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We won’t be posting much over Christmas, so while we’re off eating our own weight in Cadbury’s Roses, watching Doctor Who and Upstairs Downstairs, and trying to stop children and pets climbing the Christmas tree, we’ll leave you with these memories of Christmas past from several of the Anti-Roomers…

SINEAD GLEESON

There is no other point in the calendar year that has a mythology quite like Christmas. It’s essentially the trophy cabinet of memories and, if you’re lucky, a place that is home to lots of our happiest moments. Settling on a definitive Christmas to write about proved tricky. There are multiple childhood ones, including the year we all got bikes. My brother’s Santa belief was shattered after hearing my poor dad, sweaty and swearing,  trying to wrestle a Raleigh racer through the porch doors at 3am. Then there are the adult ones: trying to explain to my parents the expensive underwear bought for me by my first boyfriend; the much-anticipated visits home from my older brother who lived in Australia; the American man I spent three days with the previous summer who wrote twice a week and flew to Dublin to ask me to marry him; the year I felt off-colour, not realising a clot the size of a tennis ball was forming in my lung (hello, leukemia!); the Christmas week I lost my job and my husband proposed on the same day; my sixth month old son in a Santa babygro. The latter ones have their own significance, but one momentous Nollaig has become lore in my family. It was the early 80s and is burned into the collective Gleeson memory as “The Year of the Millennium Falcon”.

Few kids born in the 1970s were immune from the intergalactic lure of Star Wars. As an only girl with two brothers, I was no different. We watched the films and cried when Yodo died (I also did when Luke Skywalker got his hand chopped off, but mainly because I had accidentally locked myself in a toilet in the Ambassador cinema). Like all good devotees, there was merchandise binging. We had an X-wing Fighter, Darth Vader’s TIE-fighter, an AT-AT walker and a cardboard Death Star, complete with moveable wall for recreating the garbage crushing scene. We had figures with brilliant names (Hammerhead, Boba Fett) and challenging faces (Admiral Ackbar, Greedo) and I owned three different Princess Leias. It never occurred to me that a) there were no other significant female characters in the films or b) that I was as entitled to own Lando Calrissian as Leia. Regardless, hours were spent making up our own games, using various parts of the house as locations (a hollowed out beanbag made an ideal pit of Sarlacc).

That fateful Christmas, we asked for Han Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. It was the ultimate in Star Wars memorabilia – there was nothing better. Three letters were duly dispatched to the North Pole, hoping that the triple request would be as powerful as crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. On Christmas morning, we raced downstairs with our bleary-eyed parents in tow. Santa had arrived and been good to us. Three sets of eyes swept the room in panic – where was it? Not wanting to seem ungrateful, we didn’t say a word and happily opened our other gifts. My brothers smiled cheerily but could barely hide their heart-dropping disappointment. In our kitchen, there was a second Christmas tree and my dad, in one of his unsubtlest moments, feigned curiosity: “I wonder if Santa left anything in the kitchen?”. Sure enough, under a fake silver tree, there she was: the “ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs”. There was collective screeching. One brother leapt on my dad with a hug. The other one started crying. It was the childhood equivalent of winning the Lotto or bagging an Oscar. Such crazy joy over a lump of grey plastic. A few minutes later when we had all held it – awestruck, examining its fake floorboards (for Han Solo’s smuggler runs), the chessboard and the cockpit – clarity kicked in. My younger brother asked my Dad what we were all thinking: how he knew it was in the kitchen? Coughing to buy time, his brain conjuring a response, he stared at the ship. “Oh, I, er, came down in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and spotted it”. We all nodded understandingly. It didn’t matter whether we believed him or not. The Millennium Falcon was HERE.

JUDE LEAVY

Christmas morning 1981 at some ridiculous hour: I’m padding about half dressed amid a jungle of wrapping paper, Lego kits and stray Sindy shoes. Santa’s bounty unwrapped; my siblings and I dabble in the delights of selection boxes while appraising new treasures with chocolate-smeared fingers. My mother is feigning surprise at the existence of some Star Wars figure or other while drinking tea anad my father is behind a camera recording it all for the years to come.

These dated images now act as a kind of festive barometer of living, of how life was and how life is.

Mam, at 32 in green cord dressing gown and sleep-tousled hair smiling at the chaos and wincing at the high-pitched shrieking of her four young children. She looks utterly content.

Christmas 2010, I’m 32 and my Christmas morning will no doubt be further removed from hers at this age than either of us could ever have imagined.

Apart from the happiness.

SUSAN DALY

Stay away from this device during the work Christmas party…

My work Christmas party has been postponed because of the snowpocalypse. I am disappointed, not because I won’t get the opportunity to drink my body weight in free plonk, but because I now won’t get a chance to have a recce at my new colleagues when they are at their most vulnerable. (Insert evil cackle here).

I had planned to stay on the sidelines for this, my first viewing of the office folks with their prosecco goggles on. If I remember work Christmas parties – and I do, patchily – they reveal more about Ted from Accounts in one shot-slamming night than an entire year of nods over the watercooler. Ted doesn’t in fact live with his mother and have a room dedicated to Star Wars toys, all still in their original boxes. Ted plays in a heavy metal band at the weekend and has groupies who have tattooed his stage name – Profane Master of Slaughter – with an ink-stained safety pen on their forearm.

So Christmas parties can be educational. They can also be evil. I agree with the thrust of this article in The Irish Times which suggests that there is not always veritas in vino. Overdoing it on the alcohol can make you do and say things that don’t necessarily reflect how you feel about a person or situation.

True, I’ve been there when someone told the boss that they are a pompous ass and it was clearly an explosion of the frustration they were feeling from having been recently passed over for a promotion. But one year I made a holy show of myself by drinking too much of the free Sexy Santa cocktail on offer and telling a colleague how much they irritated me. I believe it went along the lines of, “Everyone thinks you’re funny, but you earn cheap laughs by making someone else the butt of the joke.” I don’t know where that came from, I didn’t feel that way about the person when I was sober and I spent the next week apologising to them for the outburst.

It taught me a valuable lesson (don’t mix gin with brandy) but it also made me a bit more forgiving to the idiotic stuff I’ve seen others do at Christmas parties. I now feel deeply for the intern who unzipped himself beside the MD of the company at a urinal, looked him up and down appraisingly, and asked, ‘So what do you do?’ Or the girl who vomited on the editor’s wife’s jacket one year and didn’t appear to notice.

I’m still not sure about the guy who kicked me up the backside on the dancefloor another year. It was incredibly humiliating but his work bros told me later that he fancied me. In which case, I wish he had resorted to pulling my pigtails or twanging the strap of my training bra. It would have been no more mature but much less aggressive.

We could probably all benefit from looking at the Christmas work do as if it is akin to Christmas Day with the family. Acknowledge in advance that alcohol and the novelty of informality will lead to tension, sexual or otherwise. And don’t beat yourself up too much if you end up snogging a member of the work family – it might be inadvisable, but at least it’s not illegal.

CATHERINE CRICHTON

The Rules of Christmas

Santa always left presents at the end of the bed, and they were never wrapped. Different rules applied in other households but we didn’t question this.

We all had to attend 10 o’clock mass together.

After mass, dad had to spend an agonisingly long time having coffee. Only after he had drained his cup could the non-Santa present opening begin.

No opening until after Dad’s coffee!

All presents had to be put into a gigantic Santa sack and doled out by Dad, wearing a Santa hat – this continued well into the teens and twenties of his offspring.

Nobody could open any presents until everybody had ALL their presents.

We always had turkey soup for lunch, followed by trifle.

Christmas dinner was eaten in the rarely-used dining room.

It was always about an hour later than its originally scheduled time and was accompanied by much maternal fretting about the hotness or otherwise of the food.

Dad delivered his annual speech, always ending with the words ‘Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís’.

We never once strayed from the turkey and ham formula. Cranberry sauce never put in an appearance.

Crackers could not be pulled until dessert was served – too messy. Pudding was always accompanied by brandy butter. The cake always had the same tiny snow-covered house and giant plastic robin stuck into the icing snow.

Dinner was followed by TV, dozing, possibly a card game and always Roses, never Quality Street.

They were the rules of our childhood Christmas in my parents’ house. We’re all grown up now, and the family is too big to recreate it. We all loved its familiarity, and wouldn’t have changed anything.

SARAH FRANKLIN

My Mum’s one of seven, and throughout my childhood and into adulthood, Christmas was the time when the clan gathered, squealed, argued over who ate the green triangles in the Quality Street, who got the best seat for the Corrie special, whose turn it was to open the next bottle of wine. Christmas, for me, is all about noise, chaos, and family.When I had my own family, I assumed, it’d be just like that.

No fighting over the green ones, now…

Huh. My first Yuletide as a mother found me thousands of miles from extended family, hallucinating with sleep deprivation, walking the floors with a tiny baby who had no concept of sleeping for Santa. Our relatives, eight hours ahead and desperate to see the new baby, had left eighteen voicemail messages by the time we dragged ourselves out of bed. Bowing to the requests to switch on the webcam before anyone became too half-cut to operate a computer, we literally tore through the unwrapping of presents then dialed into Christmas.  There they all were; crammed around the PC in my parents’ spare room, party hats askew, beaming with season’s delights and the slightly surreal experience of watching a baby through a computer (this was 2005, before we all took Skypeing utterly for granted). The webcam panned shakily from one of them to the next, accents and gestures as familiar to me as my own, warmth beaming through cyberspace. It was Christmas.

Then we said goodbye and switched off the camera, and Christmas evaporated. Instead of crackers and daft, generations-old jokes, and someone cooking the world’s biggest roast, we were once again two exhausted foreigners with a bit of tinsel and a magical but non-sleeping infant. It was too much for even my natural optimism. I looked at my husband and burst into tears.  He sent me back to bed, and heroically cooked an enormous roast whilst juggling the baby.

Five years and two countries later, we’re home for Christmas. We’re going nowhere, but we’ve invited everyone we care about to spend it with us. There will be arguing over the Quality Street, and endless cooking, and endless laughter. Our two boys, five and three now, are beside themselves with excitement. Me too. Nobody’s switching off Christmas this year.

NUALA NÍ CHONCHÚIR

I love Christmas. We didn’t have Santa Claus in our house – he didn’t give us presents, our parents did. I’m not sure why that was but I presume it was to do with my parents being very Catholic. Anyway, our Christmases were magical – I loved the ritual of the candle in the window on Christmas Eve; the baby Jesus going into the crib on the morning of the 25th; the enormous dinner; all the goodies; and, best of all, Coca Cola in glass bottles – the glamour! We also had (still have) a tradition that I haven’t seen in other’s homes of having a baby doll in a basket under the tree as Jesus in the manger.

Once baby Jesus is in the crib, you know it’s Christmas…

For years our presents weren’t wrapped then my eldest sister took on the work of Christmas and made it even more magical – beautifully wrapped pressies that went under the tree (tantalisingly) on Christmas Eve. With everyone home (9 of us), boxes of Lemon’s Santy sweets being passed around and Willy Wonka on the TV, life didn’t get any better.

My second eldest sister died on 23rd December nine years ago. That has made Christmas very bitter-sweet for our family but we are still a gang of Christmas nuts. Hearing carols she liked, particularly the old-fashioned ones like Gaudete or Silent Night in Irish, makes me well up in the days leading to Christmas. But once the day itself has arrived, I feel fine. I like nothing more than spending the day at home with my own kids and my husband, staying nicely tipsy for the day and eating half a ton of Roses. Bliss.

Nollaig shona to all the Anti-Room readers.

ANTONIA HART

It is Christmas Eve in Baggot Street, and my mother packs three of her five grown-up children, with our clothes and books and presents, into her car, with the dog draped over our knees having her ears untangled. For the first time I can remember, we are leaving Dublin at Christmas. Darkness has fallen, and the car creeps along the Rock Road with the last of the shoppers taking their wrapping paper and perishable luxuries home to Blackrock and Monkstown and Dun Laoghaire. We have shaken the worst of the traffic by the time we turn onto the dual carriageway, and once we’re on the little road through Glenealy and Rathdrum, the drive is a black and quiet one, interrupted occasionally by a flash of headlights pointing to Dublin.

Fresh from the (hotel’s) oven….

I don’t know how to celebrate Christmas in any way other than the way we always have, with pillowcases and morning Mass in University Church, or Clarendon Street if we’re late, which is not unheard of, and then the aunts arriving for turkey and vodka and tonic, bringing unnecessary extra puddings and tins of Quality Street and boxes of chocolates. Christmas is about ritual and tradition, the deserted, Sunday feeling of town, hot baths with crumbled bath cubes, and lying on the carpet watching television in the peaceful certainty that on this day of the year no unexpected visitor will ring the doorbell. My father doesn’t care for unexpected visitors. Christmas is not about a rural laneway whose apparently dead end leads to a half-restored house which is not yet properly wired, nor plumbed. The only electricity available is from a single temporary flex and power point into the kitchen, into which we plug a gangboard and as many appliances as we dare.

Christmas is not about stepping into the pitch dark garden to go to the loo in a bush before bed – or worse, waking in the middle of the night, and finding yourself unable to put off a torchlit garden wee. But my parents have given up their city life for Wicklow, and Christmas will be where they are.

When my mother finally makes the sequence of gear changes that I have come to recognise as meaning we’re arriving at the gate of the house and descending the rutted drive, I am ready for the moonless night with the big torch that takes a battery as thick as my thigh. I struggle out of the hot car into the shock of freezing Wicklow. The car is parked on a slope, and the door swings shut against me and bangs my hip, so I am already muttering when I rummage in the boot for my rucksack and all the extra plastic shopping bags I’ve brought for this stay. I hear my father’s voice raised in greeting, and turn to the house for the first time. Soft yellow light spills from every window. I have never seen this electricity-free house lit like this. None of us has. Inside, we find that my sister and father have put tealights and candles on every windowsill and table. They have lit two vast fires, and somehow outwitted the chimneys so that hardly any smoke stings my eyes. The dining table is laid with the same pale Italian tablecloth and napkins I’ve seen every Christmas I can remember, and shines with the same polished silver and huge crystal goblets from which we are now judged old enough to drink wine. It looks like some sort of medieval feast, and is by a distance the prettiest start to a Christmas I have ever had.

“Thank God we don’t have electricity,” my father says, when he’s filled the glasses. Despite the fires, it’s so cold in the house we have kept our overcoats on, and I have to push my scarf down from my face to take a sip. “Spoil the effect entirely.”

My mother carries her glass up the steps to the kitchen.

“You might feel differently tomorrow,” she says. “Christmas lunch isn’t going to appear out of nowhere.”

“Quite right,” he says, “it isn’t. It’s going to appear from the Woodenbridge.”

“The hotel?” I ask.

“Yes. I’ve spoken to the head chef, a marvellous fellow, and all we have to do is bring the turkey down ready to go into the oven, and in it’ll go, along with their own turkeys, and out again when the time comes, crisp and golden, and we’ll streel down to collect it.”

This is exactly what happens. We have two-ring electric hob from someone’s bedsit, and a strange electric cooking pot from someone else’s, which we plug into the temporary socket. We put the vegetables on when the call comes from the chef at the  Woodenbridge, and they are ready by the time my mother comes back up the hill with the hotel-cooked turkey, a vast 18-pounder. My father is delighted with the arrangements and says it has taken all the trouble out of Christmas lunch. Later, we peer at the evening Trivial Pursuit dice, trying to make out the numbers in the candlelight. No-one has the heart to tell my father that the chef has said this is the last year they will be open for Christmas. I think we are all wondering whether we’ll have a functioning oven by next year.

Given the choice of lavatory over oven, though, I’ll take a lavatory every time.

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Prince William is such a cheapskate. Why’d he give Kate his mum’s old engagement ring?
His dead mum’s old engagement ring.

The ring that launched a thousand flicks...

His unhappily married mum’s engagement ring.
His broken-hearted mum’s old engagement ring.
His divorced mum’s old engagement ring.
His cuckolded mum’s old engagement ring.
His vilified, ostracised mum’s old engagement ring.
His canonised, sainted mum’s old engagement ring.
The People’s Princess’s old engagement ring.
The ring that launched a thousand flicks…
It may be “priceless”, but poor Kate is certainly going to pay a heavy price, because if every a ring came with an unbearable weight, then this is it. So why, William, why?
Because, he says, “obviously” his mum couldn’t be there so he thought it would be a “quite nice” way to have her involved in all the wedding “fun”. Oh, jolly hockey sticks!
Yes well, I’m sure it’s fun for him, but for Kate, with her tight, bright smile, determined tweed and perma-blowdry, with her nickname of Waity-Katie after years perched in her parents’ home/ivory tower awaiting this benighted proposal, always terrified of putting a foot wrong, with the insults cast at her parents because they actually earned their money and didn’t inherit it, with the sneers about her mother being an air hostess, the sniggers of “doors to manual and cross-check”, with the finger-pointing at her partying sister Pippa, with the nastiness when Kate was photographed in hotpants falling off her skates at a charity roller-disco (looking happier than she has before or since), with years of mortifying protocol insisting she leaves weddings and clubs sans her fella, with the stoic silence she’s always kept even when dumped, with everything she’s done — and doubtless not done — to prove she’s suitable queenly material, I reckon it’s been anything but fun.

Maybe she thought the fun would start with the ring, with the fairytale wedding, with forging her own path as a real princess, fighting her own corner, eventually able to stand up for what she believes in, to make a difference where she chooses, to reap the benefits of finally being legally tied to the royals, and not just left to sit primly on the sidelines knowing you could be tossed aside at the whim of a dandy, forever famous for being jilted.
But no, instead Prince Charming hands Kate Middleton the baton of martyrdom and the burden of his sainted mother, of everybody’s Lady Di.
Gee. A clean slate might have been nice.
And she can’t even pawn the ring if it all falls apart.

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A symbolic marriage cake in favor of allowing ...
Image via Wikipedia

Next weekend a March for Marriage for lesbian and gay couples will take place in Dublin. Yesterday a friend asked me if I was going on it, I think she was rather surprised by the snorts of derision that escaped from my mouth.

While I  support the rights of people to celebrate their relationships and be recognised by the state and others I have always questioned the rush that same sex couples have taken in seeking marriage rights.   I’ve also been stunned by the leaders in this rush coming from Ireland’s second wave feminists.   Instead of questioning the roles and expectations created by the institution of marriage many see the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from the institution as a human rights issue.  Suddenly marriage became the goal  and symbol of success.

Marriage has previously barred women from employment, excluded us from claiming social welfare, participation in FAS schemes, a reason for being paid less, and a host of other rights and entitlements. Those who did not marry were castigated as a drain on the state, as not behaving appropriately, they also do not get the same rights to protection in cases of domestic violence.  Marriage was considered permission for rape until the early 90’s.

Is it a case of tax individualisation and the end of the marriage bar making it ok  now? On the non legalistic issues that surround marriage regarding women losing their identity and being seen as a couple instead of individuals, of women who don’t marry being seen as less valuable?  How have these issues disappeared from feminist debate? And what of the stigma that still exists regarding marital breakdown?  This issues are not historic or relics. For many women the pressure to marry remains very real, and now we are seeing a pressure to marry (and I include entering into civil partnership) created in the lesbian and gay community.

The impact of civil partnership and cohabitation legislation inferring rights and responsibilities on relationships is untested and far-reaching.  The Department of Social Protection will soon be able to infer that people in same sex relationships living together are co-habiting, sharing incomes and responsible financially for each other whether they want to be or not.  Many people may not want that to happen (including because they don’t want to be open to financial abuse or control by a partner)  but that’s one legacy of ‘equality’.

We’ve already had the debate on women taking their husband’s name on the Anti-Room and I am aware that for many marriage is a romantic and very meaningful occasion . I wish that my intention not to marry and questioning the clamour would garner as much respect.

Some campaigning for marriage rights  use the language of other oppressed groups in their fight – and continue to do so, this saddens me greatly.  The exclusion from the right to marry can in no way be compared to the way in which black people were excluded in South Africa.

The impact of civil partnership and marriage rights on the ways in which lesbian and gay lives and relationships are lived is now beginning to be explored internationally.  Julie Bindel’s column last week on this is a warning of things to come. Academic articles will no doubt follow. It will be interesting to see how Civil Partnership’s change the ways in which lives are lived and viewed in Ireland.

Will lesbians and gay men who choose not to enter into civil partnerships be seen as ‘loose’, a drain on the state, ‘behaving inappropriately’?  Will Paddy Power give me odds on this?  I bet not because I predict within 3 years there will be articles and debates appearing about lesbians and gay men who are ‘not the marrying kind’, refusing to commit,  castigating them as refuseniks.  Civil Partnerships will be seen as status symbols and indicators of success.  And the campaign for marriage will continue because the quest for ‘normality’ dressed up as equality will persist.

I’m still mystified as to when Marriage became a feminist goal. Maybe you can explain it to me?

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London, summer 1993. Patting my pocket to check I hadn’t forgotten the money, I passed the bathroom mirror without a glance. My face was clean but my hair was probably a mess as the closest I came to caring about appearance was to occasionally use a nailbrush when my hands got really manky. I knew how I looked: a plastic dummy swung on a necklace and the bright red t-shirt I wore was the cleanest I had. Clothes were useful for pockets and wiping hands on when you spent all day outdoors with your friends. We were guttersnipes, fiercely independent, impudent and savvy as Brixton had taught us to be. Roaming freely, we’d chat openly to strangers in our broad Sarf Lahndahn accents while keeping a wary distance, eyes as sharp as any Dickensian pickpocket. I was twelve, the second-eldest of our group and bookish, which meant imaginative and so by some strange childish default, the leader. Each day I had to devise games and decide where we’d go, commanding my scruffy chums into exploring thickets and bushes of the park to build dens, collect acorns, beech nuts, conkers and elderberries or challenge strange children who dared cross our territory. We’d venture into the underground garages and lock-ups below the flats where we lived in search of grimy treasure hauls, broken radios and bald tyres, or sneak over the high wall that was supposed to protect an apple tree from nicking urchins like us. I was not off to meet my friends on this occasion, although I didn’t know it, I was leaving my childhood behind.

A tightly-knit bunch of six by day, each night after dinner when the sun had cooled the scattered knots of local kids would untangle into one mass of all ages in the nearby playground. There we’d assert our place in the hierarchical ranks, show off, poke things with sticks or scrape bricks and generally lark about with different people. Lee was older by about six months, skinny with shorn blond hair but brown eyebrows and lashes that made his blue eyes look darker. He ran about with his own group of boys and a few weeks before had sneaked up behind and poured a bottle of freezing water down my back. I reacted with fury, chasing him and knocking him to the ground where we struggled to hit each other unsuccessfully. Storming off, I swore revenge and wondered how best to get back at him as the older boys whistled and the teenage girls sitting on the swings goaded Lee to “go after his girlfriend”. How ridiculous, I thought, as if I’d go near a creep like Lee Combes! My boyfriend would be called Josh or Damon and would have floppy long hair and baggy jeans instead of the frayed shorts and trainers Lee wore. He’d read Stephen King and listen to Megadeth rather than Look-In and East 17, and instead of asthma and glasses he’d bring me on dates and live in a house with an apple tree in the garden.

I was still raging as I mounted the steps up to our maisonette when I heard my name called. Lee stood at the bottom, wheezing.
“Piss off, I don’t want to talk to you.”
“What’s the matter? It’s only a bit of water.”
“Everyone was laughing! It’s embarrassing!”
“Don’t be such a girl.”
“Say that after I thump you on the nose. I’m going to get changed.”

He was still outside twenty minutes later after I’d exchanged my t-shirt for a dry one, made a sandwich and stood at the door of the living room to watch the end of The Bill.

“Well, what dyou want?”
“Nuffin’ really. What you doing now?”
“Nuffin’. Staying in.”
“Don’t, it’s still bright.”
“Don’t care. I ain’t going back there.”
“Stay ‘ere then.”
“Wiv you? Huh.”
“Yeah, wiv me…come on, let’s get on the roof.” Each upper flat had a small shed built on either side of the steps, fencing in the yard of the lower premises. He stood up and held out his hand, partly as a peace offering and to help me up. I ignored it but got to my feet and he grinned, clambering up on to the adjoining wall. I followed and we sat there catching the last of the evening rays amongst the honeysuckle creeper that covered the brickwork, picking the flowers for the sweet drop of nectar nestled at the base of the stigma.

So it continued for the next two weeks, every night after dinner Lee would be waiting and we’d drift off together. I showed him our secret dens, he brought me to the old house that a bunch of hippies had abandoned, leaving a harem of cats behind. We’d walk to the “bad park” where a senile old lady used to wander cradling a baby doll until she’d been found raped and murdered. We’d sit in high grass on the banks of the pond, watching the water boatmen push their way across the surface and talk about our friends, popstars, games and elaborate daydreams that involved mansions with swimming pools and never-ending ice creams. Parents and the future were rarely mentioned. After nine days of this, he began to hold my hand. Two days later, we kissed, hard little lips pecking at each others’ face before slobbering tongues met awkwardly and we broke apart, trying to discreetly wipe away the ring of moisture that swept from nose to chin until our eyes met and we fell about giggling in the weeds.

On day fourteen, red-shirted and unruly-coiffed, I walked down the steps to find Lee waiting on the roof as usual. I’d not forgotten my dating ideals of Josh-Damon and had decided that it was time to take things to the next level. I set off towards the local shops where a typical English greasy-spoon cafe stood along with a Greek grocery, Maltese launderette and Pakistani newsagent. Instead of buying penny mix-ups and ‘ice-poles’, that day’s pocket money had been saved and along with a pound cadged from my mum, I had about £2.50 in my pocket. The cafe was empty when we walked in, two twelve year-old street rats who’d never ordered anything in a restaurant before.

“What we doing in ‘ere?”
“I want a milkshake. You got any money?”
“Nah, spent it dint I?”
“Right, well don’t worry. Go and sit down.”
“Where?” Lee looked around at the empty cafe in astonishment. “In ‘ere?!”
“What do you want?” the owner was a heavy, tired-looking old guy of about fifty with big freckles and muddy tattoo marks on his forearms. “You gonna order summink or what?”
“Yeah, two chocolate milkshakes please.”
“That’ll be £3.”
“Oh. I only have £2.50…can you let us off?”
“No I bloody can’t! It’s £3!”
“Uh…fine. One milkshake in two glasses please.”
“You’re cheeky int ya? I’ll give ya two straws.”
“Oh cheers, I’ll leave your tip in the glass shall I?” He looked like he would have clipped me round the ear if it wasn’t for my grubby handful of coins.

“I don’t like chocolate,” Lee looked uncomfortable. “You shoulda got chips.”
“Already had my dinner. Dint you get yours?”
“Nah.”
“Why not…?” Dishes clattered in the background.
“Just didn’t.” He gave the beige milk-sludge a moody poke with his straw. Silence fell.
“What you doing tomorrah?”
“Dunno…what you looking at?”
“Tonya just walked past the window. I fink she seen us.”
“So?” I shrugged. “Tonya’s all right.”
“She’s probably gonna tell everyone. Come on, let’s go.”
“No, I ain’t finished! Stop worrying.”
He lolled in his seat, looking sullen and frustrated. “Hurry up. I wanna go.”
“Oh shut up moaning. I thought it’d be fun. We never do anything.”
“What you on about? We do loads, we go loadsa places.”
“Yeah, boring places. Kids’ places. We’re not kids any more.”
“I dunno…” Lee was hurt. “I like ‘em.”
“Yeah well, if we’re gonna-” I broke off. At least ten faces peered in through the window, hands banging on the glass, most of them made up of older kids. The younger ones were already barging into the cafe, hooting and yelling “woooooo!”
“Oh no….” Lee groaned, shrinking away from me, his face bright red with embarrassment. “I knew Tonya was gonna dob us in.” Indeed, Tonya could be seen outside, bent double with laughter as her friends milled around pointing at us.
“OI! Cut it aaaht!” The owner was yelling from behind the counter as Lee’s friends crowded around our table cheering and elbowing. The teenage boys bounded in.
“Well, well, look at the lovebirds…you getting married? You gonna ‘ave kids?”
“OUT if you ain’t buyin’!” came another roar. Lee looked at me for a millisecond before shrugging off his mates and hurrying out, where louder whoops greeted his appearance. Most of the kids left. I stayed to hoover up the dregs from the bottom of the glass. “You an’ all!” Bawled the old guy, looking even more tired. “Leave it and go.”

Romance was dead before it ever started. Like the after-image of a lightbulb staining the vision for ages after one foolish glance, I couldn’t shake off the look of horror on Lee’s face when his friends saw us together. I thought he liked me, I thought he wanted to be real friends, I sighed, determined not to cry over a creep like Lee Combes. I should’ve waited for Josh-Damon to show up. I should have made him try harder, should have never let him get away with soaking me, I should never have tried to change things…we should have stayed in the flowers or by the pond instead of trying to be something else. Dejected, I mentally kicked myself, setting up a guilt complex that would never leave me. Used to being in charge and making decisions, I had drank the nectar too soon, before the wonderful world of womanhood blossomed before me. Well that was it with boyfriends I reasoned. Never again.

I walked home on my own and went in, even though it was still bright. The next evening, there was no one waiting in the honeysuckle.

Naomi McArdle

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The other day, I found myself in Hodges Figgis with a friend of mine, who was looking for “a book about anxiety; but none of that self-help shit”. He was milling around the psychology section, attempting to find something that didn’t have a punchy subtitle, in the vein of “think yourself calm!” Needless to say, he was grossly disappointed, and ended up feeling slightly more anxious, thanks, in no small part, to my reading out excerpts from the hilarious self-help books I was finding. “Feel the fear!” I shouted to his retreating back. “And do it anyway!” (He kept telling me to whisper, to which I will respond: it’s a bookshop, not a library.)

The point, of course, is that he found a book –Going Mad – and, while he was attempting to find the diamond in the rough of self-help, I was attempting to find the rough. I decided, in those 15 minutes, that I would read both The Rules and The Game, in an attempt to discover the following:

a) Why did a man I went on a date with recently tell me I was damaged, and still expect that I would be interested?

b) Why does a friend of mine insist that I shouldn’t text or call any man first? She would practically extend this to the

plumber, were it not for the urgency of that call, because she claims that “you just don’t know when you might meet the one”.

c) Why do so many of my friends insist on “playing the game”, rather than just living their lives?

I decided that the answer to these questions (and so many more!) would lie within The Rules and, to a certain extent, The Game – although now that I have started the former, I wonder if reading the latter will just confuse my brain to the point that I will then be more determined than I am now to live alone with dozens of cats and my collection of Penguin classics.

Lest I ruin the entire book by writing an epic, scathing blog post about it, this is merely an introduction, which I will give by way of the following quote (paraphrased):

It goes against nature if a woman chases a man, or sleeps with him too soon, or begs him to marry her. He may end up mistreating her [women!  Have you been mistreated? Well, you know who to blame now!]. He may resent her for trapping him and will treat her badly.

Discuss.

There are 52 rules, all of which I’m not going to get into because wikipedia can help you more than I care to, but I will say this: Don’t read The Rules. Take that couple of hours (which you will surely never get back) and make a delicious sandwich. Go to the museum. Go for a swim. Hell, go to the dentist, which would be more enjoyable and, without a doubt, more beneficial.

If you’re still skeptical about this hodge-podge analysis, watch this space. Coming up: why you should get a nose job, why you should never admit what you’re feeling, and how you hook a man (namely, by hiding every shred of yourself until there’s little more left than a slight resemblance to a Stepford Wife and some careful hair-tossing).

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You know, I was once chased down a road- while driving- by a soon to be ex-boyfriend who was foaming at the mouth slightly and screaming, ‘Stop that fucking car you bitch! You better fucking pull over! I’m warning you!’

Pull over? As my beloved daughter might say, ‘lolziees!’

I put it in third and vroomed away.
Many years have passed since that hilarious and fateful night, a night I came fully to my senses, and boy oh boy was I ever glad I kicked that puppy to the curb. Love might well be a mysterious thing, but bullies are bullies, and bitter is a fine drink on a warm day in Yorkshire.
But still, the memory remains. As memories must.
What, dear readers, do we imagine the bride might feel upon reading this passive aggressive piece? hum? Love lost? Bitter sweet memories?

Or will she slap the metaphorical gear stick into third and speed away?
Yeah, I guessed that too.

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Arlene Hunt. There you go, that’s it. That’s the name I’ve had for nearly 38 years. It’s on my passport, my driving license, my books, my mortgage paper work, oh, and my birth cert. Suffice to say it is as much a part of my identity as my grey eyes and my height.

So much a part of my identity is it that when I got married I kept my name. It wasn’t a big decision, there was no major discussion, I never thought to take Andrew’s name, he never expected me to do so. I’m me, he is he, together we are we, but individual wees * .

It comes then as something of a surprise to me that in 2010 the keeping of one’s own name might cause an eyebrow raise. I have caused some confusion. Why did I not take his name when we became man and wife? Was he ‘okay’ with this? ( no, really) What if we have children? What will they be called** And my personal favourite, ‘why get married at all if you’re going to keep your own name?’ ***

I might point out that my husband’s family never subjected me to this kind of questioning, nor my own family for that matter, rather it seems the unease exists in people who are in no way connected to me on a personal level, and thus it makes me ponder all the more why my surname should trouble them so unduly.

I like my surname. It is the same surname my daughter has, I use it professionally. But all of those reasons pale in comparison to the real reason I am still Arlene Hunt, and that is because I find the notion of trading in my name for another to be old-fashioned and frankly not something I would care to do.

I get that for some people marriage is the start of a new life and new family, but Andrew and I lived together for many years before marriage, keeping happily our names while sharing a life. Once the rings were exchanged neither of us gave any real thought to the politics of a name change. He was still him, I was still me, our we had a more legal basis, but still much the same.

A friend recently told me that her husband would have been grievously hurt had she not changed her name after marriage. It might even have been a deal breaker.  I said ‘I see.’ And I did see, but part of me also thought, well why did it have to be you who capitulated. Why not him? What if you had been hurt about the loss of your name?  Oh that’s right, it was expected that she would change, after all there is the small matter of that great sleeping dog, tradition. Let it lay slumbering.

Anyway, far be it for me to disparage any woman’s decision. If she was happy to change her name for the sake of peace and quiet so be it. Also many women actively want to change their names to create a new family/identity. I did not. There ought to be room for all of us, without the raised eyebrows and the quick reach for the fainting couch upon learning that the sleeping dog just had its tail trod on.

If I may  borrow Shakespeare for a neat little ending,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

* yes I know how that sounds.

** Dear lord if I discovered I was pregnant names would be the very least of my concerns.

***er tax? Love? Tax?

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