Oh Comely x Bailey Nelson – through the lens: a conversation with interesting women

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To celebrate International Women's Day, Oh Comely and Bailey Nelson are hosting an evening of conversation with interesting women who have featured on the pages of Oh Comely, more information to be announced soon...

Profits from ticket sales will go to Bloody Good Period, which give menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can't afford them.

Hosted by Editor, Alice Snape and Commissioning Editor, Bre Graham

From 6.30pm on Friday 9 March, £15 includes drinks.

Buy tickets here

This is an intimate event of just 50 people. Watch this space for more information on our panel of guests. 

What we're eating: Pancakes with blueberries

Photos: Sophie Davidson

Photos: Sophie Davidson

In our early spring issue, we asked three women who know a lot about food to share their cupboard comfort recipes. And, given that today is Shrove Tuesday, we thought you might especially enjoy Ravneet Gill's recipe for pancakes with blueberries...

"Every time I have a day off, my joy is making pancakes. It’s repetitive, it’s easy, and the process of making them is so calming after working as a chef in a busy kitchen. I always have the ingredients for pancakes stored away in my cupboard, and I always have tons of maple syrup ready to drench my pancakes in. I love eating them with blueberries that I just cook down with a little bit of sugar and lemon until they’re soft."

You will need: 

1 cup plain flour

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp fine salt

2 large eggs

3/4 cup of whole milk

1 cup of yoghurt

50g butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla

 

Method

1 Place all dry ingredients into a bowl, stir to combine, crack the eggs into the middle and whisk in with splashes of the milk until a batter forms.

2 Whisk in the yoghurt, pour in the melted butter and vanilla.

3 Allow to sit for half an hour before spooning into a buttered pan and cooking on each side until golden. Serve with maple syrup, blueberries and dust with icing sugar.

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Ravneet Gill does magic things with sugar and flour. One of our favourite pastry chefs, she’s worked in some of the capital's finest kitchens. Now she creates incredible desserts at Llewelyn's in south London. 

See more cupboard companions in issue 41, the early spring issue of Oh Comely, available to buy now

Dolly Alderton on love

Dolly Alderton is the kind of woman we all wish we had in our lives for those nights when we need honest advice and a well-made martini. Her words are warm, witty and always relatable. A true triple threat, she's a writer, director and podcaster, as well as an expert on false eyelash application. We spent a cosy evening with Dolly chatting about growing up, relationships and her new book Everything I Know About Love... 

Portrait of Dolly by Sophie Davidson 

Portrait of Dolly by Sophie Davidson 

Everything I Know About Love is brilliant and deals with every aspect of love from friendships and family to the boyfriends of your twenties. What did writing about your real-life relationships reveal to you? "Writing a book affords you a great retrospective awareness of the patterns in your life. It’s definitely a movement and journey. I knew when I started writing that my friends were relationships that were incredibly important  to me but I hadn’t been aware that in my twenties they had been my great loves. It’s affirmed the strength and bond that we have for sure. Making myself vulnerable, writing a book is an act of total vulnerability. It was horrible to write certain bits of it. It felt like the next stage of becoming a women, before that it just felt like a lot of bravado and accommodating other people. There’s a world now in which who I am is okay, it’s great to be vulnerable."

Read our full interview with Dolly in issue 41, you can order a copy from our shop (postage is free). Dolly's book Everything I Know About Love is out now, too.

Todd Haynes

 

After three decades of directing actresses including Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore in their defining roles, Todd Haynes finds himself amazed by deaf 14-year-old Millicent Simmonds

Portrait of Todd by Ellie Smith

Portrait of Todd by Ellie Smith

 

Todd Haynes has been living in the past for some time. Each of his films – from Velvet Goldmine to I'm Not There to the sublime Carol – has been set in earlier periods and made using cinematic techniques from those eras. His most recent film Wonderstruck splits its time between pasts, telling an intertwined story of two deaf children in the 1920s and 1970s as they each run away from home and experience New York's frenzied enchantment.

Wonderstruck nods towards silent movies and 1970s American cinema. Are you interested in capturing something about how the world was at certain points, or is it more what older films tell us? It varies. Speaking through the prism of film language is sometimes exclusively, almost academically what I'm trying to do: Far From Heaven was set in the late 1950s and was about what those films said about their own time through the artificial language of Technicolor melodramas. Wonderstruck is a little different in that I was thinking about the kids' subjectivity. I felt a messiness in the 1970s. You see images of children from that time and their hair is in their face! Particularly there was a sense of the tactile in their creative interests. I think of Wonderstruck as what they're making with their hands. It feels handmade in that way, and going back and forth between the stories it's almost like pieces of a puzzle being pressed together by little dirty fingers. My films are always interpretations of cultural themes, stories, characters, real people, cinema. I never feel like I'm inventing new ideas, nor is that my intention – I'm just commenting on the culture as it exists and recombining components. I'm curating my films, maybe, much like these kids explore the idea of museum curating.

Is there a kinship between the job of film director and museum curator? You both locate different things, put them together and find the relationships between them. Absolutely. You're not just curating themes and references and in my case historical moments – selecting what is relevant from your research and films and popular culture – you're also putting together creative partnerships. Actors, cinematographers, costume designers, all of those elements are selected yet also have an autonomy. You may guide them but ultimately as a director you're letting something out of your control happen, and that's also the thing you want to capture, to let it in.

Until now you've collaborated mostly with adults, but much of the film is on the shoulders of Millicent Simmonds, a deaf 14-year-old. Did that affect how you worked? Every actor is different anyway. They bring their own personality, temperament, and in the case of professionals, their own training and approach to their work. The cliché that directing is really about casting is true: it's selecting that right person and providing them with confidence so they can take risks and do things that neither of you knew were possible. I know I have good instincts and I'm surrounded by people whose opinions I trust, but I've also been very lucky. With Millie there were unknowns on top of unknowns, but we followed our instincts and met this extraordinary kid. She has an understanding of the camera and the medium that you can't teach, that you can't direct out of anybody. I'm not sure how she knows just the right amount of information to express, or even what she looks like when she's performing. How many of us really know what we look like as we talk and emote? And she's a kid! It's a weird thing. Julianne Moore, who has that same understanding of the scale of the medium, would look at Millie on set and say wow, there's something remarkable here.

There are few deaf characters in cinema, let alone stories about deaf people. Do you feel that in losing dialogue you also gain something in those complications of communication? It asks the audience, who will mostly be hearing viewers, to supplement information, to imagine what it's like to be without hearing but also to interpret things in ways they're not usually asked to. When I was 12, The Miracle Worker became a point of obsession for me. I know it was about Helen Keller as a phenomenon but it made me think about language. Initially she represents a rejection of social norms and law and language, a wilful postponing of entering the codes and terms of a society. That's fascinating when you're young. I think kids feel an affinity for deafness and blindness, for limits and novel ways of improvising how to communicate and express yourself. Limited abilities and freedoms and constraints are built into their status – they get it.

Wonderstruck will be in UK cinemas April 2018

 

Contribute to Oh Comely issue 42

Photo: Orlova Maria 

Photo: Orlova Maria 

Issue 42 is out in April and we’re looking for your contributions.

Last year, we published a series of first person 'September stories' (you can read one example here or pick up issue 38 to read all four) and for our next issue we want to hear your personal stories relating to spring – a season traditionally associated with new beginnings.

Got a 'spring story' that you'd like to write? To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Monday 12 February. Please state 'Issue 42 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!

Oh Comely loves Camille Sanson

Inspired by her own journey into motherhood, photographer Camille Sanson’s solo exhibition ‘Absolution’ explores the mental health stigmas surrounding childbirth. This series of images was shot before, during and after her pregnancy, and is on display at Herrick Gallery, London until Sunday 4 February.

The Vessel

The Vessel


How has photography – and this exhibition especially – helped you cope with your own mental health issues around childbirth? Using photography as my medium to express my art has been a deeply cathartic experience within this exhibition especially. Through the process of coming up with the concepts, creating mood boards and writing about my journey of overcoming my subconscious fears surrounding childbirth and motherhood, I felt a deeper healing had taken place. I would share my experiences with my amazing model Gina (@ginaharrison), so she could bring the concepts into her poses and artistic translation. Through working in this honest way with Gina, we formed a close bond and friendship. I also felt ready to expose some deeply personal experiences within my work as a way of speaking to and encouraging others to go on their own journey of healing and self discovery.

The Mother

The Mother

Is this the first time photography has helped you with depression? Working on such a personal theme and collaborating in such an intimate supportive way with Gina made this project the most therapeutic to date, but in terms of my other photography work, I always feel a sense of happiness, euphoria and lightness when I’m shooting something I’m passionate about. I find it’s important to always have something creative to focus on or plan alongside the bread and butter work in order to keep that spark alive. That feeling you get when you create that magic shot is very addictive but good for the mind, body and soul.

Gaia

Gaia

What in particular was it about photography that helped? Perhaps the most helpful part was when I was photographing Gina, when we were able to go deeper into the story and concept and get lost in the moment of magic. But the process of communicating my issues to Gina about my mental health issues and subsequent spiritual and psychological journey of healing and liberation from fears was also so important and effecting.

The Hidden Heart

The Hidden Heart

Would you recommend photography as therapy? Yes, it’s a way for people to find a new way of looking at and interpreting the world and what may be happening in their lives, offering them a medium to express themselves creatively which can be highly therapeutic. 

The Mask

The Mask

Any other important notes to mention about mental health and photography? Photography and mental health issues can also be at odds with each other, with images of oneself taken at times of suffering bringing up painful memories of those moments. Mental health can be a very difficult thing to represent within photography and within the exhibition The Mask (above) is the image I feel best represents my own struggles.

Absolution by Camille Sanson is on display at Herrick Gallery, 93 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London. Follow Camille on Instagram, @camille.sanson  

Women who work at night – portrait series

With the number of people working nights in the UK increasing to almost 3.2 million, in our midwinter issue, we met up with five women who all venture out in the dark, while the rest of us are deep in slumber... This is an extract from sex worker, Melina's story... 

Portrait of Melina by Heather Shuker 

Portrait of Melina by Heather Shuker 

“Before sex work, I had 40 low-wage jobs. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic when people shout at me. Minimum-wage jobs have little sympathy to this. My final motivation to become a sex worker came when I was working in a pub on minimum wage. I was living in a warehouse with friends and they wanted to go and see an exhibition in Brussels one weekend. I asked for time off to go, but my boss said no, so I quit. Hospitality jobs have always been easy to find. But I wanted something else. 

“I never dreamed of being ‘something’ – a doctor or a teacher. I just need to get paid. I clicked on a pop-up on a porn site advertising webcam opportunities. I was in my room when I first switched on my camera and was so nervous – all these people I couldn’t see looking at me. But people instantly tipped me and asked me to do things, like touch myself. You’re not supposed to get naked until you’re in a private chat, but you can flash. I didn’t earn loads, but I covered my rent. It was performative, I love performing. 

“I nourish my sexuality and have passionate moments with lovers, but I also see sex as a basic thing. We compartmentalise aspects of our lives – the way we act with colleagues is different to friends. Some feminists believe you can’t consent to sex when desire is missing. And I get it. But we often have sex without desire – when couples are trying for babies it becomes functional. That’s still valid. We eat for pleasure; we also eat when hungry.

“When I needed more money, I chose to do escorting. I find my jobs on an adult website. I met my first client in a hotel and it was a defining moment. I was so overwhelmed that I burst into tears just before – it crossed my mind not to do it, especially thinking about my family. The guy was in his sixties and knew it was my first time, I was scared and excited. I had sweat patches. He was kind and gave me an envelope of cash, telling me to take it even if I didn’t go through with it. But I’d come this far; I was committed. He was a good lover. I walked away happy. 

“But it’s not always like that. And that’s fine – no one, even people who love their jobs, have only good experiences. What needs to end is potentially violent people targeting sex workers. Violence is not part of our job. But it does happen and people blaming sex workers for it is victim blaming. The responsibility is with violent men, patriarchy, laws that don’t protect us. If sex work exists, our rights to work and be safe should exist. It’s that simple.

“People consume the products of the sex industry, but the taboos around it make it difficult for discussions to happen and for people to be supportive and more active in their responsibility towards what they’re consuming. It’s hypocrisy and extremely hurtful for the adult industry. 

“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. Conversations about power and control are difficult, as when I have less money, I’ve less room to choose my jobs and I will take more risks. 

“I have boundaries, I don’t want other women shamed and won’t let married men complain about their wives. Although, I do feel safer with married men, they don’t have expectations beyond our arrangement. We’re called homewreckers but the truth is, people cheat. Sex workers don’t make that happen more. Sexism is not our fault, and it wouldn’t be tackled by abolishing sex work. The result of that would be more poverty and, therefore, more sexism.” 

Pick up a copy of issue 40 to read interviews with a midwife, DJ, doorwoman and taxi driver.

Making patterns with Roanna Wells

Sheffield-based artist Roanna Wells is known for making a mark – very literally – most of her works feature a collection of painted or stitched marks. In 2017, she expanded her mark-making process to include the general public, and she spent six weeks hosting Tracing Process where passers-by could add their own series of marks to Roanna’s painting. Roanna speaks to writer Hannah Clugston about where this interest came from, and how a repeating pattern can do more than just look nice hung in a gallery.

In your work you collect marks, would you call yourself a collector? I love collecting things. I’ve got a collection of spoons and feathers, and I have always loved finding pebbles on the beach and arranging them. Although it is not an obvious concept in my work, I do think collecting features a lot in my aesthetics and in the way I like to go about things.

When did your “mark making” begin? I suppose it started with my degree, which was in embroidery in Manchester. I did a whole series of works just using black thread on cream fabric, and then I started to branch out into colour. It was a little thing that got me started with colour; I got my old box of paints out and decided to use up all the colours that were already dried up on it from years back. I did a little swatch of it and then just started playing about with the brush, making marks. I really liked how the paint dried and collected in different ways depending on whether the paper was flat or upright.

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Spaces Between

Spaces Between

Spaces Between isn’t just a series of marks, it also traces the passing of time. Can you tell me a bit about this project? I’d had a bit of a creative block and I was having a few personal issues as well; I had just gone fully self-employed and I was having the problem of earning money while also trying to fulfil my creative work. So, I went down to Bristol to use a friend’s studio as a sort of mini residency – just to get me out of my usual space and into a different environment to see if that would push ideas. I decided to start documenting a time period of separation from a certain person and it was almost a bit of self-therapy. I wanted to get something out visually without having to be really direct and say: “this is about this”. Each brush mark represents a minute in a day and each colour change represents a different day.

Spaces Between

Spaces Between

Your work is clearly very methodical and controlled. How did you feel handing that over to the public in Tracing Process? It was a really nice experience. It was partly an exploration of my orderliness and my neatness. It was really nice to see the contrast between other people’s spontaneity and messiness, and my own way of making marks. There is a clear definition but they all blend quite nicely. I was interested in what happens when you give someone the instructions “this is the brush I use, this is the paint I use, this is the mark and how I make it” and then seeing if they do it neatly or go off-course.

Tracing Process

Tracing Process

It was on display for six weeks, but is Tracing Process finished? Or is there room for some more marks? I’ve been working with a charity called Art Works that helps adults with learning difficulties to do creative projects and get work placements. Some of them participated in Tracing Process when it was in the gallery, but I’d like to go back to their studio and do a similar piece. They’ve also got an online shop where they’ve been selling cushions they’ve made on the sewing machines, so I want to try and get the final piece printed onto fabric for them to use in creating a limited edition set of stuff. I’d like to see the work in other places rather than just a gallery because I think you get a certain kind of audience in a gallery and I think a lot of other people would be interested in it. I am interested in therapeutic and psychological impact it can have, as people often say they find the simple mark making technique is mindful and meditative

Brushmarks

Brushmarks

Are you as interested in the process of making art as you are the final piece? I really love the way that when you are repeating one single mark by hand there’s obviously going to be some variation because of the way hands work and the way humans work. So, yes I think I am just as interested in the process because that’s how the work is made. My Desert Island Disks installation was only there for the time I was creating it. At the end, I had to sand it all off and paint over the wall. The focus there was on the process and marking the passing of time, and it was only there for people to see while the exhibition was open. I think this interest in process is also why I collect the tissues I dab my brush on. I think the process of choosing to collect these tissues and choosing to display them puts more emphasis on what they might be in a way, because you could quite easily discard them.

Desert Island Disks

Desert Island Disks

It brings up the question of what is art? That’s still a mark you’ve made, it’s just a different type. It’s just an unintentional mark and sometimes they’re the nicest ones, aren’t they? It’s interesting because my work is so careful and controlled, but then I am really interested in these spontaneous marks on these tissues as well. I suppose with artists where their work is big, messy and splashy they just wipe up excess paint because their work is the spontaneity, whereas because my work is so controlled the spontaneity is found where I dab my brush. Maybe that’s why I collect them.

What do you have planned next for your mark making? I’ve been looking at some statements by Paul Klee that tie into this slightly more psychological, explorative aspect of my work. I am interested in tapping into different thoughts and making things a little bit deeper without having to paint your emotions. I do feel that there’s some change coming – just not sure in what way yet!

Roanna Wells will participate in Construction House at S1 Artspace, Sheffield. The exhibition and series of events will reflect on the Bauhaus movement and explore the possibilities and responsibilities of collective artist activity today. Visit www.roannawells.co.uk

 

What's in your bedroom?

Photos: Olivia Howitt

What does your bedroom say about you? Olivia Howitt’s photographic project explores this most intimate of spaces

Like many good ideas, Olivia Howitt’s What’s in Your Bedroom? project came out of a conversation with her friend. “He told me about a girl he met at a friend’s shared house in Hackney – they were talking about bikes and she invited him to see her bedroom. She had bicycles filling every available space, on the floor and hanging from the ceiling.” Olivia was struck not only by the girl’s passion but that she only had one room to house it. “I started to think about what goes on in people’s bedrooms, other than the obvious...”

Her project is a visual demonstration of just how many things are going on in people’s bedrooms, from side projects to main jobs, and how even the smallest of spaces can be used in a creative way. As Olivia describes them, they are “small museums exhibiting moments of their inhabitant’s life in objects”, each capable of telling “short stories about our lives”.

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While our bedrooms became our realms as teenagers (as in the marvellous example of Ellie May O’Sullivan, pictured) that experience is prolonged in London, where Olivia has shot the majority of the rooms, where housing costs are likely to mean shared accommodation well into your twenties at the very least. That was Olivia’s experience when she moved to the capital from Manchester, going from her own house to “all of a sudden, my whole world contained within my bedroom.”

Across the array of tastes and styles of bedrooms Olivia has had the privilege to photograph, there’s a common link, and one that’s not linked to their inhabitant’s taste or budget. “For me they have soul. I’d always want my bedroom to have soul”.

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See more of Olivia's bedrooms at whatsinyourbedroom.com and @whatsinyourbedroom. You can snoop inside three more bedrooms in issue 40 of Oh Comely, out now

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Ellie May O’Sullivan, student

“My bedroom is an area that is completely my own, so it’s a place where I can relax, listen to music, draw and express myself. My mum and sister have always collected things and I guess I’ve followed the family trend. There are so many things I love in my room and it’s so hard to pick a favourite – in a fire, I’d probably be burnt to a crisp trying to decide what to save – but definitely one is my small vintage Steiff penguin, Peggy, who’s a bit tatty round the edges but is really cute and fuzzy.”

What we're eating: Pepparkakor

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"The very nature of rituals means they also serve to remind us of things that are different from years that have gone before. Of people who are no longer seated around the same table, of fallings-out, of break-ups, of those who have passed away. The season is inescapable, and so we have no choice but to adapt. Make new rituals, or embrace the old ones as best we can."

Moving from eating Christmas pudding poolside in Australia, Kate Young writes about learning to embrace England's snowy skies, long Boxing Days walks and new festive traditions in our midwinter issue. Start one of your own by trying her recipe for pepparkakor, a spiced biscuit that's great to eat with cheese. 

Pepparkakor

Makes at least 60

You need:

  • 50ml water
  • 2tbsp golden syrup 
  • 80g light brown sugar
  • 20g dark brown sugar 
  • 1tsp ground ginger 
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 75g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda 
  • 220g plain flour

1 Bring the water, syrup, sugars and spices to the boil in a small saucepan over a low heat. Pour them over the butter into a mixing bowl and leave for a few minutes to cool. The butter should have completely melted by this stage.

2 Sieve the bicarbonate of soda and flour into the mixture. Stir to combine and bring together in a dough. Leave the bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours, or preferably overnight.

3 Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Flour your work surface  and roll the dough out as thinly as you can – a couple of millimetres thick is about right. Line your baking trays. Cut shapes out of the dough, with cookie cutters of your choice, and arrange them on the tray, leaving a little space for them to spread slightly.

4 Transfer each batch to the oven and bake for five minutes, until slightly crisp around the edges. Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes and then completely on the wire rack. The biscuits should be crisp around the edges. Serve plain or with cheese – they’re lovely with Swedish cheese, or good cheddar or Stilton.

 

Read Kate's piece about changing Christmas traditions in the midwinter issue of Oh Comely, out now. 

Snuggle up in knits

In our midwinter issue, we turn our writers into models as they reveal how knitwear makes them feel...

TAHMINA WEARS: Jumper, £100, No Way Crochet; Jewels and jeans, Tahmina’s own   Photos: Liz Seabrook / Styling: Rachel Caulfield / Hair and make-up: Alice Oliver

TAHMINA WEARS: Jumper, £100, No Way Crochet; Jewels and jeans, Tahmina’s own  
Photos: Liz Seabrook / Styling: Rachel Caulfield / Hair and make-up: Alice Oliver

“Knitwear makes me feel British”

words tahmina begum

"I’m currently sitting at home working. I’m wearing a camel-coloured thick knit, matching aptly to the sofa I’m cushioned in. It’s winter in Britain, I’m a writer, I like to be cosy. It’s as simple as that. Who doesn’t love peppermint tea near the fire while it’s raining outside? Especially when you’re inside what feels like a blanket.

"I do wonder what 15-year-old me would think if she could see me now? There’s nothing that interesting about my outfit. I look snuggled into a protective knit – I look British. Not ethnically, of course, and yes, naturally I’m going to be in a jumper of some kind, living in England when it’s December. But growing up I could fight off the heat in a million different layers – okay, five – different shirts on top of each other with a floral scarf, turban, grandad cardigan (actually, it was my nana’s) and a berry-coloured coat and make my own version of what a turtleneck would do.

"When homes, tongues and thoughts are not founded in one place, they seem to intertwine in ways which tend to be unexplainable and fluid. Just like most teenagers, I was made to feel as though I had to choose who I wanted to be and stick to that version of me – nothing was allowed to be messy. Everything was to be black and white. But I enjoy colour. I am colour. I used to think if I wore a simple cardie and jeans, it was too plain and I definitely did not look like a Jane – whatever she’s supposed to be. Though I didn’t have to walk around in a kameez, swirls on silk shirts and an avalanche of bracelets, it was an unconscious decision and a physical reminder of my decadent and gold-trimmed-on-anything-and-everything heritage.

"But nearly a decade later, I’ve realised the beauty in both. In choosing and knowing I can have both. This jumper has twists and waves and turns, especially when I move my arms. My winter armour does not need to explain itself to anyone, when it’s with jingly earrings and obscenely gemmed trinkets or even when paired with pyjama bottoms, scraped back hair and emails. It fits into both worlds, both versions of me and the many in between. Because the woman beneath it all is dynamic and intricate, so there is no forceless need to be anything than what it’s supposed to be: comfort in this rain and heat, in anything in vain. It is an item that resembles and resonates with me right now.“

Read more stories about jumpers that feel like hugs in issue 40, on sale now at ohcomely.co.uk/shop-2/issue-40

Love yourself

On her Instagram account @recipesforselflove, Alison Rachel offers up empowering self-care tips paired with illustrations to uplift and inspire women of all identities. An essential part of her mission is to include intersectional illustrations that represent a diverse group of women. Some of our fave mantras include: “Someone else’s beauty is not the absence of your own”, “Remember to take time off”, “Don’t compliment a woman’s weight loss”, “You don’t always have to be happy” and “Normalise menstruation”.

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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. 

Sex Worker's Opera 4 - photo by Julio Etchart.jpg

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

Sex Worker's Opera 8 - photo by Julio Etchart.jpg

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