Written on the Body

There’s no doubt that the tattoo is having a renaissance.

I used to have one or two friends, male and female, with the odd Thai symbol on their hips, ankles or across their backs, always covered up for the office and only exposed at work dos or on holiday.

Now, in a post-World Cup world, everyone’s boasting a sleeve or two and maybe even a Cheryl Cole full butt. (I wouldn’t know…)

One of the great things about the Tatt Renaissance is that they’re no longer taboo in the workplace, particularly in the media industry. Creative types¬†are wearing them with pride because they instantly say something about who they are. (And I for one, find them really sexy.)

I’ve never had a tatt but I’ve started to think about having one. Where once I thought it would have to be in a hidden place, I’m now thinking it could be on show, as an expression of who I am.

Then I realised that I’ve already got one, an identity marker,¬†written on my body. Not an appendix¬†or¬†C-section scar, no childhood dogbite or school jab on my arm. It’s actually a burn on the side of my wrist. It’s quite big, and white, made even more obvious by the very slight tan I acquire in the summer (I’m Welsh – give me a break).

People have tried to get me to get rid of it by using various creams and potions but I resisted for some reason. You see, it’s the scar from a huge blister I got one night.

From a hot-water bottle.

Yes.

I’d moved out of the warm marital bed in February 2010 into a cold spare-room one. I’d made a hot-water bottle and hugged it for warmth in bed. Even though it was busy giving me a third-degree burn overnight, I was so exhausted it didn’t wake me up. When I did wake up, the blister was the size of an egg.

Yowch.

Then came the urging of friends for me to use Bio Oil¬†to get rid of the scar ‚Äď it’s¬†the lotion women use to get rid of pregnancy stretch marks. Nope, I said, almost rather proud¬†of my war wound.¬†And to be honest, it has become something of a badge of honour.

I see people staring at it and if they ask me how I got it I tell them. Because for me it signifies at moment where I took the leap into the unknown, out of a warm bed of coupledom into the cold sheets of singlehood. And even though the warmth I desperately clung to hurt me at first, it’s part of what defines me. (Interestingly one of the¬†first bits of human warmth I did cling to hurt me very badly. So you see, it’s symbolic.)

Now I smile when I see my hot-water bottle scar¬†in the mirror. It’s on the same arm as my birthmark, which nestles weirdly below my little-finger nail. In Tudor times I’d have been burned as a witch: I’m left-handed, have a birthmark on my left little finger, weirdly foreshortened third fingers on both hands¬†and¬†no discernible knuckles on said fingers.

I know, right?

When I was at school I was really self-conscious about my hands and I endured a tiny bit of bullying about them. But one day, a teacher (Mr Dowling) overheard the teasing and told the assembled group of taunting kids that all of that just made me more special. They stopped the taunting immediately.

Thanks Mr D.

Ok so I have often felt I had¬†to explain to manicurists what’s going on there but they seem to mind less than I do. In fact, they seem surprised when I start pointing out all my deformities as they push back¬†my cuticles. They must have seen hands in a lot worse state than mine. They just want to ask me if I’m going on holiday.

Now I quite like my hands and their quirky details. And the scar that accompanies them is just another talking point and a memory jolt to remind myself where this phase of my life began. I never worry about it or try to heal or hide it. It’s just what it is.

Me.

 

The Silence

I had intended to publish something very very different today – fun and some may say frivolous.

Then I woke up and saw the news about Robin Williams and the outpouring of love and sorrow all over my social-media feeds.

One of the main themes in my Twitter feed is the silence surrounding depression and mental illness: the great taboo you can never give voice to, for fear of making people around you feel uncomfortable.

I’ve not talked about this¬†for years, so here it is. The Great Taboo.

I tried to kill myself when I was 19 or 20 – the event is so shrouded by silence I can’t even remember exactly when it happened. I won’t go into why I felt so crap about life, but I did. I now know that what I did was a cry for help, that I wanted to be found and thankfully I was.

What was so shocking about that time was how quickly The Silence descended. No one talked of it, then or since. Even I found it hard to tell people. I told a boyfriend once – he couldn’t believe that ‘someone like me’ would attempt it. Well it’s always ‘someone like me’, isn’t it? It’s not a special sector of hidden people going around planning it in the dark.

They’re right in front of you. In the daylight.

I wonder if people can’t¬†handle the idea that someone might want to remove themselves from the earth because¬†it’s a latent dark¬†thought¬†in all of us.¬†Some of us are used to it emerging at difficult times¬†– it’s the ultimate get-out clause, after all – but others steer well away from it, unable to even admit that it’s lurking there.

This week, I am attending the funeral of a person whose life was tragically taken away from them by a terminal illness. They entered my life for only a few months but my eyes are still blinking from the glare of their brightness. We find these situations incredibly difficult to talk about but we console each other with a stumbling shared disbelief of the circumstances.

Robin Wiliams’ life has been tragically taken from him too, by depression. It is the illness that dare not speak its name and one that we find much more difficult to talk about.

Let’s talk about it, shall we? Too many amazing people are being lost to it, or living with it on a daily basis to ignore it.

RIP Robin.

——————————-

http://www.mind.org.uk/

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/04/who_publishes_first_global_report_on_topic_shrouded_in_taboo_suicide/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Caroline Criado-Perez on anxiety and depression:

http://weekwoman.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/ssris-it-doesnt-have-to-be-this-way/

Going Commando

I’ve just started watching Royal Marines Commando School on catch-up TV: a documentary on Channel 4, following a group of guys as they undertake the toughest military-training programme in the world.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/royal-marines-commando-school

I’m only a couple of episodes in, but I’ve started to realise that what is captivating about it isn’t the actual end game: becoming a Royal Marine. It’s watching humans¬†forcing themselves to go through an extraordinary experience to see if they can make themselves into better people.

Whether it’s because they know they’re a bit prone to laziness, or feel the need to accelerate their journey from boy to man, or just want to provide a better life for their families, each guy has their own personal reasons for joining the training course. And these reasons have much more to do with setting themselves a personal challenge than actually becoming a fighting machine.

After watching a couple of episodes, I started to think about how we set ourselves challenges in life, and met¬†a friend who’d read my blog post about choosing not to have a baby (see: Ping Pong). She admitted that one of the reasons she’d had one¬†was to experience something beyond being herself. She’d had a fairly stable, happy upbringing and could see herself just cruising on through to pensionhood just remaining in stasis as her original self. Having a baby has brought¬†such¬†a huge personal challenge into her life that¬†she is permanently altered. But for the good.

There are the challenges we set ourselves and the ones that challenge us¬†‚Ästthe ones that are beyond our control. My early life was marked¬†with the trials¬†of parental decline and death. My father died when I was 10 and although my mother lived until she was 71, she had a slow decline with dementia, and died in my early 30s. There is absolutely no doubt that these events have had a huge and profound effect on my life, and the lives of my family, but they’re not all bad.

One on hand, they have given me a level of fearlessness that means I know I can handle huge upheaval and change, such as leaving a marriage at the age of 43‚Ķ I’m still scared when these things loom up at me (thankfully not often) but I always know in my head and heart that everything will be ok.

It was, and it is.

On the other hand, I don’t need to prove I can face a big challenge, which is possibly one of the many reasons I’ve chosen not to procreate, but I still¬†set myself fairly sizeable tasks to overcome, such as leaving a perfectly good job (at Liberty in the ’90s) to move to Brighton to do an MA.

I was on my own in a new town, crying into my pillow at night, but eventually I found my feet, and my first job in publishing (the MA went by the wayside). I still look back on that time with immense pride – that one leap into the unknown was a game-changer in so many ways.

Liberty had given me a part-time job in their store in Brighton (sadly no longer there) and when I decided to leave the MA, they supported me with more work. I remember not being able to afford public transport, and walking to and from the shop along the seafront during that winter. I loved it!

I got myself on a business-skills course and researched local publishing jobs in the big business directory in Brighton Library. Yes, an actual directory in a library. I walked into Wayland Books, off the snowy streets of Hove and met MD Steve White-Thompson, in his stockinged feet. He gave me what would be now called an internship on the spot and that was it. I was in and on my way.

I’m now beginning to wonder if my life isn’t some massive commando obstacle course that I’ve set myself. There are the bits when I’m forcing myself to crawl through mud, pull myself up to the top of¬†the rope, or fling myself over a ridiculously high wall. I look at the guys in Commando School doing that and think, “Why on earth would you put yourself through that?!”

But actually, I do. All the time.

And so do my friends.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to ‘be nice to Lisa’ because I think I’m quite hard on her. I think she always wants to be perfect¬†at everything and has to be told that it doesn’t have to be like that all the time (oh god, I just referred to myself in the third person – had to happen at some point‚Ķ)

Whether it’s publishing a big brand, trying to look glamorous at all times, or going on the coolest¬†holiday to the perfect hotel, I set my targets high, and only end up exhausting myself.

On holidays of yore, I used to march my ex-husband around all the sights listed in the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to a place just so I could tick them all off and feel happy that I’d achieved something. And guess what? The best bits of the holiday were always that last day where there was nothing left to see and we could just relax. Funnily enough, that’s what I do on holiday now: see a few things but mainly relax. (And I bet he does too.)

Sometimes I tell my friends to go easier on themselves because I can see them doing it too. The best house! The best holiday! The best job! Best, best, BEST! Even writing that makes me feel exhausted.

So while I’m watching Commando School and actually shouting at the screen, encouraging the would-be soldiers to get to the top of that rope or run that extra mile, part of me wants to say, “Mate, just sit down in the mud for a minute. Take a moment. Regroup. It’ll be fine.”

Because you can.

And it will be.

 

 

When Push Comes to Shove

One of the great things about this summer is that I’ve discovered the whole ‘walking to work’ thing. I woke up one morning a month or so ago, suddenly full of the joys of the season, determined to walk the path from Kensal Rise to Fitzrovia, which takes me along the Grand Union Canal, through Paddington Basin, down Edgware Road and along Seymour/Wigmore Street.

I love it. Every day there are Canadian geese, herons, coots and dogs doing Instagrammable things, and a variety of people going about their business on barges. There are runners, cyclists, speed-walkers, drunk people (at 9am), builders, commuters, men smoking shisha outside the Lebanese Edgware Road restaurants. It’s brilliant.

The one thing I really¬†didn’t¬†expect¬†to encounter on my walks were¬†The Women Who Bump Into You. This is a thing and I’m starting to think it’s deliberate.

It happened only this morning.

I was gaily walking along the canal through Little Venice, smiling at an approaching little dog and its lady owner, when WHAM she rammed straight into my shoulder rather than move out of the way. It was like one of those moments where one minute Pharrell Williams’ Happy is playing in your head, but it’s followed by a sudden screech of a needle on vinyl.

WTF?

This has happened to me before. On buses, in shops, in bars and clubs – a sudden elbow in the side or a shove to push you out of the way. From a woman. Not to mention when I’m running. I’ve rammed into someone who seemed to think that she could beat me through a gateway when she was walking and I was running.

What’s with that?

And why don’t men do it? (They actually do step out of the way ‚Äď most of the time‚Ķ)

I’ve always been very spatially aware – and aware of how other people aren’t. I find it amusing, when out running, to see people flailing about in front of me, unable to decide which way to go or what to do. Inside my head, I scream, ‘MAKE A DECISION ON WHICH WAY TO GO AND COMMIT TO IT!!’

I’ve also reviewed that Tumblr¬†feed:¬†Men Who Take Up Too Much Room on the Tube, with a very big sense of how men do carve out space in the world for themselves, without even thinking about how it impacts on others. Totally unaware of us ladies squished up in the corner, next to their widely spaced knees. And of course their widely spaced elbows, that often find themselves stabbing our breasts unexpectedly. (If I could teach a man one thing it would be ‘just keep your elbows under control’.)

One of the best bits of my walk to work is down Edgware Road, knowing that this pavement space is largely inhabited by men, but¬†for that moment each morning I own it. I stride forward, hair flowing and head held high past all the cafes, knowing that I’m taking up a place in a very male-oriented environment, wearing whatever I want. “Ha!” I think. “Gotcha.”

But when I turn onto the busier Seymour St and head into central London proper, I get whacked by handbags, forced into the road and nudged out of the way. By women. All manner of unsisterly behaviour goes on. I may well be imagining it, but I don’t think I am. It’s barely there, just a subtle thwack here and there, with nary a ‘sorry’ in sight. (Nobody says sorry – or nary for that matter – in London. You’ll get a slight hiss as a presage of the full word if you’re lucky).

I’ve given lots of thought to why this happens and I¬†think it’s this:

Women are so used to having to carve out a space for ourselves in this world, that we carve other women out of the way too.

Literally.

And in¬†many ways we’re easier prey than men. Nudge a guy out of the way and you might be in trouble (although if they’re really slow-moving, a quick prod with a bag is a good way to get them moving faster. I’ve tried it). We know that women won’t fight back, in general, so it’s an easy win.

I just think about all the ways that women are nudged out of the way in life and think it might be a little easier if we were nudging each other the right way.

 

Forward.

 

http://powderroom.jezebel.com/a-open-letter-to-men-on-the-brown-line-train-at-rush-ho-1636395516?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Complimentary

This weekend, I found myself sitting alongside Rebecca Adlington on a train. My first thought was, “there’s that amazing Olympian”, and the second one was, “who’s been viciously trolled on the internet.” I wanted to tell her straight away that she is an inspiration to me and many of my friends, that we thought she was fabulous before she lost huge amounts of weight, and still think she is fabulous, especially with her Commonwealth Games swimming commentary. I spent the whole journey formulating what I was going to say to her when I got off at the next stop, talking to my friends on Facebook about it during the journey, with them all urging me to tell her that they think she’s great too.

When it came to it I was a gibbering wreck. I felt sure she must have thought I was mad, but she politely thanked me as I wittered on, telling her we all think she’s amazing. I like to think that although I didn’t quite get the words out according to plan, that I made her feel good with my girlcrush declaration.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we dole out compliments, or not, why we find it so difficult to do, and the effect that has on a person, especially a woman. I’m only writing this blog because the night before I started it, some girlfriends at a party started telling me they thought I was clever. I was absolutely stunned. One of them said, “Surely people have said this to you before?” Nope – not since I got a first in my degree and one of the lecturers was urging me to do a PhD. I’m pretty sure that was the last instance, and interestingly, I didn’t believe him.

I spent the day after that party basking in the memory of what my friends had said to me. I started to think: why do we spend so much time complimenting our girlfriends on their great hair/weight loss/new handbag when actually, telling them they’re clever has such a profound effect? After that party, I started my blog, went about my working week¬†with renewed vigour and felt like I could take on the world just that little bit more effectively.

Throughout my life I’ve noticed that the non-compliment has a very powerful adverse effect.¬†You think you’ve done something well or looked particularly good one day, in fact you are confident you’ve¬†nailed it, but there is a certain set of people who can’t bear to tell you that. You start to doubt yourself because there is no validation of your actions coming back to convince you that the confidence you feel at¬†that moment is right.

One of the things I’ve learned is that the less certain¬†people say in response to these moments, the more you know you’ve nailed it. And I’ve learned that this sort of person isn’t my favourite. They always ‘like’ things on Facebook that are bad news for you, and never respond to the good posts. (I’ve actually stopped posting anything particularly negative to cut off their ‘food supply’). They’re seemingly there for you when the chips are down, but are nowhere to be seen when the chips are up. These people are mean-spirited, foul-weather ‘friends’.

I’m not just talking about women, although they are the predominant non-responders I’m referring to. One of my exes admitted he was¬†afraid to compliment me because he thought ‘my head would get too big’. ¬†Unfortunately, it made my head look for compliments elsewhere. I had been happily doling out compliments to him to make him feel good. Where was the reciprocation?

I think we have a problem with confidence, particularly in this country. Many people can’t bear to see¬†it and do their best not to feed what they perceive as a vulgar trait.

Why bolster someone else’s confidence when you’re struggling with your own?

It occurred to me last week that as a nation, we’ve only been able to truly welcome two of our biggest sporting talents (sport requires confidence, obviously) when they’ve been seen to buckle on screen and cry their eyes out. Andy Murray and Rebecca Adlington are now only acceptable because they’ve shown some ‘humility’, but they were never cocky so-and-sos in the first place. Weirdly, we love cocky so-and-sos and find them easier to handle than people whom we perceive to be more like us. Bradley Wiggins or Usain Bolt are seen as lovable ‘characters’ whose confidence appears to be so unassailable that we don’t even begin to have a go at them for it. No – we go for the relatively quiet ones.

Nice.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve never felt a pang of jealousy about something a friend has achieved and¬†not wanted to feed their moment of glory by adding my praise into it. I usually have a harsh word with myself and force myself to face their achievement square in the eye and shake its hand. That feels so much better than seething with resentment in the worst part of my brain.

As I’ve got older, I’ve begun to feel a lot more sisterly towards women (of all ages) and it’s part of the reason behind me starting this¬†blog. Various events, particular in the post-marriage era of the last four years have made me realise how much women¬†have to put up with in life and how our¬†culture has set up a dynamic where we’re pitted against each other. Divided and ruled. Magazines allow us to jeer at other women to make ourselves feel better and we find ourselves laughing with our male and female friends over a bad outfit choice of a woman in the pub. It’s not on and we know it.

Behind the ‘bad’ outfit is a person trying to make their way in the world, who could be¬†in a job¬†where she is routinely told she’s rubbish by a bad boss, in a relationship where her partner never tells her she looks nice or in a panic because she is about to go on holiday and has ‘failed’ to achieve the bikini body. Why would¬†we want to try and make that situation worse?

You can see the effect on a friend – or even a stranger – when you go up to them and tell them they’ve done something great. They look slightly startled at first, because they’re not used to people doing it, but then their eyes shine with pride. They feel good. You feel good.¬†The effect lasts for days, weeks, months. But the effect of not saying anything lasts much longer.

I think we all assume that people we admire in our circle of friends¬†must be being complimented on their intelligence/beauty/achievements all the time, so we don’t bother to do it. But what if everyone thought the same thing and the person you think is an incredible doesn’t actually know it? Just telling her or him might make them face the world with a clear, undaunted eye.
Just do it.
Because you can.

The Real Sex Spreadsheet

I laughed when I saw that ‘sex spreadsheet’ that guy had prepared and posted on Reddit a week or so ago, to show his wife how many times she’d spurned his advances and the reasons she’d given him (link below).

I laughed, because the truth is, in many cases, women could compile a whole dossier of man-excuses, ranging from “I need to mow the lawn,” to “I’m too tired – can it¬†wait ’til morning?”

The myth of the woman who nightly spurns her partner’s advances because she’s ‘got a headache’ is part of a old, worn-out cultural stereotype that sits alongside¬†the dragon-like mother-in-law and the embittered spinster. And created, in my opinion, to cover up the fact that there are just as many guys with low libidos as there are women, if not more. How convenient to transfer all of that ‘failure to perform’ over on to women, who are generally to afraid to counter that claim by saying¬†they’re really into sex, for fear of being called ‘sluts’.

Well I’m saying it. We’re into sex, and quite often, guys, you just aren’t.

You’re the ones with the headache.

I really did used to be with someone who preferred to leap out of bed to mow the lawn in preference to morning sex. And don’t think¬†that’s just the case with men of a certain age.¬†I dated a¬†guy in his twenties not so long ago who got annoyed with me and yelled, “you just want me for sex!” one night when he was already in my bed. Well, yeah, honey. What sort of twenty-something guy wouldn’t be into that?

Turns out, quite a few.

And it’s not just me reporting this. Friends have told me¬†similar stories, where their partners literally bat them away if they initiate sex, or the guy they’re seeing¬†just can’t, or won’t, keep up with their sexual demands. I always used to wonder why one of my long-term partners used to be hugely affectionate in the supermarket, yet actively avoid any PDA at home. We used to laugh about it, after he’d be frolicking away in the aisles and be all over me at the checkout. I thought it was a quirk of his and found it endearing. Sort of. Then recently, I read an article by someone who was married to a guy who did the same ‚Ästhe admitted to a therapist that it was because the supermarket was a safe area where a demonstration of affection couldn’t possibly lead to sex. This guy had real issues due to a troubled childhood, but still, this explanation really struck a chord¬†with me. Of course!!

Lightbulb time.

I also have a theory I call ‘hangover girlfriend’: that some guys¬†just want you around for those moments when they’re knackered, to chill out. They’ve been out with the boys, drank too much, clubbed too much, worked too much, played too much¬†‚Ästdone everything too much¬†‚Ästso that when it comes to seeing you, they’re not up for anything except staring at a TV. Or sleeping. Usually at the point where you’re raring and ready to go. (I’ve also had a similarly frustrating experience with holidays – after all the golfing weekends, skiing holidays and ‘boys’ nights out’ have been fitted in, funnily enough there’s no money or time or holiday allowance left for the lady. And yet, the Bank of Boy is always open. The irony is that I’d have probably enjoyed the boys’ holidays a lot more.)

As Dr Kate Davidson says in¬†a Guardian¬†article about marriage (link below): “Men want someone to come home to, women want someone to go out with.” She is so right.

I think that Reddit guy has opened a whole can of worms by publishing his spreadsheet. Because if the ladies decide to record and publish all those instances of sexual disappointment, we can maybe overturn the age-old myth of the Lady Headache.

I think guys need to know that despite what we might say, we think about sex a lot of the time, we fantasise¬†over hot guys (or gals) walking in front of us down the street, we picture them doing things to us or us doing things to them, we get turned on reading erotica on the tube,¬†we watch porn, we approach and are approached by guys (and gals) in bars and have casual sex with them, we don’t feel slutty afterwards – we feel good. We’re playing a very similar game to you, but the difference is, your¬†game is a spectator team sport and ours is largely a game of solitaire.

But just know that we’re doing it.

Because we can.

And it might some day end up on a spreadsheet.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2014/jul/22/wife-sex-not-tonight-spreadsheet-lays-bare-reddit

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/15/why-over-65s-have-fallen-for-marriage?CMP=fb_gu

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/28/when_she_wants_sex_more/

Ping Pong

On Friday night, I attended a¬†Ping Pong night organised by my work colleagues at London’s Bounce. It’s a really fun night and something that happens a couple of times a year. Everyone is organised into doubles teams and the evening consists of beer, good cheer and banter, as we all live through the highs and lows of winning and losing.

Except I choose not to play.

I like to go along and be part of the social event but I can’t bear team sports or competitive situations. I’m much happier witnessing the progress of others with a glass of wine in my hand, capturing the action¬†on social media.

An interesting thing happens each time I go along to one of these things. I’m routinely asked why I’m not playing, if I wished I was, if I regret my decision, if I feel I’m missing out. Usually the questions come from just one or two people who can’t believe I’ve opted out and are desperate to make me part of the game. Nope, I say, I’m happy with my choice.

I’m childfree-by-choice, as it happens, and my life is often like that¬†Ping Pong night, complete with a continous rolling sidebar of questions from friends and strangers, although they get less frequent¬†as I get older and out of the baby-making zone.

I’ve always known I didn’t want kids, even as a teenager, and although I have always been¬†very clear on the decision, I have regularly ‘checked in’ with myself to make sure my head was still in agreement with my heart. There have been pressure points along the way – I had to have The Conversation with my husband-to-be about it in case he thought I’d change my mind. ‘I never say never,” I said, “but as far as things stand now, I don’t want them, and you need to be sure you want to be with me.” Then came¬†the weddings-and-babies years of my thirties – the peer pressure was huge. “It’s just what you do,” friends said. The more they said that the more I questioned it. I’d never want to ‘just do’ anything that everyone else is doing just for the sake of it.

I loved my friends’ babies but sometimes my enthusiasm for them was taken as a ‘sign’ that I was broody. There was one particular¬†weekend where I was doing that couply thing of staying in a country cottage with a group of friends. One couple brought their adorable baby boy and I bounced him on my knee for pretty much the whole weekend. Looks passed among the group as if to say, “See? Finally she’s joined us.” I hadn’t. I had just met a tiny person that I really liked being with. Looking back at the pictures still makes me smile. He was smily, fat-cheeked and gorgeous.

One by one, my friends had their children. Many of them struggled to conceive and being childfree, they felt able to tell me about their problems. I was so grateful not to have the all-encompassing urge to get pregnant, that I could hear their stories and comfort them as much as I could. It seemed as though they thought it was some sort of failure on their part, that they struggled to¬†admit to each other, but could do so to me. Some friends admitted to me that they didn’t realise they’d had a choice about having children, and that they hadn’t expected the ‘drudgery’ of their post-natal lives. But then they threw themselves into it, happily, and had one or two more children. In for a penny, I suppose…

I did have a couple of wobbles during those years – mainly because having babies was what everyone was doing. My opting out of it was like choosing not to go¬†to university, have a husband, buy a house – like not ticking a box in the tick-box life. But my gut instinct was right and I stuck to it (I ignored it about one of those¬†things, but that’s for another blog post).

There are possible underlying reasons why I don’t want children, such as my parents dying early, that may be partly responsible for my decision. I do feel very strongly about not willingly inflicting that experience on another person, especially as an older parent. But perhaps there is also some truth in the other statement sometimes¬†lobbed at me: “you just haven’t met the right man yet.” ¬†The only time I’ve ever felt anything close to an urge to have a baby, it was because I had fallen deeply in love with a man. I think I must have a low-level ‘water-table’ of maternal hormones that were brought tantalisingly close to the surface during that time, but I’m grateful to my gut instinct, because¬†that man turned out to be¬†a colossal git.

Whenever I get the Sidebar of Questions, including the usual, “but you’d be a great mum!” I always say, “I’d make a great bus conductor, but I’m not here to do that either.” I just know I’m not here to be a mother. Other people are, and they’re great at it. I love seeing my friends raising their beautiful children and I salute them. I¬†have loved accompanying my godson and his mother when he is at football, trampolining lessons or drumming on a kit in a music shop (he’s brilliant at it: I call him “rock-godson”). It does give me joy and thank goodness I do have my friends’ ¬†children in my life.

Someone once said to me that freedom was obviously the most important thing to me. At the time it didn’t quite register. “Is it?!” I thought. I was still married at that point, but looking back, I was constantly making bids for freedom. My running times at weekends had got longer and longer as I plunged deeper into the Buckinghamshire countryside, on ever more circuitous routes that would wear me out. I was staying out after work more and more and taking all-day shopping trips on Saturdays. On holidays, I longed to disappear off over the horizon on my own. In retrospect, it was all pretty clear.

Yes, freedom is incredibly important to me. I long to have a Jack Russell in my life, but it would curb my freedom and would be unfair on the animal. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the same would apply to a baby. It would completely unfair on both of us¬†if I had one. Am I being selfish? I’m sure someone will tell me I am. I will admit openly that I do not want to live my life through someone else’s – the things I’ve achieved have come relatively late in life and they’ve been hard won.¬†If being selfish is making a decision that improves my life and avoids a disappointing one for another human being, then I’m happy to live with that.

And I do.

Because I can.

 

——————-

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/CamillaLong/article1453705.ece

Epiphany

It happened on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, three weeks ago.

I’d been to the same hotel twice before (I love it, mainly because it’s mostly Turks, it’s childfree, and it has a cute little water-taxi to take you in to town) but right before those holidays, I’d worked hard to get my ‘bikini body’. I’d gone into a near-panic if my weight, a few weeks before each holiday, wasn’t at the target I’d set myself and arranged to immediately go on some food group-avoiding diet plan to get there. I’d then congratulate myself on hitting the target and feel ready to hit the beach.

But this time I’d done the exact opposite.

Believe me, it’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I even wear a bikini in public. Throughout my teens and twenties I had dreadful¬†body-image problems, so much so that I’ve never learned to swim. The pool was a scary place where I felt completely exposed. It stemmed from having a curvy-hipped (otherwise known as pear-shaped but I’m rebranding it) body and wanting to be a ballet dancer. My ballet teacher made comments about my bottom half being a ‘problem’ for ballet and so the dysmorphia was born. I would look in the mirror and see terrible things, when in fact, I have the supposed ideal hip-waist ratio of 0.7. But I thought I looked hideous, and only began to think I looked ‘alright’ in my late twenties. I remember the day when I wore a short(ish) skirt with thick black tights IN PUBLIC for the first time. I cried with shame at the bus stop (I did!), but strangely, nothing happened. No one screamed in horror, apart from me, inwardly. My friends encouraged me to stop wearing huge clothes to hide myself, and the new me was born.

Or was she?

In my thirties, I started doing the fad-diet thing. I began running and did the Atkins diet, closely followed by Dukan, and pretty much didn’t eat complex carbs for a decade. Yes, I lost loads of weight, yes, I gained new-found energy and confidence, but I still didn’t feel bikini-great. Not until a game-changing moment in Bermuda.

I was with my ex-husband, and I asked him to take a picture of me in my bikini on the beach, just standing there, no special angles, no flattering pose. I remember saying, ‘I look quite nice’ when I saw the picture. I saw a very pale, but shapely figure standing a bit awkwardly, wearing an unattractive baseball cap. But I liked what I saw. I began to quite like my body.

After that you couldn’t get me out of bikinis, but before each holiday I was determined to control my weight so my curvy hips didn’t look too curvy and my stomach stayed flat. Until this year, that is. In the spring, I had tried the Fast Diet and it just succeeded in making me feel miserable and making me look older. I was heartily sick of cutting out major food groups and yearned for a normal relationship with food where I wasn’t starving myself one day and bingeing the next. I suddenly thought ‚Äď why don’t I just do that? Stop all The Nonsense and see what happens.

I did it. Weirdly, I had no pre-holiday weight panic this time. I tried beach wear on before I packed just to check I didn’t look like a bean bag. Nope. I looked like a nice curvy woman in beach wear.

And then I saw the Turkish ladies on the beach. Many shapes and sizes surrounded me on loungers¬†but they were mostly curvy. And they looked happy, with ice creams in their hands and adoring partners rubbing sun-tan cream into their ‘wobbly’ bodies. I learned about the Turkish love of the ‘kal√ßa’ ‚Äď everything between the waist and thigh area ‚Äď from a guy who clearly liked mine. There were a couple of Dutch and Belgian women there ‚Äď they were clearly where I had been in terms of the Dieting Decade and looked older and strained next to the Turks. And, well, next to me, really.

Since I’ve stopped The Nonsense, I’ve slept better, looked younger and felt happier. And much sexier. It’s like the gloom has lifted and all is clear. None of us need to do this to ourselves. Women I consider to be incredible in their personal and professional lives have admitted to me that they’re following some kind of mega-control diet like I was, like not eating in the daytime, or restricting their daily calorie intake to near-starvation levels. Why are we doing this??!! I don’t think that it’s a¬†coincidence that¬†my insomnia disappeared¬†completely when I stopped restricting certain foods. I was sleepless¬†for the whole of the Dieting Decade and probably not functioning as well as I could in my daily life.

When I stand in front of the mirror now I see someone different to the person standing there twenty years ago, but she was probably there back then. I just couldn’t see her. When I see a self-conscious¬†curvy young woman on the street I want to go up to her and tell her she looks¬†lovely, or at least I hope someone is telling her that. If I see an¬†older, hollowed-out woman on the Tube I want to¬†say ‘stop controlling it all ‚Äď let it go, you’ll feel stronger.’ But it’s so much easier said than done, shedding that urge to control our bodies. After all, it’s taken me about twenty-five years to get there.

Most of all I¬†want to¬†say to any woman who is worrying about what she’ll look like on the beach, put your bikini on and get someone you trust to take a picture of you in it. Look at it. Objectively. Look how womanly you are, whether you’re apple-, pear- or pomegranate-shaped, stick-thin, fleshy or somewhere in the middle. Most guys I know can’t understand why we put ourselves through all the pain of constant body control. They like our fleshy, curvy bits (or whatever bits take their fancy) and don’t really get why we don’t. They stand by while we put ourselves through the self-imposed regime, watching us go crazy whilst they tuck into a bacon sandwich.

Ooh now that’s a thought. And I’m going to have white bread too.

Lisa

Some articles you might like to read:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-trout/i-wore-a-bikini-and-nothing-happened_b_5546206.html

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/30/unspeakable-things-laurie-penny-book-extract

http://sploid.gizmodo.com/what-if-classic-paintings-were-photoshopped-like-todays-1578775305

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1452100.ece

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/11/wilderness-festival-body-image-lucy-mangan-poorna-bell_n_5666366.html

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/14/women-body-image-anxiety-improve-body-confidence?CMP=fb_gu

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/08/feel-guilty-but-hate-my-body-feminist-confesses

Consciously Uncoupling

Last week¬†I downloaded the Timehop app and it showed me what had happened in my life across all social media, for the last four years on this day. July 13 2010 ‚Äď I booked my first holiday alone, in Thailand. It would turn out to be a momentous move. I¬†and my then husband had agreed to split in May that year ‚Äď I had initiated the split. We were sharing the same house, in separate rooms and I longed for freedom and to start leading my own life. I called Trailfinders and said ‘where can you take me?’ and they suggested 10 days in Phuket at a lovely resort. I booked it before I could think about it too much.

That was the first of six holidays I’ve been on, on my own. I am now a seasoned solo traveller, used to pacing my days to my own rhythm, not having to think about anyone else’s likes, dislikes, lack of energy or enthusiasm. I can see everything I want to see, when I want to, for as long as I want to. It’s gloriously liberating. Even a day out now, with friends, reminds me how much I end up compromising my own desires to fit in with theirs, and how much I long for that holiday space alone.

But it didn’t start like that.

Those first few days in Phuket, I was wretched. I seemed to be surrounded by happy couples, mooning over each other. Everywhere. That first night, I sobbed into my beautiful dinner and it heralded three days of the same pattern: bawling my eyes out throughout the night, dragging my piglet-eyed self to breakfast the next morning (thank god for shades) and recovering throughout the day on a sun-lounger at the end of a jetty with no one else on it.

My hotel view in Phuket, featuring my daily ‘recovery jetty’.

I had travelled far away from home deliberately, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hop back on a plane if I couldn’t stand it any more. It worked. A¬†combination of supportive texts from friends urging me to get out of the hotel and explore (and one particularly good one who reviewed the hotel’s website and¬†suggested¬†a few trips and beauty treatments for me) made me do it. I sat at the hotel bar at Happy Hour, dressed nicely with a little makeup to hide the piglet eyes. I needed a couple of margheritas to give me the courage to leave the hotel and go into Patong – the ‘Brighton’ of Thailand.

I laughed when I tentatively stepped into a tuk-tuk only to find it took me about two minutes to get into town – I resolved to walk next time. Then I hit on a course of action¬†that never fails to work abroad – find an Irish or Aussie pub¬†and go sit at the bar with a drink. There was live music playing and I sat there, no one staring (except a British couple, which I’ve found is always the case), smiling into my Thai beer as I swung my legs on the bar stool. No one spoke to me that night but they did when I came back the next night, this time dressed in a more relaxed¬†style in shorts and a vest. A crowd of Aussies took me under their wing. They couldn’t believe I was on my own and to be honest, neither could I. I was 43 and all my friends were holidaying with their partners.

Well my partner for that holiday was Dougie. Aussie, Thai boxer, black-haired, hot-as-hell Dougie. Riding around on the back of his hired motorbike, I felt a sense of that freedom that I envy guys for Рwhen you see gangs of them, shirts off, riding around Thai islands without a care in the world. (Do you ever see gangs of girls doing that?) I still envy those guys. The world is made for them and they rejoice in it.

The world is seemingly not made for a forty-something woman who decides to leave her marriage (to a really nice guy), not to have children and go it alone. This blog is going to look at some of the unexpected things I’ve encountered since I’ve gone solo (they’re pretty much all unexpected), from men my age assuming I want to trap them into coupledom,¬†to women buying me congratulatory drinks at the bar; from dining alone to finding myself sandwiched between two Thai women on a tiny bike on New Year’s Day. There’s a story to tell, and I want to share mine.

Because I can.

Speedboat trip to Phi Phi – finally free

Lisa