Thoughts on the Manchester Arena Attack

I live around the corner from Manchester Arena. Last night, as I walked home from work, I smiled to myself at all the adorable teenage girls on their way to some concert or other. They had on their best sparkly tops, those terrible giant hair bows, pink lipstick cadged from their mums’ make up bags. Excitement was palpable as they streamed along the pavement, tugging away from long suffering parents, just kids on the brink of that first taste of independence. Last night, someone walked through that crowd of teenage girls like I did, a homemade explosive strapped to their body, and knew that some of them would never make it home.

It is almost impossible to comprehend the tragedy of what happened in Manchester Arena last night. Even listening to the sirens and helicopters from my bed, I assumed that it was a car chase or a drugs bust. Never, for one moment, did I think that someone would have attacked innocent people on my own doorstep. It is so easy for us to feel immune to these kind of events, to think that our privileged lives in this privileged city protect us from things like terrorism. Self-centred creatures that we are, sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to happen in our own community before it becomes truly real. Where we spoke calmly in my office about the attacks in London earlier this year, this morning my boss’s voice cracked as he talked to us about this attack in our own city. These could have been our children, our friends, even – had I been heading home past the arena after going for a beer, as I so often do – me.

So, what can we do? Firstly, our thoughts or prayers should be with those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy. With those whose loved ones went out last night and never came home. Those who, instead of stories told in voices high-pitched with E-numbers and excitement, of dance routines performed on the living room carpet, ended last night in a silent horror that can never be healed. Our hearts go out to them. If you know anyone that has loved ones missing, they can call the emergency line that has been set up to help on 0161 856 9400. There is also a vigil in Albert Square at 6pm tonight, if you wish to share this moment of grief with the community and show that our city will stand strong in the face of adversity.

Secondly, we can make sure that we have pulled together, both with our community and with our own loved ones. We are not immune. Our good jobs, our nice cars, our beautiful flats, cannot protect us from tragedy. This is not happening to someone else. Make sure you have called your mum. Lay all the hatchets to rest that would seem so utterly worthless in the face of real calamity. Tell all the people you couldn’t bear to lose that you love them. We are so lucky, but it’s so easy to spend our lives hiding from the hard emotions, to think that we have time to put things right. There may not be time: do it now.

I was hesitant to write this, because nothing seems so inadequate as the sound of your own voice when such an overwhelming tragedy has occurred. But if we allow ourselves to be silenced, by fear or by inadequacy, already these horrific tactics are beginning to work – beginning to win. This is a time to stand up and make your voice heard, a time to say we are not afraid and we will not be cowed. Fear and hate cannot win, because we will not let them win.

Just the Words Will Do: A Short Story

The room was rich with blackness and, as the velvety dark enveloped her, she knew it was a mistake. Half cut on gin and grief, she thought perhaps she could sneak in unnoticed – or better, noticed and wanted. Instead, she lay on the rock hard mattress as though afloat on the huge, reckoning ocean, the messages arriving on her phone lighting up the ceiling where the stars should have been. In the next room, she could hear him breathing. Huge lungs that inflated his white back as she nestled behind him, her face pressed into the comforting scent of his spine. Perhaps she’d never feel as safe again as she did pressed into that boy’s back, listening to the heaving sighs become the gurgle of a snore.

She’d never slept in that room, always the other, and the perfumed bedsheets that held no memories had lulled her quickly into a deadening slumber. The creaking of the door stirred her and she felt his long limbs slipping into the bed beside her, his arms snaking the dip of her waist and pulling her towards him. Startled awake, she felt the wet tears of nightmare and longing coating her face. A dream, just a dream. Stirring inside her, The Sadness curled into her stomach, digging its black claws into the lining and making it threaten to throw the nothing she’d eaten up her throat and onto the counterpane in front of her. She lurched out of bed, nausea swimming over her, and threw the door open into the hallway. The clothes rack tilted and crashed to the floor, a tide of frilly underwear and careworn socks spilling down the corridor.

In the bathroom, the stark bulb lit up her ghostly face in the mirror, freckles standing out against the strained greyness of her skin like black holes on a galaxy of anguish. She was falling apart at the seams, the living redness of her blood showing through the corners where her skin was fixed on. Touching her face, she squinted in confusion at the mirror, leaning closer and then pulling away in horror as a huge swathe of skin detached from her lip and peeled away in her fingers. It was long and sticky, a milky white film made of spider’s silk that draped and clung to her. Letting out a moan of horror, she tried to shake it off, but it wrapped around her hand, nestling into the curves of her fingers, draping down her arm in a ghostly gossamer. Reflected back in the glass she saw her exposed teeth where the skin had come away, the tendons of her jaw, the lurid red of blood seeping unstemmed from the tissue.

What was happening to her? She picked at the edges of the skin, tearing it away in great chunks until the flesh of her neck was exposed, the startling white ridges of her collarbone. Rifling through the basket on the windowsill, she pulled out his razor, fiddling with the catch to free the blade from the safety mechanism. Panic mounting, she tilted it and plunged the silver edge into her skin, scoring the fraying edges until it came away like toilet tissue in a child’s party game of wrap the mummy. The crashing of the door distracted her and she looked up to find him staring at her, open-mouthed, as she crouched above the heaping of her own skin.

He saw her straighten, each tendon exposed, her skin swept away like Gunther von Hagens’ plasticised Körperwelten. She was ripping herself to shreds for him, The Sadness leering from the cavity of her stomach. Gurgling, the voice of it crept up her throat and forced its way out of her mouth.

“Please, please say it.”

“I can’t.” He whispered in horror, “You know I can’t.”

“Please!” Her black eyes pleaded with him from the exposed tunneling of her eye sockets.

“I can’t say it. I don’t feel it, you know I don’t feel it.”

“Please. You don’t need to feel it, just the words will do.” He watched the keratin claws of The Sadness creeping up her flayed throat, a strangling chokehold looking for some purchase. Her breaths came shorter, the mounting panic evident on the straining muscle tissue of her face. Helpless, he watched the horny hands forging their way upwards, squeezing the life from her as her mouth begged him for emotions he couldn’t feel. Stricken with terror, he let the door fall shut and stumbled blindly back to his bedroom, pulling the cocooned safety of his duvet around his shaking body.

In the morning, the red sludge of her sat as a bleeding stain on the tiles of the bathroom. The Sadness squatted on the bathmat, its black fur spiked with the drying bile of her broken stomach. It had grown fat with the richness of her, sated with the animal vehemence of her overwhelming emotion. Carefully, he mopped the floor, swishing the dirty tendrils and squeezing out the water until the bucket stood pink with what was left of her. Feeling a tugging at the hem of his jeans, he looked down to see the horn rimmed hands of The Sadness reaching for him. He felt the creeping pull of its irresistible candour. To save them both, just the words would have done.

Female Friendships, and the Only Resolution I’m Making in 2017

In 2017 I will be drinking alcohol and eating cheese. If I exercise more it’ll be because I’m walking my friends’ dogs, dancing on the tables, and searching for cool bars. I don’t care about having a six pack, and if my eyebrows are better, you can guarantee it’s because my friend gave me a tutorial. 2017 is the year that I’m going to celebrate my female friendships.

Through the years, they’ve always been there for me. The ones that told me that the boy was punching, over a fancy gin cocktail, when I got dumped. The ones that don’t just hold my hair back when I’m sick, they plunger the sick out of the sink, tell me they still love me, and bring me lucozade and crisps the next morning. Girl friends should never be taken for granted, because through the boy troubles, the family troubles, and the work troubles, they’re always the ones who have got your back.

Women are encouraged to always be in competition with one another. Is she prettier? Smarter? She’s always more successful, and have you seen her Instagram? To die for. More and more though, I’m realising that women have something special, and that is our friendships with each other. I’ve never had such a large group of amazing female friends. Spread across the globe, I’ve got a girl for every occasion. They’re clever and funny; whether I’m waxing lyrical about feminism or discussing the latest highlighter, debating American politics or crying about how hard being an adult is, they always join in. I’ve never felt so lucky to know so many amazing women.

I challenge you to message them all, tonight, and tell them how much they mean to you. I guarantee that you’ll get back a tirade of love and affection. Every woman that has helped you through something difficult, that has lifted you up when you felt that you couldn’t go on, that has told you that you have green in your teeth when no one else would. And you have done something for that woman in return that shows how generous and loving you are. If I wonder what kind of woman I am, I look to my friends. Would they be friends with someone that I couldn’t be proud of? Of course they wouldn’t, they would only ever be friends with someone that I could be proud of. Those strong, special, generous, loving women that I call my own would never let me be less than one of them. And that is a precious gift.

So, to all of you, to the girls whose lipstick I steal in the toilets, to the ones who bring me wine and sympathy when I can’t stop crying, to the ones that tell me I’m a sassy, beautiful queen when I feel anything but: I love you. I love you more than I’ve loved any boy. I love you when you are slaying in your best clothes, I love you when you’re crying in some dickhead’s old jumper. You are special, you are everything I dreamed of, you are strong and courageous. I’m proud to know you. I’m proud to call you my own.

New (Reluctant) Acitivities

Being new to the world of dating apps, what I have discovered is that I am, in fact, extremely picky. Now, in real life I have no such issues, look a bit sweet and vulnerable, tell a couple of midway decent jokes, and indulge in some armchair intellectualism and I’m yours. Online, however, I’m a completely different beast.

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Reasons I have rejected people this week include: not good looking enough (a given); extremely good looking, but in the wrong way; too intimidatingly good looking; having a girl in the picture (who is that?); having an elephant in the picture (do you know nothing about the ethics of captive elephants?); bad joke in bio; too serious in bio; having a shirtless picture; having too impressive abs; having a picture on a motorbike; looking “a bit douchy”; looking too posh; looking too scruffy; can’t work out if grungy or dirty…it goes on.

This has lead to me having about four matches, which I have then proceeded to complain about because I feel like, four? Surely I’m better than four? – As you can tell, the trial period has been difficult.

All this got me to thinking, why are we so much more critical of each other online? I look at men that, if they talked to me in a bar, I’d dissolve into an awkward, flustered mess over, and think naaaah. I’ve seen it in other people as well, nice lads who’ll go on three dates in a week and not bother to speak to any of them again. Why? Because we constantly expect someone a bit better to be a couple of swipes away. Suddenly, everyone is disposable.

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Back in the day, you had to make do with what you had. Either you married Harry from school, or you moved to the city and married your coworker/friend/someone you met at a dance. You were probably going to meet less attractive people in your life than I can swipe past in less than a minute on my lunch break.

So, what does this mean for dating? Because, the thing is, even though we are all so incredibly picky online, and many of us get to go on dates with people who are much more attractive than we’d usually manage, I actually don’t know many people who have met this way. It’s hard to know if there’s a spark through a phone screen, and we’re all swiping past The One to go on an awkward downing-your-beer date with a solid ten who has no personality.

Is it time to ditch the dating apps? Or do you think online shopping for a date is essential for our super-speed lifestyles? Let me know in the comments.