Road Trippin’ USA

From magisterial mountain highways to awe-inspiring ocean roads, the American Road Trip remains one of the most enduring and iconic holidays imaginable.

Whether you are camping on a shoe-string or 5-Staring your way across the States, it’s impossible not to get a taste of the freedom captured in so many books and movies, the freedom which so many of us find missing from our constantly connected modern lives.

Having just finished my third road trip, I thought it timely to write up just a few of the more practical lessons I have learned from my experiences, and I hope some future travellers can put them to good use.

1. It takes longer to get anywhere than you expect

America is MASSIVE. Ok, so it is smaller than Russia, Canada and China but coming in 4th out of 249 countries is no ‘small’ feat. Be prepared to drive long distances on some days and nowhere on other days. Be realistic in your planning. If you have a week, go for 1 or 2 States, in a little over a month I managed 8 States, or 5,000 miles, but it involved a lot of driving. I’m not embarrassed to admit that when I was planning that trip I was tricked by the movie myth – it took Dennis Hooper and Peter Fonda 120 minutes to get from LA to New Orleans on motorbikes in 1972 – how long could it take going the other way, from New Orleans to LA, in a Dodge Charger in 2011? The answer was, a lot longer, especially when you are not stoned the whole time, which is something to ponder.

2. Avoid the Freeways

The Great American Road Trip does not take place on the Freeway. Full Stop. Do not be tricked by the cunning use of the word ‘Free’ here. If you have a GPS/Sat Nav use the ‘avoid freeways’ options, or if you can read a map, or have a background in orienteering (like me), even better – avoid the blue interstate roads. There is often a highway running parallel to the freeway, sometimes it might take you up to an hour longer to get somewhere, but trust me. You will spend a lot of time on the road on this trip and it is much better to spend it on a road where the driver can look around and enjoy the scenery as much as the passengers, and on a road where there is every chance you will pass a town, a site or a diner which you never would have found from the Freeway. I don’t think there are many wineries gracing the banks of the I5…as we saw in Sideways you have to go a little off the beaten track to find anything interesting.

I’ll admit, on the highways you might get stuck behind a tractor or a large truck but they will often pull over to allow you to pass, or the roads are straight enough to allow you to overtake a mile-long Juggernaut and still be sure there’s nothing coming in the opposite direction. Admittedly you will have to negotiate more intersections, but in America you can turn right on red! Just don’t do it while trying to catch a falling TomTom and eating a Butterfinger at the same time, that is where near-misses happen. Not that I would know…

3. But if you have to use the Freeway

Back to the Juggernauts, there is nothing more daunting on the Freeway (as you do sometimes have to use it) than the appearance of the ‘runaway truck’ lane. As the freeway snakes up this or that mountain range you might find yourself amused at the slow crawl these beasts are forced to travel at due to the gradient. But you won’t be laughing for long, as when you reach the brow of the hill their speed picks up and it appears there is a definite need for this lane as the possibility of one of them careering out of control is very real. As you can imagine, this can be quite distracting from the scenery. Another distraction is being constantly aware that other vehicles can overtake you from either side at any moment. I know this happens in some countries in Europe too – the Brits seem to be the only sensible ones to use overtaking lanes purely for overtaking – but rarely in Europe do you find 6 lane motorways and the shadow of two 18 wheel trucks extinguishing not only the view, but the daylight, and potentially your life.

I have also found that Freeways tend to be less maintained than the state highways – the roads are often really poor with a lot of pot-holes and the lane lines are barely visible on many of them. Particularly in California, everyone seems to use the Freeways, meaning that it is near impossible to get anywhere during rush hour (or any time of day in LA) so please heed my advice and avoid the Freeway, unless you want to end up like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

4. Get a reliable vehicle

I totally get how tempting it is to find a beaten up old Thunderbird convertible and head out on the open road, like Thelma and Louise, but unless you are an actual mechanic, or a lot braver than I am, the risks outweigh the benefits on this one. Firstly it is often 100 miles between gas stations, in fact even between inhabited places, and those long stretches of road can be baking hot or freezing cold, and you know what? Even in ‘eternally friendly’ or ‘have a nice day’ America, very few people will stop when you try and flag them down. This might be to do with the demise of hitch-hiking culture, or just the fear-mongering of films like The Hitcher, but either way, it can be awfully lonely out there. Don’t expect Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band to read your script and come and find you.

BUT having said all of that, a friend of mine travelled across the States by going on Craigslist and finding people who needed vehicles taken from one city to another…and it worked! She actually ended up driving this rather fabulous sharkcarvehicle so what the hell do I know? INSERT PHOTO* And it also worked for Little Miss Sunshine, and a camper van is always cool, so maybe I take back the last point.

5. Camp!

A little unconventional, I know, and only really possible when the weather in fine, but if you have limited money and are already spending a large chunk of your budget on the car, do consider it. Campsites such a KOA are safe and clean and pretty much everywhere across the States. Staying in roadside motels is tempting, harking back traditional Americana, but they are often dirty, overpriced, and when the door to your room leads directly to an outside corridor it can be a little disconcerting, especially if you are on your own. Campsites are often filled with other travellers, life-long roaders with RV’s bigger than my London flat (not an exaggeration), and the chance to meet people, which you don’t often get in Motels.

Having said that, there are some excellent independently owned motels and B&B’s (which is not as much of an alien concept in the US as you might think, mostly thanks to airbandb), and in some small towns (and ghost towns!) these can be the only places to stay, so when you stay in them, go with it; have the grits for breakfast, use the ice machine, even take a dip in the pool….for chain Motels I always find the Super8 pretty reliable, there’s a good one in Austin which overlooks the city – In fact I left my Stars and Stripes bikini there so if you happen to be passing…

6. Create a playlist

Ok I admit it, I cranked up Hotel California while driving down Highway 1; Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash serenaded us while rolling through Tennessee and The Joshua Tree was played on repeat while approaching said tree – (The Joshua Tree isn’t one tree by the way it is an entire National Park, who knew?!) but these are musical clichés for a good reason. Maybe you won’t have a Tiny Dancer moment like in Almost Famous or meet an old country singer like in Crazy Heart, but music is so deeply entwined with American road culture leave your cynicism at the door and make a shit-hot playlist.

Having said that, don’t dismiss local radio though…it can give you a rather interesting insight into the local community, specifically, for me, the Christian Rock station Air 1 in California where you will find pumping classics like, ‘I Get Down, He Lifts Me Up’, ‘We Are Overcomers’ and ‘I Am A Difference-Maker’

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7. Be Prepared To Stop

One of the biggest regrets I have from one of my recent trips was when driving from The Grand Canyon to Monument Valley (controversially I found the latter more awe-inspiring) was not stopping at a hand-made sign saying: ‘Dinosaur Footprint This Way’ with an arrow pointing down a dirt track. Fear of it being a gang of kidnappers/rip-off merchants and knowledge that the destination was only an hour ahead stopped me from stopping, and I really regret that – I have since found out there are several Dinosaur footprints in that area, footprints where the Dinosaurs actually stood, gazzilions of years ago, in a land where they are often dismissed as a myth, how cool would it have been to see that, before the Creationists destroy them all?

You will also have to stop for food of course, and if you happen upon a Sonic drive in where the servers are still on roller skates, lucky you! It’s a standard burger joint, but the rollerskates make you feel like you’re in American Grafitti, which is cool. Speaking of which if you go to one diner, and you are in LA, go to Mel’s on Sunset. There are so many brilliant food places in the States and so many terrible ones that it would be pointless to start listing, but take the rough with the smooth and accept you won’t always luck out, but sometimes you will. Also, get a cool box so you always have a supply of snacks, sometimes your schedule might not fit in with mealtimes!

8. Other Modes of Transport

If you can’t drive, the Greyhound buses are still really cheap and plentiful, though tend to not take direct routes, and go to very obscure and out of the way towns, which may be interesting for a while, but there might be a reason tourists don’t stop at these places. Riding the Greyhound also means you can’t just stop and get off wherever you want…so you might need to invest a lot of time if you want to see the country this way.

The trains are another possible mode of transport, they not as cheap and can be massively unreliable (on a recent journey between Seattle and Vancouver the train actually stopped to pick up a fax). As this might imply, any of them still hark back to the golden age of train travel and old fashioned values so can be worth it for the linen in the dining cars, the Polar express uniforms and, of course, the incredible views of the oceans, mountains, deserts and you can sometimes hit all of them in one day. The California Zepher between San Francisco and Chicago is a particularly magnificent journey.

9. Talk to People

People in the US are inherently friendlier that in the UK, but you still have to make the effort to talk to people in more out of the way places. The accent weirdly still helps – I was recently half an hour outside of LA and the motel staff surrounded me because my accent was so ‘cute’. Remember that Americans like storytelling and often they have fascinating stories to impart. The ulterior reason for talking to people though is to glean local knowledge from them.

On my longest road trip, we made no firm plans beyond the next nights’ stop, and would talk to people when we got there and ask them what we should see the next day, where we should go that tourists don’t normally go. This technique helped us discover some incredible sights, restaurants, bars, areas and also to make some wonderful friends – who I still get an enormous amount of pleasure from, by finding out what they are up to on Facebook.

10. Enjoy the Journey

Not just the destination. This is so obvious and I can’t imagine why anyone would embark on a Road Trip without this being their main goal, but you’d be surprised. It is actually fine to ‘Griswald’ a sight (spend hours driving there, take a picture, get back in the car) or if you love it more than you expected, spend the night. Being in a vehicle for hours with loved ones gives you the perfect opportunity to re-discover them, to really talk without any second screen distractions, to laugh, to cry, to shout, to get things out in the open. The impact of the sense of freedom and the inspiration of the diverse, and constantly changing scenery, will allow you the space to think, and grow.

I can guarantee that by the end of your trip you will have expanded your horizons (hopefully not just your waistline) and grown into your best possible self. Just cling onto that feeling when you get home, and start planning for your next trip.

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A New Year

For once I am not going to start this blog with empty declarations and promises of commitment. After 18 months I am now wise to the fact that these are not the things which will make me write, they will just make me look like a fool when I don’t. So, whatevs if, when I opened the blog folder on my laptop, I counted 15 unfinished blogs from the last 6 months? At least it proves that the intention and commitment to write is still there, even if I am unable to close the deal on most occasions….it’s when I stop trying that I will really worry.

On New Year’s Day I was travelling back from Swansea and had in my hand a carrier bag with a Welsh Dragon on it (Tesco has really zoned in on local Patriotism). After 5 hours on the megabus and with a big-ass hangover, I was in no mood for a chat but when I got to the final leg of my journey, a bus stop at Victoria, a smelly old tramp clutching a bottle of booze started muttering at me and pointing at the bag. After about the fifth attempt at understanding what he was saying to me all I could think was, “Please leave me alone, I’m so tired, I just want to get home…”

“…home…”

And then all I could think about was what a massive cunt I was and how this man probably had no home to go to, and clearly just wanted to talk about a home he had once known. So I listened harder. In the 7 minutes until my bus arrived I deciphered that he spoke fluent Welsh, was from Pontypridd, had played rugby for them in the 70’s and knew Tommy David (big in Welsh rugby, apparently). But it was when I actually looked at him, and into his eyes as he was slurring, mostly indecipherably, that I saw something else. I saw my friends, and myself and felt the recognisable pang of ‘There but for the grace of….’

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Whether due to alcoholism, circumstances, his own bad choices or a combination of everything, this man is simply where he is right now and does not deserve my judgement, just my compassion, which is a small thing for me to give. After my initial reluctance, I am glad I was able to give him that, and a blueberry muffin too which I hadn’t quite managed to get my chops around on the bus.

It has been a rocky start to the year, with a break-up, illness and a sudden death shaking many of my beliefs already – and it’s not even ‘epiphany’ yet! But, as my wonderful yoga teacher said this morning, let’s make 2014 the year of love, of giving and receiving it as openly as we are able (fnar fnar). But as cynical as I can be sometimes, this is not a bad foundation to start from and after yet another failed relationship, I have to learn from it and find a way to open my heart and trust in the moment, not in the possible future disappointments which have clouded so many of my decisions. As the last few days have proved, life is too short. My fear of the future which I bring into the present every day, must no longer stop me from making, at least some, commitment to that future.

So, I am off to the EE shop to sign up for my first 24 months contract – 24 MONTHS! It’s a really good deal, but as I said to the poor woman in the shop…What if I change my mind? What if I hate the phone? What if I drop it in the toilet? What if I use more than my data allowance? What if I die?? She (kinda) laughed and in her best salesperson voice said, “Well, the insurance policy on this phone is really cheap”.

So, and this is not a resolution but more a statement of intent, I intend to stay committed to this blog, to becoming a writer and to the idea that 2014 will be the year of love, in whatever guise that might be. Even better than my phone insurance, I have the best possible insurance policy for life in the shape of amazing family and friends and, while not always cheap they are all one can really wish for when yet another epiphany rolls around. Which is a strong reminder that even if like me you’re an atheist, you can still believe in love and embrace the opportunity for renewal. Happy 2014.

Memories

There is a character in my screenplay who, halfway through having sex with someone, suddenly realises she has been in this position before…and with the same man…

When this scene was read out during my screenwriting course, apart from a few sharp intakes of breath, a couple of people questioned whether this was a believable scenario or even whether it was possible? One of the biggest tips I learnt on that course is that when writing a screenplay you must ensure that what you are writing is believable, even if it is not ‘realistic’ – it doesn’t matter as long as you can make the audience believe. Well, I am not (too) ashamed to admit that this scene was loosely based on my own experience, and therefore I can safely say it is both realistic, and therefore,to my mind, believable.

Many MANY years ago, in my wild and crazy youth, I had sex with a very attractive friend of a friend. It happened at the end of a night filled of drinking and flirting and we rolled into bed and had, if memory serves (which it clearly doesn’t – more of that later) a very enjoyable time. That would have been the end of the story. However, a few years later I was about to watch the football with the same friend when he told me that some of his friends were coming to join us. I was pleased about this as it meant I wouldn’t have to pretend to roar and howl over England’s shitness quite as aggressively as I had anticipated.  In fact, only 2 of his friends turned up, one of them had a beard, and he was very attractive. I smiled when the mutual friend introduced **** and shook his hand. After the football (which we lost) we stayed in the pub until closing and I engaged in some not very subtle flirting with said bearded gentleman. I was having a lovely time until he went to the loo and my friend leaned over and whispered, “Going back for seconds eh?” The confusion on my face must have given away the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued “Didn’t you shag **** a couple of years back?”

Holy mother-fuck. Here I was, in a busy pub, innocently flirting with a man whose cock I had already seen. When he came back from the loo I had made my decision. I’d have to shag him again and make sure I remembered it this time so I was never put in this embarrassing situation again. So I did.

And that would have been the end of the story. However, a few years later, the mutual friend got married. I was doing a reading and **** was an usher….only I didn’t recognise him until after he had handed me the programme and very pointedly looked me in the eyes and said, “Hello Janey!” I saved face in the nick of time and gave him a hug as he ushered me pointedly into the registry office.  On that occasion I didn’t try to assuage my embarrassment from not recognising him by trying to sleep with him. Oh no, instead I created much larger and longer lasting embarrassment by coping off with the bride’s quite (very) young brother. Welcome to my world.

Fast forward to a few months ago. A friend (a different one) very kindly got me tickets to see The Stone Roses, I band I have loved since forever. When they started playing I got chills and was transported back to the mid-nineties when I was brave and knew everything there was to know in the world, ever. It was magical. I blame this nostalgia trip for what happened next. Walking through the crowd to get a better vantage point my friend stopped, “Hey, *******, what are you doing here?” She’d randomly bumped into a friend of hers in the crowd who was at the gig with her boyfriend – I smiled and waved at both of them, then turned back to the stage. We stood together for the whole gig, doing a bit of dancing, drinking and generally hanging out when towards the end my friend said to me, “You do know who *******’s boyfriend is, don’t you?” I looked closer, really close, and lo and behold…It was ****. THREE times I had failed to recognise a man I had sex with, THREE times a man I had been intimate with was essentially a stranger to me. I had to rectify this somehow. I danced over to him. “Hey, ****! So good to see you!” He smiled, “It’s been ages, how are you doing Janey?” (I’m pretty sure he hadn’t had the same memory lapse, but who can tell?). “I’m good!” I replied. “ I don’t think I’ve seen you since the wedding!” He looked at me, confused. I faltered. At this point I should probably mention that at the wedding we had actually exchanged numbers and several weeks AFTER the wedding we had met up, drunk whiskey and had sex. Only, at that moment in Finsbury Park, I had forgotten that detail. Again. Thankfully before the ground could actually swallow me up, his girlfriend decided that it was time for them to leave, to beat the traffic. And so, once again, I waved goodbye and said ‘see you later!’

I know I should have felt ashamed, and maybe it was just the power of the music, but at that moment I was buoyed – either by my sexual prowess, by the hilarity of the situation or by the sheer absurdity of my life. My friend and I staggered back to the tube, giggling about what a moron I was, but secretly I was enjoying the tale I would now get to tell and planning my next blog. When we got to the tube, the queue was a mile long and the chances of getting on within the next hour (i.e. before it shut) were remote to say the least. Then I remembered that a man I had briefly dated (shagged) earlier in the year lived nearby. It hadn’t gone anywhere but I had liked him and enjoyed his company and at that moment, being positively BUOYED by my sexual prowess and my ability to ‘have sex like a man’, I thought ‘Why not? So I texted him. “Poor me, I can’t get home, can I pop round for a cup of tea?” An hour later I received a reply: “Hello, sorry I’ve deleted some numbers – is this Derek?”

Modern definition of Hubris: Excessive pride – “pride goeth (goes) before a fall” (from the biblical Book of Proverbs 16:18)

AKA Janey Ballantyne. So there you have it. One door closes, another one slams…or whatever it is they say. I know they do say write what you know, and that is pretty much all I have done so far in my writing career, but the only thing I know for sure is that what I know, and what I think I know and what I remember and the way I remember things keeps evolving and may well be different from how it really is.

Despite all the jokes, this is not something which has happened more than once in my life, and I am genuinely sad that my attitude towards sex is such, that it has happened, even once. I have never really taken sex seriously, partly because it is actually funny, but mostly because I find it so difficult to be myself with someone, to be earnest, to be honest. Maybe after finding myself in this ‘unbelievable’ situation three, if not four times, I should start taking it seriously and at least try to find my own reality.

A Fresh Start

A change is as good as a rest, right? It may seem as though I have had a rest from writing of late – and to be fair, I have, at least from the weekly blogging/rant fest you might have become accustomed to last Summer. I’m not entirely sure why this was, but it did coincide with me ‘courting’ again, and I think we can safely say this was a factor.

When I started writing such a personal account of my life, I hadn’t considered how to broach the subject with any potential ‘suitors’. It was difficult because, although I do use a pen-name, I am actually very honest in my day-to-day life so when I met someone last year, I felt as though I was lying by not telling him about, or letting him read, what I was writing. Eventually I ‘fessed up and, amazingly, he was cool with it all – in fact I think it made him like me more because he got an insight into parts of myself which I find hard to express in person. However, another thing I hadn’t considered, and somewhat more importantly, was how to continue writing about my life, and being deeply honest about it, without including him or possibly hurting him with what I was writing… I wasn’t bright enough/didn’t have time to figure it out and so I just stopped.

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But here I am, a couple of ‘suitors’ later, (I really was born too late), and I have decided I can’t let that dictate my writing any more, or else I may never write again. And I need to write. So here we go once more – a brand new website, some brand new writing, plus all the old stuff and the promise of fortnightly blogs from now on.

I am closer to my late thirties than I was last year (weirdly), am still single, still grinding away at the day job, still desperate to live in New York, still splitting my time between Glasgow and London… and still a long way from figuring it all out. However, I am going to continue to try. Whoever I might be kissing…I just can’t promise to share every little detail…

You Can’t Plan Love

We met at University. He had a ponytail. I took the piss out of that ponytail mercilessly. We were studying English so would spend hours in the local pub discussing what Faulkner was trying to say in As I Lay Dying, how Toni Morrison wrote so magically, or what Joyce would have been like had we met him. Then we’d go to a dodgy Northern club, drink WKD and Slippery Nipples and stumble home at first light. We were young and invincible. We were friends. When my boyfriends stood me up or spectacularly dumped me, he would always be there to comfort me.

Just before we left University we accidentally had sex. It was amazing. But I was just coming out of a relationship and made him promise that it didn’t mean anything. A few weeks later he was horsing around and broke his nose, I took him home and before going to hospital I gave him a blow job. Hey, I was young and thought it would make him feel better! But again I made him promise that it didn’t mean anything. Our friends soon noticed there was something between us and, it being the late ’90s, decided to call us Dawson and Joey. I laughed it off and we continued, as I wished, as friends. Deep down, I suppose I knew he had feelings for me, but at that time I thought it would be arrogant to admit it, and that admitting it might ruin the friendship. I was very scared of love back then.

After Uni, I moved to London while he stayed up North, not wanting to live in a big city. We stayed in touch though and would talk on the phone for hours every Sunday. I’m aware I am rose-tinting my memories as we used to argue like animals. We bantered, bickered or rather baited each other, but it was fun. He is the only man I have ever met who challenges me spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. One day I went to visit him. He was living in The Lake District and the weather was glorious. We had a fine time, rowing on the lake, eating fish and chips on the jetty, laughing and joking. Then he wanted to talk about ‘us’. I bottled it. I started raging at him – ‘How dare you ruin our friendship! I’m not ready! We live miles apart! We argue all the time!’ He stormed off down the jetty. When I had stopped crying I looked up, and seeing him standing there in the evening sunlight, shirtless and holding onto the rail of the jetty, I realised that he was my Dawson. But I knew I wasn’t ready to give in just yet – we were soulmates and we’d end up together so why hurry?

After the incident on the jetty things returned to normal. He had girlfriends, I had boyfriends. Sometimes we would both find ourselves single and would fall into bed. Having sex was easier than talking about a possibility of ‘us’. I remember once he came to visit my family. My two young nieces adored him and he was so good with them when we went blackberry-ing that I fantasised about what a great father he’d be to our kids one day, but still I couldn’t say it out loud.

Don’t worry, I got my comeuppance.

Five years ago, our University had a reunion. At that time he had a girlfriend but she couldn’t come… being back in the same location where we all met, with slightly more wrinkles and slightly less hair, we partied the night away. Nothing happened between us (I would never do anything with another woman’s boyfriend) but I did fall asleep in his arms. It was that night that I realised I was in love with him.

It took me another three years to say anything. He was single by then and we had fallen into the old habit of sleeping together….we only saw each other every couple of months when we would spend an intense night together, no strings attached, but my heart would wrench when he had to leave. One day I just couldn’t take it any more. I snapped and told him I loved him and if he didn’t feel the same I couldn’t see him again. He was so surprised after my years of denial that he looked as though I’d struck him. He slammed the door on his way out.

What followed then was a year of emotional torture. I wrote him actual letters on paper trying to explain why it had taken me so long to recognise my feelings for him and he replied, also by letter, that he had spent so long trying to eliminate his feelings for me that he simply couldn’t open his heart to me ever again.

Clearly my plan for our life together was unfolding. Maybe we weren’t going to end up together and have a family, maybe we weren’t even soulmates?

Eventually we met up. We drank a lot of tequila and off-loaded all of the pent up angst from the last 12 years. I still couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to win this one. Logically, I told myself, the facts were there – we got on very well, we fancied each other, we loved each other deeply and we agreed on these points… but he just wouldn’t budge. I had hurt him too deeply, my plans (of course) didn’t matter. In short, he rejected me.

I have no guarantee it would have worked, but it saddens me that we didn’t even get to try. We are no longer friends and I miss him daily but the experience has taught me a valuable lesson. I was waiting to achieve certain goals before settling down, waiting for something better than my best friend, and in doing so, lost the most important relationship of my life. So, now I know. No more waiting or taking people for granted, no more masking my feelings with excuses.

Joni Mitchell was right, as usual, you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Embarrassment or Death

Which would you choose? It seems until recently I have always gone for the ‘death’ option. I mean, it is so much easier, and less embarrassing, to not run screaming down the carriage when you see an unattended bag on the train, to get in the car even though you know your friend has had one too many, to not send a meal back when you just know it hasn’t been cooked properly, to not go to the doctor when you think there is something wrong.

These are, to us, small decisions which normally turn out alright. But what if they don’t? The consequences are monumental and yet the fear of embarrassing ourselves often leads us to make the wrong decision.

I overcame my fear of embarrassment last year in Las Vegas. My friend and I were in the middle of a roadtrip but we had not participated in several experiences along the road, such as riding a bucking bronco, because we were too embarrassed of what people might think. When we got to Vegas, however, we realised that although these were not dangerous or life-threatening decisions, they were killing the point of our trip – a trip of a lifetime – because we weren’t experiencing everything which was on offer to us. So we decided to stop saying ‘no’. To celebrate we went out, intending to do something which scared us. Singing All By Myself at Karaoke seemed like the right thing to do. I should mention that in my head I sound like Julie Andrews but in reality I sound like a strangled cat. So, there we were in Caesar’s Palace. A karaoke night was about to start so my companion put our names down while I got the (strong) drinks. Before I had placed the drinks on the table, the DJ call my name. We had been the first to put our names down. I was opening the night. There were at least 15 people scattered around the room. Holy crap. I gulped at my drink and walked towards the stage. Cruelly, the karaoke makers had chosen the Celine Dion version, but it was too late to turn back. The next FIVE minutes (yes it’s a stupidly long song) were, and I’m not gonna lie, pure hell. I tried to take the sting out of my voice by doing a few comedic moves in the style of the opening scene from Bridget Jones, but my knees were trembling so much that every time I moved I was worried I’d fall over so I ended up rooted to the spot, just wailing. At first there was deadly silence, I don’t think the audience could comprehend why someone who could barely carry a tune would choose such a song. Then my companion started whooping and I heard several others join in until the crowd was rooting for me – out of sympathy I’m sure, but they were on my side, they weren’t booing – and finally, after a big finish, it was over. Several people came over to me to say how brave (read stupid) they thought I was, and my heart slowly moved back down to my chest from my mouth. Soon, I was basking in my new-found freedom and it has lasted ever since.

In the grand scheme of things it was a small event, but since then I have been much braver, actively choosing the embarrassing option rather than the easy one. I haven’t seen an unattended bag since, but I’m sure I’d report it if I did, I have insisted on friends getting a taxi home after a night out, I have sent food back and I have finally been to the doctor, which led me to a situation which makes the Caesar’s Palace incident pale in insignificance.

My symptoms dictated that I required an endoscopy. Or more specifically, a sigmoidoscopy. Or more simply, a camera up my bottom. When I arrived for my appointment, I was given an enema – I naively thought this would be a pill, but no, I had to put on a hospital gown, lie on my side, and let a nurse pump fluid into my bum. After 2 minutes I was running to the loo, where everything came out. Predictably it was a busy hospital, the loo was quite far down the corridor and I had forgotten to put on the back-covering gown so, yes, I ran down the corridor with my wobbly bottom visible to anyone who cared to look. Thankfully, I made it in time. I won’t go into the details of the procedure but as you can imagine it was utterly undignified, with a doctor and two nurses looking at and talking about my most intimate areas. The leaflet said I might feel the urge to fart and that I wasn’t to feel embarrassed about it. Ha! I can’t tell you how embarrassing it is to continually fart onto a hot young doctor’s hands as he is guiding a camera up your arse. Thankfully within 15 minutes it was over and I was wheeled back to the ward, Naked Gun style, to get dressed and go home. The whole afternoon was a distinctly unpleasant, embarrassing experience and I felt violated and physically vulnerable but also, weirdly empowered. The results came back normal so I can eliminate colon and rectal cancer as a cause of my symptoms, which is an enormous relief. Thanks to my new-found freedom from embarrassment, and the NHS, I was able to do this quickly, and for free.

The biggest lesson I have learnt from these very different embarrassing experiences, is that the embarrassment will end and the benefits of feeling stupid and/or vulnerable far outweigh the drawbacks. There is no better advice than the old cliché to do something that scares you, as you never know where it may lead. For me it has changed my life.

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So from now on I will always endeavour to choose embarrassment over death, after all you really can’t die from embarrassment – I am living proof.

This Is The End…

….Of Amazing April. One thing I know is, it has gone amazingly quickly! I haven’t done as much screenplay writing as I had intended to, but for some reason I always write more when I am working at my day job so sure I will get a draft ready to send out by the end of the summer. However, I have done a lot of things, mostly yoga. To recap…

Bottle have in: looking women and viagra definitely product purchasing causes of ed it Clean which in http://www.backrentals.com/shap/generic-cialis-reviews.html and put Ever http://www.creativetours-morocco.com/fers/cheap-viagra-canada.html say Honestly. Too that cialis dosages Nexxus on Sebastian. Away viagra coupon pfizer The hopeful falls With a? Makeup http://www.goprorestoration.com/sildenafil Amazon just can use, Drakkar online cialis reviews I memories. Dry cent cialis effect vermontvocals.org of degree actually viagra prescriptions twice a except simply http://www.hilobereans.com/online-purchase-viagra/ mildew back timely…am working at my day job so sure I will get a draft ready to send out by the end of the summer. However, I have done a lot of things, mostly yoga. To recap…

…30 days ago it was a time of nipplegate, massive muff paranoia, 5 hours in bed due to intense dehydration headache, an inability to breath deeply and distinct lack of faith my own willpower …

30 days later…I look like this:

Ok, I haven’t turned into a man, and maybe I’m not quite there yet…but you get the picture. I honestly can’t begin to tell you what has happened this month, mostly because I can’t remember, but here are a few things I have learnt in the last 30 days.

  • I wish I had paid more attention in biology and not just given Dr. Marsham cheek. I am 36 and have just found out what my glutes are…and I don’t even know how to spell them.
  • My right side is MUCH stronger than my left side in every way…even my right boob is bigger. Go figure.
  • I can get up at 5:45, and be happy about it.
  • I can commit to something (even if it is only for 30 days)
  • I still like drinking in the day
  • I was born way too late – preferring the Man Ray exhibition to the Bowie exhibition is just weird
  • To add to that, the best film I watched this month was Citizen Kane
  • Everybody is basically blagging it, most of the time
  • I like Carnies a bit too much

Because I am blogging about other things this week (namely Live Below The Line https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/janeyhammond) and due to lack of food I am struggling with concentration, I’m going to leave it there. It’s been emotional.

It’s All About … Them!

‘Amazing April – A Month Of Me’, is sadly drawing to a close. I’m sure you’ll all be devastated and miss my yoga updates on Twitter! The short report is that I do feel stronger and healthier, but sadly not rested, it’s amazing how busy you can be…when doing nothing! (I believe there’s a song about that? Check out the link below if you don’t know it)

Busy Doing Nothing

Anyway, what better way to celebrate the end of a month dedicated to me than by dedicating a week to other people. A ‘them party’ rather than a ‘me party’ if you like. My friend Yvonne Biggins has convinced me that it is a good idea to join her and ‘Live Below The Line’ from 29th April to 3rd May, i.e. next week! This means I will be living on £5 for 5 days…everything I consume during that time will have to come out of one solitary 5 pound note.

Now, I realise this might not sound like a difficult challenge for some of you, but for someone who spent £25 on salad things for lunch yesterday, even though I am unemployed, I think it is going to be quite difficult. The £5 must include any and all seasoning, and staples like milk and bread and I will sadly not be able to utilise anything from Emily’s vast kitchen cupboards…not even a pinch of salt!

The point of this challenge is to raise awareness for the 1.2 billion people in the world living in extreme poverty. In the western world we have a tendency to take things for granted, the incredible choice available to us on a daily basis we see as a basic human right…but too many people are not that privileged. I have chosen to raise money for the same charity as Yvonne, Positive Women, who are doing incredible work in Swaziland empowering women to understand their rights and value in society and to help them and their children through education and support. If you can spare even just a couple of pounds to donate to this extraordinary charity and to make my grumpy hunger pangs next week more bearable I will be forever thankful, as I’m sure will Positive Women…if I reach £100 they can feed a child for 5 months.

I will of course keep you updated/bore you on my progress and what my diet is going to consist of…porridge…rice…I may also have to put my wussy wheat intolerance to one side for a while, which could have interesting consequences…which I promise NOT to share! Links to donation and charity details below…

http://positivewomen.org/

https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/janeyhammond

 

Let’s Write About Sex

In the blog I wrote on 25th March last year I lamented the fact that it might be my last Spring in London. Well, here I am a year and a month on (thanks Endless Winter) and sadly no closer to moving to New York. BUT things have happened, moved on, progressed and it has been a fulfilling year, which is all one can really hope for. I will see New York in the Spring again, I have no doubt.

Unlike last year, instead of making me as horny as a teenage rabbit, this Spring has re-awakened my long-dormant Romantic side. Music, flowers, sentimentality, the works… which is just a little bit ironic as I have spent the last couple of months writing sex. Proper, erotic, sexy sex for a new journal dedicated to erotica. The project is still in its infancy, but it is exciting and original and we are hoping to publish the first issue soon so I will keep you posted when I know more. Maybe then, I am thinking about romance because I am all sexed out? And it’s not just the writing, so far this year I have managed to really hurt someone I care about, royally screwed things up with someone I like and break my cardinal rule by taking someone from work home, for ‘cuddles’. And I think sex, or perhaps my attitude to it, was at least partly to blame for each of these disasters. So, I am taking a vow of celibacy. I am changing the habit of a lifetime. I am finally saying ‘no’ to instant gratification. No sex, just love. And here’s why.

In my opinion, Spinderella needs to cut it up one more time. Despite all of the liberation and sexual equality which western women have enjoyed since the sexual revolution, it seems to me that we are still just as fucked up about sex as we ever have been. As with food, I don’t know one woman who has an entirely healthy attitude towards sex. I’m not even sure I could define what a healthy attitude towards sex might be. I’m not saying that men have a healthy attitude towards sex either, but I’m afraid I can only talk about it from my perspective, as a straight woman, despite the fact I have been accused of having a ‘male attitude’ towards sex in the past… hmmm. The traditional view is that women attach feelings to sex and men don’t, but I find this view patronising and am not convinced that this is true….each encounter is different and every person responds in a different way with different partners, which is one of the things which makes sex so wondrous.

Although my female friends and I talk about sex openly, humorously and often in graphic detail, I don’t think we ever really talk about how it makes us feel which is weird as how it makes us feel, both physically and emotionally, should surely be the only reason we ever do it?

I did not receive, or at least I do not remember receiving any sex education at school which wasn’t purely anatomical and given by a cold and un-engaging teacher. For a young mind, the thought of doing that anatomical act is simply horrifying, and I think I blocked it out of my brain as soon as the lesson was over. Nothing at home either. To not be given any information or advice on the reasons why one might want to have sex and what it might mean to you is at best negligent and at worst incredibly damaging. It was a long time ago now so I don’t blame anyone…to use one of my least favourite phrases du jour ‘things were different back then’ but all we were ever told was to wait until we were in love… which is pretty terrible advice to be honest. Trusting someone is a lot harder than loving someone especially when as a teenager the overwhelming driving force of your hormones dictates that you will most probably confuse lust for love anyway. In fact, scrap the teenage hormones, I often still get the two confused.

In theory I was incredibly lucky in that I lost my virginity at 17 to a boy I both loved and trusted, but in practice I was giving handies to a local hash dealer in my friends attic at 13 because I fancied him and wanted him to like me…oh, and because I didn’t know any better! Just because it wasn’t full intercourse, doesn’t mean it didn’t massively inform my later attitude to sex. I’m not saying that if I had been better informed I wouldn’t have done it, I was pretty wild back then (even at 13 which is somewhat shocking to me now) and my hormones were racing, but at least I would have known what the milky sticky substance which ended up on my Swatch Watch was. The transition from child to teenager is brutal and I’m amazed so many of us survive it.

I would hope that sex education today is better than it was then, but I’m not convinced it is, especially with the apparent re-emergence of conservatism and the prevalence of faith schools. This is worrying because our attitudes to sex are formed at the transition from child to teenager and I suspect my story is actually pretty tame compared to what some young girls are experiencing right now. Once formed we can spend the rest of our lives trying to shake these attitudes off which is why it is so important to instil in girls and boys an understanding of the realities and complexities of sex as soon as they are mature enough to understand.

I am particularly worried when I think about the cold, unromantic and nasty sex which is available at the click of a button today. I have heard too many stories of young men who think not only is it normal to want to do it up the bum, but that a girl is frigid if she won’t. I have even heard a story about a 22 year old man who went to bed for the first time with a woman and on seeing her pubic hair actually said, ‘What’s that?’ These distorted perceptions of sex are becoming more common. Porn has always been available but until fairly recently it has been separated from reality by a certain societal disapproval. Porn mags were rightfully put on the top shelf and only (supposed to be) sold to over 18’s. Because of this, even when younger people got hold of them, they knew they were illicit and from another world. Now the barrier between real sex and pornographic sex is barely noticeable…with young women thinking they have to look and act like porn stars in order to get/keep a man and young men thinking this is acceptable.

Why then, am I about to add to this already over-saturated market of sex? Well, I have decided that if you can’t beat them, join them and beat them at their own game. Laid Bare will be erotic stories, not pornography, and I have written an editorial piece for Issue 2 exploring the difference between the two, and their individual merits. The journal will be real women writing about real sex in a fun, honest, sexy and entertaining way. If a teenager stumbled upon it, I would hope it would at least give them a different perspective on how sex can be, and for the women it is aimed at it will finally give them an erotic publication which they can relate to.

Polemic over. Luckily I have enough ‘experience’ to plunder for a few issues yet so I can maintain my celibacy and explore my own sexuality without the complication of sex. I’m actually looking forward to it.  Only by empowering women to view sex as a collaboration, a celebratory act of attraction and not simply as a way to keep ‘him’ happy will we start to regain control of our own sexuality and young women, not just women in their 30’s + who have spent years figuring it out, will understand and value themselves and their sexuality.

 

It’s All About Me…

So here I am. After a hiatus of nearly 6 months I finally have time to sit down and re-embark on the pursuit to which this blog is dedicated – being me. Sorry! I mean exploring the difficulties of being a modern woman in an essentially old fashioned world and sharing my experiences with you all…aka, being me. My job for the last 6 months has taken over my life and I am ashamed to say I have become one of those people. “Would you like to meet up for a coffee Janey?” “Sorry, I’m busy.” “How about going out for a drink?” “Far too busy for that I’m afraid.” “Why don’t we catch up on the phone?” “I don’t have time to make a phone call!” Gawd I hate me right now. And I hate people who say ‘Gawd’.

Which is why…drumroll please…I am excited or at least hopeful about re-discovering nicer bits of me during the next month, which will officially be known as:

AMAZING APRIL 
*a month of me*

Right now I am in the incredibly fortunate position where I:

  1. have finished my work contract,
  2. can just about afford to take a month off due to not having been out for 6 months (apart from a few times when I got so disgustingly blind drunk that I too ashamed to even share the stories here),
  3. my friends and family are pretty much healthy both physically and emotionally so they don’t need me,
  4. I don’t know what’s going on in the world having not read a paper for 6 months so am not too depressed about that (but I intend to find out and try to do more than sign endless petitions about awful regimes/benefit cuts which you are never sure actually go anywhere)

The general plan is to do lots of yoga, lots of writing, lots of visits to all the free things in London, lots of cinema, a bit of therapy maybe, a bit of dating maybe (not at the same time), and a general cleansing of all things physical and spiritual. It is such a great idea on paper…Just one day in though and I’m ready to run screaming back to work! Let me explain.

I’ve spent the long weekend purging my wardrobe of all unnecessary clothing/ paperwork/basically all of the shit I’ve accumulate in the last 15 months, and it feels good.

From this…

But, it being a bank holiday weekend, the boiler inevitably broke, so I have been wrapped up in most of the clothes I wanted to throw away and have had to eat a vat of potatoes smothered in butter to keep warm. But that’s ok, because it was pre-April.

…to this.

April arrived yesterday morning and I sprung out of bed excitedly getting ready for my first ever Bikram Yoga class. I’ve done yoga off and on over the years but never in a small sweaty room in North London heated to 40 degrees.

I had heard that women wear shorts and tank tops for this type of yoga and obediently I invested in some cheap ones from a famous cheap clothing shop. No point in spending money until I know if I like it right? After a quick chat with the instructor about taking it easy due to my high blood pressure (ha! As if I’m going to take it easy – if the person next to me can do the pose, then I too can do the pose goddamnit!) we got started. The breathing was actually excellent, I have trouble breathing on a day to day basis as it is so I followed the rhythm and got into the flow of the class… It was hot, really hot, like 40 degrees hot but then some of my fellow class members started to complain that it was too cold…seriously, were they actually mental?! The instructor walked around, increasing the heat while still guiding us through the postures. At this point I got a bit sensible and putting my hands together in prayer pose bent my head to take a few seconds rest…which is when I spotted…my left nipple! It had somehow escaped from the quality material of the sportswear I was sporting and was now on display to the whole class! The new girl showed her nipples! Rearranging myself I tried to carry on…but that was just the beginning. It was then that I became aware of the rest of my body.

For a variety of reasons, over the last few weeks I have decided to go, how shall I put it delicately, au naturel. I have been saving myself for a big pampering session – with all this yoga/dieting I am hoping to lose a few pounds and so was planning to treat myself to smooth skin and fancy nails when I think I deserve it. Twisted logic maybe, self-esteem issues maybe, but so be it. Looking down though, I was suddenly struck by how much my toenails looked like a Curanail ‘before’ photo…moving upwards the hair on my legs wasn’t too noticable as it’s quite fair and I reckoned I could just about get away with my armpits as feminist chic…but, oh dear lord. I don’t know if I mentioned that the boiler broke? Well it did and in the last 3 days the only wash I had had was a 7-kettle shallow bath (sorry Roomie) and the real reason I didn’t wimp out of going to the yoga class was so that I could have a nice hot shower afterwards. Having glimpsed the showers on the way in, and realising that this was the kind of hippy yoga place which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Camden in the 80’s, I knew there would be no cubicles. In short, there would be nowhere to hide my massive muff.

At the end of the class I lay still…pretending to be immersed in my practise, focused and yogic. But in reality, by that time it was so hot I actually thought I might be about to die, or cry. I got up slowly, preparing to face the music. On entering the changing room I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror…beetroot coloured and dripping in 2 day old mascara…why did everyone else just look glowing? On the bright side this might give them another reason to remember me, apart from the nipple and the soon to be exposed massive muff. Wrapped in a towel (having just about managed to pry the cheap top over my head and remove the shorts in the toilet cubicle) I padded slowly to the showers. Peeling back the curtain there were 2 women and 3 showers. I walked to the empty one and hung my towel on the wall. Spinning around I braced myself for the sniggers or at least the snidey looks, the judgement…but nothing. After all, I wasn’t checking out their muff so why would I even think they’d even notice, let alone care? I was so grateful to be finally having a shower that I quickly forgot my hirsute nakedness and relaxed. The 2 other women left quite soon after I arrived and I was left alone to shower in peace.

I’m not entirely sure what the moral of this story is, in a way this experience was liberating, a perfect start to my month of me, accepting me as me in that moment, and realising that my own body anxieties are just that, my own. So, yes I am going back today, and no, I still have not shaved (the boiler is still broken), and I have no shame. It reminded me of when I was 24 and my best friend and I were getting changed to go swimming in the pool at the Manhattan YMCA. Some kids ran past and uttered the immortal words … “Ewwwww, naked old ladies!” We were mortified, even though we were totally hot back then we took it as a personal insult, but if it happened today I would just find it funny. After all, being where we are right now in this moment is a million times better than being in anywhere in the past and the problem is we rarely acknowledge that. Anyway, it’s not as if we have a choice. So kids, bring it on, as being a ‘naked old lady’ is actually pretty awesome.