The Downfall of Mr #6

When I set out to attend St Thomas’s School of Pain, I had every intention of writing a weekly blog post, sharing the ins and outs and, most importantly, any amusing moments here. I even knew what they were to be called – First Term at St Thomas’s, Second Form at St Thomas’s, In The Third at St Thomas’s and Last Term at St Thomas’s. I suppose I may yet get to that last one, as it’s only week three now. However, when I set out to attend said School of Pain, I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. Sure, I said ‘oh it’s going to be tough’ and ‘I might keep a diary as I go’ but in all honesty, I had not the slightest beginning of a clue. Even after the first day, curled up in my room in a hospital flat with my bottle of ginger beer, I didn’t have any grasp of what lay ahead.

What I’m now going to do is probably both cruel and frustrating to you, dear reader; I’m not going to tell you about it. This course is not about getting rid of the pain I’m in, or even reducing it. It’s not, as I had thought, about different techniques to soothe the pain or to control it. Rather, what I have to try to get my head around – and to be honest I think it will take a little while yet – is that I suffer from chronic pain, and that it is incurable and will most likely be with me for life. Assuming I’m fortunate enough to live to say, 80, I over have twice the years I have currently lived still ahead of me, and for all fifty two of those years I will mostly likely be in pain. The goal of this course is to teach us is to accept the pain, and help us live a full and fulfilling life as independently as possible with that pain. We were warned that the approach taken may feel “proddy and poky” at times, but I had no idea quite how painful that prodding and poking would become. It’s less proddy and poky in a “you’ve got a bit of a belly” type of poke, and more in a “here’s a really tight, painful knot in your back that this super-duper deep tissue sports massage is going to knead out. And here’s another. And another. And another…” until you are tender as a ripe peach and feeling as bruised as an apple juggled by a fool with poor hand-eye coordination. Nerves have been hit again and again – mostly figuratively – and as such I feel tender, tired, vulnerable and raw, and I have little to no desire to share that. Ultimately, what I’ve been thinking, confronting, feeling, and coaxing out from under the emotional rug in the last two weeks is so very personal that I have little inclination to talk it through with close friends or family, much less write about it here for the titillation of the World Wide Web.

That said, all is not lost dear reader[i]. There are some things that have happened in the last couple of weeks that I can share and which will hopefully provide some degree of amusement to your good self (and in at least one person’s case, your good father’s self to boot.) Some of these Things are related to St Thomas’s – it’s not going to be kept a complete mystery forevermore – but for (my) sanity’s sake I’m going to save those up for another time, possibly when I haven’t had a tearful day in ‘class’ with two more to go this week alone – I am starting to think I should have taken out shares in Kleenex. Instead, for this post, I present to you the dramatic last episode[ii] in the current series,

 

Tinder Tales: The Downfall of Mr #6

Having met Mr #6 one weekend afternoon for a lovely, cultural first date involving the National Gallery and plenty of chatter about art and especially about literature, I was quite eagerly anticipating Date 2. The fact that he proved himself a more than adequate kisser at the end of Date 1 also boded well. I slightly misjudged my walk to the pub where we were to meet, but wasn’t more than five or so minutes late, and to my joy arrived to see him waiting with two glasses of red, and thankfully not both for him. Not that I keep score, but wine waiting on arrival is a good way of acquiring brownie points. Sadly things swiftly tumbled downhill from there. Table acquired, we began chatting. I feel should have a disclaimer or some such here to highlight that while I don’t expect all readers of this blog to agree with my political views, such as they are, your side of the bargain is to accept my political views and acknowledge that if you don’t like what I have to say, you’re probably reading the wrong post, if not the wrong blog.

Ensconced at a table for two, our introductory chat covered a cheerful array of subjects from work to chronic pain, as well as a more literary twist as he was carrying a copy of Charles Webb’s novella The Graduate, the book which brought to the world Mrs. Robinson – and if you’re not humming the Simon and Garfunkel tune now, shame on you. I can’t remember precisely how we got onto the subject, but somehow our conversation ended up venturing towards the dangerous waters of Politics. At the outset however, while I know this is considered an infamously poor choice of conversation topic for dinner parties, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, I was engaged and excited, and though that balloon was soon to be popped, it started its life happily inflated; we both studied politics as part of joint honours courses at university – and had both graduated, so on paper at least didn’t suck entirely when it came to understanding at least some elements of the elephantine subject. We had agreed on other, non-political things so far and during our last date I had come to fairly quickly respect his views on art and literature, even if I didn’t agree on all of them. Incidentally, around the time our conversation took its political turn, I also remember thinking how cute and romantic the couple two tables over from us were, curled up together and scattering affectionate kisses and hand-strokes throughout their little tête-à-tête. The relevance of that small, inadvertent observation shall later become clear.

The start of the conversational rapids was fun in a mild-mannered, gentle way, and suggestive of an exhilarating course ahead. Slowly however, I started to become aware that the waters of the colloquy were in fact far murkier than I had anticipated. Murky and, you know, racist. And sexist. And homophobic.

As I have shared previously, one lesson learned from a previous Tinder Tales date (#2? #3? I forget) was that “You don’t have very long fingernails,” isn’t a great statement to make on a date, even if you attempt to prompt a response from your short-talonned companion by adding “do you?” after a hesitation that would have Nicholas Parsons taking the subject off you to pass to Gyles Brandreth[iii]. To build on that lesson, Tinder Tale #6 teaches us that something to add to the list of Things Not To Say On A Date – at least a date with me – is,

“I voted UKIP. Twice.”

Now, I am not quite naïve enough to assume that I shall end up one day happily settled down with a person who shares every iota of my political viewpoint (not least because I don’t know my own opinions to a level of detail such that I could check), I would at least like to find myself with someone whose political opinions I can respect. And this isn’t as hard as some may think it should be – ‘respect has to be earned’ – because my respect tends to be something a person has by default, in virtue of their being human. That person has to actively do something in order to lose my respect. I shan’t be so cruel as to scar you with every detail of the conversation that followed, but suffice it to say that if you ever try to seriously explain to me not only why the borders of our country should be closed, but how immigration should be “reversed” by sending home people who aren’t British, I may start to struggle to maintain my respect of your political opinions. If you go on to explain how second generation immigrants, whom, if I am to offer a sweeping statement, I take to be as British as myself, should be sent back to “their home country”, I will struggle still harder, and may also begin to call into question your judgment in general. Though to be fair, we would agree that they should live in their home country, just disagree rather strongly on which country that is – and to my mind, I would be 100% right in saying that country is Britain.

Things that will continue to aid you in your quest to lost my respect include then explaining how thousands of years of English heritage grant one a greater right to reside on British soil than those who also live, and have only ever lived, in this country and whose parents travelled here decades ago – especially if you cannot trace your own lineage back despite declaring yourself to be one of those with thousands of years of English heritage. How would your Britain-residing ancestry, claimed to be ‘pure’ over thousands of years, be affected if you were to discover that your grandfather or great grandfather lived the entirety of his life in The British Raj? You also could also strengthen your case for loss of respect by using the words ‘English’ and ‘British’ interchangeably – or does your English heritage grant you a right to live on Scottish or Welsh soil? Are inhabitants of the United Kingdom to consider ourselves interchangeable (as to be (un)fair often seems the case when, for example, Andy Murray, the Brit, wins a tennis match while Andy Murray the Scot loses a match) or are English, Scottish and Welsh forced to be eternally separated by invisible borders; daffodils, roses and thistles segregated in their separate flowerbeds, while the poor Northern Irish are beyond the reaches of even a friendly cross-border wave, separated as they are by that all-too aquatic barrier, The North Channel?[iv]

I digress. Let’s imagine for just one moment that you fear (erroneously) that your views on the importance geographic ancestry and its associated rights aren’t doing the job when it comes to eroding my respect for your political opinions. Why not try another tack; sexism. Raising this topic of conversation is to conversation with Emily as waving a red flag would be to a bull – especially if that bull had a metaphorical soapbox and a history of using it. So things you could say to help your respect-reducing efforts do indeed include suggesting that heterosexual relationships where women earn more money than men are doomed to failure.[v] But if you really want to put your all in and do your damnedest to lose my respect as quickly as possible, I can tell you that there is one simple sentence that will do the trick and do it most succinctly, as it drops down into the chasm opening between us like a tonne of bricks thrown into a river with concrete shoes and an anchor for a necklace;

“Feminism is a trade union for fat chicks.”

 

But what, I hear you cry, if casual racism just isn’t your cup of tea, or sexist undertones, overtones, and steamrollerthroughthemiddle tones just don’t hit quite dickish note you desire? Never fear; there is one more thing you can try: homophobia. Now, remember the cute couple across from us? Well, what will make this all the more potent is if that adorable canoodling couple are both women. To avoid traumatising you with too much detail, I shall cut to the chase. One efficient way to finish your pitch for my incredulous repulsion is to exclusively refer to gay marriage in a derisive tone of voice while using air quotes. Alternatively, the words “gay adoption is abhorrent” will do the trick even more effectively. Or, just to be safe, do both.

Needless to say, despite interesting opinions on literature and an impressive knowledge of art history and how to make it interesting to his companion on a first date, there shan’t be a date 3. I can only hope that the couple across from us heard either none, or all of the conversation held that evening; at least if they heard all of it, they would know quite what a bigoted idiot he was.

When I explained that I didn’t think a third date would work, he was surprised and disappointed in my decision, but stated that morals were important to him (and from my perspective a very strange set of morals they are too) and he was respectful that it was my choice to make. So kind of him not to try to date me by force. He also sent a final text stating,
“Never known a straight person so committed to gay ‘marriage’!”

And that, dear reader, was two inverted commas too far. End of conversation. Number: deleted.

 

downfall of Mr #6

 

[i] It’s not obvious I’ve been reading Jane Eyre, is it dear reader? No, I thought not.

[ii] There may yet be an epilogue, but if it comes into existence it will be in another post. Not this one. Yes, I am being lazy.

[iii] Or Paul Merton. Or Susan Calman. Or one of the many other contestants of Just A Minute. If you’ve not heard it before, you’re missing out (currently on BBC Radio4, 6.30pm on a Monday. Go, now, and download.) And if you want to be absolutely blown away, then first try talking for sixty seconds on the subject of ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Once you’ve most likely failed at this, then listen to David Tennant’s first go on his first appearance on the showand prepare to be amazed.

[iv] Yes, that is indeed a rhetorical, not to mention wordy and long-winded question.

[v] Incidentally, the expansion of this idea on our date seemed to me to be more offensive to the male gender in its suggestion that male egos are quite so fragile. If you read this Mr #6, then I invite you to contemplate whether this is simply a reflection of your own fragility you are mapping onto your gender to avoid any sense of individual ownership?

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Thank you for the ‘compliment’

In case you’ve not read much of this blog before, or in case you do and hadn’t noticed: I like baking. I also like to cook. I know how to wash clothes and iron a shirt, though I’ll admit I’ve not written about that before. I quite like cleaning. The other night I sat in front of the television and tacked up hems that had come down on a pair of trousers and a dress; I did ‘mending’. I know how to darn (if not very well) and embroider (even worse.) I was never great or particularly enthusiastic about sports at school. I get “over-emotional” when I’m tired, often like a cuddle after sex, and sometimes cry when I’m shocked, scared or angry as well as when I’m sad.

I can use power tools. I have a toolbox. I can set up my own speakers, assemble flat pack furniture, put up a shelf, wire a plug. I’ve worked in a professional kitchen and been colourfully sworn over vats of steaming lobster consommé. I lift weights at the gym and eat protein bars afterwards. I enjoy driving. I own a Haynes manual for my car and learned last year how change its oil. I can shoot, and own a gun. I can fight, and own sparring gloves. I have taken things apart to get a better understanding of how they work, and then attempted – with occasional success – to put them back together again. I have an increasingly high pain threshold, and I often hide any pain I’m experiencing. I have felt unable to express my emotions.

I’m listing these traits because society so often defines them as feminine/girly, or masculine/manly, to the extent that it is so engrained in me that it was easy for me to do. Always’ recent videos highlight how in society, ‘being a girl’ or doing something ‘like a girl’ has been generally accepted as being weak or doing something weakly or badly. ‘Manning up’ on the other hand is exhibiting strength.

But I am/can do/have all of things listed above and my being female is in no way causally related.

I’ve spoken to female friends about feminism over past months and have been shocked that a number of them don’t consider themselves feminists. But some also seem to think that feminists somehow consider themselves to be superior to men, or even hate them. The launch of the #HeforShe campaign last year and Emma Watson’s speech at the UN Headquarters has caused the issue of feminism to a ‘trending’ status, and for the sake of furthering the clarification she provided, I’m going to copy and paste her definition here.

“For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.””

Being a feminist doesn’t mean hating men. To me, it means simply that I am worth no more or less than the man standing next to me because he has a Y chromosome and I don’t.

The problem is, people do expect and tolerate different behaviours from individuals based on their gender. Last Autumn I mentioned on Twitter an incident of sexual harassment I experienced. Nothing overly traumatic, but it was most definitely sexist and most definitely derogatory. And while I received sympathy in response to my tweet, in the same (virtual) breath I was told – including by other women – to take it as a compliment, because they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think I were attractive. Now, I have been complimented in the past – genuinely complimented – and at times even by complete strangers. These unknown men and women have generally preceded their comments with words such as “I hope you don’t mind me saying…” or “I don’t mean to intrude, but…” and they have always spoken at a reasonable volume. They have never been shouted at me at top volume or across the street, have never been accompanied by jeering hoots of their companions or car horns. More importantly, they’ve never been overly personal, never included commentary on what they’d like to do to me, and have never, ever involved the words ‘tits’, ‘pussy’, ‘my cock’, ‘fuck’ , ‘suck on…’or anything similar. Comments directed at me by strangers in the street and including these words are not compliments. They are harassment.

Being told to take them as worthy commentary, positive or otherwise, on my appearance suggests that my worth is somehow not the same as that of a person who walks the same street without harassment. Either it is more, i.e. my looks earn me this (unwanted, undesirable and often intimidating) attention, or it is less; because my looks mean that I should be punished with it. Either way, I don’t understand why my face, the size of my chest or length of my legs should affect whether I can walk down a road in peace and more importantly in safety.

But it does. For the record, I have tried to stand up for myself against sexual harassment before. A man in a nightclub put his hand up my skirt, I stood my ground, and told him in a colourful manner to leave me alone. And I got punched in the face. Funnily enough, despite wanting desperately to stand up for myself and my views and tell people who ‘compliment’ me in the street where to go, this experience left me less willing to, and more likely to let things slide in order to protect myself and to avoid any similar or, perish the thought, worse repercussions. I shouldn’t have to endure verbal sexism in the street in the first place, forget tolerating it because I am too afraid to answer back.

A friend of mine is active in online forums, and told me last summer that people online had told her she’s a feminist because she’s ‘fat and ugly so no one wants to fuck her’. The comment was categorically inaccurate; she was pregnant at the time. But any truth or lack thereof to any comments like these is immaterial. Nobody should be subjected to insults like that, regardless of their appearance, weight, gender, skin colour, race, ethnicity, religion or beliefs. But even ethics aside: weight, appearance and sexual desirability have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’re a feminist.

I grew up with two working parents, which means I had a working mother, one I looked up to, and up to whom I continue to look at twenty six years old. She was and is a great mother, and always had time for my brother and me while maintaining a full-time job and a career with a distinct upwards trajectory. She wouldn’t have achieved everything she has in the way she has without my Dad’s support. I know this right to the very centre of my being, and in that way she was blessed. But she wasn’t supported by a man. Rather, she was supported by her partner, her spouse, her lover, her friend, and the other parent to her children. My father’s gender was and is irrelevant. A slight tangent alert here but for a distinction I think is important. I hear people speaking on the radio about how childcare is an issue for women. It’s not; it is an issue for parents. Women getting turned down for jobs because they might want to have children, when a man in the same situation wouldn’t be; that is sexist and is an issue for women. Rape also is not a female issue: women rape people, and men get raped by people. It’s a people issue. But when we are told that women are encouraging or somehow deserve rape because of their choice of clothing, when a man walking around topless in denim shorts wouldn’t be told the same thing; that is sexist. Somehow ‘men’ and ‘women’ get dropped into sentences when so often what should be said is ‘people’.

“Men cheat.”
“Women make excuses.”
“Men don’t listen.”
“Women nag.”

All of these comments should be gender non-specific. A good test for a sexist comment is to replace the gender with a skin colour or race. If it sounds racist, it was probably sexist. The reality? People cheat. People make excuses. People don’t listen. People nag.

Returning to my pre-tangent thought process: my mother is still a pretty phenomenal woman, and at fifty-four (sorry Mum) she is still achieving and accomplishing. I’m not saying she is without fault – find me a person who is – but I have seen a bit of the world in the past quarter century or so, have met some incredible people, and she is still the woman I admire most, and any faults she does have most certainly aren’t a result of her gender. When I was a child, I asked her – apparently with some trepidation – whether she’d mind if I were a housewife when I grew up. Her response is one of the greatest summaries of feminism that you could give a six- or seven- or however-old-I-was child: she taught me that I could do and be anything I want, and no one should force me to do or be anything else simply because I’m female. If you take anything from this post, please let it be Mum’s message. Whether you are male or female, if you believe that no one should have to

  • do anything;
  • be anything;
  • be subjected to anything;
  • be made to feel anything;
  • be denied anything; or
  • be forced into anything

simply because of their gender, then you are a feminist too.

Thanks for the compliment

Pies and Prejudice

Fabulous Fortnight Part 3

 And so we come to the end of the life-changing fortnight. Though the life-changing bit had actually already happened, a long-awaited diagnosis and new career, the (hopefully annual) Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club Competition and scrummy BBQ social topped off the fortnight perfectly.

As with every meet of the Bun Club, there would be baked offerings of all sorts from members. After the success of my tiramisu at the Hen Party, I decided to make tiramisu cupcakes. The sponge, idea of how to fill them and the base for the icing were all borrowed from the wonderful Hummingbird Bakery, but the recipe for the actual icing and filling were my own doing. By digging out the middle of each cake, slicing it, soaking it in a sinfully boozy coffee-amaretto mixture and layering with creamy filling and grated dark chocolate, I hoped to create a mini-tiramisu in each pretty cupcake case. I topped them off with an amaretto-mascarpone icing with just a hint of coffee, and with a final a sprinkle of cocoa they were ready for the competition. I gently popped them into cake tins – they had to go into three separate tins; no chance of layering these cakes without smushing the icing.

Before the S&CBC competition, I drove over to Barbury Shooting School in Swindon with my old instructor and shot the 100-bird challenge. I was pretty happy with how I shot I have to say – a one or two sloppy mistakes from lack of practice (and concentration), and towards the end some very frustrating misses as my HNPP-sore hands refused to do what my brain told them to. But I came out with a not-embarrassing score, especially compared to the ladies who had shot before me, so I’m pretty content. More practice required I think. Once I get settled in my new job (insert squeak of excitement here) my plan is to find a local shooting ground and get trigger-pulling.

Shooting a 100-bird competition the day before my Proper Competition with the Chelsea Buns was perhaps not a great move for my chances on the day, fun as it was. I turned up with a stiff back, still-sore hands, sore legs to boot and a slightly tender shoulder; not the best state to start a competition. Again, my kills I did shoot well, with only one really chippy break – I actually thought I’d missed it but spectators and the scorer thankfully disagreed. Some misses were good – as long as I know where I missed it, I can correct it. You actually learn more from a miss than from a break, as long as you’re concentrating. But more frustrating/sloppy mistakes meant I lost any chance I had of winning fairly early on. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to finish the competition by straighting the final stand – always nice to go out on a high.

I volunteered to score for the afternoon’s open shoot, and while juggling clipboard, ear defenders, pen and plate stacked high by the generous BBQ man, I traipsed around the stands again to watch people who actually knew how to shoot – and shoot well – have a go at it. Once we got back to the clubhouse, I was both disappointed and thrilled to find that all sixteen of my tiramisu cupcakes had been eaten. Good news as it meant they obviously liked them, slightly sad that I hadn’t had one – but this was quickly appeased when I remembered that I had hidden four in the car in case of some late-arriving friends. And after stuffing my face with cake, decided that they were really rather tasty even if I do say so myself. Luckily for me, my arrogance was justified when Chief Chelsea Bun Victoria announced that they had won Best Cake. So I am now the proud possessor of a pink rosette for my cupcakes. Hurrah!

Earlier in the week, after finding out I’d got the job, I went out for (of course gin-based) celebrations with a friend. He jokingly commented that the exclusion of men from the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club was quite sexist, that they needed an ‘Emilio Pankhurst‘ to protest on their behalf. Though I know he was joking, it still was a little thought provoking. Another male friend from university, keen on both baking and shooting, has commented before enquiring about whether he could join. And the answer is, in general, no. The social this weekend was an exception, when the menfolk were not only welcomed but even invited to shoot. Nevertheless in general it is an exclusively female club; no Y-chromosomes allowed.

Does this make us sexist? I guess in some ways the answer is yes by definition: men are not allowed to join most shoots, in virtue solely of their being male. But the club is actually helping to redress the balance in the world of what is a predominantly male-dominated sport. Most shooting grounds will find that their client base is much more blue than pink, and guns are designed and shaped for the average male build – otherwise they’d have far higher combs and there would be no need for gadgets such as Jones stock adjusters (a life-saver for any woman with breasts above a B-cup) or comb raisers to let us dainty females keep our heads straight on the stock and thus shoot straight even if blessed with the highest of sky-high cheekbones.

I suspect it initially stems back not to discrimination of women, but to the hunter/gatherer instincts of the human race. Hunting is, as I’ve said before, embedded deep within human nature. It makes sense that we can still find satisfaction in it, even now in our grandesuperskinnyicedfrappemochaccino times. Our base instincts haven’t evolved as quickly as our taste in coffee. Back before the advent of Starbucks and even further back, if there ever was such a time, the male of the species did much of the hunting, while females were bogged down with all the child-bearing malarkey. But now in our modern, post-Starbucks world where women have proven their ability to multi-task, taking care of themselves as well as bearing offspring, why shouldn’t we be given the opportunity to shoot too? The ladies-only Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club goes some way to help redress the balance – not by excluding men, but by giving women a chance to ‘catch up’; to shoot in the company of other women and build their confidence without fear of either embarrassment or being snappily told to stop talking. It gives some inexperienced ladies a chance to learn how to hold a gun properly, and realise that they can actually break targets. And those that can already smash a clay nine times out of ten can simply practise doing so in good, girly company with plenty of tea and cake. The club would never do anything other than encourage a lady gun to go out shooting with male friends and companions in between and even sometimes straight after the ladies-only shoots, nor would it discourage men from shooting (or possibly to start a male-version of the club, for those baking-mad guns out there – The Shotgun and Homemade Pie Club perhaps?) So Emilio Pankhurst can step down, the club is not sexist. From where I’m sat, it exists simply to promote good girly fun, enjoyment of a fabulous sport and of course, practice practice practice.

Proof: a man shooting at the S&CBC Competition, taken by Kay Thompson

The weekend’s competition was a huge success. The ladies-only beginners’ and novice categories gave the girls a chance to experience a proper CPSA competition format without the pressure of shooting amid a crowd of experienced male guns. The afternoon let the Chelsea Bun HABs[i] have a go too, with the open shoot there for anyone to compete in. The BBQ on site provided more than enough tasty burgers, proper sausages and crunchy coleslaw. The bar issued numerous drinks as the clock stuck Pimms O’Clock and a couple of hours later Gin O’Clock, and the clubhouse gave home to the traditional S&CBC tea and cake, complete with tea sets and beautiful cake stands made by Victoria herself.

Having built up an appetite so large that even a BBQ and an award-winning cupcake couldn’t satisfy it, the cherry on the cake that was my fabulous fortnight was dinner at the famous pie pub in Deddington, Oxfordshire. My chicken, ham and leek pie appeared with a cloud of puff pastry rising out above my pie dish like a flaky sky-scraper, hiding a scrumptious filling that went perfectly with my glass of Chardonnay (I need to get to grips with some of this wine stuff now, if I’m going to be working ‘in the industry’) And it was a Proper Pie, with pastry lining the pie dish as well as adorning the top. As if one wasn’t enough, I ordered the apple and cinnamon pie for dessert. It arrived and took my breath away – along with my confidence in finishing it. It was the same size as my main, with the same tower of flaky pastry this time drizzled with maple syrup and dusted with icing sugar. With deliciously creamy vanilla ice cream hidden inside the pastry of all places, it was heavenly. And finished completely – only one step off licking out the dish.

A truly fabulous fortnight, and just in case anyone involved is reading this, I’d like to thank those involved: the Lancastrian Chelsea Bun for her recipe; Dad for enjoying his chips and friands, for making that Kichen-Day a success and for the celebratory bubbles after getting the job (and Mum for celebrating with me); NeuroDoctor for finding an answer to The Mystery Of The Numb Hand/Knee/Leg/Feet; Mr and Mrs Newly Wed and their wedding elves for the most wonderful First Wedding I could have been invited to; my interviewers for agreeing to give me a chance (sucking up even before day one – brownie points??); a certain someone up in York for putting me onto the job in the first place and for recommending me, and her fiancé for helping confirm the address for her thank-you flowers; the Chelsea Buns for enjoying my cakes enough to give me the rosette – my first ‘award’ for baking! – and Chief Chelsea Bun Victoria for organising such a splendid event, and for creating such an incredibly inclusive, friendly, not-at-all-sexist and encouraging club. A joy to be a part of it, not least because of all the cake.


[i] Husbands and Boyfriends

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.