Wednesday, 30 March 2016

I’m sorry my life doesn’t fit your narrative

So someone tweeted this blogpost from The F Word yesterday about the need for gender-neutral toilets. The article made some good points about the need for more gender-neutral toilet provision – for example to help out parents with opposite sex children, people caring for a member of the opposite sex, and also for trans or non-binary people who are concerned about being misgendered and the violence that can follow this. To me, this is where the debate about gender-neutral loos is surely meant to be sitting – there simply isn’t enough public toilet provision anyway, and we need to increase that provision to ensure everyone’s needs are met. 

And then I read this paragraph: 

The shelter, relative privacy and access to running water that public toilets provide have made them useful places to have sex when folks have nowhere else to do it, but they don’t particularly lend themselves to sexual assault. In the Ladies, women remain fully-dressed outside locked cubicles. These are rooms where people may walk in at any time. Currently, there’s nothing stopping men entering the Ladies (and indeed, the laws proposed in the US would force trans men to do so) but these aren’t common locations for sexual violence; outside of horror movies, ongoing drug deals and norovirus epidemics, public toilets are pretty safe.

The paragraph has now been removed from the article, after an exchange on Twitter where the editor apologised to me. I really appreciate the apology and the acknowledgement that this paragraph could result in upset and hurt. However, I started this post so I’ll finish, as the article isn’t the only place I’ve seen this dismissal…

What I want to address is the sweeping statement that women’s loos ‘don’t lend themselves to sexual assault.

Because that, quite frankly, is bullshit. 

A few years ago, a man followed me into the women’s toilets and tried to sexually assault me. Luckily for me I was able to fight him off – I pushed him away and said very clearly ‘you are in the wrong toilets.’ Again, luckily for me he wasn’t all that committed to assaulting me, grinned, shrugged and left. I wrote more about this incident here in terms of leading men on/victim blaming. Needless to say however, I was pretty upset, a bit shaken and absolutely furious that some arsehole had followed me into the women’s loos to try and assault me. 

So to read that the ladies toilets don’t lend themselves to sexual assault is quite a kick in the teeth – to me who has dealt with an attempted assault in this space, and to the many, many women who have survived far worse violence while trying to go to the loo. 

Who are these women? Well, here’s one. Here’s another. Another. Another. Oh look! This one’s in Bristol, the city where it happened to me! And then there was this news story from last week, where a trans woman was raped in a public toilet in New York. Then of course there is the well-documented issue for women accessing toilets in the developing world – where the lack of safe and secure toilets mean that women regularly experience violence and harassment in numbers that should be an international disgrace. 

I’m sorry that our experiences don’t fit into a cosy narrative that women have nothing to fear from men in public loos – that women’s toilets ‘aren’t common locations for sexual violence.’ I’m sorry that our lived experience doesn’t fit into the narrative that women have nothing to fear from gender-neutral toilets as opposed to single-sex loo provision. I’m sorry that the fact of a man trying to assault me in the women’s toilets is inconvenient. But the fact is, this happened to me. And it’s happened to other women. And everyone knows that this happens to women. And everyone knows that one of the reasons we have men’s toilets is because some men choose to be violent against women. 

No argument for gender-neutral toilet provision is served by ignoring the fact that the threat of male violence is something all women have to deal with, and the incontrovertible fact that many, many women will have dealt with it in this specific setting. 

One of the huge problems facing women is that we aren’t believed when we talk about the violence committed against us. Our experiences are dismissed and minimised. We’re not encouraged to report our assaults. We’re told that we were probably leading the guy on, or that our behaviour provoked his violence. Even me, with all my feminist training, sat there after the attempted assault debating whether it was me who had caused it, because I’d been chatting to the guy beforehand. 

So to read on a feminist website that the thing that happened to me and happens to girls and women the world over, is unlikely – well, that hurt. To read that my fears and misgivings about public toilets are silly, to read that the thing that happened to me is not important, is easily dismissed – it stung. 

After all, feminism is the place we go to where we are believed. Where our fears aren’t dismissed. It’s the place where women are listened to. The place where we can say how messed up it is that men invade our spaces to harm us, and share our anger that women are so violently and brutally excluded from public space. Feminism shouldn’t be a place where we’re told that our fears, our founded fears, aren’t based on anything; not when we know our fears are based on what we experience – on what happens to women every day. 

To have the violence I experienced dismissed in order to make a point about a cause I actually support – well, that is hard to deal with. Because again, the cause to create safer toilet provision for all women is not served by dismissing and ignoring the voices of some women – the women who have experienced male violence, who know what violent men will do. 

I feel really uncomfortable writing this blogpost. Not just because it means dragging up an unpleasant experience that isn’t a happy memory. But also because any argument about access to toilets is seen as an attack on trans women’s and men’s rights to safe spaces too. And yet, for me this isn’t a trans vs not issue. Because everyone knows that trans women aren’t safe from male violence in gender-neutral loos either. That’s why it’s so important for all women to have access to safe and secure toilets which violent men can’t easily access – where women can challenge and say ‘NO’ to their presence. 

Airily dismissing the idea that women’s loos are spaces where violent men attempt to assault women in order to advocate for more gender-neutral toilets doesn’t help anyone. It ignores women’s voices. It silences women’s experiences of male violence. And it does nothing to stop male violence – violence that all women live in fear of, violence that many, many, many women will have first-hand experience of. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Listen! Me at Bristol Festival of Ideas on the End of Freedom of Speech

Listen! As Spanky Wilson sings at the start of Light my Fire.

On Saturday I was very honoured to join Julie Bindel, Maryam Namazie and Sarah Ditum at Bristol Festival of Ideas to discuss no-platforming and freedom of speech.

Listen now

I spoke about my activism work building platforms for women to speak from - including the Bristol Feminist Network, Ladyfest Bristol 2007, Reclaim the Night rallies and The Bristol Women's Literature Festival.

My two favourite bits were when Maryam Namazie said:

'I did not flee Iran to be banned in Britain'

And when I said something like this, VERY LOUDLY:

'Every day, women's voices are brutally and violently silenced. There are 90,000 rapes in the UK every year, every week two women are murdered by men. We are already being silenced and it makes no sense to me that no-platforming movements are trying to silence women again.'

I mean, I paraphrase. You can hear what I actually said for yourselves.

It's a shame you can't see the footage as I can assure you I was wearing a BRILLIANT OUTFIT.

Thank you to everyone at Festival of Ideas for inviting me, and to my fellow panellists for refusing to allow marginalised voices to go unheard.

Friday, 18 March 2016

For the Heroine Collective: Djuna Barnes

I'm writing a series for the lovely team at The Heroine Collective about the women of 1920s Paris.

This month I focused on Djuna Barnes.

And if you missed the last one, it was all about Janet Flanner, who is the woman I would have a drink with if I could go back in time and have a drink with anyone.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Madness and obsession: my short life as a ballet dancer

I’ve thought about writing this piece for years, and somehow never quite plucked up the courage. I didn’t talk about my life at ballet school for a long time; when I started talking about it my friends would express surprise at this part of my life they knew nothing about. I too was shocked at their surprise – surely this is something everyone knew about me? It’s so close to me. It was, is, so huge to me. 

So I wanted to write this piece for a long time and then reading Sarah Ditum’s excellent article in the New Statesman today on adolescent girls’ bodies gave me the kick to write it. 

Because I was reading her powerful words about girls becoming divorced from their body, as our body becomes not a subject that does things but an object to adorn, and it made me think: when did that happen to me? When did I start to feel that detachment from my own body? And what impact did it have? 

And I thought about ballet school. 

I didn’t go to ballet school full time. Between the ages of 12 and 15 I think it was, I attended a Russian ballet school after my real school. It started off three times a week and then it was every evening. So by the time the school closed down in a blaze of bankruptcy and misery (and, as I found out much later on, something worse), I was training semi-professionally every weekday and some Saturdays too. 

You can read more about the school, company and its history in this Independent article. There’s also a BBC documentary floating around somewhere. (France Byrnes, if you’re reading this, please please get in touch. I would love to see that documentary again, featuring me, tutu-ed up and pointe-shoe wearing, in Giselle!)

Ballet school was an intense and frightening place. I had two teachers, both who had trained in Russia, who took every stereotype of a Russian ballet teacher to its extreme. Lessons would be spent with being screamed at until I would break down and cry. It was easy to get things wrong, but after a screaming session you didn’t get it wrong again. Sometimes, so angry at my inability to stand in a straight line, she’d scream at me in Russian, remember I didn’t speak Russian, and scream at me again in English. And then I’d cry. 

My mum worried about me. She wanted me to leave. I’d scowl, dry the tears, go back again, and try harder. 

We worked hard. So hard. By the end of half an hour barre work we’d be sweating. Then floor work, where my jumps were especially praised (get me pissed enough and I’ll show you how good I am at jumping!). My arches are high, so when I jumped it looked as though for a moment I was suspended in the air. Pointe work – we would courir until our toes were bleeding right through to the gel pads I used to protect my poor, battered feet. 

Today my posture is great. If I slouched, my ballet teacher would slap me with the side of her hand against my spine. ‘Don’t slouch!’ shouted in a cut glass Russian accent, a sexy villain’s voice. The second teacher cried tears of joy when I first got injured, because she was so proud of me. Our pain, our blood, our twisted muscles and deformed toes were badges of honour that we showed off. To be proud of our injuries! Straining to reach the goal of ‘wearing down all the cartilage in our hips to achieve perfect turnout.’ 

We must have been mad. 

We were mad. There was an atmosphere of madness around it – the madness of absolute obsession. Who could best do the splits up the wall? Who could bend backwards while lifting up her leg to make a circle with her head? We’d take a break from pointe work to try on the beautiful hand-stitched tutus the company attached to the school wore. My favourite was from Le Corsaire, its pastel coloured layers of lace like something from a fantasy novel.

It all has an element of fantasy now. The smell of battered satin and sweat and hairspray. The tape player with its collection of classical scores, the Vaganova method, the wall length mirrors, the stickiness of resin, the flirting with our reflections. 

Ballet school bred an obsession in us (and now I’m going to get to the point that links my odd memories with Sarah’s article) and that obsession was with our bodies. 

Everything was focused on our bodies. My body and what I could make it do was my obsession. I’d go home from class, put an iron (yes, for ironing clothes) in a plastic bag, put the bag round my ankle and do leg lifts. I practised doing the splits every day for three months before I got it right, and then I did it every day for years. I even drank milk (those who know me will know how much that cost me). What could my body do? How far could my body go? Could I stand en pointe for longer, could I stand en pointe without shoes? How long could I stay suspended in air? How high could I hold my arabesque? How pretty could I make my attitude

As a ballet dancer, all my energy was focused on what my body could and couldn’t do. It was about extending my body’s reach – about turning it into something that could achieve amazing, gravity-defying, awe-inspiring things. Isn’t that something? To know that your body can do something wonderful for you and for other people? To work your body so hard because you can do what’s beautiful? Not to care about the pain and the blood and oh-my-god all those fucking tears, because at the end of it, I was standing on stage in Giselle, tutu and corset, creating patterns with my arms, my face smiling under a mask of clumsily applied stage make-up? 

It wasn’t healthy because it was an obsession, and obsessions are never healthy. But it was different to what would come later for me, and what was affecting my friends. As a young adolescent, my body wasn’t an object to adorn. In some ways my body was still an object – the tool of my trade. But at the same time my body was a tool I fully inhabited. I felt every stretch, every bend, every pain and every intense pleasure of getting it right. All my focus was on my body it’s true, but my focus was on what my body could do. When I looked right it was because I was doing something right. And my body could do some amazing things. 

It all ended with Giselle. The school had imploded, and the teachers were on the warpath. We unsuspecting students didn’t know the company had been taken over and we were sent by our teachers to go and perform – to the company’s surprise. They were lovely; they couldn’t let our ballet school hearts down, so they let us dance with them. There it was, my glittering career – for one night only. The next day I dumped my costume on my ballet teachers’ front door step and my life as a ballet dancer was over. I’d never join a company. I’d never master a pirouette. My feet wouldn’t bleed anymore and, luckily for my hips, I’d never wear down my cartilage enough to achieve perfect turn out. 

And so, a little bit later than everyone else, my body stopped being my wonderful body that did. More and more it became the thing that other people (well, men) looked at. The object to the flaneur’s gaze. 

There’s not really a point to this blogpost is there? I’m not trying to extrapolate from my experience of ballet school to make a wider point about girls’ bodies. I don’t think my time at ballet school was healthy and the impact of what was quite a frightening situation stayed with me in lots of negative ways. But I am glad that I had those years of ballet school – those years of realising what my body could do, what my body could mean to me. That for a while at least, my body was a subject before being a girl in a patriarchal society took that full ownership away from me. Losing that ownership led me to some very dark places and some very destructive behaviours that are not to be shared here. And it took a long time before my body became my own again. Before I inhabited my physical subjectivity again.  

I wish I could still make a circle between my foot and my back though. 


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

For Marginalised voices are the first victims of no platforming

I'll be debating no platforming and the impact on freedom of speech with Julie Bindel, Maryam Namazie and Sarah Ditum this Saturday as part of the Festival of Ideas. The event is called The End of Free Speech? You can book tickets here.

In the run up to the event, I wrote about the subject for Have a read!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

For 3am Magazine: Review of Danielle Dutton's Margaret the First

My first but hopefully not last review for 3am Magazine is of Danielle Dutton's superb new novel, Margaret the First.

It was a joy to read and a pleasure to review. Have a read!

Monday, 7 March 2016


The thing I wrote to post today I'm liking a bit too much, and think I might enter it into a competition rather than share it here.

So I can't post it, as most competitions have a rule about pieces not being published before entry - even if it's just published on a blog.

Sorry about that. I haven't failed in my self-imposed challenge but this one might find another home.

I'll make up for it tomorrow.

It's called The Holiday, by the way.

It's about skiving.

If I lose, I'll post it here another day :)

Sunday, 6 March 2016


Every summer, they dig a hole. 

The day at the beach is the best day. Skin rough and sticky with sand that rubs raw patches on knees and thighs. The air is rough with salt. She sticks out her tongue to taste it, before licking her skin. Sand cracks between her teeth, echoing in her ear, unpleasant and disconcerting, 

Already they’ve jumped down sand dunes, leaping and then throwing themselves into the fall, tumbling down roly-poly through the spiked sea grass, the twigs that drift up with the tide sticking to their swimsuits, as they somehow manage to dodge the plastic bottles and drinks cans that inevitably intrude. 

Earlier they swam out, avoiding jellyfish that moon beneath the surface, avoiding seaweed too with its deceptive tentacles. Best to be on the safe side. They bobbed at the edge of safety, watching the gannets beyond dive for fish, straight and fast as bullets, the great big bird folded narrow and slender and deadly. Beyond even the gannets, out of sight on the islands, nest the razorbills and kittiwakes - her favourites, the idea that a bird can be a cat, with their pretty round heads. 

All day, they’ve been keeping an eye on the tide. It’s the tide, you see, that matters when digging a hole. And now, after they’ve jumped and swam and walked to the rock pool and eaten seeded rolls stuffed with egg and ham, sugar biscuits for afterwards, sand in their teeth, it’s time to dig. 

They don’t have spades. It’s odd, when she looks back, to realise what little childish paraphernalia they had on the beach. Other children had spades and bat and ball, inflatables and liloes and wetsuits. Families had wind guards and deck chairs. They have their hands, and years of practice, and that is enough. 

They find a place where the sand is firm to dig. Too soft, and the walls of the hole crumble in. Too firm and, well, without a spade there’s no deal. The sand is uncomfortable as it burrows beneath finger nails, burns against bent knees, but she knows that discomfort must be waved aside at times like this. 

It doesn’t take long before the hole is dug. It’s dug when water is reached. There’s no point digging further. 

It’s a good hole. They’ve dug it well. 

They turn to face the sea. It’s that time of day now; the tide has changed and each wave is landing closer and closer to the hole. They have about half an hour, they estimate, to finish their work - a mere half an hour to protect the hole. Half an hour to build walls and sea defences, to dig channels and gullies that will divert the ocean from the hole and keep it safe. 

There’s an urgency to the digging now. They take on a flank each, using the sand dug up from the hole and the channels to build up walls as high and as thick as their hands. Soon a fort over two metres wide springs up around the hole. With each wave the tide moves in faster. As they pile sand on the outer wall, cold bubbles slap and pop against the soles of her feet. 

The sea hits the first wall. The struggle now is to rebuild. The sand is sodden, melting to sea between their fingers, but the channels are doing their job, and the ocean takes a detour. It’s a momentary relief. The next wall is breached. They pull up handfuls of sand that is now seabed, throwing it wildly onto collapsing walls, streaks of hardening brown gunk on their faces and in their hair. A dump of seaweed washes up around her legs and she grabs it, vainly hoping it will make a stronger defence than the wobbling sand. 

With a roar, it’s over. She falls backwards and sits facing away from the ocean, as the sea laps around her and cascades into the hole, the work of the afternoon destroyed. Proud in defeat, she lies back and floats on the white foam, watching the birds circle in the sky.  

Saturday, 5 March 2016


‘…and so, that’s kind of what I’m thinking for this story,’ she says, her voice lit up with excitement at the idea, her hands wild and expansive, in this small room that smells of other people’s bodies, with the duvet wrinkled over the bobbled grey sheet, her hair loose around her shoulders, slightly matted still. She pauses and wrinkles her nose. ‘I just can’t think of an ending for it, though. You know?’ 

She looks up at him, her eyes still dancing with the happiness of moments before, and the before that, keen for his answer, for his voice. 

‘You’re not very good at endings,’ he says, looking at his hands. ‘Are you?’ he adds, looking up at her.   

He sees, half horrified, the shutters came down behind her eyes. Her hands drop, and she starts making those silly, compulsive movements – woman-y movements that irritate him. He had noticed them yesterday when they had met up again; when she was nervous, before he had stripped her nerves away, to reach her. 

‘Thank you,’ she said, her voice tight as a high-pitched drum. ‘For that.’

She starts to put her hair up, jabbing kirby grips in to hold herself in place, putting herself back together. She pushes flat the creases in her skirt, rubs her fingers together as though she wants to roll a cigarette between them. 

He wants to kick himself. Why does he do this? Why does he give in to this desire to say something cruel, to jab at and cut down her happy chatter. Why does he need to pierce the bubble that lifts her up; prick her with reminders of where she is, why this is. He wants her lively eyes back – the eyes of a moment ago, or for her eyes to melt again into pools all damp and dreamy, the eyes of before. 

And yet, he needs to remind her. It’s not fair of her, to pretend that a reality outside this small room and its wrinkled duvet doesn’t exist beyond the insistent drone of traffic. It’s not his fault that the reminder hurts her. It hurts him too. 

‘Sorry,’ he says, his hands clumsy as he pulls her shoulders towards him. She is stiff, unwilling, and he can feel a tremor there, so that he knows she wants to cry but is too stubborn. He can’t see but he knows she’s biting her lip. Like before.

Friday, 4 March 2016


Okay, in my continuing efforts to post creative work every day, here's a poem I wrote.

I think you should know I haven't written a poem since I was 21. And that was in the hangover of my angsty teenage poem stage.

I've an odd relationship with poetry. I used to love it, and then I went to university and it really isolated me from poetry. I started to feel it wasn't for people like me, that I didn't properly understand it because I couldn't analyse it well. And all that beauty and excitement I had felt about poetry - the massive emotional reaction I used to have to it, I sort of put it all away.

Recently I have started reading poetry again. Mainly because I have discovered some brilliant poets on Twitter and through friends, and because I started listening to poems being read on YouTube.

Anyway. I wrote this. Be kind, because I really, really haven't written poetry for a decade and the poems I used to write were appalling.


We were the last
speakers of a dying language. 
Dead, now.
Our grammar will never be taught. No one 
will write our lexicon,
or analyse our folk tradition.
No one will record our songs.

Our tongue is lost to all but us,
and now we’re losing it too.

The news tells us that 
each year we lose twenty five mother tongues

But you and I know the truth.

The number is much higher than that. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Night hawks

A bit of flash...

Night hawks

He bristles with all the things he wants to say to her. She can feel the words bursting against his chest, travelling up his throat, stopping in his mouth. His whole body strains with the weight of his unspoken words, as he fiddles his fingers together, touches his hat, taps the shining bar top, strokes the handle of his mug. 

I don’t want to leave, she thinks. And yet, if he speaks, then he’s going to make me. 

Ach, just let him bristle, she thinks. I don’t have to hear it. Is it too much to ask, to sit here, in silence, alone, and never hear those same bloody words again?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016



She sits quiet, looking out the conservatory window at the birds on the bird feeder. Throughout the morning the sun has warmed up the room its the only warm room in the house. Even the polished tiles under her woolly socks no longer feel chilly to touch.  

The bird feeder is busy today. A pair of goldfinches, once known as the Lady of the Twelve Flounces in their gold and scarlet vestments, hop from foot to foot. A sisken, small and alone, pecks away at the seeds on the table’s smooth surface. A black cap, handsome with his noble head, has travelled all the way here from Lake Malawi to warble with confidence in this, the tiny garden outside of the conservatory. 

Yesterday she walked 15 miles through the hills. Not mountains, a few feet off that achievement, but bloody big hills nonetheless. Down in the valley the sun had shone hot on her back, forcing her to strip off layers of fleece and gore-tex, a trickle of sweat snaking its way down her spine. Talking of snakes, she had seen an adder sunbathing on the edge of the pine copse. ‘Look,’ she had pointed, before pulling her hand back, remembering. 

The sun had settled in the valley. But the higher she went, the cooler it got, until before she knew it she was back in her fleece and gore-tex, snow flurries settling on her hair, red-pointed ears protected by a fleeced headband.

Hill after hill, one after another, until she’d found herself almost running to the top just to see what it would look like from there. Just to know what would be revealed. She chased summit after summit, her heart beating hard in her chest, panting with the anticipation. Heather everywhere, the grouse calling for her to ‘get out get out’, the soft yellow grass reaching up to and tickling the strip of ankles above her socks so that it wasn’t hard walking, not really, just long walking, on the peaty earth. 

At the top of each hill was another hill, until she stood in the snow crunchy under her boots and looked east to the coast, a sliver of gold and then the blue beyond. West, more hills, and a sky that stretched all the way out into another country and then, somewhere at the end of all that land patch-worked in gold and green and purple, more sea (a week later she would stop in the city street and cry because she couldn’t see the sky, not really, amid all those buildings). 

But that was yesterday. Today she sits in the conservatory, watching the birds flutter and flirt and fight on the bird feeder. Her legs ache with the warm satisfied ache that sometimes comes after sex; an ache that intensifies a joyful memory, a happy achievement. 

A female blackbird, incongruously named, the colour of polished antique wood, her beak a muted yellow compared to her flashy husband. She pecks for worms that burrow and squirm under the hedge that borders the garden. Finding one, she holds it vice-like in a proud display for a moment, inviting admiration, before swallowing it down in a satisfied gulp. She bends her inquisitive head to find another, eyes focused on the ground below her. 

Focused on the ground below her so she doesn’t look up to see the sparrow hawk that lands with a silent crash into the garden, grabbing the blackbird by the neck in the brutal curve of its mouth. She convulses in an alarming shudder just the once, and then she dies. 

The violence is over so quickly. The finches and siskens and caps have vanished into the blue sky. Silence settles. The sparrow hawk looks straight at her, inviting admiration, demanding respect, and then launches off again, the precious blackbird dangling down. 

Slowly, one by one, and then pair by pair, the birds return to the table, pecking away at the seeds. The knit is sealed, the danger already forgotten. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

#30dayscreativity The Trapeze

So, thought I'd give this whole #30dayscreativity thing a go.

Not sure I'll be able to post something everyday mind you. I do have plans this month...

But I will do my level best.

Here's a short story called The Trapeze.

The Trapeze

But it was dreadful, she thought miserably, to be sick, and today of all days. Her treat day. And that was the worst of it; it was because of the treat that she had been sick in the first place. 

Her treat day, her birthday, a trip to the circus, the promise of sweets, and then all too soon it was all too many treats and she had been sick right there behind the tent, and mummy had been cross although she tried to hide it because, after all, it was still her birthday. 

The dreadfulness of it, the misery of it, she could barely bring herself to laugh at the clowns running around with their ladders and hoses – although she had raised a wan smile at the sight of their big shoes – but almost as soon as the smile came she was back to remembering being sick right there behind the tent, the fairy floss that she had watched them spin into wisps of pink clouds churning in her tummy and clinging to her teeth until she was sick, right there behind the tent. And mummy had been cross even though she tried to hide it.

So she couldn’t bring herself to laugh at the clowns or coo in awe at the contortionist or gasp in amazement at the strong man. Every time she almost forgot about being sick, right there behind the tent, a hot flush of shame came over her all over again and a sickly burn-y feeling in her tummy that reminded her that she had been sick on her treat day, her birthday, because she had wanted a treat. It wasn’t much of a treat, was it, if it made you sick? mummy had said sadly, giving her a hug. 

She had been warned, look at that fairy floss, it’s too much, you’ll feel sick! But it had looked so beautiful twisting and turning and being churned up into wisps of pink cloud – and how did they get it so pink? Best not to ask, mummy said, that special laugh tinkling, the indulgent laugh saved for treats. I really don’t think…it’s too much, you’ll feel sick! But it had looked so beautiful and she had wanted it so much, wanted to see what wispy pink clouds would taste like on her tongue. And then it had clung to her teeth and the truth was, the really dreadful truth was, that it had not tasted nice at all. It had tasted furry and scratchy and not soft like pink clouds, not really. But it had looked so beautiful and she had wanted it so much that she ate every last scrap, even when all the wispiness had congealed into hard pink globs that stuck to the stick and stuck to her teeth, and she had known then she would be sick. Eating it all despite how awful it was, despite how awful it felt, because it was a treat and this was her treat day. Her birthday. 

Oh why did I think it was a treat, she mourned, feeling dramatic with the burning feeling in her tummy still there even after being sick, right there behind the tent. She rolled her eyes to the heavens at the despair of it all – her one day, her treat day, her birthday, ruined by pink clouds of sugar that weren’t real clouds at all. 

How dreadful, she thought miserably, to be sick on one’s own birthday. The hot flush of shame came over her again as she remembered how it felt behind the tent, the loss of control as her tummy went into spasm over and over again, the horror of having to throw up the pink clouds that had not, could not, fulfil their magical and beautiful promise. And mummy standing there, stroking her hair and trying not to be cross although she was cross really, because she had warned her and she had not listened. 

Oh what a betrayal, she thought dramatically. What a betrayal of pink clouds and their magical and beautiful promise. And she had been warned and she had not listened. 

So she couldn’t laugh at the clowns. So she couldn’t coo at the contortionist. So she couldn’t gasp at the strongman. It was all too soon, all too raw. She wished she could go home and lie in bed with teddy and a cool flannel on her forehead until the sick-y feelings went away. 

Misery, misery. Betrayal, betrayal. On my birthday, she thought. And mummy pretending not to be cross. A tinkling laugh. A half concealed sigh. 

Look darling, daddy said, nudging her with his elbow. She groaned slightly inside with the pain that still haunted her tummy and the hot flush of embarrassment rose to her cheeks, pink as fairy floss, again. Look darling, daddy said, nudging her with his elbow. It’s time for the trapeze. 

She looked up at him and his eyes shining and followed his gaze to the girl stood high at the top of the tent.