76. Red

architecture-british-buildings-416673

The tips of my fingers are stained from pitting cherries, as I meticulously push the stone out through each cherry into an empty wine bottle with a chopstick.

My lips look bruised from cherry juice and drinking the wine that used to be in the stone-filled bottle.

“This is going to be a damn fine pie.” I say.

“That’s a damn fine moustache.” She says, chuckling at my wine smile.

Her fingertips are purple from peeling the beetroot.

“We should have worn some CSI gloves for this. What are they gonna think we’ve been up to?”

“I dunno. Tell em our blood, sweat and tears went into this meal.” She replied.

“Good point. It has been pretty hot today. It’s always hotter in London. We’re the red hand gang.” I start singing the tune from what I thought was the theme music to the old 70s kids show, ‘The Red Hand Gang’ but she interrupts it by saying, “That’s the ‘Banana Splits’.”

“Oh yeah, so it is. Hey Siri.” I say, raising my voice a little, “Play the theme tune to The Red Hand Gang.”

Siri can find anything, except the songs I want.

“Have you ever asked Siri what zero divided by zero is?” asks Diana.

“You have no friends.” I reply in a half-robot, half-Cookie Monster voice. “What did you get from the deli?”

“Creme fraiche for the horseradish cream. Goats cheese for the beetroot. Clotted cream for the cherry pie and some mixed mushrooms for the steaks.”

This is a girly weekend, just the four of us. We met on a train from Leeds to London, sat at the same table when the train stopped in a terrible snowstorm. It was somewhere just north of Peterborough, due to ‘a body on the line’. During the next six hours, we shared what snack food we had, donated tampons to strangers, did the crossword together to save our phone batteries and generally put the world to rights. After we got off the train, we went for coffee, to warm ourselves up and decided to keep in touch through twitter, and, eight years later, here we still are.

One New Years Eve, we talked about how difficult it was to maintain friendships as adults. That friendships drift, it gets harder to remember why you still liked each other, and all you seemed to talk about is how good life used to be or your kids. Well, we made a pact to not let those threads fray. We decided then and there to meet up at least once a year for a weekend reunion and make our own, new memories.

Jenny’s sister lives in London but she’s away this weekend, so we have her flat to ourselves. It’s nice to have the freedom outside of a hotel room for a change. She’s gone to St Pancras to pick up Claire, who is a bit scared of the tube. Diana and I are prepping the evening meal.

So, tonight is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2 marathon. If we have to pull an all-nighter, then so be it. Tomorrow night is a play called ‘Red’ with Alfred Molina playing Mark Rothko. If we’re not too hungover, we’ll have a wander down to the Tate to look at some abstract expressionism,  to get ourselves ready for the play, after a couple of Bloody Marys, and avocado or eggs on toast at that Caravan brunch place at Kings Cross or get the Thames Link to Blackfriars and walk to the other one near to Borough Market.

“Did you see the new Millicent Fawcett statue outside the Houses of Parliament when you went out” asks Diana.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I went to the unveiling of the “Women of Steel” sculpture in Sheffield I love it. Proper Rosie the Riveter.”

“Outside the City Hall? Near Cole Brothers? I think I saw it on TV.”

“I wish I had stacks of green paper in my red right hand.” I say half- singing.

“Ooh, Did I tell you? I made a donation to that Suffragette statue fund. The one that’s being made where I live. This is good this. Get this. I was saving it for later, but I’ll tell them again. Do you remember that time ages ago when I was going out with Robert?” she says.

I screw up my eyes trying to remember him. We don’t generally meet anyone else’s partners or family. It’s just the hardcore of us four. “Did he used to work away a lot?”

“Yeah, that’s him. You remember that time I told you about that woman who started shouting at him in the pub and her friend said to me, “Don’t let him film you love, he’ll put it on youporn”?”

“You had a lucky escape there.” I say.

“Too right I did. I never sent him any pictures, but, we did have one of those couple’s vibrators, that he could control with his phone when he was working away”

Nothing surprises me with Diana. That time she said she’d won 500 dollars on a slot machine and then spent it on hand-feeding a lion in the zoo. When she fell and broke her ankle whilst abseiling and Prince William was the pilot in the air sea rescue helicopter. The time she got chatting to one of the ‘Real Housewives’ in the ladies room at the airport and they got on so well, that she paid for Diana’s upgrade to Business Class so they could sit together on the plane, and then offered her a job as a PA. All true.

“Well anyway” she continues. “There was this class action lawsuit over this vibrator as the manufacturers were collecting data on the users. They could tell what setting I had it one, how long it was used for and what my body temperature was. I got £5,000 compensation for it.”

“Brilliant.” I say.

“So, then after the lawsuit had been in the papers, Robert phoned me. A year after he dumped me, for not ‘being adventurous enough’ he rings me. Me! Not adventurous. Well, he wants to get together for a drink. Well, I’m with Paul now, so I say no. That’s when I got that new number. I don’t know why I didn’t block him before though. So he rings me again the following night and says that he thinks he is entitled to half of the vibrator money because he was the one using his phone to control it, his privacy was violated too!”

I nearly spit out a mouthful of Malbec, trying not to laugh at the incredulity of it all.

“What? After what he did to that woman with the revenge porn?” I’d have told him to do one.” I say.

“I did.” she says. “Even better than that, I told him I was donating it all. Then I reeled off a few women’s charities that I knew would piss him off. I said that if he didn’t leave me alone, I was going to put a metal plaque with his name on it on a bench, saying ‘with thanks for helping me’ outside that sexual health clinic.”

“If he rings you again, tell him that it wasn’t him controlling the vibrator, it was someone else. He can’t prove it was him unless he recorded it and then you can have him for recording a private act or voyeurism it something.”

“I’m definitely saying that if he finds out my number and rings again.” She says.

Advertisements

74. #HearHer

This week, the BBC have a series of programmes called Hear Her, of which I am proud to have contributed towards. My programme brief was tight, and I had more to say on this theme, so wrote this post.

Please note that the following contains descriptions of violence against women.

She doesn’t know why they locked eyes and she held his gaze. She refused to look away or lower her eyes. The camera sought her out. A good-looking, young woman. Probably a third-generation immigrant. Student, most likely.

He caught her expression at the exact point between curiosity, defiance and contempt: the man’s words spitting venom full on in her face. A second later, the moment had gone. The next pictures were of the man punching her once in the side of her head. Her body recoiled. Face contorted in horror. Immediately, two police officers pushed past her and grabbed the frenzied man.

But people didn’t need to see those pictures. He had his money shot. It doesn’t really matter who she was, why she was there or what happened to her. Tomorrow, his name would be known for taking the defining picture of the march.

close up of canon camera
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mum and I were sat sipping tea in the conservatory of my parent’s house. I spotted a pile of newspapers in the corner, ready for the recycling bin. I picked up the latest issue of the local paper and scanned the front page.

“Oh my god, I went to school with her.” My heart started to race. “I can’t believe it.”

As the story unfolded, it transpired that the girl I knew at school had her father’s child, and continued to live with him on the family farm. Once she found out he was abusing her daughter, she killed him. She’d served her sentence and was out on parole. The abuse only ever came to light when one of the grandchildren died and the DNA tests showed some unusual and disturbing results. My old school friend and her daughter waived their right to anonymity to finally speak out.

“And she never said anything? That whole time she was in prison?” For all of those years as a child, she was brave enough to take the beatings and repeated assaults but never found the courage to ask for help.

advertisements batch blur business
Photo by brotiN biswaS on Pexels.com

My friend is a seriously talented musician. I remember once she told me it took her only four hours to learn to play the mandolin. She found it difficult to get a record deal – not because her music is bad. Far from it. It’s because she doesn’t play the game. She won’t lose the extra 10lb for the photos, show off her assets and court the media. She’s got a ‘bad attitude’ because she’s been known to pour a drink over a music journalist’s head for assuming that she had help with writing her songs. There is only one name on the album’s credits for songwriting. Hers. She composed the music and played all of the instruments bar one. The only musician she employed for the recordings was a drummer. She’s been very vocal about how, at 26, her music career is considered over before it has barely begun, but older, baldy, fat, beardy men can get still record contracts. No-one cares what they look like, how they behave, what they say or ask if anyone wrote their songs for them. It’s only about the music.

guitar music black and white
Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

“All that work I did and he took the credit! He could have at least said it was a team effort. I can’t fucking believe it. It was my idea in the first place. I was the one who suggested it in the meeting, but no-one heard me, and then he repeated what I’d just said, then made out it that he’d thought of it! The bloody cheek. Well It’s too late to do anything about it now, but I tell you what. The next time one of my female colleagues comes up with an idea, I am gonna repeat what she just said loudly, and make sure everyone knows what a great idea she just had, so there’s no mistaking it in future.”

Women deserve to be listened to, their voices amplified and messages heard.

56. Invisibility Cloak

“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.”

’22’ by Lily Allen

I know you’d rather not see me. I’m an inconvenience, pushing up your council tax bills to pay for my two lots-of-fifteen-minutes-a-day-care, whilst I swan around all alone in my half-million pound house that cost less than three months of your salary to buy. I bed block the NHS because there is no-one to look after me but I’m too fit to go into a nursing home. I’m the shuffling old woman, wearing a big coat and hat in summer, pushing her shopping trolley, taking an irritatingly long time to sit down on the bus. I’m grateful to get a seat. Not everyone will give them up these days. They all look at me with pity and horror. They’ll never be like me.

I was the woman who peacefully protested in the street for the right to vote.

I was the woman who was locked up in prison for a month without charge, kept in isolation, restrained and force-fed twice a day.

I was the woman who was a trained nurse and kept the night watch during the war. I put out fires, pulled people from the rubble, delivered babies in air raid shelters, told young soldiers that everything would be alright, whilst holding their hands as they breathed their last.

I was the woman responsible for the breakdown of society.

I was the woman who fell when the guns began firing and escaped by crawling under a pile of bodies, pretending to be dead.

I was the woman who wrote and painted under a male pseudonym to be taken seriously.

I was the woman who gave a man back his job when he returned from fighting.

I was the woman who sold her body to put food on the table for her children because her husband had drunk it all away.

I was the woman who fought for contraceptives and the right to choose.

I was the woman who was expected to remove all hair from her eyebrows downwards.

I was the woman who had to get her husband’s permission to spend her own money.

I was the woman who let herself go because I aged entirely appropriately.

I was the woman who had to undergo a virginity check before I was allowed to join the army.

I was the woman who had to leave her job upon marriage, because it was the law. I never had any national insurance contributions credited, because I stayed at home being a good wife and mother. My ex-husband had a very generous final-salary pension, but I was entitled to a pittance.

I was the woman who was publicly shamed for doing something consensual with a politician. He kept his job. I changed my identity.

I was the woman inventor whose name has been dropped from history.

I was the woman who should be ashamed for ruining a rapists life because I put him in jail for one mistake.

I was the first person to win this award three times, but ignored by the media in favour of the first man to win it three times.

I was the woman who was paid less than a man for doing the same job.

I was the woman who promised to obey so needs to shut the fuck up when told.

I was the woman who was expected to nurture and care for her man and not provoke him into hitting her.

I was your manic pixie dream cool girl muse. Unless I have an opinion. Then I’m annoying.

I was the woman who was on a calorie controlled diet her entire adult life.

I was the woman whose natural bodily functions were dismissed as emotional rather than physical. I was told and made to feel that having period pains, being pregnant or menopausal was me deliberately making life inconvenient for other people.

I was the woman who was no longer considered desirable due to the changes to her body after it had made and fed three children.

I was the woman who refused to be ignored, talked over or have credit for her contributions stolen by men in meetings, so was labelled difficult to work with and an awkward bitch.

I was the woman who was blamed for being a bad mother because my son killed someone.

I was the woman who went back to work after two weeks maternity leave to be told I was heartless for leaving my child.

I was the woman who went back to work after one year of maternity leave to be told I shouldn’t expect my old job back and I had to start at the bottom again, because I’d been away for so long.

I was the woman who was expected to have a temper because I had red hair.

I was the woman who was a life model for over thirty years. One of my nudes is in Tate Britain.

I was Shakespeare’s sister.

I was the girl in the band.

I was the female football manager, pilot, doctor, athlete, explorer, who was told time and time again the only reason I couldn’t do it because I was a woman.

I was the woman who was told time and time again that the only reason I got the job was because I was a woman and they had quotas to fill.

I was the woman whose value was solely based on her looks. After I had my “last fuckable day” (Amy Schumer) I was expected to dissolve and disappear.