Issue 40 playlist: morning rituals

Who needs coffee when you can plug into our latest playlist? It's inspired by morning rituals, full of the tracks that help us get up and go (although coffee is useful for that too...). Take a listen here

 

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illustration: stephanie handley

Our midwinter issue is inspired by patterns. You can pre-order a copy here

Contribute to issue 41 of Oh Comely

Photo: Isa Gelb @punkroyaltiger

Photo: Isa Gelb @punkroyaltiger

Issue 41 is out in February and we’re looking for your contributions.

For this issue, the theme of our first person stories is loss. This could be huge and life-changing or perhaps something small and seemingly inconsequentially that has impacted your life in a meaningful way. Maybe you've said goodbye to a loved one or an address, or perhaps you've had to come to terms with losing a part of yourself or your body, we want to hear about your experiences. 

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea for a first person story to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Monday 11 December. Please state 'Issue 41 contributions' in the subject header.

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. We do try and get back to everyone but we're a really small team so we're sorry if we don't get a chance.

We look forward to hearing your ideas!

 

The Sex Workers' Opera

The cast of The Sex Workers' Opera

The cast of The Sex Workers' Opera

The stage is set in a little theatre in south London. Enter the master of ceremony who invites us to guess which of the cast in The Sex Workers' Opera are currently working in the sex industry.

The cast is made up both of sex workers and their friends – although we are never told who is who, we are very much invited to guess, making us question the stereotypes that may – or may not – form our thought-process. 

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The message of the show is clear: sex workers want ‘rights not rescue’ and for people to listen to them rather than speak for them. The villain: legislators who make sex work illegal, and therefore very dangerous. The show explores lots of real-life stories from sex workers all around the world, and also pays tribute to the women "rescued" in the 2013 Soho raids and the inhumane way that they were treated by the police.

“If sex work was led by men, instead of women, the laws would be very different. The laws against sex work are racist, transphobic, sexist, queerphobic. In Britain, sex for money is only legal when it’s one on one, but brothels run by sex workers would make me feel safer...”  This is a quote from our interview with one of the sex workers from the show, you'll be able to read the full story in issue 40, out 14 December. 

The Sex Workers' Opera is currently being performed at Ovalhouse, London, until Saturday 2nd December, head to ovalhouse.com for ticket information

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Photos by Julio Etchart

Well-Read Black Girl

Glory Edim photographed by Elena Mudd

Glory Edim photographed by Elena Mudd

To help others discover the work of black women writers, Glory Edim started her bookclub Well-Read Black Girl, a safe space for honest discussions about literature and beyond.

Marta Bausells speaks to Glory in the autumn issue of Oh Comely: “There isn’t a lot of room for black women to really see themselves in a very honest and pure way,” she told us, “and when you enter the book club you know it’s a safe space. You know it’s other people that look like you and appreciate you and aren’t judging you. […] You don’t have to pander to anyone, or posture – you’re just yourself. I think “ that’s what makes it unique.”

The group has become a support system where its members can just be, without judgement or comparing themselves to anyone else. She adds: “In this group we’re setting the standard – that these are our books, our inspirations, our suffering, whatever it is – we can all read it on the page and experience it in real life, too.” 

We asked Glory to share some of her favourite Well-Read Black Girl bookclub picks: 

 

Pick up a copy of our autumn issue of Oh Comely to read the full interview with Glory, or you can go to wellreadblackgirl.com to sign up for Glory’s newsletter, and follow her on Instagram @wellreadblackgirl.

 

 

The car

photo betül vargün  

photo betül vargün

 

words rebecca tantony

In the beating heart of an engine unused, I wait

She tells me she will wait opposite the pub. Tells me the registration number and that I need to climb in the back seat. The front’s piled with books, she says, water-bottles, maps. I open the door, squeeze in beside a suitcase and two sleeping bags. She turns around, says, “Great to met you Aisha. I tried to pack light but it's three months on the road, you know, It’s like I need to bring it all in case I never came back”.

It’s strange how a stranger can wear the face of familiarity, remind you something about home.

“Good to meet you too Josiane.” I reply. Take it all in; the smell of cumin, the roof covered in postcards – hams and flamenco dancers in Seville, ornate temples in Oaxaca, snapshots of friends strung up like rosaries. I take her in too. Late twenties perhaps. Heavy smile, light voice. 

I was only going as far as France. A month before I had fallen for a man and wanted to try and recreate the weekend of romance we’d first found. Those melted evenings – cheese and wine on the balcony, our mouths speaking in tongues. A friend said she knew someone driving through Paris, so I thought I would catch a ride with Josiane into that unknown future.

“A road trip. Exciting”, she says, clips in her seat belt, sets the wipers back and forth. I think we’re about to pull away so I try find my belt too, then see she wants to catch my reflection in the mirror, so I stop fumbling. “Nervous too”, she adds, “I just listened to a news report about The Jungle. Apparently loads of Eritrean teenagers are trying to rebuild it, and I was like shit we’re gonna be driving past there. Maybe we’ll never leave. Just keep helping them, brick after brick, rebuild something from the rubble”. I shuffle. “How long will you be in France?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. Sometimes it’s a few days, in other moments I never leave. My French lover and I make children, I learn to cook foods fried in butter, how to say expensive words. “It’s a strange time to be leaving, with Brexit and all. Maybe they won’t let us back in”. I smile weakly.

“Yeah, more than ever. I wonder how many times I can go and come back again with nothing to offer on my return. I’m always leaving. It’s like there is a version of me out there who laughs louder than  I do here”. 

Recognition: that feeling of home again. A place. A person. A room. A moment. Your own skin. I point to the postcard, “But we, you, have all these memories”.

She turns back to the front, clips her seat belt in again, “Yeah we have so many memories”. Flips on the indicator. “Let’s have a road-trip song, something to remind us of the moment we left”. She shuffles through her CDs, “This is the one, it was playing in a cafe when I met this woman in Marrakech”. Some Arabic pop music speeds through the speakers. We listen. After a while she says, “Her name was Asha. She was from Palestine originally, had only been in Morocco for two months”. She taps the wheel, I stare into the mirror, watch her eyes steer between mine and the road ahead. “She left. Because she had to”.

I’d like to say that next we opened up like windows, stories of ourselves filling the few empty spaces of that car. That our leaky-exhaust-pipe-mouths talked through the length of that journey. That we arrived in Paris. I kissed her farewell, twice, because I was a continental woman now, with a French lover famous for his “little deaths”. But it didn't happen like that. In fact, two days later my French lover texted to say he’d met someone new.

Instead, just as the music stops, she sits staring out in front of her, as if looking at this unworn world – this new place just noticed, or perhaps an old place never before seen. After a while she unclips the belt, grabs her backpack, opens the door, gets out the car, and with the key still in the ignition, leaves. Just walks, into the buzz of our electric city. And I sit there, stunned, watch her go like I’ve just lost part of my own being. Who knows what had brought us here together? All the trips taken, all those left behind. I sit in the hum of that car, the beating heart of an engine unused. I wait. But she never returns. In fact, I think I am still there now. In-between places, like at an airport, neither leaving or arriving anywhere. Just a memory for us both to keep, formed and lost, somewhere along the way. 

 

Rebecca Tantony is a poet and writer of flash non-fiction, who loves hanging out with her cat Chicken and radio singing at traffic lights. @rebeccatantony, website: www.rebecca-tantony.com

 

Fear and pigeons

illustration: ester garcia

illustration: ester garcia

Be afraid, be very afraid. To mark Halloween, we asked our writers to confess what scares them the most. For Alice Snape it's pigeons that are her biggest fear...

The one fear that has remained constant throughout my life is my fear of pigeons. In fact, all birds really, but pigeons are the ones that are always there, lurking in front of my every step, unwilling to move out of my way – why don’t they creep and coo near someone else? Why aren’t they scared of me?

Pigeons constantly reinforce my terror on a daily basis, so it can’t possibly be irrational. Even back when I was revising for my GCSEs, one flew into the conservatory through an open window. I had my revision desk all set up and was convinced the bird was out to get me. It flapped around all over my notes, until my dad had to come home from work, and let it out. All I could do was close the sliding doors and cry in a ball on the floor.

And now, I see them everywhere. I don’t understand how other people can brazenly walk through a group of the flappy, grey rodents as if there is nothing in front of them. When I see one, I scuttle around, cross over the road, stamp my feet loudly – avoidance tactics. Occasionally, I scream out loud. Over the course of my life so far, four pigeons – yes four – have even flown into my head. My head! Flapping around with their grubby little claws tangling into my hair. I have been pooed on more times than I can count, and I don’t care that it might be lucky. I don’t feel lucky. 

I guess the fear is born out of anxiety, I am an anxious person. I was an apprehensive child, always fretting and worried about the unknown. And in this changeable, unrecognisable world that we currently reside, those worried concerns flood back to me, all embodied in the physicality of that horrid pigeon form. Who will deny climate change next? Who’s responsible for Irma? How will I meet by next work deadline withouthaving a panic attack?

It doesn’t matter if they are the flying, dirty rats with one foot that seem to outnumber humans in London, or the big fat wood pigeons that live a life of luxury in the countryside or the pigeon fancier’s variety. Because I hate them all. I hate them, because I don’t know what a pigeon is about to do, it can’t communicate with me in a way that I understand. I can’t control where it steps. The pigeon has no regard for my personal space. It just coos that horrid  that horrid sound, flapping with no direction. One could sneak up on me at any moment with its flailing wings, beady eyes and sharp beak. And I would never be ready for it, even though I am forever dreading its appearance. 

See what our other Oh Comely writers are afraid of in issue 39

Women with tattoos

Jay Rose.jpg

portrait eleni stefanou, Women with Tattoos

People are drawn to tattoos for different reasons – because they find them beautiful, empowering, therapeutic or a tangible way of holding on to important memories. Eleni Stefanou is taking photos of women and their ink, and sharing their stories on a blog as a visual love letter to tattooed women everywhere

 

Jay Rose, 23, tattoo artist, Glasgow

“Some people think of tattoos a ‘second skin’, but I find that concept quite strange. The minute a tattoo is on my skin it becomes a part of me and I often find it hard to remember what it was like to not have it. Looking back at old photos is becoming increasingly weird, especially since I’ve become more heavily covered. For me, getting tattooed isn’t simply about decoration – every tattoo I have means something. That’s not to say tattoos without meaning are anything less, but for me each tattoo is marking a journey and allowing me to become more secure within myself. I have tattoos with friends, for family and inside jokes.

“It was getting my stomach, hand and back tattooed that were the biggest steps in really bringing my vision to life, they were turning points for me. Those were the big tattoos that started to really frame my body and connect the dots if you will. I felt myself become so more comfortable in my own body after that.

“With every tattoo you collect, you also step into a journey with your chosen artist. You put your trust in them. For example, I chose tattoo artist Hannah Pixie Snowdon to tattoo my entire back. I am a rather small human being and it was important for my back piece to be worn – and not for it to wear me. Its evolution has been both a representation of my growth as an individual and Hannah’s growth as an artist – it was the first back piece she ever created. As for physically getting it done, I squirmed, cried, winced and in parts it has become my worst nightmare come to life.

“I am a tattoo artist myself, and I’ve had a lot of emotional experiences on my artistic journey. The other week, for example, a lovely woman had emailed me wanting a tattoo with a little nod to her mother who had recently passed away. Her mother had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and doctors had discovered a brain tumour within the same week. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in September last year and it’s been a hard journey, so this is something that struck home. She was a really lovely girl who had been through something that I could empathise with.

“And that, for me, is what makes tattoos so powerful and healing. They can unite people through shared experience and allow someone to mark a tragedy in their life and then recover from it.”

 

Read four more stories of women and their tattoos in issue 39 of Oh Comely

Putting epilepsy into perspective

Writer Francesca Turauskis had her first tonic-clonic seizure seven years ago, when she was in her final year at university. Although the doctors reassured her it was a one-off event, she had another a year later and her seizures increased gradually until she had four in one week. The sporadic spasms stole time from Francesca, gave her aches for days and for a while trapped her in a disease no one could quite decide if she actually had. But since she was diagnosed and put on daily medication, she has reclaimed independence. This is her story of walking the Camino de Santiago this summer, helping her to take control of her own body.

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"I have never felt the need to hide my epilepsy, but some do. There is still a certain level of fear around it, perhaps a hangover from the age when seizures were thought to be possessions by the devil. Exorcisms aside, epilepsy conversations are full of confusion and corrections and therefore often avoided. As a way to initiate people who might be anxious about the subject, I decided to take words out of the picture by documenting my adventures on Instagram as a hiker with epilepsy."

"I became an official epilepsy statistic two years ago – 87 people a day are told they have epilepsy. Unofficially, epilepsy had been doing a number on me for much longer. Since 2011, I was subject to sporadic spasms that would steal my time from me and leave me with aches for days. My seizures were typically dramatic: rag-doll falls to the floor, shakes, biting my tongue and so on. 

"My boyfriend once had a very effective wake-up call as the bed shook earthquake-style. All I remember of that one was a paramedic listening to my naked chest because I had gone to sleep without clothes on (and people say epilepsy isn’t sexy). For a while, my neurologists revoked my right to drive – not a major issue for a London-lady who still holds a provisional licence, but I was annoyed by the extra caution I had to take in the bath. My seizures were so random and rare that their unpredictability trapped me in a disease no one could quite decide if I had. 

"Ironically, it was from the moment that doctors informed me I could say “I have epilepsy” that I started to feel more disconnected from the phrase. By being diagnosed, they could put me on daily medication and I finally had seizure control. I've not had seizures in over two years, and when it comes to the box that asks me if I consider myself to have a disability, I mostly tick ‘no’. I have reclaimed my independence. 

Deba to Markina

Deba to Markina


"So this summer, I decided to do something just for the sake of doing it. I ended up walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain – the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostella in the north of the country. There are many different Caminos and I chose the Norte, a path that runs for 500 miles between the mountains and the sea. It is the perfect setting for holiday spam and in the six weeks I spent walking, I took the obligatory beautiful photographs for Instagram.

Liendo to Guemes

Liendo to Guemes

"Underneath each of the beautiful images of blue skies, sea cliffs and mountains I put a story about epilepsy. I liked spreading the truth about this ugly disease via way of Spanish beauty. I was able to lure people in with the pictures and then trick them into awareness. 

"I began to find metaphors in my surroundings: balancing rocks are different medications, arrows are auras, mountains are, well, metaphorical mountains. The photos helped me to frame the complexities of the disease.  

"Some take faith for their own journey. And there are still others who are shocked that I can do such things. The photos mean different things to different people, in much the same way the Camino draws people from around the world for different reasons. For myself, it began as a way to enjoy Europe. Through the photos, the Camino ended up helping me realign myself with my body. While it has let me down in the past, my body is now stronger and fitter than ever – and while I still have epilepsy, it's really put things into perspective."

Follow Fran's journey on Instagram @frantictwalks

Cheer Up Luv – a photo project documenting women who have been harassed

CHRISTINA

CHRISTINA

You’re lost in your own world, until some stranger decides to interupt your thoughts, with the command to “Cheer Up”. And that’s at the lesser end of things we’ve had shouted at us. Cheer Up Luv is an online project set up by photojournalist Eliza Hatch to document women who have experienced sexual harassment in public.

KORANTEMA

KORANTEMA

"I was 19 and had just moved to Paris. I was on a crowded train and this guy put his hands on my hips and started grinding on me. I stepped on his toes as hard as I could and he finally let go. I stormed out of the train straight after." JULIETTE

"I was 19 and had just moved to Paris. I was on a crowded train and this guy put his hands on my hips and started grinding on me. I stepped on his toes as hard as I could and he finally let go. I stormed out of the train straight after." JULIETTE

 

As Eliza explains, “We toughen up from such a young age and learn to brush off and shut out unwanted comments you get from men. By the time you are 23 you are used to mild sexual harassment, and most of the time women rarely talk about it. So I think it is extremely important to photograph women in their daily surroundings, and give them a chance to say something back.

KRUPA

KRUPA

Women from around the world have shared their stories (including our writer Marta) to help flip a story of victimisation into one of empowerment.

MARTA

MARTA

Head to the website to view more cheerupluv.com, and follow the project on Instagram @cheerupluv

#ohcobookclub Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others

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We're reading Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others for the next #OhCoBookClub – join us in London on the 8 November for cocktails and book chat!

Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler grew up together in Los Angeles, and both became film-makers. 

Meadow makes challenging documentaries; Carrie makes successful feature films with a feminist slant. The two friends have everything in common – except their views on sex, power, movie-making and morality. And yet their loyalty trumps their different approaches to film and to life. 

Until, one day, a mysterious woman with a unique ability to cold-call and seduce powerful men over the phone – not through sex, but through listening – becomes the subject of one of Meadow's documentaries. Her downfall, and what makes her so extraordinarily moving, is that she pretends to be someone she is not.

We're utterly gripped and can't wait to discuss it with you! 

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Buy the book herehere, or here (links aren't affiliated), or from your favourite local bookshop.

If you're not in London, and you'd like to host an #OhCoBookClub group, get in touch with our Book Club Editor, Terri-Jane, on twitter @terrijane or by email terri-jane@icebergpress.co.uk. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, so don’t forget to tag @ohcomelymag and #OhCoBookClub on instagramtwitter, and facebook

Sunday Reading: What I tasted

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words: olivia potts

photo: deborah dewbury-langley

When my mother died, I lost a recipe.

Her death was sudden and unexpected. The day before, we talked normally, knowing nothing of what lay ahead. We talked about her library books, my job, Emmerdale

If I’d known she was going to die, I might have asked the important questions: what do I need to know about childbirth? How do you get curry stains out of a white shirt? How do you make your chilli con carne?

But I never asked those questions. I found myself – 25, motherless, heartbroken – not knowing things I never knew I wanted to know. Amongst those were her dishes. Losing her meant losing her food; I had never once asked for a recipe, and now it was too late.

Until it ended, I hadn’t realised how important food was to our relationship. Now, I can see it was her main way of conveying sympathy and care. She was not obsessive about food, like I am; she didn’t derive any joy from standing over a stove, or hosting a dinner party. The food she made was just for her family, for us. But every mouthful was carefully and meticulously prepared.

Whenever I was poorly – I was a sickly child, and an even sicklier teenager – my mother made minestrone soup. She would sit opposite me at the kitchen table, watching quietly as slowly, spoonful by spoonful, I ate it, and then she would walk me slowly, quietly around the garden. All soups are nourishing, but this soup was special. It was made with care in both senses. It was full of love, patience and effort. But it was also careful; everything chopped meticulously, placed in neat piles, and then one by one, dropped in a big pot in a preordained order. I needed to recreate this soup. The entirety of my mother’s cooking and love seemed bound up in minestrone. So I began trying to make it from memory. I knew it involved tiny pasta, and bacon and a lot of vegetables. 

I knew that those vegetables were diced precisely. I bought pasta and bacon, and I diced vegetables precisely. I threw them in a pot and thought good thoughts.

My first attempt was wrong. So was my hundredth. I drowned in soups, unable to replicate the taste. I could get close, but it was never quite right. It was never my mother’s soup. I turned to the internet, and spent nights gazing at search results for soup recipes, eliminating possibilities: no, no, no. Of all dishes, minestrone must be one of the hardest to recreate. There is no such thing as an authentic recipe; it has as many variations as it has cooks. 

Years passed, measured in failed soups. The grief eased, or at least changed: it became quieter. A looming adversary became a stolid, bitter companion. I could see past it, but it was always there.

A few months ago, when my father decided to move out of our old house, he offloaded most of my mother’s books on me. Among them were her cookbooks. In truth, I could never remember her actually using a cookbook. But here they were.

I flicked idly through them. I almost didn’t spot the minestrone soup. But as soon as I began reading, I realised: this was the recipe. This was my mother’s minestrone soup. I studied the method, line by line, and pictured my mum dicing, frying, stirring, the intricate ballet of her perfect soup. I closed the book and looked at the front cover. 

It was Delia’s Complete Cookery Course. My mother’s minestrone soup was Delia’s minestrone soup. I had been searching for this recipe, experimenting, testing this recipe for three years only for it to be in one of the most famous cookery books ever published.

But now I have it. I make this soup in the pot that my mother used – and finally, I make it as she did. And it tastes like home.

 

This story originally appeared as one of our 'stories of the senses' in issue 33 of Oh Comely. We were delighted to hear that Olivia won the category of Fresh Voices in Food Writing at this year's The YBFs with an edited version of this piece. You can see read more of Olivia's writing on her blog and follow her on Twitter

Oh Comely loves... The Other Art Fair | 5-8 October | Old Truman Brewery | London

Female Artists take the lead at The Other Art Fair 

The Other Art Fair is a platform for emerging artists. And this year, we're loving the fact that over half of the 130 participating artists in The Other Art Fair are women. In an industry widely considered 'pale, male and stale' - this is your chance to meet the new female stars of the art world. Here's a peek at some of our faves:

Nina Brook - 'Parasol Paradise

Nina Brook - 'Parasol Paradise

Carolina Mizhrai - Avatar Collection

Carolina Mizhrai - Avatar Collection

Fei Alexeli - 'No Bad Days'

Fei Alexeli - 'No Bad Days'

Michelle Heron - 'Jones Dairy'

Michelle Heron - 'Jones Dairy'

On display at Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QR, from Friday 6 October until Sunday 8 October, ticket info at theotherartfair.com

Sunday Reading: Eight Eight Eight

words: jess morgan

photo: katie silvester

 

 

The best thing about the CD player was the punching in and skipping straight to the best songs without all the clumsy rewinding and tape-turning to cue up. The clever machine knew exactly where to find it. Our silver separates hi-fi had glossy dials for the volume which twisted silently and weightlessly and were always cold to the touch. The horizontal sliver in the tuner was gently backlit. A red needle would slide back and across the number line with the turn of another beautiful dial. Dad still talks about those dials.

That morning, I made a plan to get up early. I was going to get my Cher album from where it was in the rack, press the first clicky button and watch as the faithful little motor offered up a wobbly looking tray from the front of the unit. Nose to nose with the grid of numbered buttons, I’d punch in track eight and just listen to it.

The lights were still off in the living room, curtains still drawn, no scuffs of footsteps from the floor above and no bedside radio. I wanted to go straight for track eight – every word, every bass thump and every scrunch of the straggling guitar solo. It’d always feel like an exercise in restraint when there were people around – a fight to hold the corners of my mouth steady. I was up and dressed now though, secretly supercharged with all those complicated little electrons ricocheting against each other, while everyone else was asleep.

The sound wasn’t coming out. Anxious little fingers started pressing eight and hitting play, on, off, carefully inviting another increment of volume with the cool dials. Eight... eight... eight... eight, but still nothing came. Nothing. For an age, nothing. Then, the percussive clack of a dozen curtain rings smacking together as light burst into the room. Dad, surprised to see me up and dressed so early, wandered curiously over. It was lucky he’d not been a minute or so earlier and seen me pummelling the buttons with an eight year old’s untamed frustration.

“It’s a bit early," Dad said.

He reached to the back under the tuner and pulled out a set of headphones. They weren’t like the flimsy ones we had for our Walkmans that we’d always get our hair caught in. These ones were heavy and felt as if they’d slide off at any minute without a careful balancing act to keep them in place. The ear pads covered my ears entirely and Dad adjusted the headband from the sides, making them as small as they would go ­ though they’d never get quite small enough. They came with a string cable attached that was ruffled with wear and soft. At the very end, there was a quarter inch jack –­ the kind reserved for something more serious than our homemade radio shows.

Dad plugged the headphones into the amp, put the volume down low and flicked the one switch that I’d omitted to find in the grand plan. The opening bars to track one blared out of the cans. I returned Dad’s thumbs up and let it play. Piano keys pounding, a string section rising and crunching electric guitar signalled, as with many plays before, the unfolding of my favourite record and same mission to appear aloof ­– between euphoria and bewildering self-consciousness. It’s tight grip, and the precarious positioning of the headphones seemed to keep me from skipping forward or dialling in that later part of the record that I so wanted to hear.

As soon as Dad was gone with the tray of tea and toast, I slid the smooth fake leather ear-pads backwards off my ears. The sound of the radio had kicked in upstairs – footsteps and running water would soon follow. I put the headphones back where they had been and returned the CD back to its plastic case and its space in the rack. I never tried that again.

Twenty-two years on, I still play that album – on the same system of separates that was handed down to me – speakers, cables and the units with all of those complicated buttons. Track one still gives me the jitters but I rarely make it as far as track eight. When Dad comes round, we enthuse over those dials. They still twist and turn as silkily as ever, even though I keep the volume low, in a terraced house with its walls as thin as Bible paper. I can stand there any day, in front of the display, heart beating, burning up with the memories of growing up with so much music in our house. Somehow the metal always stays so cool. 

Jess Morgan is a singer-songwriter living in Norwich. Her first love will always be Cher in the film Moonstruck. Listen to ‘Come To The Opera With Me, Loretta’ and follow Jess on instagram.

 

 

 

Contribute your personal stories to issue 40

Photo by Cathy McKinnon

Issue 40 is out in December and we're looking for your contributions.

For this issue, we're especially interested in your first person stories about rituals. Whether they be daily or yearly, done alone or with someone else, as long as they are meaningful to you.

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Friday 29 September. Please state 'Issue 40 contributions' in the subject header. 

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. We do try and get back to everyone but we're a really small team so we're sorry if we don't get a chance. 

We look forward to hearing your ideas! 

September story: 15 September 2004

 illustration maggie chiang

 illustration maggie chiang

 words aimee-lee abraham

 

You were a child this morning. This morning is a world away.

You’re ten, and you’re in the cloakroom when it happens. Of course you’re in the cloakroom when it happens. I’m sorry to tell you that this kind of twisted inconvenience will become a hallmark. Better get used to it, kid.

Right now, though, you’re not used to it. Not one bit. That’s okay. How could you be? You’re ten, and you’re not even sure if you’ve crossed the line. No one else has crossed the line in your class, not that you know of.

All you have is an instinct, an inkling founded upon the sun-stained leaflets you’ve seen stacked up in the GP’s office, their pages full of clip-art girls, all of them clutching hot water bottles and chocolate bars. All you know is that you just felt a hot trickle, followed closely by cold shock. All you know is that you want your Mum. What now?

There’s excitement, dread, the kind of adrenaline you’ll experience only a handful of times since. It feels like a requited glance. It feels like the delicious unravelling that comes when you’re getting to truly know another person. It feels like jumping off a cliff. More of that later. Let’s deal with this one step at a time.

The walk home from school that day is no different to any other, not really. Except this time it’s less of a stroll, more of a casual run. There’s no time to stop for penny sweets.

As you half-jog, you try to be sympathetic about whatever melodrama unfolded at lunch, to fill all the right spaces with sighs, but every syllable that runs from Jennifer’s mouth is unintelligible, like she’s dribbling hot glue down her uniform. What does she know, anyway? She’s just a child. You were a child this morning. This morning is a world away.

Suddenly, you’re something else, something grey and in-between. A little woman. All you can hear is the rush of blood – to your head, and perhaps to the other place, too. You are melting, and so is Jennifer, and so is the pavement. Your soles are sinking like quicksand. Your limbs are dead weights. Your skirt is too tight; your collar is a Boa constrictor.

When you wave goodbye, you crumble and stumble up the garden path as fast as you can. You’ll see Jennifer tomorrow, if the sky can hold up until then, if you make it. Double maths and a spelling test, first thing. You’ll later call this pathetic fallacy. Right now you call it lame.

When you finally put the key in the door, you pretend not to hear your mother when she asks how your day has been, even though you want nothing more than to collapse into her, and plead for a bedtime story.

You retreat, run to the bathroom, lock the door. You see the stain, a suspicion confirmed in cloth. You recoil at the suddenness, at the sadness. This is a loss, as well as a gain.

No one told you about how complex this act would be, how loaded a bodily function could feel. It will represent so much over the years. You will bleed relief. You will bleed grief. You will panic when you bleed, and panic even harder when you don’t. Your ovaries will torment you, and cause you extreme pain. You’ll love them anyway, thank them for doing their job. It’s funny because nothing has changed yet, not really, but these four walls feel less solid, somehow. The ground: gelatinous. The relics of childhood are suddenly stark, inappropriate, out of context.

You thought you’d be happy about this transition, or at least less bothered. You’ve seen the moment play out countless times, in vanilla-scented advertisements where the women laugh over salad and cartwheel because they can. You’ve had 'The Talk'. You’ve read about it by torchlight, in Sugar and Mizz, in Danielle Steel novels stolen from your aunt’s shelf. You’re prepped, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready.

And so you steady yourself, lean against the cold plastic panelling of the tub your mother bathed you in, back when we were shiny and new. What use do you have for rubber ducks now, what use for the mermaid Barbie with her kaleidoscopic tail and Rapunzel hair, what use for the no-more-tears shampoo? They’re all designed for screaming children, not for you.

Tomorrow you’ll feign a different sickness, take three steps at once. When you borrow your mother’s razor without asking, you’ll seek out legs smooth as silk, and plan to go without tights. Instead, you’ll bleed even more. You’ll immediately take out a whole chunk of your ankle, and your skin will become effervescent, the wound fizzing like a soluble vitamin you’ll later drop into water when you’re hungover. It’ll scar, and you’ll look at it and laugh when you’re 23. It marks how far you've come. 

Aimee-lee Abraham is a London-based writer and editor who dreams of running back to the Welsh hills. Instagram @aimlee.abraham

Discover three more 'September stories' in issue 38 of Oh Comely, out now. 

Oh Comely loves... Erin M Riley's tapestry

 Erin M. Riley, Self Portrait 1

 Erin M. Riley, Self Portrait 1

 

Tapestry: Here & Now on display now at The Holburne Museum, Bath until 1 October 2017.  This exhibition features innovative and contemporary approaches to tapestry.

"My practice is informed by imagery that is shared and transferred online, through text, email and temporary mediums. Flirtations and intimate dialogues are informed by candid moments of deep intimacy and trust via the shared image. I use my own body as a commitment to my work to stay vulnerable and open. Self Portrait 1 is from a series of imagery that was sent via text in the beginnings of a courtship, this series is woven differently than my typical works as it combines tapestry techniques and "skill" to delineate hierarchy of content," says Erin of her work.

You can view Erin's work as part of Tapestry: Here & Now, an ambitious survey of contemporary tapestry. It's on show at the Holburne Museum, Bath until 1 October 2017. 

Exhibited artists: Valerie Kirk, Barbara Heller, Aino Kajaniemi, Akayo Matsumura, Misao Watanabe, Yasuko Fujino, Ai Ito, Saori Sakai, Rolands Krutovs, Kristin Sæterdal, Tonje Høydahl Sørli, Caron Penney, Fiona Rutherford, Sara Brennan, Jilly Edwards, Fiona Hutchinson, Joan Baxter, Pat Taylor, Philip Sanderson and Erin M Riley. 

 

 

Mollie Clothier's 'Perplexity' Photography Project

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We're delighted to share Mollie Clothier's 'Perplexity' photography project... Mollie is a fashion and fine art photographer whose work explores psychological matters. She's 22 and currently living in Dorset, having graduated from Falmouth University in July.

Describe what this photo series is about... "Perplexity proposes to tackle the apprehension that surrounds mental health, normalising its impulses to the viewer through the use of recognisable movements and objects. This physicality attempts to represent the intuitive gestures and sensory responses that occur as a result of an anxiety disorder." 

How was the idea for this project born? Was it down to personal experience? What do you hope others will gain from seeing these images? "My projects always seem to be focused around psychological themes surrounding mental health, interested by the way we not only perceive ourselves, but how we acknowledge each other. This project in particular has been based on my own experience with anxiety, due to the frustration that I so often felt when seeing very typical black and white moody images that are supposedly representing anxiety and depression. This isn't how I feel when experiencing a particularly bad patch of anxiety, so I was interested in averting this stigma into something that would catch people's attention and raise awareness about mental health at the same time." 

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The images are so striking, did you pick the vibrant colours on purpose? Are the colour choices significant?  "Thank you! Yes, the choice of vibrant colours, with the fashion, props and borders were all chosen based on  information gained from art therapists and colour tests, combined with SS17 fashion at the time." 

Who is the model? How did you pick them? Did they gain something from the shoot too? "The model in this series was a close friend who has also suffered with anxiety. I made this decision as it meant that when trying to communicate such personal and sensory feelings, my intent could be achieved more accurately. Using somebody who understands these afflictions helped to create an honest and emotive portrayal without having to capture somebody curled up in a ball."  

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What other projects do you have in the pipeline? "Having focused specifically on anxiety disorder here, I am interested in exploring other areas of mental health through the same fashion context, always interested in finding and listening to other people's stories." 

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You can view Mollie's work on her website

Women Who Changed the World: Annette Kellerman

words: frances ambler

illustration: maria martini

 

Our cover girl for issue 38 is Annette Kellerman – the swimming star who challenged Victorian perceptions about women’s bodies by ditching pantaloons and skirts and daring to bare her flesh while swimming. It’s Annette who is responsible for the swimming costume as we know it today

Record-breaking swimmer, the highest paid women in vaudeville, a health and fitness pioneer, the first major actress to both appear nude and to wear a moveable mermaid costume on film – out of all of Annette Kellerman’s notable achievements, it was her own line of one piece costumes, the foundation of modern swimwear, of which she was most proud,for it helped liberate women, allowing them – for the first time – to really swim.

Born in Australia in 1887, Annette wore steel braces as a child and took swimming lessons to strengthen her weak legs. She took to the sport like the proverbial duck to water. To help her family's finances, she became a professional swimmer. As a record breaker, Annette travelled the world raising publicity, in London swimming in the polluted Thames; in Paris, racing men in the Seine. She was one of the first women to attempt to swim the Channel.

While for most of the western world, pantaloons, skirts, even corsets, were still the norm for women’s ‘bathing’, Annette wore a short legged, non-skirted costume to compete for Australia. Invited to perform for British royalty in 1905, she sewed a pair of black stockings onto her men's swimsuit, creating a full-length one-piece “figure suit”. “I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline,” she sniffed. Such an ensemble saw her being arrested on a beach in Massachusetts for indecency. From the subsequent publicity, she designed and sold her suits worldwide, one step towards liberating the female body.

Annette also challenged Victorian perceptions of women’s physicality. Her performances combined a kind of underwater ballet with high dives, her choreographed moves with her ‘Kellerman girls’ an early form of synchronised swimming. She starred in highly successful films too, appearing unashamedly nude in the 1916 film, A Daughter of the Gods.

“I insist that swimming is not only a splendid sport for women, but that it is the sport for women,” Annette said, benefits ranging from the physical to the psychological. “If more girls would swim and dance, instead of rushing into matrimony as the only joy in the world, there would be fewer divorces.” She encouraged women to throw aside their corsets and penned books on health and fitness. A lifelong vegetarian, she even opened her own health food shop.

Annette died in 1975, at 89, having swum well into her eighties. Her swimwear got a generation of women into the water for the first time, allowing them to experience what she described as this “clean, cool, beautiful, cheap thing we all from cats to kings can enjoy". 

Order a copy of issue 38 from our shop