I imagine there might be a fair few posts like this from me. I start with good intentions – or, well, intentions at least – and then forget. Or do other things instead. Honestly, I really ought to be cleaning the kitchen and then making food for myself right now. But I remembered this blog, so here I am.
There’s a few things I feel like saying. One thing is that I haven’t really felt like reading or writing much about feminism recently. I’ve made an exception for Blue Milk, whose blog I still keep up with, because (a) I love her writing and (b) she doesn’t make me sad, just frustrated by injustice every once in a while. Some of the larger feminist blogs honestly feel a bit overwhelming for me at the moment. Not because I’m in any kind of bad place – I’m not – but just because… well, I suppose I wanted a break from caring.
The second thing is that I’m getting married to J in about 6 weeks. Whoever knew that a small wedding would be so demanding? Not me, that’s for sure. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Actually, there’s probably a whole heap of feminist writing that could be written on the subject of weddings. I feel like that might justify a whole post on its own though, because I really could go on and on and on about it. Also, I feel like anybody who actually reads this blog should get a bit of warning, so having a post dedicated to it might be the way to go.
The third thing is that we’re moving house again, 4 weeks after the wedding. (In fact, there are multiple weddings. One that we’re planning and hosting, one that J’s parents are hosting, and one that my parents are hosting. At different times, I either think that this is exactly as batshit as it sounds, or that it’s a great idea.) But only to the flat immediately above the one we’re currently in. At this rate, the internet will never know about the flat we’re living in at the moment. I’m sure it’ll be heartbroken.
The fourth thing is that I’m spending a fair amount of time on Ravelry now that I’m not really anywhere else on the internet. It’s a lovely place to be, because – probably a bit like the feminist blogosphere – it feels predominantly female. But, unlike the general feminist blogosphere, Ravelry is a knitting and crochet site, so there’s an awful lot of stitching related forum threads. But at times, it also feels a lot like internet-based consciousness-raising sessions. I feel like this is a win.
Real life got in the way somewhat over these past few months, but look! Once more, I exist on the internet! Hooray!
Since May, a few things have happened.
- I graduated with a 2:1 in mathematics; I ‘m now the proud owner of a slightly curry-stained degree certificate.
- Three days in to my planned week of idleness, I emailed my boss to ask whether I could just start working for her full time now, please? Much to my delight, she not only agreed, but managed to consistently find enough money to pay me each month.
- Three months after my graduation, I finally moved out of the tiniest flat in the world, and away from Flatmate.
I’ve had all sorts of plans for my evenings since I started working full-time – I flirted briefly with the idea of researching knitting in late Medieval England, for instance, and of course, I never forgot that I technically still have this blog – but mostly I’ve just been… living. My work is now mostly computer based (we’re an internet-based company, and I do an awful lot of admin), which means that I tend to avoid screens like the plague once I get home. But I recently discovered that my eyes have deteriorated again – it shouldn’t be such a surprise; I’m short-sighted and it’s been at least 6 years since I’ve had them tested. If I can get a decent pair of glasses (perhaps even a pair that isn’t all wonky from all the times I’ve wrenched them off my face), I suspect my tolerance for screens might improve. And clearly the internet has missed my ramblings, so I might start off by telling the tale of the house-move.
One of the many reasons I love my mum is that when I talk to her, I don’t need to modify the language I use in order to be understood. There are very few people in my life that that’s true of – Kirsten is one, but even J isn’t – so I value it.
This weekend, I did something that on the face of it looked incredibly stupid. In the middle of my exams, I effectively took 4 days out in order to have a long weekend at my parents’ house, where I drank many cups of tea, took my brother to see the new Pirates of the Carribean film and did an awful lot of washing up, because other people were cooking my meals.
So, why did I do that? It wasn’t just because my brother had insisted that I (and only I) should be the person to laugh over the exploits of (Captain!) Jack Sparrow with him, though that was important. In fact, it was mainly because I desperately needed some space. Recently, Flatmate’s behaviour has become… erratic. I’ve had people I don’t know calling my home phone, frantically asking whether Flatmate has got back yet, because they’ve unexpectedly lost contact. Because the person who called was genuinely worried, and because the situation was not of her making, I spent some time tracking Flatmate down, making sure nothing really bad had happened (it hadn’t) before getting hold of her again to let her know. When this happens on the one day off you’ve given yourself in a week full of revision, at a time when all you really want to do is go and swing a sword around with friendly people who won’t make any demands of you, this kind of thing is deeply infuriating. The last thing I want at this point in time is to have to be the person who knows where Flatmate is. (You see, even though I’m sometimes crap at calling my parents, they won’t worry that I’m dead, because I live with J. If anything had happened to me, he’d find a way to let them know. And vice-versa. But I don’ t want to be that person for Flatmate. I don’t want to have to be the person who calls the police, or the parents.)
Even worse, in my mind, is this: Flatmate is a friend, or I would never have suggested we get a flat together. But these last few weeks, I’ve been almost entirely uncontactable – I’m not contacting anybody myself, and my London friends know I’m in the middle of my exams and, if they try to get hold of me at all, will text me to check whether they can call. Quite often, I don’t call them back. Of course, I’ll make it up to them after these exams are finished – they know that. What this means, though, is that if Flatmate does something that means I need to take time out of revising (or relaxing, which is equally important, as far as I’m concerned) to deal with it, I’m not only angry at the intrusion, I’m also resentful, because if I knew I’d be using that time for friend-related activities, I could have called one of my long-suffering London friends.
I explained some of this to my mum when I saw her this weekend. She understood immediately, and said that it reminded her of the decision that she and my dad had made when J and I were first going out. They effectively banned him from my bedroom, not because they didn’t want us sleeping with each other (“you could do that at any time, and as long as you keep yourself safe, it’s none of our business”), but because they thought that I should have one space that was entirely mine, that nobody, not even J, had a right to be in.
In the flat, I share a bedroom with J. My desk is in the living room, which is also the kitchen. I simply don’t have enough space. So I went to my parents’ for the weekend, partly to see my brother, but mostly because it was the only place that I could have a room of my own.
The title of Balancing Jane’s latest post is: “Quick! Which 5 books have made you who you are?”. I would have replied there, if I thought for a moment that I could choose just 5. But of course, I could chose 5 books before I’d even got to secondary school, and perhaps I should, given how much your childhood can affect the rest of your life. If I did, I’d pick:
- the Worst Witch series, Jill Murphy
- My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
- Alice (in Wonderland, and Through The Looking-Glass), Lewis Carroll
- the Malory Towers series, Enid Blyton
- Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mildred, the “worst witch”, was a hillariously forgetful, charmingly inept character in a series of stories that featured a beautiful charicature of boarding school, with the innevitable turning-people-into-frogs style of magic thrown in for good measure. She taught me that even if it looked like everything was going wrong, it would probably turn out alright in the end. Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical My Family is a disarmingly funny and honest account of his family’s life in Corfu, plus some commentary on animals. In secondary school, I returned to my Durrell collection – at that time, I owned almost every book he’d ever written – and read them continuously, to try to pass a creative writing exam by absorbing the style of a published author. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I didn’t quite manage it – probably because I wasn’t being original enough!
Alice In Wonderland is probably the best-known of the books in my list, and certainly the oldest. I’ve always enjoyed maths, and logic, and the flights of absurdity in Alice are still fantastic to read. Darrell, the main character in the Malory Towers series, endeared herself to me for two reasons: she was drawn with short hair, and she often lost her temper! Farmer Boy, and indeed the rest of the Little House series, I’ve already written about in this post on Teaspoon of Sugar.
Between 11 and 16 I read hundreds – literally hundreds – of books. I think I got through most of the books in my school library, which – now that I think about it – were a fairly odd mix. I can’t even begin to narrow my choices down to 5 here, but some of the authors I read in that period were:
Tamora Pierce (a USA-based fantasy author – too many books to list), Gillian Cross (The Demon Headmaster series), Diana Wynne Jones (UK-based fantasy author), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Michelle Magorian (A Little Love Song and Goodnight Mister Tom), Malorie Blackman (Noughts and Crosses), Nancy Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin), Jaclyn Moriarty (Feeling Sorry for Celia), Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials series and the Sally Lockhart series), John Wyndham (The Midwich Cuckoos, Day of the Triffids, The Seeds of Time), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series – the books came out in the summer of every year I was in secondary school, you couldn’t miss them), Douglas Adams (The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul), Phillipa Pearce (Tom’s Midnight Garden), Mary Norton (The Borrowers), Judy Blume (USA-based teen fiction), Agatha Christie (crime fiction, and yes, I think I’ve read almost every book she wrote!).
And after that, I did a lot of re-reading. Many of the authors I’ve listed still appear on my bookshelf. That’s pretty impressive, given how often I’ve tried to trim it back! But here’s five adult books that I can’t go without mentioning:
- 1984, George Orwell. A popular book for any list!
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Magaret Atwood. Truly terrifying.
- The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter. Again, scary.
- The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova. A beautiful re-working of Dracula, with extra libraries.
- I Am Legend. Richard Matheson. More vampires – you can never have too many!
I don’t really have a conclusion to this, except to say: books. I like them. And I would like to have the space to store more of them, so that I could re-populate my bookshelf with all of the authors I’m now thinking of.
I have high writing standards. So does my lecturer for my practical statistics course, which is fine – we are, after all, being judged on our writing.
So when I take the time to carefully compose an email to said lecturer to explain that my group has somehow managed to submit the same file twice online, rather than two different files once each, and her response in its entirity is:
It is somewhat infuriating.
Apart from anything else, it takes, what, twenty seconds to write:
“Dear Rachel, thank you for letting me know. This should be fine. Dr. XYZ.”
It seems students aren’t the only people who could benefit from reading this unprofessional emails post.
In the UK, to the best of my knowledge, there are no TV adverts for contraceptive pills, female or male. That’s probably due to the fact that the NHS decides which pills we get.
So I was a bit bemused when I read this post by Balancing Jane about contraception. Of course, stories about male contraceptive pills do the rounds every year or so, but they always seem to be in a place that is a long, long way away from the UK, and never seem to get reported beyond the initial “invention” stage, if you like.
Anyway, it got me thinking about trust, and specifically, whether I would trust a male partner to be in sole control of our contraception.
If I had to answer a survey, and tick either [yes] or [no], I’d probably tick yes. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because [yes]/[no] answers very rarely do.
I like to think that my relationship is built on trust (and a certain mutual fondness for bickering). And that ought to mean that I’d trust my partner to be in control of contraception. But deep down, I think I know that actually, I want to be in control of my contraception. Perhaps it’s because the consequences are worse for me than for him; perhaps it’s because I know he’s prone to being absent-minded. Perhaps it’s because my trust has its limits.
Whatever the reason, I don’t think I’d give up my side of the contraceptive bargain. A bargain that includes either taking the pill when he’s there to see, or telling him that I have done so, every single night. Perhaps that’s because his trust has limits, too.
- Woke at 9, had a shower, got dressed
- Put on a load of washing
- Had breakfast
- Answered my work emails, wrote some university emails
- Went to the market for fresh fruit and veg
- Cleared the table, cleaned the table, swept the floor, cleared the desk, cleaned the desk
- Stacked the dishwasher and got it running
- Wrote up some lecture notes
- Hung out the washing, put another load on
- Cooked lunch
- Wrote up some more lecture notes and did all the research for a History of Maths assignment
- Hung out the second load of washing, emptied the dishwasher
- Wrote up more lecture notes
- Stopped for toast at 6.
Still stubbornly attempting to get a first in your degree, even though you know you have to get an average grade of 90% in all of the modules you’re currently taking: it turns out this is not good for free time.
This year, I’m taking one year-long module called Practical and Applied Statistics. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin – the aim is to turn the students into people who can actually write a report, rather than just being able to crunch the numbers. One of the projects is a group project. There’s five people per group, all randomly assigned (as far as I know, anyway). Together we have to design an (extremely simple) experiment, write a protocol, conduct the experiment and write up a report. It’s frustrating, because the experiment is so simple – we’re growing plants – but it’s a good experience.
But we don’t know each other well, my group. Sometimes that’s good – it means there’s no friendships to be ruined! – and sometimes… it’s not so good. I made it clear that I’m not straight last Tuesday, in an episode that involved one of the guys in the group grumbling about having to grow plants, and then talking about how none of us were “lesbian tree-huggers”. I’m not explaining it very well, but it didn’t seem to be intended maliciously, just thoughtlessly, so I cheerfully came out and left it at that. Sometimes, a little embarressment is all that clueless guys need to stop them saying inappropriate things. Sometimes.
Tomorrow was the deadline for the protocol, and we pretty much did all the work for it over the last three days. So, by today, tempers were fraying somewhat. Which is probably why he repeatedly called the computer “gay”. And it’s entirely why I, after the third or fourth time, turned round and snapped, “you need to stop that. Just stop.” He looked a little scared, it stopped the conversation momentarily, and we carried on, minus the “gay” slurs.
The good news is that, after we’d finished the work and submitted it electronically, he asked to speak to me privately, and apologised for not thinking that I might not like him saying those things.
The sad thing is, I don’t think he realises that he ought to modify his language no matter who he’s talking to.
When J first moved in with me, there was a brief phase during which he would come to me to tell me – with some pride – about what he’d done that day. Like, for instance, loading the dishwasher.*
Nine months on, J comes to me to tell me – with a lot of pride** – about what he’s done during the day. Like, for instance, telling one of his (young, male) colleagues that he, J, thought that the sacking of Sky’s football presenter Andy Gray for his off-air sexist remarks was absolutely justified.
According to J, the subsequent discussion about equality involved him asking his colleague – who lives with his parents – whether he did any housework, and why (not)?
This, my friends, is what we call progress.
That, and the beautiful sound of Flatmate hanging up the washing.
*It didn’t take long for him to stop that. Especially when I came in from uni one day and walked into the kitchen with the words, “Hi J, guess what? I’ve just walked in and taken my shoes and coat off, and emptied the washing machine and hung up all the clothes, and then put another load of clothes in to wash, and now I’m saying hello to you, and oh, look, the dishwasher needs emptying so I’ll do that, and once I’ve done that maybe I’ll get round to putting the kettle on, and if you’re really, really lucky, I might even offer you a cup of tea. You can ask me about my day now.”
**He was so pround that he ended his account of the day with “…you could blog that. If you wanted.”
It’s no secret that I’m very firmly in favour of procreating at some point. (I went through a stage in my teenage years of being terrified at the mere idea of pregnancy, thanks to watching my mother go through her third pregnancy when I was 12, but that seems to have passed now.) Actually, for the last couple of months I’ve been broody to the point of wanting to change my contraception so that I can’t just “forget” to take my pill. But I got over that. Exam stress has a wonderful way of making you forget about hypothetical babies.
So, because I’m possibly too honest for my own good, I was talking to J about this odd broodiness, and that led quite neatly into The Baby Name Discussion. That’s always good for a laugh – J’s traditional father has inadvertantly ensured that my surname will be passed on to my children.* When we moved on to first names (there are remarkably few that work with my surname, but I’m damned if I’m giving it up!) J suggested that we call our first son, if we have one, by J’s fathers name. And then I threw a shit fit.
Firstly, because I can’t imagine anything worse than giving a child of mine a name that could only have been popular in the 50’s, and probably wasn’t even popular then.
Secondly, because I could imagine his reaction if I suggested we named our first daughter, if we have one, after my mother.
Thirdly, because – well, you should probably just read this post.
Eventually, I prevailed. This is because (a) I am more stubborn than J is, (b) it was a crap idea, and (c) my womb, my rules.
Pointing out that J has his father’s surname, and that therefore all of our children would have a link-by-name to their paternal grandfather, probably helped.
But mainly it was (a) and (c) that did it. As before, when a discussion has got grouchy, my strongly worded response was that if it mattered so much to J that he couldn’t compromise, then he should feel free to find somebody else to reproduce with. And yes, trolls of the internet: it matters enough to me that I would go and find somebody else to reproduce with. The moral of this story is that compromising is fantastic, as long as it’s not you that has to do it.
*We’d discussed hyphenating, which I hate, and discussed using one name as a middle name, which is what will happen. J’s dad, thinking that we were planning on hyphenating and presumably terrified that J’s surname would be less visible, insisted that J’s should go first. So it will. As the middle name. Mine will be the “real” surname. There’s a small, petty bit of me that is just waiting to see his face when he realises….