Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Art Smells Like Flan

I decided to take myself along to the Whitworth Art Gallery today. It had been the first day of breatheinbreatheout no stress for a while.

I wandered around for a while, very aware of the fact that it was shutting in twenty minutes. I had loads of time, really, but I was irked by the feeling that some be-polo-shirted employee could, at any moment, tap me on the shoulder and tell me to leave. This, of course, would have been fine, I would have left. I do not have a history of gallery tantrums. It is unlikely that I would have started screaming and windmilling, demanding to be allowed to finish perusing the series of tree-themed paintings. Still, when I came to realize that I was spending more time thinking about that than appreciating the art, I left.

(Also I find the Whitworth gallery always smells overpoweringly of school canteen flan.)

I sat outside on a picnic bench next to my bike (Glinda). I tried to feel arty, to channel some inspiration from the tree paintings I had just seen, but before long realized I was sitting next to the open window of the ladies toilet, through which I could hear someone scrubbing the floors and complaining. Also just in front of me was parked a slightly grubby Ford Focus. It was just starting to turn from a eye-splittingly bright spring day to a nose-searingly chilly spring evening. I gave up and went home.

This morning I played my cello for an hour. Last Friday I was part of a performance by Manchester collective rift cuts, at the Yard Theatre in Hulme. There was brilliant poetry and a warm audience. (My favourite line of the show came from Vanessa Fay "when we laugh/it's like the sun smacking the sky/with diamond knuckles")* I played my cello while people were coming in, and then played and sang one of my songs in the middle. It was cool. I mean, cool, like actually really cool (for me). It sort of just clicked, that playing and singing thing. I felt liberated and comfortable. Today I practiced, and sang. Belted open strings and matched it with a wide, open voice. Tried scribbling about up the top of the range and plucking strings, and bowing tricky, happy rhythms. Matching and mismatching voice and strings. It was fun. When Ben gets back after he has been in Devon for two whole weeks** we will no doubt try beatboxing (him) and looping stuff up and generally being very high tech and excellent (also him).

Right. I only really started this blog post so I could have something to do to get me to a time I wouldn't feel guilty about opening some wine, and it's now ten past seven! In fact I have just heard Ben sneak out of the study and clink something, so I suspect he might have had precisely the same idea. I must investigate at once.

*This may not be accurate, but anyway it was brilliant, whatever it actually was.
**Two whole weeks! This is a problem because since living with him I have entirely forgotten how to cook and therefore may well starve to death.

Monday, March 08, 2010


I'd hosted a night at the Thirsty Scholar, which had gone well. Sophie, Simon and I had decided to go and hunt down another beer at a bar nearby: Revolution. On the way in the three towering bouncers stopped Simon.

"Sorry mate, you can't come in."

"What? Why not?"

"You're wearing jeans, mate. And trainers."

Sophie and I pointed out that so, in fact, were we.

The three headed bouncer grunted.

"You're pissed, then."

He wasn't. Two pints, at most. We relayed this, reasonably.

Eventually they conceded, and, glowering as one, stepped back to let us through their bald bouncer barrier. One issued a meaty warning.

"No trouble, though. I mean it."

(It was Derby day. They were ready and primed for trouble. I could practically hear them panting for it.)

We sat down and had a drink in the noisy bar, crammed on to a corner of a table that was already heaving under the strain of six or seven revellers. After a while I wanted to make a phone call, so I headed for the door.

One of the meaty towers stood, arms folded, in my way.

"Where are you going?"

"I need to make a phone call. It's too noisy in there."

He raised a pale eyebrow and shifted an enormous tank of a boot.

"Alright. Two minutes."

I looked around, confused. The bar wasn't closing for another hour.


He winked, lascivious and nasty.

"Because I say so, love."

I grimaced slightly and walked outside.

After about a minute he caught my eye. Winking slowly again, he raised a thick wrist and tapped it.

Ignoring him, I finished my call, then walked towards the door.

"With those boots" I began, unsure of the wisdom of the sentence I had just started, "you should be in the SS."

"The SAS?" A smile began to amble its way across his face.

"No. The SS. As in the Nazis."

To my surprise, he barked a laugh.

"Well, I am half-German!"

I shook my head and the smile, clearly exhausted by the effort, gave up and died.

"Go back inside, you've had your two minutes."

I looked at him.

"By any chance, is this your way of flirting with me?"

He tilted his head.

"Would you mind if it was?"

I laughed.

"Yeah, I would."

A while later, I headed up to the bar. On the way I found myself staring at the polyester chest of the same bouncer.

He was pointing at my left breast.

"Is that your name, love?"

I followed his watery gaze and saw that I still had a name badge on from a workshop I had attended earlier that day.

Before I had a chance to reply he asked again.

"Is that your name?"

This time, though, he extended his sausage-like finger and poked my breast.

"Is it?"

I took a step back.

"Please don't poke me." Calmly, logically. Please don't push your hammy digit into my breasts, you mouth-breathing cretin. I didn't say that. I just asked him not to poke me, and went and sat down.

I relayed this to Sophie and Simon.

Simon stood up and walked over to the offending moron.

"Did you just poke my friend in the breast?"

(Trouble. Derby day. He shouldn't have said anything.)


"Well, she said you did."

(Simon is even smaller than I am.)

Suddenly, all three bouncers were there, looming over him like meaty monoliths.

"That's it" we heard, and it was.

They piled on top of him like bomber-jacket clad synchronized swimmers on steroids, and Sophie and I stood up.

They wrestled him to the door, and as the were throwing him, all three together, to the street, I ran over and shouted. "Hey! What are you doing?"
(It was a rhetorical question.)

SHOVE. An slab of a hand slammed into me and sent me clattering onto the street. I stood up, enraged.

"You can't do that! I'm half your..."

SHOVE. Spinning around to another SHOVE.

Soon, the three of us were standing around the corner, Simon's chin trickling with blood. Sophie shaking her head wearily. She'd seen it too many times, you don't risk it. They're all like that.

Furious, I went home, and seethed at the injustice for days.


Saturday night. At Sound Control, where the beer is horrible and the sound quality awful. Gift of Gab, who was performing, was apparently very good if you were standing right at the front of the stage, but from our vantage point half way back, no words could be heard or beats distinguished from one another.

Disappointed, we were finishing our beers at the end of the night. One bolshy bouncer was striding about like a malevolent rhino, shouting orders and instructions at those punters who were daring to stand in slightly the wrong place or just be smaller than him. Projecting his voice like the most expensively-trained drama student, he was clearly having a marvellous time.

He chased someone outside, someone who had been, until that moment, chatting with me and Ben. It was comical, the way the bouncer heaved himself after this guy, who had clearly bruised his fragile little ego in some way. Ben and I automatically moved nearer the front of the club to see what was happening, and slightly giggling at the Carry On Bouncing-esque scene.

The bouncer strode back in, and clocked the two of us and decided to have another bit of a shout.

"And you two can fuck off as well."

Plucking my two-thirds drunk bottle of beer from my surprised hand, he picked me up by my upper arm and threw me forcibly down the three concrete steps at the front of the club. SHOVE. Behind me tumbled Ben, crashing into me from the force of the throw. We picked ourselves up and turned to where the bouncer was still swearing at us.

I took Ben's arm and we made our way down the crowded street, where people had begun to stare. Furious, again, at the bitter injustice of being SHOVED by someone twice my size, to whom I have done nothing.

Today is International Women's Day. I have no experience of living in a regime of violence and aggression. I don't know what it means to be so driven to desperation by oppression and pain that I have to set myself on fire to escape. I don't know how it could possibly feel to have no options, no freedom, no voice. These are only times I have ever slightly tasted the bitterness of testosterone-induced injustice.

I must recall that feeling, and multiply it by a bigger number than I can ever know, and then be grateful that I will never be able to comprehend the pain suffered daily by women all across the world.

It is not comparable, but it made me feel impotent and wronged.

I am going to demonstrate today, and show support for women across the world for whom those feelings are constant, and injustice a daily reality.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stream of Thursdayness

The train slides over the Pennines. I scrutinize the glimpses of pink sky that brushing the stillsnowy hills. Trees spike their stillbare talons jaggedly into the smokey, cupcake sky. A reminder that, despite the sun glory of the last few days, spring has yet to settle in.

I am prodding a plastic fork at a too-small pot of pasta, purchased on a hungry whim at Leeds station. I have already devoured a tiny pot of Greek salad. I glance guiltily at a piece of cucumber nestling underneath the polyester-clad thigh of the woman next to me. I flicked it there moments before in an attempt to snag a tomato. It has gone as yet unnoticed by the vacant-looking owner of the thigh, caught up as she is in her own commuter dreams. I toy with the idea of flagging up the tiny green high-diver, but decide against it and picture her puzzling over the small olive oil stain later on.

This morning I wheeled gleefully up to Manchester Piccadilly station, before locking Glinda up safely alongside the other faithful steeds in the bike locky uppy area. Swinging my helmet like a badge of honour I wandered into the station to find I was twenty minutes early for my train (I mentally patted myself on the back for speedy cycling). Ticket and grotesquely over-priced soya latte bought, I found a bench and waited on it. To amuse myself I decided to pick a person and watch only them. Luckily for me I picked a very pretty girl, blonde hair piled precariously on her head, meticulously designed to look completely non-meticulous. Lips pursed and eyebrows arched, she wandered delicately through the station, pretending to be elegantly unaware of the numerous lascivious gazes of the suited commuters. Oversized bag dangling from undersized arm, she floated through the crowd, pausing only to throw a disdainful glance at a pigeon who had deigned to nearly cross her path. She wandered out of sight, so I picked someone else, and so on. After unfairly judging the Great British Public for a delicious fifteen minutes, my train was announced.

Still clutching my café a la pretension, I found a good seat and began to plan my choir session. Lots of warming up today, I decided. I found some songs that included the word 'sun', so that we could all sing our happiness through the roof.

The hall was full, and the children raced around. We sang for an hour, I bounced about in front of parents and kids, music in one hand and wild gestures in the other. Today I felt high, the sun streaming through the windows and spring tantalisingly close.

Afterwards, happy, I sauntered back to Leeds station. I stopped to look at some shoes I can't afford, and instead frittered away my cash on small pots of food that in no way filled me up.

The train pulls into Huddersfield. The sky is resplendent in its papal robes. (You know you're onto a good sunset when even the Huddersfield skyline looks majestic.)

I read until Manchester, when I am surprised by the station and have to tumble from the train in a panic.

Glinda awaits, and I switch on her lights and wheel joyously home, through the deserted streets of Moss Side and up to my front door. I put the kettle on and consider chocolate, still feeling the sunset on the backs of my eyes.