Archive for the ‘Life Hacks’ Category

I write as the UK reacts to the murder of Sarah Everard, taken as she walked alone at night. I write as a 60 year old female with experiences since early teens of low level, gender based harassment, and as a survivor of failed hetero relationships. Am I a man hater? – Read on.

  • Trigger warning.

In today’s UK it seems to me that men’s behaviour will not change unless they experience the same daily fear of harassment and sexual violation that women do.

Why would men even think about change if they don’t fear to wear certain clothes or walk alone? I suggest role exchanging exercises might be helpful. With a dash of comedy here, let’s have men literally walk in women’s shoes on a city Saturday night!

I wish that the focus could change. To blazes with what women should /shouldn’t do – teach men not to rape!

But at age 60, after living abroad and in the UK, I’m sadly convinced that a lot of men simply cannot control themselves. They appear to be biologically driven. Cultural / family upbringing influences their behaviour but there seems to be swathes of males who can no more refrain from mistreating females than they can, for example, stop themselves from pissing in the street when they stagger out of the pub.

Not for a second do I assume that “All men are…” It’s just so sad that, after wonderful improvements since the 1970s, I now see male-female interactions regressing.

There’s a core problem. For centuries, in societies around the world, men have feared women at a very deep level. Women are messy and smelly, women change over time (maiden, mother, crone), the next generation can’t happen without women’s wombs and milk. So men have used their superior physical strength to control women’s reproduction. Topped up by control through rules of religion, social acceptance and politics.

I observe that certain types of male human base much of their social status on being seen to control females. Like stags with hinds. Unlike wolves with their alpha pair and unlike matriarchal monkeys and meerkats!

Yes, I do know that some men get abused. By women or other men. A young man was raped 300 metres from the flat where I used to live in Cheltenham. I can only imagine these victims know the same fear and society-imposed shame that women endure.

Paris, early 1980s: my employer warned all us young women newbies about the high risk of being assaulted. I wore a big cover up coat in the street (because I was told if the rapists didn’t get me, the gendarmes would…) I rarely went out after dark alone, took expensive taxis to get home (and that wasn’t safe, either). I was hyper aware and ready to react, even trying to read a book in a busy park on a sunny day. You can develop a body language which says This is not an easy victim. It was a very lonely existence.

My friend’s daughter studied in France more recently as part of her uni course. She said the sexual harassment was relentless and that it permanently put her off having anything to do with the country.

Despite all this, I still believe that workplaces and creativity thrive best with a mix of masculine and feminine energies. The French, despite everything, have it right with “Vive la différence”.

How do we make friends again and support each other in mutually respectful yet warm behaviour styles? From office gossip to the law, we need to be whole orders tougher on stopping sexual harassment cold. Women and men must pressure the slimy minded. It’s not easy because good grief we want to stay human. It’d be a sorry day if we’re not allowed to admire each other and flirt a little!

So the current conversations are important: what is appropriate? What is acceptable? If you see someone being made uncomfortable, how do you challenge that – and not get yourself beaten up or fired?!

Was this a long read for you? Then imagine how tedious and tiring it is for women to constantly double check what we’re wearing, where we’re going, what time we might have to travel alone, what to do if the car breaks down on a lonely road, what to do if a scary man is near us in the street, how to handle “workplace banter” that’s just coarse innuendo, what to do if this, if that, if the other…

Because women in today’s UK are not safe to walk alone after dark.

Snow day in the Cotswolds: if the power goes off, can you find your matches to light a candle or the fire?

I’ve become a proper countrywoman. Or as good as an incomer can get. A few nights ago I held a newspaper across the front of the fireplace to make the chimney draw stronger. The fire was feeble: I didn’t even have to think what to do.

The boyfriend who taught me the trick is long gone. But I learned all the back lanes between Malmesbury and Moreton in Marsh from him, plus multiple knacks of making rural life comfy.

I was eight years old in 1969 when my father’s work moved us from East Anglian suburbia to the edge of a small Berkshire town. Our gate opened onto a potholed lane with Green Belt woodland opposite.

Nobody told me about vixens.

Night after pitch dark night, searing screams and screeches woke me in paralysed terror. I wasn’t allowed a bedside lamp. I was too frightened to switch on my torch. It was Not Done to wake my parents. 

Presumably I worked out that some wild creature in the woods made the noises, but it was years before I could put a name to it. Meanwhile, my dreams were troubled and Dr Who didn’t help.

Learning to love the night

At age 12 I won the nasty battle for parental permission to cycle alone to the shops and library. Down the lane, around the end of the woods and across the wasteland, under the railway bridge and into the village with its sticky heaven of a sweet shop. Nowadays I’d shun that route as a rapist’s paradise. In the early 1970s it was independence.

By my early teens, on summer camping expeditions I was the Girl Who Loved The Night. I walked at the front of the group across fields under vast starry skies. How did I manage that? As an only child, asking for help was Not Done: I faced fears alone and head on. So I learned to love rural darkness. Here in the Cotswolds I still walk without a torch on star sparkled nights. If I must carry a light, I prefer the warm glow of an old fashioned miner’s safety lamp. Just one of my quirks.

Paris to popcorn

London and Paris featured in my student life. They were only fun if you had money. Marriage brought me to suburban Luton, to recession, redundancy and depression.

Running away with my then husband to a gamekeeper’s cottage beyond Newbury couldn’t save the marriage, despite good will all round. Even so, I was developing rural skills all the way. Keeping in a solid fuel burner. Keeping out damp and rodents. The tiny 19thC cottage efficiently circulated warmth from downstairs. The cats grew glossy and athletic, hunting rabbits and rats nearly their own size.

I probably saved the whole neighbourhood one night when I alerted the farm manager to the grain dryer fire alarm. If I hadn’t, there’d have been popcorn raining down all over West Berkshire!

Power cuts and indoor camping

Since 1993, when I gave up trying to be married, I’ve enjoyed renting accommodation in the countryside. From a room at small dairy farm held together with bailer twine, to neatly trimmed modern feudalism.

I tamed a coal fired Rayburn, with gritted determination on mornings when the dratted contraption would heat neither kettle nor eggs. (There were electric options but I’m stubborn!) That Rayburn moistly and tenderly cooked the biggest Christmas turkey I ever offered to guests. Fancy stuffing and all.

Solo neighbours took refuge with me on nights of storm and power cuts. I like thunder and lightning: they didn’t.

The first Saturday after moving into a beautifully redecorated farmworker’s cottage near Cirencester, I woke to the mewing and scratching of my two cats – and looked outside to see a red fire engine with hefty firefighters moving briskly. Chimney fire next door, right behind my bed. Luckily, order was swiftly restored. My neighbours were in fact the kindest people, born and raised in the countryside. They showed me how to stack wood tidily and now I get compliments. 

Candles, lanterns and the wood burning stove turned regular power cuts into camping adventures: you can very nicely heat baked beans, cook sausages and make toast with a woodburner. A small camping pan boils water for tea. It was comforting to potter about in the dark and quiet, with the crackle of logs and the gleam of candlelight on my ornaments and picture frames.

At least by then I knew about vixens’ screaming. And the dogmess stink of fox on morning paths.

Hot water bottles that purred

At my next home, owls duetted on the fence at dusk just metres from where I sat on my garden sofa. Small, rounded shapes uttering friendly “towhoos” in the summer dusk.

But it was an odd village: a hamlet of wealthy recluses, who seemed to regard a 40-something single female with cold suspicion. The husbands were not seduction material, believe me.

The down to earth, unobtrusive friendliness of my farmer neighbours made everything bearable. Cups of spontaneous coffee on sunny morning benches. Fascinating conversations about what farmers really do and think – their bone deep love for the land, for their animals domestic and wild. Hard truths: “If you’ve got livestock, you’ll have dead stock.”

When snow was deep and the temperature fell to -12 degrees C, as in earlier homes I slept in two duvets on my sofa next to the woodburner. With furry hot water bottles that purred.

In 2017 the farm was sold. All cottage tenants had to leave. After 16 cosy years I decided on total change – after all, I’d lived in London and Paris – and sought “café society” in town.

Drunks and druggies kicked off every night until dawn, pissing and vomiting all round the square. Seagulls used my elegant oval skylight as watering hole and toilet. Noise assaulted the flat from restaurant kitchen fans, an air compressor, shop alarms, idling engines and amplified buskers. Town air was like diesel soup. My health imploded. At least the flat was within walking distance of the hospital oncology department.

In the valley of power cuts

December 2019 brought me “home” to the Cotswolds again: a tiny cottage on a hill. Talk about timing.

Throughout Lockdown chemo, shielding and after serious surgery, village neighbours I barely know and old friends have brought me supplies and giggles.

As I recuperate, everything I’ve loved and learned about living in the countryside has sprung back into relevance. From watching buzzards and kites circle over the fields, to double checking the outside tap isn’t dripping. I stock up tinned and dry goods in summer against winter bad weather. I bring firewood indoors to dry on the hearth before use. I’m restored to my countryside quirks, such as wearing the colours of the day that I see out of the window in the morning.

Back in the valley of power cuts, a certain life hack is crucial again: leave the tail of at least one match sticking out of the box so you can find it and light your candle in the dark. And put the box in the same place all the time, so you always know where your matches are.

One day, Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers will buy batteries for all the modern torches she has in the cottage.
Meanwhile her spoken word performances are going online for the rest of UK Lockdown and beyond.
It’s a great way to reach a worldwide audience.
To commission your own bespoke Story Cabaret set for grown-ups, or family storytelling, email