Up the Duff & Terrifyingly Fine

I told everyone I was pregnant yesterday. It wasn’t a prank or anything. It’s true. I’ve just been keeping it under my hat for 22 weeks. Well, it started under my hat then when it got a bit bigger I had to admit defeat and transfer it to my tum and honour the traditional gestational process. (Turns out a uterus is definitely better for that sort of thing than a beret.) And now it’s grown even more and there’s no getting around it anymore. Especially in confined spaces with a rucksack on. I am with child. Having a baby. Knocked up. Preggers. Up the duff. In the family way. Expecting. No longer able to say I just ate a lot of pasta.

There’s a little human growing inside me. A girl. Holy smoke.

And this is literally the best way I could think of telling people. A sort of jocular awkward kind of joke about hats and pasta, because I actually feel really shy saying anything about it at all. The kind of shy that people would scoff at and say “Yeah alright, Hasler. Shy. Course.” But I am. Because for all my splurging about sometimes intensely personal things, half a decade of writing a pretty open book column, talking about being pregnant feels like the next level of sharing. Writing columns or articles about suicide, grief, depression, other big dark things, is fine; they’re important to me, part of my guts and nerves and heart and pulse, but I’m not protective of them. I just say what I think and out it goes. But I am protective of this little thing that’s wriggling about in my big round belly. That’s a completely different thing. A creature. A living thing. Something that I must look after with every bit of strength and love and determination I have. Every good thing I possess must go into making this human grow and learn and be happy. I will have to learn and grow more in order to do a better job. A job and a devotion I must honour until I die. I’ll have to keep five steps in front of her, half a watchful step behind, and a silent step to the side, by her side, all at the same time. Until death us do part. That’s an unfathomably massive thing.

I cannot believe they’ll only let people drive a vehicle after months of expensive lessons and a big scary test, but this – actual creation – we can just crack on with on our own after a bottle of wine on a Friday night and a couple of pregnancy tests a few weeks later in the bog at work. I keep expecting someone to say “Sorry Hasler, the results have come back and you’re not cut out for it after all. That’s it; put it back.” And I wouldn’t know where to start with putting it back. I can’t even get cereal back in the box after it’s spilled on the floor. (Not that you should, but I do hate waste. Five second rule and starving kids in Africa and all that.)

And here I am, still joking about it, like it’s a box of Cheerios I could adios.

When it’s the least funny thing I have ever known. Having a baby. It’s the biggest, realest, scariest, loveliest, most important thing. I am insanely wired on the all-consuming seriousness of it, and already ready to kill for her. I am protective of her eyelashes and fingertips and her tiny little pouting mouth. I am protective of her tiny doll parts as all this sexual abuse stuff still blows around in a gale. I am protective of her heart and her receptiveness to the world and her experiences and all the people she will ever love and all her future joy.

I am having a baby. I can feel her kicking and I’ve got a feeling that’s what it’s all going to be about, for me, for the rest of my time from now on. And that is terrifyingly fine.

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Taking It Back

Dear David Amess MP,

I’m really glad you retracted that moronic statement you allegedly didn’t write. The one that said that “The recent revelations that countless starlets have apparently been assaulted by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are dubious to say the least”, that “this sudden flurry of alleged inappropriate advances beggars belief.” and then, a faeces grenade from left-field, “Just as with claims against Jimmy Savile here in the UK, why did no one say anything until now?”

Wow. A sideswoop Savile defence. That’s classy, Dave.

I’m glad though that you had the guts to blame a member of your staff because you really shouldn’t be expected to take the flack for the idiocy of someone you’ve wilfully employed to be your mouthpiece when you’re busy on other matters, like making sure Southend is shown off at its best in its year of being self-appointed Alternative City of Culture. (Only two months to go til the as yet undisclosed special end of year celebrations! I hope it’s something on the end of the pier. As you well know Dave it ain’t even a thing unless it’s on the pier.)

I’m extra glad you’re putting “instructions in place to prevent this happening again”. Do keep us posted as to what happens to this churl in your employ. After all, as much as I’m loathe to accept you are there by elected means, whoever is doing your job for you is not. If they’re messing up and they weren’t even elected, get them out Dave. Liability. You don’t need any more bad press to make you look like a numptie.

The fact it was a press release presumably means you/they thought your/their two-penneth on the Weinstein matter was write-and-share-worthy.
A question for you Dave. Who asked you? No, really – who did ask you? When was it an obligatory part of your day, paid by us, to comment on the goings on in Hollywood, or to put aside your sandwich to make sure gobby women everywhere got a sharp elbow in the ribs? That’s not in your remit is it? A knee-jerk reaction to a man you don’t know getting slammed for his consistently deplorable behaviour around women? Did you/your employee think it was high time that some of these women who got all uppity over being objectified and intimidated be put in their place, by you? What is their place, Dave? On their knees, not making a fuss?

Re the laughable “why did no one say anything until now?” – you do know that it is almost never the instinct of a raped or abused woman to march straight to the police to report it, or to even mention it to family and friends, don’t you? You do realise that by the time most women can stand and breathe and talk after an attack the DNA has passed from their bodies? You do know that because of the way Everything Works most women have absolutely no faith that their claims would be taken seriously and are reluctant to expose themselves to even greater vulnerability and pain? Furthermore, you do realise that cretinous comments like yours make you complicit in the further silencing of victims?

Let’s just suppose for the sake of optimism that you really didn’t make this statement you allegedly didn’t make. Let’s assume the person who issues your statements feels like they know you well enough to comment in lieu, that they really think you’d want to stick your head above the parapet to express sympathy for a rich man who is attracting overdue universal wrath, to attempt to give the unfortunate reputation of poor Jimmy Savile, loyal friend of the Tories, a bit of a polish, and to blanket victim shame? Because that’s worrying Dave. Because they’ve either got you wrong and should be immediately dismissed, or they’ve got you right and you’re the one who should be immediately dismissed. Which is it?

Sincerely,
Most Women

The Bunnyman

When Hugh Hefner died I rolled my eyes. I automatically pre-empted how many people (ok, mainly men) would bore me that day with strange grief for someone they never met, with misplaced respect, tedious jokes, and flimsy validation of a dubious man. How many male friends would make me sigh deeply with their throwaway laddishness in the name of an easy joke, or more worryingly, because in their eyes Hugh Hefner represented true male ideals that ‘ordinary men’ simply couldn’t get away with. This was their day to say it.

This vague dread wasn’t the cause of me deleting Facebook from my phone that day, I’d been thinking of doing it for a while, but it was a really good day to make the cut. Delete. Breathe. Stop wanting to throw things at people.

But it would have taken moving to Mars to remain oblivious to the outpourings of post-humous bilge about the man. I get that he did some admirable things; that he single-handedly built a magazine from his kitchen table, went on to employ some of the finest writers in America, offered a platform to the under-represented, interviews with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, that he used the Playboy to make some bold stands for civil rights. Great. I wholeheartedly believe that he thought all these things were important. But also, deflection is a powerful thing. What does a magician do when he doesn’t want you to see something? The bad things, the mechanics, the truth? He directs your attention elsewhere. I’m not saying the positive aspects of his character were a trick, but let’s not all be bunnies in the magician’s hat; playing our submissive part in a big man’s grand illusion. Hugh Hefner is responsible for a lot of bad stuff; a list of crimes against women and their far-reaching consequences too long to go into here. Just because he was a stand-up guy to the injustices perpetrated on black people does not mean he did not systematically reduce women to graded cuts of meat.

Rolling her eyes at Hefner does not make a woman a prude either. I’ll fly the flag for sexual liberation alongside any bawd or bunny. I know that our sexual mores are as varied as our tastes for food, for leisure, for music, for clothes, for all the other pleasurable things in life. And of course those girls wanted to be there; they wanted to live in the Hef’s bunny hutch. But in that sentence is part of the problem. Our instinct is to call them girls. Not women. Their entry into the Playboy bunny world of “privilege” (and it was a kind of privilege, luxury-wise and self-attainment wise; it could not have been an easy job to get there, nor to stay there) came with the condition that they be willingly infantilised and homogenised. They were little more than teenage daughters; they had to ask for their allowance; they had a bedtime curfew of 9pm. They adhered to a way of looking (the same as each other and countless others before them) and acting (a lot of their own personality must have got left at the door along with any flat shoes).  I’m guessing they weren’t allowed gentlemen callers or meaningful relationships unless they were green-lighted by Hefner himself, who considered their amorous attentions best turned to himself, or on occasion to like-minded (and like-moneyed) friends who attended his parties. These women were treated like girls. And I even get that. I get the female desire to be looked after; I even get, though would not want for myself, that sugar daddy thing. Our base infant drive for our needs and desires to be met don’t end when we grow up and leave home, they move with us into the adult realm and hide themselves in all sorts of chaotic mysterious behaviours. I get why a lot of men openly or secretly think he’s the total fucking don of all life. Most men want to feel like gods. They want to feel attractive, powerful, desired, virile. A lot of them don’t; aren’t. The lure of unquestioning constant praise, attention, and gratification is strong. I get it.

People are complicated creatures. We can never reduce them to a bottom line or a few convenient bulletpoints that lay the case of their entire being to satisfying rest in one article.

Hugh Hefner was a man to be admired and respected as well as questioned, suspected, vilified, maybe even pitied – we don’t know what lurking sadness or insecurities drove his subconcious or shaped his way of life. I think I might even have liked him in certain scenarios; chatting on a sofa about writing maybe, if not observing him on a kingsize with his medically engorged penis and saggy-mouthed geriatric air of expectation.

But how I love the boys and men who said things about Hefner that didn’t make my legs clamp, my brain die and my heart sink. Who barely blinked when they heard that he was dead. They are the real rich men, in my eyes.

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Happy bunnies?

Fucking Fish

I have been entrusted with the care of a fishtank for one week and already things have got out of hand in a deathy fashion. It was only two days ago that my mum and step-dad absconded like lusty teenagers to a caravan in Suffolk for their anniversary and I’m pulling my bloody hair out.

The exchange went something like this:

“Just drop some food in every other day, Sadie.”

“Yes. I shall. For I can do that.” 

End of exchange.

I really thought that would be the extent of it. But those were simpler times.

So the roll call of aquatic creatures left in my ward goes thus: Sexy Shrimp (actual name, I’m not a wrong’un) – half the size of a peanut with a behind that just won’t quit; Intrepid Hermit Crab – keeps himself to himself; Dopey White Dude – in possession of an underbite that must have made it the subject of terrible bullying at fish school; The Nervy Admiral – a black and white stripy fish who moves like an old man that’s wandered into a 90s rave and is having war flashbacks to The Prodigy, and a new addition to the tank – Big Spindly Shrimp Thing that lurks at the back, trembling. I was worried it might be shy. Little did I know that this seemingly harmless shrimp would unsettle all our lives forever. Well, mine. For, like, two days.

On Sunday afternoon we got back to my mum’s after a walk in the woods, put the kettle on, and checked on the fish, me congratulating myself on taking my minimal responsibilities so seriously. Then I saw the carnage and gasped in horror. Dopey White Dude, last seen giving a wall of moss a proper good sucking only an hour previously, was now heavily dead and being grappled by Spindly Shrimp Thing, who out of nowhere suddenly exuded a transformational evil that seemed to turn the very waters black.

“WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE?”, I exclaimed indignantly with my hands on my hips, like a preppy babysitter who had important coursework to be getting on with and didn’t have time for mischief and certainly not murder. Realising I wasn’t going to get any sensible answers from a crustacean, I sat on a chair and peered into the tank to try and surmise what had happened while I had been out for a bracing walk, banging on about the joy of autumn leaves. And I stayed there with my eyelashes blinking against the glass. For far too long to be psychologically healthy. The sights I beheld will chill me for life. Or until I have been relieved of the duties that I am clearly not cut out for psychologically, and fall back on my old friend, Retrospective Denial. (Middle name La La La La Laaa.)

George and I held a fraught detective session, like a two-man episode of Columbo set in the Sealife Centre. George thought it was a natural death and that the shrimp had just happened upon the corpse while feeling peckish. But I believed I had seen the very fires of Hell in that shrimp’s black eyes and I wanted vengeance, and peace and safety for the other occupants of the tank. George kept dragging me out of the room because I was being no fun – like, seriously, a real dick about it all – but I couldn’t relax. What if the others met their deaths too and it was all my fault for not flushing Spindly Shrimp – AKA The Devil – down the lav straight away?

Each time we left the room we’d switch off the lights to lull the wily shrimp bastard into a false sense of security, then popped back in for obsessive death checks. At each interval something new and wicked had taken place. Lights off. Tea break. Lights on. The Devil had cast off the corpse and was flexing his claws at The Nervy Admiral like he was a between-courses sorbet. Lights off. Half an episode of Luther. Lights on. Intrepid Hermit Crab had dive-bombed off the rock and was on his back, peddling his little legs and delving his claws into the guts of the dwindling carcass of Dopey White Dude. Lights off. Pretend to George I need a wee. Lights on. The Devil had forcibly, jealously, retrieved the cadaver and was filching its pincers into the gills of Dopey White Dude, who was essentially now just a floppy pocket of tasty fish guts.

It went on for hours, this sick carousel of wet despair. Nature is a fucking horror show.

I’ve got five bloody days left of looking after these tiny hell beasts – these mad little bastards who put the loco into ‘in loco parentis’. Five. I’m going to have to keep my wits about me, keep my beady eyes on them, try not to whimper as I studiously watch the body of Dopey White Dude being slowly gnawed down to the scaly nub, and if The Devil even attempts to go near Sexy Shrimp or the Nervy Admiral I’m going in, armed with a pipette to squirt Domestos in his evil crusty face before I pull his stupid fucking legs off.

 

MEET THE CAST…

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Sexy Shrimp, doing what he does best – rutting the coral like it’s his last Christmas

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Intrepid Hermit Crab – rare shot of his eyeball stalks there. Probably off his tits on fish blood, like a tramp on a Tennents bender.

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The Nervy Admiral – mid escape.

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AND THE EVIL SPINDLY ARSEHOLE SHRIMP DEVIL BASTARD, PLAYING AROUND WITH HIS FOOD – AKA THE FISH FORMERLY KNOWN AS DOPEY WHITE DUDE

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The Hermit Crab, tucking in. I don’t blame him, he didn’t do the killing. It’s like having a wedding buffet put in front of you and not having a sausage roll. If anything it would be a waste to leave it.

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The Devil – about to discard Dopey White Dude and have a go at the Admiral. Prick.

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Dopey White Dude – The Remains

What are you?

A friend just sent me a quote. It’s one of my favourites. Roald Dahl. “If a person has ugly thoughts it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. you can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

It was linked to Theresa May looking like demonic hag and to a dishevelled Jeremy Corbyn with his kind eyes.

But this isn’t about them. It’s about us all. It’s about you, reading this now.

As part of my job(s) I have to do a lot of social media. Most people do nowaways. I have to push my plays, I share my columns and other writing, I share events I’m doing, projects I’m involved in. And I work for an arts organisation who, amongst many other things, puts on events. A lot of blood sweat toil and occasionally tears goes into our projects. And ideas, good intentions, and love. Lots of that.

As part of running events we get a lot of people offering other ideas, feedback, criticism. Quite often vitriol and spite. People who think they know better how to run an event that twenty thousand people attend every year to mostly jubilant response. Have they ever done it themselves? Mostly not. Because it’s hard. Anything mass scale can never be perfect. Anything that revolves around humans is never perfect, because humans are not perfect, and you can’t control their singular behaviour. Things can go wrong. Good people tackle it and try to get better. Because they are doers. Bad people moan and fire grenades. They tend to be people who do less, who have less to do, and worse, delude themselves that their venomous little splurges have something of value.

Facebook has increasingly become a wallowing pit for people who prefer wading in thick muck and bile to clear waters and positivity. People who get their sole satisfaction from ranting on media platforms seldom think enough to realise they are not reaching the core issue, but are merely reaching one or two people trying to do a job. Who take in their words and carry them around in their personal lives, who take their energy home, to the bath, to bed, and into their hearts. It’s like having a go at the till girl because you don’t like a brand. Which are you? Are you a muck-flinger or a clean water paddler? Ask yourself quickly, now. I wonder if you are right. I wonder if what you think about yourself is what others think about you.

People who fire their ire into the ether think they are assertive, righteously angry, the product of a society which now thinks moaning and attacking as the primary approach is the best way to get what you want. It never is. Even if you achieve the outcome you want – the compensation, the apology, the plain weary receding of someone else’s opinion – you have still lost something by resorting to negative energy and spite. I believe the energy we send out there lingers like clouds. It reflects us, it affects people’s moods, and it is hard to forget.

People who know they are quick to jump to aggression – why? Does it make you happy? I’d say you owe yourself, your life as a creation you are in control of, and the people around you who soak up your clouds, to keep a watch on it.

It is not always assertiveness. It is often tiring, poisonous, unproductive, and beyond tedious. Make a real change. Do things, create things, counter things in a truly enlightening and positive way. Use better more powerful language in your criticism. There is no value in being a critic of things when it does not co-exist alongside something else, something which makes you a valuable human to have around.

Are you the best kind of assertive you can be? Are you doing good? Are you making a difference, or are you just spaffing out an energy that is of no use to anyone, that speaks of a deeper dissatisfaction in your own life, targeted outwards to others, who can’t help the person you’ve allowed yourself to become.

What are you? Look deep; do it. What are you really? Are you sunbeams, or are you black clouds? Are you clean blood, or are you cancer?

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Change. History. Time. Feet.

I need to grow up and get better shoes. You can’t traipse around London for three days solid in worn-out Converse and not expect your feet to hate you by the end of it. Those soles are thin at their best, when they’re new, but when you’ve worn them the equivalent of ten times round the United Kingdom, you are definitely on course for some intense post-walk pangs de pied.

I spent a long weekend in London, two nights in a hotel were presented as a birthday gift by my boyfriend as a subtle hint to switch my brain off. It takes acts of bossy kindness like that from loving others for me to take the hint and accept I need downtime; enforced mini breaks, maternal rants, being strapped into a deckchair for a summer lobotomy. That kind of thing.

As part of the prescribed relaxation I decide to do away with the tube and walk everywhere. I wanted to see London. I didn’t want to zoom through underground tunnels and magically reach my destination without seeing anything; I wanted to join the dots overground. With my feet.

I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time to do it; trips into town are usually for one purpose and bookended by rushing. A rush to get there, a rush to get back. Occasionally I’ll manage to see friends when going in for a meeting or to do a show, but mostly I go there for the thing itself then dash away again. Time. It’s tricky to get it right, isn’t it?

But this weekend I walked. I strolled that bad boy London. I perambulated the nation’s capital like a boss. I mooched the living bejesus out of the big smoke.

And I remembered to look up. I was like a magpie for all the hidden bits; the old street signs, the plaques memorialising long-gone taverns, the chimneys and church steeples and turret rooms and broken windows and strange shops and old walls and hidden doorways and mysterious doorbells. Grandeur and hovels, side by side. Valiant preservation and cruel unthinking destruction. Things simply fading away under the weight of newness. Change. History. Time. My eyes were hungry for it all. I loved London that day in a way I had not allowed myself for a long time. Because I took the time to.

At one point, after picking up the pace again after a well-earned pint of lager and lime in Drury Lane, I wondered if my walking London might be a bit like where Forrest Gump starts running and keeps on going until he gets tired and just stops in the middle of a desert road, all beardy and pooped but with a yawn of strange clarity. I wondered if I might be silently protesting against something, hitting my feet against endless pavements driven by some inner voice until the voice just quietens and I would look down and realise I’d worn my legs down like pencil lead. Walking is meditative; it doesn’t just take your body to other places, it carries your mind away too. I think I needed it. Time and space and walking.

And then of course you get home after three days of being the Barbican’s answer to Bear Grylls and take your shoes off and wince and think maybe you should buy yourself some nice Scholls. “You’re 37 now, Hasler. It’s time. Those arches could drop at any minute.” You look at your feet – the same ones you’ve had all your life, the ones that have walked you everywhere – and you see your own history there, every room and street and moment you have ever walked through used those very feet – and you might even remember to thank them.

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The Zen Phosphorescence of General Knowing

I was thinking that being 37 is a funny age. But they’re all funny ages aren’t they? Because we’ve never lived them before, so they all feel a bit odd and clunky, like new shoes that need to be worn in. Just as you think you’ve got one era of your life straight you move onto a new one, a fresh new bundle of five years tightly bound with the twine of time so you can despatch them in convenient manageable batches as they pass. A stack of experience to be filed away in the sprawling room of retrospect. Early twenties is different to your late twenties, early thirties different to your late thirties, and presumably similarly onwards until your own unique allotment of age runs out and you shuffle off this mortal coil in your slippers, scratching your head and wondering why there’s so much stuff left on your to-do list.

I find myself sat squat in the middle of the latter half of my thirties, just a few crispy autumn months shy of 37 and a half. Aside from the occasional shrieking shock of existential age-versus-success related panic (“I HAVE GREY HAIRS BUT WILL NEVER HAVE A MORTGAGE”, and other witching hour joys), it’s alright. Thirties are pretty great, on the whole. Mostly when you remember to take it easy on yourself.

You even allow yourself the odd moment of feeling wise. Everyone starts looking terribly young and foolish, like they’re blindly wandering the lands of youthful misdemeanor and mild peril and you now get to comfort and dole out nuggets of wisdom from your pouch of experience feeling like you are terribly useful, like baby wipes to a spillage or Smints to a post-sick scenario. Those little blighters need you. You have lived. You have loved. You have mucked countless things up. You have got loads to bang on about until they get bored and lose the will to live.

The wisdom never lasts long. Because you realise you still haven’t got a clue. Your life is lacking in any real foundation, structure, meaning, direction, and purpose, than in fact a whole TED talk could be written on why everyone should do the exact opposite of what you’re doing because you’re an idiot. That you have made some terrible decisions and laughable turns, but that you’d be really good at taking stock and making significant changes if only some benevolent stranger would pay for you to go to Thailand for a 6 month lie-down, where a transformation would come upon you like a slow-growing tan. You’d probably get dreadlocks, and your arms would fill up with meaningful beads and potent charms on string, and your cranium would take on a sort of natural saint-like glow from all the zen phosphorescence of General Knowing shooting out of your follicles. It’d be great. You’d be great. You could be so goddamn great. If only things were somehow…different.

When you find yourself caught between what was, what is, and what could be, turning in small circles like a robot running out of batteries, you need to turn to other wisdom. To books, podcasts maybe, music. To history, to science, to philosophy. To people. People you see all the time, to people you don’t see enough. To whatever makes you feel connected and less lost.

I turn to people. I turn to older friends, to people a few stages on from me. I soak in their thoughts and their advice and their stories and their experience and their love. Their knowing and not knowing. Feeling like you aren’t much different to everyone else might not make the answers come and bonk you in the face like a neon sign of definitive acumen, and it gives you comfort and bravery to keep moving forwards.

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