mardi 12 mars 2019

How is Susie doing?

If I love you, I will show that love by sending you books, book recommendations and links to articles you never asked for.

Often these will be from the deepest depths of the 'Ask Polly' archive. I recently sent this one to a woman dear to my heart who I thought needed it in her life, then was so inspired I decided to post it on Twitter... and promptly received messages from three people who thought I had broken up with my boyfriend. I appreciated the concern but was mildly embarrassed at the fuss I had caused. I have not broken up with my boyfriend. Incidentally, I still think that article is useful for most women, regardless of the details.

In my opinion, the best books to give to friends having a hard time, depending on their sensibility and situation, are:
  • Heartburn by Nora Ephron
  • Your Voice In My Head by Emma Forrest
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
  • I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • Riders by Jilly Cooper
You may already know about Nick Cave's Red Hand Files. If you do, aren't they beautiful, wonderful and life-affirming?

If you don't, here's a tip because I love you. Following his 'in conversation' events, Nick Cave has started a letter (I don't want to call this a 'newsletter' or an email, because it feels like a truly intimate, personal letter). You can send Nick Cave any question you want to, and you can sign up to receive all of the answers.

My question has not been answered yet, but - again - every response has inspired me, even if it is not a question I would have thought to ask myself.

This week's felt apt and, duly, I forwarded it on to a loved one. This time last year I was in Korea, on possibly the strangest trip of my life so far. This time last year, in a tragic and senseless accident, the world lost one of its best people, and is a far poorer place for it.

This song is in my head today. Written by Rowland S. Howard when he was a teenager and sung here by a baby Nick Cave, I think I would like it played at my funeral. Which, these days, I honestly hope is a long way away. We are so fucking lucky to be here.


vendredi 8 mars 2019

Things that have annoyed me today

Because that's the sort of mood I'm in.

I've been trying and failing to finish writing anything for the past few days. I'm gearing up to doing a big edit on A Thing, which will see me not leaving my house or partaking in any kind of social interaction for the next fortnight (but then I am going to Japan!). I started writing a list of 'The men you meet when you are in hell', which amused me briefly but then was too depressing to finish.

I have a lot of feelings and ideas I want to communicate (as usual), but all I'm good for is a listicle. Here is one. I'm into being petty at the moment.

  • The man in my office who asked me this morning WHEN'S INTERNATIONAL MEN'S DAY (answer: 19th November and also why are you so fragile that you're threatened by a day celebrating anybody other than you; see also: WHY IS THERE NO STRAIGHT PRIDE)
  • The inappropriate brands trying to use IWD to sell me stuff. Apparently I'm pretty angry about International Women's Day all round, which is a shame
  • The fact that I spent an hour this week carefully composing a polite reply to a sort-of ex who wanted to meet out of the blue for a drink - it was only after I sent it that it occurred to me I should have replied 'fuck off'
  • The woman I barely know, who said 'you really don't like having your photo taken, do you?' to me in a patronising voice, as if that meant I must be really insecure, when actually I don't give a shit - it was only afterwards that it occurred to me to be angry about this. I still am. See above: fuck off
  • I saw some great dungarees today but they were £150. I actually thought briefly about buying them (I'd wear them loads! I never buy new clothes! I am 37 and today I'm literally wearing a dress I bought when I was 29! From Peacocks!). Then I decided to spend the money on a microphone for a New Thing I am planning. I felt pleased about this decision. So it's not all rage.
In other news: I watched 'Train to Busan' last night and it's the best film I have seen in ages. It's definitely the best zombie film I've ever seen. I cried a lot, jumped out of my seat and felt like I had lived through a profound experience by the end. If you haven't watched it, do.

Also currently selling a lot of stuff on Depop. Watching Parks and Rec. Made some great vegan pancakes. Actually kind of excited about getting down to some serious work over the next little while.

jeudi 14 février 2019

A jolly Valentine's Day scene.

ECW, an unconventionally semi-attractive woman in her late 30s. Wearing red lipstick, leopard faux-fur coat, yellow Adidas Gazelles that were a charity shop steal.

Sainsbury’s, a Thursday afternoon.

ECW walks up to the till with a pot of hummus, a bottle of Cava and a bunch of £2.50 purple tulips.

She has just been out for half a bottle of wine with her girlfriends on her lunch break. She is in a hurry.

WELL-MEANING MAN AT TILL: Flowers! Champagne! What are you celebrating?

ECW: Well, it is Valentine’s day.

MAN: But who are these things for? Shouldn’t someone be buying flowers for you?

ECW: I don’t like to be too heteronormative about these things. Purple is my boyfriend’s favourite colour. He likes flowers.

MAN: Oh, I’m sorry! I hope he has bought flowers for you!

ECW: Um, I’m fine. Thank you.

ECW walks back to her office, holding flowers.

WELL-MEANING WORK COLLEAGUE: Oh dear! Have you bought flowers for yourself? Is that what it’s come to? I’m sorry!

ECW: DON’T YOU LIKE FLOWERS AND DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND HOW HETERONORMATIVE CULTURE DOES US ALL A TERRIBLE DISSERVICE?

COLLEAGUE: I’m sorry, what?

ECW: They’re for my boyfriend. He likes flowers. Purple is his favourite colour. I would like him to know that I appreciate him.

COLLEAGUE: Haha, you should have said they were for your girlfriend. That would have taught a lesson to that bigoted arsehole in the shop.


ECW: Yep. OK. FFS.

vendredi 8 février 2019

Courting and Sparking Joy

It’s way beyond the point of ‘happy new year’ but we’re into the second month of 2019 and I have not written anything in this little online diary. Which is sporadic and self-indulgent, but also a thing that I would like to keep going.

It is a source of minor regret to me that I deleted my old blogs, from back when blogging was first a thing. When I interned at The Face (RIP), I was once asked in an editorial meeting whether I knew anyone who had a ‘weblog’. I went home that night and promptly started one.

‘Lights Out In A Provincial Town’ (circa 2002 to 2003?) chronicled my life as a single gal, aimless writer and comedically useless office temp. I spent most of my time at work in various companies – wearing a grey velvet trouser suit I’d bought in Kensington Market, always with a deliberately lurid 70s shirt underneath – making copies of my fanzine and using the franking machine to submit my unfinished novel to agents.

I posted in my blog daily, as I went out every single night and had a lot of feelings to write about. I chronicled my crushes, nights out and comedowns in great, loving detail. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw or Sylvia Plath, the tone veering wildly accordingly, but I was fascinated by myself and the people around me. (Still am.)

I described my outfits in painstaking detail. A night out at Popstarz could fill a novella, an afternoon in Bar Vinyl at least a short story. I remember writing a long account of the time I was on the tube with a hangover and thought I saw my ex-boyfriend in the next carriage. Shyamalan- level plot twist: it turned out not to be him.

My friends and crushes all had pseudonyms. My flatmate was Alabama (she had blonde hair and we used to watch True Romance a lot). My paramours were variously Django (jazz guitarist), Spiderboy (skinny), Friedrich Bhaer (older academic), 50s Diner Waiter (worked in Ed’s Diner, I met him on Friendster). I can’t remember the others. There were SO many. Like, so many.

Neil, Russell and Jo all had blogs, too. We would read each other’s, daily, in between going charity shopping and clubbing together in order to amass more stories. We didn’t even call it content then, yet.

In 2004, when I was 22, I met my first serious boyfriend. We bonded over PJ Harvey and French films. We met in a guitar shop, which would have made a great story, but I wouldn’t write about it for a long time. By that time, I had joined a band (haha), and adopted a look that would probably be best described as ‘Margot Ledbetter on meth’. I dressed exclusively in 60s vintage, favouring bell sleeves and chiffon. I wore high heels every day (an alien concept to me now). My eyeliner stretched out into my temples and my hair was as tall as a small dog.

I felt like such a cool grown-up. Within a year I had moved to Brighton and finished my first ‘proper’ novel, the one that would get me an agent. As such, I deleted my blog, which was mostly about shagging unsuitable men and taking a lot of drugs.

It felt like a good time to start anew. So I started a new blog, entitled ‘Shocking Blues and Mean Reds’, which was mostly about music and my boyfriend and my fledgling attempts at Being A Novelist.

It wasn’t, in all honesty, terribly interesting. It didn’t last long. I abandoned blogging entirely, got serious about writing, got a real job in publishing where I didn’t come in hungover and spend the whole day stalking boys in bands on MySpace. I kind of forgot about it.

I started this one up years later, when I was getting close to turning 30 and feeling nostalgic for all that ‘fun’ writing I used to do. Reading those old entries back now makes me cringe a bit, but I’m quite glad they exist.

I am a hoarder who goes through spells of being slightly over-zealous in throwing the past away. I still sort of regret getting rid of my old Nirvana T-shirts and Sonic Youth cassette tapes. I kind of wish I still had all my VHS videos. Do I really, though? Are they even as great as I remember?

I’ve been purging recently. My boyfriend has moved into my house and I felt overwhelmed with stuff and things. I gave away nearly half of my books and most of my clothes. I finally got rid of some of those old Margot dresses, which haven’t fitted me for years but which held so many memories (and the residual scent of industrial-strength hairspray and a thousand cigarettes). I told myself the memories still existed; I didn’t need the objects.

On a quiet day by myself, I lit the fire and burned some old letters and photographs, applying the same logic. It felt pretty good, actually. I really don’t think I, or the world, need to hang onto a whole ream of pictures of my ex and I the first time we went to Paris together.


This week it was Chinese New Year. In advance, according to traditional advice, I cut an inch or two off the bottom of my hair. I did it myself, over the bin. Apparently it’s about getting rid of the old and making space for the growth of the new. I think I like it.

mardi 4 décembre 2018

Paris Match

I spent the weekend in Paris with my dear friend Katherine. Incidentally, we first became friends a few years ago at a birthday party, when I told her I thought she looked French and we then talked for about 100 hours about how much we both love Paris.

We stayed in Montmartre, in a beautiful apartment belonging to a handsome violinist (even the bathroom door had a stained glass window incorporating musical notes!), where I lived out all my basic Breton bitch Amelie fantasies. It was perfect.

We walked in the rain to go to Serge Gainsbourg’s house. Well, stood outside and looked at the graffiti and imagined all the times he must have stumbled down that little street. Still, I like to think he’d have invited us in, if he’d still been around – me with my leopard-print coat and Katherine with her 60s hair.

A few months ago, I read that it was bad feng-shui to have too many pictures of single figures around the house, particularly in the bedroom. Particularly if you are living alone and kind of like the idea of, well, not doing so forever. It stuck in my brain and so I ordered a whole stack of postcards picturing Jane and Serge being all madly in love and sexy. I’ve still got them all around my bedroom.

We had our Saturday night dinner at Chartier, a veritable Parisian institution that my mum first took me to when I was seven. In the thirty years since, I have been back at least a dozen times, keeping the day’s date-printed menu every time. I have taken friends and ex-boyfriends, and eaten there with nearly every single member of my very large and complicated family, at one time or another.

For a more modern experience, the hot hipster tip these days is to go to the 11th, where the back streets are full of cool bars selling natural wines and small plates. Go. You won’t regret it. We had a time.

I also highly recommend avoiding the interminable queues for the Catacombs (still never been, still not all that sorry) and instead sitting nearby and drinking red wine outdoors, by the carafe.

We drank quite a lot of red wine (and the occasional pint of Long Island Iced Tea), and would stop every evening on our way home to the Rue de Trois Freres, for a late-night digestif. A calvados, perhaps.

These are all excesses that I’m sure can be entirely erased by the sheer volume of French beauty products that we bought in Monoprix on the way home. I also bought some underwear while we were there, so I’m pretty sure my metamorphosis to sexy French woman will soon be complete.


In short, Paris is always a good idea.

jeudi 29 novembre 2018

The Dust

Sometimes the feeling that all is right with the world comes from the most unexpected places. Sometimes the universe works in strange, marvellous, fucking baffling ways.

I have grown infinitely more as a person in the past four years than in the entire decade before that. At the time, when I was in the midst of it, I didn’t really want to. I resented it. Doing the work was hard and I didn’t want to do it.

Conversely, during the decade before that, I thought I was happy. I thought I was a real human. I thought I had it all figured out. What an idiot I was. What a ridiculous, sweet little idiot.

I had a boyfriend and a job and a flat. I looked like such a grown-up.

I thought we were happy. I thought we were growing together. It didn’t occur to me that we might be holding each other back. We were both artists. We were so supportive of each other… weren’t we?

I was one of those stupid people who always claimed loudly that I knew I'd be fine on my own. That my relationship worked because I didn't actually 'need' the other person. I was with that other person from the age of 22 until 33. Of course I didn't have a fucking clue what 'being on my own' even meant. I didn't have a fucking clue about anything.

After we broke up, in an ugly battle of recriminations, false accusations, and secrets that we’ve never even spoken about, the spectre of our relationship haunted me for a long time. Longer than I ever realised. Until quite recently, in fact. For a long time, I was not remotely fine.

A subtle but insidious whiff of what-ifs, might-have-beens and the sick sort-of feeling that maybe we made a mistake. I wasn’t aware of it all the time, but it never went away.

Until earlier this year.

I saw my ex and I knew it would be the last time we ever crossed paths. I let myself get angry for the first time. I felt the universe shift and I realised it was because a massive, heavy fucking door had slammed. I was on the other side of it.

I cried like I had never cried before. Then I sent him an angry text message in which I told him so, after which I took four Valium and slept the best sleep of my life.

The next day I was fine.

Since then, life has got better in literal leaps and bounds. A month later I went on a holiday that set me on a new course. The day I got back, I sold a book, which is both terrifyingly personal and, by far, the best thing I have ever written.

I’ve got a new phone and changed my number.

I think of my ex today because, since then, everything has got better for him too. My social media feed has been flooded recently with news of how well his new band are doing – he is doing the thing he should always have been doing.

His new single, which incidentally and fucking coolly is currently charting in Japan and Spain, was described thus, in an article I happened to read this morning:
“It’s the sound of broken relationships that linger in the dust once the decision to break up becomes reality. It’s the emptiness of making that tough decision, the upside-down, gut-wrenching feeling of walking away from something that clearly doesn’t work anymore. Those urges that still pull heart strings when you see your ex-partner… and you realise they are still thinking about you even though they broke your heart.”

I don’t need to listen to the song. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with me and I couldn’t care less if it is or not. I won’t be listening to it or reading any more about it.

I couldn’t be happier for him. I feel lately, for the first time in a long time, that everything is as it should be. I wish him everything good in the world, that talented man who I spent a significant chunk of my life with, the first person I ever loved who loved me back, and who I never want to see again.

Thank you, universe.

mardi 27 novembre 2018

In Bruges, and also in my head.

Yesterday I came back from the loveliest long weekend in Bruges. I ate waffles, drank hot wine, walked around all day, slept with a person I really like at night, and generally had a great time.

I’m terrible at taking photographs (I like to be so totally authentic and in the moment and shit, you see) but I like having them to look at when I get back. Fortunately, my boyfriend likes to take a lot of holiday photos.

As I sat at work yesterday, laughing delightedly as I watched the edited highlights come up on my screen as he sent them to me via Whatsapp, it struck me that my younger self would have deleted all of the photos that had me in them. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee I would have cried and also asked him to destroy all evidence.

I don’t look skinny or sexy in a single photo. I’m not doing any poses to make my arms look thinner or to make sure I don’t have a double chin. I look very, very happy in all of them. Especially the one where I am pretending that the guide rope going up the bell tower is a penis. Long story.

Conversely, there are a lot of very old holiday photographs in which I look pretty ‘ideal’. Not that I realised it at the time. I was young and skinny. I was all angles and eyes. I was also fucking miserable. There was the holiday in Spain where I refused to drink even a glass of wine because it was ‘empty calories’. The incredible opportunity of working in Hong Kong for the summer, where I painstakingly wrote my weight in my diary every single morning and it set the tone for my whole day. All the beautiful meals I said ‘no’ to. The days at the beach when I could have been swimming in the sea, drinking a beer and eating crisps, that instead I spent worrying about what I looked like.

I feel so sad for that girl. I felt a bit sad for all the girls I saw over the weekend, standing with one leg cocked and their head poised at an unnatural angle, Instagraming pictures of themselves with waffles on sticks that they looked a bit frightened of. I don’t blame them. I don’t want to be judgemental. I understand the feeling; I have been those girls. I’m not implying that I’m less vain than them and as such somehow morally superior. I’m not. I haven’t had some kind of transcendental spiritual epiphany.

I am also very aware that I am a pretty average-sized white woman and that posting ‘normal’ photos of myself on Instagram is hardly the most fucking radical move.

However, I do think that ‘normal’ is something we don’t see enough of any more. It does feel just a tiny bit radical. I believe that only seeing images in which we all do the same ‘flattering’ poses and fake faces and filter the shit out of everything is damaging. It does us all a disservice. Not only that, but it’s fucking boring. I am bored of it.

I don’t want to look like a model in my holiday photographs. Thankfully, that’s not my job. When I look at photos of myself now, I am delighted when I look a bit like myself as a tiny child – same face, same fringe, same joy, before all the bullshit. I am funny and nice, and I have a face that suits me.

I’d like to say my younger self would be impressed with how cool I am now. Sadly, she was so fucked up and so conditioned to care about things that don’t matter, I think she’d just be appalled by how old and fat I am. In the past year, I have gained weight. I have also written a book, had another published, started a relationship I could never previously have imagined, given up smoking, spent time with people I love, worked on myself in therapy, let go of some shit, been on some great holidays and had a fuck-ton of fun. I think I’m the happiest I have ever been. I genuinely give very few fucks at this point in my life.

However, I’m aware I might be adding to the pressure. I worry I’m neurotic about not being neurotic. Sometimes trying so hard not to care all the time is fucking exhausting. We are constantly told to be mutually exclusive things: to embrace ‘body positivity’ while also looking flawless. As so often, still – fucking still – the ‘cool girl’ monologue from Gone Girl springs to mind.

So I guess all I can say is, just do the things that make you as happy as me when I’m in a beautiful, historic landmark on a romantic weekend away with my hot boyfriend, slightly drunk and pretending that a rope is a giant penis.