Lez Miserable: "Ooh, look at that one - it's got veins!"

Meet our new columnist, Eleanor Margolis, as she takes a frank, funny and cynical tour through life as a twentysomething lesbian. In her first piece, her vibrator bites the dust, and her mother is keen to help her replace it.

It’s morning. I’m having my "early 20s English lit graduate, existential ennui-stricken lesbian, post-sleep nap". All of a sudden, the puppies licking my face in my dream scarper. They’re being chased off by something that I can only describe as part-werewolf, part-blender. I sit bolt upright in bed. I’ve been woken by a loud rattling sound coming from my chest of drawers.

I freeze. I recently watched Paranormal Activity. I know how this goes.

After about 30 seconds frozen to the spot, my mouth slightly open and my heart pounding, I summon up the courage to investigate. I sneak up to my chest of drawers, empty Mini Cheddars packets crunching under my feet, and tentatively open the “haunted” drawer.

Relief. No lurking satanic spirit here. Just my vibrator that has somehow managed to switch itself on. I pick it up, study it for a few seconds, then switch it off. I try to switch it on again. Nothing. I replace the battery – number one rule of being single: always have spare batteries. Still no sign of life.

And then it hits me – I’ve bored my vibrator into an early grave. Was that final buzz in fact a death rattle? I only ever used it on one setting – continuous vibrate. All the other vibration patterns just seemed a bit… Edwina Currie.

So this is where I’m at, sex-wise. I can’t even keep my vibrator interested. I may be the first woman in history to have hit ‘lesbian bed death’ without the remotest sign of lesbian bed life.

Something must be done. First things first, I’m going to need a new vibrator. I Google “buy sex toys”, which is now tattooed onto my search history alongside, “diabetes symptoms”, “dealing with neurosis” and “is nipple hair normal?”

The selection is overwhelming. My old vibrator was fairly basic – a longish thing that, up until a few moments ago, went bzzz. The new, sexually adventurous me wants something fancier. Rabbits seem a bit 90s and all these double-penetration gizmos with twirly bits coming out in every direction just aren’t very… me.

“Ooh, look at that one – it’s got veins!

My mum has snuck up behind me (one of the many hazards of having moved back in with my parents). She’s peering over my shoulder, squinting slightly because she doesn’t have her reading glasses on. Horrified, I slam my laptop shut.

“The problem with your generation,” she says, “Is you think you invented sex.” And off she trots to make a cup of Lady Grey.

Back to my search. I remember Fab, the online eclectic cool stuff shop, does a line in masturbation-chic. I got an email about it a while ago, back when me and the old vibrator were going strong. I check out what Fab has to offer and come face to face with the battery-operated companion of my dreams. It looks like an Alessi peppermill, perfectly combining two of my greatest loves: design and having orgasms. A few clicks later, it’s mine.

But this isn’t enough to cure my case of the borings. Must buy more sex toys. Must be exciting. I’ve never owned a strap-on, but suddenly feel that I need one. Immediately. Maybe I’ll start carrying it around in my bag, just in case. I browse through various online sex shops, and end up spending £50 on a high-end strap-on. I reason that I should get something sturdy. I remember an old Jewish saying that my mum likes to quote when justifying spending £500 on a toaster: “What’s cheap is dear.”

The next day I’m woken up by more vibrating. This time it’s just my phone. I pick up and grunt something.

“Hello, is that Ms Margolis?”

“Yeah…”

“My name is Andy, I’m calling from Barclays, regarding some unusual activity on your debit card”.

Shit.

“Oh…”

Andy takes me through some security questions. I know exactly what’s coming. And here it is:

“Now, Ms Margolis, I need you to confirm that you recently spent £50 at bedroompleasures.co.uk?”

My free hand is tightly clamped to my face.

“Uh, yeah. I may have done that”.

“Are you certain, Ms Margolis?”

“Yes. That is a thing that I definitely did.”

“OK, Ms Margolis. I’m going to unblock your card immediately. I’m very sorry for any inconvenience.”

So, the moment I step out of my sandwiches, clothes and Superdrug own-brand ibuprofen bubble of spending drudgery, alarms go off. It’s like the bank knows that I never get laid. It assumes that someone sexy and exciting must have stolen my card. Time to face it, Ms Margolis: you’re staid.

I thank Andy and hang up. I spend a few minutes screaming into my pillow.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose column "Lez Miserable" will appear weekly on the New Statesman website. She tweets @eleanormargolis

A cart full of sex toys. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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"Labour are as pro-Brexit as the Tories": what do Sinn Fein's MPs really want from Westminster?

Its seven MPs are much less sympathetic to Corbyn's party than popularly imagined, and won't ever take their seats.

Should the Conservative minority government fall, what is Jeremy Corbyn’s route to power? The counterfactual as popularly understood goes like this: Corbyn would pick up the phone to his old pal Gerry Adams and convince Sinn Fein’s seven MPs to abandon the habit of a century and take their seats.

There are countless reasons why this would never happen, most of them obvious. One is more surprising. Despite Corbyn’s longstanding links with the republican cause, the Labour party is not all that popular among a new intake, which is preoccupied with one thing above all else: Brexit.

No wonder. Sinn Fein’s long game is an all-Ireland one, and the party believe the UK’s departure from the EU will hasten reunification. In the meantime, however, its priority is a Brexit deal that gives Northern Ireland – where 56 per cent of voters backed remain – designated status within the EU.

Pioneered by the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party as an antidote to Brexit, designated status would allow the six counties in the North to continue to enjoy the EU’s four freedoms. But the idea is anathema to unionists and the UK government, and Sinn Fein sees little evidence that the Westminster establishment will make it work – not even Labour.

“They are as pro-Brexit as the Conservatives are,” says Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy. “We’re anti-Brexit. We want to see the right of the people in the North who voted to remain in Europe respected.”

Simmering resentment over what the party perceives to have been broken promises on Tony Blair’s part – especially over legal protection for the Irish language, a key stumbling block obstructing the resumption of power-sharing – makes the already implausible deal even less likely.

“The Irish language act was something that Blair agreed to,” says Molloy. “So when people talk about us taking our seats, they don’t realise we would be backing a Labour government that wouldn’t be living up to its commitments either, and would be just as pro-Brexit as the Conservatives are."

That criticism may well surprise a lay audience whose working assumption is that Adams and Corbyn work hand in glove. But it is perhaps the best illustration of Sinn Fein’s parliamentary priorities: its seven MPs will not in any circumstances take their seats but use their Westminster presence to lobby ministers and MPs of all stripes while running constituency offices at home (they are unsalaried, but claim expenses).

Crucially, its MPs believe abstentionism strengthens, rather than weakens their negotiating hand: by their logic other parties need not and do not fear them given the fact they do not have voting power.

They will use their leverage to agitate for special status above all else. “Special status is the biggest issue that we are lobbying for,” says Molloy. “We feel that is the best way of securing and retaining EU membership. But if we get a referendum on Irish unity and the people vote for that, then the North will automatically join the EU.”

But that wasn’t always the received wisdom. That assurance was in fact secured by Mark Durkan, the former deputy first minister and SDLP MP beaten by Sinn Fein last week, after an exchange with Brexit secretary David Davis at the leaving the EU select committee. The defeat of the three SDLP MPs – two of them by Sinn Fein – means there will be no Irish nationalist voice in the commons while Brexit is negotiated.

Surely that’s bad news for Northern Irish voters? “I don’t think it is,” says Molloy. “The fact we took two seats off the SDLP this time proves abstentionism works. It shows they didn’t deliver by attending. We have a mandate for abstentionism. The people have now rejected attendance at Westminster, and rejected Westminster itself. We’ve never been tempted to take our seats at all. It is very important we live by our mandate.”

If they did, however, they would cut the Conservatives’ and Democratic Unionist Party’s working majority from 13 to a much more precarious six. But Molloy believes any alliance will be a fundamentally weak one and that all his party need do is wait. “I think it’ll be short-lived,” he says. “Every past arrangement between the British government and unionist parties has always ended in tears.”

But if the DUP get its way – the party has signed a confidence and supply deal which delivers extra cash for Northern Ireland – then it need not. Arlene Foster has spoken of her party’s desire to secure a good deal for the entire country. Unsurprisingly, however, Sinn Fein does not buy the conciliatory rhetoric.

“They’ve never really tried to get a good deal for everybody,” says Michelle Gildernew, who won the hyper-marginal of Fermanagh and South Tyrone back from the Ulster Unionists last week. “The assembly and executive [which Sinn Fein and the DUP ran together] weren’t working for a lot of groups – whether that was the LGBT community, the Irish language community, or women...they might say they’re going to work for everybody, but we’ll judge them by their actions, not their words.”

Molloy agrees, and expresses concern that local politicians won’t be able to scrutinise new spending. “The executive needs to be up and running to implement that, and to ensure a fair distribution. If there’s new money coming into the North, we welcome that, but it has to be done through the executive.”

On current evidence, the call for local ministers to scrutinise the Conservatives’ deal with the DUP is wishful thinking – Northern Ireland has been without an executive since February, when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister and triggered a snap election.

The talks since have been defined by intransigence and sluggishness. James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary, has had to postpone the talks deadline on four separate occasions, and has been criticised by nationalists for his perceived closeness to the DUP.

The final deadline for the restoration of an executive is 29 June 2017. Sinn Fein has called for Brokenshire to recuse himself in favour of a neutral chair. “His hands are tied now, completely,” says Molloy. “The Conservative party were always questionable on where they stood – they’ve always been unionists. The issue now is whether they can act neutrally as a guarantor to the Good Friday Agreement.”

He believes that question is already settled. “Legally, they have to act to ensure that nothing happens to damage that agreement – but we’ve already breached it through Brexit. There was no consultation. The people of the North voted to remain and it hasn’t been recognised. It totally undermines the consent principle.”

Just how they and Brokenshire interpret that principle – the part of the Good Friday Agreement that specifies the constitutional status of the North can only change by consent of its people – will be key to whether they can achieve their ultimate goal: Irish unity.

Molloy and Gildernew say the fact that 11 of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies voted to remain in the EU is enough for Brokenshire to call one within the next five years (though polling consistently shows that a clear majority of the province’s electorate, including a substantial minority of nationalists, would vote to stay in the UK). They are confident they can win, though, failing that, Molloy envisages it as the first in several referenda on unification.

But beneath the optimism lies the knowledge that the British government are unlikely to heed their calls. And, willingly absent from the Westminster chamber, they say the UK government’s discussions about Brexit are illegitimate. They see their real powerbase as elsewhere: in Dublin’s Dail Eireann, where Sinn Fein is the third largest party, and the chancelleries of Europe.

“That’s where most of the negotiation will actually happen,” says Molloy. “The EU27 will make the decisions. They won’t be made in Westminster, because the British have already set out what they’re doing: they’re leaving.”

But with seven MPs already lobbying ministers and a united Ireland unlikely to happen in the immediate future, Sinn Fein itself won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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