Sitting on the water tank drumming my heels on it like a slow heart beat, looking at this, I caught myself and realised that I was perfectly, perfectly happy.


Three brown butterflies were engaged in a terrible war above me. The garlic was growing. I had marked out my asparagus with canes and balls, the globe artichokes all seemed to have taken well, and I was moments away from accidentally kicking quite a large bee. Things don’t get any better than that, my friend. They just don’t.

The trick to wonky allotmenting – that is to say, allotmenting with some form of exhausting disability – is to pick a job. One job. And go and do that. It’s very easy to get down to the plot and feel overwhelmed by all that needs doing. It’s very easy to go home after a visit to the plot, having spent all your energy working hard but not completing anything, and to feel that you’re useless and haven’t achieved anything.

No, the trick is in that one little task. Planning it. Taking the tools with you. Clean up the border on this bed. Or mow this little stretch of path. Or plant out these ten plants. Weed two foot square of that bed. Something tiny and thoroughly achievable. Something that doesn’t depend on you achieving something else first (for instance don’t make planting your task unless you’ve already weeded). Then if you’ve any oomf left, go ahead and do something else. Or better yet, do what I did and sit on your water tank and drum your heels and let your soul sink into the cool earth and the cool sky.

The important thing is to go home with a win. Then the allotment never becomes a chore.

The tiny little twig trees I planted winter before last are blooming. I will have pears, apples, dark red cherries later this year. I seem to have planted a recalcitrant apricot which shows no sign of blooming, but I don’t know the ways of the apricot people and I’m happy to give it another year or two.




Thus far I’ve had rhubarb, asparagus, and a parsnip the size of Texas from my plot. I’ve also harvested Jack-by-the-hedge, young cow parsley shoots and young goose grass and had them in various broths (I’ve become Queen of broths lately). All very nice but watch yourself with Jack, he’s a bit acrid and better to have a few jolly sprigs rather than whacking great handfuls.  I’ve planted out four good size globe artichokes (two purple, two green), which are always so unaffordable in the shops. In the next week or so I’ve got nine rose bushes coming. Perhaps that seems daft, but (they were cheap and) cut flowers make a huge difference in the house. Everything’s alright when you’ve got roses.

The year is well under way. Grab your weeding knife and get among it.


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An audio version of this post is available here.

Hello little sitter
Bitter little biter
Shitter, fighter.
Hello little shedder
Claw score shredder
6lbs of gangsta,
Shoulder rolling.
Hello mister misses
Kitchen twitcher
Witch’s kvetcher,
Hello breakable
Tender, mannerly
Fool boxer, feinting
Cannily, uncannily.
Leaper writher
Half killer

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Welcome to your new superpower.

Dear women,

Contrary to what you’ve been brought up to believe, your goodness, your worth, and in particular your sexiness, your attractiveness are YOUR properties, not a property of the person observing them. Their act of observation does not create or validate those qualities in you. They are merely noticing the bleedin’ obvious. You are not Schroedinger’s good person. You are not Schroedinger’s hottie.

Now take this news away and mull it over, crush it into yourself. Welcome to your new superpower.

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Swapping out a set of tuning pegs for a set of machine heads, on a uke.

So you picked up a bargainaceous uke on eBay, only to discover when you get it home that it has tuning pegs rather than cogged machine heads. You try to tune it. After half an hour of the friction of the peg causing you to shoot past the note you were aiming for in a wild jerk, or the LACK of friction in the head jumping the peg straight out of the note when you do find it (and yes, both these things can and will happen on the same string), you throw your uke across the room. Then, after a brief pause, you follow it and stamp on it until there are a billion little splinters in the air and no sign – none at all, that there was ever a musical instrument in your life.


You get on the internet and buy some machine heads and replace those godawful pegs with something that works. I got a set of Stagg uke machine heads on Amazon (sorry) for about a fiver. There are cheaper, no-name ones, but Stagg is a pretty reliable name.

You will need a small crosshead screwdriver. A drill with a very small bit (I used a 1.5, a 1 would have worked perfectly as well, you’re only putting in a guide hole), or a very narrow brad awl, but I wouldn’t advise the latter. The potential for you to wiggle it about and make too wide a hole is too big. Get a drill with a very tiny drill bit.

This is what you’re starting with. The dreaded Peggy Head:

Peggy head

You want to undo the screw on each of the pegs.

Peg, showing screw

When you’ve undone it sufficiently, the peg will drop out of the uke’s head, leaving an unsightly hole at the back…

Thar she blows

And probably a little metal cuff on the front.

Little metal cuff

Leave the little cuff in place. Your new machine heads will slip right into it.

Now set up your drill. Make SURE that the bit is seated deeply into the drill, so that only 3/4 of a cm or so are sticking out of the end of the drill. If you seat the bit with more sticking out, what will happen is you’ll drill straight through your uke’s head and when you’ve finished the job you’ll have holes all over its face and it will look OMG TOTALLY AMATEUR. So get this right. Here you can see me measuring to see if the drill bit is seated at the right depth.

Ensure your bit cannot pass straight through your uke's head

Now unpack your new machine heads. Here I am, modeling the tiny drill bit I used – use the tiniest one you can find – 1mm or so.

New machine heads

OK, now take one of the machine heads and push it through the four cuffed holes in your uke head the WRONG WAY AROUND – front to back. This will push any little burrs in the wood or the metal through and will make sure your new heads won’t push the little cuffs off.

Push those machine heads through gently

Now seat your first machine head.

Head in place

There are left hand heads and right hand heads. The cog should be at the bottom. So you can quickly work out which head goes where, but make sure you have worked this out before you start drilling holes in your uke.

Put a head in place. Make sure it’s straight in relation to the side of the uke’s head. This is REALLY important, again, if you get this wrong you’ll end up with wonky tuners so take your time. Make a mark through each of the two screw holes (I used the tip of a sharp kitchen knife), remove the head, drill your two holes, put the head back and screw on. It really couldn’t be simpler.

Here you can see the job half done, with the guide holes drilled for the next head. Note the position of the cogs (towards the uke’s bottom end).

Half way there...

Finished product:

Machine heads

Now all it needs is a fresh set of strings (instructions for stringing your uke are on YouTube), and a few days to bed the new strings in.



You may be looking at that and wondering “hey how come the G is red, what’s up with that?” – I’m trying out an Aquila low-G from the red series, which is basically their trademark Nylgut, but with added copper (hence the colour) to make the string far more dense, and capable of lower tuning. They’re notoriously brittle, but I wanted to try a low-G tuning and my verdict is that you’d have to go at the tuning like rhinoceros to snap it, which quite a few reviewers said they did. The ham fisted lummoxes.

I say that now. Give me a day …

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Naked selfies!! And online security as a feminist issue.

An audio version of this post is available here.

When you mention naked selfies, a lot of women (I haven’t canvassed men) aren’t comfortable with the idea and would prefer to do the whole “being naked” thing in person. Because when you send a naked selfie you have to accept that it may be leaked. It may be leaked deliberately by someone you ended up not having sex with. It may be leaked deliberately by your ex. it may be leaked deliberately by your ex’s new partner. It may be leaked deliberately by your ex’s current partner. It may be leaked by whoever finds your partner’s phone when they lose it. More recently, we’ve added to that list of potential disasters, and the new addition is horrible. Men might hack the cloud and steal your pictures, which seems unlikely unless your last movie grossed a few hundred mil, but we all know what 4chan is for, right? Right.

Even in the event that photograph of your lovely peachy bottom doesn’t appear on the side of a bus, there will almost certainly be sysadmins – the ones who maintain “the cloud’s” servers – cackling over it in a server room somewhere. You knew that. Of course you did.

The short version is: your vag or boobs may end up anywhere. The papers are full of it (yeah, you can take that both ways). They talk about the stars’ dismay and their distress after the event as a narrow issue, one that affects the person in question. They talk about privacy as a broad issue that affects everyone equally. Nobody seems to be talking about the fact that women are actually subject to a unique set of malicious sexual threats online and off, from the tiresome old offers of nose-rape on Twitter, to threats to hack, or actual hacks, of private sexual data.

The theft of (and subsequent propagation of) sexual images of a person is a crime of sexual violation.

The pictures stolen from various famous women recently were taken for the specific purpose – not of obtaining a naked picture of that woman – but of violating her. That’s what this type of crime is about. It isn’t a theft of property, where one may obtain items of value. It is a theft intended to unseat, to undermine that woman and by extension, all women.

The papers don’t talk explicitly about that, preferring metaphors that involve unlocked cars or banking data, as usual. But the lesson we learn from these horror stories – is a broader one than “don’t be a beautiful famous woman, because this may happen.” The lesson is: this could be you, so don’t risk it.

Naked selfies aren’t safe.

Well, I like naked selfies. I posted a little moan to twitter earlier today about the fact that the theft of famous naked selfies basically means that people – who will not stop taking naked selfies, let’s be realistic – are now just going to take disembodied shots of unidentifiable genitals. No faces. Nobody blowing you a kiss. No smiles. Just cock and cunt. While I like both very well indeed, and while that was always the smart thing to do with people you don’t completely trust – I think this being the only option is incredibly sad. This may seem a trivial complaint, but far from it.

These violations represent a tide-mark on human communications, the point at which trust of the internet – which had been hanging on by its fingernails – was simply erased from the list of possibilities with specific regard to women’s electronic communications. The only people sending recognisable naked selfies now are going to be the hopelessly ignorant and the entirely reckless (I’ll let you guess which camp I fall into). A recognisable naked selfie of a woman always implied a great deal of trust (NB: never ask a woman for this). And that’s an important thing, that’s a thing nobody is talking about. You can’t choose to trust someone now. Because the little hacker kiddies may get onto your server and if they find pictures of a naked woman that they either think is attractive or “gross”, they will propagate those pictures. The idea that women are having sex with people they can’t even trust with a photograph is one I find pretty … unsettling.

The option women had of building that trust with a potential sexual partner via the safe medium of photos has been deliberately taken away by the men of 4chan. And they know it. They’re thrilled about it. All this alarmism about naked selfies is just what they wanted. The downgrading of women’s sexual data from the highly intimate to the merely private is a major victory for them.

There’s another thing. Speaking entirely for myself here: I like naked selfies because actual naked human beings can be really triggering for me. While I probably don’t class myself as sexually mainstream, I certainly don’t imagine that I’m unique in this particular regard.

It’s not that I’m uniformly averse to naked humans. But if I don’t have a significant amount of trust with the occupant of that human body, the urge to hit them with an axe and then run is strong in this one. And that leads to really problematic sexual encounters. It’s a snowball effect where the more often you have to suppress the “axe and run” instinct the less emotionally present you can be during sex, the less you enjoy it, the less you want to bother, the less you bother, the stronger the axe reflex becomes. So I like to build up (and maintain) trust with a potential (or existing) partner by talking to them. This involves texts, emails, stupid photos of things I come across in my day. I WILL BOTHER YOU WITH BEETLES AND SHIZ. I expect to be bothered back. That little syn/ack syn “Are you there?/I’m here, are you there?” that computers handle so much more elegantly than humans. The vast majority of this isn’t sexual. Because trust isn’t really about sex. Sex is a side effect of trust (I don’t believe this applies to everyone, but this paragraph is about me). And yeah, at some point if it’s that kind of a relationship, it will involve sex and it will involve naked selfies. That’s important. It isn’t trivial. It is how I get from living in a bubble and wanting to hit anyone who touches my bubble with an axe, to letting someone put their hands on me. (Without secretly wanting to hit them with an axe.)

Because here’s the thing: naked selfies are safe.

Although photos have been used by bad people to violate, nobody ever got raped by a photo. They’re not a bad way to get to know someone.

They are a place where a woman has a terrific amount of agency. She can probably overcome difficulties or transgress socially imposed boundaries in a selfie that she’d have a hard time broaching in the flesh, and once broached electronically, they’re out there. You don’t have to have that awkward conversation about your weirdo nipple if he’s seen it and is still turned on. You don’t have to explain that you need to dress up as Pumbaa from the Lion King in order to get off, if someone’s seen it and got so excited they’ve already dashed out and bought a Scar onesie. A picture is often worth not a thousand words, but entire books. A picture is often the only route to liberation someone has, and this applies more to women than to men, because the weight of society’s disapproval rests more heavily on women’s sexuality than on men’s. Our sexuality is already imposed, reduced, warped, forbidden, truncated, restrained, punished: silenced.

Naked selfies are a door, ajar. A woman can choose how to represent herself. She can choose how much of herself to show. The timing is hers to choose (things happen far too quickly in real life for me: axe). The trust is hers to give – or to withhold, not as an absolute, but from minute to minute, hour to hour. She may stop. She may drive the exchange. She may say yes to this and no to that. She may make requests. She may bark orders. She may take time to think over ideas she could well have been railroaded into in the flesh. Identifying one’s own lack of consent – as a woman – often requires space to think. We are not given those tools, we have to claw them out of our bones, where society has buried them. This is the beginning of a safe negotiation that is often difficult or lacking in real life.

And when 4chan or anyone else hacks into a woman’s – specifically a woman’s – private account they damage the freedom all women feel to use that medium safely to explore their sexuality. They leave women once again with the option of going into meatspace with men they haven’t built any trust with, having probably not told him anything about her preferences or her sexuality or her hangups or her needs. It’s a truncation, another silencing, another punishment.

4chan knows this. That’s why they do it. This isn’t about the violation of any one person – those images as far as 4chan are concerned, are merely the flag hoisted over a very calculated undermining of the sexual agency and security of all women. If you doubt that a certain class of men are really that organised against women, I urge you to look into the events of #gamergate.

That security for this type of data needs to be far, far better is not simply an issue of data privacy in the way your bank account or first draft novel needs good security. This is an important feminist issue. As with online threats and the need for online anonymity, women have a specific set of vulnerabilities here, those who seek to exploit women’s online vulnerabilities have a specific incentive to obtain this data and that is the opportunity to sexually humiliate a woman for the approval of their male peers; and by doing so, undermine all women’s presence online. It is literally all win for these guys.

Firms holding our data need to demonstrate that they’re aware of this. It is time the electronic empires we all rely on woke up to the fact that women’s online security risks are different and require explicit identification and action: we have a specific enemy. He wants to drive us offline, or leave us online but feeling (and indeed being) vulnerable. This isn’t about property theft, it is about misogyny.

Women’s security needs are different, and they are not being met.

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Deep roots & bones, a love letter.

An audio version of this post is available here.

Hello, love.

Come with me. Come on. 

Once upon a time, in a country very, very close to here, there was an enormous party thrown by a Queen. Well. Some people organised it for her and the people of the country actually paid for it, but she was there, is the point. They had hundreds and hundreds of boats all decked out with little flags and golden crowns and stuff, and people waved flags and the Queen’s own boat, which was made of SOLID GOLD yet somehow floated, was so full of unicorns and lions that she couldn’t actually ride in it herself, and they had to give her quite a boring boat with hardly any gold on it and she was made to stand in the rain. While the unicorns and lions had a proper party.

And then later on – weeks later – there was another big party and almost the whole country came to it. At this party there was an epic story told: the story of that country and its history and achievements. Everybody celebrated like mad. There was a feeling of unity. Of belonging. Of identity and commonality. It’s a feeling that’s often absent. It kindled in these people. And since then the people in charge have tried to keep that little flame of unification burning by reminding the people of that country of their glorious wars, and of how rubbish everyone else from all the other lands are.

The story they told at that party was pretty edited to be honest, lots of things were left out, like this country transporting a million slaves and killing ten million Indians. Things like that.

In fact it wasn’t really the history of a land at all. It was the history of a movement upon the hide of a land, and the movement in question was capitalism and its foundation: industrialisation.

And before then the peasants lived short, muddy lives under the heels of their lords. So industrialisation was a definite step up and ultimately gave us iPads and washing machines and zero hours contracts, and people who can say ‘computer says no’ and send you home to starve.

In fact when you think about it, life hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is that the mud is now imported at great expense and sold in Boots the Chemist, and the heel of our lord is devolved to a set of civil servants whose bitter loathing of the rest of us increases in inverse proportion to the amount of power they don’t wield and the amount of money we don’t have.

It’s brilliant. Modern life is brilliant. There’s the telly and twitter and books on Kindle. There’s the breakfast dilemma (cereals contain gluten, bacon has fat in it, and eggs are poison: everyone now makes smoothies, although next week we will discover that smoothies kill you. I promise you).

But before the lords and the mud there was a place, not a country, but a land, and some people lived in it. It covered the world.  It was one land.  It had great woods that bristled with wolves and bears. Beavers made lakes in it. Lions flopped about under trees or stared with orange eyes at … well, at you, if you were unlucky. People lived on the grasslands, on the world’s brow, on the bony ridge of the world’s brow, there they made little homes from stone and fire. And the birds flew, and they drew them. And the dogs ran, and the deer ran, and they drew them. They drew the mountains and the sky on their skin, blue or red because they knew the mountains and sky lived under their skin. They knew the trees and the weeds. When the sun shone, it shone in them. When the rain fell, it rained in their bones, and in the bones of the trees and the bones of the wolves and the bones of the rivers (what do you think boulders are? DO CONCENTRATE). In the snow they slept and waited, and their hearts sank into the earth, burrowed through it into the waiting roots of birch and beech, and slept there, until the sun came again.

The people didn’t bother much with understanding things beyond the movement of the sun and stars, and the turn of the year and the rhythms of life and death. They didn’t need to because they knew something very wonderful, which is that when you stand on the earth your feet go right to the centre of the world. That your body does not end at your skin. That what you are made of is the world and everything in it, and at your furthest extremities, the patterns of stars are freckles on you. The sea is the amnion from which you climbed as a child. The earth is the body of your mother, which you still cling to, are still in. The other species are not as separate from you as it appears: without one another they will fail and die. Without them, you will fail and die. This is the unassailable truth of what it is to be alive in an evolved system: you are not you. You are the inevitable outcome of all of it. You are what the system needs to fill the negative space that would remain if you did not exist. You are the expression of all that is necessary right here, right now. If it were not so you would be dead.

None of this was part of the big story they told at those parties. In fact it is not something people feel they can speak about at all. I’ll be honest, I was cautious about writing this letter to you.  If someone tries to say these words, incant this spell, their credibility and sanity are questioned. You know what I’m saying is true: that our story goes back beyond shoes. That the oldest part of the story is about those rolling hills and if you close your eyes you can still feel them inside you: the Cheviots, Uluru, the blue-groined lakes, the scribbled pines on hills, the sea on your lips, the sun shining in you. We call this having a ‘soul’, this feeling of connectedness. But these days we are only really permitted to have a sense of connectedness to other people, and even then it has to be a particular type of connection, one that can be easily dropped, one that carefully avoids, at all costs, any mention of souls or the inner rain, or how it feels to grow leaves through your skin in the spring, bursting fat green points along every bone. You must never mention this. When you fly with the bats, that must be a secret. When the rain makes another world below your feet and you drop into it so you can no longer tell which of the two worlds you stand in, shtum! Don’t say it! At dusk if you happen to put your hand up and pocket the sun for the night, do it like a thief, and put it back in the morning before anyone notices.

This is where we live now.

The world has roofs and central heating and if you’re very lucky, Passive Haus standards that enable you to never, ever feel a breeze on your ankle, never cold feet. You don’t have the smell of a wood fire or the pop-snap of it or the pang of guilt for the doomed woodlouse. There is XBox, XFactor, XXL, .xxx. There is porn and shoes, dvds and the national lottery, which might make you a millionaire. It’s all brilliant! And there are so many of us, and nothing can kill us. We are like gods, and we aren’t forced to be part of anything any more, not the green or the winter, not muddy water or hunger, and death is far away from most of us, most of the time. It wasn’t like that when we had souls. Death was all over the place then.

It’s better now.

Into this comes a new plan for your body, for the body of your mother. It’s so you can carry on heating your whole house and lighting lightbulbs and watching XFactor and being a productive economic unit. It’s a GOOD idea! Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?

Here is the plan: one third of your body and your mother’s body will be sold, if anyone wants it. Which third? Well, that’s up to the buyers. They will sell you and the person they sell you to will break your bones to get the goodness out. They will break the bones of this land.

The United Kingdom has an area of some 94,000 sq miles. Of this, our government is putting 37,000 square miles out to tender, to fracking companies. This area includes our national parks. Our suburbs. Your town. Anywhere where shale gas may potentially be extracted at relatively low cost: the energy companies will be permitted to buy that land. They are doing this because a number of very important Tories stand to profit, personally, from selling your land. Your land.

But you own the land now! It is your land. There are laws protecting that ownership, laws protecting your home, laws protecting the national parks and your right to walk in them and to remember you were born with a soul.

This new thing will override all those old things. Your protections are over. Your ownership of this land, your rights within it, those are over now. Go on, google it.

I am not making this up.

There are substantial problems with allowing this, even beyond its obvious immorality (that one person can profit by selling things which do not belong to them, can profit from destroying things which we all own and need). Fracking is implicated in big problems with contaminated groundwater (on an ‘unimaginable scale’), air pollution, chemical pollution, radioactive pollution, earthquakes, blow-outs and leaks in the USA, where they’ve done enough of it that they’ve started to realise … you wouldn’t want to live near it.

Do you?

I don’t really fit into the world very well, I’m a pebble in a shoe. I live here but not comfortably, for anyone. I don’t speak the right language and I look for people who speak my language and don’t find them. When I look at someone’s face I don’t see what you see. I see a word out of context, marooned on a page with no breath behind it, no story to flock with (for what is a story but a flock of words in motion). That’s what we are now, stranded words, punctuation and we think the page is where we belong, when in fact no word belongs on a page. As soon as you’ve stamped a word onto a background, put a spotlight over it, you’ve removed the best gift any word has, its ambiguity, its belonging to a fluid context.

Stand up and say this, put your breath into it: “Mourning love.”

It is not the same phrase when spoken. You are not the word you are defined as being. The narrow act of definition is one of vandalism.

I write this love letter to you in the hope that you recognise yourself and remember (us) the rivers and the rocks are part of your body. Perhaps you have an inconvenient soul, like mine. If not, you can go and look up the science of problematic fracking: displaced communities, ground instability, contaminated aquifers and groundwater, dodgy things coming out of people’s taps (actually, that one’s quite exiting, although it’s the sort of exciting that you definitely don’t want happening in YOUR bathroom). Or you can listen to your body’s connection to the world. And what you’ll hear is a scream that doesn’t stop.

I am opposed to this sale, to this disenfranchisement of the people from the land, to this act of brutality committed on both the people and their land, for the two are indivisible, I am opposed with my whole body, starting at the stars and ending at the earth’s core.

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What’s it like / it’s like (when the words come home)

An audio version of this post is available here.

It’s like … (and I wrote about this before, because I know this landscape so much better than I know the landscape my eyes look at every day, the landscape that is as strange and as empty of comfort to me as a zoo is to a tiger) it is like

You are in the woods, standing still in thick fur boots, in snow up to your shins, and next to you is the horse, which is always there next or under you, quietly breathing. It is night, clear and luminous and your hands are so cold they ache and the snow has finally sunk through the oiled pelts your riding boots were made of because you’ve been damn fool enough to get off the horse and let it rest a while. Its shoulder is so warm under your hand it’s almost like a noise it’s like

In the bright dark there is a dark dark spot. Among the world that reaches up, thinner and thinner until the end of each branch finds a star, there is something squat and geometric. You knew it was around here, but you haven’t been here and there is no map. Yet there it is, a little cabin, it is like

You asked for help and the trees twisted themselves into this shape to shelter you, it is like

There is no lock on the door, you open it and you and the horse go in together, because that is how it works here. The place is small because that’s easier to heat. There is a stove, cold, you find it in the dark and pull the old ashes out with your hands, onto your knees, the floor, feel for the new wood, curl shavings off with your knife, then the tinder and oily wool, the spark, a flame, then the dark and your breath softly on it, so softly in that little wait where you think you’ve failed. But you haven’t. There is fire now.

It is like that. The words go away sometimes for years. Wait. WAIT STILL. When they come back the trees and snow come with them, a whole world comes with the words.

It is like that, when the words come home.

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