Monthly Archives: January 2015

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There’s something irrepressibly personal about handwriting. Always distinguishably you, it betrays a bit of who you are – as any old-fashioned crime drama will tell you. Forensic graphology aside, there is something very intimate about glimpsing the handwriting of others. That first time you catch your lover’s penmanship, for example. Your handwriting is there with you, unshakeable, from childhood and is very hard to essentially change (dotting your i’s with a circle like you trialled as a teenager doesn’t count).

But I worry that handwriting is increasingly becoming more of a nostalgic notion, a whimsy, than it is an actual part of our lives. As we rely on our screens and reach for the pen less our biros and our fountains are cruelly stripped of their responsibilities, relegated to notes and lists. Well, if a phone hasn’t got there first. Nowadays, if we’re writing something important, something big, something final it’s handled electronically, and the only time we physically handle a pen is to sign our name on the print out. Only the signature is left to trusted to the pen.

Until I started writing creatively again handwriting was becoming a fond memory. It reminded me of primary school visits to re-imagined Victorian classrooms at the Black Country Museum where handwriting was serious, we were told by a stern-faced woman in fancy dress. If you didn’t join up your letters you got the cane! We all shivered as we sat at the great mahogany desks. Especially me and the one other left-hander in the year group – a punishable offence.

Handwriting was a skill. It had authority. Literacy and language still is, of course, an essential part of who we are and a crucial tool in navigating the world we live in. But I often wonder how today’s children think about handwriting – do they feel they are being forced to practise a pointless exercise, something they’ll rarely use in real life? Like the way most of us felt about algebra?

Some people are, of course, gifted in a way that renders their handwriting an art form. My boss is one such person, her handwriting arresting, unapologetically bold and memorable – totally characteristic of its creator. An envelope addressed by her create an actual buzz. Is there anything capable of piquing intrigue more than receiving a handwritten letter? The feeling that leaps from the page. The bloody effort they must have gone to write it! The humanness of it. No auto-corrector. No spell check. Just your thoughts and the page. Not so easy to reign in your emotions with a pen in your hand. Not so easy to take the words back. You can’t press delete on a letter that people may hold on to for years. Forever.

pencil sketch editI find there is nothing quite so flagrantly impersonal as the handwriting font. These things cheaply tart up a letter with false authenticity. Without the pen, writing is mechanic and unsurprising. It keeps the writer, and reader, at a distance.

I am not exactly guilt-free. The last time I wrote a proper letter (ok, a fan letter) was to then Chelsea and England international footballer Graeme Le Saux in 1997. I cringe at the horror of what I’ve become (I cringe at that letter, too) – crooked fingers bashing away at a keyboard of some kind for the most part of most days. Even when cooking a recipe for God’s sake! And as a result I honestly feel as though I absorb less. Like I have become a little numb.

I’m not sure what any of this says about my very-much-electronic blog… But the one good thing is that creating it has, in a roundabout way, made me pick up the (coloured) pen again. Last week I began doodling, just to brighten it up. And then I realised what my doodles were doing was in fact personalising my blog, as though I had handwritten the posts. I look at it now and it is unmistakably me. I had forgotten what it was like, to spend so much time holding a pen. To craft something by hand. And that tactile handling has shot straight to my brain – I feel switched-on again.

My mother has since commented on how I seem to have come full circle. As a child I was always with an item of stationary in my hand. Whenever we went out for the day I would come back from wherever we were via the gift shop, inevitably the proud owner of a new pencil. Now I’ve got my parents hunting around the crevices of their house for all my old pens. I kept them, you see. Who knows when you might need them.

Handwriting will no doubt become trendy again as we hanker for the good old days – as we have recently seen happen in the UK with baking and make-do-and-mend crafts. But despite the inevitable onslaught of cushions and tote bags we will have to endure (no doubt all printed with handwriting fonts), this renaissance will be a good thing. Helping to secure the art of handwriting in our minds and in our hearts before we forget the joy it brings us.


You’ve made me feel sad it’s closing, and I’ve never even been there!

Shawn Writes Stuff

The coffee shop that my group of friends frequented in high school is closing.  I haven’t thought about the shop since high school (over a decade ago now, yeesh), but over the weekend a friend from those days tagged me in a facebook post linking to an article about the shop’s pending closure.  Just reading the name in the headline “Paris on the Platte” sent a flood of memories to mind.

The shop was where my forensics team (speech and debate, not body cutting) would go after tournaments to partake in youthful rebellion in the safest manner possible.  The shop was on the outer edge of Denver, so we suburbanites could say we were going into the city without actually visiting the city.  A layer of smoke clung to the ceiling at all hours of the day, this being back in days of old when smoking indoors was legal.  Local…

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I don’t get spas. The culture of enforced relaxing is something I’ve never quite understood, especially because none of the things one does at a spa seems in any way relaxing. Do you actually know anyone who has been to a spa? Have you been to one?

It’s a very alien concept to me, my aversion to which probably stems from the terror of the unknown – I’ve never been to a spa, and I plan to keep that track record. Besides, I don’t think they’d let me in – spas seem to be a place that welcome extrovert types. Types that actively enjoy being naked around each other. The thing is, some of these people are my friends.
Consequently a spa trip has threatened to materialise on three occasions now. Two birthdays and a hen do. I’ve just got to pray no more of them want to get married before my excuses wear too thin. I can’t afford it. I’m busy – all month. You can’t get public transport there. And, of late, I HATE SPAS!! Of course, the response is always the same – total bemusement.

“What – you don’t like relaxing?!” and the inevitable,

“How do you know if you don’t like spas if you’ve never been to one?”
A valid point. Obviously, there are some things you don’t need to have experienced to know you won’t like them – electric shocks, for example. Being lashed with a rope, clearly not enjoyable. But my poor friends don’t realise they are in fact pressing for me to endure my own form of social torture.

dosney plain croppedI can understand how massages are a good thing. Well, as long as you don’t mind being touched by a stranger. Or being greased like a goose. And thinking of hot ovens, what’s with saunas? Being unpleasantly hot and naked in semi-public? It’s clear how such things appealed to the Egyptians with their general love of oils and balms, and I can forgive pleasure-seeking Romans because, you know, where better to be debauched than in a big orgiastic pool? But for the likes of you and I…eurgh God, it makes me cringe just thinking about it. What if I bumped into the neighbours?

We can learn many useful lessons from history, lessons which could save us a great deal of time and expense. The Romans ruined baths, played with them too hard. Then the Italians made them fashionable again in typical swagger, ensuring they were an experience unaffordable to anyone but the posho’s. While the rest of Europe was living it up, knocking back wine with their thermal water and no doubt singing and stuff, stuffy Brits stuck to strictly medicinal baths, frowning on indulgence of any kind.

And this leads to my bone of contention with the spa. Being laid back and laid bare are two very un-British things. As a result we’ve taken the spa concept and ruined it (but in the opposite direction to the Romans…) We pour Health & Safety all over it. We make it slightly awkward. And we make it really quite expensive. Which leaves us and our spas at a sanitised mid-point which is neither opulent nor all that medicinal. An economic indulgence rather than a true physical one.

Our island seems to have been invaded by these spa hotels, offering semi-indulgence at an either astronomical cost or as a bargain-basement-group-voucher – ensuring that your experience descends into a bit of a hustle to get the next cheques-on-legs through the door. Where’s the relaxation in that?

I wouldn’t mind if the hen parties that flock to these places actually got up to any Romanesque debauchery, but maybe that comes at an added extra top-up price. In my head – and please, feel free to put me straight, actual spa-goers – what you actually get is a brisk rub from a surly masseuse, one glass of fizz in the hot tub, an awkward gossip in the sauna and, more comfortably, a pedicure. Followed by a Michael Buble tribute act in the bar.

Why not just go and have a massage in town after work? Listen to Buble on the drive home? Look, I know I’m missing the point of it all. But when I describe what is relaxing and indulgent for me, perhaps you’ll see why.
Gemma’s Dream Spa Weekend:

Don’t leave the house

Eat cheese. All day. Fully clothed

Have more than one glass of fizz, and have it on the sofa – not in the bath. And don’t bother with the strawberries

Enjoy the healing powers of herbs. In my gin.

Don’t talk to anyone. Watch film/s in silence.
Absolutely zero interaction with a Michael Buble impersonator.
And aaaahhh. I am relaxed.

Being angry is fun. I actively enjoy it (sometimes), although I understand that there must be consequences, as with most things. But I think getting a bit angry is good for us – wouldn’t you agree?

Wider society is impossible – on the one hand it wants us to feel empowered, express ourselves and yet we popularise some means of getting to those places and berate the exhibition of the other, less palatable means. Like anger.

sci fi bold cropped plainThe unavoidable thing is, we all have rage lurking inside us somewhere. We just do. And what is wrong with that? It’s a natural emotion, just as the fluffier Love and Lust are. Life is a hot bed of drama. It’s silly to think we all go around being happy and compliant all the time, how could we? We each make small compromises daily. Small compromises that build into layers and layers of anger. Imagine the cover of some warped sci-fi book. That’s you. There’s your anger. There’s only one place for it to go if you are to survive – out. (Think Alien. Apologies for another tenuous sci-fi reference). Surely, when that time comes it’s much better to unleash it and get it over with, harness that self expression and empowerment, and get back to everyday life afterwards un-scarred.
When I think of anger, I often think of modern consumerism. This, it seems to me, is the one place where anger is accepted, expected even, in our culture. And it’s training us how to be angry.

As we navigate ourselves more confidently in the commercial world – becoming more consumer savvy, more active – we become more confident at being angry with institutions and their representatives when things go wrong, when we feel let down as a consumer. This trains us to be angry in a controlled way. Yelling on the phone to British Gas (or some other energy company!) (although this did happen to me – I was the yeller) when they mess up your bill for the fourth time and then change your payment amount without your permission is now an acceptable thing to do (ish). They are in the wrong, and you are alerting them to that fact. Better that, surely, than grumbling sheepishly and then you end up somehow apologising to them and as a result feel even angrier about the whole thing, blowing up at your boyfriend three months later when he puts the tupperware in the wrong cupboard.

Getting angry saves a lot of bother and frees up to time to exercise other emotions, do other things. Life’s too short to keep that volcano closed for business. Plus it can be a bit fun – go on, admit it. That adrenaline release. It’s like you’re on a roller coaster – which you are in a way, a social one.

Of course, it’s not ladylike is it? Rage. Such labelling of appropriate emotions for women is exactly the kind of thing that makes this woman, well, angry. There are clearly some of us don’t seem able to manage our emotions. Obviously this is the key. I’m not recommending we all descend into abandon and give into murderous urges. But for those of us who are able to exercise a modicum of control maybe it’s time to loosen that lip, come over a bit Brazilian and allow yourself to be angry for a day. It could do you some good to let the steam out the volcano.

At this time of year you can’t sit through an advert break without being invited on a holiday. Cheap Disneyland trips for young families. Luxurious tropical retreats for discerning adults. Boat trips only for old people. Many viewers, it seems, are seduced by this onslaught, desperate for a glimpse of some ‘winter sun’. For me, these adverts are like watching horror film trailers.

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Ok, not quite. But I really don’t like holidays. Don’t get me wrong – I love having a break. I’m not one of those people who never want to leave the office. But, tell me, what exactly is relaxing about travel, specifically foreign travel? Packing for a 2-week holiday (= 4 weeks worth of your wardrobe) and then hauling a suitcase equivalent to your own body weight across multiple tortuous modes of (delayed) transport. Enduring said transport – sometimes for days – until you reach a strange destination where you are, in effect, an alien. No one understands you, you don’t understand them – and in some painful cases, you don’t even try to. Having to knock around with strange Brits, many of whom are speaking especially loudly, only in English. Having to navigate unknown climes whilst simultaneously not looking like you’re navigating unknown climes so as not to draw attention to yourself and your belongings. It’s all very scary and stressful. And then you’ve got to do it all again to get home. And then you’re back at work – exhausted. Great.

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Holidays seem to bring out anxieties in me that never seem to surface in daily life – what if I get robbed / attacked? What if my house blows up / burns down / gets burgled / acquires squatters? It’s hard work going on holiday. I’ll admit, a lot of this travel aversion stems from my total fear of flying. I’ve tried it twice. Never again – because, as Ian Fleming said, you only live twice.

I went to Florida as a child, on one of aforementioned (not-so) cheap Disneyland trips with my family. I remember the two flights in full. I remember thinking my ears were going to explode during take off, and that my stomach was going to jump out of my mouth during landing. I remember a horrendous airport which seemed to be made entirely of palms, prickly and scary. But, in comparison, I don’t remember too much of the actual holiday. Then I, persuaded by a family member yet again, found myself flying to New York fifteen years later. The turbulence we experienced when (trying to) make a landing at Newark was like out of an ACTUAL DISASTER FILM. And that was my sister, easy-flyer, talking.

And that’s about as exotic as my travel experiences have extended to. I’ve been places since – just not by air. This does of course limit where you can go, unless you are a Russian oligarch with bounds of cash to splurge on speedboats. But I can’t imagine a Russian oligarch being scared of flying. Or a Russian full stop.

Do I feel like I’m missing out? Honestly? No. Well, maybe a little bit. But we all do the same thing when we get back from holiday, don’t we? We miss it for a week, then we go back to our own lives, exactly as we were before – only poorer. We’ve ticked a box – but that’s it.

Well, for most of us. I take my hat off to the people who really throw themselves into travel, without a map if you will. But I don’t want to hear about it. If I were to find myself in a room with such a traveller I would attempt to leave it immediately.

I say, before you go gallivanting off on some foreign adventure, take time to remember what we have on our own global doorstep. Some UKers have never stepped outside of London yet they’ve carted themselves off to Helsinki, Haiti and Honolulu – what about our South Coast? The Lakes? We’ve got a good thing going on here – who needs winter sun?

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