Fame over family: The dark world of family vlogging

With the camcorder making its way into residences across the world in 1983, a surge in home videos and family-filled footage showed the value in collecting memories and sharing special moments within the safe confines of your own home. Sony had allowed movie-making to be available to the masses. However, another revolution in more recent years broke down many barriers within the world of communication: The social media revolution. So too did it break down the barriers of people’s own homes. Family footage of children opening Christmas presents or losing their first tooth is no longer limited to the privacy and viewership of close relatives, but to everyone that has access to an internet connection. This is family vlogging.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that babies in bow-ties and seemingly average parents sharing aspects of their everyday life is as innocent and authentically wholesome as it sounds— but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that that’s not the case. As often is the instance with social media, not everything is what it tends to present itself as. This sickly sweet and rapid-growing YouTube genre (which has shot up in viewership by 90% in recent years according to Time Magazine) is nothing short of disturbing no matter how one tries to dress it. Even more unsettling is the realisation that the negative effects of family vlogging on these ‘influencer kids’ are still little understood. The whole genre raises a multitude of ethical questions that are in desperate need of answers. 

The most effective way to understand the ‘unique’ world of family vlogging is through examples of what are considered huge names in the category. RomanAtwoodVlogs, The Ace Family and The Labrant Family all have subscribers upwards of 10 million on the world’s favourite video sharing platform,YouTube. The latter of the three families was described by The List as ‘social media royalty’ and have been the subject of both great controversy and intense media worship. The same magazine has estimated that the Labrant family are making anywhere in the region of $15,000 per day or $5.5 million per year. With the channel’s yearly hike in subscribers, this is likely to be far exceeded as of now.

So, how do they become ‘social media royalty’?

Let’s begin with what is at the core of family channels— the children. According to a study in 2019, Pew Research Center found that YouTube Videos that feature children under the age of 13 receive more than three times as many views as videos without children. ‘Creators have seen it as a way to guarantee ad revenue due to the videos’ popularity,’ The Verge wrote in a 2019 article discussing the new study’s findings. More children means more views and in turn, means more money.

Parents and owners of family vlog channels seem to neglect the more genuine aspect of home movie-making that existed before the social media revolution. The aim is not to have valuable private documentation of the good, the bad and the ugly to pull out at celebrations to reminisce. It is now for the pursuit of celebrityhood and six-figures. When parents then establish themselves as channel owners involving their children for monetary gain, the lines between parenting and business become blurred.

The daughter of The Labrant Family’s founders, Everleigh, was illustrated in The List’s 2020 article as a ‘pint-sized social media hit in her own right’ before stating that she, as of 2019, was in the top 3 richest YouTube children in the world, determined by the U.K website Childcare. Comparing an 8 year-old child to a common measurement for beer or cider can be seen to be verging on objectifying. Children are often portrayed as money-making props not just by the media but by those that they are supposed to trust the most — their parents.

Now, allow yourself to be introduced to the infamous tactics of ‘clickbait’. According to dictionary.com, clickbait is ‘a sensationalised headline or piece of text on the internet designed to entice people to follow a link to an article on another web page.’ This can absolutely be applied to video content, too. It is essentially anything that entices a viewer and makes them want to ‘click’. From Pew Research Center’s study— that even includes children.

In mid-September of this year, a Los Angeles mum known as Jordan Cheyenne was caught, through an editing error, forcing her son to ‘fake cry’ for a YouTube thumbnail on a video titled ‘we are heartbroken’. What is more disturbing is that her son was genuinely and authentically crying because of the prospect of their unwell puppy not surviving. The appearance of empathy and nurture that we associate with not only good parenting but good morals, had vanquished in the pursuit of a clickbait, staged thumbnail. In the pursuit of fame and fortune. 

Los Angeles mum telling her son to pose for the camera to get a clickbait thumbnail, Credit: Supplied

Unfortunately, Jordan Cheyenne’s case is one of the few incidences of inauthenticity that is publicly highlighted and doesn’t slip easily under the viewer’s eye. Some family vlog channels are far more subtle and their manipulative tricks go unobserved— especially when targeted at a younger and less experienced demographic.

These type of YouTubers include The Ohana Adventure: A family vlogging channel that is centred around Jason and Rachel Bennett, along with their 6 children. In 2020, Jason Bennett was featured in a podcast interview with another YouTuber known as TheTechieGuy (Liron Segev), discussing how he gained his 2.7 million subscribers at the time. Bennett and Segev’s discussion was incredibly insightful but at times awfully uncomfortable.

Several notable points were raised where Bennett explained that the reason he began the channel was to get him and his wife out of debt, where as a family they are always thinking about the next piece of content and even that he has business meetings with his children almost weekly.

Among the more potent things being discussed was the family’s demographic where Bennett admitted that he had to age down his target audience because he realised that teens lose interest once they have a driving license. ‘If you can get eight year olds, they’re very engaged, they’re very active, the algorithm loves it,’ Bennett said. This didn’t so much unsettle as it did fascinate until his final statement as the podcast arrived at a close.

Segev asks if there is one message Bennet could put on a tweet or a video that everybody could watch, what would his message be. Bennett responds with: ‘I’m all just about be real. Honestly, just be real. I respect people that are real so much because real isn’t popular.’

That may seem like a lot of ‘honesty’ and ‘real’ talk for a man who titled a video ‘Mom gets Cancer removed! scary facial surgery’ which was nothing short of a lie. In actuality, there was no cancer removal in the video at all. It was just the removal of benign moles from Rachel, his wife’s, face. Not even 10 minutes into the video, the nurse had told Rachel: ‘This doesn’t look like anything precancerous. This looks healthy.’ 

Credit: The Ohana Adventure

Yet still, this was seen as an opportunity for sensationalism, clickbait and content. When the results arrive, they gather all their children in a room to film their reaction to the fairly predictable results. The children’s reaction was the money bag in not just this video, but in most family vloggers’ videos. This was catastrophising for the sake of ‘content’. Not only a lie, but can also viewed as an insult to all those that have genuinely had to have cancer removed. Unfortunately, their audience does not have the capacity to hold them accountable for actions like this because, like Bennett admitted, they are children themselves. Most can’t understand this; they can only fall victim to it.

It was clear after listening to this podcast that for Jason Bennett, family vlogging wasn’t about getting out of debt anymore, not even about living comfortably— it was about living luxuriously. This leads us to what happens when you finally combine all three: children, sensationalised thumbnails and titles. You get a distasteful viral video with 12 million views and a huge sum of cash in return for your lack of humanity and morals. This is exactly what happened when a channel called Best Trends uploaded a video of a young girl in obvious physical and emotional distress titled ‘Little Girl Goes To Heaven While Her Parents Watching (emotional)’. Undress that title and you essentially have ‘a little girl dies while her parents watch’ and what is deeply saddening is more so that the majority response is so positive to this upload. The girl, thankfully, does not die but Best Trends have essentially created two victims in this instance — the little girl and the viewer.

What are the consequences?

‘For the first time in history children are having their entire lives documented online for the whole world to view,’ says a 2020 Humboldt State University paper on the dangers of parenting in the public eye. The largely understood yet just as dangerous aspect of family vlogging is the competition.

Jason Bennett mentioned in the podcast feeling in competition because a lot of family vlogging is becoming very ‘me too’. Now, they haveto make their family stand out and are willing to go to extreme lengths to do this. When you have a whole category of families trying to outdo one another with ‘pranks’ and ‘dares’—somebody is going to get hurt. It constantly evolves, propelling into never-ending disasters of psychological abuse with nobody to put the breaks on.

We seen this with the family vloggers, DaddyOFive. A dad and step-mother who lost custody of two of their children because of psychological child abuse that was used as online content. They carried out ‘pranks’ on their children where they would break their valuables for a negative response, and then tell their child it was a ‘prank’ and replace the valuables for a positive one.

That’s the thing with this category of YouTubers. What is this teaching not only their children but what many family vloggers claim is the majority of their demographic — other people’s children? That if you first tolerate the extreme discomfort of watching your valuables being destroyed, then you will be materialistically rewarded. 

On a far darker scale, Nisha Talukdar in a paper researching the effects of family vlogging in children for Christ University last year, found that a well known YouTuber had to delete all the traces of her children from her channel when she discovered that her videos were being used on paedophile websites.

“Anything can be turned vulgar and these parents don’t really realise what kind of people are embedded in their subscribers’ and views’ list,” Talukdar writes. To most family vloggers, as we have gathered, their subscribers are just figures. Their demographics are just statistics thus when monstrous people are brought to reality, this is something that parents cannot seem to fathom. That number is no longer just a number, it’s a real person. It’s a bizarre naïvety, that one can argue, doesn’t really feel justified.

It isn’t like there aren’t stories nearly everyday about the use of the internet in harmful ways. Or even an exposure of a child sex crime. It appears that parents essentially decide that the perks of celebrityhood outweighs the protection of their child, and that will inevitably be a hard thing for some children to come to terms with as they age.

So as of now, it can be hard to provide any evidence of concrete consequences while this new media phenomenon soars in popularity. Essentially, the only real thing we can do is speculate with given events and circumstances. However, it’s almost inevitable that time will reveal all. And by then, it is only natural to fear that it might be too late.

Victim Blaming: The injustice of believing in a just world in 2021

The cold brush of February air stunned a fatigued 19 year-old Claire on the weekend following Valentine’s Day in 2021. Not one to usually rise at the crack of dawn, she had physically, though not mentally, prepared for her first early shift in a small town’s biggest business.

Her mind was preoccupied with the anticipation of an exquisite post-Valentine’s dinner that evening with her boyfriend—who was also her colleague. It was warm thoughts like those that she had vowed, that very day, would make the early winter morning shifts tolerable.

While the sun sprouted from behind leafless twigs, Claire made her way through the vacant streets of town and to, what she felt, was the quiet safety of a job that she had grown to love.

To those that knew her there— if only at face-value— she presented herself as naïvely optimistic, humble in manners though remarkably gentile in speech.

Claire began carrying out her duties when a middle-aged supervisor, who she was somewhat familiar with, approached her and began prying into her relationship.

He began spouting sexual innuendos before pulling down the collar to peer at a love mark on her neck. She masked her fear with a polite laugh. 

Crippled with anxiety and becoming increasingly aware that a long day with this man was ahead of her, she had told one of her managers at the front desk that she had been physically sick in hopes of being let home early.

She left that day, only to return for one more shift at her work that, strangely, was in a different department from where she specialised.

Her boyfriend had reported the incident that morning to a manager in a pursuit of justice and instead, she received hostility in the form of being called both a ‘liar’ and ‘overdramatic’. An investigation was never carried out.

Her only witness was the business’ CCTV footage that she had begged to be reviewed but according to managers, it had conveniently ‘not been working’ at the time of the incident.

“Consequently, I lost my job and I lost my boyfriend,” she tells.“The corporation doubted me, my boyfriend then doubted me, so I began to doubt me.” 

Was this really the consequence of false claims from an ‘overdramatic’ young woman; or the consequence of corporate cover-ups and malpractice that contribute to the ever-growing epidemic of victim blaming culture?

According to an article discussing ‘The Psychology of Victim Blaming’ published by The Atlantic in 2016: “Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them.”

Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at the University of the South reminds us in this article: “Murders, burglaries, abductions—whatever the crime, many people tend to default to victim-blaming thoughts and behaviors as a defense mechanism in the face of bad news.”

With this in mind, we can see that victim blaming can take on many different forms. Sometimes brazen, other times subtle, but almost always —destructive. So, why do we do it?

A 2010 study from the Journal of Social Psychology on ‘General Versus Specific Victim Blaming’ revealed that those that believe in a ‘just’ world are more inclined to engage in said behaviour. These are the same people that believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people and that all is fair.

Though, it has been revealed time and time again that we simply don’t live in a ‘just’ world and those that victim blame tend to instead believe that good things happen to strong people and bad things happen to weak people.

A significant pop culture example of this is in the criticism of the character of Cinderella, who was ultimately condemned for her key ‘feminine’ traits of softness and kindness. Feminist critics claimed that the 1950 Disney film centres on a weak, passive woman who can’t stand up to her abusers and is rescued by a Prince.

However, The Take on YouTube released a video essay ‘Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim’ which claims this is a complete misreading, and unintentionally (and almost subtly) feeds into the victim blaming culture.

“This isn’t a story about a man stepping in to save a helpless woman.” The Take claims. “It’s about a woman who faces adversity head on, who chooses kindness and optimism even when it’s hard, and who uses her own creativity and inner strength to rescue herself.”

The video essay discusses in ways the feminist critique ironically misses the mark with empowerment and instead feeds straight into the victim blaming narrative: “She grows up in an abusive environment where she lacks all power.”

“Her kindness and ability to cope through fantasy actually represent her strength and bravery in the face of adversity. In the time since the film’s release in 1950, perhaps qualities like kindness and optimism have come to seem simple, obvious and naive.”

But instead, these are rare qualities that are often undermined and hard to practice. A woman doesn’t have to wield a sword to be a warrior. She doesn’t have to harness traits of masculinity to exude strength. Finally, while we dwindle on what she (the victim) could’ve done as an outward display of strength, we seldom ask the perpetrator why they committed the crime.

Instead we should be looking broadly at the failing societal structures that impede on the progression of moral education rather than looking individually at ways to, not only justify, but enable the ruthless savagery of an unjust world.

According to statistics from rapecrisis.org, as many as 33% of people believe women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped and still, there are those that question why only 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police.

Lady Tremaine shattering the glass slipper, which is the only tangible symbolism of Cinderella’s strength and her story, is no different from the manager shattering the only pieces of evidence and power Claire had as a victim against a huge corporation — the CCTV footage and her voice.

“I didn’t feel I could report it to police,” she says. “I wasn’t believed by the people that I needed to be believed by, though now seeing how prevalent victim blaming is, it has made me realise that nothing was wrong with me— It’s them.”

It’s not so naïve to believe that like Cinderella, Claire will feast on the fruits of her own poetic justice all in good time, in whichever form that takes for her, and I bet it will taste ever so sweet.

*’Claire’ is a pseudonym for the victim in this article. Anonymity has been provided.

The Rothesay Academy Fire of 1954

There upon a spectacular view sat a pitiable structure whose shell stood open to the sky that loomed above a very quaking Isle of Bute. The 100ft clock tower that spent over 86 years proudly unmoved on the hill side, collapsed in heaps of rubble; ringing out its bell one final time before bowing to the same fate as its neighbouring walls.

Just like the building’s construction lived in the fantasy of its architect before becoming a tangible force of reality, in someone else’s — so too did its destruction. Seeing the burnt remains of a most dreaded institution would live vicariously in only some school childrens’ fantasies. But ‘fantasy’ is just ‘fantasy’ until it becomes a reality and a building is just a building until it becomes 500 people’s future, the craftsmanship of low paid labourers, the work of art from an architect, the livelihood of its staff and peace & quiet for hundreds of parents.

Elsewhere on the island, three 14-year-old boys, in long trousers, appeared before Sheriff Donald on a charge alleging responsibility for the devastating fire of their school. With their parents and a solicitor present, the Sheriff committed them to Rothesay Remand Home in Bishop Street for further examination. For those boys, this did indeed, become very real.

Friday, March 5th 1954

The blaze was first spotted by a Mrs D. Watson at 10.20 pm as she made her way home, observing a cloud of smoke emerging from the back of the school. She later told a reporter, “I thought at first that it was a dirty chimney.” But Mrs Watson had no idea of the catastrophe that lay ahead for that Friday night, nor did the pupils and staff that left the school 7 hours before in preparation for a seemingly normal weekend.

It wasn’t before long that Mr. John Allan, the Academy janitor, was informed by the witness at his house, that was only situated some yards from the school. Surprisingly, the janitor claimed that at 10.10 pm, only 10 minutes before Mrs Watson seen smoke, that there was nothing to be seen and “not a whiff of smoke.” This meant that whatever instigated the fire had to have happened between 10.10 and 10.20, if their accounts are accurate.

Mr Allan was finishing a cup of tea when Mrs Watson came chapping at his door. She then shouted: “Mr Allan I think there’s a fire in the school.” Immediately, he claims, he slipped on his boots and raced across to the Academy, which they both entered through a side door.

“Dense smoke filled the main hall. I rushed Mrs Watson across the vestibule, told her to stay put there, and grabbed a fire extinguisher from the janitor’s room.” From there, Mr Allan emptied the fire extinguisher into the No.5 laboratory where flames were materializing. However; in subsequent evaluation, the fire had originated in No.6 laboratory and Mr Allan confirms this by saying, “the volume of smoke told me that it wasn’t entirely the little bit I saw.”

Realising that this was a battle way out of his hands, the janitor could stand to fight no longer, launching the extinguisher into the fire before telephoning the police. He told them to get the fire brigade immediately. He told a reporter “…the smoke was too much for me.” Meanwhile, Mrs Watson searched the phonebook for the number of Mr James D. Mackenzie, the rector.

Mr Mackenzie received the call shortly after 10.30pm and arrived at the scene almost immediately. He said, “I had parked my car across the road and I went up straight away.” He said initially driving up Chapelhill, he never seen much smoke, but as he arrived at the front door, the hall was pitch black as it had filled the room.

“Mr Allan was coming out with a cloth over his face. The fingers of his right hand had been slightly burned when he picked up an extinguisher. He was rather groggy and Mrs Watson was helping him,” Mackenzie told. He then went onto describe the helplessness he felt in the way of firefighting but was eager to rescue what he could.

“…although there was no imminent danger and I did not anticipate that the whole school would go up, I thought I had better rescue something. So I brought out the school log and the register and a few odds and ends, which included record cards for individual pupils and the Academy Book of Remembrance.”

The rector then took these rescued items down to his car but on return to the school was told by police that he was to remain outside as the danger had quickly escalated.

The flames from the No.6 laboratory had burned through the roof by the time Rothesay fire brigade left their High Street station at 10.58pm, had reached the building and run hoses through the main entrance. According to a Buteman article published just over a week later, 17 firemen had manned the brigade’s two engines and as the fire spread from one end of the building to the other, the roof went up in flames. Sparks showered neighbouring houses in Academy Terrace and their occupants were warned to prepare for an evacuation of their homes at a moment’s notice.

However according to an article from an Express Reporter, a Mr Charles McNab watched the fire from his home in Battery Place stating that, “The flames shot 50ft into the sky. They stretched from one end to another.” Reportedly hundreds of people from all over the town rushed to the fire, watching the town’s volunteer firemen “with only one engine” (which would be a contradiction to the Buteman’s report of 2) try to control the flames. Toward lighthouse keeper Malcolm McNeill (35) at 12:30am said: “I can see a glow in the sky over the town and I am five miles away.”

Firemen attending a dance in Dunoon were called out as well as 150 sailors from H.M.S Montclare and H.M.S Termagant. They docked at Rothesay Bay and were sent ashore with two fire pumps. From Greenock fire service came another 5 men after a 90 minute crossing via motor launch from Gourock.

Just before 1 am, as the entire building burned ferociously, parts of the outer wall began to give-way and the roof of the clock tower fell in. Its remaining walls stood like a chimney, throwing sparks high into the air. Almost everything was destroyed.

Saturday, March 6th 1954

For 19 hours, until 6pm on Saturday, members of Rothesay fire brigade were on continuous duty and for three hours on Sunday, they were straight back at it again, making sure embers were dampened down.

As Saturday morning approached, police examined the ‘smouldering ruins’ and were desperately seeking an explanation for the blaze. Meanwhile, four hoses were left on to dampen the charred remains of the building. At this point, news articles and locals deemed the fire a complete ‘mystery’. Mr James Carruthers who lived near the Academy on Argyle Terrace had claimed that “No one knows how the fire started — it’s a mystery.”

It was discovered that the collapsing of the clock tower caused a fracture in the gas main in the flooded boiler house below. Water then flowed into the pipe through the break and gas was seized from most of its consumers in Ardbeg, Montague Street and Victoria Street. A loudspeaker van toured Rothesay warning consumers to make sure their gas was turned off. The full supply was not restored until 6pm that day.

Sunday, March 7th 1954

Finally, at 9pm after a weekend of intense investigation by Rothesay Police, an arrest of 3 boys were made. A woman had reported to the police that she had seen 3 boys in their teens, wearing long trousers, leaving the Academy grounds at around 10pm on Friday, at which time the fire is believed to have began.

Police began questioning Academy teachers before starting out on a quest to interview every single youngster of appropriate description on the island, if need be. They visited about 60 homes on the island before their enquiries ripened and eventually, an arrest was made.

The Aftermath

In a letter to the paper, rector J. D Mackenzie states: “…to the churches who gave their halls, and to the headmaster of the Public School who immediately and generously placed classrooms at our disposal. Never could I have imagined the wave of sympathy which has engulfed us. Offers of help have poured in from all sides, and the staff, pupils and parents have been truly wonderful.”

“To all I have mentioned, and to many others, I am more grateful than I can possibly say, and on behalf of the school I would like to thank them publicly and most sincerely.”

An assembly was held in the playground on the Monday morning before the classes were dispersed to temporary accommodation to continue with their schooling. Many of the senior classes were relocated to the primary building up the hill. 500 pupils left that Friday having no idea what was about to await them Monday morning.

I’d also like to include a quote from one of my Facebook posts earlier this year from Mike Blair that spoke of his dad, who was a teacher during this: “I was in the Primary at the time and we were all decanted to various halls and our class went to the public school.”

“My dad (Mr Nelson Blair) spent the entire weekend organising the logistics of where we were to go in order to let the Secondary pupils occupy our building. It was just before the Highers (exams) which were in March back then.”

“The Scottish Office said they would make special dispensation in marking Rothesay papers and Rector Mackenzie agreed. However, dad fought this as he did not want the pupils to always carry that stigma. He was right as the marks in 53, 54 and 55 were almost exactly the same. Dad never got credit for that.”

Certainly Mike, I hope that by including your quote in this article gives even a little credit to your father for his determination.

The Lesson from the Fire

I am aware that including the above heading in a crime-laden fire is possibly controversial but it was absolutely necessary after my research. Coming across a statement from the Provost John H. Shaw on the Monday after, I was initially shocked.

“If there is one bright spot in this terrible business, it is that the Academy is in an isolated position. Such a blaze starting in a building in the centre of town would have developed into a major disaster.” He then began calling helper’s efforts pitiless and hopeless, discussing the real saving grace as being the building’s isolative position.

My initial reaction to the first line of this statement was confusion. This fire was not like the other Bute fires that I had written about. Hence why when people called me out for omitting this fire from my last article ‘Bute blazes that have been lost in history’, I don’t think many realised there was method in my madness. Rothesay Academy’s fire has not been ‘lost in history’. Its history survived on through its predecessor and now through the Joint Campus. Its history has surfed the mouths of our townspeople for decades, through story-telling, memories and pictures.

It was also a fire so profound, so different from the rest that it deserved its very own piece. I felt somewhat emotionally compelled by my research into this fire and could hardly believe when the Provost articulated in such an emotionally-detached and impersonal way. How could he call the strained efforts of volunteers and helpers from the mainland hopeless? I felt a fronted for these people that I didn’t even know. How could he talk about this place like just a building? Like I said, a building is just a building until its 500 people’s future, people’s craftsmanship, art and livelihood. But as I read on, my mind completely changed. My emotional side was immediately swapped out for my rational, strategic side and John H. Shaw shifted my perception.

“This fire can be taken as a warning that our fire services in Rothesay should be on a bigger scale than at present — even if only in the matter of equipment,” he began, “Before the fire service became nationalised we in Rothesay paid £200 for its upkeep. Now our grant to the South West Area fire service is £2,036 — and we are substantially no better off than before. Surely we should expect a great deal better service for such an amount of money?”

I guess there was a valuable, tangible and most importantly, sensible, lesson to be learned from such a catastrophe and the Provost was certainly onto something. Sometimes it does take tragedies to highlight the cracks in communities. After the smoke has cleared and temperaments have cooled, we can see the issues with clarity and distinction. We have, since then, made a lot of progress in the community and with our public sector services. One can only hope that such a tragedy, such a big lesson, does not crop up uninvited in the town again and if it does, for some things are inevitable, we are manned, equipped and ready.

  • All reports, pictures and articles are courtesy of Bute Photo Archive and Bute Museum. I’d like to kindly and personally thank archivist Jean McMillan for providing me with assistance and content for this article.

The Social Media Subculture Centred on Living in the Past

With TikTok now becoming people’s lockdown boredom eradicator and favourite pastime over the last year, Instagram has still managed to hold its own as a social media melting pot with roughly one billion users. It’s stood proud, tall and unmoved like a vast, ancient oak tree filled with little branches and diversions off into the eccentric, weird and wonderful. From the fitness side of Instagram to the cleaning side, there seems to be a community within a social media district for everyone. What started off as a photo-sharing app has become a colossal billion-user hub for some money-making factions. Some are a little less known but a lot more fascinating: Meet the social media subculture that’s centred on living in the past. 

Thousands of those users make up a little subculture on Instagram’s outskirts known as the ‘60s/70s community’ or ‘60s/70s revival’, using hashtags such as ‘60s’ and ‘70s’ to connect with other users exploring that mid-century neck of the woods. The ‘60s’ hashtag alone has 4.3 million user posts attributed to it.

Photo Credit: Alex Mason, Source: @a1exandra.rose on Instagram

Suppose you were to explore these hashtags on Instagram. You’ll not only be shown pictures of Bowie, Sharon Tate and the Beatles, but you’ll also be blitzed with white go-go boots, vibrant colours and a real feeling that you’ve wandered into an old archive of unknown authentic models from the time, but be fooled not. These are active modern accounts that are entirely based on the retro and vintage aesthetic of years that, more than likely, their grandmother’s would have lived through. 

So, already you may be thinking “how did a few decades from the past turn into a little subsection of the social media world?”. Well, this is a relatively new subculture of Instagram that has only formed within the last 6 years. Yet it is peaking now more than ever. Speaking to Alexandra Rose, a 21-year-old musician and Law student from the West Midlands, she reveals how she found her way into the community: “I have always been a lover and collector of 60s vintage fashion, music and memorabilia etc. and wanted to meet likeminded people out there who enjoyed the style and movement that I’m so heavily invested in.”

Alexandra then goes onto discuss the impact of a simple hashtag: “I saw others using the hashtag 60s and wanted to be part of their scene. I didn’t know how big it was until a month in I discovered so many accounts of likeminded people. People were very friendly, supportive and welcoming.” 

Many community members admit that their own political compass aligns with that of the 60s and 70s thus it has become a massive part of why so many people have grown to love this space. It’s almost as if Instagram is a new, modern medium of political self-expression and liberal thinking, becoming a powerful tool intertwined within the relationship between music, fashion and politics. Alexandra goes on to explain this: 

“I think the thing that’s so fascinating about the 60s was that it was a melting pot of new wave thinking. The whole movement developed not only because of innovators in music and fashion but also as a product of politics, women’s liberation, challenging class barriers, civil rights, lgbtq+ recognition, the pill, drugs etc.— every aspect and social norm changed in that time which is why I love its freshness so much. It’s all interlinked. It still has a long way to go, but the 60s marked the start of the revolution into liberal thinking.” 

20-year-old German Romance Languages and Literature major and active participant in the community since 2015, Selina, agrees with this by saying: 

“My political views are very leftist because there is so much injustice in the world—which I’m trying to change by protesting and helping out with election campaigns in my city. I really admire the hippie movement of the 60s and also the punk scene of the 70s so much because back then, the people weren’t as afraid of the consequences when they spoke their opinion on things that had to change.”

Just like in most tangible subcultures, this digital one has its very own icons. Users who are at the top of the social media hierarchy with thousands of followers. These are followers who become inspired by and mimic their content whilst communicating with others that do the same, thus creating a community. For this subculture, two of the biggest icons in the field are 24-year-old YouTube and Instagram star Devyn Crimson and 28-year-old fashion model Storm Calysta. Both of which are credited for their pioneering in the social media 60s/70s revival and known as the reason for why many people became so involved. 

Photo Credit: Devyn Crimson, Source: @devyncrimson on Instagram

Alyssa, who is 18-years-old and a high school senior from Canada, expresses her reasons for joining the community: “I always wanted to be an ‘influencer’ in the community. I started as most people did by following Devyn Crimson and branching off from there.” Selina also states that Devyn was one of her main inspirations, and from watching her YouTube channel, she decided to dip her toes into the community.

Devyn Crimson, who has an impressive 77k followers on Instagram and an even more impressive 101k subscribers on Youtube, explains how there was an already ‘vintage scene’ on Instagram in 2012, however under established it was in comparison to now: “There was already definitely something there when I joined, meaning following other vintage inspired creatives and posting my own vintage inspired photos. I was a sophomore in high school.”

Another icon in the community and mother of two with over 11k followers, Leah Horrocks, 29, (@70smomma) shared a similar experience as one of the ‘OG’s’ like Devyn, stating: “I made my account back in 2012. I’m not sure when the ‘vintage community’ started but I was in it from the very start. I’m one of the originals here.”

Devyn and Leah’s experiences are also similar in discovering and distinguishing their taste in music and fashion and how this developed online, sharing their love for creativity, colours and of course, bell bottoms.

Devyn reveals in our interview of when she began to notice her platform taking off: “Even at just 1k followers or so, which came kind of early for me for being a kid in small town Wisconsin, I was taken aback at the idea of anyone being interested in my life,” she continues, “…I really noticed it had the potential to be more than a hobby at least was when I was 19, working a job I hated for very little money. I really tried to put more energy into online stuff to see where it would take me.”

“I loved talking to people online, sharing life and creating art for others. I just want to be happy I have always said. Whatever I am doing, I just want to be happy doing it.”

Texas-based model, Storm Calysta who has almost a 55k following on Instagram, was happy to comment on both the growth of her audience and the growth of the community in general: 

 “I noticed a big jump in my audience growth during 2015 when I started doing modelling gigs and began sharing those photos to my Instagram. At the time, Instagram was still primarily a place to post cats and food pictures; very few people were doing the 60s/70s style revival at the time. People were intrigued when they stumbled upon my profile, thus resulting in my audience growing about 10k in a month.”

However, both Storm and others within the community claim that since the subculture’s growth, it has become infiltrated with lack of inclusion and over-saturation to the point that the roots on which the subculture has grown off of have been forgotten: “A big part of me misses it being more of a smaller niche because I feel like it’s a little oversaturated right now to the point where the history of the music, style and culture is being misconstrued from it’s highly important origins.” 

High school senior Alyssa is actually no longer a part of the community as of 2020 due to what she reports is because of a multitude of reasons but mainly racism and elitism: “The teenage mod group really made/makes me uncomfortable. Excluding minorities from the conversation and having this snootiness and arrogance about them. I won’t name names, but when I check up on them, they’re the same. You’re 16 and have 10k on Instagram; you’re not Beyoncé. Plus, whenever they got called out on fatphobia, they were really fake and defensive, which didn’t sit right.” 

This is to be expected in a community that has surged so quickly in such a short number of years. The larger a community, the more differences in opinion and before you know it, the foundations of the community have been buried under the ashes of hostile outside infiltration. This is why Alexandra Rose says that she prefers to not have idols within this subculture as, like many, she may run the risk of feeling inadequate if she too harshly compares herself to others.

The negative sides to social media are endless and have been widely debated for as long as it has existed. It’s important to remember that it’s not exclusive to just one sector either. A certain debate that keeps reappearing in modern culture is how social media acts as an escapism from reality, but what if that is mixed with a completely different decade? Is this an even further escape from reality…and is this a bad thing?

Leah Horrocks (@70smomma) spoke on whether she believes that the 60s/70s to some people is merely just a nice Instagram aesthetic or it’s truly a form of escapism from reality: “I think both. You never know if someone’s Instagram page is a true reflection of how someone actually lives their life, but I think a lot of times it is. Even if they are scared to dress vintage in the “real world”, Instagram gives them that space to show off how they really want to look/dress. A place to show off creativity.”  

In our interview, Leah also spoke of how she can be negatively perceived by others as a big name within the community: “I’m sure you have seen I’m pretty controversial on here. Some people love me and others hate me, but it’s all good. I share about real topics that others tend to shy away from because it’s not the norm. I’m one of THE only ones in the community sharing the stuff I do and I’m okay with that.”

Speaking of the controversy surrounding her personal choices relating to covid vaccines, Leah continues: “I’ve been called some crazy things on here…conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, dangerous, selfish. I know that I’m not any of those things but those are labels they like to give because they don’t get it. I keep fighting my fight and the ones who want to stick around, totally can. I’m so super grateful for my followers/anyone who supports me.”

Devyn spoke of her own experience within the social media subculture stating that: “The online space has been a very welcoming and kind place for me. Naturally, in any large group of people you’ll find someone who has a strange distaste for you, but that’s just life isn’t it? Only recently has anyone ever really tried to hurt me (not physically, though I did have a stalker early on).”

She elaborates by saying: “As the community grows, I am happy to see more representation of the diverse people that make up this community because really anyone who has a love for vintage is in the community as far as I’m concerned and that stretches to all walks of life. It’s beautiful to see it all come together.”

Finally, Devyn expresses how much the community has had on her life: “I really don’t know where I would be, what I would be doing if I hadn’t found this place. I found my career path through the community, my friends, my band. It really fuelled my love for the 60s & 70s knowing I wasn’t alone in my interests. So who knows if I would have even met my fiancé, moved to Chicago, gotten any modelling opportunities. I could never say ‘thank you’ enough to truly express my gratitude.” 

The benefits of becoming so involved in an ever-growing subculture for those at the top are the modelling gigs, the brand sponsors and making an income from a hobby that inspires others. However, there is likely to be a few rotten apples in such a large community whereby the community’s soul and purpose become lost for those who follow, especially on Instagram. The core becomes lost under the surmounting pressures of how many followers they have and why they don’t look like their idols. Selina talks about the importance of holding true to the liberal values on which the community was built: “I think the spirit of the time is what makes people drawn to these decades. Back then, children were just children and didn’t focus on growing up fast or wanting to be popular.” Maybe it’s high time the 60s/70s subculture come together to centre on its own past roots and the ideals it was founded upon rather than getting caught up in the infiltration of the social media platforms’ popularity and monetary success. To avoid hypocrisy and sad irony, there needs to be a closer look at the decades before and the reasons why it became such a vast digital hub full of like-minded people for a more inclusive and progressive future.

Breaking My Silence: Domestically Abused at 18

Trigger warnings – Graphic descriptions and evidence of domestic violence, a lot of mentions of s**cide and mental health/illness. Graphic pictures and mentions of physical illness. This is a heavy read.

In my silence over these last 2 years, a lot has happened. I moved house, I met the love of my life, I graduated and got accepted for my Masters degree. I took on many jobs, I started new projects and have morphed into a completely different woman. A woman that my 18 year old self would hardly recognise and in all honesty, I couldn’t be happier with that. I’ve grown. Really grown.

Now, before I start you may be wondering, why didn’t I talk about what happened to me for so long?

  • The pain that comes with delving into past emotions and reflecting on trauma.
  • The guilt, shame and embarrassment that you carry as a victim of domestic abuse is indescribable. What could I have done differently? What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I strong enough? Why didn’t I leave?
  • The way that people would see me. My trauma felt personal, something for only me, my abuser & those closest to me to know of. I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently because of what I endured.
  • The judgement. Everyone’s going to have an opinion and for 2 years, I was terrified of that. Especially when most of my abuse took place where there was not just small town but small island mentality.
  • My abuser is well-known, at least within my age group. How many of his friends and family are willing to lie to protect him? How many of his friends and family are in denial of what he done to me? and finally, how many of his friends and family are willing to attack me on his behalf – I bet a lot.

    So, why now? Because…
  • Reflection is one of the greatest tools in any human being’s toolkits. Reflection has been done by so many philosophers, writers, great thinkers and politicians and without it, we would never learn. Just look at Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France or Reflexions sur la revolution en France. A huge, monumental reflection that changed the course of politics today. So if my reflection can help prevent or change just one person’s experience with domestic abuse, I’ll have achieved exactly what I’ve set out to do. Not for revenge, but for everyone else’s justice.
  • The guilt and the shame I have carried for years has dissipated with learning, time and an absolute determination to heal the wounds that were keeping me stuck. Because I’m not a victim of domestic abuse, I’m a survivor. I am not to blame for what he done to me. Nothing is wrong with me. My strength far outweighs his and the reason so many can’t leave an abusive relationship is because they are trapped like I was. That does not have to be physically. And that’s okay, because I found my way out… but many don’t and I have a duty as a survivor to help change that.
  • I’m no longer afraid of how people see me. I came out the other end of a life-altering experience and I want to show others that they can too, and if that means sharing my own personal traumatic experience, then I will.
  • People’s opinions no longer frighten me. I know the truth. I know my experience better than anybody else and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a journalist, it is my value and commitment to absolute integrity and I have a duty to that in every aspect of my life. Always will. Other people do not intimidate me and their views on my experience is a reflection of them and their morals, not of me.
  • I’m no longer frightened of my abuser nor his close ones. He has no power over me whatsoever anymore. When you fear someone, you ultimately give power to them. It’s a sad element of humanity that has put many tyrants in positions of power and control over decades. Their principle tactic is other people’s fear and how they can play off of that for personal gain. Abusers do exactly that. But when you are no longer afraid, you are taking back that power. It takes time, but I’m there. It’s mine.
  • A wonderful girl a few years younger than me approached me recently and told me how much my writing helps people and how an article of mine on the effects of my experience with birth control at 16 helped her in making better decisions with her body. How discussing topics that are ‘taboo’ and aren’t talked about was exactly what she needed to read at 14/15 years old and how often the things that make people uncomfortable are exactly the things that need to be talked about.
  • Knowledge is power. I want to highlight and show the exact signs of an abuser, because when we can recognise the signs, we can better protect ourselves and loved ones. We have the power, not them.
  • My story didn’t end 2 years ago…he is still harassing me. Yes, you read that right.

Lastly, I want to leave you with this thought reader before I continue with the details of what happened to me:

I’m a writer and I have journaled about my life since I was 10 years old. What everyone else doesn’t know, my diary does. I still do believe that some things in my life are best stuck to the pages of my little black leather book for the sake of my own self-reflection. But what happens when the reflection has been done? What happens when you’re 21 years old reading the memoirs of a 19 year old girl that you barely recognise?  The lessons have been learned and life moves on, but every time you look at yourself in the mirror, the wounds that were raw at 18 and 19 have faded to scars at 21. What happens when 2 years later justices, still, have not been served and stories have never been told? I’m not just a writer, I’m a survivor and I will not be silenced. I have a duty to young girls and boys, to women and to men and certainly to me, to let my truth be told. To not only share my story, but to tell YOU, yes you reader, how healing the wounds of domestic abuse (or any trauma) is not impossible, for when they fade into scars, they are not scars of their brutality, they are scars of YOUR bravery. How the road to recovery is never linear and how time, though a healer, is not a cure. I have a duty to tell you that you’re not damaged goods, but a whole person deserving of love. And finally, I have a duty to show you the ‘red flags’, the behaviours and attitudes to be aware of so that you or your loved ones can leave before it’s too late or even better, get out before you or they are even in.

Anonymity Disclaimer: I have absolutely no obligation to protect my abuser by not revealing his identity in this article. However, it is my better judgement to keep his anonymity for MY protection, since part of this story was a court case. I will be censoring his name in screenshots and voice recordings, as well as putting the pitch of his voice down a level. Throughout the written dialogue, he will be referred to as Mr. X. My name, my voice and my words will be revealed exactly as they were. NOTHING has been altered in any of the evidence provided except to protect his identity. I am being completely and utterly transparent, hence why I am including all 16 minutes of voice recording from one of the nights of severe abuse, despite large gaps of no talking. If the recording is too painful or triggering to listen to, please feel free to skip on or leave the article. Finally, I decided against editing the voice recording for brevity as it goes against my integrity and what I stand for so you will hear the full, original tape with subtitles. I will include EVERYTHING that I can and EVERYTHING that I have. My commitment is to sharing the truth and be assured that I will. Here it is…

The Timeline…

The Roadmap and Timeline of Abuse – Ailsa Gillies

I wanted to provide you all with a roadmap/timeline of my abuse from start to finish because this absolutely encapsulates its stages and though a painful journey, it is necessary to not only reflect on, but to help guide both me and you throughout my last 2+ years. This puts into perspective how long this has plagued me and gives a brief, bitesize and digestible insight into the abusive patterns over the years.

June 2021 – Starting at the End: The straw that broke the camel’s back…

When my mum called me to tell me that my abuser (Mr. X) had stolen an outdoor chair from our family business in broad daylight, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach as I stirred the pasta in the pot before me. It was the name I dreaded to hear and would always prefer to opt for ‘he who shall not be named’. He was the first person that sprang into my mind as I shared the Facebook post a few hours before on the Isle of Bute page. With gut instinct and an educated guess based off of his previous behaviours, I just knew.

Comments came flooding in and after my mum’s phone call, I remember typing my own comment above reluctantly. Nobody on Bute knew the story behind it, even comments like “great news” made me uncomfortable. Not because of the commenter but because nobody had any idea that for me and my family, it really wasn’t. It wasn’t just somebody looking for a spare chair for their garden. It wasn’t a stranger who wanted to poke fun at the business and essentially, the Isle of Bute page that I had shared it in – it had nothing to do with the community either. There wasn’t a community thug or thief roaming the Rothesay streets. It was my abuser making a personal attack on my family because that was his only other resort and just another way of trying to get to me after all these years.

The most unsettling thing about all of this was that he had done this at around 11am while my family had an employee in the shop and before he could hand it back, he broke it. He broke it to send a message. This went way deeper than just a stolen a chair. From then on, I knew his insatiable desire to intimidate, provoke and have power over consequences in these last 2 years hadn’t subsided like I had hoped. He hadn’t changed and certainly hadn’t learned anything since his court date. He does and always has thought that he was above and beyond authority. That his actions have no consequences and that, to put quite simply, he is invincible. Here’s the thing, I’m a great believer in divine timing and when this incident happened, I started the ball rolling with this article. I knew it was time to break my silence.

May 2018 – Where it all began…

A picture taken of me and Mr. X at my home on Bute and on the night we formally met when I was 18.

I had known of Mr. X from school but formally met him back in the summer of 2018 through a mutual friend. I was inviting a few people round to my house on Bute after finishing first year of uni and one of them at the time asked if he could bring Mr. X along. I said ‘of course’. That night me and Mr. X really seemed to hit it off. He seemed humbilly unaware of how funny he was, he was quirky and at the time I felt that our characters meshed. But after coming out of a relationship that Christmas just before, I didn’t want anything serious. I wanted anything but serious and he seemed to match with me on that – at least at the time.

In my mind, he seemed to understand me where others (my parents and close ones) didn’t and seemed to align with where I was at in my life. From my music taste, my views on life at that point and the internal chaos I was going through. To me he understood it all. He almost seemed to liberate me from everything at that time I (stupidly and naïvely) felt was tying me down. In hindsight, I know that those closest to me were just trying to protect me. But I was 18 now, I could do what I wanted… right?

Here is an excerpt from my diary that demonstrates my complete confusion and lack of direction in building myself at that point. This was written on Saturday, May 12th 2018 at 11:30am :

I am enraged with my lack of self love and care recently and I am finding myself in more and more situations that are both challenging and encouraging change in order to become the strong woman that resides within me. This journey of self-discovery was inevitably going to pose challenges and each I must take something from in order to grow.

After spending a year at university amidst the complete chaos of self-discovery and trying to really figure out who I was, I have to admit, I was in a really vulnerable place. I still hadn’t worked everything out about myself and what I believed in. I wasn’t a fully-formed stable woman yet and he caught me right in my most vulnerable moment of personal upheaval. Where I turned on all the beliefs I was raised on, questioned authority and most dangerously, rebelled against my family in a completely oblivious self-sabotage. Mr. X and I got on so well because he was years ahead of me on that. And if there is one thing I love, is being taught.

From school, he had always been the type of person to get in trouble, provoke people and prey on those he perceived as ‘weaker’. He knew better on the topic of rebelling than I did and at the time, that drew me in. It’s interesting to note that after moving away to stay in Lochgilphead for a short period when I was 15 (due to personal issues), Mr. X was one of my aggrovators and taunters when I eventually moved back. Though at this time, I chose to forget this as he wasn’t alone on a list of people who participated in doing that in school.

So that was him and that was me. We seemed to align and I truly thought he could teach me a thing or two about being adventurous and exciting since my entire life before university felt soo careful. I thought he could show me how to be independent, free and awakened… but that happened in a way that I’d never expect.

As time went on over the course of the summer, I found him fascinating with his love of taking risks, always wanting to climb hills, camp out in the wild and… get uncontrollably drunk, fearing no consequences. His response to me asking “what if the police come?” when we would go drinking outside would always be “so we’ll hide” or “we’ll run” and there was something so exhilarating about that.

Reader, in truth, I was enamoured with the risk and not so much the person and I’ll tell you why. It was at the end of May that I first experienced the scarier side of Mr. X, and the first huge set of red flags were placed right in front of my eyes that I chose to be blind to. And let me tell you, the red flags you choose to ignore now will cost you later.

My parents were away and he had invited me on a walk round Loch Fad. I was looking forward to this but insisted that I wasn’t drinking because I was feeling rough from the night before and had noticed swelling on my tonsils. When we met for our walk, he showed up with a litre of Glen’s vodka and I laughed while asking “where is your mixer?” and he told me it was for both of us and that he didn’t bring any. He told me that we were both drinking it straight (red flag no. 1). I went back to my house and grabbed some diet coke, pouring it into a spare water bottle because that litre really intimidated me, even between two of us and even with mixer. I remember vividly the feeling of “I really shouldn’t be doing this” as I left my house for the second time to meet him.

Anyway as the night went on, I sipped at the water bottle mixed with vodka and diet coke as he gulped the litre, blasting music out of my bluetooth speaker behind me. I remember being so questionably sober even after a few drinks and him, well he was on a completely different planet. This didn’t scare me at first, until I had to pick him up from a ditch at the side of the road.

I pleaded with him to get up but he just kept asking where all his friends had gone to which I responded “it’s just me”. I had never seen somebody so drunk that they had mistaken people for being there when they never were and let me tell you, I never want to again (red flag no. 2). He kept insisting that his friends were there (a pattern that frequently occurs throughout this whole story and you will later hear in the audio) and it sent shivers down my spine, despite the heatwave of a summer we had that year.

As I eventually got him up, he staggered behind me as I walked ahead, murmuring and quizzing me on things about my life at university (including how many guys I “had been with”) etc. I told him bluntly that it was none of his business (and ladies and gentlemen, it never is anybody’s business unless you want it to be). At this point, I was merely interested in him as we had only met up once or twice before this event. I enjoyed being around him but at this stage, I can confidently say I had little to no proper or deeper feelings of attachment to him. Please note this as the story progresses.

As he progressively dug and dug for things to bring up about me and his fixation on “how many men I had been with” (red flag no. 3), I eventually snapped and told him that enough was enough and that he had crossed a line. This was just as we almost made it full circle round Loch Fad, stopping at Lover’s Lane as he slurped at what was left of the litre bottle.

His immediate reaction when I retaliated was to tell me that he had “feelings” for me and that he really “liked” me more than a friend and that’s WHY he was pestering me about it. This is not normal or okay to do to anyone and definitely not okay to justify it by saying you have feelings for someone (red flag no. 4). I didn’t know if I should have even believed him because of the condition he was in. Regardless, feelings or not, he should not have crossed those boundaries. But it got worse…

The First Sign of Verbal and Physical Aggression

When he revealed his feelings to me, I didn’t respond the way he clearly had hoped and he didn’t like that – to say the least. I told him that I didn’t share the same feelings as we had only met a few times before and well, that’s when the name calling, the strangest behaviour and nothing short of bullying began.

He told me upfront that I was a “slut” who must’ve been with a multitude of men before (which was completely untrue but something that I never feel I have to justify, but I gave up trying to fight it). I resorted to silence and my silence was aggravating so eventually he told me to go home. The problem was he had my house keys in his jacket pocket since I didn’t have any pockets on my skirt. Everytime I tried to get them off of him, he would run away into the darkness of the woods in Lover’s Lane laughing a hysterical and echoey laugh which absolutely terrified me, especially at night time. He was genuinely playing mind games with me and it felt like I was chasing after The Joker just so that I could get home safely. It sounds as ridiculous and weird as it was, honestly.

After a good while of asking him firmly then pleading and begging him to come back (trying as many approaches as I could), he emerged from the bushes and gave me the keys but insisted he would walk me home. I allowed him in my terrified, exhausted and frankly exasperated, state. So he did and we eventually reached my house where he proceeded with the taunts about my time at uni; how “stuck up” I must be, how “slutty” I must’ve been in my first year at uni (seriously, I don’t know what he really thought goes on at uni but he couldn’t be more wrong) and several other inappropriate questions that I chose not to answer. Again, he didn’t like that and eventually asked if he could come in and stay at my house since my mum and step dad were away. I said “no” and if there’s one thing Mr. X does not like is a “no” (red flags 5 and 6).

He started the name calling and the shouting. I was so simultaneously embarrassed (since we have neighbours) and terrified that I got myself inside as quickly as possible and turned the lock on the side door. But he wasted no time in making his way for the front door. When I got to it, I remembered in my short-lived relief that it was already locked… but my front porch door wasn’t. He began violently kicking this as I stood in the hallway listening to the thumps of the wooden doors smacking off the porch walls inside. “Rat! You’re a fucking rat!” he kept shouting and my silence only seemed to provoke him more (7 million red flags ). I stood and listened with my back against the wall thinking of what my next move was going to be. I opted for going to a safe place in my bed upstairs where I was at a safe enough distance but could still hear him shouting below. Baffled, confused and truthfully, quite hurt, I eventually fell asleep.

The First Sign of Gaslighting

The next day I woke to an unbelievable amount of missed calls and private messages from Mr. X, telling me how sorry he was and how he was “so embarrassed” with his behaviour from the previous night. He told me that he had just drank too much and became a different person (I don’t think I even need to count the red flags on this one). He begged me to meet him that same day but I told him I couldn’t as I had to go to work. Again, he couldn’t take “no” for an answer and kept trying to persuade me to let him meet me at my work down at the Putting Green. I felt incredibly uncomfortable but still he insisted on making things up to me. Despite this, I still refused.

That day I didn’t even know if I was going to go to work as I had woken up with tonsils the size of tennis balls and a horrific fever which had clearly been brewing from the night before. I had phoned my mum that morning and told her how ill I was but decided to push through and go into work but was let away early as my illness progressively worsened.

My mum and step-dad came home later that evening. She sat on the edge of the couch where I was wrapped up, hardly able to speak. She told me that I had to “put the bottle down for a while” as I was over doing it and it was clearly catching up to me. I knew she was right and I made a promise to both her and myself to do that because I could see how badly my body was reacting to the weekends of excessive drinking and Mr. X‘s measures. Yes, he insisted on pouring all of my drinks and done so throughout our entire relationship.

I told Mr. X I couldn’t see him for a while until I felt better, though we kept in touch over messenger. It was through this that I began to feel the pressure of accepting his apology and most importantly, accepting his justification for his behaviour. He told me that he was intimidated by me going to uni and how “out of his league” I was (which I thought was ridiculous, but you’ll later hear him describe this in the audio tape) and that the reason he put me through hell the night before was because he liked me so much. He proceeded to convince me that that’s what people do when they like you so much. Mr. X continued explaining how embarrassed and rejected he felt when I didn’t share the same sentiment and that’s when a huge shift happened. I began to feel responsible and that I was sorry. This poor boy had feelings for me. Had I led him on then completely rejected him? How could I have done that? I owe it to him. This was my exact mentality. So, owe it to him I did.

How to Recognise Signs of Abuse by cattonline.com

The First Signs of My Cycle of Abuse:

Phase 1 for me was the tension as you have read: insults, accusations, fault finding and controlling behaviours from asking about my past, my time at university etc. Making comments on the way I was as a woman.

Phase 2 was the explosion kicking the doors, verbal abuse and destruction of property.

Phase 3 was the honeymoon. The very next day with the apologies, the promises of change and the justification.

This was all within 2/3 times of MEETING him. And I dread to say it reader, but this was a foreshadowing and a repeated cycle that happened over the next 7 months of my relationship. Let’s continue…

I spent virtually every single day and night with Mr. X over the course of June, July and August and never formally as his girlfriend. We went  up the hills in the sun, camping, sleeping in bird huts (because I was too scared to go home and face the wrath of my mum and step-dad), all while he filled half of a 500ml empty bottle with pure vodka for me, the other half diet coke and said this is the way I should be drinking now. 

One night in June, I remember saying that I was going to go to the pubs with some of my friends and he said “why would you want to be one of those girls?” and proceeded to tell me how he fancied me more because I liked to go out adventuring and how I wasn’t like those “basic” girls that go to pubs. It makes me laugh with how ridiculous that belief is and even more ridiculous how I could agree with it. But in my head, reader, “I owed him”.  

Essentially, he was subtly controlling every aspect of my life. Convincing me that my parents were wrong and that they were just trying to hold me back. That they would never and could never understand us. Eventually, I felt like I was falling for this guy because really, I didn’t have anybody else and he made damn sure of that.  

There was still part of me that held true to what I wanted for that year: self-discovery and not having ties to anybody. I say this because Mr. X asked me to be his girlfriend not once, not twice, but three times that summer and I refused until the fourth. Even on the fourth time,  that took convincing. Anything that takes someone to convince you, should not be happening ESPECIALLY after 4 tries. So, there you have it. There was still a part of me that didn’t want this, but I caved. 

September 2018 – Becoming ‘Official& My Return to Uni

I went against everything that I wanted for that year.  I lost a good, close relationship with my mum and step-dad and felt like I was constantly justifying why I was with this guy because when I say I was warned about him, I mean I was hounded with warnings. Yet I felt the need to defend him, because like me, I felt he was misunderstood and he convinced me that we were the only two that could ever understand each other. 

My mum gave up fighting with me over him and I eventually wanted them to be introduced to each other. After all, he was my boyfriend and I felt it was necessary but I will never forget how he went about this. He tanned a bottle of Buckfast before making his way downstairs to meet my parents because “he was so nervous” and everything that came out of his mouth when he spoke to them was slurred, skewed and practically made little to no sense. But still, they gave up fighting with me but the more he proved me wrong, the more I was determined to prove to my mum and step-dad that I was right and that came at a huge emotional, psychological and physical cost. 

I was now drinking more than ever in a bid to keep up with Mr. X. We were preparing for me leaving to go back to uni in early September and this news hit him like a tonne of bricks- but it was reality. No more camping, no more drinking, no more hill walking and running away from everybody else into the fields. Reality hit us both hard for different reasons. 

He knew that Stirling was a bigger place than Bute with more people, even more adventure and a lot of nightclubs. He didn’t like that. The more I got to know other people, the more Mr. X felt like he was closer to losing control over me. So what did he do? Before I left for university, he told me to change my Facebook relationship status to ‘in a relationship’ with him. I was so reluctant and he could sense that. Rule number 1: ALWAYS trust your gut. What came next was emotional blackmail. 

 “How do I know you won’t leave me for other guys at uni?”, “How can I trust you if that isn’t on your profile?” “Are you embarrassed to be seen going out with me?” “I won’t feel comfortable with you going to uni without that on your profile” and again… I caved. Even when the alarm bells were deafening in my head, I caved and again, he won. He had control, like he always wanted.

Reality hit me differently because I had spent virtually every single day with this guy and him alone for 3 months and all of a sudden, that was going to be over… so in that sense, it worried me. I had a strange and irrational dependency on him. As if all I could ever need was him. I hadn’t felt that in a relationship before so in my naïvety I mistook that for true love (that’s what he told me it felt like), when really it was extreme codependency and almost like a case of Stockholm Syndrome. I needed him for EVERYTHING and when he wasn’t there, my anxiety shot through the roof. I felt like an incapable little girl without him and he made sure to remind me that I was.

Soon, I was headed back for uni and from then on, it only got worse. It’s almost like the further away from him I was and the more people I interacted with that weren’t him, the more insecure and out of his grasp I was. I could slip through his fingers at anytime in his eyes. His response was to draw me in closer and closer until I was eventually under his thumb. 

There are too many red flags to count at this stage but one of the worst from the time of moving back to Stirling for uni was his constant need to FaceTime me before every single night out with my friends. He always wanted to check in on what I was wearing and would make sure that I was constantly messaging him on a night out. He was even severely threatened by the fact that one of my three other flatmates that I moved in with was a guy. At the time, I thought this was just because he cared about me and wanted me safe but in reality, he just wanted to exert even more control over me than he already had, especially when I was physically out of his reach. 

October 2018 – The first night of verbal abuse and humiliation in our relationship  

It was Mr. X‘s birthday and I had come home to Bute from Stirling to celebrate with him. Everyone at his work had decided in late afternoon to go for drinks in the pub. I decided to come along a little later (approx 8pm) as I was taking longer to get ready and wanted to give him some time with his colleagues. By the time I had reached the pub, Mr. X was prancing around, chirper and very drunk. I was in high spirits too since this was the first legal time that he could celebrate in the pub (yet another reason he hadn’t wanted me to go to the pub before this – because he couldn’t be there).

The night carried on and I chatted away with his family and friends while he floated around the pub. Honestly, the energy felt really welcoming and for once, I thought in my own kind of selfish way, that I was really happy to be around other people instead of the monotony of just drinking with me and him. I was so looking forward to a great, social and high-spirited night but as always, these things didn’t usually last when I drank with Mr. X in social situations (which I came to find out).

As the older of the people out celebrating for Mr. X‘s birthday disappeared home to their beds, us younger ones carried on and before we knew it, we were at a girl’s afterparty who I was naturally really suspicious of. I’m not usually one to judge as I always follow the rule of “he who is without sin may cast the first stone”, but I had witnessed the way this girl treated younger boys along with other people and it really didn’t sit right with me. It was a strange after-party to be at but Mr. X was good friends with her and so I let it roll.

On the taxi ride home, he began making comments about my time at university again, making me feel like I had something to prove (I cannot remember verbatim and wouldn’t state what he said unless I did) but before I knew it, we were in a full-blown argument in which he resorted to name-calling. He was as vicious and terrifying as I remembered from the first night of this back in May.

We both apologised the next day, agreed that we were both drunk and I tried not to make a big deal of it or how much his words hurt me. I hate carrying on conflict for any longer than it needs to and so we forgot about it. Or at least he did. I may have forgotten what he said… but never the way it made me feel.

Mr. X and the Art of Humiliation

Mr. X wasn’t just a master of verbal aggression during arguments; he slid it into conversation and in front of other people in an absolute pursuit to humiliate me.

One day in October we had returned to Bute together after a short visit to Stirling during my University reading week. As we always did, we drank on the travel back down. The journey was exhausting to say the least as we had to get a replacement bus which caused so many difficulties but when we arrived, our mutual friend who had originally introduced us at the party back in May, had offered to pick us up and we could all spend some time together in his car. Mr. X didn’t want me to join. But this friend was my friend too and had invited me along, so this hurt me. I never made a big deal about it and decided to contact one of my other friends who had a car and asked if he wanted to go out a drive for a catch up since I hadn’t seen many of my friends in a long time.

He agreed and when Mr. X and I reached Bute, we went our separate ways. It wasn’t long before the car I was in passed the car that Mr. X and my other friend were in so we all decided to meet up with parked cars out in the countryside. Conversation ensued and I was being my usual bubbly self, engaging in conversation and enjoying being able to socialise properly again when Mr. X took a hold of the conversation and completely cut me off.

I felt a little hurt but continued to stand and listen as the four of us all stood around outside the two cars and when I went to give my input into the conversation, Mr. X turned to me in front of everyone and aggressively told me to “fuck up”. A phrase that you will hear also in the audio tape. Me and my friend have since talked about this incident and how uncomfortable it made him feel as well to witness. I was completely humiliated and my instinct was to shut down after this and not speak at all until we got back to mine.

When we both got dropped off at my house by our friends, I tried to climb out of the car I was in when he hurried over and tried to shut the car door on me. I had just about enough of this. As both of our friends drove away, I told him outside my house that I was fed up of the way he treated me and he wasn’t coming inside. He retaliated by being his usual sarcastic, nasty self and what did I do? I caved and let him in. Every argument felt like I was fighting a losing battle and the emotional energy that this took from me was unbelievable.

November 2018 – The Abuse Caught on Tape and Absence from Uni

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. This is where I get to back-up my claims and not just provide you with a narrative, but provide you with cold, hard physical evidence.

First square -taken on October 11th 2018 in a Counsellor’s waiting room at the uni, waiting on my appointment and images of my sweat patches after attending a seminar at uni. The last square is a picture of my underarm sweat.

I want to provide you with some context to what happened to me in the month of November. It was a really difficult time for me because adjacent to all the abuse I was suffering from my boyfriend, I had also been dealing with the absence of my sister as she was in a psychiatric hospital due to severe mental illness that almost cost her her life on multiple occasions. Every single day was uncertain for me and I had no emotional capacity to retaliate to any of Mr. X‘s abuse.

To me, I had lost the greatest friend in the world (everyone knows how close I am to my sister) and every single day I was praying that things would get easier for her. There was not a moment that she was not on my mind. At this time, I was struggling with my own mental ailment that has plagued me since school – anxiety. This caused (and still causes me) extreme and horrific hyperhidrosis.

Remember when I said previously how dependent I was on Mr. X and how I was rarely socialising with anyone BUT Mr. X … this was the price I paid when I returned to university and HAVING to attend seminars and lectures. It caused the sweat patches that you see in the picture on my shirt. That was after a one hour long seminar at uni. It can be hard to see because of the stripes on the shirt (this was on purpose so nobody could see my sweats and to prevent embarrassment at uni) but I have circled the patches and explained where they are located.

In early October, I seen a counsellor at the university but never returned for my next appointment because I was convinced this was nothing to do with my relationship like she was eluding and instead was just something that was wrong with me and something that was wrong with university. That’s what Mr. X had made sure that I knew. That every other outside source was to blame for my heightened anxiety and actually, that he was the only thing keeping me afloat. Because remember…”I needed him”.

Now, on the 10th of November (this date really sticks in my head), Mr. X carried out his same manner of drunken verbal abuse on me. Questioning me on my history with boys – my ex-boyfriends, people who I had fancied, people who I had briefly dated… EVERYTHING, before resorting to telling me how much of a “whore” and “slut” I was. I was sick to the back teeth of this. When I sat in silence, he would taunt me about girls that had been interested in him and how I am lucky because he never pursued them. How grateful I should be that he never took these other girls up on their offers of one night stands AND long-term romances.

He began bringing up a night in August where I was at my Aunty’s wedding. He went on about how I was late to meeting him after the wedding. That night I sent him a snapchat of me drinking a glass of white wine at the wedding (he knew I never usually drank that and was usually on vodka because he poured them) and all he could respond was “well we know what girls are like with wine”, implying that they are more sexually inclined. He brought that up again on this night of November 10th. Remembering this makes me cringe.

I left my Aunty’s wedding to come and meet him and he stood me up. I was 5 minutes late and he had gone by the time I arrived. I waited at the bench for a while before he showed back up again and proceeded to be angry that I had “enjoyed” a night with anybody other than him. He wanted to punish me for this. Even on the night of my Aunty’s wedding, he wanted to punish me for enjoying my night. And still, on this night 3 months later, he was bringing the “white wine” up and the “amount of boys” that were at her wedding in an attempt to trigger me. What were meant to be some great times (including Bute’s Highland Games night the next day after my Aunty’s wedding) were taken from me. Because I HAD to spend it alone with him.

Now, on November 10th, he began getting up in my face, spitting whilst trying to aggravate me with past events and eventually, an argument ensued. I was always trying to fight my corner but when you have little to no emotional strength left in you, you tend to pick your battles. I was left yet again feeling emotionally defeated and LONGING for him to just go to sleep and sober up.

The next day, I woke to flowers and a whole bag of sweets next to my bed. He had sobered up, kissed me and apologised. It is the strangest and most bizarre moment of joy when abusers reward you for tolerating their abuse. I got an amazing rush of love and appreciation that next day when I seen the beautiful array of colours next to my bed. Like I said, it feels like a reward for your efforts. “Tolerate my drunken abuse and you’ll get love and affection the following day.” Just look at the diagram of the cycle of abuse. It was always Phase 3 “The Honeymoon” phase that I strangely longed for as the cycles repeated.

But reader, when your mum comes into your room and sees gorgeous flowers of a charming and blooming romance that she has had to come to accept but doesn’t know that those were flowers followed by a night of abuse and torment, that’s when you realise that you are worlds apart from everything and everyone else. Those flowers were a product of gaslighting. That is the domestic abuse cycle summed up. The exact emotional trap that abusers will place on you so that when people question why you don’t leave, you struggle to fathom the words because there ARE times when he buys me flowers, there ARE times when he says I’m beautiful… but that doesn’t make him a good guy.

*Let this be the pitstop reminder in this article that no matter what, this is never your fault. It’s psychological warfare.*

The Night I thought I was Going to Lose My Life (The Audio Tape)

Please read this before you listen to the audio tape. Context is so important to everything and I NEED to discuss the day of my 19th birthday and everything that led up to the most horrific experience of my life (worse than my seizure the day after my 21st). What you hear in this audio and what I have had to revisit and transcribe for you, my readers, is physical evidence of both my verbal and physical abuse and the worst night of it at that. Revisiting this tape (which I haven’t done in years) has been the hardest part of writing this article. It is reliving one of my most traumatic experiences where I was certain I was going to lose my life and so I pressed record. Please read the context before listening to the tape. Everything in the tape will then make sense.

What Happened on November 17th 2018 (My 19th Birthday)…

I had taken sickness absence from university on the 12th of October 2018 to the 12th of November 2018, following incredibly unbearable anxiety at university, deep worry and concern for my sister and a complete lack of direction in my own life. Mr. X had told me after I had returned home on my month off that I don’t need uni. That I should “just leave” and him and his job would support me. He was determined to eradicate me of any dignity, self-sufficiency and independence that I had left. I really do scoff at this now but then, I was in two minds. I just knew that I needed time away and needed important “me” time to figure myself out.

That didn’t happen. Mr. X was never away from me when I returned home. Fuelling me with drink (and when I say this, no he did not physically force me to drink – coercion and manipulation alongside emotional blackmail is a huge part of this cycle) and not leaving me to work on my essays. This meant that so many were submitted too close to the deadline, requiring me to stay awake until 6am or later at some points. One night before my deadline, I had stayed awake until 3am, fell asleep until 7am and completed the essay by 11am, just one hour before the deadline. It was exhausting. I had barely attended everything that I needed to at university due to anxiety so it was a miracle to even pass but the mental blocks I suffered at this time were close to unbearable. I really thought that I could bare university no longer and my grades were suffering.

A sick note from my doctor for University active from 12th October – 12th November 2018

When I returned to university on 12th November, it was harder than it ever was before. I had laid low and dormant for a month, spending time and energy in trying to get Mr. X out of a job that he hated. I also spent that entire month trying to give him motivation and ambition in life, all the while neglecting my own. It really is a sad irony.

When I travelled back down to Bute on Friday 16th November 2018 for my 19th Birthday the following day, I remember having this feeling of complete hopelessness and for the first time in almost 19 years, I hadn’t looked forward to a birthday. First off, the absence of my sister put a huge void in my heart. Birthdays were never the same without her, let alone while she was in hospital recovering from a horrendous depression. My sister had always been the ray of sunshine in the darkest of times and so I wasn’t really in good spirits for my birthday.

Amongst this, the family had to really come together for my sister so my birthday was put on the back burner which I completely accepted and understood. I would have put anything on the back burner for her and still would. I came home and the house felt vacant and everyone’s temperaments were running high with worry. I retreated to my bedroom when I arrived and spent the night before my birthday in there until the next day.

I woke up on the 17th of November feeling incredibly lonely and isolated. I was looking forward to Mr. X finishing his morning shift and appearing at mine at lunchtime and… he did. He had gotten me a wonderful gift – The Beatles ‘White Album’ Book remastered by George Martin’s son. This was an expensive and beautiful gift but most importantly, it was incredibly sentimental to me because of my newfound love for the Beatles and music in general. Along with this, he bought me the Beatles’ ‘Help’ album on vinyl which I was so excited to listen to but unfortunately didn’t have a working record player so would have to listen elsewhere.

That lunchtime I thanked Mr. X so much and told him that I would take it down to my dad’s that night so I could appreciate it and play it on my dad’s record player. My dad was also really excited to hear the album since he had just gotten back into his old records and the Beatles all over again. This seemed like the perfect plan.

My mum and step-dad had surprised me by booking a table for a meal for all of us (Mr. X included) and wanted to try and make my birthday as special as possible despite the family issues we were all going through. I really appreciated this and informed Mr. X of the plans.

The plan for me was to visit my dad’s in the late afternoon after Mr. X left to return for the rest of his shift and show him the wonderful gifts that I had gotten. Down there, I would play my vinyl and have a few birthday drinks with my dad and then leave my dad’s to meet Mr. X, my mum and step-dad for a meal in town before heading out to the pub with the three of them. I then promised my dad that I would return just before the pub’s closed so that we (Mr. X and I) could spend some time with him, listening to music and celebrating. This is exactly what happened until the very last hurdle after going out to the pub.

Mr. X had invited his dad along which I was excited for because I hardly knew him and was eager for opportunities to get to know his family. His family was a part of Mr. X that was very secretive so I was looking forward to this. When his dad arrived, he seemed funny and honest, full of opinions and seemed to enjoy our company in the pub. He got on well with my step-dad as they had already known each other. It was pretty nice and wholesome to watch and I was really enjoying my birthday, distracted from all the issues I had been carrying for the past few months.

The evening carried on until just before midnight when Mr. X and his dad were incredibly drunk, hugging and chatting to just about everyone in the pub, leaving me, my mum and step-dad sat at our table. I remember vividly being unusually sober because I felt a sort of uneasiness in my stomach that lasted from the day that I travelled down. I’ve come to know that whenever I get this sicky, almost butterfly-like feeling in my stomach that it’s usually a sign of bad things to come. I always trust this and it has never failed me unfortunately. I was not in a particularly great place emotionally and after the heavy meal that I had earlier, drink didn’t seem to touch me. At least pub measures didn’t and this was also different from the half-a-glass measures I was used to getting poured.

I remember really wanting to return to my dad’s to play more of the vinyl but no matter how much I asked Mr. X and his dad if we could get going, they’d find someone else to chat to or put on another song on the jukebox. I became deflated and phoned my dad, promising him we wouldn’t be long but he had told me that he was going to his bed within the next 15 or so minutes.

In desperation, I pleaded with Mr. X to leave and told my mum and step-dad thank you and that I would see them when I got home. This took longer than it needed to and certainly over 15 minutes. Mr. X brought his dad along with us – which I didn’t mind but in their drunken states, they staggered and walked really slow, chatting sentences that barely made sense to a really sober me.

By the time we had made it halfway, I knew we weren’t going to make it to my dad’s so said that I would just walk up to my mum and step-dad’s house. Mr. X‘s dad said that we could all go up to his instead and I said that I didn’t have anything to drink up there. He informed that they had vodka, beer etc. but when I inquired about mixer, he responded that they had none.

I came up with the idea of going to my dad’s, who had said that he would leave the door open for me anyway if he had gone to bed so I could come and collect my presents, and I could take my diet coke from there and bring it up to Mr. X‘s house. We all agreed and Mr. X‘s dad said he would walk ahead while we made our way to my dad’s. I was admittedly really upset with the outcome because I felt immensely disappointed with how my night had went. I felt exhausted, emotionally drained and quite frankly at this point, ready for my bed. I was angry at not being able to finish listening to the vinyl with my dad who I hadn’t seen in a while or spend some real quality time with him on my birthday before having to rush out. But I could tell Mr. X and his dad were still in the mood for “a party” as he refers to it in the audio tape, so I obliged.

As me and Mr. X went our separate ways from his dad, heading toward my dad’s house he turned to me and said “what’s up with your face?” to which I honestly responded everything that I highlighted above and well… he didn’t take that good. He said that I was “spoilt” and that EVERYONE else was enjoying their night and I explained to him that I had a lot going on in my head between being just back at uni after a huge breakdown, missing my unwell sister and feeling very lonely mentally. Again, to him I was “selfish” for saying this and was ruining “his night”.

I can’t exactly remember what happened at this point, but we definitely reached the outside of my dad’s block of flats and I’m almost certain that his words got so hurtful that I decided against getting the mixer and going to his dad’s altogether. I do, however, remember heading for my own home and he followed me.

We reached a red postbox which is featured in the picture outside of P&D’s (my family’s business) and it was here after several taunts of the usual slut-shaming and calling me a “spoiled brat” that he took his fist and punched the palm of his hand and in the most spine-chilling voice, looked me dead in the eye and warned me that “this could be your face.” I continued walking home, feeling almost zombie-like and numb at this point. I tend to do this in traumatic situations – just completely shut down. I just took his threat of physical violence as exactly what I thought it was… a threat. But it was a horrific one at that.

As I continued to walk, my mum and step-dad actually passed us in a taxi after leaving the pub. I was only a few seconds away from my house so they kept going in the taxi and beeped at us. Mr. X caught up with me, following me into my house and straight up into my bedroom, where I changed into my pjs and got into bed. I was completely exasperated with the entire night. I really do remember lying in my bed wishing over and over again in my head that my birthday would end and that Mr. X would leave me alone.

My mum and step-dad decided to continue the night down in the kitchen, while listening to music (you can hear this in the background of the audio tape). This one night they decided to shut the door because they thought I was going to sleep and didn’t want the music to keep me awake but this turned out to be a huge important factor in what ensued.

The taunts got worse and worse, to the point that Mr. X was grabbing my body parts and shaming them. Telling me that I was “too fat” in certain areas and even calling me “obese”. I got up to walk down stairs to tell my parents about what was happening to me and he followed, trying to stop me and as we reached the side door, I managed to get him half way out of it before he put his foot in-between the door and the frame to jam it. I was terrified.

Again, I felt defeated. So I warned him that if this continued, I would get my parents involved as he came back inside. But he called my bluff. He knew I was scared of them doing nothing if I said something. He always said “what are they really gonna do?” after so many arguments that I’ve threatened this before. I was scared of my mum and step-dad thinking this was just another couples fight. Everyone around me being so drunk but I was stone cold sober didn’t help. I felt like I was facing this all alone. And really, I didn’t feel this was the time to get an “I told you so”. It’s important to note that my mum and step-dad never did this and never would do this, but my mentality combined with Mr. X‘s threats and gaslighting, made me feel like the whole world was against me, except him. He distorted my reality.

He followed me back up to my bedroom and I just lay in my bed, at times turning over and pretending to sleep because I felt I had exhausted every other option. But everytime I asked him to leave, he insisted I was a thief because the vinyl he got me for MY birthday was still down at my dad’s and because I wouldn’t walk down at midnight to go and get it, I was stealing. I even told him I would give him it back the day after. I just wanted him to leave. That’s all.

He continuously insisted I had boys’ clothing in my room (they were his clothes for staying at mine that night) and insisted that I was a slut, whore etc. He accused me of cheating (not on audio, but before I recorded). I have never looked at another man in my life in a relationship, let alone cheat and my previous partners can attest to that. In the audio he tells me that “I’m a special child” that people worship me but that he “won’t die with folk worshipping me”. A very spine-chilling statement. You will hear all of this, reader.

He also is persistent about other people being in the room… sound familiar? and mocks my appearance and threatens me with my sister (knowing how close I am to her and how she was in hospital with severe mental illness at this stage) by saying: “if you care about your sister you’d look at me,” and when I didn’t, calling me a “selfish wee fucking cunt”. This had been going on for a long time before I pressed record. I had never heard it get so bad with threats of physical violence and verbal abuse. I feared for my life that night and in my fear of losing exactly that, I recorded the abuse on my phone. You will also hear several moments where he grabs my neck, shakes me and eventually grabs my throat, choking me.

Now, reader, you are about to hear the audio tape of the night of November 17th, early morning of November 18th. Please wear earphones or headphones when listening to this, though it’s transcribed and has subtitles. I really would like you to hear EVERYTHING in its rawness. If at any point it gets too much, please do not listen. Mute the video and read the transcription. Or leave the video. I don’t want to trigger anyone. But this is what I experienced at my own house on my 19th birthday by my then boyfriend after refusing to attend his dad’s for an after-party:

*Again, his voice has been altered for censorship but mine is exactly as is. The last 6-7 minutes are particularly evident of the abuse (and are extremely hard to listen to) but the whole audio provides context of how I was treated.

Even after the recording stops, he verbally tortured me the entire night. You can see how me describing the audio and actually hearing it is so different. The “I love absolute fucking bits out you” in an angry tone really terrifies me and particularly triggers me when revisiting this tape. In honestly…all of this tape does but there are times when transcribing this, my boyfriend has had to console me. It’s incredibly dark and really hard hitting but that was my reality and sadly, it is still the reality for so many people. THIS BEHAVIOUR IS NOT NORMAL. IT IS NOT OKAY.

I managed to get Mr. X out of my house that night by threatening (once again) to wake my parents and as I turned the light off, crying in the dark, I heard clattering on my attic bedroom roof. At the window across from me in the pitch black, there he was. A dark, hunched figure on all fours crawling up my roof and window trying to get in. This was my real life horror movie.

And you guessed it, I let him back in so that he would eventually fall asleep, sober up , not disturb my parents and yes… the next day I got flowers. Frustrating to read and frustrating for me to admit.

December 2018 – The Breakup

After that night, I started to really distance myself from Mr. X because a clean break never felt possible. It felt like leaving him suddenly would do more harm than good. His energy (although already really bad) seemed to get worse, either that or my rose-tinted glasses were fading. I think most likely, I was starting to see him for what and who he really was because he had shown me so much of his ugly side already. In fact, I’m not sure if it was his or my energy that shifted but something did. Something changed, that’s all I can tell you.

He knew I had seen his ugliness and forgave and stayed, so he got comfortable. He got comfortable knowing that I would probably never find the courage to walk away since he thought he had reduced me to nothing. But he was wrong. So very, very wrong. I could no longer stand being around him and I knew deep down that this wasn’t what love was and this was not how love was meant to be. That the life he wanted me to live and the future that he wanted us to have – a stay at home housewife, who cleaned dishes and looked after children while he drank himself into oblivion and I obeyed his every order, was just not going to happen. That was not who I was. I was always and still am a free-spirit. A maverick, a non-conformist and sometimes, I see myself as the feather that floats around in the opening scene of Forrest Gump. I can’t be tied down. I’m an independent, free-thinker and I had so many ambitions, big ideas and dreams for my future and he was not about to take that away from me. He took a lot…but he could never take that. And that frustrated him.

My sister’s condition worsened around her birthday in early December and I really started to see what was important to me when I came so close to losing her again. So close that I still find it hard to discuss and comprehend. I remember taking my nephew (her son) out for a walk around the park and watching how his little face glowed even in times of darkness, how he was so oblivious to how much of a saviour he really was to everyone in such a terrifying time and looking at my nephew and thinking if some woman were to treat him in the future the way I had been treated over the course of 2018, how enraged and protective I would become. But the difference with me was, nobody knew. I kept this so hush-hush. So nobody was enraged or protective, because nobody had any idea what I was going through.

Mr. X appeared in my house a few days before Christmas, clearly out of his box on cocaine and drunk beyond belief. He began getting soppy and telling me how much he loved me and how I was the best thing that happened to him and reader, pardon the expression, but I shit you not, I felt like throwing up in my mouth. He repulsed me. Standing before me, he really and truly repulsed me. Everytime he spoke, I wished he would shut up and that’s the god’s honest truth. Something really shifted.

I said “you’ve been taking stuff, haven’t you” and he knew how I felt about him constantly taking drugs and he denied it. I might’ve had the slightest glimpse of believing him if he hadn’t had white powder lining his nostrils so I broke up with him on the spot and kicked him out of my house. This time he happily obliged and left.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do. My mum was downstairs blow-drying her hair and I went down to tell her she was right. She was right all along and I absolutely broke my heart to her. She cuddled me and told me to block him on everything, which I did. Everything except messenger. Why? I have no idea why but I wish I had.

The entire night he bombarded me with messages, telling me how he got into a fight and was “jumped” by a group of boys. He demanded me to feel sorry for him and what an awful girl I was that broke up with him that night. That the reason he got into a fight was because I sent him out my house so it was my fault. Truth be told, I was trying to console myself crying knowing that I had done the right thing but he was tormenting me yet again, trying to make everything so difficult. And yes, I should’ve blocked him and left it there but as you’ll see below, this was the mental state I was in after the breakup. This picture was saved about week after.

Screenshot of a quote representing my mentality at that time, a week after the breakup.

I met up with Mr. X several times after the breakup and around Christmas to try to work things out or try to get through to him, showing the suffering he had caused me. He couldn’t comprehend. This was a boy who had little to no regard for anyone else’s suffering apart from his own. I remember standing outside the church next to my house on Bute in the pitch black knowing that my words were falling on deaf ears. I was so frustrated and in tears of desperation, pleaded with him to just understand why I couldn’t be with him anymore. No matter what I said or did, I felt like I was giving a little boy into trouble and he couldn’t take it. He would always walk away in a temper tantrum and this repeated. Even when we were not officially in a relationship, I let this boy (for that’s all that he is and will ever be) get comfortable disrespecting me.

Revealing the Abuse to My Family

It wasn’t until Christmas Eve when my sister was recovering and we eventually got to see her again after almost 4 months. We were able to go to her new house and have some lunch, but the whole day I was on the verge of tears. I was simply not coping.

It was a beautiful reunion between my sister and I, but conversation carried on between us all and she asked what was going on with me. I told her what had happened with the breakup but not to worry as I desperately didn’t want to place any other negative burdens on her. I never wanted to mention anything else other than the breakup but it seemed the harder I tried to hold back, the closer to breaking down I was. I told everyone at my sister’s house – my mum, my step-dad, my brother-in-law and my sister of the trauma I had endured. I let them hear the audio tape that you just heard but something back then didn’t compute about JUST how abusive that was. It felt like part of me was still in denial about everything and was just showing them a tape of a normal argument. It is so strange but I remember that feeling. I’m unsure now if that is a type of coping mechanism or detachment from trauma. A psychologist could tell better.

As the tape went on, my sister gasped and my mum’s face grew angrier and angrier as she stared at me. Again, in my head, I couldn’t understand why everyone was so shocked. This was just life for me. My step-dad shook his head and told me he couldn’t listen anymore. It was quite a horrific time and I knew from then on that I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t be Mr. X‘s girlfriend ever again. It was really done. Or at least I thought it was.

January 2019 – He Would Not Leave Me Alone…

I made a huge mistake on New Year’s Eve. I met up in secret with Mr. X behind my family’s back to spend it with him, under promises that he had a complete breakthrough and was a whole new person. Abusers will do this. And I can tell you reader, they never had a breakthrough, they never change and you cannot fix or change them. You have to accept that. That’s what I know now, but didn’t then.

He told me how he couldn’t bare to see me with anybody else and as I prepared to go back to uni in the month of January after my Christmas break, he again, tried to get me under his grasp. He really didn’t like me being where I wasn’t under his watchful eye. Where I couldn’t be under his trap.

Picture taken on New Year’s Day on Barone Hill. – He was beside me.

Mr. X wanted me to relive the past, to really remember the good times. Again, abusers will do this. He did this by taking me to the hill we always climbed back in the summer of 2018. He said that New Year could be our fresh start, wiping the entire slate clean and back then, I really did believe him. I fell for the words that were coming out of his mouth. I fell for the symbolism that came with taking me back to a place where I really did spend a great summer. But that great summer cost me a horrific winter. True love doesn’t require sacrificing one season for another. True love doesn’t require sacrificing your independence, happiness and self-love to please another. This was never true love. This was just plain, calculated and heartbreaking abuse.

My mum eventually caught on to where I was and I felt her wrath. She was so disappointed and angry. She had messaged him on Facebook to find out where I was and he lied to her. He said that he hadn’t seen me but I was right beside him on top of a hill. And when I say this woman fought long and hard with me to get me away from him, she really gave it all her might but I was in a trance-like state with him. Really and truly out of her reach and I have no idea how frightening that must feel for a mother. The promises of better things to come were all I could cling onto when I had suffered so much trauma. I was nothing but a shell of a human being at this stage.

Returning to Stirling

I had found out that Mr. X had slept with someone else the very night I ended things, though he denied this. I had heard through various other sources and people about the exact same story of him walking home with this other girl. It didn’t shock me but it still hurt me. It was almost like if he could do this on the very night we ended, what else could he have been doing when we were together and I wasn’t home. It felt like I had only just discovered the tip of the iceberg when this came to my attention. And those that are persistent in accusing others of cheating, are usually the ones guilty of it themselves. This is something else to note.

I broke my heart wrapped up in a blanket on the couch watching TV but not really watching it, more so staring at a screen while crying hysterically. My mum and step-dad were through in the kitchen when I approached them like a ghost-like figure. My mum held onto my shoulders and said “I need you to go through to the bedroom and take a good long look at yourself in the mirror, because this isn’t you. This isn’t the woman I raised,” and I did.

I walked through to the bedroom and looked at myself through tear-filled eyes and all I could think was how right my mum was. I looked like just a helpless, damaged little girl. I was looking at a vacant stranger and reader, throughout all of this story, that has to be the one crucial moment that still breaks my heart to this day to remember. Not losing him, but losing myself. And that is the greatest tragedy one could ever suffer.

As I lay on the couch sobbing, my step-dad came through and told me that it was time for a clean start and that my mum and him were going to take me back up to Stirling earlier than planned. We first started by me applying for several jobs in Stirling, joining a new society at university and spending more time with my flatmates who I began to get closer to.

Life was certainly looking on the up. I was still hurting terribly, but the pain got easier to carry. That was until Mr. X again made an appearance back in my life. He had created a Twitter and messaged me through there and from then on, we began speaking again. He wanted to come and see me in Stirling, telling me that since I left, all he has is reminders of me when the Beatles play on the radio and how if I don’t see him again, he’ll drink bleach. That he had already considered it while in the shower because I left.

I felt awful. I invited him over to mine in Stirling so we could talk as I was concerned for him and he travelled up. This was a humongous mistake on my behalf again. Once there, the day seemed to be okay. He showed no worrying signs of not being stable and continued talking normally. Then it changed to “I know we aren’t getting back together but who have you been with since we broke up?” and “what have you done in Stirling since we broke up?” and these questions were asked invasively and aggressively.

I responded with the truth which was “no one” and “not much”. Still he pressed and gave up when I told him he was searching for answers that just weren’t there. After that, he headed to the shop, bought drink and said that was what we could do while he was there and I stupidly obliged. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.

As the night went on, Mr. X popped down to the toilet but had left his phone on the desk beside me where several snapchat messages were being delivered from the girl that he had supposedly been with the night we broke up. He denied even speaking to her when I first brought up the situation to him and now I just knew that this was a lie. In my terrible curiosity and hurt, I opened the message. It really was none of my business and I know this now but I had never done it before and curiosity got the better of me.

The snapchat message from her read: “come do it again xxx” and I knew then that something had gone on between them. What he did after we broke up is his business, but trying desperately to get me back while in cahoots with someone else really irked me. Especially when I had spent 7/8 months in isolation and restraints from absolutely everyone. Again, I had no idea how long this had been going on either. They only got seen together on the night I split up with him, I have no idea what happened before that – so really, it could be anything or it could’ve been nothing. Irregardless I was furious. I had been lied to. Treated like a fool and disrespected again. I invited him into my home in Stirling that day in a fear that something was going to happen to him and he had completely baited me.

When he returned from the bathroom, I turned to him with his phone in my hands and read out the message. “Come do it again?!” I exclaimed. He lunged at me, trying to grab his phone from my hand, pushing me in the process. When he couldn’t get it, he flung a pot noodle that was on my desk all up the wall in a rage. He had been caught and he hated me for that. He started his usual horrible remarks, calling me a “stupid bitch” and “horrible wee slut” until BOTH of my flatmates emerged from their rooms asking what was going on because I was hysterically crying. One of those flatmates I’m still really close with today and he heard everything that went on in that room and consoled me through such a difficult time. I’ll always be grateful for that.

After spending some time with my flatmate, I returned to my bedroom where he was. It was late now and there was no chance Mr. X could go back to Bute but I felt so uncomfortable with him staying in my flat. He calmed down and told me the things I wanted to hear. Such as: the message was out of context, how he doesn’t actually speak to her and then the story changed to that it was actually one of his pals that had messaged her through his Snapchat earlier. At this stage, I really stopped caring and just wanted him out of my house. This didn’t even feel like a betrayal anymore, it just felt like sad, pathetic and dangerous behaviour that I did not want to be around.

I told him he had no right to emotionally manipulate me into letting him come up to stay and he said that he just really wanted to see me again. When he admitted that he had no intentions of harming himself my heart sank and once again, I felt like I’d placed myself right back in that trap. Here I was, stuck in a loop again. I begged him to go and find somewhere else to stay, to even book a hotel for a night but just to leave me alone and I will never forget what he turned to me and said.

“If you kick me out tonight, you know fine well there’s train tracks behind your house and you have no idea what I’ll do…” and reader, that’s where I should’ve just put him out the door but I had that threat looming over me. I wouldn’t have lived with myself if anything happened to him and he knew that and he played off of that.

Even when he returned to Bute and I felt somewhat of a relief, he haunted me. He messaged me constantly and I couldn’t bring myself to block him as I felt responsible if something were to happen to him because I left him. I just couldn’t do it. He absolutely terrorised and haunted me. So much so that when walking over Stirling bridge one day at 7am in the morning, I stood at its ledge and wished for relief. I wondered what it would feel like for the water beneath me to swallow me whole and I wouldn’t have to suffer at his hands anymore. I had never had thoughts like that before and I have never had thoughts since. I pray that I never do again.

A little lighter and happier side-note here is that whilst starting uni again in January of 2019, I actually first seen Kai (my current boyfriend) playing guitar and singing at a Live Music Society event that I had joined and fell head over heels, even at first glance but I was going through so much dark stuff that I didn’t feel ready to talk to anyone else at this stage. We then got talking and went on our first date in early October of 2019 and he asked me to be his girlfriend the day before my 20th birthday in November. We now live together and have been together for over a year and a half. He has definitely been my lighthouse in this storm.

February 2019 – The Harassment, Murder Jokes, The Police and Women’s Aid

Reading week of 2019 for university rolled around. I was still in little contact with Mr. X but had tried desperately to turn my attention around to my studies. As I said previously, I was so scared of completely shutting off due to the threats and the way he retaliates in times where I call for a clean and immediate break off so my tactic was more of a steady distancing. I genuinely wanted to do better by myself since my grades had suffered so much since I had met him.

my university grades throughout that year

I wanted so badly to fall in love with myself and my degree all over again but as usual, I struggled to get away. With every hurdle I crossed, there seemed to be another one waiting for me with him. My grades here are not awful for a 2nd year student, but they weren’t what I was usually capable of and you’ll see this later. As you can see I was hitting a lot of 40% which is the bare minimum mark. That’s passing by the skin of your teeth. Still passing, but barely.

So reading week rolled around and at this point, my mum and step-dad had taken off to stay in South Africa for 3 weeks. I told them that I was going to visit Bute during reading week but would be staying at my dad’s house and oh how I wish I had done just exactly that.

When I arrived on Bute, I only let close friends know that I was there and had done this for the last month of travelling back and forth between Stirling and Bute. He had spotted me out a lot (Bute is a small place) and sent me this email below 2 weeks before my reading week. Mr. X had spotted me in the co-op when I came for my break off from uni. He then messaged me on Twitter saying that he was hurt that I hadn’t told him I was coming down and if we wanted to meet up. I said that I wasn’t down long enough but he knew it was my reading week and called me out on that. I wanted to meet him, reader, I’m not going to lie. I felt like I was clinging to whatever was left and since distancing myself from him, I felt more in control but that was NEVER going to be the case.

An email from Mr. X on February 2019

I found it hard not to continuously feel sorry for him when he was sending me emails like that. I feel foolish now and the Ailsa I am now would never tolerate this but this was a huge learning process for me. I don’t want other people to go through this just to “learn” when I have the tools already to give you the power of knowledge to prevent this from happening. Prevention is better than cure. So, back to the story:

I knew that if we were going to meet, it would have to be in private where nobody would see us because if word got back round to my family or anyone, I would be in trouble. My mum and step-dad were really sure that I was not even messaging him at this point. So, I realised I had a spare key for my mum and step-dad’s house and took him there to talk while they were away. Everything seemed fine and he told me how he had cleaned himself up, how his work was doing better than ever and how all he has ever thought about for the last month was me. Hearing this made part of me light up and the other part want to run for the hills. He told me that I had really inspired him to become more ambitious, that he was applying for college and that he had so much more to offer me now. I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions. He was saying all the right things and everything that I wanted to hear.

That same day, I told my dad that I had found a key for my mum’s and was just going to stay up there for the rest of the week and my dad never really questioned it. Me and Mr. X stayed there for a few nights but I began to 1. feel incredibly smothered by him being there for days at a time and 2. suspicious of the fact that he had no work to go to. Really suspicious. And one night lying in bed, there was a huge clatter downstairs when the house was empty besides us. I went down in the morning to find that a huge canvas that had never once fallen down in the house before, was lying side-up balancing on the radiator below where it hung. Somebody else really didn’t want him in this house. This also happened with another portrait in the house the next day.

One of the nights he was there, we watched a true crime documentary and when someone said that the murderer had wrapped his wife up in a bag and disposed of her, he jokingly turned to me and said “that’s what I’d do to you.” That really didn’t feel like a joke. Many a true word said in jest. If this wasn’t terrifying enough, when we were downstairs making food in the kitchen, he approached me from behind with a knife placed directly at my backside and laughed in my ear. It felt safer to stay with him than it ever did to leave and he made sure that was the way it was with us.

The most defining night was when we sat down in the kitchen and he took my mum’s £20 litre of vodka from the cupboard and began pouring us drinks. The sheer arrogance of just taking that from her cupboard, the absolute disrespect and literal no regard he had for my mum said it all. I was not shocked by any of his actions at this point but sat there and obliged with the drinks that he poured. We took to looking at things on Facebook on my laptop, going through some of my sister’s old photography on Facebook when he made me click on my profile picture out of the blue. So I did, in hopes he would finally say something nice about my appearance. He said “well we know what everyone is looking at and it’s certainly not your face”. I was horrified by this comment. It was completely belittling and degrading – yet again.

I told him how horrible that was but he insisted he was just stating facts before returning to take another swig of his drink. I tried to let the comment go but it really sat with me. I then turned to him and asked “how come you’ve not been at work?” to which he responded that he’s on holiday. I nodded my head suspiciously and he could sense my disbelief. This is when he got defensive, accusing me of being distrusting (do you blame me at this stage?) before retorting to the usual name-calling and yet again targeting my time at uni, making comments on the things he’s seen me wear while up there through social media posts etc.

I told him to leave straight away and he left willingly after my threat to call the police, but that’s when he started banging on my kitchen windows, thumping on my glass side door and screaming at me from outside. He began taunting me telling me that actually, he had duped me again. That he had actually got sacked from his job months ago and never told me, so he wasn’t on “holiday”. That he had actually been doing worse to me in our relationship than I ever had known of and promised me that he had gotten much worse with drugs, drink and women since our time apart. Again, I just begged and screamed and pleaded to be left alone. It got so bad that I desperately FaceTimed an old friend of mine who was online at this time in hopes that she would help but in fact, another one of my friends came to my saving grace instead. He said that he would be up quickly and when he arrived, Mr. X disappeared.

He promised to stay with me the entire night to ensure that he wouldn’t come back but what horrified me was at 9am in the morning, Mr. X had made a return and came face to face at my glass side door with my friend as he was about to go to the toilet. My friend stared him down until he eventually left again.

I was in a state. I was half-drunk, hurting and confused. I had allowed myself to be betrayed more and more, over and over and over again. My friend insisted that I should get some sleep and to try and calm down but in my hysterics I phoned the one person who was always there for me, who never judged me but always helped me – my sister.

She was still recovering fully in the hospital at this point and when she received my call she told me that I have to call the police. I insisted that I would but if anything happens to me, then she has to know exactly what and who it is because nobody knew that me and Mr. X were still talking. That is how fearful for my life I was at this point. After blocking contact with Mr. X on everything I could think of that night into the early morning, he was hounding me with emails while standing outside in my garden in the dark on his phone to even the early morning and afternoon in which he returned home. I will show these below. They were awful and twisted. Also please be aware that he was sending these emails to different google accounts and email addresses that I had, including a google account that I made for me and my friend when I was about 13. That is why the email address changes a lot in these screenshots.

* £20 for the vodka that we drank of my mum’s.
and yes, he even resorted to messaging my Make-Up page that hadn’t been active in a year since I wasn’t responding

So meanwhile I was being spammed with messages, I went to my bed with my friend still keeping a watchful eye inside the house. I had no idea that while I was sleeping, my sister had actually talked to her police officer friend who was in a bed beside her in hospital and her friend told her that the police HAD to be called because she had seen too many cases of this end in tragedy.

1 in 3 women aged between 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and 2 women A WEEK are killed by a current or former partner in the UK according to Refuge.org. This statistic rose during lockdown to 16 murders over the course of 3 weeks. Please think on that statistic.

I will be eternally grateful to my sister and her friend for really saving my life for if the police were not called, I really dread to think where I would be or if I would even “be”.

Giving My Statement to the Police

I was woken by my name being called repeatedly in a worried voice and my shoulders being shook. It was my dad. The police had contacted him because they tried to get a hold of me and I was sleeping upstairs, unable to hear them. He let out a sigh of relief as I came to. “You need to get down to the police station immediately” he said to me, telling me that he’d wait outside for me in the car.

I was in a zombie-like state once again, numb and barely functioning but knowing what had to be done. I got dressed and down to the police station I went. It was here that I gave my statement and told the officers of all the trauma I had suffered over the last 7/8 months. They told me that they’d be making an arrest due to the cause of fear and alarm from banging the doors and trying to get into my house the night before. They asked me harder hitting and deeper questions that my dad had to leave the room for. I won’t discuss any of this and I’m not sure I ever will. The officers assured me that I was doing the right thing but to me it felt so wrong. I still felt sorry for him. He’s got no job, no girlfriend and now he’ll be in trouble with the police. Again, I blamed myself. But it was never my fault, it never will be my fault. I will never be to blame for how he treated me and for how his actions brought around his own consequences.

My dad took me back to his house and asked me to explain everything to him properly. I couldn’t really fathom much but kept referring to all the questions I had answered in the police station. My dad wasn’t coping very well with it all. It all came like a shock to him and he had to leave to go out to work in a really shaken state. I stayed in my dad’s house, staring out his window and crying helplessly. I felt battered, used and bruised in every single way. If I hadn’t hit rock bottom before, this was definitely it now.

My brother was heading back out to work after lunch from my dad’s house and I said goodbye to him and all he said was “bye”. I remember the defeated, lonely and isolated feeling echoing through my body and encompassing my every inch. He opened the door up again after he said “bye” and said “I need you to know that if you ever need me, I’m always here,” and with that, he left. I really did need to hear that in that moment. My brother is not the emotional type but he let me know that day that I wasn’t alone. I’m still unsure of how much of the story my brother actually knows. It’s not something I’ve really talked about with my family since it happened besides my mum and my sister.

The Audio Tape and Women’s Aid

I never made contact with Mr. X again after that day and still haven’t. The next day, I told my dad that I was okay to stay up at my mum’s house again and that I would lock the doors and stay in her bedroom where the door locked from the inside to make sure I was safe. I was also made aware that his arrest had been made and part of me felt a relief.

I wanted to be on my own for the rest of that reading week to grieve. Not grieve the loss of him, but the complete loss of myself. I needed to grieve all the emotional batterings I had taken, all the psychological trauma he had inflicted on me and come to terms with my experiences. It was horrendous, but I lay there in complete solitude watching music documentaries and I started to find a happiness. My happiness was in music. It was in art. It was in these independent, free-thinker mavericks who were unapologetically themselves. It was in their talent, in their genius that I found comfort through one of the hardest times of my life. I watched Woodstock live lying locked up in my mum and step-dad’s bedroom on their tv. I fell in love with the idea of peace and love (though I’m sure there is some sort of psychological aspect of being abused that made me desperately seek this). I started to form my own political opinion on “war” and “violence”. It was the start of who I am today. I found a vice. A vice and an escape that made me better, not bitter. In fact, it kickstarted my entire career and shaped me into the woman I am today. Strong, resilient and completely and utterly unapologetically herself and nobody can or ever will change that.

Women’s Aid called me the day after my visitation to the police station. They tried to get as much information about my situation as possible but when the woman described me as a “victim of domestic abuse”, I panicked and hung up the phone. I didn’t want to be a “victim” and I didn’t want anybody to describe me as that. I was ready to heal, I was ready to put these burdens to bed and I was ready to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. A phrase that constantly cropped up in my head randomly on walks to uni. I was never going to come out the other end of this worse off. I was going to continue to better myself. To learn, to be better and to do better by myself and other people in the same positions. So no, I didn’t feel like a victim, I felt like a survivor who was ready to heal. And that’s where the healing took place, right in that mindset.

The police visited my house the same day as the Women’s Aid call, asking to hear the audio tape that I had mentioned in my statement. I sat with both of the officers who could not have been anymore helpful in my situation. They were gobsmacked by the audio and the woman police officer asked me to send this over to her email. The man asked me if I would like to press charges and in my shaken state I hesitated. He waited a moment before saying, “you don’t have to do this for you, do it for the next person he ends up with.” And for me, reader, that changed everything. I told him to go ahead. He was absolutely right. I had already suffered at his hands and was ready to heal, but I couldn’t watch some other poor girl go through that, especially knowing how dangerous he could be. I made it out alive, others might not be so lucky.

May 2nd 2019 – The Court Date

I held true to my word and bettered myself. I was still feeling like a floating figure roaming around Stirling made out of shards of broken glass. I felt unlovable and unworthy and decided that to combat this, I was going to restart and rebuild my life again, from the ground up.

I got a job as a waitress in Bridge of Allan which began to build my confidence and get me back on my feet with my independence. I was also looking forward to an exciting holiday to Magaluf with my little cousin and her friends. I really invested in improving myself in every way I possibly could but still, something always felt missing.

I returned home from uni one day and began a video call with my mum, when I received a knock at the door. I went downstairs to find a massive parcel delivered in my name. I carried it upstairs and showed my mum as she sat grinning at the other end of the camera. Tearing it open, there was a beautiful keyboard before me and I immediately knew it was from her. She said “I listened when you said that you felt something was missing”. My mum was the one who taught me piano at a young age and at this point, I was getting really back into the things I hadn’t touched in a year since I had been with Mr. X. Piano, writing and music in general.

I was on the road to feeling whole again. However, one thing lingered with me and that was the looming presence of my court date on May 2nd but I did it. I showed up to court, ready to battle his lawyers and ready to speak my truth but standing in the waiting room, a woman approached me asking if I was Ailsa Gillies.

She told me that after his lawyer listened to the audio tape, Mr. X decided to plead guilty for a lesser punishment. Though relieved that I didn’t need to stand up in court, I needed to know if I was going to be safe. Through Women’s Aid, I applied for a non-harassment order but was denied as this was a first time offence. Well I felt helpless to say the least. This meant that he could come near me anytime he wanted.

This was his first charge.
And this was his second. I’m unsure if he plead guilty to this charge, or he was let away due to lack of evidence besides my witness testimony and just an audio tape. I can’t be 100% sure but I knew the police were pursuing this charge.

August 2019 – Harassing My Family Members

So, here we are on the timeline. Thank you so much if you have made it this far. This is not an easy read but it’s a necessary one.

I seemed to just get better with time though I suffered in many other ways – sleeping with scissors under my pillow in Stirling to protect myself (because one time after we broke up, he actually showed up to my flat unannounced in Stirling and I only knew because my personal hotspot connected to his phone. He was outside my door- how creepy), constant night terrors where I would dream he was trying to kill me and getting frightened when hearing birds on the roof. These were a few of the ongoing sufferings I had after my abuse, but I had still come a long, long way.

August rolled around and I received a message from a family member, telling me that Mr. X had messaged her after spotting her walk up to her house one night. The messages were bizarre but still, he had a clear obsession and willingness to get to me through any means possible. He knew fine well who she was and how she was related to me.

November 2020 – The Anonymous Instagram Account

I want to make this very, very clear. I cannot prove that this is Mr. X. I tried to uncover this account’s identity but to no avail. I did make a vow to myself though, if another account does the exact same, I will be taking it to the police. I have suspicions that the messages you are about to see on Instagram were from him. Very strong suspicions. From language, to the way he types and even to the things he would mock. This Instagram account targets the exact same aspects of me that he used to do to my face. Again, I cannot say with 100% certainty but I can say that I have my suspicions.

These messages came flooding in right after I had taken my first tonic clonic seizure and I was in a state of recovery and vulnerability. It also came after I shared an article discussing my experience with my seizure that I had shared on the Isle of Bute page. The timing felt strange and suspicious also.

I obviously do not think this highly of myself but I really was determined to show that his (or whoever’s) words have no impact on me anymore. I have enough self-love and confidence to pay no mind to the content of these messages. Notice how these messages all attack my physical appearance. So, so shallow. But as I said, I just had a feeling it could have been him. Then again, it could not be either. Who knows.

But it is a fact that he continued to harass my family and their business this year in June and I’m tired of it. I really am just tired of it. It is these little pathetic attempts that show the character of abusers.

Where I am Today

I have a voice that will no longer be silenced and after 2 years, I’m confident enough to say that I have found it. After my abuse, I began to heal… though there are emotional and psychological scars that I will have for the rest of my life, those are just a reminder of my bravery. I did rise like a phoenix from the ashes and yes, I am a wounded warrior but I can honestly say, I have worked so hard on healing, on bettering myself and following my life goals and ambitions religiously, despite any setbacks. I’m not one to give up so easy and I continued the journey I sought out to do at 18 years old – to find myself. To really find myself.

Sitting with a counsellor over a year later in January 2020, I told her of my abuse and what haunts me the most is feeling like I have lost myself. She said the most poignant thing to me: “Thank god you did, because I don’t think you really would’ve wanted that version of yourself back anyway,” and she’s right. You aren’t meant to be the same person you were a year ago and it’s okay to look back on who you were and cringe. In fact, if you’re not doing that, you’re not growing.

What I settled for then, I wouldn’t even come near now. The amount I tolerated then, I instantly cut out of my life now. And yes, I grew to have the most healthy, safest and purest form of romance with the man I am with now who doesn’t see me as damaged goods, but a strong woman and doesn’t see my past struggles as baggage but of victories.

The Physical Impact

I suffered extreme illnesses due to stress after our breakup. I came down with incredibly awful laryngitis and a hellish fever, so bad that my flatmate had to take me to a&e. I then started to get bleeding gums despite having really healthy gums and teeth. Then I broke out in a horrible rash and ulcers all over my tongue. These were all stress-related illnesses and my healing process was not just a mental one – it was physical too.

But I did heal. I continue to heal and this article has been an incredibly difficult but healing one. I get to speak my truth. I get to release the weight I was carrying for no other reason other than fear. But I’m not scared anymore. In fact, I feel free. Really free and what a liberating experience this is.

I graduated university in June this year with my Film & Media and Journalism degree and I will demonstrate the comparison of how much better I done in my last 2 years of university without him. I had nobody holding me back. I grew and am continuing to grow into the woman I have always dreamed of being and have nothing but support and love surrounding me. It does get better and letting him go was the best decision I could ever have made.

my university grades after I began to heal

Now we have reached the end of our journey, I have just one last thing to say:

In the end, if I have become a better person out of this situation, I win. No matter what the court told me, no matter what people knew or didn’t know, no matter of the justice or the injustices. If I continue to build my own empire – blossom beautiful relationships, career opportunities and goals. If I continue to work hard, reap rewards for my efforts and help those who I can through my experience. If I can stop just one young girl from entering a relationship littered with red flags, or a struggling mum walk away from years of subservience to a man who believes she should be tied to a kitchen sink, then reader, I have won. So, I’m sorry Mr. X , but you may have walked out unskaved in many a battle with me but you best believe that I’ve won the war. 

Help Services and Support

If you or anyone you know are suffering or think could be suffering from domestic abuse, then there are so many steps that can be taken:

– If you are in fear for your life, please contact 999. No partner should make you feel threatened, fearful or terrorised. These feelings are not healthy.

– You can always contact me through any form of social media or e-mail at ailsagillies@hotmail.com. I will always be available to chat and give help or guidance from a survivor’s perspective when I can. Even if you would just like to share your experience, feel free.

– Professional help services are available. Women’s Aid have a live chat where you can talk to a professional through your device at https://chat.womensaid.org.uk/

– Additionally, you can also seek help and support in Scotland through the Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline at helpline@sdafmh.org.uk or on 0800 027 1234

– If none of these feel possible for you, then Boots Pharmacy/Stores across the UK are using their consultation rooms as a safe place for people experiencing domestic abuse. You can find the full information here: https://www.boots-uk.com/our-stories/boots-pharmacy-consultation-rooms-become-safe-spaces-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse/

Finally, Clare’s Law has been a huge step forward in preventing domestic violence and abuse.

“Clare’s Law, often known officially as a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme or similar, designates several ways for police officers to disclose a person’s history of abusive behaviour to those who may be at risk from such behaviour. It is intended to reduce intimate partner violence.”

You now have the right to ask for a person’s history of abusive behaviour before/during a relationship with them and you have the right to know. 

Once again, thank you for reading and please parents, educate your children on how to treat other people in a relationship and on what a healthy relationship should look like. Use this article as an example of what it shouldn’t look like.

The 1990s Story Behind ‘Killing In The Name’

This is the 4th and final week of the Nostalgic Music Mini Series ‘Behind These Political Songs That Defined Their Decade‘. But stay tuned for next week’s article focused on sexism in the Scottish Music Scene and Wednesday 28th July’s article; ‘The Instagram Subculture Centred on Living in the Past‘.

After an evening of drinking, two black men proceeded to drive through two different states in the USA before being tracked down by police for breaking the law. Both men were maltreated by officers attending the scene. One man had an officer kneeling on his neck whilst another was beaten with a police baton over 50 times. At both locations, a bystander began to record. These recordings sent shockwaves through the world. You see, one man was Rodney King, the other George Floyd, and one year was 1991, the other 2020, yet the most hard-hitting difference; only one walked out alive…and that was 29 years earlier.

King reportedly suffered brain damage, skull fractures, broken bones, kidney failure and emotional trauma, all of which had been recorded on tape from a salesman across the road. This later aired on a local TV Station. Inevitably sparking worldwide outrage, there was none more so than in the year that followed, where three officers involved were acquitted of assault. Riots flooded the nation, particularly in King’s city of LA and became known as the ‘LA riots’. 

In 1992, as the streets of LA blazed in horror and fury, a Los Angeles band were cooking up a storm for their self-titled debut album ‘Rage Against The Machine’. At this point the band’s lead guitarist, Tom Morello, took a strong riff that he had discovered while teaching one of his students a drop D tuning to his band. This, combined with the cathartic passion from frontman Zack de la Rocha, ‘Killing in the Name’ was birthed, taking inspiration from King’s systemic sufferings. 

At this time, Zack thrust his fascination with the power of speech into action, further motivated by his admiration for activists such as Malcolm X. It seemed there was no time more critical to vocalise his beliefs than during one of LA’s most profound moments. From this came arguably the most poignant repeated lines of an epic rock song: “Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses.” Here, he alludes to the brutal, institutional corruption and racism that went hand in hand throughout the USA and, more importantly—still does. 

Rage Against The Machine are the first band on this list whose sole musical purpose and existence can be credited to being radical. It’s still equally as important to note that their musical talent is not weakened by this but instead strengthened, working in almost a symbiotic relationship with each other. The band has a whole catalogue not shy of rap infused metal consisting of bellows of social injustices. All in the dirtiest, most raw and furious fashion you could only expect from a band with ‘rage’ in their title. 

There’s a sort of ironic hypocrisy in the fact that the song never charted in its home country, the origin place of the societal issues that inspired the song, but instead earning a spot at number 25 in the UK in 1993 after a live appearance on a tv show called Yoof. From then on, RATM performed notoriously temper-filled concerts worldwide, most often ending in riot cops and the burning of an American flag. A bold statement that resulted in complete and utter musical and political mayhem— but it gave them sort of an edge. 

“A little dose of anarchy for the Christmas Holidays is good for the soul,” Morello told BBC Radio 6 Music in 2009. This statement was in response to a campaign started that year by Jon Morter, an English Dj, to get RATM’s Killing in the Name to the Christmas number one spot against X-Factor winner Joe McElderry. This campaign’s motivation was to make a point that commercial and cheesy pop singles are not what the nation wants, and, spoiler, he was right as the campaign was successful. RATM had achieved UK Christmas Number One. 

In the run-up, the members spoke in a BBC interview in response to how they’d feel if they achieved the number one spot, frontman De la Rocha said: “It would be kind of a wonderful statement. I think that it says something about the real tensions that people are experiencing all over the UK and the United States as well,” through a fuzzy mic in a studio, he continued, “I think that people would love to hear a song that reflects some of the tensions that they’re experiencing in their daily lives.”

When asked if RATM felt that this was a rage against the manufactured pop business, Morello took hold of the mic and said: “I think it’s tapped into the silent majority of the people in the UK that are tired of being spoon-fed one schmaltzy ballad after another and they want to take back their own charts,” it was here that his voice started to raise with a heightened passion that confirmed the honesty in his speech, “and we are honoured that they’ve chosen our song to be the rebel anthem to try and topple the X-factor monopoly.” 

There was a humble yet heartfelt passion in the band’s interview. Unlike many artists in the industry, there seemed to be no sign of hypocrisy due to the campaign’s proceeds going toward help for homeless shelters.

Morello finally turns to Jon and says: “It’s a real liberating musical revolution that people are on. I think that it’s an excellent lesson for people that whether it’s in a small matter like who’s at the top of the charts or bigger matters like war and peace and economic inequality — when people band together and make their voices heard, they can completely overturn the system as it is.” 

Like U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, this 1992 essential moment-capturing epic has continued relevancy, probably today more than ever. The YouTube comment sections of this song are flooded with statements from 2020 like “This band is so needed right now,” and “I get the message now,” and this is 29 years on from the song’s initial incident for political inspiration. RATM didn’t just speak to their nation, but to multiple — especially the UK, holding a strong affinity with the politically charged punk scene over a decade before them. Morello told BBC Radio 6 Music: “Your country has a great, rich history of cutting-edge, exciting rebel music— whether that’s early Stones and The Who, or The Clash and the Sex Pistols, or Prodigy and Muse.” 

Two black men broke the law one night. One lay battered senseless on the road, the other begged for air, the one organic source that should not be deprived of us from anything but time itself and almost 30 years after the first, one didn’t make it out alive. Institutional racism is more than a sign of its times. In fact, it only seems to have worsened with it. Having more artists like Rage Against The Machine today are the voices for the changes that can be made tomorrow. 

Image Source “Rage Against the Machine @ Christiania 1993” by pellesten is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The 1980s Story Behind ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’

This is week 3 of the Nostalgic Music Mini Series ‘Behind These Political Songs That Defined Their Decade‘.

Timeless tracks are often regarded as having a wholesome, nostalgic warmth that can remind you of your blissful youth or force you to question if you were born in the wrong era. However, every so often, there is a timeless track that brings to the surface deep, dark scars of political unrest, yet still regarded as poignant for defining its times. It’s important to note that in music, it’s not always sunshine and tie-dye rainbow shirts. There’s a frightening irony in the fact that Dublin’s most treasured rock band’s third single from their album War doesn’t just define a particularly dark side of the politics of the 80s, but of a decade earlier and decades since. 

Though protest songs can be (and often are) a memento of their time, sometimes they can be as relevant in the now just as they had been in the past. Easter Monday 2021 came and went, seeing some of the most horrific acts of violence, gangs and disputes in Northern Ireland in recent years. The destruction caused by petrol bombs and the marching of loyalist bands through streets and towns proves that music and events can haul you back to different times and not necessarily pleasant ones. Needless to say, it can sometimes be terrifying how much the present can reflect the past… or does anything really change? 

U2’s frontman, Bono, had a picture to paint for the listener in ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, which contrasted the 1972 instant massacre of 13 Irish citizens by British paratroopers in Northern Ireland with the peacefulness of Easter Sunday—a day in which both Protestants and Catholics share celebrations on. The sad irony of this track is that 2021’s Easter did not see a uniting, peaceful celebration of two divides but rather a reminder of the remnants of what is often referred to as “The Troubles”, a three-decade-long conflict and its unfortunate, seemingly timeless, endurance. The events of today are at odds with U2’s hope for what was their tomorrow. 

Since at least the 15th Century, Western European ground has seen horrific bloody battles between Northern Ireland and England. Yet, arguably, nothing as socially and politically provoking as the period of “The Troubles”, influencing some of the biggest protest songs to appear in the industry from the likes of John Lennon—who was famously criticised for his lack of political strength in his own ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. 

U2 would notoriously give goosebump-inducing performances of their version, holding the capacity to make your hairs stand on end, which made them a household name. Though initially intending to condemn the IRA— a militant group who were persistent on removing British troops from Northern Ireland— Bono later changed the song to represent a nonpartisan condemnation. This meant highlighting the adversity of war without siding with either and opting for a non-violence approach. It was common for Bono to wave a white flag at live performances as a strong emphasis on his universal peace message. 

Though live versions of this song are countless, even appearing in the end credits of the 2002 documentary-style film Bloody Sunday, those did not seem to even touch the cusp of the power and emotion of their recording in 1987 for their Rattle and Hum movie. This Denver recording took place on the same day as the Enniskillen killings (more commonly known as the Remembrance Day bombing), which seen the bloodshed of 13 people in Northern Ireland from a bomb detonated by the IRA. U2 were nothing short of exasperated by the news and so proceeded to give one of their most moving and heart-rending performances. 

Bono discusses U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ for the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s special exhibit, ‘Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics’ and how he remembers his childhood: “All I remember is arguing about religion as I grew up,” he began, before saying that his father had an interesting perspective, “What is Ireland but a place that keeps my feet from getting wet?” Bono’s dad would say to him, “Am I on the side of the British? No— but it’s not worth fighting for.” 

It’s clear that the views of Bono’s father resonated within him. This resulted in one of the greatest, politically moving rock songs of all time, yet even though it takes a neutral, pro-peace standpoint, there was inevitably some room for misinterpretation— as seen with many protest songs. Contextualising and delving deep into the meanings behind a song’s themes are essential in preventing the spread of misconstrued political messages. 

In the ‘Louder Than Words’ interview, Bono talks of Gerry Adams, the president of the Irish Republican political party, Sinn Féin, from 1983 to 2018. He speaks of Adams having U2’s War album pinned up on his office wall and would continuously hype up ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ to people and in Bono’s words would say that the song: “…is reminding everyone of the injustice the British did to us.” However, Bono says that Adams later found out that they were non-violent and that they took a different, peaceful approach at the time. Bono claims that things changed for U2 with the Sinn Féin community and those who supported their views. 

U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ was a revolutionary milestone and significantly original for a political song, breaking the mould and idea that in politics, you either need to sway one way or the other when instead— you can meet somewhere in the middle. This is also a song whose tension builds as the song progresses, different from any other song they had done before and have done since. Christopher Connelly of the Rolling Stone Magazine in a 1984 article claims: “This is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for smart people — even if it is played a tad too fast.” 

With its simplistic structure conveying a complex message, using a militaristic drum beat and an electric violin— the instrumentation only magnifies the emotion entangled in an important message and not just in the studio, but from the moment they step onto a stage. Perhaps this will inspire more people of today to pick up a guitar to convey a message instead of a bomb and march about a stage instead of the streets.

Image Source: “File:Bono U2 360 Tour 2011.jpg” by Peter Neill is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The 1970s Story Behind ‘God Save The Queen’

This is week 2 of the Nostalgic Music Mini Series ‘Behind These Political Songs That Defined Their Decade‘.

A punk concert wouldn’t quite live up to the expectations of its mission if it didn’t end in police presence and arrests, as seen by many anarchical, boisterous bands through the latter half of the 20th century. However, one concert sets apart all the rest, taking place far from the good old British Terra Firma’s civilised grounds. 

On the 7th June 1977 crowds gathered on the UK streets, waving their tiny British flags to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, commemorating 25 years of her reign. All over television stations, horses trotting alongside a marvellous, golden carriage was broadcasted with the sound of Thomas Arne’s “Rule, Britannia!” to the British public from 10am. Elsewhere, however, an up-and-coming punk quartet was drafting plans for their own celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee. As dusk fell on British soil, the musical uprising had ignited on the sea. 

The Sex Pistols, armed with instruments, took to their boat concert on the Thames River just outside of Westminster Palace to consolidate their place as a real establishment irritant. Plans to circumvent a “ban” brought on their newly released track ‘God Save the Queen’ was a frustrating failure. Before the performance could proceed — and in true punk style— they were halted by authorities. 

At the time of the Queen’s Jubilee, Britain was undergoing a national depression due to strikes, cuts and unemployment from a range of necessary services. This resulted in many having little to no income against the ever-increasing cost of living. Notably, due to the closure of coal mines and their workers’ strikes, a 3 day work week was implemented in the UK to conserve fuel, and due to this, it would be fair to say that economically, the 70s was a decade of discontent. However, all the social unrest had a silver lining to its dark cloud: an emerging punk scene, fronted by the Sex Pistols. 

Noted as one of the greatest youth subcultures of British history, the Sex Pistols quickly put both the punk genre and subculture on the map and ‘God Save the Queen’ was the chant of choice. This song blew up like a nuclear bomb, with its radiation still being felt today, expressing the pent up rage and frustration of a generation toward the British Monarchy and establishment. 

Just like many protest songs before them, ‘God Save the Queen’, in Johnny Rotten half-singing fashion, vocalised the feelings of alienation felt by the youth from the rule of what many would testify as an outdated, old-fashioned monarchy. Given the context of 70s Britain, poverty was too close to home for much of their youth. However, many felt it was a human truth the establishment could not be more out of touch with. 

Also, similar to John Fogerty, the Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten) explained in an interview with Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise; Conversations with Great Songwriters) that the thought process behind the song had taken some time to ferment in his brain: “‘God Save the Queen’ was running around in my mind for months, long before joining the Sex Pistols; the idea of being angry of the indifference of the Queen to the population and the aloofness and indifference to us as people.” It was also here that he claimed that as the Pistols came along, he penned the ruthless, raw and dirty track at his parent’s kitchen table over a bowl of baked beans, showing a sort of quirky honesty and unabashed side of his formidable character. 

Lydon also went onto explain in an episode of Channel 4’s X-Rated: TV They Tried to Ban, his still bubbling frustrations with the Monarchy, even decades on: “That woman has precious little to do with her so-called subjects other than ignored the hell out of us.” Lydon paused. “We’re just there to prop up her tiara.” 

Though being branded “degrading and disgusting” by a large portion of Britain’s elderly and conservative, Lydon managed to irk the establishment itself. James Whittaker, a Royal Commentator on the same show, stated: “We’d had the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, of course, who’d upset a few, but the sheer disgustingness of the Sex Pistols did offend a lot of people.”

However, Lydon argues that it wasn’t his intent to agitate the elderly or established but rather liberate the alienated and disillusioned: “…these things meant something; they weren’t just done for shock value. They have a point and a purpose.” Despite Lydon’s claims, it’s clear that the establishment was part of the demographic who interpreted the song as not only a mockery but an attack on their ruler and almost immediately, theories emerged of their revenge. 

Before the song’s release, EMI and A&M both abandoned the Pistols, branding them as trouble, but EMI’s loss was Richard Branson’s gain and ‘God Save the Queen’ was released on Virgin Records. Though superstores such as Woolworths and WH Smith refused to stock the single, there was a loophole irony in that by labelling it taboo, its value boomed, selling over 150,000 copies within the first week of release. Many disgraced pressing plant workers were so outraged that they threatened strikes. 

Outselling the number one song in the UK at the time, Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It/ The First Cut is the Deepest’ but conveniently and controversially stayed firmly put at number two, John Walters, a BBC Radio 1 producer, was confident that ‘God Save the Queen’ was destined to be number 1, as did a lot of his audience. Speculations surfaced, and claims of inside involvement that kept the song off of the number one spot due to establishment humiliation were brought to the fore. Claims from even the band themselves: “I think I was too damn close to the truth” Lydon began, “probably not getting it completely right but far too accurate for the establishment.”

Maybe, just maybe, this track was intended in sincerity to galvanise the working class and disillusioned youth. On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, it was instead designed as an establishment mockery, but almost certainly—it succeeded at both. This unapologetic explosion of real, dirty rock with a visceral core sent shockwaves through a nation, and the ripples of its influence can still be felt today in whichever British city you choose to stomp. 

Photo Source: “SEX PISTOLS” by pupsy27 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 1960s Story Behind ‘Fortunate Son’

Welcome to the first track and week 1 of my Nostalgic Music Mini Series ‘Behind These Political Songs That Defined Their Decade’. If you haven’t already, please check out the first article of the entire Music, Fashion and Politics: The Holy Trinity Project, ‘Music and Politics: An Abiding Affair’, that was published last Wednesday. This week we’ll be looking at the story behind Creedences’ iconic ‘Fortunate Son’ track that was both a ‘middle-finger’ and a ‘pat on the back’ for an entire nation.

On November 6th 2014, John Fogerty of the decade-defining band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, took to the stage at the White House to perform a unique rendition of his generational anthem—‘Fortunate Son’. This was part of a Salute to the Troops concert that was broadcast ahead of Veteran’s Day. Despite the obvious sincere intentions, the performance didn’t quite do the message of this instantly recognisable protest song justice. Shrouded in awkwardness from the very first thud of the overly sped-up drumbeat, it would not be unfair to say that the iconic song’s sparkle had been dulled.

This performance was a fresh, meaty steak awaiting the appetite of music critics who would not hold back from ravaging the overbearing timbre or its lacklustre energy. Despite this, the prominent viewer awkwardness lay elsewhere in the planes of something far less complex that lingers beneath not just a critic but a music lover’s nose: the meaning behind the song.

“It ain’t me”, Fogerty proclaims in this 1969 rock epic and immediately grabs the attention of a whole fervent generation. Though the song became a massive anthem for anti-war campaigning, it has always conveyed something more than that. It was more of an evocative symbol of a counterculture’s objection to U.S military involvement in Vietnam. A chance to unite and defend the troops in an attempt to protect those who were mainly of lower and working classes from fighting in a war that very few had a clear understanding of.

It’s not a song that is so much anti-war as it is anti-classist, criticising the system and political policies within the war: “The way I feel is we should make darn sure that when we’re going to have a war when we’re going to send our troops, it better be for a very good reason,” Fogerty explains in an interview with journalist, Dan Rather in 2016.

In the earlier years of America’s intervention in the Vietnam war, a vast majority of the nation whose support silenced the minority of those who questioned it. Still, as the decade progressed, voices of the quiet grew louder and, by the end, almost deafening. The nation began to lose faith in a victory, and with this came rising tensions and uncertainty as half a million troops stormed the jungles, from only a few thousand in the years previous.

It’s important to note that anti-war sentiment— although existing throughout the entire decade— had reached new heights in the later years, with the challenging of American tradition from university students and hippies forming a significant, youth- based movement. Despite this, in a speech on November 3rd 1969, Nixon declared that there was “a great silent majority” of people in support of the war and proceeded to call critics “unpatriotic elitists”. This ignited a flame in Creedence’s frontman, Fogerty, and in poetic retaliation, ‘Fortunate Son’ came to be— amplifying the voices of the many, not the few.

“It was written during the Nixon era, and well, let’s say I was very non-supportive of Mr Nixon,” Fogerty told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1993. “…the whole idea of being born wealthy or being born powerful seemed to be really coming to the fore in the late-sixties confrontation of cultures.” As a former military man himself, Fogerty’s anthem really insisted on highlighting the divide between rich and poor. War to the elite was merely a concept that they were willing to support, yet lower classes had to suffer the consequences of elitist decisions.

Fogerty’s irrepressible, raspy vocals against the backdrop of the tinny yet powerful guitar riff declaring sentiments that meant not only to him but to a whole generation makes it incredibly difficult to believe that the song was written in just 20 minutes. Yet, he claims that the thought process had been going on for a long time: “I didn’t know it would start, ‘Some folks are born…’— that came from nowhere. But the thought process had been going on for a long time.” He noted in his 2015 biography, titled after the very same song.

So that was precisely what made the Veteran’s Day performance so uncomfortable besides some artificial, musical blunders. It was simply the politics behind the song and the message that Fogerty was aiming to portray. There was a sort of un- comfortable irony in the fact that the famous lines “It ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son” were being echoed to a crowd of people in splendour. Their jewellery reflecting off of the stage lights as the tacky background of the White House lit up.

It has to be said that unlike most other protest songs of the time, such as those of Bob Dylan’s or Woody Guthrie’s, ‘Fortunate Son’ is the purest form of nitty-gritty, upbeat rock and roll. Because of this, there is inevitably room for misinterpretation. For some people, the melody subtracts from the message, almost getting lost in translation and spiralling out of context. Perhaps the 2014 audience can be forgiven for head-banging in their own hypocrisy but not one individual’s actions in more recent days.

In early September 2020, John Fogerty, in a baseball cap with protruding grey hairs, posted a video to his 1.2 million Facebook followers, addressing his discontent with then-President Donald Trump for using ‘Fortunate Son’ for his political rallies. Fogerty goes on to explain the meaning behind the song to his audience before stating: “The very first lines of fortunate son are ‘Some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh, they’re red, white and blue. But when the band plays hail to the chief, they point the cannon at you’.”

“That is exactly what happened recently in Lafayette Park when the president decided to take a walk across the park, he cleared out the area using federal troops so that he could stand in front of St. John’s Church with a Bible,” Fogerty then went on to claim that it was a song that he could have written now and found it “confusing” that the president decided to use his song for his own political gain “when in fact, it seemed like he is probably the fortunate son.”

Regardless of the countless misinterpretations, the song’s message will continue on for those who dare to listen closely enough, valuing the song’s position in the context it was intended. Almost certainly, this will transport you into a world of long hair, long trousers and a longing for peace on Earth.

Photo Source: “Creedence Clearwater Revival, CCR – Willy & The Poor Boys” by Piano Piano! is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Music and Politics: An Abiding Affair

In dimmed lighting with vodka and coke in hand, a friend and I sat a few feet from each other staring at the beautifully curved 4k tele perched on his wall. From YouTube’s autoplay, a 2014 chart-topper classic filled the speakers with a haunting gospel harmony, while a blazing fire furnished the screen. “I think this song is great,” he said taking a swig from his Stella as I interrupted with a vicious nod. We were but a few minutes into the video when I began to notice the furrow of his brow growing heavier with each chord and at around the 2 and a half minute mark, he mumbled, “great song, but terrible video.” That’s when I knew he didn’t really like the song, he liked the tune. The message was something he couldn’t hear. But for me it was deafening.

‘Take Me to Church’ is not just a chart-topping hit for renowned Irish singer-songwriter, Hozier, but an extended metaphor shrouded in religious and political imagery. Speaking of the accompanying music video in an interview with Gigwise, Hozier described it as: “an indictment of institutions that undermine humanity.”

Now, maybe for my friend, music never really dove as deep as the message of ‘Take Me to Church’ but, for me, art had always been the quintessential platform for expressing the unity of humanity (and the lack thereof). As I developed more of my individuality, the more music spoke to me — truly spoke to me — and became less about a good melody, or a steady beat and more about the message, the themes and how these are only augmented by its melodic features.

Music taste and political beliefs share an essential trait in common: they are subjective for the individual and, therefore, they have existed in partnership for as long as humans knew how to pick up an instrument and for as long as human nature allowed us to both harmonise and dispute, and so formed a perpetually unbreakable affair— for better and for worse. This is a marriage that far surpasses their Ruby Jubilee, since records of songs written with political intent have been documented as far back as the days of Ancient Egypt.

“Music is political no matter what,” Hozier said in an interview with Q on CBC and argued that politics is viewed as having many negative connotations, “If something concerns the experience of people— it concerns some political dimension.”

I spoke with Felix and the Sunsets, a band inspired by the 60s and 70s, to what extent do they agree with Hozier’s statement, frontman Felix said:

“I strongly agree, I think that it’s near impossible to separate the two from each other. Even if you tried to make something above or outside politics (like an instrumental abstract bit of music) the stylistic choices you make are going to be influenced by your background and experiences, which are all shaped by politics.”

Take, for instance, what we describe today as ‘Rock’ — the history of this genre is alive with political influences yet most importantly, the entire foundations and journey of the genre is a political one in itself. It is a genre of historical appropriation; a great musical injustice to its founding forerunners that birthed it. Performed by white men, targeted at white men.

To understand the historical background of Rock as a genre, it’s firstly important to look at the roots of this robust, untamed tree. Rock was not always a stand alone standing stone like it is today, in fact, this rock could do a lot more— Roll. Rock and Roll was a term popular within the Blues and R&B community before it ever became a genre in the early 50s. Even before that, in the early 20th century within the Black community, as slang for both partying and an implication of sex —which as you can imagine, would not go down too well with a conservative society.

Deriving from rhythm and blues music of the 1940s— which itself was a branch of earlier blues, boogie woogie and swing music (all black founded and dominated)— Rock and Roll by the 50s had affirmed its position as a recognisable musical genre from the Music Journalists who would often review black artists’ music as ‘making you want to rock and roll’.  Particularly after Alan Freed—a radio host in 1951— began referring to songs as ‘Rock and Roll’ on the mainstream radio. By that point the sexual connotations had been dampened, thus forming a new genre.

In 2018, Hozier released a historically significant EP named ‘Nina Cried Power’ whose name is credited to Black soul singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone. In this EP, he executes effectively something that white artists associated with the genre don’t often do: not only does he appreciate the roots of his own music —by mentioning Black musicians such as Billie Holiday, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown— but also was joined by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and civil rights activist: Mavis Staples. A powerful, political move in a powerfully political song, who seeks not to appropriate but to acknowledge and not in ignorance but in homage. “It’s a thank you note to the spirit of protest,” Hozier told Billboard regarding ‘Nina Cried Power’. A thank you note that not only extended to the Black musicians who “cried power”, but also to the white musicians who used their art and platform to cry power for the powerless. “Solidarity costs nothing,” he affirms in the same interview.

Amongst the most politically fascinating and influential of the white artists mentioned in the song was folk and beatnik icon — Bob Dylan, whose entire discography not only progresses, but transcends into what author Mike Marqusee describes as a deeper kind of political radicalism: individualism.

Bob Dylan began as an awkward and skinny, big-haired and frail-looking boy that sat strumming his guitar in a Greenwich Village Coffeehouse in 1961. His instrument competing with the chatter and bustle of East Coast voices, while he continued telling stories on his guitar and seldom caring who believed them, just like the blues greats he admired before him. He was merely another straw in the haystack amidst an ongoing folk revival and just another folk singer in a growing political region, suffocated by beatnik and bohemian culture.

That was, until, a charming, soft acoustic song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ —whose tune was from an anti-slavery song ‘No More Auction Block’ that dated back to the United States Civil War— turned a then 22 year old Dylan into a household name.

Unlike other protest songs of the time from artists such as Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ was not a musical representation of any particular incident but rather a series of open-ended questions posed to the listener, to gage the direction of their own political compass. “How many years can people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” Dylan—though constantly reinventing himself—never failed to provoke intense speculation, especially in a society that is always searching for the deeper meanings.

One thing about Dylan that is for certain is that his musical relationship with politics was never that elementary— it was clarity ensuing vagueness and linear before it was abstract yet despite it all, his relationship with politics never really ceased to exist regardless of the claims of the masses. It just changed because Dylan changed.

Dylan’s greatest protest songs were written in a short span of 20 months from 1962 to 1964 and nothing quite voiced the youth of the 60s than his generational anthem, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.  A song that affirmed its position as a warning to senators and congressmen that in order to survive the maverick times of 1960s America, then they must succumb to its progressions or die trying to fight it. 

Most (if not all) of Dylan’s protest songs around this time were shrouded in political influences from days gone by such as the beat anarchists of the 50s as well as the radical wobblies, with traditional folk themes such as poverty, racism, social injustices and war. As a folk singer, your guitar and your pen are your comrades in the ongoing social political war, but Dylan was more than that as he breathed a new life into the air of protest — he spoke to people and people listened.

‘The Times They Are-A Changin’’ voiced a generation. The youth of America was rising, taking back a future that they believed rightfully belonged to them and not a future that belonged to violence, uncertainty and war, as well as the continuous fight for civil rights in which Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill for soon after.

In an interview with Dylan for 20/20 in 1985, journalist Bob Brown said: “I think a lot of people were inspired to get involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement as a result of having listened to you and your songs,” to which a stern-faced, mysterious looking Dylan replied: “It’s hard to say what causes anything to happen—I don’t know if a song can really do that. It might. I don’t know”.

It was not that Dylan never understood the power of his affiliation with politics, it was more the need to focus inwards on the self rather than outwards for the people, that his musical heart so desired and in mid 1964, he confirmed this as he told critic Nat Hentoff: “I don’t want to write for people anymore—you know, be a spokesman”. It was at this point that he began writing songs that involved personal relationships like “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and truly, was looking inward, believing that people on the outside, should define their own terms by doing the same.

However, his music never really had a break from politics like most critics would suggest and no matter how hard Dylan tried to escape the “isms”, he may have succeeded with all but one: Individualism.

His transgression from acoustic to electric was a whole, blatant (possibly unintentional) political statement in itself, separating those who favoured tradition from those who advocated for change. However; if Hozier’s ‘music is political no matter what’ affirmation can be taken to be true, then even when Bob Dylan was undergoing a personal reflection, his relationship with politics persisted. Why? Because, though writing about individual experience, it was relatable for people who themselves are individuals, rather than a group of people with certain beliefs. It concerned human experience and still, perhaps incidentally, spoke to people and still—people listened.

In 1965, Dylan, though never officially admitting it, made what critics describe as his “return” to politics after the release of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, referring to the violence inflicted on civil rights protestors by police but it should be argued though returning to protest songs, he never abandoned politics. It’s important to note that one can exist without the presence of the other. Politics can exist without protest songs, but protest songs cannot exist without politics. 

There is also something to be said about Dylan’s music constantly staying relevant despite many older songs falling victim to time, which the same can be said for music and politics as a whole. Not only do they never part, but they stay relevant, surviving the chaos of the modern world as timeless entities and we would not be listening to the music of days gone by if we didn’t see the reflection of old messages on our contemporary society. Times are forever changin’ and so is the relationship between music and politics— but never dying.

A quintessential example of how politics and music’s relationship is constantly evolving with the times comes from three-piece band Felix and the Sunsets as they talk about their EP ‘This Will Change’, whose lead single of the same name was heavily inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests in Glasgow, 2020. Frontman Felix describes politics as being a very important part of their work: “It’s really informed a lot of what I want to talk about in our songs. But I try to combine it with a lot of other influences to tell new stories.”

Felix then goes on to describe his political objective for writing the samba rhythm, Santana-esque track which has close to 2,000 plays on Spotify:

“My intention for ‘This Will Change’ was that the song would encourage people protesting and making their voices heard. Songs can be galvanising and I’ve always been drawn to that in music. The first verse describes the injustice of another extra-judicial killing of another black man by American police, and that the current lack of repercussions will change. The second verse describes the protests and the people who will force the change.”

After asking whether Felix finds it important for musicians to be inspired by or to include politics in their work and why, he responded:

“Personally yes, I am much more interested in artists who engage with real social issues. I don’t really respect artists who shy away from important issues, as they could be using their voice and art to encourage positive improvements in people’s lives and society. I don’t think every song should have to be political but I just think it’s a let down for rich artists to not amplify good causes.”
Too much of anything can make you sick and the same goes for music and politics. Though inextricably interlinked, there’s a lot to be said for subtleties and allowing room for listener interpretation. Felix spoke of hoping to keep on writing songs that have a political message but relayed an essential point:

“I hope to keep blending it with stories and doing it in a hopefully surprising and inventive way. If a song just smacks you in the face as all politics or slogans without something extra then I think the artist has probably failed. It’s important to me as I think everyone who is aware of suffering and injustice should try to tip the scales towards improvement with their words and actions.”

That being said, Felix still believes that it is his duty as a musician and all other artists-alike to use their platform and art to spread political awareness:

“I think that good art will always amplify values of the artists. When a group try to be unpolitical then they are by extension choosing to side with a status quo which is letting people down massively.”

The tumultuous, diverse and constantly changing but never parting relationship of music and politics, sometimes sticking out like a sore thumb or masked under your ears like a chameleon — love it or loathe it, its not going anywhere according to Felix: “As long as there are differences in people and cultures, there will be music that reflects the differences.”

So, maybe when I discovered my own sense of individualism, the messages of music did speak to me on a deeper level and perhaps Hozier was a spokesperson for my own political beliefs residing inside. However; one thing is certain amidst all the uncertainty, there is always at least three active contributors in the relationship between music and politics and the third is you, the listener and consumer. There is no doubt that without the listener, the relationship would survive but it would do just and only that. Without me and you, it would seize to thrive.

Inevitably, you can choose to be on one of two sides of the music and politics coin: to listen and acknowledge with vodka and coke in hand or swig back the Stella and enjoy the tune, whichever you choose, it’s evident that the relationship will always prevail.