Category Archives: Culture

Fifty shades of Grey

Once upon a time, in a land of poor grammar and an oversexed imagination, there lived a self-obsessed plain girl who was prone to thinking evil thoughts about her best friend and wallowing in her insecurities. One day she met a boy, a beautiful rich boy – who, after lavishing her with expensive modern technology, bent down on one knee and asked her the question every girl dreams of…. “Would you be my submissive?” After a great deal of unnecessary legal negotiation she accepted, and entered a world where pleasure, pain and unbearable references to her inner goddess were one. ..

To be honest, I blame the crazy bookshop lady – she brow-beat me into getting it. It was the moment she turned to page 177 to show me the ‘contract’ that I knew it was too late – “anal fisting” she whispered gleefully, and right then I had to get it, I had to get this over-hyped, over-publicised book – purely so I could mock it. What I didn’t realise though was that my life was about change that day… and not for the better.

To which of the two persons that I am thinking about ought I to give the preference?

The choice is easy, one is no better than the other.

Before I explain how this book altered my life – and really it did, I’ll give you the breakdown (just in case you haven’t been unfortunate enough to read this literary gem):

To cut a long (and very boring) story short, the plot centres on a girl who meets an attractive, wealthy man who gives her an Audi and a mac and then she lets him beat her repeatedly because even though he’s a fruit-loop, he has a sweet sensitive side that appeals to her materialistic schizophrenic self. He wants her to be his submissive and when she doesn’t understand what he means, he recommends she look up S&M on Wikipedia. On discovering Ana’s a virgin, Christian proves he’s a real gentleman because he promptly gets that technicality out the way before he beats/strangles her. There are many sex scenes. Many. Each more excruciating than the last. Christian has a red leather “playroom”, which smells of citrus – (because obviously there is nothing sexier than the aroma of a glade candle). She never uses the word vagina. She calls it her ‘sex’. That still confuses me. She eventually gives in to the S&M, but because she’s so super independent she resists the hard-core stuff, this is S&M 101 for a modern day feminist… She runs away in the end because she realises she craves love, much the same way he has an unexplained need to give a good flogging (but mainly because E.L James realised she was onto a good thing and could squeeze at least another two books out of this non-story). Reliable sources inform me that Ana ends up pregnant and he reforms. Never saw that one coming… I wouldn’t really know though because I would sooner gouge my own eyes out than read another of these books.

My issue with this book is not that it glamourizes domestic abuse or even that is paints women in their twenties as morons, my issue is that it is written REALLY, really badly and it’s really, really boring.  Until now I rated the collaborative Kardashian novel ‘Dollhouse’ (a present, I did not buy this book nor do I condone doing so) as one of the worst things I had ever read. That was until I read 50 Shades, a book so much worse that each sentence acts as a blow to the head – you are left stupider, and that is a fact.

Here are my main reservations:

  1.  “My Inner Goddess was doing the merengue with some salsa moves” I was a happier person before being introduced to the concept of an inner goddess, I can’t get that back.
  2. The many references to Christian’s long elegant fingers: “He extends a long-fingered hand to me”, remind me of salad fingers. All that is conjured up is the sound of rusty spoons, it took three years to expunge that noise from my memory.
  3. “He really is beautiful; no one should be this good-looking” THIS IS NOT OK. Just because he is hot does not make it acceptable for him to beat you. Plus he clearly isn’t that good looking because he has tousled copper curls; you are attracted to side-show-Bob Anastasia, the scariest looking cartoon-man ever drawn.
  4. The playroom. It is red, leather and smells of citrus. The dude has a playroom, he calls it the playroom.
  5. There were two especially traumatising scenarios: one with a fur glove and the other with a tampon. No further comment necessary or physically possible.
  6. My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid desire”… food-poisoning imagery, is like, so hot.
  7.  “My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot. Anticipation hangs heavy over my head like a dark tropical storm cloud. Butterflies flood my belly – as well as a darker, carnal, captivating ache as I try to imagine what he will do to me” Never have  I read such poetic prose. Future generations may well be reading this in the classroom, this could be the future of literature.
  8. He has decadent hair. Decadent hair?

I realise that in condemning this book I may well sound like a crazy bra-burner – and all I can say to the people in love with Christian is that one day he will be old, a bad business decision will mean he is bankrupt and all you are left with is a wrinkly pauper who likes to tie you up when you buy the wrong flavoured pot-noodle. The oracle is right, as always, when assessing which character is the better it is patently clear that they are both as bad as each other. And this book is truly woeful. If you buy it, you will live with it in your mind forever… it’s really not worth it.

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The Tenth Prophecy

Have I any enemies?

Answer –

Where is the simpleton that would thus lose his time?

A few years ago I went to see Mama Mia with my enigmatic ex-boyfriend. Exactly 23 minutes into the film he leaned over and whispered to me….

“Babe – why are they singing?”

“Cos it’s a musical”

“Ah shit man”

Whether it was the fact that it took him 23 minutes to realise we were watching a musical or his sheer outrage when James Bond started to sing I don’t quite know, but at that moment his excellent cricketing skills and dazzling blue eyes seemed to fade away… and right then all I knew was that I hated him. However that was then, and this is now – and all feelings of hatred have since passed and I can simply reflect on our romantic monosyllabic-sweet-nothings (usually about the greatest ever batsmen) with warm fondness.

I write this on the eve of the 12th – tomorrow men in bowler hats and white gloves will march across the province in celebration of a battle fought in 1600andsomething when a Protestant King beat a Catholic King in battle… I’ve seen Sweet Home Alabama, I know that this is not unusual – there are many other places where grown men celebrate battles of ye olde-times. While some may choose to dress up as confederate soldiers and re-enact battles, others prefer a marching band and a shiny orange sash. And though I may mock, the past few days have seen much coverage on the topic of hatred in Northern Ireland.

I am particularly proud of my part-Irish heritage – over time mind-sets have altered and the persistent hatred that has plagued this small part of the world has finally begun to ease. Of course there are some who, largely out of sight, have views so deeply rooted you wonder if any amount of time will dilute them, but for the most part there is optimism about the future and the city I know is very different to the one I hear about in stories.

This morning on radio Ulster – a 55 year old woman (also called Kate) had phoned in to profess how much she detested Catholics, although she did say that she didn’t actually know any personally. When asked to explain why she hated them she had no explanation, just that it was her opinion. And though I thought she hadn’t much skill in debate, I did find myself feeling sorry for her; I pitied her for being ideologically left behind. The declaration prompted many other callers (some were Catholics: “Hi Kate, I’m a Catholic and I don’t hate you” and some were Protestants too, but none could budge Kate – not even the story of a catholic fireman who would put out fires in any house, regardless of religion) and for my part I couldn’t really understand either. To hate on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation is something so completely irrational to me I find it almost impossible to comprehend.

The woman on the radio made me think of the musical-hating-ex-boyfriend, who famously once refused to take a photo of me and the Fame Academy choreographer on account of him being black. As a white Zimbabwean you could perhaps explain his racism – it was ingrained, but as a fellow human being I could find no excuse. Is the oracle right? Perhaps only simpletons have enemies, because surely those with an ounce of sense must see how futile hatred is.

They say that 1% of hate is love. I’d argue that hatred is less to do with disappointment or revenge or even love, but more associated with self-preservation and fear. The most racist white Zimbabweans were a minority who desperately clung to their positions of power, suspicious and afraid it would all come to an end. IronicallyI can’t help but feel that the narrow-mindedness of some facilitated their demise. Perhaps the same holds true for Northern Ireland; a fear of history repeating itself, a fear of what the ‘other’ side is capable of – essentially a fear of on-going change. And that I can understand. We live in such chaos that we so often cling to what we know when really letting go could be all we need to set us free from such detrimental feelings. The more I think and write about it the more I become convinced that the answer lies in thinking beyond yourself. If a change in perspective is what gives us wings then perhaps our focus should be more in achieving that, and less focused on what history has told us.


p.s my ex-boyfriend wasn’t Desmond Tutu

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The Ninth Prophecy

Last week I realised I didn’t know what the Capital of Colombia was…but I did know that Reese Witherspoon has two pet Donkeys called Honky and Tonky. And that Hilary Duff’s husband is called Mike Comrie. I own Miley Cyrus’s autobiography. I ordered Horse Shampoo off amazon because that’s what Jennifer Aniston allegedly uses. Processing these truly disturbing facts about myself sent me into a whirling spiral of self loathing and despair – emotions I usually only experience after eating two cheese pastry twists in succession.

“If my fault is discovered, will it be pardoned?”

Answer –

They will forgive you, but you will soon begin again

With my grown-up political job starting soon I have become increasingly paranoid that I will be discovered for what I really am – something so shameful, so obscene… I have a borderline addiction to celebrity gossip and I live in fear that they will find out. When is your homepage you’re a loser, but it’s not the worst – not yet. In fact I only realised I had hit rock bottom a few weeks ago when someone in the restaurant was talking about Avril Lavigne, I interjected that my friend’s step-brother was going out with her. They all nodded in admiration ‘Oh Kate, you know so many famous people’, I smiled, because it was true. Or half-true. Or actually not true at all. What was true was that I had passed from the realms of loser to the land of delusion. For all the non-freaks out there – Avril Lavigne’s boyfriend is Brody Jenner; Brody Jenner is Kim Kardashian’s step-brother. In my paparazzi-addled brain I actually believed that Kim Kardashian was my friend. As I said, rock bottom.

This morning as I clicked through page after page of mindless poorly written blurbs (where words like ‘shutterbug’ and ‘fab bikini-figure’ feature heavily) I felt nauseated –  I found myself wondering how do you balance who you want to be and who you really are. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t drag my eyes away from Ashley Tisdale’s (of High School Musical fame) birthday party and I found myself grappling with my different selves. The one I most want to be is a Rhodes Scholar; I want to win Nobel Peace prizes and listen to radio 4 willingly. The truth is in reality I’m like a reject-reality TV contestant – I read Heat magazine and listen to – so far my less impressive self is winning.

And so something has to be done. In a months time I’ll be taking over a job from a legitimate Ronan-Farrow type who is not only incredibly politically savvy but horrendously likeable too, and I’ll be working for one of the most inspirational Politicians in our green and rainy land – if my lazy inner-self obsesses over celebrities, my ambitious and unsatisfied self wants to be better. So I’m giving up celebrity-gossip, I’m un-following all Victoria Secret models on twitter – I’m cleansing myself with Jim Naughtie and political philosophy. The Oracle is always right, so no doubt I’ll fall off the wagon soon – but for now my perusal of intelligence means I’ll learn something, I now know where Bogota is… and I know a little bit more about who I want to be, and who I don’t.


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The Eighth Prophecy

As July looms I find myself contemplating what annual illness fate has in store for me. I know that I am a fully fledged hypochondriac, but I can also see a pattern when there is one – and for the last seven years every July (without fail) I have been struck down with some particularly unfortunate and generally unattractive illness. With this very much in mind I consulted the oracle:

Shall I always enjoy good health?

Answer: –

Your health depends on your own inclination

Last July I got Chicken Pox for the unlikely second time (whole other blog post dedicated to this trauma), but really that story does not even compete with my previous health track record. After second year finals I went to Kenya to stay with a friend and one day we went to a giraffe sanctuary where you could feed the giraffes – I put a food pellet in my mouth so that a giraffe would kiss me (I’m not a weirdo, other people were doing it too). It seemed like a great photo opportunity at the time (in persual of a totes amazeballs profile pic you know), however not only did some thief in Nairobi steal the camera shortly after but I ended up in hospital for two weeks because I’d consumed faeces. July 2010 I got E.Coli.

For my 21st Birthday my brother flew me to Cape Town for a month – my brother is one of my favourite people in the whole world, kind and funny – he’s always been a role model. But he can also be quite terrifying. He has zero tolerance for smokers and was less than impressed to see his baby sister lighting up a Marlboro on the first night I was there. Realising the wrath of an older brother was far worse than any nicotine cravings I promptly swore never to smoke again. One day though he left me at a shopping mall, and I broke my oath. I had an illicit cigarette. I suddenly felt faint, and feverish – was this God punishing me? Perhaps. Bed ridden and lesson learnt, July 2009 I had Swine Flu.

The previous year I woke up and saw a half human, half bull-frog mutant staring back at me in the mirror. Glands like golf-balls – it was July 2008 that I got glandular fever. Perhaps the most impressive bodily-malfunction to date was a pustule-growth the size of a pea on my left eye. July 2007 I had the largest stye ever witnessed by the city hospital.

However it was the previous year that really cemented my status as a medical-freak. One morning I woke up with a half paralysed face. I went into school regardless, thinking it was just a spasm – the teachers sent me to hospital thinking I’d had a stroke. For almost two months I had no movement on one side of my face, excess droolage, and an eye I had to tape shut at night. July 2006 I had Bell’s Palsy.

Throw in Malaria and a few others and healthwise, it would be fair to conclude that my luck is not the best. So with this extensive list in mind I feel I am perfectly justified in being concerned about what next month holds in store for me. I’m not sure how many more bizarre attacks my special-needs immune system can withstand. With this totally melodramatic revelation comes a good dose of perspective.

It’s the curse of July for me; it’s made me obsessed with my health. That fear of getting something else strange and disfiguring. It’s much like the curse of being human, the fear of not having a full life, of missing opportunities. It is worth thinking about for a bit; but eventually you have to come back because really, it really all depends on your own inclination.


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The Seventh Prophecy

What is generally thought of my intelligence?

Answer: –

That you can make better use of it.

Ever since I returned to the grey-greenery of my teenage years I’ve been spending a lot of my time with my father, who deserves a brief introduction – he is a quite brilliant artist, semi-recluse and generator of many, many ideas – with a former nom de plum of Quaid-Bert, he now refers to himself as Hercule O’Hearlihy. Hercule’s current muse is Sofie Gråbøl (the Danish detective who wears the ugly jumpers). He sometimes writes letters to her inviting her to tea at the Baytree. One day we were walking by the sea when he said:

“Kate, do you want to see how Sofie Gråbøl walks?


 “Wait there and then follow me”

(Fifteen minutes passed of him demonstrating how Sofie walks and me trying to avoid eye-contact with passers-by…)

“Kate, do you want to see how the Chief Inspector walks?”

Once when I was a child, he formed such an irrational dislike for a man in our town that he constructed (in our garden) human size vultures pecking a model of this loathed-man to death. Awkward, especially when the neighbours sought an explanation. If he teaches me the importance of questioning and thinking beyond our social confines, Hercule also acts as a potential warning – I wonder how possible it is to straddle the spheres of convention and anarchy, and if this is possible, then how do you maintain that middle ground before you start making sculptures of large birds eating people you know. If it is a question of intelligence – and Hercule is incredibly intelligent – how do you best use it, push your thoughts to the edge without losing reason.

I realised that my own mind was teetering on the precipice of insanity when I caught myself watching the traffic warden. Whilst rinsing out the mop,  washing away the grime from the night before I let my thoughts wander, and as I looked out over the high street I found myself thinking about the traffic warden. It was at this moment that I realised how I often think about him. Often as in a lot, like a lot a lot. I even talk to customers about him. (Please note: This is not a tale of unrequited love, it is a tale of voyeuristic anthropology). The Traffic Warden is the most hated man in our town. He stalks the streets with an almost religious-mania, and unlike most residents, I know that he is only hated because he is truly excellent at his job. His complete lack of sympathy when confronted with panic-stricken drivers (who are literally crying over their tickets) only endears him further to me. He is ruthless. His face is part hidden, his warden hat angled – the mysterious lone ranger of the high street. His boat-like shoes pound the pavement relentlessly; he is always on the look-out for cars that have outstayed their allotted hour. He is a shiny red and black uniformed keeper of the law.

I told Hercule I had been watching him, mesmerised by his dedication, restless with my own conflicting ambitions. My greatest wish you see is to earn a living where I can be as focused as he; this realisation along with the oracles revelation proves that to discover my calling I must in fact make better use of my intelligence.

This thought was reinforced when I read about an exhibition at the Guardian Gallery, Kings Place, N1 called ‘Beneath the surface’ – which shows Steve Bloom’s photographs of South Africa in the mid 1970s (I think it’s on until the 28th of June). One of the photograph’s that was featured in last Sunday’s observer has haunted me this past week. Not so much because of the obvious social contrast but more because of the quiet defeatism seen in the man’s face, his expression broke my heart a little and it made me think of Zimbabwe – I thought of a documentary I saw several years ago when a man of a similar age was interviewed, sitting outside his home in the sun – he hadn’t eaten for three days. He had the same expression. I wrote I wanted to avoid being pushed beyond reason, but so much worse to be pushed to the extent where you lose all sense of hope. It made me think how self-indulgent I am with my thoughts. There are things in the world that we choose to ignore for our own sanity. Sometimes I angrily wonder how there be so many people living such brutally awful lives, yet we don’t talk about it. I know I’m just as guilty; all I talk about are job interviews and traffic wardens. Seeking world peace seems so naïve, but perhaps the only way to live in a better world is to do as much as you can with your own life – to be grateful for the opportunities that so many others are denied, showing that gratitude by making use of what comes your way – knowing this and living by this… well to me, that’s the best use of intelligence I can think of.

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The Sixth Prophecy

How many husbands shall I have?

Answer :-

“Several in jest and one who will cause you to weep

It may come as a surprise to discover that once upon a time I was engaged to be married. Even more surprising is the fact that technically I think I still may be. So far the oracle has been completely right, and if the following account (coupled with the sixth prophecy) is anything to go by – my future looks far bleaker than even I could anticipate. Unemployment I can deal with, marriage I cannot.

About two years ago I found myself at the mecca of Southern-Hemiphere scummery. The Church is a nomadic nightclub in London which I first encountered when it was located in Kentish Town, allegedly it has now moved to Clapham, but I can’t be sure or bothered to google it. My advice is simple, never ever go there. My fellow Afro-Irish friend Tasha (a platinum blonde bombshell with a collection of tattoos and miniscule skirts) had come to visit one weekend, and as homage to our childhood we made our way to the Church. The Church opens at midday on Sundays and closes at 4pm, the floor is covered in sawdust and you can only buy (with tokens) your drinks in three’s – these come in a plastic bag which most attach to their belts. With pre-historic strippers for entertainment and all the worst 90’s classics to dance to – this is a cultural experience of the highest order.

Initially we promised not to drink (we were there to observe and Tasha was worried dodgy saffas would replace the alcohol with chemicals that would make her blind), yet it soon became clear that the sole way to endure this hideousness (despite potential loss of eyesight) was to purchase our own plastic bags of Fosters (our dignity may fast have been approaching negative points – but please note that not once did we resort to fastening our beverages to any part of our clothing which I hope did us credit). Those who arrive in costume are waived an entry fee and I can assure you that the Southern hemisphere-ites choice of fancy dress make even Prince Harry’s party attire seem positively tasteful. Think boot polish. We thus avoided making eye contact with anyone dressed up, thereby considerably reducing the number of people we could talk to. Tasha was instantly cornered by every beefy buffoon in a ten metre radius and I (with my darker hue of blonde hair) was left talking to some seriously wigga kiwis. Before I embark on my explanation of how it was I became engaged, I should really give a bit of background information regarding previous suitors as means of an explanation as to how it was my betrothal came about.

I’ve always assumed my aversion to marriage came as a result of previous and unfortunate specimens of romantic interest. If this was ye olde times then one would be forgiven for presuming I had met the majority of my suitors at the travelling circus when viewing them in the cages they were so rightly kept. The modern day freaks i’m attracted to can be divided into three main categories:

Specimen One: The Southern African Abroad

Appealing qualities are mainly aesthetic, a lifetime of sport and sunshine means that those from this category are well built and tanned. Good sporting knowledge. If made temporarily homeless this homo sapiens would be capable of slaughtering something for dinner (just don’t expect him to cook it).

Unappealing qualities: somewhat lacking in the intelligence department (one too many rugby balls to the head). Unlikely to believe in evolution or equal rights or conservation. Prone to shooting things. Unlikely to be able to read or speak in words of more than one syllable.


Specimen Two: The Rah Boy

Appealing qualities – generally excellently groomed with a good head of hair. Well travelled. Nice taste in shoes. Knows about cricket and rugby. Good command of a knife and fork, well mannered around strangers.

Unappealing qualities – cries easily (result of boarding school abandonment issues), weak chin. Finds un-funny things hilarious especially when it comes to the mocking of poor people; homosexuals, those with disabilities and foreigners. Presumed secret empathy for the BNP. Zero knowledge of politics but supports the Tories regardless (on the grounds of lenient inheritance tax.)


Type number three: The Irish Militant

Appealing qualities – nice eyes. Good sense of humour. Down to earth and friendly (providing you’re from the right side of the divide… or left – religion depending). Somewhat skewed, but nevertheless, real passion for history. Would be able to protect you, regardless of dubious methods used in doing so.

Unappealing qualities – often short in stature, and therefore frequently in possession of Short Man Syndrome (unrelated, but have there ever been any tall dictators?) alcoholic, pyromaniac, not overly tolerant.

Overall none were really keepers.

So there I was, having just ended a long-term relationship with a member of the Southern African Abroad group, I was feeling disillusioned and alone. When my new kiwi friend announced in desolated tones that he was due to be deported, a flash went off in my head. As a plumber on the underground he was in possession of good vocational skills, he owned a car, seemed neither aggressive nor overly stupid and most importantly he did not fall into any of the categories I usually found myself landed with. What more could you want in a husband? And so it was that I proposed to him, with heartfelt offerings of my British Nationality. He said ok, and offered me a holiday in New Zealand in return. I love the Lord of The Rings. We were clearly soul mates.

Tasha, meanwhile, had managed to offend one Flinstone-of-an-Australian and in retreat had beckoned me to replenish our supply of Fosters. With the decision to follow her, I turned my back on my impening marriage. I never saw my fiancé again. I did look for him, but to no avail. I never even knew his name. In retrospect I suppose this was not necessarily a bad thing, if I am (as prophesised) to have several marriages in jest then one less can only be good economics.

The Ladies Oracle is preoccupied with questions of the heart… I have so far avoided asking any of these. Traumatised by failed engagements, racist boyfriends and the occasional propensity to stalk interesting people simply because they use coloured writing pens and break things when intoxicated, I have sworn myself off men for the past few months. I resent the number of questions dedicated to the male sex because it highlights the worst of stereotypical female characteristics. What I do know to be true is that there are far too many people in relationships simply to avoid their own company, and whilst ideally you should be happy with yourself I do believe far better to have a marriage (or several) in jest, than one to in order to escape yourself… So in light of the fact that I refuse to believe happiness lies purely in a relationship (and *vom* actually lies in the one with youself), if any more husband related questions arise from the oracle I will simply have to use my long-lost fiancé as reference, (as painful as may be) he was once almost my husband and for now that will have to suffice. Besides I have several more coming my way, so what’s to worry about?


(Fiance is the one in the hat, and I make no apologies for my t-shirt)


p.s thank you for all the concern regarding my near destitution, I actually do have a paid job and an internship, so offers to send me food are not really necessary. I’m occasionally prone to slight exaggeration, and my last posts were more to highlight the lack of interesting jobs and my inability to secure any of the rare ones going! Appreciate the thoughts all the same though.

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The Fifth Prophecy

Will my position soon be changed?

Answer : –

“It will change if you change it, not else”

They did warn us post-graduation that finding a job would not be an easy task, that we would be poorer than our parents were. Our generation would pay for the materialistic consumer driven mistakes of those who had brought us here –  this carbon gassed, war ridden, and immoral world. I paid little attention to the doom and gloom of my elders. They were old after all, and I was young – and everyone knows that to be young is the key to success. Besides I had gone to a prestigious red-brick university in London and the world was my oyster. Very soon I would be living in Cheslea, dancing in red soled shoes on the Kings Road and drinking over priced cocktails – happiness epitomised for any half-wit, twenty-something girl.

Deciding on the glamorous world of publishing, I applied for a graduate training scheme with Harper Collins. I spent more time researching what publishers wore than what they actually did (appearance is everything), and so on the day of my first interview I looked the part, whatever that part was meant to be. I spoke enthusiastically about a Turkish writer I had seen on a TED talk, and a few weeks later I was invited to a final interview. Finding a job was clearly not as difficult as they had all predicted. And I believed that, until it all started to go wrong – firstly because of Rupert Murdoch, and then because of a three year old –but really because of me.

I woke up very early on the morning of my final interview. Feverish and aching all over, I initially attributed these symptoms to nerves –however when a cystic acne face stared back at me in the bathroom mirror, my worst nightmares were quickly confirmed. I had chicken pox… for the second time. Too tired to wash my hair, and too itchy to attempt any proper concealment of my blemished face, I went to my interview in spite of my better judgement (and I’ll admit, a complete lack of concern for the pensioners I was unwittingly murdering on the tube – that thought has plagued me since if it is any consolation).

One of my interviewers made a joke and laughed – I glared at her, didn’t smile and continued to scratch my incredibly itchy elbow and look out the window. When asked which literary character I most identified with, my response was Elizabeth from The Naughtiest Girl in the School books (Enid Blyton is an excellent shout for those wishing to demonstrate sophisticated literary tastes…) improving my performance, I changed my mind and said actually no I was too square to be like Elizabeth and I didn’t know who I was like… next question?  By the time it got to the presentation part of the assessment (and my acne had now turned into a delightful collage of aggressive boils) I had difficulty remembering where exactly I was. I do know that the entire Harper Collins board of directors were watching me, and a few were sniggering (I don’t blame them), the CEO definitely passed a note to another executive– more laughter, but by now most of my attention was on how much my back itched, and how it would be very hard to imagine a worse day, and the total humiliation sort of passed me by. Maybe I have more of a moral conscience than I realised, and my bout of chicken pox was a physical reaction to the notion of working for Rupert Murdoch… a deeper part of me thinks it was fate’s cruel lesson on the evils of complacency.

I left Harper Collins HQ looking like a Clearasil experiment that had gone very wrong, delirious and completely demoralised.  A bag of haribo, and the realisation that publishing is actually just about sales (and largely sales of really bad celebrity autobiographies) made me feel a little better. I tried to be optimistic, and rather than focusing on the fact that I studied an arguably arbitrary subject for three years (I am yet to discover how any knowledge of Trobriand Islanders social rituals could ever be useful) or that after 19 years of education there are no desirable jobs, and little prospect of any in the near future, I have maybe learnt something. Namely:

• That despite Harper’s Human Resources director not believing me, you can get chicken pox twice. I am living proof, and he is a stupid-head.

• If you apply to work for a News Corp company, my experience tells me there is an extremely high chance that you may develop a serious childhood illness for an unlikely second time.

• In a face-to-face interview: not answering questions, looking out the window and never smiling will not win you a job. Take it from me.

• Equally unappealing is greasy hair and continuous scratching of your body, this will give the impression of poor personal hygiene and should be avoided if at all possible.

• No one likes a show off, however having Enid Blyton as your favourite author (aged 23) is not overly impressive. It would be nice to suggest some sort of progression in reading tastes.

My series of unsuccessful applications since has shown me that a sense of entitlement is one of the greatest disadvantages my generation has to deal with today. I left London the day of the riots, with a real sense of sadness. A lot of school and not many prospects, I felt angry with the world too. I felt angry that I had wasted time and money; that I had voted for a party that did the opposite of what it promised. I feel angry now, I’m angry that I’m working in a restaurant that I worked in before University, regression? Perhaps, more so for my single hard working mother who had mistakenly thought she had seen the back of all her children, it isn’t just my generation that’s suffering. I have also discovered that the things I so badly wanted when I was a student no longer appeal to me. Having spent time with my family, had time to really question what it is I want to do with my life I know the oracle to be right. Five out of five. I suppose all we can do is hope, try and expect a little less and do a little more – “It will change if you change it, not else”

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The Fourth Prophecy

Johnny the Jig is Holywood’s most famous child. He sits on the high street and plays his accordion. A child from another era, he looks bedraggled and content. The sculpture is my favourite thing in Holywood and while I was photographing it the other day I found myself thinking a lot about my own childhood. The oracle offers only one question on the subject:

“Am I still thought a child?”

the answer I was given –

“They know there are no children in this age”

I suppose accessing childhood memories becomes harder for everyone as they get older, but for me so many of my memories are half formed from stories and photographs – the other half a vague recollection of what my infant-self witnessed. Leaving Zimbabwe was difficult, and I think for many years I found it easier to simply not think about it. But now that I’m older (and extremely wise) I’ve discovered that thinking about my childhood has been vitally important, not just in understanding my own identity but in appreciating just how lucky we were.

I remember granadilla’s growing at the bottom of the garden, the horse eating the paw-paws, my father’s weird sculptures located in even weirder places, and dress up – I lived for dress up. I remember a new word ‘war veterans’ being introduced into our vocabulary, my mother telling me stories, I remember being feverish with malaria, and I can still smell the sweet flowers of the Jacaranda trees and the feel warm gravel burning under my feet.

I can remember Veronica shelling peas outside in the sun – I put a plastic bag over my head and she told me that I had to take it off because if I died Jesus would come from the sky and shout at her. That was the first I’d ever heard of Jesus.

I remember nights in the dormitory when we whispered about boys from under our counterpane’s and snuck out into the courtyard to gaze at the stars. I remember avoiding hippos as we canoed down the Zambezi and agonising what single sweet to choose on a trip to town. Mostly I remember a time that was largely spent in our imaginations, oblivious to the crumbling walls of the world around us. There would be other nights when our whispers turned to worry – fears of the future. The rumours and tension had slowly eased their way into our world unnoticed – and with their arrival they took the last moments of our childhood. The first white farmer to be killed was from our town, the bitter irony is that there are so many others to have suffered that we will never know about, skin colour still determining political relevance.

When I think back to those days I realise that we were the first generation where the racial divide was starting to matter less and less, schools were integrated and the colour of your skin rarely mattered. The generation of Zimbabwean children who left, like myself, undoubtedly suffered – having everything you know taken from you is traumatic – but we also had something that most will never know, we knew what it was to be children. I was a lucky one, I think of my school friends, both black and white, who were left behind and I know it was worse for them. Looking at Johnny the Jig, and thinking of my own upbringing I realise that the oracle is right, with half the children in the world living in abject poverty and the other half raised with only materialism as guidance, there are no children in this age. I think that’s worth thinking about.

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The Third Prophecy

I doubted the Oracle, and I have learnt a bitter lesson. A few weeks ago I applied for a job in London, and on discovering I had been selected for an interview I consulted the oracle.

“What will happen if I go to the appointed meeting?”

the answer –

“First pleasure, then grief”

Ignoring this damning prediction I blithely flew to London and interviewed for the very serious role of Parliamentary Affairs Assistant. My interviewer was an attractive, lobbyist who (like me) enjoys politics, running and training for marathons. My friend had lent me a lucky hippo which no doubt aided the flowing conversation of the interview – my interview wardrobe had been picked up on sale at a fraction of the cost it was worth and as I skipped up Pall Mall in the sunshine everything looked rosy. We live in such an amazing world. I even experienced a warm glow of compassion for the flock of slow walking tourists following an umbrella, a sensation not yet encountered. It was a good day, one might even describe it as pleasurable.

On the tube I gave my seat up to a man who was at least three hundred years old, and even his lecherous looks and mutterings of ‘you can sit on my lap’ could not dampen my mood. Soon I would be living in London – the most exciting city in the world, I would be working with a political visionary and be influential in changing the world. So very West Wing. Back at my friend’s apartment, I relaxed onto the sofa and crossed my legs – ready relay the details of my brilliant day – she gasped in horror. My heavily discounted trousers were ripped from seam-to-seam “I can see your va-jay-jay” she announced. It dawned on me why they had been so cheap. I had definitely crossed and un-crossed my legs during the interview, had the attractive lobbyist seen my yoohoo?

(Conundrum: As my mother very kindly pointed out if I didn’t get called back for a second interview it was because the interviewer thought I was a hoe-bag, and if I did get asked back it would be with the expressed intention to employ me as an office sex slave.)

I got a phone call at the end of the week, I had a second interview. All my mother said was ‘hmm hmm’ knowingly. I was pleased, but the pleasure had undercurrents of despair.

The night before the second interview could not have gone any worse. I arrived the afternoon before and was staying with the same friend. She’s engulfed in exam revision and between testing her on her gobbets, and her testing me on the 25 strangest interview questions ever asked (how do you get an elephant into a refrigerator?) we finally went to sleep at midnight. At 2am she woke me up to tell me there were mice in the room. At 4am she woke me up because there was an intruder in the house. We called the police, the police arrived, there was no intruder, they thought we were mad, they were right. At 5am I woke up because I knew I only had another hour in bed. At 6am I woke up because I had to. Needless to say the interview was indeed a grievous one. I distinctly remember talking about climate change and garden gnomes, all I can hope is that those subjects were not in conjunction.My addled brain remembers very little else.

So the Oracle was right, the meeting did bring me pleasure  – followed by grief.

I didn’t get the job, and for the past few days have tried to commit suicide by way of carbs – bagels, pasta, crisps, everything the devil planted on this earth to give us poor self-esteem and cellulite have formed my staple diet. But slowly I’ve realised that I did gain a lot from the experience, and I can only benefit from this. Perseverance is necessary, not just in times of fiscal austerity where no interesting jobs exist – but at any time. If I don’t keep trying how will I know what it is that i’m suited to. And so I will persevere… but this time keeping the Oracle’s advice in mind. The third prophecy has taught me well.

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The Second Prophecy

Shall I have many adventures?

Answer : –

 “Enough to make you regret it”

For the past eight months every Tuesday through Friday has been the same. At 9:45am I say goodbye to Den – who is inevitably pottering about, carrying a paintbrush and muttering to himself. I walk through town to the restaurant. I unlock the gate, then the door – the alarm starts to sound, I run up the stairs and type in the code. I switch on the lights, turn on the heating and so the day begins. With the downtown radio turned on, I take the money from the office, replacing it in the till. I empty the bathroom bins. I hoover the restaurant floor. By 10:30am I have hoovered and mopped the floors, it’s coffee time. The ritual of making coffee, especially the first of the day, is a sacred one. I grind the beans which I compact into the press. Heating milk is an art form; the jug must be balanced – sturdy and small. The secret to good froth is all in the noise, it should sound soft and hollow, a whisper – the nozzle of the steamer starts at the bottom of the jug, moving to the top as the milk heats, rising in volume as the froth builds. As the milk settles, I turn the hot water on, letting it filter through the ground beans; dark liquid with a crème fills the bottom of the cup. Adding the milk completes the process. I make six coffees for the chefs; the seventh is a latte for me. I don’t believe in semi-skimmed milk, coffee is a luxury – indulge with full fat. Then I cut the butters, fill ramekins, polish glasses and set tables depending on the bookings – it’s almost noon. I change the menu board outside, switch the radio on to the 7 year old playlist. I hate that playlist. I change the sign and we are open. Most lunches are quiet, sometimes Mr D comes in – he’s older than God and brings in his wife. She’s in a nursing home just up the road. They come in at 12:20; they have pan fried lemon sole – his with mash, hers with Sautee. Green beans in olive oil, lemon zest, shallots, thyme. One glass of Sauvignon blanc, one of Rioja. He’ll have an americano-no-milk while she has an apple crumble with vanilla-pod ice-cream.

I’ve had this niggling the past few weeks – uncomfortable half-thoughts ricocheting through my mind of travel, places, adventure. The oracle says I will have enough adventures to regret them, if that’s a warning I can quite safely say that regret is always preferable to repetitive mundaneness. The real danger of boredom is that it gives way to self-indulgent specualtions, and I have found myself in overdrive – obsessing whether I know myself at all. Which is as melodramatic as it is annoying. The real problem is that my life is fractured at the best of times, part of me left in Africa, the other part uneasy with what identity I’ve created. London made things worse. I went there and somehow got mixed up the fringes of the arrogant, opulent and slowly decaying society that my frayed colonial ties afforded. There is something about the clawing upper middle class in England, it was as appealing as it was tragic. I liked the cosmopolitanism, the sohpistication, the clothes… so far away from Zimbabwe.

 I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognised apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city – Evelyn Waugh

Today I don’t miss London, today I really miss being ten; playing by the naarjie trees in a sliver batwing dress from the Narnia cupboard with no concern beyond … what did we worry about then?

My worry today is living with the regret of having too few adventures. Which makes me realise that starting my masters in law in September is a colossal mistake. I’m going travelling.