Fight your way through the braying hordes, head up the escalators (remembering to stand on the right) into the light and rejoice with another issue of the Feminist Jumble Sale!! The usual birthday sharing crew are here, along with an occasional contributor, and not one, but two brand new donators to our cause. The nation’s capital is discussed and explored through love and loss, violence and liberation, filth, shock and not too much moaning.
Remember we are now all over twitter @FeministJumble, have a few comments posted on previous editions but would LOVE some more, and really fancy some more writers to add to our mix. Come on in and get amongst it!
Next Issue will be out in the new year. Watch this space for the theme – coming soon.
BLAME IT ON THE POLLUTION – by Louise
FUCKING FLAT HUNTING – by Rosie
OK STUPID: TALES OF LONDON DATING – by Celia
BLOODY PRISON – by Juliette
WELCOME TO EAST LONDON – by Emily
THE DAY I WENT BERSERK – by Jim
LONDON BRIDGE – by Louise
BLAME IT ON THE POLLUTION – by Louise
I heard through friends that you’d moved away. That explains why all the heart has seeped away from the city.
I still think of you.
At least when I wake up crying, I can blame it on the pollution.
FUCKING FLAT HUNTING – by Rosie
I’ve moved 5 times in last 6 years. I know the drill. You find a place, you like it, you move fast, you move in. Simple.
Not in London. London is a whole new flathunting ball game. You find a place, you like it, it’s already gone. All the places on the internet; rightmove, zoopla, all posted within the last few hours… already gone. You view a place, think about blinking, it’s gone. The early bird may have caught the worm, but trying to find somewhere hospitable to live in London requires the luck of the Gods.
Demand is ridiculously high for property in London for two main reasons. House prices are high, and quality is low. No-one can afford to buy, and London is falling apart at the seams. Rooms are generally grotty, expensive and the size of a shoe-box. My current abode is caving in on itself to the point that my bookshelves have a surrealist triptastic lean. Every sink leaks, every celling has a hole, and the landlord doesn’t care. As long has he gets his rent every month, he’s happy.
My boyfriend and I have recently had the pleasure of flathunting in September. September is notoriously the busiest moving month; people are back from holidays and starting new jobs, students are starting courses and the kids are back in school. Everyone wants to move in September, which makes the process even more painful.
Our flathunting journey started with calling and emailing every agency in London that in the area that we were looking. None replied. Those that eventually did, offered flats out of our budget, out of the requested area, and available now. What is the deal with London properties being available now? Why do agencies and landlords leave everything to the last minute and expect everyone else to be able to vacate and move-in the same day? Does no-one forward plan any more?
The answer is because all of the best properties go the same day they are listed. Agents will call, describe the property over the phone, check images and google street view and people are so desperate they will take it over the phone. Without even viewing it. Were they nuts? No. They were potentially homeless.
We were the first people to view our new pad. After the ten minute viewing we were running around half of London trying to secure it before the next yuppish couple came and stole our dream flat away from us. It was on the market for total of two hours when we signed the reservation documents. I feel sorry for the couple who were probably viewing the flat the moment we took it, and probably had their hearts broken by a commission hungry estate agent. They could have easily of been us.
Nothing prepared us for the hoops we still had to jump through. Because the flat was registered with a ridiculously posh agency, one of us (not even a combined income) needed to be earning over 29,000 to take the flat. This income figure would have been lower if we were married – because married couples are ‘obviously’ more dependable. Because I have a succession of temporary contracts – a normality for someone working in the media industry – we still needed a home-owning guarantor to say we could pay the rent. I thought finding somewhere to live was the hard part. I’ve never sweated more awaiting the results of my credential analysis from the person that will grudgingly put me into rent poverty.
Those looking for a house-share go through similar but a more gut-wrenching scrutiny. It’s one thing trying to find the perfect room, another to find the perfect housemates, who are vaccously judging your entire existence on whether you like Marmite or Bovril, or prefer Red stripe over Red wine. It’s as cringe-worthy Take Me Out, but minus the cheap dresses, where every viewing ends in disappointment.
Now we have our flat, we hopefully never have to move again. Until next year. Then we have the fun and games all over again. And the Olympic tourists to play with.
More from Rosie at: http://rosiemrogers.co.uk/ —————————————————————————————
OK STUPID: Tales of London Dating – by Celia
# 1. We met at a bar in Soho. You were a cowboy. Except you were German and showed up on a mountain bike, not a horse. You wore a checked shirt, jeans and faded tan cowboy boots. You left me badly punctuated short stories to keep me occupied while you went to the toilet. You had a strange accent: sharp German consonants and vowels lengthened by years in Hackney. We stayed friends; I came over to your flat once for tea and to see your collection of cacti.
#2. On your profile picture you appeared dark and brooding and sported a pair of oversized fashionable glasses. You were a goth. When we met, you were warm and animated. As we drank endless pints of cheap lager, you regaled me with the saga of your family life, including your father who had been married four times and had just converted to Judaism for his fourth wife, Ruth. You drank so much you fell asleep face down on the table and I had to leave you there. I saw you months later through a restaurant window walking through the night on your own.
#3. You worked in a book shop. I didn’t fancy you, but you were persistent. We met for a coffee. I was carrying a box of books I had just picked up from an ex-boyfriend. I thought you had a nice face and you were reading a battered copy of a JG Ballard novel. I told you that I hadn’t tasted coffee until age 22 when someone brought one to my table in a cafe by mistake and said I may as well have it for free. I remember feeling the caffeine and sugar pumping through my veins, making me alert, ready to spring up from my seat and go out into the world. You pointed through the cafe window to the flat you had shared with your ex-girlfriend until two weeks ago. I saw you a few months later in a pub in Soho. You had grown a beard and looked exhausted as you sat talking to a girl dressed in pink.
#4. You were a Londoner now living in Tuscany. You didn’t work, I’m not sure how you got by or if you ever left the house. You did yoga all day and trawled the internet for new bands. We never met, but we talked on Skype almost every night for two months. Reassuring each other about the present and that everything would surely come out alright in the future. Gradually the contact dwindled. I think you moved to America to be with a girl you met online. I sold my webcam and moved house.
#5. You were a librarian. You knew a guy I went out with when I was 19 who was also a librarian in a different city. Your clothes were cool: knitted jumpers, leather jackets, cuban heels, but your eyes were sad. Your only friend seemed to be your ex- girlfriend who was Spanish and very beautiful.You told me you had tried to make your own gherkins by putting some cucumbers in a jar of vinegar and leaving them there, but it hadn’t worked and the cucumbers had disintegrated. You called me up on your birthday and sobbed. Months later you texted me at 2.30am and woke me up. I found a message saying there was a monkey being held in a cage in your neighbour’s back garden which was keeping you awake. The next day I replied telling you not to bother me anymore.
A FEMINIST JUMBLE SALE SPECIAL CALL-OUT!
We’d love to hear your dating disasters; real, imagined, terrible, perfect, exaggerated or dreaded or dreamed-of here at the Feminist Jumble. Email them over to email@example.com or tweet them at us flash fiction style to @FeministJumble
We’ll collect them up in our archives for a future publication.
Beats Guardian SoulDestroyers anyday!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————- BLOODY PRISON – by Juliette
Below is an extract from Bread & Duty, a novel about the life of Eliza Fenwick, a radical woman writer and early feminist who emigrated from London to Barbados in 1814. The scene below is a conversation between Eliza and her good friend, the writer Mary Hays, just after Eliza has told her husband that she’s leaving him.
Holborn, London, 1814
‘Dear God. Eliza.’ Mary makes an enormous ‘O’ shape with her mouth as soon as she opens the door. ‘What in heaven?’
‘Bloody London!’ I say to her through clamped teeth. My feet are soaking, the hem of my gown is ringed with mud. No coach would stop for me looking like this.
Mary bundles me up the steps and into the house.
‘Come in, come in! They’re all at the meeting. No one’s here but me and Mabel’s gone for the night.’
It’s not much warmer inside, but it’s dry.
‘What’s happened Eliza? Tell me.’
Mary cocks her head, her blonde curls haloed by the light of the lantern on the wall. I look at her and can hardly speak – my cheeks and lips and nose are stiff with cold. Summer’s promise of sunshine and warmth has failed us again. Mary makes a tutting sound with her tongue on her teeth and shakes her head.
‘Right. Never mind that now.’ She peels my cape from my shoulders and leads me by the hand. ‘Come – there’s a fire going upstairs.’
In the sitting room Mary takes my bonnet from me and turns it over in her hands, thumbing the fraying felt at the rim and circling her finger over the mildew spot on the crown. She puts it down to dry out by the hearth. I sit on the sofa, slump my hands in my lap and stare at the grate.
‘It’s a ridiculous hat for this time of year,’ I say.
‘Where’s Lanno?’ asks Mary.
‘Mrs Robson’s keeping an eye on him – he was already asleep when I left. The boy’s exhausted – I had him help me write up the books all day at Skinner Street. A stock take to keep Evans off the fiddle, the horrible little man. We cleaned down every one of the shelves afterwards. Top to bottom. Coal-black with dust they were. Mrs Turton came in with her girls and complained at the filth caught on Amelia’s cashmere pelisse. Said she’d send me the bill for her laundress’s time. Bloody cheek.’
‘Eliza. What’s happened to your shoes?’ Mary nods at my feet.
I stretch my legs out in front of me and lift my feet up from the floor. The sole of the left shoe is hanging off, the one on the right has entirely disappeared. I close my eyes and allow my head to drop to the back of the sofa. I let a deep sigh go in the room.
‘Oh Mary, I’ve done something terrible.’
‘Come on Lize, it can’t be that bad.’
Mary takes my fingers in hers and pulls me gently to my feet. She unbuttons my dress, slips it over my head and lays it over a chair by the fire. I sit back down in my chemise and short stays. I smell of wet dog. What a mess.
‘I lost my temper with John. Went after him in The Lamb.’
Mary puts a fresh log on the fire, takes a seat next to me and takes hold of my hand.
‘Hard times, eh?’ she says.
‘Worse than that. I threw my wedding ring in his face.’ I can feel the tears rising up so I hold my hand over my eyes and massage my temples with middle finger and thumb. The tears seem to recede. ‘I’ve had enough. Enough of his lying and thieving – enough of his bloody useless lounging around. If he were a dog he’d lean his head against the wall to bark! Never, ever, will I involve myself with him again if I can find a way to support my family by my own industry. Never.’
Mary squeezes my fingers.
‘Do you know that he was with another woman when I walked in there?’ I smack the flat of my free hand down on the arm of the sofa. ‘Not that it matters. I wasn’t surprised – I didn’t even feel shame. Just a kind of bland resignation.’
‘I’ll kill him,’ says Mary, ‘I’ll kill that man when I see him.’
‘What would be the point? He’s as good as dead to us already. Things have got so bad lately that when I looked out our breakfast this morning, there was nothing but a single crust of stale bread in the sideboard. It’s pathetic. We haven’t had a hot meal for days. It seems not a week can pass but that we are forced to fight against something – be that creditors, the cold, destitution, depression. John himself got a running sore on his leg a fortnight ago as bad as any you’ll see at the workhouse. Mr Dyke’s refusing Lanno’s instruction. Thomas Holcroft came banging down the door at the Library today demanding his ten pounds. TEN POUNDS, Mary! This is not the future we had planned for ourselves.’
‘I know, darling, I know.’ Mary squeezes my forearm. The feel of her warm palm on my skin almost sets me off crying again.
‘Time was I thought we might be able to muddle our way through, work things out, but I think twenty-five years is enough, don’t you? He was always so charming, so much fun. Too much fun. What was I thinking? I’ve been a bloody idiot Mary. Imagine – thinking that he would ever find the means – or the time – to take care of us, to give the children a good start in life, a permanent home; give me the time to write – properly. Not the dross I’ve churned out for the Library.’
‘You were in love,’ Mary reminds me. ‘There’s no shame in that. Many a woman lives her whole life without knowing what it might be to love.’
Her words hold there between us a moment before falling away.
‘But it’s all gone now,’ I say. ‘All of it. Gone.’
There is quiet between us for a short while. The fire pops and we both look at the logs as they burn, blazing bright orange and blue, their edges flaking away in white curls.
‘Would you like to know what I think?’ asks Mary.
‘What do you think, Mary Hays?’
‘I think you’ve done the right thing, Eliza Fenwick. I think it’s about time. And I think that you are going to be all right.’
I loop my right arm through hers and pat her wrist with my left hand.
‘What are you going to do?’ she asks.
I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it yet.
‘Well, I wouldn’t mind going into cheap lodgings. It wouldn’t be hard to find something. I could try around here or maybe come down to you at Camberwell when you get back there. But then there’s the problem of work. And what about Lanno?’
‘He’s getting to that age now Liza. He needs opportunity – a profession.’
I nod. I know.
‘What about Bella?’ she asks.
‘I got a letter from her last week. Imagine – being so ashamed at her father’s conduct that she found it necessary to take herself off to the other side of the world! Still, she is going on very well. Doesn’t care much for the mosquitoes, she says, but she seems very happy with her Mr Haverford. The salary’s decent and I’m told they’re calling her their Little Idol in Bridge Town. Quite a comfortable life, I think. She plays Beatrice in Much Ado next month.’
‘I miss her,’ I say.
‘What about going out there?’ says Mary.
I unloop my arm from hers and turn myself around to look Mary square in the face.
‘Impossible. I couldn’t do that.’
The fire pops again and an ember leaps onto the rug. Mary darts forward on her haunches, picks it up in her fingers and shoots it back into the fire.
‘Why not?’ She brushes the ash from her hands before sitting back down by my side.
‘Well… You know how I feel about the colonies. All that indulgence, all that grasping at wealth. No. And slavery? Living amongst it day in, day out?’ I shudder. ‘No.’
‘I am sure I could assist with the passage.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘It needn’t be forever. Besides, I want you back in London for our old age remember?’
‘Five cats and a budgerigar on the banks of the River Thames?’ I remind her.
We smile at each other. I lean back into the sofa.
‘I have contacts – there was a gentleman at the Lamb’s the other day. A planter – progressive type. Said he was in despair at the calibre of agents to be found in Barbados and then his wife went on to say they were spending a fortune on removing the children to England on account of the lack of good day schools.’
I don’t say anything. You can’t make a snap decision about something like this – setting sail half way round the world with nothing but references and the hope of good fortune tucked in your stays.
‘You can write to me of slavery, Liza. Every month. We need more evidence – stories to remind people what’s going on out there – by what means all this sugar and tea and tobacco and cotton arrives at our shores. You know how hard it is for us. And what better than a regular eye witness account? We could start a column!’
I still don’t reply. I flex and relax the fingers of my right hand. The bruising has started to cloud beneath the graze where I hit John round the face.
‘Think about it Lize. You can leave all this trouble and start a new life - you can break free of this bloody prison, London! To be on the reach of the seas is to be in reach of the world, Eliza –there really is nothing to stop you now.’ Mary grabs hold of my arms and looks me firmly in the eye. ‘You must go Liza. You can go and you must.’
Juliette Myers is a writer, sporadic blogger and hostess of creative retreats. www.juliettemyers.blogspot.com Twitter: @Twinkaloo. Facebook: WritingSpace.—————————————————————————————————————————-
WELCOME TO EAST LONDON – by Emily
I moved to London on an overcast, pale grey day in September. Driving through grimy streets, a kind of grime I was not yet familiar with, my excitement was just about countered my growing apprehension. Reaching the place I would be calling home, the place I thought I’d call home for my first year at university, my third ever home, was a journey like no other.
The dirty streets of small terraced houses, shabby Victorian ones with flaking paint and bad double glazing jobs interspersed with even shabbier 1960s blocks, where rubbish seemed piled up, and peeling posters overlapped on each spare wall, gave way to post-industrial wasteland. High-fenced recreation grounds, train tracks, lorry parks and pylons, small factory units went past on either side of the road. I couldn’t imagine a home at the other side of this, but down the track, past the concrete travellers’ site with small boys on bikes outside, after the rotting mattress, the burnt-out tyres, old cookers and scrubby trees loomed a red brick estate. Perhaps it would be an oasis in this desert of deprivation.
Two tower blocks rose at the centre of the estate, surrounded by a horseshoe of square houses, each with its square of grass behind. The bricks were quite unlike the mottled, patterned red brick of East Anglia, but a modern, artificial-looking, too-perfect red; each rectangle the same. A pair of phone boxes flanked the entrance to this domestic enclave; a mass of electricity pylons rose above, on all sides, framing the scene. I hadn’t known it was possible to get this close to a pylon, remembering a terrifying advert from the 1970s involving a boy and a kite and electricity lines.
Having asked to be housed in a “mixed” house, I had no idea what the mixture would consist of. There was no one else there yet, as I unpacked my duvet from its bin bag, plugged in my record player, unpacked clothes, books, art materials. My room was a small rectangle with a single bed, a desk and a small wardrobe. Newly decorated, there was a veto on Blu-tak . I sat on my bed and wondered how I would make this bleakly functional space my own.
Later in the kitchen I met Theo, who seemed friendly, offered me tea, which I was grateful for until I saw him throw the used teabags at the wall roughly in the direction of the dustbin, instead of putting them in it. Later I met Mike, a mature student with a beard who said hello very loudly because he was listening to Radio 4 on headphones. I didn’t meet the final member of the mixed house, Amy, until later. She was upset that she hadn’t been placed in a lesbian house. Apart from studying at the same university we didn’t seem to have anything in common. Apart from the lino-floored, utilitarian kitchen there was no communal space in the house.
The university had bought the derelict housing estate at a bargain price from the council. Dysfunctional for social housing, the university thought it ideal for students. I had signed up without seeing it, as there were no halls of residence and I thought at least I’d meet other students here, avoid the hassle of finding a room in this city I knew I loved but didn’t yet understand. That first night, in shock, I queued up at the one working phone box, hoping to get through to my sister, friends, anyone who I could connect with. Standing there, in this alien landscape, I felt like an alien. The others in the queue looked about as shocked as I felt.
I discovered that night that the walls were plasterboard-thin; Theo was up crashing around his room all night. I even heard him pissing in the toilet next to my head, on the other side of a wall. How was I going to be able to live here? I had no idea even how to speak to him about it.
I had a few days before registration at university. I explored, finding the nearest shop was twenty minutes away and looked closed even when it was open, barricaded with shutters, sold nothing I could imagine wanting. The streets were badly lit on the way to the bus stop. The buses infrequent and the nearest tube half an hour’s walk. Stratford shopping centre was my new town centre, with its mercifully cheap vegetable stalls, a charity shop and rain that came through the roof.
The freight terminal next to our house was busiest between two and six in the morning, I soon discovered. Theo was up all night, every night and slept all day, and every noisy time he used the toilet, he pissed all over the seat. I couldn’t imagine what kind of an upbringing would produce this, didn’t want to imagine, but guessed his drug of choice was speed. I barely saw him. Amy was at her girlfriend’s most of the time, Mike largely oblivious to everyone and everything, laughing along to Radio 4 comedies while stirring pans of tinned soup. Theo’s frying pans of congealed animal fat and greasy plates stacked up in the kitchen, as the teabag stains on the wall near the bin darkened, the drips layering, spreading. At least we didn’t have cockroaches like the students in the tower blocks. Or at least not as many.
Term started and the cycle ride to university was all main roads. I arrived each day, happy to be out of that house, enthusiastic but tired. The art building was an ex YMCA hostel in Plaistow, shabbily fitted out but with lots of light studio space. I was ready to paint and draw and sculpt. It was disappointing to notice the apathy in other students, the absence of tutors, but I did my best to ignore this. Evenings I spent drawing, weekends visiting museums, armed with an A-Z and a travelcard. I soaked up galleries and markets, parks and sights. This why I was here, I filled myself with inspiration, like a fortification.
Each evening I got home, down the dirty dark, streets past the travellers’ site, which as the nights drew in felt increasingly threatening. Only a few months earlier my bike ride home from college had been across Midsummer Common, past trees and beautiful flowerbeds, over the Cam, down neatly-kept Edwardian terraced streets. That seemed another world, another life. I questioned my decision not to apply to Chelsea or the Slade, couldn’t understand why I had felt the need to throw myself into this harsh world, like it was some kind of test I had to pass.
I didn’t care that I’d lost two months rent that I’d paid up front to the university, I felt that test had been passed when I solved my situation, by moving in with Pete, a third year sculpture student. It was grotty, but I could put my pictures up, made my room cosy, felt spoilt as we had a sitting room and a phone. No more queuing up at the phone box, no more freight terminal racket, or cleaning up other peoples’ piss or crackling under pylons. I celebrated my relief every day in this new flat.
One freezing night in December, it was Pete’s birthday and he went off to the pub. I declined, having a painting I wanted to finish. It was two weeks after I’d moved in, and while I was on the phone, the candle I’d been painting by caught the cardboard box I was using as a bedside table alight. I heard a weird crackling from the sitting room and returning to my room found my bed on fire. When Pete returned from his birthday drinks, he found me shivering in the cab of the fire engine. Half the flat was gone.
THE DAY I WENT BERSERK – by Jim
We unearthed a Viking burial together. A warrior in his boat, carefully arranged with sword and shield, along with a silver bracelet, amber beads and a whalebone comb. A violent man, maybe, but loved. Then, having raised the dead, you went back south as summer waned and left me in the sand dunes, until the night I got your e-mail: ‘Wish you were here.’
Next day, I flew 600 miles from the island airstrip, fought through the rush hour crowds, asked a news vendor which platform for Tottenham – ‘What do I look like, a fuckin map?’ – and was swept up in an angry tumult, herded by police, their riot shields flashing blue light. Thinking it was a protest against student fees or capitalism, I bowled along into a shopping centre that was all screaming alarms and hooded shoppers: a mob stripping an electrics store, while next door two young women tried on sandals and a boy held up a pink top as if imagining his girlfriend in it. I took something for the sake of blending in, partly, but also wanting a token to bring to you, some sign of a passion more current than the Dark Ages. Then, nearly caught, I scaled a six foot fence with an Alsatian on my arse and bundled an old man into his hydrangeas.
The rioters weren’t all gang members from single parent homes – that was just the ones they recognised. There were plenty that didn’t have form, so didn’t get traced, thank God. Especially when all I came away with was a box of chocolates from WH Smith’s. That could have got me six months. And to think I actually went back for them after a masked passer-by dissed my first choice. “Fuck Celebrations,” he said, squeezing past with an armful of cigarettes and a children’s encyclopaedia. “They’ve stopped doing Topics.”
Finding your address at last, I stood in torn trousers and held out the loot. “And all because the lady loves…” But you weren’t impressed. “I’d have preferred the other ones,” you said. It turned out you hadn’t meant everything you said in your e-mail, but it was all worth it for that one night we spent together while the city burned. I think of those doing longer than normal sentences now and know I have no special right to be free, but I don’t feel guilty and I have no regrets. They could bury me now if they liked; with a trowel, a laptop and a box of Mini Heroes on my chest.
LONDON BRIDGE – by Louise
It was the worst kiss. Unwanted, unbidden. The product of a date that she didn’t really want to go on but had convinced herself she should because ‘it’s so hard to meet people in London, isn’t it?’ Unavoidable: the face too close, the hand on the back of the neck, the arrogant unquestioning sense of entitlement. A too fat, too wet, too eager tongue.
Her mind drifts, an attempt to escape, remembering the others…
Albert was delicate, romantic.
Tower was a convenient meeting on a night full of possibility, intoxicated by an unfamiliar part of the city, a grand sweeping gesture.
Kew was the grand passion, all consuming and doomed, as fascinating, beautiful and dangerous as fire.
London Bridge has busy hands, squirming under the edges of her clothes now, but she barely notices. She is far away, staring across the glittering Thames.