All posts by lynseycalderwood

About lynseycalderwood

Amnesiac vegan lesbian writer with a penchant for prison dramas, rom coms and 80s cartoons

Much Ado About Butchness

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The last time I ever wore a dress was around the end of 2001: it was at a ‘suit party’ in the Glasgow Women’s Library, and I decided to be contrary by getting my nails and make up done professionally as well as curling my hair before slipping into kitten heels and a sexy wee black number that I bought cut-price from ‘Jane Norman’ in the Braehead shopping centre. This was during a fashion-phase where it was socially acceptable for women in general (and not just lesbians) to wear neck-ties, and I had a different one for every Friday and Saturday night that I spent strutting around in Glasgow’s pink triangle.

I was reminded of my ridiculous dress-and-heels endeavour after going to ‘WOW’ (‘Women Of The World’) festival last weekend at London’s Southbank Centre to see ‘The Butch Monologues’, a play which celebrates female masculinity, written by Laura Bridgeman (‘Hot Pencil Press’) and performed by ‘The Drakes’, a collective who describe themselves as ‘dandies’, ‘rogues’ and ‘kings’, as well as ‘a gallus band of butches, transmen and gender rebels’. I had seen the advert for the performance a couple of weeks before it made it’s debut at last year’s South Bank Centre, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I missed it.

Because butch and transmasculine people are so under-represented by the mainstream media that we rarely get to hear their voices. In fact, the term ‘butch’, when being attributed to a female-bodied person by someone other than themself, is usually meant as a slur, and often used interchangeably with the word ‘ugly’; and even in modern lesbian-orientated TV programs and films do we rarely see realistic depictions of strong, dapper women who don’t wear skirts and buck the traditional typecast of what a female is supposed to look like.

TBM was well worth the wait though: autobiographical stories from real butch, transgender and non-binary-identified individuals were acted out in the spirit of Eve Ensler’s controversial show, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ; and it proved to be a candid and somewhat hilarious performance about identity and desire which packed a powerful emotional punch. One of the things I particularly liked was the way the monologues were used to point out the fine line that often exists between butch lesbians and those who are on the transgender spectrum, and yet at the same time it was made abundantly clear that for many people those two identities are poles apart.

The show was also a sell-out, with many people being turned away at the door. Now, I have no idea what percentage of the audience was lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer; and – despite my pre-conceived notion that this would only attract a gaystream audience – it really did not matter. Bridgeman took a fairly niche market subject matter and recreated it to highlight universal themes which could appeal on different levels to anyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender expression. Because most of the population has had disappointments in love; and we’ve all been forced by our parents or our school or workplace at some point to wear clothes that we hated; and it’s a rare person who has not felt socially embarrassed or, equally, elated when we have been ogled or when someone has disclosed that they find us sexually attractive.

The biggest giggles in our row seemed to be sparked when each Drake, in turn, announced their character’s preferred brand of underwear. Antonia actually snorted and nudged me in the ribs at this point. Yes, it’s true, I am a wee bit particular about what I like to wear down there; and, yes, I did once buy twenty-one pairs of identical ladies’ Bench boxer shorts (nineteen black plus a grey and a white pair) – and you can snigger all you like.

Antonia challenged me to celebrate my inner butch by writing this post. She also dared me to get my hair cut short, but that’s not happening anytime soon. Who says you can’t be masculine and have long hair anyway?

Generating New Ideas And Interests

The other night, I dreamt that the red, retro, replica telephone-box-cum-display-cabinet that Antonia got me as a Valentine’s gift had turned into a tardis. I accepted this phenomenon with no question whatsoever and was very excited by the prospect of travelling Dr-Who-style through time and space. Antonia, on the other hand, wasn’t so interested: she said she was way too busy with her college work (although to me it looked like she was playing some kind of Tetris game on her new i-pad). It was only when I said ‘fine then, I’ll go on hoilday to Italy myself – I just need to get my shorts’ that I turned around to find her wearing a giant multicoloured sombrero and wheeling a suitcase behind her.

The dream was truncated immediately after that, because Antonia nudged me awake. I tried hard to get back to sleep so I could recapture it, but she was persistent about the whole it’s-morning-and-I-want-you-to-open-your-eyes-and-pay-me-some-attention-thing. In the end, I settled for watching robot Santas attack people in the series two episode one Christmas special whilst eating my breakfast in bed.

When I say series two, I mean series two of the ‘New Who’ which was spearheaded by Welsh TV producer and screenwriter, Russell T Davies (‘Queer As Folk’, ‘Cucumber’, ‘Banana’) in 2005, and featured Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the incarnations of doctors nine and ten respectively, as well as ex-teen-popstar Billie Piper as his travelling companion Rose Tyler.

Now, I had previously never watched the show (in fact I purposely avoided it because I assumed it would be all cringey special effects, bad acting and dodgy plots) and was completely oblivious to the fact that it celebrated it’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013; and it was only when I read Roy Gill’s (www.roygill.com) short story ‘Generations’ – a beautifully written account of two young gay men in 1992 who tentatively correspond then meet and bond over their shared love of sci-fi-adventure stories concerning a certain self-generating alien-humanoid who calls himself ‘the doctor’ – that my interest was piqued. (I also gained some interesting early-nineties IT knowledge regarding the DIY duplication of VHS video tapes thanks to the how-to guide which was cleverly woven through the narrative.)

Anyway, I’m glad I did tune in. Because apart from being able to ogle Billie Piper in action for several hours (I don’t feel guilty at all about lusting after someone who’s playing the part of a ninteen-year-old, not when it’s a decade old episode and I know she’s thirty-two-and-a-half in real life), I have to admit that I’m quite fascinated by films and TV programs about parallel worlds and time travel and as a result I’m finding Dr Who very very addictive. It also inspired me to revisit a story idea I had a couple of years ago about a teenager who discovers she has the ability to rewind time after sustaining a head injury.

I just asked Antonia the question: ‘If you were a timelord and the telephone box morphed into your tardis, where would you take me on an exciting date?’

Her reply: ‘Sorry, hen, I’m a really boring timelord – I’m happy where I am.’

To be fair, so am I, but I might be tempted to nip back to the eighties to pick up a few collectibles on the cheap…

Building Up My Endurance In A Literal Sense

I’ve covered a lot of ground this week in terms of both mental and physical goals: a solo trip to Ipswich on Monday; a coffee meet-up in Colchester on Tuesday; and then I jogged from my house to Long Melford and back (just over five miles) on both Wednesday and Thursday.

I thought it was about time I went to some places without Antonia that weren’t simply the co-op or the gym or Caffe Nero; because I’ve been in Sudbury for more than six months now, and even though going out for me means committing extra hours to route-planning and wandering round in circles (when I could simply stay home and write), it feels much more satisfying to do things independently.

I also wanted to re-ignite my passion for running.

A lot of people who read this blog will have seen me out pounding the Renfrew pavements many many times. Because for the best part of seventeen years I was always training for a ten mile race or a half marathon or simply trying to improve my stamina. I used to regularly do a ten kilometre round trip from Renfrew to Paisley and back (because I was scared of varying my route when I was out on my own in case I got lost) and in 2006 during my preparation for the Edinburgh marathon I did this multiple times a day. Aside from that, running helped fuel my writing because I’m a kinetic thinker, and for me there’s nothing quite like striding along with the wind in my hair and letting the ideas bounce around in my brain.

That was until a couple of years ago when I ended up with plantar fasciitis*. And the pains in my feet were so severe that I was forced to give up running for nine months. I tried swimming instead, but it just wasn’t the same. And because my running was so intrinsically linked with the the words I normally put down on paper, my ability to come up with new and exciting stories began to suffer too. As did my diet, because even though I’m one of those vegans who prefers a bowl of cherries to a bag of sweets or a lentil bake instead of a fry up, I stopped caring about what I put into my body because I thought ‘what’s the point?’.

But my injuries eventually healed. And when they did it was my confidence that stopped me from getting back up on my feet, so to speak. I tentatively tried running again for fifteen or twenty minutes and I realised I’d put on weight – not huge amounts, but I wobbled in places I previously didn’t and I felt sluggish and, well, sweaty – and this made it hard for me to get motivated.

And this went on for several months. Until I moved house. That’s when I made a decision to start again from scratch, to forget about races and medals and fitness targets and simply get up out of bed and do SOMETHING. Within two weeks of living in Sudbury, I joined the local gym and I started going to karate and yoga and jogging for a few kilometres on the treadmill twice a week. (I also went along to a running club but that didn’t work out because on week one I stopped to tie my shoelace and the others left me eating their dust; the second week they abandoned a sixteen-year-old newbie at night in a secluded woodland area who had no clue where she was going – I was one of two people who ran back for her and after that, I decided it was the wrong club for me.)

Last week I did fourteen miles on the treadmill whilst watching the entirety of eighties’ movie ‘Inner Space’. It’s the longest time I’ve ever spent on a treadmill and the furthest I’ve run in about three years. And although I was pleased I’d managed it, there was also a feeling of anti-climax, because at the end of the day I was still in the same place. And I knew that if my writing was ever going to go anywhere again, because it has been stuttering along recently, then I had to put myself back out into the world.

I chose Long Melford as my fledgling destination because I’d been there a few times, and because it’s pretty difficult (even for me) to get lost, seeing as I only have to walk to the end of my street and cross the road and keep running in a straight line. And I simply woke up on Wednesday morning, got my trainers on and just went for it; no procrastination, no stopping, no looking back.

Antonia says she might come running with me some time. She’s been getting back into her tennis and wants to sign up to the gym too. It feels nice getting fit together, and I’ve been manically reading lots of superfood and wholefood recipes so that we can cook tasty healthy things – I’m not going overboard with it though, and no way am I going without my cherry pie from Co-op!

 

*Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining or tearing the ligament that supports the arch

More Than This

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Two weeks ago, I finished reading ‘More Than This’, a young adult novel written by two-time Carnegie medal-winner Patrick Ness. And even though, I was initially quite dissatisfied with the ending to this book (I also didn’t love it quite as much as his ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy), I have been haunted by it ever since.

The story opens with a boy drowning in the sea. He is sixteen, nearly seventeen, we’re told. We are reeled into the narrative with him, towards his inevitable and excruciating death; we witness his last choking breaths and the obliteration of his skull as it crashes against rocks. And then he wakes up. In hell. Or at least he thinks he’s in hell. He’s in his old house. In his old hometown. In England. A country he left for America eight years before.   A place he hates. Except that it’s not the England he remembers, because it looks like several years have past. And the streets are deserted. And the landscape dilapidated. In fact, it’s much worse.

Reading this book made me think about my own mortality, and about the town where I grew up. I never really liked living in Renfrew (for various reasons), but if I was trapped there on my own for all eternity I could feel happy in the knowledge that the local library has an impressive number of brand new YA and fantasty fiction novels that I haven’t perused yet, so at least I’d be OK for reading matter for a couple of years. There would also be no roving drug addicts eyeballing me whenever I left the house. Because of course they’d all be dead in this post-apocalyptic purgatory or hell or whatever I was in. (I’ve obviously not got the most vivid of imaginations, because the most hellish place I can imagine at the moment is one where I don’t have anything to read.)

None of Ness’ characters in this novel are clear cut heroes nor are they villians. They are simply people who have found life too hard to cope with. Through Seth, his teenage protagonist, he shows us a retrospective world populated by messed up teenagers with equally messed up parents and he poses questions such as ‘why is the world such a messed up place?’, and ‘why do people use and abuse and hurt others?’, and most importantly: ‘is there more to life than this?’  Then he nudges us towards discovering our own answers.

His words have also pushed me to think about the ways in which my goals and desires have often rendered me an outsider: I always seem to want vastly different things from most of the people I know. I’m vegan, a writer, and I’m gay – and although I didn’t choose my sexuality I certainly made a conscious decision not to keep it a secret. I’ve also always hankered after far more than marriage, kids and a nine-to-five job. And I can’t imagine ever putting my social life ahead of my health and fitness.

Because of these things, I’ve frequently been accused of being selfish, of having unrealistic expectations, and of living in a fantasy world. I choose to ignore those opinions though. Instead, I’d rather see myself as someone who has a lust for life and a hunger for knowledge and new experiences. And I’m not going to change my views on this any time soon nor will I apologise for having the gall to dream.

‘More Than This’ is one of those books that would be ruined if I said too much about the plot. So I won’t. But, if you like intense, thought-provoking and multi-layered narratives with a dollop of intrigue and a smidgeon of humour then I thoroughly recommend you acquire a copy of it, and as Seth would say, ‘go in swinging’.

Last Tango In Sudbury

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A couple of weeks ago, Antonia asked what I’d prefer as a Valentines gift: a romantic weekend in Manchester (a place I’ve been wanting to revisit for years) or the red, retro, replica telephone box / display cabinet that I saw in a shop in Long Melford. I chose the telephone box, of course – not only is it a beautiful and jaw-dropping collectible piece of furniture, but it’s the perfect kooky habitatat for the remaining fifty or sixty pocket dragon ornaments I hadn’t yet managed to showcase. Anyway, as a result, we will probably be spending a significant amount of time this weekend under my duvet… with a bowl of salty popcorn / kettle chips / other random tasty vegan snack whilst tuning in to the rest of ‘Last Tango In Halifax’. That’s what we’ve been doing all week actually, and we’ve become so hooked on the show that we’ve already binge-watched two seasons in the last five days!

The BBC one comedy-drama about lost opportunities and second chances, was written by British BAFTA winning writer Sally Wainwright and was inspired by her mother, who gained a new lease of life after she married her second husband. The show follows widowed septuagenarians Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi) and Celia Dawson (Anne Reid) who reconnect on facebook then rekindle a romance which started nearly sixty years before. Alan and Celia’s later-in-life relationship and their live-life-to-the-max attitude is juxtaposed to the modern day mayhem that governs the lives of their respective daughters, Gillian (Nicola Walker), a bed-hopping farmer who works part-time in a supermarket, and Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), an Oxford-educated head mistress of an elite secondary school who, unbeknownst to Celia, has become intimate with a female colleague following the breakdown of her marriage to lovecheat ex, John, the father of her two teenage sons.

To be honest, I only started watching this show because of the lesbian storyline between Caroline and Kate (Nina Sosanya): I’d read the appraisals in Diva magazine regarding Sally Wainwright’s portrayal of the relationship between the two forty-something divorcees, and I was curious to know what was so special about it – well, that and the fact that you rarely see lesbians on tv unless they’re in a prison drama or a fleeting fancy in a soap. And I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from the brilliant dialogue, I was pleased to see that neither Caroline or Kate rushed to define themselves ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ (although, interestingly enough, other characters did label them); nor did storylines include any long drawn out coming out scenes which ended in hysteria, or tortured depictions of either woman struggling to accept their sexuality. They were shown as just a normal couple.

So I’m glad that Antonia’s mother lent us the DVDs so we could watch ‘Last Tango’. But not just because of the queer-themes. No, I completely fell in love with Alan’s character, and Celia was particularly inspiring with her gutsy gung-ho adventurous streak – I could almost forgive her homophobic references and the stupid faces she pulled whenever she didn’t get her own way. But more than that, I was pleased to see elderly people being represented on TV as something other than doddering old stay-at-home windbags who criticise and complain about everything.

Now I just have to work out what to give Antonia for Valentines day. I’m thinking, perhaps, a few more shades of red, pink and purple acrylic paint. And maybe a new blank canvas. She likes to work whilst the TV is on in the background and has been manically creating recently. I just hope she doesn’t get too excited during season three and splatter the lot on my bedcovers!

Hope

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And my end goal has always been to get my work in front of the eyes of as many readers as possible. I had my first poem printed in a magazine when I was fifteen, and since then I’ve submitted many many other pieces (mostly prose) to publishers, and have had several mini successes with small press publications and local competitions as well as a book deal for my autobiography. I’ve also spent years going to writing workshops, seminars, courses, you name it, all in the name of honing my craft.

So it has been challenging, not to mention frustrating, recently, when an increasing number of people have been suggesting that I should self-publish my novel, because that’s something that was never part of my plan.

Now, I have no qualms with other people self-publishing their own work – in fact, I can understand why it might be a good idea for them: modern technology has made it possible for anyone to have-a-go at putting their writing on kindle; they can even jaunt off to a printers and arrange hard copies on a shoe string budget; there’s also the option of print-on-demand; and through all of this they have complete control of their manuscript: no editor or higher literary powers-that-be calling on them to make compromises with their baby. But there is no getting away from the fact that, rightly or wrongly, there’s a stigma attached to self-publishing; and often (but not always) authors who choose this route are not taken seriously. So whilst I completely respect other peoples’ decision to do whatever they think is best for their manuscript, I have to say (after many hours of careful consideration) it is one hundred percent not right for me. Not at the present time anyway.

And because I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing my name on the spine of a paperback, peering out at me from the shelves in brand bookstores, I know that I’d never be satisfied with my novel simply existing as an e-book. But neither do I have the money to spend on printing, marketing or book cover design costs. And I still haven’t even figured out how to get my blog on the radar of popular search engines so apart from telling my family, friends and everyone I know on facebook I’d be next-to-hopeless at the online self-promotional side of things.

I suppose I could use the money I’ve been saving up for a new laptop to pay someone else to do all these things for me. But then I’d have nothing to type on when the current (six-and-a-half-year-old) Macbook goes tits up; and absolutely no guarantee that anyone other than my three best pals would buy my novel anyway (actually they’d probably expect free copies). Besides, just because you’ve self-published something, it doesn’t mean a bookshop will want to stock it. Sadly, they very rarely do in these circumstances.

So maybe my book is ‘niche market’. Maybe it’s ‘too gay’. Maybe it will never attract ‘gaystream’ audience never mind a mainstream one. It’s possible, but I still refuse to throw the towel in. Plus, it’s one thing to be told by a publisher that your work is ‘difficult to sell’, but it’d be far more heartbreaking for me to throw my novel followed by a lot time and money into an abyss, only to realise another year or two down the line that that no-one really wants to read it.

At the end of the day, I can write other novels. But only if I live in the present, concentrating on the actual writing instead of whittling away the hours trying to shanghai people into buying the old one. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll write something else in the not-too-distant-future that a publisher will like, and they’ll ask to see my backlog and I can pull this one out of the hat! Maybe a publisher will like my other two manuscripts that are also currently doing their rounds. I can but hope.

Zombeans!

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Ever since I read ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion last year, I have been trying to imagine what I’d do if there was a real live zombie apocalyse. I mean, would me and my white-belt-in-karate go down fighting against the grizzly undead? Or would I run away screaming and lock myself in my tiny apartment till the food runs out, in the hope that the zombies would get bored trying kick my door in, or at least have the decency to be killed by someone who is a bit more hard-ass than me.

‘Warm Bodies’ (which inspired a blockbuster zom-rom-com movie of the same name) was one of the best novels I read last year. In fact, it is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Period. Unfortunately though, because of my brain injury and it’s associated problems, most of the plot is now receding from my memory faster than the living deadly gorging on a patè of grey matter. Off the top of my head, I can remember it was narrated in the first person from the point of view of ‘R’, a zombie who appears to have died in his late teens to early twenties and has no recollection of anything that happened to him before his death: all he knows is the first intial of his name – and he’s not even convinced he’s got that right.

R lives in an abandoned airport alongside his friend ‘M’ and a community of ‘fleshies’ (zombies that are in the early state of decay) and ‘boneys’ (zombies that have decomposed to the point where they have no soft tissue – these guys are meaner than your average fleshie and appear to be the leaders).

Now, I don’t know if this was deliberate (probably not), but through R’s narrative, Isaac Marion paints an eerily accurate description of what life is like for many survivors of acquired brain injury: R admits to feeling vague, empty and frustrated by his inability to read or properly process his own thoughts; and although his fellow flesheaters are dogged with similar deficits (plus a shared lethargy that makes speaking in more than monosyllables difficult), it is made abundantly clear from the beginning that R is different from the other zombies because he has some degree of empathy towards the humans he eats and because he hankers after a life that involves more than simply shuffling, groaning and guzzling guts (– thus the idea slightly mirrors those high-functioning survivors of the ABI community who have a more acute awareness of their cognitive limitations).

Anyway, whilst R and M and some other random corpes are out hunting, they come upon a group of young resistance fighters led by a nineteen-year-old called Perry. R kills Perry and eats part of his brain. During this time, R is able to feel alive for a few brief moments through the memories and emotions of his victim – this I suppose is not unlike the lightbulb moment a brain-injured person might have when they finally grasp how to relearn something that they’ve previously struggled to remember. R, then, experiences a fleeting sensation of remorse – although not enough to stop him from pocketing the rest of Perry’s brain to savour later – and on seeing Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, feels physical attraction and is moved to save rather than savage her.

Anyway, after wiping zombie-gore on Julie to hide her from his hungry cronies, R takes her home and they bond over old records… and then R starts to feel more and more alive… and then Julie eventually wants to go home to her living pals and there’s a bit of a kerfuffle involving a ‘meet-the-parents’ scenerio and … well… you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next…

Antonia, my gorgeous paramour who’s previously claimed to have my back ‘no matter what’, has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of zombie-defending-kickassness: she said if the living dead swarmed Sudbury then she’d just kill herself because there would be too many to get away from; except for if I was bitten by a zombie, because then she’d become one with me. I really excepted more: I thought she would have acquired a Land Rover or equivalent heavy vehicle that could be used to mow some of the grave-dodging fuckers down – that’s what I would have done if I could drive! And she could have at least broken into Sports Direct across the road and stolen a few baseball bats with which she could have protected me… or exacted her revenge in the event of my demise. Poor show, Madam, that’s what I say.

I did a ‘Will You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse’ quiz on Buzzfeed.com and my result was: ‘torn apart in one week’. Apparently, I’d make a really good effort but would be slaughtered due to poor decision-making and lack of ruthlessness. Sounds about right!

Bean Damage

Recently, I began talking to a woman on Pink Sofa* who suffers from a mild case of prosopagnosia. In other words: face blindess. Oddly, it’s a lot less rare than people think, and up to 2.5% of the population (including Brad Pitt, and Oliver Sacks – the neurologist who famously wrote a book of essays entitled ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’) have this condition, where they have an impaired ability to recognise people they have met before, even their own friends and family.

There are two types of prosopagnosia: congenital and acquired (either through stroke or brain injury). In Sacks’ case it was hereditary. I’m not sure about Brad Pitt, but I suspect he was probably born with it too. My friend on Pink Sofa was in a car accident; and her symptoms were so subtle that she didn’t think anything was wrong with her, until she realised that two new acquaintances she’d recently met at separate slimming clubs, were actually the same person AND this person was a work colleague.

The thing is, even though I mostly struggle with other aspects of visual processing such as topography and spatial awareness, I can strongly relate to the difficulties that people with prosopagnosia experience: For example, I have lost count of the number of the times I’ve bypassed people in the steet who I’ve simply not recognised; or I’ve tried to talk to a complete stranger because I thought I knew them; and often people will accost me in the street, and I’ll find myself nodding and agreeing with them and pretending I know who they are and what they’re talking about, because it’s easier and less embarrassing to say otherwise. Because people often get very offended when you don’t remember them. And they think it’s because you’re rude or self-obsessed or (at best) uninterested in them, especially if you’ve met them more than once.

Years ago, I left my then-girlfriend waiting for me outside a shop in Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station whilst I went to use the loo, and when I re-emerged I couldn’t find her because I not only forgot which direction I was meant to be heading in, but what she looked like! She was mortified to say the least and she ranted on at great length about how she couldn’t believe I’d walked right past her, and how could I not recall her

She just didn’t get it. But then most people don’t. Which why it’s often easier to just feign ditziness, to pretend you’re busy in your own wee world.

Another thing that me and my new friend from Pink Sofa have in common is that we both have difficulty following films and TV programmes. Usually I muddle through, relying on accents, hairstyles, clothing and distinctive hats, but there have been a few things I’ve found particularly challenging to watch: ‘The Passion Of Christ’ was one of them – simply because the characters were mostly middle-aged men with beards and I couldn’t tell which one was Jesus! Another was the American gangland drama, ‘The Wire,’ because most of the characters were all young black men with cornrows and I kept getting confused with who was in who’s gang; the principal detective was white so I was able to differentiate between him and the people he was trying to arrest; it was a wee bit trickier, however, with the two leading ladies in the show who were both red heads.

Whenever I go to potlucks or social gatherings I try to transfer my TV-watching strategies to recognising people I’ve already met, but you can’t pause or rewind real life; and as Antonia recently pointed out ‘people don’t always wear the same hat’. They don’t always have the same haircut either; and there’s always the chance that someone I know will get a mohawk or dye their bonce a different colour and if that happens I’ll just have to deal with it as best as I can.

And if I do happen to dither on past you as I’m trying to navigate around town, please don’t be insulted. And, if in doubt, do re-introduce yourself.

Steffi Baby

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Ten years ago, I began seeing someone who had a small child from a previous relationship. It was unchartered ground for both of us because I had little experience with children, and she had none with lesbianism. We muddled along though, and it certainly was a learning curve – in fact, the person who taught me the most was Steffi, my ex’s little girl.

Anyway, when we broke up I was devastated. Not because she was the love of my life (looking back now, she was far from it) but because by having a child she represented a sort of normality for me, and a hope that society would see us as a sort of quirky (if not slightly dysfunctional) little step-family; and also because she was the only person I’d ever brought home that my mother had actually really liked.

I got through the break up the only way I knew how: I wrote about it. I wrote in long-hand in a stream-of-consciousness style, rarely stopping or crossing anything out; and I did this in a variety of cafes and bars around Glasgow, and occasionally in front of the TV whilst the KISS channel with it’s raunchy R’n’B sounds was pounding away in the background. My favourite songs from that period quickly became ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back’) and ‘F.U.R.B.’ (Fuck You Right Back’) and I think that speaks volumes for my maturity at that point in my life. At the end of three months, however, I had a lighter heart and a full notepad (not to mention a tentative new love interest); and when I typed up what I’d written (pretty much verbatim) I had a novella that was just shy of 40,000 words. (Now I have never been able to write so ferociously or fluidly since than, nor have I ever again been able to get a whole story out without multiple stops and starts. But neither am I suggesting that I have to be going through an emotional uproar to do so.)

‘Steffi Baby’ is a story about Debs, a young, single mother in her middle twenties who is struggling with an anxiety-related disorder which confines her indoors and often to her bed.   It is narrated by her daughter, Steffi, a highly-sensitive and strong-spirited four-year-old, who is blissfully unaware that her mother’s new best friend, Alice, is actually her lover.

This novella is a far cry from autobiography, and although there are parts which were inspired by real life events I preferred to stretch my imagination and write about what could have happened rather than the things which actually took place. It was also never meant as a way of getting back at my ex – and I suppose in a way I am really paying homage to some of the good times we did share. I chose to tell it from Steffi’s point of view because it was too painful (and, frankly, too boring) to tell it from my own; and also because Steffi’s innocence and unrelenting optimism bring humour to what could otherwise have been a rather bleak tale.

Before Xmas, I began redrafting ‘Steffi Baby’ again – I’d previously attempted this back in March but found it was too difficult to finish at that time. This wasn’t because it threw up any unpleasant memories for me – on the contrary, it reminded me of quite a few episodes that made me laugh out loud. I simply struggled with the chronology and the picking apart of an already very tight story.

I’ll admit there have been times when I considered giving up on it completely: that old chestnut ‘no-one reads / publishes novellas anymore’ rattled around in my head; and only yesterday, I was so frustrated with one particularly problematic chapter that I printed out all twenty pages of it before physically cutting and pasting the sentences together; I was also slightly worried that I would be accused of trotting out yet another niche-interest piece of fiction that only lesbians of Scottish nationality would ever read.

I am pleased to report that I am now about ninety-eight percent of the way through the redraft. There was loose talk of me writing a sequel, but I’m not so sure. Antonia thinks I should. We’ll see.

The real Steffi was fourteen this month and I can’t believe where the years have gone. I suppose she will stay forever four years old in my mind. I doubt I will ever cross paths with her again, but wherever she is in this world I wish her and her mother all the very best, and hope that they are happy and well.

Our Four-Year Beanniversary

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On Tuesday, Antonia and I celebrated our four-year beanniversary. That’s four years since the date that she asked me to officially be her girlfriend.

Now a lot of people don’t know this (because we used to be quite shy and would subtly brush the question under the carpet when asked) but we originally met in November 2011 on Pink Sofa, which is a dating and networking site for lesbian, queer and bisexual women – and in fact, we were so impressed with the site that we recently rejoined so that could meet more likeminded ladies in our area (of course, we’ve so far sent more virtual hugs, kisses and bunches of flowers to each other than actual messages to other people, and all whilst we’ve been sitting together in the same room.)

Anyway, we decided to go to Norwich for a ce-les-bratory shopping trip / lunch. The plan was to buy each other house coats and a pair of slippers (I wanted fluffy tiger claws and she wanted hairy hobbit toes) but we couldn’t find any we liked, so Antonia ended up with a stripey jumper and I got a plain white shirt; she also chose two early birthday presents for herself but I’m not letting her have them for another month… I’m really not…

For lunch we went to a vegetarian cafe called ‘Wild Thyme’. It took us a while to find it – and we were quite ravenous when we arrived – even though it was smack in the middle of the city centre, inside a wee courtyard above a very colourful shop called ‘Rainbow Wholefoods’, and the website had explained this quite specifically! The menu was almost completely vegan and both of us had trouble deciding what to choose because it all sounded so tasty. In the end I picked the mexican black bean burger with melty cashew cheese and sweet potato wedges, and Antonia got the Japanese noodle salad; and then because we both liked the look of what the other had, we swapped our meals half way through. This fifty-fifty dinner-swapping is a common practice for us (and I can’t remember the last time we went out to eat and didn’t do it) and I suppose it’s one other thing that can be added to a long list of reasons that people think we are a wee bit weird. Both dishes were equally amazing and I was completely stuffed; despite this we still ordered a vegan brownie with soya icecream between us and scoffed the lot.

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After that, we went downstairs to Rainbow Wholefoods and I bought some non-dairy cheese slices with chopped mushrooms through it and a jar of rice syrup. I was particularly excited by the rice syrup because I’ve only ever seen it in one shop, in Glasgow, and that shop shut down about three years ago.

photo 3 Next, we visited a new age place where Antonia bought me an egg-shaped piece of opalite (which is apparently for love, passion and eroticism as well as spontaneity – but she didn’t know this till she looked it up in her crystal bible) and a bit of celestite (it helps dysfunctional relationships amongst other things according to her book, oo-er) and a cute wee pin badge with an angel on it; she also bought herself five tiny slivers of quartz but I haven’t dared to ask what those are for yet…

Then lastly, having shopped, eaten, drank and giggled our way around the town, we took some silly, squinty, god-awful coupley selfies in the rain before waddling back to the car.