- I can’t think of anything to write about, so there’s no point in trying
- Nobody’s asked me to write anything
- Nobody’s paying me to write anything
- Nobody’s waiting for me to write anything
- Nobody’s asked me to collaborate on anything
- Everything that could be written has already been written
- Even if I could take something that’s already been written and write about it in a new way, that new way has already been written
- I’m not creative enough
- I’m not hard working enough
- I’m not smart enough
- I’m not political enough
- I’m not opinionated enough
- I’m not thoughtful enough
- I’m not funny enough
- I’m not serious enough
- I don’t read enough books
- I don’t read enough poetry
- I don’t listen to enough classical music
- I don’t watch enough experimental video art
- Sometimes I use the wrong words for things
- I’m not Australian enough
- I’m too Australian
- I haven’t read Kafka
- I haven’t read Faulkner
- I haven’t read Joyce
- I haven’t read [X]
- I don’t understand Foucault
- I watch too much on Netflix
- I don’t watch enough on Netflix
- I know too many internet memes
- I don’t know enough internet memes
- I don’t have a law degree
- I don’t have a philosophy degree
- I don’t have a literature degree
- I didn’t start young enough
- I haven’t been given any grants
- I haven’t won any prizes
- Ok, I won one prize, but that was ages ago, so it must have been a mistake
- I don’t have a mission statement for my writing
- I don’t know why I’m writing
- I’m a middle class white girl and nobody needs to hear my opinion on anything
- I’m a middle class white girl and can’t write anything that doesn’t directly involve middle class white girls
- I’m a middle class white girl and it’s my job, at this point in history, to be quiet
- There’s too much crap to read in the world anyway, I shouldn’t add more crap to the world’s ‘to read’ pile
- If I do add more crap to the world’s ‘to read’ pile, then who will read all the crap that has already been written? I should just confine myself to reading other people’s crap and validating that
- If I start writing and it’s not immediately good enough to win a prize/be on the BBC/sell a million billion gazillion copies, then there is no point continuing
- Somebody in the world has to be a grown-up and do all the things that nobody else wants to do. Like, filing.
- If I write something, maybe people won’t like it
- If I write something, maybe people will be offended by it
- If I write something, maybe people won’t understand it
- If I write something, maybe people will understand it too easily
- If I write something, maybe people will be neutral about it
- There are terrible terrible things happening in the world and how can I think about writing when there are such terrible terrible things happening in the world, what’s wrong with me, I should just sit here and think of the terrible terrible things happening forever
- In 20 years time, the world will end through huge and horrible climate change, so there’s no point in writing anything anyway.
Many, many people much smarter and more articulate than I have already weighed into this topic. It seems to have been universally condemned and has already been overturned by the French court.
But I did just want to write a little personal note. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Two weeks ago, I bought a swimsuit that reveals my belly. This is the first swimsuit I have ever owned in my adult life that reveals my belly. Bikinis, for me, have always come with the baggage of the ‘bikini-ready body’, an idea and a body that haunts women’s magazines for the 3 -4 months before summer and then the 3 months of summer. I didn’t know how to get rid of the pubic hair around my bikini line without my skin breaking out in horrible, itchy red bumps and going out with my pubs showing made me feel disgusting. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by this. But, I did. Bikinis weren’t liberating or sexy or fun for me. They were shaming. And bikinis became impossible for me to wear.
So what, I guess? One-pieces are/were available. However, they were difficult to find and most stores offered very little attractive choice. Places that offered lots of one-piece swimsuits were geared towards little old ladies. I didn’t want to wear these sorts of swimsuits. They made me feel old and prudish and unattractive. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by all this. But, I did. And being on the beach, or in the pool (unless it was just to swim laps), became almost impossible.
I feel very differently about all of this now. And a lot of women would have told me I should have felt differently about that before. Who cares if I have pubic hair showing? Who cares if I don’t have a bikini body? I agree (now), but that didn’t stop my younger self worrying about all those things. And, having those women force me into a bikini against my will and pushing me out into the middle of Bondi Beach with a wildly hairy bikini line would not have made me feel any better. It would not have made me suddenly empowered or more free.
The only time I ever felt comfortable in a ‘swimsuit’ was on a school trip to Australia’s Wonderland. I had, genuinely, forgotten my swimsuit, because I didn’t think we were going to go swimming. We were. Everyone was. So, I decided to wear my knickers (black) and a friend’s black singlet top. I loved it. I thought I looked chic. I got compliments. I looked everywhere for a swimsuit that looked just like that. Of course, nothing. But, apart from all that, if anyone had known that I was actually a teenage girl running around a public place, on a school trip, in my underwear, I’m absolutely certain someone would have told me it was inappropriate. It was provocative. Despite it covering up more of my skin than my friends’ bikinis. Because of someone else’s classification of what that material was supposed to be and what that material was meant to mean and what my teenage skin cloaked in that material was meant to invite.
My point with all this is that it is impossible to know how an individual views a garment, how it makes them feel and the significance they attach to it. The French are saying that they ‘know’ that EVERY burkini has dangerous connotations, significance and poses a threat to their secular society. But they can’t know, just by looking at what kind of outfit a woman is wearing, how she feels about that garment, how she feels about herself, how she feels about Islam and how she feels about France. It is the most horrific form of stereotyping, generalising and racism. It takes away an person’s ability to define themselves, to express themselves and tells them how they should feel. It is saying to an entire group that to be in public life they must feel shamed and uncomfortable, or they will not be permitted at all.
So, I enjoyed creating that strange poem/speech out of John Howard’s old Tampa interview so much on the weekend that I’ve been combing through the PM archives for the past few days and making more.
After the first one, which I thought was quite successful in terms of coherent message and clear stylistic choices, I’ve found the next few tough. I have also (of course) started questioning myself. Exactly what is the point of doing these weird poem/speech things? The historian in me is hyperventilating, because I’m twisting people’s words and making them sound more horrific than, perhaps, they actually sounded. The liberal artist in me is feeling icky for having to read through all these horrible words, trying to make them into something called ‘art’ and is worried that by putting them on my blog I’m seemingly condoning the messages in the speeches. I’m worried that my historian fears will stop me taking the speech/poems far enough to make some kind (any kind) of artistic statement. And the perfectionist in me keeps complaining that none of my poems subsequent to the first one are good enough to warrant me continuing with this particular writing exercise.
However, there is something addictive about them that has kept me writing, despite all the internal protests. Plus, they’re very quick. And the process of picking random, unrelated statements and then being able to craft them into some kind of whole is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together when you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like in the end. So, here’s a couple of others.
John Howard (from an interview about the lack of WMD’s in Iraq)
I will answer for my statements
I’ve made plenty of mistakes
I get things wrong
I mean, I apologise if I misled people.
Deliberately misled people.
I’m explaining it.
I’m explaining to you what happened.
Well, I don’t know.
I just don’t know.
I can’t do better than that, I’m not an encyclopedia.
You’ll forgive me for not answering simply yes or no, not off the top of my head.
I’d have to get the speech, I’d have to find…
I would have to ask.
As you’re asking me the question.
The answer to that is: I’m not in a position to answer.
I can’t answer.
But, there has been no intention to deceive or mislead
Let us choose our words carefully.
Bad faith, bad motives, deliberate intention.
Anything that I have said that might be seen as misleading
Was not a deliberate misleading.
The literal statement I made
Literally what I said:
Are you prepared to go to war?
We can’t walk away.
Pauline Hanson (from her first speech to parliament in 1996)
I do not feel we can go on living in a dream world
I am fed up to the back teeth
I was born here: where the hell do I go?
Like most Australians, I worked for my land.
I must pay and continue.
I call on the people:
One people, one nation, one flag
Just an ordinary Australian who speaks for 90% of Australians
The majority of Australians be fair dinkum.
But, Australians, it is too late.
Millions of Australians stop kowtowing
Ordinary Australians have been kept out
Mainstream Australia is in danger
Divided into black and white
Wake up, Mainstream Australia!
Life’s knocks applied to mainstream Australians.
Most Australians want
Two sets of rules.
There is light at the end of the tunnel:
I can invite whom I want into my home, I say who comes into my country.
I may be only a ‘fish and chip shop lady’ but
How proud I am.
I salute them all.
John Howard (interview about Sept. 11th, children overboard, war in Afghanistan)
This is not an attack on Islam
There is no total solution.
But these people will not come to the mainland.
It’s one of the pillars of our society.
Even in times like this,
We have laws.
We’ve got laws in relation to that.
Handle the problem where it first occurs.
We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by this:
The kind of people we are.
A humane people.
We preserve our standards.
We continue to behave in a humane fashion.
Our resolve is being tested.
Emotional blackmail is very distressing.
It must be very distressing.
It’s a difficult issue.
A 100 year battle.
A matter of common humanity.
You seek to roll yourself into a small ball and disappear.
They are playing on that.
I will condemn.
I don’t want people in this country who throw children overboard.
Genuine refugees don’t throw children into the sea.
I did a theatre workshop over the weekend run by a writer/director friend of mine. It was exploring Brexit and the current political divide, amongst other things and we had to bring in a speech made by a politician, which we viewed as marking a turning point in politics and towards right-wing conservatism in particular. I immediately thought of the Tampa crisis and John Howard’s insistent that we would decide who came into our country and the circumstances in which they arrive. So, I brought an interview John Howard did with Mike Munro from that time. I found it on this archive that is kept of select Australian prime minister’s press releases, speeches, interviews etc. You can find it here. We had to create something new from what we had brought and I was quite pleased with my effort. The disturbing thing about it is how similar the rhetoric is from the current European refugee crisis, even though this was 15 years ago. People at the workshop were really shocked it was so old.
So, here it is:
This is a very difficult situation for everybody.
We are a humane people.
We are a generous people.
We are reaching a breaking point.
We are not obliged to accept.
We appear to be losing control.
We have an absolute right.
We have decide to take a stand.
We assert the absolute right to control our borders.
We cannot surrender our right as a sovereign country, our right to control our borders.
No country can ever give that up.
We cannot have a situation where people can come to this country when they choose.
We can’t continue sending a signal to the rest of the world that this is a nation of easy destination.
The should be returned to Indonesia.
All we’re asking is that there not be any queue jumpers.
There are a lot of people waiting in the queue.
They should go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
They’re not in imminent fear or concern about the situation.
They try and intimidate us with our own decency.
Four of the illnesses were not as represented.
Three were very mild.
One was feigned.
We will provide medical assistance, we will provide water, we’ll provide food, I mean, we are a very generous people but you’ve got to balance that against not having that generosity played upon.
To fill up my spare hours and to save me from going crazy with the organisation of yet another country move (this is the 4th country move I’ve done in 6 years. Or the 6th city move in 6 years. I think I might need help), I am currently working my way through a book called ‘The Artist’s Way.’ It’s a book that’s meant to help ‘blocked creatives’ (I really, really, really have to work hard at not sneering at that phrase) get past whatever is getting in the way of them making work. There’s all sorts of activities that you do, but the most important are the ‘morning pages’ and the weekly artist’s date. The morning pages are three full pages of writing that you do in the morning time – you get out whatever crap is in your head, or stressing you out and write it down and try to work through it. It’s like a free-form, flow of consciousness diary, I guess. The artist’s date is just doing something every week that is just for you, whatever takes your fancy. So far, I have had an excursion to a falling-down 19th century sanatorium, bought silly stamps at the craft stall, painted ceramics and… this week’s has not yet happened.
I bought the book in Bandon, Ireland (5 moves ago) and started it then, but never made any headway. I think I read the first chapter. This time, I’m being really diligent. It helps that I’m not employed, I guess. Every Wednesday, I read my chapter and then I copy the weekly activities into a little exercise book that I decorated. And when I do my activity, I get a little owl stamp that says ‘Sehr Schön’ on it. I figured it would appeal to the obsessive compulsive child that I am, deep down in my heart. So far, it’s worked very well.
Anyway. The big activity for this week is called ‘Reading Deprivation’. When I first read the phrase, I thought it meant it was going to address the fact that I had been depriving myself of reading and we were going to fix it and I was going to read all the things.
Of course, it’s the opposite. You’re supposed to deprive yourself of reading all the things. In fact, you are banned, BANNED, from reading anything. ANYTHING.
As I read (ha!) through what I was supposed to do, a genuine feeling of dread crept up on me. How exactly was I supposed to do this? How was I supposed to get all the things done that I needed to get done without reading? The first thing I do every morning (and this is… sad, I grant you) is reach for my computer and check email and check Facebook. I’d like to blame the habit on being in a different country from my family and many friends, but, let’s be honest here. I’d probably do it if I’d never left Australia too.
I had lots of questions about the reading deprivation. Was I allowed to read signs? Recipes? Information on the back of drug packets? Every time I needed to look something up, did I need to get Alex to read it on my behalf and then tell me the salient points? What if he read it wrong? Could I read things that I, myself, had written? Or was I only allowed to write texts and emails and send them into the world with whatever predictive text had decided I wanted to say? Is everyone who ever sent an amusingly suggestive text with a strange predictive text word substitution all doing this reading deprivation activity?? The book did not answer these, or really any, of my questions. In fact, the book is quite vague on most of the details. The author tells us that she’s often called crazy for this particular exercise, there’s always someone who says they can’t do what she’s told them to do. And then they all end up doing it. But, but, but… HOW do they end up doing it? Not everyone is unemployed! How do teachers get away with not reading things for an entire work? Are you allowed to read things if you’re being paid to read them? Where does the ‘no reading’ ban end? What happens if I briefly glance over the toiletries in the shower and my brain accidentally comprehends the word ‘shampoo’? Did I read it? Is the exercise over then? Do I have to start again? Should I just walk through the world with my eyes closed for a week?
I’m beginning to think she left it deliberately vague so that you can make your own mind up about what really is essential reading and what you can do without. That’s my decision, anyway. So, I’ve come up with a few of my own rules. For example, the book was originally written in 1992 and the version I have was re-printed in 2002. So, well before communications were radically altered through social media and text message. So, in the end, I decided that I was allowed to continue reading basic communication texts – things that might have been, back in the day, a phone call – because otherwise life would get really difficult. I’ve also allowed myself to read things online for basic information. For example, Alex and I want to go kayaking tomorrow. I had to research where the kayak rental was. That involved reading websites and I decided that was ok.
You may have also noticed that I’m still updating Facebook. Well, I’m allowed to write. So, I figure, posting on Facebook is ok and responding to people commenting on my post is ok, but scrolling mindlessly through my News Feed is a definite no-no.
Even with these, fairly generous, rules in place, the no reading thing has been difficult and frustrating. It’s also been eye-opening. The amount of hours I spend on the computer just waiting for something to distract me, not even entertain me, just distract me, is kind of terrifying. I’ve gotten into a habit of having the computer open at all times, so that whenever I’m reading or watching something and there’s a reference I don’t get, or there’s a song that I recognise but can’t remember why, I immediately get on the computer to look it up. Sure, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But, stopping doing it as made me realise how easily distracted I actually am. Sitting down and really focusing on something and committing to not being distracted is actually hard work. That’s why I love reading on the UBahn, or going to the cinema – it’s easier to not be distracted from a movie or a book when I’m not at home, with easy access to the internet. Somewhere down the line, I turned into those dogs from Up and didn’t even notice and also willingly participated in the transformation.
It’s made me think about lots of things. And not all of them are anti-internet. Like, how did I get information before the internet? I was still a kid, so a lot of the time I just asked my Dad and he knew. I looked up things in our massive Oxford English Dictionary, which was fine for words and things, but not so much for people. I looked things up in my Dad’s old high school Encyclopaedia, but as it was from the 60s, most of the time I did it for laughs and to see people still referring to Russia as the U.S.S.R. There was a reference section of our high school library, where some librarian had carefully cut out newspaper or magazine articles and arranged them alphabetically by subject in horizontal files: Peron, Eva; Peron, Juan. I wonder what happened to all those files. That I now have access to the answer to almost any question I could possibly have is pretty amazing. That I mostly use it to find out what others films a familiar looking actor was in is possibly a waste. That I look up the information and then immediately forget it is probably unsurprising. That not being able to look up the answer to every random question that goes through my brain over the past few days hasn’t resulted in my brain exploding or the end of the world is also telling.
I’ve also discovered I have SO MUCH free time. I know I am currently unemployed, which certainly helps the free time. But, seriously. I can’t think of enough things to do during the day. I’ve actually written myself a list called, ‘Things I Like Doing’ so that if I get bored, I don’t panic and decide there is nothing else to do ever, ever, I’ll be bored forever. I’ve been saying a lot over the past few months that I ‘don’t know what I like anymore’. But part of it was that I just wasn’t bothering to think of things that I liked anymore. I’d come home from work tired and instead of going to the effort of thinking of something I might like to do, I would immediately open the computer and ‘zone out’ for an hour. Hour and a half. Two hours. It was boring. It was frustrating. It was numbing. But as long as things kept changing online there was at least distraction. There was at least something to do. I didn’t have to think too hard and come up with something I might actually like to spend my time doing.
My anxiety levels have also been through the roof over the past two years. I mean, I know, I’ve always been an anxious person. But, there’s been a steady increase over the last little while. And I think part of it has been this underlying feeling that I should always be ‘doing something.’ And, again, online, it is actually possible to always be doing ‘something’. It may or may not be worthwhile ‘something’, but it is, at least, a ‘something’. It might be watching a cat push a dog into a pool (that would be awesome, though, wouldn’t it?) or it might be an 8 page profile of Angela Merkel. But there’s always ‘something’ to do. I find myself going, ‘I’ll just read this and then I’m finished.’ ‘I’ll just watch this and then I’m finished.’ But it never ends, there’s always more clicks, there’s always more suggestions. What exactly did the cat video add to my life? It gave me a cheap laugh, I suppose and we do sometimes need cheap laughs. But if it ends in an hour long cycle of cheap laughs, it’s probably gone on too long. In the last two days, I have, twice, made myself a cup of tea, opened the doors of my balcony and stared at the sky for a good 45 minutes to an hour. I used to love doing things like that. But, I just kind of forgot about it. Because it seemed boring. Because it wasn’t ‘something’. Because it wasn’t as quickly diverting as jumping online.
The whole point of the ‘reading deprivation’ exercise is to stop filling yourself up with things that other people have written or created and start making space to write your own things. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think it would work that quickly. But, seriously. When you’ve suddenly got an entire empty afternoon stretching out in front of you and no ability to spend it staring at other people’s lives on Facebook, or even, getting out a new novel and devouring it hour after hour – why not write something? It doesn’t even have to be a good something. It just has to be a something. Because, no matter how relaxing it is to stare at the clouds for an hour, eventually you’re going to get bored. You’re going to get lonely. You’re going to start feeling some things and you’re going to want to deal with those things.
I do hate people who get all ‘holier than thou’, especially when it comes to the internet and mobile phones (ah, the irony of a video, telling you to look up from your mobile, packaged as clickbait), but the last few days have been a goddamn revelation. I knew I spent too much time online and I knew I hated it. But suddenly banning myself from being unproductively online has made me realise just how much time I spend there, how much I don’t enjoy it and all the things I could possibly be doing if I wasn’t on the goddamn internet. I’m not saying I want to go back to the days when I wasn’t able to find out what ‘AIDS’ was by looking in my dad’s 1960s schoolboy encyclopaedia. But, I’m also saying that I want to make sure that the things I do online are done with purpose, have an end point and are an asset to my broader life, instead of an endless cycle of sponsored clicks.
After the wedding, we headed back to the UK for a bit. The celebration was being held in a small pub in Cambridge, The Cambridge Blue and we had a few things to get ready ahead of time. Also, my parents were coming to the UK to hang with us and Alex’s parents.
The week up leading up to the wedding was fairly uneventful. We had a long and annoying trip home from Copenhagen, but made much less long and much less annoying be being given a lift from one of Alex’s friends. Alex and I argued hugely over what music was appropriate for dancing to and what music was only appropriate for background noise. We ended up with 10 hours worth of music for a day that would only require music for, at the most, 8 hours, but alt at least we didn’t end up killing each other.
I went on a trip with my Dad to Titpon, a small town outside of Birmingham, where an ancestor of ours originally came from. We went to the ‘Black Country Living Museum,’ which was all about mining in the area. I overcame my fears of small, dark, wet and cave-like places and managed to go on a tour of a mine, during which I must have seemed so confident that a middle-aged lady attached herself to me for the entirety of the trip. Literally attached herself to my bag every time we had to move off with a little, ‘Now, where’s my lovely lady?’ It was weird and also sweet.
The real shadow over-hanging the week, of course, was the prospect of the UK referendum. We’d all been gobsmacked over Jo Cox’s death the week before. Alex’s father told us he literally couldn’t stand to talk about it. I felt heartbroken, which was strange because I had literally never heard of her before then. I think it was a combination of the extremity of the violence and anger directed at her, the fact that she had small children, that she shared a lot of the same politics as myself and just seemed like a hugely decent human being with ideals, drive, energy and passion. It didn’t help that when I first heard about the incident she was alive and being taken to hospital and I somehow managed to convince myself she would therefore be fine. I still can’t believe she died. There’s some strange childish part of me that still thinks that if she’d have survived everything else that happened afterwards would have been ok. Or, at least, not as bad. Anyway, driving around Tipton trying to find the Dudley Castle with Dad the day before the referendum, I spotted a UKIP bus and legions of overjoyed UKIP fans (in stupid hats. Why in stupid hats?) lining up to have their photos taken with some UKIP councillor. It was shocking to see them all in the flesh – up until that point they had literally existed as characters on computer or TV screen for me (me being from the London global elite, and all *dramatic eye roll*). My first instinct was, naturally, to roll out of the moving vehicle and give them all a right good kicking. Which obviously wouldn’t have played well, nor would it have made anything about Jo Cox any better. Sure it wasn’t Nigel Farage’s fault directly. But he has a lot to do with the current hysterical state of debate.
Anyway, Alex and I headed into London on the Thursday so that I could vote in the Australian election. (UK) Labour supporters at the station gave me a ‘Remain’ sticker and as we got into London, the number of ‘Remain’ stickers on people both young and old, from all walks of life, gave me hope. I met a friend for lunch at the Jewish Cultural Centre, JW3. When I went to buy a Snapple, the guy behind the counter saw my sticker and said, ‘thanks for voting to keep us in’ (not that I voted, of course, not allowed and all, but it seemed too complicated to go into at that point). When the woman ahead of me took too long to buy her lunch, the cafe guy who had thanked me told me to just take the drink for free. I got a free drink just because he thought I had good politics! I mean, I had the decency to feel pretty guilty about it all, but it really did feel even more embarrassing to explain it to him afterwards at that point. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a bad person.
That night, as we were going to bed, an exit poll had Remain at 52% and Leave at 48%. So, when I woke up at 5am to find Alex staring at his mobile phone and he told me it was 52% Leave, 48% Remain, my sleepy brain, went, ‘oh god, no worries then.’ It took a good 60 seconds for it to properly process the sounds he had made, at which point I woke up completely. It was a complete panic. Not only was the state of the world very different to how I’d assumed it was, this decision seemed to completely upend Alex and my plans for the future.
That morning was difficult. We had so much to do. I had to buy flowers for the tables in the pub. I had to write a speech. We had to move out of Alex’s parents place and to the hotel we were spending the weekend at. I had to iron my dress. We had to go to the pub and check final details for the next day. But, neither Alex nor I had any desire to get out of bed. All we wanted to do was read more and more terrible stories about what the terrible future held and what terrible human beings we all were now that this was the way the vote had gone. Alex said to me, ‘Have a shower. It’ll make you feel better.’ And all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to feel better. I want to feel WORSE.’
Somehow we got out of bed and got everything done that needed to be done. We went outside and the sky was not yet falling. People were walking around as if it were a normal day, instead of running and screaming and ducking for cover. It was all very strange. I kept trying to eavesdrop to see if I could find people who voted ‘Leave’ to hate or people who voted ‘Remain’ to commiserate with. But people seemed to determined to continue on as if nothing had happened. Had something happened? Surely something had happened. It was all terribly confusing. Had no one read the paper that morning?
Somehow we got to Saturday. I dragged myself out of bed (terrible night’s sleep) and started the whole process of getting pretty all over again. It was far less stressful this time. This time, instead of being stressed about being pretty, I was stressed about the speech I had to give. I didn’t want to give the speech. Even though Alex and I had both decided that we should give speeches, and it may have actually been my idea in the first place. Still, that was all irrelevant. Now I didn’t want to do the speech. I didn’t want to do a performance of love. I just wanted to be in love. I was in love with Alex, wasn’t that enough, goddamit, why did everyone insist on asking how it felt, it feels how it feels and you can’t describe it without resorting to cliche and making it sound cheap and ordinary and trivial and it wasn’t ordinary, not at all, so why did everyone insist I go ruining it by trying to describe it with my poor words, eh? Eh? Also, there was part of me that felt that if I got the ‘performance of love’ test wrong then my guests would all think, ‘well, that’s disappointing, isn’t it? The marriage is clearly not going to last. I mean, she’s clearly not REALLY in love. That was just not a good enough speech.’ Maybe someone would ring up Denmark and have our marriage made null and void. This is what my brain does to me.
Anyway, I managed to scrawl out something before putting my curlers in. Erin came round to help again and then we ‘paraded’ to the pub, less out of desire this time and more out of an understanding of Cambridge traffic jams. There was a jam and it wasn’t going anywhere. Still, a little child did stop in the middle of the footpath, gape up at me and yell to his mother (in Spanish): ‘The lady in red! The lady in red!’ That certainly made the walk worthwhile.
The pub had been beautifully done up by Alex’s parents, aunts and friends. We’d gone for a kind of ‘picnic’ feel so all the tables had kitschy, patterned tablecloths (made my Alex’s aunts and Alex’s mother’s friends), mismatched flowers and I’d made cheat’s bunting (strips of material instead of neat triangles). I’d been worried because we couldn’t put it all together before the day, but it looked super-dooper, even if I do say so myself:
The first half of the wedding day was lovely until I remembered that I had to do a speech that I hadn’t even read through since writing it, at which point, it was panic-anxiety stations to the max. Petticoats and high heels and tight dresses to not assist when one is panicking, I must say. I got much advice ranging from ‘push on your lower abdomen’ to ‘have some more alcohol’ to ‘millions of people have done it before you and survived and you’ll be able to do it too.’ All of which was true and helpful but none of which calmed me down sufficiently.
Somehow, we finally got to the part of the day when speeches were done. My brother did a stellar job of MC-ing and Alex’s parents spoke beautifully to start. My own dad brought the house down with laughter and then, just to really stretch those emotional muscles, he made everyone dissolve into floods of tears, myself included. Alex’s friend Anna made, I think, the best Brexit joke of the day (in what was a hugely competitive field – I feel like a lot of friends treated our wedding as a wake for the EU, and that was ok, I completely understood and if it hadn’t been my wedding I probably would have done that too). As Wonderfriend Erin was taking to the stage, however, a huge clap of thunder made itself heard and the heavens opened, pounding our tiny marquee with hailstones the size of extra-large marbles. Poor Erin rose valiantly over the sound, but after she finished we took a 15 minute break. The hailstones provided an excellent distraction from my speech, especially as everyone tried to justify why the hailstones were ok. One friend explained that rain is good luck on your wedding day and what was hail but very hard, very concentrated rain, so this could only meanWh even better luck. Someone else explained that Zeus was angry because Alex had taken me as a bride and to be wary of any swans that might visit me in the evening time.
When the hail calmed down, Alex gave his (very sweet) speech and then I made mine. It was, of course, fine. People laughed in the right places, nobody called the Danish authorities to say a mistake had been made, we shouldn’t actually have gotten married, it was all ok. And that meant the only thing left to do was to enjoy the rest of the evening! We cut cake, we did a first dance to the Magnetic Fields’ ‘I’m Sorry I Love You’ (which I like to think of as the most British love song title ever) and all was good.
There’s not much else to say, really. It was a fantastic night with much dancing and drinking and talking and laughing. I danced so hard that the ribbon on the back of my dress came off somewhere between the pub and the hotel (poor vintage dress lasted 70 years in mint condition, it comes into contact with me and it lasts 2 events. Le Sigh). Brexit didn’t ruin it (though it tried damn hard and is still trying). It was so wonderful to have everyone there who was there and we hope they all had a fantastic time. The pub and it’s owners were great, made everything so easy with organisation and really helped us to get the best day we possibly could have. Everyone who helped out on the day or in the lead-up (and there were lots of them – friends who went shopping with me, friends who approved dresses, friends who picked up dresses, friends who did my hair, friends who attached eyelashes, friends who decorated on the day, friends who picked up cakes, friends who took photos, friends and family who made speeches, friends who organised Hen’s Nights and Stag Nights and Shag Nights, people I didn’t even know who sewed us 20 tablecloths, wrapped flower pots in paper and ribbons…) were incredible and the whole thing wouldn’t have happened without them. It was a perfect day only because everyone pitched in and it made both Alex and I feel so loved and cared for by our friends and extended family. So, to you, all of you, thank you.
So we had a pretty big June.
Yep! We got ourselves hitched!
As followers of this blog may know, I’m not a huge fan of the wedding industry. I’m also not a massive fan of the history of marriage or the modern institution, capitalist romance and the performance of said-romance (see also previous blog entries). So, it might seem a strange thing for a gal like me to be getting married.
And, honestly, it was a strange thing. I know a lot of people view me as hopelessly romantic and whilst that is certainly an aspect of my personality that I may have accidentally cultivated with my interest in Jane Austen, BBC bonnet dramas and flowery clothing; but I assure you the other part of me is a hardened, crusty and angry cynic. I can only describe it as the effects of having been a young and hopeless romantic who came into late and unwelcome contact with the real world. I never really thought I’d get married. When I was in a relationship I couldn’t see a good reason to get married – as a young 20-something it didn’t seem to make a difference to my life. When I was single… well, I just thought I’d never be with anyone ever again. And, that was also… fine.
But, that all kind of changed when I met Alex. I don’t mean (*orchestra playing*) I finally met the love of my life and I suddenly saw the point of marriage. I mean, that because we are citizens of different countries, getting married seemed to make a lot of sense. At some point in our relationship we had each, individually and personally, decided that we wanted, and expected, to be with each other long-term. But that’s not so easy when you don’t have rights in the other’s country. So, getting married was an official way of saying to each of our countries: ‘we come as a package.’ Of course, that explanation doesn’t get rid of all the icky baggage that marriage is carrying around with it, nor does it acknowledge the fact that for many people, an official marriage is still not possible. But for better or worse (ha!) getting married did become very important for us.
Now, I can’t pretend I was impervious to all the traditional wedding stuff. Sure, I wore a red dress and not white, but do you know how much stress I put myself (and many others) through to get that absolutely perfect, one-of-a-kind dress? Sure we only had a civil ceremony in a town hall, but if, for language and visa reasons, you decide to get married in a faux-gothic, early twentieth century Danish town hall that happens to be holding said civil ceremonies in the goddamn clock tower on the day of your wedding, you will still have 6 year old girls looking at the photos and squealing, ‘Jenny! It’s your palace! You’re a princess!’
I think my attitude towards the whole thing was that it should be special, of course it should be special, but if anyone dared suggest that this was, or should be, the happiest day of my life, I would come at them with the unnecessarily high heel of my wedding shoe. Apart from anything else, it simply wasn’t true because we were having a ‘reception’ on a different day (and in a different country) to the ceremony (and possibly another reception in Australia next year – we’re calling it ‘The 2016 – 17 International Festival of Jenny and Alex’. Good God, what were we thinking). So, I deliberately tried to buy things that could be used after the wedding ceremony (and specifically, on the day of the reception). Not only the dress, but the headband, the shoes (which can be died a different colour than spill-attracting white-cream), the make-up (which I bought and did myself), the curlers that I used to set my hair (though I must acknowledge the stupendous help of my best friend Erin who stepped in both days and pinned my hair when I suddenly panicked and couldn’t figure out how to do the back of my hair when I couldn’t see it).
The reason we chose Denmark was that we had it on good authority that it could be very complicated for foreigners to get married in Germany. Also, the service had to be done in German or it wasn’t official and if we couldn’t understand properly we had to provide a translator. Denmark, however, has made a cottage industry of marrying absolutely anyone to anyone else, quickly, efficiently and in the language of your choice (provided that your language of choice is Danish, English or German). We contacted ‘Getting Married in Denmark’ who gave great advice, were warm, helpful all along the way (no matter how annoying or stressed the questions!) and got us exactly the wedding that we wanted.
We got into Copenhagen two days beforehand, with enough time to drop off our official documents as well as to visit the fantastic Tivoli Gardens – an historic and beautiful theme park. I can definitely vouch for rollercoasters and an 80m -high swing roundabout thing for getting rid of your pre-wedding anxiety.
The ceremony was at 10:30am on Saturday, but when we gave in our official documents the woman at the desk had been very disparaging of the notion that we were getting married in the clock tower (way to up the pre-wedding anxiety, random Danish City Hall worker), so we had decided to get there extra early just to make sure that we were actually, really, truly getting married where we had been told we were getting married.
I spent the hours beforehand doing make-up and hair with the help of my stepmum and the the aforementioned Wonderfriend, Erin. I was anxious enough to get approval on almost every brushstroke. Not only is Erin a whizz with the hair, but she is luckily a theatre person and so knew how to attach fake eyelashes – a thing I had bought thinking they looked great but had failed to practice actually attaching to my face. Little tip – 50mins before you need to be at your own wedding is not the time to make your very first attempt at attaching false eyelashes to your face. One does not even know where one should attach fake eyelashes 50mins before one’s wedding – the upper lip? The outer rim of the ear?
Anywho, despite taking way longer than expected, I was ready on time, jumped into a taxi with my parents and wasn’t even the last one to arrive. The City Hall staff on the day were, without exception, friendly, polite, welcoming, happy for us and just generally wonderful. Each staff member showed us to a new section of the City Hall where we would wait a few moments before being shown to another section. The place is stunning with loads of interesting stuff to look at, from nautical and octopus themed wall paintings to exhibitions on WWII in Denmark, so this game of ‘pass-the- wedding-party’ was actually highly enjoyable. The only real issue was when it became increasingly obvious that there was no lift. Not even a little lift for just a little bit of the upward journey. We were to power ourselves all the way up to the clock tower with our own two feet. I mean, it was terribly romantic climbing up all those spiral staircases, but petticoats really do get in the way of making certain that your feet are going where you think they are going.
I can barely remember the ceremony, it was over so quickly. I’m told I squealed. I really hope not. But, then again, I can barely remember the amazing view from the clock tower because I was just so darn excited. So, maybe I squealed. I hope everyone can forgive me. The staff who conducted the ceremony were wonderful and even though we’d never met our celebrant before, she was just perfect – both funny and sincere and just generally warm and empathetic. The little speech she gave in English, of what I can remember, was lovely: something about making sure that we strengthen our relationship by making sure we remain individuals and strengthen each other as individuals. Ah, it was just so perfect. Like I said before, I’ve got issues with romance and public romance, but, I tell you what. This was spectacularly, fantastically, beautifully romantic. Alex was crying (from happiness – I swear I didn’t force him into it). I couldn’t stop smiling.
When we got down to the ground, I dropped our newly minted wedding documents off to be translated and made official (or something) and then we gathered our wedding group together for the post-wedding lunch. We had a bit of time and I was still worked up, so I insisted that we all ‘had to parade’ to the restaurant. In reality, all that meant was walking for 20 mins over cobblestones (though, in hindsight, I should totally have forced them all to play music and throw streamers over me. Missed opportunity). Everyone was extremely kind and all agreed. Nobody even tried to protest. The power of the bride.
Luckily we got to the restaurant just as everyone’s feet were giving out. We had chosen the most Danish restaurant we could find, which served open faced sandwiches and schnapps: Told og Snaps. Again, the staff were wonderful, so friendly and so helpful, considering what a big group we were. They explained we couldn’t possibly drink schnapps without first having beer. This was the way of things in Denmark. So, we all ordered beer and then a schnapps was selected from their long list (‘I will choose a good one for you – if you have never had schnapps before it is difficult to choose’, said the wonderful waiter). The sandwich menu was incredibly long and each one we ordered was incredibly delicious. Who knew a bit of toasted bread with some stuff on top could be so gourmet? The Danes, that’s who.
All the excitement of the past 24 hours: the emotions, the happiness, the stress, the make-up, the hair, the rollercoasters, the lack of food (I’d been unable to eat dinner or breakfast before the wedding) and then the sudden food (so much sandwich! So much cheese!) was starting to take it’s toll. Alex and I went back to the hotel and, in all honesty, all we had the energy to do was watch Danish nature documentaries. Alex fell asleep. Really. I don’t know how couples who do the ceremony and the reception all on the same day do it. I was exhausted.
After about 4 hours of lying down, we had enough energy to go out and get dinner. Around 8pm, people started coming to our hotel room and we had a good ol’ fashioned hotel room party just like in the old days. My brother had brought us lichen liquor from his stop-over in Iceland and we forced everyone to drink it. It was great. I mean, not the liquor, that was pretty awful, but that my brother had brought it and that everyone felt compelled to try it. That was great. Thanks to excellent Danish hotel design, absolutely none of the other guests complained, because absolutely no one could hear anything outside of the room. Spectacular.
On Sunday, Alex and I got up late and then wandered around Copenhagen trying to see a few sights before our flight. Copenhagen is really pretty. That’s my verdict. I would highly recommend it as the place of your next wedding or holiday.
Well, I was going to try and do wedding and reception together but I think it’s getting a bit long. I’ll write the next bit tomorrow.