Naming and Name-changing…

We do not have a choice when it comes to the name, or names, our parents give us at birth – and, more often than not, we have no power over that naming process when we are children, though adolescents do rebel. Many children I taught asked me to call them by a name not on the register, and I was always happy to do this.

I was Christened Alienora Judith Browning. The ‘Alienora’ was taken, as I have said before, from the Browning Family Tree (an Alienora Fitznickle, who lived in the fourteenth century and married Sir John Browning) – and, although I can see that it is both unusual and, in its own way, beautiful, it has been, in many ways, the bane of my life.

Or one of them…

Brief summary: I was teased, taunted and bullied physically about my name, and my ‘posh’ accent, when at primary school in Headington (a suburb of Oxford). Few teachers were able to pronounce the name correctly (often giving it four, instead of five, syllables) – and I was too shy and introverted (even at secondary school) to correct them. This, of course, made the bullying worse, as the nasty little kids, and then teenage girls, picked up on every gaffe made by a teacher and used it pointedly.

Worse still, my parents – who agreed on little – were unable to reach a compromise in terms of my name in every-day life, so each called me by a different moniker. ‘Alienora’, however, was the name by which I was told off and shouted at from my earliest days.

My sense of personal identity, weak from childhood onward, was not helped by the Name Conundrum. I wasn’t sure who I was.

But this post is not just about me! Many of my friends have changed their names completely. For some, the original name was associated with unhappiness, even abuse; for others, Body Dysmorphia and/or Gender Dysphoria have created great anguish and a need to adopt a name more suited to the inner, emotional or preferred gender.

I absolutely respect this (and both identify and sympathise) – and, although I am assuming that each person had a birth name, am not interested in ferreting that information out (unless the individual chooses to share it with me for their own reasons): To me, each one IS the name – and, indeed, the gender – he or she has chosen. End of!

I think that, in the end, we are the name we choose. We are under no obligation to keep a name we personally find difficult, a name which comes from a gender we no longer wish to embrace, a name which has traumatic associations.

It is nobody else’s business, either. It is not up to others to sneer at us for our names or condemn us for the act of changing them. Names are an essential part of our identity, and for some of us – and I am one of them – the name we were given by our parents does not enhance, match or support the person we actually are inside (though, in my case, Alienora is a cracking name for a writer).

When I was in my late teens, I opted to call myself ‘Ali’ – and have stuck to this decision, albeit waveringly at times, ever since. I do not give anyone permission to call me by my babyhood nickname any more (other, that is, than my four siblings if they wish).

If a name is used as a weapon, it is very difficult to reclaim it safely. As I said in a much shorter status on Facebook, my full name was intimately bound up with punitive measures, taunting and bullying from the age of four onward. It was a name that made me feel profoundly powerless, left out, unsafe and isolated.

I will always be Alienora…

But, for the first time in my life, I am asserting myself with regard to the name I wish to be actively called: Ali.

I long to be a BITCH…

I have allowed this post to take its own raging path, without in any way censoring it or denying myself the emotional immediacy of a specific moment. It is an inner state I normally keep to myself. I think many of us do, having been taught, as children, not to be rude and angry and swear and say horrible things.

But, is it better, I ask myself, to let it out on occasions – or bottle it up and implode? This rage is part of the journey I have been going through in recent months. It is not NICE – nor should it be!

I hate being nice and kind and patient and, to be frank, a bit of a dreary old martyr at times. Because, when you have the ‘kind’ label affixed, those with cold hearts and the dark side of will-to-power WILL try it on, see what they can get away with, drain your resources as their RIGHT. They will expect you to give way when they walk past, to doff your hat and, if necessary, bow or curtsey – because, as superior beings, this is their entitlement in life.

I want to be a bitch! I want men to grovel at my feet, strive for my attention, fight one another to be my bloke (the way they used to back in the old days of chivalry). I want to have the power to make men desire me above all others, and to know that they have to wait in the queue to get anywhere close to me. I want to be on top of the Bitch Heap! And yet, I am terrified of that too.

I want other women to be frightened of me, and watch what they say lest they offend me. I want them to see me as a role model for assertiveness, creativity – and, when the need arises, utter Evil Queen-ness.

I want both sexes to realise that, under my normally-helpful and sometimes even sweet exterior, there is a ravening lioness, a veritable Sekhmet, clawing her dangerous way out.

I want to be demanding, my every whim obeyed! I want to be a spoilt princess, and have major tantrums when I don’t get my own way – just for an hour or so because it doesn’t half wear the larynx and it does get bloody tedious after a while!

I want people to look up to me – and think twice before they speak; three or four times if they know, or suspect, that they have incurred my wrath.

I HATE being seen as a nice and kind person – because, when you get right down to it, down and dirty in the muck of truth, what do these adjectives actually mean? They mean someone who is easy to take advantage of, who commands (and merits) no respect; someone who can be left to wait outside the cat-flap while the more dominant felines (er, females) go out hunting, bring in dead rats, spray the carpet, crap in the linen basket and are still stroked to cat orgasm eighteen times a day JUST FOR EXISTING, and purring when it’s politic to do so!

I loathe being polite and considerate (both of which are treated as weaknesses by those who walk all over others in their stiletto heels); I despise the part of myself which allows others to take me for granted, even abuse me, in the sure knowledge that they will be forgiven, or that I’ll be too scared to tell them where to go.

I hate the fact that I am, for some, a thing of jelly and weak tea and boring plain biscuits and Sunday afternoons in long-forgotten sea-side resorts.

But, above all, I detest the part of me that is so scared of, and stressed by, any kind of battle that I back off, give way, allow the other victory – or, if I do stick to my guns and blow the other out of the metaphorical ring, dissolve into floods of guilty and desolate tears as soon as the smoke has cleared and the bullets have been collected.

It is unbelievably hard for me to be a Belladonna, a Cruella de’Ville, to treat others with nastiness and spite and cruelty and blackmail and indifference and murderous rage. Even when they throw such dubious gifts my way.

Details have to remain confidential on this occasion – but this wail of anger is very raw and very real and horribly recent. Suffice it to say that I have been emotionally bullied once too often and, yesterday, I fought back, like for like, with my own claws and teeth and stubbornness and rage and utter determination to win…

…and then wept, like a small child, and woke, terrified, in the early hours, the sheer battle-stress causing nightmares so horrific that my heart thudded and trembled like a netted wild bird.

I hate being nice. It is a useless, dangerous thing to be.

But, it seems to be part of me, like my curly hair and blue eyes and writing ability and uselessness at sporting activities.

And maybe the Top Bitches miss out in other ways. Who knows? I am not a femme fatale, a fairy tale evil stepmother/queen or a heartless cow – and wishing I were is the work merely of the storm-battered moment. But I am keeping these thoughts as I wrote them – because this mood is as valid as any others I experience.

Sometimes, I look in the mirror of heart, body and soul and can write paeons of praise about my qualities. Today, scratchy from tears and fury, I cannot.

Hatred of the opposite sex – and conversion attempts

Human beings, especially those riddled with hatred and insecurity and self-righteousness, have this crazy desire to fish for converts in every body of water. This becomes especially dangerous when their fishing rods are built with misogny or misandry. Catching a fish and preparing it with your own anger and poison does not a genuine feast make!

I freeze when I hear someone say, ‘I hate men!’ or, ‘All women are bitches!’

Why? What’s the point? What an unintelligent and narrow decision! Just because one man (or woman) was a shit (or shittess) doesn’t mean you need to tar them all with the same (toilet) brush, does it?



It has always really annoyed me when misandrists have tried to recruit me to their ranks. This tendency has increased since I went public on here with aspects of my divorce and its aftermath. Man-hating women are drawn to my posts like sharks to a swimmer’s slight wound, and some of them make it abundantly clear that I should be one of them.

But equally toxic is the following: Misogynists who, sensing that I have always got on very well with men, try to usher me into the Church of Woman-loathing women.

People are people, for heaven’s sake – and I choose my friends on that basis rather than on their gender per se.

It is, actually, far healthier, if you think about it, to have both male and female friends when going through life’s traumas. They have very different, but equally valuable, perspectives on, in my case, marital breakdown; even more importantly, though, friends of the opposite sex reassure you that not all apples in that gender’s basket are rotten. They show, by example, the good, kind, loving and supportive side of their sex – and we all need that hope held out for us when we are immersed in the devastation that is divorce.

It is true that some scars will take longer to heal than others – and that, as a result, certain interactions with the opposite sex will be off the agenda for an indeterminate length of time – but eschewing half of the human race because of the behaviour of one member is as short-sighted as it is stupid.

We can rail against the Patriarchal Society we live in, or historical male dominance, without having to turn our backs upon the human beings we like (who happen to have been born boys!) and who are our close friends.

We are all composed of a complex mix of male and female characteristics – and, if we loathe all of one gender, we are also hating that side of ourselves.

No, I love my female friends and my male ones, equally if differently, and have no desire to join the ranks of the haters!

So, if you are fishing for another member of the Gender Hatred Squad, do not come anywhere near my lake. Pike lie deep, grow to enormous size, taste revolting and are vicious when any attempt is made with line and hook.

All conversion based upon fanaticism and closet hatred works on the Divide and Rule Principle. Many people (quite rightly, in my opinion) feel unease at some of the techniques used by the mainstream religions – yet fall into the Despise another Gender trap with terrifying ease.

A Blast from the Past: Profusion of Blood

Memories elide, like inadequately pronounced words sieved through a cleft palette; stunted meaning chunks out, or scenes which lie atop one another, resembling slaughtered and rotting animal remains in an abattoir.

The blood is profuse – in both cases. In the first, the child, screaming, is wrapped in a tartan rug; large red droplets stain the white linoleum of the hospital corridor. The ambulanceman who carries her, clutches her tiny body to him tightly as if this can stop the relentless haemorrhage, the heavy sogging of the family’s summer picnic surface.

A second child, even younger, abandoned breathless on a high bed, watches, in wide-eyed terror and hears the echoes of that unknown wounded one’s frantic pleading and crying, does not understand the thick red waterfall growing behind her – just sees what looks like another little girl’s entire volume of life-blood staining the floor.

Later, the asthma-child gathers, from fragments of adult conversation, that the blooded one had fallen, awkwardly, when straddling a high wall – and had severed parts meant to be kept private: Her battered flesh a greater horror for being, in some way neither could then understand, sexual.

Bloody profusion revisits seven years later when the mother, swathed in a turquoise and green dressing-gown, begins the agonising and murderous-looking process of a late miscarriage – and, before the ambulance arrives to take her away, the now-pubescent daughter sees the scarlet back of the nightwear and the metallic heat of blood spilled so abundantly on the upper landing.

That the blood comes from the same place is an unfortunate coincidence; that life-long scarring in one case, and loss in the other, are the end result a double blow to a shaky psyche – and a terror, which lasts for decades, surrounding pregnancy and birth; a stuck place only released by the successful birth of her own child twenty-seven years after the second incident and thirty-four after the first.

For many years, she fears that she has imagined the quantity and vicious brightness of blood; that it has become caught, like the drainage jars carried behind toddlers in the hospital, and exaggerated out of all proportion. She tells herself that she could not possibly have witnessed her own mother’s embryo-expulsion beginning its gory journey.

But, three years before giving birth herself, some instinct – For healing? For facing up to this fear – grabs her, and she finds herself designing a tarot card which features a young woman, standing straddle-legged and naked, blood pouring from between her legs upon the mountainous landscape of West Wales. The image is shocking, visceral – and, although it remains on a page in one of her many journals and Art books, she has barely looked at it since.

Memories both dull and sharpen, and truths become caught in the vastness of childhood horror – a land in which spillage of blood is always unstoppably profuse, and sexual symbolism becomes entangled with Wasteland wounds and legends of the Grail.


Women and Anger: A Taboo…

I allowed anger through in this piece – and did not control the order and rigidly enforce the inner logic of my thoughts the way I usually do. It may well be patchy. I don’t care. Rage is not tidy. It is not coldly logical. It is red and jagged and physical. I think this is why so many – men and women – fear anger: They cannot order it safely through the mind, nor can they control it. It is wild and scary – and some people would rather lock an angry relative up in a psychiatric ward than face their own deepest terror (of insanity) in the mirror.

Why is it that signs of fury in women are deemed almost sinful by some people? Why is it that any rage emanating from female lips and body and wildly-gesticulating hands is akin to hormonal imbalance – or, even more worrying, madness?

This is the excuse misogynists use to keep women under control. These are the weak weapons of so-called logic inadequate males pull out in order to assert their own dominance. Real men don’t need such oppressive techniques.

My title was chosen deliberately and with malice aforethought. Never said I was nice, now did I? You see, there are still a poisonous minority of those born with a penis who view all girlies as either Madonnas or Whores – and appear unable to distinguish between the largely made-up (or at least vastly exaggerated) effects of hormones upon a woman’s behaviour and the whingeing (by definition trivial, pointless and self-indulgent) moans of whores (which, according to the worst of men, is most of us!).

So: Woman angry? Time of the Month. Woman bloody furious? Menopause. Woman swinging shovel threateningly? Lunatic.

Turn that round, however, and start each question with the word ‘man’, a very different story comes out, doesn’t it? And not one which casts aspersions on the man’s sexual proclivities (or lack thereof) because, as we all know, the rules are very different for blokes, aren’t they? You don’t get whores in Manland; you get STUDS (fellow wick-dippers to look up to because they have plunged more often than you have, Woof!).

Men, it seems, are expected – and, therefore, allowed – to be aggressive and loud and angry and pissed off and threatening without it reflecting in a negative hormonal sense upon them. A fella with surging testosterone is admired as he swaggers down the street, balls so full of spunk that he can barely walk. No one says to him, when he slams a hand hard down on the table top (breaking Granny’s precious hundred year old tea set), ‘Time of the Testy month, is it?’ Although, there is, let us face it, a bit of a clue in the word ‘testy’!

Why is it that men’s hormonal response is seen as thrusting and purposeful and assertive and powerful – and women’s as dangerously mad, irrational, pathetic and weak?

Why is it that women are only allowed their anger in tiny controlled bite-sized portions, and then have to apologise endlessly, make reparation, admit they are pre-menstrual, peri-menopausal or plain barking bloody mad?

Why can’t we just blow a gasket without having to explain afterwards which part of the endless fucking dreary female cycle we are in?! Why can’t we be allowed to get utterly furious just because? Just because some bastard has pushed us too far, or some bitch has bad-mouthed us once too often, or life has been a stressful shitty series of apparently endless years and we have had enough, no hormonal cracks necessary, thank you very much!

Anger is human. It is vital. It is a force which operates equally in men and women. It is not intelligent enough to differentiate or judge. It just is. We are the ones who make these prissy and unhelpful judgements about anger. We are the ones who are so terrified of it that we confuse it with insanity and accuse those who rant and rave and scream and shriek (for legitimate reasons) of being off their heads!

Yes, I have a right to my anger. I do not hate men. It is the attitude we, as a society, have towards emotions that bothers me so much, and this prevailing melodrama of woman as hormonal Bertha in Forbidden Anger’s Locked Attic. It is so sodding patronising. What it is saying is that we women are open to ridicule and impatience and all the tiresome menopause jokes whenever we break away from maternal, nay marmoreal, calm and placidity and submissiveness. Break out the strait-jacket for any woman who so much as raises her voice in minor peeve mode! Jeez!

What a trough full of dingo bollocks!

I am raging because I am frigging angry. I am not on the rag, or having a hot flush or oestrogen-deprived or afflicted by bats in my belfry! Being a woman does not mean that any of the above are obligatory, you know!

Anger is sexless. Anger is a force. It is not different for men and women, though the ghastly dregs of sexist control in our world would love it to be that way.

The reason so many women struggle with expressing their own rage openly is this kind of unthinking prejudice; it is this endless assumption that a womb and bosoms and the ability to be a mother somehow means that we should be rocking offspring or chained to the ruddy sink or wiping bottoms or calming everyone else’s anger down – and putting our own explosive feelings last, lest we damage anyone else!

Why do women find it so hard to express their rage openly? Why do they slice their own flesh and pull out precious tufts of hair and feathers? Because they are ridiculed, humiliated, patted on the head, locked up and punished for any show of temper. Because their fury is not taken seriously. Because they are seen as screaming harpies rather than human beings with a legitimate grievance and the right to self-expression.

My advice – to both men and women? Stop blaming female hormones for everything – and look at the reality: Rage is usually brought on by the behaviour of another, or others – and, all too often, the hormone argument is nothing more than a cop-out, a refusal to take responsibility for being a damned irritating little tit (of either sex!).

I  am allowed to express my anger because I am me! My reasons should not be trivialised because I am female and possess hormones!


On feeling safe – and trusting the gut instinct…

My party was lovely for all the reasons I mentioned in my previous post. But there is more, so much more. I felt safe, really safe, safe in a way that is very rare and equally precious. My guests created that atmosphere between them, adding their warm magic to the work I have already done upon my beloved home and my scarred self.

This is going to sound like a really childish thing to say – but it is actually quite profound: I knew that no one in my house would hurt me or play mind games with me or send me to Coventry or make me beg for metaphorical scraps in the emotional sense. I could party without fear – and, as you know, I did just that.

No one told me off when I put my short red dress on. Nobody told me I was humiliating when I played my recorder and sang. No one threatened to leave the room when I played the fiddle. No one said I was too loud or too embarrassing or totally insensitive. Nobody made snidely patronising comments. I did not have to hide who I really am – not once. I did not have to creep around ferocious egos or put myself into the shade because I was too boisterous or weird.

And this brings me on to the most serious part of this post: A dilemma all writers have to face eventually – and that is the battle between truth and diplomacy; the war between the psychological need to let it all out and the terror of the nastiness which can follow.

In my case, I protect people who are not worth it, who were never worthy of me, far too easily. I am a people-pleaser – and this is a serious handicap. Because I am inured to abuse, I often fail to recognise it when it is in its speciously attractive and winsome form, and let others tell me that I have got the wrong end of the stick when my gut is screaming danger and desolation, brutality and betrayal. When people justify their poor behaviour towards me with honeyed words and promises, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, even when my higher self is yelling, ‘Don’t do it, Ali!’

Sometimes, there IS no room for doubt – and no one benefits from that pointless delay, that weakening of a position. Sometimes, we have to look back over the whole history of a relationship, and its dominant patterns, its toxic behaviours, in order to become clear about what we are willing to accept – and to detach ourselves from that which is unacceptable. Sometimes the hardest thing to say is, ‘This is NOT all right. You have gone too far this time.’

I am developing a sense of what is, and what is not, okay in my home, my world. My gut tells me very clearly. On the rare occasion when an unsafe, or malevolent, or controlling, or patronising human enters my abode, I inevitably end up either sunk in unexpected gloom or in abdominal/epigastric pain post-visit. My body reacts even when my mind is spinning endless excuses for the other.

A very small minority of other human beings give me the equivalent of an allergic reaction, in some cases a pretty severe one: Were it strictly physical, I would be reaching for the Epipen. The irony is that I have always ‘known’ this at the cellular level. My own bodily reactions show that very clearly.

Gone are the days in which I felt I had to don the mask, put on an act, in my own home. I cannot gush. I am not capable of the kind of social chat which is the mainstay of so much of our world. I find it tedious and difficult to fathom, to be honest. With few filters myself, I am, perhaps, not clever or subtle enough to pass muster with the social genii. I am seen as sullen or boringly silent or difficult or rude. But also I am undone by my literal-mindedness in some spheres of life. If I give my word, it is my bond – and I tend not to understand the elasticity of too many people’s promises, invitations and connections with me. I don’t get the rules – and so I get hurt, time after time, when I trust something which is manifestly friable and seen as such by everyone else.

There is a code in social intercourse which I have never got and which continues to elude me. If, for example, I say, ‘I’d love to…’ I mean it. It is not just a phrase designed to appease, communicate a maybe or covertly express the absolute opposite. For this reason, inviting anyone to do anything is fraught with anxiety and the possibility (probability) of misunderstanding, of socially ambiguous language which is, actually, a form of rejection.

This is why the friends I have made here are so precious. Many of them share my sense of social confusion and ineptitude. Many of them feel bamboozled by the rules and unspoken reward/punishment cycle of the social sphere. Many of them find, like me, that they put their foot in it without realising – or take a vague suggestion too seriously and get very wounded when its superficial nature becomes clear.

I feel safe because, I guess, I have found a loose-knit tribe; because there is a straightforwardness, an honesty, between us which has nothing to do with society’s laws and everything to do with surviving and true friendship and being a square peg in a round hole and being seen as different and weird, or nutty, or a misfit or a social failure. I feel safe because I do not have to prove myself worthy through behaving in a particular way, and because people like me anyway and are not withholding warmth until I show signs of improvement, of being a better, more civilised, human being. I feel safe because it is fine to be antisocial, to hibernate and withdraw, to be ungainly and unintentionally rude and anxious and a bit sad at times.

At my party, I was freed, for one glorious evening, from a lifetime of social anxiety and so was able to just be myself and have an absolute ball. My friends took me at my word, a word unfiltered through the dreary social mores, and turned up to party. Illness felled a few, sad to relate, but I felt their presence anyway – and know they would have got what we were all about.

Freed from social strait-jackets and small-minded people’s inner padded cells, I can commune bizarrely with friends about crazy stuff without having to apologise, explain or cringe.

There are people who would have loathed my party with exactly the kind of passionate love I felt for and about it. The lack of social structure would have appalled such individuals. They would have felt as unsafe as I felt safe. Those I value and love as a tribe would be judged as batty, scatty, probably ratty and  definitely beyond the pale!

I no longer want to run the gauntlet of polite society’s very special brand of warfare. I no longer want to be sneered at behind fans by aristocratic ladies who say, ‘La!’ I no longer want to be looked at as if I were a barking mad ragamuffin scratching a pitiful living on the streets of Victorian London. I no longer want to navigate the maddening waterways of social untruth in my blunt little coracle. I no longer want to be looked down upon, and condescended to, because I am not seen as High Status and someone it is important to know!

Fuck ’em, I say (though not literally: I wouldn’t touch the buggers with a greased punt pole, myself); I am happy with witches and wizards and geniuses and wobbly people and those who revel in fluidity and those who have survived and bring their own language of anger and bawdiness and vulgarity and tender love and care to counteract the stiff petticoats and rigid corsets of the High and Mighty!

I am now sixty. I know who I am and I like her! I am no longer prepared to give house or heart room to those who devalue me, and my ‘type’, through pomposity and narrow-minded self-adoration, through snobbery and fear of anything different, through shallow feelings and an inbred need to feel superior. I am bored with plastering a fake smile upon my chops just to please others!

I know where I stand – and I know that it is no longer possible to gull me, or flatter me, or persuade me, through lies steeped in honey. I will be listening to my instinct from now on – and it will take precedence over other people’s rhetoric!

Birthday Brilliance! Party Perfection! The Glorious Ninth!

Oh, but I had such a brilliant and beautiful and heart-warming birthday! Despite having been pretty conclusively bitten by the barn-weasel – and feeling as rough as an elephant’s scrotum – I am still aglow from last night (and early this morning!). Let it never be said that the sixty year old Browning female is backwards in coming forward when it comes to a damn good rave-up!

So, to set the scene: I woke to rain – and all thoughts of festive gazebos, fire bowls, nude cavorting in the garden and the like were washed down the drain of the typical bloody English climate – which, as we all know, is up and down like a whore’s drawers.

Up I got and, a lovely present-opening session with the Lad later, I girded up my loins and got down to the serious business of chopping the vegetables (and no, this is not a euphemism for one of Dear Booby’s more repellent habits!) for a leek and potato soup.

Soon, a large orange le creuset cauldron was bubbling and simmering merrily away on the hob (with me cackling away in the background, as you do) – and, having released the Rabbit of War, I was ready to slice up the Fridge Roll. Note to the uninitiated: Fridge Roll is a chocolate number I make. Shaped like a phallus while it stiffens in the freezer (Bugger off, Booby, you lascivious old tart!), it comes out hard and can then be sliced thinly. There may well be a metaphor in there somewhere…

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my other domestic tasks (as I wish to keep my friends!) – but, let us hop, skip and jump forward a few hours. Darkness had fallen. The aforesaid Leporine of Minor Skirmishes had been pent, once more, in her hutch. The rain, to be fair, had died down a trifle – but the bog (er, garden) was, I felt, a little too lethal for playing in.

I was really nervous. Shaking and quaking like a woman-shaped jelly, in fact. Why? Because it was such a long time since I had had a party and I was scared that no one would turn up (or that it would be such a damp squib of an evening that my guests would leave in droves after ten minutes!)…

Everything was ready. Appetising smells from the soup mingled with the sharper chocolate scent of the now-kit-form Fridge Roll. Son had been elevated to Guardian of the Portal status (or, to put it more mundanely, he opened the door to the visitors while his mother had a fit of the vapours in the background)…

…when, suddenly, DING DONG!

The first visitor had arrived, followed speedily by the second.

In they came, in twos and threes. Gifts and cards they gave me, and hugs and happy birthday wishes and laughter and, in some cases, wore wonderful costumes, and it was all as merry as merry could be. Each new arrival was greeted and then ushered into the Troughing Palace (er, kitchen) and handed a bowl of soup (or, after the first few drinks had gone to my head, a ladle and incoherent instructions to get stuck in!) and seated.

Very soon, the ice was magnificently broken (not that there was much anyway: The great thing about my friends is that we can skip all that tedious social chitchat bollocks and get straight down to proper talking!) by a combination of noshing and jesting. Euphemisms flew. Double entendre fought for space with mordant wit. Frank vulgarity produced many a belly laugh.

The music started spontaneously (as it should, in my opinion). I grabbed a recorder (descant, for those who want to know) and trilled a snatch of ‘The Irish Washerwoman’. Ross (who is a bit handy on the old violin) plugged the electric fiddle into the amp and, tethered by one of the shortest leads it has ever been my misfortune to own, joined me. James added another musical layer on guitar, while Aelph contributed the rhythm section and Sally sang (I think: I was a bit rat-arsed by then).

Soon we had a fabulous vibe going: Musicians jammed in the Living Room; others talked and ate and drew in the kitchen; still others lurked in the garden and smoked.

We had a wonderful half hour or so in which Son collected Pippa from outside and brought her in to do Lap Duty for one of the Under Twenty Brigade. She sat on a cushion and was petted, admired and stroked for ages. It was so sweet and lovely.

Then – the drink having flowed in as inhibition drained out – I nipped upstairs and donned my Booby Fellatio garb. I need to be somewhat lubricated to put the damn thing on because it leaves pretty much nothing to the imagination on the mammary front and, being a snug fit(shall we say?), has to be hoicked most inelegantly up when, going against the Laws of Gravity, bits of it try to head North!

This was the cue we Witches of Widdershins Hill needed to get up and dance frenziedly to The Stranglers, Patti Smith and other classics of our misspent youth. Mind you, after the amount I had already put away (which included some fine Mead and my first-ever Tequila – which tasted vile, but reached the parts even Helga would hesitate to approach), I was up for anything by that point!

Hilarious! Liberating! Wondrous! By Goddess, we gave it some serious attitude! My view is that, if I can’t attempt some mad Pogo-ing and head-banging at sixty, when the hell can I?

Janetta had made a splendid chocolate cake with a green 60 on it and I was filmed tripping drunkenly across the carpet with said luxury held aloft, while the others sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and I wittered on inebriatedly.

Booby gets her hands round a big one, darling!

It got to the finely-balanced point of ripped-off-the-tittedness in which the drink-addled get all emotional and touchy-feely (the Mass Hug Bit), but before one reaches the Strategic Chunder (or even Spontaneous Vomit) part – which, as we all know, is the station just before embarrassing personal revelation, unconsciousness, vicious argument and, in worst case scenario, getting up close and personal with the stomach pump!

Lovely jubbly!

Various people, less pie-eyed than I was, were still able to hold a phone steady and film bits of the proceedings – and, throughout the day, I have been sent photos and little videos by my lovely friends.

Gradually, as the night wore on and the bottles were drained to the dregs, people began to leave. And yet we partied on! Midnight passed. I was still raring to go.

Eventually, at around 1.30, the final few left. The whole house throbbed with the pulsing party heart-beat’s echo. My red fish-net tights were in tatters and bunched most unattractively underneath each foot so that it looked as if I had stepped on a brace of red mullet! Stunning (NOT!)…

I stayed up till gone 2 am because I was still as high as a kite, as drunk as a skunk and all the other post-binge similes! Sleep proved elusive – happiness, mead, over-excitement, the buzz of delightful friends, the echoes of laughter and music and thumping feet on pink carpet all conspiring to keep the Land of Nod at a far distance!

What a great way to start my sixties, eh?!

A visit to my mother

I am not all right. Not at present. I feel as if I have something stuck in my throat and am extremely anxious. No longer sure whether the choking sensation, and acid reflux, represent a disease in themselves or whether it is recent events in my life that are kick-starting the dread cycle of physical sensations produced by Fight or Flight.

2018 has not started well. I’ll be honest about that. I know all the guff about fresh starts and renewed optimism and always looking on the bright side and the wisdom of the aged woman – but, frankly, I am me, not a performing Crone, and can only write about what is actually true for me. Pointless to reflect upon life from the perspective of what, according to some, should be the mind of a woman of my age.

My digestive system has been very easily skewed by emotional problems for many years. But it has never been this bad. The  feeling of lumpiness in the throat makes me feel so panic-stricken that I tend to avoid eating – and, when I do consume food, I am so tense that, of course, the problem just gets worse.

I went to see my mother on Wednesday, accompanied (thank Goddess) by my son and his girlfriend. The shock was visceral. For complex reasons, I had not seen her for a while and, although siblings had warned me, no words could prepare me for the reality of a parent in late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease.

The new home is lovely, and the carers seem great. They speak of my mum with fondness, say that sometimes she sings and that she will talk. I imagined a limited conversation and perhaps the chance to hear her beautiful singing voice once again. I had not taken in the word ‘wheelchair’ nor the full implications of being told that she could no longer use a knife and fork.

But I needed to face it – just as I needed to face death through Jumble’s passing just over a month ago. I have dallied in delusion and denial long enough.

The day was beautiful. Cotswold stone shone in wintry sun. We signed in and were told that the residents were having lunch. I opted to see Mum in the Dining Room first.

They told me she was sitting at the back table. I looked. There was no one I recognised as my mother at first glance. It was only when I was told that she was being fed that I realised that the woman, with her back to me, a stiff wing of greyish-white hair plumed back from bald forehead, was my mum. This woman wore a bib and a carer was patiently spooning blended food into her mouth. Baby, she was, or large and silent baby bird.

I approached. I knew, in my heart, that she did not know me – but the blankness of her stare showed something far worse: She did not know herself; she did not know full stop. Her blue eyes were set in the archetypal Alzheimer’s Thousand Yard Stare. This was no longer loss of memory; this was loss of self. I have no idea whether she has any lingering sense of what ‘me’ means, but I somehow doubt it.

We waited, the three of us, in the Lounge and, eventually, Mum was wheeled in, parked and left for us to interact with – or try to. She can talk, in disconnected blocks of largely senseless words – but it is not, in any way I recognise, conversation. Her thoughts tail off. Her face is, for the most part, frozen, though occasional smiles and odd bursts of laughing, break the surface. Her hands, always so active, lie like smooth little gloves in her lap and, although I held her right hand (and generally made physical contact as much as I could), there was no response; her small hand lay in mine as if it were already dead just not yet cold.

When we were little, she used to sing, around the house and, sometimes, to us. The tune I most associate with those early days is Ronald Binge’s ‘Elizabethan Serenade’ – and, reminding Mum of how musical she was, I sang it to her, my voice trembling a bit and my throat choked with tears which would not come out.  She seemed to smile – but I have no idea whether that had anything to do with my choice of song, or whether this movement of facial muscles was as involuntary as all her other bodily actions now.

She reminded me (as I wrote in my journal and, subsequently, for friends on Facebook) of a mechanical doll winding down. She is not dead, but she has gone. That is the reality I was unwilling to face. That is, I suspect, part of my reason for not facing up to the situation and to her.

I talked to her (or should that be ‘at her’?) for an hour, and much of it was interspersed with song because music linked us and I have heard that singing can trigger non-verbal ‘memory’ in some Alzheimer’s patients.

It was heart-breaking. It was horrifying. I felt as if I were performing to a corpse. And yet somewhere beneath that frozen mask, those four pointy teeth, the limbs that have to be coerced to move, the trapped mind, is the womb which bore me and my four siblings; the mind, now honeycombed with air and absence, still carries a silent echo of the bustling, sharp articulate mother, the woman who was a natural speller and musician, who was feisty and difficult and eccentric before her time; somewhere in the hollow caverns of her manikin self lies the boundless imagination and sense of fun and bad temper and war-stopping sneeze.

Music releases emotions in me – and I may well have inherited that from her. Yesterday, still in shock, I found ‘Elizabethan Serenade’ on Youtube – and found myself sobbing immediately as soon as the familiar first notes started. I played it over and over, tears drenching the table and my clothes and face.

The visit triggered griefs stoppered up at the time, reopened wounds I thought stitched up and healed; but it also made me question our current thinking around elderly and very sick people. I am far from sure that this drive to keep everyone alive until advanced old age is in society’s best interest (let alone that of the individual concerned). I am not convinced that my mother still has what I would call quality of life (though I appreciate I may be wrong) – and I am not sure that being reduced to the level of dependent animal is of benefit to her or anyone else.

We cannot fight the inevitability of death. Keeping people alive merely puts it off for a while. Did I feel that my mother’s spirit was fighting to stay in this world? No, I didn’t: I suspect that her familiar spirit has already gone, ahead of the stilled body, and that, were she asked, she would wish for that useless sack of flesh to be released too.

I am not all right, nor is my mother. Sometimes it is actually healthier to look honestly on the dark side than to try and conjure up a flimsy prism to the bright side of life.

I am not any man’s woman…

I am not any man’s woman. I am my own woman…

For the first time in my life – certainly my adult life – the desire to belong to a man, to be so-and-so’s girlfriend or wife or whatever, is absent. The yearning (which came largely from insecurity and low self-worth) to be part of a couple, to give way to a male, is gone.

The fantasy that girls still get sold – that we are not safe, complete, attractive, sexy without a bloke – has been shown for the tawdry untruth it actually is.

When I got married in 1997, I embraced the gold ring – not because I am particularly interested in gold or jewellery (I’m not!), but because it announced to the world that I was Mrs Someone, a man’s wife, that I was loved.

Three years ago, I removed that ring – though I kept it, hidden, in a box, because I couldn’t quite bear to dismantle, disbelieve, be totally parted from, the symbology. In fact, it was only when I started the process of packing to come here, just over a year ago, that I was finally willing and able to get rid of the ring for good.

My feelings about being someone’s partner have fluctuated since then. Some days – surrounded by what appear to be blissfully happy couples – I have felt insecure, faintly wistful, aware of a slight longing to be one of them. But that, I suspect, is more about conforming to the fairy tale, fitting in and not being on the ancient party shelf, than any real, on the ground, desire to co-habit with a man.

I have most certainly not gone off men. To rephrase the ironic little jest, some of them are my best friends. My sexual antennae are alerted by males rather than females – and, though I am capable of deep feelings for both sexes, my desire to mate (ye gods, there’s biological) is aroused only by men.

But the truth is that I am fiercely independent and have OCD and all manner of other things which make it difficult for me to actually live with ANYBODY, male, female or goat (though, of the three, I would be more inclined to  shack up with a goat!). I am, in my own way, generous with people – but the idea of permanently sharing my space with anyone induces panic and claustrophobia.

I cannot bear the thought of being confined, controlled, of being an adjunct to another’s ego, of being the little woman, Her Indoors. I cannot stand the idea of bowing down to the Great Male Ego and giggling, agreeing, banking my own talents so that his shine more brightly, in order to be part of a Mr and Mrs Scenario.

The maths does not compute for me – and it is, unfortunately, still true that an awful lot of wonderful, feisty, talented and beautiful women allow their own light to fade so that their male partners feel dominant, masterful and brilliant.

I know that I have a worryingly strong need to abase myself, to deny my own character, in order to please men. I know that I am easily sucked in to flattering a bloke’s ego and trying to be everything he wants in a woman – often with disastrous results in terms of who I actually am. I have learned, from bitter past experience, that trying to embody all the characteristics a man’s previous partner lacked is both crippling and deeply insulting. It doesn’t work – or, if it does, it sets up a contract that becomes ever-more destructive because the woman can never truly be who she really is, and the man is ‘in love’ with her facade, her echoing of his desires and interests, her soothing manner and listening ear rather than with the real, flesh-and-blood woman herself.

I do not want to be Mrs again. I do not wish to share my home with a guy, no matter how attuned we are or, to put it bluntly, how good he is in bed!

I value my independence. I value my female friends. I am, for the first time in decades, living a life free from the competitiveness between women searching for a mate. I value my male friends – and have a fair few of them. All are in relationships – and this makes them, in a very real sense, safe. I have no desire to poach anyone else’s man: Been there, done that; still suffering the slings and arrows of that particular hideous mistake.

Perhaps I have a mind that is more masculine than feminine. I say this because I can imagine having a bloke on tap for sex, and I can (and do) relish the mind and spirit connection I have with a small handful of my male friends – but I do not need to be connected in the conventional way and I have absolutely no wish to be known as ‘Male A’s girlfriend/wife/bit on the side’.

I am ME. I love men. But I don’t NEED one to complete me because I am already a whole person!


The LIST 2018 – The definitive guide to this years ‘Must Read’ books.

Wonderful initiative. Thank you for including ‘Long Leggety Beasties’ as part of it. Am now sending it out far and wide.

Ramblings from a Writer's Mind

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Surely, The LIST is the best collection of ‘must-read’ indie books anywhere.

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