Tag Archives: Lesbian

The Last Post

  

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday and the first anniversary of my residency in England; it’s also my final post for this blog.

Right from the start, I’d always intended for Bean Love to be a year long project, so I’m really happy to have gone the distance with it, even if I did go a little off topic a lot of the time.   

Back in the summer of 2014, when I decided to chronicle my house move from Renfrew’s concrete jungle to Sudbury’s soporific pastures, I knew that I would also be embarking on an intense psychological journey that would not only catapult me, as a disabled person, into a greater state of independence, but it would push me to diversify my writing even further as well as making or breaking my relationship with Antonia. I wanted to record my journey in a way that I could share it with people back home who I was unlikely to see for a while, which is why I chose to make the blog public. I’d also just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Complete Dykes To Watch Out For’, and it reminded me of some of my friends and what I call the ‘Bean Scene’, and I was tickled by the idea of writing about queer culture and the way we gay ladies often perpetuate lesbian stereotypes ourselves.

Antonia, the wee delicate flower that she is (or was) said that moving to Glasgow was a ‘culture shock’ for her: she’d never before been exposed to the grittiness of West Coast living, nor had she encountered off-licenses with electronically-tagged Buckfast bottles; she’d also never heard anyone refer to their friend as a ‘cunt’ by way of friendly greeting and, as a result, she gained a whole new vocabulary in the three and a half years she spent there.

But was it a culture shock for me? Well, yes and no.

Sudbury is different from both Renfrew and Glasgow in lots of subtle ways: for instance, a garden here is not a garden unless it is at least half an acre, and most people talk ‘proper’ English and can’t understand half of what I say; there aren’t many buses in Sudbury either, because not many people need to use the bus – Antonia says most folk in this town wouldn’t even consider having less than two cars per household and that her family (of six) once had half a dozen cars in the driveway, and that was when two of them couldn’t even drive. Then there’s the ladies at the tennis club, who were terribly offended by the whole Scottish independence thing because they couldn’t understand why ‘but why?!’ Scottish people wouldn’t want to be in the United Kingdom. Of course, everyone is Sudbury is perfectly polite and nice to me – at least to my face – and on one of the two occasions I’ve heard someone shouting in the street here, one of the culprits sounded like they were from Govan.

Much like Renfrew, there’s not a big bean scene in Sudbury, nor is there a vegan one. But I know we’re not the only queers or meat avoiders in the village because I’ve seen a few lady-couples tramping around town in their wellies and Barbour jackets; and after recently joining the Suffolk Vegan group on Facebook, I’ve discovered there are a few fellow herbivores hiding in plain sight in Gainsborough Street’s ‘Niche Café’ behind their super salads. There’s also not much going on in terms of literary events and networks; and after my own attempt to start up the ‘Breakfast Writers’ Club’ failed, I joined the over fifty-five’s group at the library (and so far no-one has complained that I’m nearly two decades too young).

If my recent trip back to Scotland has taught me one thing it’s this: I am incredibly lucky to have lived in a place that allowed me easy access to the various diverse communities that helped shape the person I am today; and this, in turn, has prompted me to think about going back more often, as well as making me want to put more effort into venturing out into London and some of the other East Anglian towns in search of my tribe.

Overall, I’m stepping up my game in the coming year: I’ve been invited to an interview in East Acton with prison arts organisation the Koestler Trust, and I’ve posted my application for an eleven-week course aimed advanced writers in Covent Garden; I’ve also just signed the lease on my apartment for another year. And whilst, this may be my last post on this blog, I’m not saying I’ll never blog again, nor am I saying this is the last you’ll hear of Bean Love… a wise friend recently suggested that I should consider rewriting it as a work of fiction… and, you know what, I just might do that…

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Summer In Scotland

  
Last week, Antonia and I were back in Scotland; back visiting friends and family and old haunts.

We set off early Saturday morning with the intention of stopping for lunch at Hebden Bridge (the lesbian capital of the UK) but, due to traffic constraints and Antonia accidentally driving in the wrong direction, we fell four hours behind schedule and ended up in a motorway Marks n Spencer’s instead of a quaint wee vegetarian village café.  

The weather in England was practically tropical, but as soon as we hit Gretna Green there was a downpour – I was completely oblivious to this as I was busy reading aloud to Antonia, so I got some very strange looks when I stepped out of the car during our penultimate pee-n-tea stop wearing shorts and bright orange sunspecs. When we eventually arrived at Fiona’s house in Glasgow, she also commented on my attire; and when I told her I’d packed three pairs of shorts she replied: ‘You’re optimistic’.

The next day, I decided to wear jeans; and Antonia, Fiona, Sophie and I went to Ayr for a coastal drive via the nearest Tesco, where we picked up a box of vegan Cornettos to eat en route. Antonia’s plan was to do some ‘wombling’ on the beach but we stopped first at a local pub and she and Fiona became engrossed in watching Wimbledon. Sophie and I eventually got bored of making ‘Wombles of Wimbledon statements’, and watching them watching, so we went for a walk along the seafront. Later, we discovered that the vegetarian café we’d planned to visit was shut on Sundays, but we had a really great meal in the Chestnut hotel instead.

My dad’s birthday was on the Monday. Antonia and I went for another coastal drive around Wemyss Bay in the morning, and then at 2.30pm we took my dad to see the new Terminator film – I got very excited when Antonia pointed out Emilia Clarke from Game Of Thrones playing the new Sarah Connor; and although we thought she was very good, we both still prefer Lena Headey (Sarah Connor Chronicles, 2008-2009).

On Tuesday, Antonia dropped me off in the city centre and I went to Caffe Nero for a slushy drink (some habits die hard) and sat outside in Buchanan Street watching pigeons and street performers, whilst she went off to catch up with her old college cohorts. Afterwards, I met my friend Tracy in Paisley for lunch and we chatted and charity-shopped and I bought several second hand paperbacks to add to my ever-increasing must-read pile. Antonia drove out to get me later, and we joined my family for dinner at the Toby Carvery (which is surprisingly vegan-friendly). We ended the night by going to Ikea to look for another bookcase for me before stopping off at Tesco again on the way back to Fiona’s to get yet more vegan cornettos.

On Wednesday, I met my crime-writer friend Elaine for coffee and we moaned about books and our writing and our mad families. It was great to see her, after a year of missing our Waterstones meet-ups, and I was so engrossed in conversation that I had to sprint down Buchanan Street to make it in time for lunch with my poet-friend Nicola. It turned out that Nicola was running late too, but I ran into Michael, another writer-friend, and it was nice to see him and be able to chat about books and his writing while I waited. Nicola and I both ordered seitan burgers when she arrived, and we also talked about books and our writing and our mad families. Afterwards, I went to my parents’ and my mum told me all the same stories she’d told me the night before, and as I was leaving asked if I’d heard about her neighbour – the one with the two sticks who can hardly walk – absconding from the hospital while she was in to get an operation. Somehow, my mum had managed to miss out this crucial bit of gossip which involved a door-to-door police search in the early hours of the morning and a sixty-something woman in a medical gown!

On our last day in Glasgow, I went shopping and was accosted on Buchanan Street by a middle-aged man who asked if I could give him fifty pence. I told him that I had no money, to which he replied: ‘Welcome to my life, I wake up with no money.’ I then told him I was on benefits, thinking this would get rid of him. It didn’t. He proceeded to follow me around town asking various questions about which benefits I was a recipient of and at what rate, as well as giving me a detailed financial breakdown of what he received. It took me almost an hour to detach myself from him and not before he insisted that I shake his hand.

 I then went to meet my friend, Jane, another writer who recently had her debut novel published. Over lunch, we talked about books and our writing and she convinced me to think again about rewriting my novel King Street – the problem novel I first drafted about eight years ago – with a crime fiction slant, but to perhaps to start it again without looking back at my previous material.

Later, I went out to dinner with Sophie, Fiona and Antonia in Saramago and I retold them what had happened to me with the beggar in Buchanan Street. As they sat sniggering, I wondered if there was any scope for turning him, and my mum’s hospital absconding neighbour, into fictional characters.

On Friday, during the drive home I got an email to say that an extract of King Street was to be published in issue nine of Glitterwolf magazine. Obviously, I am very pleased about this: knowing that my work has found an audience makes toiling over the manuscript worthwhile; however, I am still trying to decide whether to call it quits with King Street (after all I have had three published short stories out of the idea) or whether to take a long and winding road to writing draft five from scratch.

Orange Is The New Addiction

  

‘Orange Is The New Black’ is back today for a third season, and Antonia has got her geek specs and her tributary satsumas at the ready. I did suggest dying our hair ginger and buying tangerine coloured t-shirts but she thought that idea was too last season. Funnily enough, I’ve been avoiding eating oranges because they contain histamine and I’ve been locked up indoors for the best part of the week with a bad bout of hay fever. I am also trying for my orange belt in wado ryu karate this weekend, which will come in handy if I ever end up sharing a cell with a pyschopath.

The Netflix prison drama, based on Piper Kerman’s best selling autobiography ‘Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison’ (2010, Random House), first burst onto our screens with its blend of comedy and controversy in July 2013, and has fast become one of the streaming channel’s mostly frequently watched shows; it follows the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a thirty-something, white, middle-class career woman who is sentenced to fifteen months in an American correctional facility for transporting a suitcase of drug money through customs – an offence she committed ten years before for her ex-girlfriend. On leaving her charmed life with man-childish fiancee, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her newly established business, Piper vows to make prison a meaningful experience and possibly learn carpentry; however, once she’s inside the walls of the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary, she struggles to fit in with the other women (most of whom haven’t shared her privileged upbringing) and their rules: in episode one, she is served a bread roll with a bloody tampon in it after she offends kitchen matriarch, Red Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew); and she is shocked to discover that old flame and ex-drug-smuggler, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), is also an inmate.

I sometimes wonder how I’d fare food-wise if I were ever incarcerated: on one hand I’d want to stay true to my beliefs and steer clear of eating and wearing animal products, but on the other I’d be worried about rocking the boat and making enemies of the prison wardens or kitchen staff; I would also want to avoid going without meals or important food groups because I’d like to have my wits about me in case of any altercations, but having worked as a writer-in-residence in a prison for two years I’ve heard my fair share of grumbles relating to the dinners inside and I understand that providing fruit and veg for cons is not high on the rehabilitation agenda. Obviously, this is a very good incentive not to break the law, but the idea of any fellow vegan – no matter who they are or what they’ve done – having their human rights breached bothered me, especially since I knew there must be plenty of political prisoners serving custodial sentences in the UK who are devoted to living a cruelty-free lifestyle.

 So I googled ‘Vegan’, ‘Uk’ and ‘prison’ which came up with a blog post by PETA (‘People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals’) called ‘The Top Five Vegan-Friendly Prisons In The UK’, followed by a link to the ‘Vegan Prisoners Support Organisation’ and an article from the Guardian dated 2009 which stated that after a fifteen year campaign imprisoned vegans would be permitted to buy animal-free food and basic hygiene products such as soap and tooth paste; the ‘fight’ to allow vegan prisoners to wear non-leather shoes was allegedly still continuing at that time. I can’t help thinking it’s great that this information exists, but that it’s completely useless to people who can’t access it or don’t know about it. Plus, how would you ascertain someone’s vegan status? Would someone who followed a plant-based diet for health reasons but wore leather be excluded in the eyes of prison authority? And who would get to decide how far vegan ethics would be allowed to stretch?

Most of the storylines in OITNB are about women who are in some way marginalised; and for that reason I’d love to see them include a vegan character. It would be even better if a potential vegan storyline was a bit more imaginative than the stereotypical crazy-animal-rights-activist-blows-up-science-lab-to-save-two-rabbits-and-kills-loads-of-people-in-the-process. Maybe there could be a new sexy cucumber-wielding vegan lesbian love interest for either (or both) on/off girlfriends Piper and Alex? Or a tofu-eating, kick-ass, hipster warden could take over and force Red to take meat off the menu altogether?

One thing’s for sure: Antonia and I will be under house arrest till we’ve watched all fourteen new episodes.

Kissing Games For Girls (A Companion Piece To ‘Good Kisser’)

Yesterday, in the deepest, darkest recesses of my word-processor, I excavated an unpublished article that I composed more than a decade ago.

‘Good Kisser’ (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/good-kisser-written-in-springsummer-2004/), a personal account which explores the discomfort I often experienced with regards to sexuality during my teens and early-to-mid-twenties, was not only a testament to how much my writing has improved over the years, but also a window into the ways that it has lost some of its boldness. Because despite the clanging cliches and baggy sentences, and the initial mortification I felt when I reread my proclamation to the world about how I was a ‘bad lesbian’, who often snogged men in straight bars out of boredom, I was secretly pleased with its unyielding honesty – and truth be told – a wee bit jealous of the devil-may-care attitude brandished by my twenty-five-year-old self.

At the time I wrote the piece, I had been single for about half a year, following a final dramatic break-up with my first serious girlfriend; I’d also recently thrown myself head-first into the lesbian dating pool once again and was revelling in the attention. Now, I won’t bore anyone with the specifics of my love life except to say that there were a lot of dates with a lot of different girls; there were also a helluva lot more knock-backs, but that did not dissuade me from putting myself out there time and time again. Back then, I was high on optimism, and it also helped that I was not too bad looking.

These days, I can’t imagine myself seeking romance in a gay bar. I can’t imagine walking up to a strange woman and asking for her phone number or offering to buy her a drink. But I did those things frequently, and without hesitation. My friend, Tracy, who often played the part of wingman, was thoroughly amused at the way I used to ‘work’ the room: staking out the attractive single ladies and then insinuating myself into their conversations, and often their affections; although she admitted to me later that the novelty very quickly wore off as, more often than not, the girls who were most interested in me turned out to be the ones we needed to steer well clear of.

A lot of the scenarios which occurred during that period were later embellished upon as I poured them into my fiction: I wrote mostly about bar-culture and queer-culture at this time; and my butch narrator, Vicky Romeo, gained a greater sense of humility as one by one her previous conquests came back to haunt her during one of the many rewrites of my novel, ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’ (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/an-extract-from-my-novel-vicky-romeo-plus-joolz/), as well as a back story where she endured a lonely adolescence as the girl who had never been kissed.

Nothing was wasted. Nothing is ever wasted. Those hours I spent wining and dining Ms Wrong were valuable experiences, as were the lonely teenage years I whittled away by trying to make myself appear attractive to boys I didn’t really have the heart for.

The Sex Issue

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It’s three PM and I’m sitting in Cafe Jacqui’s with my Diet Pepsi and the sex issue of Diva trying to decide on what to write for this week’s blog. I feel a tiny bit awkward because I hadn’t actually realized that the May issue was the sex issue: I simply grabbed the magazine on a whim as I was rushing out of the house, thinking that reading one of the monthly columns might unlock some inspiration; but now I keep looking surreptitiously over my shoulder to see if the two octogenarian ladies at the table behind me have noticed on one of their many trips to the toilet that I am perusing a publication that is full of naked ladies.

Not that I’m particularly shy about my sexual orientation – my days of playing the pronoun game whilst trying to maintain a hetero charade are long and truly over, and there would quite possibly be a murder if Antonia ever heard me referring to her as ‘Toni’ – but similar to comedienne Susan Calman, I grew up in a household where sex was an untouchable subject (throats were cleared and channels were switched over whenever there was an ounce of nudity, or snogging scenes got a bit racy on the telly); and like she says in her latest article (‘It’s Getting Hot In here’), I also would ‘really rather we didn’t talk about it at all, thank you very much’.

And I know, that this might come as a surprise to some people – especially those writer friends of mine who’ve read the graphic lesbian sex scene in my girl-meets-girl novel ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’, not to mention the post-bath-time chapter early on where my young butch narrator gets on down with a hand-mirror to examine her vagina for the first time – but I really am quite shy when it comes to watching, reading about or discussing carnal topics; it’s all very well making my characters hot and horny and sexually liberated between the sheets of my manuscripts, but those people aren’t me – and if they were, I certainly wouldn’t be giving anyone a running commentary of what I get up to in the privacy of my bedroom!

To be on the safe side, I decide to quickly flick past the top five sex toy guide and the photographs of scantily-dressed couple Emily and Ali, and fix my gaze on Joanna Benecke’s queer grooming column. This month’s focus is on ethical make up and it includes the low down on Super Drug’s B range, a new-to-the-UK vegan brand called Pacifica Beauty, and a company called VF who specialise in cruelty-free face paint (veganfaces.co.uk); there is also an information box which goes into detail about
shark liver oil, boiled animal fat and other unappealing ingredients like cochineal beetles that are used in the production of non-vegan makeup, and I begin reading it with the best intentions, right before my gaze accidentally wanders to the opposite page where there’s a P!nk For Peta advert featuring the caption ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ alongside an au naturale picture of pop star Alecia Moore…

I don’t stay to read the next page which is about masturbation (another theme which has popped up multiple times in my writing) because I realise it’s nearly closing time, and besides I’m starting to sweat inside my hoody and I’m not certain it’s the heat that’s causing that. Also, I’m not sure whether the owner (who just walked past) was coughing loudly because she wanted me to leave because she was anxious to clear up and go home, or whether she just wanted me and my cheeky magazine to leave, period. Alternatively, I suppose she may just have had a summer cold.

As soon as I go home I plan to have a cuppa and a Nakd bar whilst checking out the film and TV reviews on pages thirty-one to thirty-three, before Antonia comes hammering on my door for her dinner; because, really, that’s about as risqué as I get.

Self-Love-Hate

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Yesterday I created a collage out of a pile of old ‘Diva’* magazines. I’ve called it ‘Self-Love-Hate’ because it mirrors the way I often feel about myself and my writing. It also represents the shifting internal homophobia that many lesbian women experience throughout different points in their lives.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s ‘Vein Of Gold: A Journey To Your Creative Heart’, which is a companion volume to her acclaimed self-help manual,‘The Artist’s Way’. First published in 1996, Cameron describes VOG as ‘a pilgrimage’, ‘a journey of healing’ and ‘a prescription for artful living’, and it includes advice on how to combat creative stumbling blocks as well as over a hundred inspiring and imaginative exercises which focus on ‘inner play’. (I have been working through this book for over five years now, and although it has produced several light bulb moments, I’ve sometimes found it to be a bit of a slog)

Anyway, yesterday’s cut-n-paste task appeared on page two-hundred-and-fifty-five in section six of the book which is entitled ‘The Kingdom Of The Relationship’ – the book is separated into seven sections each one dealing with a different aspect of creative restoration. Here, along with other recommendations on how to evade destructive interactions, it is suggested that you collage your most toxic creative relationship. This was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, because having read several of her other books I am more than familiar with her thoughts on how to eradicate the people she refers to as ‘crazy-makers’ and ‘creative monsters’; and I realised that after doing many of Cameron’s exercises (and attending one of her conferences in London last year) that I’ve successfully managed to ditch, diminish or diffuse all of the other negative influences in my life. So… the only person left was myself.

The thing is, I have had several small successes over the last few months: I’ve finally finished a collection of short stories and a novella, as well as receiving a hundred percent on four out of five of the assignments related to the distance learning crime fiction course I’ve been doing. But often these tiny wins are only enough to stave off doubts for a few hours or (if I’m lucky) days; and then I’m back to storming through the house like a tasmanian devil, threatening to destroy every word count and manuscript in my path. And I don’t know why I’m like this. Or when it started. (I suspect it’s been a gradual disintegration of confidence over the years that one day suddenly snowballed.) There’s no point speculating though. It only leads to procrastination and then frustration because I could have been using that wasted time to solve a plot-orientated issue.

It’s no surprise to me (or to Antonia who once received a rather risque Diva-inspired valentines collage from me) that my hotch-potch of clippings included naked ladies; there were also three pictures of Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva (aka Frankie Doyle) alongside Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria (Big Boo) and Laura Prepon (Alex). The word ‘queer’ appeared three times in different fonts as did the word ‘vegan’. The collage wasn’t intended to be a masterpiece. I simply cut things out willy nilly as I skimmed through the pages, so any subtexts that may have arisen are accidents. And in retrospect I think it’s far too cluttered, and I could have did without captions such as ‘study this’ and ‘I’m changing my name’ and ‘how to write pulp’. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and I enjoyed doing it. But I’m still waiting for the ‘clarity and relief’ that Cameron claimed came to her when she worked on this same theme.

I asked Antonia what she thought of my new magnum opus and how it fared in comparison to my previous collages. She simply shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know, hen, they all look the same to me.’

*Diva is popular UK magazine about lesbian life and style

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?

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!

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

photo-14

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.