Can I Call You Ribena?

Hello and good morning/afternoon/evening, in whichever corner of the world you currently find yourself in, I hope you are having a lovely week thus far. Today I’m going to talk about the elephant in every room of my life, my name. I was born in Portugal in 1991, where my aunt and godmother named me Romina, and in 2002 I migrated to the north west of England, where I’ve lived ever since, with the short exception of a year spent in Ireland. I have never come across another person named Romina in my twenty nine years of life.

Recently, I had an interesting interaction with another writer over on Working Class Poetry. I thought her surname ‘Alegre’ sounded Portuguese, and as I introduced myself, as always, I stated that my name is very unusual. It turns out that she actually hails from Argentina, where, she informs me, Romina is super common, and she herself actually knows a bunch. This ignited a roaring fire, that has been slowly burning away at the back of my mind. Where does my name originate from, and what does it mean?

I asked my mum how I came to be named Romina. She told me that my aunt Sandra, at the time of pregnancy, worked for an artist couple making clay sculptures named “bonecos malcriados” which translates to “rude dolls”. The sculptures depicted adult dolls, partly naked, sometimes in suggestive positions, and Sandra sculpted, baked, and sold them. Is that a cool job to have in your twenties, or what? Anyway, this couple had a daughter named Romina and my aunt Sandra just loved the name, and told my mum, who subsequently loved the name, and that is the story of my name choice.

A couple years after my birth, my mum told me, she heard that Romina was a name the Roman Travelling community gave to women who were ready to marry. During my own research, I found that different languages claim to be the origin of Romina. It is claimed to be of Arabic origin meaning “from the land of Christians” but interestingly Italy also claims origins. Suggesting that Romina is the diminutive of Rome ‘little Rome’ and is a term to describe the people of Rome. It then makes sense that the origin is Italian, and the Arabic meaning the “land of Christians” as the Roman Empire. There is also mention of Romina as a female Persian name, meaning pure, purified.

I have always been aware that my name is unusual, since being a child I never had any friends by the same name, nor siblings or family members of friends, nor extended family. The only Romina I remember people speaking of when I enquired about my unusual name was Romina Power, Italian/American singer from the US. But at least, in Portugal, people could pronounce it, and at that point in my life I liked my name. It was when moved to Bolton, England that Romina really became a problem. It’s connotations of anti whiteness became a symbol of my foreignness, of my outsider-ness. It became one more thing that fuelled the playground and classroom xenophobia that I experienced during my first years in England.

British people simply cannot wrap their tongue around the pronunciation of the opening R, and so it trips them up for the rest of the word. Initially, I couldn’t speak the language, so I didn’t know how to translate my name into its “English” version. When I introduced myself to both kids and adults, peer students, and teachers alike, I was met with confusion and a lot of the time contempt. Contempt at my difficult name. So gradually, throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I began adopting nicknames such as ‘Meena’ and ‘Ro’ and as the title of this blog post suggests even ‘Ribena’ increasingly I began disliking my name. I became apologetic whenever I had to explain to someone new, that “yes, it’s a strange name, I’m Portuguese, just call me X”.

Until one day, a few years ago, I came across Uzo Aduba’s speech at Glamour magazine, about people in America finding her Nigerian name difficult to pronounce, and about her mother’s reaction to her request to have her name changed to Zoe. I realised then that my name might be a little strange and usual, but it’s part of my identity. It’s part of what makes me, me. I’m glad that I went in search of its origins and of what it means, and I will wear my name a little more proudly from now on. So here is to all the people who can never find their name on keyrings or coke bottles, to all of us who have to live a life of mispronunciations and “versions” of ourselves to facilitate and accommodate others. I see you, you’re not alone, love your name, wear it proudly, and cherish it because it is your legacy. This is for you, for all of us.

If Your Lips Could Speak

If Your Lips Could Speak

“I’m so drunk” you said loosely from behind the partially closed door. I laughed, but in reality, I was quite drunk myself. You had chosen the very middle cubicle, the other four doors, two at either side of you, were wide open, and empty. We were completely alone.

I was sat up on the counter facing them, a sink at either side of me. The room was swaying a little, from side to side. Suddenly, I became very aware that this would probably be the last time we would ever see each other.

When you re-emerged from inside the cubicle, I was startled. Startled by your beauty, started by the sudden sense of losing you, startled by the proximity of your body, suddenly next to mine. Then, confusion took over.

I had chased you for months, I had slowly, subconsciously fallen in love with you. We had kissed. Three times. Very drunkenly kissed. You said, all three times were total drunken mistakes. Yet, you continued to invite me out for drinks. I thought it was because you felt sorry for me.

New to the village, no friends or family around, a broken relationship. But then, there you were that night, in all your Dutch courage glory, making the first move. First, in a very sweet voice, you asked me for a hug. I obliged, of course.

Then, you slowly pulled back, just enough so that our eyes met. And when they did, I swear tiny electric shock waves travelled up and down my spine. Then you kissed me. But this was not like any other drunken kiss we had previously shared.

No, this was your ‘I think I love you too kiss’, this was our ‘it’s too late now kiss’, it was my ‘goodbye’ kiss. We left the toilets shortly after and carried on drinking until the early hours of the morning. I walked you home, you, protesting the entire way as usual. You begged me to not forget you once I left. I told you I never could.

The truth is, a year has passed since I last spoke to you, but that night, along with a few others, are forever imprinted in my mind and on my heart. I still write poetry about you. I write about the time we got Chinese food and made a midnight picnic on the park.

We kissed that night too, a lot. You also said that it was a mistake. Now, I sit at home, hundreds of miles away from you, and sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. If leaving was the right decision. I wonder if my poetry is ever going to be about someone else.

Bolton In Lockdown

Le Mans Square, Bolton

During Lockdown 2020 I had to venture through the town centre one day, and I was actually quite surprised at how pretty Bolton can be when its completely stripped back and naked. As towns go, this town is not the best, it has landed in the top five of worst northern towns to live in, more than once. But the Bolton that I found on this day, is one I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting in my eighteen years living here.

Bolton Interchange

The eerily empty Interchange station even had its own little charm, a few bus skeletons lay resting at their stands, and I walked past one single cleaner who jiggled his keys as he hummed a little tune that sent a shiver down my spine. The place was so spacious and empty that just the sound of my steps created a small echo. Cool, but creepy.

Victoria Square, Bolton

When I moved to Bolton eighteen years ago, Victoria square was probably one of the first places that I visited in the town, and it is now one of the only places that remains the same. The Market Place is unrecognisable, Newport Street, The Train Station, The Old Bus Station, The Water Place, so many landmarks have either changed or gone altogether, its comforting to still have one place that reminds me of such a huge milestone in my life. I will always hold a soft spot for Bolton in my heart.

Black Lives Matter: Manchester March

Favourite signs from the Manchester #BLM March
Racism IS Small Dick Energy!!

Taking the knee for 8m 36s for George Floyd

Favourite signs from the Manchester #BLM March
The UK Is Not Innocent

Favourite signs from the Manchester #BLM March
Use Your White Privilege To End Your White Privilege

Favourite signs from the Manchester #BLM March
Racism Is A Pandemic

Favourite signs from the Manchester #BLM March
J Hus Lyrics

Shaytan in Police uniform
Feds in a helicopter
I seen pigs fly
But I never seen a unicorn

The Procrastination Games

This weekend, you completed the highest level on your favourite augmented reality game, The Procrastination Games. Starting at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning, you stumbled down, the steep staircase that descends straight into the kitchen, one eye open, the other trying desperately to go back to bed.

You checked the level of water in the kettle and flicked on the switch. You stood, impatiently waiting, for the sound of a thousand tiny bubbles simultaneously reach their boiling point, day dreaming about the warmth of that first wonderful sip of tea.

Steaming mug in hand, you unlocked the back door, opening it just so, that enough cut-your-throat-cold-air got through to cut through the smoke from your hand rolled cigarette. Sitting on the bottom step of the mountainous staircase, blowing out clouds of smoke in between sips of tea, you planned out your day.

You had good intentions. You longed for the fulfilling feeling of achieving productivity, on a day specifically assigned to be productive, but first, you thought, I must visit my good F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Monica, Rachael, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and Ross. One hour, maybe two tops and then you would to get to that list of things that you should have been doing, a week or three ago.

One hour merged into two hours, episodes turned into a whole season, Ross and Rachael got together and broke up and got back together again and broke up again, and day turned into night. You didn’t sleep well that night with the disappointment in yourself crawling under your skin, just below the surface.

Sunday morning, when you were propositioned a Christmas shopping day out, as much as you hate shopping, especially during the holidays, you reluctantly agreed. You love Christmas, you like getting ready for Christmas and wrapping presents and all that comes with it, but your idea of hell, looks a lot like aimlessly wondering in and out of shops, for hours on end, compulsorily sharing your personal space with hundreds of people and their pet germs.

However, knowing that Christmas is fast approaching and that you are rapidly running out of time, you went. It was an unsuccessful first attempt as any time that you tried to put yourself through the emotional torture that shopping is to you, and something caught your eye, all you could think was, do you know who would like this for Christmas? Me.

Three new nail varnishes and a couple of stocking fillers for your bother later, you gave up. Fuck it, you still have plenty of time, and speaking of time, it started to feel a lot like time for Chinese food and F.R.I.E.N.D.S re runs and hopes for a more productive week.