The State of Me: June 2018

This is my new friend Henry.

Another quick one because: a) the election and b) medication.

So bullet points:

  • Latest New Dog update suggests that IF they find one for me, next class starts in September so I should hear something next month. I’m not banking on anything. 2018 is much more likely.
  • It’s bipolar redux month: I’ve just gone back on quetiapine. My mood’s been plummeting and my anxiety’s sky-rocketed. Some of it was personal but getting a rent notice three months early and paperwork from the DWP a year early (to add insult, on a Saturday) did not help.
  • I’m taking enough that I feel stoned until around 2:30pm each day. Coffee helps but only a little. Oh and I slept for 14 hours last night, right through until mid-afternoon.
  • And I missed most of the election, which turns out to be a good thing. Urgh.
  • I’ve moved into Nero’s permanently now and am accruing a lot of free coffees by being savvy (you get a bonus stamp for bringing your own mug which allows me to spend a lot less on coffee, as well as making sure it doesn’t cool).
  • When not in Nero’s, I seem to be in the Lamb. It’s a little pub with a courtyard in spitting distance of my bus stop and they even have their own cat: Henry, Lover of Dreamies. We’ve bonded and it’s not in the least bit creepy that I now carry Dreamies in my bag.
  • Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Great Name Change. I bought myself a throw in celebration.
  • Speaking of the Great Name Change, I’m still encountering issues. Like the DWP deciding to ignore the loss of a middle name in my paperwork. It’s taken me a year to notice as they seldom any middle name unless it’s renewal paperwork and they don’t usually send me large print. I’m hoping this has now been fixed. The Deed Poll was pretty clear about my old name and my new one.
  • Wonder Woman was amazing, BTW. I’ve seen it twice and, oh, the arse-kickery.
  • American Gods is, similarly, one of the few TV shows to really get my attention.
  • People have started calling me Ash in earnest now. I like it. I’ve never had a contraction of a name I’ve loved before.
  • The cats love me; D is still a bitey little shit.
  • I’m still writing but my process has slowed. I broke my Amazon account so don’t really want to go anywhere near KDP for a while, even though I spent a week dealing with Amazon and the angelic CSR who eventually helped me fix everything. Triggers are a bitch.
  • I’m writing a proof of concept story called “Proof of Concept”. I’m hoping it’ll be ready for crit next week. That aside, anything more complicated is on hold. Though I do have an idea for a fantasy series connected to this particular short.
  • It’s sorta, kinda summer. Yay!
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@FitBit We Need to Talk About Your Watches: I’m on my Third and it’s Dying … Again

First off, I love FitBit. I love the ethos, I love the little display on my Charge HR. I especially love the ability to have a sharp screen and the ability to have my wrist buzz when someone is calling me. As a blind person this last bit is a godsend. I love for texts but that’s another story.

The point is I’m invested in your platform, I’m invested in tracking my sleep and my steps; I feel naked without my FitBit and it’s the one

What I don’t love is that every single year, like clockwork, I need to get my switched out for a new one because of issues with the device.

Year one: A software update bricked my device and when it did work, it began running at the wrong time. It drove me nuts but you replaced it. I was thankful and loved your customer service.

Year two: A crack developed at the bottom of the screen, which eventually began to spill the device’s guts everywhere. Just as I got the replacement, it snapped completely. I had an interesting lesson in electronics that day.

Year three (aka this morning): I realised something felt odd and, yep, to my horror, the device has once again begun to crack. This time down the right side. It’s not going to die tomorrow but the death knell has sounded. That crack is only going to get bigger with use.

Eventually the screen and the band will detach completely.

And, yes, it’s time to contact Customer Support. Hence this blog and this is half the problem.

I wear my FitBit daily, like it’s supposed to be worn. I take it off to shower and to give it a good clean (though the plastic still smells funky :() I sleep in it, I even have a little plastic screen protector to stop the inevitable scratches.

I’ve been a good owner, I’m recommended it to all my friends. I’m a loyal fan.

Once again, basic design flaws in the product mean I have to constantly return to you to sort this out. I actually kept my receipt (which I’d be happy to email over to you) with the reference number on it because I knew this would happen.

Now sell the Charge HR 2 and it looks lovely but I worry the flaws will still be there. Worse I’m concerned, though you’ve never charged me for a replacement in the past, if getting this sorted will mean expenditure. I’m broke and I’m, as already mentioned, very reliant on my Charge HR.

In a world where I have money, I’d like an Apple Watch, if only so I can do all the things FitBit doesn’t but I’m not keen on the tracking. Or the price. Or that fact the new one isn’t out until September. I love the FitBit for its simplicity, for being able to set alarms, tell the time and get my calls. I really do like being able to record my sleep patterns and precisely when the Mighty D, my Bengal, decides it’s time to disturb my slumber.

I love the FitBit for its simplicity, for being able to set alarms, tell the time and get my calls. I really do like being able to record my sleep patterns and precisely when the Mighty D, my Bengal, decides it’s time to disturb my slumber.

It does what I need it to do. Mostly anyway.

But two years of breaking devices (I’ll let you off year one as it was a software issue) and this is getting ridiculous. I’m seriously looking at your biggest competitor just because I know the build quality is better, even if it’s stupidly more expensive.

So, please, tweet me. Let’s talk. I want to stay with you guys but I’m tired of having to do this every ten-twelve months without fail.

Thanks, folks.

Asha

 

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The State of Me: Anxiety Issues

It’s hard to say I’m anxious when this lovely—but bitey—little monster is curled up on my lap every morning. But I am and it’s crippling.

I have medication—personally reserved for the biggest shitstorms or when I’m triggered—to take but most of the time it’s a constant stream of noise in the background which breaks my brain.

To give you an idea of just this morning:

  • It’s sunny, should I go into the city?
  • I don’t wanna go into the city but, equally, I need to leave the house to keep my sanity intact. Will a walk to the garage sort that?
  • My friend is calling, do I make myself available even though I hate the city/going in late on a Saturday.
  • Will they take this personally? I just don’t want to go in.
  • Do I get up or stay in bed?
  • Do I nip to the garage and get a (free!) coffee?
  • Do I ‘stay local’?
  • I don’t need to go to the supermarket, do I? Oh, gods please no.
  • I need to do at least two loads of washing, including stripping my bed (which I hate).
  • Do I want that coffee? I have no chocolate in the house …
  • Fuck, I just looked at my credit card. I’m a failure.
  • Is D going to hate me if I move and disturb him?

Today wasn’t even a bad morning. It was just normal. Some of this is my actual anxiety, the rest my PTSD and autism. It’s not a nice mix, as mental illness cocktails go.

Fortunately, I was on the phone with one of my BBFs who quickly reminded me most of my credit card (well 1/3) was the shopping I needed from Sainsbury’s. Because if I don’t feed the cats, they will eat me, and I have MySupermarket set up to email me whenever their chow of choice is on offer. Plus I needed a bulk buy of other household stuff like bog roll, kitchen towel, bleach and heavy things I can’t carry.

I get stuck in a recrimination loop most days. Usually, due to being starved as a child, it’s food related and panicking about not having a specific item in the house. Today it was chocolate. Because female and PMS is near constant for me. The point re the food (plus any obsession) thing is that I’m literally unable to function until I’m reassured I have whatever it is in the house, the good thing is the garage has a much bigger selection now than it did pre-makeover.

Another example:

Last night I couldn’t find my emergency roller tip for my cane. I have a sneaking suspicion I bought three, changed two out and had the last one lurking somewhere. Except my memory’s so damaged I can’t remember half of the last two years from the medication. I had a flash of the tip in its little bag but it was in none of the places I normally put these things. I only started thinking about it because I’m helping New Friend who needs a new cane and wanted to give her one of my older, larger roller balls as a stopgap until we can get her a long cane she’ll actually use.

It doesn’t matter, not really. I have a spare cane but I need to order new balls, I just can’t afford to do it right now (they’re nearly £6 each from the RNIB). I was trying to work out, when we get New Friend a couple of special-order long canes from Canada, if it would be cheaper to add in some balls with the order for me and her. Sadly the exchange rate is in US$ not CAN which sucks so not really. I could get them locally but Sensory Support is a pain to visit and last time I was told to just order them from the RNIB instead of getting them for free. Double sigh.

Oh, and I’m still refusing to patronise NNAB, which was the last place I got the balls, because they cancelled archery on us. I’ll visit if I have to but I really don’t want to. Plus there’s no guarantee their equipment centre will a) have them and b) give them to me for free.

Stuff used to be free. It was a heck of a lot easier. I suppose at least I know where to get stuff. That’s not disabled entitlement talking, BTW, it’s a literal case of all mobility aids used to be free. You’d ring a number, give your registration details, and whatever you needed would be sent out by second class post. It was awesome. Except for that one time where they put two folded canes through my letter box and said canes unfolded.

My hallway is only about a metre square between door and steps. If that. That was a fucking nightmare.

That was a fucking nightmare.

I have what I call anxiety twitches. They’re random ripples that just set me off. Yesterday it was because I stayed home, because I lounged in bed. I have issues lounging because, in my head (not the best place, obviously), lounging means laziness which is the stereotype of the benefit scrounger. Again this bounces directly back to my disabled imposter syndrome and the non-disabled concept of what how a disabled person should behave. This is a lot harder for me and New Friend because both of us have more sight than most people put together. But we’re both still blind. Technically and literally.

And I am missing not having a dog which isn’t helped by my Husky fixation or BFF’s love of German Shepherds, though I do appreciate having daily lab/retrievers posted on my Facebook page. The lack of my own guide dog, however, it’s getting really bad now. I cried last night because I was on the phone to BFF and could hear Gismo in the background, chasing dream bunnies. He doesn’t yip, more grumble, but that noise, it still reminded me of Uni. Who used to gallop across the carpet and make tiny yip-barks of joy.

I’m still stuck on a waiting list and it’s been nearly eight months (unofficially). I know I need to wait, that compromising will just bite me in the arse for the next decade of my life. But I need a dog, Bramble hugs only go so far and I want my own. I have my friends and their dogs, but I’m not as fast as them, I’m constantly having to focus on where I’m stepping which means I feel slow which my anxiety translates to ‘I’m overweight ergo lazy’ as opposed to ‘I can’t see and have to slow down’. Friends are awesome but they have dogs so don’t have to worry about that. I also have to watch my cane in case I clip one of their dogs’ back legs.

I’ve always had anxiety, except it never bothered me because I was either busy or I could step around it: I had to go to London, because of work. Work was my shield. I could ring people because it was work-related because that was how stuff was done. Now I have a phone phobia and just seeing unknown numbers triggers me. I can make phone calls but it has to either be for someone else and in a capacity where my flowchat of answers is active (like ringing the DWP but always, in that context, for someone else) or it has to be a last ditch/no other option thing.

Oddly I’m perfectly fine ringing my power company …

Weird.

I prefer email/twitter/IMing because it gives me a minute to think before I reply. Ask me on the phone and I’ll capitulate and instantly guilt will set in because I’ve not had time to plan something out. I like planning. It keeps me sane. But, at the same time, my default is that while I have a plan, I don’t take precedence. All my friends know that if I’m not in the city, they need to factor in an hour for me to get to them. That alone stresses me because, in my head, I’m supposed to be psychically aware of everyone else’s plans, even though they’ve not told me. I’m supposed to spend my days sitting in cafes waiting for them to ask if I’m in for coffee.

And if I’m not, I feel guilty, because of my lack of foresight.

A couple of days last week I found myself with time and no one else in it. So I took myself to a boardgame night. I went in late, had coffee, did some writing, and then had fun. I got one of the last buses back, timing it with perfect precision. I was so proud of myself (especially as I’m never usually out past four pm). But then, a few days before that, I went to the movies on a Bank Holiday and, knowing the buses were on Sunday service, left the movie thirty minutes early so I wouldn’t have to wander Riverside or spend money in a bar while I waited for the next bus. Missing buses, even when I know there’s another one in x minutes, really stresses me out.

But then, a few days before that, I went to the movies on a Bank Holiday and, knowing the buses were on Sunday service, left the movie thirty minutes early so I wouldn’t have to wander Riverside or spend money in a bar while I waited for the next bus. Missing buses, even when I know there’s another one in x minutes, really stresses me out.

The point is, my anxiety is logical but still stupid.

Also, it doesn’t come with an off switch, not unless I take myself off the rails. Most of the time, unless it’s a calmly prepared but last minute thing I don’t have time to panic about, I just can’t. Not unless I’m very medicated and a Valium addiction is just not on the cards right now. I try to rationalise it, taking myself out of the picture or asking ‘What would Mhairi do?’ and then tone the answer down just a little. Sometimes it works but the contriction, it’s never going to leave me.

It is me.

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The Liner Notes: “Bindings, Seen and Not”

First off, a note on my year out (as we’re into May and well into the mid-year), this doesn’t mean I’m not writing. Far from it. It just means I’m not publishing, mainly because I just can’t financially or psychologically do it right now. I also have nothing I’m ready to let go yet, much less get professionally edited. I’ve not even sent out a short story yet, despite writing quite a few. This is basically just me being a little fragile at the moment so I’m focusing my sights on what I feel like writing, as opposed to a schedule which will just put pressure and stress on me.

Remember: stress + pressure = mania.

Oh and I’m horrible to myself as well, in terms of the pressure I put on myself, the limits I aim for. So I need the time.

So far, so good.

You’re probably wondering: Asha, why is there a pic of Moleskines on your post header? I found the shop in Covent Garden and was very good but stationary is my thing, my one joy. But, they’re actually here to segue nicely into the Liner Notes for my current WiP which is all about a bookbinder living in a segregated and very technologically focused society.

Currently called “Bindings, Seen and Not” it refers both to the bindings in books, artfully hidden by endpapers, skill and straight lines, but also the state of things in Taborin, the city where this story is set. Ironically, due to the fact Maxov is biologically an intersex/third gender Ubani, a progenitor, he’s effectively a member of an enslaved minority. Society uses ‘it’, the Ubani use ‘they but some, like Maxov, actually identify as one gender or another, hence his pronouns. Anyway, as he notes in the text, he can see his bindings the Directorate has placed on his people which gives him infinitely more power than most would think:

Technology could change words on the page, you could with print as well, it was just a lot more obvious and harder to ignore. Even the Ubani pretended to be blind, sometimes, to keep themselves and their culture’s existence, safe.

They were all bound in knots, except the Ubani—chattel to sterile families, passed like pieces in a game—who saw and felt theirs every day. Rough against their skin, too tight. He pitted the others, the remnants of old Atridia, because their bindings were ribbons so fine, so soft, they didn’t notice the hangman’s noose around their throats.

I do actually know how to book bind, I learnt the basics a few years ago and, thanks to YouTube, have been learning more advanced techniques. This is mainly due to my stationary fetish and my on-going love of Midori (most notebooks are staddle-stitched and easy enough to make). The story itself is triggered when Maxov’s days running a ramshackle emporium of old and mostly illegal books is interrupted.

 The story itself is triggered when Maxov’s (who’s in his late seventies at this point and very gruff expect for those he likes) ‘adopted’ daughter, Usaki, comes in and asks him to spirit away some incriminating letters and journals left to her son by his mother (Juran and Reshi Elaspe of The Fractured Era) by sending them on the Ghost Road, the progenitor-only escape route off-world and seeing them placed within the Ubani Archives. He accepts because the letters, from Juran’s biological male and female grandparents, are pre-Singularity, but also because Usaki asks and offers to pay the toll herself: by writing down her life story for preservation in the Archives. Eventually, someone else will add in the rest, how she lived, how she died, who will remember her.

So he makes her a book in which to record her story and, as he does, finds himself remembering his own past as well. He was born before the Singularity and given male gender after the pogroms and the nationalisation of Ubani and the introduction of a licensed lottery that saw the Ubani become surrogates to fertile, well-adjusted and connected, families. Good genes were welcomed, undesirables denied children and so weeded out. The Ubani themselves, referred to as ‘progenitors’ by the state, are forced into rotation, have their first child (always a progenitor) stolen from them as a life lesson and are moved from family to family, birthing sons and daughters before being dragged to another posting. Eventually, they just end up on the societal scrap heap. Just as Maxov found himself and decided to look opportunity in the face and rely on his community and himself.

Right now the story is a combination of a historical worldbuilding info dump and bookbinding porn (as in writing very descriptively about how to make a book, not literal porn). From endpapers, bone folders and signatures to binding and materials. I’m trying to evoke the emotion of a different kind of creation and it’s refreshing, actually, to focus on the enduring quality of a well made book, not just the words inside it.

As a bonus, this is the video which inspired the story:

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Crafting While Blind: Passport-sized Notebooks

This was a thing I wanted to do because creative stuff focuses my mind: it’s meditation for me. Plus I really love specific colours and wanted to make cheap inserts for brain dumping in my wallet. Shopping lists and FYIs, that sort of thing. It was actually the cardstock which sold it for me, especially when I realised it was double sided on certain sheets.

As this one was a prototype, I learned lots of things:

  • Binder clips are a godsend.
  • Ditto my cutting mat.
  • Measure twice, cut once. At least in theory. In reality, measure lots of times.
  • I also learned how to saddle-stitch AND that you can make your own waxed thread using embroidery thread and beeswax. I love that I’ll be able to choose not only the cover, the paper but also the thread, all to compliment each other. That said white makes a lot of mistakes bearable.
  • The stitching needs work but it’s basically pretty secure.
  • My collection of hardback gaming books makes an excellent DIY book press.
  • The book is a little narrower as I didn’t measure everything while it was binder clipped together, so there was a bit of an overhang. I can take this into account in the next version.
  • A rotary cutter should make cutting everything down a lot safer.
  • Thread is so much fucking easier than a stapler. An awl makes the process a dream.
  • I can, apparently, sew. Who knew?
  • You can see all the dot makes, those are from the sodding staple gun. I’ll be a lot more careful on the next one.

Right now, getting all the stuff was a bit of a money sink but there’s a break-even point somewhere. The notebook I made has a cover and nine sheets (so 36 pages in all, 150gsm, I think). All the bits can be used for others things, as well, and—frankly—I want to get more crafty, more able to make mistakes and create things.

The point is: I made a shiny. I made it without slicing my fingers off or poking my remaining eye out.

Woot.

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Time For a May Update!

So it’s time for an update, it’s been a couple of weeks and I currently have a D on my foot, which means I’m stuck.

Send help and chocolate!

But, seriously, spring is … erm … springing. We have blossom and my windows are open/the Sonos are on half-pelt. Life’s okay.

My foot is going to sleep. Crap.

But, yeah, I survived London and Easter. S’all good. My mood has been relatively stable which is nice, though my anxiety remains through the roof. Not so good but it’s a work in progress. Shall we do this through the medium of bullet points, just for brevity?

 Okay then:

  • London was awesome. I really enjoyed it. I’m still paying it off but it was worth it.
  • Hidden Figures is even more awesome in the cinema. Bonus for having an actual American with me who can explain the whole political mess around it and the Space Race. Also, it makes me want to go back to my Space Race on an alien planet novella.
  • I am writing. My current focus is still on the Atridia books, specifically on a short story I’m calling “Bindings, Seen and Not” about a neutral gender bookbinder living in a city under state-sanctioned non-binary gender oppression.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale was amazing … and severely triggering. I want to watch the rest of it (I think there are like ten episodes). I’m not sure I’ll be able to though, it’s horrifically foretelling but incredibly relevant. I know a lot of people are noping out purely because of anxiety issues with the content.
  • In election news, I’m noping out. Due to a bureaucratic cock-up relating to the Great Name Change, I’ve been kicked off the electoral roll and won’t be back on it time for the local election. I’m very angry about this but also glad I caught it as I do want to vote in the general election next month. I just don’t want to have to listen to the election kerfuffle until then. Aside: I know it’s a cock-up because they have ZERO records of me under Old Name either and I’ve lived here for a decade and voted, both in person and postal. They also have no problems sending me Council Tax bills in my new name. It’s a work in progress but I don’t expect it to be resolved in time to vote locally (I have re-registered to vote and intend to give someone at Electoral a serious talking to about the legalities of this, I’m registered as a head of household and am not dependent of anyone else so there’s no reason for me to have been removed).
  • There’s no ETA on the guide dog front either. Sigh. The cats are picking up the slack though. Bramble and Gismo hugs are also helping.
  • I got an update on Uni’s progress and she’s doing so well. She’s happy and has a beach. That’s all I can ask for.
  • My mood has been yoyoing but nothing too hard-core though I managed to really trigger myself last weekend. It was unpleasant. Oh and I’ve been obsessing again, mainly on buying things, Field Notes and food. Oh and Midori, of course. But I’m starting to argue out reasons why I should wait (example: my phone is due an upgrade but, instead, I’m going to go sim-only for a few months/til the end of the year as it’s cheaper).
  • Money-wise, I sat down and worked out my income and did a spreadsheet. I’ve worked out a rough, date by date, payment plan and should be debt free just after my birthday. I even budgeted in a new Limitless card and my rent. 2018 should start out with a nice, clean, slate. If I can restrain myself and focus on the Big Picture.
  • At some point, I’m going to write that book on bipolar or, at least, how to manage things like money while dealing with the mood swings.
  • I’ve decided to teach myself bookbinding (I started learning it a couple of years ago), thanks to the help of YouTube. Actually, I’ve been a lot more crafty of late; mostly laminating stuff and experimenting with little things like making postcard-sized pictures for my fridge (mostly of upcoming movie posters and inspirational quotes) or laminating stuff for friends. I am now the proud owner of an awl, a craft knife, cutting map, guillotine and haven’t yet done myself any serious damage. Go me. My task for this week is to learn to saddle stitch and learn how to bind my own notebooks for my wallet (there’s more variety in terms of paper and cover colour). Plus it keeps my brain quiet which is the biggest thing.

  • I cancelled my gym membership. The pressure of attendance (I’m not an evening person, especially not when I ‘have’ to do something I don’t want to do) and my continuing plantar fasciitis had been driving me nuts. Said PF was getting better, then I went to London. Sigh. On the upside, I’m not missing the place and much prefer walking around Eaton Park with my guide dog owner friends and their hounds.
  • I’m eating better food. Simple meals which are easy to cook and fast (or involve the minimum amount of prep). This week it’s garlic and bacon pasta with chorizo and lots of herbs. Healthy and tasty.
  • My faux Midori wallet is working beautifully, as is the free diary I got from JP Books (though it runs out in September and I kinda want a dated one. Dates are hard.). I’ve been playing with the inserts and now have a zipper pouch, a kraft folder and a notebook inside each other on the first string and my diary and expenses ledger held together with a band on the second. It works perfectly. Oh, I added a Neo Queen Serenity tiara charm onto the string and it sits beautifully on my yen coin.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is freaking awesome. End of. I didn’t look at my watch once AND I’m going back tomorrow.
  • I’m looking forward to so much TV and so many movies. I have tickets to Alien: Covenant and Wonder Woman already. I’m actually going to the cinema physically and ordering in bulb because the Odeon site only lets me book two performances ahead online (in person I can book loads). It’s annoying and cramping my social life.
  • Doctor Who is actually kinda good this season.
  • American Gods starts tomorrow. YAY!!!!
  • I’m managed to keep on top of household stuff, though I’m yet to put my washing away. Small steps, Asha, small steps.
  • I’m back in therapy and it’s helping. Reddit is helping more in terms of a support group which is just odd but so welcome. Ditto my very closest chosen family.
  • Ramen is still awesome.
  • I finally got my hands on a Lindt 1kg Gold Bunny in the post-Easter sales and I don’t regret it. Not for one second. 😀
  • We are Groot, people!
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Secret Cinema X: The Handmaiden (아가씨)

I’m trying to focus on filling life with experiences as opposed to things and when Shannon asked if anyone wanted to go to Secret Cinema X with her for her birthday, I stuck up my hand and went ‘what the hell, yes!’ in a very enthusiastic manner. Suddenly we have tickets (technically I have a ticket and Shannon is my +1. Disabled privilege FTW!) and I’m booking train tickets and trying to figure out what we’ll be seeing.

You see, Secret Cinema X is like the adult cousin of a mystery tour. Rather than going with the themed movie (like the widely touted Moulin Rouge experience currently running), you really have no idea what you’re going to see until you turn up. I’ve wanted to do Secret Cinema, a friend went to Back to the Future, but I really like this idea of not knowing, of avoiding spoilers and literally ‘tell(ing) no one’.

So we get this mysterious hint and we wagered. Shannon wanted to do it because she was convinced it was a very explicit, Korean movie (coincidentally out this week) called The Handmaiden (아가씨). I’d not heard of it but she won me over by going ‘there’s lot of sex and plenty of Japanese dialogue’. I do actually really enjoy Korean movies too, if that helps. Her argument was the style was Japanese and that the snake and the very vaginal looking cherry tree are big motifs in the movie.

So Tuesday night comes around and we’ve received this cryptic message (the meeting point was in an older part of London, hinted at by the limes) and had dressed accordingly. Yes, I own an evening dress. Shush. Getting gloves was another matter but achievable. My only complaint, noted here just to get it out of the way, was there was no cloakroom at this event which irked me as I was carrying a backpack and felt really uncomfortable (I’d come straight from Norfolk and hadn’t had the time to go back to Shannon’s to dump it). Fortunately, as there was table seating, it was an easy enough thing to deal with, just annoying.

So, we turn up at this meeting point, coincidentally right outside an old art deco picture house and I see people dressed in very Korean garb. Shannon won and I was so, so happy. I don’t like surprises, it’s a part of autistic me and I’d been really hoping she was right. We were ushered in (blindness +1) through the front door and into the main auditorium.

It smelled of hanging smoke and incense. The main mezzanine contained a bar and the middle-level tickets (which we’d paid for). Extra bonuses go to us for being early as we were able to snag the best seat in the house and get to the bar in short order. Servants wandered around, guiding people to tables, holding lit paper lanterns, the soundtrack (which is beautiful) was playing over the speakers and, once seated, I went and bought us a £30 bottle of Prosecco to celebrate my loss.

All the ordering was done in silence, pointing and gesticulating. Not a word was uttered.

Ordering is hard when you can’t talk.

The venue offered food for a price; obento boxes which looked delicious but were essentially epically-oversized polystyrene containers. The bar was well stocked and offered plenty of lovely things. Each table also came with a mysterious card reminding guests of the rules of the House, as well as sheets of card for writing on, origami paper and instructions and a lollypop (which plays a roll in the plot).

Once we sat down, it was actually incredibly atmospheric. The Library seating, below us and right by the screen, was focused on a stage and, periodically, a servant would walk across, acting out pastiches from the film. Then a specially-constructed shoji screen would open and a woman in full kimono and wig (supposed to be either Hideko or her Aunt) would appear and read passages (from what I caught of them in VERY NSFW Japanese) from the movie. Think pornography as literature focusing on the careful, doubtless very carefully researched, description of female genitalia.

I got a little hot under the collar, I confess, and that was just from the use of very particular onomatopoeia.

During the movie, the screens were also used to add extra dimensions to certain scenes and it was timed beautifully, the costumes identical and it really made this more than just your average screening. I mean, the film was amazing but this really made it stratospherically beautiful. Smoke hung in the air and sakura blossoms rained down on us, maids moved with lanterns and figures hurried up steps between the three tiers.

It made an otherwise two-dimensional experience much more real, much more immersive.

Eventually the movie itself started and I was spellbound. Honestly, wine and cider helps (of which there was copious amounts) but we were close enough that I could catch some of the subtitles and all of the Japanese. The movie is Korean, as are the actors, and favours the language but there was more than enough Japanese for me to follow.

Visually it’s stunning and is an adaption of Sarah Waters’ The Fingersmith (which sums up everything, IMHO). Except, rather than Victorian London, the movie is set in Japanese-occupied Korea and focuses on a long con involving Sook-hee becoming a lady’s maid (the Handmaiden of the title) to Lady Hideko, a wealthy Japanese aristocrat enslaved by her uncle-by-marriage. She’s there to help her arrogant employer, the self-proclaimed ‘Count Fujiwari’ steal Hideko’s heart then wed and bed her, so the money will follow. However Hideko’s uncle also wants to marry her for money (and is also Korean) just happens to be a connoisseur of pornographic books, as well as a sadist and the film reveals, over three acts, not only how Hideko and Sook-hee fall in love but also how others are fighting for mastery of Hideko’s fate as well as her fortune.

Shannon tells me this is the cut version but that doesn’t make this movie any less explicit. The scenes are gorgeous, the sex … well … I’m very attracted to women so, yeah, wow. Oh and bonus points to go managing to teach the audience a few choice Japanese words (including how to say ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’) as well as throwing in a couple of nods to Tako to Ama (that link is NSFW BTW), one of Hokusai’s most infamous creations better known in the west as The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. The final reference was much more subtle and turned my stomach.

The whole movie has a very surreal feel to it and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what is reality, or whose version of events we’re seeing. The soundtrack is really quite beautiful and the cherry tree is true to its connection with death, though there was some humour in there that sent the audience laughing. Actually, most people really seemed to take the movie well and it’s very surreal watching an 18, very deserving of it’s rating, in a hall with a hundred other people, most of whom seemed to be couples.

Did I mention I got flustered? Good. Because, damn, this movie is gorgeous in so many ways.

The ending is an odd one but perfectly placed. It’s not a romance, but it’s romantic. There’s pornography but the love scenes aren’t pornographic. The acts merge into each other, though the first one feels longer and better paced, than parts two and three.

My only other complaint comes with the end of the movie. After one small hiccup with the print stalling, the movie ended … and they destroyed the mood by promising a dance floor and going straight into playing 1940’s music. Specifically In The Mood. You could hear that beautifully crafted ambiance shatter like a dropped glass. This was only made worse by the sudden talking as the lights came up and the noise level rose.

Damn, guys, damn.

But props for everything else. The care, the attention to detail, the costuming and the servants (who even scribbled in-character replies). The effert put into the staging was brilliant and I loved the shoji screens and the extra on-stage shadowing that popped up at important parts while the movie was playing, including during the sex scenes. It didn’t drag your eye from the screen but just enhanced the movie to a new level of wow.

I absolutely loved it, every aspect of it from the secrecy (kept as far as I can tell). No cameras were allowed inside the venue (the vow of silence mentioned in the image above), hence why I’ve had to be really descriptive. i’m actually glad of that because it allowed us to totally focus on the experience, on being there, and getting very merry.

A totally awesome night and something I’d love to do again.

Edit: Secret Cinema X posted an image from one of the showings, it’s explicit but is also a perfect example of the event and the immersion they were trying to aim for. Enjoy!

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