Tuesday, October 31, 2006

walking virgnia
The three As and I set off from Lewes train station under the bright blue sky and rare autumn sun, past the Anne of Cleves house and tramped up and over the steep chalk of the South Downs until, sweaty and hungry, we reached a pub in Rodmell village.
I’m not sure my decision had been entirely conscious – concentrating as I was on finding a walk that wouldn’t be too far away, too muddy, too long or too arduous — but suddenly (as I realised I’d chosen to visit lupine country) I felt as though I was on a pilgrimage. Did the eccentric couple ever take a break from the books to come down to the pub at the end of their road for a drink?
I was distracted from my introspection by the joys of roast beef, creamy Guinness and a little dog, wagging his tail under the table next to ours. We talked of what makes a good pub: real ale, old men in jumpers, whippets, steak-and-ale pies, a hearty welcome, and a roaring fire. We declared that winter walks are better than summer walks and described to each other the pleasures of wind-whipped rosy cheeks and mittens.
After lunch we walked past Monk’s House without stopping and down to the Ouse. The sun was suddenly small and squat in the darkening sky. The clocks had been put back – I was walking in the heartless spring of 1941. I offered up a series of prayers. The water was low and sluggish between its muddy banks. The world was shades of grey; shades of ash. War was on the horizon; no wonder the sun was setting.
My time-travelling mood passed as we picked up our pace. Lewes Castle in our sights, we marched at a brisk clip back into town, on the hunt for the tea and cakes promised by the walking guide. Lewes shuts early and we had to plump for the reserve tea stop – the White Hart Hotel.
Two trains and a tired jog returned me to the Sett for a reviving hot shower and mug of milk. Soon I was clean and safely tucked up in bed in my pink pajamas. I picked up the book I’ve been slowly rereading for months and read a few pages. Suddenly I was back at the White Hart in Lewes, as I read that the Woolves had used it as their benchmark when travelling abroad. I bet they also stopped for tea and cakes.

Friday, October 27, 2006

little miss interpretation
When all one has is scripts, signs and signifiers one needs an interpreter, an oracle, to help make sense of it all. Of course, putting yourself at the mercy of others’ wisdom is fraught with danger. What am I blathering on about? Well, I have a certain amount of evidence and – now I come to look at it again – I realise that I’ve taken my mum’s explanations as fact when they are no more than an interpretation of the evidence. Her narrative has been convincing, and as a result I’ve woven much of it into my sense of self, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
So, did I scream and run away from a man in white overalls who’d come to fix the boiler because I’d had a traumatic time as a baby at the hands of doctors (men in white coats) in hospital? It’s plausible, but now I’m walking around with two complexes for the price of one. Perhaps I was just a grumpy and territorial toddler who didn’t like strangers opening the airing cupboard – the cupboard where my dad kept his shoes – perhaps I thought this man was a shoe robber? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, eh?
Maybe all my so-called man issues really are all innocent misunderstandings about man shoes that somehow got twisted into a dark tale of abuse. Wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

man shoes
TA says I have man issues that I ought to explore and resolve. I don't deny it, my size-seven feet aren't the only reason I have man shoes. And, since I have proclaimed the UB as my therapy, I really should try on my man shoes for size.
According to my first birth certificate (I have two), I don't have a father - in that respect, I'm an unknown. Although, of course, I do have a Dad - a very loving, caring, unique Dad - who I adore. Arrrgh. How to begin this exploration? Best foot forward?
Creation myths - we all have them, I guess, except those people who claim to be able to remember their birth. That said, I suppose mine are more mythic than most, given that I only have written and physical testaments to take as gospel. Here's the evidence I have: scars, absence, genital warts/scarring (I remember this - luckily it faded before I reached emancipation), screaming fits when a man in overalls visited...and my own memories of disassociation and disgust.
It occurs to me now that small children were (are?) protected/hidden from men. My earliest memories of men are very limited.
My Dad had polio as a child and as a result has a very unusual voice - hoarse, like the wolf who swallowed chalk to fool the little kids - unthreatening, almost unbroken (yes, I'm choosing my words carefully). TBC...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

light relief
Sing a happy song. Look at cute dogs. Plan a Christmas party.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

he only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases
We are in a pickle. Suddenly TA is cooking fabulous dinners and being extra solicitous – where has all this energy come from? When I opened my lunch box yesterday I realised he’d cut up the leftover steak into bite-sized pieces for me, displaying a level of care and attention I’ve not seen for months. This morning as I was kissing him goodbye he asked me what I wanted for dinner. When I couldn’t think of an answer he said, “I’ll call you later to decide.” And actually he did call me yesterday to let me know he was going to cook – this from the man who wasn’t even answering the phone last week.
Of course I’m thrilled that he’s taking an active part in life again, but also thoroughly confused. I’m still burning with a mixture of – oh, how can I explain? – astonishment, regret, guilt, bewilderment…pride from Saturday’s unprecedented trip into surreal fantasy and now I can’t begin to decipher how I feel about anything that’s happening. If he’s about to leave why are we cuddling, kissing and emotionally engaging with one another?
TA says I should look after my own needs first and if he’s about to disappear I want to prepare for that. It’s not what I want, far from it, but if he needs to go there’s nothing I can, or would want to, do to stop him. I need to reassure myself that I’ll be able to cope with my sorrows without drowning myself in the sea or them in a bottle.
As a survival mechanism, I need to start looking on the bright side of a future alone – this is much easier to achieve when TA is a silent, unmoving object. But even when he was unreachable, I found the thought of unravelling our woven life – unpicking myself from the fabric of our marriage – a terrifying prospect.
He told me last night that I needed to work out what it was I wanted from life, but I can’t even begin to without knowing whether or not he’s going to be a part of it. We’ve been treading water for so long, not able to make plans until TA’s employment situation changes, that to out of the blue pull out not only an ideal plan A for two, but also a plan B for a solo badger is too much for my little brain to cope with.
Here in no-man’s-land, every day is a new adventure: throwing up unexpected challenges and studded with hidden landmines. We’re walking wounded not knowing what path to take or even whether or not we can lean on each other.

Monday, October 23, 2006

let me entertain you
Oh my. This is going to be a difficult post to write – convoluted and very long – untangling the skein of my thoughts might take quite some time. However, as I’ve been mulling it over since I woke up on Sunday, perhaps it will end up making some kind of sense. At first the title was going to be “stepping out”. Stepping out with my friends, stepping out into the disco lights, stepping out of my comfort zone – with the softly unspoken invitation: step out with me, come out…
And I should say hello to all those Isle of Wight friends – who apparently have been reading along for quite a while now – I hope I haven’t written anything bad about any of you; I hope I’ve only written bad things about me. (Thank goodness Blogger went for a burton on Friday night otherwise I might have let the surprise party cat out of the bag.)
Gradually, over the last three years, the lights of the UB have become very fierce – this is my therapy, in many ways. I’ve illuminated myself to a degree that is perhaps only comfortable when the audience stays in the dark. Too late now, of course. No point corpsing so I may as well carry on regardless and hope that their affection for me and mine for them will carry us smoothly over any bumps. But still, surely, they or I will at some point cry “too much information!” How can social situation continue when there are no masks for one person and everyone there knows that some kind of account will end up being published – a very partial and badger-centred account? The badger that appears here is no more real, no less of a construct than the woman who walks and talks and experiences life. Opinions, feelings and selves are mutable, fleeting things – but words, words that get written down, they have a permanence and inflexibility that can be judged. Do I want my friends to be my jury?
So, did I get something for the weekend?
I had a creeping sense of apprehension about going. I knew I’d be alone at Badger Avenue and, frankly, I don’t do too well when there’s no one to see what I’m up to. I also thought that it might be a useful trial run for if/when TA moves out. Oh dear. Friday night passed with red wine, cheese and Simon Schama talking about Caravaggio. Not great, but not bad (me, not Simon – Simon was fascinating). Through a certain prism it could be viewed as a decadent and indulgent night in solo. Let’s look at it in that light, shall we? Let’s not consider it in the cold, grey light of the dawning realisation that I’m perilously close to having a drinking problem.
Saturday? Saturday I read newspapers, mooched about, procrastinated, ate hot cross buns and read a new-age self-help book I found next to the bed I had – unusually – decided to sleep in. There are twin beds in my old bedroom now and I slept in the one that TA usually takes, not sure why, but I fancied the change of scene. The book was called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior and it made me think of TA and wonder if he would find it interesting. I tried to inhabit my head, tried to make the most of the uncomfortable silence. I’m not sure I succeeded.
And so it was time to get ready for the party. Unhappy with my options I had decided to raid my mother’s wardrobe – surely she must have a sparkly top that I could wear with my lovely, elegant wide-legged black trousers and princess shoes. It appears that women in their late sixties don’t need sparkly tops and I came away empty handed even after a thorough firk. In the end I settled upon a lightweight cream v-necked jumper. Subtle, hopefully classy. It still needed something so I borrowed a rope of seed pearls. I was suddenly in the zone. What the French call “in good face”. The make up worked better than usual and, daringly, I decided to literally let my long hair down for once.
Prozac seems to be the best form of beauty therapy there is. I’ve noticed the clothes I choose to wear and the way I choose to wear them has changed. I’m enjoying them more, I’m standing straighter. I’m loving the “lady look” this season. There’s an aspect of auto-erotica to this enjoyment. I don’t know how other women relate to their bodies. I don’t know if women that are only ever attracted to men get that same inside-out appreciation. Sometimes I get a fetishistic thrill from a look that has more to do with what I find attractive – I guess it’s narcissism or perhaps better understood as a way of being both Pygmalion and the ivory woman. Whatever, those pencil skirts and “sexy secretary” fashions are really working for me, in all senses. And it seems that I’m finally able to understand TA when he tells me I’m beautiful. That sounds vain, but honestly I’ve never thought I was remotely pretty, all I’m saying is that I can see now why I might be considered attractive.
Recently – what with all the soul searching between us – I’ve been thinking deeply about how I relate to men and women; the different ways I experience attraction. With men there’s always been the instant attraction and I’ve been able to appreciate the physical with no intention or desire to get to know the person. That’s not to say I can’t form a deep relationship with a man – I’m closer to TA than anyone else in the world, even K1 and my family – rather, it’s just that when I’ve been attracted to a woman I’ve fallen for the person first and the body second. I wondered if that was because I have greater respect for women or whether I experience greater – there’s no other way to say this – “phwoar factor” from men. (TA has the most beautiful bottom in the whole world – honestly it’s a thing of sublime perfection.)
So. We surprised the birthday girl. It was great – a really lovely gathering of friends and acquaintances with a rich shared history of twenty years or more. It’s rare, I think, to still be in touch – even if that touch is tenuous – with so many school friends, particularly when we all live in different places now. There was genuine merriment along with the alcohol-induced kind.
We moved on to a local bar. The Jolly Sailor has featured here before and in my life, particularly my teenage years and early twenties, it has been a landmark of huge psycho-geographical importance. It’s a bar with a dance floor; it’s the launch pad for downstairs debauchery as there is a nightclub (the only nightclub for miles around) in the basement. At one point, a crowd of us would meet there every night of the week. The world of the Jolly and Colonel Bogey’s has it’s own centre of gravity and for miles around, people are pulled into its orbit.
I was convinced I would bump into Jay at the Jolly; Jay the boy I was engaged to and lived with from age seventeen to nineteen. Two tumultuous years of intense closeness that ended in heartbreak and resentment. There’re still questions I’d like to ask him – there are parallels between how we ended up breaking up and where TA and I are now – questions about how he viewed me and what happened to him after we broke up. This isn’t as far fetched as perhaps it seems. Social-worker E had bumped into Jay last summer and they had talked of me. Apparently, I’m still the woman he’s had the best sex with – how’s that for a recommendation? Sadly, I wouldn’t be able to repay the compliment, but still it was nice (and saddening) to hear. E and I talked it over and she said, “but Badgergirl, you’ve always exuded a sexual appetite.” And I was astonished, but also knew what she meant – I’ve always been earthy, sensual, hungry for pleasure. Greedy, frankly.
I scanned the bar but couldn’t see Jay. The Jolly is in many ways like dancing in the living room – it’s safe. I don’t live there any more so bystanders don’t matter, the friends I have from the Island have known me for so long and seen me behave so badly that there’s nothing I could do that would shock them – I think, I hope. I continued to let my hair down – danced like a loon, wanted everyone to riot.
There was a very beautiful woman standing at the side of the dance floor. She had something of the air of a Pulp Fiction-era Uma Therman about her, only even more noir. I was capering about as usual, a bit unsteady on my pins. Grinning and laughing and feeling on top of the world with the familiar dance choons of the last ten years lifting my spirits higher. As a single girl, it would usually be at this point in the evening that I would start asking the most morose-looking man to join me. I can never bear for anyone to look sad or lonely – if a dance or a kiss can make someone join in the fun then I want to help. Understandably, this philanthropic impulse has got me into trouble on more than one occasion. I have woken up on many a morning bleary-eyed and replayed the events of the night to be confronted with the pain of once again being the entertainment, comedy or otherwise. For the past five and a half years TA has been my stabilisers and I’ve been grateful of the security he has given me – allowing me to freewheel down the steepest hills with barely a wobble. I’m scared at what might happen if I have to ride through life with only my own sense of balance to keep me upright.
Uma – dangerous, beautiful, magnetic – Uma was watching us all. I smiled and she smiled back and then she was dancing with us. After a while she was dancing with me. Funny, if she was a bloke I’d think she was coming on to me. She disappeared for a while and then she was back and we were very much dancing together. There wasn’t much to say; it seemed like we had spun away from the world. I was dizzy and giddy and felt as though I was dancing through a dream when she leant close, even closer and asked if she could kiss me. Somehow I had left the Jolly far behind and stumbled into the pages of a Jeanette Winterson novel. Only, seemingly, I was playing the self-deceiving married woman only out for a thrill and breaking the heart of the virtuous Amazon – the wild woman who has complete knowledge of her desires. After a series of kisses that burnt me to a cinder. She left me, asking that I join her in the subterranean netherworld. I hesitated and then, shocked at the enormity of that had just happened and angered and shamed by the leering of the men nearby, made a run for Badger Avenue.
My phone call woke TA, but my shell-shocked voice and tearful explanations left him undisturbed. It was he that thought I would have (perhaps should have) consummated my passion for K2 that difficult summer two years ago when meeting her completely knocked me off my feet. Somehow he doesn’t think that my duality has any bearing on us, but I do. I don’t want to betray the sanctity of our marriage. And, selfishly, having been the third in a three-way love affair, I don’t want to experience that kind of pain again (or inflict it either).
I’m still reeling. I’m still wondering whether I should have followed my lust down into the underworld. And, while it was just a provocative dance and a passionate kiss with a willing accomplice that has no bearing on my real life, which I’ll be able to shrug off as drunken high-jinks for the amusement of friends that have known me for many years, they won’t really need to read these words to know that I’m not being straight with them.
Sunday, shaking with shock, I took off my mother’s pearls and remembered the last time I wore them: my wedding day.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

something for the weekend
Shh! It’s a surprise.
Off to the Iggles tonight for a flying visit in honour of a friend’s thirtieth birthday (crikey – how did we get to be so old?). The parents are in Brighton for a long weekend, visiting Mum’s younger sister, and TA is staying in town. So, I’ll have Badger Avenue to myself and TA will have a couple of days’ peace and quiet in the Sett. Time enough for both of us to grow a thin layer of skin over some of this week’s grazes, or at least I hope so. Although I’m beginning to get used to feeling raw.
Last night we went to the Old Vic with my mother’s older sister to see “A Moon for the Misbegotten”, starring Kevin Spacey, Colm Meaney and Eve Best. It was good to go on a date, even if it was chaperoned by a Lady Bracknell type*, good not to have to talk. The play was well acted and effectively staged, but hardly the “minor masterpiece” of Spacey’s programme notes and Spacey, though undoubtedly a fine actor, was easily surpassed by the other leads. Auntie Bracknell slept through most of the first act, but was revived with a dose of chocolate ice cream. We got to sleep at around midnight for the third night in a row – when my bedtime is usually about 10pm – and I woke from my nightmares at 5.30am (again).
So it is that today I’m struggling to keep my eyes open and clock watching – waiting for the minutes to pass so that I can sink into a seat on the 6pm SouthWest train leaving Waterloo and chinwag with a couple fellow exiled caulkheads.
Bon weekend, comrades.
* She has a blog, who knew?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

putting the blank into blanket
Was the subject line to an e-mail I wrote to American K1 (there are now two American Ks – it’s a long story – who knows, one day it may feature here). It seemed too good, too apt, a subject line to restrict to just one person.
We have a blanket that TA’s mother made for us when we got married. It is made out of bronze and grey wool crocheted in the style – in my family at least – known as a Granny blanket. It is on our bed at the moment to make up for the fact that the nights are chill but we have yet to bring out the winter-weight doona.
My Granny used to crochet blankets with recycled wool, one stripe after another in shell stitch. Crocheting together when I was small, she once asked me if I couldn’t crochet like she did because I was “cack handed”.
“No, Granny, you use a different stitch to the ones I’ve been taught. I can crochet double and treble stitch, but I’ve not learnt shell stitch yet.”
I can do many things even though I am, indeed, cack handed. But I can’t make decisions for TA – that’s part of how we got here in the first place. I can’t protect myself from the storms without scuttling the boat and turning my back on the sea – something I cannot bring myself to do. And so I hold on to the rigging – bailing where necessary, trying not to throw up – and feel…very little. The panic passed a long time ago; the dread, well, I trust myself enough to think that whatever life throws at me, I’ll survive in my own cack-handed way. So I feel blank as I watch the storm front close in and wait for the lightening to strike the mast.
And a secret corner of my consciousness begins to prepare the lifeboat – much like as six-year-old E and I hid running-away supplies under her bed. You can’t get very far with old cheese and Christmas mincemeat (especially if the jars have leaked) and I wonder how far I will get with my meagre emergency supplies.
If you see me paddling on the high seas please send up a flare and send out an SOS for me. Hell, if you see TA clinging to a broken plank, please pull him on to your deck and administer a reviving dose of brandy.
Please: stop me if I'm boring you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

if I don’t laugh I’ll cry
Last night I opened the door to a dark Sett. TA was lying on the bed under the wedding blanket. He’d had a tough day – full of silent sound and mute fury – and was exhausted by himself. My day had been full of, well what my days are full of: office machinations, slacking, stress, busyness, meetings, work, gossip, worry…
I had got up in the morning and – much like this morning – done as many chores as I could fit into an hour; made coffee for us both; eaten a banana; got dressed; packed my lunch; let TA know that there were leftovers if he wanted them for his lunch; and walked to work.
Returning to a dark house and rumpled bed, I girded my loins and set to. I hung up my coat, took off my shoes, hugged TA and stroked his hair, then turned on the kitchen light, put on my apron (a Christmas gift from TA that makes me think of lavender-filled French meadows) and – about to ferret in the fridge for inspiration – turned on the radio.
Nigel effing Rees. Again!
There was nothing for it, I gritted my teeth, iced the leftover coffee and made dinner while the inanities burbled. (Braised leeks, spinach and red peppers with mustard, green beans and steak pie [TA]/Mexican bean burger [me], since you ask – nothing fancy, but then, seriously, I didn’t have fancy in me last night.) Eventually the torture ended and the Archers salved my wounds.
I wish there was something I could do to salve TA’s wounds. He says I don’t understand the pain he is in and he’s right – how could I? – but I can see that he’s suffering. I can see that he’s lost in pain, pain that comes from all directions: a labyrinth of pain. I find it very difficult to talk without metaphor. Often I think the metaphor says more than plain speak ever could. So it is that I speak of storms, polishing the decks and feeling seasick.
Here’s my metaphor of the day. I think that there is a red cord that ties me to him – I think it unravels from my heart and that wherever TA goes the cord goes too. So there’s one tiny red thread that might lead him from the maze of pain and back to our home. But TA – lost, frightened and hurting – sees this thread as the one thing that’s tying him down. And he so wants to break free of the daily struggle – he wants to breathe clean air and feel strength in his limbs. It’s a tiny thread and it looks like it will snap – we both stare at it, seeing different things.
I think perhaps that it is stronger than it looks and, though my heart strings can be tugged and pulled, that cord won’t snap today.
And so the days pass, each one following the same routine. On the bright side, there simply must be something different on Radio 4 at 6.30pm tonight; there might even be something good.

Monday, October 16, 2006

back to the scheduled programming
Yes, we're back with the woe. I can't remember what other people's weekends are like - I can't remember what normal is. I seem to spend my weekends doing one or more of the following: chores, procrastinating about the chores, grocery shopping, listening to Radio 4, shouting at Radio 4 when I find that yet a-bloody-gain it's Nigel effing Rees and his sodding Quote Unquote, cooking, soaking beans...so far, so normal, right?
But, tell me, is it normal to be glad to be back in the office? Is it normal to spend hours at a time holding hands with the beloved person trying to help them decide whether or not leaving would be a good idea? Is it really normal to drink that much sherry (me), eat that much popcorn (him) and watch that much Arrested Development (both of us)? I thought marriage break up would involve much more hate and much less love; I still think that. The only thing we're breaking is our hearts, surely?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

borg and proud
My referrals tell me that people sometimes come here looking for info on hydrocephalus. Odd, since I don't think it's something I've ever written about in detail. It fills me with a wary sense of responsibility - what if a parent of a newly diagnosed child comes looking for information or reassurance?
It's been an interesting process of assimilation. I started as a little kid with all the check ups and prodding feeling special, but put upon. Then came school and the teasing - "put your head in a washing machine?!", "TUUUUUUBE! Oi, tube - if we push you over will your tube bend?"
So it was that I stopped mentioning it and then - a few years later - stopped considering it. I'd been discharged for good, my shunt stayed in but I didn't need it or any further treatment. I went to uni, graduated, started work and never declared it on the medical forms. I moved in with TA.
One day it occurred to me that he should know what to do if I ever went all Exorcist on him and started projectile vomiting. Gradually, thanks to Google, over the last few years I learnt a lot more about hydrocephalus. I learnt to feel blessed and somehow a sense of surviors' guilt started to creep up on me. We knew through my father's work of a little boy who had hydrocephalus too but he also had spina bifida, a wheelchair and two shunts. His dad called him stereo. I don't think he made it to his teenage years. Am I a walking, talking medical miracle? Should I fear a sudden and irreversable catastrophe - shunt malfunction or infection?
Today I was writing to a US-based team-mate about her scan and subsquent all clear after treatment for breast cancer. Here's the [edited] exchange:
team-mate in a round-robin: Just checking in to let you know that the MRI adventure was a piece of cake! I took two Lorazopams. And the machine itself wasn’t scary at all. It’s open at both ends, for one thing, and it’s pale beige plastic, not glistening, cold metal.
me: when I had my brain scan the doctor said, “Pah! it’s nothing – just like putting your head in a washing machine.” way to go doc – I was one freaked out seven year old!
glad to hear it went well.
TM: OMG, what a crazy thing for the doctor to say! Why on earth did you need a brain scan? Is everything OK?
Me: I’m hydrocephalic. It’s no biggie; well, it is for some people but evidently not for me. The scan was to ascertain whether or not I needed an extension to the drainage system they had inserted when I was small…but it turned out that my body had learnt to compensate and – at 11 – I was told I wouldn’t need any more check-ups. So now I just have some interesting, but redundant, hardware in my skull! I was supposed to go in overnight for the scan and be sedated, but my mum mixed up the days and I ended up being squeezed in with the adults and missed out on the drugs!
Doctors can be pretty strange individuals; I guess it comes from all that single-minded study.
TM: Wow! Boy, are you lucky that everything turned out OK. Does your hardware ever transmit any radio signals?
Me: Nah – I’m rather fond of it. it’s a bit like having a little skull spine or – now I come to think of it – a bit of Borg in me! I’ve never set of airport security though so I guess it must be plastic. Wow! I love the internet

Monday, October 09, 2006

veiled threat
This media storm about Jack Straw’s thoughts on veiled women got me thinking at the weekend. Not that my thoughts led to any meaningful conclusions, but still.
I decided to only consider the issue in terms of women who have made the decision to wear a veil – let’s leave aside issues of compunction and oppression – I don’t want to deny these women the right to, for whatever reason, cover their faces in public if they wish to. To say that they are misguided or somehow incapable of making that decision in a positive way strikes me as insulting in the extreme. So, I started by wondering why it is that women’s clothes are considered to be so politicised. I thought about our society’s commoditisation of women’s bodies. Are these women revolutionaries – removing their faces and bodies from our shared economy? Seen in this light, I could imagine the freedom that the veil brings women – it’s a big get lost to a society that encourages young girls to dress as “available”. Do we need to see their faces; do we need to lay them bare against their wills? I thought that there wasn’t a male equivalent, but then realised that there were at least two.
I imagined a time before the balaclava had been adopted by the world’s paramilitaries. Was there ever a time where a balaclava’ed silhouette was innocent of menace? Then I remembered the signs on the doors of shops and banks that show a crash-helmeted head: friend or foe, we don’t know. I smiled as I imagined a new sliding scale sign that shows a balaclava, a crash helmet and then a niqab – friend or foe? We don’t know.
I guess I’m slow on the uptake because it took me a while to realise that this isn’t about openness and conversation, it’s about our fear of terror. Today’s newspapers with their stories of niqab-wearing airport-security dodgers and escaping terrorist suspects makes it clear: choose not to face the world and we will assume you’re turning your back on us before blowing us up. Which brings me back to my original thought – this society has made the attempt to avoid the commoditisation of the self an inescapable crime.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

numbered days
Self-evidently all our days are numbered, from first to last, but for the badger folk this day is more numbered than most. So, I give you some numbers of the day a la Sesame Street. Today is TA’s thirty-fourththird birthday. It is the fifth of his birthdays that I have been present for. It is four years since he has had a birthday while in full-time employ. Today is the day after TA asked me to kill him or leave him or both – of course, not for the first time, I refused.
We talked about the possibility of continuing life in a contemplative cell. The silence and peace of white walls, the comforting confines of restraints. A mercy or an imprisonment? I wish someone could hand down a sentence for me – a monument that could give me meaning to cling to.
Endless, sacred days – is there any kind of irony that isn’t bitter? I wonder when you know your number’s up, since sundown is not an accurate indicator. I wonder when my heart will break, since I never knew it could beat with such steady endurance.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

far above rubies
What to write? Where to write? I bought a new journal from a street trader in Manhattan. My old journal is running out of pages and I’ve been glad of the opportunity to move on after six years of writing between its purple velvet covers. That journal was bought in Northampton, Massachusetts before the year turned to zeros and its pages record single adventures, multiple misadventures and much angst. It is the journal of a twenty-something. Pages are bloodstained – notably, with pierced nipple blood – as well as ink stained. I’ve been feeling constrained by it recently – I’m ready to end that chapter.
I’ve been looking for a new journal for a few months – knowing that on a purely personal level a journal is epoch making and that a new journal cannot be bought without care. I had an idea of what I wanted and I found it, as I hoped I would, while I was looking for something else. It is beautiful: leather bound with a design embossed on the cover. The trip to the US, now I come to think of it, kept throwing up issues of worth. I showed my new journal to a dear, dear friend and she smiled, was a little amazed, a little overawed: “I could never write in something so beautiful; I need scrappy notebooks.”
For the NY leg of my trip, I stayed in Queens with a co-worker who I didn’t know well. Over the course of my visit I learnt a lot, too much, about – let’s call her – Andie. I told her that I wanted to shop while there – I had a list of items that I needed to buy and would like to purchase with the flimsy dollar rather than weighty pounds sterling. Accompanying others while they shop is not something I enjoy so I was surprised that she wanted to come with me – particularly as she has always seemed careless about clothes.
Andie is large, not terribly so by American standards, but certainly larger than is healthy. Andie has a nervous laugh and is self-deprecating to a fault. She has all the “right” books on her shelves: literature, feminist theory, cookbooks. I was envious of those books – there was some overlap, but I don’t have such an extensive library. Andie is married to an out-of-work animator. Andie and I share enough common characteristics to make me uncomfortable with the comparisons. And yet, and yet.
I value myself. This shows itself in many different ways. Where I write is important to me – I am going to take intense pleasure in the decadent leather-bound journal. I will, when it makes sense to me, spend money on clothes. I will choose clothes on the basis of what makes me happy rather than on the basis of cost (where happiness is expressed by an equation where cost is a factor, but so are colour, cut, material and feel). It has taken me a long, long time to get here. Before TA started to encourage me I too chose clothes as some kind of penance: will it wash well, not show dirt, is it practical?
Is fat a feminist issue and is fashion a means of oppression? Can self-worth be expressed by eyebrow waxing or can a person’s politics be worn on their sleeve like I often wear my heart? I’m not sure I know the answers as well as I used to.
The cookbooks were well thumbed but unused. We ate takeaway and breakfasts in a diner where they knew Andie’s order in advance. Andie wore clothes with an air of disdain and a seeming ignorance of the stains on them, but in quieter moments it became clear that this wasn’t a matter of mind on other things, but rather a painful avoidance: mind over matter. Comedy earrings suggested that she couldn’t take self-decoration seriously while an absence of mirrors made me wonder if she couldn’t bear looking at herself.
I don’t care a fig for fashion. You won’t see me sporting tulip skirts or tartan city shorts this season, but I do care for style and happiness. If your style makes you happy then that’s fine by me, whatever that style may be (furry, bright, anarchic, fetish). Just don’t try to tell me that you’ve captured the moral ground with your low self-esteem because I won’t be able to prevent myself from trying to show you how beautiful you would be if you stopped hating yourself.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

shedding
I dispensed with my healthy bank balance in Manhattan. I left a big piece of my heart and most of my armour-plated skin in Portland, Oregon. I have the sinking feeling that most of my guts fell into the Atlantic while I was sleeping. I return to you now lighter, more naked, bruised and possibly spineless. The trip was intense on all fronts - professionally, emotionally and financially - and it's going to take me a while to recover. Other than that, I had a riot.