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a painful reminder

hangover

hangover2I haven’t written about alcohol for some time. I think this could probably be viewed as a positive – alcohol has ceased to be of an importance in my life to the point that I even need to write about it. People are generally used to the idea that I don’t drink much. There’s rarely any surprise when I ask for a soda and lime. Some people have even come to me for advice on how to have a dry month, or for tips on staying away from booze, which is pretty awesome.

All I ever wanted was to be able to enjoy A Drink without reference to Being Drunk. I wanted to able to have a good time without needing to be drunk, and to have a drink without wanting to have a hundred more drinks. While the former has been hard work, largely due to social anxiety, I am definitely able to achieve the latter.

My guidelines for drinking are simple:

  1. If I want a specific drink, I can have one.
  2. If I need a drink, I can’t have one.
  3. If I have one and it makes me want another, I can’t have it
  4. If there’s nothing alcoholic I particularly want to drink, I have a soft drink
  5. NO SHOTS
  6. If I start feeling drunk, I stop drinking.

These guidelines have worked brilliantly, for the most part.

There was one occasion on holiday with the new Mr RDPP where everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and we ended up stuck in the only bar open in a tiny town in Sicily, the two of us against the world, drinking exciting coloured drinks with umbrellas in and shouting animatedly about politics. I felt fine the next day, probably in part because the drinks were mainly fruit and sugar and in part because the most pressing thing we had to do that day was eat ice cream and swim in the sea.  I suspect this made me a little too blasé about being as mindful as usual of moderation. The guidelines? Well, maybe they kinda slipped a bit.

A few weeks ago I had a weird FUCK IT moment while at a music festival and decided to Get Drunk. I bought a locally made bottle of wine and went at it in a way that would have made 15 year old me proud – swigging out of the bottle and sharing it around and hiding it in a bush while going into a venue to avoid the bag search. It felt like going on hangover1holiday to a past version of myself. It felt seedy and transgressive and fun. Unfortunately the trouble with throwing caution to the wind when you’ve stopped paying attention to the wind direction is that caution can end up blowing right back in your face.

The Hangover started at about 1am. I’d forgotten all about The Hangover. The pounding, stabbing jabbing pain right down though the top of the head straight into the eye socket. The rolling nausea which goes away for just long enough for you to think you’re spared the worst so you do something daring like move or speak and it rushes back in going “HAH”. The way the light burns through your closed eyelids, the way the duvet isn’t even a comfort as it rustles just so damn loudly as you work out whether you’re too hot or too cold, The tiredness, the taste in your mouth like you’ve been licking the floor of a petrol station, the vague sense of dread, the way the inside of your skin feels sort of greasy, and the thin layer of gritty sweat that builds up as you try to go about your day pretending everything is normal.

I used to feel like this all the time. HOW? How did I do it?  I have regular migraines, related to hormones, and they have a similar type of headache/nausea combo, and I can’t do anything at all to prevent those, so why on earth did I voluntarily do something which made me feel this why? It was fun, sure, but had it been fun enough? Probably not. I crawled to the nearest painkiller, swallowed as many as were safe and crawled back into bed again, making pitiful mewling sounds and cursing my horrible decision making skills.

It was a good learning experience though – it was my first hangover in 19 months, and I fully intend it to be my last. I’ve already done the hard work of making sure I can happily enjoy myself without drinking, so the only revision I am making to my guidelines is that they are no longer merely guidance – they are rules.

 

A Productive Crafternoon

Productive Carfternoon - Rockstardinosaurpirateprincess

Long time readers will have learned a number of things about my personality and habits. They will know that I am a horrible cook and an even worse baker.  I am the pirate queen of procrastination.  They will therefore be unsurprised to discover that today, instead of the long list of grown up things I needed to do, which included vacuuming, laundry, toiletries shopping, language course homework and writing a proper grown up blog about sensible things, I instead went to Hobbycraft and spent money I don’t have on things I didn’t need in order to make things that no one needs, wants or can use.

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Splitting hairs

Even Dinosaurs were hairyI remember when I first tried to shave my legs. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t really even have any hair to shave. I’d just picked up from the magazines I read (because everyone else was reading them) that it was A Thing Teenage Girls Did and that to not shave would be unthinkable. I used a disposable razor I found in the bathroom and some talc. Yeah. I know. As you can probably imagine, I made a bit of a mess of it.

A few years later real hairs actually grew, I worked out how it was done without looking like a victim of Freddie Krueger. It never occurred to me to question the whole shaving thing. Not once. Shaving legs and armpits was just what you did. You’re a girl, puberty has arrived, and therefore you shave because girls aren’t meant to be hairy.

I didn’t question that for decades. Not until I started playing roller derby, in fact, and met some girls who didn’t shave. At first I was shocked. Because girls aren’t meant to be hairy, right? The girls who didn’t shave had all, at some point, received actual verbal abuse for having hair in places where girls aren’t meant to be hairy. Keeping hair where hair grows, it turns out, is actually a radical political statement. Whether you chose not to shave because you can’t be bothered; because you have sensitive skin, or due to religious reasons, or for an actual political statement, being a hairy girl always ends up coming across like a political statement. Because girls aren’t meant to be hairy. But if girls aren’t MEANT to be hairy, how come we, y’know, grow hair?

A couple of years ago I developed one of my random allergic reactions. This happens to me occasionally. Some part of me will swell up, or burn, or flake, or itch or look like it’s trying to fall off. I will spend months trying to work out what the hell is causing it, cutting all sorts of things out of my life and then slowing bringing them back in one by one to try and work out what the fuck is making my life temporary hell. Sometimes, like accidentally watching the first part of a two part CSI while you’re sick off work and finding the second part isn’t on next because these things get shown in some bizarre order known only to some time travelling daytime TV scheduler, I never actually discover the culprit. The one that developed a few years ago that mainly affected my eyes, ears and patches of skin across my back and shoulders and made my skin extra sensitive was that unfinished two-parter. I had to cut out pretty much every strong chemical substance. For months I could wash only with expensive allergen free shower gel and put nothing stronger than coconut oil on my face. This also meant no shaving, so sensitive was my skin.

Whatever it was that caused this particular reaction left my skin permanently sensitive, so that I have to be really careful how often I shave it – unless I want to be a red flakey itchy burny mess.  And having spent rather a long time not shaving, I was out of the habit. And also starting to question why it was so important anyway. And wondering whether maybe it was better to be a bit hairy than a red flakey itchy burny mess, even though  I knew this would automatically put me into Not Shaving Political Statement territory.

Have you ever wondered WHY aren’t girls meant to be hairy? According to mental floss it’s all thanks to Harpers Bazaar (of course. Women’s Magazines. Have I mentioned before how much I hate women’s magazines? I am not sure I have. But I do. I hate them. I’ve hated them since I realised that on one page they tell you to be happy just as you are, the next page the best celebrity diet, the next a page shows you how fat this celebrity is, the next page worries that this celebrity is too thin. The next page points out that you don’t need a man to be happy, the one after tells you how to ‘bag your perfect man’ and in between all those pages are adverts telling you without these products you’ll be a fat, skinny, old, young, ugly, stupid, single trapped-in-loveless-hell frigid slutty wallflower harridan who no one will ever love who has to love yourself. So yeah. I HATE THEM.)

So, I decided to stop shaving for a bit just to see what would happen. And, well, not much happened. To be fair, it was winter, so the only time hair was ever actually visible was when I went swimming at the Ladies’ Pond, which is the least judgemental place I’ve ever been in my life. There are women in their 90s who’ve been swimming there every day for over 50 years and they couldn’t give a flying banana whether the other women there are shaving their legs or not, quite frankly. If you ever want to learn a lesson in Giving Exactly Zero Fucks then hanging out with nonagenarians who swim regularly in -0 degree water is a pretty good start.

As spring has drawn near and my shirtsleeves are getting shorter it’s got harder. I don’t really like the look of the hair under my armpits. To me it looks, well, kind of ugly. And knowing that this is decades of cultural GIRLS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE HAIRY isn’t going to just make me get the hell over that. If it was that easy to shrug off powerful media conditioning we’d all be much happier (and buy fewer things, and the beauty industry would pretty much vanish). But I was determined to persevere. And not only persevere,  but try to spread my message of STOP SHAVING THROW OFF THE HAIRY SHACKLES OF THE BALD LEG BEAUTY STANDARDS. Because if my friends all stopped shaving too I wouldn’t be the only hairy one. I started discussing it with other feministy friends and questioning their epilatory routines. I started questioning why women felt the need to remove their hair for OMG NO REASON STOP IT.

I started re-writing the lyrics of a certain Disney song to become a feminist anthem about binning your razors and depilatory cream.

Let it grow let it grow
don’t want to shave any more
Let it grow, let it grow
Slam the bathroom door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
about my skin
I’ll wear shorts anyway

Let it grow, let it grow
Think of the time I’ll save
Let it grow, let it grow

You’ll never see me shave

Here’s my hair
And here it stays

Razor in the biiiiiiiin

My skin never bothered me anyway!

YES WOMEN I was shouting. WE MUST ALL REJECT THIS NOTION OF HAIR FREE WOMEN AND EMBRACE OUR HAIR.

And then, a conversation with a group of friends stopped me in my tracks. (Which is probably for the best because That Song being in my head, no matter the lyrics, probably will actually drive me round the bend.)

One friend was talking about an incident where her son had been playing with hair on her toes, and how it had led to an exchange between her male partner and son where her partner said something along the lines of “Son, when you grow up, society will tell you that women are more attractive without hair, and you’ll have to think about whether you agree with that.” (He probably didn’t say it in James Earl Jones’ voice, and probably didn’t call his son ‘Simba’ at any point but that’s kind of how it ended up in my head). What I took from this conversation SHOULD have been “what an amazing supportive partner and father, how cool.” What I ACTUALLY thought was “toe hair? Women have…toe hair?”

A whole conversation ensued, right in front of me, about toe hair. About how one of my friends shaves her toes more often than she shaves her legs. How one friend’s boyfriend thought her toe hair was ‘cute’ and hadn’t met any women with it before and wondered whether that was because they always shaved it. One friend then mentioned the agony of tweezing out the hair from her nipples. Another about having an awkward conversation with her children about women and moustaches. Another saying that if she didn’t tweeze her chin hair, she could probably grow a full on Kung Fu Master beard within a month.

My mind had already been completely blown by the toe hair so the rest of this conversation rendered me speechless (and that almost never happens.)

As soon as I got home I took my socks off and stared at my feet. And then I stared at my lip and chin. And, yes, I also stared at my nipples. My nipples were bald as anything. My lip does have downy hair on it but so downy pale you can’t see them unless in a certain light. My toes did in fact have one or two wispy little hairs, but they were so white blonde that they were pretty much invisible.

As an argumentative opinionated sort, who generally thinks she has a good grip on this whole intersectionality business, it was rather a shock to be confronted with an example of my own complete lack of awareness or knowledge about what other women deal with.  The idea that ‘girls aren’t meant to be hairy’ message is incredibly powerful, and is not going to disappear over night, and it’s certainly not going to disappear with pale blondie soft downy haired types like me haranguing our more hirsute female friends into not shaving their body hair and making them feel bad about having it. Especially when as a pale blondie soft downy haired type I even caved last week and shaved my armpits because I had a new tattoo and needed to wear sleeveless dresses for a bit and didn’t want to go to work with hairy armpits.

It’s terribly easy for me to stop shaving as a ‘political statement’ because as a natural blonde, the hair on the parts of me that are hairy is pretty damn fair. I am not actually, when it comes down to it, really very hairy at all. I can swan around going YEAH EFF YOUR  BEAUTY STANDARDS but in the right light actually not really showing much of a deviation from those beauty standards in the first place.

My friends had inadvertently slapped me in the relatively hair free face with a privilege I didn’t even know I had. Blonde privilege perhaps? Follicle privilege? Whatever it was, I had it. And I’d never realised. That’s the thing about Privilege – the capital P kind – we don’t know we have it because it’s a Privilege. The important thing about Capital-P-Privilege though, is what we do about it once we realise we have it. And what I need to do is stop thinking that I am making a grand political statement about letting my wispy pale hairs blow in the breeze, and stop making other women who don’t have the luxury of wispy pale hairs feel bad if they want to remove theirs to help them feel better about themselves.

Sure, Let It Grow, if you can, and if you feel comfortable doing so. But if you don’t, that’s ok too.

Society will tell you that women are more attractive without hair, and you’ll have to think about whether you agree with that.


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Sew the end is near

As December draws close I’ve become more and more proud of what I have achieved this year.  I swim. I ‘ve lost weight and gained body confidence I never knew I could have. I’ve been writing regularly and one of my blogs reached an audience of over 2000. I’ve become single, explored my life as a single women in her late 30s, coped and survived and soberly comedy interpretive danced my way though the year. It’s actually jaw dropping to me how much in my life has changed – so much more than simply the three big resolutions: Learn BSL, give up alcohol, learn to sew.

It’s been 10 months now since this adventure started and I’ve faced most of the biggest challenges. Wedding season is over, birthday has been and gone and now my favourite ‘holiday’ of all – Halloween – has passed by totally alcohol free. Although it ended up not even being a challenge in the end, due to becoming striken with a lurgy which struck at pretty much dead on 2.30pm on the afternoon of Halloween itself. It  made itself known by a dry irritating tickle at the back of my throat, and by midnight it had developed into a full blown razor wire down the throat hacking cough lost voice monster of a lurgy. I was unable to speak at all for 5 days, and even now am able to make little more than a husky croak. Monsters and croaky voices – all so suitable for Halloween and yet so completely not fun.

Given the lurgy, you might think that the Halloween party was no true test of my alcohol free ways. However, in previous years where an eagerly anticipated occasion has arrived at along last and I find myself coming down with some sort of snot-plague, I have embraced the TOTALLY SCIENTIFIC rationalisation that:

  1. illness is caused by germs
  2. alcohol kills germs
  3. therefore alcohol cures illness

I’ve used that hypothesis for many years, and am clearly an excellent scientist because I kept repeating the experiment just to ensure that the results were to be trusted. I honestly wouldn’t recommend you try it to see if you can replicate the results as the results every time are:

  1. get really drunk
  2. get sick anyway
  3. therefore you’re hungover AND sick

Having resigned myself to being too ill to enjoy Halloween fully, I stayed out long enough so that I’d been at the party for at least 5 minutes longer than it took to get ready and headed home, rather disappointed to have missed out on the spooky fun I usually have, and somewhat annoyed that the one Halloween of my adult life where I could reasonably expect to be feeling well the following day was instead spent in bed, cancelling all my weekend plans and feeling rather hard done by.

I did have fun at the party, for the 4 hours and 5 minutes that I was there (it was a complicated costume, ok?) despite the sore throat and impending lurginess, so it still in a way achieved its aim: to prove to myself that I don’t need to drink to enjoy a celebration which is – for me at least – synonymous with epic drunkenness. I shall have to hold on to this thought for my next – and final –  big challenges: Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

As for the other two – as you know if you were here earlier I’d had rather more success with the sign language than the sewing, having passed BSL level 1 and starting level 2 in the next week. The BSL would have come in entirely handy in the week I lost my voice for 5 days, if only anyone else I knew spoke it. It certainly gave me a new perspective on how frustrating it is to communicate when you can’t just say words.

But just as I was feeling the pressure of the end of the year approaching, the pointy finger of fate jabbed me in the ribs and pointed at a sewing shop crossed with a community project hub more or less a stone’s throw from my current home which runs ‘Introduction to Sewing Machine’ courses.

I have always been a bit scared of sewing machines. From the first ever Home Economics (HE) class at school when we were encouraged to have a healthy respect for the danger of pissing about with the machines via horror stories of thumbs and fingers impaled on needles I have been wary of them. I am massively clumsy and when people say “oh, that’s very rare” what I hear is “it does happen to some people”  which is significant because *I* am the ‘some people’  to which shit  like this usually happens. I remained behind in HE for the rest of my school years due to my point-blank refusal to use one. I am the only person I know who got an ‘E’  grade for HE and had to do remedial sewing as detention as a result.

To learn to sew, properly sew, not just hand stitch the holes in my leggings that my thighs create (the only way I achieve a thigh gap is doing the splits), I have to get over this fear and use a sewing machine.

Our first task was to draw the sewing machine, to get us to really observe the20141108_155117 machine and try to note the detail, and to get our creativity flowing. An artist I am not, but I was always good at the observation round in Krypton Factor; according to the tutor  I am the first person ever in her class to have not only drawn the on switch but the power cable and foot pedal cable too.

Once we’d been given a tour of the machine and had learned how to thread it (the bobbin winding bit is, as far as I am concerned, WITCHCRAFT) she gave us all some material, showed us a drawstring bag she’d made earlier, gave us a small hint that we needed to leave a hole to thread a ribbon through and let us get on with working out how to make our bags.

Having got over the initial OMG FEAR of driving the actual machine I actually rather enjoyed it. I managed to make an entire little bag (which is now keeping all my medication nice and neat, instead of swimming around the bottom of my bag like a ransacked pharmacy) without any impaling incidents whatsoever.

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At the end of the class I proudly announced that I had got through the entire class without impaling any part of my body with a needle but because I am extraordinarily gifted when it comes to being a complete twonk it was at this exact moment I managed to stab myself on the needle hard enough to break the skin. The teacher shrugged. “It takes more than one accident to make a confident crafter”.

Ok, it’s not a dress. And I don’t think I will be whipping up my own outfits for a while yet. But as far as The List goes, it’s 2 down, 2 months to go.

baring body, baring soul

drawn by a 35 year old

One of the things I have had to face up to over the months of sobriety is how much crap I am carrying around in my head. I suspect a large amount of the alcohol consumed pre-party was to drown out the voices telling me

  • You are too fat for this outfit
  • You’re not funny and have nothing interesting to say
  • You will say and/or do something irredeemably stupid and everyone will laugh at you

Much of the alcohol consumed at a party would then be used to cover up any stupid things I might be saying or doing.

  • Fell on my face? OMG I AM SO DRUNK.
  • Interpretative dance to ridiculous song, HAH MY GOD I WAS SO WASTED.
  • Got two people I know perfectly well mixed up or forget their names? FUCK DUDE I AM SO HAMMERED I CAN’T EVEN

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Surgery

As I write, I literally have a head full of fluff. Not ‘literally’ as it has come to mean, whereby people actually mean ‘figuratively’. I really do have a head full of fluff. I am not sure what it is made out of, but am reassured by the surgeon that it will dissolve over the next few days. I also figuratively  have a head full of fluff, brought on by the same reason, ergo the surgery, which is making this blog rather harder to write than usual. The super strong painkillers aren’t helping matters. Continue Reading

Undomesticated Goddess

“Cooking? Gardening? Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?
And before you ask Dad for help just remind him about when he thought our Brussels sprouts were cabbages gone to seed…”

This was a comment left by Mother DinosaurPirate on my Facebook page today, in response to a post I made asking if people could identify the plants in our garden from a photograph, so that I knew which ones should be pulled up and which I should leave. She was shocked enough to learn from this blog that I now eat vegetables and make pancakes, but the news that I obsessively vacuum before people come round to our flat and that yesterday I decided, completely of my own volition, to make cupcakes has  perhaps made her wonder if I have been taken away by aliens and replaced with a clone.

Interestingly enough when I was very young I had a sort of invisible friend (actually I had several, but that’s perhaps a whole blog post in its own right…) who was my own identical twin sister. I called her Elizabeth. She came out to play whenever I put on a particular princess dress made for me by my Grandmother; when I put the dress on I became Elizabeth. I am sure most children, when inventing their own identical twin imaginary friend, would cast themselves as the good twin and the pretend one as the bad one. Surely that’s the whole point of an imaginary friend.

“Who drank all the medicine?” evil twin. “Who took all the icing sugar out of the cupboard and poured it into puddles made by an overflowing sink in the kitchen to make ‘sugar pools?” evil twin. “Who convinced family friends’ children to leave the house at 3am and play on a thin ice covered lake?” evil twin. Makes sense. However I was not most children and clearly hadn’t thought this through at that stage as I cast Elizabeth as the good twin, and myself as the bad one.

What sort of ridiculous child invents an imaginary twin sister then makes HERSELF the evil twin? It’s true, I was a chaotic, untidy, wilful and stubborn monster of a child. Nonetheless  I’d put the sparkly princess dress on and suddenly became helpful, tidy, polite and eager to please.

“Could you tidy your room RockStarDinosaurPirate?”

“I’m not RockStarDinsosaurPirate. I’m Elizabeth. RockStarDinosaurPirate made all this mess, but I’ll tidy it.”

“Will you help me to make dinner RockStarDinosaurPirate?”

“I’m not RockStarDinsosaurPirate. I’m Elizabeth.  RockStarDinosaurPirate is naughty and never helps. I’ll help”.

And so I’ve grown into a somewhat chaotic, untidy, wilful and stubborn adult. (I have started to suspect that one of the reasons I’ve managed to not drink for so long, and possibly one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed it so much is because so many people said it would be impossible, and I am stubborn enough to be determined to prove them wrong.) The floor has been where I keep my clothes, documents are filed in their envelopes all over my desk and I’ve always had a regiment of bottles in the shower where I buy new toiletries without quite finishing the old ones but never get around to throwing them away. You’ve already read about my cooking skills.

Since we moved into our new flat however some hidden switch seems to have been flicked. I can’t bear the sight of washing up not put away, or dishes in the sink for more than a day. I am constantly pulling cushions and throws back into place over the sofa making tutting noises and bemoaning how the carpet seems to pick up fluff and fibres just a day after I vacuum. I put my possessions away in places I’ve decided they belong and leave little passive aggressive piles of Mr RPD’s possessions on his side of the bed.  Last weekend I even bought weedkiller and enthusiastically set to the garden with a trowel I found in the shed, digging out all of the moss and grass in between the stones of our little back garden. I have left the borders, as I have no idea whether the plants in there are weeds or real plants, hence my Facebook request for help. I did spend some time in a local Stuffmonger (you know, a shop that sells lots of stuff, mostly cheap, 60% useful. As oppose to a Niknakerist, which sells lots of stuff, mostly overpriced, 99% useless.) staring at packets of seeds before I slunk away, enthusiasm waning, as I realised seeds have instructions on them considerably more complicated than ‘put in earth. keep sort of damp’.

With guests coming round, the flat pleasingly tidy and a new BBQ purchased (yes, it’s only early Spring  and we’re not even into clocks forward times; but we’ve persevered with BBQs in late summer in gale force winds and torrential rain so we’re not going to let little things like early sunsets and chilly evenings stop us) and with Mr R D P happily marinading large amounts of meat, flush with my recent Pancake Success, I decided to make cupcakes. Friends offered some easy recipes for a beginner and a Google  search found some easy ones on the internet. I decided on a Nigella recipe which was designed to be really straightforward for children. Then I got distracted by the sidebar ‘related Nigella recipes’, which linked to Maple Buttercream Cupcakes with Bacon Sprinkles.

1 – I am vegetarian

2 – I wanted to make dairy free cupcakes

3 – I don’t even know what buttercream is

therefore it was entirely logical that these were the cupcakes I wanted to make.  Being an avid fan of the Great British Bake Off I am aware that baking requires precision and demands that the recipe be followed exactly and to the letter, and that you concentrate on getting the bake right. Therefore it was entirely logical that I swap all the dairy ingredients for soy ones, use wholewheat flour and vegetarian bacon bits and that I watch the Men’s Roller Derby World cup while I baked. I discovered after the cupcakes came out of the oven that a muffin tin is a necessity when baking…

2014-03-15 15.10.16
Multi-tasking, yo
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Oops.
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um. yeah.
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Decoration is everything

I covered the cupcakes in silver glitter frosting spray and THINGS FROM SPACE in the hope that they would distract people from the unconventional shapes, and then accosted our poor dinner guests as they arrived. “HELLO, welcome to my flat. LOOK I made vegetarian bacon cupcakes. They don’t bounce like the ones I made 5 years ago. They look kind of crap. But also ROCKETS AND STARS AND SPACE. Please eat one and tell me what it’s like!”.

Bless my friends, and their tolerance for my whims. Every single guest had one.  One guest ate TWO. All  guest declared them delicious. After allowing about 45 minutes to observe any ill effects (rashes, vomiting, death etc) I braved one myself and bugger me if they weren’t actually really tasty! The texture was weird because you can’t sieve wholewheat flour properly (or maybe you can but I haven’t the patience) but apart from that they were genuinely pleasant to eat. I am definitely going to try again. Hopefully that won’t put friends off coming round.

Next  – to send photos of the plants in my garden to garden-savvy friends (and to my Dad – should be safe enough seeing as I don’t plan to grow sprouts or cabbages) for identification so that I can start making the garden a beautiful place, rather than just a bit of concrete with some weeds.

Perhaps rather than aliens replacing me with a clone, I am finally managing to merge the good and evil twins into one person. I’ll never be truly tidy or organised like Imaginary Good  Twin Elizabeth; but I’ll settle for being neat enough and being able to make passable cakes that taste nice. And I do so like being chaotic and wilful.

Can't cook, shan't cook

This weekend I made pancakes. This sounds like such a simple statement, right? Millions of people make pancakes in March for pancake day. People make pancakes all the time. They aren’t really particularly complex. The thing is, I don’t. I am in my mid thirties and I have never made pancakes. In fact, I don’t really cook at all. I’ve ‘helped’ other people make pancakes. I ‘help’ Mr RDP cook often. ‘Helping’ generally means chopping, stirring, getting ingredients all over the floor and eating the tastiest raw ingredients when the person cooking isn’t looking.

I have in the past set fire to kitchens on at least 4 occasions. Two of those were within the same week, in the same kitchen, setting fire to something I’d placed on top of the grill while using it to cook veggie sausages. One was trying to make toast under the grill and forgetting. Others generally involve forgetting that I am heating something up, having wondered away and seen something shiny.

I have cooked meals for past partners so bad that they’ve suggested we get takeaway instead. One ex loves to bring out the hilarious tale of how, early in our relationship, I asked if he wanted some food before we went out to a club. I returned from the kitchen with 10 vegetarian frankfurters on a plate and a bottle of ketchup. Another enjoys reminding me of the time I tried to made a veggie spaghetti bolognese but didn’t rinse the sieve properly and the whole dish tasted of Fairy liquid. I tried to make cupcakes once for a charity bake sale. They tasted like jelly beans, with a not dissimilar texture. They bounced when you dropped them.

My inability/reluctance to cook, or in fact eat much at all, goes way back. I was a picky eater for most of my early years, working out rather early on that ‘moo cow’ and ‘baa lamb’ were both the cute animals outside my window and the meat on my plate. From that point on I would only eat meat as long as it didn’t look like meat, which meant that my diet consisted of processed things like chicken nuggets and fishfingers. I would also refuse all vegetables, convinced that I did’t like them. I’d only eat melted cheese. I didn’t like crunchy or crispy things as I didn’t like noisy food.

As I grew, my diet became more limited as I discovered what a ‘vegetarian’ was and started to insist I wanted to be one. It reached the point where the only things I would eat was soup or pasta and sauce.  When after years of badgering Mummy Dinosaur finally capitulated. “FINE you can be a vegetarian. But seeing as you don’t like vegetables  you’d better learn how to cook, because I’m not cooking separate things for you. What are you going to live on? Soup?”. And thus from the age of 13 to the age of 23 I pretty much lived on condensed soup and pasta, with the occasional veggie sausage. At university I would make a big batch of condensed-soup-pasta on a Sunday night and eat it throughout the week.

This continued up until I moved in with a close friend who, after several weeks of watching me eat nothing but pasta and veggie sausages, snapped and made it her life’s mission to get me eating vegetables. Each week she’d cook something delicious, place it in front of me and wander off. “Eat it, or don’t. But at least try it, because I cooked it for you so if you don’t eat it you’re basically a massive dickhead”. Within the space of a month, I discovered a whole new world of vegetably things that were actually tasty. Spinach! Peppers! Red Onion! Leeks! Who knew. I started to wonder why I’d refused so steadfastly as a child to eat all of these things, and how that stubborn refusal had turned in adulthood to a belief that I hated vegetables.

My inability and/or reluctance to cook certainly doesn’t come from the paternal side. My Dad’s family are part Italian – food is important. It must be tasty and plentiful. My Dad is an excellent cook – when my parents ran a B&B in my childhood I remember sumptuous meals – roast dinners, shepherd’s pie, faggots and mash.
My dearly missed Grandmother GG was known for her feasts. She’d make vast 3 and 4 course meals, make sure everyone had seconds and thirds of everything and there were always at least 4 choices of dessert. One Christmas of family legend everyone had eaten so much that no one could move, lolling on the sofas groaning and replete; GG entered from the kitchen and breezily asked “Cheese and biscuits anyone?” after a loaded silence my uncle J said “oh piss off mum”.

On the maternal side, Mummy Dinosaur can cook very well – but I’ve always suspected she doesn’t really enjoy it. She likes having cooked something that people enjoy,  but she doesn’t like all the faff and preparation, and definitely doesn’t like the clearing up afterwards. She now runs a B&B in South Africa with Step-Daveosaur. He does the cooked breakfasts, she makes the fruit salad, they pay someone to clean up; a perfect arrangement. It appears I take after my mother.

Mr RDP loves to cook. He’ll get excited about recipes and ingredients, always slightly changing a dish to make it his own. He understands seasoning and temperatures and the difference between leaving a lid on or off. My approach to seasoning is to just put smoked paprika on everything. Even a BBQ isn’t a simple affair for Mr RDP.  My BBQs usually involve me discovering that disposable BBQs are on offer in the supermarket, the weather is nice, RESULT, I don’t have to wash up later. He needs several days to prepare so he can make complicated marinades and sauces and an Excel spreadsheet with all the exact timings for each dish.

Mr RDP has, in the course of our relationship, gently encouraged, forcefully hinted and downright nagged at me to learn to cook. I’ve made the odd simple pasta sauce here and there but my repertoire remains basic. I can cook a veggie spag bol, a stir fry and a basic noodle ramen. It’s all I know and I am terrified of following recipes. Therefore it was with some shock and a fair amount of trepidation that he reacted to my announcement yesterday morning that I was “going to make PANCAKES. Proper ones. Dairy free. With wholemeal flour and almond milk”.

I don’t know why I wanted to make pancakes. I’d never made them before. I had a vague sense that they weren’t complicated. So  I Googled, found a recipe and hit the supermarket. My very first pancake was too thick and didn’t cook in the middle. The second I left for too long and it burnt. The third was going really well until I over-enthusiastically flipped it and it broke in half. The fourth? LOOKED LIKE A PANCAKE. After 10 minutes, I had a little stack of small, unevenly sized and misshapen pancakes. I piled them up, added blueberries, maple syrup and some melted dark chocolate mixed with soy cream (we hadn’t been able to find nut & dairy free chocolate spread. I have low dairy tolerance, Mr RDP doesn’t do nuts).

The first attempt
The first attempt

I served them to Mr RDP with pride. He had the look of a parent that, having said “what a lovely picture” now realises that the picture will have to stay on the fridge FOREVER. Having encouraged me to take an interest in cooking, he now had to eat the result. We survived to tell the tale. Not only were they not bad, they were actually rather tasty. 

This morning, buoyed by my success the previous evening I decided that I would make a pancake brunch and set to the ingredients with an enthusiasm I didn’t think I was able to muster when it comes to cooking. After a shaky start I achieved two breakfast brunch stacks. I largely gave myself the misshapen monstrosity early attempts, giving Mr RDP the ones that looked like pancakes you might actually want to eat.

Unconventional, but tasty. No, really.
Unconventional, but tasty. No, really.
brunch me baby
brunch me baby

I admit, there was a moment in Sainsbury’s where I was staring at a wall of flour, googling on my phone to check whether ‘wholewheat’ and ‘wholemeal’ meant the same thing, and wondering what on earth ‘baking soda’ actually was, when I was tempted to just buy the 99p bottle of pre-made pancake mix. I am glad I didn’t  – not only because mine were handmade and healthier, but because now I have the ingredients in the cupboard  I can make MORE PANCAKES. 

Ok, it isn’t much. I follow a few food bloggers and to put these sad attempts next to one of Jack Munroe’s amazing austerity dishes or one of Cookwitch’s foodporn creations is just embarrassing. But I am unspeakably proud of having MADE something. I followed a RECIPE and didn’t set fire to anything, or break anything, or make anyone sick. I actually made something really tasty, and I enjoyed making it. I might even try giving cupcakes a go again. Hopefully this time they won’t double up as a squash ball. 

storm clouds and silver linings

It’s funny how sometimes the worst situations can actually bring out the best in the world around you; how sometimes an unexpectedly positive  aftermath of the most unsettling or upsetting of events can almost make you glad the dreadful thing happened. This week was one of those weeks. It started with a very sick kitty indeed, making a stop at a £200 set of new locks via a pickpocket before the final destination of renewed faith in humanity…

With our usual excellent planning skills Mr RDP and I accidentally adopted a rescue kitten in the same week we moved in to our new flat. Much deliberation was had over what to name him – I favour silly names like ‘Pumpkin’, Mr Darcy’ or ‘Schmetterling’. Mr RDP likes unlikely human names, such as ‘Steve’, ‘Bruce’ or ‘Rob’. We toyed for a Yiddish word for a while – perhaps ‘Dybbuk’ or ‘Lokshen’;  but finally settled on ‘Manny’. For Mr RDP that means he’s named after a character from his favourite computer game, Grim Fandango. For me he’s named after Manny from Black Books. This means that I constantly say things to him like “did you eat all my bees?” and “you’re a LONELY soldier”.

Mr RDP has never had a pet before, and so having a small furry monster around the place is a whole new experience. I had numerous pets as a child – as a small dinosaur I lived in the West Country where my parents ran a B&B. At one point we had a dog, three cats, a hamster and numerous goldfish. I went through goldfish at a rapid pace because, well, three cats. When my parents divorced mum and I kept two of the cats – one a clawless toothless softhearted old lady called Mungo, who had been a somewhat untraditional wedding present to my parents, the other a younger scrappy character called Sooty, an unwise 4th birthday present to me. Both sadly were put down when I was a teenager due to a series of unfortunate events and I’d not wanted to own a pet since; partly due to trauma avoidance,  partly because they require more care and attention and money than I was prepared to give, and mostly because I am horribly allergic to all furry animals. I build up a tolerance to specific animals if I am around them often, but it takes weeks of sneezing and sniffling and red eyes and itchyness. However, Mr RDP had fallen in love at first sight with the-furmonster-subsequently-known-as-Manny so despite all my “are you sure? It’s a big responsibility…” type concerns, the kitten moved in to the new flat on the same day as us.

Within 2 weeks of the three of us taking up residence together, Manny fell ill. Having been an absolute terror, running all over the place and eating everything in sight (apart from cucumber, which is thus far the only thing that he won’t try to eat), when  we came home from work to find him curled up in a sad little ball, shrinking from our touch and refusing even Cat Crack (aka Dreamies) we knew something was seriously wrong . The vet was concerned at his presentation and high temperature and admitted him for an overnight stay so he could go on an antibiotic drip. Poor little furball. On the way home in the car I realised I was desperately worried, and that I’d fallen in love with the little monster despite my own better judgement. How do cats do that?
They are basically furry little psychopaths who are only nice to us because we give them food. And yet we love them.

Fortunately he was fine and recovered overnight, so when I got the call from the Vet the next day that I could pick him up at 5 I arranged to leave work early and rushed home to get the cat box and hopped on the train – Mr RDP being once again away for the weekend (how does he always manage to time being away when Things Go Wrong?)

Mr RDP had suggested I get a cab home, but I figured the train journey was so easy – only a 5 minute walk at either end – that I would SAVE MONEY by just getting the train. Remeber that, ladies and gentlemen. I was trying to SAVE MONEY. When I got off the train near our flat and went to touch out with my Osytercard I experienced that feeling. You know the one – like a horrible cold dead hand slowly encircling your heart and giving it a slow and delibrate squeeze. The feeling you get when you realise  your wallet is no longer in your bag. Your wallet containing your Osytercard. All of your cash. Your bank card. and your HOUSE KEYS. Then that feeling when you can’t quite feel your arms or feet or knees when you realise that not only do you not have your house keys, but that you have absolutely no way of getting into your house, because your other half is away. And you’ve not got around to giving a locally living friend a spare set of keys, despite talking about it for weeks. Fortunately, I’d taken my phone out of my wallet to take a photograph of the cat to send to MR RDP, so at least I had that and so poor Mr RDP received an hysterical phonecall from the Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate who was standing in the middle of a street in East London with a cat in a box,  no money and no way to get into the flat for the next two days.

Mr RDP gave me the audio equivalent of a couple of slaps to the face to snap me out of my panicked hysterics and told me to find somewhere warm to settle while he called the locksmith. Stumbling along the street I passed a new coffee shop and more or less fell through the doorway.

The owners of the café fed me. I was given tea, cake, sandwiches. Manny stole most of the cake – so at least I knew he was feeling better. They offered their wireless password and their phone so I could call the police and cancel my cards. They gave me a tissue to sob into and let me sit in the cafe for an hour while waiting for the locksmith even though they knew I couldn’t pay them anything. They even offered to lend me money and made sure I had somewhere safe to go for the night. I started sobbing all over again at their kindness.

Once the locksmith arrived I discovered that Mr RDP and I had originally bought very good locks indeed. With a spate of burglaries in our local area recently, it’s good to know that it took a professional locksmith well over an hour to break into the flat. Of course with a spate of burglaries in the local area recently, a guy noisily breaking into a flat for an hour attracts rather a lot of attention. I was deeply embarrassed. I felt like I was wearing a sign that said HI. YES. WE’VE JUST MOVED IN. SORRY CHAPS. THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD. Several neighbours all around me came out to see what the noise was and I apologised profusely to every one of them. And yet, none of them were cross or annoyed by the noise – just concerned for this tearful cold girl, alone in the street with a cat in a box.

I was given a card for a builder by the man opposite so we could get a better front door. A chap down the road with a lovely big dog had a long chat with the cat. I was offered tea by several of them which I initially refused out of embarrassment until one neighbour  insisted that I mustn’t stand out on the street and ushered me into her house while the locksmith carried on breaking into ours. Thus I found myself in my neighbour’s flat with a mug of peppermint tea in my hand, watching Kung Fu Panda with her son.

The next day I called the train station as recommended by the police – they had my purse. It had been a gift, and means a great deal to me, so to have it back in my hands was a relief.  The station staff let me travel on the train for free to collect it, as I had no means to pay for the journey. The purse itself had been emptied of most things of monetary value (except for my Costa Coffee card with £8 on it. HAH opportunistic scumbag, you may take my keys but you’ll never take my soy latte) but bank and oyster cards are replaceable, and our locks were already replaced. The station staff had found the purse on the floor, someone clearly having nabbed it, taken what they could and thrown the purse itself away. I went into my bank where the staff were exceptional, allowing me to take cash out over the counter having verified my account information with the phone banking people. With enough money to get by until a new bank card arrived, I bought a small bunch of flowers and popped into the coffee shop that had rescued me the day before.

The owner was so touched by what I considered a small gestures compared to the kindness they’d shown me the day before. Her reaction had me in tears again as I walked away. “You didn’t need to say thank you” she told me. “We’re neighbours. That is what neighbours do. They help each other. You would do the same for me if I were in need”.

London has a bad reputation when it comes to community spirit. Apparently no one speaks to each other. You mustn’t make eye contact on the tube. Or in lifts. Or on the streets. In fact, just avoid eye contact at all times, with everyone.  Apparently no one knows their neighbours names. When I first moved to London friends said they could tell I grew up in the countryside because I still said “thank you” to bus drivers and started conversations with shop assistants.

I am not sure that it is true that Londoners are so unfriendly. With the day to day routine perhaps Londoners aren’t generally that friendly, or open or welcoming. But at times of stress or trouble London can be at it’s best – as demonstrated by the aftermath of the London Riots’  ‘broom army’.

While a stressful (and expensive) experience, it has reminded me, a  West Country girl at heart, that a smile and a kind word can go much further than you realise. I am determined to pay it back – and forward – for my community by trying to be a good neighbour. I am going to start by making sure I take everyone I know to that little coffee shop on the corner, and by putting a thank you card thorough my neighbour’s door. Strong communities start with small kindnesses.