Friday, 23 September 2016

Fight, Flight or Freeze: Surviving Assault

(TW: This post is all about unwanted touching, sexual violence, consent, misogyny and feminism.)

If headlines in mainstream news are to be believed, Gigi Hadid is an ungrateful, unladylike miscreant who violently attacked a fan.

Fortunately there’s a video of the incident, in which “prankster” Vitalii Sediuk grabs the supermodel from behind only for her to defend herself by elbowing him in the nose. He puts her back down and she, understandably, shouts “Who the fuck are you, you piece of shit?”

Discourse about the event has varied. While some people are completely on Gigi’s side, and say she has every right to retaliate when her personal space is invaded, others have said that her reaction was disproportionate.

What many people may not understand is that when someone is touched without warning or consent, it’s not just a case of feeling that our “personal space” has been invaded. Particularly when someone from a minority group (whether on basis of gender, race, sexuality etc.) is unexpectedly touched, we feel that our safety is at risk. It’s beyond being annoyed or inconvenienced, we feel endangered.
Being lifted off the ground, touched intimately, surprised, grabbed or otherwise interfered with is startling. It’s alarming. It’s frightening.

At a young age we’re taught that fear causes a rush of adrenaline, and we’re told that this hormone elicits one of two actions: fight or flight. When I was bullied at school, my mum used to tell me to ignore it and walk away, whereas my dad always told me to “punch ‘em on the nose”. My parents often remind me of a time when my youngest brother had just been born, and having watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang I was worried that the Child Catcher would come for my new baby brother. My dad went to the loo in the middle of the night, and opening the door to go back to his bedroom he was confronted four-year-old me, brandishing a baseball bat as long as I was, ready to fight the “intruder”. One of my defining characteristics throughout my life has been my bravery.

Now, evidently Gigi Hadid is a fighter, and that is to be applauded. But it’s not fully accurate to say that fighting or running away are the only two responses to fear. For many people who have been assaulted there’s secret option number three: freeze.

While Gigi’s assault (and that’s what it was) occurred in broad daylight and was observed by numerous people, including press with cameras and her own sister, the situation could have gone very, very differently if it was dark, or somewhere secluded, or if the victim didn’t go for regular boxfit sessions. There are times when fighting an attacker would put the victim in more danger, and where running away simply isn’t possible. In these situations, the victim enters a kind of self-preservation where they comply with their attacker to prevent further harm. While I whole-heartedly defend Gigi’s reaction (I may have fist-pumped when I saw her in the video) I think it’s really, really important that we stop saying “fight or flight” and start talking about “fight, flight or freeze”, and I’m going to tell you why.

The “freeze” reaction is very common, especially in cases of sexual assault. The fact that we only learn that adrenaline causes “fight or flight” means that victims are scared to come forward because they question whether it "counts" if there wasn't a struggle, or screaming, or an escape attempt. I’m going to use myself as an example and talk about four occasions where I’ve been the subject of unwanted touching and sexual assault from strangers, and how I’ve reacted quite differently to each one.

Me on the outward journey to Weymouth (on the right)
The first time was when I was 16, at around 5 in the afternoon. I’d been to the beach as an end-of-exams trip with a group of friends, and we were heading back form Weymouth on the train. A man in his early 20s came and sat next to me and started talking to me. I was polite, and responded to his questions. Then, out of nowhere, he slid his hand across my thigh and into my crotch. I leaped up out of my seat and silently walked to the back of the carriage, and my friends followed. I was shaken and uncomfortable for the rest of the train journey, and I still jump when strangers accidentally brush against me on crowded trains. For weeks afterwards I wished I’d followed my dad’s advice and punched him on the nose. I felt a responsibility to teach the stranger a lesson. I wondered if he’d do the same to other girls because my reaction hadn’t been strong enough. I felt guilty.

When I was 18, I went to Venice alone. I stayed with a host, and I attended language school in the afternoons. I was preparing to study Italian at uni, and I was keen to learn as much as I could, so I took down the email addresses of a couple of people who advertised on the school’s notice board, asking for tandem conversation classes. I got a response from a man called Gregorio, who wanted to meet up with me and practice his English while I practised my Italian. We met at a bar I’d been to a few times and he was perfectly charming. He confessed that he’d found my blog because the URL matched my email address, and that he liked my writing. He insisted on walking me home, all the way across the island, and kissed me goodbye on both cheeks. Several days later he sent me a text saying he was walking past my apartment, asking if he could come in for a cup of coffee. I didn’t see an issue with that, so I invited him up. Within minutes he had me by the hair and was telling me that 
if I didn’t give him oral sex he was going to rape me.

I complied because I was frightened. I couldn’t run, and I was scared that fighting him would make the situation worse. He’d already threatened to rape me, so who knew what else he was capable of. I mentally checked out until it was over. Once he’d left I numbly showered, feeling dirty and angry, and upset. But above all I felt weak and guilty. My dad’s voice was in my head. I should have punched him on the nose. I should have bitten down when he forced himself into my mouth. I should have poked him in the eye like you do with sharks. I promised myself that if anyone so much as looked at me in a way I didn’t like, ever again, I’d fight them. I should have done more. I should have done something. I felt like I’d let it happen. I felt like it was all my fault. I felt guilty.

Me in Venice
That night I took myself for an evening walk in the rain. I walked to the bar, hoping to bump into friends from school. As it was I met a couple of men I’d met there in my first week and we got chatting. One, named Stefano, spoke very good English and was smiley and chatty, while the other, Evin, only spoke Albanian and broken English. I was soaked through from the rain, my shoes were sodden, but I wasn’t cold. As I prepared to take myself back to my apartment, one of the boys offered to lend me some of his sister’s shoes. We were apparently about the same size, and he said that his mama would be ashamed of him if he let a lady walk home in wet shoes. His flat was a couple of minutes away. I figured any young man with such a sense of chivalry was safe. In truth, I naively thought “Well, I’m not going to get attacked twice in one day.” I walked to the flat with the two young men, wondering if his sister would be in, so I could thank her for the shoes.

When we got to the flat, Stefano went straight to bed, then Evin locked me in. My stomach dropped into the soles of my feet and my gaze went straight to the floor. The last solid thought I remember having was, “There are no girls’ shoes here.” Evin, who hadn’t spoken a word of English all night, said “You scream, I kill you.” He forced me onto the bed, and took out a condom. When I started crying and saying no, he pinned my arms above my head and muttered in my ear, “Why no fuck? Is it because I Albanian?” For the second time in 12 hours I was forced to give a man oral sex to prevent him from raping me. When it was over I asked to leave. He wrapped his arms around me tightly and told me to go to sleep. I tried. I wanted morning to come. I wanted to get out of there and hide in my apartment until my flight the next week. I was beyond feeling damaged, I felt broken. I felt stupid and sick to my stomach. I didn’t understand how mere hours before I’d sworn to myself that I would fight harder. I felt filthy. I felt guilty.

Me at 21, working in the opticians
When I was 21, I worked in an optician’s. It was generally pretty quiet, and often people from local businesses would pop in and talk to us about their offers. It helped pass the time. Mo was one of those. He came in on several occasions, waiting until my manager had gone on lunch before coming in to talk to me, and only ever me, about the discount he could get me on gym membership. He was persistent. He was sort of sweet in a sort of overly-friendly way, showing me his muscular arms and once flashing me his abs. After a couple of weeks, I finally gave in and booked an induction. I went to the gym after work and he got me to sign all the paperwork, including a comprehensive membership contract which said I couldn’t cancel within 12 months, unless I had a doctor’s note saying I was incapable of using a gym, or if I moved out of the area. He showed me the ladies-only area of the gym, the changing rooms and the pool. Then he took me into the studio where yoga lessons happened, which was empty and dark. While we stood in the abandoned, dim room he asked if I had any injuries and I mentioned that I had plantar fasciitis and tight calf muscles. He demonstrated a calf stretch, placing his hands on the barre, extending one leg behind himself and asking me to do the same. When I did, he them moved behind me, pressing his unignorably erect penis into my bum. He held my body firmly against his, and when I tried to move away he held me tighter. We stood motionless for a long time, and I said and did nothing. After what felt like hours, the light suddenly turned on and Mo sprang away from me as a gym instructor entered the room. Nobody said anything. I completed the induction then went home. I cried myself to sleep feeling passive. Weak. Guilty, again.

When I finally told people about any of these assaults, one of the most common responses was, “Why didn’t you fight them?” The simple answer is that I was terrified, and it didn’t feel safe to fight back. As horrible as it is for a stranger to non-consensually jam his erection against you in a dark room, or to force you into sex acts and threaten to rape you, there is something inside you that says, “Being raped is better than being dead, and those may be my options.” I know now that I am far from alone in going boneless in the face of an assault and just doing the bare minimum to survive with the least possible damage. Freezing is sometimes all we can do.

Even brave girls can’t fight the world. There is always someone stronger, with home field advantage, with scarier threats and more power.

I wish someone had told me sooner that compliance under coercion isn’t consent. I hadn’t “allowed” or “encouraged” these men’s actions with my own inaction. It wasn’t my fault.

Gigi Hadid is a great example of a woman who took control of a frightening situation and fought back. But please know that if you’ve ever been attacked in the same way and been unable to react as Gigi did, you are not weak and you are not alone. Sometimes self-preservation isn’t about fist fights or elbows to the nose, it’s just about making it through any way you can. You are no less worthy of help, empathy or support regardless of how you survive, and you shouldn't feel guilty or weak for not physically retaliating.

Fight, flight or freeze. You are a survivor. We are survivors.
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Wednesday, 14 September 2016

“She Might Be” Might Be the Online Magazine We’ve Been Waiting For

It seems that barely a week goes by without some mainstream magazine or fashion brand putting their foot in their mouth. Whether it’s O magazine saying that you should only wear crop tops if you’ve got a flat stomach, or BOB by DOP creating prints with images of plus people on clothes that only go up to a size 16, it seems almost impossible to find inoffensive media.

One section of society where I’ve always been able to find a spiritual home is among fat-positive bloggers. So you can only imagine my delight when I heard that Georgina Grogan was launching an online magazine called She Might Be, by fats, for fats.



But wait, I hear you cry, shouldn’t inclusive media be for everyone? To that I say, “Shush. Let us have this.”

Fat people are constantly told, directly or indirectly, that beauty, fashion and popular media are not for us. Despite the average dress size of women in the UK being a size 16, clothing ranges in mainstream stores typically go from a 6-18, meaning that people up to five sizes smaller than average are accommodated but generally only one size above average is catered to. She Might Be will be written by contributors representing a wide age range, and a huge range of body types from size 18 upwards.

Personally I’m really excited to have an online magazine to turn to when I don’t feel like being bombarded with body shaming imagery and writing. She Might Be promises fashion and beauty features, lifestyle guides and interviews with industry professionals, and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to having a site that won’t leave me feeling like an unwelcome outsider, as I often do when I try to buy magazines off the rack.

I’ve been fat for all of my adult life, and its only in the last few years I’ve been exposed to the fat-positive and body-positive movements that tell me that I am free to be my own beautiful, unique, wobbly self. These wonderful women of Twitter and the blogosphere taught me that it’s ok to be thin, fat, average, tall, short, freckly, stretchmarked, scarred, to wear tight clothes or baggy jumpers, or to be whatever gender I feel I am along an infinite spectrum. My body is my own and my sense of style shouldn’t be dictated by my size. Despite men who tell me I should be ashamed of my body, family who see fatness as a flaw, I rely on fat-positive friends and content creators to remind me that I am pretty great, however I choose to be.

With that in mind, I can’t wait to dig right into She Might Be, and wish everyone involved the best of luck, the most happiness and every success. 


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Monday, 29 August 2016

Man on Online Dating: An Open Letter

Dear Man on Online Dating,
Thank you for your interest. I'm sorry to have initially concerned you with my glaring lack of a full-body photo. While I generally find it slightly creepy when a complete stranger asks to see a top-to-toe photo of me, I get it. People have a type. That's why I uploaded a photo for you to scrutinise. I figured that was a helpful thing to do.

Imagine my surprise when you say to me, "that's not you... it's obvious you're probably a bigger girl. You don't have to be embarrassed you know."

First things first, it is a photo of me. 
Second things second, yes, I am a "bigger girl".
Third things third, I'm not embarrassed, but clearly you think that I am, or that I should be.
The funny thing is, when I took that photo and uploaded it to Instagram, I captioned it with the words: 
"I would wear this outfit every day of the week. Seems a silly thing to post, but I so rarely feel comfortable in my clothes and this get-up made me feel great. So... Yeah. There's that."

I'm annoyed. I'm not annoyed because you say I'm "obviously a bigger girl" - I know I am, I live in my body, I'm fully aware what it looks like, besides which my profile mentions it under "body type". 
I'm not annoyed that you don't believe that I could look the way I do in the photo in question - wearing all-black, tight jeans and high heels makes me look slimmer than I would in something loose-fitting or knitted. 
Nor am I annoyed that you then told me that I'm "the perfect size for you". It's always just swell to hear that someone finds my body shape attractive. Fab. Marvellous. My body clearly isn't too bootylicious for you, babe.
What annoys me is that you believe that I would be so ashamed of my "bigger" body that I would steal photos to portray as my own because god forbid I am happy to show someone my actual body. I'm annoyed that you think, by fetishising my body type you can counteract this fictional embarrassment. You're an internet stranger with poor grammar, you have nothing to offer me that would in any way affect my self esteem. It annoys me a little that you believe that you could.
Anyway, Man on Online Dating, best of luck in your endeavours to find an "obviously bigger" girl whose self worth is so damaged that she finds your ham-fisted approach in any way effective. Unfortunately that girl is not me.
Yours, 
Me and my fat arse.


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Friday, 17 June 2016

I Was a Teenage Racist: A Plea

This week has really shown some of the best and worst of humans in the country I call home. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen a series of threads (here, here and here) where I talked about the murder of Jo Cox, and I don’t think I need to talk about that specific event any further right now (though I highly recommend this piece on the media’s portrayal of the murder as the work of a “mentally ill loner” rather than a hate crime by a far-right extremist). 

My Twitter rant kind of took a turn when I admitted something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while.
It took me a long time to say it in these words, I gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em. Teenage Elena, I see you.



I could skirt around the issue and say that I was ‘confused’ or ‘ignorant’. I could blame my middle-class background and my private, boarding school education. I could ignore that phase of my life altogether. But, the more I talk about politics, culture, feminism and race the more I feel at odds with my history. Whenever someone on Twitter retweets or praises me for discussing these issues, the more I feel pressed to say, “I’m shit. I have been so shit. I’m so sorry.” I feel terrified that I’ll be ‘found out’. With Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature I live in fear of being provided with archived digital proof of my crappy former views. I feel a bit haunted by it. Am I judging myself too harshly?

It’s always my aim to be honest, open and balanced in my writing. Integrity is one of my core values. I feel like if I get this off my chest, if I document it and make it freely available to read, that I might feel less like a fraud. If I say the words “I was racist”, does that absolve me?

It’s not like I’m a reformed neo-Nazi. I never confronted a Muslim in the street to question them about acts of terrorism. I never excluded someone from an event based on the colour of their skin. I never wished violence or misfortune on other races. I never laid a finger on anyone. Does that make it better?

I did think that hijabs, niqabs and burkas were a ‘security risk’ that shouldn’t be allowed in public places, and certainly not in schools. I thought that asylum seekers should have to ‘assimilate’ if they wanted to live in the UK. Of course, by ‘assimilate’ I meant they should act like middle class, secular white people. I’d argue that ‘I’d have to learn to fit in and play by the rules if I moved to Saudi Arabia’, despite also trying to argue that I shouldn’t have to adhere to ‘oppressive values’. I was scared of Brixton, because pop culture references and comedic anecdotes has created a vision in my mind of any ‘black areas’ of London as a living embodiment of Jay Z’s Run This Town video. That video also scared me. I thought casual racism was ‘just a bit of fun’ and that anyone who took offence was being ‘oversensitive’. I was fearful. I was ignorant. I was narrow-minded. Was I the worst of people? No. Was I racist? Absolutely.

It took a few years and very, very good friends to change all of this. When a group of uni friends had a discussion about politics (particularly about burqas if I remember rightly) which made me feel increasingly uncomfortable I was faced with a question that all bigots must be faced with in one way or another. A simple, three-word question that pops up in your brain when you find your views and beliefs being challenged by passionate, intelligent, well-rounded people:

Am I wrong? 

I was lucky. I was surrounded by people who were patient, calm, gentle and, most of all, who I admired. I’ll be honest, part of the reason I listened while they opposed me is that I wanted to be liked. I didn’t want them to stop interacting with me because of my politics. That sounds cowardly, and maybe it is. But when people you like, people whose company you cherish and who otherwise seem to be on your level look horrified when you voice your opinions, it’s inevitable that your resolve will start to weaken a little, even if you’re incredibly stubborn. When you realise that your views make you unlikeable, you start to look at them differently.

I am so grateful to my friends from uni, I’m so glad they didn’t give up on me the first time they heard me say something stupid and racist. I’m also extremely thankful to people on Twitter who are there to pull me up when I unintentionally tweet something harmful and who are kind enough to actually explain what was wrong with what I said, rather than just descending into name-calling. I love the feminists I’ve met in real life and online who have taught me the meaning of intersectionality and White Feminism, and the bloggers and journos who helped me to recognise my own privilege and how to live without letting my past blinker me.

Everyday racism isn’t lynching or pipe bombs or hate crimes. Everyday racism is a middle aged woman muttering about halal stickers on meat in the supermarket. Everyday racism is someone saying that immigrants should have to do jobs that “hardworking British people are too good for”. Everyday racism is complaining when Beyoncé releases a racially-charged song or when Rihanna sings in Patois. Everyday racism is panels of white people discussing race issues in the media without consulting a single POC. Everyday racism is excusing anti-Islamic behaviour by saying “I don’t want my grandchildren being forced to wear headscarves to school”. Everyday racism is believing that certain traits are inherent to people based on their race. Everyday racism is denying POCs safe spaces because you feel left out. Everyday racism is being complicit in the othering of other races to your own advantage.

Everyday racism is subtle. It’s quiet. It’s worryingly socially acceptable. It’s insidious, viral, dangerous. It’s also reversible.

My old mindset makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel guilty. But most of all it makes me hopeful. If you’d told 18-year-old Elena that she’d turn into a 24-year-old intersectional feminist, blogging about white privilege, voting Labour, condemning my own past racism and tweeting angry satire she’d have thought you were nuts. Yet, here I stand.

Everyday racists aren’t the ones killing people, not directly. But their existence, their proud stance and vocal bigotry stretch the boundaries of what we consider to be acceptable, and it’s those greyed-out limits that let Britain First fundamentalists go by unchecked. Everyday racists didn’t kill Jo Cox, but everyday racism almost certainly played a part in allowing her killer to become who he was.

Please learn from this. Learn from my guilty past. Make it mean something.
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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

How Not to Be a Dick: Blogger Edition

Welcome to the first instalment in my "How Not to Be a Dick" series. I'll be doing a few of these, but today's is about responsible blogging. Enjoy!


Yeah, this picture is pretty much irrelevant. I'm writing in it, what more do you want?
For most of us, blogging is a hobby. We do it because we want to share about products we love and hate, to talk about moments that mean something to us, or to discuss causes close to our hearts. We find our little place in this community which comes with a readership, supporters and, for some of us, detractors.

I try to stay encouraging as far as I can, and I am always open for discussion and debate. However, today I saw a post about veganism that was so terrible that I couldn't find anything positive to say about it. As well as being poorly researched (i.e. barely researched at all) and misleadingly-worded, it was just really badly written. Not only that, but when challenged on this, the original author was defensive and played the victim online, rather than engaging in a discussion or allowing people to educate her on her dangerous levels of ignorance. To add insult to injury, she's deleting comments on the original post by more informed individuals attempting to set the record straight.

I can't sit this girl down and tell her to stop being so wilfully irresponsible, but what I can do is try and turn it into a more general learning opportunity. So, without further ado, here are some tips for being a responsible blogger.

Don't State Opinions as Facts

Having an opinion is fine. After all, putting opinions in writing for mass consumption is basically the definition of blogging, right? However there a world of difference between fact and opinion. I thought this was obvious, but I've seen numerous instances of people making inaccurate statements (i.e. flat-out lying) and defending their bullshit as "a matter of opinion". In case you need a lesson, here's the difference:

Opinion:
I think that the way slaughterhouses operate is acceptable.

Opinion masquerading as a fact: 
I believe that 90% of slaughter houses are killing humanely.

Fact:
According to HSA information, 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption. EU guidelines dictate the minimum measures that should be taken to avoid unnecessary suffering, however whether there is any way to humanely slaughter an animal is a matter of opinion.

If you're unsure whether you're voicing an opinion, stating a fact or spouting shit, take a look and see whether you're making claims that you can substantiate. If there are studies, reports or other reliable resources you can use to back you up, then cite them. If not, make sure it's clear that what you're saying is genuinely an expression of opinion and not a poorly-worded, unreliable pseudo-fact.

Be Discerning

Some bloggers thrive on drama. Some people just like attention. Fine, you crack on with flapping your fingers at the keyboard until someone throws you a cookie. However, if you don't want people thinking you're a moron and a dickhead, then be honest with yourself and have a think about why you want to put out a post before you click the "publish" button. Is it informative? Is it balanced? Is it accurate? If you can't tick all these boxes maybe it's time to look at it again. If you can't find a way to rewrite it that fulfils those rather generous criteria then the delete button is your best buddy.

Ignorance Isn't Bliss, It's Just Ignorance

If you have the wherewithal to set up a blog and social media, we can assume that you're able to read. This means that you are also able to research. With this in mind, I am allowed to call you out if you haven't bothered to look into a topic you're discussing. Unless you're already an expert in the subject, have the decency to read up on the thing. You never know; what you discover might surprise you. 

You can bury your head in the sand if you so choose, but be aware that people who do know a lot about the subject you've chosen to discuss will point out the holes in your argument. 

Be Receptive

When you put a blog out there, you do it to be read. It's completely delusional to believe that everyone who reads it will be congratulatory/complimentary/in agreement. When you create content it is for consumption, and the consumer is just as entitled to hold an opinion as you are. The only way you can hope to avoid the "haters" is by writing well, having popular opinions and crossing your fingers that those who disagree with you don't see it. If however, you write like a toddler, tell bald-faced lies and have shit opinions then you're basically throwing a manure grenade at the internet.

It's all well and good to drop the blogging equivalent of a stink bomb, but you can't then wonder why everything suddenly smells bad. If you throw horseshit at the internet, the internet is going to throw shit right back at you.

If, however, someone approaches you with a metaphorical can of Oust, you should probably let 'em spray you. Even if you don't love the scent they've chosen, it's got to smell better than the hot guano you just littered about the place like an angry hippopotamus.

That figure of speech got away from me a bit there... Basically, if you blog then people have a right to respond. Listen to what they have to say, be respectful and be kind. Don't be an arsehole, or people will tell you that you're an arsehole, and nobody likes to be told that they're an arsehole.

Have Grace In Defeat

Believe it or not, I haven't always been a particularly well-rounded or open-minded human. I would even go so far as to say in my younger days I was actually a racist bigot. I wasn't a nice person. 

I have a long way to go, and I know damn well I don't get it right 100% of the time, but one of the most important steps to becoming a better person was to learn how to admit when I'm wrong, and to grow from it. You can't do that if  you respond to criticism or discussion by being a petulant child. If someone has an opposing view to you, you should have a listen and ask questions (politely!) You might still disagree with them at the end of it, but at least nobody can accuse you of being an immature ignoramus. 

Be Honest

Integrity is pretty crucial to blogging, and forgetting about it can alienate your readers. Whether it's "forgetting" to declare a sponsorship, endorsing an irrelevant product just for the cash or just making shit up, you will piss people off. We're all guilty of stretching the truth a tad to make a story more interesting or impressive, or maybe omitting unflattering details. What's a different matter is full-on lying.

Only make claims you can back up if challenged, and don't resort to name calling and aggression if you get caught in a lie. Don't contradict yourself on your own blog/social media just to attract attention. Don't be the Donald Trump of blogging.

Ultimately...

If you don't want anyone to ever criticise, argue or find fault in your blog then make it private. If, however, you want to make a worthwhile and responsible contribution to this ever-growing pool of content then try not to be a twat. 
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Monday, 9 May 2016

What Is Spook & Siren? GIVEAWAY



All my life, I've been happiest while making things. Whether it was sandcastles, stories or something sewn, I was always up to my elbows creating something.

Very recently I rediscovered my love for creation, and blended it with my tastes for all things goth, magical and aquatic. Ultimately, Spook & Siren was born.

In order to get things off with a bang, I've launched not one, not two, but three giveaways! One each for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Visit the links to see how to enter each one.

The collection bridges a gap between fantasy and reality, allowing you to wear something a little bit magical. You could wear the flower crowns for festivals, weddings or parties, and the seashell crowns are great for any landlocked mermaids.

I'd love for one of my readers to win something, and you've got to enter to be in with a chance! More importantly, this venture means an awful lot to me and I really value any support you can give, whether it's a retweet, a comment or mentioning me to a friend. Here are a few of the pieces available on my Etsy store!

Alfreda

Alvarie

Aelfwine

Arethusa

Brucie

Ella

Elfie
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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

What to Do If You’re Concerned for a Stranger’s Safety



This weekend I went to a wedding in the midlands (Maid of Honour swag, yo) which meant three hours on public transport. I’ve been taking long train journeys on my own for around a decade now, so I’m pretty confident travelling alone. However, this journey was a little different.

On the first leg of my trip, I squeezed myself into the last available seat in the carriage, which happened to be at a table, with three strangers. On my left was a roughly 25-year-old woman with headphones in, and opposite me was an elderly gentleman and a middle-aged Asian lady. The train had barely started moving when the elderly man started singing and talking to himself. This was sort of annoying but bearable, and I initially just passed it off as an eccentricity. Then he started howling like a wolf.

The English are known for their stoic, stiff-upper-lip approach so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that nobody did or said anything. The issue was that I became increasingly concerned for this stranger’s welfare. He appeared to be alone and “out of it”. Did he have dementia? Did he know where he was and where he was going? How would I feel if my grandfather was alone on a train, singing and chatting to himself? I realised that I really didn’t know what to do in this situation. So, I’ve done a bit of research, and here is what you can/should do if you are concerned for a stranger’s safety.

On Public Transport

One of my best friends works for London Underground, so I asked him what I should do if I’m worried about someone’s behaviour on a train. He said,

“You can anonymously text the BTP [British Transport Police on 61016] or tweet the train company. Or just be straight and ask if [he/she] is ok.”

I know that not everyone had the confidence to just talk to a stranger, particularly one who is acting strangely and if you are travelling alone, so the first two options might be the most practical if anxiety/nerves/fear prevent you from directly interacting with the person in question. Try and stay within eye/earshot of the person you’re worried about so you can keep the authorities informed should the situation deteriorate and get more urgent.

This advice doesn’t just apply to elderly or other vulnerable people; if someone on a train is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or is making you feel uncomfortable, you can use these options to alert the proper authorities. The only difference being that, if someone is behaving dangerously or in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you should attempt to remove yourself from the vicinity if it is safe for you to do so.

You can, of course, ask a train guard or ticket inspector for assistance if you’re able to leave the carriage and find one.

If you’re on a bus, try and discreetly speak to the driver when the bus next makes a stop; generally bus companies ask that you don’t distract the driver when the bus is in motion. You can also call/tweet the individual bus company for guidance.

In Shopping Centres/Public Buildings

If you see an elderly/vulnerable person in public who seems confused, distressed or disorientated then you can approach them and ask them if they are ok, if you feel safe to do so. If you’re not comfortable doing this then there are a few things you can do, depending on where you are.

If you’re in a shop, shopping centre or other sort of public facility like a library or leisure centre, engage the assistance of the people working there. Shopping centres generally have security teams; if you don’t know how to contact them directly speak to an assistant in any of the shops, as they will have a contact number.

On the Street

If you’re on the street then the time of day might change how comfortable you are when it comes to approaching a stranger, especially if they are behaving out of sorts. If this is the case, use the maps app on your phone to get an accurate location and call the police. The individual situation will determine whether you should contact the emergency services (by calling 999 from your mobile or a payphone) or the non-emergency police number (101). Use your judgement here. Again, if you feel safe to do so, try and keep an eye on the person so you can give the best guidance to the emergency services.

If the person appears to be homeless then beware of outdated advice. There is a post making the rounds on social media advising the public to email St Mungos if you see someone sleeping rough; this is no longer what you should do. If you see someone sleeping rough, get the most accurate reading of your location you can (try using the GPS on your smartphone and taking a screenshot) and either call StreetLink on 03005 000914, download their StreetLink app on your smartphone or use their online form.


It’s always important to keep yourself safe, especially if you are alone, in a secluded place and/or in the dark. If you’re concerned about your own wellbeing then call 101 for police advice!
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