Thursday, 24 December 2015

Reindeer Herder Hot Chocolate
The only time I really crave chocolate is when I start to feel the green green lurgy lurking craftily in the back of my throat. Rather than reach for the comfort of cupcakes or raid the unopened Advent Calender days (damn, there's only one day left), I make this superyummy - and wholesome - hot chocolate. Sleigh all bugs and ward off goblins with this rather delicious heart-warming mug of joy.

enough for 2 cups

2 mug of oat milk (or rice, coconut, almond)
2 dried chilies
2 peppermint teabags
1/2 tsp of powdered ginger
4 cloves
6 tsp of cocoa
Silver birch sap to sweeten, as desired

Bring the milk to the boil with the chilies, peppermint teabags and cloves. Allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Add 3 tsps. of cocoa to each mug with a 1/4 tsp of ginger then add a few tablespoons of milk from the pan to mix to a smooth paste.

Stir the milk well, strain through a sieve and stir into both mugs. Sit back and enjoy the cockle-warming sleigh ride back to health!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

What It Feels Like For A Girl

My big sister has always been my best friend. Since finally getting over her jealousy about my being born three years later and stealing the limelight, we have been soulmates. We were born on the same day and I don't know if that means anything, but we seemed to sense what each other was feeling and knew when we looked at each other exactly what was going on. I think we still do.

We played for hours as children - she made a great teacher and all the girls in the street would follow her instructions about getting into teams or just doing what she said. She was cool. And all my girl friends were cool. They always wore cool outfits and made their hair cool, and boys were yuck. Like learning the piano or the trumpet, I had daily lessons on how to be a girl.

The years never really changed my love of all things the girls did. I always borrowed my sister's lilac Raleigh bicycle and rode up and down the street, endlessly, loving the wind in my hair. I felt so free. When it was very windy, I would take an umbrella and run in the gusts, trying to see if I could fly.

Inside the house, when my sister would play with her My Little Pony dolls and plait their tails or Barbie's hair, I loved to join in. I knew when my mum walked in the room that I should pretend that I wasn't doing it and I would start playing with my Action Man. When she left, I would take off his trousers and just wonder what was going on at the top of his legs.

My mum was a hairdresser and when she had clients around, I would sometimes get to comb their hair. I loved watching the scissors snip through the flat bunches of hair, and watch it float to the floor. We'd put the hair outside and my mum told me how the birds would use it to help them make nests. I was so excited by this strange idea that small birds might be keeping warm in our neighbour's hair. I liked spending hours styling my own hair and begged and begged for it to be permed or coloured. The answer was usually no, until I finally got my way around 13 and was told by my school to cut it off. None of the other boys at school seemed bothered about their hair. Boys were yuck.

In Latin class, we learnt about the Romans and Pompeii and Vesuvius. I was as fascinated by language as I was by the illustrations of Romans bathing. I didn't know why, but I loved looking at the images. In P.E., I always felt like I should have been in a different changing room. I felt so exposed in front of these alien beings. Our P.E, teacher made us strip completely so he could ensure we were clean.

On good days, when my closest friends were around, we laughed our worries away, about nothing in particular - we made silly voices, silly dances and when the other boys called us gay, we went under the tables and made them shake as we squealed. We wanted to shock them but didn't know what it all meant. I missed hanging with my sister and my other girl friends. I guess this was growing up. I spent some weekends with Sammie from Abu Dhabi, watching aeroplanes. His mum sold vending machines for tights and I remembered thinking how glamorous it sounded.
Our aeroplane-watching treat                         bramble,net
Visting nana at the weekends was great. My nana has big glasses and even bigger hair. A picture of her on the wall showed her smiling wrapped in a fur coat. I remember thinking that I wanted to be like that when I was older. I loved trying on my grand-dad's leather moccasins and trilbies, polishing his sports car. We ate pear trees from the front garden.

Back at home, in the evenings, we would all watch Coronation Street together. I adored Bet Lynch's leopard print dresses and peroxide hair stacked on top of her head. I loved her delivery of lines as she lazily smoked a cigarette from its oversized holder, her red lacquered nails propping it to her mouth. What a woman! I thought.

Boys are yuck!                   
It wasn't until I started college that the realisation hit me. I had nothing to say to the guys. They said cruel things to me. They threw food at me as I walked through the canteen at lunch; in some weird way, I liked the attention so occasionally to taunt them, I would walk through a few times a day. Boys are yuck! I resolved to spending a lot of free time on computer's inventing new fashion brands - Figotelli Cereno was gonna be the next Dolce & Gabbana, I decided.

In my media studies class as I studied Father Ted, I remember feeling peculiar and sick when looking at a half Sicilian student across from me. I would look away and my heart would race if I suspected he was looking at me. We, very awkwardly, began hanging out and I felt like I was one of those pop-up 3D cards that someone had just opened.One night, we found ourselves in my parent's freezing cold garage and I shook so hard with nerves I thought I would pass out. A kiss didn't happen, it couldn't possibly. One night, he took me into Manchester's Gay Village and the initial intro was like I'd entered DisneyWorld - I thought this is where my community, my acceptance, my kindred spirits would be, waiting to welcome me. But I wanted my girls - I didn't look like them and I didn't relate to these strange creatures either.. They were often cruel to each other and often hostile to me. But I pushed through so I could hang out there - despite the other stuff, it seemed safer.

On way my to uni, sometimes I would pass through the city centre to get to university and people would insult me and builders would lob things at me - once, a glass bottle flew past my right ear. Another time, as I crossed Albert Square in the centre of town, a car passed with blacked-out windows, rolled them down, pointed a gun at me...then squirted water. They laughed and sped off.

The bonkers outfits I wore, mostly hand-made out of anything I found inspiring, couldn't help but warrant all the attention, a similar type to girls in short skirts and low-cut tops. Boys are yuck! The kinds of magazine I was reading like i-D and The Face were full of images and people I admired. So I naively wished for an appreciation of the boldness, the creativity rather than be a catalyst for men's imagination on what I did in my bedroom.

I see people all the time whose appearance I don't understand. I'm fascinated with the trans community, and I also wonder what it's like to be small or very old or from an indigenous group, or blind. I'm shocked when I see someone with a piercing that looks painful. I can't believe the rawness of images and video in some gay clubs I've visited. But throughout all these different thoughts and experiences, I've not once felt moved to hurl objects at these people or humiliate them. That's their business and I don't want my ignorant opinion to hurt anybody. I know the deep shame that festers after a cruel remark. I'm still coming to terms with it. So when passers-by see me with blow-dried or coloured hair or wearing eyeliner, or sporting an oversized bowtie or neon glasses, or holding hands with the person I love, I'm still not sure how it became their business. They have the option to look away. I'm pretty sure that none of my actions are hurting or affecting their life, although they may never have seen such strange sense of fashion before, or 2 men holding hands. That's OK because neither have I. This is the first time I have lived on earth, as far as I know: I'm just making the most of it, being honest and bold and reaching for my own peculiar happiness. Maybe they should, too.

When we see a small animal or a baby, or someone elderly and immediately are moved to help them and protect their vulnerability, it's an instinct without prejudice. Appearances and age differ but, underneath it all, we are all as vulnerable and delicate as we were when we were much smaller and less educated than we are now. Don't let appearances deceive you - it's only the outer shell that's fully grown while our hearts, our spirits, our sense of self remains a child. It still plays easily, but it wounds just as easily. I've come here, to this planet, in this lifetime, to offer my version of love and to be loved - if you can't give me that, that's OK...just move on and allow room for the next person. Reflect on your day, on your emotions and own your life - reserve judgment on other people's because your eyes only tell you a tiny part of their story. If your interest is sparked by someone, open the conversation - ask them who they are and they may be happy to share their story.

Sunday, 13 December 2015


Image from, edited
My friend made me giggle last Christmas when we watched "Gilda" together, a film from 1946 starring the beautiful Rita Hayworth - in her introductory scene, she tosses her lacquered hair and turns directly to the camera. Her appearance is immaculate - her skin is flawless, she appears full of confidence - she is the epitome of Hollywood movie star, "As IF anyone actually looks like that!", my friend gasped. I discovered that she wasn't far wrong when a few weeks ago, I watched a documentary about Rita Hayworth. I learned that she had a dreadful time with her relationships and mental health, to the extent where, later in life, she couldn't remember where or who she was. Her identity and her mind slowly fell apart. I learned how her hairline had been painfully altered and how she'd been coerced by someone feigning riches to marry her. What he wanted, as did the audiences, was Rita Hayworth the uber-glamorous, impossibly beautiful star.

Rita Hayworth's character in Gilda. Image from
This month, following frank revelations about college life, Lady Gaga has been doing some soul-searching and encouraging her 'little monsters' to do the same. Lecturing on emotional openness and broadcasting that she has taken anti-anxiety medication for a long time, her work with Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence is a absolute breath of fresh air and much-needed. Decades after the heyday of Hollywood's most revered stars, it seems the time of authenticity and honesty is dawning in the A-list "Wizard of Oz" realm.

Image of Lady Gaga from

It may sound naive but I've never considered myself influenced by media just because I wasn't aware that I watched that much TV. I'm discovering how even the smallest exposure, and of course my love of film and music, has had a massive impact on my development. The very first first Big Brother seemed in its "raw" reality back when I was a college student. I found the lack of scripts, the distinct lack of glamour, portrayal of real life  a tonic, somehow. Yet it made little difference -  I was still intoxicated and seduced by glamour and constantly wished the boring grey suburbs around me away. I longed for the gloss, the excitement, the fizz of what I saw as spectacular.

Although some great things have resulted from that journey (not least my exercise and eating regime), I've been slowly but surely stepping away from the sweet-pretty Hollywood dream of life as every day I am shown the power of honesty. When the masks of host of people I'd considered icons started to be shown as little more than masks, and when even ghetto bling seemed to be taking over the world (or at least my world at uni), big-time producers like Timbaland and P Diddy were reporting about their battles with depression, back then questions I found difficult surfaced about my own motivations and why I would spend time reading about these hyper-luxurious ways of life.

Miley Cyrus, artwork from ...And Her Dead Petz album 
After a couple of years of shoestring travel where I felt incredibly naked and vulnerable without my favourite clothes, shoes, aftershave and accessories to accompany me, I'm slowly learning how to be more honest with myself and aware of how I feel. It's painful sometimes. I would often like to be in my alter-ego to escape, to be in another world. Being here was/is sometimes too much.

I still enjoy the glitz of performance, and social media pictures and magazines - but I'm learning how to remind myself that they're little more than carefully cropped and edited images. It's such a relief to hear superstars like Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron say there's nothing they enjoy more than being with families, or in the wild or at home with their pets. In some bizarre way, it gives me permission to let go of the idea that everything should be fabulous and shiny all of the time. I thought if it wasn't, I was inferior. I have no idea where this belief came from.

Because I've striven for that kind of shine, even in my attitude, I'm often seen as the happy, playful or joyful one. I guess mostly I am because I believe in the power of kindness and positivity, but on the flipside, when I'm not in that zone I feel such shame. I either avoid my friends or I apologise for complaining and not being 'sparkly'. I recently told my sister that I think I'm an introvert and feel very awkward in certain social situations. I was shocked that I'd said it, and by her pause, I think she was surprised to hear it. But since I'm the one always reading about how healthy it is to be emotionally literate, I thought that I should actually give it a try. It could, or more likely will, save my life.

It's at this point that I feel 100 years old because everyone at a certain age says, "You just don't care as you get older and do what you want". I never quite knew what that meant, but I think if Gaga at 30 is inviting her Yale students to say 'no' whenever they don't want to do something, then perhaps I'll re-consider the role of polite friend/brother/son and go with my heart. Gulp.