I Don’t Know What That Looks Like

You would be 75, and I don’t know what that looks like.

Would you be a crotchety old man with a zimmer frame, an old 75 – telling my kids to quiet down because Zeida is trying to read the paper, letting them sit on your knee and regale you with exaggerated stories from school and nursery? Or a sprightly man who looks a good decade younger than his years, a young 75 – winning races against your 7-year old grandson who adores how you play and laugh? Are you losing your inhibitions and your filter, making jokes which embarrass my husband and make me pretend I didn’t hear you? Have I stopped explaining the work I do – because the technical stuff is too complicated, so I just narrow it down to “y’know, articles and blogs – that kind of thing.”

You would be my 75 year old father, and I don’t know what that looks like.

Would you call me every day, like you used to when I was a teen, the last time you called me, excited to hear the minutia of my day? Would you hang up, then call again ten minutes later – just to tell me something inconsequential that I could have coped not knowing? (Was that just pretext to hear my voice one more time again that day? I wish I knew.) Or would the passing of time have made that different for you, now the pace of change in my years has slowed down? Would you know what my identical days look and sound like, and speak to me every other evening or so, busying yourself with a Netflix subscription, the thought of which was science fiction when you were alive. Orange is the New Black? What nonsense, who watches this rubbish? Does that sound right? I don’t know. Would you be supportive of the choices I’ve made these last 12 years? Or would my adulthood be a surprising second act to you, if you hadn’t left my show during the interval – when I was just finding my feet?

I am your 30 year old daughter, and I don’t know what that looks like.

Do I call you every day instead? Check up on your health? Did I buy you one of those clever medical alert systems so that I can check you took your prescription meds today? It’s all done through a mobile app now – oh, how the world has changed. Do I send you photos on WhatsApp of the kids and me playing in the park, feeling guilty we haven’t visited in more than a week? Or are you there with us in the photo, ruining it by smiling at the wrong split second and making me delete the snap immediately, tutting at my phone and starting over, because I have what feels like endless chances to do that – to start over. Do I berate you for the way you give the kids treats right before their lunch? Forget to turn a blind eye while you sneak forbidden tooth-rotting, choking hazard lollipops from your oversized pockets in those shorts I wish you would let me replace. Come on now Dad, you’ve had them since I was a kid. Am I stupid enough to tell you off for acting like my kids are yours, am I ignorant enough not to realise what a gift we have?

I was your 19 year old daughter, and I knew just what that looked like.

It was crystal clear, a handprint on my memory, I thought we’d seen and done it all. You carried me into this world and then I carried you right out of it, with an eternity in between made of 19 years of getting it right and getting it wrong. And now those memories, the ones that filled the in-between are hazy and feel like they don’t belong to me anymore. They belong to a child. Next year, my son will be closer than I will be to the last age I heard your voice or held your hand.

Those hazy memories are worn, they are fragmented, most days they feel foreign, but worst of all, they are all I have. I am penniless to replace them, my pockets are turned out to the seams looking for a currency which doesn’t exist. I can’t buy more time, I’ll never uncover more stories. How ironic, as stories are my trade. Don’t worry, I’ll continue to imagine them for us both. Fiction is easier to create than the truth is to recall. 75 now, 80 in five years time, 90 or even 100, those milestones keep on coming. You’ll be glad to know that you always look great for your age in my mind’s eye. I don’t have a choice, I can’t imagine you any other way. I simply don’t know what that looks like.

 

Disillusioned

I recently entered the NYC Midnight short story competition 2018, a contest where 4,000 writers get randomly put into heats and have to write a 2,500 word story in a week. The Genre, the Subject and a Character is chosen for them. I found out today that I got through the first round, which means me and 624 others will be writing another story this weekend, (Jews, let me hear you groan for me?) in the hopes of getting to the finals. Here is my round one entry, which I’m delighted to say came third in it’s category. What do you think? 🙂

Genre: Fairytale
Subject: Cloning
Character: A Nihilist.

Disillusioned

Ashley heard the door creak open, but she didn’t turn her head. She couldn’t look at his face. She braced herself to hear his voice, but when it came she still wasn’t ready. She was never ready anymore.

“I just came to say goodnight.” He paused. “Did you eat anything at all today?” he asked her, softly. She didn’t answer, watching his hands reach out to take the bowl from her bedside table, still half full of congealing Pumpkin soup. He stood there for a moment, waiting. “Princess…” he started. “Isn’t there anything I can…”

“Don’t call me that” Ashley snapped at him, turning away. “Not anymore.”

The door closed with the same creak, leaving her alone again. For a second, her eyes paused on a photo of her father, taken when Ash was just a kid. He was swinging her into the air, the joy emanating from the photo like physical warmth. It must have been taken right before that witch of a stepmother cast her spell over him. Whatever it was, it was enough to make him forget her late mother and marry a woman who hated his daughter instead. He had died just 18 months later.

She looked back at the screen of her computer, Disillusioned was open, more comments pinging up every few seconds. They were all the same, the women on her group. They had started out incredibly happy, euphoric even. They had all found their versions of happily ever after, only to realise that life didn’t work out as planned.  That there was no God, no grand plan, no right and wrong even. Everyone ended up alone. United in that isolation, they shared stories and talked at all hours. When inevitably they suffered from bouts of hope, which they all did from time to time, they reminded one another that nothing mattered.

Ash? You still there?

That was Alex. She had grown up religious and been abandoned by her family when she realized that God was just another version of the Easter Bunny.

Yeah. I’m here. He came in. He’s gone now.

Why don’t you just get the divorce? You’ll be happier. You can start over.

Start over? You think I can forget about him? When everywhere I go I’ll see his face? Whatever. Let’s not talk about it. It doesn’t matter. What’s new with you?

As she waited for Alex to reply, she let her mind drift back. How could she have been so easily fooled? Yet, even now, she remembered the wedding. Everyone smiled and danced and told her how happy they were for her, tilted their heads in empathy at how sad it was that her mother and father hadn’t lived to see this day. After that, how could she say no to the dinner invite, to celebrate the marriage and put the past behind them?

The truth is, it was obvious that her stepsister Trudy was up to something the second they had walked through the door. From the moment she took both of their jackets and put them in the cupboard, to the way she was laughing too much at their jokes. It drove Ash mad how she over emphasized that ridiculous limp of hers which just reminded everyone of how this all began. She should be in a lunatic asylum after what she had done. Who cuts off their own toes to get a guy to stay with her?

They had been dating for about 4 months at the time. Of course, self-centred as ever, Trudy had got it into her head that he was coming around to their house all the time to see her. Ash thought back to that night, that ridiculous night where she had been playing a match and forgotten her football boots. Always the knight in shining armour, he had heard her panic over the phone and had gone over to her house to pick them up for her…

As soon as Trudy had seen him at the door, she had gone into flirtation mode, he told Ashley later. Touching his arm, getting him a drink even though he was just there looking for the shoes and wanted to get out as quickly as possible. And then as he was heading for the door, that insane scream from the kitchen, where the carving knife had “accidently” fallen on her toes, severing the two smallest. Of course, he took her to the hospital, and called her mum to come look after her. By that point, Ashley had borrowed shoes from one of the subs, but when he arrived, holding her footwear by the laces and with this crazy story about her evil stepsister, he couldn’t help but laughingly call her Princess. Her name was even Ash, she was the perfect Cinderella. What does that make you eh? she had laughed back. Fancy yourself Prince Charming?

That night at dinner, Trudy was being too nice, and Ash couldn’t wait to leave. To speed up the process, she had helped to clear away the last of the dishes, taking them into the kitchen.  That’s where she saw Trudy. Her stepsister had her eyes tightly closed, and was gripping her new husband’s empty plate tightly in her hands. She had almost laughed at the intense look on Trudy’s face, until she heard the strange sounds coming out of her mouth. There was only one way to describe it; an incantation.

Ash would never forget the look on Trudy’s face, or the words out her mouth as the sisters locked eyes. If you have to have him, so will everyone else.

 

It was a year later that her friends first started sending her a link to the website. Isn’t that…? Have you seen….?

Your Real-Life Prince Charming the webpage tempted. The photo was large, and to add insult to injury it was from her wedding, with her image cruelly photoshopped out next to him. The testimonials were already taking up most of the page. He’s so kind and attentive, the best boyfriend I’ve ever had…. They don’t lie when they say Prince Charming, I modified mine for extra politeness and manners, it’s like having a partner who is also a butler, insane! … The first real cloning experience with no glitches, no sudden ageing, no heart defects, and programmed perfectly, it’s like I stumbled upon my true love!

Ash felt so stupid. Knowingly walking into a house filled with witches and expecting to be able to get away scot-free. Whatever cordial of science and magic Trudy had used, she made sure to tweak the personality slightly with every single one she sent out, enough that the police had said there was technically nothing illegal going on. The laws on human cloning were so new, the issues so nuanced, that the world and the courts were still catching up with the science.

It didn’t matter anyway. Even if she could close down Trudy’s business, (her thriving business, she should add, which had made her a millionaire) there were already thousands of Prince Charming clones on the arms of women everywhere. Trudy had hidden her black magic behind science and technology, and Ash had handed her the final ingredient for her cauldron, her husband’s DNA.

Not all the clones were kind, some had an edge, as she had learned in the early days when she still had a job. She had come home from work one evening to her husband wearing a sweater she didn’t recognise, and then been followed to the bathroom where she picked up on the unusual scent of his skin too late. She was held down and shown again and again what kind of happy ending she truly deserved. The police had almost laughed when bruised and shaken she had tried to describe him, another challenge which hadn’t yet caught up with the world they now lived in.

Since then, Ash didn’t really go out. One had joined her department, and she couldn’t sit opposite him all day, so she had given in her notice almost immediately, making money tighter than ever. She was too frightened to leave the house alone, and when they went out as a couple, she’d get knowing winks from women in the street, as if they shared a secret which Ash didn’t want to be privy to. She would catch sight of her husband’s broad build, blue eyes, or sandy coloured hair in the line for checkout at the supermarket, or in the driver’s seat of a car as it flew past. She kept the blinds closed now, even in her own room.

After a while, she couldn’t even look at him. How could she smile and chat idly with the image of her attacker, despite logically understanding that it wasn’t him who had hurt her? And even if she could, does true love still have meaning if everyone could buy it online for £1999? If you could pick it out as a Christmas gift and have it delivered to a friend’s home packaged with a bow? Her Prince Charming had turned out to be replicable and ten-a-penny, a doorway to more hurt and desolation.

The lights flickered above her head, jarring her from her reverie. Uch, she thought, checking her laptop battery and the time. 11.55pm. A power outage would suck right about now. Ash had got into the habit of chatting on Disillusioned most of the night, as the majority of her friends were at least 5 hours behind GMT in the USA. She caught up on sleep in the mornings.

Just then, she felt a cold breeze, and looked sharply towards the closed windows, sitting up a little taller and turning her eyes towards the door. She heard nothing. The hairs on her arms were standing on end, there was a prickling sensation on the back of her neck. The thought came unbidden into her head, as clear as a voice speaking to her out loud; There’s magic in the air.

Suddenly, the lights gave another sputter and then turned off altogether, making Ash gasp involuntarily. Was this Trudy? She began to move from her bed towards the switch by the door, but was distracted by something on her laptop screen, the only thing visible in the dark room.

A private message had appeared in her toolbar, and as she watched, the cursor moved without her direction, opening the email before her eyes. She held her breath and looked closer, her whole body poised for fight or flight. The name on the email caught her attention. Bonne Fee. Her French was pretty rusty, but didn’t that mean… Fairy Godmother? As she read the words, coloured sparks filled the air, fizzing and crackling like harmless versions of fireworks, just like on New Year’s, piercing the silence with the sound of expectation and renewal. Ash followed the sparks with her eyes, tasting the unfamiliar flavour of belief. This was really happening.

Before she could read the email, from across the room she saw her mobile phone light up. She moved towards the glow and saw that her PayPal app was open on the screen, despite her not even being able to remember the password at this point. She stared at the app, momentarily stunned as the numbers spun upwards in front of her eyes. How many zeroes was that? The sparks escalated into a frenzy of reds and greens and blues and yellows, bursting and teeming with enough light to dissipate any amount of darkness.

Suddenly, when the noise and light were almost too much to bear, the numbers stopped moving, the sparks petered out, and immediately, the overhead light turned back on. Ash turned to look at her computer, which lay open on the bed. It was exactly midnight. All was still.

Picking up her phone with the tips of her fingers, as if touching it too much would make the numbers disappear, she returned to her laptop and looked back at the message on her screen. It was just a name and a number, and not one she recognised. Tapping the name into Google, she glanced again at her usually empty PayPal account as she waited for the search engine to do its thing.

***

Ashley sat on the beach, with her sunglasses lifted so she could read her magazine. She sporadically sipped from a cocktail next to her, one of those proper ones like you see on the adverts, in a pineapple and everything. She turned to her husband and grinned.

“Having a good time?” he asked her.

The best.” she said. “The perfect 20th anniversary trip. I can’t believe we waited this long to come here! We should have chosen the Bahamas for our 10 year anniversary instead of going to Paris.”

“If I remember rightly, at the time you said you would die if you didn’t get to see the Mona Lisa!” he laughed. “Anyway, I’m glad we waited. It’s perfect for our 20th, now the kids are old enough to be left with a nanny.” He looked at a photo on his phone. “She sent this over this morning, did you see? Ella is literally covered in Cheerios and milk.”

“Not our problem!” Ash answered cheerfully, glancing at the photo before reaching for her cocktail again.

She reached over and idly stroked his neck with her fingertips, touching the tendrils of his dark hair, almost jet black. It would never go grey, she reminded herself. Just like how he would never get shorter, his spine having been surgically altered to make him an inch taller. Hating the idea of catching him without contacts, his blue eyes had been made permanently dark brown, she could now hardly remember them any other way. As she slipped her hand under his collar, she imagined one of the clones in her mind’s eye, fairer skinned, and aging so differently from her own spouse. She could hardly reconcile those faces with the man beside her, not any more.

She thought back to that day, seeing the details of the world’s premier cosmetic surgeon appear on her Google search. The Transformation Package. It cost so much that it was usually only bought by the government in place of witness protection programs, which had died out in the twenties. Glancing at her phone again as she bookmarked the webpage, she hadn’t been surprised to see the matching number on her PayPal app.

“Princess?”

Sorry, what did you say? I was miles away.”

“I said do you want to get some lunch?” He was holding her shoes out for her, waiting for her to join him. She nodded happily, thinking how much hope there was in the world, and about the unexplained magic that had saved their true love.

She slipped into the shoes. They were a perfect fit.

What Women Want

Since 1913, March 8th has been the date of International Women’s Day, and the day itself has existed for a few years before that. It’s aim has always been equality for women, historically with voting rights, and continuously for equality in the workplace – including closing that darn gender gap which seems so difficult to keep shut. (FYI- Currently at 14% in the UK, and around 18% in the US.)

And luckily, we live in a time where no one believes in enforcing inequality or sexism at work anymore. Don’t believe me? Just go ask anyone in your office. Should women have the same rights, pay, and opportunities as men do? “Of course!” they’ll say. “What a crazy question!” they’ll laugh nervously. “I have a wife!” they might add, as if that somehow distances them from sexism in any way whatsoever.

So these examples which I’m about to give you, of the 100% real-life gifts which companies decided to hand out for this years International Women’s Day, should absolutely not be seen as sexist. They can’t possibly be. The men are just trying to be nice, stop getting so hysterical about it, are you on your period?

But just for funsies, let’s have a think about the alternatives which companies could have chosen, if they had thought about it a little more deeply, or perhaps chosen to invite a woman or two to the meeting where these IWD celebrations were decided on.

Nail Varnish

Happy International Women’s Day! We thought we would spoil you this year with something just for you… make up! Take twenty minutes later on in the day, maybe after you’re done with your chores, and paint those nails, girls. We’ve got both pink and red, so you can decide if you want to be soft and approachable, or sexy and vampish.

Next Year

“As the life course of women often involves economic inactivity, part-time work, unpaid work, lower wages and an average of five years’ shorter working life than men, they face a significant risk of poverty in old age. In the EU, 18% of women and 12% of men aged 75-plus are at risk of monetary poverty.”

How about we take a look at the old age provision for women? Maybe companies could offer extra incentives towards their pension funds, or provide better semi-retirement options for women in their sixties?

Baking Tins

Oh, maybe I’m being a bit harsh with this one. After all, baking is a fun activity which anyone can take part in. And hey, the company in question did buy tins for the men as well as the women. Oh wait, what’s that on the men’s ones? It’s a card which says “For the woman in your life”. Because imagine if a man tried to do all that stirring and measuring, gosh they would just end up using the tin as a football or something. Someone better tell the 81.5% of professional chefs who are men that they’re in the wrong career.

Next Year

According to a RandstadUSA study, “58 percent of women said the lack of a clear path to leadership roles was one of the key factors that contributes to gender inequality in the workplace. And while mentorship and leadership programs are known to be crucial to one’s career success, just 23 percent of women said they are offered these resources by their current employer.”

This one seems pretty simple. Start a mentor program for women, and establish leadership paths which work to combat macho gender stereotypes of leaders. The Sandberg #MentorHer campaign is a great place to start.

Pink Popcorn

See what they did there? Usually, the snacks at the weekly meeting aren’t dyed any colour at all. We just keep them their usual colours! It’s crazy that women understand which ones to eat at all. If I had a penny for every time a woman has tried to eat the whiteboard eraser instead of the chocolate cake. Seeing as it’s Women’s Day, we’ve tracked down woman popcorn! Hopefully by next year we’ll have those lady Doritos everyone’s looking forward to so much.

Next Year

In the EU, women account for only 7% of board chairs and presidents and 6% of chief executives in the largest companies. More people called David and Steve lead FTSE 500 companies than women and ethnic minorities put together. And yet, studies show that having more women in senior management improves the financial security of companies and makes them manage risk better.

Corporate leaders need to show that they are investing in change. Talks and workshops by successful women are one great way to show female employees that you want to empower them for career success, but actions speak louder than words. If you aren’t satisfied with the idea that the gender disparity in wages looks set to continue until 2059, follow the example of Salesforce CEO Marc Beinoff who spent $3 million last year to fix the pay gap in his company.

A Magnet… Of a woman shopping… With the word ‘Stunning’ on it.

What’s great about this IWD gift is that it can go on the fridge. In the kitchen. Where women live. And it’s got a picture of a woman shopping on it. Which is the only other place women go! Lots of thought was put in here, to ensure that it really ticks all the boxes. Plus it’s got a compliment on it, so the women know we haven’t failed to notice they have great legs in those uncomfortable shoes we like them to wear.

Next Year

A huge roadblock which stops the advancement of gender equality is that women are still seen as the ‘natural’ choice for childrearing duties and other caregiving responsibilities. “Almost every second working woman spends an hour or more caring and educating children or grandchildren, elderly or disabled people during the day, compared with only about a third of working men.”

Using all the time you save not buying sexist magnets, take a look at the parental leave you offer, and consider offering fathers more paid time off for emergency family care and paternity leave. How are your flexible working opportunities, and do they allow for women to balance having kids with advancing in their careers?

 

It’s not rocket science, and seeing as we’ve been asking for more than 100 years now, it would be great if we didn’t have to keep highlighting this disparity, as well as convincing the world that it exists in the first place.

If you work at a company who gave a tone-deaf International Women’s Day gift this year, say something to HR. If you were in on the meeting where the company decided to buy all the women some pretty flowers and a themed cupcake, own up to it, and do better next year. If you work in a position of authority in your office, take steps to make these statistics better for 2019. And if on top of motivation and policy change, you still want to give out gifts? Lovely! Just don’t dye them pink.

gender pay gap.png

 

Having It All

Standing in my fortress and I’m holding up the walls
With kids and work and life, Hey, look at me! I’ve got it all.
I’ve created something masterful, come watch me if you will,
Running running running, all the time to just stay still.
One hand is in the kitchen making healthy food for four,
One hand holds back the crushing guilt from knocking down my door
The walls aren’t soundproof, not a bit, I’m wincing as I hear
“No concern you’ve sacrificed your kids for your career?”
That one’s a direct hit, and it gets me in the chest,
A neighbour smiles and waves as she sips tea and takes a rest.
She’s getting on just fine, there must be something wrong with me
If I can’t keep the house intact and raise this family.
The bricks are built of emotional load, they’re glued with mental labour,
The floor is paved with “Could you just…?” and “Can I ask you one small favour?”
I close my eyes for seconds, and the shrill bell sounds again,
A deadline looms, black and fierce, so I pick up my pen.
The voices haven’t stopped. They shout, “Have you made that call?”
No one else will make it, and what’s one more juggling ball?
“Catch it with your shoulder, oh wow you’re super-mum!
Managing this (unfair) load, you inspire everyone!”
Drowning out those voices, which pepper us with guilt,
Assessing all our choices, in these castles that we’ve built.
“If you’re not happy that’s just shameful, look at what you’ve got,
Imagine all the others who’d be grateful for your lot.”
A stone cold cup of coffee, goes in the microwave,
Sifting through the leftovers to see what I can save.
“How’s your hair looking? Your man will be home soon”
Wife guilt in place of mum guilt, we all love a change of tune!
Ding dong, oh that’s the doorbell. Come in- excuse the mess.
Sit down and let me tell you eighteen reasons why I’m stressed.
I’ll laugh them off once I’m done, with a humorous remark,
“You’re allowed to find things tough, just please don’t lose your spark.”
The voices won’t let up, both exhausting and infernal,
Nope, it doesn’t help to recognise they’re almost all internal.
I paste the smile firmly on, you’d never spot the trick
I take a couple Nurofen, no time’s allowed for ‘sick’.
The roof’s twined with relationships, it’s looking quite dejected,
Patched up with late apologies, both surprising and expected
One loose leaf falls next to me, I swiftly read the page
“Where have you been? We’ve missed you! Dude-its been an age!”
I look up at the patchwork papers, many yellowed with neglect,
I watch another fade from sight, well- what did I expect?
“You can’t do everything” they chide, “something’s got to give”
“Work harder” says the other side “craft the life you want to live.”
This week’s different I tell myself, because of X Y Z
Next month is much quieter,
I’m almost sure,
Maybe.

Cause You’re There for Me Toooooo….

The TV show Friends ran from 1994-2004, and won 60 awards, including a BAFTA. More recently, it’s attracted a whole new generation of viewers by being launched globally on Netflix, as well as a whole lot of judgement about the writing and cast. In fact, you might say that lately, it hasn’t been Friends’ day, week, month… or even its year.

dumb things

Somewhere inside me is the teenage girl who used to look forward to Big Thursdays on e4, call her off screen friends during the break in the show, before hurriedly putting the phone down when the advert for Ally Macbeal came on which meant we had 30 seconds until the cast was back on screen. And that teenage girl has found all the abuse hard to listen to.

Much like many of us following the #metoo movement have struggled to accept that some of our best loved actors and celebrities are actually kind of skeevy and gross, it’s kind of stressful to hear that the show that you believe was formative to your youth is actually just another example of Dustin Hoffman ogling an intern. Not quite illegal, but kind of disappointing none the less.

I’m not going to write about how Friends was a product of its time, although I do believe that’s true, and it seems unfair to judge it by our 2018 standards. But wrong is wrong, and I think we would all like to kind of delete The One with the Manny and pretend it never existed, and y’know, add more than 2 people of colour in the entire ten season back catalogue. And maybe just edit out some of the horrendous fat shaming. But I do think that if you look a little closer at this best-loved show, you’ll see that right alongside the issues, there are times where Friends was woke AF.

So join me, while I look at my favourite examples of when Friends pushed boundaries, and got us talking and thinking about issues that we may well have ignored otherwise.  I’d love to hear your own!

The One with Marriage Equality

Did you know that the wedding of Carol and Susan was the first lesbian wedding to be shown on television? Back in 1996, Ross’s ex wife Carol married her lesbian lover, Susan, in a gorgeous wedding scene which ended up winning them awards and critical acclaim, as well as the episode being banned on several NBC affiliates. There were no tired stereotypes, Susan and Carol were then, and remained, two women who fell in love, and wanted to celebrate that love with the world. This, two decades before marriage equality was actually passed into law in the whole of the US. The storyline which progressed, where Ross, Carol and Susan co-parented Ben together was so ahead of its time, that I still can’t think of another quite like it.

lesbian.jpg

The One Where There’s No Right Way to Have a Family

One amazing example of pushing the boundaries was Monica and Chandler’s struggle with infertility. Pregnancy in the world of television is more often seen as dozens of overly fertile women and teens who get pregnant after a one-night-stand, rather than what’s more often true to life, that it’s not simple for everyone to have a baby. Watching Monica and Chandler go through the adoption process, and then bring their twins home was a breath of fresh air which for many, has changed the way we talk about our fertility options. Plus, we got to meet Erica, the biological mother who was so clueless that she didn’t even realize she was having twins. “I thought that was just mine and the baby’s. They kept saying both heartbeats are really strong, and I thought well, that’s good ’cause I’m having a baby!”

fertility.jpg

The One Where Monica’s Career Comes First

Remember when Chandler moved to Tulsa? (Frankly, I’d sooner be in any other State!) While at first, Monica was going to come along and play the supportive wife, (It’s gonna be hard to keep Kosher in Tulsa!) once she got offered an awesome job in New York, she stayed right where she was. Eventually, when the toll it was taking on their marriage got too much to handle, Chandler was the one who gave up his job and moved back to New York, with his wife becoming the breadwinner and hardly a male ego bruised in the process. Men of the world, take note.

old job.jpg

The One with the Animal Rights

When Chandler and Joey welcomed Chick and Duck into their lives, there was a clear agenda under the storyline. Under the laughs of the men’s new animal roommates was the sad truth that too many animals are bought for the holiday season, and then neglected or returned, where they end up being killed or abandoned. Of course, Phoebe kind of undermines that when she forgets about feeding them when the guys head to London, but let’s gloss over that part. Oh, and don’t forget, when Gary shoots a bird, it’s way over.

duck and chick.jpg

The One Where Your Friends are Your Family

For me, anyway, Friends was always about a world where the people you saw everyday weren’t your family, but your closest friends, the family you chose. Everyone had crazy siblings (Did I buy a falafel from you yesterday?) or weird parents (‘Ah! Nora Bing!’) or drama going on with their blood relatives, (“You work and you work and you work on a marriage…“ “You work and you work and you work on a boat”) but the six of them were the true nucleus of each other’s lives.

Is it a perfect world? Absolutely not, and the writers should be held partially accountable for some of the elements of the show that make us all wince as we watch in 2018. (Joey’s man bag anyone? Alongside his man jacket and man shoes?) But this fan believes they should also be praised for the stuff they got right. And seeing as the show is old enough that Ben would now be 23, (!) that’s pretty darn good.

brand new.jpg

Don’t you think we’ve done enough? 

I know. It’s just two words. Two short words which could lift the veil, start the conversation, make people sit up and take notice of how very real this problem is. ‘Wow, I never realised that this affected so many women before.’ ‘Gosh, that neighbour, that colleague, that family member…’ ‘Really? I never would have guessed.’ ‘She’s so confident.’ ‘She’s so strong.’

That’s probably your best case scenario here. That no one ever knew the secret weight you were carrying around with you all of this time.The revulsion you felt when that man started licking his lips on public transport, and you followed his hands as they moved under his jacket, so strategically placed on his lap as he refused to break eye contact with you. That fear you felt as you turned your car key in your pocket as you crossed the street and walked a little faster, wondering what kind of weapon it could make if push came to shove. The confusion you felt when after years of kind words from your partner, push did come to shove in a frightening reality of strength and power, no matter how apologetic the tears were later.

Because of course, if some people’s “Me too” comes as a shock, it stands to reason that other people’s comes as ‘No great surprise.’ ‘I always thought there were something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.’ ‘Right, that actually makes a lot of sense.’ And now, laid bare for all your friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and friends of your parents to see, is just two little words which prove that you’re Other. So while you might be brave enough (or confident enough, or social media friendly enough, or naive enough, or drunk enough, or just plain hopeful enough) to post those little words, there’s almost a certain guarantee that many others wont be. And that’s fine, too. Except, now it dilutes the point. They say if everyone who has experienced it posts about it, then we will see the problem! It’s foolproof! It’s genius! Except, everyone won’t. So the very initiative hurts what it hopes to achieve. ‘I hardly saw anyone post that ‘me too’ thing. I knew it wasn’t such a big deal.’ And on the other side of it, the woman herself, ‘Maybe I should have posted that ‘me too’ thing.’ ‘I feel guilty, why are they all so much braver than me?’ ‘My experience isn’t that big a deal, not really, not in comparison.’

Because the problem isn’t that people don’t know about it. The problem isn’t even that we don’t talk about it enough. Unsurprisingly, like any situation of victim blaming, the problem isn’t ours at all. The problem is that WOMEN AREN’T BELIEVED. When dozens of women can finally stand up against one dangerous Hollywood executive and the response is raised eyebrows alongside words like consensual, career ladder, power mad, honey trap thrown around at the victims, what makes you think that those who don’t believe us suddenly have respect for numbers? If anything, it’s the opposite. ‘Omg, this ‘me too’ thing is getting out of control. Every woman who has ever been asked to make a cup of tea in the office is changing their status.’ ‘Y’know, my sister put it on hers, I nearly laughed out loud-have you seen how she dresses lately?’ 

And where it does work? We’re relying on these women, these brave, or hopeful, or drunk, but certainly strong women, to speak up and put themselves in the line of fire and scrutiny once again. We’re putting the work into the hands of the victims, the survivors, the very people who we are hoping to protect. And allowing the perpetrators and the bystanders to simply watch and judge, to believe or not believe, like we always have done.

I make my living with words. I love them, and I recognise the power of them, and the very real way that language can create reality. But I don’t believe an onslaught of ‘me too’ is the answer to changing the way we deal with sexual harassment and abuse. The onslaught we’re waiting for is from the other side, and it reads “I believe.”

The Usual Suspects of… The Recipe Groups

This time of year is one holiday after another for us Jews, and as such, it’s also one meal after another. When a festival runs into Shabbat, we get a three day whammy, which gives us at least 6 meals to prepare for, and for some over-eager beavers, 9+.

The holidays are a time for family, so it isn’t unusual to have crowds of 20 or more around your festive table, and unlike the stories I’ve heard told of Xmas dinner, there is no set menu of Turkey and Cranberry sauce to keep to, so the opportunities are endless.

If there is one place to people-watch this time of year, it has to be the Kosher recipe groups on Facebook, where if you’re lucky, and very very quiet, you might catch sight of these rare breeds in their natural habitat.

1. The Substitutor

This poster pops up on most dessert threads, mainly to make you feel really bad about yourself. Questions include: ‘Have you ever made those brownies with apple sauce instead of sugar?’ (No, I’m not insane) and ‘What do you substitute the margarine for in that kugel?’ (More margarine. it’s a margarine kugel. Go away. )

Sometimes they just pop in to lie to you, with such classics as ‘I made that omelette without eggs and it tasted completely identical’ as well as ‘My kids said they loved the beetroot and courgette muffins more than the chocolate chip ones.’ Fool me once, shame on you.

2. Mrs What’s Missing?

Just when you’ve made the executive decision that everyone is going to have cereal and milk for Friday night (and like it) here comes Chaya from Brooklyn with her “menu”. It’s not a restaurant, Chaya.

Guys I really need help!! So far, I have Challa and home-made dips, chicken soup with all the trimmings, BBQ schnitzel, honey roasted chicken, salt beef, broccoli and potato kugels, sweet and sour rice, popcorn cauliflower, 3 salads, and then for dessert it’s ice cream, salted caramel brownies and a pavlova. I feel like I’m missing something, what am I missing? Oh ps: it’s just me and my hubby thanks.

Chaya? Chaya! Pick me! I know what you’re missing! It’s about seventeen more humans, and a nap.

3. The Amnesiac Shopper

Now I know I went to the grocery store this morning, and I know that I picked up a whole lot of food, but for the life of me, I’m not sure what any of it actually is. Does anyone recognise this odd looking vegetable? Or know what I can do with it that will feed 7 adults and 4 kids including a 13yo who doesn’t eat vegetables?

What about this cut of meat? I think it’s called number 5. Or maybe it was 9. I’m pretty sure the Butcher said it was pickled. or maybe he said it should be pickled. Did I remember to buy pickles? Does anyone know where I left my car?

4. The Amateur Masterchef

Some of the photos I see on the recipe groups are pretty impressive, from Challot that look bakery-bought but probably taste better, to chocolate babkas that are practically food porn, as well as incredibly fiddly pastry and meat concoctions that I would never be able to achieve.

But sometimes, no matter how much you call it herb encrusted salmon with an assiette of wilted tender stem garden produce, it’s still gonna be fish and green veg. And whatever joy describing your lightly browned beef on a bed of puréed chickpeas gives you, it’s still the mincemeat and hummus that takes five minutes to make and you discovered at your mother in laws house. #sorrynotsorry

5. Harbinger of Doom

With love to all the over achievers out there, I still have to give a shout out to my people. You know who you are. (Hint: you put jacket potatoes in the slow cooker for one of your Rosh Hashana meals, but forgot to heat the baked beans. Yeah, there you are.) You probably head to the recipe groups out of sheer voyeuristic pleasure, or maybe to ask whether that turkey roll you forgot about at the back of the fridge is still good to eat. If you’ve done the latter, you’ve probably met the Harbinger of Doom before.

“I made chicken soup 3 days ago, can I still eat it?”
“Absolutely not, bin it.”

“Oh. What about this potato kugel, it was defrosted about a week ago?”
“Are you kidding? Definitely not. Throw it away.”

“How about this yoghurt? The best before was just yesterday..”
“Do you want to make your kid sick? Why risk it?”

“I opened this cheese earlier on, but I left it on the counter for half an hour and-“
“Throw it away. Use gloves. Can’t be too careful with bacteria.”

Jesus lady, how about this sealed packed of biscuits? Is it okay if I eat these while I try to recover from my new food phobia?

But don’t worry dear reader, you aren’t alone. Check the comments for dozens of hardy women who are on your side, and are guaranteed to have shared their war stories to make you feel better.

I regularly drink milk that’s spoiled and I’m still here to tell the tale!

I once ate a schnitzel that I found behind the couch, and I’m FINE.

I don’t even bother cooking the meat and my kids haven’t complained yet! Granted, they are kind of quiet.. Chavi, you ok honey?

5. The Shameless Brag

A relative of the humble bragger from the online mums forums post, when this person moves over to the recipe groups, she has no need to be coy. Posting photos of the oddest brags, from a fully set Seder table a fortnight before Pesach, to six dozen chocolate cakes “all ready for the freezer!” She must live in the Ice Bar, she has so much space to cook ahead of time, and she will absolutely post the recipes for all of these “delish treats” as soon as she has a spare minute. Which is good, because the F’s on her post are getting a bit out of hand, and the natives are getting restless.

bragging recipe post.png

Have I missed any of your favourite recipe group regulars?

Seeing into the Future.

I’m sorry. 

That first visit to the hospital, when you couldn’t see anything at all, I promised I would do everything it took to get you the help you needed. To give you options which were the same as anyone else’s. 

I insisted on being referred not once but twice until we found you the best doctor, the doctor people got on a plane for, the doctor who knew everything there was to know about our condition, who could suggest treatments and surgeries that even the nystagmus mums groups on Facebook didn’t know about yet, despite their collective knowledge of everything Google has to offer. 

Two years ago, this doctor, this doctor I have the utmost faith in, did what he called ‘a bit of cut and paste’ on you. 

So blase, as he took a scalpel to your eyes. But even as we shuddered, that’s what we wanted-it meant he did this every day. 

But the results didn’t work out exactly as we’d hoped. 

Your head still turned, your eyes wobbled even more as you learned to read books and study things up close. You were growing up, and the surgery hadn’t worked as planned. 

“A repeat surgery is risky”, they said.

“It could cause side effects”, they said. 

“Double vision”, perhaps. 

“Let’s do a test” we agreed, nervously. 
We held your hand as you slipped under anesthesia again, this time so they could put needles into your eyes, temporarily freezing your muscles.

It sounds futuristic! It sounds amazing! What a time we live in!

(It sounds awful. I won’t think about it. Motherhood doesn’t change just because medicine does.) 

When you woke up, it didn’t take long to see that it hadn’t worked as we had hoped it would.

Double vision. Frustration. Exhaustion. I can only share two of those with you. 
“It will wear off”, they say.

“Just two months”, they say. 

But two months to you, is an eternity. Waiting five minutes for the iPad is an eternity. Two seconds while I get you your snack is forever. 

Two months is an age where you learn that life can be hard. And takes energy you shouldn’t have to find. Not at six years old. 
So they’ve patched your eye, and they say we will wait and see. But it’s me who waits, and you who can’t see. And they? They can’t do anything at all.

But I know. I know that this was a test which went badly. No positive effects to speak of. Just a ‘phew, it’s only temporary’. A pat on the back that we didn’t make it worse long term. That it will wear off.

And when it does wear off? 

Your head will still turn. 

Your eyes will continue to wobble. 

Life will still be harder than it could have been. 

And there’s nothing more that these doctors that people get on a plane for can suggest to help you. No more chances to give you the same options as everyone else. 

And so I say, in a bright voice, Rapha, wobbly eyes are our superpower. You and me? We are superheroes. And you? You are my superman. 

And we wobble our eyes and our faces together in the hospital waiting room like maniacs, and you laugh and laugh and I force my face into a smile and am pleased for a moment that your eyes are patched and you can’t see the tears in my own. 

Because I don’t feel like a superhero. I feel like I’ve let you down. 

My View from Behind the Curtain

There’s a lot been written lately about feminism and Judaism, or at least-about women’s roles in our faith. While I wouldn’t say personally that I feel invisible behind the mechitza, I do struggle with women who are blocked from getting the most out of their orthodoxy, especially where it feels like it comes down to custom or tradition rather than Jewish law.

Losing a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I don’t grapple with it daily, but it has the power to move me to tears with literally no notice whatsoever, at any given moment. It’s scarred me and shaped me in ways I probably couldn’t describe, and some ways I can.

Judaism has guidelines for losing a parent. And to me, it’s one of the most beautiful areas of Jewish law. From the second a parent dies, their family has rules to follow. Don’t leave the body alone, call the chevra kadisha, say the shema prayer.. the list of laws and customs goes on, from those first impossible minutes until years later, when we light a memorial candle on the anniversary of their death. And the intensity of those rules lessens as time goes on.

The first week, your every waking minute is filled with people visiting you sit shiva, while for the month, the restrictions of new clothes and luxury are enough to keep you aware of your loss but also able to forget for small periods of time, get on with work and friendships and daily life. The entire year, you exclude yourself from social gatherings where you might not feel comfortable, but your life begins to move on, often without daily reminders of your status as an avel. To me, it felt like God was walking me through the process of grieving, not letting me sweep my feelings under the carpet, but also helping me put myself back together without drowning under the weight of it.

But there were moments. Moments where I still feel like my grief would have more bearing, more status somehow, if I were a man.

Standing by the graveside at my fathers funeral, they asked the men to step forward to take part in an incredible mark of respect, to help fill the grave with earth. My family, my friends, people who knew us all my life came close to take a spade and begin the labour. When I asked to join in, eager to honour my father this last time, I was asked to wait while a groundskeeper ran to fetch something. When he came back, he brought with him a small trowel and some ready turned earth in a bucket. They offered me a token, a ceremonial act, like the action of lifting a shovel was going to be too much for me. Like they couldn’t see that the act of not lifting it would be far heavier to carry. Needless to say, I took the spade. But I don’t know that other women would know to insist.

During the week of shiva, men need a minyan, ten men to join them in prayer, three times a day. It means that your home is filled with people, pretty much all of your waking hours. We take breaks, for meals or for rest times, but the company is necessary. It surrounds you with stories of your loved ones, with people who care about you. It’s healing. As the only person sitting shiva, I didn’t need a minyan, so we didn’t always have one. The mornings, I slept in until visitors arrived to see me, and in the evenings, I had to leave the room while the men prayed, standing in the kitchen or the hallway, wondering why I felt shut out, if the reason they were there was me. I chose to say the Kaddish prayer that week, and they chose men to say it with me, to make it more “appropriate”, some of whom I had never met before, turning around at the sound of a woman’s voice standing out from the crowd

I didn’t have to say Kaddish at all that year, and so I didn’t. I asked someone I love, someone who loves me to say it for me, and they did. They went to shul every day, three times a day, and did the action of a grieving child for me. They said my words, my prayer, because even if I had chosen to go, orthodox Jewish law dictates it would be better if a man was doing it too. Some would say that a man needs to be doing it too. That even if I take the nineteen years we had together and pour all of those feelings into every word I say, they don’t really count.

Each year now, on the anniversary of his death, the yartzeit, I head to shul and I say the Kaddish prayer, quietly, respectfully behind the mechitza. If the other men notice a man who has yartzeit, they might offer him a special mitzvah, leading the service or holding the Torah.

Me? Me, they don’t notice at all, and they wouldn’t have anything to offer me even if they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the logic and the reasoning behind the laws for women and men. The way it would be impossible to get to shul three times a day with small children in tow, the way we believe that a woman’s spirituality lends itself to needing less outward signs of our faith, the rules of modesty and how they manifest in clothes and song and power struggles. Some of these things I agree with, others less so. But I believe in the package of orthodoxy, and I feel like I matter and have a role to play. But when it comes to grief, I suddenly get a glimpse into how other women might feel, not just in mourning but in prayer, in community, in education. Like their voice is being silenced, like they have nowhere to stand, like they don’t count.

All I know, is that my father meant to the world to me, and I to him. But in a million small ways, Judaism tells me that I’m not quite enough to honour him all on my own. I need a mans help to do that to its full potential. A brother, a husband, an uncle, hey- any relative will do. So long as they’re male.

It’s one small area of Jewish law, and you don’t even consider it until it’s thrust upon you. I hardly think about it any more, just once a year, when I stand behind that curtain. Not invisible, but not quite visible enough either.

Having a Ball-ot

I love voting. I love what it means, that every person has a say in our future, and I love the act of doing it-stepping into the booth, pressing my pencil down on paper to literally make my mark. And while the politics may get dirtier and more cynical, I find voting an incredibly clean and hopeful act.

With that in mind, I’ve collected some of my favourite voting and election stories here, a reminder that even when it doesn’t seem that way, your vote truly matters.

The Guy Who Came Back From the Dead to Vote

In Detroit Michigan in 2012, an elderly couple were voting when the husband collapsed on the floor. A bystander checked his vitals, reported there was no heartbeat and administered CPR. It took a few minutes to get the guy breathing again, but he eventually opened his eyes. His first question on coming back to life was, “Did I vote?” He also took the time to tell his wife that he came back to tell her he loved her as well as be part of democracy in action. What a charmer.

Voting in Space

Seriously though, I don’t ever want to hear anyone say they had too much on their plates to find the time to vote. As of 1997, thanks to a Texan bill, astronauts can now vote from space! From the International Space Station, your voting ballot is beamed up directly to you, and then securely sent to the voting authorities. David Wolf was the first American to take advantage of this ultimate absentee ballot, the same year as the bill passed.

The Proof that Every Vote Matters

I’ve heard people say that their votes don’t matter enough to be worth the effort. That one person can’t change the outcome. Tell that to Liberal politician Harold St Maur, who lost out on a House of Commons seat to Conservative Henry Duke in the 1910 election by one vote. 4776 to 4777. In Nevada, they handle ties with a very courtly drawing of cards, (yep, I mean Ace is high) and in both 2002 and 2011, this process was needed to decide on an election where the results were split.

The First Female Voter

The first American woman on record voting was Lydia Taft, who voted as a proxy for her husband in 1756 at a town meeting in Massechusets. While this was a baby step on the road towards suffrage, I have to say I have a soft spot for a different early woman voter, right here in the UK.

Seven years before women were given the vote, in 1911 Frances was sent a polling card-when organisers mistakingly thought she was a man by the name of Francis. While many women would have dismissed the mistake, Frances showed up on voting day, polling card in hand and demanded her vote. After much discussion (presumably about whether her tiny female hands could manage the pencil grip) the officials in chrage conceded that the rules only stated two things, that the person voting needed a polling card and a name on the electoral register.

frances.jpg

There are countries like Brunei where there are no elections held whatsoever.

There are countries like the UAE where out of 9,000,000 people, only 100,000 are eligible to vote.

There are countries like South Sudan, who has 8,000,000 citizens and has never had an election.

There are countries like Saudi Arabia where women are denied the right to vote.

There are countries like the Maldives, where muslims are denied the right to vote.

There are countries like Eritrea, where there were elections up until 1991, and then the right to vote was taken away.

Or, there are countries like ours. The UK, where although you might not always like your choices, , the right to choose, or to let the government know that you won’t choose by spoiling your ballot, is protected by law. Unlike over 80 million people around the world-you can go and vote right now this minute. So what’s stopping you?