The 20 Stages of Moving to London as a Foreigner

1. You come to London for the first time as a clueless Westphalian teenager with a massive brain crush on Stephen Fry, who peppers her conversations liberally with words such as “marvellous” and “splendid”. Your only conversations are with TFL employees (when your wallet is nicked on the Piccadilly line between Covent Garden and Leicester Square) and corner shop assistants, who are slightly bamboozled by your German-meets-public-school accent. You get bitten by a squirrel in Hyde Park and decide on the spot that you’re in love with this city.

2. You return to your home town convinced that you are now British. You refuse to read books or watch films in your native language and pretend you can’t remember the German word for certain things. Your friends think you’re a pretentious twat. They are correct.

3. As the end of your school years approaches, you start thinking about universities. You develop Oxbridge ambitions and enter a brief phase of frenzied studying, before you discover the realities of UK tuition fees which your parents never prepared for. Grudgingly, you opt for a German university instead and accidentally end up having the best five years of your life.

4. About twice a year, your overdraft shrinks enough for you to hop on a Ryanair cattle truck to Stansted and stay in a 12-bed mixed dorm in Queensway, where you drink rum with Australians in the hostel basement and get sleazy men to buy you drinks in garish nightclubs in Leicester Square where your feet stick to the ground if you stay in one place for too long. You openly sneer at everyone who doesn’t know how to pronounce Leicester Square and are insanely proud of yourself when you get on the correct night bus for the first time. Back home, you post melodramatic status updates on MySpace about missing your “home from home”.

5. Towards the end of your studies, your uni years relationship conveniently falls apart, so you start thinking about that big move again. You convince yourself that the middle of a worldwide recession is a great time to start fresh in the financial capital of the old world, so you pack two suitcases with mostly books (after all, we’ve now entered the Primark era), hop on that Ryanair cattle truck again and wave your stoic-faced parents goodbye at a provincial airport in Northern Germany.

6. You bunk down on your friend’s sofa and enthusiastically start searching for flats and jobs. Bar that MA degree that testifies you know stuff about dead poets and how to order pizza in Olde Englishe, you have zero qualifications, but you’re optimistic that the HR people at Penguin and HarperCollins will be able to see past that. You are just one step away from being headhunted.

7. The HR people at Penguin and HarperCollins don’tsee past that and nor do they at the obscure right-wing Christian publishing house with two employees you tried after 200 unanswered emails. Your CV, however, turns out to be extremely popular with recruiters who want you to relocate to Cardiff for a 13k customer service job answering phones and emails in German.

8. Money is getting tight and after the third uncomfortable phone call home asking for more dosh, you decide to go for a temp position in Hemel Hempstead, answering phones and emails in German. The most reassuring thing the recruiter can bring himself to say over the phone is “well, it’s a job, isn’t it”, and you still haven’t figured out how to pay for travel, but options are somewhat limited at this point.

9. You get lost in an industrial estate outside of Hemel Hempstead and the recruiter refuses to take your calls from now on.

10. You eventually land a shit job answering phones and emails in German at a company located in Zone 5, and you find a flat that allows you to commute to said job in under an hour. The salary is so low that after rent, bills and travel you are left with less than four hundred pounds a month, in a city where a pint is rarely under four pounds, but everyone you know is also poor, so you figure you’ll make it work somehow.

11. After eating beans on toast for supper for three months in a row, you take a second job in a pub, working five hour shifts three nights a week after your eight hour shift answering phones and emails in German. You are no longer poor, because you have no time whatsoever to spend your money. You’re constantly hungover at work and fall asleep at your desk on more than one occasion. You vaguely intend to land that publishing job within the next couple of months, but somehow you can never bring yourself to open your laptop to do anything other than watch old Buffy episodes. Despite subsisting of pub food, you lose three stone in less than two months and your housemates hate you because you’re never home to clean the bathroom.

12. Despite having made an executive decision to stay away from relationships for the next ten years and the fact that your only topic of conversation is how much you hate your job(s), you somehow manage to land a boyfriend. For the first time ever, your friends approve of your choice.

13. Work gets increasingly ridiculous and you have a minor meltdown when they try timing employees’ loo breaks. After a “reply all” mishap in which you accidentally called the office darling a hippo everyone hates you anyway, so you give up all pretence and start looking at the Guardian job section on your work PC.

14. In a move that looks cliched and predictable in hindsight, you land an entry level job in Digital Marketing. You have no idea what you’re doing and why they hired you, but somehow money keeps materialising at the end of each month, so you stick with it. Eventually you stop being scared of your boss and realise you really enjoy what you’re doing.

15. The months pile up, and suddenly you have been in London for two and a half years. Most of that time you’ve had a W postcode, and you’ve developed a bit of a thing about postcodes. Things change, and suddenly you’re moving East.

16. You’re definitely not cool enough to live east. All your clothes are from the GAP sale and your moustache isn’t even slightly ironic. All the same, you’re willing to try, so you buy a bicycle and subscribe to an urban veg box scheme. You still can’t quite bring yourself to go to a warehouse rave, but you try your best to stay awake whilst your friends are getting ready for one.

17. You stumble upon a promotion at work. Despite being unable to email colleagues without saying “sorry” at least five times, you suddenly head a team of three people. Your boss gleefully lines up all the hoops she is planning to make you jump through, and you google things like “how to be a good boss”. You realise you will possibly have to buy their respect at the pub.

18. After a year in Bethnal Green, you realise that what was meant as a stop gap whilst you sort out your life has become your life. Your flatmate’s intimidatingly cool friends have become your friends and you’ve stopped using the word “hipster” as an insult. You still don’t quite understand how this happened, but you decide not to question a good thing.

19. Because your time in Bethnal Green was only ever meant to be a stop gap whilst you sort out your life, it comes as a bit of a shock when October rolls around and you suddenly have to pack up your life again. This is why on the night before you’re supposed to start packing, you opt for debauchery instead of Netflix and pay the price on Saturday morning. When you threaten to run out of procrastination tools, you remember that old blog thing you started once upon a time. You decide to experiment with the listicle format.

20. You fix yourself a Berocca, move your behind into the shower and get on with things.


So, how was your Lent?

Hello friends! It’s been exactly seven months and 10 days, or 223 days, since my last post (I looked it up). In fact, at the time of my last post I was still living in Shepherd’s Bush, losing the will to live on a daily basis commuting into the City on the Central Line and, although I didn’t know it at the time, slowly dying of boredom. Several things have happened since then, among them a move across London (I now, shock horror, call an E2 postcode my home) and a promotion (I still essentially do the same job, but my title has changed to something that sounds more like I actually know what I’m doing). There were lots of other little things (there must have been), but this post isn’t actually about what happened since September 2013. What I’m going to tell you about is what happened between 5th March and 17th April 2014, when I gave up Social Media for Lent.

Say what?

It probably won’t suprise you that although I was baptised Catholic, I’m not an overly zealous Christian. I’ve always been a firm believer in the pick’n’mix approach to religion, trying to internalise the bits that teach us how to be good people but siphoning out the misoginy, homophobia and general fuckwittery that unfortunately comes in-built. But I do identify as Catholic, if only because it was the tradition I’ve been brought up in, and I’ve made a point of observing Lent for eight years now. Since 2007, I’ve given up a variety of vices for the six weeks leading up to Easter – sugar, alcohol, meat (before I became a bad vegetarian) and, most difficult of all, deep-fried things. For the last three years (since moving to London) the vice du jour has always been booze, but my ever worsening hangover paranoia has recently put a pretty enormous cork in my bottle, so coming up with something to give up proved pretty difficult this year. I don’t quite remember where I first got the idea to pick Facebook and co, but the sense of dread it filled me with immediately made me realise that I’d struck gold. Oddly, “I can’t do it” seemed to translate into “I have to do it”.

So I went cold turkey. I posted a status to let my friends and followers know I’d drop off the radar for a while, turned off the notifications on my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted back and waited for the DT’s to set in.

And waited.

And waited.

It was all a bit anticlimactic. Contrary to some of my friends’ expectations, I didn’t have to be restrained by my colleagues so I wouldn’t open Tweetdeck, and I didn’t go on sneaky midnight Facebook stalking sprees. I just kind of stopped thinking about it. After about a week, I realised that I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the world because I usually get all my news from Twitter, so I started listening to the radio on my way to work and made a point of skimming the broadsheets in my lunch break. I missed out on some gems from the lovely London Book Club people, such as the chance to shadow this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and it took me considerably longer to find the answer to a number of pressing work-related questions because I couldn’t just tweet them at smarter people. But mainly I just kind of pottered on.

So yeah, there’s no big life lesson learnt. I guess social media is a bit of a time waster and we’d probably all do a bit better if we didn’t spend so much time stalking, judging and feeling jealous, but then again we kind of knew that, non? So to end this in a non-preachy way, here’s a list of all the cool things I did from 5th March to 17th April that I didn’t get to tell you about.

1. I bought a bicycle.

My favourite new thing.

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At Stein's in Richmond, bavarianing it up.

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Isn’t it pretty? I got it off Gumtree and terrified my flatmate Jen when I said I’d text her every ten minutes on the first ride home from Brixton, but then my phone died and she thought I had too. Next day I got a little overexcited and decided to cycle to Richmond and back with my friend Mike, which turned out to be a 30 mile ride in total. My arse was in RIBBONS, but it was a lovely, sunny day and Mike introduced me to Stein’s, a traditional Bavarian beer garden right by the riverside in Richmond.

2. The boyfriend and I went to see the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford.

Diagon Alley.

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The butterbeer tasted like non-alcoholic butterscotch with melted vanilla ice-cream poured on top, but Diagon Alley and the concept art was pretty amazing.

3. We also went on a little trip to see some of the fam, and by Jove Jilly Cooper country is a heartbreakingly pretty neck of the woods.

Cotswolds loveliness.

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More Cotswolds loveliness.

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And pretty decent pubs they have as well.

4. Spain!

Vamos a la playa.

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I spent Easter in Murcia with my sister, didn’t get sunburnt but did lots of other unhealthy things. Cycling to work was a bit of a pain for the first couple of days after my return.

5.  I went to see Miranda Hart’s “What I call Live Show” at the O2 with my Twitter friend Victoria from Books, Biscuits and Tea and it was ace.


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We had a bit of a moment when, never having met “in real life” before, we started gushing about the books we were reading, pulled them out of our bags and they turned out to be by the same author, Rainbow Rowell. I’ve now finished “Fangirl”, a sweet and quite addictive YA novel about a nerdy teenage fanfiction writer who slowly realises that falling in love is even nicer than writing about it. Miranda was brilliant too – on the way to the O2 I kept wondering which teenage megastar had a gig at the same time because surely all these people couldn’t be here to see Miranda? But they were, all 20 000 of them.

And that’s  all folks.

In which I want to be better, or The Story of my Life in 250 Words.

I know I’m a shitty blogger. Since launching my second attempt at an internet presence that is not Twitter or Facebook more than a year ago, I have managed to post exactly nine times. Nine. 9. Nein, nein, nein. Not good enough.

As the weather is getting drearier and drearier (it’s officially still summer, and yet I have already bought a new lambswool scarf and thought about asking my parents for a tweed jacket for Christmas), I am once more resolving to write more, and write more regularly. And because inspiration is hard to come by, and everything is copy, I’m shamelessly pilfering once again. There’s the “Blog every day in May” challenge that I’m not going to do (because it’s not May, and after writing 0.7 blog posts per month in the last year, the idea of writing 500+ words every day in a month I’ll mostly spend flat hunting is frankly ridiculous), but which came up with 31 great topic ideas ranging from “The story of your life in 350 words or less” to “A vivid memory”. (Full list can be found here.) So, without further ado, I’m launching into how frighteningly easy it is to recount my life in less than 300 words.

First, a few cornerstones of my existence. I was born almost 28 years ago, in a rural backwater in Catholic Northern Germany, as the first of four children to a pair of left-leaning hippies with surprisingly strict views on all things my peers and I considered elementary to a hassle-free childhood, like access to refined sugar, television, “fashionable” clothes and later curfews, booze and boys. Despite my inarguably strange tastes in music, clothes, hobbies and friends (always managing to veer off the acceptable path sooner or later) and my terrible swottiness, I managed to make it through school mostly unscathed and, surprising no one more than myself, never became the target of the sophisticated bullying campaigns cocked up for some of my less fortunate friends. I did, however, manage to cultivate a reputation of being rather arrogant, which to this day I attribute to the fact that I was too poor to buy contact lenses and too vain to wear glasses, and as a consequence never recognising anyone who might greet me on the courtyard.

As tends to happen with overprotected children, as soon as I moved to the other side of the country for university and no longer had my parents breathing down my neck, I went completely off the rails in my first year. Sick of my reputation as a good girl, I immediately set about launching a new version of myself, but quickly realised that over-the-top debauchery bored me to death and embarked on a relationship with the most stable, reliable person I could find (although I have to give bonus points for still pissing off my parents). It lasted three and a half years in total and ended the way most 20-something relationships end: Messy tears, messy rebounding, messy second attempt, fading of interest, final breakup. Never quite able to keep that promise of being “friends”, but able to look back without hating yourself, or them.

After graduating with no boyfriend and an English lit degree in the middle of a global financial crisis, the next logical step seemed to get the fuck out, STAT. Figuring if I stayed in Germany, I’d spend my next two years hopping from one unpaid internship to the next, I packed two bags and boarded the next Ryanair cattle truck to London Stansted. Found a flat, found a shitty job, found a second job to supplement the shitty salary from the first job. Found a better flat, a better job, quit the shitty job, stopped talking to the shitty flatmates. Found awesome boyfriend. but that’s a story for another day.

Happy days.

A horrible photo, and entirely too much wet-blanket-ness.


My father recently repaired my computer, restored my hard drive and rescued about fifty odd gigabyte of music, Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, uni course work, and most importantly, pictures. I could have hugged him – if we had that kind of relationship. As it was, I hovered anxiously over his shoulder, terrified he’d go through any of the data and discover the very personal folder of Davis Boreanaz nudie shots that I had lovingly accumulated over the years, and when he was done, snatched the laptop from his hands and mumbled something that to the uninitiated may have failed to convey the full extent of my gratitude. But hey, that’s just how my family works.

I don’t use my computer much anymore. I figure as I spend most of my days staring at a screen for eight hours, I have better stuff to do with the time I’m not getting paid for. (Therefore, on a side note, I should probably just accept the fact that I’m never going to be a regular blogger, much as I’d like to.) However, as I had a bit of time on my hands this weekend, I started browsing through my pictures folder, and embarked on a trip down memory lane.

The above picture was taken in early 2006, shortly after my twentieth birthday, in the first flat I moved into after leaving my parents’ house on the other side of the country, with two of the best friends I will ever make in this life. It’s not a great photo – Tessa’s face is half obscured, we’re quite obviously hammered, Jenny hadn’t quite got used to German cuisine yet and is about two months away from shedding twenty pounds, and I look every bit the chinless wonder that I am – and both will probably have some serious words with me about publishing it on this public a forum. But it’s the only photo I can find that has only the three of us in it, and no other people that we subsequently fell out with, or just stopped talking to without ever really noticing, or caring to find out why it happened when we did.

A lot of stuff went down in 2006. I decided that after refusing to consider any different career options for four years, I was no longer interested in becoming an interpretor. I switched my major to English against my parents’ wishes and had to live with their disapproval. I met, and subsequently started dating, someone they disapproved of even more than my career choice, which didn’t make the next three years easy, as every argument about the one (career) would invariably turn into the other (relationship), and vice versa. I had to accept that my parents had an idea of what and how I was supposed to be, and that this idea wasn’t congruent with my own. I, the notorious people pleaser, had to learn to put myself first. And I was mind-bogglingly lucky to have these two ladies by my side to see me through.

Of course the relationship didn’t last, and there were moments (days, weeks) in 2011 when I was working the most soul-destroying job imaginable, which was so pitifully paid that I was working extra hours at my local pub, and I thought more than once, this could have been avoided if I’d gone for a major in accountancy. With the benefit of hindsight I’m not loathe to admit that my parents were right about a number of things, and I could have saved myself a lot of trouble had I listened to their advice. But I would have missed out on a lot of things, experiences,  people that have shaped my life and made me the person I am today – I would be a different version of me, and with all the modesty I can muster – I quite like myself.

The day I decided to go for an English Literature degree, I accepted that I wouldn’t have a career path cut out for me, the way my lawyer brother does. As my final year approached and random third cousins felt justified to ask me what was next, I replied honestly that I had no idea, but that I would take any job to pay the bills while I was figuring it out. I gave myself a year. A month before my deadline expired, I had an excited call from my recruitment agent, and the rest is history.

I can’t know how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t met Tessa and Jenny. What I do know is that I listened to Tessa when she said to me, over and over again, the important thing is that you do what makes you happy. And I breathlessly stood by and watched as Jenny romped her way to an MA with distinction, all the while juggling three jobs, an ERASMUS semester and various unpaid internships, and somehow still finding time to occasionally force-feed me tequila at the Moritzbastei, and I thought, she makes it look so easy.  And I look at her today, with her hot job and her beautiful flat and her lovely boyfriend and the half-marathon she ran last month, and I think, I want to be her when I grow up.

And that’s why it’s a great photo after all – because it was taken in 2006, and it has us three in it, and we’re happy and excited and hopeful, and we’re just at the beginning of that journey. And today it’s 2013, and we’re scattered all over the place, and we’ve changed and we’re older and a little wiser, and I’m stuck with the overwhelming feeling that I wouldn’t be where I am today, nor as happy, if it hadn’t been for these two.

I owe you, ladies.

Look what I got! Ooooh, shiny.


Ignoring that I only got this “because we boink”, my (for want of a better word) writer boyfriend and one man wonder behind Forsoothandtwenty has presented me with the above. Alas, the good things in life are not for free, so here are

The Rules:

  • When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (while making sure you notify the blogger that you nominated them!)
  • You write up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees.
  • You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated your own blog!
  • You paste the award picture into your blog.

My Elevens:

1. I’m a German-born Londoner with Bohemian ancestry and a Russian soul who’s recently lost her heart to Australia.

2. I identify as a feminist, but other feminists annoy me, as does the word “feminism”. I wish we could all just get along.

3. I work in online marketing, specifically, SEO. It’s ever so tempting to sneak in gratuitious links to “my” websites. I also get to spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter and get paid for it.

4. I’m rather good at Scrabble.

5. My boyfriend’s parents think he “turned” me.

6. I was recently told my accent sounds like a mix of German and public school. I wish I could hear for myself how terrifying that must be.

7. When I was 10, I had a series of extreme misfortunes and once almost bit my tongue clean off. The only reason I didn’t was that I was wearing a dental splint from a previous accident.

8. I’m in the middle of an unfortunate love affair with London. Most days I feel like Heidi in Frankfurt, but then this great big rotting corpse of a city comes up with something lovely like this and I’m head over heels again.

9. Animals make for much better company than most humans. Humanity is a bit like a hippopotamus, as in that it smells a bit ripe and is best admired from a distance.

10. Wherever I set my virtual foot on the interwebs, I’m being tracked  by Glenmorangie. They have an excellent online marketing team.

11. I’ve run out of things to say.

The 11 Blogs:

Forsoothandtwenty (What? Just because he nominated me, I can’t nominate him back? My post, my rules.)

Against Her Better Judgment

The Brainbar

Geek Terror

Adventures of a Solitary Cyclist

Victoria Writes.

What, that’s only six? Well, tough. My blog, my rules again.

Forsoothandtwenty’s questions:

1) Your physical tick/obsession?

I chew my lips to bits.

2) Why do you feel the need to write?

I don’t really, at least not often. It’s more a question of “when” – and that’s mostly when I feel I haven’t updated my blog in a long old time. Or if someone famous says something unbelievably stupid.

3) Just what the heck is up the French, anyway?

Too much garlic in their cuisine.

4) Would you be a Super Hero or a Super Villain?

Probably the former. I’m probably not smart enough to be a villain.

5) What would your Power be?

I’d be a mobile  wifi spot.

6) The best thing you’ve ever put your foot in?

The Indian Ocean.

7) What non-sailable/non-driveable/you-get-picture-here luxury goes with you to your exile on the desert island?

Can I have that robotic sex doll that Tim Minchin was asking for?

8) The most surprising place you’ve bumped into some-one you knew?

My flatmate from Germany, outside No. 10, Downing Street.

9) Would you survive a Zombie apocalypse?

Totally, although other people have expressed doubts. I have two brothers and a sister.

10) Would I survive a Zombie apocalypse (based on what you’ve gleaned from this… thing… that we’re doing here)?

Based on what I would have gleaned from this, yes, but I know the real you, and you’d probably have a nap in the middle of a battle, or get lost on the underground, so no.

11) You can meet anyone from history that you want. You can take them out to dinner or to a bar, or to lazer quest if you like (I don’t care, just them get them outta my damn time machine already), who would it be, and would you punch them in the face before sending them back? Or what would you say to them?

I’d go for a potter around the less reputable parts of Paris with Oscar Wilde and hook up with some rent boys, then egg the Marquis of Queensberry’s hack chaise and at the end of the day I’d ask him whether I’m right and Orlando Bloom should have played Dorian Gray.

My 11 Questions:

1. Would you rather go for a drink with Obama or punch Bush jun. in the face?

2. If you couldn’t do it yourself, and you could hire anyone in the world, who would write your autobiography?

3. Live to work,  or work to live?

4. Who do you grudgingly admire?

5. The stupidest thing you’ve done that you stupidly still don’t regret?

6. Something you and your parents can never agree on.

7. The most embarrassing thing you like.

8. If you had to decide between living a long, happy, but ultimately insignificant life or a short(ish), intensely experienced one that changes the course of history, what would you choose?

9. Do you remember the first story you wrote/told?

10. The most shallow thing you’ve judged someone on.

11. If you could live inside one book forever, which one would it be?


Why Feminism Should Rediscover Sisterhood

Happy 2013 everyone! I hope everyone made it over more or less intact, and that your Januaries aren’t shaping up to be as horrible as mine. Quick whinge: I’m  horribly broke, not drinking, battling with a minor health issue and to top things off, my birthday is coming up and because I was too lazy to make any plans, I’ll spend the day at the office and I have just made my own birthday cake to take with me. However, my last 26 birthdays were pretty great, so in the words of Soldier Boy, I was probably due a crap one to balance things out.

Anyway. I realise that once again, it has been a long ole’ time since I’ve written anything of note, partly due to work commitments and partly due to inate laziness, but also because I haven’t really found anything close enough to my heart to write about. And at least that last bit has now changed.

As an avid follower of the feminist blogosphere, including, but not ending with, The Vagenda and Jezebel, I couldn’t help but notice a certain trend that I find somewhat worrying: namely that lately, is has become increasingly difficult to find articles where readers aren’t screaming blue murder in the comment section about “class privilege”. This Jezebel piece on unpaid internships is a prime example. Ignoring the elephant in the room that endless unpaid internships are not a female-only problem, it illuminates perfectly one of the core issues young graduates face: How to get that work experience that every employer asks for, but never helps to build up? The article itself is a well-researched, readable piece of astute social commentary, yet fifty per cent of the comments concern themselves with the fact that the writer’s parents were apparently wealthy enough to support her while she worked for free – “So much class privilege”, the first comment reads.

Now, whilst I understand that as a white, middle-class, (currently) straight(ish) cis woman I cannot claim to speak for All Womankind Ever (a fact that Times columnist Caitlin Moran has as yet to realise, although I am not a fan of the current witch hunt), I would like some of my fellow feminists to realise that nor can non-white, non-middle-class, non-straight ladies. Of course we must aim to be as inclusive as possible, but we must also accept that there is no “one size fits all” feminism. As a white daughter of parents with a secure higher income tax bracket, am I not allowed to speak up about my concerns? If I’m having a tooth extracted with a sledge hammer, I don’t care much if my next door neighbour is having his leg cut off with a rusty saw. First world problems are still problems.

My point is, I cannot escape the skin I was born in. I write about what I know, because that is what I understand and do best. Just as Caitlin Moran, who by the way was born on a council estate in Wolverhampton and never went to university, should not have to apologise for being successful (but should start thinking about how to deal with criticism), I don’t think I should have to defend myself  for my background, but I should be aware of my privilege, which I am. It is a sobering enough state of affairs as it is.

In the meantime:

sis-ter-hood (n): the feeling of kinship with or closeness to a group of women, or all women, based on shared conditions, experiences, or concerns.

Think about it.

My Awful Childhood, Episode One.

As the oldest of four, I could never quite shake the feeling that my parents considered me as something of an experiment – something to shape and mold In Their Own Image, if you will. To a certain extent, that probably holds true for most firstborns, but it is also true that if there was an awards show for The Most Hilariously Ill-Advised Things Parents Do In Good Faith, my folks would probably take home a large percentage of the trophies, and the organisers would still have to introduce several new categories just for them. Over the years I have discovered that many of the more traumatising events that took place during my formative years make for excellent small-hours conversations with strangers in kitchens around the globe, so I have decided to treat you to a (heavily edited) version of the more noteworthy paedagogic measures. So, without further ado, I shall launch straightaway into the story of how my mother and father thought that a tee-total approach to refined sugar would somehow result in a sensible child that would Just Say No.

As my extended (less Hippie-inclined) family never tires of telling me (or the various humanoids I have over the years introduced to them), I had my first piece of (very dark, unsweetened) chocolate when I was about four years old. Any attempt on my grandmother’s side to slip me “regular” (i.e. supermarket-bought) sweets was met with suitable disapproval, and any exciting, glittery-wrapped wonders were quickly pried from my chubby hands and replaced with rock hard, home made “biscuits” or, worse, apples. Delivered, of course, with an educational lecture on the dangers of rotting milk teeth and childhood obesity. What joy. However, even the keenest of all eagle eyes are sometimes averted, and thus it came to pass that on one blessed day, my sneaky gran managed to press  a chocolate lollie into my eager hands. In the two seconds that it took my mother to discover her mother-in-law’s outrageous audacity, I had already ingested about half of it – the damage was done, I had tasted the rainbow and I wanted more.

With almost tedious predictability, I became obsessed with sugar. Because my parents’s disapproval of sweet things didn’t extend to their own consumer behavious, I knew there was shedloads of the stuff hidden all over the place, and I conducted regular searches where I would scour the entire house for anything glucose-related. Nothing was safe: if I could find them, I’d eat cough drops, rock candy and even my dad’s disgustingly strong Fisherman’s Friend mints. My mum’s hiding places were always a bit rubbish, maybe because she prefers savoury, but my dad’s were usually pretty sophisticated – I reckon he got tired of finding empty bags of his favourite liquirice allsorts in the drawers of his study, so he decided to up his game. (A routine that would repeat itself in years to come, although the desired commodity was now booze.) Looking back, I can’t quite work out why I never thought of disposing of the evidence – I’d always leave the empty bags behind, got found out and was consequently grounded. Being the reality-negating hippies they were, Ma and Pa Damsel were also very fond of that old favourite of all liberal parents, the “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” routine. “We thought we raised you better than this”, they would say, and shake their heads sadly.

Either way, my relentless pursuit finally broke them, and I remember the event that triggered the eventual agreement with astonishing clarity. I was six, and I had somehow managed to obtain an invitation to the birthday party of Jule, the coolest girl in my primary school class. (How my nerdy, bookish, teachers-petty self achieved that, I’m afraid remains a mystery to this day.) Anyway, for the very first time I was exposed to such a mountain of freely available chocolate that I have to give myself credit for not fainting on the spot. Alas, that was as far as my restraint went, because for the rest of the party, whilst my friends were playing musical chairs, hit the pot and other lark, I was busy making my rounds around the glorious chocolate table, stuffing my face with everything that was on offer. I made major inroads, and even my friends (who were no strangers to  the delights of industrially refined sugar) were asking, with increasing degrees of puzzlement, how on earth I hadn’t upset my tummy yet.  But I was oblivious. I had to make the most of that day, even if it hurt – I knew that something that good would never, ever happen again.

End of the story was, when my mother picked me up in the evening, I vomited all over her environment-friendly cotton overcoat. And over the driveway at my friend’s house. And down the side of her bicycle, on the back of which I rode until I was 7, because she didn’t trust me in traffic (in hindsight, probably a wise decision). With alacrity I continued to spew half-chewed Maoam in cheerful fountains the whole way home, and I had never felt so good in my life.

The next day, we came to a truce, and weekly rations were introduced. The quality of the products provided was still poor, and I had issues with the percentage of health store produce among the regular stuff, which was higher than strictly desirable. But it was a start.