The cycling pants of shame

London was not built for cars.  It’s a well know fact that driving your clunker through the city is the slowest and most expensive way to get around.

The fastest – and incidentally cheapest – way to travel is on two wheels.  It was with this in mind that I decided to brave the rough roads of London and embark on that momentous expedition:  my first cycle to work.

Previously I had only been able to gawp in envy at the fit elite – all honed arms, and sculpted thighs – as I trudged from the tube station, chocolate bar in hand.  Now I would be one of the noble few.  I could see myself wizzing past the commoners as they watched my bum disappear into a distant land of endless cool.

Being a cheapskate, I had acquired my little sister’s bike in exchange for paying our dad 40 quid to cover a window she broke (I’m not the only one in my family with the ‘oops!’ gene.)  However, my sister had originally bought the bike when she was 14 years old and into pink.  Florescent pink.

In spite of this rather embarrassing inconvenience, I was undeterred.  Armed with my little-girls bike and an oversized helmet my local bike dealer had duped me into buying, I set off into the unknown.  I was certainly prepared.  I had packed some spare underwear to ride home in, just in case I sweated more than usual.  Knowing that this was a distinct possibility (due to the fact I hadn’t exercised in about a year) I had packed the oldest, grimiest, most granny-like pants and bra I owned.  What a pro.

Things were going well.  The sun shone as I headed towards Paddington, a vision of enviable cool.  As I turned the corner into Spring Street, a rather attractive bearded gentleman shot me a grin.  ‘Amazing.’ I thought to myself ‘Even dressed up like a demented 12 year old, I’ve still got it.’

It took me about six seconds and a hundred yards to realise what was really going on:  My backpack had come unzipped.  My tights were wrapped around my back wheel.

My underwear was strewn back down the middle of the road.

Let me level with you.  Spring Street is littered with cafes and restaurants – basically involving quite a lot of people sitting outside, people watching.  Right now they were watching me.  Me, and my skanky underwear.

In a mad panic I threw my bike to the ground and ran back down the street, my oversized helmet bobbing from side to side as I picked up my abandoned items.  With every ounce of dignity I had left (er… not much, for those of you who were wondering) I jumped back on my bike and rode away.

It’s been three long and difficult years since ‘the incident’.  After therapy, prayer and a lot of strong liquor, I finally feel that I’m ready to move on.  So, at the end of this month I’m going to face my fear: buy a bike and re-try the cycle to work.

I’ll be packing good underwear.


The fake Facebook me: an open letter to my FB friends

Hmm.                         Awkward.                         You see… I have a confession to make. I haven’t been entirely honest. My profile is a set up. I’ve crafted, sculpted and de-tagged it to death in an attempt to appear as smooth as possible – the ‘best’ version of myself. Who I want you to think I am.

I haven’t lied to you. Nothing on my profile is untrue. It’s what I’ve left out that has resulted in a less than complete picture of myself.

However, I’ve decided to cut the crap. That’s right, I am now on a mission to officially become A Bull-Free Zone.

Here’s what I would add to my profile info if I were being completely honest:

Movies

I like to give off the impression that I only ever watch super arty films with subtitles so tiny you have to endure the entire movie understanding almost none of the dialogue, but connecting on a higher level with what the director is trying to “say” through the subtly placed set props.

However, around 80% of the time, it’s actually quite unlikely that I’m watching a French language film with Arabic subtitles about post modernism in a post-colonial world. I’m actually watching Cheaper by the Dozen 2. And enjoying it.

Photos

Until recently I blocked all friends from seeing each and every photo I’m tagged in and limited access to profile pics and backpacking photos only. I have now seen the light and have officially Got Over Myself (it really is official – you get a certificate and everything.) If we’re FB friends, please do take a look. There’s a particularly fetching one of me lying in a crumpled heap on the floor.

Music

I would love you to believe that the first record I ever purchased was something uber cool like Blue by Joni Mitchell. But it wasn’t. It was Let’s Get Ready to Rumble by PJ and Duncan. I used to, and still do, have a big thing for comedy rapping. In fact, two weeks ago I subjected a car full of people to a rendition of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ word for word. I’m still not sure if they were amused or just thought I needed help.

Activities

I do enjoy politics, music and reading, but if I were being entirely honest I would also add the following to my list:

  • Walking into lampposts
  • Skipping down the road when I think no one is looking whilst giggling to myself like a crazy person.
  • Aimlessly browsing the internet for hours when I should be doing something waaaay more useful. Like sleeping. Or reading Tolstoy. Or watching an Arabic-subtitled French film with a post-modern interpretation of the post-G8 consumerist culture in middle Britain.

Nope, I’m not entirely sure what that sentence means either.

Crumpled heap: Officially the best photo of me on Facebook


Embracing the F word

The moment I decided to come out to my dad was, if nothing else, an anti-climax. “Dad, there’s something you should know…” I began with the sombre self-realisation of a 27 year old about to dump a life-shattering bombshell at her father’s door “…I think I’m a feminist.”

There was a pause.  Followed by a suppressed snort of amusement. “Um, love, we’ve known this for about 12 years.”

Oh.

…hang on, What?? Why the hell didn’t someone tell me?!

Bill Bailey: Bearded, comic legend. Also looks suspiciously like my dad.

 The list

There was a reason I had taken so long to realise what was so obvious to my parents. For most of my life I had been sold a rather narrow view of what a feminist was supposed to look like. There was a list. And my personal CV just didn’t match up:

I don’t want to burn my bra. Years ago a well-meaning relative told me that “A feminist is someone who burns her bra in public”. Being twelve, I didn’t actually own a bra so this immediately presented a barrier. By the time I did, I’d already had enough underwear-in-public shaming incidents for one lifetime.

I’m not raging with anger. I never thought I could be a feminist because I just wasn’t angry enough. And I had been told once, by a boy I fancied, that all feminists were crazy, extreme angry people with bad haircuts. I’ve only ever angrily sworn at another person twice in my entire life – once when I got plastered and spent a full hour drunkenly shouting at God, and once when I mustered up enough spite to call my brother…brace yourself folks… a “bloody boy!” Yeah, you read that right – Bloody. Boy. – words so badass they make the recipient’s toe hair shrivel up in fright (…or just cause them to laugh in my face, resulting in me running away. Crying.)

I am not invincible. I hate hate hate walking home alone late at night. I struggle with heavy boxes. I cried at the end of Terminator. Twice. I suck at team sports. Sometimes I require the help of another person when over-optimistically scaling the park wall at ten to midnight and getting stuck on top of the fence.

Occasionally I find myself wishing I were built of unscratchable, unbreakable, ‘I don’t need nobody, damn it’ stone. But then I realise that a life like that would be really boring and require almost no courage whatsoever.

I like God. Even when I’m spewing drunken swear words in his general direction, ultimately I’m still a fan. In fact, I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable enough to get drunk and swear at someone I didn’t like. If I ever swear at you, by the way, you’d better damn well take it as a bloody compliment.

I like men. There are men in this world who have inflicted horrific oppression on my gender. But there are also men out there who have championed the end of exploitation, inequality and abuse. Some of my feminist heroes are, in fact, men. If we’re going to truly stamp out violence against women it’s going to take all of us – men and women – to bring about lasting culture change. The appalling suffering directed towards my sex isn’t just something that women should grapple with. It presents an issue for humanity as a whole.

In addition, men can grow all kinds of awesome facial hair – shadow, stubble, BEARDS!! C’mon, people!

The other list

However, there is another relevant list: Sexual violence. The 55% pay gap between men and women in the finance sector. Forced marriage. Porn which depicts sex as something ‘you do to’ rather than something ‘you do with’ a woman. Female Genital Mutilation. Honour killings. The fact that many women in the public eye are judged first by their appearance, rather than their policies, achievements and character.

This list may not make me rage with hatred, but it makes me feel pretty sad.

I think a woman should never be beaten with sticks for simply uncovering her arms. It’s gutting that little girls in some families are sold off to brothels because they’re not valued as much as their brothers. I think men should seek to protect, and partner with, the women in their lives, not beat them to a pulp.

I don’t think we should settle for how things stand at the moment.

And that is why I, ladies and gents, am a bra-wearing, fence-scaling, man-lovin’ feminist.


Things to do before you turn 30

Best birthday card of all time? Uh-huh.

What not to write in your impressionable brother’s birthday card:

  

Gareth!!

The day has arrived. Twenty-eight. Big deal. Hope you’re not freaking out.

If not, why not? Only two years left to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, run a marathon, and become a washed-up 1-hit wonder pop sensation.

Sooo… enough with the cliched ’10 things to do before you turn 30’ crap. I’ve written an ‘alternative’ list for you. Much more fun:

The Things to do before you turn 30 to prove to yourself that you’re a worthwhile human being list:

1. Fart loudly in a crowded lift
2. Hi-5 ten random strangers while shouting “Go, Power Rangers, Go!!” a little too enthusiastically
3. Dramatically QUIT your job, storming out with flare, confidence, and the office stapler
4. Grow a moustache
5. Realise that your face does not support adequate ‘tash growth and buy a fake
6. Send your big sister chocolate on a monthly basis
7. Be overcome with moustache-related inadequacy & compulsively buy random moustache-shaped objects in order to compensate for your dwindling sense of self worth

Yup, This actually happened.

Upon receiving this rather questionable advice, my brother ‘mysteriously’ came into the possession of several unconvincing moustache-like items.

I’m still waiting on the chocolate.


Things you learn after surgery

My decommissioned handbag, which my housemate told me ‘looks like a dead rat’. Probably for the best.

1 You don’t need a handbag

Due to several holes being punched into my stomach, my ability to lift things has dramatically decreased. Not that I was particularly succeeding on that front in the first place.

As result, I’m not supposed to lift anything too heavy for a few weeks and have been travelling to and from work with nothing more that what I can fit in my pockets. And I haven’t missed anything. Not a thing. I’ve realised that I don’t actually need all that crap that I lug around everyday, thus putting unwanted strain on my shoulders and back. Handbags are now a thing of the past. Liberation.

2 Never send messages while under the influence

When I woke up after surgery I felt pretty with it.

When I re-read the texts and emails I had sent later that same day, I realised that my initial assessment on my level of coherence had probably been a little optimistic.

A word of advice: If when you come round, all you want to do is cry and tell everyone that you love them, that’s probably a clear sign that you’re still as high as a tree.

Put. Down. That. Phone.

3  Something I heard from someone else but have obviously never tried myself. Obviously. No, really.

Telling everyone that you’re having a conveniently large ‘cyst’ removed (to cover up the actual liposuction* that you’re funding from the dwindling proceeds of your shady criminal past) really does work. Even when you write about it on your blog, your readers will still assume that you’re joking. Apparently.

*This is a joke. I can’t even take a blood test unless medically compelled to do so. Although the shady criminal past? True story. I once accidentally ran a red light in Cardiff.  Crazy times.


The day the dropkick died

If you could be any character from any film for one day, who would you choose?

For me, the answer is obvious.

Selene, the ass-kicking, werewolf-killing vampire from Underworld is my celluloid hero. In many ways I would make a crap vampire: I can’t even give blood without having a minor panic attack; I don’t like guns; and last week I got really freaked out because I accidentally squashed a beetle, so ruthless killing is probably out of the question.

But.

Selene knows how to kick ass. And she can do that triple spinny thing in the air before throwing a roundhouse to a guy’s head whilst simultaneously drop kicking yet another person’s bottom.

That used to be me. Well, sort of.

Six years ago my mum and I decided to accompany my sister to her first kick boxing class just to give her initial ‘moral support’. We got hooked. Soon we were kicking and punching our way through three hour-long classes a week.

My mum: Don't be fooled by the friendly smile. This woman could probably take you in a fight.

For the first time in my 23 years, I felt like a total badass. Embarrassingly, I still didn’t look quite as hardcore as my mum, who kicked my ass in every class. (Only because I let her, of course. I’m just, umm, really nice like that.)

My love affair with kicking lasted three wonderful years. And then disaster struck in the form of a twisted ankle, and it was all over.

Rather embarrassingly, whenever my friends ask what ended such a promising career of crime fighting, I can’t tell them that I got injured during a kickboxing competition, or because I tripped after dropkicking a mugger on the crime swamped streets of London. I have developed a nasty habit of telling the truth. Which is, unfortunately, this:

“I fell off my shoes”

Sympathetic friend: “Wow. You must have been really drunk! Or scaling an impossibly high wall in impossibly high heels. Or defending a helpless elderly lady whilst scaling an impossibly high wall in impossibly high heels… drunk.”

“No.”

Awkward Silence.

“I was sober.

At 7am.

At a networking event.

In the House of Parliament.”

In fact, I had just successfully networked with another person at the event. And I know this because we both felt comfortable enough to admit that we really needed a pee and so set off to find the loo together. And that’s what all the pro networkers usually do to seal the professional bond at networking events in parliament, right? So off we walked. And as we walked across the grand hall in our high heels, with no intervention from anyone or anything else, I somehow managed to fall off my own shoes.

So that’s it. In Underworld, it usually ends for a badass vampire because she is ripped apart whilst triple dropkicking through the air to avenge both a 400 year-old feud and the annihilation of her entire family.

For me it just ended because I needed the loo.

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.


Embracing failure

In theory, I love the concept of failure. Perfection leaves me cold. Where there is a trail of untarnished perfection, you are often likely to find a life devoid of risk.

In theory, I know that failure shouldn’t be something to be afraid of.

And then there is the reality.

I spent a large portion of my first thirteen years writing stories. Up until that point I was a consistent child – all I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’ was write. And then for some reason, I stopped. My pen didn’t touch a page for fifteen years.

On a silent retreat 18 months ago I realised that writing is still at the heart of who I am. I find it frustrating and incredibly difficult at times, but I love it and know that without it there is a part of me that isn’t being expressed.

I decided to take it up again and wrote the first few chapters of a book. In the words of Ernest Hemingway “The first draft of anything is shit.” And it really was. I became so overwhelmed by the possibility of writing an entire first draft that…well, could have been written by a ten year old on a sugar-high, that I gave up half way through chapter five.

In my head I’m a great novelist. If I actually try it out in the real world, I may find out that I’m not. It’s hard to keep fooling yourself when the harsh glare of your failure informs you otherwise. Dreaming, rather than actually trying, is a safe bet because you can control the outcome and avoid falling short of your own self-belief.

But.

This year I’m going to try to write a book. The end result might be the literary equivalent of a drunk penguin on a unicycle, but my fear will just have to deal with it. This is happening.