The Leaving Gift

Recommended Sanderwich: Any sad, limp specimen from a supermarket that’s soggy and cold, truly the sandwich of goodbyes. The kind you’d eat alone after seeing someone off on a a train or a plane. I’m posting this because I wrote it last year and today is World Poetry Day. And everybody loves poetry, right?  If you haven’t guessed yet, it’s about saying goodbye.


Words do my bidding:-

I knot them into nets that trap you,

And trip you on a joke like a leg stuck out at the

Last second. I pluck a twinge of

Grief or a spasm of pity. I make you my ally

With the ones I leave out.


I sell words for a fixed amount.

Their limited worth has been decided;

They are locked safes of meaning

Or chips to be laid carefully on a

Craps table, as I wait for returns.

I don’t know when to walk away.


But this time I will not push you against a wall.

I will not count out the invaluable.

I will not manifest that which on becoming

Will degrade.

I will leave this dense soup unportioned,

Bubbling, ready to burst out into galaxies.


Instead I will give you silence full and round,

Weighty and wholesome like a cottage loaf.

I will give you an airy room of silence in which

To sit alone and think – a luxury. I will give you the

Silence of a rolling road, spray clouds of dust, and just

Road until the sky.


I will give you the silence of an unspoilt pool

Ready to buoy the body that will

Break its peace. Ready to hold that body,

Warmed by rays that have

Sliced through its depth

With the perseverance of a day.


When you think of me

Forget my thin strings of words:-

Pause, and

Let silence fill you with everything

That my little words

Fail to say.

Woman vs. Food

Recommended sanderwich: I wrote this story for the NYC Midnight short story challenge. It is round 1, heat 6, and my prompts were genre: rom com, character: food critic, situation: moving in. The recommended sanderwich is steak and grilled cheese!

Synopsis: Miriam, a food critic, invites her lover Alex to move in after only a couple of weeks. They discover that they have quite different attitudes to food, which begins to cause tensions in their relationship.


As morning light filtered through the blinds, Miriam and Alex giggled as they shifted around in her bed. This was the game they played as they woke up – the first one to stir would reach out for the other, trying to snuggle or spoon. They’d both move through a series of positions pretending as if they were trying to get more comfortable but actually the positions would become ever more awkward. Finally, Miriam was lying across Alex with one leg tucked under his thigh, and one of his hands under her back, and they were both laughing hysterically.


“I should get to work,” Alex said. Miriam pulled the covers over their heads and Alex kissed her. “Stay for breakfast?” she asked, running a hand down his chest.

“I don’t have time, sorry. Is it okay if I jump in the shower?”

“Of course. The blue towel on the back of the door is the one you used last time.”

Alex got out of bed and Miriam watched him; he had such a great butt, like two thick slices of rump steak. She let herself drift off again, warm and contented, and didn’t even hear him leaving her apartment.




Miriam sat alone in a restaurant as waiters brought her dish after dish. One enthusiastic member of staff had wheeled over the caviar trolley, so she wearily piled Iranian Beluga onto a small baked potato. The restaurant had a new chef and a revamp and they were trying to get press attention, hence Miriam was there with her notebook, ready to write about every nuance of every dish she tasted for the luxury travel magazine that she worked for. Her stomach rumbled and she imagined a huge steak and grilled cheese sandwich.


She waved at one of the overly attentive waiters and ordered a glass of Californian red. She thought about Alex and the first time they’d met a couple of weeks ago at a mutual friend’s birthday drinks. They’d been the last two there, still drinking red wine, when even the birthday girl herself had gone home. It was a Wednesday, after all, and people in their thirties didn’t stay out past about 10.30 on week night. Flouting mid-week etiquette, Miriam and Alex had ended up back at her place that night, kissing hungrily with red wine lips.


Since then they’d seen each other every other night. They hadn’t meant to, but one text led to another, and they’d always found a way to meet in a bar. Once they went on a proper date, to see a film, but they ended up fooling around on the back row like a pair of teenagers, and Miriam couldn’t remember what the film was about. To be honest, she couldn’t even remember the title. She could, however, remember the usher’s disapproving look with diamond cut clarity, and their consequent ejection from the cinema.


Chomping her way through a plate of grilled bone with parmesan and parsley salt, Miriam looked down at her phone as it flashed with another message from Alex. They were in the middle of a discussion about card games ‘I’d love to play contract whist with you’ the text message read, then quickly after another one flashed up, ‘that’s not a euphemism’. She was surprised that the next one read ‘Shit. Landlord is kicking us out.’ Without thinking about it she typed back ‘So come and stay at mine.’ Her phone started to ring, and she answered it.

“Are you asking me to move in?” he asked. She laughed

“Jesus Christ, I thought I was being nice.”

“No, no you are being nice. I can’t believe he’s done this.”

“What’s happened?”

“He’s selling.”

“Course he is, worth a fortune now, that place,” she took a gulp of her wine, “I just meant come and stay while you look for somewhere else, it’ll be fun.”

“Thanks, Miri, you’re a life-saver.”




It was their first weekend in the apartment together. Alex had put some of his stuff into storage so he hadn’t brought it all with him. Miriam was used to living by herself – her floor was usually scattered with clothes – but she’d had a thorough tidy up before Alex had got there on Friday afternoon. She’d even changed the bed sheets. Though instead of tackling the study, she’d just closed the door. He wouldn’t need to go in there, anyway, that was her work space, where she went to write up her reviews and she needed the mess; it was part of the creative process.


She was the first to wake up on Saturday morning; she looked at the handsome man in her bed, like a hunk of slow cooked brisket ready to be eaten. She decided that it was cause for celebration – a big, slap-up breakfast was in order. She got out of bed, put on her dressing gown, and went into the kitchen. She took out eggs and slices of bacon from the fridge, along with cherry vine tomatoes and an avocado. Humming to herself as she cooked, she brewed a cafetiere of coffee and wondered if making mimosas would be too much. Fuck it, she thought, and opened a bottle of prosecco.


She carried the breakfast on a tray up the stairs and kicked open the door of the bedroom. “Happy first morning in the apartment together” she said, beaming, as she put the tray down on a bedside table. Alex sat up and ran a hand through his hair. She got into bed next to him and leaned over to kiss him.

“What’s that smell?” he asked, wrinkling his nose and drawing back.

“What smell?”

“Is that bacon?”

“Oh, yeah, It’s applewood smoked bacon from the farmer’s market. Food of the gods.”

“Um, I don’t eat bacon.”

“You don’t eat bacon?” Miriam’s mind was racing, why would anyone not eat bacon, with its elegant combination of saltiness and animal fat?

“I don’t eat meat.” Alex said matter-of-factly, as if they’d had that conversation a thousand times. As if it was obvious somehow, from his hair cut, or the way he walked that he was a vegetarian.

“Oh well, nevermind, there’s still eggs, and tomatoes and avocadoes. I’ll eat your bacon.”

“Actually I don’t eat eggs either, I’m a vegan.”

She gawped at him, “coffee?” she asked.


After the breakfast disaster Miriam showered and changed. She stood before Alex in one of her favourite outfits, a navy dress with a large abstract print.

“How do I look?” she asked.

“You look great. Absolutely gorgeous.”


“Listen, I’m sorry about earlier.”

“Oh seriously, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out. I’d better go.”

“Good luck at your meeting. Hey – how about I make you dinner tonight?”

“Sounds great, see you later.” He pulled her close, and kissed her enthusiastically, then she hurried out of the apartment, grabbing her coat and bag on the way.




Glad, she hadn’t eaten breakfast in the end, Miriam watched as more platters of meat –pulled pork, ribs and burgers – were brought from the kitchen. “We’re thinking of giving it a similar kind of vibe to Man vs. Food,” Ben said, the TV producer that was sitting opposite her. “I love that show,” Miriam replied, as she thought about the mountains of nachos and sandwiches dipped in gravy with a reverential awe.

“Great,” said Ben, “because we think you’d be perfect to present it.”

“Oh my god. It’s literally my dream job.”

“We’ll need you to come in for some screen tests, but we love the way you talk about food.”

Miriam bit into a juicy burger and shuddered with delight.


When Miriam arrived back to her apartment, she found Alex on the sofa reading a book.

“How was the meeting?” he asked, and she stopped herself before she told him the good news.

“Great” she said.

“So what did they want?”

“Oh they’re doing a new cooking show, and they just want me to advise them on which restaurants to pick and stuff like that,” she considered it a white lie.

“Cool. I made dinner. I hope you don’t mind but I bought a few new things for the kitchen.”

Miriam frowned, she owned every cooking gadget you could think of, she had mini blow torches, electric whisks, a mandolin, a food mixer, a series of piping bags, scales, cups, a pasta press, what on earth could he have bought? She wandered into the kitchen to see an entirely new set of pans on the hob. She hurried back into the sitting room.

“Why did you buy new pans? What’s wrong with my Le Creuset?”

“Oh, nothing’s wrong with them, I just don’t like cooking in pans that have had meat cooked in them.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, I’m serious. I didn’t think it would be a big deal if we just have two separate sets of pans.”

“No, I spose not.”

She took and deep breath and forced herself to think logically, he was right, what did an extra set of pans matter?

“What did you make for dinner?” she asked.

“Millet and tofu cakes,” he replied, pleased with himself. Good thing I ate so much at lunch, she thought, and then said aloud, “you know what I’m hungry for right now?” He looked up and grinned at her, then stood up, took her hand and led her into the bedroom. At least there was something on the menu they both enjoyed.




About a week later Miriam was standing in her kitchen looking at the ever-growing army of new crockery, cutlery, and pots and pans. She started to look through the cupboards, and in one cupboard, which was now divided into his and hers, she found a portable gas hob. Alex arrived home, his hands were covered in grease from the bicycle workshop where he made bespoke bicycles, and for a moment she was distracted by the smell of oil and the curve of his jawline, like the perfect ribeye, but she made herself focus.

“Are we going camping, Alex?” she asked, holding up the portable hob. Alex sighed and she stared at him, perplexed.

“Look, the ethics of food are really important to me,” he said.

“They’re important to me too.”

“No, they’re not, Miriam.”

“I try to buy free range and organic whenever I can.”

“Look, I won’t go into the fact that over half of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, so by eating meat you are destroying our planet.”

“Okay, thanks for not going into that.”

“But more importantly, meat is murder. You are murdering another living being.”

“I know what meat is, Alex,” she said quietly.

“And I don’t want my food to taste of death. I don’t even want it cooked on the same gas ring.”

“Wow, that’s extreme.”

“Well it’s just the way I feel. I know it’s part of your job, but maybe you could eat less meat at home.”

She stood silently for a moment, “Yeah, I guess, I don’t mind cutting down at home.”

“And you should probably start taking a stand in some of your writing. Just think about how foie gras is made, for example.”

Miriam stared at him hopelessly, “yeah, I guess.”

Alex put down a bag of something that was sprouting on the countertop, and Miriam stared at the floor. Alex laughed, “at least you don’t work in a abattoir! Or one of those shows like Man vs. Food! God, I hate that show. Think how many animals have died for that guy to stuff his big greedy face. It’s disgusting. It’s the worst kind of thoughtless, consumerist crap I’ve ever seen.” Miriam kept looking at the floor.




The next day, Alex’s words kept repeating in Miriam’s head. She’d start typing on her laptop, ‘the starters of beef tartare…’ and then his words would spin round and round like a zoetrope, the images in her mind getting more and more awful: lambs bleating for their mothers before the slaughter; exploding geese, their blood and guts dripping down corrugated iron walls; a lobster screaming in a pan of boiling water. The lobster peaked out from over the edge of the saucepan, “What have I ever done to you?” it cried, before it slipped back down into its watery grave.


No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t write about sautéed chanterelles. She had to tell Alex about the TV show. She felt a knot in her stomach. Moving in had been more complicated than she thought they would be, but she still loved waking up next to his warm body in the mornings, the smell of Swarfega in the bathroom, the way he kissed her like he fucking meant it. She took out her phone and texted him, ‘meet me tonight after work in Moonbeam’. It was the bar they first met in. She figured they could have some cocktails and some fun, then she would tell him. The fun and the cocktails would remind him of why he liked her so much, and serve to form a fluffy pastry crust, encasing the news of her imminent televisual display of greed and murder, making it more palatable.




The bar was almost full, with the gentle background noise of people having a quiet after work drink. Miriam was sitting at the bar on a stool, stirring a martini nervously. She waved as Alex entered, running a hand through his hair, and wearing a smart shirt. He looked delectable. He came over to her and kissed her, then sat down and ordered a soda water.

“How was work?” she smiled at him and tucked his hair behind his ear.

“Good, you?” he mimicked her gesture, affectionately, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“It didn’t go so well today, actually. I was distracted.” She was drawing up all the courage she had, sucking it up from deep within her guts. She could do this, she could tell him.

“Actually, I have something to tell you,” he said.

“Oh really? I have something to tell you too.” She felt relieved, if he had something he felt bad about too, maybe this would be easier than she thought.

“There’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while; I’m going to give up drinking.”

“What?” she gawped at him, her mind racing, why would anyone give up booze? Sweet, delicious, life-giving booze.

“I think I’ve been drinking too much recently and it’s not making me feel good.” He said, smugly, “also a lot of the alcohol companies don’t act in a very environmentally responsible way. And, Miriam, I don’t want to sound judgemental, but I think you should think about giving up with me. You drink way too much, you know.”


She thought about her lovely kitchen, now over-crowded with all the cheap pans he’d bought. “What is it you wanted to tell me?” he asked.

“You have to move out,” she said.




How to Stop Yourself Falling in Love

Recommended Sanderwich: I’m going to counter-intuitively suggest that you must read this blog post with tiny, delicate sanderwiches, like cucumber and ricotta with the crusts cut off or egg mayonnaise with a quail’s egg and caviar.

Here is an easy 10-step guide on how not to fall in love with the object of your affection. You need to implement this plan ASAP, before they are aware of any of your repulsive feelings. Stick to these steps and stay out of trouble.

  1. Eat a lot. Stuff your face. Cram in as much as possible. Eating quashes your feelings by physically squashing them down inside of you. A salad isn’t going to do the trick – you need stodgy foods. A list of recommended foods include: chips, pies, crisps (at least one full family sized pack), a whole loaf of bread, pizza, cheese sandwiches, cheese on toast, cheese and crackers, blocks of cheese.
  2. Drink a lot. Not a beer or a gin and tonic. Have a liquor-on-liquor drink like a martini. As you mix it in front of your housemates say “hold the olives” and laugh manically. Drinking works slightly differently to eating. Instead of squashing your feelings, it makes them no longer seem real. It turns your feelings into ghost feelings! They can’t hurt you anymore!
  3. Look at a picture of a slug. Really look at it.
  4. Try to focus on the negative traits of the object of your affection. Were they once a bit short with a waiter when they were really stressed? Could you really live with someone who is slightly short with waiters for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? Could you?
  5. Give up masturbating. You’re drunk and flatulent anyway.
  6. Watch a zombie apocalypse movie or TV series to remind you how bleak and futile life is. A Werner Herzog documentary will also work. Think about how difficult it would be if you had to look after someone else during a zombie apocalypse. Or about how you’d feel if they died and you survived. View the world through Herzog’s prism. As he says in the austere voice over of Grizzly Man:“I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony; but chaos, hostility, and murder”. See, the less you have to mess up, the better.
  7. Have sex with somebody else! Someone you don’t even like! Treat yo self!
  8. Avoid the object of your affection. If you are in a team/club/class with them, just quit and watch box sets on Netflix like everyone else (see 6). If you’re in the same social circle, just don’t go out for a while. You’ll need to stock up on sweatpants and baggy t-shirts (jk, you can wear the same ones for several weeks). If you work with them, quit your job! Now you’re unemployed you have more time to watch zombie apocalypse media and Werner Herzog documentaries! If they live next door, move house. Move countries if possible. Move to the furthest away country. Learn another language and forget your native one. This way you can never converse with them again!
  9. If you do, for any reason, end up spending time with them: A) Don’t do anything nice with them. Don’t get a riverboat ride or go near a punt or a gondola. Don’t go on a Ferris wheel. Don’t book a nice restaurant. Don’t get an ice-cream or go on a picnic, there’s something about wicker hampers than can make you think you have feelings for Ian, that guy in your office that always stands too close and smells of toner. Don’t start playing crazy golf thinking it’s a bit of innocent fun. Don’t look at art together, who knows where that will lead. Don’t ever, ever be together at sunset. If you are caught off guard by the changing times of the dusk, don’t panic, just stand as far away from them as possible, close your eyes and think of the slug (see 3). If you are together after dark, don’t go anywhere in the vicinity of fairy lights. B) Don’t make physical contact. Just your hand lightly brushing against theirs could undo the great work that eating all that cheese has done. It will cause your feelings to rush to the surface like bubbles in a bottle of pop that’s been shaken up. Don’t sit next to them, especially on soft furnishings. And stop imagining what it would be like to bite the tops of their arms. Their soft, biteable arms. You weirdo.
  10. Call your ex. Ask your ex either what they think your worst quality is, or why you broke up. As you seethe, contemplate the terrible romantic choices you’ve made in the past. You can’t be trusted to make these kinds of decisions again.

If all else fails, just start having the hots for someone else and repeat steps 1 through 10.

Never Google Your Therapist

Recommended Sanderwich: This week it’s smoked pork and fresh coleslaw in ciabatta because I had one at my local café, Browns of Brockley, and it was amazing.


For a few weeks I’d been feeling really bad. That kind of knocked-off-kilter bad where no matter how hard you try you can’t quite get a handle on it. My heart felt literally heavy in my chest. I used to feel sad a lot of the time, but I usually don’t any more. And feeling so sad was a horrible, draining experience. Some days leaving the house felt like running a marathon.  I decided to book an appointment with a therapist. I know a therapist isn’t a magician who can wave a magic wand and rip a raging, fang-toothed bunny rabbit from the black hat of one’s psyche, but I thought anything was worth a try. I should mention, too, that my mother is a therapist , and as my relationship with my mother  was one of the contingent factors in making me feel terrible and seek therapy, I was aware that some of the psychobabble jargon used by one of her kind might really set my teeth on edge. After looking at a website on which therapists flaunted their wares exactly like profiles on a dating website, I wrote to a therapist. Unfortunately, in the confusion, I wrote to her a bit like I was asking her out on a date. She didn’t reply, but luckily,  I also sent a message to two other therapists, in a way that was much more like I was just asking them to be my therapist. The first one to reply was the one that I went to see.

In my first session, the therapist, let’s call her Lynne*asked me lots of questions about my childhood, and why I’d come to find myself there, in her front room, with its battered sofa with crocheted throws, incense sticks, and bookshelves full of Terry Pratchett novels. During that first session I cried a lot. I started about 15 minutes in and powered through until the very end. At some point, tears running down my cheeks and snotty nosed, I asked “Does everybody cry?”, “It doesn’t matter what everybody else does, Alice” Lynne replied, “That means no” I said, and burst into tears with renewed vigour.

The truth is I was glad to be able to fall apart in that contained time and space, in the hope that I wouldn’t fall apart in my actual real life. Lynne let me moan and cry, she asked me questions like “how does that make you feel?”, and she empathised like “that sounds hard”, in her slow, calm voice. It feels so good to have somebody acknowledge the things you’ve felt and the things that you’ve found difficult. And just to have somebody listen to you, really listen, for an hour straight. And you can whinge away without contrition because, as I said to her at the end of my second session, “I don’t feel guilty because I pay you”. Let’s refrain from drawing the obvious analogy there.

After the firsts two sessions, I was pretty happy with how it was going, but I was a bit curious about Lynne. This woman was lowering herself into the sewers of my mind, sloshing about in my emotional effluent, attempting to dissolve the fatbergs of my bad behaviours. What’s Lynne’s deal, I thought. Who is Lynne? Then I did something that I strongly recommend none of you ever do: I googled my therapist. Pause here for a deep breath.

I’m not sure what I was hoping for. Maybe an account on The Twitter, where I could see Lynne cracking a few therapist jokes with her chums – ‘you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it’s actually quite helpful if you used to be quite mad because it gives you more empathy, amirite guys?’ – you know, just so I could know she had a sense of humour and some friends. The first couple of links were a counselling directory and her own personal website, and then underneath that, a link to an article written for Therapy Today. Obviously this was the link I clicked on. The article was about offering therapy to clients who were into kink, or BDSM, or sado-masochistic sex or whatever you wanna call it. In the article, my therapist says that she practises this stuff. She’s a BDSM participant, an SMer, a kinkster. And suddenly my hippy, gentle-voiced therapist is a sex-perv. My mind sweeps down from the beaten up sofa in her front room, and into her basement. Is there someone tied up down there with an orange in their mouth whilst I’m crying about my mother? Is that why she’s in a hurry to get me out at the end of a session? Because she has to go and check that Colin is still breathing? My mind explodes.

Here are the main reasons I was freaked out by my discovery. First, because it was a paradigm shift in the way I thought about Lynne, who I’d never thought about in a remotely sexual context until that moment. It also forced me to think about her as a real, whole human being. She was no longer a neutral pool in which I could bathe away all my problems. She was now a real woman, with thoughts and feelings, and well, probably a rubber catsuit and a whip. I did also worry that she’d think I was extremely vanilla if I ever brought up my own sex life. Instead of worrying about whether she’d think I was weird, I started to worry that she’d just think I was dull.

After my initial freak out, I thought more about my therapist’s kinky identity. What she does in her private life is no concern of mine. I’m not opposed to the idea of BDSM as a thing. It’s a practise that takes place between consenting adults, after all. In fact, the article talked about how participants often had an in depth discussions about boundaries and always had a safe word in order that they could stop anything they felt uncomfortable with. Plus, I’d much rather somebody was open-minded about sexuality than be a closed-minded bigot. I made the decision that I would have to tell Lynne what I’d found out, otherwise I knew I’d be sitting there every session, wondering about Colin in the basement. Therapy is all about trying to be as honest about your feelings as you can, and I thought if I didn’t own up to this, somehow it would put a spanner in the works. Therapy is really pricey. You don’t want to go and not be getting anything done. And maybe a tiny part of this all was a test for Lynne, because she already knows most of my secrets.

Here follows a transcript of our conversation, to the best of my memory:

Lynne: Hello Alice.

Me: Hi… So do I have to start then?

Lynne: Yes, but it sounds like you don’t want to.

Me: Well, it’s just more responsibility, isn’t it? Anyway, I feel like I should confess something to you.

Lynne: Okay.

Me: Obviously you know lots about me and I don’t know anything about you.

Lynne: That’s not true, you see my rickety old house with the door handles falling off, and you see the books on my shelves.

Me: Yeah, I guess, but the relationship is imbalanced. I don’t say “so, how are you?”.

*We laugh*

Lynne: No, but you don’t have to. It  took me a long time to realise that in life people often ask you how you are but don’t really want to know the answer.

Me: I normally tell them anyway.

Lynne: Me too.

Me: If you’re trying to form a real connection with somebody it’s important to be honest, isn’t it? Not if it’s just the newsagent, sure, but if you want a proper bond with someone you should tell them how you really are.

Lynne: Honesty is important, then?

Me: Yes, if you want to form a real bond with somebody. Otherwise it’s meaningless.

Lynne: Yes.

Me: Anyway, I googled you, because I don’t know anything about you.

Lynne: Okay.

Me: And I read your article on BDSM.

Lynne: And how did it make you feel?

Me: Well, it freaked me out because I don’t think of you in that context.

Lynne: Sure.

Me: Then I though more about it and I thought it doesn’t affect our sessions, and part of the reason I chose you in the first place is because I saw you had some kind of sexuality training and weren’t a prejudiced person.

Lynne: Part of the reason I wrote that article is because I thought more therapists should be out about their sexuality particularly for any kind of queer client… I didn’t realise quite so many people would read the article. But I’m glad you did, because now you know something real and honest about me.


And that’s Lynne, smashing it outta the park, reaction-wise. What a woman. I’m so glad I found her. I just really hope that she never googles me.


*Lynne is not her real name, but it seems therapisty enough.

Bikinis, The Buffet, and Me

Recommended Sanderwich: Belgian waffle sandwich with chocolate sauce and sliced banana.

What’s the worst thing you can do to a slightly chubby woman? Send her on an all inclusive beach holiday where she is faced with three all-you-can-eat buffets every day, but also has brought a bikini to wear poolside. Stand back and watch the conflicting parts of her psyche battle it out in a fight to the death. Add her mother into the mix and watch her self-esteem vanish faster than her dessert course. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my own personal hell.

I’m a bit of a compulsive eater, if that statement isn’t a contradiction in terms. Early on in the holiday, my mother, who is a trained therapist (but don’t let that fool you) says to me “the more you eat, Alice, the more unconscious you get”. By this logic, anorexics are presumably all brittle-boned buddhas. The effect of this statement on me was that it made me want to stuff my face all day long. Well, fatty’s gotta eat.

As this whole piece centres around the buffet, I feel like it’s only polite to introduce you to it. As we are all aware, a hotel buffet is never perfect, but you find your way around it and get to know which are going to be the good dishes. For example, for lunch and dinner there was always a plentiful salad bar. I learnt to stay clear of the dubious dishes, meats that weren’t stewed or casseroled were dry and rubbery unless you got them from the specials bar, pastas were too soggy. The rice dishes were invariably delicious, lots of good fried or baked vegetable dishes, and my favourite game – ‘find the artichokes’. The saving grace for me, was that the desserts were terrible, tiny pastries that tasted of stale freezer and sugar, or creamy desserts that looked like they had been made up with powder, UHT cream, and a bicycle pump. To compensate for the lack of desserts I ate two Belgian waffles every morning for breakfast. One with a baked apple and one with sliced banana and the thick hot chocolate meant for churros. And, fuck, it was good.  My mother ended up telling me just to eat the waffles, with a weary pain behind her eyes. I think she thought if she told me not to I’d do it anyway, and the proceeding self-flagellation would be even worse than it already was. It wasn’t that bad at all, it was just swimming in a freezing cold pool.

The thing is, I’m not a teenager anymore and I don’t feel bad about the way I look. When I was a teenager I felt really awful about the way I looked and myself in general. Not helped by the fact that my mother did things like point at the stretch marks on my thighs in a changing room and shout “Oh my god, what are they? What’s wrong with you?”. I don’t just feel good about the way I look, I feel good about who I am, and I don’t judge myself purely based on my physical appearance. There are plenty of other things that give me value. In fact, to get all hippy on yo asses, existing is number one. We all have value; we all have a right to be here.

As a woman it is nearly impossible to not to have been self-conscious about your body at some point. Truth be told, I still sometimes look sadly in the mirror and pat down my saddle-bags, seeing what I would look like if the contours were smoother. We live in a society that judges people by their appearance, women most of all. From when we are little girls we learn that being ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ is the highest compliment of all. And we learn that being called ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ is not just making a judgement on our appearance, but is often meant to undermine us completely.

I refuse to go on a diet. Not because I don’t want to be healthy but because I think the whole concept of dieting is destructive. It’s socially isolating “oh, no I can’t eat that, I can’t go there”, calorie counting at best is dull and at worst can lead to obsessive compulsive behaviour and anxiety, it locks you in a weird cycle of punishment and reward, and some diets propose that you should eat so few calories that you would be technically classed by the UN at famine level (yes, I’ve read The Beauty Myth), which is weakening, not just to your body but to your mind and your spirit. It totally feeds (haha) into a negative way of looking at yourself.

I’m also tired of having conversations about weight and dieting. We could be discussing Plato, or Jeanette Winterson, the latest Sex Art Prints I’ve been to see (David Hockney), Mad Men, or even your favourite sandwich filling. I don’t care how much weight you’ve lost, and I don’t care about your stupid diet. I have rarely, if ever, seen two men friends out for dinner ordering only salad and discussing how many calories they’ve consumed that day and their trouser size. And if men don’t do it, I’m not doing it either. (I staunchly refuse to menstruate). Can we just agree that we won’t talk about it anymore? I’m including myself in this plea, I do it too. And any time it happens we’ll know the patriarchy has possessed you and we need to perform a feminist exorcism, which involves a group of your best lady-friends reading out passages from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman and splashing you with hot cheese until you vomit up all the diet coke you’ve consumed and the patriarchy leaves your brain.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that it’s really hard, particularly as a woman to have a simple and good relationship to food and your body. We are given a homogenised version of beauty as a yardstick with which we can beat ourselves, or perhaps shove down our throats. But of course there are many ways to be beautiful and attractive. Personally, I judge a sexual partner like I judge a horse, and wonder how fast that person could really go if I were riding them. More and more woman are voluntarily getting their tits sliced open and little sacks of inorganic material placed in their body. That is fucked up. It’s hard to escape the weight of the whole of society, and that’s what a woman is doing when she chooses to stop valuing herself on her physical appearance, and when she stops seeking the approval of others about the way that she looks. What incenses me the most when somebody else judges my physical appearance, is not that they are insulting me (if indeed they are), but the arrogance with which they assume that their opinion about the way I look will matter to me. I’m not here to please you.

All of this battled long and hard against my deep and pure love of food, and I like to think that the righteous feminist part of my brain won in the end. And this despite my mother saying to me whilst looking at me in a bikini “it’s not really that you’re fat, Alice, you’re just big”. But you know what, it was the waffles. Next time I go on holiday, I’m going to have three every morning.

Speed-dating II: The Revenge OR How To Meet Someone When You’re Over Thirty

Recommended sanderwich: It’s halloumi and balsamic vinegar fried peppers with rocket, because you’re dating and you’re trying to look sophisticated.

I went speed-dating again. If you know me or you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I’m very bad at it and that last time I did it was a disaster. I must confess that part of the reason I did it this time is because I thought it would make a funny blog. On the day of the event I realised that I’d actually have to go through it again, because I’m not detached from myself just watching my own life like a movie. On that day, I hated myself. Oh, how I deeply despised myself. However, as I’ve also previously mentioned, I’ve been doing lots of things that scare me in recent times in an effort to ‘grow’ and ‘become a better person’. I am a woman of constant terror – stick that in your harmonica, Bobby D. Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone is truly when we learn the most about ourselves, and I’d signed up to another bout of self-knowledge.

The event I tried this time was called Compatibility Cabaret, and it was much more fun than the speed-dating event I tried before. A group of musical comedians were hosting it. They performed songs in between the more date-y bits, and it took the focus off the MEET SOMEONE pressure. On top of this, it was done as a series of games and questions; there were no one-to-one dates. I found this much less stressful as a process. The questions ranged from the factual to the personal and depending on your answer you went to stand at a particular colour of table. You were supposed to look out for other people who stood at your table a lot, because those would be the ones you had lots in common with. Every five or so questions there was a kind of discussion round with whoever was at the table with you. I was surprised to find out how few people had kissed somebody at a work party during a game of I Have Never, but they were a fun bunch in general.

I don’t feel like I was amazing at it this time, nor I think, will I ever be. But, I left a note for a person who left a note for me. We swapped Twitter handles. I know! How modern! I am a very modern woman. In the end, it didn’t come to much, but it was nice to make a friend. How then, does a woman of a certain age (thirty-one) meet a lover in London? It’s something that crosses my mind between one and twenty-seven times a day. Here are the five best ways to meet someone in London if you’re over thirty.

1)      Regular Internet Dating.

Whenever I get a message from someone these days from the dating site that I am signed up to, I just feel irritated. Yes, I am an irritable person in general, but I just can’t be bothered with this anymore. You have to go out into the cold to meet a stranger who will only disappoint you. I wish the disappointment came in a big, catastrophic way. If the person you went on a date with was truly awful, or verging on the psychopathic it makes a great story. But usually, they disappoint you because they’re just fucking dull, they’ve never even heard of Twin Peaks (?!), and at some point during the date you realise that they are the kind of person that kisses their dogs on the mouth. Ergo, they will never kiss you on the mouth. I’d rather stay in with my electric blanket and a good book.

2)      Irregular Internet Dating, or those apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Brenda. Yes, the lesbian one is called Brenda. I know.

Oh, I’ve been on them. I’ve been on them alright, and they are fun. On Tinder you get to throw people away and they get a big ‘nope’ stamped across them! It is with fervour that I play the best misanthropist card game in existence! Nope, nope, NOPE! For hours. I realise that it might be something in my attitude that needs to change, but honestly, could you resist? Then you are a bigger man than I. These apps were designed more for hook-ups than dating, although people use them for both. Personally, I’d be too frightened to invite a stranger over to my house based merely on two exceedingly flattering photos of them. They could turn out to be a psychopath! Or smell really bad! They could steal your crockery! Of course, equally they can turn out to be a psychopath if you know them in real life first, and more often than not you only realise several years into the relationship. We all know that most people are murdered by somebody they already know. We’ve all watched the crime dramas and detective stories. But, I feel like you’re really decreasing your odds of getting a heads-up on the axe murderer front by inviting someone over straight off The Tinder. Plus, similarly to the other kind of internet dating, there is no predicting chemistry. And British people are so polite/repressed I think that if I invited someone over for a dirty bang and we didn’t fancy each other, we’d probably end up having a stilted, uncomfortable courtesy fuck anyway. And I’m not that desperate. Yet.

3)      IRL, at a club, bar or pub.

Haha, I said club. I’m over thirty! I don’t go to clubs! I’m old, my joints hurt, and I have an electric blanket, why would I go to a club?! People my age have dinner at each other’s houses because they’ve got huge mortgages or barbeques with the same old couples you yourself set up years ago. Side note – I work extremely effectively as an aphrodisiac for others, but it doesn’t work for me. It’s like an Ancient Greek punishment – Sisyphus has nothing on me. My punishment that continues forever in Tartarus is that I cause other people to get together, yet I am destined to be eternally alone. I’m thinking of hiring out my services for some dollar, though. Anyway, that leaves us with bars and pubs. It’s hard to approach strangers in a bar. The idea of chat up lines makes me want to die. And my friends are probably better company than that person over there, sobbing into their pint.

4)      At a house party.

This is really the  only feasible way to hook up with someone I fancy because a) I invited them to the party, b) they have been invited by one of my friends, or c) I might actually fancy a stranger because it’ll be a friend of a friend and we’re more likely to actually have something in common. Sure, obvs most people will be in a couple. But there will be some singles, there will be a tiny mouse-hole of hope. The problem for me here is that after the initial jokez and piss-taking bit of flirting, I can’t take it to the next level. I become so self-conscious I’m rendered almost entirely immobile. And I probably have a lot of guacamole on my face. Before in this blog, I gave the advice ‘Life is like a sandwich, you get out of it what you put into it, so stuff it full of all the things you love’. The original phrase comes from an ex’s grandmother and was actually about soup, not sandwiches. Having a conversation with a friend recently, she told me that I had to show someone if I fancied them, for it ever to move into a sexual context. I replied “you mean I need to put sex in the soup?”, “yes” she replied, “yes you do”. Anyone want to come over to mine for soup?

5)      At a class or place of mutual interest.

This is the perfect way to meet someone! I’ve seen the rom coms, we meet in writing class. We disagree about everything. Then we meet in a social situation and get on like a house on fire. We go back to mine for soup. Does it really work like that? Well, I took a fuck-tonne of classes last year. I met lots of wonderful, funny, interesting, talented people, people that I genuinely cherish. But did I meet anybody with whom I could make a mutual agreement involving the tessellation of body parts? Hells no. Not a single one (geddit). Maybe I’m going to the wrong classes. Life drawing, anyone? Embroidery?

The truth is I don’t want to actively look for love or sex or whatever. I want to find it organically. I do loads of stuff, and I have a lot of friends, surely it is statistically likely that I’ll meet someone I like? That’s taking the Ancient Greek curse out of the equation. However grumpy or stand-offish I seem at first I actually love people. Not just in a ‘I find them fascinating’ way, but in a connecting with someone, really connecting is the whole sodding reason for existence. Whether it’s just in one specific way, a transient moment, or whether it’s someone you feel like you really get along with in almost every way. I just fall down on the boning element. Soup anyone?

Crushes and How to Avoid Doing Them Like The Phantom of the Opera

Recommended Sanderwich: Eat with a salt beef sandwich, the sandwich of salty crush tears and pent up lust.

 I’m a person who is prone to having a crush. Over the years my crushes have been many and varied, blind to gender and the concept of ‘too old for you’. I’ve crushed on people I know, people I don’t, famous people, and fictional characters. Some have been so intense I’ve woken up and gone to sleep thinking about the person, and some have been more for sport – having a crush makes things a bit more interesting. They last from a matter of moments to a number of years. If you are very clever, pretty odd, strong-willed, curly-haired, sturdily built, and foreign, then I’ve definitely had a crush on you. If you are four of those things or above, your chances are pretty high. Sorry about that. I really do love a foreigner. Contrary to most people, I enjoy having no shared references to childhood television programmes. Yes, I remember Rainbow, yes I’ve seen that video clip on YouTube that’s the puppets making all those double entendres, can we please move on now? And since we’re sharing so much embarrassing information with each other, I’m also going to confess that I went to see Phantom of the Opera this week. Moments of the musical made me full on LOL because it is so over-the-top ridiculous. This is particularly true of the part of the Phantom. So here are some rules – nine easy steps to follow to make sure that you don’t crush like the Phantom.

1)      Avoid subjugating your crush. The audience first meets the Phantom when Christine, the leading lady says “enter, master”. Not cool! I know that sometimes you can feel so strongly for someone, so under their thrall that you feel subjugated by them. This is false though, they probably are completely unaware you even fancy them so don’t start trying to boss your crush to make yourself feel better.

2)     Avoid abusing your position of power to seduce your crush. The Phantom is Christine’s singing teacher. In their first song together he calls her ‘child’. There is a lot throughout about how he guides her – clearly he is trying to guide her right into his pants. In the titular song Phantom of the Opera he sings “My power over you grows stronger yet” and in his seduction song Music of the Night he sings “And let music set you free,
only then can you belong to me”. This is ten out of ten for creepy behaviour. I have never used a position of power to seduce a crush, partly because I have never held a position of power. But I’ve had it done to me, and it really isn’t very nice.

3)      Don’t put a wedding dress on a mannequin that looks like your crush. I mean, that’s really pushing it, isn’t it? How do you get a mannequin made to look like a certain person? (Asking for a friend). And did the Phantom go out in his mask and buy the dress? Did he get a second-hand one? Or did he go to one of those fancy bridal shops by himself and spend thousands of francs on a dress? Did he take measurements of the mannequin’s vital statistics? The mind boggles. The weirdest thing I’ve ever done crush-wise is steal a t-shirt of the person’s to sniff.

4)       Don’t have a messy room or a crazy weird lair. Particularly don’t leave ephemera relating to the object of your obsession lying around, because you never know, they might one day come home with you. Of course you don’t have a mannequin in a wedding dress lying around, but if you’ve been on their Facebook page seventeen times that day, clear your internet history. Put away the tear-stained photos. Tidy up. Also, don’t have a music box with a dead monkey playing the cymbals on it, don’t have an organ, and, well don’t live in a subterranean cave! No wonder you never pull, Phantom.

5      If you are going to a party where your crush will be, don’t dress up as disease personified. The Phantom turns up at the masquerade ball as Red Death, with a kind of grinning skull mask and a garish, sequinned red suit. It’s an uncomfortable mixture of sinister and comical. I imagine this was his thought process: “Oh, Christine doesn’t love me even after I showed her my special mannequin, but after she sees me in this number, something’s just going to click in her head sexy-wise. WOW, she’ll say. Oh, there she is, I’m doing my special swanky walk to impress her. I’m waving, I’m waving. Oh, she’s crying. Have I done it wrong again? I’m always getting it wrong.” I did once dress up as Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks to impress a crush, but what’s a bit of gender-bending in comparison to embodying pestilence?

6)       Don’t write poetry/prose/a play/a film/a musical/an opera about your crush, and if you do don’t show it to them. Don’t, like the Phantom, write a wish-fulfilment opera entitled Don Juan Triumphant where you get the girl when really you are the type of creepy freak that has a mannequin girlfriend in your lair. Also don’t, as I did when I was sixteen, write a poem about a teacher you have a crush on, and read it aloud at an evening where said teacher is, thinking they won’t know it’s about them. Because they will, and they will tell you, and you will wish you were dead. Yep, I’m pretty cool guys, pretty cool. I bet you’re all developing crushes on me right now.

7)       Don’t shoot fiery missiles at your crush’s partner. You can secretly think your crush’s partner isn’t good enough for them. You can secretly hate your crush’s partner. You can secretly give your crush’s partner a nickname like ‘the ginger smurf’, for example. But if you meet your crush’s partner smile, be polite, and don’t do anything that will get you arrested.

8)       Don’t do any murders. This is generally a good life rule, not just for when you have a crush. Even if you only murder that guy we only saw for about two minutes, who was miming a hanging to the ballerinas, we’ll still know you’ve done a murder. Please don’t murder someone acting in your own wish-fulfilment opera Don Juan Triumphant so you can take over the lead role with the object of your obsession playing the leading lady where you sing a song together called ‘The Point of No Return’. That’s really rapey. Now I’ll admit, there have been times when I’ve wanted to do a murder. Well, one time. I wanted to murder an ex-crush who was a very bad person, a serial cheater and compulsive liar. But as I once heard Peter Andre say on Saturday night television, hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

9)       After your litany of bad behaviour, don’t tell your crush that he or she doesn’t love you because you’re ugly. It’s because you’ve ignored rules 1 through 8 (and maybe other reasons on top). In The Phantom of the Opera, after the Phantom sings “That fate which condemns me to wallow in blood/has also denied me the joys of the flesh/this face – the infection which poisons our love”, Christine performs the most successful reverse compliment sandwich (neg-compliment-neg) of all time. She tells the Phantom that his face isn’t the problem, but that it’s his soul that’s deformed, then she pashes him, that’s right SHE KISSES HIM, then he’s so shocked she manages to rescue her hot boyfriend (who he’s threatening to kill) and escape from the Phantom forever. As everyone else is on the hunt for Phantom, he hides under his cloak using the ‘if I can’t see them, they can’t see me’ principle. What a guy. The proper, dignified way to deal with your crush rejecting you is this: go home, sob into a pillow, watch When Harry Met Sally, eat a whole family sized packet of Doritos, and repeat over and over to yourself that nobody will ever love you again. After this process is complete, put your crush to bed (oh, the irony) and start all over again.

The Stage Is Just Another Place To Stand

Recommended Sanderwich: Take two big bits of bread and stuff it with everything you love (this might make more sense after you’ve read the blog).


The final eighteen months of my twenties was a horrible time. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved serious illness of people very dear to me, combined with heartbreak. I was so sad I couldn’t remember what it was like to be happy. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling happy again. As well as the unfortunate life circumstances, I was approaching Thirty, and wondering what I’d done with my life. I find birthdays hard, but Thirty hit me real bad. I realised that even before the tragedy, I was feeling a low-grade misery all of the time. When the tragedy hit, I came out in a case of fully-blown Raging Misery. I had no misery antibodies, no reserves. All of this led me to the conclusion that I must change my life. And to do that, I must change myself.

For a long time, I’d wanted to be a writer. I worked as an Audio Describer, describing TV programmes and films for the visually impaired. I wrote and recorded the scripts, so I was writing everyday, but I wasn’t writing my stuff. Over the years, I’d written on and off, but I’d never really sunk my teeth in. I was afraid of failure. On my thirtieth birthday, my housemate at the time told me she’d bought me some writing lessons. After that, she never mentioned it again and I forgot about it. During these dark days too, another friend of mine did an improvisation class. She kept telling me I should do it, that I would love it, and she even put my name on the waiting list. I kept claiming I would do it when I could, but I was scared, and I never had any real intention of doing so.

About this time last year, I was suffering a particularly awful hangover. The kind that not only makes your gums stick to your teeth and your head pound, but also sends you into a spiralling into existential crisis. What is the meaning of all of this? Surely, there is more than just gin. At school I’d acted, and I wrote and performed sketches with a friend. I’d missed being on stage for twelve long years. But I’d told myself I wasn’t supposed to be a performer because if I were, I wouldn’t have so much fear surrounding it. But I’d missed it, I’d yearned for it like a skilful, long-lost lover. I was the wang at a comedy night sitting in the audience not laughing thinking ‘I could do this’. But I never got off my tubby arse and tried. It’s much easier to sit in the audience and be a critic than it is to stand up on the stage and be judged. So, on that day, I signed up for the improv class, desperate for something, anything else.

The week I was due to start my improv class, in January this year, I got a call from the housemate (who I no longer lived with). She told me that the writing class she’d bought me started that week too. I was so anxious, I couldn’t look at a sandwich without getting severe indigestion. If writing class was as scary as jumping off a cliff into the sea far below, then improv was like doing it after you’d spotted a dorsal fin poking out of the water. Going to my first improv class I repeated this mantra in my head: One day, Alice, you will have to face death alone, how are you going to do that if you can’t face an improv class. A friend also gave me these precious words – ‘doubt before the divine’. And so I went, doubting hard, and desperately hoping for the divine.

I have so much gratitude for those two friends who signed me up for writing and improv. It was exactly the right amount of endorsement and kick-up-the-ass I needed. Those two things changed my life for the better in more ways than I can ever tell you. Improv was the perfect way for me to get back into performing, because as terrifying as it is not knowing what’s going to happen, you’re never alone on stage. The basic building block of improve is saying “yes, AND”. Sometimes you think the idea you go out with doesn’t have any legs. But something happens – maybe your scene partner takes it to a place you never would’ve imagined, maybe just through the yes, AND principle, you do. Sometimes magic happens. Sometimes you leap off the cliff, grow wings, and fly. Sometimes, it’s not so great. And so you learn to fail, and be okay with it, because the world doesn’t stop turning after a shit scene, and everybody doesn’t hate you, and actually everything is pretty much the same as before you did the shit scene. It helped me so much with writing because it gave me the sweet freedom to just try something without knowing where it was going, without knowing whether it would fly or be eaten by a shark, and feeling kinda okay with that.

I did the whole novel writing course. I read out my stuff at the open mic night at the end. I might have cried and trembled at work before I did it, but a colleague persuaded me to go. What I read got a good reception, but what brought me the most pride was that I had done it. I had been brave, and said yes. I did three levels of the improv class. At the end we had a class show. That day, I wept. I told myself that it was easier for other people because they had partners to tell them everything would be fine. The real reason I was terrified is because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I went to a school that was obsessed with academic achievement, getting a B grade was a failure, and saying the wrong answer was an embarrassment. This is so contrary to the creative process, where you must fail, and the most important thing is to keep going, allow yourself to play, find your voice, and hopefully, eventually, hit upon something that works. Before I left the house for my first show, I vomited prolifically. Twelve years of fear and self-reprisal shot up from my guts and into the toilet bowl. I went to my show with a toothbrush in my pocket.

I did the show with my team. It wasn’t flawless, but people laughed. That feeling of being on stage and people laughing at something I said was incredible. When I came off stage, I felt amazing. The fear had dissipated because I’d confronted it. That’s the thing about fear. If you ignore it for twelve years, it still lingers. It won’t go away until you look it in the eye and do battle with it. If I could pass on two pieces of advice to my younger self it would be these two things:

1) Life is like a sandwich, you get out of it what you put into it. So stuff it full of everything you love.

2) You might think that one day you’ll feel ready to confront your fear. You won’t. You just have to do it.

Now I feel like I have some misery antibodies. I have reserves. The thing with your own creative pursuits is that they don’t rely on other people, or circumstance to some extent. Whatever life throws at me, I have my writing and my improv. Nobody can stop it, nobody can take it away. It’s all mine.

I am really grateful to all the people who have supported me in my new ventures this year, the new friends and the old. I’ve done so many things I never dreamed I’d do before: I’ve gone to a party alone, I’ve started a blog, I’m trying a new career, I’ve read my work out loud, I’ve pitched my novel to an agent,  and I’ve stood on the stage and performed. As it turns out, the stage is just another place to stand. So be brave people, say “yes, AND”!

If anyone is interested in trying either of the courses that changed my life, I did two different courses with Anne Aylor who is a wonderful writing teacher, just click on the link. And I did my improv classes with Monkey Toast UK, run by David Shore and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Japanese Sex Art

Recommended Sanderwich: Katsu Sando – a Japanese pork cutlet sandwich. Here is a link if you want to make one:


At the moment, I’m a bit like a public schoolboy who constantly makes crude jokes about fucking, when really all of his great sexual endeavours so far have ended up on a digestive1. What I mean is, I’m a bit obsessed with sex at the moment, because, you know, I’m not having any. The results of this are as follows: in the past two weeks alone I have been to two Japanese Sex Art exhibitions, and I’ve been to see Blue is the Warmest Colour at the flicks2. I may well be a sex-pervert, but by god, I’m a classy one.

            I went to the first Japanese Sex Art Exhibition by accident. I was in Cambridge and I had some time to kill. I’d heard that the FitzwilliamMuseum was worth a gander, so I went to check it out3.The museum is packed with a plethora of objects of interest, including paintings, furniture, crockery, pottery, armour, manuscripts and coins. I wandered around the rooms of paintings, and after finding the French Expressionist room (round which I spoke to myself in a French accent because I know how to have a good time), I started to leaf through the booklet they’d given me when I came in. One page advertised ‘The Night of Longing: Love and desire in Japanese prints’. Now this is an exhibition I can get behind4, I thought. The booklet told me that the exhibition was on in the Shiba Gallery, corresponding to room number 14 on my floor plan. But, try as I might I couldn’t find it; the Shiba Gallery was as elusive as the clitoris5. In the end I had to ask a lady where the (dramatic pause) Shiba Gallery was and as it turned out, you had to access it via another floor6. By the time I finally reached the room, which was modestly covered so one couldn’t see inside, I was absolutely gagging for it7.

            There are two kinds of Japanese Sex Art: the kind that turns you on, and the kind that doesn’t. No, there really are two types. There is abuna-e, pictures that are risqué or erotic, and then there are shunga or ‘spring pictures’, which are your more full on porny kind of picture. In the small room at the Fitzwilliam, there were more of the former, and also some scenery pictures of the floating world. The floating world is a term that describes the culture of the state-sanctioned and licensed red-light district in some Japanese cities during the Edo period (1600-1867), where there were Geisha and courtesans in brothels, and there were tea-houses, and theatres. The woodblock prints are very beautiful things, designed by great artists and cut by skilled carvers. The floating world is very theatrical, with a touch of the illicit, so the prints are really thrilling to behold. In the erotic pictures the figures, especially the ladies are dressed in sumptuous fabrics that are billowing open here and there. They are very sensual. There were a few of the more hardcore shunga, and I left a very satisfied customer8.

            It wasn’t until later that day when I was chatting to my Step-mum, that I found out that there was a whole other exhibition of Japanese Sex Art at the BritishMuseum. About a week later, curious to see what a bigger one would be like9, I went. It was extensive, even including some Chinese Sex Art. There were many more explicit pictures in this one, both woodblock prints and some hand-painted on scrolls. In the pictures, the gentials, both male and female, are often exaggerated and show everything including full penetration. In most instances, both the men and women are shown as experiencing pleasure. The fabrics and flora are depicted in intricate detail and often with amazing colours, and in contrast the bodies, particularly the female bodies, as they are the palest are notable for their absence of colour. The female bodies are often drawn with sweeping, curvaceous outlines, the only detailing appearing on their faces and vaginas. Many of them were made by famous artists, because during this period sex pictures were not seen as taboo. Sex was seen as a normal, natural part of life. These pictures were aids for arousal as well as art – there was no art/porn distinction. As well as this, many of them were comedic, and have stories and captions. Later on, shunga became more controversial with the influence of Western ideas as sex for pleasure as shameful or sinful10.


            I will now give you some brief descriptions of the funniest/weirdest shunga I saw at the BritishMuseum:

1) A picture of Buddha as a massive cock.

2) A series of pictures on a scroll of a shaven-headed nun having sex with a priest. As I ‘read’ it left to right first time, it went – nun and priest do it, nun and priest do it whilst he is half in a sack, nun and priest still kinda doing it with priest now fully enveloped by sack. I don’t know how much more sense it makes reading it the right way round.  

3) A man shrunk to the size of a tiny man who is farting in disapproval on an old man trying to have sex with a much younger woman.

4) A man trying to go down on a woman as she says “That’s dirty” and he says “What are you talking about?! That’s where you’re born from!”. Well said, sir.

5) A picture of a giant octopus going down on a woman, its giant tentacles caressing her. Another octopus is kissing her. It’s seriously weird, but I have to admit, I find it quite erotic.


            I highly recommend both exhibitions. The images of sex are tender, striking, disturbing, comical and extremely beautiful. As somebody who sometimes worries that she may never do it again in her life, who looks into a bleak future bereft of the intimacies and pleasures of banging hard, it reminded me that sex is not something to feel ashamed of or fraught about, that though it may well be ridiculous, it is a natural joy, whether it’s a moment of lust or in a long-lasting, loving relationship. But most of all, it taught me that I should definitely go to an aquarium on my next outing11.


Sex Joke Count

1. Soggy biscuit joke.

2. Yes, that was a wank joke.

3. Check it out, like in a sexy way.

4. Get behind, and do it with, doggy style!

5. Not that elusive at all.

6. This is actually not a joke about some weird sex position or anything.

7. Straightforward sex joke.

8. Orgasm joke.

9. Knob gag.

10. Because it is. It’s totally disgusting.

11. Japanese Sex Art octopus cunnilingus joke.


Speed-Dating: The Dangers


Recommended Sanderwich: I’m afraid this week you’re going to need something very comforting. Get out your old Breville, it’s time to make a cheese toastie. I like mine with tomatoes and lots of black pepper. I dip it in mayonnaise for extra fat. But go nuts, ham, beans, whatever you like. Nothing fancy, mind.


My name is Alice, and I’m really bad at dating. I’m a romantic disaster. I’m an amour-on. I’m single and have been for quite a while. Recently, I tried speed-dating. I’m sure this seems like a vaguely reasonable thing to do for somebody who’s looking for love. Or for somebody who’s at least looking for some physical human contact (hold me). Signing up for speed-dating is a bit less reasonable if you’re me, and I’ll tell you for why. I am notorious amongst my friends for making a terrible first impression. People tend to think I’m grumpy, miserable or stand-offish. I have trouty lips that naturally turn down at the corners. I can’t help it, that’s just my face. Also, I am grumpy and miserable, but there’s so much more to me than that.

            I think I come across as grumpy or mean because I’m shy. When I was a kid, I wouldn’t even go into a shop and ask for a can of coke. My shyness leads me to behave in inappropriate ways in social situations. For example, I have been known to not take my coat off for an entire party. The other week I went for a coffee with someone I don’t know very well at all. I felt a bit shy about the whole thing, so I over compensated by making a joke about the person being selfish. In retrospect, that is not something you should really say, even as a joke, to somebody you don’t know very well. I used to work in a cinema with one of my current housemates. The first time we met on shift, I thought we got on really well, and that we’d had a great laugh. I thought “I’m doing really well! I’ve made a friend!”. He’s since told me that he went home and cried that evening because I was so scary. What a total numpty I am.

            Another reason that speed-dating is a really bad idea for me is because I almost never fancy somebody immediately. It’s like there’s a faulty connection between my bits and my brain. The signals take a really long time to travel up. The first clue that I fancy someone is usually when I’ unwarrantedly mean to them. Then I have a thought process that goes like this:

Me:  Why are you being so mean to X, Alice?

Me: Oh, no, I think I have the hots for X.

Like a tiny, stupid child in a playground pulling your hair. That’s me, if I’ve got the hots for you. I’m very awkward about flirting. I like the jokes part, but I’m not good at moving it beyond that. The whole thing makes me feel like a massive creep.

            Brazenly ignoring all of these robust reasons not to do it, I signed myself up for speed-dating. This time the voice in my head said “It’ll be fun! You’ll meet new people!”. If only I’d shot my brains out there and then.

            The speed-dating event was in a small, hot room. There were at least thirty people there. The way it works is – half of the daters sit in a fixed position, and the other half travel round, like raw tuna on a conveyor belt. I’d just had a kidney infection, so I had to do it completely stone-cold sober. You get around 3 minutes to shout at the person sitting opposite you (it was very noisy), then a whistle is blown, and you traipse off the pitch defeated and broken. Oh no, sorry, then you do it about another 20 times.

            When I get nervous, my hands shake, so I had to sit on them to hide this fact. I was sitting right next to the toilet and when every single one of my dates sat down, they would say “ooooh, I really need the loo”. I had to stop myself from telling them to just fucking go, and instead had to sit there knowing they were bracing for the whole three minutes, and not concentrating on my hilarious jokes. I asked some of them to bear in mind the toilet thing when marking me, like a handicap.

            I pushed through, and by the end of the evening, though I was relieved it was over, I thought it’d gone pretty well. I thought I’d been fairly charming, and I’d worn a pretty frock too. I was proud of myself. I went home wearing a smile.

            The next day when I checked online to see if anyone had ticked me for dating, I found that nobody had. Not. One. Person. As the deep depression set in, I had the following series of thoughts:

1)      If I had not washed all week I wouldn’t have got any fewer ticks.

2)      If I had had gone dressed in a onesie I wouldn’t have got any fewer ticks.

3)      If I had made racist comments all evening I wouldn’t have got any fewer ticks.

4)      If I had gone in a Disney princess onesie, filthy and stinking, my hair matted, and declared my allegiance to the BNP, I wouldn’t have got any fewer ticks.

One person ticked that they’d like to be friends with me. They must’ve been desperate.