Sunday, 13 January 2019

2018: A Year in Bad Portraits (Welcome to a year's worth of awkward photo-fails).

Hello you. 

If you've ever dropped by to visit me here in any given January over the last 5 years you'll be familiar with the concept of my bad portraits. But, if not ... let me explain:
  • they're my visual equivalent of a New Year detox; 
  • they're a means for me to balance out a year of sharing the best, most flattering photos of myself - (these days that happens over on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - where like clockwork, every 4th photo I share is one of me) -  with the ones that didn't quite make the cut. For reasons which will become obvious.
  • they're a flushing-out, a fresh start, an enema for the ego!
  • and they're a chance for me to laugh at myself ... and offer you the same opportunity.
They're my BAD portraits ...

As I say each year, you are free to laugh at the following content. In fact, please do, because otherwise what am I even doing sharing them?! 
  • This project is never about body-shaming or self-critique. At worst it's self-deprecating ... at best, it's a healthy self-assessment, and I share mine in the hope that it'll make you feel better about yours! 
  • And I never share photos that make me feel bad, or ones that  don’t make me laugh, so you're absolutely safe to laugh along.
  • So, let the guilt-free voyeurism commence ...

My Year in Bad Portraits: 
The 2018 Edition.

I'm going to start with a photo in which I look like an oil painting.

It's just a pity that the oil painting in question is one of Rembrandt's self portraits.

Granted, dude could paint ... but he was no looker was he?

Below I've put together my Top Modelling Tips so we can all learn from my mistakes. Because these kinds of selfies - where you accidentally take a photo while clutching your phone in a clammy hand, and then you end up looking like an old Baroque artist - are just the worst.  Right?

Modelling Tip No.1: Find your Angles. 

Please note:  this one is never your angle:

Unless you have an especially interesting under-the-chin tattoo, there's never a good reason for you to be taking a selfie from below.

Ever. (As these shots prove.)

From above my loves. Always from above.

Modelling Tip No.2: Always be aware of what your hands are doing.

Left: despite how it appears, I'm not actually trying to keep paparazzi at bay with a modest "No photos please" gesture. I'm just trying to get my phone's camera to take a selfie (where you hold up a hand to set the self-timer going). And then. ... I guess I got distracted. Which happens.

Right: At first this seems like a half-decent outfit shot (of a vintage jumper I found in a charity shop), the kind any fashion-oriented Instagrammer might share. But, then - as I did while deciding which shot to share - you might just notice where my it looks like my right hand is resting. Oh. Dear.

And you might think I'm an entirely different kind of Instagrammer ...

Modelling Tip No.3: Cultivate your 'Signature Pose'

And while yo're practicing it in front of your bedroom mirror,  just be glad that 'startled Scooby Doo' is the one that comes naturally to me, and not you:

Modelling Tip No.4: Be like an actor and think yourself into the character you're trying to project.  

Case in point: 
  • here on the left I'm channeling that look your mother gave you when you arrived home later than your curfew when you were 8 and where she claims she was just about to call the police to find you.

  • Meanwhile, on the right I'm bringing to mind all those times in life when you're in public, and you don't want to make a big fuss but your stomach has just sank because you've suddenly thought "Oh God, where did I leave my keys? I thought they were in my pocket, but they're not in my pocket."
(Honestly ... posing for outfit photos is a sure fire way to foster a greater respect for models!)

Modelling Tip No.5: Be a blank canvas so you can easily adopt other personas.

Here, I've managed to appear so blank ... I've accidentally allowed myself to be possessed by Neo from The Matrix:

(Seriously, all I was trying to get was a selfie with the sky while I was out walking! Why does this happen to me?)

Additionally ...

  • On the left my mother and I clearly tapping into our inner thugs with our 'We're out to hot-wire cars' looks:
  • While on the right I'm tapping into the 'Forthright nun' pose so, at least whenever I move on from modelling I'll have a future in Call the Midwife: 

Modelling Tip No.6: Leave behind your self-consciousness and really feel the moment.

Genuinely, neither of these photos were staged to look funny. But as to what I was really doing in them?

Buggered if I know.

Modelling Tip No.7: At the very least ... try not to look like the walking dead:

And, finally ...

 Modelling Tip No.8: Play with the camera by embracing your inner child. 

  • On the left I've somehow managed to access the look of a sly and crafty five year old drugged-up on too many sweets.
  • And on the right ... well ... I guess this is the face I make when eating crisps in a library whether I am aged 2 or 42!


Now, while not strictly part of my modelling tips ... no Bad Portraits round-up would be complete without a shot of me crying and eating!  (Generally in life, if I'm not doing one I'm doing the other!)

  • Left: don't worry, I'm crying for nice reasons, I was watching the  movie God's Own Country on Netflix for what must have been the 2nd or 3rd time. And yes. I still cry. Every time. 
  • And Right: If you've followed my Bad  Portraits in past years you'll already be aware that James often takes advantage of a moment where I'm standing still with my mouth full (no comment) to capture a shot of me where I can't complain at how long he takes to take a bloody photo! 


And so ... we've reached the end of another year of my bad portraits. If you'd like to share my selfie-struggles with a friend, or on social media, please do. In a photo-manipulated world, the more people embracing the fun to be had from photo-fails, the better! 

Now, if you don't mind, seeing as how I've carried out my penance ... I'm diving back into another 12 months of sharing only the well-lit, poised photos, shot from above (always from above).   

Right that's it ... you can leave now, before I give you that look. You know 'the look'. This one (OK, maybe it's more of a glare):

(Jeez. I was relaxed, happy, on holiday, reading when this was taken. I wasn't even trying to look annoyed in this photo. But I do. Clearly it's an innate skill.)

Julie x

Psssssst, before you go: if you've ever missed any of my awful faces - fear not - you can catch up with them all here:

Friday, 12 October 2018

50 Shades of Nay, Chapter Two: my two biggest fears about growing out my grey.

Hello hello.

I know, I know. I'm never here. I treat this blog like a hotel. I never call.
Forgive me? I won't waste time making excuses, and hey, I'm here now, and while I am ... you can check out how much more of my grey is showing since the last time I was here. OK?

Before we begin, you should know …

I drafted out this post a few months ago, before I’d lived with the grey for any length of time. And, at this moment in time, I don't feel quite the same. Unlike my roots, my original feelings have been coloured by experience since then!

As of today (12.10.18) it's 25 weeks since I began my no-dye experiment, but my original thoughts, which you can read below - are from around the 6-12 week point. But I thought they were still worth sharing in case someone reading is only just now setting off on a greying adventure, and might be glad of the company. Welcome aboard!

I’ll try to get around to writing an update soon, and share my experiences from further down the grow-out line.
14 weeks without dyeing. 
Fear No.1. Perhaps the the most obvious fear. That I’ll look older.

When I considered halting the Sisyphean cycle of covering-up my grey, the idea of looking older wasn’t actually my biggest concern. Still isn’t, but, hey, it’s big enough! And it’s probably the most obvious so … let’s deal with that one first, shall we?

All my life people have mistaken me for someone younger than my actual age.

When I first started working at the University, supporting students in and around campus, I was told that some other students on the course had asked: “Why is that girl always hanging around with X in his classes?”

I was 31.

Just this month a colleague asked if I’d ever had trouble turning down students’ requests for me to go for a coffee with them seeing as how “I was so much closer to them in age” than she was.

I’m 42. (And had no idea how to break it to her.)

And at least once in my 40s I’ve been IDed while buying wine.

Maybe it’s because I’m small (5ft 2in / size 10), or softly spoken, or child-free, or psychologically unwilling / unable to dress like a ‘proper lady'. But whatever it is, there’s something working to embellish me with a (thin!) veneer of youthfulness.

Or maybe it’s genetics. When my Dad retired from work people asked him why he was taking early retirement. He wasn’t. He was 65.

So - apart from using this as an opportunity to boast (joke!) - I wanted to explain how I’ve spent a lifetime correcting people’s assumptions about me, my age, my status, my experience. All of which has led me here, to wondering … how will having grey hair change all of that?

13 weeks without dyeing.

Surely once my grey’s on public display, those kind of mistakes (which, were once frustrating, but are becoming more flattering with time!) will cease. Who will I be then? A grown up?  

Yeah. First world problems. Crack out the violins, right?

But while this all may sound privileged and indulgent I’m really just trying to be honest, so that anyone reading this who feels similarly, knows that at least one other person out there is feeling the same trepidation.

I won’t gloss over these concerns for fear of sounding superficial. That’s how women are systematically kept in place, through fear of sounding frivolous, childish, not serious (think how many things associated with traditional femininity - clothes, make-up, Rom-Coms - are also considered less worthy than masculine pastimes).
And it’s good to recognise the purely socially constructed embarrassment that persuades us to not dare to admit we’d still like to look young, all while being sold products that promote that exact idea! Then we’re tapped between either:
  • being scared of looking old, and reaching for the hair dye ... 
  • or quietly going grey, while scared of looking old when we do!

Hence me talking about it here to contribute to the growing conversation between women experimenting with what grey means and looks like to them (check out the #grombre hashtag on Instagram for all kinds of gorgeous greying inspiration).  

So, yes, looking older is absolutely a concern of mine. Going grey is possibly the most ageing change in my appearance since my front teeth grew back in when I was 7, or that time in the 90s when I thought boxy jackets were a worthy style choice.

13 weeks without dyeing.

However, as I’ve mentioned, looking old is not the biggest fear I have, not the most immediate, not the one that makes looking in the mirror the hardest. Because first place in that race is taken by Fear No.2 …

Fear No.2: The biggest fear. The fear of looking like I don’t care.

I dare you to admit it. 

That there’s been a time when you noticed a woman with visible root regrowth (of any colour, not just grey) and you thought to yourself “Hmmm, has she seen herself in the mirror lately?” 

I've thought it. 

I’m not proud of it, but I have thought that kind of thing in the past. (I honestly try to not be judgemental about appearances at all any more).

But, because I’ve thought it, I know that - when a percentage of those (most likely) women who’ll witness to my current amazing technicolor dream hair - it will absolutely cross their mind that I’m ‘letting myself go’, that I must not care what I look like.

When I do. 

Oh how I really do.

Again, as with the fear of looking older, the fear of sounding vain about your appearance is similarly not something we’re encouraged to openly confess!

I know that hair, makeup, clothes and shoes are not everyone’s priority. But to a lot of us, how we physically present ourselves to the world, is equally a huge part of how we construct who we are, for ourselves.

And if there wasn’t some truth to the idea that many of us enjoy putting our best selves forwards, then we’d all only ever take just one quick selfie, rather than pausing to pose for several, many, dozens! And yet - once again - women (young women and girls in particular) are frequently vilified for caring too much about their appearance. But for some  it’s a critical part of who we are.

I know there are those whose only interest in clothes begins and ends with the practicalities:
  • to fit with social convention, 
  • to keep warm 
  • to keep from being arrested for indecent exposure in the cereal aisle of Asda.
That’s not me. My personal style is my creativity worn on my shoulders, on my feet, in my ears. 

My look is how I tell you who I am. Who I want to be. And not just you … it tells me the same things about me. It creates and reinforces the person I am, who I've always been, since I started picking out my outfits and attempting to dress myself at 18 months old. 

So the idea that someone might clock my grey grow-out and interpret it as evidence that I no longer care about my appearance that’s … aw, hell, that’s a sharp dig in all of my soft places!

And I know that - for however long my hair’s in this untidy, muddled, inbetweeny, neither one thing nor the other stage - the risk of looking a little dishevelled will be the thing that bugs me far more than the idea of looking older. 

Older is not something I can help. But looking put together, like I care, is something I should have control over. 

And control could look like marching into a shop and buying a dye and mastering this unruly and ragged head of mine. And yet ... 

... that's not the experiment is it? The experiment is seeing what this mop looks like once there's no longer a trace of dye amongst it. 

And all my control right now is channelled into not dyeing it!

And, fortunately, while looking like I've stopped caring is indeed my biggest fear, I think  maybe there’s something, a few things even, that I can do about it. A quick wardrobe restyle, a haircut, something, anything to give the impression that I still care, will hopefully do the trick. (If you've seen my Instagram account - @withjuliekirk -  at any point in the few months since I wrote this, you'll know I definitely gave the hair chopping thing a go.)
So, there's that ray of hope. And while I’m growing out these silvering locks I’ll take all the silver linings I can get!

Do join in the conversation ...

When I shared my first 50 Shades of Nay post (all about how I tried a hair dye-stripper to speed up the greying process, which you can find here) there were some great responses in the comments section, and on my other social media too.  And I really enjoyed hearing your stories and thoughts on the greying process ... so please don't stop there ... 

  • are you happy to share any of your own greying fears? 
  • is your biggest fear the fear of looking older ... or looking like you don't care? Or something else entirely?
  • or maybe you've got tips on how to survive the months / years it takes to finally grow it all out?
  • any advice on how to talk yourself out of ogling the packs of dye in Boots like how you eye-up the rotisserie chicken when you go to the supermarket before you've eaten lunch?
Whatever you've got to share, and wherever's easiest for you to share (here, Insta, Facebook, sky-writing)  I'm all ears ... let's keep the grey chat going. 


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Can I have a quiet word? 7 Things Quiet People Wished You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.

Hey there, can I have a word? 

Today (Sept 12th) is National Quiet Day, a day during which we’re encouraged to take a break from the over-stimulation of modern life. To tune out, turn down and switch off.

And if this is about having one day a year where you can focus on listening, reflecting and just being, rather than speaking, then, hey, I’m all for it.

But what about those of us who are quiet for the remaining 364 days of the year?

I’ve been considered, and called, ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ all my life and, along the way I’ve come to understand that many louder, more gregarious folks, either simply don’t know how to deal with us, or else they’d rather we change everything about our nature, to suit some bubbly, outgoing ideal. 

(How do I know this? Because they’re not shy in telling us precisely that!)

And so I’m taking today’s pause amid the incessant chatter as an opportunity to speak (in hushed tones, naturally) about some of the ways in which my comrades in quiet and I are often misunderstood.

See how many you recognise ...

7 Things Quiet People Wished
You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.

1. We're not spending all of our quiet time silently judging you.

I mean, yeah, sometimes we are. Obviously. And never more so when you publicly point out how quiet we are (see No.2 below).

But, most of our time, whether we’re sitting quietly during a group conversation, a meeting, or at a party, we’re generally not silently observing you and picking apart everything you say, do, or are.

I have a friend who used to say quiet people made her nervous, mainly because she didn’t know what we were thinking. So I guess it’s not much of a leap for chatty types to fill in the blanks and decide that we’re probably observing them, judging them, quietly plotting their downfall. 

Yet, in my experience, quietness more often goes hand in hand with a loud inner critic.

We’re keenly aware that, while we’re perfectly happy being quiet, we’re somehow failing to meet the expectations of a society that insists we need to contribute, join in, come 'out of our shells', make conversation.

Our inner critics know we’re expected to be able to do this thing they call small talk (the worst kind of talk, and a lot of talk is bad) and trust me, if there’s anyone in that room we’re judging harshly, it’s most likely to be ourselves

So, while we’re quiet externally, internally our inner monologues are loudly cajoling, debating, and assessing whether we should be trying harder at the decibel range of a hostage negotiator hollering to be heard over a thunderstorm.

2. Mentioning how quiet we are won’t make us any louder.

In fact, it will likely achieve the opposite.

It’s the moment in a social gathering that quiet people dread, when someone, either just thinking aloud, or perhaps considering themselves to be uniquely insightful, comes right out and baldly states: “Aren’t you quiet?”

If you’ve done this, shall I let you in on a secret? It’s not exactly news to us that we’re not the chattiest of Cathies in the room. We know this. 

And now congratulations! You’ve worked it out too. Woo hoo!

Now what? How do expect us to respond?

  • If we say a plain ‘No’, we’ll seem deluded because, patently, we are quiet. 
  • If we say an embellished ‘No’, such as - “No, actually, I’m not all that quiet really, you should hear me natter when I’m with someone I actually like.” – we’ll appear rude.
  • Ruder still to retaliate with “And aren’t you a complete gobshite?”
But, equally, if we admit a plain ‘yep’, but then continue on in our silence, we’ll appear facetious.

The last time this happened to me was in a tea break at a workshop, where someone pointed out my lack of contributions so far and wanted to know if I was OK. As well intentioned as it was, it made me feel under scrutiny, and for the remainder of the day the notion that I was now marked out as ‘Quiet’, sealed my mouth shut tighter than an introvert’s smile when someone unexpectedly joins them for lunch.

We really can’t win when you point this out about us. We’re backed into a conversational corner with duct tape slapped over our mouths.
Worse still, this often happens in company, where there are other people’s ears pricking up, watching how we respond, which only serves to increase our discomfort and embarrassment making relaxed, natural interaction almost impossible.

3. Quiet people don’t live in a shell that you’d like us to come out of.

I wish I had ten minutes peace for every time someone decided I needed to ‘come out of my shell.’

Rarely, if ever in our western society, do we hear it suggested of loud, gregarious, people that:
  • “Oh, bless them, they just need to realise how inappropriately loud they are being, and go back into their shell”. 
Preferably a soundproofed one.

This is especially hard when we’re children, being constantly told that we’re not contributing enough (particularly in school). And as young adults where we’re trying to find a way to be in a world that constantly asks us to go against our nature, rather than consider accepting us as we are, for the skills and qualities we can quietly offer.

At 42 I know that this quiet person‘s body and mind is who I am, where I live. It’s not temporary shell-like accomodation. I’m not moving out of it any time soon. 

And yet, imagine this, I’ve still managed to get through life, maintain a long-term relationship, get jobs, make friends, express myself, and follow my creativity. Who’d have thought? Certainly not the teachers who were obsessed with me changing.

If your concern for us is real then you can help by not being so blunt and confrontational about our natural personality traits. Stop embarrassing us in front of others, stop pointing out what you consider to be our weakness. And if you really do care about what we have to say, then offer us a safe environment in which we can do that.

In general though, you're going to have to trust us that we’re not hiding from you. We’ve shown you who we are many times, but you keep denying it, telling us we just need to be a little bit different.

Stop trying to change us, improve us, coax us out. 

There is no shell.

We’re just quiet slugs, plain and simple. Not snails who you’d like to see evicted.

4. We’ve been led to believe we’re ‘less than’.  

Quiet people are often made to feel that they’re just not getting this whole life thing right.
Early on in my first ‘proper’ job a member of staff attempted to explain why she didn’t think I’d fit in in with their school as they had lots of ‘big personalities’ there.

The implication being that, in contrast, my personality was small.


In ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking’ (one of the key works on this subject) Susan Cain explores how the West's education and employment systems are set up in such a way that louder, more outgoing people, are offered the chance to shine (even from the basics like a focus on group discussions in classrooms or using open plan offices), while quieter people are overlooked or considered lacking in what it takes to succeed.

We may already have our own reasons for being quieter than others (be that introversion, shyness, confidence issues, being on the Autistic spectrum, being a HSP [highly sensitive person]) and so on. But team those with an awareness that we’re also being judged and found wanting by a structure that prizes outgoing personalities over ours and ask yourself … how likely is it that we’ll feel comfortable enough to communicate more

For the record, me and my not-big personality for stuck at that job, where I managed to not only find some ... but to to then work to my strengths as a quiet practitioner. In between other duties I deliberately set out to champion overlooked kids hosting various groups and activities for those who liked to read, for the shy quiet ones, for the Gifted & Talented.

By the time I left teachers were talking about:
  • my ability to “sit quietly and talk with the children”, 
  • my ability to keep a child on track while keeping my voice low,
  • my calming influence, and so on. 
Despite not being the loudest candidates, us quiet types do have gifts to offer. Who knows, maybe sometimes it takes a quiet adult to help a quiet child. And even a noisy child.

And nothing about that is ‘small’.

 5. We love it when we find friends who 'get' us, without wanting to change us!

Just as we’re underestimated in the world of work, negotiating friendships when you’re on the quieter side can be tricky too.

A few years back now a group of my friends had been away for a weekend, and this particular time for some reason or other, I hadn’t gone with them. On their return they voluntarily offered up the information that they’d missed me.

And I was shocked. Genuinely. Because who could miss little old me? 
  • Me, and my ‘small’ personality.
  • Me, inside my shell.
  • Me, who is ‘less than’.
  • Me, a vacuum where a personality should be.
What even was there to miss?

Clearly I’d internalised all the things I’d heard about quiet people and applied them to my role in this friendship. 

Fortunately for me, my friends hadn’t internalised anything. And knowing that they call a spade a spade, I knew they weren’t lying, had no reason to, and were simply letting me know I’d been missed. And, let me tell you, you can’t buy that kind of confidence boost!

Us quiet types can honestly come to believe that we have little impact on the world, and feel no one would notice if we just didn't turn up one day.  But let me, and the friends who missed me, serve as objective evidence that we're wrong! 

6. We may not always talk, but we don't want you to stop calling!

Even when we’re confident that our friends actually do like having us around, it can still be tough for a quiet person (particularly an introvert like me) to maintain friendships.

Sometimes we simply don’t fancy meeting up. It’s nothing personal. We might like the time to ourselves instead. We might not be up for company. During our time off we might find it easier to just dive into a book, or Netflix, or bed.

My friends now know that, when I do go away for long weekends with them, there will still be times when I just absent myself, take a long shower, mooch around outside with my camera, curl up with a book. Be together, but apart. And it seems to work OK for us.

So, if you can find it in your chattery, nattery, bubbly and outgoing hearts to just cut us some slack, to keep inviting us to join you, even if we don’t always take you up on it … we’ll love you forever.

Please don’t stop asking. It really isn’t you, it’s us.

(If it was you, you’d know. We may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at hiding it when we don’t like someone!)

And finally ... for us quiet types ... 

7. Sometimes it’s a numbers game.

It’s not always true that quiet people just don't like to talk; we can often be found gabbing away in specific circumstances. 

When I was little - the same tiny Julie who was told she needed to talk more in class - was referred to a ‘Little Miss Chatterbox’ at home. And I personally like to think that I can talk to anyone, with the emphasis on the 'one'. 

Because there’s the rub: the numbers.

Quiet people, especially introverts, may only really struggle to talk in a group situation where all of those additional personalities can heighten our long held anxieties about our own.

Personally I don’t love trying to get a word in while sitting in a large group and I have to brace myself for any attention that me opening my mouth can bring down on me.  So, the fewer people watching me speak the better, and in a one-to-one situation, with no audience, I'm in my element.

  • Take for example, the time, in that same school I mentioned already, where - one-to-one - I could handle the domineering headteacher without batting an eyelid (in fact, one time his secretary later asked me what I’d been saying to him to make him laugh so hard!) 
  • Or more recently, during the novel writing course I attended I got to have four separate meetings (two on the phone, two in person) with a Literary Agent. 

Me, Quiet Julie Kirk, and the London Literary Agent. 

Me, Off-work-sick-with-anxiety Julie Kirk and the London Literary Agent. Chatting. About my work. Like that's a thing that happens to people like me.

In all honesty, I couldn’t actually manage to share my work with my peers back in the workshops, but with the agent (which maybe should have been scarier?) I was perfectly fine because it was just me and her.

Working to my strengths and taking on only the aspects I could manage at the time - without berating myself for not taking on everything - was an act of defiance, and self care.

And I hope a quiet person reading this thinks ‘Oh, I now there’s something I could do!’. Because even if we can’t do the group thing … it shouldn't mean we automatically miss out on the entire experience.

Talking to the agent was a key part of the course wherein, after that, the cohort got whittled down from 20 to 8, to move on to the second round. And quiet Julie Kirk got through.

Moral of the story: make sure to grab any opportunities you get to shine in your natural setting! They don’t come along every day!

However, maybe somewhat perversely, on the the flip side of our reluctance to speak in front of a couple of other people … quiet types don’t always share the wider population’s terror of public speaking.

Groups are unruly, raucous things, where you never know who should or will speak next, and you have to gauge when's the best time for you to pipe up and make yourself heard.

But, in the past I’ve given a eulogy in a packed church, where more gregarious family members, confessed they’d never have been able to do it. Yet the key for me there had been having complete control of the situation. Delivering a speech you've written, in church, while standing on an altar, alone, well in that situation … you’ve kind of got the upper hand.  Aint nobody gobby enough to dare talk over the top of you there!

So maybe the majority of the time we'll battle to get a word in but, give us a clearly defined face-to-face meeting, a microphone, and even access to Instagram Stories … and you might soon be trying to find ways to get us to shut up!


Right then, your turn, speak:
  • Which of my 7 points had you nodding in recognition?
  • What annoying things have people said to you about your quiet nature? 
  • Dare you admit that you've said them to someone else?
  • Or is there anything else that you - as a quiet person - wished the louder population understood about you?
Speak now or ... you know what they're like ... the gasbags over there will only get in first! 

Thanks for pausing to chat today. 


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Short story: 'Buried' (the first piece of fiction I've ever shared online!)

Hello you. 

Well, this is something new; I'm sharing a short story of mine today. Which is a first. 

I wrote it last summer, as my final piece of work for Laura Jane Williams's 'Don’t Be a Writer, Be a
' writing course, where the prompt had been to write a short story inspired, somehow, by the prompt 'Woman in crisis'. And it features several generations of women, with the crisis affecting the woman 'off stage' so to speak, the Great Grandmother of the narrator. 

A narrator who - for the record - is not me! It's written in a similar tone to how I write here so I thought I'd just clarify before we begin that it's definitely fiction and not based on my life or family at all. (The photos aren't of my family members either, they're just part of my vintage paper collection!).

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I hinted, in this recent post, that this story features the topic of conscientious objection. A subject I'm particularly interested in and one which I spent some time researching last year; which is how this story came to revolve around the revelation that ... well ... no ... I won't spoil it for you ... I'll just let you get on and read it for yourself.  So, please enjoy ... 


Buried: a story by Julie Kirk 

“I’ll never forget what she said to us on the day of me grandmother’s funeral.”

My own grandmother had paused leafing through an old photo album and with a nobbled finger was tapping at the image of her mother.

“There was me -” she concentrated, squinting behind bifocals, peeling away the years “- our Sally-Anne, Lillian, George-Henry – Georgie – you never met him, he was long gone before you were even a twinkle.” She nudged me playfully, her well-rounded but ageing flesh yielding to mine. “And, erm … who have I said? Me, Sal …” she silently counted, head nodding, trying to recall the names which had grown increasingly, maddeningly, elusive. “Did I say Arthur?” 

I shook my head, no, and the omission seemed to pain her. 

“Well, he was still with us then so ... yes, Arthur.”

And she set the scene: it was the morning of the funeral and she and her siblings were waiting for their mother in the front parlour, lined up as if on parade. As she began casting back, though I could feel the comforting weight of her against my arm, I felt part of her slip elsewhere. 

“There we all were, a bit sniffly and teary, missing Granny - even though she was right behind us, in her coffin - it was what people did in them days.” Then, like a film set collapsing around Buster Keaton’s ears, the intervening years dropped away, leaving her standing awkwardly in a cold street house in 1913.

“And mother looks us up and down” she went on “and says ‘Well, at least you’re all looking smart; no one can say owt about that’. That was it, all she had to say. Bugger that her mother was dead and her kiddies were sad. So long as we weren’t giving the neighbours nowt to talk about, she was happy.” 

Her finger struck the photograph, a typist hitting a full-stop. 

“Right stuck up bitch she was.”

“Grandma!” I mock-chastised. Not that the sentiment itself had surprised me, I’d always sensed the spectre of a rift, but it was more the rawness, the youthfulness, of it.

“What?” she asked defiantly. “No, no. You don’t know. Two of my brothers would be alive today if she hadn’t worried so bloody much what other people thought.”

“Well, maybe not quite, eh?” I said, meaning they’d be well over 100 by now, but, misunderstanding, she dug in.

“Listen, when that war broke out, the first one I mean, our Georgie couldn’t wait to get his head in an army cap. It was all he’d talk about, thought it’d be one big adventure.” she said, officiously polishing her glasses with a hankie. “Said he’d be off with his pals the minute the recruiters set up in the town centre.” she gestured behind her with the arm of the frames. “But, she wouldn’t have it, would she? Leaving home? Going off to war? Not her blue-eyed. Oh no!”

Apparently, a battle had then commenced within the walls of their two-up two-down and Gran described how my Great Grandmother had initially thought that ordering her son not to enlist would be enough to stop him. Then, when it became clear it wouldn’t, she’d tried ‘weeping and wailing for a week solid’ instead.

“But, he must have persuaded her, because ...” I flipped ahead in the album to a photo of lanky limbs trussed up in scratchy wool; Georgie as a Tommy.

“Oh, he went alright. But that was down to Mother seeing Alfie Monroe from a few doors down walking past in uniform. And well, that was that.” With a finger, she made slow circular movements against her temple. “Little cogs started turning. Got her thinking how impressive her boy would look in uniform, how everyone would look up to him ‘doing his bit’”. She shook her head in something close to disgust. “That dried her tears sharpish and he was signed-up by the end of the week.”

“Then once that novelty wore off she turned to Arthur. But he’d always been a gentle one - ‘Soft as shite’ me Dad used to say. And he wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t take a life. Said all the weeping and wailing she liked wouldn’t change his mind.”

Satisfaction rippled over her face as she recounted how, despite the pressure, from his parents, from men too old to sign-up, and even from ‘some daft girls up on Market Street who’d pushed a white feather into his pocket’, Arthur steadfastly refused to enlist.

“And then conscription came in, didn’t it? Kitchener wanted you” she turned to me and pointed “and he was going to bloody well have you, whether you liked it or not.” 

“So, what happened?” I asked, turning the pages to check if I’d missed a photo of Arthur in uniform. I hadn’t.

“He became a conchie.” she announced matter-of-factly. “An erm, what was it now, oh, err, an ‘Absolutist’, that’s it, that’s what called him. Couldn’t budge him an inch. Went to jail for it in the end.”

I was confused. Until then, Great Uncle Arthur was just someone who’d pressed a shiny coin into my palm, or conspiratorially sneaked me a packet of crisps during one of his post-pub Saturday afternoon visits to Gran and Grandad’s. As a toddler, I’d ridden on his shoulders; as a travel-hungry teenager I’d pummelled him for stories about his trips to Europe. And now I had to make space in my understanding for Arthur the conscientious objector, Arthur the prisoner.

When I told Gran that this was the first I’d heard of it, she hooted.

“Oh, she’d’ve liked that would Mother! Me keeping the family secret.”

She gave the photo album a nudge, sending a plate of digestives skittering across the table like a game of shove ha’penny. “She never mentioned him again after they put him in that prison y’know?”

I frowned sceptically.

“No. Not once.” she stood firm. “When he refused to do anything for the war effort she was ashamed. Wouldn’t visit or write, forbid any of us to an’all. Said he was good as dead to her.”

“What? Really?” I asked. “She didn’t.”

“She did.” she flashed me an ‘I told you so’ face and continued. “That’s what I’m telling you, that’s what my mother was like. And, wait ‘til you hear this, even when Georgie was killed in action, God rest his soul, she still wouldn’t have anything to do with Arthur. Could’ve welcomed him home, water under the bridge. Could’ve held one of her sons again. But no. Nothing.” she paused before delivering the final blow.

“The three of us left at home always said that the Jerrys killed one of our brothers and our mother killed off the other.”

“Oh Gran.” I sighed, reaching out to take her hand, but she gently waved me – and her own approaching tears – away. 

With a crack of cartilage, she levered herself out of the chair, walked around the table to rescue the biscuits from their precarious position on the edge, and wound herself forward in time a little.

“Y’know I never saw hide nor hair of him again until after the second war; 1947 it was. At her funeral.”

She came to a stop behind my chair and with arthritic hands, fingers bent at a right angle to the palms, held on to my shoulders.

“All them years of nothing and then there he was. Big and broad. Suited and booted. A proper man. Different, but when I looked in his eyes he was still there. Me big brother. And, do you know what I said to him, after all that time?”
I tipped my head backwards to look up into her face “Tell me”.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘You can take that off for a start’ and I pulled at his tie – posh one it was – in a big knot.” she smoothed her fingertips against my shirt collars as she spoke. “And I said to him ‘If you’re going to look all smart like that, what will anyone have to talk about?’”

“And, at first, I thought it’d been too long, been too many years in between, that he wouldn’t know what I getting at. But then he lifts his big hands to the top of my head and he says, ‘In which case …’ and he ruffles my hair into a right mess! I’d only had it set that morning. And, well, we must have looked a proper pair; him with his tie all skewwhiff and my perm like a bird’s nest. Mother’ll have been rolling in her box!” And she flipped my fringe loose from behind my ears with a laugh that sparked from deep within her.

“And then” she said, after the laughter had burnt out into a splutter. “Then, we held each other’s hand … and watched them drop her into the soil.” 


So - I hope that was a vaguely diverting ... erm ... diversion in your day. 

If you know someone who might enjoy reading it too, will you direct them towards it? Thank you, you're ace.

Feel free to leave me a comment either here, (or on Instagram where I'm @withjuliekirk), either: 
  • about my story;
  • about short-stories you think I'll enjoy;
  • about conscientious objection as a subject;
  • about your own family experiences of war ... or secrets ... or both;
  • or about anything else this post has stirred up in you. 
Thanks for reading me today. 


Friday, 6 July 2018

50 Shades of Nay. How I'm ending my relationship with hair dye and embracing the grey.

Hey you. 

If you follow me on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - you'll already have a heads-up on this because I spent much of the day posting IG Stories while I tried out a hair dye removal cream in the hopes it would reveal the grey beneath. (Spoiler alert: it didn't).

(BTW: I've saved all of those stories in my 'Grey Hair' section of my IG ‘Highlights’ if you fancy watching me attempt to wrap my head in clingfilm. And why wouldn't you want to do that?)

So, yes, I've decided to share my flirtation with grey here and Instagram. And, because I'm not above using a terrible pun in telling you all about it, please welcome the new no-dye blog series I'm shamelessly calling... 50 Shades of Nay.

I don’t like being ‘found out’.

If I’m entirely honest, I find it weird enough when people know things about me that are general knowledge, so having people know something about me that I’m actively trying to hide is, at best, rattling.

And, having my grey roots breaking free and glinting shamelessly in the sunshine, revealing their natural naked selves to all and sundry, has come to feel too exposing. Too out of my control. Too furtive.

But rather than spur me on to do a better job at hiding them, maybe by buying one of those root sprays, I’m doing the opposite: I’m exposing myself.

No, wait. Hang on there. I didn’t mean it quite like that. Let me rephrase …
  • I’m no longer waiting for my roots to give me away.
  • I’m going to hide them in plain sight instead; by growing them out.
  • They’ll no longer be able to scream ‘grey roots’ when the rest of my hair is grey too. 
  • (Yes, I accept that going grey is going to bring with it its own delightful set of neuroses ... but I'm saving those for a future blog post!)

So, for the foreseeable future at least I’m laying down my disposable gloves, because I’m done dyeing.

I’m not ruling out ever turning to dye again. After all it can be fun. I mean, that’s why I originally started dyeing it. It was a relatively quick and easy way to play with my image, to temporarily become someone else and often, in doing so, step further into myself.

Thinking back, there's been:
  • The perfect peach streaks that delightfully appeared when I experimented with an all-over copper on top of blonde highlights.
  • The sharp red bob with a fringe the summer I took a film-making course.
  • The brazen burgundy streaks on a white hotel pillowcase, from where my hair was drenched in the rain the night I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.
  • Plus all the shades of rich woods, precious metals and gemstones a shop shelf can hold.

But then, as more grey began to emerge, I started to leave the fun colours behind. 

The regrowth from those would leave me wearing three distinct colours
  • the dyed shade, 
  • my own dark-brown roots,
  •  … and the greys in between.
Which is when I took up cafĂ© colours instead, turning to ‘iced coffee’ and ‘frosted chocolate’. Which, as well as making me peckish, reduced the obvious distinction between the dyed lengths and my natural roots. Which offered less of an obvious regrowth and yet ... there were still the greys making their way through to the surface like an invasive plant forcing its way from the darkness of a tumbledown shed and out into daylight.

And then, more recently I've been using the underwhelmingly titled ‘Dark Brown’ as a cover-up and now - along with the enthusiasm of whichever copywriter named that shade - my desire to dye has just fizzled out.

(I suddenly feel like getting on my hands and knees. looking up to the sky, shaking my fists and yelling 'I don't wanna dye!!!!' But then ... maybe I breathed in too many fumes from the dye-stripper.)

My first step towards going grey: making the decision to stop dyeing. 

(AKA: Saying 'nay' to dye. Because '50 Shades of No' doesn't roll of the tongue as easily.)

The last time I dyed my hair was 11 weeks ago, on the 16th April (2018). 

Then I used a lighter brown than usual (probably called something inspiring like ‘A Lighter Brown Than Usual’) and it didn’t really cover the grey. So at that point, fed up with wasting the time, money and mental energy hiding grey had begun to take, I already had one foot out of the dyeing door.

Finally, when I got a fringe cut in, two months ago, a lot of the grey which had  - until then - been skilfully lurking beneath my parting was suddenly pulled front and centre. And became really obvious:

At this point I'd begun to think life would be much more streamlined if I just stopped worrying about going grey, and allowed it to happen. 

Kind of like a 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood approach to hair dyeing': Relax don't do it, When you want to go to it. Relax don't do it, When you want to ... erm .. grow out your grey. 

Or something like that. 

It was about this time that, in order to speed up the process, I genuinely considered either cutting it very short ... or just shaving it off altogether and seeing what grew back! 

I think I'm over that urge now.

However, the next time I see my stylist I will definitely be asking for something a bit shorter than usual. (I won't be mentioning shaving it off though, because judging by how excited she was when I got her to give me an undercut 2 years ago, I think she might leap at the challenge!)

So, yes, cutting it off is one way to get rid of the over-dyed lengths, but I'm impatient. And I hate the way you can see the grow-out line and so ... I turned to chemicals. 

My second step towards going grey: hair dye removal cream.

Faced with a calendar's worth of waiting for a full head of grey, I wanted quicker results and so I bought myself a hair colour remover product.

Ahem ... I may have taken the opportunity to take some super-flattering photos that - should I ever become a singer songwriter - I will consider for use as album covers. 

I turned to this method - the colour remover - not the stunning 'Old Towel Portraits',  mainly to remove the annoying band left behind from those lighter dyes I mentioned. 

If my hair is going to end up two-tone dark brown / grey for the next however many years it takes for me to go as white as all of the flesh that's suddenly gone on display during this heat wave, then so be it.

I'll call it zebra-hair and it'll be on-brand. 

But I don’t need black, white and a big four inch strip of  lighter brown too. Plus, if the remover managed to "Remove all types of dark colour build-up" - as was promised on the box - then all the better.  

However ... as anyone who's watch the Instagram Stories I filmed during this lengthy (and sulphurous) process will already be aware ... 

Reader, it didn't work. 

Rinse until the water runs clear it said.  The water ran clear from the very start. Nothing moved. 

So far, so disappointing.

But that's not all.

Not only did it not remove that band of lighter colour I was so keen to wave goodbye ... 

Reader, it brightened it and made it MORE OBVIOUS!!

I mean ...

I suppose there's a chance I could have better results if I go to the salon and have my stylist work her magic on it but, for now, I'm just going to live with it, and look for the positives (I'm digging deep for these, people. Deep.): 
  • the conditioning treatment it came with made my hair really shiny and soft, like after dyeing. Which I haven't had for the 3 months without dye so ... that's something
  • It's kind of, almost, blended out some of that annoying harsh regrowth line. That, or the colour's just so bright now it's dazzled my yes and I can't see straight!
  • And ... I got an unexpected new colour for summer! 

But all of this has now left me faced with the one method I was trying to avoid: patience. 

Because that's something I've got in abundance. *Rolls eyes so hard they vanish beneath my newly ginger fringe*.

But I'll give it a try. What choice to I have? 

In the meantime I'm laying down at the feet of the Pinterest gods and pinning images of all the stylish grey haired women I can find. 

To motivate me.

To stop me from slowing down in the 'Permanent Colour' aisle the next time I'm walking through Boots. 

To keep me going. 

To keep me going grey


Now I want to hear from you
  • Have you let your grey grow out? 
  • How long did it take? 
  • How did you stay motivated?
  • What have you learned?
  • Did you go back to dye?
  • Has anyone had grey highlights put in to blend it through .... that's my next big plan! 
  • Anything else I should know?
Oh and ... 

If you dye your hair, please know this:
  • We can still be friends. 
  • This is a personal experiment based on aesthetics and a desire to be free of hassle ... it is not a moral/ethical/social judgement!
  • I am not going to become a militant pro-grey activist but I will be occasionally blogging and Instagramming my journey to the grey side!
So do get in touch - whether that's here in the comments, or on Facebook, Instagram, email, in the street (ew, on second thought maybe not, I don't do casual talking in the street.)

Under this newly orange, brown and white hair ... I'm all ears. 

Julie x 

p.s: Feel free to pin / share this image if you think your friends / followers would be interested in reading this. Thanks in advance!