Riding An Elephant

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I was on holiday in Chiang Mai with my family. We had been there many times before and had always managed to avoid the ubiquitous elephant ride, but for some reason on this particular visit my parents decided to stop at one of the roadside elephant rides.
Apparently these animals were ‘working elephants’ and the rides for tourists were only a sideline.
From a comfort and safety point of view I didnt like the look of the whole business. Yes, it definitely looked a bit frightening as the huge beasts trundled up and down hills, jiggling its passenger load.
I wasn’t sure what a happy healthy elephant looked like, but these creatures really didn’t look to be either.
I simply didn’t want to ride one. There was no point, they looked miserable and if it was about contributing to the local economy surely there was another way.
Unfortunately my mother mistook my reticence for cowardice and started to harangue me, as if my lack of enthusiasm was a fear to be conquered rather than an instinctive repulsion.
Being encouraged to challenge a perceived fear escalated to being bullied which is never pleasant, but when the diatribe is being delivered by a seriously ill woman attached to oxygen tank, it somehow stings more.
So I rode an elephant and it was horrible.
I slid and bounced around on the last elephant in the procession, watching my mother and stepfather in front of me seemingly enjoy the ride.
Near needless to say I was on a naughty elephant with a predilection for doing its own thing, and mid bounce I heard the most awful, heart rending, dog like yelping.
It was the creature I was riding. The scythe like contraption that the mahout was yielding was designed to hook around the elephant’s ear, and gauge the tender skin at the back of it when the animal misbehaved, thus the heart rending yelps.

Some years later I was again on holiday with my parents, this time in Sri Lanka where elephants are protected. My mother’s health had declined further so she spent most of her time in the hotel or waiting in the car whilst my stepfather and I would explore various sites.
I’d noticed various observation posts in the trees and was told it was because elephants could suddenly ‘turn’ and wipe out villages and do incredible damage, so numerous manned watch posts were a necessity.
The car we were in was driving along a stretch of road between two rice paddies when a motorbike some way ahead of us, sideways screeched to a halt, which forced us to also rapidly brake.The driver indicated that elephants were approaching, and as we watched, two of the creatures swayed their powerful way across the road and through the fields into the jungle.
It was incredible just watching these magnificent animals move, and my mother was particularly riveted, muttering how different they were when they were free.
My mother died several months later but both incidents must have been preying on her mind, because just before she went into the hospital for the final time, she told me that she was so, so sorry that she pushed me into riding the elephant.

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Santa, His Sleigh and The Reindeer of the Apocalypse

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The day after Boxing Day and I am in a cosy room at my sister’s house that smells more than vaguely sulphurous, sporting two impressive fat and sugar fuelled spots on my face and writing this whilst everyone is still asleep.
Working for so long in retail gives me a more than jaundiced view of the holiday season as I am part of the less salubrious side of Christmas; the dark side of consumerism bridled to the demon reindeer of media driven panic and greed, galloping to the abyss of temporary satiation.
Yeah, I’m jaded.
Not being Christian and not having children tends to remove any redeeming features of the event. However spots, flatulence and cynicism aside there is a glimmer of something special in the season.
For everyone I know, myself included, there seems to be a necessary argument or family fall out included in the seasonal proceedings
The older you get the greater this conflict can be as time adds layers of complexity, issues, and bitterness that all seem to feel the need to come spewing out to add to that festive feeling.
As always, Ms Passive-Agressive aka myself hides in my bedroom after that conflict, unable to flee as the travel infrastructure in the Uk has invariable collapsed at this time of the year, and there is no escape.
The thing is, it passes.
O yeah, I know families that let this standardised emotional explosion destroy them, but like all family orientated rites of passage such as death, marriage, or growing up teenagers, we are put in a position to make choices.
Do we value our family? Are they a unit, that though invariable flawed,is worth fighting for, worth accepting that we treasure them so much that they can get under our skin and perhaps deeply hurt us, but they also have the capacity to be know us better, and to love us more than anyone.
I don’t want to go all Disney and fuzzy warm hearted because that’s not my style, but maybe I’ll get just a little bit soft as I reach for the remaining few chocolate biscuits and my second coffee of the day.
I’m blessed and cursed to be part of a vibrant, creative and intelligent extended family. We feel deeply and have had a lot of pain and drama in our lives. The upshot of this tension builds and blows at Christmas. Sometimes this is because we haven’t communicated enough in the year, sometimes it’s simply because we’re tired or have had the past smashing on our door needing a festering outing, but the conflict and pain is a blip in the fullness of a multi faceted, deep and real relationship.
This year I didn’t storm out. I stayed,consumed enough chocolate to make me pass out into a dribble laden doze on at least 4 occasions every day, and had conversations and intimacy with a group of people who know me like no other.

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The Missonary Position

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I’m still thinking and slow reacting to the #MeToo movement. I’ll use the expression movement because the ripple effect of the revelations are so fluid and far reaching, they will take a long time to fully impact.
Initially I felt suspicion about the timing of the releases, then as the floodgates opened my suspicion became cynicism and words like hysteria and over reaction starting to drift into my mind, which is patently crazy in view of my own history of abuse and rape.
When I saw Jo Brand on ‘Have I got News for You’ talk about how those ‘little’ acts of abuse and degradation gradually erode a woman and make her feel less than, things started to fall into place for me. I realised that my own history, like that of so many others, had resulted in a slow slide conditioning as to what was considered the norm.
I remember talking to a close friend many years ago, about our multiple rapes. We were joking in a particularly dark Wildean way about one being a tragedy but three…and beyond…was pure carelessness! In retrospect this conversation was indicative of the reducing of sexuality to a commodity and a ‘thing’ rather than an expression of self, as a result of abuse and long term sexual belittling.
Sure we have these powerful paragons such as Madonna who was tied up for days by an ex husband, forced to perform fellatio by a stranger at knife point and no doubt went through other horrors and degradation, but somehow she coped, moved on, and became powerful and successful.
However for each person like Madonna there are 100,000’s of others who don’t get back up again, who crumble away to nothing, and are broken.
I’ll tell a story that has been very much in my mind of late.
Over 30 years ago, on my first trip to London, I met up with an acquaintance from New Zealand. She hadn’t previously been a close friend of mine but we bonded when we met out of context, in the UK.
She had been a bohemian feminist in New Zealand. She studied literature,read de Beauvoir and Anais Nin, dressed as a wench for parties, had lovers and was Rubenseque and lovely.
We will call her Hannah.
In London she had been living with her partner who had just returned to the Antipodes, so Hannah and I decided to spend a week in Amsterdam to mark the transition.
We arrived late at night and hadn’t arranged accomodation so when we met someone at the railway station who said he had a place we could crash at, we thought that we may as well check it out. Hannah and I went to his flat and as there was already another female backpacker sleeping on the sofa, we thought that it seemed okay, so we settled in, drank some beer and smoked some dope with him.
I started to notice that he had an aggressive edge and if one of us didn’t want to drink or smoke more he would flare up until we succumbed. At one point when we had a moment to ourselves Hannah and I discussed leaving and spending the night at the railway station but we decided it was too late and we were too wasted, and we were better off staying put.
I eventually pleaded tiredness and went to sleep on the mattress in the spare room that we had been offered.
Several hours later Hannah woke me and said that she had been raped.
I managed to get us both back to the Uk and for months looked after her as she grew thinner and more fractured.
Hannah had no funds left and wasnt capable of finding work so I’d duck and dive to find us squats to live in and food to eat.
Eventually she borrowed money from a relative to return to New Zealand, and we saw each other briefly a year or so later, but eventually lost touch.
I remember being astounded that she was so affected and thought it must be because she hadn’t had many lovers or much sexual experience. I actually felt that it would have better if it happened to me, as I would have coped.
There are many Hannah’s in the world,broken by rape but there are also many, many more like myself who normalise the varying degrees of violations and think of them as average occurrences, something to acclimatise oneself to, and that is the ordinary tragedy that needs to be changed.

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Travels with my Mother

1B0481D6-8E4A-4A2F-8F31-6A7CAC8AB8FB.jpegMy mother had always wanted to travel but raising two (very problematic) children and coping with her many phobias prevented the fulfilment of this dream until her late forties.
By that time she had developed breast cancer and COPD but also was steadily nurturing a great love of adventuring and in many ways her illness simply emphasised her need to fully experience every facet of life.
India was a particular favourite; she felt accepted there, whereupon her cropped grey hair, steroid bloated body, walker and oxygen tanks meant she was frequently mocked and bullied in other countries. She had a ticket booked for a trip to India when it was discovered that her breast cancer had returned and still chose to make the journey, days after her mastectomy, despite the post surgery fluid drain still being in place.
Now the Asia of 15-20 years ago was a less developed place, as was the treatment and equipment for management of COPD but my mother extensively researched medication (she lived in a country where health care had to be paid for, so she bought generic versions of her more expensive drugs from India), and was constantly looking for more portable oxygen packs, the latest chargers and condensers, and more lightweight walkers.
I think she was the first person in Singapore to have a motorised mobility scooter in a time when the ill would usually be forced to stay home and hide away, so she was often stopped by relatives of the infirm for details of where to obtain such a liberating wonder.
Whenever my sister or myself went to visit our parents in Singapore, we would invariably embark on a family jaunt to places such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia or Vietnam.
Travelling with my mother was amazing as she had an intense and enthusiastic curiosity, however it was also admittedly, a logistical nightmare. Many of the problems would be centred around transportation of her oxygen as the pilots of any plane can exercise their discretion and choose not to carry the full cylinders on board. She could use the masks the aeroplane provided, but once she was off the plane she was instantly vulnerable.
So the battles would begin at the departure desk  as we tried to argue the full cylinders on board. We would have ordered delivery of the oxygen cylinders to the hotel we would be staying in, but often that would fall through so the beginning of our visit in a new country would often see my stepfather and my sister or myself, travelling around chaotic cities on various dodgy vehicles, looking for an oxygen depot.
Once we had battled through that initial phase the real adventure could begin. We would somehow manage to load my mother and an industrial sized oxygen tank and various other necessities, into a series of dilapidated taxis and tuk-tuks and go off on crazy shopping trips in markets and exploring temples or strange isolated regions yet never have any harm come to us, bar the occasional shopping misadventure
When my mother purchased her disability scooter there was yet another piece of unwieldy baggage to transport and she often exacerbated the luggage stress experience by buying 60 kg stone planters (they didnt seem heavy when the 4.2 Balinese octogenarian loaded them, wrapped in newspaper, into the car), 8 foot wooden sculptures, or 15 ft ceremonial parasols.
My stepfather was amazing, although over time the stress of fighting every step of the way on these journeys ground him down, and he became hair trigger permanently angry, despite normally being a very calm man.
I became angry too, more so at the bullying my mother experienced constantly than the bureaucracy; something about the vulnerable brings out a nasty streak in certain people which incensed me but when I talked to my mother she said that she simply tuned out.
I’ve always thought that my mother was incredible in her determination to live life so fully in her final years, and I still do. However writing this I realise that we, her family, were also pretty wonderful in unconditionally supporting what she wanted to do, with no ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that’.
It may have been different for my stepfather, but for myself it was simply part of a family adventure, accommodating the ways and needs of a loved family member.

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A Pound of Flesh

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I was talking to a woman recently whose 32 year old niece had just been hospitalised for anorexia and I remember thinking how sad it was that someone of that age could still be controlled by the illness (and have all those around her controlled as well). I also realised during this thought process how strong a hold my own issues with food can still have over me.
Some people who have known me for years have never seen me eat, and I still get the occasional panic if my weight is commented on, either in reference to gain or loss.
I fluctuated between bulimia and anorexia for 14 years then slowly, slowly started to learn to care for myself.
I eat well, though not much and when I’m stressed can forget to eat, or punish myself by not self nurturing on the most fundamental level.
My only other remaining active addiction, cigarettes, I suspect is tied in with my attitude towards food and weight.
Every year, I get a little better and a little more relaxed. I eat every day and am well aware how crazy and shaky I can get if I don’t (something which becomes more apparent with age).
I can still binge (don’t all women?) on chocolate but if I do, I neglect to eat anything else and go on a crazy cycle of sugar and madness.
There is this fine line between awareness of healthy eating and over focus on it to the point of obsession, that I constantly walk.
How my own illness started I’m not quite sure although I know that there wasn’t an obvious prevalence of eating disorders in the 1970’s/1980’s.
Sure women focused on their body and appearance but society didn’t have the huge weight range that indicated social status, as it does now.
Reading William Woodruff’s ‘The Road to Nab End’ the author talks of stuffing food when times were good and going hungry when they weren’t, with no worries about getting fat in those rare periods of relative gluttony.
Both my parents had issues around food and as a child there were times when my sister and myself went hungry due to lack of money.
However as far as influence on my own eating patterns I suspect these times of famine only solidified my own self judgements and shame about my binging and purging in later years.
I do know that one of the original reasons I wanted to lose weight was an attempt to gain conventional beauty and perhaps power (hey, I was a child when I started down this path and had simplistic views) and some of this was perhaps a reaction to sexual abuse when young.
The bulimia was definitely related to anger, as was my self harming, something which I discovered in my 30’s and was to be a huge leap forward in my recovery.
Looking at the reaction of women in the #metoo tsunami I realise that eating disorders are perhaps a way of assuming an illusory power in a society where power is taken away from you or never allotted in the first place.
I’ve never been a great believer that the media fosters the growth of food related issues as I think society itself is the cause, but with our ever growing addictively plugged in society, there definitely is a rise in the highlighting of the superficial.
When my mother was still alive she was a member of a great support group, EFFORTS, for COPD. She had a friend in this group who was a former ballet dancer in her 80’s, who suffered more than she should of because she refused to take steroids as she was frightened of the resultant weight gain.
I don’t want to be in a position where I make such choices, so I’ll keep on healing, even if it takes many, many, more years.

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The Invisible Woman

0E901C60-5360-4CC1-832A-A893F4CEFDCFSomewhere over the years I came across the concept put forward by Germaine Greer about the invisibility of the older woman.
I’ve never read it contextually but as I’ve grown older it has resonated more and more strongly for me, and though problematic in some ways, this invisibility does have some advantages.
One of the these advantages became apparent when I saw the media furore around Trump’s abuse of women and of the more recent Harvey Weinstein revelations.
The aforementioned invisibility means my days of being frequently sexually objectified are gone, but past experience and present wisdom have give me a certain retrospective though perhaps cynical, insight.
I remember many years ago talking with my mother about some sexual abuse that I had suffered and feminist though she was she still said,‘ for gods sakes Charlotte, get over it, it happens to all women!”
This shocked me tremendously as had earlier arguments she put forward about various of my clothing being too provocative. I believed that it shouldn’t matter how I dressed or what I looked like, that it should have no influence as to how I was treated or regarded and any thought that I could be ‘asking for it’ was an antiquated anathema.
So 35 years later I see a media feeding frenzy and I realise that things don’t seem to have changed and women can still seem to be asking for it simply by being beautiful and not wearing a sack (or simply being female for that matter) and that near all women at some point in their lives have been sexually assaulted.
Regarding Trump’s behaviour I was most shocked that anyone was surprised. This privileged rich male treatment of women as something to enhance ones prowess and status through conquest, whether willing or not, is an unfortunate given and was only exposed and treated as a revelation because of political warmonging.
With Weinstein I also can’t help thinking, sad to say, that the reason his behaviour was exposed was there was some financial or political motivation to bring him down at this point in time as his behaviour was an accepted part of the Hollywood machine, reprehensible as it was.
Someone as wealthy and powerful as himself could have had sexual encounters with an incredible amount of willing women, but he seemed to want to, like Trump, enhance his power by constantly treating women as objects and commodities.
As the Weinstein revelations pour out, I cynically watch and wonder what is going on behind the scenes. I see the B list actresses talking of rapes, the A list beautiful actresses talk of rejecting his advances, the A list serious actresses say that they noticed nothing, and the Hollywood men treading very carefully.
All this is an aside really. The reasons of why this has now been released don’t matter, the celebrity status of those who have spoken out doesn’t matter either.
Another powerful part of society has once again been exposed as treating half of its grouping as objects to be abused, bullied and treated as ‘things’
I really don’t want to dwell on the idea that the abuse of these women has gone beyond the damaging unwanted sexual attention,and like the Trump revelations is a situation where the voices of the brave who have spoken out, is also a manipulation to achieve some other agenda.

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The Mating Rituals of the Modernist

3CD4145B-F7A0-414C-82DC-CC561B028266There is building work on the street that I live in, so I’m sitting in a dark room, hoping the sensory deprivation will act as a bark deterrent to the two pugilistic terriers I live in.
I’m slowly getting my mojo back post medication, although am still slow on the uptake regarding adventuring out of my comfort zone.
Creatively I’ve started having blossomings of ideas, plans and inspirations. Physically I’m still a tad worn and am too thin with a face that would have been considered delightfully chiselled in my 20’s, but in my 50’s is just hollow and rumpled paper bag-ish.
In my usual impulsive way I decided to take action to initiate change (in a computer bound sort of way) and give internet dating a go.
Over the last few years I’ve found it strange and slightly tragic that online dating sites aren’t just the bastion of the elders and outsiders of our society, but are also used by the young, beautiful and mainstream.
I don’t really get this and find it a little sad but then the mating methods of my youth and social scene (get wasted, have sex and move in with the other party immediately or get wasted, have sex and pretend or not actually remember that the act occurred) could be seen as pretty grim.
I enrolled on a free dating site some ten years ago. I believe I managed about 24 hours before the sexual offers of strangers and parade of faces that had absolutely no appeal to me, drove me to leave.
I did meet one person however who became a friend; a depressive alcoholic chain smoker who taught me to fly a falcon, so I came out of the situation disillusioned in one way but adventure enhanced in another.
This time around I paid money for a month’s subscription on the Guardian Soulmates thinking I may well meet someone who isn’t frightened of an interesting woman with a brain and a colourful past that she tends to write about.
My first issue was, despite my own dilapidated physique, my cortexes still get scrambled by lean, hungry, pierced and heavily tattooed men which is not a predominant look among middle aged, male guardian readers.
One of the men on the site pointed out that my profile was neither highlighting my ‘feminine’ qualities nor portraying myself in a sexually inviting manner. I have never actually thought of myself in these terms, even when I was working in the sex industry.
I’ve never flirted and when young, beauty was a given and my self esteem was so shot that it never occurred to me to utilise my looks as a commodity. However I have no doubt my appearance got me both out of and into difficulties on many occasions.
As an older woman I like to believe that my sexuality and appearance are secondary to other qualities that I have, though perhaps this is idealistic and also hypocritical in the light of my above comments about getting flustered by said lean, hungry and disturbed men (with hair).
The final problem with dating sites is time. Online dating seems to require time, focus and commitment, something that I’m unwilling to give as I favour any spare moments I have being allotted to art, reading, adventuring and being with friends rather than flicking through descriptions and attributes of strangers.
I’ve left the site now as though it was an interesting experiment, it seemed to be a waste of my money.
However I did make a new friend; an artist who is my opposite in near every way and holds no physical attraction at all for me, but is incredibly interesting.
The only problem is we are both so busy, we haven’t been able to find the time to meet.

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