Cocktail SchMocktail

I’ve touched briefly on my social awkwardness previously in this blog, and how my drinking habits are inextricably linked with self confidence issues. This has been one of the biggest challenges for me so far – going out without some home based ‘power drinking’ to get me party ready.

This weekend was always going to be a huge challenge in my Not Drinking experiment. The first big night out with my back-from-world-travels drinking buddy and the Hen do of a long term friend, with whom I have experienced both some of the most epic drunkeness and the greatest nights of my life. I was very worried about the Hen. Continue Reading

Allysaurus

If you’ve been following this blog for a little while you may already have picked up that I am both a cyclist and a feminist. Looking back, I became a cyclist about a year before I became a feminist. My very first really angry street harassment rant that precipitated my discovery that I was a feminist was back in 2007 on my LiveJournal, and was prompted by being  street harassed 5 times in one day while out on my bike.

I discussed in my previous post   how I ended up posting less and less about street harassment and feminism, despite it being a subject about which I was very passionate, simply because I couldn’t deal very well with the sheer numbers of comments along the lines of

“Not ALL men are like this…”

“I’ve never seen anyone do that…”

“I got groped in a club once so women do it too…”

“It was probably a compliment…”

“Maybe you shouldn’t wear low cut tops…”

“My girlfriend says this happens to her a lot but it never happens when she’s out with me…”

Trust me. I have heard ALL of these before. REPEATEDLY. None of them are good arguments. All of them are deeply frustrating; particularly as they are usually said by guys who I generally think of as pretty nice blokes. Good sorts, who are on ‘my side’ when it comes to  thinking women are just as good at life as men and therefore deserve a fair shot at it. But what comments like these do  is, at best, derail the point I’m trying to make by niggling over  semantics or, at worst, completely deny my lived experience. I struggled to argue and debate the points raised and after a while grew so very tired of having the same discussion over and over  AND OVER again.  When you are shaking with anger because for the 5th time in a week a random man has said “smile darling” you are really not in the mood for calmly educating someone for the 30th time why this isn’t ok. So over time I just stopped posting.

This week I posted  link to an interesting article about cyclists cycling in the middle of the road. It prompted a number of comments from acquaintances who drive using my post as a platform to inform me that they hated cyclists because they go through red lights, and ride on the pavements, and hold them up. Several quoted various clauses from the highway code to counter the idea that cyclists might possibly have an equal right to be on the road as them (this argument boiled down to ‘we’re faster so you have to let us pass’). I dealt with this very badly. I got upset, frustrated and had to back right out of the thread before I told them exactly where they could shove their dipsticks.

Being an overthinking sort of person, I had a long ponder (after I’d had a cup of tea and some chocolate and a bit of a stamp around the house saying AND ANOTHER THING but to the cat rather than the people on the internet and therefore calmed down a bit) about why it was I had reacted with such frustration, anger and irritation. I realised that the overall tone had made me feel exactly the same way I felt when I posted about street harassment. The comments were the same ones I always hear when I post about a near miss on my  bike, or when I witness some truly dreadful dangerous driving; cyclists somehow ‘deserve it’ because of the behaviour of ‘those other cyclists”.

“I’ve never run a red light…”

“I always give cyclists room…”

“I saw a cyclist yesterday going through a red light…”

“You were probably in his way…”

“Maybe you should wear a helmet…”

I’d heard them all before, and debated them all before, and countered them all before, and PEOPLE WERE STILL GOING ON ABOUT IT. So I got cross and disengaged.

What interested me, once I’d calmed down and re-read the comments, is that these commenters had inadvertently pushed the anger and frustration back onto the cyclist, in the same way that the negative comments on an article about street harassment  can push back against women’s experiences. The writer feels unheard and frustrated, the commenters feel misunderstood and attacked.

When I am cut up on my bike by a dangerous driver, I don’t assume that all drivers are dangerous. But perhaps when I discuss this I I make drivers feel as though I am attacking them. They react with their frustrations about ‘bloody cyclists’ and that they are not one of  ‘those drivers’  and so I then feel like they are attacking me – after all I am a cyclist – so I take great pains to point out I am not one of  ‘those cyclists’ and thus we end up back in our infinite loop of mutual frustration.

The common enemy here, for us ‘not those cyclists’ and those ‘not those drivers’ is of course ‘those ones’. The bad road users that made the rest of us look bad. I shouldn’t pick fights or have long debates over semantics with a driver who uses the road well and is respectful to cyclists and that driver shouldn’t squabble with me; we actually all agree that bad road users suck. The same rings true for those men making defensive comments on articles about feminism. The ‘enemy’ here is not the woman raising the problems she faces on a daily basis. The ‘enemy’ are ‘those men’ which are giving the majority of men (who would never even consider going ‘smile darling’ or ‘show us your tits’ to a woman on street) a bad name.

Looking back to my last post about cycling I’d made the point (in my typically rather longwinded way) that just SOME road users being shit is not an argument against improving the infrastructure for ALL road users.  We ALL agree that shitty behaviour is shit behaviour. So perhaps instead of having these repetitive and cyclical arguments amongst ourselves we need to recognise the real enemy and join forces against that; be it a poor road infrastructure and road use culture that encourages bad driving and dangerous cycling or be it a patriarchal society that tells men they must be tough and never cry and tells women that ‘oi nice tits’ is a compliment.

If you are a member of  (x majority group) and you find yourself angered by something someone from (x marginalised group) raises, before you respond ask yourself this: Are you really angry/hurt by the words or actions of (x marginalised person) or are you angered by the actions of the (x majority person) that has reflected badly on yourself? If the answer is the latter, consider being an ally, rather than an adversary.

It’s very easy to debate and belittle the experiences of a minority or  marginalised group; and it’s easy to shut down that debate by saying “well I am (x marginalised group) and you are (x majority group) so you wouldn’t understand”. It’s much harder to step outside of those well travelled debates and realise the common interest to become allies, but perhaps it’s the best way to effect real change in an unequal society.

Socially Awkward Dinosaur

When I retired from playing Roller Derby I took up announcing. It seemed a natural move for me as I’ve always been good at talking. It turns out that I am better at talking about Roller Derby than I ever was at playing it. This weekend was my first tournament – a whole weekend of talking about roller derby – some games to the house with a 500+ crowd, some on a feed broadcast over the internet to a worldwide audience.

As a retired rollergirl hanging out with other rollergirls is a disorientating experience. It’s great to see people again, I love to see their faces and have a big old hug. But once the basic pleasantries are done with (Hi! How are you! You look great. I love what you’ve done with your hair!) I tend to get a little stuck. These are people I spent 6 years with, 2-3 days a week, and when you don’t play roller derby any more you suddenly realise that roller derby is all you’ve ever discussed. I don’t know what they do for a living. Or where they grew up. Do they have a family? A partner? They *did* have a partner, is it safe to ask about them? What if they broke up? They have a cat right? I should ask about the cat. NO WAIT. WHAT IF THE CAT DIED. All of this passes through my mind as a conversational pause has gone on for slightly too long and I weakly ask “So. How’s…STUFF?”. Continue Reading

Three Months in – The List Revisited

April Fools’ Day marked the three month point of my giving up drinking alcohol. I celebrated it by completely forgetting about it. It took a Facebook friend to congratulate me by private message before I even realised.

I went back to my first blog post to revisit my reason for this challenge, and to have a look at my progress so far.

I have to admit, success on the list is not 100% – but it’s not half bad. Continue Reading

a non-academic feminist

I discovered that I was a feminist on 4th June 2007.

I can pinpoint it with that much accuracy due to my old LiveJournal.  After a particularly bad week of being shouted at in the street or propositioned by strangers I’d made three ranty posts about street harassment in the space of 4 days. In third post, after linking to a no-longer-there site (which later became the Everyday Sexism project) I wrote:

I’ve never been very interested in feminism before, or campaigning for anything really. I’ve got on with what I believe in in my own way[…] Little drops in the ocean. But this has really got me wound up, and the more I dig, the more wound up I get. I can’t tackle this one in a little private way, I’ll probably end either in a ditch having been attacked by a bloke I’ve retaliated to, or in jail, having been arrested for thumping a bloke I’ve retaliated to. […] If I start wearing dungarees, stop washing, and start singing protest songs in parks, someone please kill me. Especially if I start talking about burning my bra.

A number of my friends gently took me to task in the comments:

Trust me dungarees, smelliness and bra burning are not a prerequisite to feminism. Feminism is about realising women are treated differently and less well than men and wanting to do something about it.

One linked me to the Fawcett Society’s “this is what a feminist looks like” campaign .

one commented:

I’ve always thought of you a feminist, even if you’ve never really been interested in it. Your world view seems sufficiently well aligned to mine that I think you have feminist sympathies.

From that point forward I started to think of myself as a feminist. I didn’t take any courses, or start reading any particular writers, but I started paying more attention to what was around me, what I experienced and started challenging  my own perceptions of sex, gender and gender identity. I continued to make ranty posts on my LiveJournal – but as time went on started to find the comments I was getting difficult to deal with. I found it hard to argue back when people disagreed with me. Specifically, when I discussed a feminist issue and men would reply with variations on a theme:

but not all men are like that

but men have problems too

but women are their own worse enemies/women do this too

Eventually I began to shrink from posting anything overtly feminist, or about harassment, patriarchy or objectification simply because I didn’t want to deal with a shitstorm of arguments every time I had an opinion. I didn’t have the language or the skills to argue the points that kept coming up over and over again. Other friends did, and largely did an excellent job of making the arguments for me, and I continued to learn from, and marvel at, the cleverness of my internet friends. It did put me off though, and ultimately I stopped posting anything controversial at all.

In the last few years there have been a number of things that have roused my feminist ire – only now the social media tool of choice is Facebook, not Live Journal. I’ve debated sexism in sport, the questionable feminism of Joss Whedon, gendered insults and swear words (try not using any for a week, it’s HARD.) and most recently That Snickers Advert.

Facebook doesn’t lend itself to debate in quite the same way as LiveJournal.  You can support what someone is saying by just a ‘like’. You don’t have to even construct a coherent sentence to agree. The comments fields encourage shorter responses. TL;DR now extends to a comment longer than about an inch. I also am less afraid of just unfriending someone if they really fuck me off. Perhaps that isn’t the most sensible way to encourage open discourse, but it’s my Facebook and I get to chose who has access to my life. But that has the result that I am discussing with a limited pool of people who already agree with me, and not with anyone able to challenge me when they take issue with me.

I am not coming up with my own ideas or theories – I am finding what other people have said and agreeing with them. I am  posting other people’s content; finding validation in my half-formed thoughts in articles written by ‘proper’ writers and going ‘THIS’ and posting a link.

Outside of Facebook, it’s a different story. When I first started this blog I had wondered if I would go back to posting some of my glorious feminist rants of the livejournal days. It felt like exposure. Write *MY* words about feminism? I can’t. It terrifies me. I don’t understand the language of feminism. I don’t understand the theories. I read an article in the Guardian about ‘fourth wave feminism and realised I didn’t even know what waves one to three were (I do now. I googled.) I  googled ‘intersectionality’  and still didn’t understand it. Sometimes I read articles about Feminism and feel really stupid.

I have had a number of discussions lately with female friends who have said they wanted to share things on Facebook, but felt that they couldn’t, because they didn’t want to have a big argument with people telling them why they are wrong and making them upset – the exact same fears that stopped me posting my thoughts on my LiveJournal. The most eye opening was a discussion with a friend who is a well established  blogger who I very much admire. She said that she shied away from discussing feminism because she feels like it’s a subject where she can’t write with any authority – she feels she has things to say but that her views will be rejected by feminist writers. This rang very close to home for me.

Mr RDP is a feminist. It’s one of the many attractive things about him. He’s also an Academic feminist. He wrote his dissertation on Riot Grrl and Third Wave Feminism.  He understands the terms and the language of Feminism. He’s read bell hooks and probably knows why you spell her name with small letters. He knows how to debate, and how to form and dissect arguments. As an academic, he carefully constructs an argument before discussing it, testing the hypothesis by debate.

I am an non-academic feminist.  My degree was in performance art. I didn’t even have to do dissertation – I created an limited audience participatory site specific piece (I built a maze and had monsters running around in it).  Sometimes I make sweeping half humorous statements like “I blame the Spice Girls.”  I am not prepared when people actually de-construct my argument – it confuses me because I didn’t really have an argument to begin with. With my arts background I start with a small feeling or statement and develop that into an argument through discussion, building a hypothesis by debate.

When I get involved in a discussion about Feminism my whole point of view, and perception, and all my arguments come from my position of being a woman, living in this world, and the experiences I have of it. I can’t argue from a theoretic point of view or say “well, bell hooks said…”because I haven’t read her. It makes me shy away from having discussions about feminism with Mr RDP because I end up feeling like my opinion doesn’t count because I’m an ill-read woman, and then he feels like I’m calling him an oppressive symbol of patriarchy and we both shout and I cry.

To hear my friend, an excellent writer and someone who has so  much to say, voice that she feels shut out of feminist discussion because she doesn’t have the right background made me feel sad. I might have struggled to understand the word ‘intersectionality’ but I understood enough about the concept to see that alienating women from having a voice because they haven’t got an academic background is not exactly in the spirit of third (or fourth?) wave feminism. I can see how it must be frustrating for those who have studied and read feminist writers to have ‘uninformed’ female voices sharing ideas or feelings that have already been covered by writers beforehand; but to say “well, if you’d read X then you’d see that this has already been discussed” is a classic shut-down.

Since my revelation of 4th June 2007 I am  a little older, arguably a little wiser, and a fair bit more Teflon of skin. I’m less afraid of a heated discussion, more confident in my feminism and happier to get stuck in to disagreements. I still consider myself relatively new to feminism. I’m still learning. When you are learning you make mistakes and you learn by them. Perhaps this blog post is a mistake I will learn from, but perhaps it will help me lose my fear of writing my own words about feminism in public.

We’re in an era where young people, male and female (and in between – but the gender binary is a whole other blog post…) are getting interested in and fired up by Feminism in an increasingly sexualised and gender divided youth culture (gendered Lego? REALLY?).  Feminism is no longer in danger of being seen as the discourse of protest song singing bra burning hippies. If anything, it’s in danger of going too much the other way and becoming acedemicised to the point of excluding those who come to feminism by another less formal route.

In order to continue to encourage people to declare themselves a feminist, we need to make sure all voices are able to be heard, and not frighten away or silence those who really feel they have something to say.

 

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
2014-03-15 15.50.48
Oops.
2014-03-15 15.55.17
um. yeah.
2014-03-15 16.44.59
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.

It's the glass that counts, not what you put in to it

This weekend was a big test for my continued sobriety. A combination of a full social calendar and a most unseasonable weather forecast I suspected that my resolve would be sorely tested. I will admit, I wasn’t sure I was going to  make it.  As Friday evening approached  I knew I was facing two of my biggest drinking weaknesses:

  1. The Free Drinks
  2. The House Party

1 : The Free Drinks

I work for a local authority. We don’t get work dos, or christmas parties, or client lunches. Our money is your money, so we can’t have big jollies at the expense of the taxpayer. The oft repeated mantra at work is ‘spend it like it’s your own’. Once a year however we put on a celebration for the Foster Carers who work for our borough.

Foster Carers do, in my opinion, one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and they do it for very little pay. It’s a 24 hour job, particularly with children not at school. There’s no lunch break, no 25 days holiday, no bank holidays off. The children they care for are often quite traumatised and need patience and understanding. I am not sure I could do it. A celebration to say thank you is something even the hardest hearted of taxpayers surely can’t begrudge. I support the management team of the fostering service, and along with joining them for dinner I had the pleasure of helping decorate the room, set out flowers, hand out raffle tickets and badger the technical staff until they turned on the glitter ball.

Before the dinner there was a drinks reception, with Prosecco, and we had some wine on the table for dinner. Up until the point when the doors opened and we started welcoming the Carers I thought I’d be fine – I didn’t want to get drunk here. I was at work. I  needed to keep my wits about me and represent my department and more importantly some Big Important End Of Level Bosses were there and falling on my face in a pool of tax payer purchased Prosseco in front of senior managers is probably a sacking offence.

When the waiter offered up a tray of shining champagne flutes to colleagues and carers while I took a tumbler of orange juice I felt like a child sitting at the naughty table. When you are wearing a pretty dress and a feathery fascinator and your best make-up and jewellery it just feels wrong to be holding a big heavy tumbler as you play hostess and greet guests. On a whim, I asked if I could have a glass of cranberry juice in a champagne flute. My request got me some odd looks, but as if by magic I felt so much better. I was too busy helping run the event to de-construct why that might have been, but for the rest of the evening I used a wine glass for my table water while the others drank wine. I didn’t feel any lack of confidence and found it perhaps easier to get up and dance and talk to people I didn’t know when I was feeling more confident that I wasn’t going to trip over my dress and slur at them.

2 – The House Party

Feeling great the day after a do with a free drinks reception is one of the big bonuses of being booze free. I was able to be up early and Get Things Done; things which included joining a walk for International Women’s Day. It was a wonderful event, with a great sense of community. Afterwards I joined some of my fellow participants for a pub lunch. It was a beautiful day – unusually warm for March which enabled us to sit in the beer  garden – all of my lunch buddies chose fruity ciders which sparkled in the sun. Inspired by my experience of the day before I asked for a wineglass with my Elderflower Pressé. It got some funny looks but again I was able to forget I wasn’t drinking and got on with enjoying my day. I enthusiastically endorsed the Soft Drink In A Wine Glass tip as if it was a tried and tested method.

Before the house party I met up with some old friends for dinner and chose lime and soda again insisting on a wine glass. I was starting to realise that the wine glass was deeply psychological. It felt completely different.  It wasn’t just about my drinking companions feeling more comfortable about my being sober because they knew I wasn’t drinking  – but somehow it was easier for me to forget that I wasn’t drinking. I was able to just enjoy the company and the conversation without constantly feeling different or on the outside. Somehow a wine glass just feels classier, nicer to hold,  easier to drink out of and somehow makes whatever is inside the glass taste nicer.

It makes sense if you think about it  –  after all, there’s a REASON people drink wine out of them rather than from, say,  a giant Sports Direct mug. I was most nervous about the house party – but by the time we arrived everyone else was drunk enough to either not notice or not care that I wasn’t drinking, and there were two other people who also weren’t drinking. One just for a short break, but the other gave up alcohol a few years ago and IS STILL COOL. I have several friends who don’t drink and  ARE STILL COOL and whenever I have a wobble or feel like a bit of a loser I remember N and C and how DAMN COOL they are and feel confident again that perhaps I too can be cool and sober. Well, sober anyway.

It was at the house party I started to have a bit of a revelation about my drinking. I noticed that whenever my drink was empty I wandered to the kitchen to re-fill it. After the third or so time I was looking at the options (soda water, a weird squash you will hear more about in a future blog, mango juice or water) and I didn’t really want any of them. It wasn’t that I wanted a vodka or a mojito; it was that I wasn’t thirsty. Why had I gone to get another drink? It was clearly out of habit! I was at a house party, my glass was empty, so I needed to re-fill it. Suddenly it clicked into place why I get so astoundingly hammered at house parties – because whenever the glass was empty I’d get another, regardless of whether I was thirsty or drunk enough or barely coherent. Having a drink in your hand seemed so much more important than having a drink.

Upon that realisation I put my glass down and rejoined the party, deciding to only drink when I actually wanted a drink. I made it til the early hours of the morning before I started flagging. Fortunately for me most of my friends appear to be entirely charming drunkards, and it wasn’t a case of needing to escape lary behaviour. I was simply at a point where I’d had a lovely evening and was ready for bed.

On the walk home Mr RDP (who had been drinking like a champion, safe in the knowledge I’d be able to carry him home) and I discussed the habit of constantly refilling the glass at a party. He wondered whether it was partly to do with being slightly socially awkward (although I suspect many of my friends would admit to being somewhat socially awkward) and having a glass in your hand gives you an ‘out’ to a conversation when you run out of things to say. “Oh look, my glass is empty, I’d better get another” is better than “I have run out of conversation. I’m going to go this way now”. Normally I would have thought that being sober would make conversation harder because sober I’m so terribly dull. But being sober at the party I actually found conversations more interesting – I had a longer attention span, and could really focus on people’s answers. Once I’d realised I didn’t need to constantly have a drink in my hand I settled down more and paid attention to trying to enjoy the party, not just the drinking.

I am starting to discover that the clumsy, awkward, charmingly scatty person that I think I am when I am drunk is actually pretty  much the person I am sober. The only difference is the false confidence of the alcohol, stripping away your inhibitions because you can blame stuff on being drunk.  Being unable to blame falling over or getting mixed up in conversation on being drunk means that I am having to learn to be more mindful of what I say, how I react, and also to develop a better ability to laugh at myself when I say stupid things or fall over or knock drinks out of people’s hands. If I say or do something stupid I have to own it there and then and either apologise or get over it, and then get to wake up in the morning and not have waves of anxiety – false alcohol driven over-confidence takes its payment in the form of double the shame the next day.

I started the weekend wondering if I’d make it to Sunday booze free, but instead discovered that I don’t need to have a couple of bottles of wine inside of me to feel better about myself, or to feel like I am fun or interesting. In fact, I don’t even need to have wine inside the wine glass. Drunk me is sober me, but with fewer memories and a sore head in the morning. Lime and soda in a wine glass is lime and soda, but COOLER.

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. 

It’s all fun and games

I thought I had a breakthrough last night. We headed to our new local, a lovely big pub with artfully tatty decorations, mis-matched furniture and an excellent drink selection. Looking at the available options I realised they had my favourite beer (I am not generally a beer drinker but this one tastes like a Piña colada) and really wanted one. Not to get drunk, but just to drink it. That was a new experience. My breakthrough was short-lived however. It’s a popular pub so we managed to get a table only by hovering nearby people who looked like they were leaving. As they left and we sat down I saw the drink they’d left behind – a bottle of wine and two glasses and I felt that familar pang; the desire to get completely ratted. The desire was so strong it shocked me. Continue Reading