What To Do With Leftover Apple Peel

What To Do With Leftover Apple Peel

[NB – I’m not going to go into how this is my first blog post in several millenia. You all know what I’m like.]

So I’ve been having stomach problems lately. I won’t go into them, they’re not even all that serious, but they are annoying. Basically, whenever I eat too much sugar or too much fat, I get these awful stomach cramps, sometimes accompanied by really bad nausea (but no relief-inducing vomiting) and the odd touch of heartburn. Charming, innit.

When it comes to fatty foods I’m a bit fussy anyway, so not being able to eat cooked salmon any more doesn’t bother me so much, but I do have a massive sweet tooth. And I have been getting cravings. BIG cravings. Pregnancy-level cravings (though no, I am not pregnant again, don’t get your hopes up Mum I know you’re reading this).

Anyway, I’ve been experimenting with ways to sweeten my food without actually adding sugar or any of the usual sweeteners to it (honey, aspartame, stevia, whatever). And I thought I’d share what I’ve found on here, because as all the latest scientific studies apparently show, sugar is the devil and will be the death of us all.

So without further ado, here is my:

Apple & Cinnamon Crisps recipe

Do you peel your apples before eating them? Shame on you, that’s where all the vitamines are, and cooking them like we’re about to do probably destroys them (maybe, I dunno, I wasn’t focussing on nutritional value when I tried this recipe). If like me, however, you have a fussy toddler who refuses to eat fruit skin of any kind (except orange skin??!) then you are forgiven. Either way, thanks to this recipe you at least won’t have to throw out your apple skins any more. Note that if you want to wait until you’ve got a whole bunch and save on energy, you can leave the peeled skins in a cool, very dry place to dry out (I’ve only managed to do this in winter or spring without them rotting on me) and then, once they’re kinda withered and dry, store them in a jar until you’ve got loads.

– Fresh or dried peel of one or more apples
– Powdered cinnamon – optional, but makes them taste sweeter

Implements (because some people are poor / students / both & I remember getting very frustrated with a lot of online recipes that just assumed I had access to an oven or, like, three working hobs in our shared kitchen):
– A sharp knife or vegetable peeler
– An oven
– A baking sheet with a sheet of tin foil or baking paper on it

– Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cover it in baking paper or whatever. Preheat your oven to 140°C / 120° Fan / Gas mark 1 / Farenheit is obsolete get with the program
– If not already done, peel your apple(s). I peel with a knife and leave a pretty generous (1mm-ish) amount of flesh on the peel, but the less flesh you leave on, the quicker they’ll cook and the crunchier they’ll be. If you want little crisps, cut your peel into 1-2cm² pieces. For bigger ones, just leave them as they are.
– Lay out your bits of peel flesh-side up on your baking sheet. If you’ve cut them into little bits, this may take some time, and you may curse your decision. It’ll be worth it though when you’re munching on that apple-cinnamony goodness later on.
– If you like cinnamon, sprinkle it liberally on. Not too liberally, though. I love cinnamon but I also love not choking on an impromptu cinnamon challenge. Basically you should still be able to see apple flesh beneath the specks of cinnamon, otherwise it’s overkill.
– Bake for about an hour, maybe more. Check after an hour by trying one: it should be more crunchy than chewy, with no juice left at all. If not sure, put them back in for 20 mins and check again. Once done, turn off the oven leave them in there while it cools. They harden a bit more as they cool down.
– Offer some to your toddler. Say they’re crisps, don’t mention that they’re made of apple skin until they’ve eaten a whole bunch and declared their undying love for them. Then spring it on them and send me a photo of their shocked little faces.




I was twenty when I first discovered that children gave me superpowers.

It was 2006, I was severely depressed. I lived with my parents, who I was barely speaking to for reasons too complex and futile to get into right now. I spent as much time as possible with my then-boyfriend and his family, which provided some relief, but most of the time I was in hell. A friend of my parents’ hired me to look after her 3-month-old daughter for about 20 hours a week, for very little pay, but it was what they could give and I was really just looking for an excuse to get away.

That three-month-old baby girl saved my life. All of a sudden, I was responsible – for a few hours – for this tiny, pudgy little being with big round eyes that gave me a shot of oxytocin when I looked into them. When I spoke to her she stared like I was the most fascinating thing in the world, and when I smiled, she grinned back and waved her little arms in excitement. She didn’t judge. In fact, she thought I was the bee’s knees. It felt great. And her mum was so grateful. I felt useful.

Of course, she wasn’t always a perfect little angel. One day she was teething, and she cried for two hours straight in my arms. Her grandmother was there that day and had to leave the room after a while, but I just stood at the window, singing and cooing and patting her back, occasionally applying teething gel, knowing that even if she cried the whole three hours, her mum would soon be home to take over. I felt a strange sort of invincibility: until her mother returned, I was God for this kid. I had the power to make her feel better, and so I did my best to distract her and calm her down until my time was up for the day. It was hard, but I did it, and that made me feel worth something.

The second time was when I was working for a babysitting agency. The kids were five and seven, and I had to take one of them to her music lesson, five minutes’ drive up the road, and my car broke down. Since my period of depression (which was low key still going on in the background, but I was in denial at that point), I’d had a tendency to panic at every little problem. This should have made me panic. I should have been in tears, on the phone, begging the agency or the parents or my boyfriend – anyone more competent than me – to come and fix the problem.

But I wasn’t. Those kids were looking at me, the little girl fretting about missing her lesson, and I patted her head and said it’d be fine, we’d ring them and explain, and nobody would blame her. We left the car where it was, I walked them home, and while they were eating their snacks, I texted my boyfriend and asked him to google and send me the number of a nearby mechanic. He did, I took the tram home after work, we sorted it out the next day, and it was fine.

This phenomenon kept happening. As I gave up on what I’d originally wanted to be (a librarian) (it was post-2008, nobody was hiring librarians), and my experience in childcare progressed to the point where I could decently call it a career, I decided maybe this was my destiny. It was the only thing I seemed to be good at that I could make money with. I did a course so I could work with children under three, which would mean full-time work and a proper living wage. I enjoyed it, mainly because it allowed me to exteriorise the maternal instinct and I-WANT-A-BABY hormones I’d been subject to since I was about twenty, while I waited to be ready to actually have a baby of my own. And every time there was a crisis at work, I kept my head and dealt with it, like some kind of Wonder Woman. Or, in hindsight, like a normal, functioning adult. As I got better and better at my job, I discovered a fascination for developmental psychology, among other related subjects, and parents started asking me for advice. Damn, that felt good.

So when I started to get bored, it took me a while to admit it. I loved the kids, and the routine, though intense, was reassuring once you got into it. But that’s what it was – a routine. The milestones I’d observed with fascination in the first generation of babies weren’t quite as amazing to watch in their younger siblings. As the families I worked with grew, there were more children and a more complicated timetable. Even though I knew I was good at it, it was stressful. I began to make mistakes, and kept wanting to read my book (which I always took along for naptimes) instead of playing with them. Slowly, I realised I didn’t want to do this job any more. But I didn’t know what else to do.

By that time, I had met my current partner, and was planning to move to Belgium to live with him. He suggested I give the library route another go. There was no exam to pass over here, and that gave me hope. But my French two-year diploma in document management had no equivalent in Belgium, and I was repeatedly told that in order to work in a library, I’d have to go through three years of studies again. And university was more expensive in Belgium than it was in France.

That year, I discovered what panic attacks were. I realised I’d had them before, as a teenager, without knowing what they were, and as I spent some time in therapy, I started to realise that I was mentally ill, and had been for a long time – even while I was working. The depression seemed to come and go, but the anxiety had been with me for most of my life, in some form or other. And both of those demons had a tendency to creep up and take over my mind when I was jobless – or, as I saw it, useless.

I did a coaching course with the job center. The coach suggested I become a preschool teacher.

“Nope,” I said initially, “No way. I’ve known loads of teachers. My dad was one. They spend all their time doing lesson prep and marking during their time off, when they’re not having nervous breakdowns.”
“Nawww, preschool teachers don’t do marking,” he said. “Believe me, I know one, she has the LIFE. You said you want a job that would allow you to start a family. This is the one for you. Don’t be scared! They don’t throw you in there and expect you to control 20 kids from day one. It’s 3 years of studies. You’ll do fine.” So I started the course.

I did not do fine.

Well, ok, from the outside I looked like I was doing great. I LOVED the theory. I ate up the developmental psychology. I got some of the highest marks in my class on the exams. And during the intern days, the teachers loved me. Of course they did: they were used to a bunch of nervous teenagers with little to no experience of childcare outside the odd babysitting job, and here I was with one childcare diploma already and years of full-time experience, having already developed the Look and the No-Nonsense Voice and the Distraction Technique and all the other tricks you eventually learn if you spend enough time around children. They saw potential.

But they didn’t see the anxiety. They didn’t see me burst into tears as soon as I walked through the door at home, knowing I had three lesson plans, group work, and a creative project to turn in the next day. They had no idea how I cried at the table every night because I was so worked up I couldn’t even force food down my throat, and how even that felt like failure because I knew I was losing weight because of it. They had no idea that the days I missed school weren’t because of a tummy bug, but because that morning I’d gone to get my coat and found myself collapsing into a heap on the floor, completely incapable of opening the door, going outside, and joining my classmates on the bus.

Being with children gave me superpowers, but only temporarily. There was a price. The more I held back in front of them, the harder I crashed later on.

When I got pregnant in the middle of the school year, I was only too happy for the excuse to quit. The university teachers were surprised and dismayed. When I rang the preschool teacher I was interning with, she said I had to promise to go back to school once I’d had the baby, because “you can’t waste talent like that.”

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t have a talent for minding children. I just have loads and loads of experience. My first sister was born when I was eight, the second when I was thirteen. With her especially, I was more a second mum than a sister. I changed her nappies, took her to playgroup twice a week when my mum had other stuff to do, and I started babysitting for other families when I was fourteen. That’s not talent, it’s just experience. Anyone with my background could do it. I did it because it was easy.

Motherhood is another matter. My clients would joke that I was ready for twins or triplets, and of course, I didn’t have to learn how to change my daughter’s nappy, give her a bath, or clean out her nose. Those reflexes did help when I was so sleep-deprived I could barely stand. But being a mother is waaay different to being a nanny. And that’s where my superpowers stopped working, because post-partum anxiety is a thing that exists, and for the first month of my daughter’s life, I was too paranoid to let her out of my sight for more than a few minutes, and too exhausted to question the validity of my paranoia.

It’s been nearly two years. My daughter knows that her mother cries. She’s seen me have panic attacks. It’s hard to explain to a toddler that mummy has an illness that makes her scared of nothing, but I have to try. Having her has pushed me to make my mental health a priority, because I don’t want her to feel like she has to take care of me. I want her to be able to tell me anything, no matter how hard it might be for me to hear, because I’m her mother, and in deciding to become a mother, that is the duty I chose.

It’s been a while since I last worked. I did a bit of babysitting the year I arrived in Belgium, before the whole teaching course thing and getting pregnant etc. I’ve been lucky in that Clém, my long-suffering and incredibly patient partner, has a job that allows us to make ends meet, most of the time. But we want more. We want a house with a garden, so we can grow vegetables and herbs and let our kid run around in the grass without having to go to the park and act like normal, sociable humans. We want to be able to go out for a meal without feeling guilty for spending that money when we could be saving it. For that, we need more income. We’ve been making savings here and there, but in the end, the quickest way to get more income is for me to get a job.

Last week, I got a job. I did up my CV and, out of habit or cowardice and little real motivation, dropped it off at a place I was almost certain they’d want me – a private language school that had just opened five minutes from my house. I was hired within less than a week. It was only 8 hours a week, but that suited me fine. I hadn’t worked in four years after all, I thought I should probably get back into it gradually before looking for another part-time job.

On Saturday morning, I woke up scared. There was a training course that day. I took my Xanax and went. I came home feeling exhausted and uncertain, with an unsigned contract. On Sunday I was sore all over from stressing the day before. On Monday morning I saw my psychiatrist.

On Monday afternoon, I went back in and refused the contract. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely the anxiety’s fault. Everyone I’ve spoken to has assured me that anyone with sense would have done the same.

Without going into details (the company itself wasn’t really at fault), they urgently needed someone as one of their teachers had bailed, so they hired a newbie. What they really needed was to transfer a collegue from another center, with prior experience in their method, but for whatever reason, either they couldn’t or they decided not to, instead counting on a brand new employee to jump into action like someone who’d been there five years could have done. What they were asking me was basically impossible, and although I spent quite a bit of time trying to convince myself otherwise, eventually I had to admit that it was give up now, or risk having a panic attack in front of five to eight young children, and possibly their parents, two days later. My supernanny days were over, or in any case, my power did not apply in teaching situations.

So I guess that’s the end of my career with children. If I’m honest, it was over the moment I got pregnant. Childcare tided me over until I was ready to have my own child, and stop pretending to be ok. Now I’m back to the drawing board, I guess. It could be worse. I’ve heard of people starting new careers after retirement, so thirty-one ain’t that bad, when you think about it. And sure, I have baggage, but that baggage now has a bunch of labels on it, with instructions on how to manage them, if I remember to read them. Labels like Panic Disorder and Complex PTSD and Chronic Depression: these are not rare things, a lot of people have those. You know what my boss said when I went in and refused the contract? She said it was ok. She’d been through something similar, and she was starting anew in this company, but maybe I just wasn’t ready yet, and she understood. She was a sweetheart about it, really.

I think I am ready, though. I just needed reminding that I’m not a teacher. I’m not a nanny any more, I don’t babysit, not for money. I’m a mum, and an aunt, and other than that and I’m vaguely creative. I draw on fabric, I make crochet stuff, I play a couple of instruments and I write, on and off, but more and more on, because one day I want to be published. I want to share the worlds and characters and stories I create in my mind, and I want people to love them the way I do.

And in the meantime, I’ll surround myself with books. Next week, I’m going round bookshops with a new CV. Wish me luck.

In Light Of Recent Events


…by which I mean the US presidential elections and Trump winning, but also Brexit, Tories, and the looming possibility of a National Front president in France…

I wrote a facebook post. It’s aimed towards progressives, the left-wing, you know, “our people”. It’s about how we talk to the ones we think of as Them, as opposed to Us, and how we are harming our own cause.

“So I’ve been thinking, and I’d be grateful if you heard me out.

The Trump presidency has come as a shock to me, but then I was also shocked when the Tories were reelected, and Brexit shocked me, too, so maybe I was asking for it by not changing my expectations of the world. I don’t think I’m alone in surrounding myself – online and offline – with mostly progressive people and causes, because I want my online experience to be fulfilling and not a cause for anger and anxiety. This is good for my mental health, but it feeds into the illusion that most people are progressive, well-educated, well-informed, and inherently good.

And yes, this is an illusion. I’m not going to go into whether people are inherently good or bad – I don’t have time for philosophy right now (some other time, I promise). But in case you, too, have been labouring under the delusion that most people want equal rights for all races, religions, sexual orientations etc., it’s time we faced the truth: we’re a minority. Most people are misinformed, terrified of progress, and easily manipulated by mass media and whichever politician shouts the loudest.

Which means that it is up to us – the progressive minority – to solve this problem. And we’re not going to manage it the way we have been – by shouting at them, accusing them of racism, sexism, homophobia, unfriending them on facebook and trying to silence them the way they’ve tried to silence us. Those tactics won’t change how those people vote.

So here’s what we have to do, and I know you’re all going to hate this as much as I do, but it’s really the only way we can make any sort of change to how *society* thinks on an *individual* level:

We have to engage.

We have to start a discussion, and that means listening instead of just talking at people. We have to let go of the need to be right, to prove them wrong, we need to let go of this Us vs. Them dichotomy – because that’s what the politicians want – and convince Them that they are Us, because they are. We are all citizens, we will all be affected by whoever is in power.

We need to figure out WHY people voted Trump. For real, this time, not by dismissing it as pure stupidity. We need to find out what people are afraid of, and help them understand our point of view without trying to impose it on them. We need to convince them that they might benefit from understanding our point of view, and for that we need to befriend them.

And for that, we need to stop getting angry at other voters.

I know. This is the bit you hate the most, it’s the bit I hate the most, too. It’s not fair. We have the RIGHT to be angry – I’ve shared so many feminist posts about how telling women to “calm down” about equal rights is the equivalent of telling them to “shut up”, and that’s true – and the same goes for any kind of minority, because we are the underdogs and we’ve had to fight for our rights and we still have to, but HEAR ME OUT OK?

I didn’t say you had to stop getting angry. I said you have to stop getting angry at *voters*. Because if you get angry at a voter, they will get defensive, feel legitimized in their beliefs, and withdraw from the conversation. And they will vote Trump. Or the biggest fearmonger. That’s not what we want.

Don’t get me wrong here: getting angry at politicians is still ok. It’s even recommended, because no matter what their beliefs are, what they want is your vote. So save your anger for protests and rallies, and also for companies. Consume differently and let companies know why, because that’s how progress happens on the scale of big businesses and politics. Our anger has power there.

But individuals are different. Don’t get angry with voters. Don’t vilify them. Remember that they’re human, and humans are complex. Engage them in a discussion. Several discussions. Listen, find out what their fears are, what motivates them, do your research so you can present your own point of view, be intellectually honest and be compassionate, because that shit’s contagious.

Now this is the part where I admit that I don’t even think I’m capable of taking my own advice. You all know I have a history of anxiety and depression, and I know that a lot of you have similar mental health issues, or worse. I’m not saying you should all go out and “convert” a bunch of right-wing strangers no matter the cost.

But see that racist uncle you wish you could unfriend, or that guy in class whose sexist jokes make you uncomfortable – talk to them. Engage, listen, empathize, explain, and if you still don’t agree, tell them it’s fine, that your relationship is more important. Maybe try again next time, maybe not. It might not be necessary. The discussion you just had might be the start of a slow chain reaction whereby that person starts seeing progressive arguments in a different light. You can at least be the start of something, even if you don’t see the end result.

Of course, it won’t always be that easy. There are trolls and flamers and people just looking for a fight in all walks of life (including on our side, by the way, and you should call them out because they’re not helping). You might get insulted, unfriended, banned, blocked, threatened, and yeah, all this can be enraging and terrifying, and in that case you need to take care of yourself and unfriend, block, call authorities etc., whatever you need to do.

You might also end up responding to their provocation and getting angry and defensive yourself, and that’s understandable, even if it’s not ideal. If you think it’s worth it, you can go back later, apologize for getting defensive, explain why, and maybe they’ll understand this time.

But don’t you be the one to start a fight. Start a discussion. Check your anger. Listen. Read between the lines. Let’s open peoples’ minds. Even if you don’t change them, you’ll also be opening yours.

Sorry for the long post. Thanks for hearing me out.”

NaNoWriMo 2016


Why is it that the first year where I have a perfectly valid excuse NOT to participate in NaNoWriMo (aka – a soon-to-be-1-yr-old child), I get all psyched and inspired?

Ok that’s not true, last year I had the excuse of having said baby due literally on the 1st of November. She ended up only coming on the 7th, but believe me when I say that being 9 1/2 months pregnant does not predispose the mind to creativity. It’s like you’re already too preoccupied with creating something else.

The year before that, I’d just started studying to become a kindergarten teacher (getting pregnant put a stop to that, thank god) and was overloaded with work.

The year before that, my cat died. I cried for a week and got very depressed with being unemployed after that.

The year before that… I had no particular excuse. I was living in France, in my own flat with the cat that died a year later, working as a nanny, in a long-distance relationship with my now-baby daddy (that made no sense, YEAH ENGLISH). I could have done it then. When was that? 2012? Shit.

But then, I wasn’t part of the whole NaNo community thing back then. That was the year I introduced my boyfriend to the concept of NaNoWriMo, and he, instead of just vaguely attempting the challenge on his own like me, decided to go out and find his local NaNoWriMo group, and they became friends, and now we’re thinking of moving in with some of them. That’s how awesome NaNoWriMo is, it brings antisocial introverts like us together so we can all be silently absorbed with our laptops of an evening without feeling lonely.

NaNoWriMo has changed my life, even though I’ve never actually completed the challenge. Never even gotten close. Every year it encourages me to attempt another novel, reminds me of how much I love writing, erodes at my perfectionism, colours my dreams. It reminds me that, even though I love doing other creative activities like playing music and singing, drawing, crochet – the thing I most love, that really makes me feel alive, is writing. Creating a world, characters, plot. It’s not that I always have these wonderful stories in my head and writing relieves the need to express them. The stories unravel as I write. Inspiration comes with writing. Most of the time, I have to consciously decide to write, and then the story begins to unravel in my head, like a cloud of colour against a fuzzy dark background of everyday things. It’s the most amazing feeling.

I feel like I’m at my best when I’m in that inspired state. And I want my daughter to see me at my best, so I guess that’s also a motivator. But mostly I just want some of that sweet, sweet inspiration back. Mmmm.

An Atheist’s Guide To Prayer



In case you’re reading this a good while after the incident that inspired today’s post, it is the 15th of July 2016 and last night in Nice, France, a truck full of weapons careened down a walkway full of people gathered to watch the national holiday fireworks, killing 80 of them and injuring more than 100.

I’m tired. So tired. Exhausted. I think you are too, and that’s not a good thing because it means they’re getting to us, which is what they want. Fuckers.

And I know what you’re thinking, seeing the title of this post. No, praying won’t bring those 80 parents, siblings, children, lovers and friends back to life. It won’t help the injured heal from their wounds, either. Note that if you happen to believe the contrary, good for you. But I’m an atheist, and in this post I’m addressing my fellow atheists.

There is something to be said for prayer, and that is that it helps process difficult emotions, such as anger, grief and fear. The rituals surrounding the act of prayer are comforting, and prayer itself brings solace to the mind and provides an opportunity for introspection. I’ve heard it said that religion is the peoples’ teddy bear that we need to grow out of, but I don’t see the harm in needing to be comforted once in a while. We’re not superhuman, and the world is a scary place.

I’ve been thinking about my relationship with religion for a while. I think it started six days after my daughter was born, just after the Bataclan attack in Paris. I looked down at her sleeping face and wondered, what sort of world had I brought a child into? And I felt profoundly guilty and scared. I saw the hashtags #PrayForParis and felt a bit lonely, too. If only I could pray, I thought, and feel like it was making a difference.

Since then, though, I’ve come to the conclusion praying does make a difference. It’s just a very, very subtle difference in the mind of those who pray, and yet it’s important: it’s a form of psychological rebellion against forces that are trying to terrify us into submission. It’s an act of love – you pray for someone – in the face of immense hate and destruction.

So I want in.

The ritual I chose was Wiccan, because that’s the religion I followed for years as a teenager, but any sort of ritual – religious or not – would have done fine, as long as it’s familiar and comforting. I removed a bunch of paperwork, and cleaned the little chest of drawers my mum painted with a pentacle and gave to me for my 17th birthday to use as an altar. I rummaged inside the drawers and found a mirror, a tealight, a broken heart-shaped rose quartz given to me by a lovely family of Americans we’d met years ago, an incense holder and some frankincense, and a tiger-patterned feather I found in a forest once that probably belonged to a pheasant. I placed the candle in the center, the incense vaguely towards the south (I dithered a bit, wondering if incense was more air or fire and then remembered that it didn’t matter), the feather in the east, the rose quartz in the north and the mirror in the west. I lit the candle with a match because it felt more ritualistic than a lighter, and lit the incense with the candle flame. I sat cross-legged in front of it all and clasped my hands together in my lap.

Then I just sat. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply the way I would while meditating, but instead of focussing on some inner light, I thought about terrorism. I imagined there would be orphans – 80 victims, there have to be – and thought, too, about the mothers who had lost their children, which is what I fear the most. I thought about the rage and the grief that would consume them, and I let the sadness wash through me, dwelling on it for a bit. I imagined myself as one of the victims. My control freak of a brain tried to imagine all sorts of ways in which I could have escaped death by being just a bit more vigilant, just a bit quicker than the others, but this time I told it to shut up. None of those people wanted to die last night, any more than I do. I’m no better, no quicker than any of them, and if I’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time I’d have died just like they did, and it wouldn’t have been my fault for not being quick enough. I’d just be unlucky.

As I confronted the reality of death, and my inability to control when and how it comes to me or my family, I expected to feel fear. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d have a panic attack, which is why I was breathing slowly. But instead I just felt glad to be alive. I felt like making the most of being here, with my family and friends. I wanted to enjoy what I had while I had it, and so doing, shout a big Fuck You to the shitstains that are trying to destroy us.

And I wanted to share it with you. If I hadn’t taken the time to do this little ritual, then I’d probably have spent the day feeling crap. It might have ruined my weekend. And sure, that’s nothing compared to all those whose lives have been taken, or ruined by the deaths of their loved ones, but it counts because it’s what they want. They want to ruin our lives, bit by bit, to wear us down, to make us fear one another and lose all hope. Fuck that. Let’s pray. Or at least, let’s each sit down somewhere quiet and take a few minutes to think about how this has affected us, and how we’re going to react to it. Let’s be sad for those who died and who lost, but let’s also be glad it wasn’t us, yet. And then let’s decide not to let them win, at least not in our own minds. It’s a tiny, tiny difference, but it’s a start.

A youtube channel you might be interested in is The School Of Life. They have some very interesting videos on religion, including this one:

Dixit as therapy


Hi guys how’re you great that’s awesome now listen listen LISTEN

I’m doing therapy right now. I’m not going to tell you why (though I should think it’s obvious by now that I’m in quite regular need of therapy, so this is definitely a good thing) but I do want to tell you how. Specifically, I want to share with you a technique my therapist used today help me talk about a traumatic event, using… you guessed it, Dixit cards.


I am so excited about this.

She handed me two extensions of Dixit cards, there were about 80 cards. She told me to pick a card that represented the situation I was currently in. Once I’d picked one, she asked me a series of questions:

  • Could I describe the card to her as though she couldn’t see it?
  • What did I want to ask the characters? (There was always a character representing me, I don’t know what she’d have asked if there wasn’t)
  • How did I think they would respond?
  • How had they gotten into that situation?
  • What would I say to the characters?
  • Etc.

She also asked a few other questions about what was going on on the card, but she did not ask me to explain the real life context that the card represented. In fact, she insisted that I avoid explaining, and speak only within the metaphor of the card. At first it was a bit difficult, but once I got into it, it was actually quite fun.

Next she asked me to pick a card representing a future I’d like to see come about. Once I’d done that, she asked me the same questions, plus others linking the two cards: how had the character from card 1 end up becoming the character in card 2? What would the character in card 2 say to the one in card 1?

Finally, she asked me to pick a card representing a past event that had marked me, one that had in some way led me to my present situation in card 1. I picked the worst event I could think of, because that was what I’d intended to talk about today anyway.

At this point I understood why she’d insisted in speaking only in metaphor: it meant I could talk about the event without actually saying what it was. I didn’t have to go into detail. I didn’t even have to explain. I just had to talk about it through a shield of story.

She asked me the same questions, and I answered them, one by one. She asked me how the character in the past card had become the character in the present card, and what the future card character might say to the past card character. I answered, thinking carefully about each response, and feeling a little bit like I was cheating my brain. Wasn’t this supposed to be painful? It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it wasn’t the opening-of-Pandora’s-box-full-of-tears I’d thought it would be, that it had been in the past when I’d talked about this same thing plainly.

It was the first time I’d ever talked about it without crying and feeling shitty for ages afterwards. In fact, it was the most fun I’d ever had during a therapy session. I’m actually looking forward to the next one.

Afterwards, in the car ride home, I felt a bit panicky. Part of my brain was like WHAT DID WE JUST DO AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH and another part was adamantly insisting that this was CHEATING, it couldn’t be this simple. Where were the tears, the pain? Did it work? Was I now the future-card-me?

Of course I’m not, that would be too simple. But I realised that I’ve somehow gotten this weird idea into my head that therapy has to be a form of confession, and in order for it to work, I have to be an emotional wreck by the end of each session – at least at first. Like the therapist is going to give me ten hail mary’s at the end of it and then I’ll be free forever of whatever it was that’s been holding me back all these years. But we said in the beginning that therapy isn’t about getting rid of bad memories, but about learning to deal with them, and to find lessons in them. It’s not about pain and sacrifice giving way to redemption; it’s about finding tools to live a better life with the baggage I’ve got.

And one of those tools can be metaphor. It reminds me of a thing I saw on TV once, where a therapist was asking a young child to show, using dolls, what her abuser had done to her. I always thought that this was just a way to get a mute child to express the unspeakable, but it’s also a shield: in this sort of game, it’s not the child being abused, but the doll. It sounds like not much, but when you’re describing a traumatic event, talking about it in the third person or representing it using things outside of you can help you put a mental distance between yourself and the event. Enough to look at it from the outside, without as much fear and pain as with plain description, complete with accompanying flashback.

The order in which she asked for the cards is important, too. The present card is a kind of warm-up, allowing you to get used to talking entirely in metaphor, without explaining. The future card then establishes where you want to go from there, and introduces the kind of person you ideally want to become as a character in the game. By the time you arrive at the past card, you’re used to talking in metaphor, and you can use the ideal future character to talk to the past character. In my case, this helped me understand my present situation better, because the future character ended up justifying the past character’s transition into the present character. This allowed me to forgive myself for not getting out of my present situation sooner.


I don’t think my therapist will mind me sharing her technique. I doubt it’ll affect her in any way, as you really do need a therapist to guide you through the game (although I suppose you could try on your own or with a trusted partner “for fun”… don’t blame me if it gets heavy and awkward though).

Besides, I’ll also be recommending her to any of my local friends who ask, because after only two sessions I can already state that she’s by far the best therapist I’ve ever had.

I’m still not crying. I don’t think I’m going to. But I feel open, without feeling vulnerable. It’s very… freeing.

Speedy Cultural Analysis



For this assignment I chose the poem ‘second language/ first heartbreak’ by Meeni Levi. Meeni Levi is a young belgian writer/poet and zir work can be found at meenilevi.tumblr.com. Ze is also due to release zir first poetry collection ‘Skinny jeans’ in may. I chose this particular poem in order to explore and explain the concept of naming and the power a name has over its subject.

The poem deals with a queer subject matter, describing the incongruity between assigned language and the self.  It also queers common assumptions about first languages being the ones we are most comfortable in and most able to express ourselves fully. Instead, the poem presents the subject’s second language as the medium with which they can describe their own identity and connect to their authentic self.  The poem’s narrator also expresses the desire to be recognised as a subject in their native language and…

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The English Section: A Game of Spies by John Altman


Disclaimer: This book review is brought to you by a reader of fantasy, comedy, Y.A. and occasional sci-fi. It is NOT brought to you by someone who usually reads – or watches – WW2 spy novels. I know relatively little about WW2 and much less about the business of spying. I haven’t even watched a James Bond movie. So there you go.

I bitched quite a lot about this book on Twitter.

However, now I’ve finished the book, I’m thinking my bitchiness was perhaps not entirely justified.

Now, I’m not saying anything in those tweets was false. There was, indeed, a total deus ex machina moment whereby Hobbs, the guy who got shot in the leg, just sort of woke up in his car and somehow managed to drive off. And I did have a teensy bit of trouble suspending disbelief at the fact that not only did he manage to get away with a bullet wound in his leg, but he also – after perfunctory care and a bit of bandaging – managed to drag himself, via various means, out into the countryside where he survives for several days alone, in the cold, with no change of bandages and no real help. In fact, without spoiling, the amount of things this guy manages to do with a bullet wound in his leg is pretty amazing, especially since, in all other aspects (and as mentioned above), he is spectacularly incompetent for an MI6 spy, and only manages to survive due to the even more spectacular incompetence of the Gestapo (whom I have been led to believe were far from incompetent in real life), and sheer luck.

However, a few things – clichés I expected to see played out – turned out not to be what I expected. You don’t see the passionate love affair the protagonist, Eva, and her “recruiter”, Hobbs, which happens before the story begins. And in fact, it’s not all that passionate, not in a sexual sense, anyway:

“[…] she had put terrific pressure on herself to enjoy the time spent in bed with him. When she had failed, she knew that she had disappointed them both.”

This, at the beginning of the book, is what made me think: Huh. Not exactly what the blurb had me expecting. And that intrigued me.

There are passages from the Nazi officers’ points of view, too. There’s Frick, who is not quite right in the head to begin with and who, as the story progresses, appears to be losing it completely. And then there’s his superior, Hagen, who seems like a normal guy just trying to do his job, who works too hard and badly needs a holiday. You almost sympathise with him sometimes. You kinda hope he’s secretly a goodie. Minor spoiler – he’s not.

The story doesn’t end the way I expected it to, either. Not by a mile. The plan both succeeds and fails, and – as we know from history – the war begins regardless. The characters are deeper than they originally appear, and the author isn’t afraid of killing one or two of your favourites just for the drama. The style, though not exceptional, is very readable and focuses on the action. All in all, despite the incoherences, it’s a good read.



My favourite poet is an agender 18-year-old from my NaNoWriMo group, whose talent in poetry has not yet ceased to amaze me. http://meenilevi.tumblr.com/

Before I met her, though, my favourite poem since I was ten was the following by Grace Nichols:

With Apologies To Hamlet

To pee or not to pee,
That is the question.

Whether ’tis sensibler in the mind
To suffer for the sake of verse
The discomforting slings
Of a full and pressing bladder
Or to break poetic thought for loo
As a course of matter
And by a-pee-sing
End it.

The English Section: Alentejo Blue – Monica Ali



The first thing I noticed about this book is that the cover looks a lot like the cover of On Beauty by Zadie Smith, which I tried to read once and couldn’t get into.


I judged the book by its cover and was disappointed

I’d like to point out here that I have a long history of attention problems which have only gotten worse with age / struggles with mental illness. At the time I tried to read On Beauty, I was in the middle of a phase where I had particular trouble with this, so don’t take my word on what that book is like, because we’re not here to talk about it anyway. I only mention it because the similarity in book covers made me think they might be from the same author (I didn’t remember who it was) and I think that prejudiced me slightly against it.

So maybe my impression of the first chapter and a half was influenced by that. It was also influenced by the fact that since this project demands that I read ALL the books in the English section of the library, I just picked it up without reading the blurb on the back cover. Turns out, the blurb isn’t just there to help you pick which book you want to buy or borrow; it also provides key information about the nature of the book, such as the fact that this is one of those books where each chapter follows a different character, making it a bit like a collection of short stories all set in the same place and time. Instead, I dived straight in thinking all the chapters were going to be like the first one, which spoiled it for me a bit. Maybe I should re-read chapter 1, because Joao is an interesting character, if only because none of the other characters think much of him. To them, he’s just one of the local elders, a poor old man who lives on his own and keeps a pig.

You know that game people play where they pick out a stranger in the street and imagine a whole life for them? I’m guessing Monica Ali knows that game well, and that’s what’s so fun about this book: you get to know each character from the inside, but then you also see them from the outside, through the eyes of the others. It show how deep and complex each of them is, from the obese and bitter bartender to the ex-druggie living in her trailer with her deadbeat husband and hopeless, snotty kids to the young girl who thinks her capacity for observation ought to make her stand out more, unaware of her own self-centeredness and naïvete. In each of these people there’s something to like and something to hate, and a ton of matter in between, but you only know that for the length of their chapter. Outside of that, you see them through the eyes of the other characters, for whom they are two-dimensional extras in film of which they are the protagonist.

This game of changing viewpoints comes to a head at the end of the book, where the point of view keeps changing, contrary to the rest, and centers around the arrival of this one mysterious character who everyone’s been waiting for, and who, when he arrives, refuses to reveal anything about his own inner world and motives, even when confronted directly. The characters’ speculation, their vain attempts to put him in a box the way they so easily do with everyone else, reflects our own tendency to categorise everyone we see based on prejudice, and the unease we feel when we find someone we can’t classify.

There are some characters who you only get to know through the point of view of someone close to them; which makes their reactions in certain circumstances surprising: I’m thinking of Eileen’s portrait of her husband, which makes us think their marriage is doomed to failure, but at the end of the chapter he shows that he is capable of trying to understand her, if she just communicates frankly.

At times, I felt frustrated not knowing how some of the stories ended. How does Teresa manage in London? What happens to Ruby? How did the Pottses manage in the end? But that’s also the beauty of the book: it’s about people. Peoples’ stories don’t end, they succeed one another, one story leading onto the next. The book gives an inside into the inner lives of several different people, leaving us guessing the end of their stories, but we know that the characters are each so absorbed in their own story that they’re not wondering about the others, like we are. The message I take away from it is that we should wonder, even in real life, even without that insight, about what happened to that friend we had in primary school, that teacher, that neighbour of your dad’s. Just wondering what their inner lives were like allows us to imagine them complexely, and that, dear reader, is how books make us better people.