Burger Queen (finally)

Here is a small selection of my photos from Burger Queen! Bethany was a finalist so I toddled down with my camera and red lipstick. The only way I can describe Burger Queen is the safest (and most fabulous) place on earth. No matter what you look like, what you wear, who you fancy, what you identify as – there’s no wrong answer at Burger Queen. Everyone is great and everyone is welcome. It takes some of the key tenets of feminism and queer theory and presents them to you in a way that makes you laugh, feel good and perhaps shed a tear. As a lifelong fat girl, I thank Burger Queen for making me feel unreservedly great about myself for an evening, tucked away from the bullshit in a room full of fantastic people.

I’m in heaven when you smile
September 27, 2010, 8:13 am
Filed under: Life, music | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Occasionally I share music on here, and today is one of those occasions. I’m a well-documented fan of Van Morrison and this song always, always sends me on my way in a good mood. I’m moving house today (hence the lack of updates), so I needed spurring on. It’s doing the trick.

I’ve got a small build-up of photos to post. Back to business as usual once The Most Stressful Week Ever is finally over.

Sweet sweet girlfriend

I have been lucky enough over the past year or two to form new friendships and rekindle some old ones. The way I relate to women has changed dramatically because I’m no longer in such unrealistic situations with them – we don’t see each other every day, we don’t compete against each other in an intensive private school environment, and we don’t cling to each other in the panic of first leaving home. It feels much more like I’m able to appreciate the women in my life for what they are and what they do. We had a girls’ dinner in my flat last night and it was brilliant. We sat out in the garden for hours giggling away over copious amounts of food and red wine and pondering life, love and the universe. It was new for me, but I liked it.

The best advice I’ve ever received

I had a browse over at and have been thinking about this question ever since: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I thought immediately of something my uncle said to me: “It’s okay to mess everything up.” He said it at a point where I wasn’t quite ready to hear it but now that my life has calmed down, I can see what he was getting at. I’m terrified of making mistakes and getting it wrong. I overthink and overanalyse and never take risks. I struggle to assert myself and show my feelings. I’m like a tightly knotted string, coming undone one loop at a time. Having played it safe for as long as I remember, I really should take the risk and not always do what I think I should be doing, but instead try doing what I want to do. It’s okay to get everything wrong, and that’s something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis.

So in honour of embracing my inner goof and losing inhibitions, here are a couple of snaps of my beautiful friend Bethany and me, eating udon with self-styled bibs (because we struggled to eat without getting it down our fronts). We’re so styling.

We also went to Maison Bertaux for dessert. No such thing as too much time spent in good old Maison B.

What’s in a face?

Here I am again to debate and agonise over the seemingly inevitable syndrome of woman. I’m not sure why I’ve been picking up on the comments people make about appearance with such a sharp ear recently, but it feels like everyone is talking about it.

(My face, for your time)

It is as though our fate is decided. Our faces and bodies comprise our first interactions with people – the positioning of features on our faces, the shapes of our bodies, the clothes we wear, our haircuts. I find it difficult to accept compliments on my appearance because it’s not something I can really help. I didn’t determine the distance between my eyes, the shape of my nose, or the size of my lips. On occasion when I get enough sleep I look fresh-faced, but that’s largely down to chance.

While I have to admit that some part of me judges others on the way they look, I try to keep the battle going within myself to restrict it. The idea of other people scrutinising me is terrifying – attractiveness is something so subjective that the vast majority of people must look at each other with either indifference or distaste. Perhaps I base my assumptions too much on my own experience. While I can appreciate the attractiveness of others, it is actually quite rare for me to be attracted to other people. Real attraction for me is quite rare as I can look at people and think “that person is good-looking” but seldom think “that person is attractive”.

What really made me think about this again are throwaway comments that people make.

“Do you know so-and-so?”
“Hmm who’s that?”
“Oh, you know, she’s friends with so-and-so and thingy.”
“Is she the not-very-attractive one?”

I guess that in my everyday life, I try not to differentiate people on the basis of attractiveness. I feel as though – being a safe distance from any mainstream definition of ‘attractive’ myself – I’m in no position to comment on the attractiveness of others. Also, defining someone as ‘attractive’ or ‘unattractive’ makes it seem transactional, or as though people only exist for the gains of others. This distinction forces people into the categories of ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’ on an arbitrary basis – while I accept that we feel physically attracted to other people, I don’t accept the necessity to comment constantly on the attractiveness of others (and thus constantly create and reinforce a binary of ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’). In addition to physical attraction, many people do conform to and perpetuate a convention of what beauty is. The convention also becomes all-encompassing – especially for women, appearance is a fundamental tool in achieving success. I find this so difficult to reconcile within myself. I believe everything I espouse yet still I find myself spending so much money on clothes, make-up and hair products. I sit reluctantly on the fence, caught between belief and an insidious peer pressure.

A person does not exist solely as a sexual or aesthetic object – people are agents of change and progress in whatever they choose to do, yet instead of being encouraged to reach their full potential, they are heckled from every angle for not being pretty or thin enough. So many intelligent, funny and wonderful women lack confidence because they look different to the images with which they are bombarded. I say women because I am a woman and I struggle with the same plight. It’s like an extra responsibility we take on from birth: to look a certain way and, if we don’t, to achieve it and then to maintain it.

This isn’t the most eloquent discussion of this theme. It is difficult for me to articulate my thoughts because it is a subject that becomes so personal. I suppose I’m trying to explain that I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, between upkeep of a contrived physical appearance and the struggle of someone different against a current of pre-defined beauty.


As I haven’t posted in 10 days, I figured I should put up some of the photos from my safari trip. It was a humbling experience driving across the sprawling Serengeti – I felt insignificant but important at the same time. It definitely put things into perspective, in terms of being only a tiny screw in the vast machine of the universe. Kilimanjaro is a stunning sight to behold – our whole safari group just couldn’t stop looking at it. The stars litter the sky at night in a way I had never seen before. Just amazing.

The underbelly of paradise

We’re staying in a Swiss-owned hotel on a beach by Shanzu, a village with a population of about 50,000, located a short drive from the city of Mombasa. With a balcony looking out onto the Indian Ocean, framed by a white sand beach, this should be paradise. Sure, there is the occasional power cut (such as during the England vs USA match) and the prices of things change depending on whom we ask, but there is little room for complaint. This little scene could have been borrowed from holiday snaps on the Costa Blanca, give or take a vast ocean and the East African heat.

It is difficult to reconcile my own plenty with the poverty and struggle of those working in this hotel. We have befriended a number of the staff and, as we get to know them, they share more with us. We learnt yesterday that the non-management staff are working without pay for the ninth consecutive month. The Swiss owner, in a well-protected hideaway not too far from here, claims not to have the money to pay the staff. He refuses to meet with them and buys off the trade union representatives. Without support from the union and with many local people desperate for work, these unpaid members of staff have no choice but to keep working for free. The system of purchase in the hotel works on the basis of receipts – guests get a receipt for every purchase and pay the hotel’s cashier at the end of the week. The unpaid staff make enough to scrape by through unofficial cash sales which are then split between the staff of that particular area. The sum of money made is minimal – one barman, a man we call Whiskers for his distinctive moustache, told us how he had to pull his son out school when his salary stopped. He has been working at this hotel for 12 years, and tells us that working conditions have deteriorated since it came under new management a couple of years ago. This is also the only hotel along this stretch of sand that does not pay its staff – all staff in the other hotels are paid. That it is possible for only one establishment to treat its staff this way is unfathomable – this glaring exception is swept tidily under the carpet. Our fellow guests are none the wiser that the smiling faces greeting them throughout the day are concealing a daily struggle with which they will never be acquainted. It is difficult even to imagine working for the wage these workers are denied, let alone for nothing at all.

Whiskers blames the corruption that is rife across Kenya. He says corruption has become an unquestioned part of Kenyan business. I wish I had some piece of wisdom from my time studying developing countries and corruption, but I would feel like a hypocrite even if I tried to comment. How can I fumble for something as abstract as theory when real people are unable to provide for their real children? I am a white face in a hotel full of white faces, being served by (and therefore profiting from) Kenyans who are unpaid because of a lack of transparency and representation. So for now, I slip money on the sly when I am meant to be signing receipts – a token (though risky) rebellion and a small amount of money into empty pockets – and I hope that a career in international development will not be a waste of time. It is frustrating for me to sit here typing this as I cannot offer even light relief, but with no option of union or other collective action, these workers are trapped until tangible employment laws come into force. Such an indulgence it is for me to be able to blog about the harsh realities of others.