When I was growing up, I loved art. Drawing, painting and generally making things were my favourite activites. I did ‘creative’ after school clubs in things like pottery and even origami. When I was around 11 we had a ‘careers questionnaire’ in school. We had to answer pages and pages of questions about our interests both in school and out, and weeks later we’d get back a list of suggested careers we might be interested in. The top result on mine was ‘Artist’.

But that isn’t a real career, is it?

I took art in junior high and high school, but, frankly, the teachers weren’t great. I didn’t really learn anything and instead started to feel like I was terrible at art. By the time I was about 15, I wasn’t making anything anymore. At 17, when my art teacher said ‘You can’t do an abstract painting like THAT!’, I decided that I just wasn’t a creative type after all.

Then after I left school I had a few partners who were artists and that sealed the deal: I had no artistic talent at all. The end.

The last time I sat down to try and draw anything other than stick figures with my kids was when I was 18…

Fast forward 30 years. This is a whole other blogpost (which I’ll probably never do), but I’ve been feeling rather… muzzled lately. There are many varied reasons for this, but it has caused me to hit a bit of a brick wall creatively. I’ve been sewing quite a bit which is always fun and relaxing, but I don’t feel that I express myself through sewing really.

Over the Easter holiday, one day I suddenly had a flash of inspiration: I wanted to do some art. Then I quickly reminded myself that I am rubbish at it. And THEN I thought ‘I don’t give a shit. I’m going to try.’ I just wanted to do something that could get my brain unstuck. I thought doing something new might help. So that day I signed up for a beginners’ drawing and painting course at a local college. Just one day a week, but it was something.

Immediately, I was afraid. How in the world could someone like me (ie an artistic idiot) turn up for even a beginners’ class?! I’m rubbish. I decided I’d better learn something about drawing before I started my class… I found some online tutorials and information on paper and pencils, and started learning to draw.

The first thing I did before any instruction was to draw a teacup, then hid it and didn’t look at it again until I’d gone through all of the exercises.

Then I started learning about line and tone and negative spaces and perspective. I did some shading. I always loved shading.

I found some instructions on body proportions and drawing hands and eyes.

After doing a bunch of different exercises, I tried drawing the teacup again.

It’s the same teacup.

Then I started the drawing class. We did lots of similar exercises looking at shape and tone etc. Then we had to start a self-portrait. Yikes. This put the fear in me again. I decided that I should probably practice drawing a person before I attempt a self-portrait…

I’ve been missing John Hurt. He was a friend of ours and we were so sad to lose him. I decided my first attempt at a portrait was going to be from a photo of him.

It actually looks like him. What?! I did this?! What? This must be some kind of fluke… I decided to do a new portrait. This time I took photos of the progress.

So, anyway, I guess I’m going to keep doing this for a while… at least until my brain is unstuck.


This is ‘Sarah on Newsnight’…

Just Like Starting Over

For the past several months, I’ve been really busy making things. Focusing on creativity has made me very contented. I’ve decided to make more stuff.

Conversely, I’m also really lazy. If I can find a way of saving time – even 5 seconds- I will do.

I’ve decided to combine these two different parts of my personality into a personal project for 2017. A kind of doing less/creating more project. I’m going to spend the rest of 2016 working out exactly what I want to do.

Before I can start this, I’d like to re-organise my online life in order to start over. I’ve been feeling like my online self requires far too much upkeep. Too many people wanting and demanding too much of ‘Me’… I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been getting stressed out about this stuff. I’ve stepped away from the world a bit and pared things down a lot in order to refocus. The first part of my re-organisation was to remove my old blog posts. I’ve had this blog since 2002, so I didn’t really want to just delete it. Instead a few weeks ago I got my blog printed as a book at Blog2Print.

I don’t know if Blog2Print is the best place or not, but I’m happy with the result. I just wanted a paper copy of my blog so I could happily trash the digital version. I’ve put the book on my ‘tech book’ shelf.


I’ve left a few posts up simply to fill the front page. I may take them down later on as I start to fill this up with posts from my new ‘project’. I hope you’ll join me.

I Punch First

The night of the 22nd of May, I’d gone out with some friends in the evening, only had a couple drinks and got home early. I was in bed by 11pm. At just after 5 the next morning, I heard one of our cats jump down from my little son’s bed in his room right next to mine. My son happened to be in bed with me as Brian was away for the night.

Less than a minute later I heard footsteps in his room. Shoes on the wooden floor. FFS!! My teenage son was either sneaking in or trying to sneak someone out that he’d snuck in the night before. He’d never done anything like this before, but I was livid.

I got up and went to shout at him. I walked out of my room, turned right, looked into my little son’s room and there was a strange man standing there.


Before I tell you what happened after that, I want to ask you “What would you do?”

Most women will have thought about what they might do if they were mugged or attacked on the street, but without any actual plan. Most women won’t have any self-defence training nor any fighting experience at all. Their plan might be “scream and hope that someone else saves me” which is, frankly, utterly useless as you won’t have time to wait for someone to help out. And what would you do if you discovered a strange man in your home when there mightn’t be anyone else there to save you?

I’d certainly never thought of that before. I had no plan. I did, however, have three years of boxing training.

As I’ve said before:

…having a bit of strength in my arms AND knowing how to throw a punch properly has made me feel less physically vulnerable than I did before. You know, vulnerable from being physically attacked by “men”.

I’m not saying I could beat a man in a fight, but I could definitely land a well executed punch to an attacker’s face and get the fuck out of there while he deals with the pain of a dislocated jaw. I know I could do that. And that is a great feeling.

About a year ago, I’d asked a friend of mine, who also does boxing training, if he’d ever hit anyone before. He told me he’d been in a few fights in his life mainly because when he was a kid his dad told him ‘if you’re ever in a situation with another person that looks like it could go bad, punch first’. So, several times in his life he’s punched first.

I thought it was actually really good advice.

The kind of boxing training I do is pad work. That means I wear boxing gloves and wraps and my trainer has pads on her hands which I punch according to the punch coordinations she calls out. A little bit like this:

In boxing there are basically four different types of punches- a jab, a cross, a hook and an uppercut. A jab is done with your leading, weaker hand. A cross is done with your rear, stronger hand. Both the hooks and the uppercuts can be done with either hand (real boxers will disagree!). I’ve been training 2-3 times a week for the past three years, half the time doing boxing, the other half doing strength training, so I’ve done about 200-ish hours of boxing, so about 50-ish hours on each different type of punch. Over that time my stance has improved, I’m lighter on my feet, I move quicker and I punch harder. A lot harder.

I do not, however, spar. I’ve never aimed a punch at a head or a face. I’ve never aimed a punch at a moving target. I’ve never been punched. Sparring is a big step up in boxing training as you are no longer being told what combinations to throw, so you’re on your own and also: someone else is trying to punch you. I’m not keen on that.

Before starting boxing training, like most every other woman on the planet, I was always a bit fearful on the street, always on high alert, scanning, looking for signs of danger, afraid of being physically threatened or assaulted by someone. As a woman, it is statistically more likely that I will be attacked by a man and it is statistically more likely that they will be bigger and/or stronger than me. Waiting to be attacked and then defending myself would mean I would be much more likely to be seriously injured or overpowered. Boxing training has given me the confidence to know that if I go in first and hard, I would at least be able to buy myself a bit of time. “Punch first” has been my mantra for the past year.

I’ve read a few things about self-defence over the years, so already had some idea of what to do. A lot of the advice is very different from what you may “feel” is right. 9 Myths About Self-Protection, is pretty good. Here’s a very quick run-down, my asides in italics:

Myth #1 You should reason with your attacker. (He’s a criminal ergo he’s unreasonable.)
Myth #2 If you’re attacked, scream for help. (You don’t have time to be saved.)
Myth #3 You need to cause pain. (No, you need to injure.)
Myth #4 Being fit can save your life. (All you need to do is injure them. Being fit may make that easier.)
Myth #5 You need technical self-defense skills. (It helps, but all you need to do is injure them.)
Myth #6 Women who survive are fearless. (You will be terrified, but you will operate with your fight or flight instinct. If you’re even a bit prepared you can react with confidence.)
Myth #7 Focus on blocking his attacks. (Focus on injuring them.)
Myth #8 Try to back away from your attacker. (He can run forward faster than you can move backwards.)
Myth #9 Hit as often and as quickly as possible. (Hit HARD, even once, and injure them.)

So back to my story…

I saw a strange man in my son’s bedroom. My first thought- “Is there anyone else with him?”- disappeared immediately. The one thing I know about self-defence (rather than boxing) is that you need to fight for your life. There’s no ‘being nice’. There’s no ‘maybe I can talk my way out of this’. There’s no ‘let’s just see what happens here’. You must approach it with a ‘kill or be killed’ attitude. I had no idea if that man was armed, if he would try and attack me, if he would try and rape me, if he would try and kill me. Life or death stuff. I wasn’t going to wait to find out.

I punched first.


I immediately ran into the room, shouting (and not a ‘girly’ scream, but a deep, loud, roaring, dominant boom), got in close and right-hooked him to the face. It wasn’t a technically brilliant punch (my second and third knuckles were bruised). I didn’t punch to score points from judges. I didn’t punch and snap back ready to punch again to continue the fight until the end of the round. I threw everything into it like a heavy weight does- a big, full-bodied, ‘you’re going fucking down! my fist shoulder and whole body are going straight through your fucking head’ whallop. He made a “well, that really wasn’t very nice at all” sound, pushed past me, ran down the stairs with me chasing after him continuing to shout and out the front door of the house.

I phoned 999, gave them a description, they went straight to the local CCTVs, he was picked up, the cops came to my house and drove me past him, I IDed him, he was arrested, they found his finger prints in my house, he was charged, they put him on remand, he pleaded guilty and I just found out on Friday that he’s been sentenced to 8 months in prison.

The end.

Would I do it again? I’ve no idea. Probably. Remember, I punch first. :) Would I recommend you do it? Not really. Unless you’ve been trained even a bit, your punch isn’t going to have much of an effect which would open you up to being attacked. You really do need to know how to injure someone with a punch. I could have still been attacked – I had no idea if he knew how to fight or would try and punch back. Would I recommend you start taking self-defence training? Yes, yes, yes, yes. I didn’t start boxing training for that reason at all, but I would highly recommend it alongside a much more practical street self-defence course that teaches you awareness and how to handle various different situations.

Apparently, I was the talk of the police station for a few days after the burglary. The police officer who was dealing with my case said that he had never had another case where someone punched a burglar. All of the officers I spoke to asked “Are you the one who punched him?… Well done!” They said they wished more people were like me and had some kind of self-defence training in order to know how to handle themselves in these unusual situations.

Recently, the new Miss America suggested women take self-defence classes in order to defend themselves and “Twitter feminists” went crazy with accusations of “victim blaming”. Caroline Criado-Perez wrote an article in the New Statesman about how self-defence training wasn’t victim blaming and she got all kinds of crap from people saying it was, it was, it was victim blaming.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is common after a burglary even if you don’t confront the burglar. Deep feelings of violation, anger and trauma are common. The idea that you were helpless can worsen these feelings and make it difficult to come to a satisfactory resolution. One can develop trouble sleeping or even a fear of leaving the house.

Apart from a couple days immediately afterwards of quite powerful flashbacks where I was “re-living” over and over again the moment where I saw him and punched him, I’ve been fine. I have no trouble sleeping at all. When I spoke to Victim Support they said perhaps it was because I’d got all of my anger out when I punched him and there was none left to torment me. To me, that feels right. I was not a victim. If anything, I was the aggressor as I punched first, I punched hard and I punched strong. I am not weak, I am not vulnerable. But I only feel this because I have done boxing training.

Sociologist Jocelyn Hollander researches self-defence training and the prevention of violence against women. Her research into sexual assault has shown that:

women who complete a self-defense class are significantly less likely to be sexually assaulted in the following year than similar women with no self-defense training. Self-defense training has also been found to increase women’s confidence, shift their understanding of their own bodies, and change gender expectations and interactions.

Boxing training has very definitely given me confidence and a completely different understanding of my body and what this female body is capable of. Resistance to the idea of self-defence training is often based in deeply ingrained sexist ideas of what “a woman” is, should be and is capable of. We have been taught that we are passive, that we can’t ever be strong. The idea that women – feminists even!- continue to believe this saddens me. And I’m calling bullshit.

Women can be physically strong, women do not have to be passive, women do not have to be victims. I am strong, I can defend myself and, damn it, I punch first.

So I ask you again “What would you do?”


Strong, not skinny.

This morning I woke up to see yet another woman being attacked with horrendous abuse and rape threats on Twitter. My first reaction was despair. “Not again. Will this never stop?” Before I made myself feel defeated by ignorant morons, I got down on my floor and did some push-ups. I ended up doing 100, not in a row, in total. I may do more later. I don’t normally do push-ups every morning, but today I wanted to, needed to feel strong.

Until two and a half years ago, I had hardly ever done a push-up before. Maybe the odd one in PE class at school. Probably on my knees…

In spring 2011, I got a personal trainer. My youngest son was 2 years old and though I was going to the gym to do some weights and a bit of time on a (fucking) treadmill, my abdominal muscles were still basically useless. I was completely incapable of sitting on my bum and lifting my legs so my body was in a V shape, even for one second.


After I had my first son in my 20s, my body just popped right back into shape. Having a baby at nearly 40 was a much harder strain on my body… I wanted someone to help me get fit again so I wouldn’t be stranded on my back like a turtle, rocking back and forth to try and get out of bed.

Right away my trainer got me doing push-ups. Proper ones. No knees. At first, I could only do a couple at a time. OK. Maybe one. Now I can probably do 20 at a time. Maybe 30. Yea. I could probably do 30… Wait. I’m going to go try. One sec… OK. 34. That’s after the 100 I did earlier.

Sometimes she has me do push-ups with a weight under one hand which I lift at the top:

Sometimes she has me do atomic push-ups with a TRX:

I do all kinds of push-up variations: arms wide apart, hands touching together, one foot off the ground, both feet up on a park bench.

Now, after two and a half years of interval and boxing training, I am in better shape than I’ve been in my adult life. I’m in better shape than I was when I ran a marathon. I’m in better shape than I was when I rode my bicycle an hour a day. I’m in better shape than I was when I was a stone and a half (20lbs) lighter than I am now.

I am in better shape because I am strong.

This physical strength has given me mental strength and a physical confidence that I’ve never had before. By “physical confidence” I don’t mean that I think my body is “superhawt”, I mean that having a bit of strength in my arms AND knowing how to throw a punch properly has made me feel less physically vulnerable than I did before. You know, vulnerable from being physically attacked by “men”.

I’m not saying I could beat a man in a fight, but I could definitely land a well executed punch to an attacker’s face and get the fuck out of there while he deals with the pain of a dislocated jaw. I know I could do that. And that is a great feeling.

A couple months ago I was in a cafe and a “crazy guy” decided he was going to go “crazy” at me for no reason at all. He started shouting at me. Shouting. Shouting. I turned away. He kept shouting. I turned and looked straight at him, right in the eye. Stared him down. He still was shouting, but I didn’t feel afraid. I turned my back on him. He came up behind me and slammed his fist down on my left hand which was resting on the countertop. My first instinct was to make a fist with my right hand and power up for a punch. I didn’t punch him. I turned to him again before the staff removed him. I had never, ever in my life instinctually prepared to punch anyone before. I felt physically confident for the first time.

I used to hate “gym bunnies” and the idea of “working out”. Even at my skinniest, I wasn’t skinny. I was so thin I got bruises on my hips when I slept and I was a (UK) size 10. With “healthy” thighs. I was never going to be a size zero nor even have a svelte silhouette so what was the point of doing some stupid aerobics class?

Now, however, I just want to be strong, healthy and fit. What does that look like? Well, I’ve got a six pack… I’m sure I do, somewhere, I guess it’s hidden there under the jiggly bits. And my thighs are still rather meaty…

This photo from the book, Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein shows you what strong, healthy and fit looks like. These women are all professional athletes- one’s a basketball player, one’s a gymnast, one’s a weightlifter… and they all look different.


Strong, healthy and fit looks exactly like you do, if you are strong, healthy and fit. You don’t need to be skinny. You don’t need to be sporty. You don’t need a six pack… And nothing is stopping you becoming strong, healthy and fit. You just need to start…

So, if you’ve never done a push-up before, try one right now. A proper one. No knees. Just one. Down as far as you can, even if you just slightly bend your arms, then up again. Just one. Do one every day, until you can do two… and then three…