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.

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25. Bus Stop Story

pexels-photo-303327.jpegMan wearing a strange outfit of combat trousers, cheap steel toecapped boots, not-in-fashion t shirt, carrying a black bin bag, at my town bus stop “Do you know if there’s a bus due to xxxxx aka some suburb of some town in the north of England? I’ve been waiting here ages.” He looked a bit like when wizards wear muggle clothes and get it a bit wrong.

Me “It’s due in about two minutes.”

Man. “Everything’s changed round here. I’ve just come out of the big house. They don’t even sell baccy in twelve-and-a-half-gramme packs any more.”

Me. “I know. I sometimes used to buy some for that homeless guy outside Tescos. You didn’t have any fivers and tenners stashed away did you before you went in? And pound coins? They’ve all changed.”

He chuckles.

“Did you do much reading in there then?” I enquire.

Man. “I did actually. And cos I don’t smoke weed my tests came back negative so I could get on a cooking course. I’ve got an NVQ.”

Me. “That’s good. Got any work lined up?”

Man. “Nah. I’m kind of unemployable. I’m just gonna spend time with my kids.”

Someone sticks their hand out for the bus.

“Well. Good luck to you mate.” I say.

“Thanks.” He replies and I put my earbuds back in and sit next to an old lady on the bus.

20. From the Mouths of Babes

So I’m round at my sisters. Michelle is a couple of years younger than me. She’s a nurse, so works shifts, and I don’t get to see her as much as I should. We’re having an early 5pm tea, with her daughter, Poppy. Their begging dog, Travis, is, as usual, as he does for every meal, sitting patiently and expectantly, head cocked, for table scraps without joy. It’s a classic children’s tea. Sausage, mash, gravy, frozen sweet corn and the obligatory ‘little trees’. I’ve never understood why broccoli is mandatory requirement for every child’s hot meal. We’ve been treated to an Aunt Bessie’s mini Yorkshire pudding each, and there’s mini Magnums for afters. I brought donuts. We’re on the red. A Malbec I think. It came from of those £10 meal deals at Marks’s. Poppy’s got Ribena in a pink plastic wine glass, so she feels grown up.

“Tell Aunty NomNom what happened today at school?” Said Michelle.

“I got told off” confessed Poppy.

“What for?” I queried.

“I said a rude word” admitted Poppy.”

“A swear word?” I enquired gently.

” Yes I said Rosie is a bitch. What’s a bitch?” She asks innocently.

“Well, it means a girl dog, but some people call ladies that if they’re being mean.” I replied.

“Like Miss Trunchbull?” Said Poppy, inquisitively.

“Exactly like Miss Trunchbull. And no-one would ever dare to call her a bitch, cos she’d swing them around by their legs and let them go flying out of the window.” I explain cheerfully.

Poppy smiles.

“What does shite mean?” she says nonchalantly. She genuinely has no idea.

“It’s just a slang word for poo. People say it when they think something’s a bit rubbish. Here, would you like me to help you?” I cut up her sausage. “You know, it’s probably not a good idea to swear if you want to be a teacher. What if you accidentally swore in front of the children? Then you’d be in big trouble with the mums and dads.” I said matter-of-factly.

“What’s the most naughtiest swear word?” She asks quizzingly.

This might be difficult. She knows I’ll always tell her straight.

I could tell her about that time her mum and I went to see ‘The Vagina Monologues’ where Rula Lenska, and two other women (who also proper theatre luvvie actors, but I’d only ever seen one of them on telly before in ‘Casualty’) over the course of the evening, said every single curse word meaning female genitals. I was never going to say “coochie coochie coo!” to a baby ever again, not that I ever recall I had said that before. It was brilliant, immersive, exhilarating show, culminating with the whole audience getting up onto their feet to chant “Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!” over and over again. Our fists punching gloriously in to the air, strangers united, laughing and encouraging each other to shout it louder and louder, so it would lose its power.

“CUNT! CUNT! CUNT!”

But I don’t, She’s seven. It’s too soon.

“I’m not allowed to say it.” I say seriously. I hope she believes me.

“Well, what’s a swear word that you are allowed to say then? And not flip or blast. I already know those. I’m seven.” She’s dead serious as she says this. I can feel her eyes concentrating on me.

I think for a second. “Tory.” I say. “If you call someone a Tory, then that means they are a horrible, evil person, who steals food from poor people. There was this wicked witch once called ‘Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher’ who stole children’s milk. food-sugar-lighting-milk.jpgWhen me and your mum were little, we used to all get a tiny bottle of milk to drink every day at morning playtime. A bottle each, with a straw in it. The milkman used to bring crates of milk everyday to school. But Maggie Thatcher took it off us. Kids have to have water now instead. Or fruit shoot. That’s why we have to have food banks. Because of the Tories.”

“Where is she now?” Poppy looks worried.

“Oh, she’s dead now.” I said, trying to sound breezy and casual.

“Did someone cast a spell on her to kill her?” Asks Poppy, extending her arm as if she’s holding a wand.

“Nah. I think she was just really old.” I reply reassuringly.

“Daddy always puts some Weetabix and some beans into the box for the food bank when we go shopping.” Says Poppy, pleased with herself.

Michelle smiles. “Yeah, he’s a good one he is.”

“And you can’t always tell by looking either.” I say “Like you know all the baddies in Harry Potter are really proud to be in Slytherin? Well some people are actually proud to be a Tory.” I emphasised the word ‘proud’ to make what I’d just said sound like I was incredulous at how ridiculous this seemed.

“A Tory.” Repeated Poppy, smiling as if she’s been told a huge secret.