A Room of My Own

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.

In Which I Have A Fucked-Off Ramble

For a little while now, I’ve found my feminist focus shifting. After a while, I felt like I’d got a permanent sense of deja vu with the big blogs and their interminable blogwars and even more interminable US-centrism. So I stopped reading most of them. (I’m also quite sensitive to blog layouts, for some reason, and it’s no coincidence that the ones that I stopped reading first were the ones I found difficult to look at. Womanist Musings is a good example of this, as are Pam’s House Blend and Pandagon.)

To fill in the gap, I headed down under. Hoyden About Town is a long-term favourite of mine, although they too did some very strange things with their layout recently. Luckily for me, they give the option of reading HAT in the old, simple blog format, or I’d’ve had to stop reading them, too. Anyway, I also started following Blue Milk. And Spilt Milk. And so, despite not being a parent, I kind of got suckered into reading about feminist parenting. I love it. I think of it as gentle feminism, the kind that’s part of a nice chat about your day. I also would like to have kids one day – I don’t mind how. (My parents were seriously considering fostering before Mum unexpectedly got pregnant with my brother when I was 12. If pregnancy doesn’t happen for me, I’d do that. At least, I think I would.) So it’s nice to read about people who are just a bit ahead of me in life. And because I spent my teenage years in a house full of nappies and lego, and being woken up at 2am for a surprise bonus cuddle, I can already relate to a lot of it.

So, it’s been nice. Gentle. Easy reading, if you like. And I do like – that’s why I read them, and that’s why I write for Teaspoon of Sugar, the whole point of which is to be nice and gentle and easy.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the blogwars came to Blue Milk! Well, not quite – she’s steering clear of the threads of doom, and I don’t blame her one little bit. I thought I’d seen all of the blogwars, but this kids-in-public-spaces meltdown must have passed me by last time it rolled round.

It just seems ridiculous to me. Ridiculous and unnecessary. Arguing about whether kids should be in bars or watching late-night films is just daft (age ratings and the discretion of the management: it turns out we have them). I hate those kinds of discussions anyway. They seem no different to the arguments I’ve had with men about street harassment, who try to “win” by pulling ever more stupid arguments out their arses – you know, the “but what if a woman was walking down the road in nipple tassels and a tutu, *then* could I stare at her?” arguments. For the kids debate, you get “but what if a parent took their kid to a BDSM club, *then* could I say that kids don’t belong in public?”.

To the people who make those arguments, I say now: fuck you all.

Children are people too – and by that, I don’t mean that children are defective adults, just like I am not a defective white person, or straight person, or man. I mean that children are people, and therefore not animals, not dolls, not burdens. People. Some children can’t communicate verbally. Well, and nor can some adults. Some children display behaviours inappropriate to the situation they are in. So do some adults. Part of living in society is understanding that not everybody is just like you, and not everybody can behave the way you want them to. This is basic stuff.

But even more basic is this: I didn’t sign up to feminism to have other feminists police my moral standards, whether that’s to do with what kind of period control I use, or where I take my imaginary child. Well, ok, I didn’t sign up to feminism at all – there’s no membership card, no joining fee, no contract. Which is just as well, because right now I feel like asking for my money back. Reproductive rights are a feminist issue. Not just birth control, not just abortions, not even just parental leave issues, but also real children. The children that a lot of the feminists in the thread’o’doom don’t ever want to see, hear or interact with in any way. Thanks a lot, ladies. I’m really feeling that supportive sisterhood I’ve heard so much about.

In more hopeful news, I see that Tigtog from HAT and Chally from Zero At The Bone are now moderating the thread’o’doom, which might mean a bit less shit gets hurled. Even so, I think I’ll be sticking to the nice, quiet, parenting blogs for a while.

Negotiating Sanity

Who would’ve thought it would be so difficult?

Not me, that’s for sure.

It’ll be fine, I thought. J and Flatmate know I’m doing exams; they’ll cut me some slack, I reckoned. I’ve told them that I’m not doing housework, so someone else will do it, I assumed.

Yeah. No.

The washing built up. And built up some more. And some more. Flatmate went and bought new underwear, but didn’t think to wash the dirty underwear in the basket. J got down to his manky, I-need-to-do-my-washing underwear. I didn’t care. I always have at least two weeks’ worth of clothes. The floor remained grimy. I didn’t care. I walk around barefoot, but I just wiped my dirty feet on the huge pile of dirty washing accumulating on the floor of our bedroom.

J tried to cook new and exciting dinners. Even more excitingly, he tried to make up his own recipes. Those conversations went like this:

J: Can I talk to you about dinner?

Me: [pausing my revision] Sure. What were you thinking of making?

J: Roasted vegetables!

Me: With?

J: What?

Me: What are you going to serve them with? You can’t have a whole meal made entirely of roasted veg.

J: Um. I don’t know. Paninis?

Me: Ok. Well, you’ll need to go and buy them, then.

J: Should I do something else?

Me: If you don’t want to go to the shops, yes. Why don’t you have a look in these cookery books?

…[some time passes]

J: What about rice?

Me: You could do. There’s some in the cupboard. What are you going to do for protein?

J: What?

Me: Protein. You know – meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans… protein.

J: Oh. I don’t know. Do you have to have it?

Me: [deciding that the nuances of this argument can wait] Yes. You have to have some protein. I know we don’t have any meat in, so how about you use a tin of kidney beans? You could cook them and mix them in with the rice.

I started to care. I had an exam that afternoon. The discussion about food, and what components you need to make a meal, took up a good couple of hours. True story. J had the right idea – that cooking dinner for me after my stressful exam would be a nice thing to do – but went about it badly; and, to be honest, the thought that I might come home to be presented with a plate full of roasted vegetables, and nothing else, was far more stressful than any exam. Actually, the really stressful bit was the thought that I’d have to appear grateful for it.

I mentioned this conversation to A, a female friend of mine who was also taking the exam that day. She looked at me in horror. “Didn’t anybody ever teach him basic nutrition?”, she responded, shocked.

“No,” I replied bitterly. “Why would anybody think he needed to know? He’s a man.”

These past weeks, I’ve been trying hard to set boundaries, to retain the vestiges of my sanity, or at least to save my emotional energy for fretting that I’ll never get that first that I want so badly. And yet – it feels like squishing a balloon. You can try to make a dent in one place, but all that seems to happen is that the problem pops up somewhere else.

I set a clear boundary that says “I refuse to come home and have to plan and make dinner for all three of us after an entire day of studying and sitting an exam. If you want to eat together, you’ll have to cook for all of us. If not, you’ll have to cook for yourself. And I’ll have a sandwich.” And I end up giving an improptu lesson on the different elements that make up a meal. I might not have done the cooking, but I’ve sure as hell done the thinking. I would’ve thought less if I’d just cooked the damned thing myself, in fact.

Yesterday, J had a day off. I did not, because revision is relentless. J had chosen to clean the floors as his big chore for the week. And he chose to do this in the middle of the day, which made sense, but while I was trying to revise at the kitchen table, which did not make sense. He hoovered around me, and I ignored that, although it isn’t a very sensible way to get the dirt up. But then he tried to mop around me as well. And around every other object in the room – guitar, chair, amp, tea chest – that he hadn’t bothered to move.

I cared. Oh, how I cared. But I had almost no emotional energy left to give. For the first time since he’d arrived five weeks ago, I shouted at him. I felt myself losing my temper. I saw him pouting. Taking it personally. I started losing it faster. When I felt tears of rage in the corners of my eyes, I tried to stop. Turned away. Took deep breaths. Tried to make my body language less aggressive. He didn’t stop being defensive. Didn’t try to listen. I tried to stomp on the rage, but only compounded it.

You’re the one who keeps talking about how high his standards are, I snarled. You’re the one who wanted to mop the floors every week. But you don’t know how to do it properly, do you? No wonder you keep talking about how easy it all is! You only do the easy bits! You’ve lived in a house with carpet your whole life. I’ve had a bedroom with wooden floors since I was ten. And my parents didn’t clean it for me! If you’re going to interrupt MY studying to clean the floors that YOU spilt compost over yesterday, then you will listen to me when I tell you that what you’re doing IS NOT MAKING THE FLOOR ANY FUCKING CLEANER!

In the end, I “helped” him. I refused to let him mop until we’d moved all the moveable furniture out of the room. I showed him how to mop effectively. I refused to move the furniture back in until the floor was clean. Start to finish, it was an hour and a half of prime revision time, gone. I point blank refused to eat dinner with J or Flatmate, even though Flatmate hadn’t done anything wrong, and made myself noodle soup, which took me ten minutes to cook and used only one pan and a wok. And I calmed down by reading the archives of Blue Milk, because there’s something very comforting about knowing that other people have these kinds of arguments too, albeit about different problems. And after they’d eaten and cleared the table, I caught up my lost hour and a half of revision. I stopped at 9 in the evening, when my brain turned to mush.

Now I’ve got nothing left. I’m more emotionally drained than I’ve been for weeks. The straw that broke the camel’s back turned out to be an argument about mopping the floors, of all things. Tonight I’m going to make sure I eat before J and Flatmate get home. I don’t care if I have to eat four meals today, just so long as none of those meals is for anybody except me. I’m home alone today, and even though I’ll do a solid day’s revision, it feels like a holiday. I’ll even commandeer my desk back. J’s been sprawled out there playing on his computer, but today he can’t get there before me. Where negotiation fails, unilateral decisions win. And today, I unilaterally decide that I am the most important person in the house, and this means that everybody else will just have to work around me. J and Flatmate can come home to a dirty kitchen, which I won’t have noticed because I’ll be at the desk, having moved J’s keyboard and mouse to the floor, playing angry girl music, singing to myself and revising.

This is the point at which I stop trying to negotiate for my sanity and start demanding it.

Turning Navel Gazing Into An Olympic Sport

Students. They have parties, apparently. I know this, because there is one in my flat.

Therefore, I am hiding.

My (nice) flatmate was all dressed up and clearly Entertaining, with a capital E. Which made me sticking my head round the door to talk to her about vegetables a bit weird, to say the least.

However, she didn’t seem to hold it against me.

And, on the plus side, I have been playing all kinds of good music to drown out the yelps. Yelping is, it seems, some kind of required activity. It must be, because people do it outside my window too, when they’re feeling particularly merry. So far on my playlist:

  • Revelry – Kings of Leon
  • The Killing Lights – AFI
  • The Heart of Everything – Within Temptation
  • My Favourite Game – The Cardigans
  • I Need A Holiday – Scouting For Girls

Every time I do these kinds of playlists, I feel like my taste in music is getting increasingly eccentric. For example, the songs above can be blamed on my sister, Llencelyn, J, one of J’s friends, and my sister (again). This becomes more strange on imagining all of those people present in the same place at the same time. The gathering would suffer from jetlag, for one.

What I need now is something by Ian Dury so that Kirsten could be at my crazy virtual party. Or I could claim that Fairytale of New York (the Pogues and Kirsty Maccoll version) could be her contribution. Sam would have a somewhat amusing choice of either Linkin Park or MC Hammer, and Lee has introduced me to Jim’s Big Ego.

What I’ve actually got now is Stray Cat Strut (Stray Cats), which at least means I get to say hello to my father!

Things You Shouldn’t Do

You should not read the archives of Nee Naw (although it is a very good blog)  if you’re likely to feel at all distressed at the thought of elderly men dying. Like I was, because it reminded me that not only is my grandfather very dead, he’s also very cremated now and so even if there is a zombie uprising, he will not be coming back.

On the other hand, reading about the people who take phone calls for ambulances reminds me of the time my sister tried to open a packet of blue dye with her teeth. Which also ranks quite high in the list of things you shouldn’t do. It was a bright blue, powder dye, and, not surprisingly, the packet exploded into her mouth. So she came to me, dribbling blue, to get my advice. I told her to spit out all the dye she could, and rinse out her mouth with cold water, thinking that this would remove it. Unfortunately, it was cold-water dye, and just made her tongue even bluer. So, both of us very shamefaced, we went downstairs to tell Mum. She took one look at my sister and got on the phone to the Poisons people (I think they live in Guy’s Hospital, but who knows….).

Except, of course, my sister thought that Mum was calling an ambulance, and that she was going to die. So she started screaming. And it was a couple of seconds after that that Mum’s call got transferred to the people that could tell her whether the dye was poisonous or not. Luckily enough, it turned out that the dye was only deadly if you inhaled it. And my sister had a heavy cold. So that was one death averted by an intrepid cold virus. Who’d have thought a small child would ever be so happy that they were all bunged up?

Remembering that story, I have to wonder how many parents would’ve phoned the ambulance people instead…

Goodbye, Winston

My maternal grandfather died on Wednesday 17th December 2008. He was just shy of both Christmas and his 85th birthday, so his timing wasn’t fantastic.

When somebody dies, there’s generally a lot of talk about what so-and-so would have wanted. Of course, unless they are like my father (“when I die, write a round robin telling everyone that I didn’t face my death with bravery at all, I was a total coward and a pain in the arse”) you don’t tend to know for sure that X or Y is what they’d have wanted to happen.

I suspect that he wouldn’t have minded this though. Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s appeared in this blog, and in any case, he can’t do much about it now! That painting was one that I did, of him and for him, for his birthday. It seemed a bit mean to turn up to a birthday party without a present, but I was faced with the dilemma of what on earth you get for an eighty-year-old man. In the end, although I was sixteen and should really have stopped drawing pictures as presents about five years beforehand, I decided that one thing he definitely wouldn’t already have was a portrait of himself!


What’s important here is that I really loved the old man. In any family, there are going to be relatives that you go to see out of politeness. Winston was not one of those people. He was great.

When I was younger, he taught me to club-swing. To this day, I can’t remember why. What I can remember is him saying, very solemnly, “of course, that was back when I was in short trousers”. Clearly, to him, this was a reasonable explanation!

Despite his sister being a piano teacher, and despite the fact that he was clearly very musically-minded, he always insisted that he had had no formal lessons. Then he’d sit down at his keyboard and accompany himself to “Danny Boy”, a song that he was inexplicably attatched to.

I spent years of my life trying to work out, in vain, which of his eyes was the false one. He lost the real one after an ember from a coal in the steam train he was driving flew into it. Yet, though it was glass, it matched his real eye perfectly, and I never could tell. Nor, unfortunately, could the nurse in the hospital he spent his last day in; she tried to get a response out of him by shining a light into the false eye. I think he probably would’ve been amused by that, if only he’d known. Even more bizarrely, it turns out that he had, in total, five false eyes. Aparently, they’ve been appearing all around the house, hidden away in various little boxes. However, it’s never a good idea to say, in company, “so, have you found any more of Winston’s eyes lately?”. As my mother found out, you do tend to get a few funny looks.

It’s difficult, of course, to avoid wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Winston wasn’t perfect. He was a wind-up merchant, for one thing. But he could hardly have been part of our family without it. Sarcasm just seems to be a family trait, along with imperfect vision and a penchant for bad puns. I suppose all you can say about someone, in then end, is that you’re glad to have known them, even if they did annoy you. And that’s definitely true of him – on both counts!