April schedule

DSC01982Friday 1st April: The Ballroom by Anna Hope.

Monday 4th April: Monday Musings: Final teenage diaries post.

Friday 8th April: The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa.

Monday 11th April: Reading round-up, including Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie), The Dig (Cynan Jones) and Pleasantville (Attica Locke).

Friday 15th April: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta.

Monday 18th April: Monday Musings: Baileys Prize shortlist.

Friday 22nd April: Monograph Review: Contagious Communities: Medicine, Migration and the NHS in Post-War Britain by Roberta Bivins.

Monday 25th April: Monday Musings: I might finally write about whether GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire is feminist…

Friday 29th April: The Bees by Laline Paul.



Monday Musings: Teenage diaries, #5

 I was increasingly isolated at school during sixth form, partially (perhaps mostly?) through my own choice. In this entry, which I’ve cut for length, I go to the pub with two girls I’d known since we were all eleven, Allie and Katie, and a girl who had joined our school for sixth form, Esther. Warning: scandalous underage drinking!


September 11th, 2004

… As for the pub, it was extremely interesting, because I’ve never been in that sort of situation before. It was also rather painful, because of course Katie (and Allie to an extent) were fairly patronising to me, assuming I would not know what to do, or that I was completely lost. I was a little lost with the conversation, partly because they’re an established ‘group’ with their own language, which seems to be, as I put it to Allie, ‘having their minds in the gutter as much as possible’ i.e. ‘doubting’ someone means having sex with them (?). Anyway, this led to much hilarity when Allie said that I was ‘doubting her virtue’ due to a comment I made teasing her about being a woman of little virtue. I tried to retain a detached stance, but this was fairly impossible when Katie still sees me as an innocent young girl. The comments I made weren’t a problem – I could think of things to say. No Katie (and Allie to an extent) seem to have such a strong impression of me as good and innocent that they don’t even really hear the words I say any more. It goes right over Katie’s head; I’m still the same person she always thought I was. They always have to check if I’m all right, when I’m sitting there listening, and talking a bit, just as much as most people could be expected to do when introduced to an entirely new group. There was one guy who went around asking for all our phone numbers, and I gave him mine – with a different last digit, of course. I didn’t see Allie shaking her head at me until after I’d finished typing it. I’m not stupid! I don’t need signals – or surrogate mothers. It made me feel like they’d taken their 12 year old sister along to the pub, and had to be protective because she didn’t really know what she was doing.

 I shared a bottle of red wine with Esther and Allie. I hadn’t had much to eat beforehand and it made me really dizzy. I won’t drink next time. It doesn’t matter if they think I’m prim; they think that anyway. Katie had Malibu and Coke, which I had a sip of and it was utterly vile – not because it’s alcoholic, but because it was sickeningly sweet. She seems to drink that all the time. The wine was too bitter, of course.

We played table football, which I am rubbish at. We left at about eleven o’clock. One of the boys (this time one of their friends) asked me twice why I hadn’t come along before, if I went to their school. I don’t know if they’ve dragged pretty much everyone they know down to the pub at one point or another, or if I was coming off as one of their close friends, the same as them. I’d like to think that it was the latter, because it would show that it is their first impressions of me that makes Katie (and Allie, to an extent) treat me the way they do. It has seemed in the past that other people don’t seem to think of it like that, and are even slightly surprised when they make comments like “You can’t corrupt Laura” (paraphrased quote from Katie). When we left, it was dark and the air seemed to be singing around me because there’d been quite loud music on in the pub. My hair smelt of smoke, though I couldn’t smell it myself. They were all going back to Katie’s house, and started trailing off. Allie told me that she hoped I hadn’t felt too left out, and said that they’d make me ‘one of the group’. She’d said a similar thing earlier in the evening. Even then, I didn’t believe her.

 She hugged me goodbye in the middle of the road, which was empty, and went off to follow the others. I can still see it now; so clear. It’s just a ritual you have to go through, hugging people. Dad picked me up in the car. He didn’t recognise Allie. 

And naturally, of course, I’m not part of the group. It isn’t something that I particularly mind about; and the visit to the pub wasn’t as horrible as I’ve made it sound here. It was interesting, that was all it was; interesting.

Author’s Note

Unlike my earlier entries, it’s more difficult to assess how this entry comes across to others, because I remember it so vividly. Although, as I recognise, I’m making out that this was a really miserable evening, I don’t remember it that way. Indeed, reading this back, it seems to me that this entry was written with a very definite purpose; to convince myself that I would never be part of this group, despite their efforts to include me, and there was no use trying. To convince myself that I never wanted to go out to the pub again, even though I had enjoyed some of the night. I think that’s why I’m fixating on so many petty details, rather than the better parts of the evening. When I re-read my diary, I was reminded that I had tried and failed to become what I defined as ‘real’ friends with these girls several times over the past three or four years, and here I think I have finally given up. I’m deliberately trying to cultivate a detachment from the entire situation, from school itself. Far more than my previous entries, this reminded me that, while it would be easy to caricature my teenage problems (I had no friends and everyone was horrible and patronising and Sam didn’t fancy me!!!), at the time, I thought deeply about this situation and dealt with it as best I could. I was very sad a lot of the time when I was seventeen, and it seemed rational to me, after the many friend-related disappointments of the previous years, to withdraw from the game. From an adult perspective, and without altering my entire personality, it’s hard to see what I could have done differently.

Monday Musings: Teenage diaries, #4

The fourth instalment of my teenage diaries. The rationale behind the project is here. As always, I will change all names and identifying details, and remove anything that is too easily identifiable. I will also correct all my spelling.

This entry is largely self-explanatory. Polly is my sister (sorry Polly; you don’t get to be anonymous!)


My yearbook photo.


16th February, 2003

I went on the march against war in Iraq yesterday. We drove to London by car but a lot of people were going by coach (including Jenny Mackintosh and her posse). [A politically active girl in my year.] Apparently there were 70 coaches from Bristol alone. While on the motorway we drove past a lot of coaches, from all different places, Plymouth, Wales, Devon, Bristol. All the coaches had peace signs in the windows, or signs saying ‘Not in Our Name’, ‘Stop the War’ or simply ‘No’. Me and Polly decided that we should have one too, so we wrote ‘Stop the War’ in big bubble letters on the back of Polly’s mock Year 9 SATS timetable. (It was bright yellow so we thought it would show up). So the sun didn’t shine through it we paperclipped two sheets of paper to the back of it with a bright pink paperclip, which simply added to the general professional appearance of the sign. As all the coaches also had signs up saying what number coach they were, and from which place, I tried to put a sign up saying No 1 Coach, Conkwell. It was too small for anyone to see it however.

When we got to London, it was amazing because they’d closed most of the streets in central London and you could walk down roads that were usually full of traffic. Dad couldn’t get over it, he kept on going on about how much quicker and less stressful it was. We walked around for quite a bit before finally managing to join the march. There were so many different groups there, loads of people from something called ‘Stop the War Coalition’ who were handing out free stickers (I still have one stuck on my coat). Some socialist groups, some Palestinian people with placards saying ‘Free Palestine’ (I recognised their flag; we had it on our notepaper at MUN [Model United Nationslast year), groups of Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, all sorts. There were huge numbers of people. We marched quite fast at first but when we were going along the Embankment it slowed right down to almost a standstill. That was the most exhausting part as my legs and back got so stiff. We were hardly moving at all and could only shuffle forward a little every so often. But finally we came round the corner into Parliament Square and the pace picked up again. There were a big group of Kurds (as Dad told me they were) with yellow flags with a picture of some leader of theirs on them.

Everyone was blowing whistles and these sort of horn things. The whistles made an awful noise. Dad bought one and hung it round his neck on the multicoloured string it came tied to. It was really annoying.

Many people were chanting things. The one I can remember that seemed to be chanted the most was “One, two, three four, we don’t want this bloody war.”

After marching for about three hours we finished and went to the huge Waterstones at Piccadilly.

I was exhausted but it was worth it. It was definitely an experience and on the radio coming home they said, several times, that it was the biggest protest in British history. There were at least a million people there. At last I have an historical moment to write in this diary!

AuthoDSC02321r’s Note

I think anybody looking for accounts of teenagers’ engagement with politics had better look elsewhere. What I find most striking about this entry is that it’s almost all observation, with no internal monologue. I’m not sure if I simply had nothing to say about the war other than ‘it’s a bad thing’, which I presumably felt was obvious from the fact that I was attending an anti-war protest, or if I didn’t feel confident enough to write anything. A later entry from March 2003 describes a debate about the Iraq war held at my school, where I was confident enough and interested enough to ask a question, but again there is nothing about the content of the debate, just the experience of participating. (‘I did ask a question, which I thought was quite good because out of the whole crowd termed ‘the floor’ there were only 4 questions asked. Unfortunately when Mr — asked me whom I wanted to address the question to I immediately forgot everyone’s names and ended up just pointing to Hazel and the Labour MP and saying “Them… that side…” which the trevs who had invaded the room got a good laugh at.’) Judging from this, then, I think that I was interested and engaged, but wasn’t sure what to write. Unlike my usual entries, I obviously felt that I was composing this one for posterity and so must be more serious and adult than usual.

There is a real jump in eloquence and fluency between 2002’s and 2003’s diary entries. I’m not sure if I was simply writing about less emotional subjects (I’d finally got over Sam), but my entries are much better-written, and more carefully full of detail. More on this next time, when we reach 2004.