Category Archives: Things I don’t understand

In which I’m supposed to care about stuff but I don’t

There is a shed load of shit out there that as a woman, I’m automatically supposed to have an interest in. I can tell this, because when I’m looking for gifts for my female friends, it’s all the tat that is specially selected to be ‘Just what she wants’. I don’t know who ‘she’ is, but if I ever meet her, I’m going to bitchslap her for being such a god awful stereotype.

If I weren’t me and I faced the constant barrage of bullshit from websites and TV and magazines, I’d be thinking the problem was me. As I am me, I think the problem is the constant barrage of bullshit. Anyway. Here is a list of stuff that I don’t give a rat’s ass about.

  1. Matching tableware or glassware – because shit gets broken. That’s part of its raison d’être.
  2. Looking younger – and hence, wrinkles/crow’s feet/fine lines/redness. I’m supposed to be spending a fortune on repair creams to fix all that damage. Because, why? What possible difference will it make to my life? It might conceivably make anyone who is looking at me a bit happier, but surely one of the joyful things about being in one’s mid-40s is that no one is looking at me? It’s an introvert’s dream, so I’m not particularly minded to fuck with it.
  3. Pleasing people – so, look. You can’t keep everyone happy all the time so why bother trying? Also, some people are far too high maintenance, so why bother trying? Much better if you just sort of accidentally keep a couple of people happy as you go along, purely by doing whatever you were going to do anyway. That way, it’s serendipitous.
  4. Whatever the latest box set is – it’s the investment of time thing. I simply can’t commit hours and hours to watching television and however good it is, it won’t be as good as a novel. It just won’t. No, not even that series you really loved, unless possibly you have just caught up with either Buffy or Brideshead.
  5. Diets – I think they’re all bollocks. Just aim for not too much of anything, cut yourself some slack if you had say, chips and wine for dinner on Friday (ahem) and don’t obsess about it. End of.
  6. Expensive scented candles – I’m never going to spend £40 on a candle. Sorry, Jo Malone. If I want my house to smell amazing, I’ll bake a cake and make some coffee.
  7. Personalised anything – I can still remember my name. So I think we can leave it a few years before I need it emblazoned on everything I own.
  8. Magazines – not entirely true, I do subscribe to The Economist.  The Economist is not big on celebrity tell all stories, sex tips, beach body tips, beach makeup tips, Christmas party wear tips or Christmas party catering tips. Thank fuck.
  9. Cooking/recipes – I’m increasingly less interested in cooking because I have increasingly less time and therefore I don’t want to fritter it away faffing around with food prep, cooking and clearing up. Bring on the roast veg or avocado on sourdough. Job done.
  10. Interior design – oh look, big empty wall, stick a book case on it. Add one reading chair and a decent lamp. Sorted.

 

The mental load

The Guardian published this comic on ‘The gender wars of household chores’ and fireworks went off in my head. I didn’t know there was a term for the ceaseless mental activity of planning, to do lists, forward thinking and logistics that keeps a house running. But there is and it’s ‘the mental load’. And the fact that mostly, women manage the mental load and mostly, men do not, suddenly explains a hell of a lot. And yes, there will be exceptions on both sides to this traditionally gendered breakdown but I will now be speaking to my own experience.

So, the concept of mental load explains why, in a domestic setting, men can present as so helpless (if one is being kind), or such useless fucking twats, God give me strength, you are slightly less use than a bicycle is to a fish (if one has had a stressful day).

Broadly, whereas for women running the domestic chores is a form of programme management, for men any activity is task based. Thus, you can ask someone to clean the bathroom and literally what you will get is a slightly cleaner bathroom. If you also wanted the towels to be replaced and the dirty ones put in the laundry basket, the bin to be emptied, any empty shampoo or shower gel bottles to be put out for recycling, the bath mat to be cleaned and the towel rail to be wiped down, then each of those sub-tasks needed to be individually identified.

So it is this continuous management of the sub-tasks that is so tiring and which leads to so much frustration. On one hand, the bathroom is clean – you got what you asked for. And that is undeniably true. On the other hand, how can so much that is so obvious have been left undone?  I believe the chore blindness is genuine, and then exacerbated by what are often different tolerance levels to dirt and disorder. But then again – how do you think any of this other stuff happens? Which is why men don’t get the gratitude they expect for having completed a basic chore, and women are left eye rolling and thinking ‘If you want something done properly…’

It also explains Male ‘I was going to do that later’ Syndrome. I’ve called out before that I don’t understand when this period called ‘later’ is, when there are not also a thousand more tasks to be done. But now I understand that of course, there can be ‘later’ if you are only aware of one task at a time, and if responsibility for that task has only been ceded until that one instance of it is complete. It actually annoys my partner that by the time ‘later’ rolls around, I’ve already done whatever he was going to do; not that he will necessarily have told me that he was going to empty the bin.

As well, if your only visibility is of a handful of seemingly unrelated actions, then it’s easy not to consider them a big deal. So what if the sheets didn’t get put out to dry? It’s only when you know that they’re part of a chain of events that will require some re-factoring that such minor issues are a problem. So the fact that the sheets aren’t drying now means that the next load of washing can’t be done for a day or two, which means that the running kit will now not be clean for that gap on Thursday when you had tentatively scheduled a run. So if you can leave slightly earlier then, and shift that, and if Sainsbury’s deliver earlier then you just might…

Years ago, in a bad bit in my marriage, I thought my ex had behaved really selfishly. He had given no thought to ‘us’ as unit. He had only considered himself. And I thought, fuck it, I’m going to give that a try.  I did it and it was hugely, astoundingly liberating. Life got so much simpler when I decided that the programme management of our lives was not my responsibility. I did not second guess the implications for another of my every action, presence or absence. I mastered briefly the fine art of not giving a fuck and It. Was. Awesome. I totally get why men exist in that context and don’t want to give it up. If I could walk away from that much responsibility on a permanent basis, I would. It’s one of the reasons why being single is so fabulous and life affirming.

But sadly, not giving a fuck is unsustainable when two people’s lives start overlapping. If those two people want to get out of the door at the same time for work, a day out or a holiday, then someone has to do the logistical planning and behind the scenes stage management to achieve that. Someone has to pick up the mental load, but at least once you understand what’s going on, maybe you can work towards a more equable sharing of that load. To refuse to take on the full burden feels like being selfish, which can be a hard thing for women to encompass. But I’d call it positive selfishness, a way to counterbalance the negative selflessness that leaves so many women ignoring their own need to have someone else just pick up the goddamn dry cleaning already.

In which I have a new job

In fact, I’m four weeks in. It’s a new role within the same company, but for the first time in my entire career, my job has nothing to do with either content or digital. This job is a further big step on the trajectory away from publishing and towards who knows what?

So now I’m working in the team responsible for coming up with new products and propositions. There’s a commercial aspect that I’ve never had before, and since delivery of any new product depends on lining up the customer care and field ops support as well, there’s another whole different area of the business to get my head around. All this was part of the appeal. I work for a big company and there are vast swathes of it that I never got a look at in my old role.

Just to complicate matters slightly, the hiring manager left before I started, her boss leaves at the end of June and as far as any of us are aware, there aren’t any replacements lined up. Mine is a new role in the team. I have no direct reports but 10 people junior to me who need varying degrees of management. A new product launch is looking like it will be 3 weeks late – I swear this is coincidental.

In all this, I’d say my comfort zone is a short drive away. Right through interview, I still thought that my publishing career was the bedrock evidence of what I can do. But that’s no longer the case. I was hired on the basis of the last three years, not the however many before that. I feel as though I swapped firm foundations for a high wire. As I don’t actually know what my job is and there’s no one to tell me, I’m doing whatever the hell seems to need doing. Every day, I’m flying blind. I’ve put out a lot of fires over the last few weeks, I’ve U-turned on a couple of decisions when I got more knowledge and thanked people for telling me. I don’t know how I’m doing, so I come home some days thinking ‘I got this’ and others thinking ‘What the fuck happened today?’

In other words, it’s standard new job stuff. The fear, the learning curve, the anxiety, the successes, the gradual build back up to confidence, to that state when ‘I got this’ is normal. Currently I’m at a low to moderate anxiety level, which is not only not a bad thing (temporarily), it’s what I went looking for. It’ll either all work out, or I’ll crash and burn. So, ok then.

In which I discourse on fashion

Although this could be a short discourse, because from what I can tell at the moment, the current styles are almost universally horrendous.

Let us begin. This season is going big on what I call either Asylum Chic or Jane Eyre’s Lowood Wardrobe. If I wanted desperately to dress like an escapee from a lunatic asylum, then I’d be sorted. This doesn’t mean that the shops are bestrewn with fetching faux Victorian white lace numbers a la Wilkie Collins either.  It means more of a nod towards 80s American schlock horror movies.

The woman in the blue dress is running, running, still carrying the bloody knife, even though she’s not sure what she did with it, but someone sure got stabbed and she can’t stop crying. Jane Eyre has been told to wear the pink one to the 10th annual Lowood TB Survivor’s Reunion.

Still, once you’ve escaped from the madhouse, or extreme Christian austerity, then it’s time to start partying. Is anyone going to a fancy dress party? And if so, are you thinking of costuming yourself as a migraine? Then [trigger warning] look no further…

These are probably designer, because all the most horrible items of clothing turn out to be designer. The high street’s cheap and cheerful knock offs never quite achieve the same peaks of hideosity. Can you imagine being drunk and seeing those dresses? Or hungover? Dear lord, someone pass the Ibuprofen.

Still, even an ex-Lowood girl can’t party for ever, so the shops have you covered for those quiet nights in as well. You know. The ones when you like to stand in the corner, dressed as a lampshade.

The pink one’s gotta be cheesecloth, right? I don’t think other fabrics can achieve that salmonella pink vibrancy.  For me, though, the blue one is the winner here, effortlessly achieving that ‘lampshade in an asylum’ look and so nailing two key trending influences in one garment. I’m sold.

The Bird Tribunal, Agnes Ravatn

Sigh. So I haven’t even finished this and although it’s basically a pamphlet, it’s touch and go whether or not I will. It’s supposed to be tense and chilling, but my fundamental problem is that the heroine is such a pathetic dweeb I want to smack her one.

And this is, in fact, is my problem with an entire set of books that are ultimately predicated on the fact that the heroine is spineless. There seem to be all too many of them around at the moment. She says, now unable to think of a single title. But you know  the type of thing I mean. The wounded heroine who gets into difficult circumstances that were avoidable or could have been resolved if she’d only actually said something. Like a normal person would have done.

So, to The Bird Tribunal, in which Allis, who fucked up her life with some accidentally public extra-marital shagging, has run away to the middle of nowhere and taken a job as a gardener-cum-housekeeper for some mysterious, grumpy bloke called Bragge. His wife is away. Or is she? At first Bragge says she’ll be back in the autumn; then he disappears for four days and comes back saying she died and was buried. In between, he hangs around being mysterious, dictatorial and unpredictable, which apparently is all Allis wants in a man.

Based on nothing whatsoever, she goes to pieces while he’s away, over-reacting to noises and her own imagination and completely terrified. So terrified, in fact, that she goes out of the house and into the dark garden and to the dark shed, where she picks up a hammer so that she can protect herself when the imaginary enemies come to get her. Because god forbid she should switch a light on, put the radio on and make a cup of tea or anything.

I think there was supposed to be some sense of brooding menace. But there was just a sense of Allis being a bit of a tit.

The only mysteries so far are why she’s still there being emotionally abused by a virtual stranger, and why for the love of all the gods she can’t call him out on his bullshit. He’ll probably turn out to be a nutter who murdered his wife, or Allis will get the wrong end of the stick and accidentally murder him, or whatever. At this point, I’m hoping for a nice suicide pact and the introduction of better characters.

In which I don’t know what I look like

And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I don’t know a woman who doesn’t suffer from body dysmorphia, and that tends to make things a bit confusing. Of course, there are plenty of mirrors around, but most shops are well up on the art of the most pleasing angle, so there’s no consistency there.  When the reflection in the Regent Street branch of Banana Republic was particularly unflattering, it meant I really couldn’t tell if it was them or me. Either way, I gave the clothes back and slipped away.

A glimpse in a store mirror on Saturday suggested I was verging on anorexia. I am really not. My mirror at home says shorter and squatter than that. I genuinely can’t tell if my bum looks big in this, because (a) what is normal for me? And (b) therefore, what is big? And (c) is that just big in my head or big from an objective perspective?

This morning, absolutely unable to tell whether I looked fine or positively bovine, I just thought ‘Fuck it’ and left for work anyway. Because I also thought, ‘What does it matter?’ I was dressed well enough to sneak within the office dress code, and that’s all that counts. No one at work is actually going to be judging me, and if they are, I won’t know about it. Which takes us back to ‘Fuck it’.

The objective fact is I’m a size 0 to a size 10, depending on which country or store I’m shopping in. That range is clearly pretty normal. I’d definitely be happier a few pounds lighter, because months of inactivity is having an effect, but all my clothes still fit so it’s not that big a deal. I’ve no ambition to look like a model, given that even models don’t look like models until they’ve been Photoshopped to the max.

So mostly, it’s just irritating. I like certainty. So it follows that I’d prefer to be able to look in a mirror and think ‘Oh yes, that is the size and shape of me that I recognise’ and therefore also ‘Those jeans work and those jeans REALLY don’t’. How can it be that instead, I can’t tell?

But then again, why do I need to be able to identify my own size and shape?  Regardless of whether I think I look fat or thin, the only difference is going to be in what I wear. I might misjudge one way or the other, but that makes no bloody difference to anything. So I think that, on further reflection, all roads lead to ‘Fuck it’.

In which my hair is my business

Thank you everso for asking.

For the two people who read this blog and don’t know me in person, I’ve had short hair for most of the time since my 20s, aka, the best part of 20 years.

I’ve heard ‘Oi, mate, your bird’s a bloke!’ from some charmer on the night bus. I didn’t punch him. I’ve heard a polite ‘Sir…’ before a guy at a reception desk clocked that I was female. My ex-husband and I got dodgy looks checking into a hotel one time, which baffled us until we realised that I looked like a teenage boy when I wore a baseball cap.

None of it’s a big deal, and mostly I just eye roll and move on. But the consistent question that really winds me up is ‘What does your boyfriend/husband/partner think?’, sometimes coupled with ‘Doesn’t he mind that you’ve got short hair?’

I’ve been hearing that for years. About 20 of them. From the 20th into the 21st century, apparently a defining characteristic of women is that they’ve got long hair; and secondly, their hairstyle is not just their choice. It should be validated by a male whose opinion is considered relevant on the matter. If Vidal Sassoon were still around and I knew him, I’d hope he appreciated that my haircuts are straight out of the Sassoon school. Everyone else can fuck off.