Thursday, 12 May 2016

Sally forth

I’m feeling rattled today.  Upset in the literal sense of feeling like my cart has overturned and scattered my possessions, or at least my self-possession which I’m trying to gather up, calmly, without panicking. 

Just before the beginning of the year a journalist on the Daily Mail asked me if I would be willing to throw my hat into the ring for their Sex Q&A column.  I had reservations.  I’ve been there, done that, and not only did it do me no favours, but I did not, and never have, felt equipped to answer questions of that nature, since my own life in that area is more of an old patched sheet that doesn’t really keep you warm.  I’m no expert.  And as for advice, I don’t believe in it.  Nobody should give it, or take it.  Wise counsel is another thing, but surely to offer such a thing you have to have a relationship of sorts with the person to whom you are offering it.  Mostly, the greatest gift you can give anyone is to listen, to allow the other person to be what they are, and offer some empathy.

But that isn’t easy.

Not for me anyway.  For the things I’ve been through, puny and inconsequential though they are in the greater scheme of things, there are some tender areas that make empathy difficult.  Not because I don’t feel it, because I do, but rather because I overfeel it, I make it all about me, and not the other person, and feel almost contaminated by the closeness to their problems when they mirror mine.  It’s like having had some severe viral illness that goes into remission, but which you fear can be triggered by the smallest of things – a cold, overtiredness, stress.  You wrap a little bit of yourself in cotton wool, to protect the dark feelings, to bury them, and sometimes when you meet another who is despairing, their distress burrows through the layers, the tendrils of their pain, reaching out to mate with yours, dragging it back to the surface.

So yesterday, the person who got the job that I didn’t, walked into the sea and didn’t come back.  She was a sufferer of severe depression who wrote about her illness with enormous clarity that as I clicked on the link to her first piece, and read, just stirred up those awful memories that I’ve tried so hard to forget.  I stood on the edge, peering into my previous self, remembering the way the depression just engulfed me, coming one moment, seemingly from nowhere, the agony of it, the sitting on the sofa in my house that I no longer cared about and could have set a match to without a second’s thought, looking into the empty void of my life which had no worth to me, thinking of ways I could kill myself.  Weighing them up, and not doing it because there was still the smallest vestige of fear of actually doing it that held me back.  One tiny bit of responsibility towards my family who, even as I knew they would be better off without me and my endless self-pity and unfathomable pain, that made me think I could spare them this one thing – the legacy of an abandoning suicidal parent.  I felt I needed to survive for them, to help them know that this could be survived, to protect them from the burden of seeing a pain that couldn’t be borne, even as I knew bearing me as I was, was a big enough ask.  Who knows what would have been easier for them.

I was lucky.  That time.  And the time before, and the time before, and the time since, that I managed to struggle through, that pills helped, that there were still more pills to take, that I had a dear and stolid man who stood behind me and both let me be, and held me up.  I got happy, I got boring.  I got content.  I got placid.  I got fat.  I got lazy. I lost a bit of myself and found someone else, who I didn’t altogether approve of, or particularly want to be, but who nevertheless let me live again, and so was to be welcomed rather than shunned.  I used to think I was bright and lively and extrovert and loud and funny and full of energy, fun and insight just crackling to get out of me.  I was a person unfulfilled, with untapped potential, an undeveloped photograph waiting for the time, the chance, to become the full picture of who I could be – clever and talented and able and good.  But it turned out differently.  I am still a person unfulfilled with untapped potential, but I no longer have the drive to discover it.  I decided to be (in my own eyes) mediocre, an underachiever, a nonentity because it was easier, it was attainable, it was, in fact, me.  I’m no longer sparkly.  I don’t drink and that has taken a lot of the fizz out of my previous self-image of me as vivacious and outgoing.  I’m actually a bit of a shut-in.  I avoid social situations.  I’ve become a recluse at home with my man and my cats.  I sew.  I make mosaics.  I make cards I don’t send, and fiddle about in the garden that nobody except me sees or sits in.  I failed with the last two books I wrote, or at least failed to find an agent – that took a bite out of my ego too and, probably to save myself any more disappointment and rejection – I let go of that dream and accepted failure.  I still write, but without any feelings of future achievement or real pride because it was so devastating to be turned down, rather brutally at times, by agents to whom I was a faceless ant.  Or to be honest, more usually, their assistants.  I gave up.  I surrendered to what I could comfortably be rather than who I wanted to be.  I swallowed the knowledge that I am not special and accepted the tender scar that never heals but is fine as long as you don't poke it

So I am a quitter in a way.  And yes, I feel a sense of sorrow about it.  But on the other hand, I get out of bed in the morning and I function.  I more than function.  I am sometimes so happy that I feel it could burst out of me in the same way the fat does out of my jeans.  I get these washes of deep contentment and pleasure just because there is no pain, and there is a beautiful flower in the garden, or my basil seeds have sprouted, or there’s a new BBC drama, or Game of Thrones is back, or I’ve made scones and they smell divine, or I’m in bed by myself because my man is visiting his kids, and I can spread out across the cool sheets.  Small things.  Not achievements.  Not winning any prizes.  Not being good at anything.  Just the absence of anxiety, and the pleasure in the now.

There’s a downside.  I am afraid of stress.  I don’t have dinner parties because the effort exhausts me.  I make plans that I always want to cancel before I go because ‘I can’t be bothered’.  I feel awkward around people.  I chat all the time and annoy the listeners with my self-obsessed, self-referential gabble, but still don’t really know what to say.  I have, in a way, resigned from certain aspects of life and become an avoider.  It’s not brave.  It’s not strength.  It’s weakness and cowardice and knowing my limits and being unwilling to push past them.

I am defeated by life, even as I think I’m surviving it.

I don’t have friends any more.  I have people I like.  At work, mostly.  But I don’t pursue friendships much, and people don’t pursue me.  They never have, actually.  I’ve never had a gift for people.  I am not the sort of person that others flock to, or want to see, or miss, or need.  I still care about that, and wish I had the likeability factor, but oh god, I’m too tired to be the perseverer, the asker, the pusher, the pleaser, the  ‘like me, like me, like me’ person in relationships.  I'm crippled by my inability to like myself, so why would others.  I could die tomorrow, fade out of life and nobody much would miss me.  My kids of course.  My devoted man too, but he’s a survivor and rather cool in his affections with everyone, despite being incredibly loyal.  He’d miss me, but get on with his life and be happy - he has the right temperament for that.  And me.  My ex husband is happier than he ever was with me, with a new partner, and a new baby - who I should say is a joy to me as well.  My sister and brother would both care but I’m not in their life on a daily basis.  My workmates would be shocked and care, but that sort of thing heals over fast.  It’s like having another job – you’re just not at your desk.

I’m no more plugged into the world by affection or need than I ever was, but I have tried to find meaning for myself in things that give me pleasure – being domestic, making a mosaic, sewing up little scraps of material, setting a fire, growing a tomato, painting a chest of drawers, having animals.

It’s a small life.  I like it.  I do my best.

But when you read about someone else in the depression club, with so much insight, and so many friends, and so many years of survival behind them, who offered so much help and succor and inspiration to others but who – in the end – just can’t keep going, it does make you wonder if you will be able to.  If the next time is just round the corner.  If you can get through it again.  If there is, actually, no hope.  Nobody can save you, but what happens when you can no longer save yourself?

There’s a quote in the paper today from someone I know who was a sort of friend, or as much of a friend that she could be in this superficial, London, media, networking, success orientated life whose fringes I used to cling on to, saying that she’d seen the woman at a party once, so bright, so brilliant, so wonderful. and been unable to believe that she could feel so empty.

I’d be the suburban terraced house to this woman’s big detached place in Chelsea, in the personality and talent stakes, but in me too there used to be the same dichotomy of apparent, outward, vibrancy and inward chasm of meaninglessness.  Maybe that’s why we are as we are.  We are truly unbalanced. 

To cope with depression,  I sort of lobotomized myself to get a modicum of balance.  But today I’m wobbling.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Pets are not for Pussies

So the mirrors are shrouded, the curtains drawn, the blinds down, the bf and I are wearing ash on our faces and are dressing in black.  I think I cried more for bean than I did when my mother died.  I was of course totally hollow when my mother died, but I have internalised her so that she never really left me, but look I am not going to try and justify my skewed emotions, I am just sad about a bony little bundle of scrappy fur who chatted to me all day, followed me round the house, tried to eat my yoghurt out of my bowl, was irritating at mealtimes, loved butter, got his foot stuck in the toaster, couldn't jump for toffee, and fell off things all the time, and who often got his claw stuck in fabric and would just sit there, for hours, with one paw tangled, waiting to be rescued.   What does that say about me - that I care more about an animal than most people I know?  Or maybe it says something about the people.  The wonderful thing about an animal is that a) they are just beautiful and lovely to look at, perfect little beings with little souls and cute, teddy-like little faces, b) they demand nothing from you except food and pats (when they are in the mood) c) they are nature's valium as they just look so fabulously restful when they curl up and sleep like its their olympic sport.  d) they make you laugh.  People are generally none of those things, not particularly pleasing to look at, usually want stuff, and when that stuff is food you can't just pour it out of a sack marked Kibble, they make you tense, anxious, annoyed and irritated, and they love you with buts.
Poor little kitty was almost home - just by the back fence, and I keep thinking, just one yard further and he'd have been safe, but there's no point in that.  Anyway.  I never had pets growing up - thank goodness.  How can people think they are a good thing because they teach children about loss?  Who wants that lesson?   

Bf has had a hernia op and is sitting at home, when not weeping (yep really weeping) he is being 'careful' not to do anything taxing, like lifting a broom, or a cushion.  He will be back at work on Monday but I fear his tender body may not be back to normal, as in 50% idle as opposed to 100% idle, for some time.  He took a lightbulb out of a flickering socket and can't stretch to put it back.  He was the one who went to get the kitty, found him stretched out and stiff, wrapped him in a towel and took him to the vet.  (might have overdone it a bit walking round there, he said) and when he got to the surgery, the vet was closed.  He then had to go to the doctor to get his stitches out, and thought he'd have to sit in the doctor's waiting room with an outstretched kitty corpse, wrapped in a towel.  Luckily, he rang the vet and they came and let him in. 

I put his bowl away and the other cats go round sniffing, looking for him, watching out the window all the time.  The house seems so empty.  Sigh.  Anyone would think we had never known real hardship.

Monday, 11 April 2016


There’s the bit in The Hobbit, that well known romantic chick flick, when Liv Taylor says to the man in the Timote advert ‘if this is love, then take it from me.’   Please.  Do.  Take it from me, because it hurts so much that I cannot bear it.  My heart hearts, my head hurts, my face hurts, the space in the centre of my chest hurts, and I just want to go home, climb into bed, pull the covers over my head, and never leave.  Except that this too would be unbearably painful.  I don’t want to go home again.  I don’t want to go into my bedroom.  I don’t want to sit on the sofa.  But I don’t want to be here either, or be anywhere that isn’t there. 

When you lose someone you love it’s like the whole world shifts on its axis and becomes this cold, harsh place, where you can never imagine ever being happy , or hope ever to be happy again.  You want the person back.  And you think about them, over and over again, even though thinking of them is the worst agony you can imagine.  You think of their dear little face and you see them, everywhere they used to be that they’re not, and it’s torture.

And it’s no easier when it’s not a person, but a little cat.  A little cat that follows you everywhere, and comes when he’s called, who sits on lap and snuggles against you, and lays his head on your knee, who talks to you when you see him in the morning, and sits staring at you when it’s 9pm because it’s time for his treat.  My Bean, was like my baby.  I loved him so much that it seems ridiculous because he was a cat, but his sweet little pussy-cat face, and the golden eyes, and the way he crossed his paws when he slept, everything just filled me with pleasure and joy.  Just watching him sleep made me happy.  He was so calm, so perfectly relaxed that you couldn’t but feel happy and at peace watching him.  He was my shadow at home, my constant companion, my boy.  I don’t know what I will do without him.  Or rather, I do.  I will hurt.  So much that I wish I could do anything not to feel it.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Prudy McPrude

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

Actually, let’s not.  If you don’t mind.  I used to be a sex columnist, with a man in a pink suit who had once gone to the Philippines to have himself crucified, championed ‘working’ girls, and later died of a drug overdose.  He hated me.  I was more vanilla than a cream horn, and I found him, frankly, alarming.  I’m not a sex goddess, a guru, or even a particularly active participant.  I generally think that if I turn up, that should be enough of a turn on, and since I’m getting on a bit, and developing a fondness for granny pants and have just bought myself an electric blanket, I’m realistic enough to know that this may no longer be enough.  I mean, I keep my hand in, but I’m certainly not match fit, or playing at competition level.

Despite having done it for a living, or what passes for a living on The Observer, I really am a bit squirmy about discussing sex, except in the most abstract of terms.  It took me almost a decade longer than Austin Powers,  to bring myself to say the word ‘shag’ and the working details of most people’s sex lives are something I’d rather not discuss.  Especially in print.  That I found myself doing it every week until the editor unwisely, but incredibly kindly, decided to post a question (most of which were made up by the staff) about anal sex on Easter Sunday, and the column was cancelled, is as much a mystery to me as to why anyone really wants to dabble in the practice in the first place.  I mean, to each their own, bugger off in peace, I say, but it’s not something that features in my top ten fun things to do in bed.  It doesn’t come anywhere near, say – eating toast, watching The Good Wife, clean sheets, or playing solitaire.  I think that what two people do in the privacy of their own home is entirely up to them, and good luck with the sex swing guys.  If you like wearing a ball gag, or a ball gown, what business is it of mine?  Do I want to advise you what to do if the other half wants to go with him to a fetish club in Balham? Not really.  Any anyway, isn’t the answer pretty straightforward –  he’s your partner, talk to him about it.  If you can’t clearly communicate your fears, anxieties, or he, his enthusiasm,  then you shouldn’t be going to Tesco’s with him, let alone Madame Fifi’s Dungeon.  My responses, interestingly, were usually much more permissive than Mr Pink Suit, albeit with a school marmish matter-of-factness, but I had to force myself, week after week, not to tell the fictional questioner ‘just say no’.  I did say, ‘talk to each other’ with dreary regularity, but a) there was nobody for the person to talk to since the questions were made up and they didn’t exist and had they existed b) that’s why people write to newspaper columnists because they can’t talk to each other, I guess. 

I’m not a sexpert.  Not much of an expert on anything really.  I’m a bodger and a maker up as I go alonger in most areas of my life.  I don’t take my own advice so why should anyone else?   It was therefore quite alarming to be asked whether I wanted to do it for the Daily Mail over 50 female readership, most of whom, I’m sure would just as soon have a massage and a kit-kat that beat their husband with a broom handle – well unless he promised to sweep the kitchen with it first.  I’m not saying that women over fifty don’t like sex, or have sex, or are even interested in bonking, but I am saying, that I’m not the gal to steer them through the troubled waters of their sexcapades.  I quite fancy my partner when he’s wearing his tool belt, but that has less to do with him being manly and sexy, than gratitude that he’s fixing something round the house.

In my brief sexually active years between the door slamming on the husband, and opening for the new partner, I discovered way too much about the middle aged man’s sexual proclivities – or rather – to be brutally honest – their lack of sexual proclivities, kinks, expectations, difficulties and fantasies – most prevalent of which was that they were younger than they were, better looking, could do a lot better than me, didn’t already have a wife at home, and- in one case – were not wearing nappies.

When I found a sane one who can’t lie or exaggerate even if you’re prompting him to (in cases such as your weight, your attractiveness, and lack of wrinkles), who was uncomplicated and could do it, I gave him a key.  The tool belt was an unexpected bonus.

I didn’t want the job, but anyway, I didn't get the job as it turned out.  Even with my love of a euphemism, my advice was too graphic for the old Daily Mail dears.  As someone who would rather call a spade a digging implement, you should, from this, be able to surmise just how tame one has to be when discussing whether or not you should forgive Geoffrey his affair with the woman from the rotary club.  I was supposed to concentrate on the emotions, not the mechanics, and ‘kick the old fart out and take half his pension’ wasn’t going to cut it.  I don’t do sex, but I don’t do touchy feely very convincingly either.

So you’d think the paper would know that I wouldn’t be the right person to ask if she wanted to go on a ‘private’ Alphagasm workshop.  Naturally, I don’t have Alphagasms, or probably even Betagasms, and however far I go down the Greek Alphabet is my business and not that of the Home Counties and the citizens of Greater Trollvania.  I’m not complaining.  I wasn’t keen, but when I read the article in the Sunday Times explaining the process, I choked on my camomile tea.

It’s all about the clitoris, which I have trouble saying even in my head and am not absolutely sure how you pronounce.  I know the geography, but not the language.  I can give direction and yell when the driver gets lost, but mention the word out loud.  What’s wrong with lady parts and down below?  The workshop involves, yes I did read it correctly, having a stroker.  A real person who actually touches you, whose interests you don’t know or even whether he likes long walks on the beach, has a dog, and is a social drinker.

In what universe did an editor on the Daily Mail think anyone in their right mind would do this, let alone me?  Another part of the workshop involved taking your pants off and having a man sit between your legs describing what he sees.  For fucks sake, or rather absolutely no chance of a fuck’s sake.  Don’t these people have hobbies?  What’s wrong with a bit of macramé, or train spotting?  I wouldn’t let my husband do this – let alone a stranger who might be better served spending their money on a woman who advertises in a phone book – and not just because he left me seven years ago.  I have a hard time taking my pants off for a smear test – I’d probably given birth in my knickers if I could have.  And I certainly don’t need anyone describing it me, like they’re taking a coach party through the alps.

I said no.  But I’m still rather offended they asked.

I’m a matron, and proudly close-kneed about this sort of thing..   

Friday, 12 February 2016

Fat or Phat?

Not to be too Bridget Jones about it, but here's what I ate yesterday, should you care:

a vegetable samosa for lunch (no breakfast, never have eaten breakfast in the week since I was a teenager)

A sunburst, provided by stationery company as thanks for buying a packet of envelopes.
then another,
then another,
repeated until I had a sugar headache,

Packet of twiglets shared with Juliano the Handsome in the car on the way to Kew Gardens to look at Orchids

Small pizza with salad when we came back late, while watching a Channel 4 Foreign Drama.

Then an orange

This was not one of my good days, folks, which is NOT why I'm fat.

I'm fat because the good days go more like this:

Weekend, when I do eat breakfast - oat meusli with nuts, fruit juice sweetened cranberries, assorted nuts, fat free Greek Yoghurt with honey or a big spoonful of either lemon or orange curd, and maybe a chopped banana or dates, berries, or whatever fruit we have in the fridge.

lunch:  current favorite either poached egg on avocado and Gail's olive bread toast with Chipolte sauce, or poached egg in chili whipped yoghurt with same olive bread toast or poilane rye.  With butter.  Or a falafal sandwich from Mr Falafal in Shepherd's bush market, or labne and zaater on arabic bread with halloumi side, or mozzarella and tomato salad with more olive bread, or if there's a match on, something picked up from Waitrose on the walk to the football ground, which will include a half-time mocca.

Dinner:  last week I had a blue cheese and roasted cauliflower souffle one night and the next a vegetable pudding with vegetarian suet crust with a salad, heavy on the dressing.  But it might be a curry, or a pasta with home made sauce, or a veggie pie, or lentils with sage oil and veggie rice...  Always vegetarian - I rarely eat meat.

Snacks throughout the day are few but currently my youngest daughter is broken hearted and baking her way through the pain so we are all gaining the break-up weight and eating the cakes (I hope she gets over the bugger soon), so last weekend I had four slices of banana bread at various stages through the weekend and a blueberry muffin.

Exercise included - sanding and scraping the paint off my kitchen surfaces - and if you don't think this counts as exertion then you obviously don't do DIY as I had sweat trickling down my back.  I also vacuumed the sitting room - and my hoover is like steering an elephant round on a skateboard, then we walked to and from the Football ground - an hour round trip, and I changed the bedlinen - counts as a workout in my book - wrestling with a duvet and 8 pillows is not nothing.

Then on Monday got up and walked to the GP - 40 mins, and came into work, another 40 minutes walk both to and from the tube station.

Admittedly I then sat on my fat bum and watched TV all night, while eating a baked potato with blue cheese and salad, followed by nightly orange and two digestive biscuits with a cup of tea.

So look, yes I eat.  I eat a lot, but I'm not hoovering up family bags of crisps, or frying chips every night, or ploughing through chocolate biscuits.  Every day.  Once a week I have a 'starburst' type incident which can involve anything from cake at Choir to chocolate at Mosaics, or left over chocolate chips from the bakery tin at the Heartbreak Kitchen.  I can see why I gain weight, but I'm not going to send myself to prison for criminal overeating.  I'm living my life.  I'm enjoying food.  I eat a bit of bad stuff, and a fair bit of good stuff.  Why UNIVERSE is this punishable by saddlebags on my thighs?  And then as if carrying them around in all their - frankly - unattractive glory (that's the thing we don't say so much about fat, is that we are not all plus size swimsuit models, and for most of us our fat isn't particularly attractive of itself) - the saddlebags are badges of shame.  We are - horror, DUMDUMDUM, FAT.  Eek.  You terrible person, you have sinned against nature, you have not stuck to 2,000 calories a day or wasted precious hours of your useful and creative life running on a treadmill, OR been gifted with a super-duper fat burning metabolism.  You have eaten crap and you are wearing it on your thighs. Shame on you.  We will shun you.  No, actually we won't, because tutting under our tongue is more fun.

So yes I don't find my fat self that attractive.  Some of this is self-loathing, beaten into me since childhood and being dragged to the doctor aged 13 because I was too thin or 'awfy skinny' accompanied by that shudder you give when you see a very very obvious anorectic person who is little more than walking bones.  That was me.  That was me with my two side front teeth missing after an accident knocked them out.  I looked like Plug, or Mrs Plug from the Beano (or was it the Dandy?) There was actually nothing medically wrong with me.  I was just naturally skinny and I smoked.  I saved my lunch money for fags, but when I ate, I ate true junk - biscuits and chips and turned my nose up at anything green.  So I grew up thinking I was an unattractive lass, more boy than girl with knobbly knees, afraid to smile.  A size 0 model before such a thing was invented (these days the missing teeth would probably give me an 'edge'.

It's a wonder, looking back, that I survived adolescence, especially as I did so by scampering off with my first 'proper' boyfriend, who happened to have a wife and a kid already -  not that I knew that when we met.  I was just so grateful that someone thought I was viable girlfriend material - even if he turned me into an aide to adultery before I knew what it was.

So now I've just kind of dug into that early bad body image and transposed it to the fat(ter) me. It's like a familiar scarf that I just reach for every morning out of habit.  When I lost 'the weight' one of the four times over the last 15 years (notice how we give it the definite article to make it sound like a single important entity - 'the weight' 'the royal family' 'the post office' 'the fifth amendment' 'the plague' - that little 'the' turning it into a thing rather than just a collection of fat cells) I honestly, honestly, just loved my body.  I didn't however love my life.  All that parsimony, the endless counting in my head, of how much I'd eaten, how many calories, how many grams of fat, the continual feeling of self restraint, self imposed limits, the good and the bad behaviour we stupid stupid women indulge in - well I say indulge, but there's no pleasure in it.  'Oh I was bad last night I ate a donut.'  'I was good all weekend and stuck to the Dukan and only had one slip on the Sunday when I had a lager.'  I mean ffs - bad is stealing another woman's husband (done that, erm twice - with help from the husband, and had it done to me so tit for tat).  Bad is refusing to let refugees in.  Or voting for Trump.  Good is raising money for charity, or even texting Socks to 14324 in the middle of an overpriced movie to give a poor African child a pair of woolly socks to get them through the cold desert nights (facetious, I know).  Good is rescuing kittens or volunteering to nurse ebola victims - not sticking to a protein only diet.  But just like dieters the world over,  I bought into the madness.  I was high on my own hunger, my own self-control, my own limited palate, and had the skinny stretch jeans in a fake size 10 (M&S they distort their sizes to make us think we're thinner than we are) to show for it.  I had thigh gap. I felt, reader, magnificent.  Wonder frigging Woman, just cause I was thin.

That I drank so much coffee I gave myself palpitations, and couldn't walk up three flights of stairs without my knees giving way weakly at the top, and - once the worst of the diet days were past - drank like a sailor on shore leave rather than eating anything with fat in it, didn't matter.  I was thin, see me strut.  And collect the accolades...

It was like winning the Oscars.  The thin Academy Award.  Everywhere I went I was feted and celebrated by people who I realise, had probably been looking at me with the sucky teeth, thinking, lardy arsed cow when I was fat, congratulating me on losing 'the' weight.  'You look fabulous, wonderful, amazing' 'wow'  'you lost the weight' and all because I had dieted off 3 stone.

Three stone is a lot to lose.  It's a toddler.  A hefty toddler.  But I didn't split the atom, or perform brain surgery with only a fork and a coffee stirrer.  I didn't save someone from a burning building or open my home to needy orphans.  I just lost weight.  I didn't even try that hard two of the times.

Once was Dukan.  Once was my husband leaving me (remember that other woman).  Once was love-motivated Adkins (remember the tit for tat - this was the tit).  Once was a nervous breakdown.  Not eating because you're a tortured, crazy, pillpopping insomniac and gag when you see food is not the way to weight loss I'd recommend to anyone.  Love isn't bad.  Dieting is still a struggle, but happiness fills you up just as well as chocolate, and then you're burning it all off having sex. 

But you can't maintain it.  Not the sex, not the euphoria of love.  Then...

Happiness makes you fat too, unfortunately.  That's what I have at the moment.  Contentment fat.  I have a live-in lover who doesn't think I'm a psychopath.   I have a house I love and kids I love.  I have enough, just enough money.  I have three cats.  I have a four-day a week job that's okay and fairly congenial even if I haven't had a payrise for 5 years and I think my boss would be happy if I left or at least isn't fearful enough of me going to consider any incentive to stay.  I spend my free time doing things that make me incandescently content - yes it's a thing, trust me.  I sew, I make mosaics, I draw, I paint, I grow plants, I tend my garden, I stroke my cats, I make cards and books, and pillowcases and paint furniture.  I write.  I cook.  I eat. I laugh.

The only thing I don't do is spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, because there is fat Marion smiling back at me with her puffy, patchwork face that looks like its been sewn together for a kid's puppet show - not looking remotely Rubenesque when she's in the buff, but more like cold custard and not at all curvy, but more, well, dolloped.  I don't have that lovely plumped up fat of the painted nude or the polished skin of the well upholstered black woman.  It's cottage cheese, celery, boiled chicken, scrambled eggs - all those meals I should be eating if I want to it into a pair of M&S tights without feeling like I've been eaten by a python who has trouble digesting its food.  Some of it is as much to do with ageing as being overweight, sorry, fat.  Fat and age don't sit prettily on the coach together.  You sag.  No matter how politically correct you are about fat, it doesn't make it a thing of beauty.

So maybe that's why we don't want people to say we're fat, because what we really think is that they're saying we're ugly.  Yeah well, so big deal.  Let it be so.  Currently, my life is beautiful and the thighs are collateral damage.

Friday, 5 February 2016

'This bed is on fire/with passionate love'

Sleeplessness, should you be interested enough to ask, continues to be not much of a problem in Suburban Mansions.

I had a brief visit from the bad fairy Insomnia several years ago when I momentarily went mad, where - it has to be noted - the inability to sleep caused most of the problems.  Chicken and egg = crazy omelette.  As my GP pointed out many, many, many years ago, the main cause of Post Partum Depression is lack of sleep.  It really can drive you bonkers.  But in this latter case we're talking seriously not sleeping, not just waking in the night, or staying up till the small hours become large ones, and the fact that the lack of sleep was being enforced rather than organic was an important added factor in the dish of despair.

When seriously insomniac, the problem was banished by hypnotic drugs which I embraced with the fervour of a new convert to Christianity at a tent revival.  Addictive?  Didn't give a stuff.  I was so desperate I would have signed up for a week in a coma just to experience that wonderful oblivion and the respite from being awake and suffering.  The pill regime lasted a month and I was lucky enough to come off them without any nasty side effects when my natural pattern of sleep re-established itself.  Well that and the Valium.  Don't run away with the idea that this is easy stuff.  It's not, and while, in a less fraught time (abandonment by partner of 25 years) watching boxed sets got me through months of bad sleep, when the panic of worse times set in, I needed the big pharmaceutical guns to get me over the hump.

But now, normal service has been resumed.  I go to bed in the Barbie plush dream palace, curled into the warm back of Saint Juliano who has mystifyingly agreed to share it with me, my head resting on charity shop silk pillowslips, and a cat or three snuggled between us, on top of us, across us.  Beside my bed there's a laptop, a phone an iphone and a kindle.  Not one of their blue lights keeps me awake.  Outside there's the orange glow of the London night and a constellation of red stars from the nearby cranes of the Imperial College building site, and none of it, not even the bright moon as it sweeps across the sky, even permeates my consciousness.  In the summer, the flocks of parrots roosting on the nearby scrubs chirp at dawn, and if I hear them at all I merely think 'how lovely'.  The sun bangs on the window but I pay it no heed.

If I wake to pee, I go back to sleep almost instantly and it would all be perfect if not for one thing...

Just as I find someone to share my slumber, it appears I gravely disrupt theirs.

Because, reader, I snore.

I snore like Concorde breaking the sound barrier, like a garbage truck toiling up the road, like a high speed train carrying nuclear waste barreling up the line, like juggernauts overtaking slow lorries on a steep hill.  I know this for two reasons.  Firstly, I have, on occasion woke myself up snoring on trains, cinemas (I know - CRINGE) and once, a plane, and can tell by the fact that, when traveling Club, I go to sleep on good terms with the person next to me in seat 1B, who refuses to meet my eye when we wake up together the next morning.  Or at least, when I wake up.  He probably hasn't had any sleep at all.  And secondly, I know I snore because Saint Juliano keeps on digging his elbow into me to try, in vain, to get me to shut up.  Occasionally I've woken and found him wresting the pillow out from underneath my head.  He claims, this is because I snore less if I lie flat - though other sufferers say they benefit from sitting more upright.  I sometimes wonder if he's really just going to put it over my face.

So he pokes, and he prods, and he shakes and he hisses, and I get cross, and groggy, and tell him I'm already awake, because it often feels that way, when in fact I'm just talking in my sleep - my snorey, snorey sleep.

He has two sets of earplugs, one that muffles everything, including Armageddon, and another set that allow him to hear the alarm go off, but still be bothered by the snoring.  If he wears the first he doesn't wake up for work.  If he wears the second it's lose, lose, lose, and I get battered.

I honestly don't know how he puts up with me.  I'm not even that good in bed.

So I'm off to the Sleep Clinic at Charing Cross in June to spend a night in hospital and see if there's anything they can do to stop St Juliano killing me before the sleep apnea that - I at least - am unaware of, kills me first.

However, if I do happen not to wake up one morning, just check the pillow doesn't have a face shaped indentation in it first before you assume I choked to death on my own snores. 

Friendless in the Fifties..

I have no friends.
Okay, a few.  Like a handful. Like a handful with a couple of fingers missing.
86 on facebook, 3 of whom cross over to real life, more or less, and some colleagues.
My eldest daughter tells me not to worry that most people have only seven significant people in their life and the rest are just padding.
But I don't have seven, I say, slightly panicked.  I mean, I'm padded, god so well padded with acquaintances and half-friends, and pseudo friends, and people I once had dinner with, or met, or knew, or still kind of know, or know someone who knows someone, or holidayed with, or spoke to at a party that I could fill a hall with people I waved at once across a room, but though I can anecdotally chat about Ed Balls and Phillip Roth and Salman Rushdie and The House of Parliament Dining Room and Gordon Ramsay, it's all just bullshit, true bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.  The significant seven are real, or would be if I had them...
Yes you do have seven people, think of it - four kids, Dad, Juliano, Maria...  The girl says.
Oh god, my seven significants consist of four people I gave birth to, one I was married to who left me for another woman, my current partner and my dear friend Maria who lives half the time in Brazil and who I see maybe once a fortnight when she's here, and who communicates with me by What's App.
Kill Me Now.
Or rather don't, because nobody would come to the funeral.
I'm dubious about my daughter's maths as, of the four kids, even she hasn't returned my last two phone calls and we haven't spoken for maybe two weeks.  One of my sons may have emigrated to another country and forgotten to tell me as I haven't heard from him since Christmas.  I don't even bother calling him now as he never answers, and my texts and emails are ignored.  I think he loves me, but joined at the heart compadres we are not - or maybe we are, we just don't talk.  And my husband, well we met last week, but haven't heard since and he has a new partner and an 18 month old baby, so can't think I'm high on the list of priorities except when he's urging me to kick one of the kids out (two of them live with me so do get to count as significant, albeit by default) so I can sell the house and give him half.  A bit of self interest in that friendship maybe?
So am I unloveable, unlikeable, unfriendly, antisocial?
Maybe, hope not, no, a bit.
For the years of my marriage I was sure both of the first descriptions were true.  Not because my husband made me feel those things, but rather that he made me feel that he loved me DESPITE them being somewhat true.  My current partner, when asked why he hung around after the sex became routine, said 'because I like you'.  Gosh.  There's a novelty.  I realised that this was one of the first time anyone had said those three little words to me.  I've heard love many times from many men, like it's a toy currency you can wave about but not really spend, but 'liking' is a rarer commodity, and one I've never been blessed with.
Is it a parental thing.  Absolutely.  My parents, lovely people though they were, could criticize for Britain, and show disapproval like they were up for a Bafta for it.  I never felt they liked me.  Not whining about it, just saying.  They tolerated me.  The loved me despite (see the trend here?) my many perceived character flaws which they often pointed out, sometimes adding that I should see a psychiatrist.  Being a kid in our house was akin to madness.
So I've kept that feeling with me for life, internalised it, nurtured it, and projected it on to anyone who'll have me, or not as the case may be.
The nice thing about age is that it has finally allowed me, not to shelve the feeling, but not to give a fuck about who likes me or not, even though I admit I just start from the point that nobody does, or won't once they get to know me, but who cares?  I've got cats instead.  One of them doesn't like me much either, but she's a temperamental diva who shuns everyone, so I'm not special. The others sit on my knee and purr.  When I get really low I think I'll get a dog too, 24/7 total approval adoration and tail wags - what's not to like.
But do two cats and a virtual dog count as significant beings in one's life?
Judging by the number of both species on facebook, I'd say they probably do.
But that still leaves me short of friends.
I truly don't mind that much.  I think that some people have the gift of making friends and I'm just one of those who doesn't.  I can get along with people well enough in the day to day, and when I meet people, I often warm to them and  enjoy speaking to them. I can talk to most people happily and with pleasure.   But as I get older I find I have become more and more reclusive.  I think - shall I have people for dinner?  And decide, immediately, nah.  Can't be bothered.  I'd have to cook.  I'd have to think of things to say.  And - this IS an absolute truth in my life, they NEVER ask me back, so what is the point?  I don't want to be the one-sided friend that much if it involves two hours of competitive cookery and a lot of washing up.  I've done enough of that in the last thirty odd years.  It's not the making friends I find difficult (well not so difficult) - it's the keeping them.  Two of the people I liked most in the world at the time dropped me.  Dumped by a friend.   Ooooh, not one for the CV when you're shopping around for new ones.  Others drift away because of natural atrophy, and some I've dropped because things change and I just find I have nothing in common with them any more.  Another pleasure age brings is that I find myself less interested in putting up with nonsense.  Time is too precious to hang out with people who make you feel bad about yourself, or who you just don't find uplifting.  And I'm also more guarded, more cautious, less generous, less interested.
Still, doesn't it stick in the craw a wee bit when you see other people just gather friends around them, to retain the devotion of others while being total bitches/arses/tools, but you get left off their Christmas card list?  It does me, but only momentarily.  The people I do have in my life I am grateful for, and they are few, but good.  There may not be seven of them, but they will turn up for me if I need them.  Yes, some are related to me, and have to turn up out of duty, but that's what families are for.   To ensure you still have a 'person' when the rest of the world thinks you're a pain in the arse.