Greetings from the Feminist Jumble Sale regulars Celia, Emily and Jim. We have ventured through thick fog and howling winds, snow, hail and sleet to bring you a selection of tales connected somehow to the all-year-round favourite moan topic of our isles. As Brits, we are battered by the widest range, and most unpredictable weather of anywhere in the world, so we think we’re allowed. And it’s always a good conversation starter at the bus stop. You might need to be prepared for anything as we bring you the glamour of first festival experiences, dangerous inventions borne of boredom and the perils of weatherbeaten wanderlust. So grab your sunhat, wellies and thermal long johns and join us to see whether it’s turned out nice again. Or not.
Theme next time: Bloody Neighbours. Due out mid June.
FESTIVAL – By Celia
RAINY PLAYTIME – By Emily
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS – by Jim
Festival By Celia
Finally school is over and we’re off to the festival. It’s gonna be brilliant
We have with us:
- ten Silk Cut (Laura)
- a lighter (Gemma)
- five bin bags (Diane)
- a copy of Melody Maker and six Nutrigrain Bars (me)
- the clothes on our backs (all)
It’s really dark when we get there and we have to walk for miles and miles. My Doc Martens are already caked in mud and water is seeping into my socks.
We wait at the meeting point for Caz who’s Laura’s friend from the year above. We walk around the wooden structure which is hung with all these fluorescent flags yelling “Caz!” “Caaaaaz!!” for an hour and smoke a Silk Cut each. Caz turns up. She’s dressed in shorts and a T shirt with a Nike tick that says ‘Just Do Me‘underneath. A boy from my drama group says she gave his friend a blow job in a phone box outside Ritzy’s, but I don’t think this is true. She’s the only person in the whole school with a tattoo. It’s of a dragon and it’s on her back.
Caz leads us down the hill to our campsite. She’s set up our tents and we go and sit round the fire. There’s a boy with dreadlocks playing Radiohead on a guitar. Caz shows us the ‘piss tent’, a tent without a groundsheet that we can use if we can’t be bothered to walk to the toilets. I notice her diamond navel ring glinting as she mimes squatting under the orange awning.
A man wanders over and asks me if I want to buy some Ketamine. I decline, but offer him a Nutrigrain Bar instead. He looks at it as tears well in his eyes, “For real, man? That’s so kind.” He disappears amongst the tents.
First thing the next morning it’s raining loads and I can hear the bass drifting across the fields. Laura is in the tent opposite, attempting to roll a joint for the Radiohead boy. Gemma and Diane say they want to stay at their tent to do their make-up and later watch Robbie Williams and an England football match. I head off with a tight band watching schedule I drew up from Melody Maker on the coach.
It’s still raining and the mud is reaching the tops of my boots, even though they’re 10 hole ones. I exchange a Nutrigrain Bar with an overweight Northern man for a JD Sports carrier bag which I pull on over my head as a hood. It’s a bit difficult to watch the bands as I have to stop to wipe the rain off my glasses every few minutes. The mud’s sloshing up the legs of my combats now.
I’m wading over to the main stage when I hear, “The Dance Tent has sunk into the mud, Rolf Harris has had to be airlifted out.” I can’t go on any further as a fast flowing stream has broken its banks and is blocking my path. “Rolf Harris is dead!” someone says.
I call my parents from a pay phone by a burger van. “It’s on the news!” They say. “Come home!!” and they keep chanting “Come home! Come home!” until the pips sound and the money drops down and we are cut off.
I get back to the tent and open up the zip. The sleeping bags are floating in a pool of muddy water. Caz’s tent is open. Everything is gone, except for her make-up, wet wipes and packets of Microgynon which have been flung around the campfire.
Caz comes back to the camp, being held up by a man with loads of piercings drinking a bottle of cider. “Oh my God!” she goes. Laura pokes her head out of her tent. The Radiohead Boy is in there too in a fog of smoke. Caz goes ballistic, “You mean you was in there all the time and you didn’t stop them!” Laura just stares at her like she is thinking about forming a sentence, but it’s too much for her.
Gemma and Diane come tripping over the guy ropes with England flags painted on their cheeks singing “It’s coming home, it’s coming home…”. “It was amazing, where were you?” they go. Then they clock Caz’s stuff and the floating sleeping bags and Laura’s eyes and my JD Sports bag and just go “Oh”.
All of us, Radiohead Boy and Cider Man cram into Laura’s tent to get dry and have cider and Silk Cuts and spliffs and Nutrigrains until it stops raining.
Rainy Playtime – By Emily
I loved rainy playtimes. Instead of negotiating the terrors of the playground, having to avoid being mown down by the big boys zooming around pretending to be aeroplanes in their anoraks, or the bossy girls with their aggressive communal skipping games, we got to do art. It was my favourite thing in the world to do. I liked to draw pictures of girls in elaborately patterned dresses, sometimes in a beautiful garden with flowers and ducks in a pond. Sometimes standing next to a house with smoke billowing, comfortingly, from the chimney on top of the pointed roof. These girls always had long hair, but never had noses because noses were too hard to draw and made the girls look horrible. They were always smiling.
I was disappointed that this rainy playtime, Mrs Christmas set us a specific art task. It was still better than being outside on the tarmac wilds, but I didn’t like the sound of it. We were given sugar paper and the usual plastic tubs of nasty, stumpy crayons, and told to draw a giant P on our paper. Inside the enclosed loop of the letter, we had to draw, colour in, and label as many things that began with the letter P as we could until the bell signaled the end of lunchtime. I sat with Tara, and we worked together, sharing ideas. We drew a plank, a potato, a party dress. We decided to draw all the things as small as we could so that we could fill our spaces with the most items as possible, taking on the challenge we’d been set with a modicum of gusto. It soon got very boring, though, and we began to struggle to think of anything else to draw. The crayons were mostly brown, and this gave me an idea: I drew a poo, and labelled it, to make Tara laugh. Then she drew one too; we were quite pleased with our joke.
We rummaged in the box, trying to find any of the scraps of crayon in colours other than brown and murky green. When I found a piece of my second-favourite crayon colour, a colour I secretly called shine-your-eyes-bright-green, I drew a green parrot. Tara drew a pig with the tiny, luminous pink crayon that I had been desperately rummaging for. We swapped colours and soon both had a parrot and a pig next to our brown poos. A lot of space remained, dauntingly, to fill but we had run out of inspiration, and there was still quite a bit of playtime left.
Then Tara came up with an alternative plan. She said, excited at her idea, “Let’s play Hide the Crayon!” We joyfully established the rules, and she went first. I closed my eyes while she hid the green crayon, and told me when she was ready. I looked under the paper, patted her pockets, looked up her sleeves. This was a good game, Tara was a genius, I decided. Last time she’d been round mine to play, she invented Keep the Kettle Boiling, which involved us and our little sisters climbing up onto a filing cabinet from a stepladder, and jumping off onto a pile of cushions dragged from the sofa. That was one of my all-time favourite games. Eventually I found the crayon tucked into the top of her white knee sock. Tara closed her eyes, and I took some time deciding where to hide the luminous pink crayon. It was very small, so I had too many options, but wanted to really challenge her, and to make her laugh. And to win. So I hid it up my nose.
She searched everywhere, even making me take off my shoes, but when the bell rang she still hadn’t found it, so I had to declare myself the winner, and told her where it was. I could tell she was impressed with my ingenious hiding-place, but when I tried to get the crayon out, and found I couldn’t, she started to panic. I tried a different angle with my fingers, but it was lodged. Mrs Christmas shouted across the other children, asking what I thought I was doing, picking my nose. So I had to tell her about the game and the crayon that wouldn’t come out. I was embarrassed.
Instead of joining the rest of my class’s afternoon activity of reading some boring picture books about some unrealistic children called Janet and John, I spent what seemed like forever in the head mistress’s office. She gave me pepper to sniff, in the hopes that I would sneeze and expel the crayon. I was told to drink a glass of water, but I couldn’t see how this might help. I was told to blow my nose, which made more sense, but none of these attempts worked and I thought maybe I’d just have to live with a crayon up my nose forever. It felt funny, but didn’t hurt. The headmistress told me she would call my mum to collect me, and I briefly felt excited that maybe I’d get to go to hospital. While I waited for mum to arrive, I saw through the glass panel of the office door one of the scary boys from the top year infants kicking the wall repeatedly, slowly thudding his scruffy shoes against the tiles. This was the standard punishment for boys who kicked other boys. He was crying, and I felt sorry for him, even though he was one of the playground aeroplanes who terrified me.
The headmistress handed me over to my mum kindly. I felt embarrassed all over again, but needed some comfort too after my lunchtime ordeal. I needed some reassurance that this crayon crisis could be resolved. Mum smiled, but also sighed as she took me out and unlocked her bike to walk me home. She was wearing culottes, and her hair was back in a clip. She seemed somehow different from the mum who had brought me to school that morning. “Let’s get you home,” she said, with a just-perceptible hint of annoyance in her voice. I felt stupid that my brilliant act of comedy had backfired, and I put my hood up, and walked beside her, staring at my feet as they walked the familiar pavements. Mum wheeled her bike, and I wished I could ask to ride on the saddle, but didn’t think this would go down well.
I had never thought before about what mum might do while my sister and I were at school, but it definitely got the impression that my misdemeanour had interrupted her day. She said if the crayon didn’t come out, she would take me to the hospital, like last time when I had stuck a ball bearing up my nose, and a doctor had to get it out with some special tweezers.Then I had only been a two, and such behaviour was only to be expected. It had become a funny family story. Now I was six, I just felt stupid and ashamed. The crayon crisis would never be a funny story. I knew I was old enough to know better. But if Mrs Christmas had let us draw whatever we wanted, Tara and I would never have needed to come up with the game that I knew we would never play again. Stupid Mrs Christmas.
The rain had eased off as we turned into our street, so I took down my hood. As mum opened the back gate which had slammed shut and cut the end of my finger off a few years before, I suddenly saw a small scrap of luminous pink fall glowingly between my feet. I picked it up to show mum, physical waves of relief rushing through me. The crayon had fallen out and the crisis was over.
A Man for all Seasons – By Jim
In March, while daffs were poking through the snow, the vicar from St Jude’s was busted in the toilets on Scarborough Esplanade in the company of a teenager. ‘It’s better to give than to receive’, the clergyman had quipped, as he helped the younger man into position. The lad couldn’t be named, for legal reasons, but was widely rumoured to be Dale Wagstaff, a troubled soul who finally seemed to have found his feet at the tanning salon.
Dale figured to swap the freezing toilets and orange suntans of Northern England for a gentler, more naturally outdoors lifestyle in Ibiza and, come June, discovered himself walking into the Balearic sunset with a regional transport manager from Leeds, then a London stockbroker, an Edinburgh GP and, on one especially starry night, the Conservative MP for Reading. Dale wasn’t as keen on the bum parts of gay sex, initially, but the perfect Mediterranean evenings and E-fuelled huggy feelings helped, as did the money they gave him.
Things changed when he met Phil, who had grown up in Spain with a Cockney single mum, his mobster dad having been shot round the Elephant and Castle years before. Phil was a year older than Dale and could box and drive cars and motorbikes. The girls loved him and Phil filled his bisexual boots while working in a nightclub. He helped Dale hustle for clients too. Though he said he loved Dale, it didn’t seem to be a very possessive form of love. The sweet moments were when he was coming down – that’s when he wanted Dale around. One Sunday they rode into the hills and snuggled up in an olive grove. Late sun glanced through the trees, Phil dozed and Dale lay wondering how long it would all last.
Phil said he wanted to tell his mum he was gay, so they spent a week at her place, which had horses and a lot of English neighbours: the women with big sunspecs and heavy beads, the men white stubble and ponytails. They were trying to be cool with Phil and Dale, but the stony smiles suggested they were either desperately sorry for Phil’s mum, or quietly amused at the unexpected poofdom of her toughnut son. She was hanging round the pool in a fragile way while her friends went on about how right they had all been to decamp to Spain, because Britain was ruined in every sense, just a shithole; and of course the weather, they didn’t miss the bloody weather, did they? But, having helped Phil come out, all Dale wanted was some soft English rain on his face.
In October, he wore a preppy coat and scarf and posed round the leaf-carpeted lanes of York, not actually at Uni, but managing to blag his way into the student drama crowd. As a promising newcomer, he was ripe for picking by the up and coming director who gave him a part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He felt well cast as Puck, the “merry wanderer of the night”. “‘If we shadows have offended’”, he would repeat to himself, again and again. When the director asked him out on a date, he accepted half-heartedly, as Simon was a nice enough guy but not someone Dale would normally have slept with free of charge. Simon interpreted Dale’s lack of enthusiasm as naivety, shyness, or a lingering denial about his own identity, and Dale thought it wiser to go along with this than further hurt Simon’s feelings. After finding himself dropped for the next production, however, he threatened to tell the University Senate that Simon was a predatory gay paedophile. When Simon called his bluff, Dale backed down and caught the bus to Scarborough.
It was a bitter night in December when he got back and the Christmas lights were rattling in an arctic blast. Dodging salt spray, he tumbled along the promenade, beyond the scene of his deflowering and into a pavilion where he stopped for a fag. “Didn’t expect to see you here again.” It was a burly older guy he remembered from the scene. Dale tried to brush past, but the man shoved him up against the wall of the shelter and pinned him there by the throat while unzipping himself. Having freed his dick, he slipped his massive hand round the back of Dale’s neck and started to pull his head down. “Get on with it then,” he said; but, using a move Phil had taught him, Dale felled the old fucker with a stiff upper cut to the throat, then skipped round the kneeling, gasping figure and jogged over to his mum and dad’s. He knew it wouldn’t be a long visit home; the North Yorkshire coast can be an unforgiving place in the dead of winter.