On what my home can (and can’t) tell you about me

In my house, I have the following things:

  • a Le Creuset 20cm teal-coloured cast iron saucepan
  • a hand-crocheted (not by me) throw on my sofa
  • bath oil that cost more than I’m willing to pay for a meal in a restaurant
  • a full set of wine glasses, champagne flutes and martini glasses
  • a Jamie Oliver wooden ‘plank’ for serving antipasti
  • a matching set of towels
  • a large, white ceramic jug for holding cut flowers (which I also have most of the time)
  • a set of plates that I use for ‘best’ (but that I eat off alone if they happen to be top of the pile in the cupboard)

According to Red magazine, the above list would put me well on the way to having the ‘8 Things Every Woman Over 30 Should Have In Her Home.’ And yet, instead of feeling like for once I meet the status quo, I wonder why the hell every woman over 30 would want a set of items that in no way differentiate her from every other woman on the planet.

The article above is actually a ‘grown up’ form of clickbait, I get that. I read Red fairly often, and I think, as women’s magazines go, it’s actually not bad. But god, that post above irritated me.

What you might take from my list above is that I’m undeniably middle class. You might also (correctly) assume that I enjoy cooking and entertaining people at home, and that I’m willing to spend a decent chunk of my disposable income on those things. It might tell you about my love of hot baths and buying myself flowers. What I don’t think it should say is anything about either my age or my gender.

Through my teens and much of my twenties, I didn’t feel like I ‘fitted in.’ To be fair, I didn’t make much of an effort to, but I did worry a lot about feeling on the outside of the things. As my thirty-first year draws to a close, I’m still anxious and I still often feel lonely, but the fear of fitting in is all but gone. Until my twenties, everyone I knew did things at pretty much the same age – learned to drive at seventeen, left school at eighteen, left uni at twenty-one/twenty-two. After uni, that all changed – some people went straight into their perfect career while others were in long-term relationships and thinking about marriage and babies long before myself and other friends wanted, or were in a position, to.

It’s for that reason, I think, that you see relatively few of these ‘What you should be/say/do/want/have achieved at 30’ posts. At that age, the majority of doors are still open to women, whether those doors lead to further education, marriage, babies or switching into a radically different field of work. We still have plenty of time to decide who we are, or who we want to be.

There are words in that article that bother me, too – display-worthy, show-off worthy, neutral – words that suggest you’d own these things for one of two reasons: either because you were trying to impress other people or because they’re inoffensive and go with everything. I’ll admit it, some items I do use for a form of showing off, but if I make you a casserole in my Le Creuset, or serve you on my best plates, what I’m trying to do is reflect what matters to me: food, comfort, nurturing. These things are my personal values and passions: they’re not a sign that I’m in any way a successful woman for my age.

The stuff in my home could tell you other stories too, things you wouldn’t know just from reading my list above. That one of the reasons why I’ve spent a lot on stuff for my home is that for a long time I hated my body, and shopping for homeware was preferable to shopping for clothes. That I prefer entertaining at home because my dining table only has four places and I don’t cope well with socialising in big groups.

It’s an uncomfortable idea for me, the idea that I should be aspiring to own a certain set of items that represent a certain set of values and interests. Not all women of thirty are ready for a committed relationship, or children (or want those things at all), so why would we all need the same eight items in our home? I have no issue with the magazine choosing to showcase homeware (although, let’s face it, lots of us in the UK don’t own our own places or still live with housemates), what I have an issue with is that if you don’t own these things, because you have different tastes, or interests, or ways of spending your cash, you’re somehow lagging behind those of us who do.

Because the closest the article comes to the truth, I think, is here: ‘A stylish addition to your sofa to mask any not-so-pretty stains that have appeared.’ At thirty, I don’t feel much closer to being a fully-fledged, sorted grown-up than I did at twenty-five. I might buy nice stuff for my kitchen, but it doesn’t mean I don’t fuck up, that I have a life plan, or that I even cope particularly well most days. Unless I tell you otherwise, it means I like buying nice stuff for my kitchen, that’s all.

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One day I’ll learn to love you

You’re warm, and soft, and curvy. You have good bits, like tits and beautifully shaped fingernails. And today, I hate you.

And do I trust you? Ha, you must be kidding. Why would I trust you when you constantly let me down?

Take this week, for example. Every time I stand up, my left ankle tries to collapse. My right knee is tired of putting up with that shit – I know, because it aches so badly.

We don’t understand each other, you and I. The ankle thing, someone suggested, might be because you don’t like the cold. Oh. I *love* the cold. I didn’t know it caused your muscles to contract, made you tight and inflexible. At night now, that ankle gets a hot water bottle. Does that help? I wish I knew.

I tell my mum what I found out about you, too: that it’s not just that the left leg is shorter, it’s that the hip muscle has yanked it up and won’t let go.

‘What’s the point of knowing that,’ she says, ‘If you’re not going to do anything about it?’

But I don’t want to change you. I want to like you the way you are.

That’s not to say we don’t have good times. We just mainly have them alone. Just after Christmas, we went for a walk, and as usual, we set out later than we should – sundown, it turns out, isn’t at 5 p.m. in early January, it’s at 4. And so we’re under pressure. The walk is flat though, according to the book, so we’ll be fine, right?

I forgot about mud. It coats my boots, means there’s no friction between you and the ground. I force you to swing from branch to branch to get down the first bank, and they snap and you have to clutch and grasp for another. Over and over again. We survive. Just. And I’m proud of us.

There’s more mud, and water that slops over my boots, but we cope. Ultimately, it’s not you that brings the whole endeavour to an abrupt end, it’s me. I have plenty of ridiculous fears, but this one I think, is justified. Staring back at us, from the field which ‘has a stile in the corner diagonally opposite’ are three bulls. Uh uh. No way.

So together we try to scramble back down to the road. And we almost make it. We’re probably three steps from safety when you fail me and I land flat on my back in the mud. I could cry, but there’s no one to see my humiliation. So I forgive you and we set off along the road instead.

We get to a junction. Googlemaps seems to think we’ve gone the wrong way, and then my phone dies. Obviously.

There’s a grim looking hotel and I go in, and ask the guy on reception to call me a cab. And could he check they’ll take cards?

‘There’s a cash point in the petrol station,’ he says. Then: ‘I can’t call it unless you stay here. Sometimes people do runners.’

Yeah, he’s a cunt.

In the petrol station I ask a woman if she’s going the way I need to go. It’s only just over a mile, but it’s dark, I have no torch, no phone and there’s no pavement.

She’s not, but she points in the opposite direction. ‘You can get back that way, too. It’s quicker, and there’s a pavement.’

Thank fuck for that.

We drive home via Sainsbury’s. I want to buy you something nice for tea. I’m proud of you. And it even makes me laugh when, later, in the bath, the bits of twig floating on the surface confuse me until I realise that my hair is bloody full of them from when we were swinging tree to tree.

We’re ok, you and I. We just need to learn to love each other. To trust each other. And maybe, once we’ve done that, we can start to trust other people.

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Wicked Wednesday: A flourish of hate

It’s the editor in me that has to go searching for the dictionary when a prompt has two words that feel like they don’t usually go together – I have to know *why* they don’t collocate.

So, here’s the definition of flourish:

NOUN

bold or extravagant gesture or action, made especially to attract attentionwith a flourish, she ushered them inside

For me, that means that hate and flourish kind of do work together: I’m guilty far more often of making bold gestures of hate to attract attention than I am of affection or love.

When I’m furious with him, for example, and I phone him and call him all the names I can:

Cunt. Arsehole. Bastard. Idiot.

I want to hurt him the same way he’s made me hurt, but more than that I do it because I want him to feel *my* pain: I don’t want the fact that I’m suffering to go unnoticed. I don’t even necessarily want an explanation, an apology or a promise that things will be different in future. I just want him to feel shit too.

I’m a bitch, right?

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Burning

I’m on my knees and it stings. Cold concrete and gravel dig into my skin. Am I hurt? I have no idea. I’m bleeding a bit, certainly. There are little red pinprick dots on my teal linen dress. There’s the shock factor, too: a second ago I was upright, sauntering across the road and now I’m a crumpled mess, all burning palms and tears welling.

I fall often, probably once a month at least. I’ve stumbled home with laddered tights, tripped off the edge of a pavement and landed sprawled across the road, right in the headlights of an oncoming bus, loose change and the occasional tampon spilt across the Tarmac. Women (it’s always women, and for that I’m kind of grateful) rush to make sure I’m ok, and I try not to cry. Please, please don’t be nice to me: I’m ok, I’m not broken, I’m just so, so embarrassed. I pick myself up, dust myself down and get on the bus (because that’s the second rule of buses, dontcha know: three come along at once, and if you fall over in front of a bus it’ll always be the one you subsequently have to get on, grit your teeth and deal with the driver’s concern. He did almost run you over, after all.)

In short, when I fall, the physical pain and damage is pretty much the last thing to register. The first is the shock, and the second, hot and unshakeable, is the shame. I burn with it for days after the event, inspecting the heels of my boots for unevenness, mistrusting my every step. If only no one had seen me do it…

And yet at home, tucked up warm in bed, shame is one of the predominant emotions I seek out. I flick through the pages of erotic novels looking for just that: the moments where a character not only submits but allows herself to be shamed, humiliated. Where that shame and humiliation makes her come.

It makes me come too, despite being my greatest fear in real life. Or perhaps *because* it’s my greatest fear. Either way, the burn of shame is both agony and ecstasy, all at the same time.

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Fresher’s Pack

I had to canvas my uni friends today to establish what was in my Fresher’s pack. I can remember the good bits (two condoms: one ribbed, one extra strong, a sachet of lube, teabags) but the rest is hazy. Depending on who you ask, there may or may not also have been: a map, a packet of microwaveable pasta in Dolmio sauce, a pen, and a NatWest rubber in the shape of a pig.

I have no idea what happened to the contents of mine, but I do know what happened to Mark’s.

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