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A failure of imagination

January 26, 2016

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been thinking in the shower for a good twenty minutes and I’m still falling short in my imaginative powers this evening.

The problem is this: When men (yes, yes, NotAllMen†) are transphobic, I understand why. They’ve been marinated in patriarchy’s macho bullshit since birth. Of course they fear transgender people. The idea that men would give up their privilege to descend the ladder and become a woman must frighten them to the tips of their very, very manly toes. Equally, their homophobic alarm bells are likely to be going off – what if I accidentally cop off with someone who used to be a bloke? It doesn’t take much imagination either to see why they’re lairy of female-to-male transition. Why should a mere bird be able to access all that male privilege? And they can’t possibly be a proper man, can they? Real men are born, not made, etcetera, etcetera… (I may need another shower after all this imagining. *shudders*)

But try as I might, I can’t imagine why some feminist women are also transphobic. Surely if you’re onboard the slow boat to equality, you should support all women – cis and trans – and also support those who don’t feel comfortable in female skin and want to transition to male. What is there to fear from someone who simply wants their gender to match their body?

We have the potential to be good trans allies – it worries me that not all of us are. And if I can’t put myself in the shoes of those women, I can’t begin to know how to open a discussion that might just change their minds…

† I know there are people who would like to banish the phrase NotAllMen, but I find it tremendously helpful in swiftly identifying (and then, hopefully, avoiding) sexist assbutts.

Closing the book on a life not lived

February 19, 2014

Twenty years ago I was oblivious to the hurricane of grief that was about to sweep me up and keep me spinning for the next two or three years. Twenty years ago my best friend died on her placement year in Angers, France. Two days later the university chaplain called me out of the student newspaper office where we were putting together the next issue, pints at elbows, all cares a world away.

It was one of those gorgeous February days that nature throws at you just before she covers you in freezing grey dampness for another six weeks. Warm enough that even I had bare arms (I am generally dressed like a pass-the-parcel, in at least four layers of clothing, unless it’s summer, when I’ll strip down to two). The sky had enough blue for a Navy’s worth of sailors’ trousers. It was a small campus, but the two-minute walk from the Guild to John Plant’s office seemed to take a lifetime. I had no idea what he was going to say, only that it couldn’t be good.

We stood on the concrete balcony outside his office, him double-checking that I was H’s friend, before breaking the news that she had killed herself two days beforehand.

Some things feel like they have been branded into my memory: the scratchy texture of the bricks beneath my fingers; the crimson berries on the leafless tree next to the balcony; the incongruous clear blue sky over the city; the dead weight in my chest and the tears that I thought I would never be able to stop falling.

I think I stayed in shock for the next six weeks. I carried the grief for a lot longer than that; unable or unwilling to let it go for the next couple of years. I can’t tell you exactly when I put it down and started to properly heal, though the memory of the moment is almost as clear as the one on John Plant’s balcony.

It was, not uncoincidentally I believe, another unseasonably warm February day. The sky was as clear as it had been on February 21, 1994, but not such a startling shade of blue. My sheltered garden was a suntrap and I was weeding and planting in a short-sleeved T-shirt. And I knew I had to find a way forward without the weight of my grief, that I would be causing myself irreparable damage if I didn’t let go of the pain before many more weeks passed.

And that was that. I’d be a liar if I said I never shed another tear for H. There have been many, many moments when I’ve missed her. But while watching our friends marry and have children – not to mention getting married and having my own child, turning 30 and then 40 without her – have all been marked with both joy and a little melancholy, H was no longer the ghost at the feast.

Now I have to face up to the fact that I have been missing her for twenty years. She has been dead almost as long as she was alive for goodness sake. This really should be the last time I share her tragedy with you. This is the closing of the book – leaving me to do no more than run a finger down its spine every February 19th.

Sleep well darling girl, I miss you.

Charity begins at home – it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it

February 7, 2013

I’ve been hearing this phrase a lot from people who, faced with a government taking away what little support there is in a world of frozen wage packets and rising prices and inflation, cling on ferociously to what they have and glare suspiciously at those they think are getting more for doing less. The people who have swallowed the “strivers vs skivers” misdirection whole. For these people, “charity begins at home” is an excuse not to exercise charity at all.

And by charity, I don’t just mean money. God knows, thanks to this crisis created by the richest in our society, there are plenty of people who simply can not find the money to heat their home, feed their kids and themselves and buy their kids a warm winter coat. I’m not suggesting they are being uncharitable if they use their meagre resources to feed themselves as well as their kids for a change.

To be charitable, is to give of ourselves – whether that is money, time or love. This cold-hearted interpretation of charity begins at home, this “me and mine first” attitude seems to cut out all charity. It is the mealy-mouthed cousin of “I’m alright Jack”.

But, there is another way to read those four words. With the emphasis on ‘begins’ not ‘home’. In other words, children learn what it is to be charitable from those around them. A child who sees a parent giving time to a neighbour (putting out the bins if they can’t, giving them a cup of sugar), or putting a pound in a collecting tin, or who simply experiences their love every single day, is a rich child indeed. And one who is more likely to spread that charity around.

Charity begins at HOME makes us all poorer. Charity BEGINS at home makes us all richer. I know which I prefer.

Don’t waste your money on Nuromol

May 7, 2011

Now I know that there is a placebo effect from a brand name on painkillers (amongst other things – I was pleasantly placebo-duped by bog standard 500mg  paracetamol after having two ‘tricky’ wisdom teeth removed under general anaesthetic. Assumed that the insistence on taking pills from hospital pharmacy meant I was getting more than 500mg and therefore experienced excellent pain relief.), but the ad for Nuromol has ticked me right off.

I take the same contents as Nuromol for nasty headaches and debilitating period pain – one 200mg ibuprofen plus one 500mg paracetamol  (both supermarket own-brand) – and they do the trick every time.

If you want to improve the efficacy of any painkiller, just add a paracetamol (assuming you’re not allergic or about to overdose obviously). Or take heed of my best friend’s wise words (she is a nurse of many years and has worked in all sorts of acute areas of medicine) – paracetamol is suitable pain relief for pretty much everything up to severe pain (which she defined as cancer and the like). So don’t diss the humble paracetamol and don’t be duped by expensive products like Nuromol (£3.99 for 12 tablets  (about 33p per dose) for Chrissake, when you can buy 16 each of ibuprofen and paracetamol for less than 70p (about 4p a dose)).

Cruelty-free cosmetics that everyone can afford

April 6, 2011

Now, I adore Lush. It’s products are my favourites – Flying Fox shower gel, Orange Blossom solid perfume, Gorgeous moisturiser – buy me any of these things and I will think very kindly of you for the rest of the week.

But, there’s no getting away from the fact that hand-made cosmetics created from high-quality ingredients cost more than, say, supermarket own-brand stuff. Unfortunately, often the cheap stuff is also animal-tested.

So, it’s good news for animals and shoppers who want to buy cruelty-free that Sainsbury has gained BUAV approval this week (joining Marks & Spencer, Co-operative and Superdrug as cruelty-free supermarket cosmetic makers).

That’ll make a lot of happy bunnies this spring…

Dale Vince is such a dude…

April 3, 2011

If you’ve visited before you will already know that I’m a big fan of Ecotricity.

The company’s founder Dale Vince gave an interview to The Independent in the week and showed once again a) why he’s a dude (On the subject of City financiers trying to buy the company: “If I had £100m, I’d only go out and start a green electricity company so what would be the point?”) and b) why renewable energy is not some fringy-hippy thing. Ecotricity customers aren’t just using green energy, they’re investing in more sources of green energy.

If you haven’t already signed up for Ecotricity’s electricity or green gas, then do read the Independent interview and head over to Ecotricity to give them your details.


For those with an Aidan Turner-shaped hole in their life…

April 1, 2011

I know I’m not the only one missing the entirely edible Aidan Turner from my TV screen. No spoilers, but the last ten minutes of the last episode of Being Human had tears pouring down my cheeks. So for my own enjoyment, and that of anyone else with an AidanTurner-shaped hole in their life, here are some lovely images to gaze upon until either a) The Hobbit hits the big screen or b) the Being Human boxset arrives through the post.

Now, I know it’s been quiet around here while I’ve been off dealing with real life (don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with the details), but some things haven’t changed.

So, there is a price to pay for gazing upon the lovely Aidan. And that is me asking you to do something to make the world a better place.

It seems appropriate to team the fangtastic actor with The National Blood Service.

96% of us rely on the other 4% donating blood. That’s quite a shocking statistic. You don’t need me to tell you that lives are saved everyday by people giving a little time and a little blood. Can you help increase the number of blood donors? It would be an amazing thing if you can.

In England around 8,000 blood transfusions are carried out every day (according to NHS choices) – it’s no wonder the need for donations remains high.

Someone else’s life could be in your hands – especially if you’re O+ O- or a rare blood type (if I’ve remembered my biology correctly – please let me know if I’ve got that the wrong way round).

Why not sign up, lie back and think of Aidan (or load a picture onto your phone and gaze at it while you do your good deed)? It’s no understatement to say you’d be doing something life-changing.

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