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I wrote about my wedding phobia for The Guardian

Oh ’tis the season to be terrified. You can read the edited version online here.

Or the unedited version, with a slightly more Larkinesque final line below:

I feel about weddings the way cats feel about log flumes; the way babies feel about bathwater; the way cows feel about white wellies and sloping floors. It’s not horror, or dislike, political discomfort or cynical detachment; it’s fear. Pure, unbridled, bride-addled fear.

And I’m far from alone. To quote Richard Pryor – a man who enjoyed weddings so much he got married seven times to five different women, “Marriage is really tough because you have to deal with feelings … and lawyers.” That’s precisely it; weddings bring together the heinously unlikely bedfellows of sex and state; of vows and discos; of poetry and that boy from your primary school who once set fire to your hair and now appears to be the best man.

Weddings are a compilation of all the things most likely to bring a 29-year-old woman out in a fit of hives; commitment, contracts, estranged family and emotions. God knows how brides don’t simply slide down the aisle on a collective stream of sweat and rescue remedy.

And weddings are everywhere, of course. Particularly in August. According to the Office for National Statistics, the greatest number of marriages take place between men and women aged 25 to 29 (welcome to my admin box), while there was a 5.3% increase in marriages in 2012, to a cool 262,240. That is a lot of bouquet missiles and broken shoe straps.

This fear of weddings has a very particular tang; of champagne and sugared almonds, of fruit cake and forgotten speeches, of toasts and dry-mouthed small talk. It is the fear of formality, the phobia of emotional vulnerability and, inevitably for the single guest, the anxiety of social exclusion. According to an article Roy F Baumeister and Dianne M Tice in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “Anything that defines the self as useless, incompetent, or inadequate may bring anxiety, for it raises the possibility that the group might reject one as incompetent.” (Continued)

Goppeldangers: Prince

I wrote about piers for VICE

The brilliant MUNCHIES let me splash about in Brighton and call it work. You can read the edited version here.

Or the unedited version, with more photos below:

British piers are a deep fried suburban highstreet, marching blindly into the sea.

They are the crispy battered no man’s land for sperm crossed lovers. They are our national folly; temples of winking, blinking and drinking, decked out in their Sunday best with no purpose but delight. They are the smack of wet fish and the flush of lost youth.

And I love them.

Where, other than at the British seaside, would you find a hairy-armed football fan sitting alone, at a metal garden table, eating wind-chilled fish and chips as seagulls feast on the bones of their avian cousins four feet away? Where else would you find a bowel-loosening, bass-thumping funfair hanging above the swimming filth of the Irish sea? Where else could you walk past a man shadow boxing under a vine of Despicable Me toys? Who else would build a cathedral to gambled pennies across a conga line of barnacle-crusted Eiffel towers?

British piers are the smell of old oil, the tang of piss, the burn of hot fat, the clatter of lost coins, the drip of melting lollies and the texture of wind-whipped salt as it clings across your hair.

Now, I don’t consider a holiday complete until I’ve eaten fish and chips, ice cream and a cream tea. Try doing that in a Tuscan farmhouse and you’re fucked. But step onto the rickety rotting boards of a British pier and you can condense a whole weekend away into one solid hour of turbo eating. I should know. Last Friday I walked out of my computer-humming office, onto a train, and just an hour later was standing in the gathering gloom of a rainstorm, six metres above a churning, slate-coloured sea, eating a bag of candy floss on Brighton pier. (Continued)

I wrote about builders for The Guardian

My latest piece for Comment is Free has not only led someone to call me “Mr Frizzell” in the comments, but the one and only Mary Beard also joined in, apologising and being generally brilliant.

You can read it online here. Or the unedited version below…

Winston Churchill was a bricklayer. And the Pope drives a white van.

Yet, for many, the terms ‘builder’ and ‘white van man’ have become an easy-to-reach, flatpack byword for ‘misogynist,’ ‘sexist’ or, worse, ‘aggressor’.

Even my beloved Mary Beard could be heard on Radio 4 earlier this year casually describing ‘the average builder’ as a wolf whistling sexist, while Snickers in Australia recently ran a “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” advert based entirely on the premise that all builders are mindless cat-calling misogynists.

As the daughter of a feminist, left-wing, university-educated builder, I have always found the cliche of the sexually aggressive construction worker both reductive and uncomfortable. It speaks of snobbery – of the worst kind of us and them-ism. If you are able to talk about ‘typical sexist builders’ then I’m going to hazard a guess that you’ve never gone on holiday with a builder, never had dinner with a labourer, never spent a day working on-site alongside bricklayers or plumbers and never sat on a set of scaffolding and discussed religious faith with a roofer. The stereotype, like a sand and cement render left out in the rain, is one that quickly crumbles once you start to actually look at the facts. (Continued)

I wrote about running

This weekend I did a thing at Write That Run about running and sexual harassment. You can listen to my iPhone recording of it HERE: WriteThatRun

Or read the article it spawned on The Vagenda.

I wrote about FanFiction Comedy for G2

Here’s a nice thing: when I was in New Zealand I met a genuinely hilarious group of dweebs who do a show called FanFiction Comedy. I subsequently pitched them to The Guardian as a feature idea. And lo, this week, the feature appeared on the arts pages of G2. Here’s the interview and the longer versions of the stories…

What do you get if you cross four New Zealand nerds, two internationally-famous guest comedians, a packet of biscuits and a host of fanfiction stories inspired by any film, comic, novel, tv show, computer game and meme you care to mention? The answer, if not the punchline, is FanFiction Comedy; a long-running award-winning New Zealand comedy show due to embark on their second Edinburgh Festival this summer.

The show may look like a panel discussion – all five performers sit on stage throughout, guided through the hour by a host comic – but the truth is far funnier, not to mention chaotic. There depictions of Dostoyevsky in Jurassic Park, The Golden Girls in Star Wars and the heartbreaking origin story of the Nokia game snake, featuring Jennifer Lopez and the anaconda from the computer game Anaconda. (Continued)

Goppeldangers: Man With A Red Turban

Kaffe Matthews: Recording the Grand Union Canal

I interviewed the brilliant sound artist Kaffe Matthews for Guardian Arts this month. Here is some of what she said:

The Grand Union canal is a thick brown heartbeat, a furred artery, an industrial memory that exhales from London all the way to Birmingham.

So when internationally-renowned sound artist Kaffe Matthews, whose work dials together music, memory, engineering, technical innovation and community engagement, was approached by the Canal and River Trust to create a piece of work for the Milton Keynes International Festival, she went by water. Not chugging along the canal itself, as she had as a boat-holidaying child, but walking and wandering alongside it, recording locks, submerging coathanger-mounted microphones into greenish estuaries and terrapin-spotting from dredgers. Eighty miles in seven days, with a 20kg backpack, past more than fifty locks, until she reached Bridge 77.

Matthews will play the resulting installation, The lock shift songs, across three of her signature sonic beds at once – the sounds traveling across and through the speakers of one, then onto the other, an unbroken circuit of watery noise, choral singing and recorded sounds. “It’s a risk, but they are instruments, and they each have their own presence,” says Matthews. The beds, like raised, cushioned paddling pools, fit up four people at once and are lined with the sort of powerful speakers that drop your stomach down to your pelvis and buzz a melody up your spine. The three used in The lock shift songs – Sonic Bed London, Sonic Bed Scotland and Sonic Bed Marfa – were each made locally, with the craftspeople of the place in which it was first installed.

“Everything I do is related to where it’s going to happen; it’s all site-specific,” says Kaffe, who has installed her sonic beds in the Centre:MK shopping centre during the festival, under a projected film made during the walk. “There wasn’t the time to be immersed in Milton Keynes for months, so I decided to go there overland, using the canal. I meticulously went through and annotated the route; counted out the number of feet, the elevation of the locks, their distance from each other, everything. I did it all with pencil and paper in my notebook; there was something about slowing right down to a walking pace that meant I was drawn back to a completely analogue sonification system.”


I wrote about lunchboxes for VICE

Bury me in a click and lock tupperware.

Lay me out in a sandwich bag and may flights of lunchboxes guide me to my rest. Because if, as Freud suggests, handbags, purses and lunchboxes are a simulacrum of our vaginas, then I have spent my life knee deep in the square little plastic cunts. I love them.

And yet, nobody knows more keenly the hot, fumbled shame of revealing your box to a room of critical glances. The snide comments about your cold curry, the shocked stares at your lip-staining beetroot salad, the jokes at the expense of your fragrant cheese and brinjal pickle sandwiches.

A lunchbox is a missive from your home; a moulded plastic glimpse into how you cook, eat and live. It is probably the most personal piece of paraphernalia in your bag – far more exposing than the odd condom or nest of tampons. Because your lunchbox tells the world what your kitchen smells like, what you spend your money on, what was at the back of the fridge, what you slip down your gullet and whether you can cook.

Which is precisely why we need to break this bullshit lunchbox shaming loop immediately. To spend £4.99 on a freezing, mayonnaise-glutted sandwich, for fear of other people’s mockery, is not to each lunch. It is expensive, unhealthy, ecologically unsound and almost entirely unnecessary. According to three major WRAP studies in 2013, the UK last year wasted 12 million tonnes of food, 75% of which could have been avoided. If we just cut each other some slack about our approach to sloppy seconds then we could all eat better, cheaper and with less waste. We could feast on leftovers, make our own sandwiches, toss our own grains and pack our own veg pots, for a third of the price and in less time than it takes to buy a strip-lit meal deal. (Continued)

The Guardian: How to make a dress

Last weekend, while I was at the Independent-only Latitude festival, The Guardian’s lovely Do Something supplement came out, with this guide, by me, on how to make a dress. I hate to think how many dresses, t-shirts, jumpsuits, shorts, skirts, shirts and tops I’ve made over the years. Certainly hundreds….

When you grow up in a small town with a long body, short temper and no money, it doesn’t take long for you to start making your own clothes. One of the easiest, most summery things you can make is a basic T-shirt dress. In its simplest form all you need are four panels, a reel of thread, and a needle to sew her by.

Once you’ve got the basics, the dress world is your oyster. Yours to decorate with collars, darts, zips, slits, scoop necks, long sleeves, buttons, bells and whistles. So good luck and happy sewing. And don’t worry if you frock it up.