Blackpool

Blackpool, July, 1946.

I imagine it was raining. Slowly, at first, in spits and spots, then all of a sudden all at once the heavens opened, scattering the couples cuddling on the seafront. I imagine that the heavy drops pulled on the bright lights on the pier just as they smudged Julia’s war paint, blurring the features beneath. Rain and tears mingled on her cheeks, becoming indistinguishable from each other. Lightning crackled and sparked overhead as thunder echoed Alfred’s roar…

Except… Mother Nature doesn’t always have this sense of ceremony. My own Blackpool was a doorstep on a night that was still and calm, where I basked in the warm glow radiating from suburbia’s bay windows whilst my home tore itself apart.

So perhaps the sun was shining and it was bright and clear on that northern street where I can see a boy who comes just up to my knee. He looks from Julia, to Alfred, to Julia as his father yells, “Who do you want to be with, John? Your mother, or me?”

A coin flips in John’s frightened head and he runs to his father’s arms, pauses, looks back, panics and carries on running. Then he hears his mother crying and wonders if he is allowed to change his mind. Before he can find out, I snatch him from that hot street because the only compromise is one where everyone loses. We cling to each other, John and I, and I stroke his hair and promise him lies to hide from the endless wondering ‘what if’.

He’s fifteen when we meet again, when we kiss but he goes too far so instead I insist we play guitar. He’s telling me about the woman who bought it for him. The beautiful, skittish almost stranger who plays him Elvis Presley and dances and smokes and laughs and couldn’t cope.

She’s with him, that’s just how it goes. But we find an old photograph album and there are the pictures of them and we see specious love that doesn’t exist and surely never has though the evidence defies it.

Next time, he’s seventeen and reeks of cigarettes, sweat and freedom in a black suit that doesn’t fit right. I offer my sympathies but my comfort is futile because this is beyond what I can fathom. Empathy is hard when you can’t possibly understand. So I clasp my hands and wish and wish that I could be better. There is only so far my empty embraces can go.

I felt invincible, forgetting my naivety and conceit. So I scrubbed until my fingers were raw and cracked and made a bed with crisp, white sheets and dabbed at his wounds and whispered, low, when he winced at the antiseptic. But I wound the bandages too tight and the infection flourished in the heat and all I did was make it worse by fussing.

So I don’t visit again until he’s just turned 30, when he doesn’t see me sitting in the corner of that white room where Alfred asks for money and forgiveness one last time.

Spoken word version here

Sometimes

It started with a list of boys. Your older brother boys, hero boys, boys-in-my-class boys whose initials I wrote in giggling code and you swore on your life you wouldn’t tell.

So when it really started when I was 12 I’d been in love before. She was a dancer, pretty, older, three things I wasn’t. She played the romantic lead so I told myself it was him I was defending when they said she couldn’t sing, him who made me blush when I swear she smiled at me once, him whose name I wrote, sighing, in my attentive darling diary.

But then it continued, with someone closer. The nearness of it all made my skin shiver and my head tie itself in knots while the rest of me caught myself charmed by the tiny patch of hair the dye missed and quietly hyperventilating when our skin touched.

I was surrounded, trapped, by friends with boyfriends who texted them in lessons even though we still cared about the rules and kissed and grew up faster and the Stockholm Syndrome consumed me and I thought that was what I wanted too.

So, he occupied the next year and a half and I screamed about it because this one made sense in some stupid, hopeless way and I could get a laugh from being obsessive and desperate. Towards the end, the feelings evaporated and I used the space it cleared in my mind and thought about girls instead.

And then it was her and I’m sorry for that. We were porcelain and I smashed it and with all this glue and string I can’t put the pieces back together.

Then I tried to introduce myself for the first time with my new face.

But the words got trapped in my skull, where they festered and turned themselves over and over until they lost all meaning. Then they plummeted down to the pit of my stomach and curdled and churned. They robbed the air from my lungs and got lodged in my throat. They got stuck in my teeth and held down my tongue and numbed my fingers and welled behind my eyes and I took a deep breath and typed ‘I like girls sometimes’.

Then, her. She was frightened and I don’t blame her. It tore me apart and I cried a hurricane but she seems happy with him so… so am I.

And now there is she. I am fearless and protective and I swear this isn’t me.

Because there are still times when I wake up and dissolve into worry because the world scares me. And there are things you say that make me wince but I have to keep the argument that can refute all yours folded up and pushed to the back corner of my mouth. When I close my eyes, my fear pulses through my head, beautiful and putrid.

But it’s okay because I still can’t get it right.

Now I need to pick a new name, a title, but there’s none that really fits. Even the one I like, the one that encompasses all my love and rage, is problematic. I can’t get my tongue around it and it makes people shiver and anyway I resent that I can be so misdefined when all I need to really say is I like girls, sometimes.

Spoken word version here

Food Revolution

I don’t know much about food.

I realised this quite recently, when it hit that in a year or so I’ll be living away from home, with a tiny budget and almost non-existent culinary skills. Determined to be prepared for adulthood, since then I’ve been on a crash course, learning by trial-and-error and online tutorials how to put together basic meals. I’ve discovered that cooking can be incredibly rewarding; I’ve started to appreciate the value and cost of food; and I’m eating healthier now I’m considering what goes into my meals. But it’s made me think – why have I got so far knowing so little? It comes down to education.

In school, the food education I had was useless to me. It was ‘Food Technology’, a term or two of once-weekly lessons that seemed to be preparing us to become restaurant chefs or mass food manufacturers. It’s all very well teaching us about batch production and how to design the perfect sandwich: but I can’t help feeling it would be more useful to know how to cook rice, how to make a pasta sauce or what to cream, poach, saute, simmer or parboil actually means.

15th May is Food Revolution Day, and this year’s campaign centers around getting compulsory, practical food education in schools. This is exactly the kind of reform our education system needs.

The priorities within the UK curriculum are all wrong. England’s children are some of the most tested in the world, and the system prioritises exam results over mental wellbeing and useful life skills. For instance, as well as the deficiencies in food education, political education is poor, meaning many young people are left confused and disillusioned when it comes to voting. Sex education is basic and non-inclusive, providing teenagers with little knowledge or confidence and putting them at risk. Furthermore, this year, Childline experienced a 200% increase in calls from children suffering with exam stress.

This isn’t right.

Education should empower young people and provide us with the skills and confidence we need in the adult world. Instead, it pushes us to our limits and wrecks our mental health, before forcing us into adulthood without even checking we know how to cook for ourselves.

With obesity rising and incomes falling, it is more important than ever to equip children with these invaluable life skills so they can cook nutritious meals at an affordable price. Sign and share Jamie Oliver’s petition, calling on the G20 governments to do something about it.

person with glasses holding up a fist with 'sign' written on their fingers and 'it' on their palm person with glasses holding up their palm with 'share it' on their palm

We are not sore losers

Today, hundreds of people took to the streets in London protesting our newly-elected Tory government. Commenters are dismissing this as a ‘pathetic’ reaction to a democratic vote not going our way. But we will not ‘get over it’. Because our voices are legitimate and the people of this country cannot take another five years of Conservative leadership.

First, we are not sore losers. We are the 60% who didn’t vote for this government. And we are living in a country where 80% of mainstream media is controlled by five right wing billionaires.The UK population has been bombarded with messages telling them to fear each other and that looking out for Number One is the only way to survive. I’ve been yelled over by Tory voters saying precisely the words ‘what about me?’ and the only way I can explain such apparent selfishness is fear. After all, it can only be a very scared population that would make UKIP a serious candidate for the second opposition party, and otherwise I’d have to accept that the British public really are so intolerant and self serving.

But even if you believe that this election, with its First Past The Post voting system and constant, petty media campaign against Ed Miliband, produced a sufficiently democratic result, it is our right to protest. Democracy and free speech isn’t just about being able to vote for who you want to: it’s about having a voice outside of the ballot box too. Democracy does not end with a General Election.

So do not dismiss our protests as tantrums. We’re not upset because we didn’t get our way: we’re terrified for what the next five years will bring. With Bullingdon Boys in charge, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. And don’t kid yourself that top down economics actually works. Austerity kills. You might be fine under a Tory government- you might even be better off. But if you could just look past your own nose and see the rising poverty, homelessness and hopelessness, you’d realise why we’re so very angry.

Of course, we should try and take some positives from this election. At the time of writing, all the major UK parties, bar the Conservatives, are led by a woman. The proportion of female MPs has gone up to 1 in 3 while the number of BME MPs has increased by 51% – though these victories for representation still fall short of reflecting the population at large. More than a million people voted Green, increasing the legitimacy of further left parties. Plus, frustrations at the results seem to be leading to popular demand for electoral reform. And maybe people will start to realise that you don’t just have to sit there and take it- you can fight.

People make fun of the left for being peace-obsessed hippies, but get angry when it turns out we’re prepared to use force. The truth is, no one listens if you just ask nicely. So don’t mourn, organise. You are not ‘pathetic’ for fighting for what’s right.

Want to get involved in the issues you care about? Here are some links to get you started.

xx