little daze and begin looking at a pool of water gathering around a lady’s umbrella.
I suddenly feel very grown up. Here I am, on the tube, in London, on my own, without my mum telling me which line I need to get to get to where I’m going. Going from a meeting at the BBC to another meeting with two literary agents. Writing my column on my phone. I have a column. For a newspaper. You’re reading it now. Hullo. How did I get here? How did I get to be 35? What’s going on? Shouldn’t I still be rollerskating or something, or eating Wotsits in my Wendy House? Shouldn’t I be sat on the stairs eavesdropping on the babysitter or begging my mum for a perm? What would a younger me have thought if I could have had a little glimpse into this day? Into me having a knife confiscated at the BBC before sitting down to talk about my career in writing?
I think I would have been happy that life had meandered in a way that let me have a day like today. Even if it’s not quite eating crisps in a plastic house waiting for the Flintstones to start.
And the little pool broke at Kings Cross and trickled down to my foot and gently nudged my shoe as if to say “Yes. You’re doing ok.” and I smiled. 
  

Boobies Are Funny

I was counting Viola’s freckles and had just got to 17 when she began prodding my boob. “Boobies are funny.”, she said with a giggle. “I suppose they are”, I replied, staring down at her 5 year old little finger, prodding away. “Compared to war and treading in dog poo and stuff.” We carried on like that for a bit, me staring at her tiny digit depressing itself into my vest, and her giggling because she knew that most people would stop her poking their boobs before she even got going. Perhaps I am a bad auntie, allowing her to be tactile with a part that is usually treated with more decorum. But facts are facts and boobs are squishy. Why not let her make the observation? She’s five, and curious. Boobs are probably hysterical when you’re five. I mean, I think I was more of a Scooby Doo girl than a Booby Boo girl at that age, but we can’t all be the same.
Then I drew the line when Viola tried to sneak a peak of nipple because, well, really. There is that panic we all respond with around children because we are now so trained to be on the look out for perverts that we are struck by a ridiculous fear that we look inappropriate hugging our own nieces. I feel the same when my nephew, almost 9, kisses me on the mouth. He’s a beautiful loving boy with a heart the size of an ocean and he likes to kiss people hullo, goodbye, and a thousand instances in between, on the mouth. It’s very lovely if a bit wet, and we are all dreading the day he reaches the age in boyhood when he will stop being so unabashedly affectionate. So I let him kiss me on the mouth because he shouldn’t be tainted by our adult nonsense, but at the back of my head is that little bell. “This wouldn’t look great in the middle of Lidls.” It’s a sad state of affairs when you have feelings of reservation in your gut when the son of your sister wants to express that he loves you in the most natural way humans have, in the way we expressed love long before we ever had words for it. But that’s where we find ourselves in this paedophile-aware age. Being careful with loved ones just in case anyone’s watching. Sad.
So I stopped Viola at the nip. I laughed nervously and moved her hand, and she giggled, because she too knew it was a step too far, because she has been taught that there are some parts we must feel modest about when we are grown up. There are some parts that are always naked – hands and faces – there are parts that are sometimes naked – arms and legs and necks and feet – and there are parts that become our private places, seldom seen, and treated shyly, sometimes even a shade guiltily. 
Viola is still at the age where she stomps around naked, where she lies on the floor legs akimbo with no awareness. What a beautiful age that is. Before body image kicks in, before we are sexualised, before we compare ourselves endlessly with other “better” bodies. Before we become so well-trained and ‘appropriate’. Before we become unfree.
I went back to staring at her freckles. At the delicate curve of her nose, at the pale thin skin under her eyes, almost translucent with youth. At her face which sometimes looks like my sister’s and sometimes looks like mine, which will one day be older and different. At her tiny body growing in the tiniest increments every second. For a moment I could almost see her growing. I could almost forward the frames to when she will be bigger, older, wiser, when she too will be the possessor of those hilarious artefacts, boobs. When she will be a woman. And I was sad and excited for her, and wished I could fit her with a pause button. While she is still free.
  

Elliot’s Wisdom

There’s a lot of wisdom to be found in this world if you know where to find it. I think the Dalai Lama said that. He was probably in a hurry; he’s said better things.Like “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Nailed it.

And “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Yes, Mr Lama. Bosh.
I’ve been pondering the acquisition of knowledge a lot lately. Mainly in a meandering kind of way, but the other day I was provoked into an almost sudden death knowledge type scenario. I was asked to clarify something as my eight year old nephew Elliot was doing his maths homework. I froze as I looked at the screen of numbers. Did he not know me at all? And then I realised – no. He wasn’t there for the years of feeling dumb, the years of extra tuition with an old Welsh man who spittled his tea over me like Mr Twit, he wasn’t there for the torturous revision, the horrifying exams, and the panic for weeks afterwards waiting for results day. He wasn’t there, because he wasn’t born. So he didn’t know that Maths was my old nemesis. He just wanted to ask me something about minus numbers.
I looked at the sum. Said something vague, which, to my staggering surprise, turned out to be right. But then I ran out of wisdom for the other questions. I couldn’t teach him anything; I couldn’t help.
I realised I haven’t really had to think about all that stuff since 1996 when school was telling me if I couldn’t get up to C grade level Maths my life was essentially over. I might as well hurl myself on the reject pile before the world did it for me. But the moment I opened that envelope confirming the hard-acquired C, Maths went out of my head. I’ve done bits and bobs in shops and whatnot, but the pressure otherwise dissipated immediately. So why had it been so important?
If we’re just going to forget stuff, what’s the point of learning?

I wondered what Elliot believed was important to know as humans, right now, while he is that glorious all-is-possible age of eight. I quizzed him while he ate his pasta.
I asked him what really important stuff he’d learnt lately. He told me that e-safety was crucial. They’re doing assemblies on it at his school at the moment, so you’d expect him to be scathingly satirical and culturally up-to-date on it. He said something wise about me not even knowing what pixels were when I was his age. I told him to “watch it, sunshine.”
I asked him how he thinks people can be happy.

He said “I think people would be happier if they did more of the stuff they like”.

I asked him what he didn’t like about becoming an adult.

He said “I am not looking forward to getting older and older and then dying.”
At one point while I was questioning him, he put his chin in his hand and said “This is hard, isn’t it”, and I said yes. I loved him for thinking of the answers to questions that really aren’t his concern yet.
I asked him what the coolest thing he knew was. He answered “how to build lego – you can build whatever you want – the first thing that pops into your head and then you try to make it – that’s really cool.”
I asked him what he was most proud of in his life.

He said “learning how to speak, or otherwise I would not be doing this at all”
“what, helping me with my column?”
“Yeah” (I didn’t tell him that was a doubtful privilege.)
“Oh, and getting my imagination. And maybe learning how to write. That’s really good. You need to learn how to write.”
And I realised, properly realised, while Elliot thought really hard about stuff with pasta sauce around his mouth, that this super sweet and naturally wise eight year old was going to be one of my best friends for life.