Archive | March, 2011

Issue 1: Bloody Men

7 Mar

Welcome to Issue 1 of The Feminist Jumble Sale.

The phrase bloody men is a popular, somewhat sexist pair of words often heard in common parlance, particularly in conversations between women.  Have a rummage amongst the contributions below and see how various writers have used the written word to explore the reasons for the popularity of the phrase.  Why and how is just under half of the human race damned so easily, so frequently and so casually?

Bloody women is also heard, somewhat less frequently, but we do look forward to unpacking that bag in issue 2.


And Another Bloody Thing… by Clare Pollard

How to Have Your First Kiss by Celia

Have You Ever? by Emily

Leader of the Pack (Vroom Vroom) by Zoe

New Man by Charlotte

Stink of the Dumped by Celia

Who Needs Them? by Emily

Fucking Carnage by David

Bus by Celia

Professional Heartbreak (Bloody Men) by Emily

The Ultimate Romantic Comedy by Helen

Call for Contributions: Feminist Jumble Sale Playlist


(after Wendy Cope)

Bloody men are like bloody cigarettes–
A habit you swear to crack,
Then you find you’ve snuck out of the office
To suck one off round the back




Accept an invitation from Joanna Barker, a girl in your class,  to go swimming at the local baths. It’s the summer holidays between primary and secondary school. Feel your age for the first time, feel excited, yet feel comfortable in your new found maturity. You are now allowed to go to the pool without your parents.

Cram into the cubicle along with Joanna and change into your navy blue Speedo swimming costume with bright pink side stripe. Notice how flat your chest is in comparison with Joanna who you know has ‘started’ in the past year and has a sizeable half- adolescent- half-  puppy- fat bosom developing. Stick out your ribcage to compensate and walk pigeon-chested to the edge of the pool.

Grasp Joanna’s hand as you count to three in unison then jump into the deep end of the Victorian pool. Don’t fret about putting your head under water, you don’t yet have to wear the contact lenses which prevent this pleasure.

Nor do you have to swim laps in order to attempt to tone your upper arms and let out frustration brought on by cruel employers or thoughtless lovers, so doggy paddle, do handstands and somersaults. Attempt an entire width of the pool underwater. Fail.

When a boy asks his friend to ask Joanna to ask you if you will ‘go with him’, eagerly accept, even though you are not totally sure of what this suggestion entails.

Get changed into your black cycling shorts and white T shirt with a picture of a tomato on the front.

Head for the neighbouring park where the boy waits by the gate. The park where you attended playgroup. The park you will walk through on the way to the doctor’s to discuss your progress on your latest round of medication. Leave Joanna to look on enviously as he leads you around the back of the electricity substation. Anchor your bubble gum behind your back teeth and pucker up. You may think you are too young to experience an existential crisis. At the feeling of an over eager tongue slathering across the remainder of your milk teeth, I assure you that you won’t be. Open your eyes mid kiss to see a hedge, a fence, his eyes closed. Run back to Joanna and grin as she says “you are so lucky.”

You’ll have to wait three years for the next one as single sex secondary school, braces on your teeth and thick glasses will steal this from you for the next few years. Enjoy it while you can.



Have you ever met a woman who has never been sexually abused, misused or assaulted by a man? Do you know a woman who has never been intrusively touched by a stranger? Who has never been subjected to sexually harassing or explicit phonecalls, or been groped on public transport, or on a dance floor, or groomed and exploited by a teacher? A woman who has never been dealt violence during a one-night stand, or been forced into unwanted sexual acts the morning after?  Or been sexually assaulted by a friend or acquaintance?  A woman who has never been raped by a friend of a friend or a lover or a stranger?  Have you ever met a woman who has never been abused by a male family member, as a one-off event or a systematic reoccurrence over years and years?  Have you met a woman who has never been gang-raped, stalked or chased? A woman who has never been flashed at in public, or close to her home, or who has never been sexually assaulted by an intruder who climbed in through her bedroom window and touched her while she slept?  A woman who has never been filmed or photographed and exhibited to others, or dragged into a ditch and exposed?  Have you ever met a woman who has never been sexually insulted by school-mates or colleagues, or had their underwear stolen from her washing-line, or been bought or sold or trafficked or threatened?  A woman who has never had sexually abusive visual material forced on her?  Or objectified or beaten? A woman who has never been leered at or whistled at or jeered at as she goes about her business?  Have you ever met a woman who has not been upset or saddened or utterly depressed by being sexually mistreated by a man?  A woman who has not been forced to scream, or shout, or weep silently or keep quiet? Have you ever met a woman who has not felt frightened?  Do you know a woman who isn’t angry, even if she hides it well?



I wasn’t sure, but I thought he’d be waiting for me. He would be cross of course. Daddy had a notoriously bad temper.  But he’d calm down and he’d know what to do wouldn’t he? Daddy had always rescued me before and I hadn’t meant to disobey him.

It was about Alfie you see; I couldn’t not like him, could I? And he was so beautiful, in that moment. He could’ve had me and I’d’ve even stood up to Daddy a bit more, over time.

If he hadn’t crossed me, it would’ve turned out differently.

I saw the lights then; I wasn’t quite ready.

Daddy sometimes behaved in a way you weren’t really expecting. I didn’t want him to shout for too long.

He’ll be on edge and foaming at the mouth.

He should be glad – he didn’t like Alfie anyway.

Daddy was there, by the window looking out from behind the curtains that weren’t quite pulled to, and I didn’t think I could get away with it by creeping up the stairs. I’ll just have to try and shut out some of the volume.

‘What time do you call this?’

He didn’t allow time for an answer and continued:

‘You’re playing me, young lady. I’m getting sick of you disobeying everything I say. You will respect me now.’ He was very emphatic about the ‘will’.

‘ I’m your father and you are not yet ready to look after yourself…’

And blah, blah. I wanted to appease him, but I was feeling annoyed now, so I antagonised instead.

‘Why are you sitting here in the dark?. Was it to catch me out? Really Daddy. Don’t you trust me?’

This set him off of course.

‘It’s my house. I can sit in the dark if I bloody well want to. Don’t you get smart with me. I asked you what you’ve been playing at.’

‘No you didn’t daddy. You asked me what time I thought it was. You just have to start shouting don’t you. How about look first and shout after? Oh no, it’s not as though there’d be a perfectly reasonable explanation or anything. Well, it’s not perfect, or reasonable. It is, however, a reason. I’m not just late to spite you.’

I was playing up a bit here, trying to reach that special part of his brain that caved in to his only daughter beyond his reason.

‘You’ve been with him. Haven’t you.’ Daddy broke off because he’d finally seen me in the light. I’d been in the unlit hallway until now.

‘What in God’s name has happened? You’re covered in blood. You look like Carrie. What’s happened?”

Now he was paying attention, I could play it out a little.

‘I’m going to sit down. I don’t feel so good daddy.’

‘My god, you’re losing it. What is it child? I’m going to get you some sugary tea.’

Daddy was back quick as a flash, so I sipped my tea and allowed the sugar rush to push me forward.

‘I asked him not to drive fast. There was thunder and lightning over Shoreham. It wasn’t far away. It’d reach us within the hour.’

I glanced up. Still no clue. Daddy wasn’t picking this up at all.

‘You never gave Alfie a chance. You didn’t want me on that bike…’

‘He wasn’t good enough for you.’

No Daddy, he wasn’t, but I won’t admit that to you yet…

‘Wasting your time on him. You’ll see right enough.’

‘Well. There’ll be none of my time wasted now.’

This got his attention.

‘This is his blood.’

‘What?’ Daddy looks surprised, like it wasn’t what he’d ever expected.

‘I’ve been sat here all bloody and still you didn’t address what’s happened to me. What he did. Is it because you know something already? It’s like you’ve caused it somehow. Or made it happen. Cut the brake cable and relax in the knowledge that it would only be a matter of time.’

Brilliant. I didn’t think of this before, but I can infer that he did something, that I wasn’t just spurned, accusing someone who works for him.

‘Is someone hurt Alice.’ He sounds more urgent now. ‘Do we need to let anyone know? Can you tell them what happened?’

‘Why did you have to interfere? If you hadn’t have told him to go this wouldn’t have happened.’

‘He probably never got his bike serviced regular anyway.’

‘Daddy, are you saying that somehow this could be his fault?’

The adrenaline is pumping now, I’m going to get away with it.

‘What is it that could be his fault darling. What is it that’s happened?’

‘Listen Daddy. He was outside the milkshake bar on Gardner Street. I know you won’t like it, but I thought that it was so brave of him to be looking for me after all that you said to him. But then, he didn’t speak to me when he came in. He didn’t even look over. So I ran across to hug him, to show him that it was alright and he turned away to Tracey Upchurch. I don’t really know what caused it and I remember it being really hot all of a sudden and I’d launched myself across the room; I was pummelling his chest and pulling at his hair and screaming so loud that I thought my own voice was a tannoy system that I wasn’t connected to.’

I paused for a moment for dramatic effect. Daddy looked strange.

‘ He left and got on his bike. Revved the engine. I told him I was sorry. I was looking at him really hard, hoping that he’d see that I would’ve gone with him if I could. But I wasn’t ready. It’s slippery up the path when it’s glistening with raindrops. He didn’t look like he was going to care, that he could speed through it and up the hill to Rottingdean then on to an escape route.’

Daddy isn’t quite sure – I can see him thinking and looking at me.

‘Where is he? Did he check for a pulse? Alice. You need to call an ambulance.’

‘It’s very simple daddy. If I can’t have him, then no-one can.’


I told the police on the phone that there was a bike crash. That I think there’s a fatality. That’s what they say on The Bill. I didn’t move the body, but I held it for a minute and there’s blood. A lot of it.

I said that I know you don’t take the helmet off – we learnt that in health and social care before the Easter holidays.

Do I know who it is?

Yes. It’s Alfie Turner. He’s 20 and lives up Whitehawk.

No, no-one special, I’m just reporting it.

I think it’s possible that someone maybe tampered with his bike.

He shouldn’t have dropped me just like that, like I was no-one.

Daddy won’t let them ask any more questions. He doesn’t need to know any more about it. He’s good at cleaning up messes.


I’M A… by Charlotte

I’m a new man,

I’ll pick the kids up from school, darling,

If I’m working at home

And you remind me when to go


I’m a new man,

Of course i help around the house, dear,

Didn’t you see?

I put my bowl in the sink this morning


I’m a new man,

Yes I’ll look after the kids,

But my work is so important, love,

I can’t possibly turn my laptop off


I’m a new man,

I’ll absolutely support you, dearest,

With whatever you want to do

But darling, let’s not talk about it now



I awoke to find him sitting at the end of my bed. February. I had arrived in the country a few hours earlier. I wore a knitted grey jumper and two day old green eye make up was smeared down my face. My mouth tasted horrific and I could feel a rim of unpleasant sludge on the inside of my bottom lip.

He had put on weight and was clean shaven. He smiled awkwardly and bit the side of his thumb.

I sat up in bed and looked at him. His face was sort of off centre, a bit wonky really. I think that’s why I had fallen for him. I had liked the books he had too: Bob and Roberta Smith, Catch 22, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

We met when he was a student at the art college where I worked. He was making a slide show about memory and came up to me and asked to borrow the blue cagoule I always wore so it could feature in one of his memory tableaux.  I agreed. By the opening night of his graduation show we were an item and he had  his arm firmly wrapped around me as we both beamed at his well wishers and admirers.

We moved in together. We had big oval 1960s plates and when we got a ‘chippy tea’ on Fridays, they were perfect for unwrapping the chips on and digging in straight away. Occasionally  I got a fishcake, but he shouted ‘murderer’ at me as a joke because he was a vegetarian. He said he was a vegetarian because Morrissey was one, but I’m not sure if he meant that or not. He put pictures of his meals on Facebook so his mum could check he was eating properly. The food always looked so drab and made me feel a bit sad.

We didn’t have a shower so I would take long baths with bubble bath. The bottle was in the shape of a sailor and reminded me of childhood. I washed the bubbles off by pouring a stolen pint glass of water over myself. It was difficult to turn the hot tap off and I had to use a dainty cake fork to lever the plug out of the bath once I was finished.

His ex girlfriend’s name was Belinda Plimsoll. She had red hair, as I did, but hers went right down her back. She had broken up with him while she was sitting on the toilet and his mum was in the other room. She became a lesbian and ran off with a police constable from Doncaster.

Sometimes we all went out together, me, him, the ex and the copper. Belinda grabbed two barstools and lay down across them on her front and shouted “World, are you ready for Belinda?” She wore a sailor suit and pink tights, although she would often bring another outfit in her bag and change in the toilets.  Once he introduced me to his work mates and called me her name by mistake, but I don’t think anyone noticed.

There he sat at the end of my bed. He told me it wasn’t as good as it used to be and thought we should break up. I was resigned to it, but despite myself, I cried. I had an inkling which was later confirmed that he had met someone else. Our mutual friends had become distant and he had accidentally left one of my books at a girl’s house whose name I hadn’t heard before. He ended it so he could take her out for Valentines’ night. She had red hair too. He gave me a Malcolm Middleton balloon with a face on it to say sorry. I stayed in bed for the rest of the week.

The day I emerged was when my mum chose to tell me her top advice regarding the uglier sex:  “the best way to get over an old boyfriend is to get under a new one”. I often find myself reflecting on this guidance or sharing it with a heartbroken mate who is always grateful for its wisdom.



Liz holds the phone away from her ear and rolls her eyes.  She sighs, thinking Oh God he’s still going on about his dog. She knows he has nothing new to say: Mickey’s dog  is still elderly, still needs  care, he is still fretting.  Liz also knows her own views remain unchanged.  Leave the poor creature alone to die in peace, stop all these interventions, put her out of her misery.  She’s over a hundred in dog years for Christ’s sake. More to the point leave me alone with these  one-sided updates.  She lets him go on, though, because she knows how much he loves the dog, and he’s only talking about it so much because he’s upset.

Mickey came along just before Liz had a nasty post-viral illness a couple of winters before, which had her laid up for a while.  He made himself indispensable; she was grateful for all his help, she doesn’t know how she’d have got through that time without him.  She’d answered his message on the online dating site because he had seemed nice, kind.  She liked the smile in the picture that she hoped wasn’t 10 years old.  And because she’d promised her best friend that she would at least give dating a try.  He seemed harmless enough, friendly, eager and somehow always there.  But what began as a search for a bit of male company, a companion for the cinema, someone to help fill those long Sunday afternoons had become this. A relationship.  She hadn’t felt ready for one of those, but it had crept up on her. When she had  needed him, she’d given him a spare key, and he brought her shopping or came to help with the garden or the cleaning.  He popped round, unannounced, just slightly too frequently; sometimes he  seemed to appear out of nowhere, always a bit too smiley, awkwardly chirpy.  But so kind and helpful, she couldn’t complain.  And he always had to get back to his ailing dog, so although frequent, his visits never lasted too long.

The love of Liz’s life had been Edward, the handsome, charismatic salesman who had swept her off her feet when she was only 16.  Her previous boyfriends had been boys. Ed was a real man, he made her feel special.  She was just 18 when they married.  She wore a long, printed dress and looked young and bursting with excitement in the autumn sunshine.  She still has the photo in a frame on the book case, a little faded now. Even through the very worst times, she never could put it away.  Liz felt her life was about to begin the day she married Ed.  It was 1970.

She’d been just too young to enjoy the swinging ‘60s and was happy to spend the ‘70s raising her family, being a devoted wife.  Some of her friends thought her approach a little old-fashioned, hadn’t she heard of feminism? But she didn’t care – she loved her children, and Ed was the centre of her world.  This devotion was tested a few years in to their marriage as she endured Ed’s unexplained absences, mysterious phone calls and sudden business trips.  She ignored her suspicions at first, and was so tired with the demands of bringing up young children, she didn’t have the energy to confront him.  Liz concentrated on making sure the kids were blissfully ignorant and happy.  Arguments did erupt, occasionally, creating tension in the family home; but these always eventually led to a passionate reconciliation.  Liz had no idea who the other woman was, or was it women?  She learned that asking wouldn’t get her anywhere.

As the children grew older, Liz had some affairs of her own, but her heart was never in it.  No one could compare. She knew Ed would always come back to her.  They had an unspoken bargain.  They needed each other and that was that. Even when she hated him, he could still make her laugh. Liz saw the marriages of  sisters and friends fall apart, but somehow she and Ed kept theirs together.  And the good times were good enough for her to forget the bad, every time. He filled the house with the antiques he collected; she cooked comforting family meals  and only sometimes caught herself staring into space.

As they grew older, their children grown up, Ed seemed to calm and was around more as work commitments gradually diminished.  Perhaps they’d run out of energy for secret lovers, infidelities, other lives. Liz hoped it was more than this, a new era seemed to be beginning. They had stuck together for so long, perhaps they really could make this work now. She remembered the excitement about her future that made her glow on their wedding day.  She had forgiven a lot since then, and now it was beginning to feel worth it. After all, he was the love of her life.  They started talking about moving to the countryside, selling the family home, making a fresh start.  He wanted space for his antiques and maybe a dog; she pictured a big front garden with delphiniums, nasturtiums, climbing roses. Lots of space for the children and grandchildren to stay.  She would get back into her watercolours and they would go for long walks together. They grew close in their planning, held hands across the table like they used to many years before.  They laughed at the realisation that their planned move would commemorate their 40th wedding anniversary.

Then Ed died, suddenly.  He was hit by a car and died instantly.  Liz’s entire world collapsed, like a massive hole had been blasted through her.  The vastness of the loss was unfathomable, unquantifiable, it had no edges, no bottom.  As she began to surface from the shock, she thought of her own mother, a woman who had given up on life when her husband died and spent her last ten years wishing herself out of existence.  Liz had never understood that, had tried to help her mother find reason to live, not to fall into the void, had felt frustrated and impatient.  Now she understood.  She longed for the simplicity of non-existence. She hated him for all the pain he’d caused her, hated him for making her feel the acuteness of his loss, hated him for bloody well going and dying.  She wanted her mother, new grief digging up old.

Recovery was gradual, slow, helped by her  friends and children.  The first time she felt genuine happiness was when her first grandchild came along, here was some hope, some idea of a future, although it also made the space where Ed should have been even starker. When she discovered from the solicitor that Ed had had another flat, a secret love nest, she was hurt again, but not really surprised.  Fucking bastard she allowed herself to think. Bloody men. There was no point wondering who he’d taken there, or how recently, or whether he was ever going to tell her.  She used the anger to help her sell this flat and keep going.

It was a couple of years until she signed up to the dating site.  She had no enthusiasm whatsoever, but promised her friend, did it for her.  She admitted to herself that she did miss male company.  Maybe she’d meet someone nice, or maybe she’d make some new friends.  No one could fill the gaping hole left by Ed’s death.  She’d known and married and lost the love of her life.  Mickey was obviously keen, and it was nice to have someone interested, looking out for her.  It didn’t have to be a big deal.  She found the word “date” laughable, but they did some nice things together. And they had a few things in common, things to talk about.  She cooked him dinner the third time they met and it felt good to have someone to take care of again.

He always stays a touch too close to her when they do anything social.  She tries to edge away, but he’s persistent, and she’s getting used to it.  He insists on accompanying her to almost everything she does, and somehow always does this nicely. Liz thinks he’s a kind man, but she has started lying about her whereabouts occasionally just to get some peace, some time with her own thoughts and memories.  Some time when she doesn’t have to listen to the latest developments on his dog’s health.  She worries that when the poor old mutt finally gives up on life, he’ll be bereft, will need her to help him through the grief.  She braces herself for this, wonders how she’ll manage, hopes the latest canine treatment helps prolong the inevitable death for a while yet.



Billy closed the door behind him and turned the key. He leaned back into the peeling paint, drew in a deep breath and listened to the last of the cackles and wolf-whistles coming from the kitchen on the other side of the door. He was wearing a shrunken, once-white bath towel and nothing else.

His girlfriend, Fran, had finished her fourth nightshift of the week at the local hospital and was celebrating her coming weekend with two fellow nurses- Moira and Sue. It was 8 in the morning and they had been drinking since 5, first some wine left over from Christmas and now they were on to his whisky. The good stuff mind. They were mixing it with coke which Fran knew pissed him off.

Billy walked over to the basin and took a look at himself in the mirror. He was a big man and had to crouch and bend to see his reflection. Fran and her cronies had woken him when they came in and he’d lain awake ever since. There were black rings round his eyes which were in turn swollen and bloodshot. He’d been off work sick for the last couple of days and a good covering of stubble had settled on his cheeks and jaw. He hated shaving but if he went in looking like this his foreman, or forewoman, or boss or whatever- Annie- would make him put one of those hair nets over his face like the Sikhs had to wear. He didn’t want that.

The sound of drunken laughter crept under the door. Billy had often noticed how groups of women laughed differently to the way he and his friends laughed. Men laughed like a pack of dogs barked; simultaneously but separately, without reference to each other.

Women’s laughter he thought was more like music, not that it sounded any easier on the ear, but rather in the way the different voices would weave around each other, sometimes higher, sometimes lower but always changing in relation to the others to show, he supposed, that they were listening, that they were all there together.

He took his razor down from the shelf and inspected it. The blade could really  do with changing but the fresh ones were out there in kitchen and damned if he was going out there again.

He could hear Fran lower her voice and the others grow silent. He knew she was talking about him and didn’t want him to hear. Her voice grew deeper when she tried to speak softly so the sound carried better. He bent his ear and listened as he applied the soap to his face.

So Billy right? He might look impressive what with his size and all but when you get down to it he’s a bloody baby. As soft as shite. Turns out he’s afraid of frogs. Yeah I know, frogs. If he sees one he turns green. Like fucking Kermit himself and will run a mile, screaming, literally screaming.

Billy began scraping the blunt blade over his cheeks absentmindedly. He nicked himself just below the ear but paid no attention. The basin hadn’t been white the entire time they’d lived there but there was still a drama of colour as the first drop of blood hit the porcelain.

His Mum, Liz, we’re close me and her, we get on, ya know? She told me how he got to be like that. Where they’re from, up north, there’s this, whatchya call it? Migratory path for all the frogs, from one river to the next, part of their breeding cycle or whatever. Anyway it runs right next to where Billy grew up.

So in the summer, when Liz was walking Billy to school, every morning there’d be this great fucking parade of frogs going over the main road. Fucking carnage she reckoned. And the smell could get pretty bad when it didn’t rain for a while, hundreds of squashed frogs in the middle of July? Not ideal.

At the words ‘squashed frogs’ Billy winced and cut himself again, just under the  nose. He bent down to examine it in the mirror and saw two more wells of red on his neck beneath the jaw-line. He could hear the faint pitter patter on the basin now like misty drizzle on double glazing.

So anyway, none of this used to worry Billy, he was used to it, live frogs, dead frogs all the same to him, right? Then one day Liz and Billy were walking along the road on the way to school as usual and they’re coming up to this frog crossing.

Billy could feel a twitching behind his left eye. Like there was a tadpole wiggling away back there. He didn’t really want to listen to what Fran was saying anymore so he turned on the tap, but the watery blood spiralling down the plug hole made him feel sick so he turned it off again. He tried to focus on the scrape of the razor on his skin. “Every shave is a meditation”, he’d heard that once. Might have been in a Gillette ad or something like that, he supposed.

Now, one side of this road is all houses with backyards and then farmland going back to a river and the other side is just sort of woodland I suppose. Ya know, pissy little trees and shrubs and the odd tossed washing machine, that sort of thing,  and then this other little river where all the frogs are heading for.

Liz and Billy are walking along the side with all the houses and they’re just about to get to the frog crossing when Liz sees something out of the corner of her eye in the woods. She almost doesn’t want to look right, cause in a way she knows what’s there and part of her wants to just keep walking, eyes front. But she’s only human. So she looks. And there he is, this bloke swinging from one of the sturdier trees, and it looks like he’s been there a while cause she can see from where she’s standing that he’s gone all purple and green, like a bunch of grapes she said. And the smell, there’s this frog smell of course but just at that moment she notices something else on top of that, something sweeter and heavier. And she starts screaming. She picks up Billy and pushes his face into her chest and still she can’t stop this screaming. And of course Billy’s shitting himself and going “Mummy Mummy what’s wrong” and all she can think of saying is “The frogs, close your eyes and don’t look at the frogs whatever you do.” And ever since then he goes ballistic whenever there’s a frog anywhere near him. They had to move away and everything.

A dull thud came from behind the bathroom door and Fran realised she had to pee.

Billy! What the hell’s he up to in there. Billy I need the toilet, hurry up will ya.

She was answered by silence.

Selective hearing that one. Only hears what he wants to hear. Typical. Bloody men, eh?

Billy rested his hot cheek on the cold, damp tiling of the bathroom floor. The hardness was a million miles away from the sticky softness of a squashed frog on hot tarmac and the way his naked body touched the floor at nearly every available point stopped his mind from tracing the arc of a deadweight slowly swinging in the heavy, high summer air.


BUS by Celia

The small girl sits upstairs at the front of the bus with her mum. She wears a violet anorak with her hood up. There is a white fur lining around the hood.

She kneels on the seat and faces the window. In the condensation, she begins to draw heart shapes with her finger.

Then, with a sudden, sweeping movement, she uses her balled up fist to cross through the hearts and exclaims “Not anymore!”

“Not anymore!” she squeals again. “Like you and my dad.”

The woman turns, gives an obliging half- smile and nods her head.



I could tell something was amiss when I first saw her in the office that day.  Something about the way she held herself, holding herself together.  “How was your weekend?” I asked.  She paused, sighed and came up with “Interesting…” Not looking at me, she seemed to be slightly holding her breath, bit her lip. I was hanging up my jacket, unpacking my diary and work stuff from my bag; she was sorting some papers.  “Anything to do with bloody men?” I asked.  She caught my eye briefly, and I regretted laughing as I’d said it.  “Yes” she said, adding “Ask me about it in a couple of weeks.”

I switched on my computer, got out my notebooks and settled into the day’s lists, emails, priorities, and glanced across at her, to see if she was OK.  I knew nothing about what had happened, or who the bloody man in question was.  A few weeks before one lunch time she’d mentioned a guy she was “kind of seeing.”  I translated this from experience as meaning  mean a bloke she liked too much was messing her around. Bad news.  Without  actually knowing anything, I had enough information to know exactly what she was going through.

Having to focus and pretend everything is fine, be professional, hold it all together when what had hurt you so badly, the events of the weekend: the unanswered messages, or the words you’ve been dreading, the gutting realisation,  are all that is in your head.  Of course as well as heartbroken, you feel like a fool, your self-torturous mental refrain why did I let this happen again? Getting ready for work you have to force yourself to care about what you look like, tell yourself that going to work will do you good, promise yourself you won’t cry onto your keyboard, or make a twat of yourself in a meeting.  You wish your eyes weren’t puffy as you use extra concealer to hide the dark circles, but lay off the eyeliner in case of tears later (you know yourself well enough by now), smile at yourself in the mirror as practise for the day ahead, but barely recognise the pathetic, wrecked reflection that falsely smiles back. Make yourself listen to something uplifting on your way in, and read something trashy on the bus to take your mind off it, off him, find yourself rereading the same sentence and nothing making sense.  As the work day wears on catch yourself having forgotten all about him briefly, but this realisation brings you back to it all again.

You feel relieved when the working day is over, you can let go if you want, find yourself weeping on the bus, as you plan a strategy of how to get through the evening.  You know the pain will subside, it always does in the end, but everything is hard work while you’re in the middle of it, however sure you are that he is not worth any of this.  Friends may try to be nice but sympathy makes you feel worse, so it’s best to keep your heartbreak to yourself.  You know you’ll be able to laugh about it one day but that just seems like a ridiculous theory.

I caught her in the kitchen later and tried to say something funny, while looking sympathetic.  The effort was too obvious and I could tell she was grateful but understood when she didn’t hang around.  I couldn’t help feeling glad not to be her, glad not to have been through this in a while, and slightly smug: vindicated in my decision to forget all about men, have nothing more to do with the bastards.  I’ll never have to deal with pretending to be professional while suffering from a broken heart again.

A few weeks later, I was making tea while she made coffee and I felt I could ask her if she’d got the bloody man out of her system yet.  To my relief she laughed and said she was getting there.  She looked at me and said “thanks.” I never found out who he was,  what he did or what happened, but was so pleased to see her emerging from the pits of disappointment and rejection.  She was getting over the bastard.



This Christmas, along with half the population, I picked up the ‘flu virus. There are worse times to be ill, I didn’t need to feel guilty about work because the office was closed, the relatives we visited all had a sofa for me to lie on and friends and family brought regular cups of tea and doses of Nightnurse.  There was also the bonus of the holiday television scheduling. I was enjoying the endless Santa Claus movies and the odd black and white classic until Richard Curtis popped up and ruined it all.

I had seen the film before, I think I may even have to admit to enjoying it, but bleary eyed and sniffing I saw a different side to “The Ultimate Romantic Comedy”.

Love, Actually follows in the Richard Curtis cannon of sentimental British Romcoms that began with the box office winning formula of Four Weddings and a Funeral was eeked out in the eponymous Notting Hill and finally scraped the very bottom of the barrel with Love, Actually.

Love, Actually may be dubbed as a collection of loosely interrelated tales of Love at Christmas time but they can also be seen as seven loosely interrelated stories that represent all the stories that humanity has to offer. If you strip back all of the stories, folktales, myths and legends in the world you will find they fit into the following categories: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth. The diversity stems from the way the stories are endlessly interpreted by each age, society and culture in order to explore, reflect, criticise or condone.

Rags to riches

The most prominent storyline falls into the “rags to riches” category. Hugh Grant plays a disturbingly Cameronesque Prime minister who falls for his working class tea lady; Martine McCutcheon.  Essentially reprising her role from My Fair Lady but without the pretence of any educational self improvement McCutcheon is the one to rise from the rags of employed servitude to the riches of domestic servitude. Her social and financial mobility entirely down to the desire and whims of Hugh Grant’s character who at one point moves her like a chess piece to another department without explanation because he is unable to control himself around her. The romance only enhanced by the continual references to McCutcheon’s physical stature. How lucky she is to be loved even though she is all of a size 12, there is hope for us all.


The comedy in this romantic comedy falls largely to the “porn star” storyline. Two jobbing actors used as place markers in the prelims for the porn film. In the cinema I remember this scenario leading to nervous titters.  John and Judy naked and simulating the sex act while attempting to remain polite and reserved relies upon incongruity for its comedic impetus. We are surprised to find two, polite middle class actors involved in a porn film but this somehow relies upon us knowing that the industry is not based on politeness and reservation and then asks us to accept again that it is in order for the plotline to work. Not unlike the leap of faith the porn industry asks people to make when they watch pornography. This is violent and damaging, this is fantasy that hurts nobody.


For a romantic comedy there are a surprising number of tragic storylines in the film. Not entirely surprisingly they all concentrate on motherhood or mothering and martyrdom. Liam Neeson and his step-son suffer the loss of the wife and mother but get on very well without her. Laura Linney, studious, hard working, modestly dressed and desperately seeking romantic love gives up on having anything for herself to look after her mentally unwell brother. Stay at home mum Emma Thompson suffers the humiliation of her husband’s affair with what is rather obviously framed as the office tart and despite declaring “You have made a fool of me, you have made the life I live foolish too” she stays and becomes a paid up martyr to the cause of domestic enslavement. No doubt crossing her fingers that next year she will get something more than the Joni Mitchell CD.

Voyage and return

Colin Firth’s story of the cuckolded husband setting out on his voyage to Portugal could also easily be seen fit the rags to riches category. Running away from a failed marriage and the embarrassment of his wife sleeping with his brother Colin Firth retreats to a country villa in Portugal and promptly falls in love with his impoverished Portuguese housemaid. The perfect antidote to a sexually unruly wife, the virginal housekeeper, paid to make his life comfortable, unable to converse or state an opinion and economically reliant on his good will. The voyage as well as geographical is also symbolic of a return to an earlier more traditional time when women knew their place; which man they were supposed to be under.

The quest

There are two candidates for the quest storyline. Liam Neeson’s on screen Sam looking to win the love of his classmate before she leaves for the States and Kris Marshall himself leaving for the States on a quest to find women stupid enough to jump into bed with him for his British accent; they are it turns out; in abundant supply.

Overcoming the monster

In the ageing rockstar storyline we find Bill Nighy overcoming the monstrous attractions of fame, eschewing the temptations of his unlikely female fans and instead re-affirming his homosocial bonds his loyal long suffering manager. There are obvious and unattractive parallels with the Emma Thompson storyline here.


Liam Neeson is delivered of his grief for his dead wife by the obliging Claudia Schiffer.

If the endless interpretation of these seven stories can be used to show the current view, philosophy, political stand point of the society or culture that tells them then Love, Actually says something extremely unappealing.  The women in the Ultimate Romantic Comedy have their sexuality, financial security, entire purpose defined by their relationship to their male counterparts. They are waiting for knights in shining armour to rescue them and then enslave them in a life of domestic drudgery, the clever, independent ones will never find love, only our pity and the overtly sexual will be scorned and condemned. It certainly fills one with a warm glow.



What’s on the Feminist Jumble Sale gramophone?

We need your help! Have a look through your stack of old LPs and singles, ancient mix tapes and bootleg CDs and submit your favourite Bloody Men anthem: be it bitches and hoes in a wicky wild style, a silicone enhanced pop tart being a little bit too  needy for her own good, a patronising git of a bloody man or a corker of an anthem that gets you through any breakup.

Email your top pop picks, with a small piece of accompanying text to and we will pop-pick the best of the bunch to publish on the blog at the end of the month.