The Southsea Food Tour: T and Thistle

S&C food critic Emily Priest visits a Scottish-influenced haven of excellent local tea, perfect poached eggs and high-end panini fillings.

I didn’t sleep well last night and woke up this morning in a flat mood. I slumped out of bed, put on my clothes with a sigh and readied myself for the day ahead. In need of a pick-me-up, I walked round the road to T and Thistle, a Scottish inspired coffee lounge which opened in February this year.

Passing through the shop front’s quaint hanging baskets and garden furniture, I couldn’t quite see the Scottish connection beyond the presence of a thistle in the logo. There’s a rustic ambience to the wooden chairs and tables and a grandness about the large Victorian-style sofa and gold-framed mirror hanging on the wall.

Landscape photography occupies one of the walls by the till and the lighting is proviced by a series of old fashioned light bulbs, refitted into a sort of steampunk chandelier which certainly caught my attention. Soft acoustic music was playing in the background, suiting the calm and snug vibes of the place. I spent my morning amongst it all.

On the till were a range of cakes – some homemade – from scones and muffins to traditional shortbread and the eye-catching espresso and chocolate brownie. The drinks menu offered a wide range of drinks from local suppliers including All About Tea.

I ordered a regular tea, a honeycomb rocky road and an eggs benedict. I perched on one of the wooden chairs by the window and read the rest of the menu.

There’s a wide range of options from breakfast dishes – like my eggs benedict – to bagels and panini with interesting ingredients such as avocado, salmon and halloumi. Considering these ingredients are a bit higher than your bog standard ham and cheese, the prices are fairly reasonable at £4.50 a panini. I was also impressed by the Caledonian-inspired ‘T and Thistle Platter’, which includes smoked salmon, oatcakes, haggis, chutney, mature cheddar and rocket for only £9. This is cheaper than other places I have reviewed where they charge roughly £12 for similar contents. Once again I was kicking myself because I didn’t order the platter. Maybe, no, definitely next time!

My food and drinks came soon after, delivered by a friendly young waitress. She made sure I was comfortable. ‘Do you need any salt and pepper? If you need more milk let me know straight away. I hope you enjoy it,’ she chirped, before skipping away to serve some other customers.

I poured myself a tea with too many sugars and tucked into my breakfast. Now, before I tell you about the flavours and all that, I must mention another thing about T and Thistle that ticked one of my boxes: its breakfast times. Normally, cafes serve breakfast until 10 or 11 am, but here they go on until 1pm. This is perfect for late risers or hungover party animals.

The presentation of my food was brilliantly precise. ‘This is perfect for Instagram,’ I thought, snapping a picture before I took a bite. The poached egg was spot-on: large, bouncy and runny when I sliced it open. The bacon was crispy and plentiful, the muffin as delectable as a muffin can be.

However, all of this was let down by the sauce. There was lots of it – which is great – but not when it overpowers all the other flavours. There was too much mustard and sadly that’s all I could taste. A shame because everything else was on point. It could have been a masterpiece if it only for that small, incorrect detail. Maybe next time.

I sipped on my tea and cut up my rocky road into smaller chunks. I noticed next to me was a rack of newspapers. Unfortunately, they were all copies of the Portsmouth News. Well, at least it wasn’t the Sun anyway. I didn’t mind as I had The Wasp Factory by Scottish writer Iain Banks. Fitting right?

The rocky road was splendid and gave me an instant lift. They didn’t go shy on the honeycomb and marshmallow – as some establishments do – and in no time I’d demolished it. I sat there content, with a fat belly, reading my book.

I really liked T and Thistle for all its calming vibes and it definitely put me on the right track for the rest of the day – strong Hollandaise sauce or not.

The food is tasty, the decor sweet, the atmosphere warm and the prices reasonable. I’ll definitely be going back and now that I have a loyalty card, they’ll start seeing my face more and more often.

Photography by Emily Priest.

Some People Are Bisexual: Get Over It

In this frank and personal essay, Siobhan Coleman responds to some of the common misconceptions about bisexuality.

I was twelve years old when Rachel Riley replaced Carol Vorderman as the co-presenter of TV’s Countdown. I remember Rachel standing there in her little scarlet frock that only just about covered everything it needed to, her legs longer than Bruce Forsyth’s career span. The hem of her dress lifted as she reached to sketch out her equations; showing enough flesh to let my imagination run wild but also covering enough to keep my interest peeked.

As a writer and self-proclaimed grammarian, perhaps there’s something about the act of pulling consonants and vowels out of a box that just really turns me on. However, the more likely explanation is that these early feelings of arousal are attributed to the fact I am bisexual.

Now, it is in all likelihood that you couldn’t care less that I am bisexual. You may even find it admirable that I admit it so openly. Or you may be wondering why in our modern, liberal society I feel the need to make a song and dance about it at all.

After speaking with a number of bisexual individuals about their own personal experiences, I found the most shocking revelation to be that bisexuals suffer discrimination from straight and gay people in equal measure. I am proud to live in a society where homosexuals are no longer persecuted.

However, if we can accept people for being gay why do a large number of us still seem to misunderstand that not everyone falls into the gay or straight category? There is so much more to sexuality than this. Pansexuality, for example, completely rejects the gender binary, whilst some people consider themselves to lack any sexual orientation whatsoever. If LGBT truly is a community, then shouldn’t it embrace the whole spectrum of sexuality?

After reading that I am bisexual it is also possible that you are now (whether consciously or not) associating me with certain stereotypes. A popular one is that all bisexuals are confused. In reality, bisexuals are not at all confused. They live in absolute certainty of the knowledge that they are attracted to both genders. I can happily admit that I like both chocolate and vanilla flavoured ice cream in equal measure and have never felt conflicted about which I prefer. There is no confusion, I know I like both.

I should also point out that the term “confused” should in no way be regarded as a slur. Lots of people experience confusion during the process of deciphering their sexuality. Sexuality is complex and so it is perfectly natural and healthy for someone to feel confused as they try to get their head around their desires and preferences.

Another common stereotype is the belief that bisexuals are greedy and promiscuous. Back to the ice cream analogy! Just because I like both chocolate and vanilla doesn’t mean I eat both all day every day. Being attracted to both genders does not mean you are attracted to everybody.

On February 25th 2016, Twitter was in uproar over a debate about bisexuality held on midday menopause-fest Loose Women. During the debate, Jane Moore admitted she would find it difficult if she found out that her husband was also attracted to men, claiming she’d question whether he would be thinking about another man while they were together (in spite of the fact there is no proven correlation between infidelity and a person’s sexuality).

Another guest on the show, Ruth Langsford, said that she would feel lied to if she learnt her husband was bisexual. Many observers argued that this wasn’t a balanced debate at all but rather four heterosexual women discussing a topic they clearly had limited knowledge of. Furthermore, broadcasting such narrow ideological outlooks on daytime television will only further perpetuate the idea that bisexuals are incapable of behaving monogamously.

I recently stumbled across a video online entitled ‘What Lesbians Think About Bisexuals’ in which lesbians express their reluctance when it comes to dating a bisexual woman, a recurring complaint being that they are put off by the idea of having a partner who has been sexually involved with a man. One woman interviewed said, ‘I don’t like dick in my mouth and if you do, that is a pretty big thing to disagree on.’

Whilst to an extent I can understand why a lesbian wouldn’t exactly be thrilled by the notion that her girlfriend’s mouth has previously entertained a phallus, I don’t see how it would be a real obstacle in a loving relationship. My boyfriend is a regular drinker of Earl Grey. I can’t stand Earl Grey. Still I wouldn’t go so far as to forbid him to put his bergamot-scented lips anywhere near me. But perhaps that is an unfair comparison.

A widespread belief is that bisexuals are closeted homosexuals. It makes little sense as to why anyone would regard coming out as bi any easier than coming out as gay. All coming out experiences are different for each individual. Many people could argue that it is easier to be accepted if you are attracted to only one gender. On July 7th 2015, Youtube sensation Shane Dawson uploaded a video in which he publicly came out as bisexual. In the video he frequently commented on the fact that he wished he was gay. It concerns me that in today’s society people are hating their own sexual identity due to the belief that they do not fit into the norm.

In light of Shane Dawson’s revelations, I decided to interview Jason Fisher, known better by his online pseudonym TeaMakerJason, who has been uploading videos to Youtube for three years. He also works as a motion designer, animator and video editor. He has been very forthright about his own sexuality, not only to his family and friends but also his subscribers and internet fan base as a whole. When I asked him how he would define his sexual identity he replied, ‘Bisexual… Shit! That’s a one word answer. Not the best interviewee am I? Give me a moment. Don’t include this bit of commentary in the article by the way.’ I assured him I wouldn’t, but I’m sure he’ll forgive a little white lie.

He took a moment to compose himself before continuing. ‘I guess objectively I’d define myself as bisexual. But I find it hard saying definitively that “I am bisexual” if you get what I mean. I think I’ve always been open to romantic encounters with either sex, but it’s the personal aspect that I crave. I want meaningful and impactful relationships in my life, romantic or not, with any gender.’

I found this to be an optimistic response but what I really wanted was to get down into what it’s like being an openly bisexual man. I mentioned Shane Dawson’s fears of being emasculated and asked Jason if he shared them.

He laughed at the suggestion. ‘I don’t at all worry about being emasculated. I always sort of fell into my self-image quite easily. I know a lot of people have struggled with that, so I’m not sure why it was that I was able to be so comfortable with my sexuality. Before I’d even realised I was bisexual, being me came very easily and there was never much concern for judgment. In my line of work I associate with a variety of people and often have to work with small and large groups of people without much choice. In that sort of scenario, my sexuality is a piece of information that I might not openly share because those stereotypes do very much exist and could take a toll on my working relationships. It’s not that I feel particularly targeted or that I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing that side of myself with people, but that I can happily separate my work life from my personal life and choose not to associate with those people at the end of the day.’

I asked if he had any personal experiences with stereotypes that he could share. He shook his head. ‘Thankfully I’ve never faced them directly myself so really don’t have much experience of being on the receiving end of them. Oh I’ve seen them expressed by people around me, but my opinion is that anyone expressing them is ignorant and bigoted. I don’t associate with those sorts of people. I think the fact that I am comfortable in myself has meant that anyone who might try to take a jab at me knows that they won’t make much impact with anything related to my sexuality or character. That along with the fact that I pretty swiftly disassociate from anyone with those values has made my day to day life rather peaceful.’

Whilst it was refreshing to meet someone who is so comfortable in their sexuality, I couldn’t help but disagree with him on disassociating with people who express bi-phobia. Rather than shut these people out of my life, I would try to educate them on the topic of bisexuality and perhaps broaden their minds a little.

On February 17th, I spoke with Alex Keymer, a wedding planner from Burnley. She is actively involved in the LGBT community and is an attendee of Manchester Pride Events.

I asked her about how her sexuality had affected her life. ‘The thing is, although I do identify as bisexual,’ she said, ‘I would also currently describe myself as aromantic [this is often confused with asexuality, but they are two different things]. I don’t have any desire for a romantic relationship at all. It’s annoying because people are misinformed about bisexuality and think I’m attracted to everyone. In the past, people seem to think my sexuality changes depending on who I’m with. When I had a girlfriend everyone was like “Oh so you’re gay now?” And of course I’ve been labelled as greedy, closeted and promiscuous, although I try and not let it bother me. Lots of people have said it’s just an experimental phase, or that I’m just looking for attention. Men often react positively when they find out I’m bi but only because it entertains their lesbian fantasies.’

This idea of bisexual women being objectified by heterosexual men is what concerns me most of all. A nationwide study conducted in 2010 found that lesbian and bisexual women are at higher risk of being domestically abused than straight women, with bisexual women facing particularly high rates.

Researchers interviewed a total of 9,709 women. 96.5% of these women identified as straight, 2.2% as bisexual, and only 1.3% as lesbian. Bisexual women were found to be the most likely to have been raped. 46.1% of them had experienced rape at some point, compared with 13.1% of lesbian women and 14.7% of straight women.

57.4% of bisexual women who’d experienced violence said they had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Only 33.5% of lesbian women and 28.2% of straight women said the same. A 2011 study found that bisexual women were at greater risk of depression and anxiety than women who were straight or gay, a result the study author attributed to stigma against bisexuality.

The author of the report said, ‘There tends to be this expectation or standard that a person picks one sexual identity and sticks with it. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about bisexuals.’

Whether we like to admit it or not, bi-phobia exists and is as much an issue as homophobia. Whilst our society has been busy ensuring gay people have equal rights, I feel we have created a stigma against people who are situated elsewhere in the sexuality spectrum.

It’s time we realised the emotional and psychological effects prejudices are having on bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals and anyone else who identifies as something other than gay or straight. Once and for all we need to learn that the stereotypes that surround bisexuals are nothing more than utter misconceptions.

I may be bisexual but I am not indecisive; I am not just experimenting, nor would I ever commit romantic betrayal. Unless Rachel Riley shows up at my door one day. Then I might.

Photography by Moshe Tasky.

Why Yik Yak is the Portsmouth Student’s App of Choice

Each morning Portsmouth University student Megan Langdon wakes up and has a stretch, before grabbing her phone and finding out the latest news from her friends. While she uses Facebook and Instagram a lot, she’s now convinced that the best app for staying up to date with Portsmouth’s student community is Yik Yak.

Yik Yak‘s emphasis is hyperlocal, allowing its users to view posts within a 1.5 mile radius of their location. Students can engage with the issues that directly impact on their everyday lives.

For example, a Yik Yak post on 19th February this year read, ‘Had my bike stolen from outside Richmond at about 11am today, it’s a grey Boardman bike so if anyone sees it any info would be greatly appreciated! Thanks guys’. The message quickly reached other students nearby and allowed them to ask questions such as ‘Anything that makes it obviously yours?’

Yik Yak is equally effective at promoting events, services and good causes. Also on 19th February, a user wrote, ‘If anyone has any clothes that need mending, come to Eldon foyer today. The fashion and textiles students are trying to raise money for their final year show. We’re here until 5’. This was met with positive responses and enquiries about whether specific articles of clothing could be mended.

A central feature of the app is anonymity, with users permitted to post without a username or picture. There is a randomised image reel for commenters (such as campfires, tents and boats) to ensure identity protection. This engenders an environment where students can advise one another without risk of revealing their closely-guarded secrets.

‘Could anyone with depression on here give their advice on how the University Surgery dealt with it?’ This post from the 24th February prompted many students to respond with their own experiences of mental distress. Others suggested different methods for alleviating the problem. Another post from 29th February asked if ‘anyone else [had] split up from a long term partner and not sure if it was the right thing?’ This too garnered a positive response.

If you don’t want to be anonymous you can create a unique username that means you can be identified by other Yik Yakkers.

Integrated in the “hot” Yak feed are posts that are “upvoted” (similar to Facebook’s “like” button) by hundreds of Portsmouth residents. I upvote anything that puts a smile on my face and that I want to share with others. Most of them are funny pictures with relatable captions underneath, based on life as a Portsmouth student. One post on the 12th March raked 99 upvotes with the caption ‘plot twist: milk steals flatmate’.

This carefree side of the app spreads unites the community through laughter. It’s reassuring to know that others are feeling the same emotions and having the same experiences. In this way, Yik Yak can mitigate students’ loneliness, alienation and homesickness.

Security features on the app allow for negative content to be removed. If a post is “downvoted” (disliked) by five users than it is removed by the administrators. This ensures that no bullying or abuse can filter through to the community.

So if you really want to know what’s going on locally, strengthen your connections to your fellow students and have a good laugh while you’re doing it, join Yik Yak now!

Photography by Moshe Tasky.

A Casualty of the Great War?

S&C Contributing Editor John Oke Bartlett revisits a family mystery of war, trauma and Christmases past.

Nana didn’t talk much about life with her first husband Victor Nash. According to my parents’ marriage certificate, Victor had been a director of a London wine company. He volunteered or was called up for the Great War, which he survived.

Amongst the remaining pictures of him is a typical group shot with other members of his platoon and others of him posing in his army uniform standing next to Nana, who is seated. The standard format of photography at the time required the sitter to stand very still, which produces a rather formal, inflexible image. Here Victor looks like he’s trying to be as nonchalant as possible, but both he and Nana look ill-at-ease.

Nana was reticent about this period of her life so there’s little to tell, just tantalizing snippets. From what I can recall, there was certainly a plethora of alcohol available at her house, as you’d expect from someone who’d run a wine company. A small cask of whisky was always kept under the stairs; the tap leaked a little and the drips were caught in a small white porcelain dish suspended on a silver chain. The family had a Jack Russell, with a patch over one eye, who always looked inebriated on account of his habit of licking up the contents of the drip tray.

At Christmas time there were stories of bottles and bottles of champagne keeping cool in the water-filled bath. The festive season was festive indeed, everybody wore fancy dress and, as far as I can tell, the same costumes were worn from one year to the next. I don’t know what happened to it, but there used to be an old battered black and white photograph of everybody in their festive finery; clowns and fairies were the order of the day.

Many years later, jolly Uncle Roy would come down from London at Christmas and thrill everyone by bashing out dance tunes on the piano. After Roy died I had the task of sorting through his house in Broadstairs and one of the artefacts I discovered was an old fashioned corkscrew, the sort with a turned wooden handle and little brush for wayward fragments of cork in one end. The brush has long since perished leaving the hole where it used to be. Roy was teetotal so I wonder if this relic from the past once belonged to Victor. I shall never know but I treasure it all the same.

Late one night, not long after World War I was over, Victor unexpectedly arrived home from the trenches. The house erupted into turmoil; he was home and he was safe. Once the initial surprise had abated, the practicalities of accommodation had to be addressed. On account of the lice that covered him from head to foot, on his first night home Victor refused to sleep in the house, preferring the shed instead. I suspect even a humble shed was a luxury compared with the horrors of the trenches.

Some time later – I don’t know how long – Victor committed suicide. By taking his own life he denied my mother and her siblings their father. He was much loved by my mother and she didn’t know of his suicide until she was an old lady herself. Even after all those years had passed I remember her being visibly shaken when the truth finally came out. I have no idea why he did it. Perhaps it was to do with his experiences, maybe a feeling of guilt that he had survived the war whilst many of his comrades had not, or was it delayed shell shock? Anyone who might have known is now dead.

The Southsea Food Tour: Aurora Café and Lounge

In a brand new series for S&C, journalist and food critic Emily Priest will be visiting Southsea’s most delectable diners, exquisite eateries and luscious luncheonettes.

Named after the statue above the Kings Theatre, Aurora Café and Lounge has been in business since 2015 when it replaced Magick Bean. Since then it’s been making a big impression on Albert Road.

I was welcomed by Aurora’s gold décor and reggae music playing softly in the background, which suits this sunny day of barbecues on the common and ice cream on the pier. There were rows of wooden rustic tables and cushioned sofas, around them Egyptian statues, hanging lamps, a large gold-framed mirror and chalkboards boasting the specials of the day. One of them was homemade vegetarian chilli.

The girl behind the counter asked me with a smile how my day was going and what I would like.

‘I would love some cake,’ I replied, gesturing at the countless treats stacked upon the till. ‘What flavours are they?’

Enthusiastically she listed them for me – chocolate and ginger brownie, apple and cinnamon cake, pineapple and banana loaf, and fruit scones.

I chose a slice of the raspberry and yogurt loaf, a millionaire’s shortbread and a standard tea. I sat on one of the sofas lined in dark blue velvet, right next to the towering mirror. Waiting for my drink and cakes, I read the menu. There wasn’t a great deal of choice – a few salads, paninis and sandwiches – but there were enough flavours and tastes to cater to anyone including vegetarians. I ordered a ham and cheese panini.

My tea came in one of those glass hipster mugs and the sugar cubes were stashed in a dainty pot on the table. Very quaint. But I soon forgot what shape or size the sugar came and started to focus on the thick slices of cake that the waitress was placing before me. I quickly thanked her before shoving a fat forkful of the raspberry and yogurt loaf into my gob.

It was moist, soft and bouncy. The yogurt and the raspberry fused together to create creamy pockets of flavour – just the right thing to get you ready for the summer. I left the crust like a kid does with a sandwich as sadly it didn’t have the same quality of taste as the goo inside.

The millionaire’s shortbread was the best I’d ever had and doesn’t fall apart with each bite like most. For once, by the end, I wasn’t smothered in crumbs.

Just as my stomach was about to surrender, I received my panini plus side salad with cucumber and tomato chunks with balsamic dressing. It certainly beat what they do in most cafés: lazily throwing a handful of packaged leaves onto a plate. The only downside to Aurora’s offering was the sheer amount of dressing, which spewed onto the rest of the plate and onto my panini, making it soggy in parts.

The panini was pleasant enough, with melted cheese and thick ham. But that’s all it was, a ham and cheese panini. It was nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t terrible either. Perhaps a dash of Dijon mustard to add some flavour would be in order.

Only crumbs were left after my onslaught. As I laid there waiting for it all to go down, I took in some details. On the menu at the bottom was a little note explaining that all the ingredients used were locally sourced from places such as Bread Addiction or Southsea Fruit and Veg. Also, Aurora puts on many events such as the fortnightly Sunday quiz and the monthly poetry gig hosted by Front Room Words. By the door was a small sign which listed some of the poets who have performed there including well known locals Lord Biro and Rick Haynes.

I’ll make sure to go to that next time, I said to myself.

When my bill arrived I realised it’s not the cheapest place to go on Albert Road, but the atmosphere and the local, homemade food is well worth it.

I will say as well that it can be a little off-putting for some people, especially poor students such as myself. The somewhat regal atmosphere of the place can seem daunting especially with signs that boast the offer of champagne to any customer willing or able to pay. Some events too such as the wine tasting sessions give off the impression that Aurora is only for a particular kind of customer in Southsea – one a bit older and wealthier than myself.

But, once you get over that, talk to the cheery waitresses and bite into their cakes, you start to realise everyone is welcome.

A version of this article first appeared on Emily’s blog here.

All photography by Emily Priest.

Dodging the ‘N Word’: Being Black and Female in (Mostly) White, Male Student Halls

What happens when a woman of colour from vibrant South London moves into a student flat in Portsmouth with a group of mostly white men? Dyanni Swhyer-Brown reveals all.

I stared out of my window at the sunset shining through the gaps between the James Watson Hall and the surrounding buildings. I ducked at one point for fear that a girl outside might think me a peeping Tom. So much for making friends then.

I didn’t want to venture out, but I could hear my friend’s voice in the back of my head, urging me towards the kitchen. ‘Be more sociable!’ My food was there and my stomach was growling. It was now or never. I preferred never, but that also meant starvation which I didn’t fancy trying. Slowly I pulled the creaky door, each millimetre sending out an echoing screech into the empty hallway.

How could this happen to me? I was used to being the only one, or the ‘Tigger’ of things. Only child, only friend, only person of colour in the room. Now, I was reduced to the only girl, as well as the only member of an ethnic minority in my university flat. I remembered breaking that news to my mum. She’s usually not fazed by me mumbling while trying to beat her Subway Surfers’ high score (yes, I am serious. She was addicted). However, saying ‘You know I’m the only girl in my halls flat right?’ had her finger hovering over the phone screen and left her running partner, Frizzy, crashing into a brick wall.

‘What?’ was all she came back with, but I saw everything else in her face.

Her only daughter, smart enough to get into university, surrounded by rampant hormones and dirty, crunchy floors for nine months. If she hadn’t boasted to her friends, she would’ve suggested deferring a year or find alternative housing. But it was too late.

After coming to terms with my imminent departure, Mum made sure I had every variation of Dunn’s River seasoning to last me the year. A ‘likkle taste of home while you’re away’ she said, re-sorting the cupboards I had just packed. She would have given me a couple of plantains, but was worried that light-fingered flatmates would mistake them for bananas. I didn’t actually think she would leave me here with them. I expected her to move in down the hall and make friends with my flatmates, so I didn’t have to. I was a girl’s girl. How would I survive nine months with my reflection being the only female company?

No more stalling, I thought, thrusting myself out the room and tip toeing down the hall. Well, I ended up spending five minutes galloping between my room and the kitchen door, like a shookhead. Eventually, I managed to push the kitchen door and not bolt away.

The laughter hit me, before I managed to take in everyone’s faces. I tried to match faces to Facebook pages, remembering who I met yesterday. The boy with the cheddar grin, who offered to help me with my bags. I refused because I didn’t need them thinking I was some limpy orchid, with no upper body strength. Was it the lanky, bearded one who caught me Skyping my friend in the cupboard, whilst on a quest for toilet roll? As first impressions come, it was only a matter of time before my weird side emerged.

One of them shook my hand, because a polite wave hello wasn’t enough. He asked if he properly pronounced my name, and I had to stifle a snide ‘Ha!’ It would be some form of sorcery if my name was pronounced correctly the first time around. Loudly and clearly, so all could hear, I revealed the proper way to pronounce it. I even gave a list of acceptable mispronunciations now turned into nicknames like ‘Dannie’ but not ‘Diana’.

Satisfied, I looked for a stool in the furthest corner, taking a homemade cookie out of the tub on the side. It was a piece of home I could replicate, even with a shitty three setting oven. I wasn’t paying attention to their conversations. The topic of girls came up at one point, but I couldn’t join in. I don’t have a girlfriend at Oxford or Cambridge. I have a stuffed dinosaur from Woolworths.

At some point, the ice broke between the five boys, who started asking about the maddest things they’d done, like accidental school arson or that mad skiing trip that they all seemed to have gone on. I was still observing from the safety of my window corner. Dannie Attenborough, thrust from her multicultural life in South London to live amongst melanin – deprived males, in a building named after the discoverer of the DNA structure and a proven racist. That’s when I was blind-sided. It was as if I was enjoying the shade underneath a tree that housed a sleeping cheetah.

‘Can I ask you a question?’ one of them directed at me from across the room. I nodded, putting on my friendliest smile.

‘I play my music really loud and have a lot of songs with the N-word in them and…’ I didn’t hear the rest, as my ears set themselves on fire and my eyes rolled to the back of my throat.

Really? REALLY? This was the first full day. Is this how it was going to be for the rest of the year?

I never really understood the concept of ‘the burden of representation’ before this moment. It was the first time I was aware how much of a minority I truly was. It sounds silly, but I came from a school where white people were the rarity. There were enough white people not to notice a divide in school but they were still under-represented. Now, I was sat in a room with people who’d never had a proper conversation with a black person before me.

Were they going to then ask if I actually liked chicken and why I wore dreadlocks?

First, stupid question: chicken is universally good. The only reason it has been attached to black people is because we season it. Yes, I need all seven of those seasoning jars, that’s why our flat smells so nice when I cook.

Second, I twist my hair. Locs are permanent, these are not. So, if you don’t see me all day, I’m either dead or doing my hair. Yes it does take that long and no you can’t touch it.

Was I now going to be the encyclopaedia for everything black?

They’re all still looking this way.

‘So is that okay with you?’

Do I say yes or do I say no? Yes or no? Yay or nay? I don’t even use the bloody word. Why has this been put on me?

I looked to the Asian housemate for a supporting glance, but no luck. I should have known he’d be no help. He was the one offering up hand-flipping-shakes!

If I said no, I would be another uptight black girl to them, always finding something to be ‘angry at the white man’ for. The dandelion scrounging in the garden of freedom and self-expression.

If I said yes, my name would mean ‘betrayer’ instead of ‘precious one’. The phrase ‘Dyanni said it was cool’ would be used to excuse prejudiced behaviours. If I stayed silent, that would be so much worse. I needed to establish a voice here. Ground rules. I licked my full lips and sighed. They all widened their eyes simultaneously. Were they more scared? I doubt it; there were four of them against little ol’ me.

‘You can play your music, as long as you’re not saying it when you sing along. I don’t even say it.’

There. It was done. I set down the law and braced myself for the uproar that followed. Instead, he slowly nodded in agreement and I could breathe again. I had successfully dealt with a racially charged discussion and came out of it unscathed. For years to come, the moment when I, the only female, managed to keep the peace between my unruly male flatmates, without backup, will be remembered amongst students.

The guys seemed to have respected my answer, because conversation swiftly moved onto wanking habits. Yes, with me still in there, and no, they didn’t give a damn. They now saw me on their level and I would use it to my advantage, even if that meant suffering through TMI conversations. I even got them to promise to do game night. Me!

If I carried on like this, I could end up being queen. Yes, Dyanni, queen of the Uni-jungle has a pleasant ring to it. However, knowing my luck, I’ll end up being Dannie, queen of the park. Not even a nice park. A muddy one, with old crisp packets, lifeless acorn trees and no swings.

Image copyright GoogleMaps 2017.

Portsmouth Artists’ Season: Samuel H James (higgy_)

Inspired by Dadaism, Jazz LP cover designs and the fiction of JG Ballard, Samuel H James (higgy_) talks us through some of his surrealistic ‘digi-collages’.

‘Cogs & Flues, Ostrich’

 

This piece has a vibrant wash in terms of colour and theme. The elegance of the flamboyant flamingos has been highlighted by a brighter spark of pale yellow. The Rocky Mountains and protruding stream in the foreground simulate a drought of the planet’s arguably most valuable resource: water. The industrial chimneys and the ostrich with head in sand signify our preference for production over environmental ethics. I placed the beautiful design of the Spittelau Incineration Plant Chimney, Vienna, to the centre-right to demonstrate how the human eye is drawn to aesthetic detail over function.

‘gram Homeless

 

The monotonous – chrome of sepia tries make connotations aesthetically between the subjects: the aristocracy & lost regiment of ‘pulling together’ during hard times i.e the war, hence the rail & women working on the underground in the age of self-propelling space intelligence yet we still have heroes of the yesteryear sleeping rough. The juxtaposition of the homeless in their bright blue sleeping bags over-crowd the gentlemen sipping tea & the working class slipping back into the underground at a tangent. It can be viewed as an abstract piece or a more political status becomes apparent when viewed by the scrutinous eye of incomplacency. The bricolage in question has been sourced through research into digital print of a physical age however, presents itself as a e-collage.

Otter ‘Gram

A bleak but I hope colourful perspective on modern life. The yellow brick road winds through an alien continent, the bizarre wildlife looking back towards the civilisations on two Earths. The Russian satellite is a little ‘what if’ Russia did win the space race. The slightly overweight legs protruding from our purple planet say a little about our society focusing once again on aesthetic over function. There are associations here too with body-dysmorphia and our upper half being once again ‘buried in the sand’. Is humanity’s progress and evolution ‘stumped’ by our search for superficial happiness? I could go on but the beauty of ‘art’ is to pose questions and provoke a thought process, so I’ll leave the last two images for you to ponder.

‘Death Direct’

‘Flyeinstein’

 

All images by Samuel H James (higgy_).

A Slice of Toast

By Christine Lawrence

There I am, one day, just walking back from dropping my car off at the workshop, feeling really good about myself and determined to enjoy the morning sun. I’m thinking about losing weight and wondering how long it’ll take to get home. The walk should take about an hour, I figure, when I come across this lollipop lady, standing by the roadside. She’s all trussed up in layers of knitted garments topped by a bright yellow waistcoat, looking out from under her grimy peaked cap and I’m thinking that there is something vaguely familiar in the way she is leaning on her lollipop.

Well, she’s just standing there, you know, waiting for the last kids to come along. I look at my watch and I’m thinking, well, most kids should be at school by now. The woman looks at me kinda strange and I try not to look her in the eye. So my eyes are wandering this way and that, anything other than in her direction.

Then I notice a slice of toast lying in the gutter. A plain, white slice, with no butter, and I get to thinking about it and wondering how it got there. Was it dropped by the woman, or by some kid in its hurry to cross the road? Maybe it was thrown from the open window of a passing truck, or maybe something else happened. Now, my natural curiosity has been known to be my downfall, but sometimes I just can’t help myself from getting involved in interesting situations.

I don’t know how long these thoughts are passing through my brain, maybe a split second, but I start to notice that the woman is looking at me like she knows more than she wants to let on. I decide to hang about a while to see what develops. It’s getting a bit uncomfortable here though, so I just stroll on down the street and turn the corner.

There’s this bench just around the corner and it’s tucked away, real convenient like, out of sight of the lollipop lady, and I sense that she’ll be passing the end of the street soon, so I decide to wait, and sure enough, there she goes, right on cue, back to her little home in some other side-street. I don’t want to let her out of my sight, so I scurry off after her, taking care of course to keep a discrete distance, just in case she twigs that she’s being followed, you understand.

Now, the road goes this way and that, and after some time, and many turnings, she dips out of sight for a while. One minute she’s there, and the next she’s not. I’m not too worried about this though because it’s one of those streets where the houses have front gardens with long paths that go right up to the front door, and there’s no way she could get inside one of these places without me seeing her, so I figure I’d have plenty of time to get a good view of whatever she’s up to.

So, there I am, hanging about on the street corner, wondering what to do next, and thinking that maybe it’s time to move on and forget all about the whole idea, when I realise that she’s standing right there behind me. I kinda sense her before I see her. I’m standing there, minding someone else’s business and then I get this creepy feeling down the back of my neck. Next thing I know, I turn around, and there she is, just standing there, staring down at me. I say staring down, being as she’s a lot taller than me. Not that I’m short, you understand. Just that she is much taller. She looks me in the eye and a slow smile creeps over her face, the eyes twinkling at me. Yes, you heard right, they were twinkling, you know, like when you’re really happy to see someone.

Well, she grabs my shoulders and then she’s got her arms right around me, and I’m in the vice-like grip of her embrace. I don’t know what to make of all this, but I get swept up in it and find myself being marched off down the street in mid-hug with this lady who’s gushing all over me to come in for a cup of coffee.

Now, I’m very particular about my coffee, and I just can’t drink that stuff that comes in granules out of screw-top jars, but I can’t get away without causing offence, so I decide to go along with it, and by the time we get to her house, I feel like we’re old pals. Not like pals you see every day, or even every week, you know. No, I mean like, say, an old school pal that you haven’t seen for years, someone you’ve been out of touch with for a reason you can’t quite remember.

Anyway, we reach the front door and it’s like stepping into the fifties, if you know what I mean. You may not remember that far back, of course, but then you may have seen it in the movies. Well, I tell you, as soon as I step onto that grey linoleum floor, there I am, back in my childhood, every memory intact, even down to the faint smell of yesterday’s boiled fish.

I soon snap out of it as she’s disappearing into the back of the house, turning once to beckon me on with a definite air of impatience. That was when I notice her long painted fingernails. Well, you don’t expect lollipop ladies to be going about with long painted fingernails do you?

So, I find myself meandering towards the kitchen door wondering at the same time exactly what I’m getting myself into. It’s as I pass the half-opened door under the stairs that I start to feel uneasy. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s going on but swear that I can smell something else behind the fish – something more appealing – chocolate perhaps. The kitchen’s a cosy little room and I’m sitting at the table waiting while she puts the coffee on. It’s a real coffee maker, no jar of instant in sight. I can tell you, I’m quite relieved at this. As I’ve said before, instant coffee does nothing for me.

The next thing I know is that she’s offering me breakfast with my coffee. Now, as I have previously indicated, I’m thinking seriously about losing weight and the thought of eating another breakfast is pretty unwelcome at that moment. I’m just about to decline the offer, when she turns around, and there she is, holding out to me a plate of toast.

I take one look at her, then another at the toast, and start putting two and two together in my mind and making five. I had seen that slice of toast somewhere before, or one very much like it. Now, you might say I have a vivid imagination, but I do not want to go down the same route as whoever the owner of the said slice may have been tempted.

That’s when I decide to humour her, hoping that I’ll be able to blag my way out of what could be a sticky situation. So I find myself smiling back at her as sweetly as I can, and ask her if she has any marmalade. Of course, she would have marmalade, and home-made at that, so I’m thinking that maybe I’m in for a treat.

It’s not long before the coffee pot is bubbling, the aroma disguising the stale smell of fish which stubbornly wraps itself around the curtains at the grimy kitchen window, and I’m thinking to myself thoughts of what else it might be disguising.

As she places the toast in front of me and hands me the jar or marmalade, this is when I decide that it’s time to make myself scarce. So I’m sitting there thinking about how I can slip away without her getting upset. She looks the type of woman that you just don’t get on the wrong side of, you know, but I just have the feeling that I have to get out of there. Something was just telling me it was time to split.

So, there I am, listening to my heart beating so loud that I am sure she can hear the blood pumping through my veins. Then I get my chance. There’s a tapping at the kitchen window, and as she goes over to look out, that’s when I make a break for it. Before I can re-assess what I am doing, well, I’m legging it down the garden path, out of the gate, and off down the street as fast as I can.

As I pass the spot where the lollipop lady stands to help the kids across the road, I toss away the slice of toast that somehow was still in my hand as I made my escape. It skims across the path and lands face-down in the gutter, right next to the very same slice I had seen less than an hour before.

The Degree Dilemma

These days students choose between studying a subject that they love or one that could lead to a stable career. But in these difficult economic times how do we know for sure which subjects will result in employment after all that hard work and debt? And is going to university in your late teens or early twenties really the best option for everyone? Hannah Gibson reports.

As the end of her time at college approached, Eva Clow didn’t know what to do next. She took to a girls’ forum for advice and wrote, ‘Do I go to university to do drama which is something that I adore and is my absolute dream job, or do I go to do French which I’m good at and can possibly get a good career out of?’

Joint and combined-honours courses were a potential solution for Eva. A search on UCAS’ website reveals that subjects linked with dance and drama include history, psychology, modern foreign languages and even biology. Media and creative arts subjects are often combined with more practical, workplace-relevant disciplines, such as the snappily-titled English for International Corporate Communication, Creative & Professional Writing and Counselling & Psychotherapy Principles & Practices.

There are financial considerations too – students are paying upwards of £30,000 for a three year undergraduate degree and that’s leaving aside living costs. Students want to know that their investment is going to pay off at some point, in the form of a stable job, whether it be in the subject area they’ve studied or not.

However, with 554,000 people aged 16-24 unemployed and graduate jobs being likened to gold dust, it’s easy to see why some students have taken the view that, if even a vocational degree won’t get you a job in today’s market, why not make your degree something you’re going to enjoy? If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re far more likely to succeed in it. In any case, students pick up transferable skills in arts subjects that can be useful in the workplace, such as proofreading, presentation skills and lateral thinking.

The other problem here is that people often fall in love with one of the more vocationally promising disciplines, but still find themselves unemployable after learning it. Nicholas Gibson is in his final year at the University of Bristol studying for an MSc in Palaeontology and Evolution, a ‘hard science’ subject he chose because of his childhood love of dinosaurs. He’s been searching for graduate jobs and found the opportunities scarce, but at least he’s enjoyed learning about palaeontology for its own sake.

There is of course the option of not studying at university and instead going straight into work. In my experience, if someone doesn’t know what to study at university then university may not be for them. After falling short of his predicted A-level grades in 2015, Yusuf Ahmed started an internship. For him, this was his best possible course of action since he could get practical experience in work that would enable him to find a job more easily later on.

There’s no rule to say that university has to be something you do straight after A-levels. You can always come back and apply for a degree as a ‘mature’ student. There are currently over 100,000 people doing this right now. Often enough older students choose to enter an arts degree because they have already experienced work and want to return to more creative outputs.

Other young people avoid employment for as long as possible by remaining inside the academy. Peter Dawson has a place on the PhD programme at Imperial College London, subject to him gaining a 2:1 for his Masters in engineering. In the past Peter was awarded scholarships for his undergraduate and graduate studies. His decision to stay in higher education means he will eventually be employable as a researcher or lecturer.

As we’ve seen, there are numerous angles from which to approach work and higher education. It’s up to you to decide on the best one for you.

WWBD? (What Would Buffy Do?)

Portsmouth University student Penny Ward delves back into her childhood to moments when she learned some tough lessons about gender – and discovered the role models that would prompt her to become a feminist.

I remember the first time I realised just how differently boys and girls are treated.

I was six years old, long before I’d ever heard the word feminism. My hair was uneven, as I’d moved when she was cutting it, my mother insisted. I was sitting on the edge of the French windows that opened out from the living room to the garden. The rich sound of Bob Marley & The Wailers rang out throughout the house over the stereo system my father had set up. Usually I would be gleefully attempting to sing along, shouting what I thought the lyrics were while my father laughed at my ineptitude; but not today.

I sat uncomfortably on the step, clad in the itchy fairy-princess dress I’d been given for my birthday, and a pair of well-worn, muddy welly-boots. I watched as the football I’d begged my mother for was passed from father to son and then shot ecstatically into the goal. I watched the sacred bonding of father and son over my football, the one I’d saved my pocket money for. I refuelled my courage to, for the fourth time, ask to join in the game. I tried to ignore the jealousy boiling inside me and began to form the words on my tongue.

‘Oi!’ called my father, ‘go get us some drinks, would ya love?’

I was dismissed once more. He hadn’t even waited for me to utter the words this time. I left and didn’t look back, until I was carrying two plastic cups of water. I placed the cups of the concrete step by the French windows, kicked off my welly-boots, and fled to my room. I curled up on my Star Wars bed-sheets (previously my brother’s), and cried.

Years later, I still remember that moment with painful clarity. It was an epiphany: the reason my father didn’t want to play football with me was that I was a girl. His time, and the game I was so excited about, was only for boys. I spent most of my childhood as a tomboy, wearing my brother’s clothes, adopting the mannerisms of him and my older cousins, in the misguided rationale that if I acted like a boy, if I looked like a boy, then my father would love me.

My first introduction to the idea that being a girl was not something to be ashamed of was the Disney film Mulan. The simple question posed by the titular character about her dual identity (as a man and then a woman) was, for me, groundbreaking: ‘You said you trust Ping, why is Mulan any different?’ This shattered my conviction that to be born a girl made someone less than being born a boy. My life as a feminist began.

Later on, Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me that being a girl meant more than what you were ‘not allowed to do’. Buffy showed me that a girl could save the world – not just one girl, but all. Whilst the show was problematic – particularly about the sexual agency of women – it was a godsend for a little girl who’d been consistently told by her father – like Buffy’s father – that she wasn’t good enough.

I first encountered the Twilight books at thirteen. Enthralled with fantasy novels, I eagerly consumed every word. Not until I finished the third book did I understand why the series unsettled me so much.

I watched as Bella Swan passively accepted the undeniable fact that she was lesser than her love interest, that her wants and desires should be secondary to Edward Cullen’s. I accepted that of course she’d try to kill herself after rejection, and of course she was worth less than the beautiful vampire family her beau belonged to. I completely ignored the predatory and abusive actions of Edward because they were romantic… weren’t they?

Edward broke into her home, stood over her and watched her as she slept, completely without her knowledge or consent. His acting as if she were the scum of the earth and insulting her with backhanded compliments were incredibly romantic, no? After all, it was all her fault that he treated her that way, was it not? That’s certainly what Edward told her at every opportunity.

I stopped reading the Twilight books after the fourth came out. I was no longer a thirteen year old, just beginning my forays into crushes and romances. I was at college, I was learning how to critically analyse books and, most importantly, I was old enough to understand what domestic abuse was.

I’d heard my parents shouting at night, and seen my mother’s deep purple bruises the next day. I knew it wasn’t normal for me to jump every time a person put a cup down too loudly, that someone silently washing the dishes didn’t mean I’d done something wrong. I had lived through emotional abuse, and had begun to come to terms with that fact.

After A-levels, I attempted to re-read Twilight. I was disgusted with the thought that I’d ever believed it to be a romantic ideal. The series glorifies the notion that women should be ‘looked after’ by having decisions made for them ‘for their own safety’. The series tells thousands of young girls that someone invading your personal space is not predatory but romantic. It tells them that a man wanting to kill you – but deciding not to – is the most loving gesture he could offer.

I find it odd that a nearly twenty-year-old television series (based on its first air date) that is only now being called ‘problematic’ is still more progressive on the gender question than a hugely popular book and film franchise that’s hailed by its creator Stephanie Meyer as a feminist work.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught an emotionally abused little girl that she mattered. Twilight told her, like her father, that she never would.

 

Image by Patrick Lee [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons