Greeting myself

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One day, years ago, when I was a student at Aberdeen Uni and was walking down Union St, an old lady came out of nowhere and grabbed my forearm. She held on tightly, asking me if I liked her nail varnish, then she told me all about herself and how she had been greeting the neet.

I didn’t understand what she meant at first, but from the context of her story, I came to realise that she had cried all night, deeply and sadly, for all that life had inflicted upon her, more often than not caused by the misogyny of men. She had been greeting the neet. I gave her my full attention as she told her story, partly because she had an iron grip, but mainly because she felt like the female Aberdonian equivalent of the Ancient Mariner. Once she had finished she asked me for a couple of quid for a cup of tea which she smiled at as she put them in her pocket before finally letting me go.

That night, I went clubbing down the same street. I remember because it was rare that I went to Union St, living as I did in the Bridge of Don, where seals could sometimes be spotted on the sandy shore, so to be on Union St twice in one day felt like big news. Anyway there I was with some fellow students – the majority of whom were male and English – having a pint when some huge Scotsman came over to berate me for being English. I was the focal point of all of his hatred of dirty English bastards, just me, not the men surrounding me. He was very vocal and went on and on and on, until I excused myself and went to the toilet.

Having grown up in a household of men who went on and on and on, I was used to men going on and on and on, in what I learnt yesterday is called a chain of screaming. In my case, some bloke was angry about something that probably happened earlier in the nightclub, so he decided that the small woman enjoying herself was going to get it.

My capacity to enjoy myself gets on people’s nerves, I know, it used to really irritate my dad. One time my joie de vivre was so infuriating for him that he shouted at me that I was not right in the fucking head for behaving like I was on cloud fucking nine for no fucking reason. I remember laughing but that just made him shout some more so I probably excused myself and went to the toilet.

But that night on Union St after I had put some distance between me and shouty man, he came looking for me and said, Oh I’ve heard that you are from Middlesbrough, it’s almost Scotland, you are almost Scottish, had I known, I wouldn’t have gone on like that. It was as close as he could come to an apology. I should think I was graceful about it even though I was quivery inside. However, I definitely did not use the phrase my mother used to use when people apologised to her: Don’t worry I’m used to it.

She was used to it. I am used to it. It’s happened a lot. I express or I am just there being myself and some bloke shouts his head off at me, it has happened in gardens, in church gatherings, in lecture theatres, in pubs, clubs, and so on. Normally some bloke is triggered and they are going to make sure some woman gets it and they never think they should apologise.

We’ve seen a lot of this, this week, with Piers Morgan’s vitriol for Meghan Markle, discrediting her at every turn, dismissing everything she said as drama. He set a tone which was quickly copied across the world by many male TV presenters, that one in Australia was particularly nasty. Why hasn’t he been sacked too? It isn’t freedom of speech. It is misogyny. I am glad Morgan is no longer on GMTV and quite frankly the Royal Family should hang their head in shame for what they have now done twice.

Yesterday, the remain of Sarah Everhard were found in Kentish woodland. There are no words to describe the horror of a young woman’s life cut short as she made her way home from a friends house. They have a man in custody. On Twitter many women this week have shared stories of the fear they have felt on their journeys home and have felt lucky to make it home alive.

I hadn’t thought about my past experiences around bullying men until recently, when a bloke I used to know and used to remember with great fondness asked via DM why I blog and what made me get started. I knew him at the time when I was student in Liverpool and I shared a house with four blokes. One night on the way back up from the phone box at the end of the street after phoning my parents, two random blokes crossed over the road and one grabbed me by throat and stared into my eyes and called me some nasty names. He let me go and they both laughed at my fear and I continued walking home. The blokes in the house didn’t believe me until I showed them the choke marks on my throat. It never occurred to me to report it to anyone, it’s just something men do.

I learnt that when I was 14 years old and was putting a friend on the bus home. A load of lads from my street came up and spat on me at the busstop for no reason except that they could get away with it because there was a gang of them and I was alone. A few days later the ringleader’s mother saw me and shouted at me that it was all my fault and I got what I deserved. Obviously, she too was used to it.

I was delighted though slightly dubious when DM man reached out to me, but with my usual attitude of hope over experience, I answered the question: Why do I blog? …with something like I love the feeling I get when I write. He replied by complaining about his wife.

In truth, it’s so much bigger than that. I blog here because I get to say exactly what I feel, exactly how I want to without any interruptions, without anyone telling me that I am wrong about who I am, and that I deserve whatever abuse gets thrown at me.

I wish that was 100% true, but it is not. A few years ago now, the best pal of DM bloke reached out to sneer at my writing and told me that what I wrote about computing was obvious and rubbish, he also called my northern accent stupid. He hasn’t studied computing, but of course must know more than me because he worked part-time in PC World. Ah the legitimacy of men. After that super unpleasant exchange, he wanted to befriend me on Facebook, I guess he thought I was used to it and would welcome him with open arms.

Women whom I don’t know at all, or used to know, never DM me to ostensibly talk about this blog before complaining about their wives and their lives and how they never have sex. Only men do that. Another old uni pal once facetimed me when his wife had gone away to say: My wife is a lazy fucker. It is so disappointing, I hadn’t heard from him for years and he just wanted to slag his wife off. Men want a quick fix of being seen, heard and bolstered, and once they feel better, I never hear from them again. DM man has already disappeared into the ether but don’t worry I’m used to it.

Sherry Turkle said in her  TED talk (2015) and book: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, (2011) , that we use online others as spare parts of ourselves. I used to like to think that Turkle was wrong but really I know that she’s right. I have experienced it too many times myself online and off.

And so it is with trepidation that I publish this blog as the last time I wrote a blog like this I got trolled but because this is my space, their comments never saw the light of day.

No one gets to speak here unless they have my permission and that is a rare thing for a woman in this world. Where else do women get a space to talk freely without being bullied? We don’t. We have to lock it down and put up huge fucking fences and finally when there is a tiny gap, we feel easy enough to speak.

And, so to answer the question: Why do I blog? I want to misquote the brilliant Billie Eilish and her song Therefore I am and say: I blog therefore, I am:

I’m not your friend
Or anything, damn
You think that you’re the man
I think, therefore, I am

I am now the female Ancient Mariner who sometimes goes greeting the neet for all that life has inflicted upon me, more often than not caused by the misogyny of men. Mainly though, these days, thanks to this blog, this space where I can speak freely, along with another special online space, I am finally beginning the process of greeting myself with elation, in the manner of Derek Walcott’s poem Love after Love, as I become accustomed to being myself, without fear of being attacked, and I look forward to the day that I reclaim the phrase: don’t worry, I’m used to it.