Wedding things

“Well, we wouldn’t recommend that”:

An adventure in purchasing an engagement ring

When I proposed to my partner, I thought that I would like a ring, but I’d also told myself that I could buy something small for myself as a “proud of me for shaking the patriarchy a teeny tiny amount”. The morning after we got engaged, my partner informed me that we would try to go ring shopping in the next day or two. What would only emerge later is that we are both impatient/efficient and are not slow shoppers. After several experiences (soon coming), I said to him that I didn’t want to drag him through another shop when he turned to me and said he was fine and was happy to keep going in case we found The One because then the engagement was really, really on.

            Some people reading this account will hate that I was present at the ring search and shopping. I also know what my ring cost. However, I hate surprises and my partner is an anxious person. I fully believe that he would have made a great choice on his own, but it turns out that every time he’d considered proposing to me, he’d got stuck in worry about the ring. This was partly my doing. Not because I’m high maintenance but because on our first date, I told him about a saga unfolding around my (now happily married) friend who hated the ring their wife proposed to them with. There was much counselling and group chat chaos. It kept lockdown zooms occupied for many weeks. Anyway, I had forgotten about this and he’d been intimidated on a profound level. WOOPS.

            Having told him that I’d love to come and would find it special to share the process and find something we both liked, we went and had brunch, treated ourselves to some shampoo from The Body Shop (I KNOW, BIG SPENDERS) and started to wander around looking for jewellery shops. About two minutes later, we got out our phones and followed a list on Google.

When I say the first stop was instructive, I’m telling you that I learned a lot. We are looking in this fancy window with lots of velvet and window dressing while I try to explain styles and relative costs. We are huddled over ££££ diamonds when my love spots a £££££ of earrings and we get sidetracked on why they might be so much more than the others. This is a fancy jeweller so I start pulling everything I’ve ever heard in sitcoms about jewellery to the front of my mind. Then, he says “is it worth going in?”. While we were discussing the earrings, I noticed that the security guard for the store had moved from by the door to stand directly behind the door in front of the entrance. My partner, on task, had spotted some coloured stones and wanted to sound me out on preferences. What he didn’t see is that we, almost ready to walk in, were being blocked from entering. I just said “it’s not worth it” when he asked about looking inside. My suspicions were made doubly sure when a thin white couple swept past us and the security guard EVAPORATED from sight. Hmm.

By this point, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Before my wonderful fiancé, I had been engaged before and it was a bad time. In the 36 hours we had been engaged, my partner had shown more interest and care than I ever saw from my abusive ex. He was getting into colours and shapes and sizes, and clearly intended that we go into shops and speak to people. I thought we were window shopping so had to adjust. It was a happy adjustment but I regretted painting my nails pink, which I almost never do. I was also learning lots about the things my love does and does not like. He is into shiny and classic but doesn’t like plain diamonds or several of the most popular cuts.

Eventually, having paused to go and get a drink from Tesco (GLAMOUR!), we went into a mid-level chain jeweller. This is not a shop I would ever have gone in on my own and at some point, I will write something about being fat and gender non-conforming in this space because that added a whole different level of anxiety with narrow seats, rings too small for my hands, and correcting my hard-earned “Dr” from Miss over and over. Anyway, we settled into a booth in the jewellers and I was handed an IKEA beaker of water. The assistant, also named Hannah, also from London originally, really earned the commission on a purchase we didn’t end up making. (Sorry, Hannah. We appreciated you.)

We were in the store about 45 minutes and Hannah clearly knew her business sensing that, while I was pushing for the cubic zirconia and silver costume jewellery, my partner could be sold something better. I’m sure she was speaking from truth but I’ve never heard someone slam cubic zirconia before: “Well, we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s very damageable and this is for life. We don’t want you to be disappointed when it breaks in a couple of years.” I should have been prepared for the “we” of ring shopping in which almost every assistant inserted their employer into our future: “We wouldn’t want you to come back upset when you drop in to see us.” Alongside the costume jewellery hate, we learned lots including that my partner wouldn’t tell the assistant what he actually thought and she could not cope with me asking him for his opinions. Given that many people disapproveof me being involved in the ring buying process, I found it very confusing to be represented as a spoilt princess who should just have whatever I wanted, regardless of my partner’s feelings (and budget). Is this what having lifelong disposable income does to you? I don’t know but it was weird.

We left with an idea of what we wanted after I stared down Hannah who decided to pitch a £5000 diamond at Adam. As I said on Twitter, I respect the hustle but I was not there for that. (No disparagement to anyone who expects a very expensive ring but I am clumsy, highly conspicuous, and would rather not spend or wear that kind of money.) Dazed from the very bright lights and prolonged hard sell, we stumbled into another shop where we had seen a similar style to the one we ended up looking at most. DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE IKEA STYLE JEWELLERS? Obviously there are, but I will say that the salesman who dealt with us basically told us not to buy the ring we were interested in. We also learned that we were not seeing an accurate replica of what we might buy. The actual stone would be a completely different colour and we could always get a refund if we didn’t like the different modules we put together. Interestingly, Adam spotted that the replica had several “weakening” design flaws that Hannah had warned us about. Then, the guy dropped his Fanta down himself, which I totally relate to, but it did not inspire confidence. The energy was like someone trying to sell a limited edition colour of iPod Shuffle or Motorola Razr. Shout out to the people my age who remember those days.

Walking off the extreme confusion and brain fog, I remembered an independent jewellers that was not in an obvious location. (It wasn’t on Google’s list.) And we went to find it. By contrast with the other chains and expensive expensive jewellers we’d seen, this place had a really eclectic range of styles and a whole window of “vintage”, second-hand options, which was my original preference. At the same time, my partner noticed a ring very close but slightly different to our favourites elsewhere and encouraged me to go in. This shop was clad in dark wood and had an easy listening playlist of Sinatra and Martin going on. Behind the counter were two women in head to toe M&S. My partner asked if we could see his favourite and begrudgingly asked if I wanted to see the vintage opal ring (very, very unusual in style), which I declined given the disapproval on display. The shop person got it out and then spotted that I have a large otter tattoo and talked to me about that. It was only when we asked questions that she got into any sort of sales patter and it was as light as it could possibly be. We tried on two others and, recognising my “stressed face”, my partner suggested we get some caffeine and come back.

It was at this point that I burst into tears in a busy Café Nero while trying to hold a very low-key conversation. I felt both exhausted by navigating the expectations of “newly-engaged couple” with its weird gender performances and entirely overwhelmed by the care, attention, and time my partner was spending on this. He was very concerned that, having established that he has a favourite stone, I’d stopped looking at other options that I’d mentioned liking. I was very concerned that he had lost his mind and wanted to buy me something fancy I don’t need or deserve. Coca-cola, hand patting, and snacks were administered and I caved and sent pictures to my mum and a couple of friends for approval. They not only approved but unanimously voted for the indie jeweller ring.

Minutes later, we were back there talking about sizing, valuations, and free cleanings for life. It turns out that jewellery over £30 is very complicated. I was still dazed and emotional so I instinctively tuned into the radio which was playing My. Favourite. Doris. Day. recording: “Everybody Loves A Lover” immediately followed by “Secret Love”. (If you are new here, “Hi! I work on musical theatre!”) Somehow, that felt cosmic. Doris, a fave, was singing a song in an arrangement I love and regularly play in my most sunshine-y moods. The universe was smiling on this bizarre moment.

I’m so excited to meet my ring when the resizing is done. I have prematurely christened her Cruella because she is very much the highest of my femme and a sparkle to be proud of. If you get engaged, tune out the other people and do what you want. Instead of settling for what I thought was proportionate, we had a very funny, cute, choatic time together and like my partner, I am ending up with a very fun and unexpected marker of our partnership. Do you. Ignore the noise. Pack snacks.

Wedding things

The proposal that wasn’t

About three months ago, I decided that I would like to propose to my partner. We had had “marriage chats” so I was not proposing blind. I was 99% certain that, if done with love, we would end up engaged at the end.

Having made the decision with myself, I began to think about what an ideal proposal might look like, which included thinking a lot about my partner’s likes and dislikes and about what the best occasions we’ve shared have included.

Immediately I knew that neither of us were going to be happy or comfortable with a noisy or public proposal. I also anticipated that we were likely to have a conversation afterwards. We are not a social media-y couple and would not need or probably want photographs of the moment. Neither of us drink much although food is a big part of our lives so maybe I would cook a surprise curry feast or book a restaurant and propose on the walk home. I very briefly considered training Sula, our seven-month-old Rottweiler puppy, to do some sort of trick or to deliver whatever I used to propose with. I know now that my partner was also considering putting a ring for me on the puppy’s collar. However, I eventually decided that I wouldn’t do it at home.

I also flirted briefly with buying the coveted missing piece from my partner’s Star Wars Lego collection. I had a feverish exchange with one of my closest friends about whether I should sneak the walker into the house, build it, and write something on it before deconstructing and repackaging it. However, this plan was put aside when Sula (35kg puppy) tried to get into our toolbox. I feared that maybe a three/four-hour Lego project might end up not done for months and a post-it on a box was not really it.

Being a control freak, a planner, and a perfectionist trying to do something that made me feel vulnerable, I abandoned the “how” for “with what” for a few weeks. In our hypothetical wedding chats, I knew my partner did not intend to wear a ring. He’s intensely sentimental but also practical and I felt it was a shame not to get him something he would actually use and like. I went through various options but settled on a pair of cufflinks shaped like otters, which have had (for reasons) lots of presence and love in our relationship. Several check-ins with friends later, the pair I initially chose were ordered but they would arrive unboxed, so I moved onto a receptacle for them.

I really don’t know why but I decided to google “Star Wars ring box” on Etsy. My partner likes Star Wars a lot, but I definitely had an ADHD hyperfixation moment here. He likes many, many things that are not Star Wars, too. However, it was 11pm and I was feverishly looking for The One. The One turned out to be a 3D printed model of the Death Star, which opened up to reveal a hollow interior. Reader, the actual proposal – when it came – was entirely overshadowed by my love getting relentless giggles because I, an abolitionist passivist, used an imperial weapon of mass destruction as a symbol of my love. Many, many nerd jokes were made. If I could add a gif of our puppy sighing and rolling her eyes before flumping on the ground, I would.

When the Death Star first arrived in Nottingham, I had been sent one the size of a chocolate orange and not the size that I ordered. To receive my ring box, I had to post this one back and there was some excellent email exchange about the correct size of The Death Star, which I did not see in my life outline. The wrong box arrived while I was sick with Covid and a very minor blip felt devastating.

I also had a personality bypass when the cufflinks arrived without any dispatch notice or warning. We had been to see Thor: Love and Thunder and returned to the debris of some post that Sula had seen fit to destroy as a punishment for our absence. My partner held up a weird container that I had never seen before and asked what it was, obviously perturbed that it was swallowable size. About 10 minutes later, I saw the email saying “hurray, item delivered” and my stomach DROPPED. Had he seen what was in the little tin container? Had the dog got into the container? Were the cufflinks in the dog? He hadn’t. She hadn’t. They weren’t. But paranoid control freak me was then convinced that he knew what is coming. (He absolutely didn’t.)

Looking through my calendar for a good weekend, I saw that we had planned a very modest trip away to London to see a musical and committed that I would do it then. When I tell you that everything I planned fell apart, everything I planned fell apart.  

We had already agreed to do a couple of tourist-y things in London, so I wrote to one of the places and asked if they let visitors do a particular activity. (I’m paraphrasing because the details of actual real people would be identifiable, and I can’t get hold of them to check if they mind.) The venue responded immediately that they’d never been asked before, but they loved the idea, and these were their terms. As part of our correspondence, they let me know that there was a secluded bench with a lovely view that I could have after the experience where we would be private but still in the attraction so I could do the actual proposal and I was so chuffed. It was going to be cute, personal, private, and a nice story/memory.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I receive an email that the person who needed to be present to allow the activity to happen had come down with Covid and wouldn’t be able to meet. Their deputy was on leave. They were very sorry, but could we re-arrange? While I completely understood, I knew that we wouldn’t be making another trip to London together until the winter and that we probably wouldn’t want to do the activity then. Frustrated, I thanked them lots for all they’d done and called a small Lebanese restaurant I know and love, asking if we could have a specific table that’s practically in a room on its own. We’d feast and I’d ask over the dessert or on the walk back to our hotel.

Three days before the trip, we receive an email reminding us of the rail strike taking place (solidarity! Get your pay rise!). And my partner does a lot of logistical wrangling and swaps the trip around, so we do all the things planned on Friday and just need to get home on the Saturday. What a gem of a human. Reader, the restaurant does not open Friday daytime, and we were already booked for dinner with my parents and the musical in the evening. Doom.

I decide I’ll be spontaneous. (Lol. NOT MY NATURAL STATE. I was born a Scorpio, but I really identify as a Virgo.) There’s bound to be a moment. There’s bound to be a quiet time where we are happy and laughing and I can just make it happen. Our dogsitter arrives early and we decide to dash for the train an hour early to make the most of our day in London. The train is cancelled because there is a fire on the line. We are both anxious and impatient travellers. There is no moment when a 2.5-hour journey takes five hours. I’ll remember it fondly because it was so sunny and pretty, but we arrive in London three hours after we had intended to.

We decide to go to the zoo to be outside in the beautiful weather as it is near, and we can marvel at animals before our evening plans. When we arrive, many of the animals are shielding from the heat or their enclosures are being refurbished. We are relaxed but are surrounded by hot parents and tired children who are frustrated by the lack of things to see. There is no moment. We get to the otter enclosure, and they are out and playing and I think “here we go”. A child is almost sick and drops down the stairs in front of us. They are fine but there’s really no moment and we end up sitting in the park talking about whether zoos are even OK and if people should be angry if animals are asleep or absent. Not the moment.

And it’s time to be social and go and see a very mediocre musical. We are tired and content but not … in a moment. As we arrive at the hotel, footage of the writer Salman Rushdie being attacked is playing across numerous plasma screens.

The details of what actually happened about an hour later are ours and I’m not going to share them with anyone outside our close circle but suffice to say that frazzled and nervous, I left the Death Star on his pillow, went to brush my teeth, and we ended up happily engaged and listening to a playlist of Beyoncé lead singles in the first hours of Saturday morning.

Absolutely nothing went as it should. Adam thought he’d forgotten to buy me a present and then when he understood, the Death Star giggles began. RIP my childlike pride about getting something so particular to him/us on that front. It was cute and quiet and silly and intimate. It was all the things I wanted and I’m so happy he said yes.

I’m never planning a surprise anything ever again.

Living Bibliography

Day 1: An Introductory Letter

Hello, and welcome to my research diary or “living bibliography”!

I am an academic, working on musicals and popular culture in America and Britain. My writing focuses mainly on how “identity” is represented and formed in musicals (on and off stage and screen). I am in the middle of three “substantial” projects and am often procrastinating on several other side hustles.

I have noticed that, as researchers, we hide away our thought processes and methods and resources from one another. This is partly because many academics are thieves and sharks who are unafraid to co-opt or profit from the works of others. As a person of mixed ethnic heritage, a queer, and a neurodivergent, I suppose my “positionality” – the way I sit in and see the world around me – makes me noticeably vulnerable here. My positionality is unusual and therefore, valuable for show. That said, I believe that the best research is not only open, but available for multiple interpretations.

I created this space to help track the layers of my research process and to acknowledge the multiplicity (complex and numerous layers) of how my thinking is formed. Some of this work will be personal and private or had in company that is not for public consumption. However, I really believe that a “living bibliography” or “map of thinking” is essential to the future of research if it is to prioritise everybody and not simply those who can access elite collections at the end of far flung travel.

For the time being, I will refer to the work I am developing as “the project”. It is, in fact, many things. However, the label is useful when writing reflectively. When I get further in, I am sure the language will become messier and I am excited to learn from that mess when it arrives.

So, the project begins with me, angry about the state of scholarship and knowledge sharing around me, and naïve about the work that my heroes put in to be who the writers and thinkers that they are. I was approached by a person I respect to produce a publication, and enthusiastically designed what I thought would be a modest project. It is neither modest, nor will the things I imagined be possible in such a small word count. However, it began my process of thinking about how we generate writing and what it is for. I want to produce a text that is “useful for teaching” but I also want to put something out that allows a conversation away from the closed classrooms of university seminars. This research diary is also the beginning of that process as I try and join up the different strands of my interests and ambitions as a writer, researcher, and person that thinks thoughts.

I hope you will enjoy it and find useful nuggets hidden in my confusion about how we share knowledge more fairly, allow new belonging, and continue to cherish the art and entertainment we love.

Love and solidarity,


Thoughts About Work

Living Bibliography

“This project is, of necessity, wildly but carefully undisciplined.”[1]

My living bibliography practice stems from a frustration and tension of talking most about my work to “non-academic” audiences while being pushed to strive for professional heights within my sector. I have observed and felt the viciousness of “owning knowledge”. The drive to be the first, and only, writer, speaker or thinker to say something has tainted our practice and continues the cloister-like culture of higher education. It makes our writing and our thinking exclusive, insular, and (often) extractive. As a person researching, enjoying, and consuming popular culture, I find this barricading of knowledge both harmful and counterproductive. I also reject the notion that only I should hold space on any topic. The environment I trained in and engage challenges me in this rejection every day. We are taught to be fearful of consensus, of shared knowledge, and of communal understanding in almost all areas of academic research.

            This project is an experiment. It is fluid and organic and I may have to change how I go about it. What I know is that I want to document the development of my thinking as I transition from one part of my research to another. I want others who may wish to follow, engage, or disrupt my path to be able to see and trace the materials that I am working through. I also want those who are not lucky enough to work with scholars who have access like I/we do to have a more transparent window into how we develop into who we are. This living biography is autoethnographic, meaning that it is inextricably tied to me, to my progress, and to my process. Although I hope to develop writings and teaching resources from this process of documentation, the living bibliography itself is an evolving record. It is for me and for anyone who is interested. I anticipate that it will include short notes, key terms, and reflections as I go, but this is not a funded or metric’d concept. This is a way of me exploring what it means to attempt knowledge democracy while operating in a system where this queer, demigender, mixed-heritage, neurodivergent person is always a walking target. I hope you will enjoy and share it with me.

[1] Shana L. Redmond, Everything Man: the Form and Function of Paul Robeson (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2020), 8.

Thoughts About Work

Things you may not know about applying for a PhD in the Arts and Humanities in the U.K.

Hello. This is a very short resource for people looking at the PhD application process in the UK right now. S0me of this information may be obvious but there is a real lack of democracy and transparency about getting on to PhDs in the UK, and I want to make sure as many people have access to this intel. I intend to expand on various parts of this list in other blog posts and videos to provide more specific information but I hope that this will arm you with questions and power when looking for the PhD setup that serves you.

Good luck!

The thread:

  1. If you know what your proposed topic is, put it into a paragraph and give it a rough title. It will be much much easier for you to find good supervisors this way. Don’t be afraid to put it in your approaches
  2. Supervisors work with you. You do not work “for” them unless it’s a very specific project. This is *different* to other disciplines. Look at them like mentors that you get to pick and be practical about it. 
  3. (CONTROVERSIAL) You can ask your supervisors questions about their supervision style/interview them. A PhD is long and advice/support/writing help is personal. Ask about how they like to supervise, what they think the first year of a PhD is like, do some research on their career, etc. 
  4. Sometimes, PhD supervisors can be enthusiastic but do not have space/capacity to take on your project. Don’t take it personally if that’s the reason. Consider what matters to you to seek out others. Is it subject-expertise? Is it experience? Is it a career mentor? Is it someone who demonstrates care for your topic?
  5. Be aware that approaches to PhD applicants vary. I offer a lot of feedback on applications even when I won’t be on the team/at the institution. This is not standard. Be aware that you will get different responses to your inquiries
  6. You can apply to lots of PhD programmes at the same time. You can and should investigate your options. That said, be tactful about who you tell that you are applying to different courses. Some postgraduate admissions officers (unreasonably) take exception to this 
  7. Many universities offer PhD places on projects. Search websites and to find projects to apply for. These often come with relationships to industry which is great in the current job climate.
  8. There is an unwritten timeline for applications in most UK unis. April-Nov: expressions of interest with abstract, finishing project idea, finding supervisors and unis, and researching funders. Nov-Jan: getting a place, submitting funding apps. March-April: funding announced. 
  9. You don’t have to stick to that timeline. Most unis have two “standard” entry dates: October and January. If you want to do something different, ask. It’s normally possible! 
  10. A remote study PhD is a different programme (technically) so some unis may genuinely say that you can’t do distant PhD study. Make sure to check if this is something you definitely want/need.
  11. Most PhD funders (private and national or university-based) require you to have a place on a PhD programme by the time you submit your funding application. For big bodies like the AHRC, this may involve an interview at the uni(s) of your choice so leave time or it’s a waste of your effort.
  12. Know that *most* applications for funding go to a *general* panel of academics. It does not go to experts. You need to write an application that can be read by old person. Technical/specific terms need explanation. Clear title. Always summarise project at the top. 
  13. Getting awarded funding can *rely* on your referees actually sending references. Do all you can to get reliable people and check-in with them to make sure it gets done.
  14. Grant awards for international students have different terms in different places. For example, sometimes a fee award will only cover the cost of domestic tuition fee rates. Some institutions have specific awards that cover “international” fees and offer stipends. 
  15. Not for everyone: You can (often) apply for funding in the first year of your degree if you are in the financial position to take out a student loan/fund year one of your studies.

Remember that it’s your degree. You need the institution and supervisors but you are the heart of your work and your wellbeing and quality of experience matter.

I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges Thoughts About Work

An Abundance of Listening

This blog is written during the March 2022 strikes in UK higher education. I am on strike and trying to balance spending time with my puppy Sula, resting, and spending some concentrated time with the books on my shelves.

In the first strikes of 2022, I began a project of self-flagellation. I decided to use the “Reading List” function on The Storygraph to document all the unread books I have in my home. The project was motivated by shame. I felt my spending (on books) was out of control although it was definitely within my means. The truth is that when I was isolating alone for months during the pandemics, I retreated into books: reading books, buying books, talking about books, and thinking about writing books.

I have beautiful shelves in my living room, which is a warm yellow like this background and, to me, the books shine like intricate wallpaper as well as little parcels of imagination. Every book is one I have read or want to read and yet, the “task” of reading has begun to feel overwhelming. And so I begin small challenges and tasks to break down the 200+ backlog into something more respectable.

And then, this morning, while reading a poetry collection by Kei Miller, I realised that all this shame and worry is not only self-created but also about internalised shame about materialism. Somehow, I cannot be at peace with myself while knowing that I never buy books for the sake of buying. I choose not to buy books all the time. I have slowly turned my feeling of being lost, out of control, and unable to carve out time to do things I love onto the collection of books in my home.

There is no time frame for reading these books. I still have space to expand and I have not put myself in any financial risk during my pandemic anxiety sprees. However, I realised when reading The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion that my conscious purchasing is not always matched with conscious reading. I rush. I feel the need to set silly goals even though I deliberately set my book target for 2022 very low. The basic “reading goal” is an ADHD crutch rather than an outward looking challenge and yet, I am increasingly aware that my anxiety revolves around being competitive with my potential to do more.

The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw you a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion – Kei Miller

In his poems, Miller asks who maps are for and what mapping leaves out. He grapples with knowledge democracy and what is left out from our methods of recording what we think we know. In a later part of the poem quoted above, we learn that the cartographer does not recognise the rastaman as an expert. This made me think about how I read and why I amass books in the way I do. It transported me to the comfort and privilege of collecting books with diverse stories, histories, and styles. Audiobooks too.

I am a bookworm but more generally a curious and restless soul, who is always looking for brighter, more detailed insight into the world. I amass books because there is so much I don’t know, cannot imagine, and do not understand. I don’t want to possess the books. More often than not, I will give them to a reader I love or add them to book swaps. I buy a lot because I read a lot and I find it (for disability reasons) easier to have books that can be bashed and written on.

I read voraciously and broadly because I am interested in all parts of the book: the cover, the dedication, the font, the style of language, the paragraphing … as well as the material itself. We learn much from paying attention to the layers of our material items. I also love to listen to different narrations of the same stories. I particularly seek out authors reading their work. Not because they are always “the best”, but because you get a particular set of inflections. I return time and again to Maya Angelou reading her poems and I alternate reading Toni Morrison’s fiction with listening to her read it.

What I learned today is that I use my bookshelves as a barometer of what is going on with me, what’s going on in the world, and what I’d like to discover and enjoy. I know that I read every book I bring into my home whether that’s on the journey back from purchase or two years later when it’s just the right thing. That actually, through reading I listen to myself – my restlessness, my fears, my comforts – and that I find solace in the multiplicity and abundance of voices that I can turn my focus to when I turn my mind to reading.

I Need To Talk About This

To the nerd I loved the longest, 

You kept your apps in alphabetical order. All of them. Weirdo. 

Why is WhatsApp four screens away? Absolute nerd.

You knew every word to every song by Belle and Sebastian. 

No more “Piazza New York Catcher” singalongs. Our song. Sunshine and parks. Rants about work stress. The soundtrack to four months of dad jokes on BBM when you were getting divorced.

Elope with me, Miss Private and we’ll sail around the world
I will be you Ferdinand and you my wayward girl
How many nights of talking in hotel rooms can you take?
How many nights of limping round of pagan holidays?
Oh elope with me in private and we’ll set something ablaze 
A trail for the devil to erase

San Francisco’s calling us…

Piazza New York Catcher – Belle and Sebastian

San Francisco’s calling us…

Fuck. Did you move to San Francisco because of our song? Am I only clocking into your romantic, stupid notion now you are dead? Typing out the lyrics to our song because I miss you and want the world to know you and realising when you begged me to get a job in America and come live next door so we can eat dinner everyday and I can save your daughter from your cooking… you moved to San Francisco…  Why can’t I ask you if this is mad coincidence or because you listened to this song every day? 

When I was very sick once, you sang me our song in about 12 voicemails. Because I was asleep and we couldn’t voice note then. 

Did your assistants know that you hated Excel but would never bother them with your rage at spreadsheets? I’ll miss those emails.

WHY is it different on iPad? 


What the fuck is that functionality



Can I call you? PLEASE

Thanks, Excel fairy. Fuck. I need a shower after that. Sweating through my shirt trying to “customise cell”. It’s not a Build a Bear. God, there’s a new one and I don’t want to. Am I a bad dad if I don’t take her to get a pink bear that sings something interminable? Anyway, I don’t want to customise a cell ever again. You are the most patient.

Last year, you bought 10 of your daughter’s favourite Disney mug and hid them in your office desk in case an accident happens. Like you, she’s fastidious and has not had an accident. I hope the people who take care of your home show her the stack. It is the most you thing. You took her to build-a-bear, you know, The pink bear has a purple friend now. I’m gonna find all these emails and print them for her.

She asked me if I would paint you on my arm once. She means my developing sleeve of tattoos. I don’t know. What would you be? A dustpan and brush? A To Do list. A person who cannot eat food with his hands. Who organises his chest of drawers by height of use on the body. Socks at the bottom. Hats at the top. Chaos monster. 

But no chaos. You found chaos disturbing. Your daughter won’t remember this but I remember when you used to colour code her toys with a special padded box for ones that might make noise. She thought it was a game and delighted in putting the red toy in the box of blue ones and you would politely grit your teach and clap while I chuckled at your joy in her and your desperation to put the red toy in its correct basket. 

I’m writing this at the time I was meant to call you to talk about our shitty weeks. Time difference means scheduling our chats. I don’t know if your little girl was with you when you died. I don’t know if you were on the sofa or in bed. Were you cleaning a kitchen surface or doing your work emails even though you were sick and dying, you fucking menace? I like to think you died cleaning the fridge, lining up the cartons of juice to send me a proud picture of the pristine conditions. Your happy place was when you’d just cleaned the floor and then you’d spend an hour playing hide and seek with D and you could both skid silently across the rooms in your socks. 

Always a plan ahead. Always a call away. Always a little bit melancholy but trying to find the laugh. You loved your daughter the most in the whole world. Next, bleach. And then, at one time, it was probably me. I’m sorry I didn’t come when you offered to fly me out for Christmas. I’m sorry we never wrote our album of “sad songs for organised people.” I’m sorry you suffered. I’m sorry it hurt. I’m sorry I couldn’t do what you once did for me and read you books down the phone when I was bed bound.

 I’ll miss your post-it note reviews and complaints about whatever new coffee bean you’d discovered. I’ll miss that you hated wearing t-shirts and were terrified of kids wearing face paint. I’ll miss that you’d prefer an espresso martini but always ordered a gin and tonic in case the bartender was disappointing. 

All your devices have numbered folders and not descriptions and that they all synced up and you just new that Folder 1 was … whatever it was. 

That was you. An unreliable, emotional ball of propriety. So English. So Oxford. So earnest. But always trying to be your best self and to show love in your ways to the people in your heart. Deeply romantic but embarrassed about feelings. Always fucking tidying. I wish we could go notebook shopping and get lunch and gossip about the state of the world and end up in a Pret somewhere, debating about why raincoats are always damp inside. 

Thank you for your love. Thank you for your care. Thank you for being my friend. You were my dearest nerd. I hope it didn’t hurt and that wherever you are, you are haunting software developers who don’t make properly indexed help sections. 

I’m about to drink my first ever cup of coffee for you. It’s 20:14 and a stupid thing to do. I can hear you yelling about caffeine and my sleep cycle. It’s instant but it’s all I have. I’m sorry, nerd but it’s the best I can do. I miss you. I love you. 

“I’ll meet you at the statue in an hour.”

I Need To Talk About This

My Kind of Spark: On Neurodivergence and Unlearning.

This post is inspired by Elle McNicoll’s book A Kind of Spark. The book is about a neurodivergent girl called Addie who campaigns to get a memorial for women killed in witch trials held in her village.

I’m nervous about this blog because it has been a long time since I had such a strong and visceral reaction to a book. I absolutely loved A Kind of Spark. This is not a criticism of it. If you haven’t read it, do.

In the book, there are a lot of interactions with a teacher called Mrs Murphy. I’m not going to tell you the context because spoilers but I think it’s fair to say that Mrs Murphy is an unsympathetic character and she doesn’t like supporting or adapting her teaching to neurodivergence. At many times in the book, I got the anxious, tight stomach feeling I experience when I am carrying worry and my partner actually stopped me reading in bed last night because I was in the middle of the second meeting and had started tapping and biting my nails off. I hadn’t realised.

Elle McNicoll had shown a mirror to some memories I hadn’t previously understood. I was diagnosed as dyspraxic, dyslexic and with ADD when I was in my mid-twenties. That means that I periodically understand things that happened to me as a teenager and young child that had caused me distress but I couldn’t explain.

As I read Addie’s interactions with Mrs Murphy, I was taken back to my Year One (aged 5-6) classroom where I learned I thought very differently to other people, that this was not how I was meant to be, that I should be very afraid, and, in my own context, “mask” how I behave and see the world. It explained to me why I worry to the point of obsession about being misunderstood or getting tasks wrong. It told me why I find particularly emphatic styles that are repetitious frustrating. I get almost everything first time if I’ve processed it properly and tend to remember it too. I understood how one person conditioned me to believe I was wrong about everything, and because we didn’t understand my brain then, no one knew or thought to argue.

It all begins when I asked my Year One teacher if all the stories in the bible were true. Like Addie, I had an underwater animal obsession but mine was whales (and dolphins!! Sorry, Addie). So when we listened to “Jonah and the Whale” and I saw the picture in the illustrated children’s bible, I was confused. The species of whale in the picture had a sieve in its mouth and only ate plankton. So how did Jonah get swallowed? My teacher, Miss Anderson, was furious. I was five so she didn’t call me blasphemous as such but she humiliated me for being literal and obtusely ignoring “the message”. In another class, we had to draw God. (Yup, I know) and describe what He looked like. So I wrote a paragraph about how we can’t see God. He’s actually a feeling. (Yes, I really know.) In a beautifully ironic twist, Miss Anderson told me I had failed the exercise because I was supposed to draw a person and put my sheet in the bin, demanding that I do it “properly”. Bewildered, I drew an eye here, a moustache there, and wrote something like: “God’s face is everywhere so his nose is up and his mouth is down.” Guess what. I had to do it again. Somewhere in my house, there is a sheet of A4 paper with a face with a moustache in the middle of a rectangle box with “This is God’s face” written underneath it. At 6, I was trying to conceptualise non-corporeality but instead was punished, called “lazy” and a “show-off”, made to work through lunch and breaks to meet the tasks to her standard.

This continued. We studied the plague and I tried to draw the smell coming from the doctor’s beak. It turns out I was meant to colour it in gold instead. When I asked why it would be gold if it was made from leather or wood, I got a detention through break. When it transpired I’d read all the books in the classroom, I was punished for not telling her. It didn’t occur to me she might let me read other books or send me into the Year Two classroom to borrow things. But there was another hidden agenda, I wasn’t allowed to share about Year Two books with the class. Book reports hidden, no contributions in story time. Books were the one thing getting me through and then, they were weaponised to remind me that I was always the odd one out.

(Diversion: Shout out to my secondary school librarian Miss Radon, who saw me as a Boss Level reader and spent about five years helping me work through everything in that library, reading new things at the same time as me, teaching me about book prizes, and story tropes while I plodded miserably through everything that wasn’t French, Music, and Art)

At the same time, at 6, I started getting terrible headaches and migraines that would continue intermittently through school. I basically stopped getting them after I finished my undergraduate degree. And I became hyperconscious about everything I did. I used to hide what I was reading so teachers wouldn’t dig at me. I would mask, using the fact that in the 1990s and early 00s, a learning issue meant “behind” or “incapable” rather than “different”. Because I did fine, no one was worried although it was repeatedly noted that my verbal and reading dexterity was way out of step with my writing. Can’t imagine what brought that on.

I think now about how I hate strip lighting because it’s too bright and have to turn lights down in the evening in order to be able to sleep. Of how I avoid meeting friends in big groups because I can functionally listen to multiple conversations at once and I burn out. And realise that classroom and playground didn’t work for me. That everyone thought I sought the company of adults because I was a lonely only child and not because I was bullied for speaking and reading ahead of my peers and having terrible co-ordination skills. They thought that I couldn’t skip or hula hoop or cartwheel because I was lazy and putting on weight rather than because I my brain blacks out when I can’t figure out how to do a movement. (There’s a running joke in my friendship group that I can’t turn left on the spot or to get out of bed. I have to do a three quarter turn to the right or get out and in.) What young me didn’t know is that I find running freeing and I love being fit. Dancing, weightlifting, boxing, kayaking, swimming. But I am still unlearning always being the person hunted in chases, not being allowed to climb the frames because I was too slow, of panicking about swinging on bars and falling and the fall leading to yet another humiliation.

I talk often about wishing I could be invisible. Not absent but without an appearance. Able to thrive without being looked at. It’s only now that I see how this was all part of one long process of erasing myself. Example: I gesticulate a lot. People think it’s because I’m musical and, therefore, dramatic. That may be true. But it’s actually because I am reaching for the words in front of me and conducting them into an order. I’m extremely visual. I love words and maths but hate letters and numbers. I see words and numbers as pictures or feelings or sounds.

For a very, very long time, I became out of step. I “underachieved”. I was not good at things that naturally went hand-in-hand with other skills. I was pushed into speaking because my writing was inhibited. A Kind of Spark has made me see the conditioning I have internalised without ever realising how far it went. It comes with so much fear. So much noise. I wish I’d realised the noise was other people and if I’d just let myself be, I could have been walking to my own music a long time ago. I’d love to meet Addie. I’d love to read her shark book and show her one about whales. I love for my friends and colleagues to read it and get a small glimpse of neurodivergence. Addie is not the same as me and I am not the same as her. But for once, I saw a very young Hannah and understood why they were always frightened. I wish I could have told her all the things I’m learning now. I hope I can listen to myself a bit more often.

You can purchase A Kind of Spark from Round Table Books by clicking here.


Dear Britney, I hope you get justice.

Content note: this post discusses coercive behaviour and domestic abuse.

I don’t know anything about conservatorship. This post isn’t about that. And it’s not about mental health and legal rights. It is about Britney Spears apologising for pretending to be OK.

There is a lot of dialogue about how female-passing people are forced not to show certain emotions, be unreactive, and generally suffer in order to get by. However, I was caught by the amount of times she apologised or talked herself down in advocated for many of her human rights to be restored to her. Like most people, I am angry and hope she is “freed”, but I am also grieving for her because I know what it’s like to doubt everything you think you know about yourself and how long it can take to realise how bad things are.

I have been in several abusive relationships with impacts on my emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing that I am still untangling. Here’s an example. Readers who know me will be aware that I am neurodivergent. One of the manifestations of that is that I put things down when I am distracted and lose things in my house. One of my former partners used this to move my contraceptive pill around, claiming I’d “lost it” when I’d been moving around. They did this maybe once or twice a month for almost two years before we stopped living together. Now, when I have to do something every day, I have reminders and I keep the necessary things in place the whole time. When I travel, I know what the different bags in my case signify and I set reminders to check that one make-up bag has all my chargers in, and another my meds etc. My disorder is internal but I manage it very successfully. This person took risks with my health and then exploited my disability to make me think that I was being chaotic when struggling with insomnia.

I have dozens of stories like this where I didn’t know things were wrong until they were taken “too far”. When a partner was travelling, I started weightlifting. I LOVED it. I felt empowered and honestly found myself in my body for the first and only time. When the partner returned, they were not used to my new fitness, my new strength, my new confidence, or how my body had changed. Instead of adjusting, they wanted me to let go of those things. They booked things to clash with gym classes. They started “forgetting” to buy certain foods and replacing them with other things. They would only be happy if I went out in clothes they were familiar with. And here’s the thing… I didn’t notice.

You cannot imagine my shock when I discovered that my gym membership had magically cancelled itself and my account had been locked out. (Google autofill is not always your friend.) The people at the gym were nonplussed and said I’d put in a request to have my data removed. The account was there so they reinstated it but I spent several days wondering: had I done this when I was sleepwalking? Was my card info wrong? When did I change the password? And then, I mentioned it. As you do. And was reminded that I’d said I wanted to change gyms (true) so I must have just done it “sometime”. And that was when I knew. Online forms stress me out because of inaccessible layout and the room for typos/nightmare proof reading. I almost never do life admin on a whim because I make mistakes when I am not focused. However, this partner never believed in my neurodivergences because theirs were (to them) more severe. Eventually, I found the email in my sent folder and I knew immediately that I hadn’t sent it.

That was the first of many similar realisations across the next few weeks. It was also the time that I started to talk to other people about some of things I thought were happening. I’d been in this cycle of behaviour for years.

I realised about the contraception about two years later when I’d lost something and my friend said to me: “You always know where things are unless you’ve been distracted.” And it’s true. Interestingly, my current partner is a Tidy Person. I thought I was before but now I know that I am, actually, a Clean Person. And in the short time we’ve lived together, we have navigated how to support his mental wellbeing by keeping things fairly neat without him moving my stuff because it disorients me and I panic. We have had lots of 15 second conversations where we figure out systems. No stress. Just a quick check-in and on we move. He hates stuff on the sides so he stacks the dishwasher and puts it on. I empty it and he knows that if I forget, it’s not wilful. I just forget things that I can’t see. Therefore, he leaves the door open as a gentle reminder.

Seeing all the takes on Spears’s current circumstances, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people in controlling relationships amplify their complicity in these circumstances. Example from Hannah’s vault of bad memories: a partner and I had shared finances because I am better with money and therefore, I was wrong for not offering more financial assistance when they started stealing money from me. It took me a long time to realise that wanting to share and choosing to share with a loved one is not the same as the loved one taking from you. Similarly, I have (just recently) had to get out of the habit of asking permission to wear make-up or to go out in workout gear. I’d internalised this inappropriate practice and it confused the hell out of my current partner. Because I learned to ask my abuser’s opinion about things they had no business taking decisions about, I made myself feel partially responsible for receiving their orders.

Coming out of these situations, you have to name and build boundaries before you scratch the surface of the ones that have been broken. You have to ramble and guess and panic and hope that you are locating the things you need before you understand what you are trying to heal from. It’s terrifying and it’s risky. It’s also mistake-ridden.

I knew that I had lost any sense of bodily autonomy through the different abuses I have been through (via multiple partners). I’m only now starting to appreciate how I have manifested that lack of sense in the way I have lived since.

I don’t know if this post will help anyone but hopefully, it will tell or remind a survivor or person reclaiming their sense of self that it is possible to be safe. It is possible to be loved while you are healing. It is possible to argue without emotional abuse. It is possible to notice a new pain long after you were hurt and I believe it is possible to heal from these things.

I hope that Britney Spears is allowed to heal, that she is given autonomy to decide what she wants from her life, and that anyone who finds themselves trapped is able to find their way out in a manner that helps them move on. I feel like I’ve only really began to know myself (and not the person I thought I should be) several years on from my experiences. It’s really hard, I’ve made so many mistakes, and still, I continue to be filled with joy that I made those mistakes (and many more affirming choices) for myself. I still apologise for existing but it happens less and less and the people around me are able to tell me when I do it without it feeling like yet another rebuke. I want the Britney Spears I invested in as a small person to be able to say “I make my own choices and I’m glad to be alive” too.

Thoughts About Work

A reflection on best practice and duty of care in British academia

I get a lot of questions about my teaching practice, my pastoral attitudes, and the relationship between my research that connects many aspects of identity with improving Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in British universities. I think about how to do my different works better a lot but, in that, I’ve never reached a short or simple answer.

I balance lived experience with inspiration from others, research, training and other learning while also making many and ongoing mistakes. In fact, I am concerned about edifying any one person’s process without the context of community, friendship, and assimilated knowledge. For example, I went to a workshop about a book, which is no longer happening, and someone gave an improvised introduction to the philosophy of imagination and how we can connect it to Black liberation. I am not philosophical and didn’t hold onto the details of their words, but I was transported in the moment and I learned a lot about energy and intention in teaching. And in my own way, about imagination and liberation. I know who that person was, and I always signpost their influence on how I approach topics in my teaching, but they aren’t tangibly acknowledged in the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.

I hold the conversations with friends, colleagues, and students as part of this process. I fail more than I succeed but I learn because I ask for feedback and I work very hard to reflect on the critiques I receive. Could I do something differently or in a more helpful way? Have I misjudged a conversation? Was I being lazy? Sometimes, I will feel that my authenticity or intention doesn’t work for someone and move on. At other times, I will have messed up. I catch myself losing focus and operating in unhelpful, unhealthy and toxic ways as the norms in university environments can feel safer and also, what is expected. Example: I often assume knowledge of certain phenomena in popular culture. So, I have a note on my desk that says: “Not everyone has seen The Lion King”. I don’t always remember but I also sit with the feeling when it happens to me and I feel lost rather than included. If you have never felt that distance from learning, it’s hard to locate creative empathy in whatever work you do.

For me, the hardest but most necessary part of aiming to be a good teacher, a respectful researcher, a good colleague, a helpful supervisor etc. is knowing that those things are largely conditional on the perspective whoever I am in dialogue with. Is my work, my energy, my intention having the impact I hope it will? If not, the only person responsible for that is me. And if you are thinking that this position reads as insecurity then you are misunderstanding the measurement of intentionality with likeability. I admit that I have not shaken the want to be liked but this is neither intrinsic nor essential to doing my work intentionally. I am regularly described as “confrontational” and “challenging”. Ignoring the codes ascribed with those expressions, I know that this is because I prefer direct questions and direct answers and that I am also unimpressed by non-answers. The thing about academia is that non-answers seem to come easily. We all hedge. We all present things with angles. We all consider how we cover our backs, especially when we have come from or are in precarious situations. There can be a safety in not answering when a question is asked. But often, that’s where the greatest harm lies. I have done it because it felt like the right choice at the time, but it has almost never been the best choice. The downside is that it risks more and costs more to be open and committed in a public way.

I describe myself as a bit too much. I am intense, emotional, loud, clumsy, enthusiastic, and eager to do my best work. It can be exhausting for me as well as to other people. But that is my essence, and I am fine with it. In order to argue about safe working environments or paying students for their time or changing the curriculum, I need to be all of those things because they make me present and attentive. However, they also make my mistakes more prominent and, sometimes, harder to undo. I don’t know what my approach to my work is other than that is should be liberatory, accessible, fun, and (often) useful to people around me. That is not the mode of my institution or my profession but it’s where I sit and most days, I try and move a little bit closer to it.