The First Time I Killed a Man…

The first time I killed a man, I was seventeen. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big step compared to what I had already done, but it’s harder to kill a man. They’re generally larger (especially next to me), but more than that, they are willing to do almost anything to protect their own lives. And they won’t even consider the implications for the people who care about them like women will, they’re just selfish. They think they have so much to offer the world, when really, anyone could do whatever it is they think makes them so special. Men are more successful because they believe they are worth everything, when in reality, they are worth nothing; while women are so self-deprecating. You can see the cogs turning in a woman’s mind when you kill her; she’s wondering what she did wrong, and why karma is coming to bite her. She will believe vehemently that this is God’s will, and that she will only live if she deserves to. Men, on the other hand, see no reason for anybody to want to kill them. I remember when one man asked me if his wife sent him, which amused me. What had he done to his wife? This man was not chosen. He didn’t do anything wrong. He simply sat next to me on a train.

I had been minding my own business, on the way to see my then-boyfriend in Bolton, just a forty-minute journey from Preston, when he chose to squeeze into the seat next to me. The train was rather busy, but what irked me to begin with was the fact that he had clearly sought out an empty seat with no assigned ticket, which meant he might have not purchased one. He proceeded to pull things out of his old, brown travelling bag, with a handle torn on the left side, and mended with duct tape. He drew out a book, some sandwiches, his reading glasses and a bottle of diet coke. He set himself up a nice little station, taking over half of my table space which I considered rude, forcing his elbows in front of me, the left sleeve of his lilac shirt brushing my arm every few moments. He looked to be in his sixties, clearly was not retired, dressed in smart shirt and trousers, silver round bifocals encircling his small eyes, encased by puffy skin brought on from years of gluttony. His skin was pale and blotchy, and with a bald patch covering the majority of his round, pudgy head, he was not looking too good.

He began by opening his book, 5 People You Meet in Heaven, which he held down with his elbows as he grappled his sandwich out of its packet. He had selected a New York Deli, which had some combination of beef and maybe horseradish sauce and ate it with his mouth wide open. I caught a glimpse of some yellowing teeth as I scrambled for my headphones. Having severe Misophonia does not help in public situations like these. Blasting Blake Shelton into my ear drums, I had to take a minute and relax my brain, scooting closer to the window, hoping that it would envelop me so I wouldn’t have to be in such proximity to somebody with such a lack of compassion for those around him. I relaxed, and picked up my clearly superior novel, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, avoiding breathing in his general direction as the smell of his food was hard to swallow. I had recently painted my nails, so brought a hand under my nose and sniffed the cool, chemical odour, allowing it to reach my cilia so I couldn’t smell anything but, as I took in the words on the page. I decided I needed to create some space for myself and assert some authority since his shirt sleeve kept inching closer, lightly skimming me, making me want to physically peel his skin back to view the veins hidden below. That was when the urge started to creep up on me. Kill him. He appeared to be moving; maybe this was his stop, or he had decided to find a less intrusive position in which to seat himself. Alas, he merely crushed the sandwich packet into his bag and drew out a new packet. To my disgust, it was sushi.

I believe I am a tolerant person. I put in headphones to avoid people’s loud eating habits, I attempt to sit by myself in most public situations so as not to annoy anybody else. If somebody sits next to me, I allow them their own space. I am not particularly selfish in this regard. But I had seen none of those people; in fact, I’d never seen anybody choose to eat fish on a train. It is simply disrespectful. There are fewer smells more pungent than sushi on a train in April. Sushi on a train in August perhaps. Cow dung. But on this particular day, I was faced with this situation. I wasn’t moving; this was my seat, I had paid for it, and if anything, he should move. I tried to breathe my nail polish past the fishy stench currently being devoured by my neighbour to no avail. He slurped his diet coke so loud my headphones couldn’t conceal it and by then, it wasn’t a choice. It was a need. I needed to kill this man. Nobody would mind if I was late. My boyfriend would wait for me.

The man departed the train about twenty-five minutes into the journey, at Blackrod, a rural area inhabited by old people’s homes and nurseries. I followed him off. I mimicked his slow, pathetic plod to the lift. What a lazy idiot. A lift murder would be too obvious. I had to think quickly; although this was a quiet station, it could fill up on a day like this. I raced up the stairs, narrowly skimming him on his way over the bridge to the second lift, and down the stairs to assert the area I was in. The platform he was heading towards had just two people waiting, both absent-mindedly scrolling through their phones, paying no real attention to the outside world. He headed toward the waiting room. God, this man really was a drone. He wouldn’t even sit outside on such a beautiful day. I followed him in and realised he was heading for the toilet. I caught the door, and slipped in behind him. He entered a stall and was in there a good three minutes, fifty-two seconds. Enough time for me to sort out my weapon of choice. The second he exited the stall, I whacked him in the neck with my stiletto, making the smallest of grazes on his puffy white neck, but shocked him enough to send him stumbling backwards, so I could deliver a kick to his gut, leaving him sprawled, half in the stall. I hurriedly tugged his overweight body further into the stall, bolting the door behind me. I took a moment to relish in securing my victim, leaning close in to his neck to smell the rusty moisture oozing from the wound. I decided to kill him in the style of Levi Bellfield, ‘The Bus Stop Stalker’. A fatal blow to the head using a heavy, sharp ended weapon, assumed to be a hammer. This method would be messy if you didn’t understand human anatomy. But it was rather simple. My stiletto heel in the lower right of the back of his head, and there would be minimal splatter, and it would be over quickly. I made a mental note to sterilise that heel before heading out that night.

Why? Why Not?

A short story, by Sophie Eminson.

The low evening sun looked particularly striking that night, shining over the central plains as I sat in my car drinking a cold beer. I thought about the quarry I had visited today as I stared over the multi-coloured land. It was breath-taking. This pinnacle I had discovered on Tuesday evening was the perfect place to reside for a few days; nobody’s eyes on me, no cameras or camping grounds nearby. It was ideal. As was my life travelling through Singapore, perhaps leading to Bali, or New Zealand. It didn’t matter. I was going somewhere for no reason with nobody watching. I rolled my neck, feeling the cracks and caught sight of myself in the wing mirror. I looked content, hair ruffled and chin sprouting brown fur, skin glowing beige. The rugged adventurer.

On my way down the mountain that very morning in my jeep, I passed some younger adventurers speeding uphill on their Vespas. They looked like they were going to have a fun day, as was I. I had jumped into that stunning quarry, Little Guilin, and had found the waters toasty, like bathwater you just want to immerse yourself in for hours. I had lain there, staring into the spring sky surrounded by trees overflowing into the waters, green, hazel, and brown smiling down on me, welcoming me to their sanctuary. I breathed in the fresh scent of lemongrass, which grew in the surrounding fields.

My serenity was interrupted by a coach-load of teenagers, who started dive bombing from all angles, disrupting my peace. I had just been considering the beauty of the sky’s reflection in the clear water when the first ripple interrupted my train of thought, belly flopping my poetic inspiration into the depths of the quarry. Instead of getting angry, I chose to swim. Swimming alone was my favourite activity, especially in water so warm you felt you might drift asleep at any moment. I caught sight of one of the boys clambering up the side of the quarry, his bare feet like smooth marble against the dark rubble. He reached a pique, dusted off his khaki swim shorts and hollered “HIDUP IMPIAN” as he dived from the edge, entering the water with ease sending a lighter ripple. I had floated onto my back, watching the boys ascend one by one and dive when I noticed a girl being assisted up to the edge. She looked a little uncertain, but clearly did not want to miss out. She was visibly shaking, damp blonde hair vibrating down her pale spine. She turned to descend down the side of the quarry, but the queue of boys prevented her from leaving. She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath then looked straight at me, staring deep into my eyes it seemed, although we had half a quarry’s distance between us. A few of the boys had brought a big beach ball, and narrowly skimmed my head as they threw it from one side of the quarry to the other, but our eye contact didn’t waiver. Her blue eyes were drawing me in, intriguing me, pleading with me to help her. I closed my eyes. I wasn’t here for romance.

That night, back on the mountain top, overlooking the greenery of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, I thought about those eyes. They reflected such helplessness, wanting something I could not give. That thought brought back a rather vivid memory. Six months ago, I had been in Olu Deniz, a tourist resort in Turkey. My friend, Hassan and I took a boat ride over to the Turtle Bay at sunset one evening. The water was reflecting gentle peachy hues that Thursday, and all felt right somehow. I guess I’m somewhat of an idealist dreamer. We pulled up to the shore, admiring the turtles roaming the beach, before joining them in the soft white sands for a quiet evening. The turtles were friendly, approaching us and allowing us to handle them. Their shells resembled a mosaic, the varying shades of grey and brown glowing radiantly as the sun lowered over them.

“Doug, over here, come quick!” Hassan called. I abandoned my belongings among a bale to attend to the panic I heard in my friend’s voice. I made my way over to him, sand gathering in my sandals scratching and tickling my feet as the turtles began to merge towards one another slowly, methodically. I saw right away why Hassan had called me over; the turtle cradled in his arms was bleeding from its nose. Concern growing, I inspected further to discover what looked like a wooden rod jammed up the turtle’s nose. “Well, I certainly didn’t think your expertise would be needed around here,” Hassan exclaimed. “It’s a litter-free beach!” I nodded my agreement. He was referring to my eight years as a veterinary nurse in my twenties. I grimaced, considering the rebellious and careless nature of the many travellers and tourists who may visit this beach. “Although, it could just be some wood fallen from a tree branch”, he hypothesised. I tilted my head sideways. It was always possible, but that didn’t matter. I ordered him to retrieve my bag with my emergency supplies I carried with me at all times. Looking into this small creature’s eyes, I saw that same helpless look I had seen countless times before. The one which said ‘I don’t know you, but I need you’. The look which says they trust you desperately because they have no other choice. That day would not be the last time he saw that look, and neither would that day at the quarry.

***

Petra had fallen in love once. He was tanned with dark brown hair, almost black, and deep brown eyes. With her fair complexion, and white-blonde hair, they had made a striking couple. He had been attracted to her deep-set cheek bones and full lips, which gave Petra a distinguished air, making her look older than she was. She missed him now sometimes when she was alone, which is why she became accustomed to latching onto random groups of travellers; most often students. The day of Petra’s trip to Little Guilin Quarry, she had joined a group of American boys who were like totally dying to jump into the magic waters they had heard rumours about. It sounded like fun, she supposed. Her limited experience included canyoning, and deep sea diving in Australia. It would be another thing to tick off the bucket list. Yes, she was twenty-three, had a bucket list, and still had a lot to tick off. After the events of last year, Petra knew too well that it was never too soon to get on with life.

She recalled the explosion, the falling building, the sirens, the screams. The smell of gas still struck her pungently when she thought about it. She remembered seeing her friend, Ana’s mess of red hair spilling out of her head like fire before noticing that she was physically crushed beneath piles of concrete on the corner of Higham Street. Petra suddenly felt as though eels had invaded her stomach; there was nothing she could do. She was not strong enough or brave enough. Ana looked longingly into Petra’s eyes, and in that moment Petra saw the helplessness of an individual who knew their fate and only wished she could do something to help. That look in was one Petra vowed she would never forget.

The events of her trip to the quarry were nowhere near as terrifying, or life threatening, but they would always remain in her memory for she had experienced a similar helpless fear. They travelled there by coach one Friday morning in late March, disturbing one man’s peaceful day as he laid there in the water staring into the sky as the sun rose above his head. The boys, of course did not notice and started jumping in and splashing each other, disrupting the moss and sticks which milled around the water’s edge, reluctantly pushing them further into the quarry. Some of the boys were climbing up the sides, so Petra decided to join them, since this was partially what she came for. On her way, she started to get an all-too-familiar feeling in the pit of her stomach like she was about to do something she wasn’t supposed to. The humidity in the air pressing against her cheeks made her shiver rather than warm her body. She tried to turn back several times, but the boys pushed her further up until she reached the highest possible point. Standing on the edge, she looked down at the peaceful man as he lay on his back, staring up at her. She was trying to get his attention with her eyes to help her get down, when she noticed that he had rather kind eyes, and the rest of the quarry melted away for a moment and it felt as though they were standing face to face. He must not have felt it though, because he closed his eyes.

How Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ Could Shape Today’s Society.

Today, I have read an incredible non-fiction, short book by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.

This book is, in its most basic form, a modern-day explanation of feminism. In her fifteen points, Adichie explains how gender roles are constructed from day one. Not only does this include how adults talk to young girls, or how their clothes are separated, but it explains the difference in how parents speak to their baby girls compared with boys. This aspect focuses slightly more on the parenting side, as she is explaining to her sister how to raise her daughter feminist, however it is important to consider these things, and interesting to know in case you need anecdotes for feminist debates.

One of the best things about the way Adichie writes is that she is completely unapologetic. She sees no need to shroud the truth of what she is saying; she has a point, and she makes it, if you do not like it, take it up with her. This is the way girls and boys alike should be raised. They should be given all the possible information to make the best decisions possible about the ways they behave. Girls should know from being young, that being bossy is not a bad thing, and that for a man, they are being authoritative and taking control. Therefore, bossiness should be encouraged in all children, as long as they are not rude. These lessons are so important, and a lot of people still do not understand them. ‘Acting like a girl’, for example, still seems to imply that we are expected to cross our legs, fold our hands, and smile and nod politely. Adichie addresses the concerns surrounding these things, and shares anecdotes of people who have been forced to act girlier in order to conform to society’s expectations.

Overall, Adichie’s book addresses some topics which everybody should understand, or at least people who class themselves as ‘feminists’. Her section discussing ‘Feminism Lite’ is interesting to see how many people try to justify themselves as feminists when they are not fighting for equality. She discusses how to speak to your daughter about sex in a way which makes sure they understand that sex is not just for men. Finally, she speaks about the social norms which all boil down to gender roles, such as taking your husband’s name upon marriage. Her anecdotes are put into context within her own cultures; America and Nigeria, and it is interesting to see how similar their viewpoints are on these topics, while they may like to think otherwise. I would recommend this book to anybody who does not quite understand feminism, and how it works, or as a way to explain it to an older or younger family member. It definitely lends itself to female and male readers alike, and truly represents the true nature of feminism; equality for all.

Do Not Blame My Sport for Things Men Do…

I have seen posts like the one I am about to write for years, but never have I understood, empathised with or fully felt the way they have until now. Until I read what the London Abused Women’s Centre had to say about pole fitness/dancing. They have withdrawn their support for Take Back the Night, an event by the Women’s Events Committee because there is going to be a pole fitness display included.

Within multiple statements made on their very public Facebook page, they have posted the following statements and images:

Their official statement on withdrawing:

http://www.am980.ca/2016/09/12/lawc-take-back-the-night/

They have also stolen an image from Body and Pole without asking permission to create the following meme:

lawc

Not only is this illegal as it is copyright and the owners at Body and Pole are working hard to get this taken down, but it is also highly degrading to any woman who chooses to pole dance and makes suggestions that if they were to be abused by a man, that it would be their own fault for normalising it through pole dancing/fitness.

The first thing I have to say is that when I started pole dancing, I called it pole fitness, didn’t tell many people I was doing it and only started posting pictures privately because I was 18 and didn’t know how people would react. However, I started getting good and wanting to show off and share my achievements, so I did. I have received one negative comment which was not abusive, but merely slightly weird and kind of humorous. I know people who have been slut-shamed, called prostitutes and treated incredibly badly for doing their chosen sport. I have one thing to say about this: call me a circus freak, a failed gymnast/dancer or whatever you choose, but never call me a slut. I hate this word and it has taken me a long time to realise why. I hate the word ‘slut’ because it is a word used by men and women alike to put down another woman for what she chooses to do with her life. I hate the idea that a woman would put down another woman for doing something out of anything other than jealousy. We all say things we don’t mean from time to time, in the heat of the moment out of jealousy or shock. But more often than not, these things are not perpetuated, we apologise and move on with our lives and never even think this way again.

The LAWC have made this statement, that pole dancing women normalise men’s violence against women, and they have stood by it multiple times. I can see and understand that some of their women have had bad experiences in the stripping and sex industries from men forcing them onto a pole against their will and beating them up for doing it wrong, however this has nothing to do with the pole itself. The men chose a pole and sexualised it. They put women in underwear on a pole and made it into the known and accepted image of a pole dancer. However, firemen use poles in their practise, hence the fireman’s pole at the park, the Indians danced on it in their traditional Mallakamb dance and the Chinese used it for feats of incredible strength and power. It is not about the pole. It is about what people do with it.

Men’s violence against women simply cannot be normalised by women taking a pole fitness class at a respected studio where no men are even present, and if they are, it’s because they are joining in themselves. This is because men can be violent towards anybody at any time for any number of reasons, but mostly it is because they choose to. This is not exclusive to men; women can be violent just because they choose to also, anybody can, I am simply referring to what is said in the picture above. Any man can attend a strip club, a pole dancing competition or pole fitness lesson and go home and not think about it until the next time they see it. They can think about it, they can think sexually about it and still choose to do nothing. Or they can decide that they can have their way with a woman just because she danced on a pole in his view. Or they can decide that they can have their way with a random woman on the street wearing nothing revealing after not watching any form of “trigger”. All of these come down to the same conclusion: if a man abuses a woman in any way, it was his choice. They can blame it on a short skirt or a pole, but at the end of the day, they wanted to do something so they did it, not taking into account how it would make the woman feel.

I hope LAWC read this, and if they do, this is for them:

You, at London Abused Women’s Centre have made me feel like I cannot come to you now if ever I need your services. I feel that I will be judged for pole dancing and, just like the many women on the street get asked ‘what were you wearing?’ by police, I would fear that you would ask if the abuser had seen me on a pole. You may be withdrawing your support for reasons related to some of the people you help having had bad experiences with pole dancing and exotic arts, but just consider what this says to strippers and pole dancers alike who choose to do what they do and get abused regardless of whether they do it or not. It says that you do not support pole dancers, or the pole fitness industry and, while you may not have meant for it to come across this way, this is how it has come across.

If I ever get abused, don’t you dare suggest it was my fault because I pole dance.

Review of The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, published by Tartarus Press in 2014 truly deserves the title of the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2016. It is an amazing piece of Gothic fiction and Hurley has outdone himself by writing such a compelling first novel.

I loved the sound of The Loney when I received it from my brother as a 21st birthday present. Although I am usually not a fan of British literature, often preferring to be in a place where I do not know where I am, so I can lose myself easier in the words, I thoroughly enjoyed The Loney due to its disconnection from normal Northern England; the description of Morecambe Bay, where it is set appears other-worldly and yet very well fits into our ever developing world on Earth at the same time. Hurley himself admits his love of the Northern landscape, and his captivation with the obscurity of the North. He sees these places as alien and foreign as the reader does. When he spoke about writing this novel, he described that he wanted to write the stories hidden in the landscapes, not the stories of the characters; they are merely a group of people in the right setting at the right time in his perspective.

He achieves this, particularly in the sense that the importance of the settings and atmosphere take over from the characters’ lives right from the beginning. This is also the reader’s first very obvious hint that this is a Gothic novel. As a reader, the settings are more important to the story than what the readers actually say, and reading between the lines is key to understanding the full complexity of Hurley’s compelling narrative. The main content surrounding the characters is in what they do, rather than say, and the way they obviously feel due to what is around them and the overall atmosphere of a particular setting. In some ways, this links rather fluidly with Hanny, the character who is the main focus of the basic plot of the book, as he is mute, and so feelings and actions are the only ways in which he can express himself, so in a sense the reader feels that too.

Akin to the likes of Stephen King, Hurley’s characters in The Loney are all flawed in some way and none of them are fully redeemable by the end of the novel once you have discovered their full personalities. The characters are realistic and relatable if the reader allows themselves to admit their own personal flaws, as these characters do have very normal and real issues. Hanny is the one character with whom I do not resonate. I find him difficult to understand, yet enjoyable to read about. He was born mute, and there is nothing done to help him through his disability as his mother is too set on finding a cure. She believes that Hanny’s disability was a punishment from God, and so she takes Hanny and attempts to cure him. He is never accepted for himself as he was born, and cannot communicate his wants and needs so often lashes out in his frustration. Smith, his younger brother and the narrator of The Loney has spent his whole life anxiously watching over Hanny and so ends up annoyingly neurotic and over protective. The group of religious adults along with their priest have their own sub-plots and back stories which are all told through the spying eyes of Smith who hears and knows far too much for somebody his age, although he does not fully understand what he knows.

The plot of the story revolves around a religious group of adults taking the two sons, Hanny and Smith on their annual church holiday. When they were younger, the trip would always be to The Loney, yet they have not been in quite some time. Aside from natural dilapidation, the setting is how it has always been. The only difference lies in Smith now being old enough to understand more things, notice dodgy characters and strange occurrences which go avoided and unnoticed by the adults who are more concerned either with their grudge about visiting the countryside in the North of England, or with their rituals surrounding Hanny’s cure. As The Loney progresses, we learn of Hanny’s sweet nature and kind temperament, as well as his sense of knowing when something is wrong; it is almost as though he was gifted with this rather than being able to speak. Hurley presents Hanny as a boy caught between two personalities; the childish boy who cannot express himself properly, and a wise, good man who he could become without his disability. Smith, on the other hand is the almost-hero of this novel; he had the potential to become the hero as he appears on the surface as a loving, devoted brother, when he actually has a dark side which shows his obvious need for Hanny to be disabled as it gives him a purpose in life.

During the preparations for Hanny to be hopefully cured by some sort of miracle, we meet the local ruffians whose accent Hurley displays perfectly, which is fun and enjoyable and makes the setting more believable and reminds you that you are on Earth in the story. As they wreak havoc through the tale in various ways, which keeps the adults occupied, Smith and Hanny become increasingly concerned with what is going on beneath the pranks. After Hanny loses his watch on the beach, him and Smith stumble upon some disturbing goings on when they attempt to retrieve the watch. If discovered by an adult, these occurrences could easily have messed up the ruffians’ plans, however the boys cannot communicate fully or properly what they have seen, nor do they have a full understanding of it to be able to explain it to their parents who are too busy with their personal issues to listen to their children.

As the narration develops and concludes, it becomes eerier and spookier as the reader is led into the lions’ den with Hanny and Smith. Hurley plays author-trickery here to confuse the reader so they do not understand what is going on by utlising the narration of the older Smith to distort the happenings. The mystery of the final events at the loney itself can be mind-boggling and frustrating and, because of this, Hurley has done a superb job at writing a great novel. I do not particularly like the portrayal of Smith at the end of the book, as there is next to no character progression, but in this way it is realistic as not every person in real life progresses and develops, some never grow out of old habits. In the end, Hanny is the most interesting character in my opinion as he is rather mysterious, yet good in the sense that he will do what he has to to get better for his mother; he wants her to accept him – that much is clear.

While it cannot compare to Frankenstein, it definitely ranks highly and makes me reminisce about Jekyll and Hyde, as well as Dorian Grey. It definitely stands for itself up there among the best Gothic writers of all time, especially in a genre which is under-represented by authors in this generation. Hurley has done an incredible job and should be proud of himself.

Nothing can Prepare You for Loss

I have lost one person in my life. It was my granddad and I lost him when I was 14 years old. I understood at the time what death was and how it could happen, but I couldn’t understand why before. I could not understand why a man so dear to my life could be taken from me and no explanation was ever given. I now understand why death is important and why it needs to happen. No, I’m not talking about population control or science research or anything like that. The reasons I have discovered for death include:

  1. Teaching people about loss and how to deal with it
  2. Letting you know when somebody has lived their life to the fullest
  3. Taking that person away before they have to suffer

I am referencing to natural death, of course, not murder or even disease-related, but natural death. When somebody’s life comes to an end with one simple, natural cause; old age, a heart attack, a stroke, etc. My granddad died of a heart attack. We were all incredibly shocked. My family and I were in London at the time, out for dinner with my cousin and her husband when we got the call. We were all absolutely devastated and my mum could not stand being in London but in a way, it was a good thing because it meant that we were with my cousin who otherwise would have had no direct family aside from her husband and we could all take care of each other. I slept in my parents’ room with my mum that night and we both cried and hugged until I fell asleep for just a few hours, while my dad and my brother stayed in our room. Nobody got much sleep that night.

My granddad’s death was a massive shock for us, as he was not ill or suffering and he looked after his body, took cod liver oil tablets and generally led an averagely active lifestyle for a man of his age. The shock made it harder to come to terms with and I remember a general feeling of shock and confusion at the funeral, but it made dealing with it from then on a lot easier. We remembered him just as he had always been; goofy, funny with a big heart, but also very sensible and stern when he needed to be. We did not remember him as a dying man in a hospital bed, or unable to look after himself. We remembered him as the brilliant man he had always been which made his death a lot easier to cope with.

Now, my dog is starting to die, and I can’t be more thankful that my granddad did not go through what Oscar is currently going through. He is getting tired very easily, losing his appetite and just wants to rest and be stroked. His tail is still wagging, he is still responsive, but he is just not his usual self and I do not want to remember him like this. I want to remember him as he was yesterday, running in my friend’s back garden and hunting down every possible tennis ball. I want to remember him jumping up at my brother and I every time we walked through the door after school. But I cannot just leave him and not look after him. I have to stay with him through this difficult time in his life and watch as his heart murmur worsens and his lungs fill with fluid, making his breathing harder for him. We are taking him to the vets today and all I want is for her to make him better, and I know that there are various ways of doing this, but I also know that they might not change much. She can drain his lungs of the fluid and he might have a few more months left with us, but he will not be the same dog that we remember. And I am fighting with that part of myself that is selfish, that cannot bear the idea of letting my best friend go, and that part of myself that is rational, agreeing that yes it will hurt, but that am I not better off if he is better off, and would I not prefer him to not be in pain?

We may speak to the vet and she may straight away tell us how long he has got, or offer to put him to sleep today; she may not see any benefit in draining the fluid, but we will not know until we get there, and I will not know how I feel about it properly until the words have been spoken. I have lost pets previously, the worst being my guinea pig, Scat. I fed him through a syringe for six months through constant check-ups, and they told me that I kept him alive and happy in his final months and that if I had not taken care of him they way I had, he would have died slowly and painfully, but instead he died peacefully overnight in his sleep. It was painful, but obviously nothing is the same as losing a dog – it is almost as bad as losing a person.

Oscar has been there for me since I was twelve. I begged for a dog my whole life and when I finally got one, I struck lightning with the amount of luck I got. He was the perfect dog; house trained quickly, friendly towards other dogs, bouncy and playful whilst being small enough to not be rough and a lap dog who loved falling asleep on my knee while I stroked him. I have had him in my life for almost ten years and the idea of losing him breaks my heart. Nobody can prepare me for what the vet might say, and certainly nobody can stop the pain from being real, but I am going to be there for him until the end.

Pole Fitness for Kids – Why Not?

After this week’s lots of rants, debating all over social media, as well as the general shaming of pole dancers over 8 year olds pole dancing on daytime TV, I have decided that I need to have my say. As a pole dancer who started at 18, I was rather young and got hit back from the stigma a lot less than I thought I would, which is a really positive thing for the industry. However, I am quite lonely in the statistic of pole dancers who get mostly positive reactions for my participation in the sport, and many got much abuse for taking part.

When a child chooses their sport, they are influenced by various factors including:

  • What looks fun and most suitable for their personality
  • What their friends do/think is cool
  • What their parents have done before/their opinion on the sport

For children as young as eight, they have no clue that pole fitness/dancing is connected to the sex industry, strip clubs and lap dancing. Hell, they have no clue that kind of thing even exists. They are innocent, and their minds are uncorrupted. To them, a pole is something fun they may have played with in the park which they can climb up and down, swing around on and generally have a good time. Seeing that you can go upside down on a pole seems cool and fun to a child, and if their parents do not mind them doing it, or if they have tried it before then the child has no reason to think of pole fitness as any less than a sport like gymnastics. Many children are actually quite confused as to why poles are not included in gymnastic apparatus. To them, it is simply a pole, a piece of equipment to use as a prop and perform tricks on.

When somebody comments on a child on a pole suggesting that the sport is ‘sexualising’ that child, they are instantly the one with the corrupted mind and, therefore the one who risks corrupting that child’s mind of their sport. A child does not know how to ‘strip’, ‘grind’ or perform any other sexual move unless you show them how and by letting them know that poles are in strip clubs, that person is immediately introducing them to that side of pole which is where their minds will be corrupted, and they may start to view their own sport in a different way when they should not. Some children, including a student of Daniel Rosen, 10 year old Mimi feel that pole fitness is safer for them than gymnastics which involves similar elements, but at a higher degree of difficulty and with many more rules and restrictions within the sport. As well as this, if you take up gymnastics and do not attain ‘Olympic’ standard within the first ten years, the child often stops. In pole fitness, you can compete in most competitions from the age of 16 with no maximum age limit. There is even a 50+ division in the IPSF World Pole Championships, so pole fitness is something people are encouraged to keep doing regardless of their skill level, teaching children dedication and commitment, not to give up if you do not reach a certain level in a short time period.

mimiMimi!

In relation to this, the pole sport community are incredible helpful, supportive and courageous, constantly motivating and encouraging all pole athletes to improve and grow in their own way in pole. They are always there to boost your confidence, remind you that you can try again the next day, and more often than not keep you grounded. No matter how good you are, your pole friends will always remind you how far you have to go, whilst praising you at the same time. I have never met a pole athlete yet who is full of themselves/thinks they are better than everybody else at pole. Also, because there are so many different body types and types of people practising pole sport, children will learn to not be prejudiced. There are all different body types who practise pole fitness, as well as people with various disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and even a woman with one arm. This will show them a lot of different aspects of the world they live in, and teach them respect for themselves no matter their looks, weight or condition and respect for everybody else around them. The instructors for children’s pole fitness work by the book, as they are CRB checked as in any dance teaching position, are taught how to instruct children, and always get parental consent before teaching anybody under 18 years old.

olgaOlga Trifonova (Started pole aged 8, won Russia’s Got Talent, now an international pole champion)

Pole fitness for children is an incredible way for them to keep fit, learn an incredible skill and teach them to lead a healthy lifestyle, which is what we all want for our children. If we do not link their pole fitness to strip club pole dancing, and allow them to decide what sport they practise for themselves, then we are not only defeating the sexualised stigma around pole fitness, but also giving children the free reign they deserve over their own innocent minds to make their own choices with as little societal input as possible.

What to Look for in Your Pole Dance Class

Have you ever been in a pole dancing lesson, and wished you could spend more time on the pole? Practise a move with your instructor spotting you more than once? Then start looking for other classes! Whether you’re paying £5 p/h or £50 p/h, you are paying for a service of learning to pole dance, and if you come out of any session feeling that you have not learned something new, it is wasting your money.

At my local studio, they offer classes 3 nights a week, and Friday and Saturday mornings. These classes include beginner, inter/advanced, privates/1-2-1s, and mixed ability pole dance lessons. Each class lasts an hour and for group sessions it is just £5. For £5 in most places, you would probably get to a class and be sharing a pole with 5 other people and have no time to properly practise the moves that are being taught. However, at my studio, the owner restricts the class size to 10 per class, which makes it maximum 2 per pole. This means that for each move, the instructors can watch each pole dancer perform the move to see that they are able to do it and spot everybody if needed and not waste time. Although the instructors have a vague lesson plan idea, usually in advanced, they will ask if there is anything we are working on or have seen and want to try, and they will try to include that in the lesson plan for us.

I am not promoting my pole dance studio, but I am trying to make a point: if you feel that your pole dance classes are not worth the money you are spending on them, you should find a new studio or speak to the owner. Too many pole dancers get to a certain point where they feel that there is less point in group classes, and so take on 1-2-1 classes instead with their instructor. The issue with 1-2-1s is:

  • You have to choose the moves you want to learn/practise
  • You can run out of ideas
  • You can become tired quite easily from trying various moves with no break
  • It can be very expensive
  • If your pole instructor does not know you very well, the lessons can become pointless

Despite all of this, they are great if you are choreographing a routine or have a list of goal moves to work on over a certain period of time. Usually, however you can get the assistance you need from your instructor in a group setting also, the only drawback being that you cannot choose the moves you are learning in lessons. So, here is a list of things to look for in your pole dance lessons:

  • A good, accredited pole dance instructor (have they been awarded PDC status? Have they won competitions/competed/judged competitions? How are their class reviews?)
  • A safe, clean studio with up-to-date equipment. There is nothing wrong or offensive about giving the poles a testing shake before you begin to ensure your own safety.
  • No more than 2 people per pole. If you are paying for a lesson, you should be getting your money’s worth, and that means getting enough time on the pole. As a beginner, you will be fine with 2-3 on a pole but certainly no more, and even less as you advance.
  • A comfortable connection with your pole dance instructor. If you are comfortable with them, you can request specific moves/conditioning exercises. Most people don’t know what they want to learn for 2/3 months, but at this point they will begin researching themselves, and when this happens, you should be comfortable enough to ask for what you want to learn. (provided it is within your ability)
  • A general good feeling throughout the studio and the students within. You should not feel tension or know about any issues between students and/or instructors in your studio unless you are directly involved. If your studio is not enacting the policy of not bringing your baggage to pole class, you need to be careful.
  • Access to pole cleaner and towels, or the option to bring your own, and the same with grip aids. Your studio should be able to provide advice and extensive knowledge on pole products you can buy and provide some for you to test out.
  • Finally, knowledge of the industry: It doesn’t matter if your instructor is the world pole dance champion or purely a pole dance instructor for 5 years, they should have extensive knowledge

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