What Are You Afraid Of?

There is a petition doing the rounds, collecting signatures in connection with Relationship and Sex Education, set to become mandatory in 2020. The petition asks that parents be allowed to decide for themselves whether their children be taught RSE at school, or if they would like their children to sit out of these classes altogether. I’ve had it shared with me four times today, by parents of differing religious levels and from various schools, but all of whom have children at Jewish schools in London.

The party line seems to be that parents know their children better, understand what they need in more depth, and should have the final decision as to what they need to know around sex and relationships.

The first point that stands out to me is that some parents don’t know what their children need as well as they think they might. If you grew up in a sheltered environment, you may not realise the dangers and realities for today’s children. On the contrary, if you grew up un-sheltered, you may not be aware of how little your children understand in comparison to what you did at that age. Unhealthy relationships can form at any age, and you’re not with your child 100% of the time, so why not give them the skills and education to recognise and speak up when something isn’t right?

One in 20 children in the UK has been sexually abused, over 90% by someone they know. In many cases, this is the parents themselves, the same people who the signers of this petition believe have the kids best interests at heart. I call this line of thinking naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Of course, the majority of us would never hurt our children intentionally, but for those who do – being able to opt out of RSE means that their children may never learn the language or even the understanding to speak up when something is terribly wrong behind closed doors.

By making this a religious issue, we’re giving sexual predators a reasonable excuse to hide behind when they politely decline on behalf of these children. By pretending that there is any difference to these frightening statistics within our religious bubble, we’re sticking our heads in the sand and doing all of our kids a disservice.

We live in a world with so many unknown dangers. We provide our children with helmets and kneepads and road safety lessons. We give them rules for what to do when they’re being bullied, or how to speak up when something is unfair or unjust. If your child cuts themselves – they know to get a plaster, if they have a headache, they understand how to ask for Calpol or take a lie down.

The move to make RSE mandatory for all children is a way to ensure that our kids have all the tools and words they need to speak up when something is posing a danger to their emotional, mental or physical wellbeing. To recognise that their body is their own and they get final say over what they do with it. Just as importantly, to recognise that other people’s bodies are their own and that they need to respect that, too. These lessons of kindness and consent, in an age-appropriate way, not only keep them safe – but allow them to grow into open and communicative adults who can form intimate and loving relationships, not just with a future spouse but with friends and family too.

For anyone who has been sent the petition, and is considering signing it, I would urge you to look below at the suggestions from the Department of Education as to what these mandatory RSE lessons will cover.

-Different types of relationships, including friendships, family relationships, dealing with strangers and, at secondary school, intimate relationships;
– How to recognise, understand and build healthy relationships, including self-respect and respect for others, commitment, tolerance, boundaries and consent, and how to manage conflict, and also how to recognise unhealthy relationships;
– How relationships may affect health and wellbeing, including mental health;
– Healthy relationships and safety online;
– Factual knowledge, at secondary school, around sex, sexual health and sexuality, set firmly within the context of relationships.

Many might argue that it shouldn’t affect me or anyone else if their child doesn’t take part in these lessons. I couldn’t disagree more. Creating a culture in our schools where we can use religion or any other excuse under the sun to opt out of essential education for our children’s wellbeing is dangerous. It means there is a subsection of our schools that aren’t being taught how to speak up for themselves or others, or how to treat their peers with respect in line with today’s emotional understanding. And that’s everyone’s concern.


Trying vainly to hail a cab on the busy street, Shane wondered whether the subway would have been quicker during the lunch-hour rush. The doctors wouldn’t wait for him if he was late.

He spotted a taxi pulling up on the opposite side of the road and raised his arm to get the driver’s attention. “Hey!” he shouted, stepping into the street, crossing purposefully. It wasn’t until he heard the screech of tyres he realised he hadn’t noticed the car heading straight for him. Shane’s hands hit the hood of the vehicle as it stopped, just in time.

“Oh my god!” the man in the car unbuckled his seat belt and made to open the driver’s side door.

“I’m so sorry!” called Shane. “I wasn’t looking. It was my fault. I’m sorry – I’m rushing, I have to get that cab.” He pointed to the parked taxi, then sprinted the last few steps across the road. His heart sank as he realised another pedestrian was already in negotiations with the driver about her fare. God, this day was turning into a nightmare, and that was saying something considering the last few months.

As Shane was about to start looking for another cab, he overheard the taxi driver. “This time of day, you won’t find anyone willing to take you to St Duke’s for less than twenty, love.”

“Excuse me?” Shane approached the woman, delighted for a stroke of luck. “Are you going to St Duke’s Hospital? Do you want to split the cab?”

The woman didn’t seem too happy about it, but she nodded towards the driver and got into the backseat, hardly leaving enough time for Shane to clamber in after her before she reached across him and slammed the door, hard. Shane rolled his eyes. No one heading to St Duke’s was in a great mood, but he had just saved her a tenner.

The neurological hospital was known for lost causes. Shane hadn’t heard of it until four months ago, when his fiancée, Anna, had collapsed in the street after suffering a brain haemorrhage. St Duke’s was recommended to him after his local hospital said there was nothing more they could do. It hadn’t been easy – least of all convincing Anna’s parents, technically next of kin until the wedding next Spring, that they shouldn’t turn off life support for the love of his life, all because he knew in his heart, and was telling Anna every day from her bedside, that their story wasn’t over yet. And his patience had been rewarded. The doctors had suggested a ‘miracle drug’, and they were administering it today. Shane felt his throat constrict as he imagined her eyes opening, after all this time. The catch? If the drug didn’t wake her up, it was likely to be too much for her heart to take.

Lost in his own thoughts, Shane couldn’t remember the rest of the car journey, or even paying the driver and entering the hospital building. He found himself in the stairwell, behind two doctors that were taking the stairs two at a time.

“This was inevitable” the older of the two was saying to the other. “She’s been on borrowed time since she was transferred here. The boyfriend pushed for this new drug, but it was always going to be too much strain on her heart.”

A flicker of panic shot across Shane’s chest as he followed behind them. It couldn’t be…

But any doubts he had were stolen as he walked across the familiar ward towards Anna’s cubicle. Through the glass partition he could see Anna, lying in bed surrounded by doctors, a defibrillator being held above her chest. Feeling his knees buckle, he turned back towards the stairwell and let himself sink to the floor. There, on hands and knees, he let out a cry like a wounded animal, listening to the indistinct voices call “Clear!” as they failed to bring Anna back to life.


He would have recognised her voice anywhere, despite not hearing it for four months. But… how?

Shane got to his feet and stepped towards his fiancée. “What… how?”

“Hey stranger” she laughed, and the sound was like music to his ears as she reached forward to embrace him. Shane shook his head, wondering if he was losing his mind. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t focus enough to work out what it was.

The stairwell door swung open again, and two nurses came in. Shane recognised them from the ward, Laura and Izzy. Shane waited for them to notice Anna; to say something to him. Instead, they ignored them entirely, sat down on the landing and unwrapped their lunch.

“Busy morning?” Izzy took a bite out of her hamburger and offered Laura some fries.

“Nah” Laura shook her head in reply, taking a couple of fries hungrily. “The only new patient ended up being DOA.” Shane recognised the acronym for Dead on Arrival.

“Oh yeah?” Izzy asked. “What happened?”

“Some guy stepped in front of a car.” Laura shrugged. “It happens.”

Shane looked up at the two nurses. A creeping sensation was coursing through his body. “Anna?” he turned to look at his fiancée, who smiled sadly at him and nodded. “Looks like you were right” she said softly. “Our story isn’t over yet.”

Before he could respond, the look on Anna’s face changed from sadness to confusion. She lifted a hand and touched her chest, her eyes widening in fear as while he watched, her image started moving out of focus. “I’m sorry Shane, I’m so so sorry.”

“What? What’s going on?” Shane spun around, looking for where she had been standing just seconds before. He rushed back to her bedside, just in time to see the doctors sigh with relief at the close call– they had restarted Anna’s heart. As Shane watched, her eyelids flickered once, then opened.

“Anna?” Shane asked, reaching for her hand.

But Anna looked right through him. She was alive.


Electricity in the Air

I recently entered the NYCmidnight flash fiction competition, and challenged myself to write a 1,000 word story in 48 hours on given prompts. My heat were all given the same prompts, which were:
Genre: Romance
Location: Electronic vehicle charging station
Object: A tote bag
I’ve shared the story below, I was delighted to place second in my heat!

Electricity in the Air

Cruze gazed around the crowded car park until he caught sight of a familiar silver sheen. For an instant, he wasn’t sure if it was her. But as their eyes met, and her headlights dipped shyly, Cruze knew he would have found Bolt anywhere.

Checking quickly to see if Mike was still immersed in his magazine, Cruze lifted a windscreen wiper in greeting, feeling himself grinning from bumper to bumper like a lovestruck teen. Play it cool, Cruze he muttered to himself. He knew he was acting like he’d just come off the production line in 2017, but he couldn’t help it. He had never known anyone like Bolt before. Cruze knew logically that there must be thousands of automobiles that exact colour, but somehow, she was the shade of sterling silver while the rest were a dull grey. Her headlights were like sunshine captured behind plastic, and man, that body. Cruze felt his engine rev of its own accord as he pictured Chevrolet breaking the mold when Bolt came on the scene– we’ve hit our peak guys, we’re shutting up shop.

Bolt was fluttering her own windscreen wipers coyly in reply, and Cruze wished for the umpteenth time he could just roll on over and speak to her, or encourage his driver towards the empty spaces to her left and right. There was always plenty of time. Mike’s habit was to grab a coffee at this service station on his way back from work in the afternoon, needing a pick me up after a long shift, and Cruze was pretty sure that Bolt’s driver must work here, as she was pretty much always parked in the same spot. His eyes lifted to the sign above her parking space – Electronic Vehicles Only. The petrol flowing through his engine usually made him feel strong and powerful, but at these moments it was like Kryptonite.

So day after day, the two cars flirted across the tarmac, summoning up the courage to wink indicator lights in each other’s direction, or sometimes waving a wing mirror towards the waning sunlight as Mike drove Cruze away each afternoon, sending a glint through the air; the equivalent of a chastely blown kiss. Even if Cruze knew how to make Mike understand him, he couldn’t change the very make up of their engineering. Bolt was electric and Cruze was petrol-powered, and that meant that their love would always be at a distance.

Taking his mind off Bolt was never easy, but Cruze concentrated on the motorway that afternoon as they completed the last leg of Mike’s journey home from work. This was his favourite time of day, as the sun set, and Mike put his foot down hard on the accelerator. They zipped past other cars, leaving them a blur of colour in their wake. Mike was his best friend, and Cruze wished he could speak to him freely. He almost felt like Mike was doing the same thing that he was, using the speed to distract him from some impossible situation of his own.
As they came off the motorway, they slowed down, and turned easily down the side roads which led to Mike’s semi-detached house. Cruze felt mocked by the two-car garage, immediately reminded of lonely nights in the dark, with only thoughts of Bolt to keep him warm. As the door closed behind him, Cruze gave a heavy puff of his exhaust, ready to try to get some sleep.

Suddenly, he heard a car door slam, right outside the garage.

“Oh, hey, it’s you.” Came Mike’s voice, full of surprise.

“Hey Mike, sorry for literally just showing up – you probably think I’m crazy!” Cruze didn’t recognise the voice, and wished he could turn around in the tight space and press his ear up to the door to hear better.

“Sure! I mean, no, not at all. But what’s up?”

“It’s your bag.” Cruze heard the door of the car open again, and imagined this faceless woman lifting up a bag in the pause that followed. “You left it behind, and I never see you without it.” She paused again. “Not that I’m always watching you or anything, but you know. It’s a cool bag. I’ve never seen a tote which zips up like that, and you always have it, so I figured it’s kind of important, so I looked up your address on the loyalty app database..“ This time the pause was shorter. “Which is probably illegal or something. I’m a freak, forget I was here, take your bag, I’ll just go.”

The car door opened again, and Cruze heard Mike call out. “Laura, hold up a second. Seriously.” Cruze stared into his wing mirrors, as if sheer determination could help him see through the door of the garage. “Laura” Mike repeated. “Your coffee isn’t that great.”

“Oh.” Laura replied, unsure what to say. “Sorry. I don’t get to choose the roasters or anything.”

“No. I mean, your coffee isn’t that great, but I still come in to your coffee shop every single day on my way back from work. And then that coffee keeps me awake at night, and I lie there wondering why I didn’t manage to say more than five words to you. Then I make myself promise I’ll manage it the next day before I can let myself fall asleep.”

“Oh.” Laura’s voice was quieter now, but the car door stayed open.

“It’s getting dark. Do you want to put your car in my garage and come in for a drink?” asked Mike.

Laura must have nodded, because the next sound after her car door closed was Mike opening back up the garage door. Cruze’s engine almost leapt into life independently as the vehicle smoothly slipped into place next to him. Sterling silver, sunlight captured behind plastic, and man, that body.

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.



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.


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.


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.

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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,

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.


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!”


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.

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Have I missed any of your favourite recipe group regulars?