Every few months some fool (usually male) comes along and claims that women who attend all girls’ schools are disadvantaged because they grow up unable to talk to men.
Well, I’m here to say that it’s the exact opposite. Women who go to all girls’ schools are far better placed to take on the sexist bullshit of men than those who attend mixed schools.
Why? It’s not rocket science. We all hear constantly that women are told they “shouldn’t do” science/ maths/ anything else with good earnings potential. And so they don’t study it and the cycle continues. But at an all girls’ school, there aren’t any boys to take maths, so there you are, dominating like the boss bitch you are, never hearing the sexist lie that you need to sit down and shut up so men can talk.
You also get the girl power assemblies, the feminist teachers, and the free space to be your girliest self without having to worry what boys think. I can’t imagine a situation at a mixed school where a girl walks into maths and announces she’s just started her period and all the other girls clap and crowd round her, as happened in a year nine maths class I attended.
Because yes, I attended an all girls’ school. An all girls’ grammar school, in fact. And I was a weird kid who didn’t fit in and got bullied at times and I still think it was the making of me (and not in an upper class suffering-builds-character kind of way). My all girls’ school taught me that all girls can.
And so when I left at the age of 16 to attend the local mixed grammar school for sixth form (for non boy-related reasons – my A level combinations wouldn’t work at the first school) it was a hell of a shock to the system. Not because there were boys, oh no, shocking as it may seem to some headteachers, girls at all girls’ schools can actually meet boys outside of school. I had plenty of male friends, a brother, a boyfriend, a father… the difference was that for the first time, I had to contend with a male dominated environment and the classic stereotype that women’s voices aren’t worth listening to. In my economics class there were 31 pupils, five of whom were girls. You can be sure the other 26 boys hadn’t been listening to feminist assemblies for the last five years.
For the first time in my life I had to fight to have my voice listened to, and my core belief – that I was worth being listened to, and that no man deserved more airtime than me just because he had a Y chromosome, helped me overcome my nerves and speak up.
It also carried me through my university tutorials, which were filled with posh boys, a double whammy of class and gender for little impoverished intellectual me.
But most of all, it helped me at work. I work in PR, and it’s fast paced and challenging. It’s important to hear a variety of opinions so that you don’t end up pushing a story with a fatal flaw in it. Sometimes you’ll be the only person who’s thought of that particular angle and you need to voice it, because your mistake could end up on the front page of the Evening Standard and wreck your company’s reputation.
In my old PR job, I worked in financial services in a male dominated environment, and as both the youngest and the least experienced member of the team it was tough learning to speak up, but remembering that old lesson from school always helped. And having had five years of feminist assemblies about women who could had got deep into my bones and toughened me up. Another aspect of working in PR is that 90% of everything you do will fail, and most of your days will contain rejection. Remembering that your voice is valuable and that you have something to say is crucial when all day journalists are hanging up the phone and telling you that you don’t.
Now I work in the charity sector, and I can’t believe how different it is from the alpha male finance sector. I’m so used to having to slap people down to be heard at all amid all the alpha male posturing that it’s strange realising that I could be the one talking too much and sharing opinions too strongly. It’s an exciting new feminist challenge – trying to create a space for other women to speak. Not everyone is a natural motormouth like me, and not everyone had five years of feminist cheering to back them up. I carved out a space for my own voice – now how do I help others find their own?
I have a complicated relationship with stuff. Like the child of alcoholics, who feels isolated from her family when sober and terrified by the future when drinking, I proclaim constantly that I have too much stuff – and then I buy more.
Owning too much is a condition of western society in the twenty first century. The proliferation of big yellow self-storage units in every town and city in the country isn’t just because people are living in rabbit hutch little new build houses. It’s also because we have too much stuff. Almost everybody does, rich or poor or anywhere in between. But my family has more stuff than most people with too much stuff.
I would say that around half my family members could legitimately be considered hoarders. The other half are borderline cases. We aren’t rich, we just can’t get rid of things. When I was at my parents’ house recently, we were trying to do a little bit of a clear out. I found a shoe box on a shelf. It was filled with empty guitar string packets. I suggested that it could be thrown out. “No!” My mum said, “Those belong to Ben and he wanted to keep them.” Ben has emigrated to Canada and its unlikely to come back in the next few years. I don’t know whether this story reflects worse on him or my mother but the truth is that if those string packets didn’t go to Canada, they are unlikely to be needed on his return. A slightly odd neighbour of ours once left the core of her apple in my sister’s room. It wasn’t found for months. My aunt and uncle keep back editions of the Guardian weekend magazine, despite the fact that it is available in full for free on the Guardian website. I could list a hundred other examples, all of them worse.
Against this backdrop, I have become a slightly manic advocate of throwing things away. When I moved out of my shared flat and into my parents’ house for three months last summer, my return triggered a manic drive to get rid of as much stuff as I could. I piled up books I didn’t like, clothes I didn’t fit, and things I didn’t want. It was like getting blood from a stone just getting my parents to take them to the charity shop. (for those who want to know why I didn’t just do it myself – I don’t own a car. A mile and a half is a long way to walk with a sack of books…) I didn’t need “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying” when it swept the nation last year, that’s been my rallying cry for years.
Following my de-cluttering binge in the summer, I have felt better about the amount of stuff I own. It helps that I now have a nice big bedroom in my new house – realistically the most space I will probably have to myself for a couple of decades, as my next move will likely be with my boyfriend, and we will have to learn to share our space and combine our stuff. I haven’t missed anything I’ve got rid of, and I don’t feel like I’ve been heartless and given away everything of meaning, as I am so often told. I have a box under my bed full of personal things from little trolls with neon hair that my aunt gave me as a child, love notes written by an older man when I worked at a garden centre in my teens (don’t worry mum – it extended to one hand holding session before I was distracted by a boy my own age), photographs of college balls, wristbands from teenage gigs, and the other pieces of junk that hold meaning for individuals. I have a box of letters and cards, some of which I will treasure for ever, and I have a box of Important Documents, because I am a real adult now, which means I am at least 10% sensible.
De-cluttering, therefore, has worked. Only, why did I need to de-clutter so much in the first place? It wasn’t by magic, or osmosis, or voodoo that I ended up with so much stuff. I bought it. Almost all of it, bar a few presents. I bought it, and then I felt bad that I had bought it, and gave it away, and then after a while I felt better, and then I bought some more. It was an unending circle. When I was a child, I bought a lot of tat – china dolphins from seaside shops, little mood rings from Camden market, tie-dyed rugs from choir tours (it was a dark time in my life), and all sorts of other rubbish. But buying tat is an obvious waste of money. It makes you feel the amount of junk you are accumulating and feel bad about it. So after a while, it slowly shifted and I started buying the one thing that you definitely do need and can’t deny: clothes.
I buy clothes like other people buy drugs: guiltily, and often in the middle of the night. I log onto ASOS after a long day, and end up buying five or six different “wardrobe essentials” which in the cold light of day I’m not sure about and which I end up only wearing once. I have two jumpsuits, despite the fact that I have a long back and a high waist so jumpsuits give me dreadful camel toe. I have umpteen pairs of vintage shoes which fall apart after two wears. I had at my worst peak six different but almost identical grey sweaters. I have two sequinned t-shirts, a sequinned skirt, and I almost bought myself a sequin blazer in the sales before I woke up and gave myself a talking to. I work for a local authority; I don’t live a sequin blazer life.
Some people reading this will think “who cares, it’s your money, do what you like”. The problem is it’s not my money. It’s the bank’s money. I have a decently paid job, relatively low expenses and few responsibilities. This is the time of my life in which I should be saving. Instead, I’m guiltily paying back my credit card, month by painful month. And I didn’t spend that money on fabulous trips to the other side of the world, or a car, or a masters. I spent it in Topshop, H&M, ASOS, & Other Stories, Zara, Office, Schuh, Primark, Marks & Spencers, Dune, Banana Republic, Gap, and Urban Outfitters. Endless forgettable outfits. I see a sale and feel a compulsive need to pick up a bargain, even if actually that bargain is extremely tight and without a serious Regime, I’ve got no hope of fitting into it. (and I never go on serious Regimes).
It’s a psychological crutch, I guess. Just like drugs. Some people face down the fear of a party where they won’t know anyone by doing a few lines in the bathroom of the club. I face it down with one-day ASOS Premier delivery, knowing that I will have something new, something exciting to wear every time I go out. I’ve got into the habit of buying something new for every party, every big night out, every job interview, every foreign holiday (“I’ll re-wear it with a fine sweater underneath” – only I never do). And there is no reason. My favourite dresses are without a doubt the ones I’ve saved up for, agonised over, bought rationally, and worn again and again. My favourite shoes are a pair of black Nike trainers – not the metallic green heels I’ve worn a total of five times but which are already flaking because hey, metallic green leather is not hard wearing! But having something new, something the papers, instagram, celebrities, the internet, and my cooler friends have told me is good, is cool, and has cachet, that saves me from having to worry about whether I have any value. Whether I am cool. Whether I am worth it, outside of the things I own.
And it’s ridiculous. When I was a student, I bought a strapless black dress for £30 in H&M. I wore it on every single night out for over a year (so that’s twice a week, ten weeks a term, three terms a year… 60 times. Minimum). I looked amazing in it, and I felt amazing in it, and I don’t think I ever paid for a single drink while wearing it. When along the road did I lose the ability to stop caring about whether or not I’ve worn something before? I don’t know, and I miss it.
So I’ve made a decision. I’m not buying any clothes for four months. From now until the first of May, I will not buy any clothes at all. (Disclaimer: underwear doesn’t count, a lady needs ladder-free tights if she is to be taken seriously in a professional environment!). I have enough clothes that I don’t need to buy anything new. I have ballgowns, and summer dresses, and coats, and jeans, and suits, and blouses, and everything else that I might need for any situation I might find myself in. I even have clothes for yoga – and I don’t even go to yoga!
The aim of this exercise is to break the cycle. To stop feeling like I need something new all the time. To get out of this meaningless consumption, and to start over. At the end, hopefully I will be less broke, but hopefully I will also be free of this need to buy something new. I had a badge at university which said “How much have I no need of?” (I was given it at a philosophy event, obviously). I lost it at some point and I won’t be buying myself another one, but that will be my mantra. How much have I no need of? How much do I already have?
As houses get smaller, people move more often, and cynicism about advertising grows, companies try and find new ways to sell things.
It’s all about quality, not quantity. It’s about expressing your true self. It’s about leaving a legacy (those awful Patek Phillipe adverts about how you never really own their watch, merely look after it for the next generation). It’s all about an experience now – so to show someone you love them, pay an extraordinary amount of money for something you have been told is a meaningful experience.
These meaningful experiences are always the same. Paintballing, a hot air balloon ride, skydiving (particularly pernicious when presented as a charitable activity); or if you’re overseas, an elephant ride, an ostrich ride. You can map changes in the latest experience trends by swiping through Tinder profile pictures. Everyone’s ridden the same elephant, stroked the same tiger, and visited the same temple.
But if everyone has bought the same experiences, and had the same spiritual revelations in the same time, and the same place, do they really have meaning any more? We are used to seeing the phrase “the world is a book, and the person who does not travel reads only one page” plastered across inspirational pinterests and instagrams, but if in every place you just look for other Brits to get drunk with in slightly more exotic bars, follow guidebook recommendations of which places to “hit” and use the same instagram filters as everyone else did, what have you done that’s unique?
Now that travel is more affordable and exotic experiences are the price of entry to the aspirational middle class, I think we focus too much on the need for our experience to be wild, and far-flung, and expensive. There are beautiful lakes and mountains in Wales, but if you want your holiday to be envy inducing, to prove your cultural credibility, you need to visit mountains and lakes in Canada or New Zealand. There’s nothing wrong with Canada or New Zealand – I for one am very excited to visit Canada next year to see my émigré brother – but neither are Wales and the Lake District less valid places to visit because you don’t get a stamp on your passport.
In the same way that Americans view Paris as a destination of chic, European luxury and romance, and we view it as a place for school trips, day trips, and dirty weekends early in our relationships, it’s important to remember that places close to home are someone’s far flung dream.
It’s also important to remember that an experience doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful – and that it can’t be meaningful if it was. There’s a hierarchy around experiences which sees people either rate them as better because they were more expensive, or snub anything that costs money in a reverse snobbery. “oh, the Empire State Building is so overrated,” they will say, “This other place no one’s ever heard of is so much better.” And maybe they’re right, and if you go back to New York a second time, you should check out the other place. But growing up everyone sees New York in a thousand films, and going to the Empire State Building is one of the things that makes you feel like you’re there. Finally, after all this time.
When I visited New York, I thought it was amazing. It was an incredible experience. And the Empire State Building was breathtaking. The fact that all the buildings really did have fire escapes just like in Friends delighted me. And as holidays go, it was pretty much the best.
But when I think back over the most meaningful experiences of the year, I will remember the unwavering love as my parents drove 15 miles from their house to mine (in London traffic) to drive me to hospital, stayed with me all night without complaining, then drove me home and afterwards drove back to their house to go to work in an hour’s time. I think of the hottest day of the year, and plunging into the freezing cold lido with my boyfriend and my best friend. I think of the first time I sat on the couch and the cat kneaded my stomach (after almost a year of not even being able to stroke her). I think of leaving a warehouse party with a group of friends and being transfixed by the sight of Venus hanging low in the sky over the towpath. I think of sitting at the bar in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Berlin and overpaying for incredible cocktails while pretending to be characters from a novel. I think of being perched on a barrel at an Irish pub in Cannes skipping out on all the glamorous parties to watch middle aged men singing “gold” and falling off-stage.
The big moments in life are beautiful. The long-awaited experiences are spectacular. Sometimes saving all your money for that one big thing is really, truly worth it. But if yours has been a year of small and wonderful moments, of weekends in Leeds to visit friends rather than fortnights in Sri Lanka, of painting your house at weekends rather than painting the town red, then savour those moments. Far more of life is built from small miracles than from life changing revelations.
Apologies for not posting last week, but unfortunately I have just moved house and my new house has no internet! I am typing this from my iPad and really hoping it will work…
So, the diet is done. Eight weeks of abnegation and being “awkward food lady” are finally up and what have I learned?
Well, to start with: the diet works. I haven’t had a single one of the crippling stomach aches which were plaguing me before I started the diet in the last eight weeks. This is obviously good news, although sticking to the diet religiously in the long term is considered by dieticians to be too unhealthy to contemplate, something for all budding orthorexics out there to consider carefully.
When I began the diet, I’d never heard of it, but in the last eight weeks I’ve read two think pieces about modern dieting crazes which both mentione it. It seems that people are taking up the FODMAP plan without seeing a registered dietician (a nutritionist who talks a lot about toxins does NOT count!) and are continuing it relatively long term. As someone who has gone through the plan, this shows me the sad state of our eating habits today. It’s true that far too many people are unhealthy, obese, and miserable in their eating habits. But the flip side of this is that far too many people are unhealthy, obsessed, and miserable in their pursuit of healthy eating, cutting out gluten, sugar, dairy, whatever the latest thing is. One of the other things I’ve learned from this diet is that you can’t be “everything in moderation” combined with a moderately active lifestyle.
Another thing I’ve learned is that we’re all little miss special diet these days – even the men. The number of people I heard explaining that they were allergic to non organic wine, or that they had to eat paleo beggared belief. In a way, it’s helpful, because it raises awareness that not everyone can just eat anything, and I think people are more aware of genuine digestive problems like IBS or coeliac disease, but it also makes it harder. People faking it don’t get sick when they eat traces of gluten because they’re not really sensitive to gluten, they’re sensitive to stuffing their faces with carbs all day (seriously, I’ve halved the carbs in my diet and they don’t bother me now). This makes it harder for people with coeliac disease to be taken seriously, because waiters mistake them for attention seekers. Hopefully in time the attention seekers will move on, leaving a better range of gluten free products, and coeliac sufferers will be able to reap the benefits. M
The other big thing I learned was not to be so afraid. A couple of times during the diet I did have to ask if we could switch restaurant because I couldn’t eat anything at the proposed restaurant but you know what? No one said no! I was so convinced I would miss out entirely on seeing my friends, or even that I might lose friends who couldn’t understand. That absolutely wasn’t the case. My mum may have had difficulty understanding the diet but all my friends were extremely supportive.
The final thing I learned was of course which foods were troublesome to me, and it’s a surprising list: beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, red onions, diet coke and regular coke, rum, and cider. I’ve also really lost my taste for sweet things, which was happening anyway. I also learned that you won’t lose weight on this diet, unless you exclude dairy and alcohol as well. Since I finished the diet I’ve been eating more healthily than when I was on it, and I’ve lost the weight that I gained on the diet. But this diet is a diet for health, not for weight loss.
So so there we have it! If you thi you have IBS I would strongly urge you to go to your doctor and discuss it with them. Cutting out large food groups can leave you vitamin deficient, and can be a sign of compulsive behaviour and eating disorders.
Christmas as an adult is just plain weird. It’s a day meant for children. Father Christmas, stockings under the fireplace, presents you never dreamed of and more food than you can imagine. When you’re little, the days seem to stretch out forever. School breaks up and then there’s a WHOLE WEEK until Christmas, which you can fill by decorating the tree, hanging the Christmas cards, visiting friends, and re-reading every Christmas themed book you can find.
Then you get to the day itself and it’s out of this world. I remember the Christmas I was seven being given £50 by my grandparents and not being able to believe it was all for me – it was more money than I’d ever seen (my pocket money was 70p per week). I thought it must be to share, and started handing out notes to my family until my mum explained that yes, it really was all for me. I think that money lasted me a year.
Sometimes I think about that moment of childhood wonder these days, when I take £50 out of a cashpoint on a Friday night and wake up on Saturday afternoon to find it all gone. Back then, my Christmas lists were wild dreams, based on a complete lack of understanding of the value of money, and a complete thrill at receiving anything at all.
Now, I can buy anything I need. I’m a middle class professional, I’m not rich by any means (I work in the public sector!), but I have plenty of money to buy the things I need – train fares, bills, food, a few nights out, a couple of midweek dinners, £6 vietnamese for lunch just because it’s so incredibly good, merino wool jumpers from Gap because they’re just so soft. I can’t afford flashy dinners, or designer clothes, or a rose gold iPhone, but I don’t need those things – and I don’t really want them either. I have cheapskate taste. And when it comes to presents, if I can’t afford it, my parents certainly can’t – and I would feel guilty taking such an expensive gift from them.
In the same way, I find it very hard to shop for them. They’re not very consumerist people and have most of the things they want. Anything they don’t have but do want (a Skoda Octavia, of all things) I can’t afford to give them. So buying presents becomes slightly strange.
Trying to come up with a list of things I want this year, I’ve been thinking about what made last Christmas so good. No arguments, plenty of family time, laughter, and the opportunity to see my friends.
Those are the things I want this Christmas: time, friendship, food, and laughter. The world is so busy these days, every time I see my friends it’s “oh, it’s been too long” because we’ve been working, and house hunting, and job hunting, and wedding planning, and thesis writing, and we miss each other. What I want this Christmas is time: time with my friends and family, and time to enjoy myself.
So this Christmas, I’m going to try and make more time for people. Say yes to more things, instead of panicking and feeling like I need to shop instead. Because the best present to a busy twenty-something is really a bottle of something cold, a switched-off phone, and a whole evening of not having to think about work or the last train. Cheers!
This is my second to last week of the FODMAPs diet. This is my second to last week of the FODMAPs diet! Hallelujah, break out the bunting, because I am bored!
I always knew the FODMAPs diet was going to be hard work, and actually, I don’t think it’s been as hard as I was worried it would be (and I think next week I’m going to write about why as part of my final round-up). But Christ has it been boring. Every damn week, every time I need a snack: ready salted crisps. Every time I need a quick meal: microwave mac and cheese. Every time I want to eat something delicious: taking out the things that give it variety.
I’ve always thought of myself as being quite a boring eater – happy to eat the same things time and time again. I’d assumed it was a legacy of being a fussy eater when I was a child. But actually, while I am happy to eat some things again and again, it’s really only the interesting things that I want to eat like that.
One of my favourite things to do is to take a simple recipe and make it over and over again, adding to it a little each time until it becomes one of those insane secret ingredient recipes that’s a bit of a signature dish. Take “red soup” for example. This is a warming dish I started making in winters a few years ago. It had tomato purée, water, red lentils, red peppers, and some caramelised red onions dropped on top. It was pretty tasty. But fast forward two years and that soup is a goddamn work of art. It involves a red wine reduction, six types of herbs, a special vegan stock cube, chillis, kidney beans, and shredded red cabbage. It is the reddest of all red soups in the world. And when you drink/eat it, it makes you feel like you’ll never be cold again.
That’s what I miss from the FODMAPs diet – that sense of inventiveness, and the ability to make a meal out of things that aren’t carbs. As a vegetarian I am genuinely unsure how I’m going to go without beans, lentils, chickpeas, and other pulses long-term. I think I’ll be able to get all the nutrients I need, the question is whether or not I can do it without ending up eating way too many carbs along the way. And I don’t react well to carbs – I get so sleepy and bloated, and always have done since way before I got IBS.
Still, the end of the diet is upon me and the re-introduction phase looms. Re-introduction is probably a good time to start trying some new foods as well, first up being the incomparable quinoa, super grain which will apparently solve all my problems. I tried to make my own quinoa once and it was basically horrible, but I’ve been assured by tonnes of people who seem to genuinely like eating that it is actually very tasty. This week’s task: learn to cook quinoa, just in time for re-introduction.
On August 22nd I moved out of my last home. On December 1st, I will move into my new home. The space in between has been a limbo of shuttling to and fro between my parents’ house and my boyfriend’s flat.
Perhaps it felt harder because I didn’t know how long it would be for. Initially it seemed such a sensible idea – move home when my lease finished, don’t pay rent for September, come back from America and find a new place. The simplest way to save £800 that anyone has ever heard.
But coming back from America wasn’t as easy as all that. Before I went away I’d spent two months on secondment. I’d returned to the news that my boss was being made redundant and a new boss had been hired to be the big boss. Everyone I worked with seemed to have forgotten me – or assumed I wasn’t coming back. I kept calling people, just to have them say “oh! You’re back!” in a surprised tone. I sat in meetings and wondered how it was possible that a place I had worked in for two and a half years felt so alien.
With no home of my own to go to, at the end of the working day, I schlepped back to the suburbs. I’d left home at 21 and had never envisioned going back. The house felt too big, too far away from everything and everyone. The twenty minute walk to the station was longer than my entire commute from my old flat. My parents had grown up without me, I would return home and they weren’t even there, they had their own rules, their own lives, their own way of doing things.
I would joke at the office “well, currently I sort of don’t live anywhere – I’m sort of homeless!” and feel guilty, because dragging a bag back and forth between a stable home and a loving boyfriend is hardly a life on the streets. But I felt rootless. In five years I’ve moved five times, each to a different area. Maybe it would be different if each time I had moved just around the corner or down the road, but this next move will be my sixth, and it is to another new area. Another new cornershop, another new commute, another new local, another new high street, another new park. Add to that the fact that my boyfriend has moved to four different areas during that time, and I’m trying to put down roots in nine places in five years. How do you ever truly know a place in those circumstances?
I keep trying to see it as an adventure, look at all these great places I get to live! No one will know London as well as me soon! But I feel tired. It’s hard to feel adventure in your own city – sometimes I think it would be easier to move abroad, because at least people would make an effort to visit you, and you would have actual new horizons to explore. In London you’re just looking at the shard from a different angle every time you move.
My friend Miriam wrote something on another friend’s facebook page which stayed with me: “I believe that strong communities are the root of everything and for people to invest in their community and contribute and build strong networks they need a way of knowing they will be able to live there and settle – hyper mobile existences for everyone doesn’t build real community rooted in caring for a shared place.” In a few short words, it defines what I am lacking. London is my home, but it is too big to all be my home. I need my own corner, my own stake in one of London’s villages.
The process of finding a home was gruelling in itself; endless interviews with endless smiling strangers, hoping they would like you for you but also be interesting, reliable, and good to live with. Hoping that you weren’t falling for a scam like you read about in the Evening Standard. Hoping someone would choose you, when in reality they never even texted you to let you know they’d chosen someone else.
And then finally; a new home. In an area that I want to live. I know the last nine days will fall away as quick as a flash now that I have found somewhere to live. I have a house. Now all that remains is to make it a home.