Facing the awkward, or how I use the word ‘dick’ repeatedly to describe my past behaviour but not directly apologise for anything.

I’m going to be completely honest – I have, in the past, been a bit of a dick (in the past?).  Who hasn’t? I respond in my head, somewhat defensively.  Well, yes, of course, we have all been dicks whether we admit it or not.  I am still in two minds as to whether I would rather have a palimpsest memory which would erase all dickish, awkward, embarrassing vignettes from my past life or if I would rather hold on to them, in the vague hope that one day I would ‘use them’ to become a ‘better person’.  Instead, these dickish memories just resurface at inopportune moments and often in such acute detail that I have to sing whatever other words I can think of out loud to drown out the image.


I am not going to share what these dickish memories are – I am not ready for such bald, invasive therapy (my sphincter just puckered like a flautist’s lips at the very thought of it!)  But today, I decided to confront the awkward – and try to work out why these moments are so awkward.  I’d read a little bit about emotional agility here, and I liked the idea of dealing with an inner critic as a source of possible information about ourselves, rather than a voice to be ignored and ultimately controlled.  Could I do the same with dickish memories?


Most of my awkward memories revolve around people I am no longer in touch with – I judge myself unfairly against other people and their reactions; to the extent that I often see colleagues and friends as an extension of myself and my somewhat harsh self image.  I am far more likely to dwell on a friend that I have lost than a friend that I enjoy spending time with – and over the years I have lost a fair few friends, either through my own volition (although I find it hard to even admit that) or because they just stopped calling. For example, I am not in touch with anyone from university – why is that?  So, in the spirit of ringing in the new, I am contacting  former acquaintances again – in some cases 19 years after we first met.   I’m focusing on the ones where I think my essential 21year old dickishness may have been the decisive factor in our parting ways.  This is telling – I don’t recall the other party being dicks at all – which means possibly I am viewing all this through a pair of shit coloured spectacles and actually, me not being in touch with them has nothing to do with my behaviour and everything to do with the fact that you can’t stay in touch with everyone.  In which case, by dusting off the hotmail contact list I am essentially opening myself up to a whole host of awkward moments anew.  What larks!


Of course, my other natural state is envy – so if anyone that I haven’t heard from in over 10 years is doing particularly well, there is a great chance that I won’t reply to them.  Kidding!  Again, in the spirit of ringing in the new, I will greet everyone with a generosity of heart that I am working on devotedly like a Shaolin monk at his calligraphy.  Naturally, through my shit coloured spectacles, I have to consider the grave possibility of the worst possible response: Nefny Who?  But at least that would mean that if I failed to make an impact for my dickishness on said person, then I can probably safely delete that awkward memory from my guilt-drive.


What do I want from this?  To be in touch with people whom I once liked?  To see if I can be forgiven? To exorcise my dickheadedness? To prove that I am a different person? Who knows?  Perhaps the challenge lies in facing one’s own awkward past lives rather than the abundance of renewed friendships that may (or may not) ensue.

Build your beet basket! Build it high!

I’m going through a bit of a change.

No, not hot flushes (I’m always sweaty and flushed, so it will be hard to tell when they begin), nor am I coming out. Things are changing. I am undergoing change. change is upon me, etc, etc.

Like one of my chillis, this has been a bit of a slow burner. In fact, any change that I make is the result of many arduous hours of half-assed research, handwringing and procrastination interspersed with what I like to call the ‘settling process’, which involves many hours of oblivious television watching. Seriously, rocks form faster.

The most important part of any change-making I undergo is listening and subjecting myself to the stereotypes and pronouncements offered up by family, friends and media.

For example, I wore black trousers and a black polo neck consistently throughout my year at drama school. Urged on by my mother (who had never been to drama school), I was pretty much convinced that this was the uniform of all serious students of theatrical arts. I then went on to wear a mood ring during a vaguely hippy phase which culminated in me visiting a a pagan store twice in one week, feeling the relationship was becoming too intense and guilt buying a bookmark before leaving, never to return.

The black theme resurfaced when I moved to London, teamed now with Buffalo trainers and a droll expression, as my friend, who already lived in London and was therefore already always in black with drollface, assured me that this was ‘what Londoners are like’.

Well done, you noticed: my stereotypes are very image led – shallow me! And I think lots of them were formulated during childhood. Most of the time, they’re not bad prejudgements on a group of people or type of living; they mostly aim at being humorous (my family deal almost exclusively in jokes and jokes alone). Some of them are quite strange, specific and could only be deciphered if you belonged to my family (hence the title of this post).

I also feel that my keenness to adopt stereotypes and images when I was younger was because of a desperate need to afiliate (thanks Maslow). I would happily have joined any group that would have had me and if all I had to do to identify was wear a ring, bandana or shell suit, so be it. I was part of the gang – or so I thought. Sometimes the desire to fit in is stronger than the desire to be yourself, after all.

But things have started to change recently. Really change. After years of diddling about, I finally learnt how to practise Transcendental Meditation. My battles with my negative talking mind have been well documented and while my audio fast gave me some respite (as does writing), mindful meditation hasn’t suited me. After reading ‘Catching the Big Fish’ by David Lynch, I was inspired to finally give it a go. I will write more about it at length elsewhere,but suffice to say that I am enjoying the process and wonder whether my shift in perspective has led to other changes.

After one lost Saturday too many, I finally gave up alcohol. This has been miraculous – who knew being clear-headed could be this much fun? Please bear in mind, that I used to get the most God-awful hangovers, like the inside of my head and stomach lining were being peeled back simultaneously. I looked like I had been poisoned. I had been poisoned! Dumb ass that I am, it has taken me this long to realise that maybe alcohol and I didn’t get on too well.

From this point on, the floodgates have opened. I’ve stopped eating all dairy except for goats cheese and most meat as well. Naturally the stereotype dial has just shot past ten and up to eleven, but please, give me a moment of your time. I’m no fan of animals; pigeons are satan’s minions and I’ve no desire to pet a monkey. But recently, when I’ve eaten steak, I’ve heard screams. Not because I’m eating in bad neighbourhoods. I mean mental screams. And I’ve clunked down on far too many of those chewy veins that you get in chicken, the bits that make you gag then spit hurriedly into the nearest receptacle, then spend the rest of the meal wondering what sort of monster is lurking in there. So my reasons are really those of a fourteen year old girl, except I am also aware of the benefits of a plant based diet. If it’s good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for me.

It’s this final change that has led to the most stereotypes. Stereotypes extempore, as I’m about to demonstrate. When I told my mother about my swtich in diet, she responded ‘oh go and build your beet basket, then’.

Beet basket?

I’m not entirely sure what a beet basket is and neither is she, but I love her crystallization of what being a vegetarian teetotaler was. God, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But is eating dead flesh and poisoning oneself?

I can’t guarantee that all these changes will stay (vegan cheese ain’t fooling anyone and tempeh tastes like the devil’s drainscrapings), but they do at least feel like changes from within rather than without. They’re not a mood ring for the soul. And in the meantime I shall continue building my beet baskets with pride.

Passable at faking

Recently, when I’ve written the date, I’ve been putting the year as 2016.  Am I losing my mind?  Am I a time traveller? Or am I just always somewhere else?  I worry about an early slow descent into dementia (who doesn’t at 3 am in the morning? ) but I think the reality is that I never fully concentrate on what I am doing and then I wonder where the hell the day has gone.

People have me pegged as a ‘good listener’, but most of the time, I’m not actually listening, I’m waiting for them to leave the room so I can get on with shit.  There’s a massive difference between genuinely giving someone your attention and just being so trapped by social morés that you sit and plaster on an ‘Í’m here for you’ face while secretly sweating with the urge to tell them to do one.  I have conveniently blended these two skills and convinced myself and others that I am, for want of a better phrase ‘good at listening’.  But they don’t come from the same point.  The more admirable route would be for me to tell the speaker that I’m busy and to come back another time and/or never, depending on the nature of their grievance.  but that would involve a measure of self empowerment and willingness to preserve oneself and one’s sanity.  The road more often travelled by me, to sit and ‘listen’ involves a form of self-preservation, but more from a fear of others than from genuinely looking out for the big id.  That internal monologue that cringes in your ear ‘ Oh God, I’ll look so rude if I tell them to go away now, they’ll pull that affronted face and then they’ll say something about me to someone else and about how rude I am and how I’m not a good listener after all, ah God oh God.  I’ll just quickly send this email while nodding at whatever they’re saying and then I’ll apologise for sending this email and really pretend to give them my attention’.  Lest you think me a horrific she-devil, can I just stress that I’m talking about listening not when people have a real genuine problem that they want to talk through, but when people just want a good long moan about the injustices of the break duty rota or how someone didn’t say hello to them that morning.


This is not Syrian crisis that I’m pretending to listen to.

And of course, everyone needs to vent, I understand this and I hold nothing against the plaintiffs in these cases.  They’re lovely people.  It’s me, I’m the problem.  Almost how certain folk were set up as the town scribes when no-one knew how to write, I have become the team’s rant-guardian.  This is my fault, I’ve let it happen.  Sure, I give all the physical signs to show that I want the person to leave; foot wedged in door, body turning away, making eye contact with others, the triple impact conclusive comment, shurg and eye roll. But still it come, a ticker tape of slights, perceived or real. And I’ve taken it.  I’ve not just lay down on the floor, I’ve written welcome on my face and permitted people to traipse their shit in and park their arses for the long haul.


So how to extricate myself?  Maybe erect a sign? ‘ You’re too wrapped up in your own problems and I’m passable at faking’?  Even this feels too passive.  I’m going to have to flat out tell people – the ‘hurt face’ has held sway over me for too long!


And now, having written this, I realise thatI have been moaning.  I sincerely hope that you pretend read it and got on with something more useful instead. 

Currying favour

Three of my favourite feelings are: the joyful realisation that there is another layer in the chocolate box; the glee at discovering a cold spot in a too-hot bed on a cold night; and the familiar comfort of my mum’s voice on the phone.


The latter takes me right back to childhood.  Even though the words and tone may have changed along with our relationship, the melody of my mum’s voice remains the same and puts me right back at the kitchen table, listening to her and my nana put the world to rights, largely through anecdotes involving Mrs Muckybum who lived down the street.


I sincerely hope that wasn’t her real name – how unfortunate if so.


Anyhow, last night’s conversation covered pillboxes, Night of the Hunter and her upcoming flying lesson.  My side of the dialogue was nowhere near as smart or sparky.  She was on speakerphone as I chopped onions and I realised as we nattered, that I was no longer the child at the table, witness to the conversation, I was part of it!  We’ve both upgraded a role: I’m her and she’s nana!  I felt a great happiness at this and relaxed into my natural non-teacher idiom which, like my mum’s, is much more aside-based and riddled with inuendo.  We’re basically drag queens without the vibrance (me, not her.)


I’m hoping that this recipe will have a Proustian effect on you.  It was a real treat for me to make it as I listened to my mum’s voice, as pleasant an accompaniment as a glass of prosecco or a favourite playlist.  It’s a made up curry, and I apologise to anyone who knows how to make a serious curry.  This is an end of the week, let’s put everything in kind of recipe.  A ‘ let’s focus on the most important things’ dish: in this case,  a chat with my ma.


Made up curry

1 tin coconut milk

Curry powder

1 onion sliced

Chillis to taste, chopped

1 chicken stock cube

Any veg (potatoes/squash, cubed, carrots/courgettes cubed, peppers sliced, whatever)

1 handful red lentils



Gram flour


Bicarb soda (1/4 teaspoon)




For the curry,

Fry off the onions till translucent.  Add chillis, ginger and currry powder to taste.  Add coconut milk. And stock cube and water if necessary. Bring to a low simmer.  Add in your veg and lentils, according to general cooking time.  Let it cook.  Add tomato herbs or spinach about 5 minutes before end.  



Mix 1 cup of Gram flour with 1 cup water and bicarb soda.  Add in cumin and salt and mix together, till it makes a thin batter.  Heat oil or ghee in frying pan and pour in half the batter.  Let it fry through and then flip and repeat on the other side.  Serve with the curry and tell your mum afterwards how great it tasted.

This honesty malarkey

Do you read Vanity Fair? I like to read it in the bath, or bed on a Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee.  I like to pretend that I earn as much as the people who the magazine are aimed at (ah, aspiration!)  I mention it because there was an article in it this month about Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of Alain, who is ‘France’s foremost Madam’.  Not madam in the sense that she runs a knocking shop above a bookies in Lyon, but Madam, meaning that she is a venerable dominatrix.  She is also in her eighties and less than five foot tall, which makes me think that that song about short people by Newman, R. Can go and shove it up its ass.  This woman dominates and sets up parties for others to live out their fantasies, mixing suffering and bliss into an art form.


When I first started reading the article I was hesitant, because sub and dom, in my cloistered mind, means ‘kinky stuff’.  I have memories of Helga from Allo Allo and dodgy politicians and I can’t take it.  But, as Catherine and her acolytes tell, sub dom relationships are rarely about sex, they have impeccable etiquette and no one gets hurt.  But still, my mind persists.


Can you un-hardwire prejudice like this?  The story resonated with me, because I have a friend who recently confessed that she was enjoying fantasy and roleplay and I think, at the time, that I coped with her confession reasonably well.  If I am being honest, (yikes!) My immediate thought was ís she grooming me’? Which is like thinking that every gay person fancies you.  I need to get over myself, I know.  What I was astounded by was her honesty, and why she felt like telling me.


Truth is, if someone comes out, they’re doing it for themselves, not me.  And the test for me is how I handle it, not for them to deal with.  It would seem that I’m squeamish about honesty.  Real honesty.  Most of the time, honesty involves moaning about my day (and is that always true, or just a rather depressing way of starting a conversation?  Perhaps people just assume that you’ve had a lousy day, too, so it’s a means of establishing commonality – so sad.) And I don’t mean honesty in the sense of telling someone what you think about them, because that’s nearly always a reflection of how you feel about the world or a situation.  I mean when the teller is being honest about themselves, for no reason, just to tell.  And I can’t handle it!  I automatically try to think of something that I can do with this information, even when the person isn’t telling me for that reason, just because they love me or respect me and want me to know about them.  Can I help? Give you something?  Offer support?  This may make them think that there is something wrong with them, which is not the case.  After all, it’s me who has the issue with this honesty malarkey, not them.

More questions than answers

This blog title today sounds like it is deep, really deep, but do not be afeared, dear reader.  I have promised to write a blog every day for thirty days, although I am not entirely sure why.  The well is already running dry and I’m on day 4.  I think my brain is abnormally small and exceptionally underperforming.


So this blog is not a Deepak Chopra style path to higher enlightenment, it’s inspired by A Question of Sport, in particular the round where you see little snippets of a famous sports personality doing something mundane (it was normally driving a car).  So you’ll see their lips, their eyes, a hand but never the full person.  The team (Bill Beaumont et al – I have no idea (or interest in) who is on it now) would then try and work it out who it was.  Did that look like Ray Reardon’s eyebrow?  Or could it have been Princess Anne’s upper lip?  Anyhoo, the song ‘There are more questions than answers’ used to play in the background and I often find myself humming it at inopportune moments, such as during a driving lesson (perhaps I think I am being filmed for the snippet round?) or while my students are sitting a controlled assessment.  


The point is that the snippet round was either incredibly easy or incredibly difficult depending on whether the sports personality had any defining features or not.  Red hair and it was probably Gordon Strachan, for example but if they just had a chin and eyes that looked like eyes – then it was normally a toss up between a racing driver or a cricketer; as they seemed to have the most uniformly bland faces in the 80s.


Bu then my current fascination with A Question of Sport, and the snippet round in particular, is clearly based on something more philosophically rooted about how I perceive people (obviously).  I dissemble and deceive all the time: I think most people who have met me would think I was an exceptionally cheerful person with lots of energy.  This is based on the snippets they see.  What they don’t realise is that I’m actually a miserable old shrew who spends most of her free time lying down, willing the world to ‘do one’.  And even though I am aware of the gap between what they perceive and how I am, I routinely base my judgements of people on the miniscule amount of time I may spend with them.  So someone will be assigned to ‘never talk to again ‘pile, because of an offhand remark or a facial tic which may or may not have appeared just after one of my incredible jokes.  Granted, if you’re not going to assume things about a person from what they present to you, then what are you going to use?  In brief, I don;t know, but I think the answer is for me to at least bear in mind that the snippets presented do not make the whole person and if I can remember the nights I have spent with my fist in my mouth after misjudging a situation and looking like a prick, I’m sure everyone else can too.  Do I sense a New Year’s Resolution coming on?  Regretfully, yes.  I hadn’t started this point with a view to setting my self anymore life targets, but sod it, in for a penny in for a pound.  This year I will not put so much emphasis on face value and first impressions.


However I will try and base more philosophical and soul searching blog posts on game shows from the 80s and 90s.  Next up: Learn to love yourself: the Bullseye doctrine.

The Snake Eats Its Tail

Noises Off Day 6

My week of audiofasting has led to a lot of thinking and reading and thinking about reading and reading about thinking.  Sometimes these things fall into line with events in the real world, in my world, which open up a new line of thought, or in this case a new resolve.    Although not strictly following in the spirit of previous posts, I have no doubt that my thoughts wouldn’t be as clear had I not had this week of withdrawal from all extraneous noise.  Enough elucidating, let me begin ….


Reading Susan Sontag’s essay on style in bed this morning and feeling a range of emotions as I plough and ponder the words.  I fluctuate between envy and admiration, because she is an incredibly vigorous thinker and writer and engaging with her discourse is it’s own challenge and reward.  The envy is because she is so damn succinct and brilliant and better than me and I allow myself this bitter comparison for a second before I get over myself.


So I’m enjoying my read,shifting between tiny eurekas and huh? moments, when a phrase hits me with its relevance.  In her essay Against Interpretation, she describes pornography as a “substitute for life”.  My initial reading of this phrase is that of a snark, that men who use porn are losers who evidently can’t get a girlfriend.  This is a party line that I have held for such a long time that it has calcified, my long rehearsed ‘rant’ against Page 3 forming a strong part of my teaching repertoire for dealing with year 11 boys.  And this has been a momentous week for the brilliant-but-I-can’t-believe-this-is-still-prescient-in-the-21st Century Campaign against print-based porn, No More Page 3.


The campaign, which is petitioning to have Page 3 removed from The Sun and associated newspapers as well as pressurising supposedly family friendly companies against advertising in their pages, received a timely spike of publicity.  Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton, lanced a big parliamentary boil during a debate on media sexism.  In a brave and lucid speech against Page 3 culture and portrayals of women in the media, she wore a No More Page 3 T-shirt – and was promptly rebuked for inappropriate dress!  Here’s a better summary of events,


This, and the Sontag, and my week of contemplation has made me re-think my position.  And it goes a little something like this…

My traditional standpoint of vilifying men who enjoy Page 3 has been missing the point enitrely.  Sorry.   Page 3 and its counterparts mayin fact provide a convenient barrier for otherwise sound adult men against the reality of forging strong personal relationships with women, whether erotic, romantic, platonic or all three.  Obviously, there are men who may use these images as a springboard for abuse or denigration, but I believe that there are more who have had their images of women so screwed up by concomitant 1D stereotypes in the press and on film, that confronting a real lady is a hair-raising experience.  So what happens?  A whole load of men stay in their shells and, along with a whole load of women, miss out on truly generous, loving relationships, which means a whole load of miserable where it could be a whole load of happy.

So am I beginning to feel pity for Page 3 readers?  Maybe yes, because my attention has been misdirected for some time.  So what of the women? In this spirit, I changed my focus to my year 10 girls and shared with them the debate and footage of  Lucas’ speech.  They feature spotted brilliantly (we’ve been looking at persuasive language techniques) but didn’t really engage with the matter at hand.  When I showed them some recent copies of the Sun, however, the response was electric.  The majority were quick to label the models as ‘whores’ and ‘not even that fit’, but when I probed them about who made the decisions and controlled this women’s image, they disengaged again.  Before this week I would have faceplanted onto my planner in frustration, but I think my audio fast is making me empathetic….

15 year old girls are hormonal, vulnerable and desperate to find stereotypes and images of women to identify either against or with.  I would say that the former is more prevalent than the latter; I would put the ratio at 3:1.  It seems easier to confess to hating goths or thinking Katy Perry gross, than it is to love Beyonce or pronounce oneself a skater.


As such, the Page 3 girl is not providing an aspirant model for teenage girls; more often it is an image for them to kick against; whether because they think its a model of beauty that genuinely appeals to men, but one that they can never achieve; or because they are conditioned to think of these women as cheap, worthless and “easy to define themselves against”?  Either reason is equally toxic, as both involve women-hating and self-loathing in equal measure, feeding the monster of poor self esteem that most of us, as women, have had to live with as teenagers.  And who is responsible for fostering poor self esteem?  I don’t really need to answer that question; the snake eats its tail.

My thoughts may be simplistic, silly, hardly revelatory, but my personal realisation that Page 3 makes no-one happier, male or female, makes me more determined to contribute to its removal. No More Page 3 is not a feminist campaign, it’s humanist.


In a Nutshell

When I first met my husband 10 years ago he lived in a rundown house right where the Olympic stadium now is.  I can’t remember much about the house as I was mostly drunk at the time, but I do remember it had a fantastic deep, over-run garden which I disappeared to enigmatically on our first date.  I had watched too many Fred and Ginger films and I was hoping that he would come and find me in the moonlight and we would kiss.  Instead, he thought that I had had a terrible time and gone home.  I stood outside for about 20 minutes before going back in and trying to laugh it off in a cavalier (if still slightly enigmatic) fashion.


He then moved to a house in Stoke Newington, to a road where everyone else was Orthodox Jewish.  Literally, everyone else.  He had a really high bed (yes we overcame the moonlit garden incident pretty quickly) and a great little courtyard with white brick walls outside the kitchen window where we would hypothesise on which animals we would be able to kill in one-on-one combat, naked.  Notice I say hypothesise, although it did come pretty close when, to our derision, a spectacularly wet friend of ours stepped up and said he could finish a goose off barehanded.  The courtyard was going be the battleground (and we would have an executive box at the kitchen window), except he suddenly stopped calling at about this time.  And my husband only stayed there for another 6 months.


He then moved to a flimsy-walled new build near Victoria Park, where the bedroom dimensions made me weep and vow to seek vengeance against the vindictive architect who had it so designed.  The final straw was when his flat mate started watching suspicious videos in the room next door.  So he moved in with me.


At the time I lived in the real East-end of London, by which I mean the scabby bit, neglected by Pearly Queens and Del-Boy.  In my East-end, everyone was miserable all the time and any remotely aware person would have immediately moved out.  I loved it!  I was unknowingly subletting a flat from a man who shall be known only as Dave.  I lived on the top floor: below me was for some time a lady who eventually went back inside for more treatment and guy called Ed, a complete bounder, who had declared himself bankrupt and chipped to Brazil in the middle or the night, got married, moved back with the girl (way out of his league) and then disappeared for a second time, leaving her behind.  I thought I was Holly Golightly. I was in fact Raskolnikov.  But with less romance and flogged horses, thank goodness.


The flat had its upsides.  It looked out on to a cemetery which to some minds is outrageously close to a Stephen King setting.  But if you live in a city, it’s rare to get a view of the sky, no matter how persistently grey.  Besides, the funerals round there were proper East-end, full on parades with carriages and black horses wearing those tall feather showgirl hats.  The flat consisted of a little kitchen with mould, a bathroom, no shower and an exceptionally vocal fan and the remaining third comprised living/sleeping space.  No, I lie: a quarter was taken up with the stairway leading up and an in built wardrobe which I generally ignored after I tipped a whole pot of paint on my head trying to dislodge a sleeping bag.


So living and sleeping made up about a quarter of the space, which probably equated to about 100 square metres.  For a TV, a sofabed, a computer and a wardrobe.  And bookshelves.  And a bedside drawer thing.  With two people in it, who’d never lived together before.  And a George Foreman grill, which wouldn’t fit in the kitchen.  Normally it looked a bit like one of those pictures the astronauts send back from space, where they’re all desperately trying to look relaxed and cheerful in their pods but stuff is just floating around and nothing is where it should be.


This is how we lived for 3 years.


If you’ve ever lived in a studio flat you will know that you start with good intentions which gradually erode until one day, you just can’t be arsed with making up the futon again.  And from that day forwards it is just a bed, a sofa nevermore.  Now, as this is very often the eating space as well, the bed quickly takes on a muesli texture, with little bits of ciabatta or peanut falling into the cracks.  Again, you start the fight bravely, shaking off the crumbs (maybe even out of a window?) and then …well who cares?  Eventually you romanticise it, and the bed becomes a safe haven, the big pirate ship in the middle of the turbulent sea of discarded knickers, DVD covers and phone chargers.  Home is truly a crusty bed.


I like to think of our years together in the studio as relationship survival training.  Arguments were ridiculous.  You couldn’t storm off; if you went outside you may get shot or procured for Fagin’s gang and if you sat in the kitchen you’d die of consumption.  So you sat it out, on the crusty bed.  And to this day, I think my husband and I could co-exist in a phone box.  Even now, we can quite happily spend a day on the sofa getting on with our own things without feeling the need to meddle in each other’s business.  I still find the sound of Pro-Evolution Soccer being played on an X box as meditative and sleep inducing as any Chopin and he (mostly) still overlooks my psychological need to pile things by the side of my bed.


If personalities are forged by the age of 15, then I reckon that relationships (and one’s tolerance levels) are fixed by the time you flee your first shared nest together.  And if you are having misgivings about your current choice, I would like to fly in the face of conventional counselling wisdom.  Don’t give each other time or space: go live in a studio flat for a bit.  I know a guy called Dave who could sort you out ….

Does your family have any idiosyncratic customs, odd tendencies peculiar only to them and unaligned with any festivity or celebration?


Before you refer me to social services, let me explain. On the way down to London, we would always pass a hotel on the edge of a roundabout.  More of a motel, if I’m honest.  Anyhow, the main part of this motel on view from the road is an indoor swimming pool with full length windows on three sides (it sort of juts out from the main building; they are very keen to let you know that they have a POOL.)  Subsequently, any swimmers are extremely visible too all drivers and disinterested passengers.


Such a mainstay this vision has become, that over the past fifteen years, whoever has occasion to drive past must immediately report, via text, to everyone else in the family, the number of people in the pool.  I think it arose from how collectively concerned we were that the pool always seemed so forlorn and empty.  This manifests itself in the message; if there is a bather, we treat itself to an exclamation mark (“2 in the pool!” ).  If not, then nothing (“No-one in the pool”).


The texts are not met with raucous laughter or even a smile, but a grave nod, recognition that family business is proceeding as it should.


It runs a bit deeper than that.  As an adult I have always lived away from my hometown, unlike my sister and most of the rest of my close family.  Recently, I’ve begun to wonder what I have been missing out on.  “No-one in the pool” lets me know that a) the sender is okay and b) that I’m still on the list.


If anyone unpicked their family psychogeography, they’d find it littered with unique family phrases and customs that have become so normalised through age and repetition that it is perhaps quite hard to see them for what they are.  I think we develop something similar with friends quite easily, but I find the family stories and legends more interesting because they’re more difficult to negotiate.  I’m not the first person to realise that families can be made up of pretty disparate individuals, so the process of finding things in common and then celebrating them can be quite fraught.


Some family customs are all about the past, defibrillating previous experience to enliven the present.  At one particular restaurant that we would go to together, my dad would always leap over the three flower troughs that lined the entrance way, because I had once found it hilarious.  So he’d do it every time at this restaurant, but not at any other eateries with leapable obstacles outside (there are quite a few once you think about it).  It was the equivalent of pulling a well-worn goofy face at a baby, and simpleton that I am, the 3 leaps always made me laugh.


There are a fair few memorable characters who reappear anecdotally at gatherings and even during absent minded conversation.  Most of them are unfortunate, I’m embarrassed to admit.  There’s the girl who farted audibly on stage while doing a forward roll in a dancing competition, and we still howl just at the mention of her name;  a line from a drunken conversation in a pub that we overheard which has no particular resonance to anyone else; ‘can’t riff for raffing’; a man called Monkey Riley; the noise my Aunt made on an answer phone message once.  It’s true that a lot of these emanated from my father, who spent 40 years in newsrooms in the North East of England, which if you have read or seen The Red Riding Trilogy, you will know operate as a kind of bizarro holding bay.  But they have only become funnier through the repeating and strangely comforting.  My dad died 7 years ago, and the stories are a way of indirectly remembering him and including him in our conversation without becoming maudlin.

I could explain these customs to you in more detail, but why?  They’re not interesting to you, are they?  You’re probably thinking of your own right now:  good.  Family customs are like other people’s dreams; no-one else finds them as intriguing as the teller.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t bear the repeating.