Finding a Guru

Wade had a blister that had started out as three separate blisters but had grown into one. He’d run out of energy bars. He was sick of breath-taking views of endless skies above endless valleys.  His knees hurt. But he was finally here, outside the guru’s cave, waiting to have the meaning of life explained to him.

He’d first read about the guru Alodu on the Internet. People would write gushing posts about how he had freed them from the nagging doubts, given them a lasting sense of peace. For years now, Wade had been dragging himself through life feeling each moment as itchy with guilt and insecurity. He had visited therapists, taken medication, listened to CDs, but these things only ever felt like a temporary solution, a hiding of his problems, not fixing them. When he heard about Alodu he decided the chance to free himself was worth the price of a flight and a hike. He hadn’t expected the route up the mountain and to the cave to be quite so well signposted. Luckily, since he’d run out of food, there was a fast food kiosk selling burgers, but it felt a little tacky.

He ducked under the cave’s low roof, and was surprised to see a small speccy white man sitting on the floor in a cardigan. He was unimpressive, and Wade felt his hopes deflate as his blisters throbbed.

“So, I’m Alodu,” said the guru, “what’s up?”

This felt all wrong to Wade, but he had rehearsed this speech a hundred times and he wasn’t going to waste the effort.

“I’m plagued,” he said dramatically. Dramatic had seemed right when he planned this conversation on the walk up. However, sharing with this librarian of a man, his head cocked to one side politely, it seemed inappropriate to be dramatic. “I feel like I’ve done and said too much that’s wrong. I want to forget, stop caring and get on with my life, but I can’t stop thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made.”

“That’s unfortunate, “ said Alodu as if he was commenting on something mundane like a traffic jam, rather than Wade’s plagued soul. “Have you tried collecting stamps? I find that soothing.”

Wade shifted awkwardly on his rock, hoping this would convey his lack of satisfaction with this answer.

“Stamps?” he said.

“Yes or perhaps watch some Bob Ross videos about learning to paint, I do like a bit of Bob Ross.”

“Now look here!” snapped Wade, causing the guru to flinch inside his cardigan. “I’ve climbed a bloody mountain, I want better advice than my gran would come up with.”

Alodu looked at him thoughtfully, with infinite patience and calm. Then in hushed tones, whispered,

“You want meaning in your life? Serenity?”


“Have you tried eating steamed broccoli?”

Wade stormed out on his blistered feet. As Alodu watched him go, he said sadly,

“Some people just don’t want to be enlightened.”

Short story: Running with Spiders


Every day is a weary lie. I can barely force my face into a convincing smile, but no one notices, too caught up in their own worlds. I wear shoes, but they’re a lie, my feet don’t want to wear shoes, they don’t want to be confined to feebly gripping, clumsy slabs with laces; they want to feel the world and cling to it, never falling. I wear the suit, but my neck doesn’t like that choke-chain tie around it, my legs don’t like to be bound in fabric. I may wear cashmere, but it constricts like cheap nylon, because it’s wrong.

I get to work at nine o’clock sharp, an unconvincing copy of an enthusiastic smile clinging to my face, because this isn’t where I’m supposed to be. I’m not a creature of bright strip lights and open floor plans, instead I’m of the night, of the dark and dank and dusty. I’m at work now, because I haven’t the energy in the day to argue with convention, all my will is used up at night. At night, where truth rules and where I scutter and spin. So I sit down at my computer, fighting the urge to groan, my body is so heavy, so affected by gravity. I don’t understand how people can live like this without the glorious escape.

Craig in the next cubicle starts up a conversation, he always does, and I always react with empty platitudes and polite nodding. Slurping on his coffee, he says,

“Can’t go to the match this weekend, the wife’s said.”

“Oh dear,” I say with the appropriate tone I don’t feel.

“My brother in law died at the weekend, she says we’ve got to sort out his things.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Yeah, and an Arsenal home game it was too.”

“I meant about your brother-in-law dying.”

“Nah, I hated him anyway.”

My work is dull and pointless, the moment I leave the office I forget what it is I do all day. Something to do with numbers, and catalogues and the ever-whining public. All that matters is that eventually it’s over and the moment of freedom is close, true freedom from this dragging carcass. I ride the train, staring at my phone like everybody else, but all I’m looking at is a timer, counting down the minutes, the seconds.

Sat at my kitchen table, my alarm sounds, but I don’t need a clock to tell me, I can feel the change. The same change that has taken over my senses for five years now.  Every night, every night a revelation and a joy. The hairs first, thick and black, poking out from around my eyes and from my arms. And those arms! Becoming longer, thinner, sleeker. I stretch their beautiful form, feel a breeze tickle at the hairs, so slight that I didn’t notice it before, a delicate caress. I’m shrinking, becoming a size that fits my new senses, as those close-fitting walls get far away and irrelevant. The six new eyes pop from the front of my head one by one, each one telling me a new story of the world, but that’s only the start. Vibration sings its song to me, everything I touch is a tapestry of understanding. I am humming, I am alive with the song of the world around me. And then, as my new body solidifies and strengthens, I am ready to run. And I run and leap. Within moments, I’m on top of the sink and leaping down the drain. Faster and faster, encumbered by nothing. Running along pipes at such speed, the power! The freedom I have! I swoop and glide, gravity doesn’t touch me. As I scutter the depths of the world feeling no fear, my kith and kin run with me.

I run with the spiders, for I too am such a beast.

What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

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This is a huge lie: “You’ll miss getting hassled in the street when it stops happening.”

When I was younger (teens, twenties and thirties), I frequently got harassed in the street. It was probably because I walked a lot on my own – I did this because it was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, a time when my imagination can let loose and fly. Harassment would vary from shouts, to being chased by cars, to being followed on foot; from a friendly chat that would slowly, inevitably become aggressive to being grabbed. It felt relentless and meant that I always kept my head down and tried not to look anyone in the eye. On a couple of occasions when I accidentally looked up and caught the eye of a passing stranger, they turned around and started following me so that I had to hide in shops to avoid them.

I’m not particularly good looking and I’ve never dressed in a sexy manner, I was just a young woman on her own, walking around. And I hated it. Not only because it was scary and dangerous at times, but also because it interrupted my flow of thoughts with something tedious and banal. However, when I complained, what many men and women told me was:

“You’ll miss it when you’re older and it stops. Then you won’t feel attractive any more, you’ll feel invisible.”

And since I’ve noticed this is a common message in our society, I would like to point out,

It’s absolute bollocks. Not being harassed is fucking great.

Firstly, I haven’t become invisible. People, more often men, still make eye contact, but instead of this leading to trouble, it leads to something mellow and friendly – maybe a smile, maybe a hello. It’s lovely, and because I don’t have to worry about it suddenly turning nasty (which almost always used to happen, and never happens now), I can feel safe making that eye contact. I don’t feel invisible, I feel like a normal member of the human race amongst other normal members, instead of feeling like a frightened mouse with a flashing light on my head drawing in trouble.

Secondly, I know we are taught that how you look is incredibly important if you’re a woman, but people ‘being attracted’ to you is a pain in the arse a lot of the time (I put ‘being attracted’ in quotes, because I’m not sure that’s really true, it’s more that you’re present and female). Useful if you want someone to fancy you, sure, but when I’m walking around with my head in a daydream, I don’t want anyone to fancy me. I’m busy.

And finally, I didn’t feel attractive back then. I think having constant comments on my looks made me too aware of them. Even if all you hear are compliments, it makes you aware of your flaws, tense about the prospect of not being attractive, so the result is you feel unhappy with your appearance. Now that strangers are polite and disinterested enough not to interrupt me to tell me how I look, I just don’t think about it that often, I can keep my thoughts to things I actually care about, such as rambling on like this.

Bust magazine image
Image: In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, February 29, 2012. Reuters/Stringer

TLDR: I’m aware that most men don’t harass women, but it is surprising the number of men and women who still think it’s not a big deal, not worth complaining about. When women do speak out (which they’ve been doing a lot recently) others get quite annoyed with them, “It’s only a compliment!” they say. My point is, I don’t think street harassment is just annoying and occasionally harmful, I think it buggers up how all people connect to each other, it makes both men and women angry with each other. Not getting hassled means that women can have calm, friendly connections to others, and it takes some unnecessary tension out of life. Which seems like a definite good thing.

Anyone else feel the same? Anyone think I’m talking nonsense? If so, why? All comments welcome, I love a chat.


Day 4120 in the Big Brother House

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Day 4120 in the big brother house. They won’t let us sleep again.  Every time we start to drop off, they blare a klaxon horn and we all have to get up and start dancing. Becky collapsed, I was too scared to go to her. We need these food rations, another week eating just dried crackers is going to make us sicker. I’m not sure, we’ve got no way of checking, but I think we’ve all got scurvy, that’s why we’re so weak. Strange lesions have started to appear on my arms as well, I asked to see a doctor in the Diary Room last week, but no matter how many times I pleaded, the perky voice just tried to get me to talk about Hannah. It kept goading me to say something bitchy, and in the end I had to call her a ‘sow faced trollop’ just to be able to go back to the house.

Then Becky got called into the diary room. Her face was all twisted up in terror, looking at us pleading, but what could we do? She gets it the worst, I don’t know why they pick on her, maybe it’s because she made such a fuss when we first came in, she’d throw a tantrum over every little stupid thing they’d made her do, she was good telly. Now they take every chance to torment her, she cries herself to sleep at night, sometimes she wakes up screaming, and we can’t stop her; sometimes I don’t even try, she’s got reason to scream.

She didn’t come back in, but a screen opened up in the lounge, and we could see Becky, sitting on a stool, her eyes were red and wild, like they wanted to burst out of her head. She was wearing that stupid green lycra suit, so we know she was wired up to get electric shocks. They started playing Living La Vida Loca over and over at full blast, while she had to search through some cards to find the answers to trivial pursuit questions that flashed up on a screen. If she got one wrong, or took to long to answer then they sent a hundred volts through her spine. There was no reason to it, there never is, it was just about humiliating her, and trying to get us all to turn on her when she got it wrong. By the end she couldn’t stop sobbing long enough to even try and answer the question, she just curled up in a ball no the floor while they shocked her, over and over.

I can’t remember why I ever signed up to this, but I would chew off my own arm just to get my life back, just to be able to take a walk in the sunshine or to read a book. I don’t know if those things will ever happen again. In the beginning we would tell ourselves ‘It’s only a gameshow’, but we know now, this is no game, and understanding that is what will get us out. They think they’ve broken us, but we’ve got a plan. Not that we can ever talk about it out loud, but we’ve got good at silent communication, good at noticing when they aren’t around, at understanding the weak points in the walls. Little bits of information that we share through tiny gestures and glances. We’ll get out soon, I promise you that. Keep watching.

London is not OK


I want to remind you of a few news stories that broke just before Christmas, they show serious problems with poverty in London and the rest of the UK. These kinds of stories are often in print at that festive time, I guess because that’s when people are feeling generous and donate to charities. However, it also means that once Christmas is over, everyone feels the problems are finished too, they’ve donated, they’ve done their bit. The truth is, the situation in the UK is getting worse, and donating money to charity is only a sticking plaster. Austerity measures have destroyed lives, even ended lives, and the government show no sign of stopping cuts.

The focus of some of these stories is on London, primarily because that’s where I live, so I see news stories for here, but also because London is generating some disturbing statistics at the moment. People tend to assume because London is clearly a rich city, poverty induced problems must be minimal, but the opposite seems to be true. These stories might be familiar to you, so I’ll keep them brief, but there are links if you want to read more.

How Rich Are We

Out of all countries, the UK is ranked fifth for GDP (value of all goods and services produced. Article), and seventh for where the most billionaires live (article). Out of cities across the world, London is ranked fifth for where the most rich people live (London fifth richest city ) and also fifth in terms of GDP. Most of the inequality between rich and poor comes not from money being earned, but owned wealth (ie inherited or invested in property) (Wealth in London ). For a wealthy country, with a wealthy capital city, the following problems are ridiculous.


new homeless article


new homeless article 2


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Up until 2010, homelessness had been declining, but since then has risen every year.

People sleeping rough  numbered 1768 in 2010 and 3569 in 2015 in the Uk. So double the numbers.

There are many more people homeless, but less visible, sleeping on floors of friends or in derelict buildings. It is thought that over 60% of homeless people don’t show up in figures.

However, in London the rise was biggest, from 400 in 2010 to 940 in 2015.

The other highest figure, and highest rise in figures, is in South East England.

Here are the facts and figures

2010 was when the Coalition government initiated the austerity program. It involved reducing funding for housing-related services, for example reducing housing benefit to a level that often didn’t cover rent, increasing sanctions for benefit claimants leaving vulnerable people without any assistance, introducing the bedroom tax (claimants had money reduced if they had an unused bedroom). It’s these measures, and rising rent prices that have lead to homelessness.




The Independent did a poll of London families and discovered that 18% have to choose between heating or feeding their family.

33% (a third) struggle to afford healthy food for their family.

14% rely of foodbanks or free breakfast clubs.

Article about foodbank use

Austerity and the wider problem

There have been reports in the newspapers this month about a lack of beds in A&E hospitals and the cancellation of 50,000 operations. This situation has clearly hit a crisis point, but at the end of last year a study was brought out calculating that 45,000 deaths had been caused by austerity measures, many of which were caused by inadequate hospital care. Substandard care for the elderly was another factor.

cuts death

Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England

Note: this has been reported as 120,000 deaths, but that is a projected figure for 2015-2020, it may well prove to be an accurate prediction, but 45,000 actual deaths is shocking enough, there’s no need to inflate it.

Thank you for reading…

Patience and Sensitivity

“I’m a very patient person,” he’d said when I moved in, and I thought that was great. I’m a very sensitive person, so we had this lovely chat about how so many other people are thoughtless and rude, and how we’d both lived with unpleasant people in the past and it was great to have found each other.

That Saturday, he said it again,

“I’m a very patient person.” This time it was when he found some crumbs I’d left by the kettle, only there was a slight edge to his voice. And I thought Whoah! It’s only a few crumbs! And I actually had a little cry, because it seemed a bit mean. He felt guilty though, so I thought we’d be alright from then on.

Then he said it again on the Monday when I left a ring around the bath, only it was more high-pitched. I said, “Well I’m a very sensitive person, and I can’t live with this kind of atmosphere,” and I slammed the door and didn’t speak to him for three days.

I hoped that had got the message through, but then again, those words, spoken through gritted teeth while pointing at the coffee splots on the floor. He didn’t even seem to see how unreasonable he was being, so I poured my coffee all over the carpet and up the doors, because all this tension is intolerable.

We were fine then, until this morning. I was just chatting to him about something at work that had upset me, while he was doing the washing up that I’d left in the sink to soak over the weekend. Everything was fine, but then he started being so rough with the washing up, that he actually broke one of the plates, and then stormed out! His anger just came from nowhere.

As a sensitive person, I need to leave for the sake of my mental health. I don’t think he’s patient at all.

Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)


Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:


And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…




Not his Wife

Stanley was sitting in his favourite chair wishing he’d learned how to smoke a pipe so he could really enjoy not moving, when the woman who wasn’t his wife came home. She was wearing the right face to be his wife, and the clothes looked familiar, but without doubt, she was someone else. If he was asked, he’d have been hard pushed to explain exactly how he knew it wasn’t his wife, but it was a sense as fundamental as gravity, and the more she moved about the house chattering about the queue at the Post Office in a way that was similar, but not the same, as his wife, the more he knew.

Stanley was a polite man, and the woman who wasn’t his wife seemed so certain of who she was, that after some quizzing that got him nowhere, he decided to let it go. Still as the days passed, a resentment grew. She kept moving the furniture round, and she cancelled his subscription to his model aeroplane magazine. She even bought broccoli and expected him to eat it. With each new and inappropriate behaviour, he felt lied to and manipulated, it just wasn’t on, but then she made lasagne.

He’d always liked lasagne before he got married, but his real wife’s cooking was dubious at best, and she made a watery, insipid dish; but his new not-wife made her lasagne crisp and tasty, so he decided, on reflection to just let it go. Aren’t we all imposters of one kind or another, he thought, philosophically, before wondering where the sofa had gone.