How to Spot & Escape a Narcissist

If only we knew lol

Neurodivergent Rebel

Narcissists hide in plain sight. They can be cunning and charming. Most of the time you can’t spot a narcissist unless you get to know their motives. Narcissists are dangerous master manipulators.

How to Spot a Narcissist 

Narcissists are self focused. – Narcissists always think of themselves first and don’t care about the feeling and comfort of others. They tell stories about themselves. Often the stories will paint the narcissist as either a hero or a victim. The narcissist is never wrong and they always paint themselves in a positive light.

Gaslighting – Narcissists are master manipulators. Gaslighting is emotional abuse. A narcissistic partner may that causes  you to question your own instincts, judgement, and even sanity. A narcissist wants the power to control you. When you lose your ability to trust in your own perceptions, it becomes easy for the narcissist to get you to do the things they want.

Narcissists play the victim.

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Lost Girls and Familiars.

As requested, here are my thoughts on us as witches. I decided to explore not only our innate affinities, but our disciplines, homes, mode of transport, powers, familiars and attire. Hope you enjoy! 🙂


I think you would be a swamp witch – but only to the untrained eye. To those you didn’t wish to see, your home would appear as an ominous, mist-filled swamp, with the anthropomorphic roots of the trees eerily rising from it, seemingly twitching and groaning when you looked away. The fog would be permanent, with the sounds of the strange deep echoing from its undergrowth, deterring even the most intrepid explorer. It would be permanently surrounded by rumours of the haggard old crone and the feral beasts who resided there, and inspire countless fairytales and the Halloween depiction of a cackling, skeletal old woman we all know. However to people who you trust (and fundamentally good people you’ve yet to love) would see your home for what it truly was; a huge Eden, with fields of flowers and trees stretching as far as the eye could see. That way your home would be permanently protected, with only good people allowed to enter, and anyone who walked the earth with malicious intent would be doomed to walk forever in the grey realm of fog if they dared. Your actual house would stand  in the middle of the Eden, inside a huge circus tree which was magically woven into a plethora of walkways, arches and pretty patterns.

Naturally, you’d be a textbook Green witch. Your affinity would be nature, with your primary element being Earth and season being Spring. You’d have a great natural power over flora and fauna, able to communicate to any plant or animal through energy and work out exactly what they need without a physical word passed. Because all scripts are written on natural materials, you’d be one of the most sought-after literary witches in the world, and carry on learning from books long after any initial ‘beginners’ schooling, as well as writing your own Bible-thick encyclopaedias on all magicks organic. Your secondary element would be air, and you would be able to channel or translate any emotion into the atmosphere, calming or soothing anyone within the vicinity. In your home you’d have a ‘library branch’, where any script your body fancied reading would manifest itself into the bark of the tree without you consciously knowing you wanted to read it. You’d be a master of sigils, and be able to conjure up the right energy symbol for any given situation. On your front door there’d be a powerful sigil for protection and cleansing, surrounded by a wreath of verbena and violets. Pretty evergreen creepers would be draped in every ‘room’ of your home, filling it with the scent of flowers and rain, and every morning you’d wake up with new flowers in your hair, which bloomed according to your mood and aura that day. As a consequence of this, people who had no context of your vernacular would be notably confused by your descriptions; ‘Oh my God, that was such a daffodil moment!’, ‘Well this day couldn’t get any more draconian.’, ‘Um, what the hell? I’ve never felt more chrysanthemum?’, ‘Ugh, it feels like it’s going to be a snapdragon month.’  Your eyes would be anywhere between leafy green and sylvan brown, depending on the light (and greenage of the area, as you would discover when your eyes went sandy in an equally barren land). Your skin would carry a greenish tinge (when exposed to the exact right amount of sunlight (or Phoebe’s hair)) and you’d have living tattoos of flowers and shoots and swirling vines which changed with the seasons, but always framed your face in a stunning diadem of verdure.

Even though you’d have a connection with all animals and be regularly visited by woodland birds, squirrels, mice, bees and deer, you’d have two sole familiars – one whom you chose and one who chose you. The former would be an arctic hare (a regular courier of gifts for your mermaid counterpart) called Akira, a fiercely brave and loyal little bun who can run faster than a bullet train and scout anything on the horizon. She’d be born out of the white smoke of a blessed fire you burnt to cleanse the air of the Eden, a delightful accident of the magick you’re still discovering the potential of, and her eyes would sparkle the colour of the clearest azure sky. She’d be very hardworking, and thump her back paw on the ground to alert you of danger or suspicion (this happens a lot as she is suspicious of everyone and everything, so whenever a kind seed-seller or beekeeper comes a-wandering, her paw becomes a little rolling-snare fanfare upon their arrival). She would be able to ferry messages to your sister witches across the continent within a matter of hours, and wouldn’t ever dawdle or stray from her assigned path. Her default fur would be white as snow, but she’d be able to camouflage in any terrain, drawing from the adaptive traits of her earthbound kin. Your second familiar would be a sheep called Alasdair, who didn’t really aid your magic in any way but he’s cute and not harming anyone so you let him bum about. You met him when you heard him bleating in a wheat field as a lamb, injured and separated from his mother who was taken by cruel, corrupted heathenist witches who abused their powers of night and blood magick instead of using them for good. You’d take him home and nurse him until he was ready to venture off on his own, but he wouldn’t leave, and instead developed mystical traits such as the telltale sparkling eyes (green as a meadow) and the ability to talk and levitate. This would be unprecedented, with all familiars being deliberately created or fatedly born from magick, and never unlocked in the spirit of a normal, earthbound animal. Only familiars can physically talk to magickal folk, but as you can communicate with them through their energy, they’d sometimes forget this (particularly Alasdair) and strangers would be unnerved by the frustrated animals who would stare at them, stomping and snorting when they don’t respond.

Due to your core element, your magick would be mostly physical. You’d have a great discipline of craft –  a sort of ‘kitchen magic’ – with an extensive knowledge of herbs and plants and how they can be utilised. In your kitchen you’d have shelves upon shelves of clear bottles filled with every useful organic ingredient, transforming them into a colour-coded mosaic on the wall. You’d be able to bottle up anything – including the abstract, much to the delight of other witches. Every time I popped round you’d treat me to a cup of Butterfly Tea and Tempest Cake sat at your round garden table, and other magickal folk would beg and bargain to sample the taste of moonbeams, or trade to obtain a bottle of Blue and a cup of Shivers to use in their spells. I think you would be unaware or even doubtful of the extent of your magic, so much so that you wouldn’t discover your second affinity for some time (I pushed you off my broom to prove that you COULD walk on air). Consequently, you’d be forever discovering new powers and abilities and a lot of your magick would be an accidental by-product of the spell you were aiming to perform. However, the excitement and sense of achievement you’d get from discovering something new would encourage your magickal ability and imminently strengthen your powers (even if it was just ‘LMAO FEEBS AN ENTIRE ACRE OF TREES JUST WALKED AWAY AND ARE HEADING FOR YOU!’, or ‘CATARINA HELP ME I JUST SET THE SKY ON FIRE BUT ALSO LOOK LMAO I SET THE SKY ON FIRE HOW SICK IS THAT!’). You’d travel via whatever animal you wanted to, and since discovering your affinity for air you’d be able to manipulate your weight and centre of gravity so you could skate on the back of two swallows if you so chose, or hitch a ride on a whale by surrounding yourself in a bubble of air. You’d be dressed in all natural materials, one day a comfy, loose outfit of petals and spiderwebs, then next day a beautiful gown sewn by an army of silkworms and speckled with shining dewdrops, the envy of any garden witch.

 


Catarina would be the absolute poster child for grey witches. Her magick often would be one of two ways; neither beneficial nor harmful, or irritatingly double-edged, forever balancing and neutralising. Her element would be air, and her season would just be teeter into Winter. She’d be the only one of us who didn’t live in a quiet, rural or solitary place, but rather a thriving metropolis full of non-magick folk and very few witches, regularly interacting and living in the earth realm. However her house would be no less extraordinary; I imagine it like a huge glass hall akin to a natural museum or the reptile room in A Series of Unfortunate Events. She’d have maps of all the magical realms and lands (even if she hadn’t visited them or they surely didn’t exist) covering the walls and cages of magickal creatures hanging from the ceiling. There’d be glass cases displaying feathers and crystals and faerie wings and she’d utilise these in her magick along with bones, hair and totems from different cultures.

She’d be a Storm witch, capable of playing with the weather, drawing pure electric energy from lightning or shouting thunder, but she’d have a calming aura and chill out any room she walked into, able to control the atmosphere more so than you. Her magick would be all energy, and mostly offensive rather than defensive – she’d deftly lift objects using the air around them and could whip up a storm (pun intended)of anything she wanted to. Her secondary element would be Earth, and due to this unusual contrasting combination she would be the only one of us to also use semi-precious stones as well as energy crystals in her magic. She’d have such a strange feel for the environment that she’d keep all soils of the earth in bottles around her bed (though to nosy non-magick folk she could say they were just soil samples for geography purposes). She’d also learn from and ask favours of the clouds, send whispers of information on the wind and be able to tell the history (magickal or not) of a natural arch or cave at a single touch of their minerals. I also believe she’d have an amazing repertoire of ‘little magicks’ -invisible skills she’d think were normal of anyone, such as a perfect sense of direction, or never making a mathematical error (or the ability to study AND campaign AND have a job whilst remaining efficient and mentally stable and not dying of stress or overwhelm). Even though she’d be a busy bee in the big city, she’d also find lots of time to travel and hike and find forgotten magickal clans in mountains or valleys, and arm herself with their knowledge of and connections with Old Magick. Her enchantments would be very by-the-book and she’d always require objects, vessels or creatures to help her physically concoct spells and channel her powers, having no physical magick of her own. Her powers would have the potential to be both as soft as summer rain or as hard and cold as hail, and she would have the most control and conscientiousness of her magick than any of us. She’d be a great scholar and credit to her mentors (haha what a n33k) because of the simultaneously grounded and liberal nature of her magick, and would always be swift and ready for action, solving problems with her raw ability as if it were a mere afterthought.

Her familiar would be a traditional all-black cat with glittering topaz eyes, inspiringly named Midnight. I think this would annoy her immensely, and she’d keep a sloth, a tortoise, a snowy owl and a timber wolf casually about the house in the hope that you could encourage them to become her more exotic and symbolic familiar (to no avail). Midnight would be very sarcastic and lazy (as most cats are) with a dry sense of humour and tendency to irritate, and of course they would be constantly arguing. However, when it got right down to it, she was also very spirited and clever and an exceptional familiar in terms of aiding Catarina’s magick, acting as a vessel to move energies between worlds and a catalyst for portals which magickal beings could communicate and pass through.

Although Catarina would rely on a mixture of methods to utilise her magick (employing incantation more than any other), she would also be the only one of us to incorporate faerie magick. She’d discover her affinity for the fae when offerings of acorns and gifts of flower heads began appearing under her pillow every morning. Her unique presence of earth and air in a humdrum environment alerted their dormant, underground kingdom and seeing her elfin appearance and magickal prowess, they (mis)took her for their prophesised 5’6″ queen. She’d often find faerie rings outside her door to keep her safe and have to uncharm and uproot them before anyone stepped inside and was hexed. She’d talk to them about their roots in ancient magick and they’d help her with spells and potions using their own powers, also sourcing her rare roots, plants and mushrooms (which she’d of course have little use for and pass on to you) and she would repay them in cake crumbs and knickknacks. They’d donate the wings of their fallen faeries, which, due to their many magickal uses and clerical benifits, are incredibly valuable after and difficult to obtain ethically. Because of this, Catarina would campaign for Tiny People’s rights in our world as well as doing humanitarian work in the earth realm.

She’d travel by air or simply by earthly ways when she could be bothered, but mostly would just summon portals to where she wanted to go. She’d be white as a moonbeam but have hair as black as storms and her eyes would swirl with the blues and greys of the sky. She would work alone but regularly interact with other witches, and as she engages daily with the earth realm, she dresses like a non-magick person (however, with her blustery affinities she would often go to work only to have her colleagues pick leaves and twigs out of her hair, so she’d say ‘Mate, it’s bare windy out there,’ when it clearly wasn’t) in corporate, smart black dresses. However she’d have a proper hooded black witches garb for doing incantations (and stripy tights for the bants), and when she wanted to make a statement at coven events, she’d wear breathtaking gowns made of clouds or feathers and accessorise with jewellery woven by tiny faerie fingers and have iridescent white faerie glitter on her eyelids and just generally look amazing without the slightest bit of effort but whatever it’s fine.

 


Feebs would obvs be an Sea witch – as wild and untameable as the waters she had an affinity with. Her season would be on the cusp of Summer and Autumn, and her primary element would naturally be Water. Her domain would be a stone cottage opposite the lone cypress in Monterey (or at least, that’s what the earthbound called it – in reality it was a magickal landmark and was surrounded by a quiet and calm beach in her reality, which existed alongside theirs). Her house would be delightfully kitsch with decorative driftwood and washed up items, magickally transformed (except for the doll heads, which would remain creepy and weird and please take them down). She’d have an affinity for hearth magick and incorporate sewing and knots into her spells and scatter weavings and rugs around her home.  Her spells would be worked using seashells and bones, sea weed, beach sand, driftwood, ocean water, etc., drawing energy from every ocean by the pull of the full moon. Although the sea has lunar connections, her secondary element of Fire would give her an affinity for the sun. She’d carry its light in her golden tresses and draw on its energy to give out a warm and maternal aura. She could also utilise its passionate glow to attract non-magickal folk and even seasoned witches would be rendered tongue-tied when they saw the ocean spray caught in her eyes, casting rainbows across the blues of her irises. Although her combination of elements may seem contrary, they carry a symbolic relationship of life and growth, as magma and water make earth. Phoebe would be the type to connect with traditional Pagan magick, dancing naked and chanting around a fire under the moon, not caring if anyone saw (or even inviting them to).

Phoebe would be the only one of us to have a mythological creature as a familiar. She’d have a hippocampus called Linx who would be 12 feet long and covered in blue and pink scales, with a pair of great big sparkling orbs the colour of Ribena. She’d be a bit useless confined to the sea, but also extremely powerful in her element, able to communicate with any marine life, guiding Feebs to channel her powers with her 200-year-old wisdom. On every full moon she’d grow back legs and go bounding onto the beach to greet Feebs, and they would ride all over the land together. She could ferry Phoebe to which ever golden island she wished to visit, and gave us regular rides on her vast, smooth back. She’d bring her witch a plethora of rare multicoloured shells, stones and corals to weave into bracelets and anklets and stick onto the windows of her home.

Treebs herself would wear an ever-replenishing bottle of pink sea salt round her neck, which she’d use to magically cleanse anywhere she resided. Her dress would be made of burlap and rags, but sewn together in such a way and garnished with seashells and pearls that she’d be commissioned by envious witches everywhere.  She’d be the only one of us to scry using both water and crystal balls, as well as using pendulums and divining rods to utilise her connection with water, finding magickal things in the sand or messages in her star charts. She’d also be gifted at making potions, particularly for healing, growth and defense. Due to her core element, she’d also be a better bog witch, often reaching through your Eden’s protective veil and grabbing moisture-rich soils, muds and plants to use in her beauty and seduction spells. Her magic would mostly be defensive, but would be strong and supportive of other witches who would draw of her power. However, as it is also all physical, the stones of her house would shake and the seas would start to thrash when she got angry, and if she lost control of her energy it would manifest as tsunamis across the globe. She would transport herself by melting into the ocean and crashing herself into the shore of her desired destination, stepping out bone dry the second she hit land. This would be fabulously melodramatic and inspiring to witness.

 


Finally, I would be a Hedge witch. My primary element would be Fire, closely followed by Spirit. My Season would most definitely be Autumn. Hedge is a type of magick that is oriented around more spiritual work; astral travel/projection, lucid dreaming, shadow-work and out-of-body experiences. You probably noticed I implemented a bit of ‘witches confused by their own magic’ into each of us. Well, mine would be the definition of confusing; experimental, highly individualistic and completely and utterly chaotic. As I mentioned in Prison Barge, my house would be one which walked on two legs and never stayed still (an enchantment which worked a little too well). An eternal purple fire would burn inside it, and I would use this fire to fuel my spells, throwing bad thoughts and curses and dreams into it. I would probably be able to override the magick and vaguely control where I wanted it to go, but to stop it I’d have to throw an anchor (gifted by Feebs) overboard on a chain of carved standing-stones to keep it loosely in place, tethered to a small circle like a toddler on a reign. Witches would be accustomed to its rumbling footsteps and unphased by me suddenly bolting mid-sentence because oh fuck, there goes my house. Sometimes it would manage to walk off completely, but often came back without too much fuss. Guests would have to get used to their cups of tea sliding around on the table and things flying off the shelves, and because of this constant movement I would develop great ‘sea legs’ and forget that people who visit can’t walk easily on a slant and be forever confused why they tumble across the room as they walk in the door. As my house is my transport, I wouldn’t really need a way of getting around – however, if my house did abandon me, I would be the only one to ride a broom (or rake or swing-ball set or paddle or whatever I could nick off you guys in the moment) and I would so with reckless abandon. I like the idea of being traditional and Halloween-y, swooping around and doing trapeze and making children question if the magic is real on Halloween night, laughing with the moon where no else one except Feebs would understand and be in on the joke. I would wear purple and black stripes and my clothes would be constantly holey and torn and my feet would always be bare and dirty. My eyes would veer on a spectrum of red to purple, anywhere between the palest opalescent lilac to dark mahogany to bright violet. I’d have no idea why but who cares, it looks cool.

I would be a Jill of all disciplines, and consequently not great at any of them. My magick would probably be quite powerful if I knew what I was doing, but, always eager to learn more, I would seek out obscure crafts and move on to the next exciting affinity before mastering the last one. This would be endlessly frustrating for any mentor or tutors I’d have, who’d express their anguish over my wasted potential and I’d just be like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, knowing that my powers were erratic and I couldn’t control them if I wanted to. I wouldn’t worry about offense or defense but I’d certainly try and get a balance between physical and energy, studying ancient spiritual texts but also staying lucid and creative, winding dream catcher after dream catcher and learning to channel my energy into them. Because my house moves, I would explore magicks from all walks of life. One of my abilities would be to decrypt any language at a glance, but I wouldn’t discover this easily as it wouldn’t register as something anyone wouldn’t be able to do. Only when you would get frustrated over a script on your library branch (as, while your mind knew what it wanted to read, it would sometimes be in a dead or forgotten tongue) would I realise that it wasn’t normal to translate symbols into English just by looking at them, and consequently I would have sessions reading to you while you mix and draw and write your enchantments. This may expand to more abstract languages, to “de-code” symbols and messages in the dream realm, or in tea leaves, or in the stars, or ripples in the water – similar to any divination technique.  While you guys all are somewhat grounded in the earth realm and can only travel between worlds using portals, having a spirit element allows me to walk between them, with such ease that I’d probably daydream and absentmindedly transcend, forgetting which one was the right one. This would prompt a lot of ‘WHAT THE FUCK, where’s your garden gone? I’m walking and all I see is swamp,’, ‘Treebs have you moved?’, ‘Fatarina I can hear you but I can’t see you can you stop that shit, please.’, ‘Why have you set the sky on fi- oh wait, I am in the right place lmao.’

I would have many familiars, mostly birds (anything which had a handle to learn language, tropical songbirds and crows and budgies), a great long python (immediately banished whenever you come to visit), and a huge, shaggy beast which followed me back from one realm that we’re not really sure what they are but we pretend they’re a dog and say no more about it. However, they would value their freedom as animal kin and I wouldn’t consider them ‘missing’ if they disappeared for days or weeks at a time, as most witches would. Except for my sole and favourite familiar (appropriated from one of my OCs), Hershey the fruit bat, who would be fucking useless at anything due to his size (small enough to hang from a finger or an ear) but incredibly loyal nonetheless.

Inside my home, I would hang homemade dream catchers in every corner of the room (though they seem better at catching Hershey) and take the dreams to you to bottle up. Bottled dreams were a great delicacy, and bottled nightmares make for a fantastic hex, so I’d take them (and a range of your other creations) to sell on my travels and come back to reward you the profits of foreign trade (dragon eggs, nymph blood, griffon feathers, pumpkin spiced lattes, woven charms, animal skulls, etc.).  I would also have shelves of hoarded bottles but in coloured glass, and half of them would be empty ‘just in case’, and the other half would have rotten contents, forgotten about in the midst of my chaotic hoarding until you quietly replace them, and then forgotten about again. I would burn lilac candles and orange incense all day long and try and emulate the great natural smells of your Eden, dancing in the wicked flames reflecting off the many jars, casting harlequin shadows in jade green and navy blue and magenta.  Unfortunately, due to its constant wandering, if I don’t have the strength to override the magick I could have weeks or months of ‘indoor days’, where the house decided to walk across a scorching desert or through a fierce blizzard or across the bottom of the ocean. When this happens I’d have to pass messages between to the moon to give to Feebs, or send a crow on the wind to Cat, or crush a daffodil into a cauldron to portal you over the folds of space. I think my biggest weakness would be the unpredictability of my magick, but as all four of us span across the elements, we are infinitely stronger and more stable when together. With one foot in the earth realm and the other in the phantom world, I couldn’t do much in terms of charms or hexes or spells – but I would bless you all with pleasant dreams each night so you’d wake up a little bit stronger each morning.

A Boat Named Sussex: The Prison Barge Diaries

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Hi Catarina,

As promised (sorry it’s late, been competing at a national level and that), I’m writing a day-to-day account of my canal trip in Sowerby Bridge (with pictures!!!).

So, on Day 1 before we boarded, we ate lunch in the pub situated in the dock. It was super chic – like fish-in-the-stairs chic, with ornate mirrors and lights made of tree branches – and I wanted something light and healthy so I ordered a watermelon and feta cheese salad with pomegranate garnish and sweet potato chips. It was a mistake, because I don’t actually like feta if it isn’t grated. We then loaded up onto the prison barge and I was irritable to say the least. The weather was shit, naturally, and my dad had already managed to flood the toilet of the barge before we’d even set sail (this was easily rectified though – the bogs had a very dodgy flush mechanism so it wasn’t really his fault).

Here’s me looking cute and deadly:

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The barge was like a TARDIS, it was so efficient on the inside and everything folded out into something, including privacy doors. This said, I would not like to have the maximum 8 people on board, as we still couldn’t really pass each other in the corridor.

This is my cosy little cubby:

We basically had to get through 3 locks (including the deepest one in England which they do for you) and it’s weirdly scary because there’s all this water rushing in while you’re slowly rising/falling. Every time the mossy, massive doors opened and we glided through I felt like I was going into some jungle temple or forbidden badlands full of creatures. It was often very still and quiet as well, and it got me thinking about how hilarious a concept it would be if you were escaping a zombie apocalypse by barge.

Anyway, after the locks it was smooth sailing and, naturally, as the sky started to brighten up so did my mood. The second the sun hit the roof of the barge I was up there checking the acrobatic potential of the Prison Barge.

We navigated on clean canal for a while. We came across a lot of ducklings, including this gorgeous family on the wall (who had one adopted yellow duck) and the prettiest mother duck you’ve ever seen. Like, some real Beatrix Potter shit.

Adoption among waterfowl seemed to be a common thing, as we also saw a whole army of Canadian geese, who were chilling with a single white duck (we saw them more than once so it wasn’t just a fluke). One thing I learnt on this trip was that Canadian geese are extremely polite compared to English geese, as is to be expected. I took to feeding all the critters I came across, and these lovelies would look up with beady eyes but never beg or flap. However the English geese, standing and probably twice the size, took to hissing and chasing me round the docking car park with their scary-ass serrated beaks, but more on that later.

The houses on the banks were lovely, quaint with a touch of Florentine charm over the waters and it was clear that the residents loved to make their homes pretty for the boats which passed them every day. My favourite house was one with a tree grown through its deck (or rather, its deck built around the tree) which had tiny bird feeders suspended on the walk way and butterflies, lanterns and watering cans in soft purples, greens and yellows stuck to the fences. If you could put ‘Easter’ and an architect in a blender and pour the resulting mix into a house, this is probably what it’d look like. The photos don’t do them justice.

 

We moored up not far from the Easter house after seeing some big ol’ hairy highland Moos(!) and then had a curry and drinks in a couple of the local pubs.

To finish up the night my brother and the SIL introduced my parents to Cards Against Humanity. Both of them found the game hilarious and were surprisingly adept… I’m ashamed to say all three of us kids were mercilessly thrashed, with Mum taking the title with a whopping 21 black cards and Dad tailing her with 18. To be fair, my hand was consistently shocking, but even so.

Love you, more tomorrow,

love from Lockmaster Eris.

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(Dis your lock lol)


Hi Catrina,

Day 2 on the prison barge mostly consisted of travelling. After a quick cooked breakfast, our goal was to reach Hebden Bridge (AKA the alleged Lesbian Capital of England AKA Studio Ghibli IRL) and moor up before the turning point. The canal, while still peaceful and quiet, became more of an obstacle course as the locals (who actually LIVED on their boats) were moored up on both sides and we actually had to concentrate on steering our wild, 4 mph beast. I proved to be quite good at this, because unlike driving you kind of have a feel for the whole boat and where it’s going as you’re behind its mass. However, it was much easier to let Dad and the bro argue over steering, and I like lazing on the roof or hanging off the side as we went through willow trees and tunnels.

We stopped at a midpoint and went and explored the nearby town. I had avocado and sundried tomatoes on sourbread in a quaint little vegetarian cafe called ‘The Blue Teapot’. This is where I learnt that pink elderflower exists (and also that Leah is secretly an artist).

We reached Hebden bridge and were met with a colourful menagerie of boats, moorside art studios and friendly Northerners. Everyone you passed (on a boat or on a bike (they had a big thing about bikes here – there were yellow ones on the walls of every other pub and I think it was for the Tour de France or something… or like, a gay version of it)) greeted you, and one party boat threw my dad a Skipper’s hat, which was our souvenir of the trip.

This was probably my favourite part of the trip. The weather was stunning (for a while, anyway) and the house marking the bridge was straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, the whole mooring point was. The second I saw it I imagined it pulling up on two steam-powered legs and striding away. It got me thinking about us as witches, and how I’d probably live in a house that never stayed in one place, and would probably walk off without me commanding it to – this is exactly what it would look like. Some of the boats had gardens, greenhouses and even animals on their rooftops. All the boats from our company had county names like ours, so very so often you heard charming calls of ‘Northumberland! Back up a bit.’ and ‘Durham, bear left.’ I must say, it was refreshing after a particularly depressing and flatlining year, drinking in all this nature and having all these colours to taste was a creative blessing. I had so many racing thoughts about book premises, characters and illustrations. Unfortunately too many to catch – I used to refer to these kinds of thoughts as ‘Fireflies’, as they sort of glow briefly and then flit out of sight if you don’t grab them in time. But when you do catch one, they’re full of magic.

 

Even the names of the surrounding pubs seemed to pop out of a fantasy town; the houses had bikes and hula hoops on their outside walls – as decoration! After feeding more geese in the (now pissing) rain and hopping off the boat, we had tea in ‘Stubbing’s Warf’ – a gorgeous hearth-heralding pub sporting antlers above the door. I think if you guys can handle the first 5 minutes of boat-rocking before leaving the initial dock, you’d really love a canal trip.

I started to get a case of the sads after dinner (VERY close quarters with the fam for two days straight was exhausting for me) so I had some me-time playing Pokémon and then called it a night.

See you,

Eris.

 

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Hi Catmondo,

Day 3 was more travelling – and turning! We had a little lie in and then got straight on it. The boat had to be back at 9am on Monday, so we had to do the rest of the route and turn around before mooring up so we could do the journey back in one fail swoop. This was where I really started getting peeved with Skipper, because the first turning point was so narrow and crowded with other boats that we actually didn’t realise that we’d missed it, and the next one was an hour (and three locks away). I was starting to feel a bit surplus and got bored of being yelled at by my dad, who tells you to do things whilst you’re doing them (it’s impossible to drive with him in the passenger seat for the same reason). So I had an indignant nap and sat out of the rest of the last three locks (though I did practise my splits with the SIL on my share).

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I stopped being a grump at one really scenic lock, however. This is where I thought the Other Brother really missed out; it was full of green, party boats with dreadlocked youths and people sat on art sculptures who were NOT shy about smoking weed. This kind of lazy river living would be his exact dream lifestyle. A lot of people and their curious kiddies stopped to watch us fill the lock (which was slightly embarrassing because we just happened to beach a few metres up, and a bashed-up booze cruise barge full of sexy young things was waiting at the top of the lock to come down. We eventually reached the turning point after a few more locks (a turning point is a deeper, tear-dropped part of the canal which you’re supposed to go forwards into the point and then do a three-point turn… we did it backwards lol) and did the whole thing again. When we came back out of the scenic lock we had a break. There was a lovely traditional market where we picked up a big bulb of Italian garlic for the Other Brother, and some bread for lunch. Mum also bought me a souvenir bracelet off a lady and their son (the purple one just happened to have witches’ charms!) and a tiny clay golden goose for herself. We boated a bit further, all the way past Hebden and made it back to the original dock. We had the choice to go home at this point but I was the only one who didn’t drive and didn’t have to face three hours of that after the trip. So we moored up and went and had stir fry in a Mongolian buffet (I put kangaroo and venison in mine… flash-fried kangaroo is actually really nice). I bought some herb oil and char Sui sauce from their own brand, so we can make some exciting dishes in the new house. After stuffing ourselves stupid I showed off on top of the barge to the diners opposite the canal with some acro and hooping, while the SIL did her splits. What another great story a barging circus would make.

I fed the leftover bread to the ducks (word spreads between them – I’d been followed since Hebden and a flock came running). There seemed to be a lot of crossbreeding because there were some very pretty dark, iridescent ducks and flufflings. My favourite was a beautiful, seemingly independent duck who had humbug stripes on her head and purple under-feathers rather than blue (I spent ages trying to get a close up of her but a stupid boy duck kept bullying her and the flufflings).

Home soon,

Eris the Duck Whisperer.

 


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Here’s me ruining a photo.

Hi Jez,

The final day wasn’t anything to shout about. With half an hour to kill, we did a small loop of the dock and went through the final lock (in the rain) and then moored up. We said our goodbyes in the car park and then I was assaulted by a pack of geese.

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Overall it was a lovely trip and I think it could have only been made better with a bit more time to explore the towns. The locks are a bit of a chore (they go VERY slowly) but it was nowhere near as boring as the safety DVD let on. I think Leah would really love the landscape and nature, you’d like the mechanics and navigation and Feebs would like sunbathing on the roof. Maybe we should have a party barge one day – with a shorter route and more booze.

Hope you liked this!

Eris, certified boater.

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A Penpal Across Worlds

ANSWERS:

  1. Describe you ideal house (in explicit detail please).
    I have very conflicting tastes when it comes to where I’d live, so I know this will never come true unless I become a multimillionaire (especially as I’ve rather depressingly been thinking about it practically and realistically, rather than letting my imagination run wild) but hey ho.
    I really just love space. Not too big – not like a mansion, where you wouldn’t be able to keep track of everyone – but not tiny either. I wouldn’t mind having only one small bathroom and bedroom if it meant I could have space everywhere else. I think those converted warehouse flats are a dream – all wall-size windows and high ceilings. Even before I started pole I imagined myself in this kind of place, possibly with very few (if any) walls so it looked as big as possible. I love those balcony-type floors where it hangs over the rest of the house with spiral stairs leading up to it, and I’d also love a tree in the middle of the downstairs (either small and neat like our library or a huge one going through the whole house in a cylindrical window so it’s still outside, with thick branches coming in and out so the simply house is built around it – though I expect that would be a nightmare for things like roof tiles!). I’ve seen some gorgeous ones with rooftop decks or sunken solariums which I like the idea of (a bit useless in English weather though), and paper lanterns – paper lanterns everywhere. This main living room would probably have a wooden floor with its original brick walls and a ceiling with loads of beams for pole and aerial, and pillars which I would decorate with all sorts of lights and shelves with plants an knickknacks on, and clocks which don’t tell time (TK Max will fucking love me). The living room furniture would probably be white and black, with red (or purple) notes. I like those compact corner sofas, with a low coffee table filling the space, and lots of fluffy white rugs (which my huge white dog will lie on to blend in). I adore those hanging egg chairs as well.
    It sounds nothing like me, I know – but I would still make it my space. I’d hang DIY cloud lights, unfinished paintings and canvases floating about, dangling terrariums and tree branch mobiles. I don’t think I’d celebrate Christmas on my own, but for company’s sake every year I’d put up a white tree with purple and black tinsel and stick snowflakes in the windows. Halloween would always be at mine, of course, and I’d stick a flock of bats fluttering off the wall where there’d usually be butterflies, and as many poler pumpkins as I could carve.I suppose I’d have a TV (preferably on the wall) but I’d hardly ever use it unless you guys were around. I’m not too bothered about the kitchen – I guess swish black marble and a breakfast bar. Not a shitty island one which takes up all the space like at home, but a bordering one which marks off where the wall would be – more party and dance (and dank) space! Everything would be super clever and efficient and compact (rotating corner shelves, hanging pots and glasses, pull-out spaces, rotary spice racks – the works!) so even if I ended up in a small place I’d have lots of room. Again, not too bothered about the bathroom – probably a white or blue or sandy colour scheme – the only necessity would be a bath, a big round porn star one, with shell-shaped lamps on the walls and enough candles to make a firefighter cry.My bedroom would be white and purple. I wouldn’t mind if it was quite small – after all, I’d only be sleeping in it. I only sleep on one side of the bed in a double but I think I’d still like one; close to the floor, so I’d always be brought back to summer sleepovers. I quite like sloping roofs in bedrooms, so I wouldn’t mind if the bedroom was a small space upstairs – though I’d also like a circular or hexagonal raised bit in the ceiling above the bed, so I could hang princess curtains without having a four poster. Dream catchers would flutter above me while I slept, and I’d decorate a huge, full-length ornate mirror with yet more fairy lights (purple this time). Dark purple carpet/curtains. White walls – though they’d be covered in posters and pictures. Since my brother did his walls I quite fancy a wallpaper mural to expand the room (something like this), though I could also just paint a mural on the walls as I see fit, and change it up if I got bored. I really envy people who just have stuff on their walls – it always looks so much more homey – but even at home I’ve never really got into putting stuff up. I’ve just never been in a place where it’s felt permanent enough. It’s been a good decade since I moved into my current bedroom at home, and I’ve only just got round to putting up one poster and about five paintings up. But in my own space, my own home, I know I’ll pack the walls from top to bottom. Another thing I really like is bay windows – the bigger the better – which I could turn into a healing zone with lots of decorative hangings on the ceiling/sides where I’d just sit there for hours reading and writing and drawing.As for guest spaces – the sofa would pull out into a bed, and a guest bedroom would be nice I suppose (either grey and white or cream and brown, and quite minimal) though I would probably sacrifice it for a study space (either for creating art or recording or writing, just so I felt like I was going somewhere to work). Though, if I had a garage or something where I’d keep that car I’m never going to learn to drive, I could use that as a studio instead.

    However, now that I’m a poler and it’s unlikely that I’d be able to afford my own studio (for a while, anyway), and with my fear of driving/spending any money on rent/general laziness I’d probably have to dedicate a space for my pole/aerial studio. In which case, the main living space would become my studio, with retractable poles (black) which swing up to clip to the ceiling, pole silks (purple) and aerial hoops/trapeze (you guessed it – purple and black) which can be hung from the beams and wrapped around out of the way. One wall would be all mirrors, and another would be painted with poler silhouettes and lots of (yes, again) fairy lights. I’d paint ‘Khaos (or Kallisti lol – haven’t decided yet!) Pole Studio’ (in accordance with my Eris persona) across the wall in gold and hopefully be able to offer stuff like flying pole and contemporary aerial. I would much rather this be in a my very own studio (or studio space, away from the house) though, and I could just have one or two poles up in the middle of the space for me. I like both rustic and modern homes, so having it compliment rather than clash would probably require an expensive interior designer. It would also be kitsch as fuck with all my home made stuff, and shabby as heck – but big windows would force me to keep it clean. Location would also be difficult – I think warehouse/factory lofts would only be available in cities, and I’m very much a country bumpkin. It might be manageable (and convenient) if I landed somewhere on the outskirts – away enough from the bustle and noise of a city, but still plenty of fields to escape to and shops within walking(ish) distance.

    I’m not sure how I feel about gardens, considering they originated as useless plots of land to rub in the faces of the Great Unwashed – I can defo do without a front garden – but it would be cruel to keep a big dog without space to run around. I could have a lovely back garden, half stone patio and half grass, with a massive tree at the back which I could hang aerial equipment off in the summer. I’d definitely use the space for something, even if it was just vegetable/herb patches or an overgrown lawn full of wild flower seed bombs to help out the bees – then at least I wouldn’t have to maintain it much. I really love awnings too, with flowers and creepers absolutely coating it. So many windchimes – they’re annoying as hell but I love them and I think they’re so soothing. I’d love to have garden parties/barbeques under the awning, and if I was super rich I’d probably have some sort of water feature. And – yeah you guessed it – MORE LIGHTS. Not just fairy lights, but dozens of solar lamps all over the garden, and mirrors in the hedges so it looks bigger in the dark with all its reflections. My Gran has a beautiful garden, and I’ve always loved rockeries as well – but perhaps not under tree if I’m going to be swinging off it, haha. Maybe an actual swing, or at least a swing chair, because I thought they were the shit when I was little (and still do).

    So that’s about it – my electricity bill will make me cry every time I look at it, I’ll never leave the egg-shaped nooks and crannies I’ve decorated and I’ll have no room for a car, but it’ll all be worth it just to call it Home.


  2. What would us five be like as mermaids?I’ve been so looking forward to answering this question, because I genuinely believe we’d all be so different. As much as you shout ‘Mate, it’s FUCKIN FREEZING,’ I can totally imagine you as the most deep sea mermaid of us all.  You’d live in the polar icecaps and arctic oceans and you wouldn’t mind if you had a little chub – because you’d need it in the winter. However you’d never get cold, because you’d nab washing from confused humans who hang it out by the sea and wear a different person’s t-shirt every week. I feel like you’d have a human shrine under an icecap, hoarding stolen socks (and knickers!) which you have no use for, and pretty polar(ha)oids which humans have dropped on beaches. You’d swim with puffins and polar bears and dugongs and seals all day, and hold onto the fins of playful orcas as they tow you around. You’d be the only one who speaks whale, and you’d translate between the loneliest whale and her humpback friends (that’s why she’s been alive all this time, because she has a merfriend). You’d have a special penguin companion that you let me cuddle when I come and visit (though whenever we do we have to bundle up in all the human clothes until we can barely flap our tails, and you’d laugh because you can withstand colder temperatures than other mermaid species) and you’d know the location of the lost palace of Atlantis. You’d often swim through its ruins and write diary entries on the walls, marvelling at how the light reflects of the pillars and statues. The best part would be its sunken library, and you’d teach yourself to read ancient, forgotten languages which only the wise Atlantian fish speak. At night you’d lie on an ice float and stare up at constellations and you’d see the northern lights, crisper and clearer over the ocean than anywhere else on earth.Your tail would be opal white with a blueish hue, which shines rainbow colours in different lights and waters. If you get lonely, you could venture out to visit us in warmer waters. Your hair would lighten and your skin would crisp up and bronze so all the arctic animals would think you were carrying sunbeams when you went home. You’d be the only mermaid to have seen arctic foxes and Siberian tigers, and you’d keep pom poms of their shedded fur on little knotted ropes and tie them round the end of your tail like a scarf. You’d make friends with Inuit families who trusted you to hold their chubby babies afloat and play with their pack huskies. When you went to beaches you’d stretch with all the hipster girls and sign their diaries in coelacanth, in exchange for photos of chairs by windows and necklaces and jars full of pennies or precious things. A boy who you’d rescue when he fell under the ice after straying from his research team would come back and give you a waterproof camera for your own. You’d take lots of candid photos of Atlantis, merfolk, and fractal ice caves (which shine green and pink and purple in the strange auroras) but only occasionally give send him a good shot of a baby seal or penguin for his work. In return he’d send you pictures in of volcanoes, land animals and cities via message in a bottle, and tell you to write back with the pen and paper and leave it on a Scandinavian beach, like a penpal across worlds.I expect Karl would be the most adaptable mermaid, and also the most venturous. He’d be somewhat reclusive, probably able to withstand higher pressure levels and able to go into the deeper, darker waters. I can imagine he’d spend a lot of time down there with all the strange  anglers and jellyfish and bring them to us to freak us out, but also see all the wonderful undiscovered marine life that humans haven’t even been lucky enough to find yet. For that reason I think his tail would be very long and eel-like for powerful swimming and ease around tight spaces and corners. It would probably a greyish-blue colour (maybe even slightly translucent) with very long trailing fins, and bioluminescent so it lights up in beautiful patterns in the dark (however no one would ever witness it). His natural habitat would probably be underwater fissures and volcanoes (like under Hawaii) where he could hide in the billows of smoke, and when he was in seriously warm waters his tail would turn greyish-black with glowing red scales like burning coals. He’d hang out with prehistoric fish like chimaeras and those cute little ghost octopi. He’d speak to them in fluent R’lyehian (but when we hear it we think he’s just cleaning out his gils and making weird gutteral noises, not realising it’s the language of the Old Ones) and may be the only one who know Cthulhu’s resting place.However he’s also very observant and likes to know what everyone’s up to, so I expect he wouldn’t stay in his home very much. I could see him swimming around coastlines in grey waters like near Wales or Morecambe and watching people out for walks. I expect he’d be constantly mistaken for a fisherman overboard so he’d have to be built for speed to avoid fishing boats reeling him in (maybe he’s the explanation for Ripley’s fur-bearing trout hoax? Haha). When people get too much he could hide in underwater trenches and use echolocation to navigate around the rocks and have exotic cephlapod friends like vampire squids and kleptopuses and he’d rear baby cuttlefish as presents. I think he would travel for miles and miles just for a swim and start his stories like, ‘hey guys, I crossed the Pacific the other day and-‘ and be able to tell us a lot of stories about eccentric people he’s met on the beach. He’d definitely keep bottles and junk that people throw in the ocean.I imagine Catarina would be the most elusive species of mermaid. I think she’d travel between lochs and resevoirs and lakes – but only ones specifically with waterfalls. Her tail would be the most like a fish’s – and covered in long, silky fins in greens and browns so to the passing explorer she’d look like a kelp forest. Sometimes little fishes would use her fins to hide from predators and she’d have remora friends at all times keeping her tail clean. She’d know and love every species or river tortoise/turtle/terrapin and she’d polish their shells and protect them from crocodiles and never put them in fridges. Her tail scales would change colour depending on where she was – to the trained eye they’d be stone grey, but reflective of their surrounding waters for easy camouflage. In Amazon waterfalls she’d be able to sit in the open and untangle her long hair, as not many people would come across her. She’d study all her rainforest friends (naturally a mossy sloth would climb down and swim with her every seven days) and she’d know all the best undiscovered creeks. When we’d visit her, she’d show me all the boas and bat caves and you all the runes and tribal paintings behind the waterfalls. She’d sometimes go for a swim in the mud rivers with the pink dolphins and, if a boat came by, only her eyes would be above the brown waters and people would mistake them for sapphires in the riverbank. She’d have the biggest eyes framed with dark micro-fins so she can see in murky water easily, and if a human looked into them too deeply they’d become so hypnotised that they’d fall out of their boats and she’d have to throw them back in and quickly escape. However, when fellow merfolk look in her eyes, the irises resemble their favourite waters (from sparkling green freshwater to deep ocean blues) so she makes merfriends easily. Her hair always shimmers like the waterfalls and she has scales in all different parts of her body so she wouldn’t need clothes (but she’d probably wear them anyway).

    Although she’d be the best at hiding, I feel like she’d also be the most interested in human culture. She’d collect dropped papers – ESPECIALLY MAPS – and camping equipment and binoculars and hoard them behind her favourite waterfall. If she was exploring a European mountain lake, she’d help lost hikers by drawing them elaborate topographical maps in the mud, in such excruciating detail that they’d end up getting more confused and lost. She’d record every place she finds in her head and have the best sense of navigation (she wouldn’t need to rely on echolocation, astrology or currents like us). She’d know geographical landmarks by which waters surround them and the best times to visit depending on PH balance, salt content, temperature, etc. (like the big squidgy neek she is) and be the only mermaid who can name each type of salmon and tell you where they spawned. Every spawning season she’d swim to the rivers around Niagara falls and watch them hop upstream (saving some from the bears but also making sure the bears got a fair meal). On the rare occasion that she’d be spotted in oceans, she’d join in beach sports and help me grab the ankles of lads-on-tour, using her grey fins to appear like an approaching shark. She’d be fluent in the most diverse range of aquatic languages, and some land animal languages.

     

    Phoebe would definitely be a Lagoonmaid. She goes on holiday to relax; she loves to just lie on the beach and soak up the country through her skin. She’d probably find a secret beach cove undiscovered by tourists and just lie on the white sand for hours, dipping back in the sea every so often so she was never completely dry (just as an excuse to stay in the sun until it sets). Her hair would be a mass of sunshine noodles – forever carrying that beach hair volume – and would change colour depending on how wet it was, her mood, or the time of day. At sunrise it would be an ombre of pebble white to sandy blonde to kelp green, then as the sun sets it would adopt the oranges and pinks and purples of the sky, with inky blue roots. She’d spend hours plaiting it, threading it with pearls and fallen blossoms and exotic leaves and whatever pretty things washed up on the beach – buttons, yarn, bottle caps, old pendant chains. Her tail would match the colour of the lagoon she swam in, on the border between blue and green and occasionally speckled with orange and jade and royal purple (depending on how much coral or tropical fish resided there that season). It would have thin, tulle-like dorsal fins and a big fluked tailfin, which she would pierce with lost earrings and attach smooth glass and gems and bits of shell and coins as decorative charms (and she could do ours with specially selected trinkets, too). I feel like she would be the only one with a genuine clamshell or coconut bra, and she’d stick tiny shells and starfishes to her ears and fingers and belly as accessories.

    When we’d visit she’d make us drinks by sticking a reed straw in fresh coconuts and garnishing the milk with flowers and fruit. Her lagoon would be surrounded by natural arches that we can slalom between and she would speak fluent dolphinese and ask them to play with us. The seabirds and parrots would flock to help us fish and she’d be the best seafood chef, barbequing us a surf platter on the shore and seasoning it with exotic island spices. In the evenings we’d sit in the warm shallow waters and gaze at the millions of stars and distant galaxies, so still that the reflections wouldn’t even ripple and we could kid ourselves we were swimming in the great black ocean of space. Anyone to find her cove would either be fellow mermaids in her circle of trust, or the most intrepid human explorers. She’d have passionate affairs with the lucky ones who stumbled upon her and leave them spell bound, so they’d hope to come back and find her every year – but for some reason the tide would come in and conceal the cove whenever they returned (though their half merbabies would eventually swim back to her instinctively lol).

    As for me, you might find it hard to believe, but I’m partial to something a bit more rural. As much as I’d love to bask on a tropical beach, my home would like that picture you shared –  probably a little pond-scummy English lake surrounded by grass and fields (like Swan Lake in Winterly). Nothing special. When you visit me I would show off by synchronised swimming with swans and talk smack about you to the pond fowl and mudskippers (but only in jest, of course). I’d give you gifts of pressed wild flowers and berries (so you could keep them even when you go home and it wouldn’t matter how cold it got because they wouldn’t die) and make long grass plaits and pick blooming lily pads for your hair. I’d let you nurture baby tadpoles and see them through their different stages (but also scare you by putting frogs in your cleavage haha). Friendly cows would come right up to the water’s edge knowing we’d feed them, and in the spring we’d be greeted by curious calves, lambs and bunnies. That moment when a dog let loose in long grass and goes missing momentarily even though the owner calls and whistles? It’s really because they’ve come bounding into our lake to say hello. They’d have a quick swim and a game of water fetch with us, but always run back before we’re discovered by dogwalkers. I can imagine you saying, ‘WHY does this SEAL have LEGS???’ the first time you meet one. We would watch kids running through the nearby bushes, but only let the littlest brothers and sisters who get left behind catch a glimpse of us. They’d always have that special secret growing up, until they look back fondly on what must have been a silly kid’s imagination.

    However, I would never stay in one place for too long. When the lake freezes over I’d be well away in the bluest Seychellois ocean frolicking with Feebs or letting my legs dry out by Red Sea rockpools so I can go and blend in with humans for a bit. Because of all this travelling my tail would be really long and powerful – one big sleek muscle like a tuna’s – with sharp, aerodynamic fins. It would be such a dark shade of purple that it looks black in the winter and slate in the summer, but if you look closely enough it shines iridescent greens with yellow highlights in the sun, and blues with lilac highlights under the moon. My eyes would be permanently ringed with blackish-purple scales because, like the shark, I’d rest but never sleep. I’d wear either long grass or black weeds with mermaid’s purses as accessories and appear very wispy and graceful (you know how I like to ghost around and scare people), though I would also have sharp corners and even sharper teeth so I could  dart away in a blink. My skin would be very pale and milky smooth (also like sharkskin) and it would glow slightly when the moon is full, creating a soft filter so people who spotted me would think they were dreaming.

    I’d only ever let humans see a flicker of me in mermaid form, however. I’d flirt with sailors (maybe going as far as to steal a kiss as they leaned over the rails of their ships) and be the reason they went home and got called crazy. I’d prank marines and any lads-on-tour types by tangling them in seaweed and speeding away before their mates could see why they’re screaming. But I’d also be kind and rescue anyone who was drowning, making sure they only saw my top half so they’d think I was a mysterious swimmer or lifeguard who disappeared as soon as they reached shore. I’d only ever fully interact with girls taking photos of the sea or doing yoga on the rocks or sunbathing on private beaches. I’d be their best merfriend and let them in on my secret (but only if they promise to be gentle to others and fight the girlhate on land, in which case I might visit them when I have legs). If anyone pissed me off or I witnessed any bad behaviour on the coasts, then I’d sing my siren song and people would slowly walk into the depths and disappear under the waves of the Dead Sea, only to strangely wash up on their home coastlines weeks later. I think occasionally I’d get too cocky, so I’d probably end up on conspiracy websites and sub-news channels and annoy the rest of the mermaid community (who would have to get together and stage reasonable explanations like the Loch Ness Monster sightings), but I’d also be the kind of mermaid that can only be found if I wanted you to find me.

    P.S. I wouldn’t be a meregg – my hair would be as long as ever and dark and billowing in the water like a cloud of squid ink. My curse is that it would always be tangled when dry and every so often plastic beer can binders and crisp packets would fall out of it (never less than a month old).


    QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
    1. What is your favourite type of weather and why?
    2. For argument’s sake, let’s pretend you want to become a teacher. What would you teach? Who are you teaching? Why?
    3. Compile a list of words that describe you as a child.  Compile a second list that describes you as you are now.  How are these lists the same?  How are they different?

The Struggle for Earth is a Cynical One.

I was debating whether to write about this because, while I have several opinions on the benefits of veganism (etc.), it’s been done a thousand times before and I think – now more than ever – humankind knows where it stands on such issues. The documentary which inspired this article is already over a decade old. However, a couple of my friends have addressed it and my brother and I had a long discussion today, so I’ll try and make it as brief as possible.

So my flatmates and I watched Earthlings recently. It was a documentary the world needed to see. A year after its release date (2005), Animal Welfare Laws regarding breeding animals, animals as food and animals as pets changed drastically in a short time. It was a film (among others) which notably turned thousands away from meat and made the masses think about what they put in their mouths. This I’m not dismissing by any means – but neither was the film without its faults.

Earthlings addresses the five ways we regard animals according to our ego; as pets, as food, as clothing, as entertainment and finally as test subjects. Good, I thought. I have very solid stances on each of these issues:

Domestic generations of animal are the only ones capable of being domesticated.

Animals can and should be farmed without unnecessary cruelty.

Wearing the skin or pelt of an animal is abhorrent and unnecessary. 

Animal’s pain or discomfort in the name of ‘entertainment’ is abhorrent and unnecessary.

Testing cosmetics on animals is abhorrent and unnecessary. Medicine is a slightly grey area, but only when it involves cross-species disease (such as cancer).

I think even training a dog (with the exception of police/service animals) beyond the commands ‘Sit’, ‘Heel’ and ‘Stay’ is unnecessary – I think people who do almost have a need to assert a pathetic dominance over something (past the point of benefiting the animal itself). I’m lucky enough that most (albeit not all) of my meat and eggs growing up came from farmers I knew personally; family friends who farmed on a tiny scale and sold locally. I knew that ‘within British farming standards’ on supermarket meat with that blasted red tractor did not equate to ‘these animals did not suffer’. If you were the type to splurge a year of Daddy’s salary to wear a dead mink, chances are I sent you flowers because you were officially dead to me. I adored zoos, but I never saw a circus with an animal in it and I was quite content in keeping it that way.

I knew exactly what to expect in Earthlings but I still wasn’t quite prepared for some of the horrific footage. I started crying not five minutes in and didn’t stop until it was finished. Awful, inhumane acts – castration, teeth pulling, tail-docking, skinning, beating, de-beaking, throat-slitting, cannibalism – all things which don’t and shouldn’t have to happen. The (mainly American) men committing such acts seemed to relish it beyond employment. They laughed. They jeered. They had five minutes a day to play with the life of something weaker and, boy, did they lap it up. It was sickening.

But I couldn’t help feel all the way through the film that it was preaching a cause without actually doing anything to further it. In the apt style of the film, I found I had five problems with it (from a completely analytical standpoint, and exclusive to Earthlings – not a criticism on any other documentaries on animal rights, or the philosophy of animal rights itself):

  1. Sources.

Some of the footage used was three or four years old – stuff I remember watching and feeling sick over when I was maybe seven years old. This doesn’t make it irrelevant by any means, but the fact that it wasn’t sourced was a problem. Where is this happening? Which farms should we be spearheading? Who do we fund and who do we take down? Who do we work to support? Who really cares about animal rights and who polices with privilege? What can we do to help?

Granted, the film’s intent was not to point you in any particular direction (as long as that direction was away from farms), rather just expose what a lot of people don’t know or refuse to acknowledge. But what good is shaming and fear-mongering if all of it’s happening beyond your reach? The difference between propaganda and education is not just trustworthy, relevant, accurate, and/or empirical information, but the influence of change. Education is supposed to provide you with tools to learn, to grow, to survive. Earthlings, in my opinion provided nothing but sore eyes and nausea. Thank you, Joaquin, you’ve succeeded in enlightening me, but now what? Parrot what I’ve heard despite having no evidence to back it up (other than the films themselves)? That doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening – what’s more is I don’t know where, or when, and thus I can’t do what.

I remember in year 9 food tech., a substitute (who happened to be vegetarian) showed us a de-beaking video and then got furious when nobody reacted with particular passion or disgust (not beyond ‘ugh that’s minging’ anyway). I remember just rolling my eyes like, Lady, what do you expect? Us kids didn’t care, because we didn’t appreciate having arguments thrown at us rather than introduced to us rationally. People don’t want to look at it because it makes them feel bad – but that doesn’t automatically mean they wouldn’t want to do something about it. But it’s naive to expect people to not draw their own conclusions about what they see, and even sillier to get angry when they don’t hold those conclusions as highly as you do. I used to do it all the time, and it was exhausting – DOESN’T THIS MAKE YOU ANGRY? WHY DON’T YOU CARE LIKE I CARE? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? It leads to a lot of judgement – and funnily enough that teacher wasn’t well respected by us students – and distracts from rational discussion. Don’t show us shit and say ‘this is wrong and any one who doesn’t think so is also wrong’. Ask us ‘why might people think this is wrong? How can we take steps to rectify it?’. Think of it with race: I can say ‘hating on [x] people is wrong because of reasons [y] and [z]. Here is indisputable evidence of [y] and [z], thus discrimination of [x] is illogical’. A bigot might say ‘hating on [x] people is right because of [y] and [z]. I don’t have indisputable evidence of [y] and [z], but it’s still right. It just is. This one time, on this one farm, this happened. Grr.’

This is probably a horribly unfair and unreasonable ask of Shaun Monson from me, as the film is simply an expose, and provokes discussion in itself – and any discussion is good discussion. But I just don’t feel satisfied – or perhaps I should say convinced – when people throw information and expect me to accept it without any kind of cynicism. I’m already for animal rights, I’m open to alternative foods – but if I wasn’t already, I doubt an hour of animal gore would have changed my mind. If my memory serves me correctly, Earthlings basically said ‘Stop Being Speciesist’ at the end of the stomach-churning footage. Cool, I will. I might have done without all that. Now what?

Point sufficiently laboured, this brings me to my next one:

2. Solution.

The film features a famous quote from Jeremy Bentham, whom in 1821 was the first to philosophise the rights of animals in terms of utilitarianism. He said that the single most important question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’, but rather ‘Can they suffer?’. This argument is often seen as the cornerstone of the animal rights philosophy (and often spat out by *coughterroristfundingcoughpuppymurderingcoughcompletelyfuckedupandbigotedcoughcoughcough* organisations such as PETA willy nilly to justify militancy against meat-eaters). The irony of this quote is that Jeremy Bentham actually saw nothing wrong with eating meat. He ate meat once per day. But, he lived by the code that man should seek to give farm animals a decent life, and strive to offer the animal a death that was less painful than what would have awaited them in the natural world. I live(d) by a similar code – and the proposition that veganism (or even anti-specism) the is the solution to animal suffering is not only absurd, but completely self-righteous. It’s a complex ethical issue; it does not deserve to be simplified in such a way. If we want to continue to survive, there is no escape – every harvested soy bean ensures the death of a fields-worth of field mice. Every crop sewn requires the extermination of herbivores and invertebrates. Every vegetable planted results in the eviction of Bambi and Flower and whatever other Earthlings inhabit that patch of earth.

That’s not to say veganism/vegetarianism is a bad thing, not in the slightest – both diets are (for the most part) healthier, far more sustainable (economically and practically) and far better for the environment. In fact, a more realistic goal is not to eliminate the consumption of meat (and leather as a by-product, not necessarily separately imported like the India clips in Earthlings would suggest) but reduce the demand for it, ergo minimise breeding and better the treatment of the remaining animals. Farm animals are the unfortunate result of centuries of domestic breeding down from their ancestral genus. Complete speculation, but I think that releasing all the farm animals in the world and abandoning animal agriculture would probably be far crueler – in the UK, chickens would be absolutely fucked; fallen prey to Fantastic Mr Fox and starved to compete for food that isn’t poured on the ground in front of them. Common sheep need regular shearing (which is not the same as skinning) and a smaller demand for wool would result in heat sickness or death in unsheared sheep. Those that probably could survive in the wild (for example cows and pigs) might populate to the point where us humans start to consider them vermin and start culling them anyway. However, crushing the food industry back into humble, small-scale farms like back in the good old days might ensure a much more humane solution.

Vegetarianism is a fantastic way to start this process – though it’s not actually necessary! This video from last year illustrates it beautifully, more than Earthlings did IMO:

The above stated that to half food emissions from animal agriculture you would still be allowed to eat 7 portions of chicken, 5 eggs and 85g of red meat per week – which is a fucking massive amount if you ask me! Even when I was a total carnivore I didn’t eat any where near that much (bonus: you save the fucking planet!). However, Earthlings quite rightly explored the fact that we don’t just think of animals as food – they suffer for sport too. This comes to my 3rd qualm:

3. Zoos.

The zoo part of the film was the only part I didn’t cry at, and they only part which I think was handled really poorly – particularly as the objective was to make us consider how animals serve us, but failed to mention how we can serve them (other than renouncing speciesism). Naturally, it was the shortest section, and can pretty much be summed up as ‘Conservation or cruelty? Animals are put in unnatural environments so we can look at them and this is bad’. Okay. Thanks for that, Joaquin.

Of course some dodgy Eastern-European zoo is going to be god-awful and completely unequipped to cater for exotic animals – but the ignorance around conservation zoos is astounding, and I can’t help but get angry when animal rights activists (if you can call them that) fail to realise the harm that can be done if we boycotted zoos. I’m not talking ‘entertainment’ parks like Seaworld (don’t get me started) or Safaris, but real research zoos. Chester Zoo, in my home county of Cheshire, is the largest conservation zoo in the UK and I will continue to defend (and fund) it till the end of time – and not just because it’s a part of my childhood. Half of the 500 different species exhibited within its walls are critically endangered (some even extinct in the wild) and it’s at the forefront of field conservation, animal health and species research and conservation breeding. They launch huge campaigns combating deforestation of animal and plant habitats (including from the palm oil trade), and animal welfare (heard of EEHV? Yeah, me neither – but these guys are trying to fight it!). I’m aware that condors don’t belong in a cage, and elephants should be roaming Asian rainforests – but the animals who can be put back are, often shifted in for conservation breeding for the good of their species.

I’ve seen what it’s like there – it’s not over crowded or painfully fake with rubber plants and painted environments. There are no animals pacing with cage madness or environments too small for the species – no whales or dolphins or polar bears. The animals are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (relatively speaking) and not floating around miserably with glazed-over eyes and weeping sores. Two or three trips ago, I remember a young female rhino (let’s call her Sasha because I feel like that was her name) trotting about her enclosure. When people waved or raised their cameras, she preened – she literally tossed her head and snorted, posing and playing up to the crowd, seemingly relishing the interaction and attention. Apart from maybe the chimps, I’ve never seen an animal behave in such a way – but I don’t need to be a zoologist to know that it wasn’t a sign of distress.

Now I’m not inside Sasha’s head, nor can she communicate what she was feeling. Was that animal happy? I don’t know. Had she had that behaviour beaten into her? Maybe (though unlikely, consider Chester offers 24/hr livestreams of some of their animals). But guess fucking what: Sasha was a West African Black Rhino – officially fucking extinct in the wild thanks to poachers, with maybe about 9 in the world outside of that fucking zoo. If that zoo was boycotted she’d have been shipped back to Africa and right into some butcher’s hands ready to be crushed into medicine. No time to breed, no time to survive – just murdered by the people who vow to protect her. And what about research? How can we expect to care for animals and treat them (even medically) the way we would humans if we don’t know anything about them? Think about diseases sweeping across species such as EEHV in elephants and facial tumors in Tazmanian Devils. We can’t research them in the wild beyond observation. But we can’t keep animals in a lab, right, because it’s cruel? So how about fucking zoos?

All of the profits from Chester’s 1.6 million annual visitors funds this research, these projects. Of course, not all zoos are as good and concerned with welfare as Chester – but nor is Chester unique in its work. Dismantling all zoos in the name of animal rights is dangerously detrimental, not to mention counterproductive – all we need to do is research which ones are ethical and actually serve animals – and simply don’t support the rest. Even if you don’t want to visit and gawp at them, you can ‘adopt’ an animal or donate to the research projects. Think pro-zoo, anti-park – particularly parks which don’t contribute towards animal welfare research, conservation, or education and profit on the suffering and boredom of their animals.

I digress. Is an English zoo an exotic animal’s natural habitat? No. Is it ideal? Not particularly. Is it better than them being extinct? You tell me.

4. Privilege.

Phew! On a slightly less aggressive note, and one I’ll try and keep short (I mean it this time!), another problem with the way Earthlings communicated its message was that while becoming vegan is all well and good, it’s not always feasible. It’s expensive – particularly as going veggie doesn’t save you from GMO crops or pesticides, so truly organic fruit and veg can really put a dent in your income (though that’s an issue for another day). It’s also not possible for some people to stomach a meat-free lifestyle  (susceptibility to copper poisoning, zinc deficiency, allergies, gluten or wheat intolerance, etc.), and, Joaquin I love you, but I really struggle to any kind of movement seriously when it doesn’t practise what it preaches (I mean this in the sense that Nation Earth hasn’t really done much for animal rights since Earthlings… apart from produce its sequel, Unity – and I’ve heard in 2020 Beings will complete the trilogy!) and its leaders are the epitome of white privilege.I would be far more inclined to follow a band of dirty-faced, barefooted radical hippes who actually went out and protested every day than a rich man with editing software and a celebrity narrator in tow.

Again, probably unfair of me, but it’s also really easy to say ‘love all, go vegan’ when you have the financial means to do so. Earthlings does, however, out that animal cruelty goes beyond food – by acknowledging our purchases in terms of pelt, skin, toys and entertainment, we can help combat mistreatment of animals on a wider scale.

Last but not least, here comes my degree:
5. Language. 

This is the big controversial (at least for the time) one: ANIMAL AGRICULTURE IS NOT, I REPEAT, NOT EQUIVOCAL TO THE HOLOCAUST!!!!

Here’s why: the definition of the word ‘holocaust’ is ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire or nuclear war’. Historically, a holocaust is also a Jewish sacrificial offering, typically burned at an altar (and, surprise, surprise, I’m sure you can guess who decided to use the term mockingly to refer to the culling and incineration of Jewish folk). Thereby, the mass slaughter of animals is, by definition, holocaust. Feel free to say ‘this is a holocaust of the animal world’ or ‘the amount of animals slaughtered for no reason is holocaust’ or ‘agricultural slaughter is a holocaust’. That’s okay.

HOWEVER, equating animal agriculture to The Holocaust – AKA the historical event which saw the mass extermination of 11,000 people who didn’t fit another group’s Aryan criteria – is absolutely not okay or comparable in the slightest. Not necessarily because we consider animals as lesser beings – but because, culturally, it’s a triggering thing.

Look at this image:

this-ad-for-petas-holocaust-on-your-plate-campaign-was-banned-by-germanys-high-court

Believe it or not, this is a fucking promotion for vegetarianism (previously linked above coughPETAcough) which was unsurprisingly banned in Germany. Pretty disgusting, right?
Those are people, with lives, splayed across a billboard to evoke a cheap emotional response for the sake of an agenda. Biologically, we see eyes and and limbs and human faces and we want to be more disturbed for them, save them, protect them, because they’re like us.

Those chickens also have a right to life. However, the chickens aren’t part of a society which have them live on past their bodies – they do not have a concept of family, or grief, or ethics, or empathy, or morals, or probably even memory. Does this make them lesser beings? Of course not. It’s not a question of valuing intelligence – it’s just a fact that chickens so not have cognitive systems which allow for the emotional capacity in that of rats, primates and whales. This means that a chicken friend isn’t going to tell horror stories to its grandchickens about the great chicken holocaust, and then be upset or triggered when the milk cows say the Mass Milking of ’89 is totally the same thing.

But each one of those human faces is being looked on in the street by a potential relative, friend or fellow inmate who deals with the pain of survival. They live on in stories and are remembered. Even in death, we’re never really put out of our misery.

I think it’s up to the survivors – if they choose to describe animal slaughter as ‘just like the Holocaust’ then fair enough. But as people who do not have a direct connection to this experience of violence, it would be a form of cultural appropriation to use the Holocaust to describe the conditions experienced by marginalised animals. There are similarities shared by the marginalised groups in how they face subjugation, violence, and death. But we shouldn’t be casually using the struggles of other groups in order to raise up a different one – it doesn’t justify the mass murder of chickens, but comparing agriculture with a traumatic historical event for the sake of welfarist arguments does not sit right with me at all, and is, in my opinion, disrespectful.

The other problem with this comparison is cause. Leah mentioned in her similar blog post that genocide and animal slaughter are ‘murder for the sake of murder’ – not true, in either case.

Hitler was not evil. His motives were completely illogical and wrong, and (like I mentioned earlier) we can say that because we know that the concept of Eugenics is indiscriminate – therefore no ‘race’ can be superior to another. But he wasn’t evil – and it’s dangerous to think so. While he led the crusade against marginalised groups, he genuinely thought what he believed in was best for his country and his people. At a dinner with world leaders during the war, he ordered a type of goulash – famously a peasants’ dish – and when questioned he said ‘How can I indulge in splendour when people in my country starve?’. He was an animal rights activist (I mean, he shot dogs – but he also introduced laws to protect them lol), and in a rare bit of colour footage he says to Ava (who’s behind the camera) ‘A beautiful woman like you should be here in front, not an old man like me’.

We don’t like thinking about this because it makes him too human. It makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us just what a person – any person – is capable of. It’s much easier to brandish him ‘just evil’, or ‘a monster’, because then it gives us a way to say ‘oh I’m racist, but I’m not Hitler,’ or, ‘oh yeah, bombing Syria is bad, but it’s not like it’s the Holocaust’ then our unethical acts can escalate without the feeling of guilt. Germans in 1939 were probably saying ‘throwing someone in a ghetto is bad, but it’s not as bad as what the crusaders did! It’s just for the greater good’. But the reality is, he (and millions of other people) thought that the murder of 11,000 other people was for a good cause. They thought logically that a different type of human – not even a different species, but our kind whom we’re genetically programmed to seek out and protect above others – were not human at all, but lesser beings. Then we consider animals – they are murdered (primarily) for food. To consider an animal food, are you subsequently considering it a lesser being?

It kind of depends how you look at it, and whether you place animals in a hierarchy. People say ‘why would you eat a cow, but not a dog?’ and that’s often the logic that turns people to vegetarianism in the first place. Maybe it’s just me, but I would eat a dog. I don’t choose to, because I have the option not to (again, I’m privileged enough to have the choice). I would eat a human as well, if I had to. That isn’t so much speciesism as self-preservation – but even in considering it food, does that automatically mean you value its life less? One of the messages of Earthlings was that all inhabitants are equal; no life is worth more or less than another. If that’s true, why are animals exempt from this rule? A point that I could not accept was that humans are the only species that exploit other animal species. What about the predators? Do they not eat meat? Do they have to carry moral issues? Oh, but that’s nature, they’re not intelligent enough to… wait, they’re equal – we can’t exclude them based on intelligence.Where does it end?

Primate brains come part and parcel of Evolinguistics – and I can confirm that they are smart. I rather naively said in a first draft of my personal statement that empathy is ‘a uniquely human trait’ – this couldn’t be more wrong. Elephants grieve. Orcas mourn their missing families. And chimps show strong evidence of cognition – they can recognise intention in others, deceive others, and even display Machiavellian intelligence (e.g. double-bluffing). Humans can maybe keep track of 6 orders of intentionality before their heads explode (fact). Take this example by Dan Dennett:

I suspect [1] that you wonder [2] whether I realise [3] how hard it is for you to be sure that you understand [4] whether I mean [5] to be saying that you can recognise [6] that I can believe [7] you to want [8] me to explain that most of us can keep track of only about five or six orders [of intentionality].

In tactical deception, chimps demonstrate that they can follow up to 4 orders of intentionality. Translation: that is some damn complex thinking – very much on our level. I could go on – but I won’t type out the entire evolution of language. Can they reason? Most definitely. Can they talk? Almost. Do they suffer? Absolutely. Does this mean that they should be held in higher regard than a chicken, whose thoughts aren’t cognitive thoughts at all? Not necessarily. Would I still eat one knowing it thinks on a human level? Probably.

Chimps have been observed to to emote and empathise too. But I also know that they have been observed murder, rape and beat up their peers beyond simple needs instinct – they do it to punish, sometimes in revenge, sometimes just out of anger and provocation. Murder for the sake of murder, one might say – but if all lives are valued equally, regardless of skill or genes or intelligence, why are chimps exempt from the speciesism rule? Is it because we should know better? Again, how can we know better if hierarchy can’t be decided based on intelligence or cognition?

I’ll stop now, because I am really just starting to play devil’s advocate.

A lot of the cruelty in Earthlings was horrendous, and completely unnecessary. The hardest part for me was the circus animals, and the sporting bulls. This showed a real inhumanity – pain without reason, without benefit, without remorse. Just cruel people doing cruel things, knowing full well that the animal was in awful pain and not even reaping the gift of survival from its meat – but just reveling in the fact that it failed to survive against us. Animal torment goes beyond farming. They are not entertainment. They are not all pets. They are not accessories. While they might serve us in food, the least we can do is serve them in humanity – reducing the demand for animal produce would ensure a better life for animals in all fields of agriculture and save their habitats. In learning about them we can eventually understand them, and treat them without hierarchy. We didn’t kill and eat the pig and call it custom – it is nature, after all – but neither should we let it live in agony.

 

Hopefully this has made you feel better about it, Bubbs, as it wasn’t a case of you feeling too much, or me feeling too little (though I appreciate the implication), but rather – quite appropriately – survival. Of course it made me feel like shit. Of course I care about the treatment of animals. Of course I want to do my part to change it. But I’m not a deity or a millionaire. I can’t turn around and will it away. I can do my part by not eating meat – but that’s it for now. The content wasn’t particularly new, or presented well. I’m aware of such things, but I can’t afford to lose sleep over it on top of constantly disassociating and thinking about uni. It’s haunting stuff, graphic stuff – but no amount of imagery is going to change the fact that we have limited ways to help in the positions we’re in right now.

Your reaction wasn’t too emotive or radical, neither was mine too distanced. It’s simply that particular film, in my opinion, relied too heavily on emotional appeal, and lacked logical appeal. I felt it was trying to manipulate my sense of sympathetic duty, rather than evoking the rational morale that one should keep – and, like I said, if I wasn’t already aware and already heading down Vegetarian Alley then it probably wouldn’t have succeeded in convincing me to tread there (though if I was 20 a decade ago, it might have been completely new and enlightening to me). There are other films which show you such awful realities in a much more balanced way, and also suggest solution rather than speculation, such as ‘Mercy for Animals’.

Who cares if Feebs thought it was dumb. Who cares if you thought it was illuminating. At the end of the day our views haven’t changed – we know vegetarianism’s a good idea and we know animals will be treated better if we make these lifestyle changes. While I don’t think Catarina’s ‘it’s only a cow, it was gonna die anyway’ attitude is particularly helpful, throwing graphic imagery has never really worked as a convincing campaign for me, either.

Will I eat vegetarian? Absolutely, and I’ll continue to try to.

Am I vegetarian? Absolutely not – it’s just not in my nature.

 


 

This is a long-ass post and the questions are so nice that I don’t want to answer them here, they deserve they own post: [x] 🙂 click to read about mermaids!

Baby Steps

I slept at nighttime last night.

I woke up feeling like I was going to be sick twice – once at the witching hour, again around five – and I’m not 100% sure why (possibly from binging awful, awful food to distract me from having to fall asleep just before I did), but I did it. No pills. No herbal aids. No bath or chamomile tea.

‘That’s still a good little baby step,’ Leah said, and she’s right.

I had the opportunity to sack off today as well. I still had a bad day – a terrible day, actually – but I crossed somethings off my to-do list. I just need to hang on until the end of this week, until my competition, and I can breathe again.

This answer is long overdue.

I haven’t written since Christmas because I’ve mostly been recovering, but also been training for IUPDC for straight weeks.


 

What is your favourite folk/fairytale?

I’m quite surprised I haven’t answered this one before, actually. It is (and always has been) Little Red Riding Hood.

wolfie.png

I literally can’t get over how brilliant this drawing is and I’m so sorry I can’t find the artist to credit!

I could never really pinpoint the exactly why it’s my favourite. I have this wonderful big compilation of illustrated fairytales at home, clumsily sellotaped together at the spine – a consequence of years of flinging it open and struggling to balance such a big book in such tiny hands. I poured over the pictures for ages when my dad wasn’t reading it for me, counting all the tiny frogs and snails and toadstools speckling the pages. LRRH had my favourite illustrations – the gash of her cape amongst the otherwise palatable colours, the big black wolf with his strained belly and lolling pink tongue, his hungry yellow eyes next to her red cheeks, her pale blue flowers in the basket. Maybe it was because he was the most majestic animal – sly, aloof and mysterious compared to the loud, aggressive bears, the slimy frog princes and sour little men stamping through the floor. Maybe it was because she was the only brunette in the book.

But, because you’ve made me really think about it, I know now why it might be my favourite.

For ages and ages LRRH has been a cautionary tale about – yep, you’ve guessed it – S-E-X. More specifically, the danger of sweet little girls trusting in wolves who only want one thing. It’s an odd one, because it could be interpreted to carry a victim-blaming message – poor Little Red is punished for her transgression from the path that was literally laid out for her. In the early Grimm tale Rötkappchen (Little Red Cap) and possibly some even older French versions, LRRH meets a rather unfortunate end and is straight-up eaten before any white-knighting axe-wielder can come save her. Some go as far as her being tricked into cannibalising her own dead grand/mother before she herself is eaten by the wolf. In some versions the wolf doesn’t eat her straight away, but instead keeps her tied to the bed with him where he can savour her, forcing her to piss and shit there so he can keep an eye on her. In only one early version does she get away unscathed – after her persistent protest about shitting in the bed, he allows her to go to the toilet outside but on condition that she ties a string to her wrist, and the other end to him. This version has two endings – one where she cuts the string and he notices that it’s no longer taut, provoking him to come bounding after her and savaging her in the woods – and one where she outsmarts him and ties the string to a low-swinging branch, allowing her escape.

Some of the later versions have variations on her rescuer – the grandmother, the lumberjack, the mother, Little red herself (in one a similar ending to the wolf in the Three Little Pigs, where he smells some sausage that she’s boiled for him and falls in and drowns), but like I said, the older versions seem to have it in for little girls who go off with Big Bad Wolves. I quote the Perrault version:

‘Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.’

Now, the last part I can get on board with – sweetest tongue holds sharpest tooth indeed. It’s a great lesson in not trusting a charming demeanor, a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you might. Even just ‘don’t go off with strange men’ is a decent enough moral. But I still can’t help but feel that they were trying to get across the message of conformity – attractive, well-bred young ladies shouldn’t follow their lustful desires or their platonic sense of adventure – instead, they should stick to the ‘path’ of purity, marriage, children, etc… all the path chosen for them by those whom it benefits the most. But, throughout the many different versions – fluffy or gory, innocent or sexual, rescuer or none –  I always interpreted it as LRRH getting in a sticky situation because she goes against her gut instinct, not because she fails to conform.

Think about it: she knows the wolf is off, she knows the path to grandmother’s is safer. But she feels pressured into trusting him, disclosing information she shouldn’t because he won’t leave her alone.

Sounds familiar, right?

And take the example where he tricks her into drinking her grand/mother’s blood and eating her flesh – even when multiple animals try to warn her but the wolf orders her to shoo them away them – then ties her to the bed and monitors her movements. It eerily resembles the sense of entrapment one might feel in an abusive relationship, where the abuser manipulates the victim into disassociating from their family, the outsider perspective is wasted and can’t penetrate the victim’s mindset, and finally the abuser controls the victim’s behaviour and watches them scrupulously. This wasn’t LRRH’s fault at all – it’s never the victim’s fault. I always saw it as a story of strength – a guideline for when red-flags should be popping up when you do choose a certain path, and an encouragement to be brave enough to get out of the situation when the wolf starts to show its fangs. LRRH isn’t punished for her transgressions – she’s just an unfortunate side effect of the FUCKING ENTITLED WOLF FUCKING MURDERING HER BECAUSE IT’S HIS DAMN NATURE OR SO HE BELIEVES.

Anyway, the point I was getting to was I think it’s my favourite because it’s the most applicable to real life. I never cared for many of the other characters. Fuckboys won’t miraculously turn into princes when you give them the kiss they’ve been blackmailing you for. No one will believe you can spin straw into gold by yourself without seeing it. There’s no fairy Godmothers to bail you out of your poverty, or just-plain-evil queens who will poison you simply because they’re jealous of your perfection, or kisses powerful enough to bring you back from the dead. But there are wolves. There are wolves and they come in all forms.

the_path_necessary_failure

‘There’s such beauty in decay. Rust is lovelier than paint. Though I doubt old age will happen to me.’ -Ruby, The Path.

I might have mentioned before that my favourite video game in the world is The Path – a small indie art game made by two people based on the premise of LRRH, and it’s completely open to interpretation. You play as one of six sisters, of all different ages and distinct personalities and each one has a wolf. The wolves are all strikingly different – not all male, not all even human – and cause the ‘death’ of each girl. If you stick to the path, you lose. I highly recommend it – it might not be a game changer in terms of story, but it’s certainly an art form. It’s a non-linear, experimental and beautiful horror narrative which is as open-ended as a piece of installation art (with absolutely none of the pretentiousness) and wouldn’t take a lot out of your time – in fact, you could probably complete it in a day if you so wished. It’s been out for a while (2009) and I bought it pretty much as soon as it was released, but it’s truly stuck with me. It might touch a raw nerve more with the vagina-owners of the world, but it’s definitely a game for non-gamers and is a fantastic experience for anyone. I’ve grown up watching two brothers who were both intensive gamers so I’ve seen it all, but never had much interest in being the participant myself. However, I found The Path absolutely enchanting and disturbing at the same time – it forces you to have your own interpretations, it becomes more a reflection of your own psyche than an escape from it. Not everyone will like it, probably no one will truly ‘get it’, but it’s a promising sign in how video games are maturing and I seriously hope that in the future more games follow the same path (pun intended).

Furthermore it’s a great lesson in showing just how complicated the moral of LRRH really is – the wolf isn’t a stranger, or a beast, or even an evil establishment. It’s a moment in time, a coming-of-age milestone, a loss of some sort of innocence. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want any interpretations giving you preconceptions before playing). Robin – the youngest sister – has a literal wolf – a great big fairytale beast – which stalks the graveyard, symbolic of the death her untouched childhood as she reaches that age where one gets to grips with the concept of mortality. Rose – at that quiet age where nothing is sure – has a wolf that is an entity, a sickness which comes as a potential consequence of her handling of dying animals – perhaps a glimpse of the mental drain one feels when nurturing a lost cause. Ginger’s wolf is a little more abstract – a little girl, the opposite of the Girl in White character who helps you when you’re lost. A lot of people are drawn to Ginger (including myself), and many interpret her wolf as Womanhood, the confusing and emotional onset of sexual maturity and, more literally, the milestone of menstruation. Ruby’s wolf is the classic and truest to form – the Charming Wolf. But her death scene doesn’t imply something sexual or the dangers of not conforming – more just the consequences of finding solace in someone you know isn’t good for you when you’re very, very vulnerable. Carmen’s wolf is a man – a man older than he first seems – armed with an axe, a warm campfire and lots – lots – of alcohol.

Scarlet, the eldest at 19, is unfortunately the one I identify with most at the moment (it used to be Ruby, quelle suprise), which is horrible because she was my least favourite – merely because to me (at 15) she was the most boring, the most domestic and with the least-threatening wolf. Without giving too much away, Scarlet’s wolf is the most domestic (despite allegedly being inspired by a famous Shakespearean faerie) – and thus the most real, and most applicable to a young adult trying to find their way in the world, at the mercy of those around her already in power. But I find a part of myself in all six of the sisters, and it really saddens me to say that – it means I’ve encountered all six wolves at some point in my life.

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‘The Path’ original character concept art.

In summation (TL;DR:), LRRH resonates with me for a number of reasons and I’ve always found it to make the most sense of all the fairytales. (For my all-time favourite interpretation of LRRH, watch the Tex Avery cartoon Red Hot Ridinghood.)


(FYI, in my storybook version she was rescued by her mother and not some random huntsman – the wolf didn’t even die! The mum just knocked him out with a frying pan, cut Grandma out of his belly and stitched him up full of onions. LRRH was saved from the wolf by her family, and he got to feel rotten for a bit – the kind of guilt you would hope your abuser might feel after what they’ve done.)



MY QUESTION FOR YOU is the same question please, because I’m curious. 🙂 ❤

BONUS: My close second fave is joint between the Belle and the Beast and Rapunzel – B&TB because love what’s on the inside fuckboys will be fuckboys blah blah blah good stuff, and Rapunzel because she had lovely long hair. (I also found Dame Gothel interesting, because she didn’t really do anything – just took Rapunzel away from the father who stole from the enchantresses’ garden and then gave her up to save his own skin in the first place, and stopped a creep she just met from climbing into her bedroom and coercing her away from her safe space. Yet she seemed to get totally shat on.)