I put the car in neutral, pull on the handbrake, let go of the pedals and breathe out. Once again I have managed to get from point A to point B without killing anyone, including me, or damaging the car.

Today, it’s raining. Specifically the kind of extremely wet rain that manages to soak you to the bone within a second of you setting foot outside. It’s not torrential, in fact you can barely see it falling, but it is WET. After a doctor’s appointment this morning I had to drive in to work as, of course, there are no trains after 9am. So being already late for work, I took the motorway. Making the decision to program that into the GPS was already a big step, but the “no motorways” option was double the time.

It’s almost a year since I passed the driver’s test, got it first time too. But the moment I got the call and heard that I was now licenced to drive, I felt like sooner or later someone would put a stop to this madness and tell me there was a mistake and no way would I ever be allowed to be in charge of a whole automobile by myself. I mean, it’s a really big thing, with an engine. How am I supposed to be responsible for the whole of that?

As we both commute by public transport, we only drive occasionally, so I drive even less often. Everytime I do I feel like I should be congratulated on arrival for not totally screwing up. Seriously, getting all the way to work – that’s a 45 minute drive, crossing a border and all – feels like I should almost get a congratulatory day off. Getting there by motorway, in the rain and on my own makes me want to grab people by the shirt and scream in their faces “do you not realise what I have ACHIEVED today??”

But no, I’m 36 and nobody realises that it is totally effing insane that I can actually DRIVE.  And even sometimes park. Like, inside the lines and everything. It’s just nuts.

It feels a bit like a kind of very specific motoring-centric impostor syndrome. Sooner or later, I figure, someone will discover that I am totally unfit to be put in charge of such a powerful and potentially dangerous machine.

Guess I’d better make the most of it while it lasts then.


No, dear grammar geeks, that is not a misplaced apostrophe up there in the title. In fact it would be most ironic if ’twas so, as this post is all about punctuation.

And swearing.

Now before we begin, I would like to make it clear that I am far from chaste of mouth, I swear quite a bit, especially, for some reason, at work, where pretty much every mistake, frustration or windows crash (of which there are many), is greeted by anything from a plain old “shit” to a slightly more creative “flying bollocks from hell” and all manner of intermediate  and random swearmongery.

But I can’t help but notice that there are many people, especially in the English language, and especially on public transport, who use so much swearing in their everyday conversation that it makes Tarantino movies look like a Secret Seven omnibus. It really has become a form of punctuation in its own right.

You may – but you probably won’t – be familiar with the ill-fated irony mark (؟), the interrobang (‽) and other failed punctuation propositions that neve really caught on. So I would like to propose a new punctuation mark to enable modular and adaptable writing. I give you (drumroll please): The cockstop .|.

Just as a comma or a full stop inserts a pause or break into a sentence, the cockstop denotes a place to insert a swearword. The degree of the swearword is entirely up to the reader, who can even choose to leave it blank. A bit like a sweary version of Madlibs.

How about an example?

“You know that .|. guy down the .|. pub? He .|. tried to .|. sell me a .|. fake iPhone made of .|. rubber! What a .|.ing  .|.!”


Quite a few months ago now, I backed my first ever Kickstarter for a very cute and smart product called Miggo. It’s a comfy, padded camera strap that wraps around your camera and becomes a case when not in use. This solved 2 problems I have with my DSLR: finding a decent cover that I can use with it that will fit in my regular everyday bags, and finding a replacement for the atrociously uncomfortable default neck strap. I received my Miggo about a month ago now and we’ve been on a couple of successful adventures together now. It’s as comfortable and practical as I had hoped and I’m so glad it made it to production. You can find their website at mymiggo.com

The one glitch was that my usual lens, an 18-200 mm, was too long for the strap to wrap around as advertised on the site. However, after some experimenting, I discovered a simple solution, so I thought I’d share it.

miggo-long-lens


The unbelievable amount of heartwarming praise and tribute for Robin Williams since he passed away has been incredibly moving. I won’t go on about it, you’ve seen it. So many people were touched by his many many roles both on screen and off it.

But the trolls are always there, and in a case like this, they can do so much harm, real harm, without even realising it.

“How selfish to do that to his family.”

“He had everything, his life was perfect, he had nothing to be depressed about.”

“Coward”

Celebrity or not, those same old phrases keep coming back when referring to people who suffer from depression, especially when suicide or attempted suicide occurs. There have been a number of beautifully eloquant posts about the reality and seriousness of depression, and the dismissiveness of society in general when it comes to mental illness, even though it is so common. 1 person in 4 will suffer from depression at some point in their life. Count the people around you, if there are more than 4 of them, then there’s a chance it will affect one or more of you.

If that happens, don’t tell them to “snap out of it”. Don’t say that things aren’t really that bad and they just need to take a step back. Don’t compare their life to yours, don’t compare their feelings to yours. Acknowledge them. Help them if you can, real, constructive help like getting them to talk to a medical professional or to a counselling service. Give them a hug. Let them know that you see them and that you’re there for them. Depression makes you feel tiny, powerless and invisible, so acknowledgement helps. Do what you can, but don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t work. Some shadows are just too dark.

depression


Well, ok, technically it is, but what I mean is: it’s not that simple.

Yesterday, I listened to a wonderful young man step out of a wardrobe, complete with creaking door sound effects. A few years ago, I met a bunch of people on twitter, round about the same time, from all sorts of backgrounds, of all ages, and two of those people were in their young teens. Joseph was one of them, Stephanie the other, and I am desperately proud of both of them and the fine young people they have become so far and will continue to be.

On top of that, Joseph did something yesterday that made me even prouder, if that’s even possible. He’s passionate about radio, and has been doing his own unpretentious and delightful show on the interwebs for a while, but yesterday he did a special one to talk about his sexuality. Not only is it a beautiful and eloquent way of coming out, but he also touches on some deeper points about relationships, and how they are perceived accordingly to sexuality.

And that got me thinking. Again. It’s something I have pondered so many times over the years but have never really tried to construct those thoughts. So please bear with me. This may be rather rambling. But then most of my posts are so, hey, you’re used to it, right? Also, please bear in mind that this is me thinking. I’m not trying to lay down any kind of fundamental truths here, it’s just my brain working, and that means it’s flawed by definition, so please feel free to disagree, but do so politely.

Acceptance of non-heterosexual sexuality has improved over the last half century or so, at least in most western countries. It’s a long way from perfect, and because it requires a fair bit of mindset changing, it will probably be a few more generations before it’s anywhere near where it should be. But it is at least moving forward.

It is, however, at least, as I see it, rather compartmentalised. The good old “LGBT” gives you 4 nice tidy little boxes to put people in. Let’s extend that to LGBTQIA to include those who identify as “questioning”, intersex and A-sexual. Oh, wait, what about pansexuals? Is that a thing? And, correct me if I’m wrong, but Transgender isn’t a sexual preference, it’s a personal gender identity. It’s to do with who you are, not who you love. A transman or transwoman could be attracted to men or to women or to both. So does that mean they actually fit in one box or two. Or maybe three if you count pre and post transition?

Boxes don’t work, for me. They do provide terms that can sometime help other people to understand that part of who you are – and as Joseph says so well, it’s only part of you, it doesn’t define you on its own. But I feel there is a level lacking in the definition of a person’s “sexuality”, and that’s the notion of relationship identity. There are boxes for who you are, boxes for who you love, but none for how you love.

I was once told, by someone I then considered a friend, that my relationship with my husband was “nothing but a bullshit lie between two hypocrites who are too weak or too scared to disobey the social norm and admit they want to see other people”. I knew he was in an open relationship, and that he understandably felt very strongly about the pressures society puts on people who are in “non conventional” relationships. So although it hurt, and it wasn’t true, I let it go.

I also didn’t respond because there isn’t a simple answer to explain how wrong that statement is in our specific case. But here goes an attempt at a less simple one.

I feel that the way each person feels about relationships, sex, even friendship, is as important and defining as their sexuality. Some people need to be able to move from partner to partner, sometimes in succession, sometimes simultaneously. Others will latch on to a single person and want to stay stuck to them forever. And there is a whole range of nuances in between those extremes. Some people will not even want romantic relationships, or even sex, at all. It may be part nature, part nurture, or all one or the other, who knows, but I think this “relationship identity” is a deeply rooted part of each person.

Saying that all humans should be monogamous, or on the contrary that we are all hard-wired to copulate with every sexual partner in sight is as nonsensical and discriminatory as it is to say we should all be heterosexual.

Personally – and this is so personal I don’t think I have ever said it “out loud” to anyone – I am a love addict. I have only really had a crush on 3 or 4 people in my whole life and each of those was a lasting one, over months or even years, even when unrequited. Number 4 was the only one that really turned into a relationship, and here I am, 17 years later, still as addicted to him as I was from day 1. So I look around and I see other people, people I find attractive, even sometimes people I find attractive and have a strong compatibility with. But they don’t move me. I don’t get that jittery butterfly feeling. I don’t want to be with them.

Now Number 4 and I had a conversation about fidelity early on in our relationship, maybe a few months in. I told him that I was aware that people sometimes need to go elsewhere, get attracted to others without necessarily wanting to end their main relationship. And I told him in no uncertain terms that if he needed to do that, I would be ok with it as long as he was honest with me. I swear he wouldn’t have looked more hurt if I had slapped him. He asked me if I wanted to do that myself, and I said no. His brain is just wired the same way mine is: it’s nice to look at the rest of the menu, but all I ever order is my special.

He and I are lucky to have found another person with a similar relationship identity, and I am grateful for that every single day. Problems happen when that relationship identity, much like the sexual identity, is repressed and/or in conflict. People who try to be monogamous when they are clearly and knowingly not wired for that will end up “cheating”. What a horrible word, and how misused it is. It is usually meant from the point of view of the other partner, and that’s understandable when they’ve been lied to. But in truth, trying to cheat your own instincts and remain monogamous in appearance when you aren’t at heart must be just as soul-crushing as trying to maintain a straight façade when you know you’re gay. Likewise, trying to force yourself to accept an open relationship when your brain doesn’t work like that must be equally torturous. This is where we, as a society, are indeed hypocrites.

Social convention is a complex thing, built over generations and centuries. Sooner or later, it probably has a basis in a statistical “mainstream”, people who share the same preferences and who want to impose them on those who are different. Because different is bad. So I’m guessing that things like social or religious dictates often stem from one or several influential people seeing a difference and wanting to stamp it out. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, people who know they are different want to conform so much that they completely over-compensate and start hurting people like them to show the mainstream that they belong.

In his show, Joseph mentioned that it is often considered that gay men aren’t in it for a stable, long term, “two men growing old together” relationship. That’s true, and it’s not fair. Likewise, bisexual people, when they come out, are considered to have “not made up their mind” and therefore be open to multiple relationships or nothing but three-ways… It is likewise assumed that all heterosexuals (I hate the word straight so let’s be clinical for lack of a better term) are going to settle down into a monogamous relationship, have kids, and go to Butlins every summer. None of that makes any sense to me.

The same person I mentioned earlier ended our friendship by telling me I was a “privileged straight white monogamous homophobe”. Now I’ll plead guilty on the white, I can’t do anything about that. Privilege is a difficult one, and it’s thrown around so much I sometimes wonder if the people using it even know what it truly means, but I do my best to be aware and empathetic and continue to learn about others, so I hope I’m not, but if I am guilty (and we probably all are on some degree), at least I’m trying. When it comes to “straight” (ugh), well I’d probably end up in the “questioning” box if I had to pick one, but my poor addicted brain is so hooked on one person that, as attractive as I find other women, they are no more attractive to me than men right now, as in not nearly enough to distract me from my Heisenberg Blue of a love addiction, so I’m not sure if I can really tell. Yes, monogamous, but not because society tells me to, but because that’s the way my brain works. As for homophobic, I’m not even going to answer that.

We have a long way to go, people. A lot of closed minds to open up and a lot of love and understanding to spread. Let’s not waste too much time on the haters. They are everywhere, even inside those communities who so desperately need to grow, blossom and connect with others. Hating those who are part of the “mainstream”, even hating each other for not being “different enough” to be part of the group. How ironic. As I said above somewhere, I think this is all to do with pain. People feeling hurt, inadequate, not fitting in, being rejected, being different… Haters are hurting. It doesn’t make them right, it’s not an excuse, but it can help us understand that hating them back is not the way to go, even when they hurt us.

I loved my old friend, in fact I still do. There, I’ve said it. I miss him sometimes, when I come across something he would have enjoyed and I can’t share it with him. I even loved him when he was angry and hurt and ranty about things. Because that was his way of dealing with them, even when it was hurtful to others around him, including me. Anger, hate and pain can cloud our vision, make us quick to judge and jump to conclusions without stopping to truly see other people, see who they are and understand why they do what they do. Let’s work on that, eh?

 


I love London. I can’t get enough of the place. Except when I’ve had enough of the place. That’s usually when I’ve walked around so much that my feet are killing me. So here are a few things that I like to do when visiting London and I get to that point.

- Hop on a boat. There are tourist cruises and river buses that go up and down the Thames or along the canals all day. They move at a leisurely pace and give you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. It’s also a great spot to cool off on the* summer’s day.

- Hop on a bus. If you don’t fancy the tourist hop-on-hop-off rides (although I have to admit they are a great way to get a good first view of the city and work out where you want to go next), you could try randomly picking one of the double deckers that travel around the city centre and just get off when you see something you like. This works best with a 3 or 7 day Travelcard.

- Hop on the DLR or the overground for a train ride with a view. Once again, having a Travelcard will make this really worth it! For example, the DLR trip down to Cutty Sark is a nice one, winding through the buildings of Canary Wharf and the area around the Cutty Sark station (zone 2) is full of spots to shop, eat, snack or stroll.

- Go for a ride on the cable cars that go from the O2 (North Greenwhich tube, in zones 2 and 3) to the Excel Marina. There is plenty to do and see on either end, but the ride itself is the main attraction, giving you a (sitting down) view of the whole London skyline, from the Thames barrier to the Olympic stadium. Here again, having an Oyster card will get you a nice discount on your single or return journey.

- Stop for a cuppa. London is just full of places to sit and have a drink (hot, cold, or alcoholic) and a bun of some description. Take a break, sit back and take in the Londonness. One of my all time favourites is the delightful Secret Tea Rooms in Soho, just behind the Palace theatre off Shaftesbury avenue. Booking is recommended, but you can always try your luck: just walk into the Coach and Horses pub and ask them if there’s room upstairs. Upstairs, the hidden tea rooms have a lovely 1940s vibe to them and the high tea is to die for!

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A table at the Soho Secret Tea Room

*That’s not a typo. This year British summer was a Tuesday.


Over the last few years, I have moved from a French keyboard at work and at home to an Irish/UK keyboard at work and later at home, then back to a French one. Now I have an old net book at home with an Irish keyboard, a slightly more recent computer with a French keyboard and at work, I use a laptop with a Luxembourgish keyboard.

I used to be able to touch type. It was one of the most useful things that I learned at uni. When I moved to Ireland it got tricky, but in the end, switching from AZERTY to QWERTY and back became a minor annoyance. After all I do it on my phone every few minutes, to prevent the autocorrect from making me talk roubles. Rubbish. Whatever.

Over the last month, I have probably spent more time looking for one of the long list characters on my work keyboard, and even at home, than I have spent typing.

I had been warned, but as I sat there on my first day, already taking in the vast amount of new information that comes with the beginning of a new job, I couldn’t work out the logic behind the QWERTZWTF keyboard. It’s like all the worst bits of the QWERTY and the AZERTY had been mixed together. How on earth could anyone make sense of it?

20140411-205707.jpg

Gradually a theory began to form. Here is how I think it happened.

Once upon a time, the very first computer in Luxembourg was installed in the Grand Duke’s office. He had probably badgered the Grand Duchess about getting one until she gave in, making him promise that he would not only use it but take proper care of it. But before he could use it, his beloved Dachshund/Great Dane/Alsatian (no idea what kind of dog he has) decided to maul the keyboard, chew it up and then proceeded to throw up dribble-coated keys all over the Persian carpet.

The poor Grand Duke then had to rush around with sheets of kitchen roll picking up and cleaning off the keys, ramming them randomly back into the keyboard before the Grand Duchess came back from getting her hair done.

Of course, to ensure that HRH his wife would never find out that he had messed up his prized possession, and being the Grand Duke and all, he then had all the other keyboards in the Grand Duchy changed to look like his.

I can’t think of any other logical explanation.

(I know it’s a Swiss/German keyboard and all that, but facts just aren’t as much fun as making stuff up. Just ask any licensed homeopath.)


Dear everyone,

The next time you feel like sending me one of those chains about posting enigmatic stuff on your status to “raise awareness about breast cancer” please leave me out. Even better, please stop and think for a second. Seriously, if everyone did that, chain messages would never have been a thing in the first place.

Let’s just get this straight: breast cancer – or any  kind of cancer, come to that – sucks. We’ve all been touched by it to some extent, ourselves, our family, our friends and colleagues. I don’t need to tell you how much it sucks, you already know.

But here’s what bugs me about those chains :

“Raise awareness by sharing something with a secret meaning.”

Ok, that doesn’t even remotely make sense. Posting hearts, or the colour of your knickers, or “three months in Mexico” on your facebook status does not raise awareness. The people who know what it means already know, and those who don’t won’t know anything more. Do I really need to explain this point ? It makes you wonder if this wasn’t just started by someone who wanted to know about their friends’ underwear choices.

“And don’t tell the guys”

Seriously ? Ok, big scoop here, people: men have breasts (albeit usually rather smaller than ours), and they can get breast cancer too. In fact, the lack of awareness about this means that male breast cancer is often not detected as early as it is in women, and is therefore more often fatal. That sounds like a pretty good reason to include the guys to me !

And you know what, even those who don’t actually get breast cancer are affected by it. Spouses, fathers, sons, brothers – they are among the closest ones there to support those who are battling the crab, holding on with them through the bad times, celebrating with those who are victorious and mourning those who don’t make it. Please tell me how leaving them out is in any way a good thing?

I know these chains will keep going, and I know that many of my facebook friends will join in or send them on with the very best of intentions. Let’s get this straight too: I don’t think any less of you for joining in. My friends are kind, smart and lovely and I love them all dearly. I won’t be joining in that kind of chain for the reasons above, and now you know why.

But if you do a fun run, or a bake sale, or post an article to raise awareness and/or funds for breast cancer research, I’ll join in, I’ll share, I’ll sponsor you and most of all I will DEFINITELY eat those cakes. And I’ll also be there for you if you need support for yourself or a loved one, but let’s hope you never do.

 


Remember the old (possibly biblical) chestnut “treat others as you would want them to treat you” ? I have the feeling that it needs a corollary: “but don’t actually expect anyone to treat you anyway near as well as you would like to be treated”.

I’m beginning to realise that one of the main reasons that I often feel so let down, even hurt by other people behaving like dicks is because I hold other people to the same standards of behaviour I set for myself. When I have someone’s back, I expect them to reciprocate, not stick a knife in mine. Even if it’s someone I don’t actually know, I expect basic human decency. I should know better by now, but letting go of my great expectations is harder than you’d think.

Then again, occasionally, I’m on the receiving end of a random act of kindness and that makes it even harder.

The path to disillusionment is paved with good intentions. And piles of dicks.

Edited to add: Damn, that will teach me the wisdom of the saying “don’t blog angry”! After a few comments both on and offline varying from “you okay?” to “you’re not suicidal are you?”. So before anyone else gets freaked out about it: yes I’m fine. At the time I finished and posted I was in a bad mood, mainly brought on by Thursday. But I started this post on Monday, which, believe it or not, was actually a good day. Well, a good day for a Monday.

Monday began with someone doing something purely gratuitously nice for me. Someone who knew that Mondays had been particularly sucky lately and just left me a surprise in my desk drawer that made me smile. And then it made me nom nom nom because it contained marshmallows. And once I got over the initial LOL-OMG-AWESUM of it, the first thought that popped into my mind was “oh, right, so that’s what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a random act of kindness!”.

It’s not like I’ve never been there, I’m lucky to have had plenty of experiences of the spontaneous kindness of others, but to be honest, for something that random, it’s been a while. But performing random acts of kindness are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, even when the recipient if them will never know who did the deed. Suddenly the ratio of giving and receiving just hit home a little and triggered a bit of a realisation. That’s all there is behind this post, that and a rather trying Thursday.


Today it’s stay-off-Twitter-to-protest-against-rapey-bastards day. There may be a shorter catchier name for it, but you get the drift. It all started when a lady got rape threats for saying that a woman should be on banknote.

Controversial stuff, right?

Yeah, right.

So I figured that maybe I could help contribute to world peace on the interwebs with a few thoughts on how to not be a total douche on and offline.

  1. Don’t ever make rape threats, or any other threat of violence against anyone. Even if they say something that you, like, really don’t agree with.
  2. Seriously. Just don’t.
  3. Defending an opinion is never a reason for acting like a dick.
  4. Defending a cause isn’t either.
  5. No, really, any cause. Not even that one.
  6. A dick defending a cause only hurts that cause and everyone else who supports it.
  7. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting against sexism, racism, LGBT-phobia, religion, politics, or defending your right to be curvy, a vegetarian, in an open relationship, or any of a million other things. Nothing gives you the right to insult anyone that you perceive to be “on the other side”. Supporting your cause does not mean that all men, white people, straight people, religious people, skinny people, omnivores, people in monogamous relationships or any other group is less worthy of respect than you. Some of those things are life choices, others are just how they were born. None of them are wrong. None of them are a cause for insult.
  8. Insulting online strangers you will never meet doesn’t make it any less of an insult.
  9. Insulting anyone says more about you than the person you’re insulting.
  10. Try working on being able to respectfully disagree with other people.
  11. Learn to listen. You know, those words produced by other people? They might help you to understand what they actually mean. Just saying.
  12. You’ve been/are going through stuff. We get it. Thing is, so have/are other people. Just because someone puts on a socially acceptable face in public doesn’t mean they don’t know what it’s like. Lashing out because you’re hurting is forgivable, but it’s still pretty damn dickish.
  13. Keeping an open mind doesn’t mean only ever defending one side of every debate. It means respecting all sides and trying to understand them.
  14. If you don’t agree with any of these thoughts, feel free to move on and get over it.

You’re welcome.

P.S. Russia, seriously, we still love you, but you’ve gotta stop being such a dick. It’s starting to show.

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