6342 words

All of them terrible of course, when I’m in a certain mood. Their only function to form fraudulent sentences. Most of it a garbled version of my life. All of it an unimaginative reassembly of reality.

I’m writing a novel. There I’ve said it. If I never say it, there’s even less chance I’ll do it.

It’s set in a nursing home and heavily inspired by Frau B. But the story is not hers. It’s made up.

The fictional aspect is especially important. Frau B’s already gifting me with inspiration.  It would taint our meetings to ask for biographical details.. for permission to print old photographs.. for a linear summary of her life. We dip in and out of each other’s lives every week. It would seem wrong to go excavating instead.

I began it as part of NaNoWriMo, a worldwide online challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

An impossible task for me, I knew. Not that I would have otherwise, but I was working full-time and had plenty of other activities going on. Still, it was a little kick and I was receptive to it. Plus, they sent you motivational e-mails and had a function allowing you to update your word-count, which I did obsessively, almost sentence by sentence.

It’s hard to articulate the kind of self-doubt that comes with writing. For me, it never gets easier. I’m painfully slow. I am not full of ideas. It rarely flows.

I compare myself with the writers I admire and despair. I Google videos and interviews with them for evidence of their self-doubt. Usually you can find some.

I feel uniquely empty, incapable of adding anything of interest to the world, amazed at others’ ability to make conversation, to come up with witty responses, to communicate unfettered. I imagine how much I could put to paper with those talents.

My news feeds full of the atrocities in Aleppo, I feel all the more ashamed of even having such thoughts.

Still, I haven’t deleted the document. It’s still on my computer.

And it wouldn’t be if I didn’t believe, somewhere small and very deep down, that it was possible.

So I’m out of the closet. I’m trying to write a novel.

I read a piece of advice earlier that the first step to becoming a writer is to call yourself one.

I’m not ready to yet. But maybe I’ll change my mind once I hit the 10,000 mark.

I’ll occasionally write about writing here. Perhaps it will even be a welcome distraction from the task in hand.

corner

My writing corner (laptop replaces typewriter)

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Five women’s blogs I check every day. For pleasure.

1. Fieldwork in Stilettos                                                                                                       I’ve been reading Kat Richter for years. She’s a Philadelphia-based writer and dance teacher who blogs about dating, writing and lately, home improvement. Her prose is extremely fun to read. I’ve followed her through a questionable “manthropological” dating experiment, a couple of meaningful relationships and roughly the same number of heartbreaks. If you think her posts sound throwaway, check out the couple of times she’s diverged from her usual subjects – to talk about the experience of encountering anti-abortion campaigners outside a women’s clinic and, drawing from her background in anthropology, to explain why there’s no such thing as race. Whatever she writes is lively, sharp and worth following.

2. Captain Awkward                                                                                                        When I discovered this blog, I devoured the archive in hours. Captain Awkward dispenses insightful, practical and thorough advice on subjects ranging from a  woman whose otherwise wonderful partner will not accept her feminist views to anxiety about interacting with former co-workers. Written by a movie writer and director, Captain Awkward promotes mental health, we well as sexual and gender equality. The blog is also mega-successful, with each post attracting hundreds of comments.

Reading is good offline too.

Reading is good offline too.

3. Brain Pickings                             This blog makes me gush. Maria Popova’s writing is exquisite, her take on philosophy, creativity and critical thinking  always thought-provoking and beautifully expressed. Her essays draw on the wisdom garnered from some of the world’s greatest thinkers and how their insights might apply to our everyday lives. Her selection of quotations and suggested further reading always make me think. Read her on the boundary between hope and cynicsm and diversity and difference in children’s literature. In fact, just read everything she writes. Her site remains ad-free and funded (though I’m not sure how substantially) by readers. For me, Brain Pickings represents the very best of what the internet can do to promote independent, creative thinking.

4. Broadside Blog                                                                                                                Caitlin Kelly is a veteran New York journalist who turned freelance a few years ago after losing her job at a major daily paper. She posts about work, travel, the media industry, as well as friendship and family relationships. I’m attracted to her crisp, uncompromising and confident tone, as well as the many insights she has about journalism. I don’t agree with everything she says, but the way she says it is reason enough to read her work. Her writing strikes that delicate balance between personal and professional- I feel like I know her but there’s nothing I wish I didn’t know.

5. Aileen Donegan                                                                                                           We’ve never met but know each other from our blogs and Twitter. Aileen’s a 26 year-old journalist from Ireland with an interesting background in online activism and experience living in Strasbourg. In the wake of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, she wrote a compelling piece about attending a small solidarity march in Dublin and about how that event, unlike demonstrations she’d been to in the past, sat right. I loved her recent post about the summer she spent as a teenager reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

I’m always on the lookout for new blogs to follow, so let me know if you have any favourites I should be adding to my list!

Ever the Bridesmaid…

Frau Bienkowski hasn’t managed to marry me off yet, which is a pity since she likes a good wedding. She’s always talking about William and Kate’s and is the first to know about the appearance of a new photograph of Prince George.

She’s interested in failed marriages too. Like those of former president, Christian Wulff who, scandalously, separated twice. And she thinks it’s high time his successor, Joachim Gauck marries his long-term partner. After all, Frau B says, she accompanies him to most official events.

source: Creative Commons Robbie Dale www.anonlinegreeworld.com

source: Creative Commons Robbie Dale http://www.anonlinegreeworld.com

Luckily for us both, our appetite for wedding-related stories has recently been whetted by living vicariously through my sister, who got married in Philadelphia in July.

Frau B was there every step of the way.

She was thoroughly briefed on the suitor. And on how he met my sister.

(“Everything is possible online these days!” she had said approvingly)

She knew all about  the navy bridesmaid dresses, which we ordered online for $25. She knew my sister was making her own wedding cake. And she had a good knowledge of the guest list too.

Ever the stylist, she worried about how I would wear my hair on the day. She suggested I get the same cut I had last December.

I have documented my fear of hairdressers here before. Believe me, they get worse when you cross the Atlantic. My cutter had scraggly blue hair and dreadful manners. She refused point-blank to cut the shape I wanted, instead insisting, “It’s 2014  dude. You sister is getting married! Try something new.” She also accused me of frequenting “old lady salons.” (She’s right obviously; hip salons don’t have libraries attached.) I ended up with a stupid cut. Relieved I wasn’t the bride.

Frau B was also privy to my pre-wedding music-related woe.(PWMRW; primarily affects  amateur musicians, according to DSM X)

I had brought my violin back from Dublin at Christmas after my sister hinted she might want my (other) sister and me to play during the ceremony.

Things were going okay at first, though I hadn’t played in years. My fingertips were getting tougher and I was playing halfway in tune. Then one night, when I was doing my floor exercises (as you do) LSB tried to step over me to get to the couch.

Except he tumbled over my open violin case instead. I watched as if in slow motion as he landed, knees first on top of the instrument.

Snap. Crack. An expletive.

I twisted out of my yoga pose faster than you can say “downward dog” in time to see my E string spring loose. Then the A string. Then the bridge collapsed. It was all very traumatic.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I had to bring it to the Geigenbaumeister. He fixed it for €10 and told me he’d had a Stradivarius in earlier that week. Frau B told me I’d got lucky. She was right. Could have been much worse. Could have been a collapsed Stradivarius bridge.

When I visited her last week, Frau B said: “Tell me everything about the wedding. Then show me the pictures.”

I told her that my sister was objectively the most beautiful bride there’s ever been.

That the wedding took place in a medical museum which boasted among its displays a gigantic colon. (Available for guests to view before dinner).

That everyone survived the violin duet.

That the cake was spectacular.

That my tough big sister had to try really hard not to cry during the (self-written) vows.

That I had to try even harder.

When I showed her the pictures,  Frau B said. “My! What long hair your sister has got!”

Streetwalking in Schöneberg

I had some time to kill the other night, so I walked up and down Bülowstrasse. It’s in the Schöneberg area of Berlin, where Albert Einstein, Hans Fallada and David Bowie all lived at some point.

It was only 7 o’clock, so I was surprised to see prostitutes lining the streets so early. There were six of them. Two emerged linking arms from a shop before separating to take up position.

They weren’t anything like the prostitutes at Hackescher Markt who are both glamorous and absurd in their identical fishnet tights, baby-pink corsets and furry boots.

These women looked eastern European. They didn’t have a uniform, but they were all wearing  plastic strappy high-heels; the kind you’d find in a basement store in the Ilac Centre in Dublin, full of artificial light and pumping music.

The youngest of them had brown hair, very narrow shoulders and was wearing denim hot-pants. She had earphones plugged in while trying to hail down cars.

The oldest woman wasn’t bothering to show her legs. She was dressed casually in jeans and a leather jacket. She had reddish-brown hair and looked bored.

The woman whose face I can’t forgot was standing near a lamppost supporting a campaign poster for Germany’s neo-Nazi NPD party. It featured a fish-bowl picture of an old lady under the slogan: “Geld für Oma statt Sinti und Roma.” (“Money for Granny, not the Sinti and Roma”)

The woman had her hair scraped back into a ponytail. She was performing her job awkwardly – trying to hail down cars by forming a stop sign with her hand, like a police officer would do to check a driver’s insurance.

Tears were running down her cheeks.

No one stopeed but she kept on sticking her hand out at the passing cars.

Freshly Pressed

For most people, “freshly pressed” means a glass of orange juice with pleasing bits of pulp, possibly accompanied by a croissant or lakeside view.

But for bloggers at WordPress, “freshly pressed” is an accolade.

It means that a WordPress employee has decided to feature one of your posts on their homepage, exposing you to lots of other bloggers, some of whom decide to “follow” your blog and a few who take the time to leave you kind and thoughtful comments.

Image source: www.ulaola.com

Image source: http://www.ulaola.com

For an introvert, it’s like winning a year’s supply of networking.

It’s like being at a writers’ conference, with sweaty palms, about to approach a stranger with an awkward, self-deprecating introduction, only for the entire spiel suddenly to be rendered completely unnecessary, paving the way for a return to the happy corner where you were munching a canapé and starting at animated people self-promoting.

Today, I was “Freshly pressed.” It made me very happy indeed.

It also made me think about encouragement and success.

I’m no neuroscientist, but sometimes I wish I were.

When I am sad or frustrated or overjoyed, I like to imagine the neurons in my brain squirting coloured impulses, which travel across convoluted chemical tracks at reckless speeds.

When some one says something kind or complimentary to me, a little cluster somewhere behind my forehead ignites,like a flickering light bulb finally screwed in right. I might respond awkwardly, by fumbling with my hands or countering with disproportionate (but heartfelt) praise.

But all the while, inside a little squirt of something which I’ll call adrenalin for want of an MRI, has begun to gush about my head, leaving me feeling unusually motivated.

Kate Katharina poses as an introvert suddenly relieved of the duty to self-promote.

Kate Katharina poses as an introvert suddenly relieved of the duty to self-promote.

It’s like magic, really.

Except it’s magic that anyone can perform, any time.

Encouraging people is deeply satisfying. My mother is so good at it, that she could probably turn professional.

My favourite people to encourage are humble types, whose faces immediately display a strange guilt when you tell them that they are wonderful and who can’t think of any words to say back.

Or people who have a secret dream that isn’t quite so secret and whose faces melt strangely when you casually remark that they could achieve something they’ve never admitted to desiring.

Fortunately, you don’t need a top hat or a bunny to encourage, though in some cases either or both could come in useful.

You can encourage with words or gesture, or even by keeping your dissent silent.

And like an alchemist, you can cause a little light to go on in someone’s mind, giving them the energy necessary to finish a painting, or take an exam, or learn to swim or ride a bicycle or sing a song.

Thanks to all my readers, old and new, for encouraging me to cultivate this little patch of blogosphere.

I wish I could say that being “freshly pressed” hasn’t gone to my head, but I’ve already told you all about the little light bulb that lives behind my forehead.

“Freshly pressed” or not, I promise I’ll try to keep my writing free of pulp.

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If you want to join in the fun on Facebook you can find Kate Katharina here.

And if you’re more of a Twitter-er, you can find links to my latest posts here.

From Tolstoy to Twitter

Edinburgh is just the place for thrifty, book-loving odd-balls.

Many areas, like Bruntsfield, Marchmont and Waverly sound like settings that Jane Austen has fabricated.

There is even a Bingham Park and, while I’ve yet to come across a Darcy Drive or a Wickham Way, it’s only a matter of time before mindful town planners restore the literary balance.

I suspect the city was designed by a brilliant, absent-minded professor of literature, who approached the task like the writing of an essay.

There are examples of sublime beauty, like the Balmoral hotel, the Walter Scott monument and of course Edinburgh castle, but they are clumsily linked by several hills, which pepper the city indiscriminately. The effect is similar to the reward felt by a reader who huffs and puffs their way through stodgy prose, wondering where it is all going, only to stumble suddenly on something quite profound.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

On Thursday, I stumbled across the St John’s charity bookshop in Stockbridge. A poster in the window said “Clearance! Everything 50 pence” and I was inside as fast as my little legs could carry me.

It was cluttered and reassuringly musty. Bookish types sporting oversized anoraks and tufty hair browsed stealthily, building discerning piles of poetry, murder mysteries and natural history.

While I prowled the store, several dismayed customers asked the elderly couple behind the counter why everything must go.

“We haven’t got enough volunteers to keep it going,” said the man.

“Now where am I going to go for my books?” asked one lady and sighed. “If only I’d known, I would’ve given up a few hours,” said an English man, who blinked a lot and bought the collected works of Oscar Wilde.

“Well, get stocking up,” said the old lady. “Anything that isn’t sold will go into recycling.”

I didn’t need to be told twice. Some of the titles I had been perusing were so promising that the thought of them condemned to shredding alongside household bills and letters from the bank sent a shiver coursing down my spine.

I was tragically limited by the confines (56 x 45 x 25cm including wheels) of my hand baggage allowance. Nevertheless, I managed to add six books to my collection. It only set me back £3, which is about the cost of a glossy magazine offering to make me beautiful and thin.

I am now the proud owner of: The Personality of Animals by the appropriately named H Munro Fox, The Childhood of Animals by Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, Know Your Own IQ by H.J. Eyesenck, The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf, The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forster and most promisingly of all: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism Volume 2 by Bernard Shaw.

I opened the most humble-sounding of them, Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader on the plane earlier. I kept it open on the bus and then on the underground and even brought it to bed with me.

Roger Fry's painting of Virginia Woolf Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Roger_Fry_-_Virginia_Woolf.jpg

Roger Fry’s painting of Virginia Woolf Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Roger_Fry_-_Virginia_Woolf.jpg

We travelled well together. Ms Woolf seemed to understand the dilemmas of contemporary blogging as early as 1925.

In her chapter “Modern Fiction,” she asks what about and why and how we should be writing. Baffling questions that the amateur blogger faces every day.

Sometimes I steal snatches of conversations I’ve had and slap them onto the blogosphere. Other times I talk about love or meat or peeing audibly.

Occasionally I think about weighty things like politics or God and think I should write about these things too, yet I can find nothing more to say.

And then there are the times I dream of invention. I wonder whether my paltry life experience could ever be transformed and trapped within the dusty covers of a big fat book.

It’s worth remembering that unless you’re an academic, Woolf’s chapter title doesn’t age well. “Modern fiction” is by nature a relative term. But what she says about the dilemmas of writing may apply to anything from Tolstoy to Twitter. She asks us to:

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

Sometimes I get stuck inside the semi-transparent envelope. I know I’m there when words fail me, or I lose the desire to write. It takes a hilly city, with rough cobble-stoned streets, place names that make me feel like I am Elizabeth Bennet and charitable book-sellers to break the seal.

Blogileaks: Kate Katharina rocked by sell-out scandal

If you want to be rich and famous, you should definitely start a blog. It’s the only way to keep up with the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world.

Katekatharina.com is a case in point.

From the beginning, my sober treatment of issues such as my talent for gibberish, my reputation as a creep and my savant boyfriend left readers crying for more.

I had to purchase extra electronic storage to cope with all the fan mail I was getting. I rejected several offers to write for renowned publications on the principle that Katekatharina.com was a more reputable source than say, The New York Times.

After some time, it became impossible to walk the streets of Dublin without being accosted by an admirer of my prose. The effort of gazing at my feet modestly every time a particularly apt turn of phrase was repeated to me by a stranger became too great. I decided to move to Berlin, where I thought I could descend into relative obscurity and focus on my art.

A rare moment of calm from the crowds as I climb a tower in the early days of my time in Berlin.

A rare moment of calm from the crowds as I climb a tower in the early days of my time in Berlin.

But it was not to be. Here too, passengers on the underground tap me nervously on the shoulder and say “If you don’t mind me saying so, you look really like Kate Katharina from Katekatharina.com. Others are more aggressive, pushing through crowds to thrust a pen and a print-out of my latest post into my hands, crying “Bitte, bitte, ein Autogramm fuer mein krankes Kind.”

Yes, my route to fame and fortune has been paved with widgets and clusters of html.

Or possibly, it’s been a bit more like this:

I’ve written over 200 posts here. Sometimes I spend hours writing a serious piece contemplating the meaning of art, or describing a tiny dead mouse whose death still haunts me, while other times I chronicle my developing relationship with a 93 year-old woman or defend pigeons.

The mouse that haunts me still

The mouse that haunts me still

The effort has paid off. Last summer the embassy of a wealthy middle eastern country offered to pay me to write a piece outlining – among other facts – the wisdom of its ruler and the progress the country has made in the areas of human rights and gender equality. When I replied saying that I did not feel I could write an impartial piece given the requirements, they promptly reassured me that I could be “reasonable and objective,” as if I were simply displaying modesty.

They’d found my contact details through a referral to the blog from an article I’d written for The Journal. That particular article paid me handsomely in… exposure (?) and afforded me the pleasure of trawling through a host of comments, most of which misinterpreted my article to conclude I was a Paparazzi fiend.

A more recent success occurred when the Past Pupils Union of my secondary school read a post I had written reminiscing about audible peeing in the school bathroom. They posted it onto their page and my hits rocketed.

I rejected numerous offers from prestigious publications

I rejected numerous offers from prestigious publications

And then recently, someone working on behalf of the company X contacted me, offering me a modest sum in exchange for linking to their site.

I had a drink with my friend, another freelance journalist in Berlin.

“You’ll be compromising yourself,” she said. “And for €80?”

A niggling part of me thought she was right. “But,” I argued, “They said I could write about anything; I just have to link to their site.. I mean I link to sites all the time, many of them happen to be commercial! And Y is not immoral!”

“And,” I continued, ever more desperate. “Every time I want to watch a video showing death and destruction on the BBC website, I first have to watch a stupid ad telling me to ‘invest in reMARKable Indonesia.'”

“I know,” she sighed. “It’s terrible the Beeb does that.”

So, here I am, “selling out” for the first time. The compensation is €80 (I hope!) which will pay for my monthly transport. For the amount of hours I’ve spent thinking about how NOT to make this read like a sponsored post, it’s pittance.

If I were living in a time when people still paid for writing, I’d have earned a couple of hundred for this 800 odd-word piece.

But I’m not. I was born into the digital revolution.

So, for all the would-be bloggers out there, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to take yourself excessively seriously. Just like me.

Otherwise, the attention from the fans can get too much, and you begin to crave the days when your blog had a small, loyal readership and when you deliberated for days over whether to post a link to a website offering to help people see again.

Watching the snow with Frau Bienkowski

“You should always avail of the free coffee here,” Frau Bienkowski said. “Sure, why wouldn’t you?”

“I did,” I assured her. “I had a latte downstairs. It was delicious.”

The dress Frau Bienkowski admired

The dress Frau Bienkowski admired

“Good,” she said, looking at me closely. “Now, this is a dress I haven’t seen before! It’s lovely!”

“Thank you!” I said and admired her pastel-coloured floral two-piece.

Outside, thick snowflakes were swirling in the air. “It’s such a shame about the weather,” said Frau Bienkowski.”I still have to give you a tour of the grounds.”

“And you promised to tell me the story behind the funny little statue outside,” I said.

“Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten!”

“How have you been sleeping?”

“Not well,” said Frau Bienkowski. “The other night I was awake the whole night. When the alarm went off at 7 o’clock I just couldn’t face getting up. So when the first lady came in, I had to think of some reason to stay in bed, so I told her I had a headache.”

“She asked me where,” Frau Bienkowski continued, smiling wickedly. “So I waved my hand about and said from front to back. Of course they got the doctor to check up on me. Then they took my blood. And of course I’d a perfect reading.”

I laughed. “Would you not tell them you’ve trouble sleeping?”

“Ach, I told you before, I haven’t been able to sleep since my husband died. And that was a long time ago.”

“Do you listen to the radio or watch TV in the evenings?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Frau Bienkowski. “I only watch television in the evenings. But listen to this; the other day a message to turn down my TV came from a lady all the way down the corridor. There was no way she could have heard it. I even asked my next-door neighbours if they could hear my TV. They couldn’t. Sure we are all hard of hearing here.”

“Difficult neighbours can be found everywhere!” I said.

“That they can,” she said. “Now, tell me about these CD players.”

“Well, I did a price check,” I told her. “And the ones with the decent speakers are about €50. The smaller ones with low quality speakers are around €30, but you wouldn’t be able to hear from bed if we plug it in over there.”

“We’ll have to wait so” said Frau Bienkowski. “I spent €12.50 on that coffee jug last week,” so I can’t afford to spend any more money for a while.”

Frau Bienkowski looked at the clock. “Be careful you’re not late for your night shift!”

“Don’t worry, I’ve my eye on the time,” I told her.

“How long are you working tonight?” she asked.

“Until 2.30 in the morning,” I said. “When I’m on my way home, you’ll be awake in bed, hopefully with the radio on.”

“Yes,” she said.

Shine, Jesus, Shine.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it became cool to join the Christian Union at school. All I know is that one day people were carefully tearing away the threads that bound their little blue hymn books together and the next you were being shoved out of the way for a go at the Prayer Wall.

Testimonials became all the rage. Powerful, popular student speakers would address school assembly and describe their conversion at pop concerts. The Christian Union band became a staple feature of morning gatherings and suddenly everybody was belting out Shine, Jesus Shine as if their lives depended on it.

My best friend and I set out on a surveillance Mission. One Friday after school, we walked in on an Open Mic prayer session. The cream of the crop were gathered in a circle, waiting patiently for their turn with the mic. A tall brunette girl with ringlets finally got her go. She clutched the microphone, shut her eyes tightly and said “Dear God, please help me not do something I regret on Junior Certs results night.”

I was amazed, because I was doing all I could to prevent divine intervention on Junior Cert Results night.

The Junior Cert is a set of exams that Irish school children take when they are 15. They sit in sports halls with no windows and answer questions about Romeo and Juliet, Pythagoras’ theorem and volcanoes. During the exams, the sun comes out and shines all over the country. Flowers blossom and birds sing. When the adjudicator says “Pens down” after the final exam, it begins to rain.

Anyway, “results night” is when under-age teenagers sneak their way into night clubs around Dublin. The girls are usually naked and the boys wear oversized shirts with their collars pulled up. If things go to plan, the next morning the streets will be lined with neat little pools of vomit.

I had done hideously well in the Junior Cert. So well, that cool boys in the corridor cried my result at me whenever I passed. I thought the way they yelled “12 As” every time I went by was flirtatious, until somebody suggested that I was being bullied, which seemed more plausible.sh

Anyway, as I was ironing my hair that night, I decided it was high time I started drinking alcohol. Contemporaries had been doing it for months, and I felt I was missing out on a developmental stage. I thought the prospects that night were good. I had an invitation to a party at a boy’s house.

I made sure my hair was flat and lifeless before I headed out. When I got to the party, it was still bright and everyone was in the garden, bouncing on a trampoline. I joined them, certain that the illicit activity would begin after dark.

As dusk was settling, I spotted some boys retreating behind the bushes. One of them caught my eye. This was very promising. We exchanged a dangerous glance. I slipped off the trampoline and into the cover of a suburban hedge. An Evian bottle was being passed around. It was dirty and there was murky liquid inside. “It’s a mix,” one of the boys told me.

I thought for just a moment about cold sores, and about how once you got the Herpes virus, you have it for life. But then I remembered that alcohol was a prime ingredient in many household cleaning products, and my spirits lifted again.

I took a swig. I put great effort into appearing underwhelmed. The bottle got passed around. Before I knew it, it was empty and ready for the recycle bin.

I wondered whether it was possible to be so drunk as to not notice any effect at all. I tried hard to identify the symptoms of intoxication. I wondered whether I might be unsteady on my feet, but my legs stubbornly obeyed my commands. I thought it might be an idea to display irrational behaviour, but I was painfully uninspired.

I’ve always been confused by behaviour that occurs while drinking alcohol. You see, you just never know if the behaviour and the alcohol have anything to do with each other. The very last thing you want to do is to mix up causation with correlation. At least, that’s what the Psychology lecturers at college used to say.

Not so long ago, years after I left my school-days behind me, I found myself drifting on the fringes of a dance-floor. I spotted a cool boy I had been to school with. I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Kate!” he said. “SO good to see you!”

“And you,” I said, beaming.

“You know what,” he continued. “You’re just dead on. You are just such a good person. You know, I just have so much respect for you and the path you have taken.”

I was unemployed at the time.

He looked wistfully beyond me, his gaze otherworldly.

“Is that your boyfriend?” he asked suddenly.

I dragged LSB under the disco ball.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re some lucky fucker,” he said, “you really are.”

We exchanged phone numbers. “Let’s seriously, definitely, actually meet for coffee,” the boy said.

I was delighted. I imagined the conversation would continue exactly where it had left off. I would gaze modestly into my latte, stirring the foam with my little finger and say, “Stop, no really… Did you honestly..? … you really always thought that of me? And all that time I thought you were cool and I wasn’t?! Gas.. No look stop now, you’re embarrassing me..”

In the days and weeks that followed, I thought about bringing my phone for a routine check-up, just in case there were some calls not getting through or something. But as the weeks turned into months, I began to wonder if the boy had been under the Influence.

The Noisy Peeing Girl and The Sexy Reporter

When I was at school, it was considered polite to put on the hand dryers in the bathroom while somebody else was peeing. One day I went into the toilet and straight past two Cool Girls, who were applying lip gloss and scowling in the mirror. I started doing my business but the dryer didn’t come on.

“Oh my God,” one of the girls said. “That sounds so weird.”
“Yeah,I know” said the other.

I kept on peeing, as you do. When I came out, instead of saying something witty or challenging like “Oh, so your magic lip gloss makes you pee silently then, does it?” I stared at them, long and hard.

They might have thought it was a look of defiance but in fact it was shameless curiosity. I was always trying to figure out how Cool Girls worked. Now that I knew they’d never heard the sound of peeing before, I was wondering whether they had extraordinary bladder control, or whether they struck underhand deals with each other about manning the dryer: I’ll lend you my sparkly eye shadow in exchange for three shifts by the dryer next Tuesday… No? Oh fine, go on then, I’ll throw in a go of my bronzer too. Sheesh, you’re a tough bargain. Okay, done

You should never underestimate the effort that goes into being a Cool Girl. Once I was in the bathroom tucking my shirt into my oversized trousers, when I noticed a Cool Girl adjusting her navy knee socks, a couple of millimetres at a time. I tried to look sympathetic, thinking she had an itch. But when she saw me looking she said, “It’s the fake tan.” I wanted to say something really in the know like “Oh I bet it’s St Tropez – such a pain .. try Rimmel, hon” but instead I just kept watching her.

She must have been having a weak moment because we got talking. She told me all about how she applied tan every morning but only on the bits of skin that were exposed by the school uniform. That meant that as well as her perfect golden face and sleek neck, she had to cover the couple of inches between where her socks ended and her skirt began and where her t-shirt ended and her tiny little arms began. It sounded like solid honest work requiring patience and precision, like old ladies sewing outfits for tiny dolls. I was full of awe. I didn’t even shower every day.school

The only time I ever tried fake tan I was with my best friend. We thought we’d try it in a safe environment so that if we had any side effects we’d have a support network around us. We wanted to remember what it’d be like so we decided we’d do it on the night of the school production. Even though the two of us are naturally exceptionally gifted actresses, who chose to devote ourselves to the lucrative study of humanities over the stage, we were given identical, very minor roles. We were “reporter 1 and 2,” which is kind of funny when you think about it because I’m still in that role now.

Anyway, we decided we’d pep up our image a bit by dressing all sexy. You wouldn’t believe how easy that is. Just put on a really short skirt and super high heels and there you have it. It was strategic really because what’s the point of fake tan if you’ve only got a tiny bit of skin to cover. (That was during the Celtic Tiger days, before rationing came in).

So I whipped out the tube and hurled a couple of globs at my thigh. I could feel my cool factor rise with every smear. It all got terribly streaky but we didn’t let that get in the way of anything. We were sexy reporters and streaks were part of our feminine mystique.

Streaks were also part of my feminine mystique when I got orange highlights but that’s another story altogether.

Anyway, just before the production, all the Cool Girls came into the bathroom to touch up on their fake tan. Some of them were opting for the strip and re-apply method, which I’ve heard is also the right one if you’re thinking of re-wallpapering.

One of them shouted out: “Anyone got some toothpaste for this?”

Now I’m not good on general knowledge, but I had picked up somewhere in the Corridors of Cool that toothpaste was an excellent way of getting rid of fake tan. I was staying over at my best friend’s house that night so naturally I’d packed a nice little collection of toiletries.

“I’ve some,” I cried out, cautiously at first and then triumphant, as I saw the hungry eyes flickering in my direction.

The Cool Girls formed an orderly queue. At first I was overcome by the novelty of being such a sensation but after a while, I got little perturbed by how quickly my Colgate was disappearing. After the seventh Cool Girl had squeezed out a much-too-generous glob of it and abandoned the tube on the floor, I picked it up. It looked limp, dejected and betrayed.