ten

I have lived in Leeds (more or less) for 10 years and 4 days.

That is the longest time that I’ve lived in the same place – albeit with a stint in Morocco and one in Spain thrown in – and a whole bunch of stuff has happened. 10 years is a really long time.

I arrived on the 19th of September, with a car load of things, and I moved into a student flat with 4 other people. We went out and got drunk a lot in our first week, made friends with the rest of our floor and half of our block. I struggled a lot to find the right books for my course, and I tried and failed to get into the Theatre Group. And the Stage Musicals Society.

Since then I have completed two degrees, lived in 2 other countries, bought a car, bought a house. Got my first full-time job after a series of wacky and interesting part-time ones. Written a 28,000 word thesis. Become manager of a team. A trustee for two different charities (and I have just signed up for a third, so watch this space). Learned the joy of gaming – particularly the joy of Skyrim, my favourite second home. Been involved with more theatre shows than I can begin to count.

I have met some amazing people in the last 10 years. Some are still part of my life and some aren’t. Some that aren’t I miss, and some I don’t. I’m glad I’ve known them all because in one way or another, for better or worse, they’ve all got me to this point. 10 years ago I met a person I ended up thinking I was going to spend my life with. Now I’m spending my time with someone else.

My Bachelors was interesting and challenging. My Masters was difficult for all the wrong reasons.

What will come in the next 10 years? That’s the big question. I might buy another house, but not if it is as much of a pain as buying this one. I don’t aim to meet another person I want to spend my life with, but I didn’t aim for that 10 years ago either so who really knows. I don’t need more friends, but that doesn’t meet I won’t meet more wonderful people.

I will learn more things. I’ve just started my next qualification, the first one I’m doing since my terrible Masters experience. I’m really excited about learning again, rather than apprehensive. I will do more things as well – I’ll work with more charities, I’ll find more ways to give my time. Hopefully I’ll still have time left around the edges to do house things, and friends things, and go to the theatre.

I started this blog 9 years ago, so this isn’t really the most important 10 year anniversary. Stick around for that one, this time next year.

My bubble

**minor content warning, sexual harassment**

I’ve repeatedly insisted over the last weekend that I’m going to write a ranty blog post, and now here we are. Get ready, you’ve been warned.

I have been known, at times, to wear relatively low-cut tops. My favourite most comfortable vest tops all have quite low scoop necks, and I am aware that I sometimes draw attention because I have quite a lot of cleavage on show. Let me be clear. It is in no way indecent, and I am 100% comfortable in the clothes I choose to wear. I understand that sometimes people catch themselves looking, and I don’t honestly mind. If I did, I’d wear different clothes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with accepting the fact that we all sometimes find ourselves looking at something, knowing that social rules dictate we should look away. It’s fine. It’s a thing. Whatever.

I was walking along the south bank of the Thames, in central London, last Friday. About 6pm, still nice and light, still very busy. It was a lovely evening.

And then a person actively changed the path they were walking to make a bee-line for me, and once they got close to me, they dipped their head towards my chest and I could feel their breath on me for a moment before they carried on walking. Smooth as you like.

It made me want to scream. Imagine believing you have the right to do something like that. But of course, it’s a massive issue. I’ve been grabbed in the street before, I’ve been bothered in nightclubs, and I’ve been harassed walking down the pavement. And I live in an age where somehow, I feel lucky that I’ve gotten away with so little. LUCKY. As if.

The problem is, we’re still not teaching each other that personal space is a valid thing. Recently a new colleague quite emphatically rubbed/patted my arm in response to something I’d said. They were trying to be affectionate maybe, or show they were engaged in what I was saying, but all I wanted to do was tell them not to touch me, because we’re still basically strangers. And yet I didn’t say that, because I didn’t want to offend them.

I was in a coffee shop over the weekend, and a parent joined the queue behind me with about 5 children in tow. They were messing, and the parent was distracted, but two of them just kept bumping into me, elbowing me, and nudging me around. It was a pretty small coffee shop, and once again I kept my mouth shut, but it totally enraged me.

Listen. You can look at me and form views. Fine. You can just stare at me because you fancy me. Fine, whatever. But do not touch me. I am not yours. And teach your children not to touch strangers and to respect others’ personal space. Because you should already be teaching them that strangers should not be touching them, and should be respecting their personal space. It’s an incredibly simple, but apparently vital lesson that we are just missing as a society.

Some people are touchy-feely, and I do understand that. I know my colleague wasn’t trying to make me uncomfortable. I know those kids didn’t even know I was there.

But that doesn’t make it ok.

Because not teaching your kids to respect others, and not respecting others space when you should know better, is what leads grown adults to think they can go up to a stranger on a busy street and breathe on her breasts. And as I cannot stress enough – I am one of the lucky ones.

 

True, Necessary, Kind

I am privileged to work with some really fantastic people, and I genuinely do learn something new every day. Sometimes my job is complicated and I wonder if maybe I could do something “easier”, and then something happens to remind me why I value my workplace and my colleagues so much.

Earlier this week a colleague taught me something I’d never heard before. It’s a set of questions to ask yourself before you say something to someone else and it goes like this. Before you speak, ask yourself:

  1. is it true?
  2. is it necessary?
  3. is it kind?

Three simple rules. If the answer isn’t yes to all three, then don’t say it.

Will I live by these rules? Almost certainly not. That’s a high mental load to tax yourself with every time a comment comes to mind. I’ll almost certainly fail. But, it will help me to be a kinder, better person sometimes now that I know that the method exists.

Plus, it’s an amazing way to assess your own reaction. Today, a person said something to me and I found myself feeling hurt and angry. And I knew it was an overreaction to a small comment which shouldn’t have bothered me. It took me a second, but when I thought about it I realised what had gotten to me – it was the fact that to me, the comment felt unnecessary.

Once I’d realised that, I realised that there are two possible options. Either, that person thought their comment was necessary, so I need to work on showing more outwardly that it isn’t, and that I know what I’m doing. Or, that person didn’t think about the potential impact of their comment on me, and that’s cool too because I get that it’s a big mental load, and that people don’t always interrogate what they say before they say it, and it wasn’t said in malice.

And now I feel better, and I’ve learned something too. And it’s only Wednesday.

April Resolutions IV

Ok, I admit it. I’m late this year. As I’m sure you know, I don’t hold with New Year’s Resolutions, because I disbelieve anyone who thinks they can change their habits in January, the saddest month of the year. So I do mine in April instead, as Spring is starting, the birds are singing, and things seem possible again.

Of the things I claimed I’d do last year, I feel I can reasonably say I’ve achieved 3 of my 5 aims.

  • Bake more – hard yes.
  • Walk more – again, big yes. I walk to and from work, to and from rehearsals when I can, to and from choir. I walk everywhere. It’s brill.
  • Exercise – this one is a no. I am dancing (maybe we can pretend that) at rehearsals, and doing the walking, but I haven’t managed the workout regime I dreamt of last April.
  • Keep my house clean – listen. It’s not that it’s not clean. It’s just not as clean as it could be. If I tried harder.
  • Make more friends – I have. A couple of weeks ago I FINALLY had a housewarming, a year after moving into my house, and 20 people came. It is definitely the most successful party I have ever had, and it was honestly lovely.

(as a side note, on reviewing the opening paragraph from last year, and the one from this year – I’m weirdly obsessed with birdsong)

Moving swiftly on – let’s talk about this year. My resolutions are:

  • Read more books. In the last few years I have really lost my passion for reading, and I plan on reclaiming it.
  • Visit more of my local area. It’s brill, and beautiful, and I should see it.
  • Eat sensibly. I am not great at eating the best things, at the best prices, or the best times. So I plan on fixing that a little bit.
  • Worry less about the noises in my house (but fix more of them). My house makes a great many noises, and I need to learn that most of them are nothing. And also get my central heating fixed.
  • Make beautiful and interesting things.

Let’s see how I do. Check back in next year for a full update.

#BalanceforBetter

Let’s talk about equity. The conversation we still apparently have to have once a year on International Women’s Day.

It was a few days ago that I began to hear the rumblings. And the rumblings turned into murmurings, and the murmurings turned into whinings, and suddenly I find myself here and now, deafened by the outraged brigades of people shouting their mantra as loudly as possible –

“We should be working towards equality, not feminism”

And listen. I get it. You think you’re on the right side of history. So once again, let me just explain why equality doesn’t work how you want it to, and feminism isn’t a dirty word. The criticism is often that feminism is too woman-centric (hah) and that to have a truly fair society, we should be blind to the differences created by gender.

But here’s the thing y’all. Those differences exist whether you like it or not, and so just treating everyone equally doesn’t fix the problems. And feminism is very woman-centric. Because it’s about women. This is important, so I’ll say it again for the self-defining men in the back. It’s not about you.

Today at work, to mark International Women’s Day, we ran a campaign where self-defining women could get a cup of tea or coffee with a 22.5% reduction, to highlight the gender pay gap at the University of Leeds (our parent institution). And immediately, the rumblings began. It’s discrimination, it’s not fair, you’re doing more harm than good. Why don’t you just treat people equally?

Well. Can we just unpick this a second. Referring back to my earlier point, let’s start with the fact that it’s not about you. Self-defining men are in no way disadvantaged by this campaign. It’s the same hot drink you bought yesterday with no quibble, and the same hot drink is available to you tomorrow. Your conditions have not been altered in the slightest, and in fact, it’s a very reasonably priced product to begin with.

All that has happened is that (in a relatively tokenistic way), we have highlighted the fact that a woman on the University of Leeds campus is likely (according to the statistics) to have on average 22.5% less money to spend on a given product.

The equitable response, therefore, is to make products 22.5% cheaper for women, right?

Now, of course on a large scale, that’s wrong (I’ve seen this referred to as deficit thinking – masking the root cause of the inequitable situation by providing equity through a solution rather than resolving the underlying problem). Products cost what they cost, and they don’t discriminate by gender, or by any other protected characteristic for that matter. Coffee beans are not inherently sexist.

The important thing about this campaign is that it is just influencing on the level we are able to influence, by providing a level of equity between men and women on Leeds campus, and highlighting an existing disparity in their financial positions. If it is successful, it will help highlight to key people the importance of working on reducing the gender pay gap, and creating greater equity for women*. The logic behind the gender pay gap still isn’t widely understood and a lot of people still cite equal pay legislation as a reason that the GPG just “doesn’t exist”,  so to back up my points I thought I’d share a handy video on the subject.

So, what does all of this actually mean? It means if you want to claim that other people getting discounted coffee is discrimination against you, despite the fact that absolutely nothing about your situation has changed in any way, you need to spend some more time considering why you’re so angry about an organisation trying to support people who are not being treated equitably by the system.

Because that is about you, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Try- Dry- Veg-

In the style of Only Connect (which I’ve recently begun catching up on, and Victoria Coren-Mitchell is just ever so fabulous), my post title today is a guess-the-connection challenge.

A fairly poor challenge, given I’m about to explain, but let’s ignore that for a second.

The context is -anuary. Or, January. As in, first month of the year (according to the Gregorian calendar), everyone is sad, everything is cold, and we all have to do work we’d forgotten existed for a brief time over the festive period.

How do we solve the January Blues you ask?

We create ridiculous challenges for ourselves, and give them silly nicknames, that’s what. Following on the heels of Steptember, Stoptober, and Movember, welcome to a whole series of bizarre things you can do in January. To caveat this post, I’m not doing any of these things – not for the entire month at least.

  1. Veganuary
    Ok, so I’ve gotten a bit involved in this already, accidentally. By having vegan friends. And by wanting to annoy the anti-vegan-sausage-roll-brigade because honestly, that just feels like fun. So far I’ve had vegan chili chips, and vegan mac n cheese, and I’ve not hated either
  2. Dry January
    I have donated to other people doing this. I have had a number of days where I haven’t had an alcoholic drink. But honestly, it’s just not that huge of a challenge for me since I don’t drink that much anyway, and why do a challenge that’s not a challenge?
  3. Tryanuary
    In an unexpected reversal of fortunes, I’ve started to see things around about ‘tryanuary’ which is where you spend this month trying new beer. Which honestly is probably more my speed, if only because the pub is probably warmer than my freezing house
  4. RED January
    Wear red in January for mental health. Not a terrible idea. Except that I don’t want to wear aggressive colours right now. I want to wear black, and possibly occasionally grey. I am all about improving mental health, but I honestly think people wearing red around me would be negative at this point
  5. Manuary
    In what I consider to be a slightly poor PR exercise, Manuary encourages you to grow a beard to raise funds for head and neck cancer. In Canada. In 2017. Which probably shows that I was surprised at how few January-themed “punths” there actually are.
  6. Janu-hairy
    Listen, you’re being silly now

So, I’m not subscribed to any of the above. It’s all a bit much for me, and I feel like launching Elevensanuary, which is where you’re only expected to be places by 11am, because the world hasn’t woken up before then. I think it’ll catch on.

525,948.766 Minutes

In 2011 I posted a different story with the title 525,600 minutes – in which I found that the song is incorrect in suggesting that is how one should measure a year.

This year, I have decided to measure my year in shows I have seen or participated in, because I figured it was probably a lot. But honestly, I feel like I’ve been writing for hours now, which I think shows that I potentially spend too much money on this stuff.

January
Aladdin – my first LIDOS experience, trying to shift book flats 3 times my height
February
Hello Dolly – supporting the MD, at the Alhambra
Rent – honestly, I only stayed for half
Marriage of Figaro – OperaSoc (who nailed it)
Madame Butterfly – Opera North
Un Ballo In Maschera – Also Opera North
March
Don Giovanni – I really like Opera North (also I got the keys to my house on this day, and my wonderful friend Lorna was the lead, it was amazing)
All Shook Up – Probably the best student show I saw this year
The Mikado – I helped build the set for this Leeds G&S production
The Pirates – Northern Opera Group resurrected this little-known show with a wonderful community cast
April
Salome – Dramatic and in the town hall
The Rileys – (it counts)
May
Orpheus in the Underworld – Another fab outing from OperaSoc, reminding us that #rushtonmustplaybass
My Favorite Murder live – My fave American story ladies told stories about murders and it was great
Hamilton – I HAVE NO WORDS
June
The Wedding Singer – high points of being in this show included being a hideous bridesmaid and “dancing in a club”
Guys and Dolls – more supporting of friends in their excellent ventures
July
Leeds Haydn Players – more friends, awesome music
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – watched this live-streamed to the cinema. Didn’t love the plot, but the set was AMAZING
August
Macbeth – visited good friends in York for an adventure to Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre
The Original Chinese Conjurer – part of the Left Bank Opera Festival, and I was lucky enough to host one of the cast
La Princesse Jaune – another Left Bank Opera show
Calcutta – the final Left Bank Opera show, by the fabulous ensemble Tempus Fugit
September
Joel Dommett – he made jokes about the theatre I built, but I liked him anyway
Sister Act – more talented friends, this time more than one in the same show
October
The Merry Widow – back to Opera North
Light Night – Leeds’ annual festival of light installations (worse in the rain)
Tosca – Opera North, but with the most insane set on Earth
Matilda – horribly talented children
The Dresden Dolls – one of the best gigs I have ever been to, or will ever go to
November
Left Bank Choir Festival – singing pretty music with a number of choirs from the city
Chicago – more talented friends (it’s actually quite sickening how many talented people I know)
Urinetown – comedy from LUUMT
West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra – more talented friends (plus fun locations and great music)
December
In The Heights – I only saw the tech run of this, and it was still incredible
Six – History meets Little Mix. I bought the album
Ross Noble – He says a lot of words, and most of them are funny, and many of them are chihuahua
LVM Winter Concert – The best thing I’ve done this year. Watch the video below. For serious.
Shrek the Musical – Birthday theatre to top off the year

I don’t “do” new years’ resolutions, but if I can continue the trend above next year, I think I’ll be pretty happy. I already have my eye on a number of upcoming community shows as usual, and I’m starting my year with another panto (Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs, come!)

Also next year I’ll try and write more. Maybe. Probably.

See you in 2019!

The Heart of Art

The two things I love the most in the world are the arts, and community arts.

The arts I love because they are the thing which makes us humans so unique. We create beautiful, thought-provoking, subversive things and then we share them with other people and that makes them happy, or widens their perspective, or teaches them something. And we do it out of sheer brainpower diverted into a huge range of creative pursuits.

I firmly believe art is one of the most significant things we contribute to the universe, and the fact that our government continues to devalue it, as does the world in general, is so painful to watch.

But that’s where my second favourite thing comes in, which is community arts. Because what is more pure than taking the arts, and making them for everyone. I worry that we will never reach a place where artists and their skill are truly valued (we still constantly offer people “exposure” or “experience” instead of “money” in the arts) but the beauty of community arts is that those of us who know the arts will never be our profession can still get involved. Singing, dancing, pottery or poetry, there are more and more community-led opportunities springing up than ever before.

Community arts, and community in general, is really important to me, because as our world declines into political chaos, there is less and less hope of the government ensuring that arts are any kind of priority (or welfare provision, or equality and inclusion, or really anything we care about and actually value, but whatever. Y’all wanna go spend our money on missiles, FINE. We’ll sort out our own stuff). So we have to do it ourselves. We have to create space and opportunities which allow everyone to get involved and access creativity which broadens their horizons.

There’s only one way it works though, and that’s if everyone gets on board. So, here’s the deal. If you have a concert, a show, a display or a workshop, let me know, and I will do my best to come. If you run a raffle or a fundraiser, I’ll buy tickets or buy in. And in return, you have to do the same with every opportunity you see.

Community arts is thriving, but it needs the community to be fully behind it if that is going to continue. We need an audience, we need participants, and we need supporters.

No room in frame (a #metoo story)

I’ve been listening to a great podcast called Invisibilia. It’s all about the things which inherently connect us, but we never really think about or see, and it’s totally fascinating (aside from being well researched and produced, which is always a plus).

The episode I listened to on my walk to work today was about individual frame of reference, and how important it is to how we see and process the world around us, and after a couple of other conversations today, it has really struck a chord. The first section focused on a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, and their realisations about their perceptions of the world vs the perceptions of those around them.

It got me thinking, because while I don’t have Asperger’s, I know I process the world differently from other people. I really struggle to find commonality with my peers, and regularly catch myself thinking of myself as outside of the conversation. These things don’t belong to me, I don’t understand these experiences, they are not for me to engage in, enjoy, bear witness to. It’s not active, or purposeful, it’s just part of my psyche.

And it’s not that I think my experiences are different necessarily, not in a way that is more valuable than someone else’s. It’s the opposite in fact – I feel like I have not had any experiences to the level whereby I can use them to help define myself.

My personal frame of reference is quite broad. I have experienced a range of different socio-economic environments, a range of political viewpoints, an international family and upbringing, and diverse lived experiences. But maybe because of that diversity, I feel like my experience is very shallow. Without meaning to be offensive to any readers, I’d say my life has been consistently mediocre and unremarkable.

So, what are you rambling on about then?

Part of what I realised today, is that due to my own perception of the mediocrity of my existence, and my tendency to other myself, I diminish many of my experiences simply because they are diminished within my own frame of reference.

Here’s my example. A number of times in my life, I have been sexually harassed. It’s never been extreme, I’ve never felt fundamentally unsafe, and I’ve never lost control of the situation. I’ve told my harassers what I thought of them, or ignored them, and I’ve moved on with my life. It has not massively bothered me.

I don’t know why it hasn’t bothered me. But there’s something about my personal frame of reference which means that I haven’t reacted to it, other than to say that it wasn’t a big deal, plenty of people have it much worse, I was probably perfectly safe.

And then today I listened to my podcast, and realised that just because I don’t think it’s a big deal, doesn’t mean that someone else will feel the same way. Which is not to say that if you have an experience you are in any way required to disclose that. But if it makes no difference to you, but might make a difference to someone else, then maybe it’s a thing worth considering.

I do not feel like I have a place in the #metoo movement, and writing this post hasn’t changed that. I still feel like my experiences are vastly diminished in comparison with those of many people. But we live in a world where we perpetuate negative activities by pretending they are a one-off, or that they are unimportant, simply because they don’t feature in our personal frame of reference. And our inability to stand in another person’s place and have empathy with them is allowing people like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh and hundreds of others to get away with unspeakable things.

So you know what, #metoo.

Things I learnt on my holidays

I’ve spent the last week in Northern Ireland, and it has been AMAZING. Other than the Giant’s Causeway I really didn’t know what I wanted to see, but I’m lucky enough to have a best friend with all the right knowledge, and a welcoming family to boot. So I couldn’t have been in better hands.

Here are the things I learnt:

  1. The Giant’s Causeway is totally worth it, but definitely go in a storm so that you can combine fear of being blown into the ocean with actually getting to be the only people on the Causeway.
  2. Northern Ireland is excellently provisioned with public toilets.
  3. If you want my money, just make a fridge magnet of your attraction (I came home with 3)
  4. Potato bread is king of the breakfast potato products.
  5. I can withstand gale-force winds.
  6. Rope bridges are fun.
  7. Safely make it across a rope bridge suspended above the tumultuous waters of the Irish Sea? Easy. Just walk along a promenade without throwing my own face at the floor? Can’t do it mate.
  8. I still know all of the words to “Unsinkable Dream” from the Titanic musical I was in when I was about 12.
  9. All of Northern Ireland is in fact Game of Thrones.

NI

Credit to the lovely Mr Gordon for photos containing me (because we all know I can’t take photos of myself on account of my tiny arms)