Tag Archives: health

Behind the tombola

A milestone birthday. Today marks 40 years since I was forcefully extracted from inside a screaming 16-year-old girl, for once not behind the tombola at the local fete while ‘close-knit’ villagers bay for vengeance.

Yes, today is the day I fill out the second half of my dirty old man application form. If anyone tries telling you 40 isn’t old, ask them to imagine how they look through the eyes of someone half that age. Youth is the future, as a confused Jeremy Corbyn will soon find out when they euthanise him in favour of some infant in a suit.

I don’t honestly care about 40 because I’ve been old for a decade already. Turning 30 was the point at which I established that ambition was futile, and my hopes and dreams live in the same realm of realism as ducks driving tractors. I’ve no fear of a midlife crisis because 10 years ago I lost my mind so entirely I found myself watching a magpie chase a squirrel round a tree in Uxbridge with no idea how I’d got there. Where’s Uxbridge? Precisely.

Weighing medical advances against prodigious Guinness intake I’m probably a few years over halfway through all this, catastrophe notwithstanding. I guess it’s worth reviewing progress so far to see if the downhill trundle’s worth the bother.

Thanks to goals set at the very lowest level possible, on the face of it this existence seems tolerable. I have friends who occasionally return my calls, a woman who continually saves me from myself and family who live a minimum of 20 miles away as the crow flies. My views are of the left and age isn’t changing that. I am ethically commendable and morally risible.

But is any of it worth it? What matters to me now? Am I who I once was? Christ, for all our sakes let’s hope not.

I don’t understand the world any more, but I’m past the point of caring. Voters flock to strongmen like the 1930s never happened. Britain’s electorate every few months chooses whichever option seems most likely to screw over the greatest number of people, via xenophobia, complete inaction or, next time, Boris Johnson. If Trump aims for North Korea and hits Beijing by mistake, well, humanity’s had a good run. If you can’t laugh at all this at 40, post-hope but pre-dementia, you must have had kids.

Last week I went into a shop at just gone 11pm in search of a bottle of water. Can’t do it mate, tills are closed. It’s just water though, I can just leave the 70p here, take the water and you can ring it through in the morning oh my God did you not hear me the tills are closed. Fear and incomprehension at a refusal to follow every little rule, this is where we’ve let ourselves be led. But the older I get the more I rebel and chuckle at ‘Keep out’ signs. What you think is tinnitus is actually a specific frequency only old people can hear, of the ping fuel makes as it hits the bottom of the metal tanks at the crematorium, so what does any of it matter?

The other day I read they’re once again ‘reinventing the BBC for a new generation’. In three years, it says here, £31.4m will be spent online, on content that will include video, live online programme extensions, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games and apps. If any words sum up a world speeding off into the distance while I hobble behind, waving my stick in the air vainly, those are they. There’s always a new generation. I don’t remember which one was mine.

You can tell I’m already properly old because social media makes no fucking sense to me. I love that you all think Facebook is benign, and that they don’t make money every time someone posts a Jihadi screed or a grainy photo of a baby and, wait, is that a cock? Office jobs mean I’m surrounded by dickheads forever shovelling their worthless views into me, so the need for Twitter remains a mystery. Someone reading this once put a picture of their Weetabix on Instagram and they simply can not explain why they did that.

But that’s just it – I don’t really understand any of you. Come on, let’s work this out together, you and I. What the fuck are you on about, really? There, you understand my problem when you see it from my angle.

My body fucking hurts at 40. I sit on a wallet and my back’s ruined. My calf muscles have the durability of a bag of Chipsticks. I have the digestive system of a man yet to make the switch to ‘shawarma’. My brain’s hardly in tip-top shape, and the next person to suggest ‘talking’ as a solution will get my invective right up the amygdala. On the plus side my liver will probably be worth a few quid one day and you won’t even need the formaldehyde.

I don’t have any kind of career, just a succession of tedious jobs that pay too much for me to stop. Some people get paid to search rivers for bodies, others to give terminally ill children happy experiences before they die. I ‘write micro-copy’. Oh well. Shame I can never seem to make any of this shite a bit more micro, eh?

Clearly my 40-year-old self has become one grumpy motherfucker. No doubt, to some extent it’s a carefully crafted persona masking untold insecurities. On the other hand every single thing that ever happens in the world seems geared towards making its inhabitants more and more furious, not least the progress of time itself, which this morning has filled my life with “Inside every 40 year old lingers an 18 year old thinking…BLIMEY! WHAT HAPPENED?” And a ferret in a flat cap, naturally.

Still, I’m sure I can be a right pain in the hoop but at least I aim for ‘not boring’. Recently I’ve realised this might now be my sole ambition for the hours or decades left to me – to remain someone who keeps people on their toes. Odds are you will not have the conversation you expect with me. Yes I might say something inappropriate, but there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll make you shoot lager out your nose and the other 50 is where you file ISAs, decking, parents’ evenings, objectives, travelcards, stakeholders, Dyson, IBS and the gym. The price of keeping you away from that terrifying mundanity is the occasional Yewtree gag and that moment when you’re not sure if laughing would have you straight up in front of a magistrate.

So this is me at 40, raise a fucking glass. I don’t collect stamps any more, or play table tennis, or climb trees, or give a shit who wears the fireman hat. I watch horror films, comedians and bands, collect countries like stamps, go to the football and the cricket, read incessantly and learn whenever I can, walk and walk the streets of London, play games, somehow still play squash, keep pubs in business and write this shit. I work when I have to and I’m happy when I don’t. I’m often wrong but I know when to admit it. I am not who I was and I am who I made myself.

And if you don’t like it…heh, yeah, you’ve got it.

Chef’s special

Vegetarians are lunatics; I think we can all agree on that. Somehow, the ever-reducing number of guilt-free pleasures available to the western consumer do still include a meat-laden meal, prepared to perfection and presented in such style it makes you glad you were able to dismiss that definition of ‘pearl barley’ you had to look up the other week as the ravings of a madman.

Oh but hang on – you’ve been led astray. Your mind has wandered off to a land of cattle shaped like deliciously tender and well-seasoned steaks, done to within a split-second of perfection with juices emerging lazily to blend with your mashed polenta. You’re picturing succulent pieces of chicken reclining in a polpette di pollo, laced with garlic and flat-leafed parsley and sprinkled with parmesan as though Edesia herself has blessed your majestic banquet. Roman goddess of food. Thank you Jimmy Wales.

That’s not real meat. That’s middle-class meat. Your imagination is filled with images of unreal meals cooked by that fat-tongued clown Jamie Oliver and no-one else ever because what the fuck is he on about, really?

Meat is the rotting flesh of dead animals, industrially reared and slaughtered, hacked up and transported incalculable distances so we can get fat on suffering and murder and call it ‘natural’. Meat is meant to be frightening, and if it doesn’t scare you you probably deserve the same fate as that sheep they made in a lab, named and marvelled at for a few weeks before beginning to look at differently, with eyes saying “That bit’s the shoulder, that bit’s the shank.”

Meat must be feared. That’s where kebabs come in. Don’t look at me like that.

There are people in the world who think kebabs are the sole preserve of the drunkard who’s given up all hope of a future without diabetes. At times it’s hard to fault that line of thought, and yet at 12.35am on a Wednesday, some hours before Wednesday becomes a serious and terrifying reality, there’s nothing more life-affirming than a hairy man regarding you balefully as you step across his threshold slurring “large doner please mate”. Witness him glide across the dubious linoleum towards the object of your terrible desire, sharpening his infernal weaponry and slicing through so many mashed-together ex-creatures in one swipe it’d make that arsehole who arrowed Cecil the Lion quake with fear.

Kebabs are a gift to Britain from a culture that has realised we’re fucked beyond imagination and only food that makes you genuinely ashamed can stave off the doom. But here, too, some will be thinking: “Actually he has a point. I had a lovely schwarma wrapped in a toasted tortilla from the new artisan Turkish on the High Street last week. They infuse it with herbs and they won’t give out the recipe for their garlic sauce, and believe me I’ve asked. It’s that good, I even had it sober once.”

You’re what’s wrong with the world, do you know that? You think Waitrose is fine for day-to-day items, but oh that new patisserie, they make the most wonderful cinnamon tea cakes. You regularly claim you prefer the feel of a ‘real book’ while never buying anything on your Amazon wish list unless it drops under a quid. You probably think Jeremy Clarkson was treated shabbily by the BBC. You’re the reason there’s such a thing as a ‘gastropub’.

What you imagine to be a kebab is nothing of the sort, but just as with dartboards, jukeboxes and faded pub carpets swimming in beer, our heritage is being lost in a blur of upward mobility. Genuine kebab shops of the type the past two generations have worshipped as temples of post-pub salvation are being replaced by places that are safe, non-threatening and, worst of all, clean.

This is summed up by the slow death of the pita bread. There’s a reason I go to Eddie’s by Kings Cross station – they serve me stacks of dirty meat, wrecked salad and ring-stinging chili sauce on Poundland-quality pita bread, and some minutes in the bread’s soaked through with more fat than the beach at Benidorm. This, I must stress, is a marvellous thing.

But we are being invaded by ‘wraps’. It’s impossible to describe the disappointment of a ‘wrap’, with meat that seems pre-chewed, sauce you can’t see and therefore can’t be sure isn’t “chef’s special”, and the culinary equivalent of a sheet of A4 holding it all together. There’s half as much food than in a proper kebab – and worse, the bit missing is the hangover-prevention ingredient that most of us have bought it for in the first place, that glorious pita that will gum you up like putty.

I demand that at least one aspect of my life be allowed to continue unmolested by the drive to make everything family-friendly to maximise revenue. Pubs that I can tolerate are disappearing as irascible landlords are replaced by apron-wielding ‘managers’. I feel increasingly uncertain in newsagents since energy drinks and devices for ‘vaping’ replaced Panini stickers and a proper top shelf. Even easyJet isn’t the comedy bunfight it once was, with reserved seating and fake tan no longer mandatory among staff of both genders. I think they’re allowed to fly to Monaco now and I don’t understand.

We, the standard bearers of a country that would have as much point as Switzerland without our ability to hold our ale, are hungry. Wraps will not do, damn it. Find some other way to describe whatever pitiful muck your people masquerade as kebabs, and a way to serve it that doesn’t involve me wandering into a place with an elephant leg on a sign outside and emerging with tears streaming down my face as a once-great nation allows itself to be emasculated by the rampant hordes of people who know what the holy Christ ‘chia seeds’ are.

Some things in life should be confusing, alarming and not for everyone, like animated porn. Kebabs are not yours, they’re ours. We will have sodden pita bread, and chili sauce of unknown provenance from a silver container, not a bottle. We will continue to say yes to chillies to look like proper kebab eaters then covertly throw them in the street for the rat whose brother we’re probably munching on right now. We embrace botulism like a comfort blanket.

We know our dinner will kill us, and you’d better let it. You wouldn’t like Eddie when he’s angry.

Wet and brown

Recently I saw a series of pictures of someone who had holed up in a hotel room for eight months, only to be evicted once people started complaining about the smell. Styrofoam from what looked like a thousand unfinished ready meals was piled on one bed, while the other had sheets that looked wet and brown. Spray tan poorly applied while lying down, perhaps. Empty boxes of tissues were stacked in one corner of the room, surrounded by mounds of plastic bags filled with rubbish. And then the toilet, which is as disgusting as it is unrecognisable. A hill of toilet paper had constructed itself from the bowl upwards with a gap in it showing a black hole of faeces. How someone even lived in these conditions is impossible to imagine.

One important factor that distinguishes us from our animal counterparts is the fact that we’re civilised. Or, at least most of us try to be so. It always amazes me how people are able to live in conditions that even the most feral of creatures would turn their noses up at. As they surround themselves with piles of dirty dishes, unwashed clothes, and heavens knows what else, I cannot but be staggered at how they manage to function in life.

Most of us have had one of those flatmates. You know, the kind who leaves food-encrusted plates in the sink, with no promise of the crockery ever seeing its original state of cleanliness again. Or those who would let hair keep clogging the bathroom drain until the bathtub threatened to drown them – and only then they might think about cleaning their pubes out of the drain, maybe next week. I had one such person living in the same flat as me years back. I had to retrieve mouldy dishes from her room regularly, a venture which felt like a scene from a horror movie where an unaffected person tip-toes into the open world to check if the zombies have all gone. On one such expedition I found a wastebucket full of vomit. I’d never before experienced ironic nausea and I never want to again.

I just don’t get how people can sleep, dress, and carry on with their life surrounded by all this. Is their sense of smell shot? Is there a severe lack of self-respect at play? Or are they just lazy? The latter of those options seems likely, and I don’t blame people for approaching the idea of housework with the moan of a child told to eat a plate full of boiled cabbage. Cleaning is tedious, we all know that, but it’s a small price to pay. We all make these kinds of sacrifices in life so we can function better and not live in our own filth like animals. We are not creatures that live in nests made from the stuff that comes out of our assholes, nor are we a species that wanders around daring ticks and flies to suck off our bodily juices as we crawl through the dirt. We have advanced as a species, so why can’t we start acting like it?

I have friends who are messy and I admit freely that I look down on them. And why not? When they pick themselves up from a carpet stained with the residue of some epic masturbation session, past bed sheets that went straight from Primark packaging to soiled mattress when bought seven years back, and through the thick atmosphere of smells and dust, I will look at them face to face. Until then I shall condescend.

Someone had to clean up that hotel room, all because someone else was too fucking lazy to carry out functions as simple as emptying a bin or flushing the toilet. The disregard for the cleaners (if not bio-hazard team) who would have had to deal with this is almost as disgusting as the cesspool left behind by this particular tenant. Have some respect, especially when this isn’t your own house.

In your own house, where you live alone, away from any humans with a shred of decency, you can pile up all the crap you want (literal or otherwise). Just don’t expect anyone to want to come around and ever spend time with you, you filthy animal.

A delicious two years

I’m not scared to admit that I am afraid of obesity. The health complications, the isolation, the social rejection. I have been a ‘fat girl’, and it sucks. It scares the hell out of me.

I have to live in this body for the rest of my life. I can’t have collapsed arches, collapsed veins, and diabetes and high blood pressure brought on by weight. I have a family bent towards excessive weight gain, especially in the waist, hip, and thigh areas. I see what it does to their knees, their hips and, most importantly, their self-esteem.

When it comes to weight gain, we as a society are not kind. I want to be able to run around with my kids when I have them and do what a woman my age should be expected to do, without complaint. I want to be happy in my own skin.

And I was. Very happy. I was a stone cold fox…until we moved to the UK. A slow creep started two years ago and I’ve gained a stone since. I’m 5 foot 7 with a medium build; I started out at the mid 140’s and now I’m at 158 pounds, and it feels fucking disgusting.

Plato said, “Think of the human body as a ship. It should not be overloaded.” And my ship is listing to port side. I’m fat and I have to shift this shit before it fucking takes over. I have to lose weight because if I don’t it’s too slippery of a slope for me to not roll all the way down.

Fear and panic is what helped me lose weight the first time and it’s what kept the weight off. But that’s gone away now. In fact, once I got married I can honestly say I stopped weighing myself. Not that I didn’t care about how I looked, but I was so happy and comfortable, I felt so loved, that the scales just didn’t figure into things any more. I didn’t need to be one number or another to feel comfortable in my skin. And it’s not just me – when I met my husband he had a washboard stomach, very nice arm/calf muscles, and could lift me up with no more effort than a mother cat with a baby kitten. No more.

The UK is a minefield of pub culture, grey meat encased in wet pastry, weather that makes you cry, and really tasty ale. It’s just we two; we have no children, no mortgage, no car payments. No car, in fact, just a Vespa. We walk a lot, but we have nothing to spend our money on but ourselves and we work long hours and have little time to do that. So, we started to eat. We’ve been munching a path through London’s gastronomic multiverse. It has been a delicious two years. It’s hard to say goodbye.

We started doing a weight challenge. It sounds stupid, I know. But what’s also stupid is that I can no longer fit into the Levis I bought just last year. I used to wear my husband’s dress shirts around the house of evenings after he’d taken them off and now I can’t – too much back fat. He looks like he has a bicycle tire around his middle and the pile of pants he’s had to throw to the back of the closet is growing.

So we made an agreement to get back to our pre-UK poundage. I make healthy dinners; my husband’s in charge of healthy breakfasts. His plan of “small sustainable goals” is a novelty for me – crash diets that produce results in short order are more my thing. But this seems to be working. It’s not easy for me to choose oatmeal over croissant or lentil soup over Chicken Tikka Masala, but we’re doing it.

We have made weight loss our bitch. There will be a few extra treats left on the UK’s shelves for the rest of you to hoover up. Sorry about that.

The disease of modern living

Next month will commemorate my 24th revolution around the sun. Already my forehead resembles a weathered ball-bag and I find myself aimlessly sprawled in front of a screen more evenings than not. This never happened two years ago. Now, like some declawed beast sedated by glossy images rolling seamlessly over one another, I lounge and gape with numb abandon, occasionally flick through Facebook on my phone and wonder why exactly people from school feel the need to repopulate the Earth with smaller humans that look like them before McDonalds ravaged their bodies. This is adult life, so I’m told, and you too are welcome to the party, please make yourself comfortable and wait for the air to run out.

Everything you need to know about me is explained by the steaming pile of cat shit that has collected outside my bedroom window. This veritable Everest of faeces makes me feel at home, as does the decapitated pigeon with its guts strewn out like a meaty party popper that’s stuck outside my office, in a location that the cleaners can’t reach. It rots there, sun-baked and spoiled, festering in the British summer.

These features of my surroundings help me to keep my perspective, much in the way that drama teachers educate young minds on what shattered dreams look like. They symbolise perfectly how much we crave our precious distractions in order to ignore the grim brutalities of life: their continued existence is damning proof. Even as I write, the gangrenous disease of modern living cramps up my hand with premature rigor mortis and spreads through the veins, pumped ever closer to the brain by a palpitating aorta that struggles against the thickening walls of tar that I have cursed it with.

Gradually I too will be pacified by the epidemic that sweeps the nation. As the world hurtles down into the belly of the abyss, we will watch with apathetic disdain as the stomach acid swirls around our ankles, melding our shoes to our feet, kicking up a mighty stench in the process. By the time we’re half digested we might reach feebly for an app to save us, but it’ll be too late and when we reach the sphincter of the universe to get sprayed out into the cosmic toilet bowl, only then will we admit that perhaps, just maybe, mistakes were made. Such is the nature of this affliction.

The first symptom was an involuntary twitch of the hand, reaching ceaselessly for the mobile phone to save me from reality. My phone-orientated spasm is akin to a phantom limb, but the ever-loveable philanthropists of Microsoft recently conducted a social study on some screen-worshipping Canadians and established that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds down to just 8, so I doubt I’m alone in the quarantine zone.

This mutated strain of the 80’s TV-borne virus could be seen as the next step towards in our evolution where we transcend our physical forms to live entirely digitally, floating around the ether poking at one another’s faces with three and half inch floppies like cognitively impaired sea-monkeys in screen-saver form. Or maybe it just marks the next step towards a society of preening, gurning blobs of self-absorbed cellulose, hopeless invertebrate wads that could grow a spine if only they found use for one.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe our jobs really do have meaning in and of themselves. Maybe George Osborne isn’t fuelled by orphan tears and it’s even possible that Adrian Chiles and the rest of TV land aren’t just a collection of gelatinous guff-wagons constructed of meat. But don’t worry about it, just distract yourself with more words.

As the disease assaults your ability to think or even dribble coherently, the modern office does little to treat symptoms. Constant reminders from HR flow in via email reaffirming our enthusiasm for the casual business Friday dress-code and advising us not to jump from the east facing window because yesterday’s pile of mangled bodies hasn’t yet been cleaned up on account of the impossible-to-reach pigeon corpse. Whatever they bleat about it’s always in the distant language usually reserved for passive alarm voices who alert you to danger in an unnervingly calm tone. By specialising the function of the individual’s job we have become more and more divorced from the purpose of the work we do, so it’s no wonder we’re perpetually left unable to explain our jobs to relatives or friends.

Graduates are forced to fight to the death in gladiatorial combat for the chance to win an unpaid role as junior deputy assistant to the intern in some useless consultancy firm, or worse they become unthinking phone monkeys in firms with indoctrination programmes that would give the US Army a hard-on. Those without qualifications are converted into compost to grow, whilst those in jobs too long are quietly bumped off in the night by obtuse phrases such as “regrettably unforeseeable internal restructures” so they’re heaped on the cat-shit mountain as well. Our purpose in employment becomes harder to find, our days flow by in an uneasy wave of tedious confusion and we leave the office without a thought in our heads except for the rush of relief afforded by brief respite.

In a sleep-deprived stupor we’re driven to distraction, urgently seeking anything to ease our minds. It’s all there waiting for us, from kittens decorated by the mentally infirm to the online equivalent of the Dulux colour range told through pornography. And what’s more, the great benevolent dictator of the internet is only too willing to oblige us. With the frantic scurrying of a crack-addled banker trying to hide a hooker’s body we crave any blockade we can erect between the reality of the situation and the collective lie that we all buy into, known colloquially as ‘satisfaction’.

The disease of modern living is the catalysed onset of delusion, the belief that things actually aren’t that bad and that perhaps we ought to be thankful for what we have. This belief drags itself with us, a parasite on our bedraggled carcass shuffling from the tube to the bus to the sweat-stained pavements only to moor up in a desolate port with the TV on, our minds switched off and the glum cyclical nature of the horror pushed out of sight for another day as our eyes close and it’s all over.

In short, I’m becoming one of the idiots. Soon you’ll be like us, begging for distraction from the endless flurry of miseries and injustices that make up human existence. London has succeeded in dumbing me down with its isolating cost of living, alienating social conduct and the beckoning appeal to those who value money, prestige and job title über alles. We try to avoid how unfair it all seems with copies of Time Out and the latest in pop-up restaurants that only serve suffocated gelatine in plant pots and where all the cutlery is emblazoned with the face of Noel fucking Edmonds. Now I even have their haircut. It might get me a promotion.

At this rate I’ll max out a credit card on paper doilies this time next year, bragging to middle-management about the spacious depths of my new living room and how much light the bay window lets in whilst fiddling with a selfie-stick, all the time wondering why no-one can use a word of more than three syllables.

Unless we treat this disease swiftly, that is. Prognosis: amputate at the neck and leave my headless cadaver on the window ledge of a skyscraper where no-one can clean me up.

The old-fashioned way to get knocked up

My husband and I have been trying to start a family. I suppose that’s the ‘delicate’ way to say we are trying to get pregnant. Or maybe its that I am trying to get pregnant and he is just being…ahem…supportive.

The old-fashioned way to get knocked up is, theoretically,  the easiest way to go about it. And things are not going as planned in that department. Not at all. I can’t believe how much time I spent trying not to get pregnant and now I am faced with the Murphy’s Law of pregnancy.

Teenagers are getting pregnant all over the place, to look at the statistics. Every seven seconds a 16-year-old, low-income minority teen conceives a child just by talking to a man, if the conservative media is to be believed. The developing world is turning them out assembly-line style.

In the midst of wars, natural disasters, genocide, political upheaval, terrorism, and incredible poverty with a lack of basic care and sanitation, women are banging these kids out right and left. There are even shows that showcase women who have an awfully hard time not staying pregnant constantly, or who get pregnant on a ridiculously grand scale with multiple embryos. Even our friends who also waited to settle down and begin families are just popping them out like a row of champagne bottles. Our Facebook explodes with daily and monthly reports of their current and impending offspring.

My husband and I are not included in this explosion of obstetrics. I am not getting pregnant. No-one knows why and so no-one knows how to fix it in a way that does not involve medical/surgical intervention or the taking of large amounts of hormones, none of which we’re keen on. We will give this the old college try, we decided. But so far, nada.

I have read articles with titles like ‘The 10 best ways to get pregnant after 30’ and visited websites showing happy, fecund women in the sidebar proclaiming: “I gave up ___ and conceived after 10 years of infertility!” They are more depressing than helpful. I’ve read books with titles like ‘Pregnancy and the Older Mother’. They mostly leave me with visions of me finally conceiving but needing an ambulance during delivery that can accommodate my walker and that has a holder for my false teeth.

Most people’s advice is shit. Telling us to relax, not think about it, to let nature take its course. Bullshit. Nature and I are at odds 90 percent of the time. I think it’s trying to kill me which is why I stay out of the rural areas and stick to the city where the human animal is the one thing I am sure of.

They recommend cutting out cigarettes (no problem) and alcohol (problem). Try acupuncture, some Reiki, perhaps? Being stuck with needles and having hot oil poured on me from an angle is just not my thing, so I’ll pass. Apparently, I should keep an ovulation chart (the romance of statistics), take my temperature regularly and check my…um…discharge, to monitor whether “conditions are optimal”, as though conceiving a child is akin to deciding whether or not to take a long journey by sea on a small raft.

My poor husband has been ridden enough (literally) without the medical community’s infantilization of his genetic material by referring to his sperm as ‘swimmers’. He is supposed to wear loose underwear, not take hot baths or showers, not smoke pot, and not drink refined or processed foods with their insidious anti-sperm ‘toxins’. My husband and I both now share the indignity of examinations full of plastic cups and “wands”, medieval looking tools put in uncomfortable places, and tables covered in paper roll.

See, we thought this whole ‘buns in ovens’ process would be a lark. We thought it would take six months tops and we’d be on our way to weekends full of puke and dirty diapers. So we stupidly told our families we were trying and for the first year we’d get excited talking about the prospect of parenthood with them. Well, maybe we shouldn’t have done that. It’s backfired and taken a lot longer than we imagined it would.

Things are also getting weird, more for me than for my husband. I feel alienated from my body these days. As if it has disappointed me, gone off to do its own thing and left no forwarding address. My body has always done what I’ve needed it to do, except for cartwheels . Never was able to do one of those. Now, I feel let down. I am making a ‘hospitable environment’ for baby and baby doesn’t want to live there.

Even though I’m happy for them, I have begun to get sad when people I know let us in on their ‘joyous news’. I have a bit of a sinking feeling when I experience a ‘moment’ in my job (I work with children) and wonder what it would feel like to be a mother. My husband is sad too but he keeps it to himself. Truth be told, we are both in disbelief at this whole mess – there’s even an undercurrent of slight shock. We never imagined anything like this would be an issue. We are both physically fit, happy with ourselves and each other. So: what the fuck?

We’ll keep trying, for now, and then evaluate our options. But if nothing happens and I find out it’s the water supply or the bisphenol A in my fucking plastic kettle, I’m burning this motherfucker to the ground.

Splattering the monitor

A lot of big issues upset me, which I think is a sign of sanity. Yet I now wonder whether my riotous fury can occasionally be misguided after a recent visit to the toilet in my office building. You see, it has a dispenser of single sheets of shiny paper masquerading as toilet roll. Fuck the beheadings and retaliation bombings, this is an absolute disgrace.

These single square sheets are fucking ridiculous. The dispensers are usually gigantic and situated at such a height you have to bend down whilst attempting to gracefully use facilities, so your face is far too close to a floor that you know is covered in pubic hair and menstrual flickage.

If you feel frugal or environmental, you will pull a single sheet. A sheet that barely covers your arsehole and disintigrates within one foot of water. With echoes of “for fuck’s sake” coming from stall to stall, the sound of a hamster on a wheel begins as you all pull as many sheets out as you can. No matter how many times you pull you’ll either get two (pointless) or fifty, enough to clog any toilet.

With the wadge gathered after an hour of tugging, you then have to try to crumple or fold (if the advert is true) the paper into a mesh that wont rip if you try to use it. Flimsy loose leaves of it trickle onto the floor, either sticking to the unknown substance around the panty liner bin, or just under your shoe. No matter how many times you gather the paper, you never feel sanitary.

As everyone knows, toilet roll is also the safety net for the sudden office cold. Sitting in these germ ridden places full of martyrs dragging in their kids’ latest phlegm-intensive disease, you will at some point find yourself rushing to the emergency tissue supply. These dispensers of evil barely cover a nostril, and any blowing will just burst through, splattering the monitor.

Meanwhile the infested turn up with boxes of Aloe Vera soft tissues that don’t rub the skin from your nose like sandpaper. Will they share? Will they fuck. Instead you turn into an advert for cocaine abuse as your septum cracks and bleeds. How can this paper be so harsh yet totally useless at actually mopping up solid or watery substances?

I sometimes attempt to study this paper when seeking peace from meetings. Sitting in the toilet I hold the paper to the light, poke it, stretch it, yet I cannot determine exactly what this element is. It certainly isn’t paper in any traditional sense. It has nothing in common with pulped wood, papyrus, newspaper, even the beautiful Andrex you can only dream of.

As a poor student I used to relieve toilets of their spare loo rolls. This ‘eco-friendly paper’, seemingly the result of boiling plastic bags in battery acid, defies such support for the poor. If you handed it to a homeless person they’d shank you, and rightly so.

As much as I understand the underhand tactics to reduce our arseholes sucking up paper as we work, surely there must be another option? Even just a slightly bigger leaf of paper would be enough. Then again, that would probably quadruple an average company’s budget on what they can spare to keep their employees from self harming.

First injection free

Coming from a country that generally bankrupts its citizens if they find themselves in an emergency medical situation, far be it for me to talk smack about the NHS. How can anyone argue with free health care? Sure, the US of A has free speech (sort of), but free health care? That’s for Socialists! Health care in the U.S. is something of a luxury, like a free beer on the airplane or a mint on your pillow in a 3 star hotel paid for by the company account. That is, people who can afford it, get health care.

I understand that the NHS isn’t perfect; what system is? It seems nothing short of backwards that doctors here only prescribe the drugs that you actually need for your condition, and refuse to write you largely recreational prescriptions. Medication is given out like candy in the U.S. –  it’s like Halloween for grown-ups all the time! Provided you have health insurance, or enough money to pay for private doctors, prescription drugs are plentiful for folks looking to make themselves more balanced, motivated and confident, or at least to sedate themselves to the point where they don’t give a shit.

You don’t have to prove you need medication either. In fact, random samples of drugs are offered to patients, pick-and-mix style, thanks to the young, attractive college students working part time for drug companies. Endless gaggles of chatty, blond 20 year olds in their mothers’ heels wheel suitcases full of drug samples into the doctor’s office day after day.

Never mind you don’t feel depressed; you might as well take some antidepressants home for your friends to try out! Finding it difficult to concentrate on writing your Masters dissertation? Here’s a prescription for ADD meds! Don’t smoke? Who cares – try a few handfuls of smoking cessation samples anyway! They have a hallucinatory effect while you sleep, and turn your otherwise boring dreams into Technicolor erotic escapades! The best sex you’ve ever had, the doctor quips with a sleazy wink as you redress. As you hasten to leave, the good doctor offers a course of Botox to remedy that furrow in your brow, with the first injection free as an incentive. (Botox, by the way, is generally extra; no one’s health insurance is that good.) Yes, medication is the American way.

However, if you are unfortunate enough to be like the millions of New Yorkers without health care, you are all but screwed. If by some stroke of terrible luck you end up in the back of an ambulance, the $850 ambulance ride is only the beginning of your financial woes. In your sorry state you might be taken to a hospital (hello lifelong financial bankruptcy for you and your family!), and if you’re supremely unlucky you might be taken to a Brooklyn hospital made famous by video footage of an ER nurse repeatedly stepping over a dying woman (who had collapsed on the floor of the waiting room) with as much concern as for a mop that had fallen over.

If that is your situation, then you’d be better off doing what some churches advertise in a desperate and defeatist attempt to increase their congregation numbers: try praying. Apparently simply dying in the middle of the floor isn’t enough to get you noticed; indeed, even multiple stab wounds to the head might be treated as a you-can-wait-your-damn-turn scenario. You have to be haemorrhaging out of each eyeball, have a knife lodged in your throat and half your brain spilled on the floor for an ER nurse to admit you, and even then you might have to wait your turn because there are countless other bleeding patients ahead of you. This is New York, after all.

So I find it fairly incredible that I can simply go to a UK health center and leave my wallet in my pocket. Not only that, I receive real and timely treatment. Recently, after hanging upside down on a trapeze, I had a brief spell where I couldn’t distinguish between objects of the same colour, and experienced an odd numbness in one arm. So off I went to the GP.

The GP’s extraordinary caterpillar eyebrows furrowed closer together as I talked. He ordered a taxi to take me to the hospital, informing me gravely, “it sounds as if you have a hole in your heart.” Having been in a New York hospital, I prepared myself for the worst. Would I croak on the floor of the waiting room like that poor woman in Brooklyn and my loved ones would have to find out about my tragic demise from video footage on the hospital security cameras?

My worries were assuaged when I didn’t see anybody dying on the waiting room floor. Speedy medical assistants and nurses ran a slew of tests on my eyes that left the world blurry, and then seen by the neurologist who asked if I spent any time upside down. “The trapeze explains it,” he said. “It sometimes happens. There’s no hole in your heart.”

And that was that. Sure, I was temporarily blinded, no one had offered me even an ibuprofen to ease my pain, and the GP was obviously an idiot, but my heart and wallet were intact. I was free to continue ignoring bills and credit card payments without the establishment encroaching on my god given right to ruin myself financially. Instead, I was given a pair of disposable sunglasses (free!) and sent out into the bright light of the day, wholeheartedly grateful to stumble home.

Supermarket meatballs and processed parmesan

The true test of any diet is always, always the point at which a woman gets her period.

Sorry if anyone reading this is uncomfortable reading this next part, but you’ll just have to deal with it because I refuse to cave in to the mullahs who say that a woman’s period is never to be mentioned. If it’s pertinent, I will mention it, out loud. I will even call it what it is: a period. I may even use its technical, medical name: menstruation. I know, it’s revolutionary.

I have already lost just under six pounds in two weeks and I plan to keep going until the holidays when I will reward myself with a trip to some place warm, where I will sunbathe and show off my new , even hotter body. But back to the topic of monthly bleeding from your vagina, or getting your period.

As anyone whose ever been a woman, or met a woman, or who is currently a woman with a working uterus will confirm, the duration of menstruation is an interesting 5-7 days. Once a month from the ages of roughly 13 to 50, a woman’s body decides it wants to kill her. Accurately, it decides to start the potential baby-making processes from the woman end of things; every month your uterus gets all excited that maybe today, maybe this is the day, actually the few days when you might decide to reproduce.

In preparation for this, each of your two ovaries decides to release an egg. These eggs meander to the fallopian tubes, then roll down your tubes and implant themselves in the uterus – if they get fertilised by a sperm, of course, and only one of them can. There they glory in their newfound home and start growing into half a version of yourself and use the build-up of coagulated blood and nutrients in your uterine lining – which has been building thanks to hormones and such for the past few weeks or so – for sustenance as they evolve. Sounds rather alien-like. Creepy, right?

If they don’t meet up with a member of the spermatozoa persuasion they just, I don’t know…go away. Melt, disintegrate, like sugar in the rain. And this, along with the raw meat-like insides they were supposed to munch on (the uterine lining) spend the next week making you feel like you want to die. The uterus wants to get the gross stuff out so it causes cramping of the muscle. There are chemical processes that go on involving Science which cause nausea, constipation, bloating, vomiting, headaches and leprosy. Well, maybe not leprosy. It just feels like that.

Let’s not say leprosy. Let’s say…INCREDIBLE, UNDENIABLE AND IRRESISTIBLE FOOD CRAVINGS, the likes of which you’ve never had before. You can be the kind of person who can easily go without eating chocolate, or chips or pasta for 25 days a month. You could be a punk rock vegan who weeps thinking about the exploitation of bees or a strict vegetarian yogi for whom “eating clean” is your personal mantra. You could be a person who prefers to eat all organic, free range eggs and who wouldn’t touch a meat product who you weren’t on a first name basis with.

Once your period hits, its going to take more than an inversion or a show to get your mind off the primal urge you have to stick your face in a  bowl of gluten filled spaghetti, covered in canned pasta sauce, and drowning yourself in supermarket meatballs and processed parmesan.

I have become a completely irrational person when it comes to my period in a way that almost scares me. If it wasn’t temporary, this momentary madness where certain foods were concerned, I would think I had a serious problem. Once those cravings hit, cravings I feel absolutely driven by, I have to exhibit superwoman strength to keep myself on an even keel. One side of the boat is the pasta, the other side of the boat is a triple layer fudge cake with fudge filling and fudge icing garnished with fudge. I could eat an entire pot of pasta for lunch and an entire chocolate cake for dinner. And I actually have done.

Five days in every month my body needs carbs and fat and sugar for the mythical baby it thinks I may be gestating. It has a NEED TO FEED. It wants to make sure this non-existent zygote has food. It wants to ensure the literally fantastic embryo is well-supplied. It is fighting against all biology to try to stave off those urges. I tell you, you have to work really hard not to just become a Great White in human form…quietly salivating, roving the aisles of your local supermarket, teeth barely covered, hunting the corners of the local shop, grabbing boxes of macaroni and cheese and snatching the last box of eclairs from a horrified old lady.

So this week, my period should start. And with it there will be a sacrifice demanded. Will I be able to hold off? We shall see. Fuck the diet. I’m going to eat a whole wheel of cheese now. I’m going to own this shit.

Before she went west

An old acquaintance from college, now a Facebook friend, she and I have found we have more things in common than we thought over the years.

We lived on the same floor of the all girls dormitory and I don’t remember much about those days where she is concerned, except that at the time I was very much in the throes of a militant feminism/piercing/tattoo/anti-establishment phase without knowing what most of that meant. As long as I could shock my parents and get free drinks once I got down off my soapbox, that was what I cared about most deep down.

On the other hand, Jane, not her real name, was probably the nicest and yet most boring person I knew on our floor. Well maybe not the most boring but she was plenty dull in my eyes. She was quiet and unassuming, studied a lot, had conservative opinions about all things in general, and wore clothes that made her look like an LL Bean catalogue model. I can’t imagine what she must have thought of me.

We both graduated. I joined the Peace Corps and was the Taylor Swift of relationships.  She got married young and had three children. I eventually married for keeps at 33 and relocated soon after the wedding to live in London. She now lives a somewhat comfortable life, I imagine, as a suburban housewife outside of a major city. She Zumbas while sharing tips on Crock Pot recipes and where best to buy your children’s back-to-school clothes. I volunteer at a soup kitchen and am on a first name basis with most of the staff of our local pub.

I discovered when I was dating my husband that she and I shared an acquaintanceship with a third party who I would get together with in social situations. Naturally, we became friends on Facebook.

This morning I got a Facebook message; a group message that detailed the findings of the genetic testing Jane had had done a few months ago. This test was for the BRCA gene. The breast cancer gene. Jane has it.

She has a 57-87 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. Oh, and a 24-54 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. Since this is genetic, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that Jane’s mother died of breast cancer while Jane was still in her twenties.

Jane now has three children under 8 years of age and she is considering going in for a double mastectomy and a possible partial hysterectomy. She doesn’t want to wait, she says. She’s seen where that road leads, she walked it with her mother, and she doesn’t want to even point her toes in that direction. And I don’t blame her.

Jane is a realist. These surgeries will lower her risk of cancer in those areas to a less than the 2-8 percent chance of occurrence. And she refuses to use words like ‘survivor’, refuses to say someone ‘won’ their battle against this disease. Jane knows that by using those terms to define those who manage to live in spite of cancer invading their bodies, we are unconsciously putting those who don’t make it in the sub category of ‘victim’ and ‘loser’. Jane knows that cancer just…is.

She’s willing to face the pain of surgery and recovery now while she’s still healthy and in control, rather than wait to be invaded and dominated by a mass of incontinent cells that carve her life into pieces as she lives it. If she goes through with it, it will be like Herodotus’ legend of the Amazonian warriors who would solder off their left breasts to make themselves better adept at archery. Like the delicate woman in the Stephen Crane novel, ‘The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky’; she takes an axe and chops off the hired man’s infected finger rather than have it turn gangrenous and kill him even though before she went west she’d never even used a pocketknife to cut a shoelace.

Jane knows her enemy. She knows it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her. She recognises its face, its ways, its strategies. She is going out to meet it rather than wait, huddled and afraid, for it to find her.

This is a different kind of courage than what we are used to seeing or reading about in cancer sufferers. When we think of cancer we see it in our minds eye the way it is portrayed in the media. It is a bald woman, skinny, pale. It is a man hooked up to a breathing apparatus, wearing a hospital gown and an ID bracelet. It is a child lying wasted in a bed surrounded by stuffed toys, a scar on the side of his head from where his brain tumour was removed.

Cancer imbues its victims with a quiet dignity, a stalwart, dreamy acceptance of the vagaries of life…that’s what the commercials make it look like. This is a lot of bullshit and both Jane and I know it. The reality is that a diagnosis of cancer is not the automatic catalyst for someone showing their inner saintliness. Cancer comes with screaming and swearing and raging. It comes with vomit and diarrhoea and blood. Cancer comes with sweating and shivering and crying. It comes with incredible, agonizing, stabbing, shooting, throbbing, pulsating pain. Cancer makes people delirious, demented, and depressed. And until you get it you won’t know which ‘you’ you will be. I guarantee you will be lucky to be someone for whom quiet reconciliation is your go-to persona.