It is a truth universally acknowledged that a life-long native speaker of English is, when handed a microphone or placed in front of recording equipment and commanded to say something, anything, constitutionally incapable of producing anything more eloquent than “Erm, hello, hello, my name is X – is this working? Um, I don’t know what to say. One two, one two…”

I have much the same problem with presents. Despite living my life in a perpetual vortex of helpless materialistic covetousness, when faced with any of my relatives asking me what I’d like for Christmas I am unable to come up with even a single thing. I find myself saying things like, “Oh, there’s not really anything I actually need,” or “I suppose I can always use some opaque tights,” at which point I realise I’ve become very, very old and start panic-requesting sparkly hair mascara and a twelve-pack of blue WKD.

This year, therefore, I decided to go old-school. An actual Christmas list, albeit one compiled purely for my own reference rather than to hand out to all comers, would at least give me some definite material for the Season of Goodwill to All Men As Measured in Legal Tender – and then whenever I found myself thinking, ooh, I REALLY need an ergonomic cherry-stoner-cum-olive-pitter in matte brushed steel or wouldn’t it be great to have a different set of matching Doctor Who knee-socks and nail art for every day of the week?! I could just add it to the list rather than letting it die a natural and merciful death. It might even be exciting to see what sort of picture my desires and aspirations formed, in the same way that reading back through an old diary can show you things you never really realised about yourself. Maybe I’ve got the soul of a yearning artist! Or a nascent musician! Maybe my list will be full of things like a year’s subscription to The Financial Times and a beginner’s guide to 8th century blue-glaze Chinese pottery and a high-powered electron microscope and a full-size replica of the Phaistos Disc, a work on cryptography and decipherment and several blank notebooks. I started my list a few days ago, jotted down things as they came to me, and then read over it this morning.

Pretty bras, makeup, new shoes and four different items of kitchen equipment.

Well, fuck.

My wish list, my self-portrait, the sum of my being! Holy stuffing arseholes. I may as well have just gone the whole hog and asked for a lifetime’s supply of Valium and a freshly washed pair of pool boys. Oh god, I REALLY don’t have time for an in-depth revaluation of my life choices and feminist priorities right now. It’s the wrong time of year and I’ve got way too much on and anyway, all this angst is hell on my complexion. Opaque tights it is.

frankie my dear

That Our Periods Wouldn’t Cost So Much

I love being a woman more than most things in the world. But like all great loves, I have a little gripe with mine. Mr Darcy was arrogant, Heathcliff was a sociopath, Mr Rochester had the small matter of a psychotic wife, and my love? Well… womanhood bleeds.

As women, we spend around 1/5 of our lives menstruating. Imagine our dismay when we learn this for the very first time; the back, stomach, inner thigh pain that accompanies it, the headaches, nausea, constant threat of leak induced embarrassment, once a month every month for the next thirty five years. But what really adds insult to injury is the phenomenal cost of mopping it all up.

When my childhood best friend and I started our periods, we co-wrote a letter to the Chief Medical Examiner, with help from my Dad, asking why sanitary towels and tampons couldn’t be provided on the NHS. He sent back some guff about it being too large of an undertaking; amazing, really, that contraception is free, nicotine patches are free, but we’re still being taxed for something we haven’t got a choice about.

This afternoon I went to Tesco to buy sanitary towels. I tend to bulk buy when they’re on offer in order to save money, so the last time I bought any was a good 6 months ago.

Guess how much a packet of sanitary towels will set you back in Tesco these days.

No go on. Have a guess.

£3.59. For 18 pads. THREE POUNDS FIFTY NINE.

I almost fainted. I mean, quite besides the fact that I’m basically haemorrhaging anyway, the very implication that I should spend £3.59 on a sticky back nappy for myself was enough to knock me out for a couple of days. Two packs for £6. TWO PACKS for SIX POUNDS. And they act as if they’re doing you a favour with this ‘offer.’

I took the two packets though, and do you know why? Because it’s either that or new sheets. And what’s going to cost me more – a prohibitively expensive packet of sanitary towels, or entirely new bedding? And why is this even a CHOICE?

The thing that drives me insane is that there will never be an end to this. I will be getting my period for the next twenty five years. The prices of sanitary towels and tampons are going to rise and rise, because they can, because we have to buy them to keep ourselves clean, and we have to be clean to hold down jobs and maintain relationships and remain sane and happy. So I did some sums and worked out that, since I started menstruating, until I stop at say, 50, I will have spent a grand total of around £20,000 on my period. I will have spent the equivalent to a deposit on a house on applicator tampons and maxi pads. I will have shoved £20,000 up my vagina. That’s a lot of money for one girl to spend, isn’t it? Not to mention the fact that – in just two years the average man earns the equivalent of a woman’s lifetime ovary spend more than her, just for having a dick.

Never mind my uterus, sometimes my heart fucking bleeds.

Things We Wish We Could Comprehend, #17

Quantum Shit

There’s a website called Scale Of The Universe, and it does pretty much what it says on the tin.

It’s not actually as good as it used to be. At some point between now and when I first discovered it  about five years ago they’ve rejigged it to make it more animated and interactive and wibbly-wobbly, so that it now looks less like a stark scientific approximation of universal perspective and more like one of those primary-coloured mid-afternoon claymation nightmares enjoyed solely by chronic LSD addicts and the very young. The important bit is still intact, though; namely the satisfyingly slidey slider, which allows you to whizz to the edge of the observable universe and back like a demented cosmic pixie.

It’s quite a ride, but although the planets and stars and nebulae and so forth all appear in order of size the impression you get is not so much of magnitude as of distance. I like lying on my back and going waaaahh! waaaahh! waaaahh! at the stars just as much as the next impressionable wannageek, but everything is so very very very very very very far away that it’s difficult to really grasp that it is also very very very very very very big. Sliding up the Scale Of The Universe feels like travelling backwards through space, which certainly qualifies as freakin’ awesome in its own right, but as a child of nineties television I’ve been exposed to way too much sci-fi for it to have that much of an impact.

What got me, as I moved slowly back down through the star systems and the slidey wotsit began creeping towards the left, was the other end.

I was fine at the beginning. Hummingbird egg, 1.2cm? No sweat, bro. Salt crystal, 0.5mm? Sista puh-lease. Width of a human hair, 0.1mm? Come on, stop trying to hit me and hit me!

Then it all got a bit quantum. Zooming slowly down through the glowing red heart of a proton, I emerged into a vast, white, utterly empty space, as blank and dimensionless as the Matrix loading program. Psychological perspective suddenly turned the small rectangle in the centre of my screen into a window, a narrow viewfinder looking out into featureless, limitless desolation. Somehow, within the unthinkably tiny confines of a subatomic particle, I had discovered a desert.

And then, in what my mind could not help thinking of as the far distance, I saw something. A tiny black dot, almost lost in the whiteness. There was something else out there. Something moving, the hazy shape of a polar bear far off in the Arctic waste, but this isn’t the tundra, this is deep down in the fine print and it’s not distance, it’s magnitude and what in the name of Gregory Peck could possibly be that small?!

I mean, come on. I took physics in high school, I know about electrons and stuff, I know they’re much smaller than protons, but when you think “much smaller” you think of the way a Mini Cooper is “much smaller” than a Boeing 747, not the way a grain of couscous is “much smaller” than the FUCKING SUN.

Not unnaturally, I freaked the fuck out. I had to go away and look at sensible things before my brain realised that the entire world is batshit insane and that immediate spontaneous combustion is literally the only reasonable response. I still don’t know what’s down there. Planck length, I suppose. Bits of god. I don’t want to find out in case it ruins ordinary things like hamburgers by showing me how they’re all just made of tiny specks of physics held together with nonsense.

Maybe a better and more enlightened person would have had their existential crisis on the way out. Oh god, everything’s so big! SO BIG! And I’m so small! My entire world is small! In the grand scheme of things my petty worries and troubles don’t even exist! I should help and care for my fellow minisculii rather than set against them, for only together can we ever amount to any more than a mote of dust in the eye of a flea on the arse of a dog at the feet of a man sitting uncomfortably close to a large sweaty woman on a crowded train heading to the coast for a dirty weekend with the ex-wife of his boss’s last secretary’s boyfriend!

Additional resources

Alas. All I’ve learnt is that I am definitely the kind of person who would sell out Laurence Fishburne for a good steak. If you ever have a minute, though, give it a try and let me know what you think. I’ll be outside lying on my back, sweating the small stuff and going waaaahh! waaaahh! waaaahh! at the stars.

frankie my dear