The Mean Reds

Hello, and welcome back! I said the Tinder Tales would continue, and I did not lie…

Tinder Tales #4

With number four, the awkward moment actually came on our second date. The first date went well; we chatted about ourselves, had a couple of drinks, and there was even a bit of chemistry. He walked me back to my car and – for the first time ever on a first date – we kissed. It was quite a good kiss, and I headed home with a spring in my step.

In fact, Mr #4 threw a spanner in the works that I had never even contemplated. We met for our second date at a restaurant local to me, a chain I believe, called Cleaver. He arrived a little flustered, but kissed me as he sat down – hello butterflies. But from there things got a bit awkward. There was chemistry, oh yes, but conversation was reluctant to flow. I turned to that old fail safe, the menu, and asked if there was anything he didn’t eat. I was contemplating various sharing platters – chicken wings, chilli nachos and the like – or a proper, hefty steak. Decisions, decisions. I knew he had a sweet tooth so was confident that a warm chocolate brownie would be appearing in front of me before we left the restaurant. He paused, menu in hand, and then uttered words I never expected to pass the lips of the 6ft something blonde ice hockey player next to me.

“I’m a vegetarian.”

Such simple words. Such a small thing – no meat. I have friends who are veggie, who eat kosher, and I can go for days inadvertently meat-free, simply because I like vegetarian food. The problem is, I also love meat. Suddenly a potential future together flashed before my eyes; nut roasts at Christmas, steak-free 14th March, no hearty beef stews in winter, or Moroccan pulled lamb shoulder with friends, slow-cooked pork sizzling on a BBQ… I’m salivating just thinking about it. Add in that that I have both shot and manually dispatched game birds, and I’m possibly not his type.

He went to Florida for a while. He may even have got back by now – I know he was due to be away for a few weeks – and while a part of me would like to see him again, I know I care too much about food and cooking. It’s not about what he does or doesn’t eat, nor is it about the reasoning behind it. It is about the opportunities and experiences it would close off to us were we a couple. I want to be with someone who actively enjoys food and cooking, and will be adventurous in what they try, both to eat and to prepare. Vegetarianism had never entered my mind as a possibility.

Sigh. Maybe I’m just too fussy.

 

Tinder Tales #5

First date easily 9/10, absolutely swept off my feet. I’d had some bad news the night before, and wasn’t fully feeling in the mood, but decided to go along anyway. We met by the flower stall outside Liberty’s, and he explained he’d booked a table at a bar nearby – number eight somethingorother road. We found the road. I saw a building with a number 8 on it. Eat. The sandwich chain. I looked next door. Agent Provocateur. Wasn’t sure either of these were really suitable first date material, but I swallowed my bad mood and went with it. What I’d failed to notice was an unmarked doorway between the two. With some irritation, trepidation and hyperbolic visions of underground muggings, gang rape, and murder, I followed him down the dark stairway. Far from the perilous site of a fatal attack, I was presented with a beautiful bar full of nooks and crannies in which one could curl up and sup on nought but exquisite cocktails and mouth-watering desserts. We whiled away hour upon hour – and cocktail upon cocktail – with conversation ranging from school (we went to secondary school fairly close to each other) to Plato (he was reading The Republic, or something like that). We shared a couple of desserts and sipped on cocktails containing liqueurs I’d never heard of, amontillado sherry, peat, and all sorts of other surprising things that tasted incredible. He offered me the chance to play a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card and leave, and I declined. At that, he kissed me, mid-date. Chemistry? Yes, so very yes. We carried on, dotting our constant conversation with kisses here and there, for hours more. Rather than nearly missing my train á la numéro deux, I actually missed it this time[i], and he hosted me for the night – accepting that I wouldn’t sleep with him on the first date, and not once trying to twist my arm. The second date was less than a week later and involved homemade chilli (cue text to a friend: “He eats meat!”) and a bottle of red with philosophical debates on the sofa. Third date lasted over 36 hours.

Over the next few weeks, we danced, we brunched, we drank wine, debated politics and philosophy, he tried – adorably – to make me breakfast and I subsequently taught him how to poach an egg, we dunked giant Bourbon biscuits into mugs of Earl Grey over a game of Scrabble, we watched Audrey Hepburn eat her breakfast at Tiffany’s while we ate brunch. He seemed funny, respectful, ambitious, hard-working, good fun. Possibly an over-thinker, but let’s face it I am the blackest of pots where that kettle is concerned.

But. But. There’s always a ‘but’. The last of this series of wonderful dates, I had a particularly painful arm on a day we had brunch at Seven Dials. The next evening, he called me to explain that he’d been thinking about the future and wasn’t sure he wanted any potential children we may one day have to inherit my genetic condition. We did talk over it all, but really truly, what it all boils down to is one simple answer: “Fuck You!”

***

I’ve been on one other date since that fiasco, and I hope to see him again so I shan’t jinx it by giving you details here. But Mr #5 has left me with some scars; I’d never before perceived my genetic condition, painful as it may be, to be a barrier to a relationship. Most of the time I have a strong enough perception of my self-worth to realise that it’s his loss, and if he’s flaky enough to turn me down because of the 1 in 20+ chance that any future kids – if we ever got that far ­– would inherit the more painful version of this condition from me, then he’s probably not the best person with whom to entertain the idea of a relationship. I mean, imagine something actually went wrong – not just a ‘maybe one-day’, but an ‘actually now’. What if a pipe burst, or the car broke down, or one of the kids got measles? It’d be a veritable Armageddon! I want to meet someone with whom I can face the challenges life brings hand in hand, all the stronger for having each other. But still, it stung, and on those days when I’m cursed with H. Golightly’s patented Mean Reds, it’s a new, looming spectre in the back of my mind.

“Every cloud has a silver lining” and this cloud was no exception. “Dickface”, as he’s affectionately known by some of my friends, has provided me with a lovely segue to bring me to the next, short but exciting chapter of my life: today was my first day at the INPUT Pain Management course at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. I have fondly nicknamed it St Thomas’ School of Pain, a name that brings with it images of a slightly twisted, Tim Burton-esque version of Mallory Towers. I might even have to get some ginger beer for a midnight feast. My goal is to try and expand the parameters of my life again, to re-encompass into it things I used to love but may have let go, and to do this independently, not having to rely on anyone else to help me cope with the pain. I’ve written before about depression, and I’ve written about the emotional reactions I have to parts of my body when they cause me pain. Those are just two of the experiences that will be covered on this course, and much more, in much more depth. It’s going to be a tough four weeks, but we’ve been told to approach it as an experiment, and in that spirit I shall be documenting some parts of it here. In addition, the philosopher in me is intrigued to see how others with chronic pain refer to themselves and their bodies: as one unit, or as two distinct entities?

Anyway, I digress. Today was Day 1, and in all honesty not much happened: a lot of introductions, to each other as well as to the staff; an outline of what to expect; initial assessments (I had to walk up and down a corridor for five minutes); and not forgetting lunch. Tomorrow is when the fun really begins. That said, it has  already got emotional a couple of times, and I predict that will only increase as we all start to realise we have four weeks ahead of us of facing up to that which we normally try to sweep under the rug. I might buy shares in Kleenex this evening.

And my love life? Well, I intend to see Mr #6 again – and soon if I can – but unless it goes tits up I’m unlikely to write about it for a while. All I hope for is some fun experiences, more intriguing conversation, someone to eat meat with, to feel a few fireworks, and to get through it all without being cast aside as damaged goods. Because I am one hell of a catch – I mean, even as I wrote the first draft of this in Leeds station, the cute barista in Starbucks came over to where I was sitting for a brief natter, then made me a free drink to make up for my train being cancelled.

If only I lived in Leeds…

IMG_1793    IMG_1795    IMG_1870

[i] Note to self: ask for watch for Christmas.

Looking Back (and in doing so, climbing out of a rut)

I can’t pretend I’ve been posting on here regularly. But I promise, promise, promise I’ve been writing. I just – and prepare yourself for an excuse here – since starting my new job I haven’t found or made time to go back and edit to a point where I’m happy to post. So I’m going to bite the bullet and post one of the things I’ve written in the past three months without proof-reading it. This means there could be grammatical errors, poorly phrased sentences or other imperfections of a first draft. It also means any references to timings are likely to be well and truly skewed given I’m posting weeks after writing and in a different year. But I want to climb out of this post-less rut, and start writing again. Shamefully aware of the hypocrisy this paragraph is submerged in given my own persnicketiness about grammar, spelling and, only to a very slightly lesser degree, quality of writing, I can only hope that you won’t judge me too harshly.

***

Today was the first I heard about the Duchess of Cambridge’s latest pregnancy. While I wish her and Prince William all the best for the coming months – and years for that matter – the pregnancy of a woman I’ve never met can only ever have a limited impact on me. Someone asked me recently whether I thought I’d had a good childhood. My childhood very definitely had an enormous impact on me, as it I imagine it does on every adult[i]. I told her what I tell you now: I had an idyllic childhood. My family has, as everyone’s has, had its share of difficulties, but I was fortunate enough that all of them occurred once I was well and truly into my teenage years. I can only hope and wish that my children, should I ever have any, have a childhood as happy as mine.

I doubt it will come a surprise to anyone when I say that there is a lot of negativity in the world. Yesterday I was nominated on Facebook to list three positive things about my day for five days running. I quite like this idea – it’s something I did myself, privately, earlier this year, both in linguistic and photographic guises, but never publically. Today is day two, and I will admit that at 8pm today I was struggling to come up with my positive things. But it’s amazing what relaxing with a glass of lovely wine (Brown Brothers’ 18-Eighty Nine Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc 2013 if you’re wondering), watching a repeat of 8 Out of 10 Cats Uncut, and pondering what to write about for my next blog post can do. What it has in fact done, is:

  1. Made me laugh out loud multiple times, because Susan Calman is just brilliant regardless of whether she’s on Radio 4 or Dave (and the others aren’t too bad either)
  2. Made me want to bake; it happens to be referencing both Dr Who and my favourite series of The Great British Bake Off.[ii] Yes, I have a favourite series[iii]: series 3 from 2012, won by John Whaite if you’re curious.
    I remember curling up on the lovely leather sofa in our old house with my mum during the final, genuinely and honestly holding hands, both as tense as violin strings, praying to a God we don’t believe in that Brendan wouldn’t win (sorry Brendan, but it’s true.)

This memory then made me remember the conversation on Saturday about my idyllic childhood, and to counter just a little of the negativity in the world, I thought I’d share some of that conversation here. There isn’t much in the way of structure about to follow, nor any particular purpose; just flashes of memory from the time between 1989 and this one.
(Note: for those who don’t know, I have a younger brother three and a half years younger than me.)

So here goes: what do I remember?

I remember family holidays, some in detail and some only in flashes: building train tracks in France where there were horrible spiders in the loo and my brother left either Annie or Clarabel behind; wearing my denim sunhat with a sunflower on, looking at duck eggs in a nest by the pond in the garden of our rented house; jumping up to catch the freebies tossed out by the vans following the Tour de France when we went to watch Chris Boardman whizz past in a blur of yellow; eating couscous and steamed veg with cheese on camping holidays, discovering natural hot springs with my brother whilst exploring in Spain, Dad crawling under the camper with a hammer to hit the starter motor and get it going, and playing whist and cribbage in the awning.

I remember graduating from Junior Scrabble (complete with illustrations of a dripping tap and a tyre that sit peculiarly vividly in my memory) to grown-up Scrabble, where Dad took so long we actually started to use the timer that came with our Scrabble set, and we were encouraged to look up words in the dictionary to improve our vocabularies. I also remember playing Cluedo, both junior and full-blown, the Harry Potter game (awful) and Scilly Gold (bizarrely complicated), Careers (like Monopoly but with university and work instead of properties, where Mayfair becomes an Engineering Degree that allowed you to go Uranium Prospecting) and Masterpiece.

I remember going to into work with Dad, getting dressed up in my tartan skirt and red Scottie-dog-adorned jumper for my trip to the BBC. I remember playing computer games from a floppy disc called ‘Lunchbox’ that Mum brought home from work. The many, many boxes of conkers that we collected with Dad from Twickenham Green after school, and the poor man finally having to tell us they were being thrown away – there was almost more mould than conker. I remember the cutting and sticking box my parents kept for us to ‘make things’ (which I know included countless homes for my Teddy), as well as cutting up my Dad’s sweatshirt with my brother to make him cuddly toy Pokémon (what’s the plural of ‘Pokémon’? I’m hoping it’s ‘Pokémon’ just as the plurals of ‘sheep’ and ‘fish’ are ‘sheep’ and ‘fish’) – namely Charmander and Primape.

I remember the huge paper sleigh we made at school one Christmas being pinned to the wall in our first proper family house, the little wooden boat I made with Dad when I was about five or six, and the costumes Mum made me for school productions of everything from Twelfth Night (I was the fairy Peaseblossom) to silver-clad Millie Enium in year six.

The countless birthday cakes my mother baked for us. The few that stick out in my mind are the yellow chick I wanted (no idea how old), a white chocolate cricket ball and following year cricket bat for my brother, the blue teddy bear that she worried so much about outlining in black, the Thomas the Tank Engine made for my brother’s (first?) birthday, the turquoise and purple flower for a 70s themed 14thty, the chocolate cake for my 18th complete with ladybirds, frogs and edible glitter, and the starburst cake, with sparkles and sparklers for my 21st.

The first bunch of flowers I was ever given, from my dad on my 13th birthday. He had to work an early shift on the day – a school day – and left them by my breakfast plate.

The fact that the table was set for breakfast by the time I came down in the morning, just about every day of my years at secondary school. Given that both of my parents have worked all my life until I left home, this is all the more impressive. Added to this, Dad used to slice every bagel before freezing them, making countless breakfasts that much easier. The value of this will only be truly understood by those who have attempted to cut a frozen bagel in half (not recommended if you value your fingers), or worse, attempted to defrost a bagel in the microwave (resulting in a bagel-shaped brick)

I remember birthday parties, from being tiny at Heathrow Gym (from where my overriding memory is Susannah screaming when she caught her toenail in the trampoline), to being a teenager and having a roller blading party where the ‘cool kids’ at school were actually scared of Mum when she confiscated their potato guns (these kids weren’t even scared of our teacher!) I remember helping Dad umpire for my brother’s birthday, when my parents put on cricket or football tournaments for him and his friends. I remember one of his friends crying when he lost at pass the parcel. I remember Mum unfolding what seemed like hundreds of birthday lunchboxes (the cardboard kind, designed to look like treasure chests or similar) to cater for birthday guests, and insisting on making all the sandwiches with half white, half brown bread because kids and adults simply couldn’t agree.

The Halloween parties, complete with costumes, apple bobbing, and decorations including, a cardboard skeleton I made with one of my au pairs. My parents arranged games, including the flour game (a sweet in the bottom of a bowl then filled with flour, packed down and left for a couple of days. Once it’s turned out, the kids have to slowly carve the mound of flour into a tall thin sweet-topped tower using a normal dinner knife. The person who knocks over the flour has to fish the sweet out with their teeth, thus getting a face-full of flour. Hilarious.) and the chocolate game (a large bar of chocolate is in the middle of the circle of kids, next to a knife and fork, a pair of gloves, a hat, scarf and any other random clothes you want to use. One child is armed with two dice, and they take turns round the circle rolling the dice. When you roll a double six, the others keep on rolling while you have to put on the clothes and use the knife and fork to eat as much chocolate as you can until the next person rolls a double six.) Mum once served baked beans – spiked with sterilised plastic spiders and eye balls – out of an old, cast-iron cooking pot that I to this day consider to be a cauldron. These were spooned over baked potatoes by Mum, dressed as a witch, while Dad saw to drinks as our butler dressed in black tie.

Christmasses, unwrapping presents from my stocking, knitted by my Grandmother including my name in the design. When I was small, Mum used to make stunning Christmas cakes with homemade, hand-painted ivy and poinsettia made entirely of sugar. I remember helping peel sprouts on Christmas Eve and mixing garlic and herb butter (though to be fair we do that every year). Dad sometimes had to work early shifts on Christmas, and I remember waiting eagerly for him to get home from work to say happy Christmas, show him what I’d got in my stocking and, of course, to eat. I remember playing board games with Mum’s family, Monopoly becoming infinitely more challenging when my (allegedly) forgetful grandmother muddled the bank’s money with her own. I remember making vinegar and baking powder rockets on Christmas Day on the playing fields with mum, dad, my brother, with my Dad’s sister, her husband and my little cousin.

I remember vaguely making a snowman at my grandparents’, though I was so young I admit I don’t remember much of it. More vividly, I remember the Turkish delight Grandma always had in a silver dish in the sitting room of their bungalow where we sat and watched Mary Poppins, and boiled sweets in the glove compartment of the car. I remember Grandad tying the sofa cushions firmly around my brother and me so that we could attack each other with plastic golf clubs, and Grandma coming into our room late at night to rewind the blue and white plate with a musical windmill that we listened to until we fell asleep in our bunk beds. I remember waking to the hoot of wood pigeons, and flying kites at Ferry Meadows near Peterborough, where many years later my grandfather’s ashes were scattered. It was also at Ferry Meadows that Grandma and I collected feathers around the lake to later turn into a picture of a swan. I remember sitting in bed with my brother, curled up under the duvet while my other Grandmother read Four Seasons at Brambley Hedge to us, or recited poems about sponges (who very much disliked being pronged with cruel prongs) and earwigs (who crawl inside your ears, and stay in there for years and years.) I remember insisting holding the lead for her lovely golden Labrador Zach, no matter how many times I fell over doing so. I remember her teaching me how to hold a golf club, and the wood and putter I got given for my birthday, complete with cut down handles and pretty green grip tape. Grandma made – and still makes – incredibly meringues, and I ate so very many after knitting with her to make an apron for my Teddy to go over the dress mum’s mum had knitted. I remember her partner, whom we called Jimbo, lovingly teasing me about my preference for plain, unbuttered bread (fresh – she makes it herself) and tap water – I was always a difficult guest to cater for.

I don’t remember my parents’ being away particularly, but I do remember Dad bringing back the radio cart from Atlanta that my friends and I used every year for annual Summer picnics. I remember going to meet my mum at the airport, and rummaging through her suitcase for presents, from carved wooden warthogs from Kenya to Mexican marble wind chimes shaped like cacti. Pretty much every country Mum went to, she brought me back a lapel pin for that country’s flag. This has become somewhat of a tradition for me, and I now buy flag lapel pins for every country I visit.

I could go on, but this is already the better part of four A4 pages long and my childhood was rather longer than that. I have also already used the words ‘I remember’ far more than should be acceptable, but I don’t care. I love these memories, as well as many I haven’t described. I could not be more grateful for the childhood my parents gave me, and to get briefly soppy, I love them both so much for it.

My lovely family on my little brother's graduation day

My wonderful family on my little brother’s graduation day

[i] Possibly the first time I’ve described myself as an ‘adult’. Quite proud.

[iii] So far.

Strong Enough.

Walking around London yesterday, the city seemed almost exotic. It shouldn’t;
I grew up here. Admittedly in the suburban outskirts, but I’m no stranger to the city. Yesterday however, with my stilettos safely stowed in my borrowed handbag, I wandered the streets after an interview in Holborn. I met a friend for a celebratory debrief of the alcoholic variety, and then had the afternoon to myself. Claire Balding would have been proud of me as I rambled from Bank to Covent Garden and eventually, hours later, to Victoria, seeing the city entirely through the rose tinted glasses of a child or a lens of a tourist’s camera. I wandered past the Gin Palace (“Gin doesn’t ask silly questions… Gin understands.”) and through the gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral. I saw mounted police (turns our horses exist in central London – who’d have thunk it?) and ate cake in the base of Gherkin. Despite only last week complaining about the crowded, dirty streets in the capital, yesterday I was captivated. The juxtaposition of shiny new Shards and Walkie Talkies of glass with history illustrated in aged stone; suits with creases ironed in by dry cleaners strutting past me, and the dirty back alleys and filthy, graffiti-emblazoned abandoned shop fronts; and people upon people upon people.
Not literally – though I did walk past Coco de Mer on my travels – but as you walk along, everyone you pass is different, a person in their own right, and they have a story of their own, are fighting battles of their own. And some still have the energy to grin back at me when I dare to break the unwritten rule of Commuters, and smile.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve said in the past few months and years,

“I’m not strong enough.”

Strong enough for what I’m not even sure. Opening up to friends and colleagues about my Depression[i] recently has shown me very clearly that I’m not alone. And I’ve been amazed and honoured just how many people have confided in me about the experiences and battles that they and their loved ones have fought, and are often still fighting, with Depression. I capitalise it because as much as I dislike, hate, loathe it, I have come to respect it. Someone very dear to me once said to me that he knew that there were powers far greater than he out there, simply because things can influence and control him against his will. For me, Depression is one of those things. It saps my identity from inside me and replaces it with a bitter fog. It managed this for weeks on end earlier this year, binding me to my room and my bed with closed curtains, darkness and too many tears. In the past, I have cried literal puddles on bathroom floors, and been unable to leave the house or even my bedroom. While I have thankfully never actually been suicidal, I remember many years ago wishing I had never been born. I have felt overwhelmed by the entire world, getting up in the morning seeming as daunting as climbing Everest. Through all of this, I have come to respect Depression.
Giving it a little room to breathe helps, not least to prevent it getting out of control. Respecting its power over me makes me appreciate and be grateful for every win I manage to achieve, no matter how small. The ability to smile at strangers in the street, amid the cacophony of smells, sounds and stresses London has to offer, is one of those little triumphs. And the person who returns my smile may have just won a battle of their own, as significant or more so even than mine.

While burdened by my Depression, both pre- and post-diagnosis, I have travelled to the other side of the world, trekked through Costa Rican rainforests, dirt-biked around volcanoes and snorkelled with sharks. I have bungee-jumped and learned to safely use a machete. I have achieved a first class degree in a complex subject. I have crossed the spectrum of employment from the Oxfordshire gun trade to dealing with the country’s largest grocery accounts, giving insight on a product that two years ago I knew next to nothing about. Now I have a merit in my advanced Wines & Spirits qualification.

Yet all the while I have continued to say,

“I’m not strong enough.”

I have learned to shoot both clays and game, and bought my first gun. I’ve baked countless cakes, some rosette-winning, and learned the best secret ever about improving any and all pasta dishes ten-fold. I have learned a little bit of Krav Maga and intend to learn more. I argued last year for a promotion and pay rise, and was given more than I asked for and got to choose my own job title. I have written – this blog for starters – and I have read. I have co-founded a literary society to share my love of books with others and widen my literary horizons – and maybe theirs too.

“I’m not strong enough.”

I have toured Burgundy, visiting countless wineries, from one functioning almost entirely by gravity to one built underground, in caves beneath the vineyards. I tasted hundreds of wines, and learned even more than I ate (if you’ve ever been to Burgundy you’ll know what a feat that is. If you haven’t, you like wine and cheese and are not a vegetarian or on a diet then I highly recommend it.) I have run, for more than five minutes at a time. In fact, I have run 5k. I also have run 10k (and a hilly one at that.) And I have run 10miles, with the horse brass on my bedroom wall to prove it.

“I’m not strong enough.”

I have started doing more resistance at the gym, have actually managed a press up (on my fists to boot) and can now pull up over three times what I could when I started. I have lost over a stone over all, including putting on 2kg of muscle. I am quite literally physically stronger than I was this time last year, achieved as much through will-power as physical exertion.

And still; “I’m not strong enough.”

It is only since facing looming redundancy that I have realised my mistake. It’s amazing what writing CVs, cover letters and completing endless job applications reminds you of. Suddenly you are forced it list not your failures, but your successes. I am not weak. I am strong. And the fact that I have achieved everything listed above while facing dramas, demons and traumas with my family; while coming to terms with own genetic medical diagnosis and the accompanying pain and haunting spectre of a degenerative but otherwise unknown future; and while all the time shackled to Depression; well, that just makes me all the stronger.

Sometimes he takes charge and pulls me back down into the gloom. But not for long. However heavy my bitter fog, the sun will rise tomorrow whether I like it or not. A day will always be twenty-four hours and the minutes will always tick past sixty seconds at a time. The fog will pass. I will continue to fight, and I will continue to achieve, to win, to conquer, to succeed. I Am Strong Enough. I will count my wins and learn from my failures, and I will give myself and my Depression the recognition we deserve, being lenient and forgiving and all the while determined. In doing this, I will hold my Depression by the hand and we’ll walk side by side, rather than dragging him by the chain around my ankle, or him dragging me. It makes for a much easier journey.

So if I, or anyone for that matter, smiles at you on the streets of London, or any city, town, hamlet, anywhere, please try to achieve a small triumph of your own and smile back. You never know what smile has cost them.

 

strangersmile

 

[i] In my head, my Depression has an identity: a Glum. A Glum is a creature made up by a friend who wrote a good old fashioned letter to me years and years ago. In fact, he wrote a few letters, and they were generally illustrated. Really rather lovely. While the letter is, I think, in a dusty box, in a cardboard box, in my parents’ attic, I still remember his illustration, and will never forget that “a Glum is small and round and fat and carries a small glumming bat.” This is now how I personify my Depression, as a Glum, and when I’m having a bad time it’s because he’s threatening or worse, beating me with his glumming bat. But on good days, he just sits there on a rock quietly, not getting up to any mischief.

I’m not mad, I promise.

Curiouser and curiouser

To start, an apology and an explanation…

Those of you who have read this blog before may have noticed a distinct diminishment in the number of posts recently. For this, I am sorry. I mentioned before that I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel. Well, since then the symptoms of numbness, aching and random stabbing pain have spread to both hands, arms, feet, legs, lower back and more. Honestly, you’d think my body had something against me! I’m not dying or anything (had the blood tests to prove it), but I am baffling the doctors so far! That achievement aside, I’m happy to say that life is now on the up: I’m done with the resting (it makes no difference) and am on some lovely new pain relief drugs which should kick in fully soon. I’ve  got a lovely job that is willing to be flexible around my hospital appointments, drug-induced dizzy spells and discomfort, and I  have upgraded to a shiny new iPhone that I love love love love love, not least because the lack of having to press buttons makes it so much easier/less painful to type on! The above should hopefully explain my apparently paltry efforts when it come to new blog posts in the recent past, and it has all led to a moment of inspiration for a new blog post.

Now aided and abetted by my beloved iPhone I have as I explained before reignited my involvement with Twitter – my Twitter account was created years ago, but only reactivated when my work and my mum both created accounts and demanded faithful followers. My old account was resurrected, given a whole new look (@TheFirstFrost of course, complete with lovely sloe berries as a background) and suddenly I had a whole new life online. Ladies from the aforementioned Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club are rife on Twitter, and between them can easily absorb hours of my life with talk of cakes, discussions about guns, shooting and associated accessories, lovely photos, beautiful sketches and enough tweedy goods to tempt me and my far-too-empty purse, before I notice and drag myself away from the screen. The acquiring of Twitter followers is a whole new experience – at first it almost feels like you’ve got fans! After a while you start to realise it doesn’t actually mean quite as much as an adoring fan club with banners saying “I ❤ The First Frost” but it’s still rather exciting when you first reach your first 10, then 20, then 50 and most recently for me, 100 followers. And it was my hundred and one-th (hundred and first?) follower that provoked me into writing this.

And now on to the main event…

Mr 101 commented (very kindly!) that he enjoyed my blog and always liked to see ‘country converts’. I replied saying that, truthfully, I was coming to love the country, but that it was a very strange world indeed. And this, to my surprise, surprised him.

Though I’m well aware I’m not a full-blown member of the secret society that is The Country, I feel I’ve fallen comfortably far down the rabbit hole to be safe from burrowing border terriers looking to drag me out by my heels, and thus close enough to Wonderland to able to pass some judgment.[i] And what I’m seeing is intriguing,appealing, confusing, educational, fascinating and very wet and muddy (I suppose as one might expect a rabbit hole to be.) While I am most definitely on my way to becoming a country convert, I am, as I told the lovely man on Twitter, finding a lot of it rather strange.

First is that the country world is far more old-fashioned in a lot of ways than the cosmopolitan environment I’m used to. It seems in a few ways rather behind in the ways of modern technology. Don’t get me wrong; the tractors and other farming machinery I’m sure are built with the newest of new technologies, but for the first time in perhaps as long as ten years, I’ve met fully grown adults who don’t have email addresses. This is astounding to me, a girl who could reasonably comfortable type before I could reasonably comfortable write. I’ve used computers since I was three years old, and have had at least one email address and generally two or more at all times since the age of ten or eleven.  It seems alien to me that anyone could function without regular access to the internet and email communication. Similarly, some of the country businesses, organisations and companies I’ve come into contact with in this new world have websites as advanced and complex as the ones we built for our GCSE IT. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to live a life devoid of email or so un-reliant on the Internet, but it is in my mind peculiar.

Technology aside, the country seems slightly old-fashioned in other ways. I’ve met people of my own generation (early 20s) who admit to having only ever met one or two people of African or Afro-American origin, including  someone who said he once proffered an introduction along the lines of ‘I’m sorry if I’m weird around you, I’ve just never met anyone black before’. I grew up oblivious to skin colour. You might not believe me, but I really did. Accents I noticed, but the colour of someone’s skin meant absolutely nothing – my school was a rainbow of skin colours, and none of them had the slightest of impacts on our opinions of each other – your performance in inter-house challenges was far more important! My mum will back me up with an anecdote about some friends and me sat in the back of our car discussing how a girl we knew looked like Sandra Bullock. My mum sat in the driving seat somewhere between astounded and amused, as the lookalike in question was from an Indian family and thus had completely different colour skin to Sandra Bullock. But that was irrelevant – she really did look like Sandra Bullock! Let me be clear: I’m definitely NOT saying that everyone in the country is racist. Far from it. This is probably more of a comment on those people not-in-the-capital-city. But the slight, unintended racism of a few of the people I’ve met in the last year or two is incredibly strange and slightly shocking to me. I thought that sort of stuff had mostly died out, at least among ‘people like me’. Shows how closeted I’ve been in my capital-city life.

Similarly, I’ve personally encountered more sexism since discovering this world than I ever had before – for instance, gentlemen assuming I would know nothing about guns (problem here is, they’re right) or ammunition (I know a little more about cartridges I’m proud to say) and automatically turning to a male colleague to ask advice. Or more simply male customers looking unsettled in receiving ammunition advice from someone who dared have both a matching pair of X chromosomes and an interest in guns. Surely not! I’ve met women who volunteer to help on a shoot only to restrict themselves to helping with tea, coffee and refreshments. Now, I’ve made my love of tea and cake abundantly clear, and if you’ve read my blog and not realised that perhaps I need to work on my writing. But simply because a woman enjoys baking, does that mean she should be limited to the kitchen? Why not bake and help with the shooting side of things? Or god forbid, shoot yourself?! This is definitely NOT a problem affecting all country folk – if you possess said pair of X-chromosomes and find yourself sat at your computer agreeing or shouting “YEAH!” then I highly suggest you find your next S&CBC meet and come along. Join us in our ambition to prove to all menfolk that we enjoy baking and take pleasure from our beautiful kitchen aid mixers (wishful sigh) while simultaneously enjoying shooting and taking pleasure from our beautiful shotguns.[ii] Call it multitasking. If you like the sound of that, come along and you’ll meet plenty of like-minded women I promise! Anyway, I digress. Until I left university I was coming to the conclusion that from my own (admittedly limited) experience, sexism was far less prolific than some of my more feminist minded friends made out, and as long as I stood my ground I’d be okay. But if it’s still in existence in country life, evident to me in under a year, then who’s to say they’re not right that it is prolific in other worlds too. I’m growing to really like the country, and love the history and tradition – seeing no point in change for change’s sake, and valuing hugely a lot of things lovely and old-fashioned – but some things have changed for a reason, and these isms are one of them.

The second odd thing I wish to comment on, and that I can ramble on about for some time if given the space (but I’ll try not to), is the acceptance of the roles of nature and death. I’ve talked about it before, but Country Death is not a horror that lurks in the corner in a black cloak with a scythe just waiting, revelling in the general fear and loathing that people hold towards him until the time comes for him to hack your head off or whisk you away into The Beyond. Death is accepted. The animals shot for sport are respected while living, treated well, looked after and protected while still left to roam free. And yet their deaths, and the achievement of killing them, are celebrated and glorified with photographs of dead birds laid one atop the other, or a shooter photographed and so preserved for all eternity, posing behind the dead of a just-shot dead, one hand on each antler holding it up. Animals are frequently killed on a regular basis – a farming friend casually mentioned that he was going out ‘blasting bunnies’ later on, as they were causing problems in his crops. I won’t mention the hunts-on-horseback at this point, but foxes are still shot regularly as pests, and photos will often be taken of the carcases as the norm, even just friends snapping pics on iPhones. Taxidermy – a practice which I had thought antiquated and old-fashioned – is very much still alive, with stuffed birds dotted around country shops and living rooms, the heads of decapitated buffalo, stag, antelope and countless other animals mounted on wooden plaques and displayed in shops, shoot lodges and hallways. From a city perspective, this means that someone has taken it upon themselves to track down a living, breathing animal, end its life, carefully gut and empty the animal of all its bones, muscles, arteries and other live-preserving matter to leave only the outer skin, fur, feathers, eyes, feet horns and so on. They then stuff the dead animal (and use other much more complicated techniques) to ensure its preservation, and proceed to display this emblem of a life ended too soon as a pretty ornament. City girl says: what’s wrong with a painting or sculture?

I think I’m starting to be able to rationalise it, and even possibly understand it (and I’ll save that ramble for another day) but the problem is that however rationally I explain it in my head, the fact is that I’m still pretty squeamish when it comes to dead stuff. Or dying stuff. Once it’s dead in my kitchen, it’s not a problem; it’s not an animal that recently died; it’s meat, even if it is still fully clothed in fur or feathers. I’m just not phased by dead animals when they are obviously there to be eaten. But that act of killing them still turns my stomach slightly, the idea of a stately stag in the wild standing proud one minute, and lying dead the next with a bullet through its neck (or head or heart or wherever else they’re shot), blood spilled on the grass and then dragged back home. Then again, once it’s strung up to be skinned and gutted, I have no problem – it ceases to be a deer and becomes venison. But still the middle bit, the transition from dead to alive, the idea of people and children in particular being so close to that moment, and the successful hunter taking quite so much pleasure in it… much as I possibly shouldn’t admit this to some country-friends, my head may have manage to get around it, but my heart and stomach still haven’t. I’ll admit, I’m far happier with the idea of shooting birds than I am deer and stags, so I may simply be suffering from a case of Bambi-it is. Nonetheless, it took some serious thinking to find the idea of what I first saw as ruthlessly shooting a bird down mid-flight not unpalatable, and I still find the ‘country-folks’’ complete, nonchalant acceptance of it all rather peculiar.

The last thing I’ll comment on today that I find strange looking down the rabbit hole is the amount of money people spend on clothes and footwear. I come from a world where you buy your day-to-day things cheaply, be it H&M to M&S, but the extravagant purchases are a beautiful pair of heels, or a dress for a special occasion, both of which you may wear only once a year – if that! And I know someone who buys the absolute cheapest wellies he can, once a year for a festival, leaves them at the festival and buys another next year. But suddenly I fall into the Country, and meet countless people who own £300 wellingtons (leather-lined, of course). But it does make sense – a lot of people will spend days, even weeks on end in their wellies, wearing them all day long, day in day out. They need to keep their feet dry, comfortable and warm. Similarly, a £500 coat isn’t a designer item, it’s a heavy-duty, waterproofed affair – tweed of course, if you’re of a traditional persuasion and going on a game shoot – but still Goretex lined with these storm cuffs, that drip stopper thingy and those draining holes (in the pockets of course, to keep your cartridges dry!), and countless other sensible touches, instead of the frills and fripperies of the city. This makes so much sense – I’ve even started adopting it in my every day life, spending less on dresses and heels for occasions and more on my day-to-day shoes and clothes – and you know what, it works! My clothes wash better, last longer, and are quite simply fit for purpose – so much more worth the money I spent on them than a £200 dress I might wear once or twice. Though I’m still not in the market for £300 wellies – I just don’t wear mine enough. Amazing, wonderful, sensible, logical, and most definitely to a girl who grew up in the city, just a little strange.

Strange isn’t bad, it’s strange. The Country is my wonderland, and assuming I stay safe from decapitation-hungry monarchs that torture hedgehogs with flamingos, I’m eager to see more of it. I promise that as I keep falling down the rabbit hole, I’ll let you know what else I see. In turn, if you farming folk would be so kind, should you find yourselves out ‘bunny-blasting’ please avoid any flustered looking rabbits with waistcoats and pocket watches.


[i] A country friend recently confirmed this for me, as I, a humble girl from Twickenham, referred to her local country town as “Chippy”. Apparently this means I passed some sort of test, and am well on my way to becoming ‘country’. Though apparently not there yet, as I still own Hunters, and insufficiently muddy ones at that (and love them).

[ii] For the record, I don’t recommend baking with shotguns or shooting with cake batter or even sultanas. Neither will yield very good results.