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Issue 9: Bloody Olympics

4 Aug

Yes, folks, here we are on time and in budget for the Feminist Jumble Sale’s 9th edition and Olympic Special.  To celebrate London 2012 we take you on a pre-games site tour, visit an Olympic Host Borough swimming pool, and consider a very explosive Scottish take on the games.  As two of us have London postcodes beginning with E, we are also proud to present a gallery of photos, to bring you the look and feel of the games, wherever you live.  Offering an alternative to the women’s weightlifting and the men’s cycling – we hope you enjoy our efforts; we’ve been training hard for this one.

Issue 10 will be along in early October.  As ever, we want your contributions – on the theme of Bloody Holidays – by 28 September.

CONTENTS

In Legacy – By Emily

London Fields 2012 – By Celia

The Olympic Flame – By Jim

The Bloody Olympics Photo Gallery – By Celia and Emily

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IN LEGACY – By Emily

Well good morning ladies and gents, and welcome.  Welcome to your official London Olympic site tour on this rather cold and wet day – but don’t worry you will be warm and dry and well looked after on this bus, and you’re not allowed out of it anyway, so you should be fine!  Before we set off, I’d like to apologise for the delay this morning.  We had a few problems with security – someone managed to set off the metal detector alarm with their hip replacement; it’s a problem we often get when we have our older visitors.  Oh, was it you, madam, I do apologise.  And we had to wait while someone else’s three forms of identification were verified.  Unfortunately we had to leave her behind at the security centre – some problem with her benefits book , I think.  There’s always one! But never mind, we’re all here, and raring to goAren’t we?

I’m sure you enjoyed our inspirational film, yes?  Seb Coe is just such a beacon of all our sporting dreams, isn’t he,  and I couldn’t agree more that the Olympics coming to London will fulfil the hopes and dreams of a whole generation of young people and inspire them all to choose sport.

My name is Christine, and it’s my pleasure, no my honour, to show you all the highlights of the park, on behalf of the Olympic Delivery Authority today.  Before I give our driver the go ahead, we need to just go through some dos and don’ts.  Sir, I will be asking you to put your camera away, as photography or recording of any kind is not permitted.  Much obliged, sir. Please ensure all mobiles are turned off, in case you’re tempted to take a snap on your camera phone!  I’m sure you understand our need for security and confidentiality – we want your games to be safe and enjoyable and the rules, I’m afraid apply to everyone.  Madam, notebooks are also not allowed – that’s it, put your pen away too please.  It’s the rules, even if you are only doing creative writing. Yes?

So, here we are, 429 days before the big event opens and east London welcomes the world.  You will see as we go round there is still lots to do, but we are on time, and in budget with full confidence of delivery.  Yes, madam, I know the budget had to be increased, but there were good reasons for that, and you will see how very well worth it it will be – for East London, the whole of London, the country and the world!  The tour will take you on a loop of the park, so if no one has any questions, I think, driver, it’s time to set off on our magical mystery tour.  And off we go!

First stop, the Athletes Village, which In Legacy will provides hundreds of brand new, state of the art affordable homes for the people of East London.  The flats will overlook the park – what a view! – but even better, the lucky future residents will have the largest shopping centre,  in Europe right on their doorstep!  300 retail units to cater for your every need. If you look over there, you’ll see Straford’s Westfield under construction.  Who’d have thought Stratford would ever have a John Lewis!  A Waitrose! A flagship M & S! But yes, it’s coming, ladies and gents! Pardon, madam?  Yes, you’re right, the athlete’s apartments have been built without kitchens, but that’s because they won’t need them. Yes, of course the flats will need to be re-purposed with all mod cons before anyone can move in In Legacy.   No, I don’t think this was an initial cost-cutting exercise. You’re right too that many houses and a school were demolished to make way for the village, but Stratford will be welcoming a brand new academy, along with the fabulous new flats.

Moving on, we are now right outside the basketball arena.  When it’s finished it will be the world’s largest temporary building – it’s made of kind of steel springs covered in PVC, which In Legacy will all be recycled.   Looks a bit strange I know, but the main thing is it will be fit for purpose – and will even have extra-tall doors for all those extra-tall athletes to fit through! Amazing to think, they really will be walking through those doors in 429 days or thereabouts.

Who lives in East London? Oh, a few of you.  Where are you ladies from?  Ah, you used to live here and moved out to Essex – well lots of Eastenders did, didn’t they? And who could blame you!  East London has been a very poor area for the past 100 years, but times are changing, and the wealth of opportunities the Games will bring are going to be the biggest boost the area has seen. Looks a bit different now, eh, ladies? And sir, you’ve come all the way from west London this morning, have you? Gosh.  Oh, you actually lived where the site is now, did you madam? Well, I’m sure you’ll find it hard to recognise now!  And I’m sure you’ll agree it’s so much better now.  Well, it will be, when it’s finished.

So we’re coming up now to the Velodrome – can you see it?  Roof looks a bit like a Pringle? Yes, it’s one of the Olympic park’s most sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings, it even has loos flushed with rainwater!  Sustainability is a buzzword which has inspired every aspect of the planning and development here: we are proud to say it will be the greenest Games ever.  I know you’re all as proud of that as me.  So, to build this beacon of sustainability, first the old council estate had to be knocked down, then the toxic waste dump and landfill site it had been built on had to be purified – yes, all the soil literally washed.  Then several hundred metres of electric cables put underground, the 52 pylons which had dominated this area for 50 years taken down – all that before building could even begin!  This illustrates the challenges that the site presented us with, the challenges of run down, ex-industrial brownfield land, and of cheap, shoddy and low quality housing.  I think it’s truly inspiring to imagine all those super fast cyclists whizzing round and round, having no idea what used to be here! Oh, that was where you lived, was it madam.  I’m sure you’ll agree what a vast improvement this is?  No, I don’t know what happened to the residents or the people from the travellers site, but I’m sure wherever they are they are much, much better off wherever they are now.  You’ll have to check with Newham Council on that.

Now, we’re driving alongside part of the river, which has been dredged and cleaned up.  Anyone remember what the Lea  used to be like? Well by Gamestime, it will be a thriving wildlife resort.  Thousands of water plants have been put in, and all this area along the water is being landscaped, with hundreds of  trees, thousands of bulbs – a bit different from when it was all factories and freight terminals and toxic waste!  Over there will be a small arena – it’s half built –  anyone guess what it could be?  Clad in copper, it’s for handball! Did anyone know that handball is one of the world’s most popular sports.  Apart from in Britain, of course.  I know.

OK, ladies and gents, we’re now coming up to one of the park’s most iconic buildings – Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre.  In Legacy, this will provide state of the art swimming facilities for the people of East London, and no doubt the stunning building will inspire and attract everyone to give it a go.  And imagine, in Gamestime all those world class athletes will be dipping more than just their toes in its waters.

Over the river now and we’re nearing the end of our tour, but have saved the best until last for you this morning, ladies and gentlemen.  You have probably caught a few glimpses of it as we’ve gone round, but there, can you see it, through the rain?  Yes! It’s the main stadium.  In Gamestime it will seat 8000 and In Legacy will be reduced to provide amazing world-class sporting facilities for the people of East London.  No, I’m afraid I don’t know how West Ham’s bid is going, since Leyton Orient challenged them…we will have to see but never mind, I am sure it will be put to the best possible use, providing sporting chances, inspiration, world-class facilities for the people., for you. With its shopping centre, international transport links, this wonderful park, Stratford really will be the new jewel in London’s crown.  Who would have thought it, eh ladies?  I bet you wish you hadn’t moved out to Chelmsford now!

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, last but by no means least, we come to Turner Prize Winning Artist, Anish Kapoor’s iconic sculpture, the MittalAcerola Orbit, named after its kind and generous steel magnate sponsors.  The MittalAcerola Orbit is only half built now, but when complete will stand over 100 metres tall and be the Europe’s largest art structure.  Not only a work of art, though, it will have a viewing platform and restaurant – and In Legacy stand proudly on the new East London skyline as something for East Londoners to really connect with and feel proud of, yes?

So, are any of you planning to come to the games?  No? You might, sir – well I do encourage you to come and experience the dream, the experience of a lifetime.  Ladies? Oh I’m sure it won’t be terribly expensive – there will be options for affordability – after all, these are your Games!  And really, Team GB will need your support! The rest of you, hopefully you will come back In Legacy to experience the park, the finished buildings, the new homes – and maybe pop to John Lewis!

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LONDON FIELDS 2012

You join us poolside at the first heats of the season for what is likely to be an electrifying competition.

Already in the pool,  and representing Islington, we have Bernard. Weighing in at a positively gaunt 69kg and dressed in his team’s traditional wet suit, despite the pool being heated. At present, he is trying to lure his team mate and son, tiny boy Oliver, clad in tiny wetsuit, into the pool by promising ice cream as a treat afterwards. The boy is reluctant and has reportedly said to his Dad that the water is “too cold”. Bernard is splashing the boy with some of said water in order to “help him get used to it”. He has lined up his mascots, various floats and rubber rings, including dumbbells made of foam, at the side of the pool.

Representing Dalston, we have Tina and Amelia. Again making their characteristic slow start by dangling their feet into the shallow end. Displaying their matching ill-advised teenage tattoos of a pair of angel wings on each of their backs. Tina has reportedly told officials that she is concerned her new dye job, turquoise with violet fringe, may run or fade if it comes into contact with the chlorinated water. She is also slightly smug that her tattoo is just a bit more intricate that Amelia’s. That’s reportedly what you get for paying 30 quid more.

Representing Crouch End and current favourites, we have Claire, Rowena  and Marianne. These three are way ahead and have already completed: Claire 45 lengths, Rowena 78 lengths and Marianne 86 lengths; while their children played in their arm bands in the shallow end. All three are now drinking coffee and absentmindedly watching their collected and now dressed children run around the side of the pool and hang off the Union Jack bunting,  their wet ponytails dripping V- shapes down the backs of their T shirts.

Highbury’s entrants this year are a real power pair: Anthony and Denise. Anthony, of course, plagued by problems in training in recent months, visible to us from the two verrucca socks he is wearing. Dwarfed by his fiancee, she looks in better form with a six pack stomach and fleshy arms. Of course she has put the gender controversy of last month’s gala behind her, when Anthony’s cousin remarked that she was “a right bloke” after she downed a pint of cider at his barbeque.

And we might be witnessing the final summer for experienced contender Steve, representing Upper Clapton. Steve, there, topless, just wheeling his fixed gear bike into the large storage cupboard at the side of the pool which is really meant for staff members, but he’s down here so often, even the staff aren’t sure if he works here or not! So a great deal of speculation over Steve’s retirement. Steve’s team mate and best friend, Martin, of course having failed to even qualify this year after moving out to a two bedroom semi- detached house in Redbridge with his girlfriend Janine, who is expecting their first child. It might be the final season for Steve, his own wife making encouraging noises about babies and moving out to St Albans to be closer to her parents.

Representing Shoreditch we have Miranda. A late entrant today. Still yet to change and dressed in  long chiffon skirt and black ankle boots, she is attempting to cram six boutique shopping bags into a poolside locker and reply to her boss on her Blackberry at the same time.

Presiding over events today we have lifeguards Natasha and Leanne. Now earning extra money while completing BTEC Nationals in Health and Social Care (Leanne) and Sports Science and Personal Training (Natasha). In their smart uniforms of red polo shirt, pearl earrings, Ray Bans and white converse. They do a stirling, yet mind numbingly boring job. If they get to shout at a child for running today, that is likely to be a key point in proceedings. Of course, the competitors are in good hands, Leanne and Natasha both having completed their 15 hour life guard training course. Should someone be clawing desperately at the water with their head submerged, Natasha or perhaps even Leanne would be the first to throw off the Raybans and drag that individual up out of the water and towards oxygen and life.

I think you’ll agree, it’s a sterling line up for what is shaping up to be a hotly contended summer of sport. It’s all to play for.

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THE OLYMPIC FLAME – By Jim

Prompted by me, the hall committee had reluctantly agreed to an Olympic theme for our next Sunday teas, so union jack cupcakes, sponges with five rings on top, medal-like meringues, cream horns resembling flaming torches, wafers disguised as diving boards and chocolate-finger hurdles… you name it, I was going to bake it.  It might be a come-down baking for the Olympics when you could have been in the equestrian team, but it was more about maintaining our identity than anything else. This far north, where they don’t much consider themselves Scottish, never mind British, Olympic fever had been fairly easily quarantined at our house, so I was going to have to pull out all the stops to compensate for everyone else’s lack of interest.  I have long ago lost any embarrassment about being a gobby incomer.  Even non-native, single parent families like ours help to keep rural schools open and, when enthusiasm for committee membership and all the baking that goes with it sags amongst the locals, the anxiety of people like me to be part of the community can be worth its weight in marzipan.

Obviously I’m doing my best to minimise the effects of the divorce.  I want my children to be confident and good at sport and not completely consumed with their chat rooms and the internet games they play, for all I know being groomed by some monster all the while. My 14-year-old has recently adopted the ‘emo’ style of his virtual Japanese girlfriend.  She’s into lunchbox art and has been explaining the tenets of Zen Buddhism to him.  Apparently, one’s karma is like a flame that passes from one candle to another.

“Just like the Olympic torch relay, then?” I asked him.

“Well, sort of,” he conceded, doubtfully.

I especially don’t want them feeling embarrassed about their roots, or their accents, so whether it’s a royal occasion or a sporting event where England are represented and the Scots, as usual, are not, the flags and the bunting come out. And it may have been limited to our driveway, but we can proudly boast that this village’s jubilee street party was the most northerly in the British Isles.

“Donna-Marie has issues,” my ten-year-old was telling me, as I hurtled round at the last minute, literally pulling my Olympic baking session out of the fire.

“Oh yeah?”

“Her toys are all black and crispy like your cakes, because she thinks if she starts a fire her dad will have to come and rescue her.”

The aspersion about my baking was, of course, spot on, as stress levels in our kitchen could attest, but it was the insight into Donna-Marie’s mental state that was really hitting home, because she happened to be the daughter of the man I’d recently snared using an ironically similar pyromaniac ploy.

We’d only just moved in when my disastrously poor Rayburn skills resulted in a chimney fire.  Having no man, friends or even neighbours within running distance, I dialled 999, though I knew we were forty miles and two stretches of water from the nearest fire appliance.  I was initially surprised when Steve, the village postman, arrived with a bucket of sand, but it turned out he was not only the auxiliary firefighter for our area, but also the coastguard, carpenter, fencing contractor and undertaker. No sooner had he effortlessly brought the flue under control than I was plying him with my homemade merlot, and that’s when I started to find out all the other things my handsome saviour was good at.

I didn’t want to start an affair with a married man, but Steve hadn’t been living with Donna-Marie and her mum for some time by then.  He was officially in one of the chalets at the head of the voe, though everyone could soon see his car being parked at our place two or three nights a week. I made sure always to take the hill road above the chalets when exercising our gelding, in order to check his car was where it was supposed to be on all the other nights. Why would I worry?  Only because of the warning I had received from Rena, my confidante and moral guardian on the committee, about Steve’s history as the local stud.  I comforted myself that the definition of promiscuity in a place like this was probably quite draconian, but it was hard to know how much the whole affair was down to the post break-up horror of being alone on my side, and the aphrodisiac qualities of my wine on Steve’s (‘beer goggles’ I believe they’re called – every man should have them fitted as standard). Another reason this teas meant so much to me was that it was to be the first occasion at which he and I would be officially appearing together in public.

Leaving aside the psychological damage I was doing his, and my own, children, and the possibility of being burnt at the stake as a stuck-up English harridan, I gathered my Olympic cake collection in tupperware boxes.  Given past performance, it seemed barely credible that only a few of my cupcakes were blackened and not a single meringue had imploded, but I had clearly peaked at just the right moment.  I got the kids to help me string bunting along the eaves of the hall and hang the union jack above the door.  So used to seeing the local emblem everywhere, my daughter asked if we shouldn’t be raising the Shetland flag.

“On most occasions yes, darling, but Shetland isn’t in the Olympics. It’s part of Great Britain.”

By kick-off time, Rena had come up trumps with a massive supply of sandwiches and Wilhemina was ready at the electric urn. I was hoping Steve would be there promptly in order to do the tea and coffee top-ups, but after twenty minutes I was starting to wonder if anyone at all would appear.  That’s when we noticed smoke from outside and found Donna-Marie standing at the end of the building inspecting her handiwork – some charred bunting. I was about to congratulate myself on having at least had the good sense to buy fire-retardant decorations, when I realised the union jack was missing.

“Oh my God.”

I had followed Donna-Marie’s excited gaze to my car, where the burning flag was protruding from the fuel cap. I don’t remember the detonation that left me unconscious against the outside of the building.

Though I was just in for 24 hours as a standard precaution, Rena brought the children to see me in hospital.  My son consoled me that it was just as well we hadn’t sold a single Olympic cake, since the whole event would have constituted a massive breach of copyright.  Apparently, the Olympic committee were not prepared to countenance their logo appearing on the merest and most northerly scrap of even the most patriotic icing, so we could all have ended up in the dock – ‘every cloud’ and all that. Steve also popped in, though only long enough to tell me he was going back to Darlene.  The police had been to see them and there were going to be social workers and counsellors to help get Donna-Marie back on the straight and narrow.  Funnily, when Steve mentioned his other half’s name, a certain penny dropped.  All those wine-soaked nights when I thought he was whispering ‘darling’ to me in that quaint island accent, he had actually been slurring his wife’s name into my bosom.

My eyebrows have grown back now, there’s a new car in the drive and surprisingly little awkwardness when Steve delivers the mail. We’ve agreed our relationship was part of a desperate phase when we were neither of us in our right minds.   I have replaced the flag that proved such an effective touch paper and still intend to fly the new one now and again, though perhaps with more realistic expectations about how many others might be expected to rally round it.  One of a few early signs that there may even be turncoats in my own ranks was when my son went to a Scotland rugby game whilst on a trip south with friends. Unsurprisingly, they lost.

“Get used to it,” I warned him.

“It’s not always about winning, is it Mum?” he said.

“For Scotland, it hardly ever is,” I replied.   “And don’t tell me lunchbox art isn’t competitive.”

But my smile was not a mocking one, because I could sense that if anyone was going to have an identity crisis in our house it was most likely to be me, which was fine. As long as everyone else ends up sane, my karmic Olympic flame will be burning bright.

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Issue 8: Bloody Parties

9 Jun

Surprise!!!! Bursting out from behind the sofa for you this issue we have three regular FJS party goers: Celia, Jim and Emily. You will always find them in the kitchen at parties. We present a veritable royal flotilla of short fiction, except it’s all in the best possible taste and at no point involves spending tax payers’ money on fireworks. There’ll be snogging, tears and a whole lot of red wine to scrub off our carpets by the time we’re done.

Next time: get behind Team FJS for our Bloody Olympics Issue Deadline: 3rd August

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Bloody Parties Contents:

SNAKEBITE by Celia

PARTY POLITICS by Jim

NEVER GONNA DANCE AGAIN by Emily

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SNAKEBITE – by Celia

I awake around noon, my cheek sticking slightly as I pull my head up from the lino. The smell of cider and blackcurrant lingers. I look at the floor through my one remaining contact lens; it’s not purple, but covered in a congealed layer of black sludge.

The party is being held in honour of my twenty-first birthday in the house I share with seven other girls. I feel I have little in common with the others, except for my friend Sophie who is very shy, until she has a drink inside her.

We both have dyed black hair and have “Bloody Goths!” shouted at us in the street on a regular basis by men with thick Welsh accents. I view my other housemates as ‘proper girls’. They drink alcopops and wear spangly tops and heels to go out for the night. They talk explicitly about their sex lives and make earnest comments about minor celebrities on TV “Oh, doesn’t she look great, and she’s just had a baby!”

We head to the supermarket and lug endless carrier bags of booze and two brand new plastic buckets back through the streets. We use the buckets to make two kinds of punch. One is traditional Snakebite: cheap lager, even cheaper cider and economy range blackcurrant. Into the other bucket we pour anything we can find: vodka, gin, Malibu, Martini, Lambrini, an aniseed drink with a Hebrew label we found in the cupboard and lashings of tropical fruit juice to mask the taste.

The house begins to fill up with people. One of the housemates disappears upstairs with our next door neighbour. He is holding her hair back while she is sick in the sink with the view to getting off with her after. I hope he makes her brush her teeth first.

All the goths form a posse in the kitchen surrounding the bucket of Snakebite. Everyone is smiling. Leighton, a small time drug dealer and local goth has poured all the rejected Es he couldn’t sell, like broken biscuits, into the punch.

Everyone is dancing and the mass of people surges out and down the stairs. Someone is bleeding down the front of their shirt. A man is thrown out down the stairs by four goths each holding one of his limbs and the door slammed behind him. Another goth boy weeps, mascara and white foundation runs down his face. The Spanish exchange students laugh as they try to pull the hall radiator off the wall.

Sophie is gone, she left wearing her nightie as a top with Leighton. I wander serenely around the house, smoking and dancing with people I have never seen before. A man tells me him and his friends heard about the party after the DJ announced it over the PA at a club in town. The Spanish students cheer as they succeed and stale water soaks the carpet. I grin as my Anthropology tutor passes me a joint. We are never going to get our deposits back.

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PARTY POLITICS  – by Jim

I draped my pants over the radiator below the window and shivered. With its mouldy walls and scatter of damp clothing, my pad had all the ambience of a bronchial lung.  Down below, shoppers hurried up and down Byres Road.  It was Hogmanay 1989, the January sales were already under way and no one was paying much attention to the anti-poll tax protesters outside the subway station. Parts of the megaphone rant kept floating up to me as I got ready to go out: ‘Stand up to Thatcher, stand up to the sheriff’s officers…’.  Beside the familiar firebrand doing all the shouting was his usual sidekick, inviting passers-by to sign the petition, while a couple of younger lads held up the latest issue of Militant.  I wondered ruefully how many copies were still where I had planked them in my mum’s attic. ‘The working class of Scotland will not accept warrant sales!’

‘You tell them, Rab,’ I muttered, scanning the rogue’s gallery on the anaglypta, there to convince me of my own popularity, but more like the archive of a rapidly receding youth.  There he was, right in the middle:  Red Robbie, the Tartan Trot, Terror of the Tories – not.  Not any more, anyway.  Not since the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, the council housing sale of the century, Maggie’s third win in a row and the campaign of expulsions from the Labour Party. In the picture, me and Robbie were shoulder to shoulder in a five-a-side line-up at a fundraiser for the miners. Robbie had been wearing a big black moustache at that point, like the dancer in Frankie Goes to Hollywood.  If he had been an actual pop star, instead of an activist, or the pro footballer some said he could have been, it would probably never have bothered anyone how much shagging he was doing, but campaigners for social justice weren’t really supposed to have groupies.

There was a female comrade whose face appeared more than any other on the wall and I focussed on one photo in particular, of Elaine on her graduation day in clichéd mortarboard throwing pose. Thankfully for her career, she had seen through me and Leon Trotsky at one and the same time and actually finished her degree, a first in German, been taken on as a researcher at the BBC and, after finding herself in Berlin at just the right moment, ended up posting reports for Newsbeat from on top of the crumbling Berlin Wall.

I took my cash from its hiding place in the freezer unit of the fridge. I was ending the eighties the way I’d started them – skint – but I’d been saving up from my dole-plus-tenner job creation scheme for a New Year blow-out and was off to meet my old school mate Spike in the Curlers.  Spike had begun the decade wearing a mod suit, wafted through the mid-period in lipstick and a blonde bob, and was now about to greet the nineties with a dreadlocked, new age traveller look.  During his David Sylvian period, him and his girlfriend had frequently been mistaken for two gorgeous young women; now his face had a grizzled look which he put down to the years of shaving twice a day with a blunt bic, though it probably had more to do with alcohol and drugs.

‘Still living in a wigwam?’ I asked him.

‘It’s a teepee,’ he corrected.

With a professional mix of nonchalance and discretion, Spike produced two tablets wrapped in cellophane.  It was the first time I’d seen Ecstasy.  We necked them in the toilets and half an hour later I was entranced by the luminous fish tank of my lager, but this lightly mesmerised wellbeing was soon punctured by the entrance of the street petition crew, minus Robbie himself, now with his lieutenant Kevin in charge.

Spike followed my nervous glance towards the circle of neat and tidy young men. ‘They look like Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ he commented.

‘It’s the guilt I can’t stand.’

‘You paid your dues, man.’

I knew this was how I would always be remembered in North Kilbride: standing outside the Lite Bite in the rain selling the papers, hoping if I looked cold enough I could boost sympathy sales.  Of the other Young Socialists only Big Diner Dolan had helped me one Saturday morning, but even he had to leave early to catch the Thistle supporters’ bus to Arbroath.

‘Remember we visited Faslane Peace Camp in Diner’s dad’s ice-cream van?’ said Spike

I laughed.  The cadres hadn’t approved of that expedition, because it was before the days when they were willing to rub shoulders with middle class single issue groups.  The peace campers themselves had put me in mind of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, as played by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

‘I never realised posh people could have such lousy teeth,’ I reminisced.

‘The gumsy ones were the fruitarians,’ explained Spike.

‘That’s right, vegans and that – they couldn’t even take a cone off us.’

I realised Kevin had broken ranks with the other Millies and was homing in on me.  ‘I’m about to get the come-back-to-Jesus routine,’ I warned Spike.

‘Alright Ally?  What have you been up to?’

‘Oh, you know, getting a life.  You should try it.’

Kevin smiled wanly, like a world-weary teacher in the face of yet more adolescent sarcasm. ‘We miss your defiance, Ally.  Don’t you live round here now?  You should join your local Anti-Poll Tax Federation. It’s where the struggle is.’

I raised my glass.  ‘Let’s hear it for the struggle,’ I said, before downing a bitter mouthful.

‘You don’t belong on the fence, mate,’ Kevin persevered. ‘You’ll get skelfs up your arse.’

‘I’ve just grown out of this whole fucking back gardens analogy for human existence, Kevin.’

‘Eh?’

‘You know, the old two gardens and a fence down the middle routine.  What if there are loads of gardens?’

‘Herb gardens,’ added Spike, mysteriously.

Kevin shook his head.  ‘What are you talking about, proportional representation?’

‘Look, just forget it, Kevin. Pretty soon you’ll have to decide on an operation to remove your balls completely, or else give up the struggle and finally get a love life.’

‘You always managed to combine the two, didn’t you? Do you still see Elaine?’

‘Fuck off,’ I spluttered. ‘She’s too busy covering the fall of communism, okay?’

‘Joshua blew his trumpet,’ Spike nodded, sagely, ‘and the wall came tumbling down.’

‘Right,’ said Kevin. ‘Well whatever herbs you guys are growing in your back gardens, I hope they bring you wisdom. If they do, you know where to find us.’

I watched Kevin edge back to the comrades with a round of drinks.  ‘He’ll tell them I’m just bitter and twisted about Elaine now.  Do you mind if we get out of here?’

Spike knew about a party up Park Circus.  It was a grand house on three levels, divided into flats full of young professionals and postgrad types. We followed the thumping rhythm to the top floor where a guy in a bush hat was bent over a mixing desk, next to a screen showing laser patterns.  By the glow of this DIY lightshow, a handful of people in baggy gear were making strange, spread-fingered hand movements in front of their eyes. Spike seemed to know them all – everyone wanted to put their arms round him and even round me.

We progressed to another room where a crowd had gathered at a bay window, smoking a joint and waiting for the fireworks that would kick off Glasgow’s year as City of Culture.  Somebody tapped me on the shoulder.  It was Elaine.  We had a hug, but not the eccy-induced, love and peace kind – much more prim and polite.  We sat down and she asked how I was, but then her questions took on a professional edge.  She said she was making a programme about the ‘other’ side of Glasgow, away from the new coffee shops and arts venues.  She was going to include an interview with Robbie.

‘It’s about the reality, the dark underbelly.  You could describe what it’s like in that awful dump you’re living in’ she said.

‘Thanks very much.’

‘Well, it’s a platform, isn’t it, to say what you want.’

At that point Robbie entered the room and stood in the doorway, clearly expecting Elaine to leave with him.

‘Is that what you’re doing for Robbie – providing him with a platform?’

She sighed.  ‘Well, you can think about it.’

‘I don’t have to think about it, you can just fuck off.’

Robbie gave me one of those stoical, downturned smiles that him and Ronald Reagan were both so good at, as if to say, ‘Times are tough, but we’re all in this together,’ before he and Elaine made their exit.

Spike told me some people were going on somewhere else, then put a hand round the back of my neck and looked me in the eyes.  ‘Looks like you’ve missed out the high and gone straight into come-down mode,’ he said. That’s when I realised I was crying like a baby.

We got out onto the pavement just as the sky erupted and everyone started cheering and kissing.

‘Think I’m partied out,’ I hollered above the explosions.

‘I don’t think you should be on your own,’ Spike shouted back, waiting for me to follow, so I stumbled along behind him and his happy-clappy friends, all the time gazing up through my tears at the dazzling sparks raining down from above.

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NEVER GONNA DANCE AGAIN  – by Emily

The dress was my first ever purchase from Chelsea Girl.  I wasn’t sure about it from the start but couldn’t find anything else.  Besides, I was yet to understand fashion, finding it unfathomable, in those horrible early teen years before I discovered the joy of wearing dead people’s clothes from charity shops.  Pale pink and grey checked, it had a collar and buttons down the front, and a strange cuff at the hem which made it both very unflattering, and difficult to walk in.  When I put it on before the party, still unsure, I decided I was willing to take the risk, and wondered what the other girls would be wearing.   The tights, my first ever nylon item after a lifetime of natural fibres made me feel better.  Ivory coloured and gloriously smooth, taking them, pristine,  out of their packet I felt sophisticated and ladylike. I tried out these new, thrilling, scary sensations as I pulled and jumped them on.

Nathan Ashdown was one of the popular boys in the year, but to be invited to his 13th birthday party wasn’t as much of an honour as it appeared.  His parents owned a hotel and he had a whole marquee to fill, so practically the whole of the second year was invited.  I hardly knew him, but knew he was one of the posh kids who travelled miles through the countryside every morning to get to school.  The birthday party had been the talk of the classroom, corridor and playground for weeks beforehand, with much talk about who was going with whom.  I only had eyes for Jason Proctor, but knew my love was futile.

I was shocked and confused when Nathan’s best friend, Daniel Ravenscroft asked me across the quad if I would go to the party with him.  I asked if he was taking the piss and he shook his head. I was overjoyed, even though I barely knew Daniel. We were in the same set for French but in different forms, and I was not part of the popular group he hung out with who went and smoked fags at lunchtime in the park.  I said yes, deciding to put my love for Jason on temporary hold, but wasn’t really sure what going to a party with a boy really meant.  I invested some pocket money on a can of Impulse and practised my nascent mascara skills for a week.  In what seemed like the longest week ever, I blushed each time I saw Daniel at school.

The marquee was large and chilly, with groups of girls sitting in groups, boys standing about, everyone a bit awkward in this unfamiliar social setting.  Some boys from my form asked me why I was wearing a nightie.  I told them to fuck off, but was mortified that my dress choice had definitely been a mistake.  Lights flashed and a DJ played chart hits: Stevie Wonder, Duran Duran, Prince, but no-one was dancing yet.  I sat with Sharon Williams and Kirsty Hall and they quizzed me about Daniel.  I couldn’t see him anywhere and was kind of relieved.

Suddenly, Daniel and his friends, all dressed in a uniform of red corduroy trousers, grey sweatshirts and checked shirts came striding onto the dancefloor with a roll of lino.  Some girls gathered round but I held back – what the hell was going on?  When I caught sight of what the boys were doing, I was suddenly paralyzed with fear.  I was meant to be at the party with Daniel but saw he was attempting a headspin while his mates cheered.  I didn’t know how to talk to someone who was breakdancing.  I stayed with Sharon and Kirsty, wondering what I was meant to do, what would happen next.

Inspired by the breakdancers, a few kids started dancing now to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.  It was only Two Tribes, but this gave us hope taht maybe Relax would be played later.  Sharon danced with Michael Green, the only black kid in the year, and then came back to us to make racist jokes about him.  Her racism didn’t stop her returning to him, however, and soon they were kissing, while me and Kirsty looked on.  I wondered where Daniel was and whether I was supposed to kiss him.

I found him on my way to the toilets, being comforted by two of the popular, bitchy girls who scared me.  In the toilet I wondered why he needed to be comforted like this and assumed I wouldn’t be spending any time with him this evening after all. As I hobbled back in my embarrassing dress, one of the girls stopped me and asked me why I didn’t want to be with Daniel.  I said I did and hearing this gave him the courage to come and grab my hand, guiding me onto the dancefloor, where a few couples were smooching to Wham.  Careless Whisper.  Oh god, I thought, this is awful.  Being new to it, I had no idea that kissing could be so sloppy and wet, so endless and strange.  I chose to ignore Kirsty and Sharon’s round of applause when it started, and Daniel and I managed to snog our way through about an hour’s worth of slow dances.  When I took a break, Sharon did impressions of her Michael’s kissing style.  I decided to be more loyal and not report back on Daniel’s, although I was relieved it seemed I was having a slightly better time than Sharon.

This was my first proper party, but my last without the help of Merrydown or Leibfraumilch, Special Brew or Martini Bianco.  The feeling of being pressed up against a boy was strange, comforting, terrifying.  We didn’t speak, nor did our hands wander; more sordid, alcoholic encounters were still a way off from this innocent night.  I could smell Daniel’s washing-powder smell, as I felt wanted, relieved to be finally properly kissing a boy, despite my terrible fashion faux pas.  But mostly I was elated that this public display would prove to my whole year, including the bullies, that I was absolutely, definitely not a lesbian, despite the rumours about my mum.

The music stopped and the party over, Daniel and I exchanged a smile and parted.  I rejoined my friends as he rejoined his, and I slightly floated on my successful transition, my rite of passage. Despite having numb lips from kissing for far too long without a break, I felt glowing. My future  seemed to have opened up and become tangible.  Then in the toilets I saw my face in the mirror.  As well as my embarrassingly flushed cheeks, I was mortified to find that the mascara I had bought from a plastic basket on a market stall had melted all around my eyes into a black and greasy mess.  No one had told me but everyone must have seen.

The next Monday at school, I saw Daniel Ravenscroft in the corridor and he pretended he hadn’t seen me.  On the Tuesday he sat behind me in French.  Despite my telepathic messages, he didn’t speak to me, and it was only then that I decided that I was in love.

Issue 7: Bloody Hell

4 Apr

Bloody Hell, it’s Issue 7.  We’d like to use this opportunity to celebrate our first anniversary this Women’s History Month  (well, it was last month but every month should be WHM) through the medium of good old-fashioned English swearing.  Yes, we’ve kept this jumble sale on the road – or pitched up in the church hall –  and kept on writing, gaining new contributors, readers and follwers along the way.

Over the last 12 months, we have brought you 43 new pieces of original writing, by 15 writers.  We’ve been read by 2,447 people, and have 10 followers.  If you enjoy our endeavours, please feel free to tell us, follow us or befriend us in one way or another.  And please feel free to write for us.  The theme for next time is Bloody Parties and the deadline for submissions is 31 May.

Bloody Hell brings you some juicy bits and pieces covering the tedium and horror of religion, ritual and faith; the many circles of hell brought on by pain and suffering; and some strong arguments that support  Mr Simone De Beauvoir’s assertion: hell really is other people, whether friends, foes or family.

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  CONTENTS

All Suffering Soon to End – by Emily

Friday Night and  Saturday Morning – by Celia

Intensive Care – by Jim

Saying the Creed – by Jane

Dad Weekend – by Emily

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ALL SUFFERING SOON TO END – by Emily

Usually I get my fix of Jehovah-approved illustrations, messages and graphics from smartly dressed men in suits who get me out of bed on a Saturday morning, all smiles, and simply “sharing the message” as they hand over their leaflets.  Or from glamorous young women with immaculate makeup and expensive weaves who walk the streets in pairs and reward my leaflet-acceptance with dazzling smiles.  Sometimes cheerful children join them as they go about their mild-mannered mission. Perhaps they are genuinely grateful that I don’t tell them where to go, that I do accept their printed matter.  Surely they don’t see me as a likely convert, but perhaps everyone who accepts their “personal invitation” to “remember Jesus” or whatever, represents an outside possibility of another soul saved.  I don’t know what their reward is for spreading the “good” news that we’re all going to hell, perhaps some kind of celestial points system.  I could find out but I’m not prepared to put the research time in. Or read the pamphlets.

What they probably don’t know is that I take the leaflets and flyers for the same reason that I buy postcards of the Virgin Mary when I visit Catholic countries.  I’m fascinated by the aesthetics of different religious traditions, the peculiarities designed to broadcast the specific message of each.  Jehovah’s Witnesses’ peculiar images would be at home in a Ladybird book from the 1960s: happy, smiling, multi-cultural people and animals, painted in an over-enthusiastic technicolour palette.  As with all religious art and design, I am very taken with the humanity of the creation.  No other evangelical religion offers such marvellous illustrations.  Perhaps they actually even help persuade some non-believers to see the light, but not this one – I find them entertaining, amusing and quite beautiful in a weird, spooky way.

I received my latest copy of Watchtower in quite different circumstances.  It must have been obvious I was an in-patient.  If my greenish-white complexion didn’t give it away, then my dressing gown and slippers would have.  I had shuffled down the long hospital corridor to the tea bar with my sister, mostly to get away from the eternal four-hour hell of visiting time and the Other Peoples’ Families this brought, but also because they don’t give you anywhere near enough tea in hospital.  A woman with a shopping trolley came past while I waited for my sister to bring the tea, and thrust a magazine at me.  It was titled What Can We Learn From Abraham? I had no idea what was going on – morphine, pain and the excitement of leaving my ward had left me rather hazy and seasick.  As the woman trolleyed on to find another potential recipient I realised that she was here, doing her duty to actually save people who might die any day.  She gave me the magazine in the hopes that I would read it and realise before it really was too late.  She was here, alone, in the evening, targeting the vulnerable, the sick, the anxious, hoping that she was making a difference to the eternal future of complete strangers.  This is how she spends her free time.  That’s how much she believes that without her intervention we really are all going to hell.

When I found the magazine in my hopsital bag once I’d got home, I was suddenly struck by the sadness of her beliefs, this pointless waste of her life.  All her time and energy spent focusing on an afterlife, and taking it upon herself to help others join her in this nonexistant future.  I looked at the cover of the magazine.  I didn’t know or care who Abraham was, or think I could learn anything from him. The illustrator has made him look rather like Clint Eastwood with a big beard and hood. It’s a bold painting, a classic from the Jehovah’s Witness school of illustration, but I feel too saddened to find it amusing.

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FRIDAY NIGHT AND SATURDAY MORNING – by Celia

I met Gemma Beck when I started secondary school. The things we pined for were Dr Marten boots, Adidas stripes and the weekly issue of Just 17 magazine which we would buy after school every Wednesday. We would then wait together for our separate buses across the road from the shops.

Gemma lived in a newly-built house on the outskirts of Manchester. One Thursday night after school, Gemma’s mum phoned my mum and asked if I would like to come for a sleepover on Saturday night. I would have to wait until after sunset for my mum to drive me to the house because Gemma was  from an Orthodox Jewish family and had to wait until the end of the Sabbath to watch TV and switch on the lights.

Before we left, my mum put make up and perfume on, which I rarely saw her do.  When we arrived at the house, Gemma’s mum greeted us at the door. She was tanned and had a short fashionable haircut. I could hear her and my mum laughing together on the doorstep as I headed inside to see Gemma. We watched the Eurovision song contest and ate pizza which Gemma’s mum had phoned for and a man brought it round, I had never had a dial- a- pizza before and it tasted wonderful.

I had a hole in my sock and Gemma’s mum said she would throw it away fro me. I was shocked as my mum always sewed up my socks with different coloured cotton when they got holes in them, but I handed the socks over.

When it was time to go to sleep, we slept in Gemma’s bunkbed. I slept on the bottom bunk and Gemma on the top. The mattress felt lumpy and uncomfortable.  I reached down the side and felt the cold smooth sensation of a magazine page. Gemma’s mum did not allow Just 17 in the house because of concern over the explicit nature of the problem page so Gemma had to stash the issues under the two mattresses of her bunk bed. The next morning we played Duckhunt on Gemma’s computer until it was time for my mum to pick me up.

I was happy when I got an invite to Gemma’s Bat Mitzvah disco. It was held in a big hall at her synagogue. Gemma had modelled her outfit on the film ‘Clueless’ and wore silver Mary Janes and knee socks with a long pink silk shirt. I looked down at my long blue hippy dress and blushed slightly. All of the boys wore ties and stood on the other side of the hall. The wooden panels of the walls were decorated by children’s paintings of animals that were labelled as Kosher (reindeer, goat)  and non-Kosher (owl, seal, tortoise).

Not long after the disco, Gemma started smoking with the older girls. She put her make up on in the changing room toilets after school and I saw a copy of More! magazine sticking out of her bag. She smelt of Dewberry body-spray layered over stale Marlboro Lights. I tried to speak to her at the bus stop and she turned to the older girls, one of whom was rumoured to have a tattoo,  and they all burst out laughing. I waited for my bus with blazing cheeks.

I remember making the note in Physics one afternoon. It consisted of one word ‘BITCH’ which I had written in block capitals across a page ripped from my exercise book and then repeated in small  joined up writing in different colours around the central design. I then angrily scrawled a much bigger ‘BITCH‘  across the whole page, obscuring some of the more delicate ‘bitches’ on the finished paper.

While Gemma was returning her lightbulb and crocodile clips to the box at the front, I let it fall from my hand into her pocket where it rested on top of her green lighter. The elderly teacher saw what had happened and asked for the note to be brought to the front and for both of us to stay behind after class. She seemed equally annoyed with both of us and told us that if we could not be friends, then we simply should not speak to each other again. We remained in school for a further four years without a word passing between us, looking away quickly whenever our eyes met. I found Gemma on Facebook recently. She is thin with golden hair and lives in Israel with her three children. My friend request is still pending.

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INTENSIVE CARE – by Jim

“Andy doesn’t look his best at the moment,” the nurse warned Brenda on her first visit.

The Intensive Care Unit was a strange netherworld, unlike ordinary wards, a lightless dungeon with the beds  arranged in a grid, each patient an island in his own hi-tech limbo.

“Is he sleeping?”

“He’s very sedated, but he might still know you’re there even if he can’t show it.”

Brenda looked round at the other patients.  Like Andy, they were unmoving and quiet but for the ghostly whisper of their attachments – the gadgets and gizmos that were keeping them alive. Fighting for their lives were these poor souls, in the martial parlance of disease – there was always someone in the news losing their battle with cancer, struggling with their inner demons or starting a fight-back against addiction – but she wondered how much being tough actually had to do with anything.

From time to time Andy’s eyes would flicker and she took this as a hopeful sign that the life force was still there.  He’d certainly always had his share of true grit, the amount of wildcat strikes, walk-outs, sit-ins and protest marches he’d led.  If character really did influence life expectancy, he was still in with a shout, but Brenda suspected fate, in combination with the wonders of modern medicine, would either eke him out a bit longer or usher him more hastily to his appointed hour.  Looking at her watch, and thinking about the Red Cross Hotel room that awaited her, she wondered if Andy might even be meeting his maker before the night was out – not that he believed in such a thing.  Perhaps he’d be meeting Karl Marx instead.  He’d always respected her faith, though, and had even persuaded their Martin to keep attending Mass long after he’d started kicking up a teenaged fuss about it.  Martin had taken his confirmation name – Francis – from a Celtic player and  thought it was all a great joke, but he hadn’t got that attitude from his father, not really.

They’d always been close, the two men in her life, but it was difficult for Martin to get back all the way from Dubai at a moment’s notice, she understood that.

It was impossible to distinguish day from night in this place, but Andy had an idea his wife was beside him during the day.  At other times when he woke there was no one except a nurse or two and he surmised that this was the night shift.

Then again, he seemed to be zigzagging back and forth in space and time, at times waking up a few days in the past on one ward, sometimes back in the future on another. He didn’t know if he’d had the operation or was still waiting, whether he was getting better or going downhill.  None of the places he woke up in were very nice.  He would try to speak to the nurses but they ignored him.  One of them had shaved him, but she didn’t speak or smile while doing so, like he was an object. Sometimes, in the night, when there were no visitors or doctors, the nurses would stoop so low as to mock their helpless patients, pull faces and sneer, even dance around the ward in hysterics.  It was hard to verify some of this in such poor light and without his glasses;  he wasn’t even sure some of it was happening.

Mercifully, there was one person on the wards who did speak to him – a jovial male nurse with a strong Aberdonian accent, obviously gay, a laugh a minute and, unlike the others, reassuring, but with an unfortunate habit of hovering in mid-air as a sort of party piece, and a tendency to make his exit through the nearest wall.  This sadly undermined the kind things he had said because it showed that, out of all these characters, he was the one least likely to be real.

There was a particular ward sister, though, who Andy was sure was no illusion.  So arrogant, the way she strode past when you were trying to grab her attention.  It was like being back iat school, feeling repulsive but desperate to be liked by the teachers and the popular kids.  He never believed he was worth loving till he met whats-her-name, the lady sitting next to him now.  After that, knowing what it was like to be bullied had become a kind of asset.  Andy promised himself that if he ever got out of here he would come back and sort that sister out, like he’d done so many other Little Hitlers, such as his first ever foreman.  “I need to ask if you’re a catholic or a protestant” the bloke had said , “because we keep the two persuasions apart on this job.”  “Well you don’t  have to worry about me,” Andy had told him.  “I’m an atheist.”  “Does that mean you’re a communist?” the gaffer fired back.  Turned out, commie or no, he was the only qualified applicant for the job.  Once in the door, he had sworn to end sectarian practices in that factory and, though it took a year or two, when it finally came to the vote, right prevailed.

But his days of winning arguments with religion were now long gone.  In fact, he was starting to realise that everything he’d ever stood for had been a delusion.  His missus’ way of thinking was closer to the truth; evil did exist after all.  He could feel it as a dark power throughout his body and see it in the uncaring faces of the nurses. The real twist in the tail was that the opposing force of Good actually didn’t exist.  God and Satan were one and the same, the whole universe an experiment in sadism and the hope of salvation just part of the joke. It was becoming clear that, as cruel as this world could be, there really was a hell for later on, and that’s where we were all headed, every one of us.  The other place, with the angels and harps, was a fairy tale – he’d got that part right.

One thing alone made him doubt his new consciousness and that was the presence of his wife.  No matter what she was called, united they’d stood for forty years, he knew that much, and he knew her very existence proved love was real.  He would like to have shown her just how he felt about her if only he could move his arms – he tried hard but seemed to have no muscles or nerves left anywhere. He was fairly sure he’d had a child with this woman too, a son.  Maybe that was the young man he could see floating around in the distance behind her.

Andy knew he was drifting off again.  Hopefully when he woke up it would be in the same time and place and she would still be there with him.  Or better still he would wake up earlier, much earlier – maybe on their honeymoon in Cummerlees.  He started to laugh in his mind, at the old codgers they’d landed amongst in that god-awful guest house.  If he saw them now they’d probably look like spring chickens.

When she went back the next day, they showed her to a different ward, to a little room where Andy was all on his own.  She noticed they had shaved him, which was a nice touch.   The nurse squeezed Brenda’s shoulder and told her visiting hours no longer applied, she could stay as long as she liked.   She knew none of these were good signs.  Andy’s eyes were shut, his breathing shallow and rattly.

Someone else laid his hand on her and she turned to find Martin standing there, so you can imagine the great flood of relief that unleashed.  She had the feeling Andy might know they were both there because he seemed for a second to be trying to rouse himself.  Still fighting, right to the end, and with his closest supporters right behind him.  She stroked his arm.  ‘You’ll never walk alone,” she said, thinking that was as close a thing to a hymn as either Andy or Martin were ever likely to sing.

She noticed Martin was crying.  “It means so much you coukd make it,” she said, looking from her weeping son to the pale, gently croaking figure of her husband and thanking God all three of them had been able to be here, together in a show of strength.

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SAYING THE CREED – by Jane

‘I saw that. Your foot went on the line. You’re out! She’s out!’

Hurry up all of you; we don’t want to be late.

(Don’t we?)

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,

The maker of heaven and earth,

Of all that is seen and unseen.

‘I said you’re out! Don’t let her have another turn. Stop trying to join in or I’ll tell mum. Mum! Tell her – she’s really annoying us.’

That’s enough, get a move on, and tidy yourselves up a bit.

The dawdling, dread journey of the young Apostles, on their way to Sunday Mass. Arriving (too soon) at the bland brick building, solid and conspicuous, set in Holy grounds. On Sydenham High St.

A Catholic mother from Bow

Had kids’ whose Faith she must grow

And though Mass was dire

She didn’t require

That they liked it or wanted to go

On the way in they check for childish initials once scratched on the Presbytery wall, round the side of the house, where ‘She’ hangs out the Their washing.

She does live with them, yes, but only as their housekeeper.

(Yeah right. Can’t they do their own washing?)

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,

Eternally begotten of the Father.

In through heavy wooden doors,

dipping grubby hands in cold (but Holy) water,

making a liquid Sign of the Cross that trickles down smooth young brows, (quickly wiped away with unholy sleeves).

And then a familiar attack on the senses:

the hit of incense (that fragrant smoke of purification),

the jarring practice chords of the organ,

the chill on the skin from the dark, unheated interior

(Where did all the Light go?),

the passing smiles of classmates and not-so friends.

Take your gloves off but keep your coats on.

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,

Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.

And through Him all things were made.

Hand round the hymn books, go on, quickly. They’re over there in a pile.

 

And then we’re off.

Out He comes, a Big Man and florid, followed by the shabby shuffle

of his all-male entourage, the would-be priests and alter-serving boys.

For goodness sake! His trainers are filthy under that cassock. He hasn’t changed them since football. I told him to bring his shoes. What does he look like?

The organ crashes into the first hymn.

Our Grandmother, on high in the choir loft

Playing all of the right notes

(but, like Les Dawson, not necessarily in the right order).

Dad, out at the front, alone in the aisle,

valiantly ‘conducting’ the reluctant congregation,

Mum leading the singing, her eyes urging us to join in

(Oh God, please no).

What’s that in your mouth? You’re not chewing are you? You haven’t eaten anything this morning have you?

No (Yes)

You know you can’t go to Communion if you have?

(Jesus doesn’t like his body and blood mixed up with Weetabix).

I haven’t (I have)

There once was a good Catholic bunch

Who believed God was much more than a hunch

They went often to mass

Though it was boring and crass

And had nothing to eat until lunch.

We sit. Our bottoms slide on the hard backed, polished benches,

feet propped on kneelers that will support us in our Most Prayful Mode,

and dig into our knees.

Can I light a candle after Mass?

Who are you going to light it for? You won’t forget to say a prayer will you?


(A prayer and a candle for somebody dead, because that will probably cheer them up in Purgatory, and, of course, light their way through the Darkness).

Have you got any money? You won’t forget to put it in the box won’t you? You can’t just light one without putting in the money.

There was a young girl bored at mass

Who found the priest an unbearable ass

It was dreary to do

Just to stand in a pew

And the candles were 6p alas.

Is that your stomach rumbling? Shhh.

And on it goes.

We arrive at The Big Mad Chant (which means we’re three quarters through):

“We will now stand and say together the Creed”.

We stand. To say together the Creed, the stating of our Faith.

Zealous, inspiring, mortifying words.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

And together with the Father and the Son,

He is worshiped and glorified.

Mum?

Shhh…it’s not long now.

 

We kneel. For the final act, of Transubstantiation, that weekly magic trick!

(Jesus follows the action unblinking from his crucifix, painted blood dripping from hands and feet).

He, a true son of Cork, sweeps across his stage – up and down the Pulpit, in and out of the Nave, resplendent in full-length Holy Glad Rags – a vision in green and white, (occasionally its purple and white, we know the different colours Mean Something, but we’re not quite sure what).

Rinsing out the goblet, He dries it slowly, always slowly,

with a large, white, housekeeper-starched hanky.

(He doesn’t use it as a hanky).

Hands outstretched. Palms up. Reciting the Word of God.

He drinks down the blood of Christ (our Grandmother says it’s mead not sherry), but we know the Magic has worked, It’s the Real Thing now.

Like Coca Cola.

A big gulp, He likes the taste of Jesus’s blood.

My brother smirks as he stands by, swinging the smoking liturgical vessel in muddy trainers. Sniggering at The Big Gulp.

I snigger too. From my pew.

A young footballing boy from Penge West

Found alter-serving a test

While this made him a sinner

(though in sport quite a winner)

He swung incense like one of the best

We stand and file out of the pew, heads bowed, silent,

Joining the long shoe-shuffle to Communion.

Tongue out! Don’t chew (it offends God you know).

We believe in one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

And the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Collect in the hymn books and go and light that candle then, quickly.

Afterwards, we stand outside in the winter sunshine, waiting for our Grandmother to make her slow, creaking descent from the choir loft. The congregation chatters in the cold; a gathering of the local Catholic mafia.

Teenage girls flirt hormonally with the Parish’s latest Godly intern; a shy, red faced, redhead, fresh out of the seminary. And out of his depth.

Slowly the holy huddle drifts off, home, with thoughts of Sunday lunch.

Shall we play it again on the way home? Come on, let’s walk ahead. Quick, so she won’t catch us up, she can walk back with mum.

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DAD WEEKEND – by Emily

Sometimes we knew the people, got on with the children of the household.  Other times we’d never met them before.  The time we went to Bath was one of these and there was the slight dread about meeting and staying with strangers, the inevitable strain of awkward mealtimes and forced camaraderie with unknown children, different rules, habits, smells and food. My sister, Lou, always seemed to fit in better than me.  Perhaps she tried harder. This time, though, my anxiety about these unknowns was diluted, because Bath was special.  Whatever the trials ahead, I felt sure they would be worth it.

Before they moved into sheltered accommodation, Granny and Granddad had lived in Bath.  Visiting them in their regency council flat at number 18 The Circus was always sparklingly special.  As a young child I had not understood why it was called The Circus, as there were no trapeze artists there, or clowns, or sad looking animals.  But it was a circular street with carved acorns on the top of each house; it had a green in the middle with enormous, ancient conker trees.  The stairs up to the flat smelt of polish and linoleum and whenever we visited, breathing in that scent was like breathing in a kind of magic. Everything about the flat was exotic and different from home.  A small chandelier hung in the entrance hall, the poshest thing I had ever seen that close-up.  There were nylon covers on the sofa and chairs.  Granddad’s ashtray was on a stand next to one of these chairs. A tin of toffees always sat on a doily on a table.  We weren’t allowed to jump from the sofa onto the leather pouffe, however tempting, because the ladies downstairs didn’t like noise.

Granny had lots of fascinating things: a pink wooden darning mushroom, an egg-slicer, Parma Violets in her bedside drawer.  There were toys and books that she got out when we came: an ancient teddy bear wearing plastic pants that had been Dad’s, a dolly that cried when you pulled the string and lots of story books about a little girl called Josephine.  When we stayed there we slept in a room with ghosts and assorted ornaments on a shelf.  In the bathroom there was scratchy toilet paper and a Charlie Chaplin-shaped talcum powder bottle.  A ship’s clock ticked sternly on the dining room wall and mealtimes were kept shipshape by Granddad.  The breakfast table was mysteriously already set before anyone was up, and we ate cornflakes with as much sugar as we liked.  At teatime we had doughboys and gravy and had to drink milk, like it or not, from cups with big blue flowers on the side.

Games of rummy and whist, having our hair brushed and ribboned, being given sweets when mum wasn’t looking; it was familiar and exciting, the rituals of these visits rich and wonderful. Outside the flat, Bath opened its magical doors to us.  It wasn’t a usual city, but like a made-up place from a fairytale.  Like the flat, everything here was different and wondrous. The toyshop was the highlight of our adventures in these grand limestone streets.  We spent pocket money on fortune-telling fish and plastic flies.  Mum and Dad always took us to the Francis Hotel on Saturday afternoons to meet Granny and Granddad after we’d been out exploring.  Granny would have half a Guinness, and wore her best brooch and hat. We had crisps and lemonade and tried to sit still on the velvet couches.

The memories of earlier childhood, happier times, family intact, easily occupied my thoughts on the long car journey that Friday night.  I sat in the front, Lou in the back and we listened to Dad’s compilation tape Nice Songs twice on both sides.  I remembered the time we watched Jaws at Granny and Granddad’s, from behind cushions, having begged the adults to let our cousins stay an extra night to watch it with us.  I turned round to ask Lou if she remembered and she awoke from her reverie – perhaps she had been thinking about happy times too.  We talked about that and our plans for the weekend. Although tired from the relentlessness of school, we were excited, getting on well, looking forward to revisiting our beloved city, perhaps we would somehow catch a glimpse of our former lives. Dad seemed cheerful too, which was a relief.

We arrived late at our destination. The house was large, typically Bath, rising three storeys above a raised pavement.  Looking over the streets of this otherworldly pale stone enveloped me in a sad familiarity, a childish nostalgia that I felt in my guts. We were welcomed in to a basement kitchen and fed a delicious  Marks and Spencers ready meal. The children of the house were already in bed, so Lou and I had the slight awkwardness of being kids at an adult meal. The adults drank wine and we pretended to be grown up, feeling shy and tired. There were interesting posters in frames on the kitchen walls and a shelf with lots of teapots, but it was hard to feel we belonged there.

Dad took us out the next day for our anticipated adventure down memory lane. We went to The Circus, but it wasn’t the same visiting without being able go inside and up those fragrant stairs.  Lou and I found we had no desire to play on the circular green, we didn’t really know what to do there.  We enjoyed going to the toyshop, but I was too old to buy pocket money toys now, and left empty-handed.  We walked past The Francis, but didn’t go in.  We wandered about without much purpose, the streets familiar but somehow lacking their old magic. Dad didn’t really know where to take us. He seemed distracted and sad.  This annoyed me and made Lou cling onto his arm in that annoying way.

By the end of the weekend, even Lou had not become friends with the children at the house, and I felt oddly alienated in the spare bedroom.  I was relieved when it came time to pack and knew I would be pleased to get home to my own bed and familiar mess at Mum’s house.  I urged Lou to hurry up and pack while I chucked my stuff into a bag.  Then I noticed that she was wearing a pair of my socks. She denied it, said they were hers and when she refused to take them off, I was overwhelmed with anger. Something inside me cracked violently and I hit her, hard.  She cried out and hit me back before running down the stairs, past the kids’ bedrooms.  I followed, kicking her at the bottom of the stairs, my rage a primal, overwhelming and physical force.  She escaped into the front room where she tried to shut me out; a usual tactic of hers in our fights.  I forced my way in and hit her again, a thump that echoed and after a short pause made her scream.  I screamed back at her to admit she was wearing my socks. When she refused I grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground, from where she kicked me hard in the stomach. As I fended her off with my arms, she scratched my hands, nails digging in, drawing blood.  I kicked her, over and over as she tried to grab my foot. We were both red-faced, crying, screaming and fighting as if our lived depended on it.  We were out of control, unable to stop, the thought of it never ending was terrifying but I had no idea how.

But it did stop when Lou tried to get up and I pushed her violently against a sideboard, with a force that brought a teapot crashing to the floor.  In this mortifying moment, the woman of the house and collector of the teapots strode into the room, witnessing our crime.  “Bloody hell!” she shouted.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” We froze, shocked, an adult we barely knew was swearing at us.  “Now get out of my house.  You’re frightening my children.” She then pushed us out of the front door and onto the raised pavement, where we half-heartedly continued our fight, and waited for Dad, cold without our coats. We had never been thrown out of anyone’s house before.

When he eventually came, he was grim-faced, carrying our bags.  I told him about the socks. He said I was being silly and didn’t want to know any more.  I didn’t ask where he had been while we had tried to kill each other. The drive home was mostly in silence, accompanied by the boring drone of Radio 4.  I was confused at the injustice, at Lou’s refusal to admit she had lied. I saw her face in the rear-view mirror, sad.  I was ashamed of losing control like that.  Battered and exhausted, I wept for our fractured family, that I didn’t feel I belonged to any more. When Dad dropped us off at Mum’s, he said we had to write letters of apology to the Bath family and when I saw tears in his eyes I knew there was no point trying to understand adults. Or why everything seemed so painful, bewildering and bleak. I held no hope of ever speaking to my sister again.  We never visited Bath again.

Issue 6: Bloody Work

3 Feb

Yes, we know we’re a bit late for issue 6, but the bus was on a diversion and  we’ll work through lunch to make the time up, OK?  Welcome back to the Feminist Jumble Sale, the place where you can rummage through  peoples’ donations of stories, reflections, moans and tragi-comedies, all loosely tied to that most January-esque of themes;  Bloody Work. 

Here you’ll find work by five writers, some usual suspects and one brand new contributor, all of whom have been gainfully employed in a range of weird and wonderful capacities.  We cover amongst other things: backstage tantrums, Saturday jobs, sleeping with colleagues, inappropriate over-sharing and office politics. We hope that our assortment eases those hurried sandwich-at-your-desk lunchtimes.

We’ve made our back issues easier to find, made it simpler for you to like us on Facebook, and a piece of cake to follow us – please check out the new and improved sidebar over there.

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Issue 7 is due out at the end of March.  We’ll be celebrating not only 101 years of International Women’s Day, but 1 year of the Feminist Jumble Sale.  Bloody Hell! We’d like to receive your donations on the all-encompassing, free-for-all theme of Bloody Hell!  Please get them in by 25 March for consideration.

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BLOODY WORK  CONTENTS

Greasepaint- by Zoe

Team Bonding Exercise  – by Celia

Tuesday – by Emily

Colin Walker’s Dirty Secret – by Jane

Empire State Biscuits – by Jim

Saturday  – by Zoe

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Greasepaint – by Zoe

It was a bad summer season, 1994 – we were held to ransom by the sponsors. I was all the more annoyed ‘cause 1995 was our big anniversary year. I had plans. Something ambitious – maybe even a musical – ‘Stepping Out’ on the cards. Vicki Michelle or Su Pollard.

He was a good kid, Jimmy Clarke. The things he put up with that year, whew. Yep, that was tough.

He got the gig ‘cause he was some school friend of the daughter of our chief patron, so we didn’t hold out much hope at first.

We started with the usual initiation – sending him down town to get a glass hammer and some sparks. We even sent him on the ‘publicity run’ (designed to tire you out so completely that you’d be on the verge of collapse and all for nothing. If it didn’t drive you to drink it should at least teach you why profanity is so rife in the theatre). We usually only used that one on the adults. Still, he could see then that it weren’t all lah di dah.

When he came in the next morning, without a word, we knew he was alright. Lianne even bought him a choc ice and she’s tighter than Scrooge. Lianne is my deputy and it was her who found Jimmy that night – just in time.

We were starting the season with this show ‘Enlightenment’ with some crap magician. Our sponsorship would only stretch so far that year and the producer had got seduced into blowing most of it on a no-name sit-com extra and a director for the Ayckbourn with ideas above his station and a part for his wife.

Mefisto was an act as old as the minstrels – ‘bout as politically correct too.

Even though I got the geezer’s number straight off – alkie, wife left him, kind who’d have pork pie crumbs from the eighties in his pockets  it was obvious from Jimmy’s face that he ain’t never seen the like. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad for him to see it takes all sorts.

Mefisto didn’t have an assistant on account of no woman being able to stand being around him, The old producer  – he really was daft as a brush y’know – said Lianne might fancy being a soft touch an’ step in – just for one show. He obviously ‘adn’t ever spoke to Lianne before.  Magicians should have assistants.

I’d been down the Greensward for a smoke. There was a wind shelter like a miniature half-timbered house where I liked to sit. No-one ever bothered you – didn’t even see anyone – ‘cept one or other of the old dears carrying their dachshund. They made such a fuss of sausage dogs in that town. They had bed jackets and berets and miniature parasols.

Back at the theatre, everyone was milling around gearing up for the evening –the second to last night of the run. Mefisto really hit the bottle. He had a litre of Vladivar – a step up in brand and volume.

I should have clocked that something could be starting, when he ignored his five minute call, but I was a bit fuzzy and giggly. I was cursing him as I loitered out the back. ‘One more night of this and that’s it.’

30 seconds before curtain Lianne had already sussed something weren’t right. I ran through to the green room and found her and old Fred, the sound guy trying to prise Mefisto away from Jimmy. Fred was really struggling (Mind you, he’s getting on a bit. Last time me and Fred toured, we went to eat at a joint called ‘Dig in the Ribs.’ That name nearly finished him off, like that geezer in Mary Poppins). The lad was tied to an ironing board with this black stuff like giant bag ties that hold dolls in their boxes and he had words written on his face in greasepaint. At that moment, Mefisto was trying to set light to Jimmy’s hair.

We had to make Jimmy swear that he wouldn’t tell anyone about it – we didn’t want to lose our licence see- next year being our anniversary. He’s a good lad, Jimmy. Never breathed a word.

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TEAM BONDING EXERCISE  – by Celia

Sam awoke. Only dared to open one eye. Looked up at a pristine magnolia wall. Where the hell was she? A chink of light shone through the centre of the heavy blackout drapes. The anodyne framed print of a terracotta vase containing a  wilting posy confirmed that she was not at home. Yes, of course, the conference.

The sheets were cold against her back. She realised she didn’t have her fleecy pyjamas on or any clothes at all for that matter. Looked down at the floor. She saw a condom, used, had been tied in a knot and left there.

The conference had begun in a more dignified manner two days earlier. During the last session of the last seminar they had “mitched off”, as Yvonne called it, to the bar for happy hour bottles of Pinot Grigio. Sam always enjoyed a drink with Yvonne and Benita, her older work colleagues and they got through several bottles, occasionally popping out to smoke Lambert and Butlers under an outdoor heater. She knew that a bag of Salt and Vinegar crisps did not constitute an adequate dinner, even if they were McCoys.

They were already flushed and giddy by the time the other delegates arrived in the bar. There was no one travelling through this particular corner of Northampton it seemed and the hotel was occupied solely by the delegates of the Southern regional division.

Sam gave Nigel a deferential nod as he strolled into the bar. They had been paired off during a workshop session after morning coffee to discuss the rolling out of various operating systems across the network. Sam thought he was lovely. She had looked at his Facebook during lunch break on her iPhone and although she had noticed his wedding ring in his profile picture, which he had taken by holding his own iPhone up in front of a mirror, she still thought he was gorgeous.

The women continued laughing and smoking, glad to be away for one more night until tomorrow’s networking breakfast after which they would drive home in their cars listening to Smooth Radio and smoking out of the window. Nigel had approached the table and squeezed himself in next to Sam on the banquette against the wall.

Lying in the room Sam found it difficult to remember what had happened beyond that happy haze. Her mouth was dry and bitter and her skin felt paper thin and grubby. Looking at the red numbers on the digital alarm clock next to the bed she knew she had missed the networking breakfast.

She got up a bit too suddenly and steadied herself against the wall. She found her earrings on the bedside table and her bra, suit jacket and shirt rolled up under a chair. She continued to look for her trousers and pants. She looked everywhere in fact, behind the curtains, in and under the bed, in the bath, the minibar and the trouser press. They were nowhere to be seen.

She sat down suddenly on the edge of the bed and remembered. Nigel. Packing hurriedly in the middle of the night, scooping up clothes in the dark into his suitcase muttering then carefully closing the door to his room behind him. Oh God. She could hear people outside vacating their rooms, the maids coming to change the sheets.

She looked in her jacket pocket and  grabbed her phone, shaking as she typed in the password on its touch screen. The battery was very nearly dead. On the verge of tears, she called Yvonne. Yvonne had her on speakerphone as she was already on the drive back. “I’m coming back for you babes, I’ll nip into Primarni in Daventry on the way, pick you up some trousers. They’ll only be cheap. Size 14, yeah?” Heart of gold that woman. Sam made a makeshift skirt out of a bed sheet as she waited for Yvonne to return.

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TUESDAY – by Emily

Patricia was pacing the kitchen, gesticulating, angry while mum scrubbed potatoes at the sink.  I hesitated before entering the room, and sighed in an exaggerated, teenaged fashion.  She was going on and on about bloody work.  Again. “ …so I told her, ‘that’s a projection’, but the old cow denied it – can you believe it? She told me to cool off and discuss it later, but there’s no way – not after what I had to deal with today.  Yer woman doesn’t know her arse from her elbow. That wee gobshite Mark was at his fecking worst, too – biting, hitting, the whole carry-on.” Mum carried on scrubbing, while I waited in the doorway, of the kitchen to get a chance to speak, my dramatic sigh unheard.  Or ignored. I barely understood these daily rants, didn’t really try.  I knew she worked with difficult, frightening-sounding children in the hospital.  I knew it seemed to make her angry, sometimes with her colleagues, sometimes with the children, usually with both.

Patricia got the shoe-whitening stuff out of the cupboard under the sink, and sat down to do her leatherette trainers. I grasped my chance to greet mum, making a point of not saying hello to Pat, and asked her what time tea would be. I stepped onto the quarry tiled floor and felt the familiar cold creeping through my school socks. “Oh about half an hour,” she replied, not looking up from the sink, throwing the scrubbed potatoes into a pan on the draining board.  I turned and left, heading to my room to do my insulin injection, but before I could get away, Patricia said to me, “Don’t forget those bloody cups.” I decided to ignore this, but she came after me, leaving her shoes on some newspaper.  “I meant it,” she said, her voice rising to the same angry pitch as she’d been using for her work rant.  “We will start fining you if you don’t get your arse in gear and bring your dirty mugs to the kitchen, and wash them too.” I looked to mum, to see if she would defend me, but she just gave me a look, to show that she agreed with Pat.  I said nothing, the hatred rising inside me like poison, and slammed the door behind me.

On my way to my room, I stopped by the front room where I knew my sister Lou would be watching telly.  It might be Star Trek, or a Harold Lloyd film.  It turned out to be Battle Star Galactica.  She would watch anything.  I found this annoying, but kind of understood that she needed to escape from our reality to retro visions of outer space or 1930s New York, when the world, like our TV, was all black and white. She was lying on the sofa, sucking her thumb, the gas fire on the wall opposite blazing. I sat next to her.  “That fucking bitch has just threatened to fine me again,” I said.  “She’s taking out all her work problems on us. Who cares about a few mugs, even if they are going mouldy?  It’s only mould.” My sister tore her eyes away from the screen with some effort. “Oh God,” she said, looking concerned.  “You’d better do what she says, though. You know what she’s like.”  I couldn’t believe this, it seemed everyone was against me.  I left, slamming the door, knowing this would upset  Lou, and that mum would accuse me of creating wham bam.  I didn’t care.

In my room, as I sat on the bed to do my injection, I looked round counting up the mugs.  There were only four, no, five, and only a couple of them were mouldy.  What’s the big fucking deal, I thought. After I’d finished with the syringe, I pressed play on my tape player.  Not in the mood for the Cult,  I turned the tape over to rewind the Cocteau twins on the other side.  I needed Liz Fraser to calm me down before I had to go and face the inevitable next round of confrontation.

This room, the smallest in the house, was my sanctuary. Every wall was covered in pictures, postcards, posters.  The wall I was proudest of had only black and white pictures that I’d collected and cut out from copies of The Face magazine, round at dad’s flat. Most of the floor was covered with school books, art materials, magazines, sketchbooks and clothes.  My dressing table heaved under a mass of make up, hairspray, crimpers, jewellery.  It was messy, but I roughly knew where everything was, and anyway, it was my chaos.  It was where I escaped the people I lived with, where I wrote endless volumes of my diary, thought and wept about boys, experimented with Sun-In and Boots 17 and occasionally wised I was dead.

This room had been mine almost all my life, my parents had decorated it with psychedelic purple, pink and orange wallpaper before they moved my cot in here when I was one. Amazing fat birds and giant flowers covered one wall, guarded my infancy. The curtains that mum made for me when I was about seven had had wild animals and trees, beautiful, delicate flowers and wading birds.  I had got rid of all that now, and painted the room white, but sometimes at night I missed the birds and animals, the patterns of the past.

When my sister came to tell me it was tea time, I was lying face down on the bed, dreading the discomfort of the meal that lay ahead.  I had decided to take the mugs down.  I could not afford to lose any precious pocket money.  I would need it at the weekend to spend on Marlboros and Liebfraumilch.  “It’s OK, you don’t have to persuade me,” I told her, collecting the mugs.  I couldn’t bring myself to do as I was told by that woman, though, so I left one partcularly encrusted cup carefully hidden under my bed.  That would show her, I thought. We headed downstairs and I slammed them on the sideboard. Pat raised her eyebrows, lips pursed, but said nothing.

Tea was boiled cabbage and boiled potatoes.  Mum had lost interest in cooking in the last few years, and we either had this or convenience food like frozen pizzas or Findus Crispy Pancakes, which Lou and I secretly loved after a lentil-based upbringing.  Pat  cooked about twice a year.  She could make salad or vegetarian chilli, but since the last chilli gave me food poisoning, she didn’t make it any more. I watched butter melting on my potatoes so I didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone.

It wasn’t long before she was off again, talking about work.  “Mark was crazy today!” she announced, to no-one in particular, laughing.  She often spoke about this disturbed and damaged little boy in the psychiatric unit where she worked.  “The wee eejit bit me, kicked the wall, and was about to start throwing things when I managed to restrain him.  The second time it took two of us! So we had to put him in the isolation room.”  She seemed to think that we would think her heroic for holding down a child and locking him up. “Is that like when you restrained Lou?” I asked, hot fear of asking this terrifying question turning my face red.  “Oh we don’t need to talk about that again.  She brought that on herself, and you know it.  With Mark it’s a whole different thing. That kid would carry on like there’s no tomorrow.  He’d hurt the otehr kids.  Or himself.” I glanced at my sister.  She looked upset.  “I didn’t…” Lou began, but decided against finishing her sentence. I finished my food, feeling anew the shock at the home life we had somehow ended up with.  I had stopped trying to work out why, it was easier to simply hate them than to try and understand adults.

After some grim silence, mum managed to change the subject, asked us about school.  Lou spoke about some boys in her class flashing at the back of the science lab.  She made it sound funny, but I knew it wasn’t really.  I mentioned something about how much I hated hockey and the hockey teacher and all the girls who cared about hockey, and the hockey kit. I didn’t talk about having been sent to the deputy headmistress for wearing makeup (again) or how I was upset that Frank didn’t speak to me in art (again), or the fact that I was sent out of maths for being rude to the teacher (again).

As soon as she’d finished her food, Patricia got up and put on her denim jacket and newly-whitened trainers to go and smoke a B&H outside the back door.  Moody and glowering, I could see her through the window, pacing, her face set in a usual frown.  I went to the sink to deal with the mouldy mugs while mum cleared the table, my sister back to the front room for whatever was on telly next.

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COLIN WALKER’S DIRTY SECRET – by Jane

Colin Walker stood in front of the bathroom mirror looking at the invitation propped against it. He was oblivious to the usual jarring debris of shared living – the clutter of opened wash bags on the windowsill, a damp line of mismatched towels hanging odorously from the shower rail. He looked down at a bar of soap sitting in its slimy swill on the edge of the washbasin. He grimaced and looked away. He stood a while longer, gripping the sides of the basin, sleeves rolled to the elbow, watching the water as it splashed and sparkled, creeping its way up the sides of the bowl.

In August 1984 Colin Walker had shaken hands with Freddie Mercury in a brief exchange of hero worship on one side and rock star courtesy on the other. Colin, then a shy young man of 19, was working as a marshal at Queen’s much-anticipated Wembley comeback concert. From his position at the temporary railings he attempted to steer the audience towards their seats, hoping the authority of his high-visibility marshal’s tabard would be enough for the wayward crowd to follow his instructions. During the performance Colin mouthed every word of every song. Nothing could be better than this. Except that it could.

Towards the end of the set he heard his name being shouted above the noise and turned to see the head marshal, Ian, beckoning to him in agitated semaphore. As a rule Ian found the mix of inexperience and over-confidence of his young team of marshals tiresome, but he liked Colin for his singular lack of cockiness, and was aware of his devotion to Queen. Ian gestured that Colin should follow him backstage, and as the band finished their final encore he positioned him, glazed with terrified anticipation, at the foot of the stairway, telling him to wait for the band to go past as they left the stage.

Moments later Colin heard the audience’s final climatic roar and then there was Freddie, heading down the stairs towards him. As he passed, Colin held out his hand. “That was brilliant,” he said, the words sticking to the sides of his dry mouth. “Why thank you” said Freddie, smiling in Colin’s general direction as their hands locked in a sweaty, fleeting meeting of palms. Freddie walked on but the electricity of the moment stayed with Colin. He had met, spoken to, and touched, his idol.

Colin had never believed the rumours of Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality but quickly recalibrated his mental biography after his idol ‘came out’. Colin loved Queen for their musical virtuosity and Freddie in particular for his giftedness as a songwriter and showman. But he had never been comfortable with his hero’s more pantomimic antics, the infamous cross-dressing video a particular low point. Indeed, Colin would have preferred it if Freddie had not wanted to break free.

Nevertheless Colin was devastated when, on the 24th November 1991, six years after meeting his idol, Freddie Mercury died from bronchia-pneumonia, one of the opportunistic infections that had attacked his enfeebled body, and just a day after he had made public his HIV status. Colin contributed to the official fan club tribute publication, with the words:

”Mercury was a genius and a legend whose music will go on, lighting up the airwaves like a comet illuminating the sky. He Will, Queen Will, Rock You!!”

Colin found it hard to get over Freddie’s death. He spent time talking with fellow fans, and many hours putting together a scrap-book from the collection of cuttings, photos and other Queen-ephemera he had amassed over the years. But it wasn’t enough. Colin wanted to make a more personal, tangible, and permanent contribution to Freddie’s memory. He considered a tattoo but this was becoming quite common among fan club members. At length he decided on a more dramatic, physical tribute to the hero whose sweaty hand had shaken his. He would never wash his right hand again.

Colin had been a quiet boy at school, and a quieter young man at university, where he spent three years in the halls of residence. He liked the food and the domestic comforts, and while he enjoyed his own company, he welcomed the annual arrival of new faces at the halls, in part for the lack of firmer friendships their company disguised. He left university with a good degree in Industrial Engineering and was quickly taken on by a manufacturing company in Reading. He enjoyed the work and, while not ambitious, he was good at his job. But after his decision of 1991, he realised he could no longer continue with it, his hands too often oily from the mechanical components he handled. So, to the disappointment of his colleagues, who liked him (and enjoyed teasing him with predictable outbursts from Queen’s back catalogue), and to the bemusement of his manager, who valued his quiet diligence, he left.

Over time detritus built up on his right hand, causing painful cracks in his finger joints and unsightly dark stains on his palm. Colin began to wear gloves. And for this reason, coupled with his natural reticence, it took him some time to find another job. Eventually he found work in the local Housing Office, but soon his gloved hands became an unwelcome talking point. His colleagues were a larky bunch, young and friendly, with a relentless after-work social life. Colin found them overbearing, and their persistent curiosity about his gloves difficult to fend off. Worse was their collective derision of Queen, whom they dismissed as preposterous, old-fashioned and shamefully operatic. It was too much; to his colleagues’ dismay, (as though they enjoyed teasing him, they liked Colin and had tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to join their nightly booze-ups), he left.

Colin’s gloves protected his hand from exposure to dirt and the elements, but they also limited his activity. He stopped jogging (too sweaty) and swimming (too wet), though he had never been much of an athlete, so this was no real hardship. However, he began to gain weight. He knew he needed a physical, outdoor job, one that offered him greater solitude and the opportunity to wear gloves without seeming out of place. He considered becoming a dustman but the proximity to so much filth would only have made his life harder. So he applied instead to the local council’s Environmental & Recreational Department, and in the summer of 1992 began working as a Parks & Gardens Assistant in a large, suburban London park.

The job suited him and for two years Colin cleared leaves with an unwieldy electric blow-hose and dredged the man-made lake for condoms, plastic bottles and nappies. Gradually he learned how to plant out in spring and how to prune the gnarled flowering shrubs that clambered determinedly up walls and across wooden pergolas. Colin learned quickly and enjoyed the work.

He continued listening to Queen, usually on a Walkman wedged into the front pocket of his overalls, and his gloved hands were rarely noticed or remarked upon. Better still, no one made fun of Queen. The small team at the Parks Department were older men who, if not actually fans, were happy enough to spend occasional lunch hours ranking the band’s hits into an all-time top ten, or debating their position in the rock canon, (Colin arguing hard for their place at the top).

At the weekends Colin visited the great central London parks, noting down hard landscaping ideas and planting schemes. Sometimes he met up with fan club members to plan events and talk about the band. Not quite friends, but not far from it. Occasionally he went home to see his parents and the younger sister who still lived with them. His parents had been older when they had started a family, and were now definitely elderly. They were a quiet, self-contained couple, whose continued independence was secured by their daughter’s lack of it. On these visits, Colin would retreat to his old bedroom, though Queen posters no longer lining the re-papered walls, and the room was now a guest bedroom, though Colin was the only guest to have used it. Sitting on the bed he would go through the scrapbook he had made after Freddie’s death, and which remained at his parents’ house for safekeeping. He was glad when these visits were over and he could return to the large, airy room he rented in a South London Victorian terrace.

He shared the house with various post-grads and young professionals who came and went over the years, and who treated Colin with a friendliness that didn’t extend to invitations to shared meals in the communal kitchen. And, on the whole, Colin was content with this situation and enjoyed the routine of his work and quiet social life.

But in July 2004, Jackie Elliot, a small, smiling young woman with a BA Hons in Horticultural Science, joined the Parks & Gardens Department. At first her presence alarmed the all male team, but she surprised them by settling in quickly and was soon considered by them as one of their own. Jackie was warm and easy-going, with the sensitivity not to undermine her colleagues with her superior knowledge and skills. In return they liked her and treated her with (previously unrealised) avuncularity. Colin, the youngest man in the team, also liked Jackie and, gradually the two of them began working together. Colin enjoyed her enthusiasm and the quiet generosity with which she shared her greater skills.

A few months after Jackie joined the team, while she and Colin were bagging fallen leaves, she told him about her son. “I wanted to tell you before, it’s just that I hadn’t mentioned him at my interview, I thought they might not take me on if they knew I was a single mum. But guess what – he’s called Fred, isn’t that weird? I didn’t name him after Freddie Mercury but it’s a coincidence isn’t it? He’s nearly five now”. She showed Colin a photo of a smiling young boy on a swing. “He looks like you”, said Colin, “he’s got your eyes”.

As the gardening year continued, Colin and Jackie worked increasingly closely. She taught him how to prune the more delicate herbaceous shrubs and to propagate cuttings. Their colleagues noticed and embarrassed Colin with their tool-shed teasing: “Making a cuppa for your girlfriend are you Freddie?” Colin had learned to make tea expertly using just his ungloved left hand, and secretly enjoyed his nickname, which they had given him soon after he joined the team.

One day, as he was repairing an electrical pruning saw (his background in engineering had turned out to be useful, and had given him status within the team), Jackie approached him, holding out a brightly coloured card. “It’s an invitation to Fred’s fifth birthday, at the lido. He’s just learned swim so he’s really excited. Please come, he’d love to meet you.” Colin looked at the invitation. He liked Jackie, he liked her more than any woman he had met before, but it had never occurred to him that she might want to include him in her life outside the park. As he looked at the invitation he allowed an image to play across his mind, of him chasing a delighted Fred through the water, Jackie looking on happily from the side of the pool. But the image was quickly replaced by panic. He tried to cover his agitation, studying the invitation more closely. Jackie smiled encouragingly, and reached out to touch his gloved hand, “Colin, it would mean so much to me if you came, and Fred would be delighted, I’ve told him all about you”. Colin flinched at the pressure of her hand on his gloved hand, but in his mind he had already begun planning a taped mix of Queen’s greatest hits (his own favourites, not something taken from a compilation LP), which he would give Fred as a present. Still looking down at the invitation, and despite his anxiety, Colin thanked her and said he would love to go.

On the afternoon of the party, Colin stood in the bathroom, staring at the invitation propped against the mirror. He took off his gloves, wafting away the cloud of dead skin flakes and dust that flew around him, lit up against the sunlight from the bathroom window. He looked down at his right hand: white and hairy through lack of exposure to sunlight, with deep grooves of grime and flaking skin. He smelled the strong, familiar odour that came from it and looked away, returning his attention to the invitation.

Colin arrived late to Fred’s party. Jackie waved across the pool at him when she saw him, beckoning him over to where she was standing with a group of other women. Colin skirted the edge of the pool and joined her near a table piled with presents, crisp packets and the remains of a guitar-shaped birthday cake. He was introduced to the group of smiling women, mothers of other children at the party. He handed Jackie the tape he had made for Fred and noticed her quick glance at his right hand which was stuffed into the pocket of his jacket. He moved away, towards the table, asking if he could try the cake.

Colin stood holding a piece of unusually brown iced birthday cake in his left hand, watching the children in the pool. He recognised Fred at the centre of a group of boys floating excitedly on a raft of inflatable animals, being pushed through the water at some speed by some enthusiastic men; ‘dads’ he supposed.

“Hi there Colin, I’m Sue, Ollie’s mum. I’ve heard so much about you from Jackie, she says you like Queen”. One of the smiling mothers was standing next to him. “Um, yes,” said Colin. “Which are your favourites?’ she continued, “I absolutely love Seven Seas of Rye. What do you think? Is that a good one?” “Um, yes, yes it is,” Colin replied. He tried to think of something he could ask her in return but couldn’t. She carried on, asking him how long he had known Jackie and whether he had any children, but by now he was struggling, anxious that his answers were too short and agitated by the cacophony of the lido. After a while she retreated. Colin continued to stand by the pool, relieved. He had no desire to rejoin the smiling mums and a strong urge to block his ears from the children’s shouting, the dreadful music coming from the speakers, and the boisterous animal impressions of the party dads.

“Hi you’re Colin aren’t you? Colin looked down to see Fred looking up at him from the water near his feet, his elbows propped over the side of the pool. “Have you brought your swimming things, are you coming in?” Jackie appeared next to Colin, smiling. “What do you think Fred, can we persuade him? Or shall I just push him in?” Fred laughed and began chanting ‘IN, IN. IN”. Colin stepped back from the water’s edge, “No, no chance I’m afraid, I’m fine where I am thanks”. Fred looked up at him, screwing his nose in bemusement, “You look funny standing there like that. Why have you got your hand in your pocket? Is there something wrong with your hand?” “Fred!” Jackie broke in, but just as she spoke Fred’s name was called for the water-bumps and he headed off with splashing enthusiasm to join his friends. Jackie glanced at Colin and, saying something about needing to find her camera, she left him still standing by the pool.

Colin moved away from the party when all eyes were on Fred being flung wildly in the air by the party dads. He stopped and looked back at Jackie, laughing, holding her camera to her eye to capture the moment. He turned towards the exit and started walking, and as he walked he took his right hand from his pocket and held it up, scrubbed and ghostly, to the slanting autumn sunshine. He looked at the daylight appearing and disappearing between his fingers as he opened and closed them. Turning back he waved in the general direction of the party, feeling the cool air brushing his open palm. And to the sound of Happy Birthday sung to a happy splashing five year old, he left.

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EMPIRE STATE BISCUITS  – by Jim

The swimming pool attendants worshipped a carrier bag.  It could be seen through the high windows above the pool, flapping from the tree it had been stuck to for as long as anyone could remember.  They believed that while the bag remained there, none of them could ever leave.  Like the Picture of Dorian Gray, it represented their souls – stranded, disintegrating, but eternally hopeful that a wind of change strong enough would eventually blast it free.

As usual I passed below the bag at quarter past eight, crossed the road and looked through the big windows to see the musclebound Sean on duty at poolside.   Just as I was making a ‘wanker’ hand gesture at him, something struck me hard on the right ear.  It was a snowball, which knocked my furry hat off.

‘Fuck off skinhead,’ shouted a wee guy, running up the street with his mates laughing.  I could see Sean  was equally amused.   If you’re going to sport flamboyant headgear on a snowy day in Glasgow, what can you expect?   Still, it seemed to confirm my worst fears for the year ahead: the portents were not good.

It was the first day back after New Year and Carol’s desk was still festooned with Christmas cards, many of them with a cat theme.  I had already binned the one card I had personally received, ‘from all at Offrex Office Supplies’, so my side of the office was bare, apart from a pile of new membership applications waiting to be processed.

At two minutes to nine, the clack of high heels and a gust of cold air announced Carol’s sweeping entrance.  Her face was pale white, haloed in ginger under a black velvet hood, her mouth a shocking gash of scarlet twisted in disdain.  She dropped her sodden umbrella into the metal bin with a remorseless clang.

‘I think we need to talk,’ she pronounced coldly, doffing her cloak to reveal the legendary bust that crowned her petite frame.  As famous as her breasts were,  they were never ever mentioned in front of  Carol herself, which was  why my remark at the Christmas party had been such a horrible own goal.  But there are a couple of points, or should I say a pair of erect nipples, I’d like to make in my own defence.

In the six months since starting as her assistant, I’d had to withstand a bombardment of innuendo from the receptionists about me and Carol.  Of course none of this was for the consumption of Carol, who they claimed to know was still a virgin at 32.  They kept her on a diet of light teasing about hunky men and eligible batchelors and saved the smut for me.  In a sick way I enjoyed it, because in my mind I was trumping every comment with something more graphic.  I just made the mistake of verbalising one of these thoughts when Margaret caught me off guard with two empire biscuits at the staffroom get-together.

‘I knew you’d  appreciate these,’ she said, proffering the pair of cherry-clad cakes.  The symbolism was clear and I could no longer be bothered with the nudge nudge wink wink routine.

‘That’s supposed to be Carol’s tits, isn’t it?’ was my petulant response. I immediately knew I’d blown it and, sure enough, Margaret wasted no time in cornering Carol, feigning hilarity but well aware she was about to stir things up big time.

‘Carol, you’ll never guess what he’s said now….’

I didn’t stick around to hear Carol’s response, hoping against hope that two weeks off would allow the incident to recede into insignificance.

‘I’ll be making a written report about what happened at Christmas,’ she now told me. ‘I’m not going to let people speak about me like that. I’m making a formal complaint of harassment.’

I wanted to hand her a Battenberg cake in the shape of a phallus, but all I could manage was, ‘Happy New Year, Carol’.

‘In the meantime,’ she continued, ‘you know those posters out front?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’ve used blu tak.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘What should you do when posters are facing out the way, through the windows?’

‘Is this a trick question?’

Carol was keeping her composure. ‘We spoke about this.’

I pretended to have to think about it.  ‘You should use white tak?’

‘That’s right. So if you wouldn’t mind changing them.’

Equipped with the requisite ball of white putty,  I trudged to reception.

‘What’s she got you doing now, son?’ asked Margaret, in a tone of sympathetic exasperation.

‘Bit of a faux pas on the temporary adhesives front,’ I informed the receptionists.  ‘Fixatives should be camouflaged whenever possible,’ I quoted from a fictitious manual, as highfalutin language to describe the absurd tasks Carol liked to set me was a running joke between us.  ‘By the way, thanks for setting me up with those empire biscuits.  I’m going to be disciplined.’

‘Surely not!’ cried Margaret. ‘That was never my intention… ‘  But they were loving it.  Getting Carol on her high horse was something like a national sport at reception.

Just then, a Swedish netball team arrived and it was my job to give them a tour of the building.  I stopped at the swimming pool viewing area and pointed out the sacred carrier bag.  Sean, who was scrubbing tiles, clocked what I was doing and started to pray, muslim-style, to the bag.  I then made a tea-break gesture and he nodded. The Swedes were oblivious to what was going on, but, unbeknown to me, Gavin, the operational supervisor, was not.

To many, Gavin was the acceptable face of chauvinism – a charming sexist with a cheery line in sectarian bigotry.  Like most of the attendants he had a tribal tattoo, but his was a disguised form of the Rangers FC emblem.  Although he used expressions like Nae Bother and Cheers Big Man, it came out in the posh-tough accent of a Radio Clyde sports presenter, or a Strathclyde CID man.  He was 24 going on 50.  The attendants thought he was the Anti-Christ; Carol loved him.

I was in the tearoom trying to explain the gravity of the situation to Sean.

‘It’s a storm in a D-cup,’ he laughed.

‘Very funny,’ I replied. ‘ ‘Sexual harassment of a poisoned dwarf’, how d’you like that on your CV?’

‘About as much as I’d like ‘total smart arse’,’ said Gavin, piling through the door.   ‘You better keep the in-jokes to yourself.  Even if the punters don’t realise you’re taking the piss, the rest of us do.  Now report to my office.’

Carol and Margaret were already waiting there.

‘As you know we expect certain professional standards of behaviour in here,’ said Gavin, ‘so I want you two to apologise to Carol.’

‘Sorry Carol, there was no offence meant,’ said Margaret.

‘Aye, me too.  Sorry, Carol.’

‘In return, Carol,’ said Gavin, pointing at me. ‘ I’d like you to ease off on Captain Clever Clogs here.’

‘Pardon?’

‘I think you know what I mean. We’ve all got to get along in this place.’

At that point Gavin’s phone rang.

‘It would seem there is a situation at the front of the building which requires your expertise,’ he said to Carol as he replaced the receiver.

Outside, some firemen were rescuing a cat from a tree. This combined two of Carol’s major interests: she was a leading light in the Cats Protection League and, for the benefit of the receptionists, claimed to have a thing about firemen. A crowd had gathered to watch a fire fighter trying to grab the cat, while the owner, an old lady, stood on the pavement below, where she was soon joined by a supportive Carol.

‘This is unreal,’ I commented to Sean and Gavin. ‘These guys actually come out for cats?’

‘Looks like it,’ said Gavin, ‘must cost the tax payer a fortune.’

‘Will they do it for other pets?’ I asked. ‘I mean, what if it was a gerbil stuck up there?’

‘There’s a minimum size limit,’ explained Sean. ‘They won’t come out for anything that would fit in a jam jar.’

At this point I noticed the ladder man was only about twenty feet away from our religious icon.  I nudged Sean, nodded towards the tattered bag and made scissor fingers.

‘I definitely don’t think they rescue plastic bags,’ he said.

But Carol was ahead of us.  She had already switched into giggly mode and no sooner had the cat been brought down than the fireman was being raised into the neighbouring tree.  As we watched in amazement, he homed in on our totem, then tugged and unravelled it off the branch. Carol almost curtsied as she took it from him and, following more hair tossing and laughter, she crossed the road to us.

‘I hereby declare you free,’ she said, dumping the fankle of dirty, wet plastic into my arms.

‘How did you manage that?’ asked Sean.

‘I told them it was spoiling a photo we wanted to take of the building and that there was a free swim and sauna for the entire crew in return.’

Then she walked past us into the foyer and held up a piece of paper to the receptionists.             ‘His mobile number,’ she announced, to a ripple of applause and a few winks and ‘well done’s.

Back in the office, I placed the remains of the bag on my desk.

‘Happy endings all round,’ said Carol.  ‘I got a fireman’s phone number and you got your plastic bag.’

‘It’s been quite a day,’ I agreed, reaching for the scissors.  I wasn’t sure whether to cut the bag into relics, or just bin it.

‘By the way,’ said Carol. ‘I noticed they’re out of programmes at the front desk.  Would you mind taking some more out?’

As I headed for reception, Carol picked up the phone and punched in a number.  It was the first in a long list of calls to her network of friends, who I knew would be waiting to lap up her fireman anecdote in offices all over the city.

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SATURDAY  – by Zoe

I used to love Saturdays. They came with a sense of luxury, that knowing that you didn’t have to answer to any crabby or pedantic teachers, wear an oppressive uniform or endure the torturous journey on the school bus.

I never had any serious plans; probably watch a bit of ‘Going Live!,’ groan at Trevor & Simon’s jokes and the inanity of the phone-in questions; help dad wash the car then go on a low-key day trip, maybe to Sittingbourne or Canterbury.

That all changed on October 20th 1994, when I walked, falteringly, through the staff entrance to Woolworth’s on Chatham High Street.

When I was first issued with the regulation staff uniform, it was how I imagined a wrongfully accused female prisoner might feel as she hands over her clothes to the warden in exchange for the standard, unflattering utilitarian garb, with no proclivity to fashion.  A navy and white striped shirt – the shirt was ok, if kind of scratchy – but the pinafore, my God. It was like the smocks you saw fallen schoolgirls wear in convents in the sixties, where they’d been sent away to disguise their shame.

Well, I was certainly not disguising my shame. It was flaming in my cheeks as I stepped out onto the shop floor, the voluminous fabric of the dress more than capable of concealing a couple of toddlers, a dehumidifying unit or ET. I was mortified and that was before the actual work had even started. Oh God. How many people were going to see me? It seemed entirely possible that almost, at least half my year would pass in to the shop at some point during the day. I had an Alice band in, black velour, which didn’t help the look at all, but my hair was going through an unruly stage, so I couldn’t bear to remove it.

I saw two other girls, swishing their smocks miserably stood around by the tillpoint. They didn’t look any better. I’d taken the job without really thinking. Well, I’d been thinking a bit, about how much I needed some money to get clothes I wanted and to save for driving lessons. I hadn’t expected that it would mean manning the pick’n’mix dressed like a member of a Christian folk group. No-one would ever ask me out now.

By lunchtime of the third day, I could already tell that I hated it and after six weeks, in the prelude to Christmas, the week they made us wear reindeer antlers, I was sure I was in hell.

That was when Ben Bulmer came in, with those lads he knocked about with. The idyll of Saturdays lost seemed like a documentary about the past I couldn’t quite recall.

Ben was in my French class – I didn’t really know know him, just that he was mouthy and often in detention, or outside the head’s office. Not for doing anything really bad, but for his backchat. He had two friends, tall, lolloping lads, who weren’t as smart as Ben, but were tough. Ben was quite small, so they looked like his bodyguards.

They sauntered around, pausing by the Sega Megadrive demo to watch the child prodigy who came in and played it every Saturday. Whenever I arrived for work; always a few minutes early so as I could customise my uniform as best I possibly could, there Sega guy would be on the step, waiting for Dave, the assistant manager to unlock the doors.

Ben was wearing a Wu-tang Clan sweatshirt which drowned him and the bodyguards had army trousers with oblong pockets. I was wearing reindeer antlers and a huge scowl, as I stuck my hand into the shrimp compartment to remove the remains of some half-chewed free samples allocated to themselves by some eight year old brats who had dared each other to help themselves. They would lose their nerve after plucking the sweet out and putting it in their mouth, as though spitting it out again before it was finished in some way redeemed them.

I should’ve guessed what trousers with big pockets meant, but in my naivety and sulk at the gooey remnants of a child’s half chewed sweet at the forefront of my mind, my focus wasn’t attuned to the obvious.

I saw them swipe the Panini first. They were over, the other side of the Ladybird section from the confectionary. Ben’s whistling caught my attention and I gazed over at the exact moment he slipped them into his hoodie. That wasn’t all. They sidled back over to the pre-packaged sweets and from where I skulked behind the Pick’n’mix structure, I could see them slipping strawberry laces and Animal Bars into the roomy pockets of their cargo pants.

I didn’t want to see this! This made me a witness. But I  couldn’t bring myself to look away. We’d been shown a video in week two about ‘what to do, if confronted with crime.’

I looked at the security guard at the door, bored and not standing to attention, then back to Ben. They were laden down with a good selection of Woolworth’s stock by now, and sure to make a run for it in the next five minutes.

There was vague talk of some sort of a reward; like if you retained a bankers card that had come up on the epos system as stolen or fraudulent. It would be good if there was a possibility of extra cash. I don’t  know though – it is Christmas. Good will to all men, especially sort-of-hard- nuts from school who don’t even know your name.

I took a moment’s pause in the pathetic excuse for a staff room. Someone’s soup had exploded in the microwave again and there was a liquid burnt on bowl on the side. The peeling walls and coverless seats in an airless room made me feel sick.

As I knocked on the door of the manager’s office all I could think was that after I told them I was going to ask for a transfer to the record bar.

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Issue 5: Bloody London

3 Nov

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.

CONTENTS

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

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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.

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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.

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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  feministjumble@hotmail.co.uk 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.’

Another pause.

‘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.

‘Yes!’

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.

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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.

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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.

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Issue 4: Bloody Heritage

20 Sep

You are most welcome to Issue 4 of The Feminist Jumble Sale.  Have a rifle through Bloody Heritage to find the usual mish mash of fact and fiction, by three writers.  Here you’ll find heritage explored through the remnants and rubble of national heritage, some almost-forgotten pieces of family heritage, a jaunt to see the  international heritage industry up close, and an unpleasant visit to the bloody heritage of East London in the company of a Ripperologist.

As always, both genders are represnted in our blogzine, but this time only one star sign. We hope you enjoy our offerings. We are looking for new contributers to our next issue on the theme of Bloody London, which is due out in early November.  Plenty of fodder there for your haikus, rants, limericks, essays or stories – please send them by Hallowe’en to feministjumble@hotmail.co.uk for ourconsideration.  Especially if your birthday isn’t 24th November.

Plus check us out now on twitter @FeministJumble

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CONTENTS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU AND WHOSE (TERRACOTTA) ARMY? – by Celia

THE FINAL INDIGNITY (JACK THE RIPPEROLOGIST)  – by Emily

THE LAST BASTION – by Jim

INHERITANCE – by Emily

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YOU AND WHOSE (TERRACOTTA) ARMY? – by Celia

I was on a 24 hour  train ride to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. I had wanted to fly there, but the  English Language school I was working at had commandeered my passport for some undisclosed bureaucratic process and  so armed with nothing but my maroon ‘Foreign Experts’ License’, I headed for Xi’an by train.

I shared my compartment with an age-mismatched couple. Her, with a chubby face and light shining from her wet eyes  behind thick spectacles and him,  hunched and liver-spotted. They fought all night,  hissing at each other in the darkened cabin. Then came morning, they cooed and fawned over each other, finally acknowledging my presence and eager to pose for snaps with me on our bunks.

Looking out at the endless cultivated fields, not a strip of land not utilised, I contemplated what had brought me here. Perhaps it was watching those Michael Palin documentaries at a young age, wondering how the camera crew had caught up with him after filming him leaving on the last ship for four months from the edge of a distant harbour. Maybe it was the boyfriend who left me for a girl he met at the Science and Industry Museum who had made me take off suddenly for somewhere more different than I could have ever imagined. After a few months, I couldn’t remember what my house back in Britain looked like or what the streets had been like. China made me feel free. At times I felt famous, people stared, even followed me down the street and asked to have their picture taken with me. At the same time, I grew up quickly, realising my own mortality and that I was just one person on an Earth home to many billions.

I arrived late and found my youth hostel. The next morning I woke up early. The man in the bottom bunk who was off to climb Everest was still asleep in his woolly hat. It was still dark as I waited outside the Youth Hostel  for the minibus to take me on the excursion. Sitting on the dusty bench and staring up at the city walls, I was about to visit a World Heritage Site. I had been due to travel to Xi’an with two other English teachers, an American nerd type with his super domineering Czech girlfriend. I had met them a months before at a gig, ‘Shit Sandwich’, who were a Beijing punk band. However, the night before our trip the boy had inserted a Q-tip cotton bud into his ear and the top had snapped off so they had to go to hospital to have it removed.

The minibus arrived and I climbed in. I sat at the front in the middle with my feet up on the gearbox. I nodded and smiled at the bemused Chinese holidaymakers crammed in behind me. When we stopped on the road for petrol, all the men leapt out with their leather carrying cases to spark up extra strength cigarettes from red packets. The tour guide suggested we all introduce ourselves. I used 50% of my existing Chinese vocabulary to tell everyone my name and that I was an English teacher, deciding that my other phrases “I’m very drunk” and “Pass me the ashtray” could wait until later.

The tour group came mainly from Southern China and seemed as excited as I was to be visiting such a miraculous sight. I anticipated it to be dramatic in such a way that is would make me sign in wonder and I would feel my heart soar, as I had done when climbing to the top of the giant Leshan Buddha or the Great Wall.

After an hour we arrived at a vast car park and climbed out of the bus. A polite queue formed to have pictures taken with me, this time with members of another tour group who all wore identical yellow baseball caps. There was a young couple selling popcorn which they made in an adapted oil drum. I bought a bag and we headed towards the building housing the warriors.

We climbed up on to a rickety platform constructed of scaffolding poles. There was a white tarpaulin roof covering the pit which we overlooked. It was a lot smaller than I expected and a sandy colour which I had not anticipated either.  Each soldier was unique. Many of them were in an advanced state of decay.  We were told that the visible warriors that had been excavated were only a tiny fraction of the tomb. We were also told that the actual tomb was as big as Brussels. I remembered a boy on a bus remarking how Beijing was as big as Belgium. I hadn’t ever visited Belgium so such comparisons were wasted on me.

The tour guide told us that the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor had been discovered by an illiterate farmer in the 1970s who had brought up a bucket of water from his well to find it contained a stone hand. She told us that this man was still alive and it would be a great privilege to meet him and on rare occasions he  appeared at the site. The guide also informed us as an aside that all the hundreds of thousands of  workers who had built  the tomb had been killed off and  buried alongside the Emperor at the time of his death.

I turned the corner and saw a group of tourists crowding to get within there was a man wearing a blue jacket with dark wrinkled skin. The tour guide got very excited and told us it was him, the farmer who discovered the warriors! He was signing thick guidebooks full of photographs for a gathered group. We all rushed forward to get one too.

After a while I became tired of listening to the guide who would speak in Mandarin for a long time, then translate a few sentences for me. I wandered away to buy a Chinese take on the Magnum ice lolly, which tasted of off milk and  contained  black beans.

I rounded a corner and saw a group of tourists crowding to get within hearing distance of a seated figure. Nudging forward, I realised it was another man in a blue jacket signing books and smiling for the cameras with another tour guide saying “This is a great honour, he rarely appears here!” I smiled ruefully and make my way back to my own tour group, who I realised had just disappeared into a sea of identical mini-buses in a car park half the size of Belgium.

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THE FINAL INDIGNITY (JACK THE RIPPEROLOGIST) – by Emily, with thanks to Helen

Why do people go on Jack the Ripper Tours of London’s East End? Why do at least fifteen companies provide tours every evening of the week, pretty much every week of the year?  Why are they usually fully booked, making it the most popular history tour in the capital, with an estimated industry turnover of well into six figures per year?  And when they sign up for a tour, what are they hoping to get from it?

I have always been vehemently (to the point of arguing with people I’ve only just met) against the very idea of going on a tour which ghoulishly glorifies the murder of women who worked in the arse end of London’s Victorian sex industry. The fact that the Whitechapel Murders took place 113 years ago makes them no less horrifying to me than the Ipswich murders which took place only five years ago.  And I obviously wouldn’t dream of visiting Suffolk in a tour of Steve Wright’s murderous tyre tracks.

So I can only imagine why the tours and the subject remain so popular.  Books, TV and film have relived and re-imagined the unsolved murders countless times and certainly help prop up the cult of the East End’s most notorious killer.  People do seem to be attracted to thrilling, chilling experiences; there is a whole Fright Industry to cater for these urges.  But Jack the Ripper provides so much more than the London Dungeon ever could.

Firstly, the setting: the filmic fantasy of Victorian lamplit streets, cobbled and misty; dark alley ways; working class pubs and slum housing.  The added bonus is that unlike other parts of London which hold shady, crime-ridden pasts, parts of the East End remain as grim and poverty-ridden as they were a century ago.  Then, the people; the imagined supporting cast of the top-hatted gents, flat-capped barrowboys, bonneted ladies, raucous drunks and bawdy landladies, historical poverty tourism. The stars of the show, however are the main attraction: while the Ripper himself remains shrouded in eternal mystery, his victims are well-known, notorious and crucially lacking in innocence and purity.

Women working in the oldest profession, who picked up clients in the Ten Bells or on the streets, working for their gin or a room for the night by providing cheap knee-tremblers and hand jobs.  And the fact that such women were brutally murdered while doing their last client, killed because of their trade, because of their “fallen” status, because they are women.  And everyone knows that the allure of a sexually motivated murder of women far outweighs any other type of murder – as the popularity of detective shows, from Morse to The Killing clearly indicate.

Although one of my day jobs is in heritage and I am a self-confessed history fanatic, with a passion for East London history in particular, you would never have seen me dead traipsing around Spitalfields with a load of American tourists, looking at patches of tarmac where in 1888 some women’s corpses were found. But, in order to write about this subject for this issue’s Bloody Heritage theme, I unfortunately had to sign myself up and experience a Ripper tour for myself.

I found a willing companion in Helen, and picked a tour at random from the richly competitive selection on offer.  I was slightly worried I might be proved wrong in my preconceptions, that I may find it fascinating or intelligently and sensitively delivered, but decided to keep an open mind when I turned up at Aldgate East Station on a rainy evening in August.

Our guide, a Ripperologist we’ll call Jack, began by gathering the twenty six rain-sodden tourists in an alley next to the Whitechapel Gallery for a historical preamble, delivered in a slightly angry tone, with a West Country twang, in the manner of a cabaret performer who despises their audience.  It included offensive jokes about ethnic cleansing in 19th Century Russia and Poland leading to the overcrowding of the East End.  As an elderly Bengali woman shuffled through our group with a walking stick, we were treated to Jack’s opinion of 19th Century street prostitutes: “Forget young Keira Knightlies, with lovely long hair and pretty faces.  Think Susan Boyle before the makeover.” This exercise in historical contextualisation also included a warning about the local hoodies, (“don’t say come on , then,  because they will”) and finished with some advice for the “gents”, that the “pros still work some of the same streets and alleys, so if you’ve got £20…”  The tone was duly set; Helen and  I stared at each other, aghast.  If not on a self-imposed research trip, I would have left then and there.

As Jack led us to our next stop, he announced, no screamed, that that was enough of all the history stuff, we were now going to find out about “whores being murdered – because that’s what you came for!” Much as the popular press’s coverage of Steve Wright’s killing spree, or any other instance of sex industry workers being murdered throughout history, the victims are defined entirely by their profession; they are whores or vice-girls first, women or people second. The fact that they work as prostitutes is all we apparently need to know about them, for it explains their vulnerability, disposability and morally-deserved ends.

Our guide does provide us with a little more detail about the women, however, as we “meet” each one at or close to the place of her death. Our first victim was “5’3” and fat” and was murdered in an alleyway having received 39 stab wounds, which Jack helpfully acted out for us, before mock-dying and laughing.  The next victim was described as being 43, with five children and five teeth missing: “Five was obviously her lucky number!”  We were then unnecessarily informed that this impoverished, homeless, alcoholic single parent even had the audacity to wear a new bonnet on the day she died, in an obviously futile attempt to make her look more attractive.  The insinuation clearly that she was so lacking in desirability, she deserved to be brutally murdered and disembowelled, or as Jack preferred to put it, “turned into a jigsaw puzzle”.  But he says the Ripper wasn’t a sadist, because most of the violence was perpetrated after the women were dead.  How he arrived at this psychological assessment was not made clear.

It was around now that Jack explained his profession as a Ripperologist, and does the first plug of his “bestselling” book on the subject.  Helen was particularly appalled by the term, saying that Ripperology is the pseudo-science of revelling in the violent deaths of women working in prostitution.  Giving themselves this professional-sounding title is an attempt to give credence to their misogynistic obsession by making it sound like some kind of criminology/sociology/psychology combination.  But there was nothing in the tour that fell into any of those categories, there being absolutely no analysis or theories offered or even contextualising in terms of other psychopaths.  The tour was pure gory description, an excuse to promote hatred of women in general, and particularly women who happen to be ugly, fat, bad tempered, alcoholics or prostitutes.

The next woman we found out about was the Ripper’s oldest victim, at 47, and as her post mortem showed advanced TB, “she was going to die anyway.”  There is no discussion of how and why a terminally ill, older woman is still forced to sell her body in highly dangerous circumstances, and the obvious desperation this indicates.  The poor woman’s extensive and brutal disembowelment and genital mutilation are described in detail, but according to Jack, the final indignity she suffered was that rings were taken from her dead fingers.  I would have thought that in the dignity stakes having property stolen somewhat pales into insignificance when compared to being repeatedly stabbed in the vagina.

I was feeling sick by now.  As we gathered in the former Dorset Street, now a car park next to Spitalfields Market, we are treated to a description of the spot’s 26-year old victim.  Jack omits to rate this woman’s appearance, but instead focuses on her personality.  Perhaps her post-mortem police photograph shows a pretty face. We are informed that she had a terrible temper, so terrible that her common-law husband left her.  The fact that she lived in the “worst street in London”, had to have sex with strangers to pay her rent, was alcohol-dependent and an extremely harsh life are not put forward as reasons for her temper, and we are not given information on the husband and his moods.  The night she died this young woman had apparently met a friend and fellow prostitute, Mary Ann Cox; Jack can’t resist dazzling us with his woman-hating wit: “interesting surname considering her job!”

We now reach the peak of Jack’s theatrical misogyny, are shown an optional photograph of the woman’s corpse, which is passed round face down, for those of us “chicken” enough not to want to see it, while Jack lists in graphic detail all the victim’s injuries.  A second photograph is shown, which shows internal organs on a table next to a body.  Our guide delights in the details, the brutality, the blood and the guts.  Most of the crowd are frowning and looking worried.  We are implored to put ourselves in the shoes of the poor photographer, who had to live with that image for the rest of his life.  And to pity the poor policemen who attended the scene. Every man mentioned in the historical narrative is presented sympathetically, but not once throughout the whole tour are we asked to empathise with any of the Ripper’s victims.

As police vans screeched past, tourists looked nervously over their shoulders while Jack exclaimed that he was standing exactly where the bad tempered, murdered woman’s body had been discovered.  At this point a young member of the tour actually fainted, falling hard on the tarmac and hitting her head.  Jack was visibly alarmed, probably fearful of litigation (the woman was American) and he spent some time fussing with water and tissues, giving my compadre a grateful opportunity for a cigarette.  When the fainter was deemed fit, our guide started up the “comedy” again, declaring that he’d definitely be mentioning it in future tours.  He clearly took the fainting as a compliment to his theatrical horror skills.  He’s probably bragging about it to a group on that spot right now.

Crossing Middlesex Street, and therefore the boundary between the East End and the City, we hilariously gain a 50% increase in our life expectancy (poverty is so funny).  St Botolph’s church at Aldgate East was apparently known as the “Whore’s Church” in Victorian London, because a blind eye was turned to soliciting in this area, as long as street workers kept walking.  So, we were invited to imagine visiting the area in the 1880s, when we would have seen a load of “tired old slappers walking round and round the church.”

The final victim we learned about was a widowed Swedish single mother, whose alcoholic husband had died in the workhouse.  The night she died, she had apparently been warned to be careful, but ended up dead with a face so severely mutilated she could only be identified by her hair.  The tour reached its blessed conclusion in Mitre Square, where there was a lot of very dull cobblestone-related talk, some shouted opinions about how all the theories about the Ripper’s identity are wrong, and the full book promotion, with the kind offer to sign copies.  We didn’t stay long enough to know whether Jack made any sales.

During the course of the evening, we passed at least six other tour parties, one with a group of at least fifty people trailing along.  As Helen and I headed in search of an urgent and very large drink, (not in the Ten Bells), we wondered whether any of the other tours had been subjected to such an extraordinarily appalling performance for their £8. And wondered whether all the attendees of our tour had got what they wanted from the experience.  If so, then I had been worryingly wrong about why people go on these tours.

The Ripper’s victims were people, women with mothers, fathers, lovers, children and friends, women who wouldn’t or couldn’t work in the factories of dirty, grim industrial London, who relied on drink to ease their discomforts and relied on prostitution to pay for their drink and feed their kids.  Their job was to walk the streets and alleyways of cholera-ridden and labyrinthine East London, and met their extreme, desperately unfortunate ends performing their last job with the wrong client.  Jack’s narrative implied that each of the women he discussed deserved to die: for being ugly, for being old, for being ill, for being bad tempered, for not being careful; for working in the sex industry.  What these women’s other life or work options may have been was not mentioned.

Victorian prostitutes were more independent than married women, and earned more than matchbox makers or textiles workers, just as women working in the trade today may earn more than unskilled minimum-wage labour opportunities.  But they were unprotected, then as now, by the society which both needed and despised their services.  Unprotected, assumed to be unwanted and therefore unmissed, women working as prostitutes have frequently been targeted by psychopathic killers throughout history.  Our tour guide did not discuss the possible reasons why male serial killers select sex workers as their targets, what kind of insanity or hatred or misogyny may have led the Ripper to commit these crimes.

Helen and I ended the evening feeling that the same motivations which led the Ripper to commit his extreme crimes must have inspired Jack to take up his pseudoscience and make a living from shouting at people about “dead whores!” night after night.  Helen queried whether to be a Ripperologist you had to already be dead inside – or whether choosing this “profession” leads you to become dead inside. Whichever, people like him and his industry continue to promote the view that women are somehow deserving of violence. Women living in poverty and being sold or forced into prostitution is as rife now as it was in the 19th Century, society’s attitudes just as prejudiced, and the dangers just as real.  The “pros” Jack promoted at the start of the evening will all have stories, reasons for ending up where they are in life; perhaps trafficked, perhaps owned by violent pimps, perhaps addicted to crack or smack or perhaps just trying to feed their children.

The Ripperologist, shares and promotes the Ripper’s own views of women as punishable by death and disembowelment. He actually keeps the Ripper’s work alive, and worse, makes a tidy profit from it. This tour really was the final indignity to the Ripper’s victims, to all female victims of male violence, to all women everywhere, prostitutes or not.

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THE LAST BASTION – by Jim

  As the man behind the bar I’ve got full control of the big flat-screen on the far wall.  During the day it’s like an all-male care home I’m running in here and I don’t think pish like Celebrity Flog It! gives them enough dignity in their old age, so I just stick the sport on.  My favourite thing is the interview with the defeated football manager right after the game. Forget the smug, victorious ones who refuse to single anyone out – give me the guys who are trying their very best to say it’s a big ask to come to a place like this and get a result, but look like they want to tear the reporter’s throat out and can’t quite stop themselves questioning their own goalie’s commitment and the referee’s integrity.

Sometimes, when it’s really quiet, I plug my boy’s Playstation in – he’s found other forms of amusement recently – and play Premiership Manager.  It’s all buying and selling, tactics and strategy.  I’ve also got a shoot ’em up, Operation Valkyrie, where you have to try and assassinate Hitler.  It’s appropriate to have a bit of military history on show, because this is the British Legion.  Around the walls, between the fruit machines and the dart board, are pictures of Britain’s finest hours – the Dambusters, Dunkirk, Scots Greys giving the malky to Napoleon’s men – and a load of regimental coats of arms.  A lot of the regulars have been Jocks at some time or another and there is still a bit of friendly rivalry going around, though one old boy took it too personal when I called him a sheep shagger – the nickname for the Black Watch – and actually swung for me.  He half-connected, threw himself off balance and landed on the floor.  ‘Everybody gets one shot at the title, Rab,’ I said, picking him up.  ‘Now sit down and have a drink.’  I reckon I’m the only one that’s seen active service more recent than Korea.  Fourteen contacts, in total, in five different conflicts.  A contact, in case you didn’t know, is when someone tries to kill you.  The net result is that I’m still here and a few other people, from various parts of the world, are not.

It’s probably the furthest flung Legion in the country, this one, and you would sometimes even wonder if you were still in Britain. The real locals barely speak English themselves, and the rest of us are a bunch of mercenaries and vagabonds. Come to think of it, a few more of the punters might count as ex-army if you included armies other than the British one.  A couple of the barstool diehards are IRA men, or claim to be, who got into too much trouble with the wrong people and came here to avoid being knee-capped.  Their idea of supporting the nationalist cause now is refusing to buy a poppy.  Then you’ve got your former Warsaw Pact people coming in and a couple of blokes from the Indian who like a game of snooker.  Watch out for suicide bombers, say the regulars, but I’ve noticed these particular guys like a fly pint, so that would rule them out as serious Taliban suspects.

Another thing that’s changed in recent years is the sheer number of gay people  in the place – well, at least one couple of either persuasion.  Everybody knows the hairdresser and his pal from the shopping centre, and now we’ve got the two paramedic women.  Fair play to them, it was that pair who stepped in and gave big Eddie the kiss of life during the last Old Firm game.

As far as my own love life’s concerned, I’ve been relegated to the settee since coming home.  I wasn’t there for her while our kids were growing up – now the boy’s in all sorts of trouble just when she’s got her hands full trying to look after her mother, and what do I do now I’m back but drink beer and watch Formula 1? She stopped short of throwing me out because she feels sorry for me, trying to deal with money and housing all by myself after a lifetime in the army. There was a rumour that she was seeing one of the guys in the pipe band during my last tour, though she denies it.  Good luck to him, I say, because they’ve not got a lot to shout about in the band ever since coming last in a national competition, even after the Legion paid for a trouble-shooter to come up from the mainland and help them tune their pipes.  It costs a fair few bob to run a pipe band, so they know their sporrans are on shaky nails.

In my book, whatever people believe and whoever they’re sleeping with, it’s live and let live.  Like when that u-boat commander turned up for the unveiling of a memorial to a ship he personally had sunk.  ‘Gotcha!’ he must have thought, in German.  It’s all within the rules of war.  In saying that, the one exception is probably Bosnia.  Our unit found a village full of bodies – men and women, grannies and kids. I never did get the bloodstains out of the boots I was wearing that day.  I reckon we were partly to blame, the amount of standing around we did before the order finally came to take the blue covers off our helmets.  We let rip then, good and proper, though it didn’t really put things right.  I’ve been in two other wars since, but that’s the one that still keeps me awake at night, despite all the counselling and the various tablets.

After commanding 30 men in battle, it’s a bit of a comedown to be looking after a roomful of geriatric drunks for less money than my own daughter gets in Tesco’s.  But knowing how to conduct a house to house search or deal with an improvised explosive device are not skills you see on the person spec for most of the local vacancies.  Security work – that’s what a lot of the guys end up doing and I had a go at it for a while, patrolling the oil terminal.  I came across a fellow in a tent one morning, just outside the perimeter fence, a young bloke.  There was no point getting heavy because he was obviously a lost soul.  I took him to the tea hut and he turned out to be ex-Marines, not long back from Helmand.  He’d lost two of his buddies in a rocket attack – friendly fire from a drone.  It’s all very well, modern warfare, without the kilts and bayonets, until some nerdy wee guy in a command centre in the States, with his thumbs on something like a Playstation console, selects the wrong target.  Then it’s Game Over for a bunch of your mates.  The upshot for the young marine was that he couldn’t hack staying in a house any more. The boss thought he might be a green protester and started to call the cops, until I took the phone off him and hung up. The boss is a great one for showing you who’s wearing the trousers and up to that point I’d been taking it off him, but I knew the boy was on the level.  It’s the post-traumatic stress.  I could actually see the appeal of it, wandering round with a rucksack and a tent –  an option worth considering.  Anyway, as it was Friday, I invited everyone to the Legion, including the marine and the boss.  It was going okay until the boss gets a drink in him and starts complaining about my attitude, tries to give me a dressing down in front of the lad and everyone else in the bar.  That’s when I decided to make a new fire exit with his head.  I got three months for that, but I met some decent blokes inside. What a place for veterans – it was more like a Legion than the Legion – though no one else with the final rank of Sergeant, it has to be said.  It should have been Sergeant Major, incidentally, but I got into a dust-up with an RSM and lost a stripe.  Oops.  It affected my pension, but, as I say, it doesn’t do to be backing down all the time.  Still, me getting the jail put the tin lid on things as far as the wife was concerned, what with the boy already awaiting trial for possession with intent to supply.  In the end my three months was reduced to six weeks and our lad got a suspended sentence, so that was a relief.  It wouldn’t have been that funny if we’d ended up as cell mates.

It was while I was in there that I learned to play computer games, which gave me an interest, though my virtual football team made a disastrous start to the season with a 6-0 defeat at home to Stoke.  All I did was send the assistant manager out to handle the media while I locked the door and knocked seven bells out of the whole team, including Ronaldo, who was on loan from Madrid but looked like he was more interested in his hairstyle than anything else. Now I’m a free man again and they’ve given me this job in the Legion, even though the dent I made in the wall with the security boss is still there, so I can’t really complain.

I was standing in here earlier listening to Sir Alex Ferguson describe Wayne Rooney as a great lad who has just been led astray at times, when they cut to a news flash about a tsunami in Japan.   The room went quiet as we watched the sea sweeping in, wiping out everything in its path, then lying like a colossal body-bag over the whole landscape.  Awesome.  Mind you, it sort of put me off the tent idea – what chance would you have?  Not that the Jap buildings stood up to it for long, even though it’s  part of their heritage, isn’t it, earthquakes and tidal waves?  The survivors did just seem to be accepting it, trying to pick up the pieces, and there’s a lesson to be learned there – when shit happens you have to pull together.  That’s what you tell your troops and it’s what I’m going to say to the family when I get home tonight.  It’ll be like a half-time team talk, though if I’m being honest, with all that’s been going on, this is probably one of those times in life when sport becomes irrelevant.

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INHERITANCE – by Emily

Emily (1901)

Our mother says I was lucky to get this job, and she’s most likely right, but I don’t like him, the butcher.  Being a maid these days is being a glorified dogsbody, and I knew I’d be helping with the baby and cooking and cleaning, and helping missus with all the household work, but he has me washing down the shop floor every day too – all that blood and sawdust.  I am lucky to get some tripe to take home to ma and Bea, though, so I shouldn’t complain.  And the little boy is bonny.  I love it when missus sends me on an errand with the baby in the pram; I like to take a long walk along the docks. I like to count the masts and wonder what’s come in on all the ships, or watch the fishermen unloading their nets.

I wear my coat and best hat for these excursions, and stay out as long as I can if the weather’s fair.  I feel proud to be a working woman, pushing the pram and letting the ladies I pass by admire the baby. When he’s asleep I like to stare out at the muddy Hull, and watch the bridges being operated to let the ships in and out.  Sometimes I wonder what will become of me.  I’m seventeen and hope I won’t have to be in service for ever.  Will I have my own bonny baby one day?

The sailors and dockers are awfully friendly, but I know I mustn’t talk to them much; people would talk.  Having the baby in the pram makes me respectable, but I still have to walk on by when they call out to me.  I wonder if I’ll ever get to go courting with one of these young fellows.  Chance would be a fine thing.  I have to get back to make the baby his tea and do the ironing and missus will be wondering where the groceries are.  Hopefully I’ll be too late to help scrub down those butchers’ blocks. Sometimes it’s worth mister’s anger if it gives me a break from that smell. I’d rather the smell of mud and fish and the sea any day.

Doreen (1979)

A nice piece of cake and a nice cup of tea.  I love Songs of Praise and I love singing! And tea.  Muriel says I make the best cup of tea in Hull.  I’m not very good at making cake but it’s alright if Muriel helps me.  But I’m very good at knitting!  I like making blankets and shawls, Muriel taught me when I was little. At church this morning we sang For Those in Peril on the Sea – which is my favourite.  It was my dad’s favourite too.  I learnt the words from a book that we got at the library.  A big book full of songs.  It’s my favourite book.  We sit down, Muriel and me, and we watch Songs of Praise.  Sunday is the best day of the week.  I’ve got my best dress on and my new beads from the charity shop where I sometimes help out.  And we sang my favourite.  Dad used to hum it when we went to visit him at the bridge.  He had a very important job, making the bridge go up and down.  Muriel would take me there when we were out shopping.  He doesn’t do it any more. He died. I saw all my friends in church.  The minister said I can help out at the Christmas fair – on the tea stall! I’m good at making tea, Muriel says so.  And I can help with the cakes too. And take the money from the customers – and count it all up at the end.

Muriel (1931)

It was a bright September morning, and Doreen had shiny new shoes for her first day at school.  I walk the familiar route, holding my little sister’s hand tightly. In case she stumbles. I must’ve walked this way a thousand times, more – when I was at school, and when I used to take and collect little Ron.  Now at last it’s Doreen’s turn.  Doreen is laughing to herself, and trying to disentangle her hand but I won’t let her.  “Stop being so daft!,” I say, and she giggles.

Ma had combed her youngest daughter’s hair this morning and tied a new, blue ribbon.  She checked her nails were clean, tucked a clean hankie into the little cardigan pocket and as she kissed her on the head at the door, said “You be good now, our Doreen.  I don’t want to hear from the teacher that you were naughty at school today.” I saw her wipe a tear from her eye as she waved us off.

I could tell Doreen was excited but she didn’t really know why.  I explained that that she’d be learning lots of new things like her ABCs and meeting lots of other boys and girls.  I knew she’d be a slow learner, but had no doubt that she could learn. As we got closer to those old school gates, I started thinking, wondering what I might do now that Doreen would be at school.

Perhaps I’d be able to go to secretarial college, or get a part time job in a shop.  Secretly I’ve always wanted to work in the haberdashery department at the department store.  She loved sewing and imagined the feel of those big shears slicing through some fine fabric.  She’d be good at that.  She certainly didn’t want to go into service like her mother, but not so many girls were doing that now anyway.  Girls! How silly I am – I’m 20 now, no longer a girl. But there aren’t many jobs, times are hard, I imagine I won’t be able to be that choosy.

As we retrace our steps back home, I replay the head mistress’s words.  I’m terribly sorry, but we can’t take a Mongol child at our school.  She’s different to all the other boys and girls and just won’t fit in. She can’t learn like normal children.  We can’t help her at all.  You do know there are special institutions?  Many families find it best to just forget when they have a child like that.

Too shocked to speak for a while, when we neared our front door, I said to my bewildered sister, “Right, our Doreen, it looks like I’ll be teaching you your ABCs instead”.  She laughed, saying “A, B, C, A, B, C.”

Muriel (1990)

If I’d had children, I’m sure they’d think of me as a bit of an old burden by now.  But my nephews are good to me.  I was sad to say goodbye to the family house, but they were right, I couldn’t really manage the stairs any longer, and it had felt so empty since Doreen died.  I was happy for a while in my little flat, but time came in the end to move here.  The last stop on the line, I call it.  I don’t like it, but I’m not as young as I was! I still see my friends – those who are left – and a couple of the ladies in here are alright for a game of gin rummy, or as company to watch Songs of Praise with. But, although it’s called a “Home”, it will never be home to me.  Home is where there’s people you love, people who love you, where you all muck in together.

There’s not much love here. No one mucks in.  The carers come round with tea that’s always a bit cold and over-stewed, or shout loudly to ask if we’ve taken our pills.  It’s embarrassing.  I try to just ignore it, or have a laugh to myself. Most of the people just sit there, asleep or half asleep.  I’m glad I’ve got my knitting, my crochet and my books for company.  One of the other ladies and I are knitting squares to make up into blankets for the poor babies in Africa. It’s quite simple, and I miss doing finer work, but my hands are too stiff for smocking now.  Neither of us has grandchildren and our nieces and nephews – and even their children, my goodness –  are all grown up now.  I like to get letters. And I like writing back.  But there’s not much doing here.  And the telly’s always too loud in the lounge.

Muriel (1926)

Now little Ron was at school, and my big brothers left home, I was delighted that there’s be another new baby in the house.  With four brothers, I really hoped it would be a girl.  I imagined brushing her hair and making her clothes, teaching her things.  Our mother said I mustn’t wish for a girl or a boy – that I must just hope it’s healthy, and delivered safely.  The most important thing is that it’s loved, she said.  I had no doubt, could not imagine that this late, unexpected addition to our family would not be loved.

When the day came, I was sent for the midwife.  There was no money for a nursing home, but our father had insisted that we get a midwife, what with Emily being an older mother this time.  I had to help with getting some spare linen ready, filling the baby bath with hot water, making sweet tea for our mother and the midwife.  She had been much younger when Ron was born, and had been sent to the neighbour’s that day.  I paced the house, awaiting the next instruction, trying not to hear the moaning, the shouting, my mother in terrible pain.  I made myself busy, peeling potatoes for the family’s tea, pegging out the washing in the back garden.  I so wanted to go and see our father at the bridge, where he worked, operating the machine so that it opened when the ships came in.  But I was needed here.  I peeled enough potatoes for two or three family teas.  I counted the hours until he’d be home.

Later that evening, when I’d fed Ron and washed up, our ma called down.  “Muriel, come and say hello to your sister.” I raced up to see them, my mother propped up on pillows, holding a tiny bundle, the midwife packing up her bag.  “What shall we call her, ma?” I asked.  Emily sighed, “I like Doreen.  Such a pretty name for my new little girl.  But we’ll have to see what your dad thinks.”

Emily (1926)

She mustn’t let Muriel or Ron see her crying at the sink as she scrapes the carrots.  She’d told them everything would be fine, that as long as they all loved her, that Doreen would be fine, they’d all be fine.  But she knew it would be hard, having a Mongol child.  She was tired, so tired, and felt old, worn out. This baby will be slow to develop, she’ll be prone to illnesses, the nurses said.  Even feeding her takes an eternity.  How would she be able to keep caring for a handicapped child into her old age?  Although maybe Doreen wouldn’t live that long – Mongols don’t have a long life expectancy, she’d been told. The doctor had said there are institutions, “homes” for “abnormal children like her”.  She was proud of William when he said firmly to the doctor that no child of his would be going to an institution.  He didn’t explain to the doctor why he felt so strongly, but Emily knew.  He had never spoken much about his childhood, but she knew that he and his brother were sent to the Sailors’ Orphan Home when their mother could no longer feed the family.  She knew that was how he got his apprenticeship.  But there was no way he would send his daughter away.  They would love her and care for her at home.

When I discovered I was in the family way again, my heart sank.  We thought after Ron that our family was complete, and I was getting on a bit now, hadn’t expected another child to come along.  I did want another girl, of course, but worried about another mouth to feed, another little soul to take care of.  But when I told William, and he was over the moon, I let myself look forward to the baby.  He was so delighted he twirled me round the kitchen like we were 21 again.  I began to ask around for baby binders and a cot – we’d got rid of all the baby things when Ron was out of nappies.

Muriel will of course be a help.  She’s already helped so much with Ron.  With all my other boys grown up, some of them married now, I knew I’d have to rely on Muriel.

Muriel

Oh I got used to the taunts – “Your sister’s a Mongol – put her in a home!”.  I’d say, “She is in a home.  Our home.  Where we look after her and love her.”  Silly people.  I got used to taking my little sister everywhere with me, in a pram, walking along the docks or around the town.  Mother was so tired, I liked to give her a break whenever I could.  And Doreen was nearly two before she could sit up properly, so that pram was used for years. We’d always go to wave at our dad at the bridge.  Doreen loved this – especially when we caught the bridge going up or down.  She would point and laugh.

When she could walk, she used to follow me around everywhere, and loved to play at helping.  She got under my feet and would laugh when I told her to mind out the way – it made her get in the way even more; it was her sense of humour.  I taught her to count and she liked to help pay at the shops, and count the change.

I used to wonder what would become of us, but nothing much did.  We got through the war, unlike many families. We looked after our dad after our mother died and after he died, it was just the two of us in that house.  People still stared at Doreen sometimes when we were out and about.  But she never noticed, and I didn’t care. She was my blessing and my burden.  I could have done with more of a hand from some family members, of course, although I did get the odd holiday – went on my jollies with friends to Bridlington, or Blackpool, ate ice creams on the pier and had a change from my daily life.  But I never once wished my little sister away.  The day she was born, my future was decided; she was my inheritance.  I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

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Issue 3: Bloody Weddings

6 Jul

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The Feminist Jumble Sale cordially requests your presence (and presents) at the wedding of the century! There’ll be jiltings,  bad dancing, tears at the altar and shattered dreams in abundance.  Please take your seats amongst the elegantly  suited and booted, yet rather tipsy, extended family members for the Feminist Jumble Sale Bloody Weddings edition. Our third offering features new contributors Nicola and Louise and our first playlist courtesy of this issue’s  token man, Matt (and Spotify).

CONTENTS:

Our Song by Nicola

Bloody Weddings Playlist by Matt

Landlocked Blues by Celia

The Best Day of My Life by Emily

A list of all the things I have done for you this year by Louise

Bloody Wedding Dresses by Emily

Issue 4 Heads Up

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OUR SONG by Nicola

Weddings ~ the first dance ~ our song. Is this just a coupley conceit or does uniting over a tune really strengthen and prolong a happy healthy relationship? From first date until separation (or not), ‘relationship experts’ would say it’s important to have shared interests and music in particular is an art-form worth bonding over… well it depends on the song obviously, especially if you expect me to come to your wedding and smile approvingly as you fawn all over each other on the dance floor.

Not being romantic in the traditional sense of the word, I’ve never found myself in the situation of picking one song to represent the passionate and undying love between me and another.  (The fact that I have never been encouraged to do so may indicate that I date similarly unsentimental types!) And if ever asked by a friend/colleague/market researcher what the first dance at my wedding would be I’m usually stumped for an answer, though the stock reply of ‘Love will Tear us Apart’ has passed my lips in particularly uninspired moments.

To be honest the thought of having to pick a three-minute song with a few verses and a chorus (and possibly a middle eight) to summarise my feelings for someone else does not appeal much. Firstly because I am prone to putting my foot in it – a recent dedication of ‘You’re the One for Me Fatty’ being a case in point – but also because I know that whatever I choose will stay with me for the rest of my life, or at least until I get divorced. My dad apparently proposed during ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and regularly joked that this was the colour he turned when my mum said ‘yes’. After 34 years of marriage the joke never wore thin… for my dad at least.

Having said all that my mind has returned to the subject on occasion, during the first fresh blooms of a new romance or on a quiet day at work for instance, and the sound of 1960s girl groups do tend to resonate around the heart and head. Songs by the Ronettes, Crystals, Shang-ri La’s, Chiffons, Marvelettes, Velvelettes, Shirelles etc perfectly capture that feeling of being young and besotted. For me, ‘Be My baby’, ‘He’s Sure the Boy I Love’ and ‘Great Big Kiss’ remind me of having the most overwhelming crushes – both as a girl and more recently as a more worldly (read: jaded) lady. Those pleading lyrics, backed up by a phenomenal wall of sound, perfectly capture the process of the emotional becoming physical: the burning desire for attention, the aching need for reciprocation and the devastation of loss.

If I were writing this with a grounding in feminist critique instead of from a platform of ignorance known as ‘personal opinion’, I would go on to dissect the problem of young and poor Afro-American girls singing songs written by older white males and the question of exploitation that this throws up. I know the influence of Phil Spector in particular is an eyebrow raiser given his behaviour towards women both inside and outside the recording studio. However, in terms of putting into words and executing perfectly in melody those feelings that have both amazed and crazed me there is none finer than these popstrels. I just don’t know whether dancing to ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ on your wedding day is recommended practice.

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Bloody Weddings reception disco megamix by Matt

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LAND LOCKED BLUES by Celia

He was standing in a call box on Portmadoc high street when she told him the wedding was off.

He had never seemed able to keep any credit on his mobile since they had started seeing each other so he had taken to using the local phone boxes quite a bit of late. They were different these days, requiring somewhere in the region of eight pounds worth of change to be deposited before beginning the call and often, in a vain attempt to compete with smartphones, had keyboards for  you to email and update others on your progress through life via the ever-changing myriad of social networking sites. This one had dirty windows and smelt of what he was desperately trying to convince himself was Farley’s Rusks, but was much more likely to be piss.

They had sent the invites out and everything. She had bought the dress, a mint green sari. Neither of them were of Asian descent, she had just quite fancied it. Something different, like her. She had also invested in an elaborate feather headdress which he later found out was known as a ‘fascinator’. The name delighted him.

Hanging up the receiver and listening to the coins dropping down, he turned to open the door. Even with both palms on the smeared glass it was difficult, all his strength seemed to have suddenly evaporated now that the news he had been half-expecting had finally broken.

He walked over the bridge in a daze. Past the yachts and fishing boats. Past the record shop where he had spent his Saturday afternoons as a youth, flipping through the racks and which now survived on selling second hand vinyl over the internet. He focussed on a seagull high up in the sky, just floating on the currents without any purpose. He looked like he was having fun.  He was passed by a gang of women on a hen do coming in the opposite direction. They spanned at least three generations, yet all wore bright pink leotards and tutus and smelt strongly of spilt cider. Most of them looked extremely fed up and quite a number of them were crying; their liquid eye liner, mascara and lip gloss in various states of decay: across, around and down their faces.

As he walked, he visualised one wall of the room that he was on his way back to. It had been  decorated by him, covered completely with photos of her in every guise. Sexy in that red strapless dress. Effortlessly sultry and eating a yoghurt. Just woken up and grumpy, wearing an over-washed Joy Division T shirt with her hair piled up on top of her head and sticking out in all directions.

When he reached the house, he put the key in the lock,  let himself in and tiptoed upstairs. His parents would both be asleep in their separate bedrooms by now. He ran a bath and robotically climbed in, barely feeling the nearly too hot water envelop his skin and turn it bright pink. He thought maybe one of the reasons his teenage years had been so debilitating and had seemed to take so long was because his parents had never invested in a shower. He had spent so many hours lying in that very same enamel tub with the green tear mark below the hot tap, reflecting on so many things, quite literally navel gazing for what would have been hours, had the water not got cold and his Dad hadn’t banged on the door and told him to get out and do something with his life. Showers for him still seemed to belong to the realm of the dynamic go-getter; he had still never quite mastered the art of not getting water all over the floor when he took a shower at a hotel or at her house.

His parents had never married. He thought maybe that was why he had wanted to so much. None of his friends were married. Blake, who was to have been his best man, had had a girlfriend for a while and they had even gone and got matching tattoos at a tattoo convention in Southport, but they had never seemed keen to tie the knot.

He lay in bed. The duvet covered his whole body and head. He stuck one full leg out of the side as he was too hot, but he liked the feeling of pressure and mild panic the duvet brought on. It made him feel inexplicably secure. In his ribcage bubbled swathes of guilt and regret, but only from time to time. He felt permanently distracted, as if his bodily systems were not willing to let him feel the full impact of the news just yet. When he did feel bad, it was largely due to the practical anxiety of cancelled flights and lost deposits. He anticipated the slow trawling through of emails to contact caterers, photographers and florists and telling them not to bother. It wasn’t to have been a big do, just a registry office with some friends and family.

At last he slept, face down and dribbling into the pillow case that had once belonged to his late grandmother. He dreamt vivid versions of a hyper-reality: of washing up, e-mailing, watching TV.  He was awakened a couple of hours later by foxes copulating loudly in next door’s garden. It began to rain. He thought he was going to have to take the photos down, but decided to put this off for another day.

They had met on an  internet dating website. They had bonded over music and after a particularly animated discussion about Bright Eyes on the dating site’s instant messaging service, had agreed to meet at a pub in Manchester.  He had been early and sat in the pub reading Eric Hobsbawn until she arrived. He had also made a CD for her and brought it with him. She had brought a series of her own poems on scrap paper which she left for him one by one when she went away to the toilet.  It turned out to be quiz night at the pub and they had a go, coming second to last due to their insufficient knowledge of 1970s TV presenters and Dr Who. They both felt sorry for a drunk old man who kept shouting out the answers and was slow hand clapped out of the premises by the new younger, trendier crowd that had recently come to dominate that area of the city. After last orders, they walked  arm in arm  around the streets, out of the inner city as far as the suburbs,  talking about what their lives had been about up to that point: work, friends, films, politics, books.

He was surprised when he found himself in love with her a few weeks later. It was a Thursday afternoon and he was sitting  in a traffic jam on the way back from work. At the temporary traffic lights, listening to the Beta Band on the car stereo, it hit him all of a sudden and that was it. She was so different to anyone else he had been out with, he hadn’t expected to feel like this. The feeling of wanting to be with her and never let her go led him to propose a few months later. She had seemed shocked, but had said yes straight away. His friend Andrea whom he had worked at the library with until both their jobs had been cut had seemed morally outraged that he would agree to marry someone before cohabiting. But to him it made perfect sense, at least in the less rational side of his brain. She was really beautiful and funny, so funny.  Andrea was probably just feeling neglected and envious because he never went down the pub after work anymore.  He had to drive to Manchester every Friday night now to see her. His friends had become a distant memory, he never had any credit to ring them, but he reckoned they would be happy that he had met someone.

After a few weeks of being together, they had started to argue. Only over really trivial things like him not putting things back in the fridge or closing cupboard doors. He had taken  this as a sign of their closeness and suitability for each other. She had seemed very busy and aloof for the past few months; he had known something was up, but had no idea where to begin to make it better.

Now he was in his bed and she was gone. He stayed in that bed for some time. Not just hours, but days and weeks. The redundancy money from the library was enough to keep him going for a while. Some of the pictures began to peel away from the wall, blu-tacked corner by blu-tacked corner. He began to  look beyond her to the details in the photos. The Muller Fruit Corner with the lid partially peeled back. The faint tan line on her shoulder. A slight imprint of a pillow under her eye.

His parents were quiet at the news and treated him with respect and distance. Blake and his mum did their best to cancel the plans that had been made and preserve his apparent tranquility in the wake of the break up. His dad had always been distant, but now bowed his head in sad reverence whenever they passed each other in the kitchen or outside the bathroom.  In his bed, his daydreams consumed and healed him, began to make him strong again.

After some time he awoke one morning with a strong urge  to leave his bedroom and  venture into town. Crossing the bridge he spotted the sign painted in red,  intricate yet  bold as a Bob and Roberta Smith artwork: BOAT FOR SALE. He stood there and was transported into a catatonic state.

He would return home via Somerfield where he would pick up enough cardboard Pampers boxes to fit his entire record collection. Leaving only the B-52s and Sparks albums behind, he would  drive back down to the record shop and emerge with just enough money for the transaction. He would then hand this over to a silent, wrinkled old man with a pipe and beard and the sailing boat would be his!

He would climb aboard wearing a stripey turtle neck jumper and a bright yellow lifejacket. She would be ringing him on his smartphone; his parents having presented him with one prior to their tearful farewell due to its top notch GPS tracking facility and pre-installed round the world sailing app. There would  already be numerous missed calls and five answer phone messages, all from her. She would be ringing and ringing. Suddenly there would be a gust of wind and the boom of the boat would swing to the side. The phone would shoot out of his hand and land, not in slow motion, but very quickly, in the bay. He would feel a sense of calm as the phone floated down below the surface and  out of sight.  He would look out into international waters, proud as a decorated soldier saluting a fly past and  he would pull up the anchor,  guide the boat expertly away from the quay and out to sea.

He did attempt to dial the number for the boat’s owner, but realised he had no credit before he even pressed the call button. His daydream made him grin widely as he headed back up to his parents’ house with his record collection intact in the same bedroom of his youth.

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THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE by Emily

Which would you like to see first – the video or the slideshow?  Let’s start with the video.  I know it off by heart now!  Every time Mister (that’s what I call him now – and he calls me Misses!)  and I sit down to watch it we still can’t quite believe that it’s captured you, arriving late – having held me up!  You come rushing in, all flustered, you’ll see in a minute.  No, don’t be sorry, we laugh about it.  Now.  But you had no idea how long I had to wait in the car, for the latecomers to get into the church so I could make my entrance.  Obviously the bride must come in last!  Anyway, here we are – isn’t it a lovely church?  We chose it because it was so quintessentially English, oh, and here you are – bursting in.  You look like you’re wondering if you got the right wedding!  And your hair’s all over the place.

So this is my favourite bit, just before I walk in, the camera sweeping over all our friends and families, everyone looking really excited but, you know, serious at the same time.  Da-na – here comes the bride!  Look how sweet the bridesmaids look in their royal blue dresses, and I am still so pleased with the dress.  Such a perfect dress; I see finding it as one of my personal triumphs, that I’ll always look back on with pride. Obviously I wanted to wear white, it had to be  a traditional dress, but with my own personality stamped on it, do you know what I mean?  So it was my idea to add a bustle and a royal blue bow to match the bridesmaids.  This bit’s nice – you can see one of the bridesmaids drops her posy – bless! –and the other one pick it up for her.  Ahh.  And now, look, we get to see my Husband at the altar!  I’m still getting used to calling him my that – sounds so grown up doesn’t it?  I’d never seen him looking so smart, and do you like the way his cravat matches the blue theme?  I had to choose the suits, of course, because men don’t have a clue about these things do they? And look at the best man, Mister’s best mate of course – I bet you’re used to seeing him looking like a right scruff, down the pub, – but look at him all suited and booted.  Didn’t you have some kind of thing with him once?  I seem to remember a rumour, or was that your sister?

The ceremony was just perfect, wasn’t it?  The poems and readings and hymns – we selected them to make sure everyone felt a kind of blessing on the day, you know?  I know you’re not a believer, but I bet even you felt it was a really special, spiritual occasion.  Didn’t you?  I think everyone did.  Look it’s bringing a tear to my eye even now and I’ve seen this umpteen times!  It’s the bit where he says “I do” – gets me every time.  Doesn’t it make you want to get married?  Are you seeing anyone at the moment?  Oh well, I’m sure Mr Right will come along soon, you won’t be on the shelf forever.  Actually when he does, you’ll be the last member of your family to marry won’t you?  All your cousins, your sisters, all settled down now.  Well, it’ll certainly be a big celebration when you do!  I promise not to be late!

Did you enjoy that?  I could order you a copy if you like.  While I’m sorting out the computer,  let me just tell you about how much fun it was spending the vouchers we got as wedding presents.  It’s such a big decision choosing the plates you’ll eat from as a married couple, possibly for your whole married life.  We couldn’t decide whether to go for classic or modern, and in the end kind of compromised.  The important thing was that it was a decision we made together, as husband and wife.  I’ll make you a cup of tea in a minute and you’ll see what we chose.  I think you’ll be jealous – wouldn’t you love to be able to get all new stuff and be able to throw away all that mis-matched charity shop china?  Surely that’s enough to make you hurry up and find someone special.  Ha!

So here are the piccies – I’ll do it as a slide show – everyone drinking champagne at the start of the reception.  Look!  There’s you – I think you’re on your first or second there.  And there are the bridesmaids – they’ve had enough of their flower garlands by now – and there’s your mum and your nieces and cousin.  You look quite similar don’t you?  Except their hair is their natural colours.  And here are a few shots of the dinner.  I hope you didn’t mind the table we put you on.  It’s so hard getting the seating plan right, especially where to put the single people!  Not to mention when there are broken families to deal with!  Nightmare.  At least that’s not a problem on my side of the family! We didn’t think you’d want to be on a table full of kids, so we put you with Mister’s friend from work.  Actually, he was meant to come with his other half but they split up recently, and we thought you’d be able to cheer him up.  Actually we were trying to do a bit of matchmaking – any luck? No, I suppose he was a bit depressed, it was soon after his break up.  Unfortunately he was the only single man there, apart from my brother’s gay friend, but he doesn’t count!  Shame, but you can’t say we didn’t try! And those other couples, actually they were friends of my mum’s, all nice people, I’m sure you found something to talk about.  There you all are, saying cheers to the camera.  The wine bottle on your table went down quite quickly didn’t it!  You certainly look like you’ve had a few by then!

The speeches were lovely weren’t they?  You missed most of the best man’s one – you weren’t deliberately avoiding it were you?  Shame as it was really funny, you know, really personal but he only overstepped the mark a couple of times.  It was especially near the knuckle about me!  His girlfriend told him off after, but we all laughed.  My dad’s not much of a public speaker but I loved what he said about me being his princess – and finally off his hands!  Every woman should feel like a princess on their wedding day, shouldn’t they?  We’re all little girls at heart, really.  Aren’t we?

Actually it was about at this point that I almost had to pinch myself – I couldn’t quite believe it was really happening, that the best day of my life was finally here.  I knew i’d get him in the end, but there were doubts, especially the first time we split up.  He came back to me because, as he said, he’s a man and he has his needs!  After he came back to me the second time, I decided I was never going to let him go again and by the end of that year I had the engagement ring to prove it. And now, look, this wedding ring that puts the seal on it. Forever.

The next pictures are all of the dance floor and there are some great ones of all my sisters doing a routine, and your uncle freestyling – there!  All the kids are running around by now.  That’s our first dance.  I think this was the most romantic part of the day for me, because the church bit was the solemn and serious bit.  We did practise, but we all know he can’t dance.  But I made it clear it was expected – it was our wedding day!  His mates all hit the dancefloor in this one, they’ve all had a few.  And is that you in the background there,  yes, you’re dancing with the best man.  Where was his girlfriend while you two were dancing like that!  I’d better make sure she doesn’t see this one!  I don’t think there are any more of you.  Or him. Had you had enough of dancing by then?

I was so glad I saved the bouquet-throwing until the disco, it made it more fun.  Shame you weren’t there to try and catch it.  I was really pleased my cousin caught it.  Although she’s only 16, she might be the next one to get married!  And she was so pleased.  thinking back, I think I was about her age when I first caught a bouquet – the first of many! – and I wasn’t the next to marry.  But never mind, I got there in the end.

Actually there is one more with you in – look you’re in the corner there, you look like you’ve been crying.  Probably with happiness, right?

So fingers crossed it’ll be the christening next!  No, no happy news yet, but hopefully soon.  Unlike some, we like to do things in the right order, so now we’re married I’m really keen to start trying.  Biological clock and all that.  And I’d hate to be an old mother.  No, I know I’ve still got a while, but I don’t want to take any chances.  How old are you now?  Oh.

Anyway, Mister and the best man will be back from the pub soon.  I’ve been trying to get him to cut down now we’re married, but he seems to go even more often!  Me and best man’s girlfriend often watch telly together now, we call ourselves pub widows! Not that they are married; she’s still waiting for him to pop the question.  Do you think he will? Shall I show you the pictures that we’ve chosen for the album?  Are you sure you can’t stay? They’d love to see you. I haven’t even made you that cup of tea yet, what am I like?

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A LIST OF THINGS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU THIS YEAR by Louise

Spent a substantial sum of money and several hours travelling to a ‘luxury’ destination that I had no interest in going to in the first place.

Contacted all of your old friends and asked them to send photos of you and write nice messages to you which I compiled in an expensive photo album. You took this entirely for granted.

Listened to your tales of seating plan controversies and the merits of melon versus mozzarella salad.

Wrote nice things about you and a man I hardly know in an overpriced and tastefully chosen card card – which you did not acknowledge receipt of.

Spent a very boring day sitting on a chair with an inexplicable bow tied around it, saying nice things about you to complete strangers.

Smiled through gritted teeth as middle aged women patted my arm and said reassuringly, ‘Don’t worry, dear, it’ll be you next’. I have no wish to be next. Ever.

Had my bottom pinched more times than I care to mention by ‘hilarious’ uncle Arthur.

Made nice comments about the catering which was the likely cause of the compulsive vomiting which afflicted me throughout the journey home.

Sent you a note when I got home (once the vomiting had finally stopped) to say thank you for inviting me to share such a special moment in your life.

…since you ask, a simple thank you would have been nice.

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BLOODY WEDDING DRESSES by Emily

On a recent plane journey I had the misfortune of catching part of an American “reality” wedding-related show called Say Yes to the Dress.  I have no idea how representative it is of the current state of the current American TV offer, but I did find myself morbidly fascinated for about ten minutes, before it stopped  killing time, instead seemed to extend it eternally.

The premise of the show is entirely lacking in drama or relevance to anything: some women are getting married; they need dresses; said dresses must be purchased from the wedding dress emporium on which the show centres.  The programme makers have found, somewhere at the bottom of the barrel, some small dramatic pressures; that of time (the dresses must be ready in time for the appointed wedding date) and money (the brides must be able to afford their choice).  Basically it’s a show about shopping, and the only reason I can think that this is enough of a reason for the programme’s existence is that its focus the semi-mystical cult of the bride, represented by enormous, expensive white garments.

We meet the shop’s proprietor, an overly-groomed and very camp,  sneering wedding-dress Nazi.  To counteract him slightly are two good-cop assistants who show token quantities of humanity towards the hapless belles.  So this is the team that the women are up against – an unnecessary combination of supporter and adversary, which still fails to increase the dramatic tension in any measurable way.

Next we are treated to an introduction to the women, and here some slight further dramatic obstacles are introduced into the mix.  X has to find a wedding dress that will work with her bump, because shock! Horror! She’s pregnant! Y must find a frock that is short enough for her to dance all night in, as her Latin roots demand, and Z has a tight deadline.  Her betrothed is a soldier and they must marry on his next home leave.  These are obviously all extremely tough challenges for a team of professional dress-shop assistants, but they bravely take all the women on and the search for the dream dresses commences.

I endured part of Z’s story before turning over to watch Avatar again (it was a long flight).  We are allowed a little of her backstory: She was raised by her dad, mom having left when she was small.  She remains daddy’s little girl, but is marrying her soldier boy so that he has a wife waiting for him rather than a mere girlfriend, when next away in I-Raq, dodging friendly fire or massacring insurgents or whatever it is he is paid to do there.  Explaining this to the camera brings a tear to Z’s pretty young eyes.  But that’s enough about her life, family and personal choices: the show is about dresses and we are on a deadline, remember.

The reason her dress has to be perfect, we are told, is that Z has been planning her wedding day since she was 12.  Will the shop be able to fulfil her childhood fantasy?  I’m obviously on the edge of my economy class seat by now, as Z explains her requirements.  We cut to the good-cop assistants, who explain that the hardest part of their job is to help women very slightly rethink their ideas.  Wedding dress Nazi steps in to proclaim that whatever women say they want, he always knows best.

Accompanied by these weird people, we sweep through the massive shop that is a sea of white, cream and ivory satin, silk and nylon.  In the cult of the bride, the only colour is white, and the law seems to decree that all frocks must be encrusted with beads, lace, frills and ribbons.  As the cult followers are grown women who have stuck rigidly to their childhood fantasies, wedding dresses must conform to Disney’s warped vision, obviously.

A selection of dresses is brought to the waiting bride, who is being supported by a whole entourage of cult followers, including her dad and her chief bridesmaid.  Z tries on a frock and parades in front of her team, who all promptly cry about how beautiful she looks, while the wedding dress Nazi looks on, cynically.

Quite how the programme makers introduce some obstacle to this being The dress I will never know, as I can bear it no longer.  I will also never know how X and Y get on with their choices, but I have a feeling that all the women went home several thousand dollars poorer, toting massive bags of frothing white tulle, maybe having shed a few tears at some point in their “journey” towards buying a dress.  But I am left wondering why I took so much notice of the programme.

The cult of the bride is a fairly modern phenomenon.  In the last century women married in order to live with their boyfriends.  They wore a nice dress for the occasion, had some sarnies , cake a glass of wine and that was that.  The cult is obviously heavily supported by the wedding industry, a lucrative business, which promotes the infantalising of women. Listening to Z’s explanation of her 12-year-old self’s dream wedding dress, I was upset for several reasons: that she wasn’t embarrassed to be admitting that she is sticking to ideas she had about her future which she developed in pre-adolescence; that the whole programme and hence industry validates her wish for immaturity; that this possibly intelligent, grown woman wishes to be a waiting wife for her soldier husband.

This woman, along with X and Y, is in fact making a decision which will affect her entire future.  An emotional, sexual, financial, familial and legal choice, which will make breaking up expensive and unnecessarily complex.  Her life choice is reduced to a 12 year old’s dream of being a princess for a day, worshipped by all the cult followers, being the desperately needy centre of attention, before the realities and drudgeries of married life leave the photos as the only reminder of fantastical perfection.  It is unspeakably ridiculous.

Imagine a male equivalent of this programme.  Three grown men are asked what they had wanted to be when they grew up.  They then have the opportunity to dress up and pretend to be a policeman, fireman or astronaut for the day, in a special shop.  Everyone cries that they got to live out their childhood fantasies, and then they go back to their normal lives.  Mr Benn aside, somehow I don’t think it’s a goer.

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ISSUE 4 HEADS UP

The fourth edition of the Feminist Jumble Sale is due out in early September, and we are pleased to announce the theme of Bloody Heritage. We’d love your musings and creative outpourings on this theme by the August Bank Holiday weekend.  please send to feministjumble@hotmail.co.uk

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