In which I have News

(Forgive me shit formatting here-I did a Facebook tell and copied and pasted because I don’t have the energy for much more today but hang slack eh)




Right. So I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’m gonna have to anyway and as you’re all well used to scrolling past my sagas about how mental I am by now this seemed the easiest route.

OK. So. Nobody is to panic, nobody is to U OK HUN, everything is fine (well, relatively, unless you are Rik or Bernie who can hate me forever for missing your wedding by being a dipshit) but I am off to hospital. I don’t know how long for, and I’m not too chuffed about it, but it turns out there’s only so much fuckery you can inflict on a body before it starts going “ay, you cheeky twat” and here I find myself.

In mental health word it is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I could link you to any number of wonderful tales of recovery and excellent working and diet culture rage and whatever else if you want. This year they are mostly discussing the salient point that eating disorders are not about weight.

And they’re not. Mine has been an old friend for as long as I can remember in some form or another, and I’ve been making excuses for it in some form or another since the first time in junior school my best friend asked me why I kept giving my dinner away and I just laughed (sorry Ste). And it was never about weight. That’s a handy gauge. Weight is an easy peg to hang it on because all women-men too but especially women-are taught to speak that language and to define themselves as too much. What it’s about-for me anyway-is anxiety I can’t quite relieve and the creeping knowledge that I am not quite Good Enough and this yawning sense of worthlessness that makes me think that if I could just stop NEEDING THINGS I would be OK, I would have suffered enough and I could take my place among normal society and eat and laugh and exist like everyone else.

Lying bastard. I’ll never need little enough for it to let me go.

And so, in round however-many-times-I-have-done-this, I have agreed to get off my bullshit and hand it over to professionals who have rather more faith in my essential decency than I do because the thing is: you need to know this: you can’t just have a “little bit” of an eating disorder. I’ve been trying to get away with that my entire adult life but there’s always a bit more you can lose/a bit less you can eat/a smaller space you could be occupying/a life you don’t deserve. And it adds up. So I’m going before they come for me, and it will likely be a gruesome few weeks/months because I do not know how to exist without punishing myself for it, but it is probably time I learn because I have too much to do. There are plays to write and books to read and nieces to marvel at, and people who astonishingly keep loving me though that essentially seems to be me eternally debiting from them, and there are things I’d like to eat without tasting numbers and so many brave and beautiful and brilliant people scrolling past this who I want to support with everything they do. And there’s kindness. People are kind, basically, and it’s lovely. I hope I’ve been kind to you, once at least, and that I will be again. The trick will be learning to do it to myself, every day, as if I was some sort of human being, because that’s the bit I don’t know how to do and it scares me, I won’t lie. Imagine how good it will be though.

But in the spirit of awareness weeks, you should know that this decision was made months ago, but there was no bed for me to go to. Talking saves lives, but so do properly resourced and accessible mental health services and when I have the energy to be fighting for them you’d better fucking watch out. And please fight for them til I get back, and after that, because nobody deserves to be alone with this and it’s the most amazing joy of my imperfect life that I never have been.

It’s gonna be fine, lads. I probably love you or at least like you quite a bit. I’m sorry. I really am. Fuck it, let’s McMurphy this shit (as a lovely person I found in a mental hospital once told me) Also, this video is brilliant.

Don’t be scared, that’s how it wins


Cigarettes Will Kill You

Outside the entrance of a busy A&E department, late evening. CARA, a young junior doctor exits talking to a NURSE and SAM, a uniformed police officer. As they step outside CARA’s phone rings in her pocket, she reaches in and kills the ring as they speak

CARA: Did Psych say how long they’d be?

NURSE: They’ve got another two assessments before her, they said. But you’re right, she’s been in before. Last time was just before Christmas. Overdose.

SAM: She’s obviously had a bit of practice mind, her arms are cut up like- [he notes CARA glaring at him with distaste and trails off]-we PNC’d her at the bridge, she’s been picked up a few times in distress but never tried to-she’s never actually jumped. From anywhere.

CARA continues to gaze at SAM in steady disgust. He wilts slightly under this. The NURSE appears oblivious, checking the pager at her hip. SAM shifts uncomfortably

NURSE: Well, the Ortho registrar is in with her now, they should be a while. Any idea where we’re trying for a bed?

CARA: Not til we get that arm scanned at least. She’ll be lucky if that doesn’t need pinning. Any next of kin?

SAM: She left notes for-

CARA: Notes? Where are they?

SAM hands her two envelopes, which she takes with evident displeasure and scans briefly before she puts them in her pocket

SAM: [defensive] Do you need an officer by the bed? Only there’s three of us covering the whole city centre so-

CARA: [addressing herself very deliberately to the NURSE] Make sure someone stays by the bed-she’s pulled lines out before. Tell them if she makes any noises about leaving to bleep Psych urgently and put her on a five-two in the Department. Don’t ring the next of kin til someone’s discussed it with her but find out who the NR is. (to SAM) Who rang it in?

SAM: Housemate. Best friend, apparently. Chris has gone to pick her up. I need to be-

CARA: Five minutes. (she looks at SAM intently again) OK? (to the NURSE) I’m gonna take twenty while the rest are all see and treat, but I’m only out here getting some air.

NURSE nods. CARA reaches into her pocket for a packet of cigarettes

NURSE: (lightly) And filling it with lead, great stuff. Do you want a coffee bringing out?

CARA: You’re a legend.

The women smile at each other and the NURSE heads back indoors. SAM is increasingly uncomfortable as CARA finds her lighter and takes out a cigarette.

SAM: I’m not trying to be a dick, Cara, it’s just I’m at work and-

CARA: Really? What’s that like?

SAM: Look, if you’re going to-

He holds his hands up in defiant surrender briefly, thinks better of it and, looking around, touches CARA on the shoulder. She looks at the floor, cigarette forgotten

SAM: [gently] There’s really only three of us. We had to get specials in to cover while we went and sorted this one out. What time are you-

CARA: Ella.

SAM: What?

CARA: The girl you brought in. Her name’s Ella. She’s nineteen. She’s really quite badly hurt and she’s probably going to be sectioned this evening but it’s nice that you’ve “sorted” it, eh?

SAM: Jesus, Cara. There’s no talking to you, is there?

CARA: Go home, then. [she smiles acidly] Talk to your wife.

SAM: Don’t you dare- [he looks around him again, lowering his voice before he continues] Look, you knew what you were doing, Cara. It’s not as if I’ve been playing you off. I told you everything. I’m sorry this has happened. I am. But there’s not much more I can-

CARA: Nice. Tasteful.

SAM: I need to go. Any indication how long you’re planning to milk this? I’ll set an alarm.

CARA: [astonished] MILK it? You absolute fucking-

SAM: [cutting her off] Pack it in, Cara. You don’t want a baby anyway! You said as much about five hundred times. If you had one you’d probably fucking leave it on a train.

SAM holds up a hand to CARA’s face as she prepares to lay into him and continues without leaving pause for her to speak

I get it, OK? I get that it’s not me that has to be pregnant and I get that you feel like shit but the rest of the world hasn’t stopped and literally nothing has changed, Cara. Nothing. Right? I probably am a bastard but you already knew that when you picked up someone else’s husband so turn it in with the innocent victim shit and behave yourself.

As he speaks the NURSE returns holding two takeaway coffees. CARA spots her first and gestures to her, indicating to SAM the conversation is over.

CARA: That’s five minutes.

SAM: [preparing to leave] Ring me after-just let me know you’re OK

CARA does not look at him again. He smiles affably at the NURSE as he exits and she hands CARA one of the coffees.

NURSE: Remarkably calm through there.

CARA juggles the coffee and her still unlit cigarette, taking a long drink from the cup before balancing it on a wall and lighting her cigarette</b>

CARA: Don’t use the ‘q’ word, for fucks sake. Don’t mind if I smoke, do you?

NURSE: Never understood why doctors still smoke. Like, you all must have seen actual dead hearts and lungs hundreds of times and you’re all out here chonging away. You wouldn’t if you’d nursed on a cancer ward. Wouldn’t drink, either.

CARA: Gonna die of something, mate. Might as well get five minutes outside every now and then. (BEAT during which she inhales deeply and blows out slowly) When I did GP training there was this poor guy used to come in about twice a week, major health anxiety, tests for everything, preventative advice. Got hit by a motorbike in the end.

NURSE: You’re terrible.

CARA: It’s true! (BEAT) How’s she doing?

NURSE: Ella? Ortho are still with her. Looks like you’re right about the arm, they’re after a surgical bed. Housemate’s turned up in floods. Apparently last time she found her. Barely made it then, either. I remember that. I was on Resus when she came in.

CARA: Shit, the poor kid. Well, both of them. How can your life be so awful at that age?

NURSE: I know. Worst drama we had at uni was over rank milk in the fridge.

CARA: Should’ve gone to med school, mate. High achievers failing for the first time everywhere you look. Absolute carnage. I went out with this lad who just wanted to be a teacher. Parents were both surgeons, absolutely wouldn’t have it. Failed the second year, emptied his room on the weekend, nobody knows where he went. (SHE INHALES AGAIN) God, I’ve been after that ciggie all day and it’s just making me feel sick. Do we know where her parents are?

NURSE: Brighton, apparently. Some lucky bastard’s going to have to make that phone call. I’d better check the housemate hasn’t already actually.

CARA: (nodding) I’ll be back in ten. Just gonna finish this coffee, haven’t had a second since this morning.

The NURSE nods and heads back into the hospital. CARA sighs and drinks from her coffee as she stubs her cigarette out and reaches for her phone in her pocket. She regards it at arm’s length

CARA: Seventeen missed calls, no less! Ooh, Officer Sam must be so busy out there fighting crime. (BEAT) Twat. (She drinks the coffee as she puts the phone back in her pocket) Everything still tastes of metal, for fuck’s sake. That’s the stuff they want to put in sex education leaflets, never mind the long term. Any of us could think long term, we wouldn’t need them in the first place. “You will spend at least eight weeks constantly needing a wee whilst perpetually chewing tin foil.” Put them right off.

BEAT. She rubs her hand across the back of her neck as if the muscles are tight.

I mean, I maybe should have told him. For whatever difference it makes. (She sighs) Milk it a bit longer, I guess.

An ambulance siren wails nearby. For a few seconds CARA watches the commotion taking place offstage as she takes out and lights a second cigarette, turning the packet over in her hands reflectively.

I do remember this really gross heart in the med school collection, actually. Like one of the ventricles had just been completely destroyed, absolutely fucked beyond repair. Anatomy professor said it was the kind of heart attack where you just drop, and that’s it. I mean, that’s about the best you can hope for death wise, I guess.

As she puts the cigarette packet back in her pocket she is approached by an angry looking man carrying an overnight bag-the same actor who played SAM. He squares up to her almost immediately. She responds, returning to professional mode

CARA: Can I help you?

MAN: You work in there? Who are you? What are you playing at?

CARA: Excuse me? I’m Dr Appleton, I work in the Emergency Department, yes. Is there a problem?

MAN: Who the bloody hell do you think you are?

CARA looks astonished.

CARA: Well, like I said, I’m Dr Appleton, the A&E registrar, and if you’d like to calm down and speak to me reasonably maybe I can-

MAN: You can do nothing for me, sweetheart, nothing.

CARA: Hang on-

MAN: I’ll be on the phone to your manager first thing tomorrow and I’ll want to know they’ve sacked you or I’ll go to the papers. You’re not supposed to be smoking here, there’s signs everywhere! There’s people bloody dying in there and you’re sat out here on your lazy arse smoking like something off Jeremy Kyle! That’s what I pay taxes for, is it?

CARA: (looks at the cigarette with brief guilt then straight back at her aggressor) OK, look, I don’t know who you are, or what you’re doing here, but this isn’t the place for-

MAN: My dad’s dying in there! He’s been stuck upstairs in that bloody festering shithole for six weeks being ignored by dozy little cows like you stinking of Embassy. He worked for forty years, and that’s where he ends up, and you just sit there while people are fucking dying! People work their arses off to pay your wages so they can die in a corner while you’re out having a bifter? You’re a disgrace.

CARA is momentarily lost for words. The MAN becomes visibly tearful as she composes herself.

CARA: Listen….if you need to speak to someone about the hospital, then there are people who are there to support families. I’m sorry about what’s happening for you, I really am, but you can’t just-are you OK?

The MAN is now weeping openly. CARA reaches out to support him into the hospital, he angrily jerks her off, shaking his head, and storms into the hospital, pushing her out of the way so that she almost drops her cigarette, which burns her hand, causing her to drop it

CARA: Ow! Fuck…..(BEAT. She raises her burnt finger to her mouth and blows on it) Fuck’s sake.

She is on the verge of tears herself. She glances around, checking that nobody has seen her, before stepping forward as she begins speaking absently, not quite addressing the audience

The first time I was pregnant, I spent ages looking it up in the library. Second year. Still doing anatomy. Trying not to spew my ring up on the heart collection. Didn’t keep it, obviously. It was the lad I was telling her about, who wanted to be a teacher. Offered to pay and everything. I told him don’t be ridiculous, NHS wait was only a week.

Her phone sounds a text message alert. She takes it out, glances at it and cradles it in her hand without reading the message.

He cried his eyes out. I didn’t. Wasn’t a bit bothered, really. I mean, I still think why should I be? You know, we did public health out the arse about unplanned births and everything, people had to jump under horses and all kinds of shit so nobody has to be forced to be pregnant. Women aren’t fucking organ banks, are they? Think I said that to my dad once when we were arguing at Christmas. Must’ve been doing The Handmaid’s Tale for GCSE. (BEAT) I wasn’t sorry. I’m not. Nothing to be sorry about. The thing is, though-

Another ambulance siren wails offstage. CARA wraps her arms around herself, as if to keep warm, stepping further away from the hospital.

The thing is…god, it’s fucking ridiculous. There’s a kid fucking dying in there. I just kept remembering…like that heart, with the ventricle destroyed, I kept thinking about that, because I found in this anatomy book about embryology-on a six week embryo, you can’t pick up a heartbeat on an ultrasound or a Doppler, because only one chamber of the heart is formed, right? And it goes so fast you can’t pick it up. And I mean I can’t fucking remember my rota for next week so how I’m coming up with embryology revision from ten years ago is anyone’s guess, and it didn’t even bother me then, but I keep thinking about that now. For all the good it does. Fucking Sam.

She looks down at her phone, still clutched in her hand.

The thing with Sam is, he likes compartments. He goes to work, he has a wife, he sees his mum every second weekend and they go to Frankie and Benny’s because apparently life isn’t depressing enough. And when he gets a spare minute he shags a doctor he picked up at a motorway crash, probably because he imagines it gives him hidden depths. (BEAT. The phone beeps again) He imagines he loves me, you see. He imagines he loves both of us. The problem there is he doesn’t actually have a great deal of imagination. I mean, neither do I, but I’m not pretending. I’m skint, and I’m about to get a complaint, and I’m knackered and I’m twenty nine and only able to form pretend relationships with other people’s husbands, and I think I’m kind of still in the middle of a miscarriage I should probably tell someone about (she chokes on a sob) but no, what you see is what you get here, mate.

She puts the phone back in her pocket, her hand finding the envelopes which she removes, turning them over in her hands

I mean, he’s not wrong, I’ve got nowhere to put a baby, and fuck knows I’ve got nothing to give one. Or anyone, really. I think I only ended up in this job because I liked watching Casualty at my nana’s and got my wires crossed somewhere. See, my cousins had those baby dolls that pissed themselves and had magic bottles and everything, and me and my sister were just throwing the Barbie camper van down the stairs and making a hospital for the crash victims. I should tell Sam that. He’d think it was an omen or something.
(She opens one of the envelopes as she speaks) Think that was when Dad stopped us sleeping at nana’s. Drew the line when we started rigging up ventilators with Capri Sun straws.
(Beat. As she unfolds the letter, she faces the audience directly and reads to them as if auditioning, barely holding back tears.)
“Hannah. I’m so sorry, babe. There’s nothing else I can say. It’s not that I don’t love you, or even that the world isn’t amazing, it’s just that I’m not meant to be in it. I’ve tried but there’s just this poison in me, and it leaks, and it stains everyone who comes near me, and I can’t let that happen any more. So I’m just going to hurt you this one last time, so I don’t ever have to do it again. Love you, babes.”

She stares forward, helpless, then looks down at the note in her hand.

He died, that boy from med school. My first boyfriend, he was. Lost our virginity to each other. He died of alcohol poisoning, two years after he left. (BEAT) I couldn’t make the funeral. I was on placement.
She looks as if she will say more when another ambulance siren, complete with blue lights, screams just offstage. CARA jolts back into herself, shoving the note in her pocket, and calls to the paramedics offstage as she moves to join them.

CARA: Need a hand there? What have we got?

She walks offstage into the light and noise of another emergency. Over a few seconds as the stage is empty the noise slowly fades. Blackout.

Review-“Don’t Be Terrible”-by Ellen Waddell and Oliver Milburn

Don’t Be Terrible purports to ask if stand up can save your love life, and it does so by having affable Nice Man Steve attempt to win back his disinterested girlfriend by learning the art of comedy from jaded stand up Alice. What it actually does, in an impeccably acted and tightly written hour, asks what comedy really does for us, both as producers and consumers, and what it’s like when you don’t quite get (or suspect you are the butt of) the joke that surrounds you, especially if you’re a genuinely nice man trying not to fall into the dreaded Nice Guy trap.

Balancing comedy and theatre can be tricky but here the show is funny enough to keep you smiling for an hour and touching enough to never stop being an engaging play. The acting is nailed on throughout, including some impressively difficult physical moments. Though the show wouldn’t suffer from playing to a larger audience, there’s a particular level of immersion in a smaller room, especially at some of the darker points where the tension between the actors and audience is palpable enough to blur the fourth wall slightly.

The characters are drawn well enough to be relatable to a point where you don’t always have to like them, and the dialogue inhabitable without slipping into cliche right through to the painfully sweet conclusion where things are never quite OK because they aren’t, but at least we can laugh at them. Smart, real and sometimes brutally honest in a way only comedy can be, this is a funny, affecting and darkly comforting world to inhabit for an hour.

In which I am uncomfortably aware, and I want you to know why

I’ve been swerving a lot of social media today. Not because I have other stuff to do, although that serves as a handy excuse. I’m not sure what I’m saying here makes sense or if I should say it at all, but that’s rather at the crux of the situation I find myself in.
In my little corner of the internet in particular, in my personal Twitter/Instagram echo chamber, it is Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
So we’ll start like so many hopeful, earnest inspirational posts with “this time last year… “. I was not at work. I was not really devoting my energy to the creative writing Masters I had been trying to finish since I was 21. I was spending most of my time on an eating disorders day unit, where I had been sent before Christmas. I was not in a good way. This is the part where I lay bare my lowest weight, my alarming physical symptoms, the pitiful amount I tried to live on, the distance I walked every day to counteract the numbers that were going up around me.
Numbers are like crack to an eating disorder, so you won’t find any of them here. No picture of my spine or breathless declaration of EXACTLY HOW NEARLY DEAD they said I was or how many times I’ve been in hospital which of course I’m only sharing because “if it shows the reality…if it helps just one person…”
I’m not going to pull your trigger today, folks.
I’m not going to give you the precious details that all of us who know the glorious hinterland of the eating disorder collect to keep us safe and wear as armour, not because we are vain or histrionic or because we want attention or even to emphasise how serious the situation was or because mental illness has some weird social capital.
We do it because-and this, I think, is what I want you to be aware of-it keeps us safe, and penitent, and shows us how we will eventually be forgiven. Except eventually never comes.
Let me try and put this in a way that’ll make sense.
I am not currently underweight (I said no numbers, and that’s all you’re getting). I am back at my job, which I love, where I see a lot of other people with eating disorders, not always the same kind as mine. Even some fat people have them, you know! Who’d have thought? Who’d have sat for a minute and thought that the same trapped monster wriggling through my bones and my blood and my breath that tells me if I need nothing I will be safe, might cause someone else to shove anything with flavour, as much as they can find, without even tasting it, into that raging hole that tells them: you are nothing/nothing/nothing
There’s plenty of other amazing stuff to read about body shaming and food policing and media contagion going about this week, and a lot of it will be well argued and coherent and angry and articulate in a way that I am not, but what I want to talk to you about is a bit dirtier than that.
Eating disorders, all of them, are an elaborate system of rewards, punishments, magic spells and flagellation that flourish in the mind and heart of someone who feels too stupid/too geeky/too ugly/too awkward/too little/too much/not enough/never enough and replaces them with: too fat.
And somewhere at some point I began to polish this little merit badge that I had, that the people I felt inferior to wanted: and do you know what? For a second I felt worth something.

I conduct mental health assessments. That’s what I do. I love it. It’s a privilege.
I’ve sat with many people, men and women, who’ve struggled with food as the weapon their insecurity uses against them. And God, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry, but I’ve had people describe desperate binges and horrific consequences sobbing in abject shame, and a little dark bit of me has gone:
(better than that/stronger than that/empty/clean/less/I have it/you want it )
And the truth is this: I needed it. I needed it because if I am honest, if I take away the analysis and intellect and smart arsery-if I tell you the noise my head makes-right at this moment, more than a year into Inspiring Recovery Territory, I feel:
useless (fat)

worthless (fat)

greedy (fat)

ungrateful (fat)

hated (fat)

guilty (fat)
And as I sit and eat my lunch and everybody beams because I’m doing so well, the trapped monster gathers up its ornaments and whispers:
(you liar. you evil, selfish fucking liar. here you are shoving stuff in your face so you can go home and cry about the eating disorder you don’t have. you’re not like them. they’re ill. they’re desperate. they’re suffering. you? you’re pathetic. take your fucking punishment and shut the fuck up)
I do not tell my care team this. (they’ve got sick people to look after). I do not tell my friends about this (you don’t have any fucking friends, they hate you, they mock you, they tolerate you). I do not write it in any of my scripts (you’re not a fucking writer, you pretentious cocknozzle, you’re an error that failed to correct itself)
And so I go to work and I go about my business and I laugh and I take pictures of my cats
(the nurse told me I was on Excessive Excercise Protocol and had to be in eyesight of staff/she adjusted her FitBit twice whilst informing me of this decision)
and I let people think I’m better now because my bones are gone and my physical appearance wouldn’t trouble a Media Select Committed and I even write some words sometimes. But this is what I want you to be aware of:
(Tea detox £24.99 in Superdrug. I check the ingredients. Same laxative that you could get for £4 and shit your kidneys into next week for no reason other than you deserve it.)
The observable illness, for the most part, is gone. And I am desperately sad about the things I did to myself when I was that ill. I am also absolutely certain that it is nowhere near as much punishment as I deserve.

I eat. I smile. I eat again because apparently you can’t just do it once. The numbers go up, and then they stay the same, and that is good, that is Progress and it is Sustainable.

And all the time, all day, every day, when I sleep, when I wake up at 4am: this monster tells me I have failed. Failed to make myself disappear in the way I deserve.
(I get the highest marks on my MA cohort. My tutors tell me I have a real future as a playwright. This does not feel like an achievement-it doesn’t give me the same breathy rush of YES I got when I dropped an inadvisable amount of weight the same week and ended up in A&E)
The girls on the wards, on Instagram, comparing sections and Fortisips and scars, the women in the office talking about how “good” they’ve been, the friend who tells me her boyfriend adores her but she feels sick when she sees her thighs spread as she sits, whoever the hell has £23.99 to spend on tea to make you shit yourself: it’s not vanity. It’s not surface dressing.
It’s the language we learned years ago, because women in particular are Things and we don’t feel bad, we feel fat.
And I am crying as I write this, because I can’t go back, but to go forward I have to let everything go. I have to find something louder than the monster that will run alongside it and drown it out eventually that says: NO. I am here/I am real/I love/I am loved/I write/I think/I fuck up/I fix things.
I have to accept that I have hurt myself irrevocably, that I have hurt the people I love, that I have ruined my life for that five second rush of (there is less of you/that is as it should be)
And honestly, I don’t know if I can. It hurts. It’s horrible. I am tired and I feel weak and I am afraid that if I write this, if I show people, if I say it out loud, they will be shocked and angry and hate me and laugh at me and do that spinny finger by the head thing. But I have to do it anyway, and I’m crying, and I’m scared and I’m sorry.
If I could do anything with my life-one thing to leave behind-I would write a story, a book or a play, which put words to the worst things that had happened to someone. That knew who they were when they lost themselves. That got them through the night because maybe we’re all fucked up, and we’re all human, and that’s OK, if we remember it about each other.
I haven’t done that. I don’t know if I’m capable. I just wanted you to know that what looks like vanity and self absorption is actually a desperate begging to feel forgiven enough, thin enough, ill enough, dead enough to stop.
And I wanted to know if maybe, possibly, it was like that in your head too.
Is it?

untitled (random story I wrote ages ago)

An inventory of my boyfriend’s jacket pockets (rifled while he has gone back in for another drink):
Approximately £4.73 in loose change, mostly silver

A fiver that is probably torn too badly to be legal tender

House key, no key ring

Shitty key fob the landlord gave him the key on, which has become separate

Equally shitty lighter, which I am requisitioning to relight the dead tea light the pub have added to the outside tables in a misguided attempt at ambience.
I mean, for fuck’s sake.
I can see him from here. He has been waylaid by Christian Rachel and inevitably has missed his turn at the bar. That girl, I swear down. I will literally set up my own church if she can explain to me how sucking off drummers for guestlist furthers the cause of Christ’s mission on Earth. She thinks nobody remembers anything.
If there’s a whole crowd of dickheads in there and I’m going to be obliged to join them I’m just going home. I didn’t want to come out anyway. It’s just one of those nights you get in August where it stays so nice out people just start getting this itchy feeling they should be in a beer garden. Name me three things that brought unquestionable benefit to humankind dreamt up in beer gardens.
One thing I’ve always had to give Christian Rachel, she’s got really nice hair. I mean it’ll spend the dying days of her youth wrapped in someone’s fist, but she works it so good on her for that. Before she got God she used to get the ends dyed properly. It’s just that nice kind of blonde that takes colour. I remember when I met her and I used to wonder how she could even stand to be in a room with normal people, she was so far beyond pretty. She was one of those people who seemed too perfect to ever even consider them having any kind of sexuality. You could never imagine her losing a condom or using Advantage Card points to pay for tampons. Like a doll. And this was back when she was a goer.
Well, we all did things we’re not proud of. Just because she was better at it than me.
I am singeing the hairs on my forearm with the lighter just at the thought of having to sit here for the duration of another Bulmers talking to Christian Rachel and whoever the fuck else has come out because “it’s a gooooooorgeous evening this, defo one for a cheeky bevvy with THE GIRLS/LADS/PEOPLE CIRCUMSTANCE FORCES ME TO INTERACT WITH MORE REGULARLY THAN I WOULD LIKE.” When he comes back he should take an arty shot of the empty glasses and lash that up on Facebook with about ten hashtags even though hashtags aren’t for fucking Facebook.
The difference between me and normal people is I’d rather set light to myself than spend a whimsical summer evening taking refreshment with friends and loved ones.

Oh, he’s back out. Slip that lighter down my bra. I might find a use for that.
There’s something about the way he walks, my boy, something about it that I find almost unbearably adorable, even when I’m pissed off because he makes such consistent unreasonable demands for things like conversation and social interaction and interest in his life. He has this way of walking that’s like this casual lollop leaning slightly to the right. I’ve examined it from various angles and he always just lists over to the right, it’s fucking uncanny. He’s caned a fair bit of his beer on the way back out as well.
-Rachel and Adam are inside, he says, necking another third of the bottle and notably not asking why I’ve got hold of his jacket.

-Thought I saw her.
Dipping the tips of your finger in melty wax and then peeling it off again never, ever gets old. Trust me, I’m conducting a longitudinal study.
-They’re going to some sit off some lad’s having in the old field, apparently they’re going into town after. Said do you want to come. Matty’s down, haven’t seen him since Christmas have we?
No eye contact while he speaks. Eyeballing the bottom of his bottle. Because he knows, the poor love. There’s a script for this now. We’ve got these terrible little scripts for everything and we’re forced to act them out like fucking guinea pigs in costume just rehashing this shit daily.
Guinea pigs in jumpers now. Fucking hell. No wonder I’ve got no mates left.
-You going? 
I think that’s probably going to be sufficient. Bang on. Sucks out the last of his ale and bangs the bottle down on the table. This would be the moment where someone else would suck it up and go and sit with people who are supposed to be your friends, who you actually haven’t seen for six months and who you have no desire to avoid but no fortitude to deal with, just for a fucking hour so this poor lad can pretend he’s got a proper normal girlfriend.

I’m me, though, so I do this “sorry love” eyebrow wiggle thing and give him his jacket.
-Shall I tell them anything when they ask? he says like the question won’t be fucking hell, lad, why didn’t you get rid months ago? and the answer isn’t because it’d be like punching a Big Issue seller in the face, that’s why

-Tell them I’ve got stuff that needs doing for tomorrow. Tell Matty I’ll ring him this weekend.

-Right. Are you going straight home?

-Might go to ASDA on the way. Probably go to sleep when I get in.
He knows the drill but he’s so fucked off his eyelid’s twitching. Wonder if he can feel it. Then it’s like he remembers I’m not a cunt on purpose or at least I didn’t used to be and he gets his key out his pocket and passes his jacket back to me.

-Here y’are. Warm enough without it. I won’t be late

-Don’t worry about it. Have a good night, yeah?

For a minute something lifts, then he kisses me without looking at me and does an I’m-going-in-there gesture. Gone when I look up. I can see Christian Rachel looking over.
You just fucking remember fresher’s week, girl. We’ve all got our fucking crosses.
Inventory of things I put in a basket at ASDA before abandoning the thing completely:
2 pints of that weird milk with the orange top

Batteries for the Sky remote, because I think we took the Sky remote batteries out for something else and put shitty half dead ones in instead

Two 2 for £7 novels that don’t look much good but are two books for £7

A tiramisu

Some eye make up wipes that are on offer
I leave the basket in the fruit and veg bit, get twenty menthol B&H and a can of Coke from the kiosk and chain smoke five of the tabs while walking the long way home so I can have a good nihilistic stew in my own toxic juices.
I don’t actually feel that bad about blowing off a friend I shared a house with for two of the happier years of my life who I haven’t seen for months, or leaving him to make up some excuse as to why. They’ll all be used to that by this point. I do feel bad that I really think we’re coming to the point where people (he) can’t make excuses for the fact that this is now more or less completely standard, and I don’t want to think too much about how it’s probably preferable that I’m not doing things with people any more, because it lets them off making any kind of effort either.
I remember it didn’t used to be that much of a thing. It was like: oh, right, she’s fucked up. But that was OK because everyone was busy being fucked up. Before Rachel got God and stopped noshing off anyone who stood still long enough (sometimes, and I’m not lying, in crowded public spaces. Oh how fucking cosmopolitan and daring, right? Right) she was a recreational vomiter first and foremost, though she could never keep straight whether it was supposed to be because she had food issues or because she was always drunk because she just didn’t fucking care, and that whole firm used to kind of worship me as the most Legitimately Fucked Up Person with Actual Proper Mad and taking Tablets And Everything which was of course the holy grail because we were all humanities undergraduates and nothing says “intellect” quite like a healing slashmark to the forearm that you don’t cover up but you don’t want to talk about, although it would be quite good if people determined from its presence that you are terribly deep and interesting and likely too beautiful for this world.
There’s nothing particularly shameful in having your painfully sincere phase, I suppose. But that’s not really what I’m ashamed of. We were kids. Kids play games. It’s what they do.
The problem is that four or five years ago being one of Those Girls, all anguished and we-have-to-do-something-to-help-her and I’m-just-so-worried between all my friends: well, everyone was doing it in one way or the other. But then they got degrees and mortgages and high interest savings accounts and years volunteering in Thailand and I got 200mg of sertraline and a red exclamation mark coming up on the screen at the doctors when I go for a fucking smear.
It’s tempting, very tempting, to go looking for poetry in the fucking waste of your life.

Slap a Mishima quote on your teenage drama and pretend you’re The Holy fucking Bible.
 I remember not long after I met him when we were at someone’s house party and I saw him propping Cara up on the stairs, and she was telling him something that was vitally important the way things are when you’re fucked off your face, and he was nodding at her, answering at the points when she stopped but he was looking at me. And he was looking at me like I was rare, with this intensity and this awe about it. Anyway after someone dragged her off somewhere he came back over and just kissed me like I was edible, like he could actually consume me and we still wouldn’t be close enough together. And that was the first time I slept with him, that night. And we were pretty much nailed on after that.
Then a few days later Cara pulls me up and she’s going -Mate, I’m so sorry, I feel like such a twat and please don’t hate me but I was out of my skull and I told him about you repeating a year. About the hospital. I didn’t realise he didn’t know and I just said you were looking so much better at your proper weight and-I shouldn’t have, it wasn’t my thing to tell him.

And I’m like, don’t worry about it. Because I think I believed maybe that was what made him want to taste me. To see if he could stand the bite of it, to see if he’d choke, to see if it gave him that same dizzy flush of this is what the human fuckin’ condition is really about that I’d have to admit it gave me in my first year, throwing tea down the sink because of the fat in the milk and looking up from pinning my lecture notes to the bedroom walls, shaking with cold and emptiness that tasted like ice and stale tabs.

I think really my fatal mistake was to believe my own propaganda.
Inventory of things in my bag that I shoved through the letterbox while looking for my key:
An Oyster card from about three years ago probably in minus credit

A pen I got free at work

A CD-R of I can’t remember what, probably scratched to fuck anyway

A load of assorted letters with and without envelopes

The fifteen menthol burns I haven’t smoked yet

A cheap shitty necklace which snapped (I just let this drop onto the step)

A paracetamol box that’s just full of empty blister strips

A load of clumpy glittery dust that’s all over everything else and now my hands

Several tablets of what look like 20mgs of fluoxetine, which is at least three prescriptions ago now so I really need to gut my bag more often.
Looking into the bag before I dump it on the hall floor it appears I’ve lost my good lipgloss. I’m living in a shit disappointing reconstruction of my favourite Pulp album. In more ways than fucking one.


Ah, it’s my “girl in the song” theory of why I’m fucked rearing it’s ugly head again.

I came up with this trying to cry silently in the bath one night. I decided in many ways the problem started with my name.

My dad is a lovely sort of dreamy, spaced if fairly useless and distracted guy, and when I was born he was all of those things plus younger than I am right now but let’s not, and as such fathers are wont to do he picked my name from a song.

Not one everyone would know, but enough to anticipate people going “oh, like the song” when I tell them what I’m called. Obviously when I was little I just assumed as kids do that the very purpose of the song was to give the world my name, because when I was little I was strapped into the world. I knew I was supposed to be there. I felt like I was for something.
I suppose my dad felt I was worth writing a song for when I was born, but he can’t write for shit so he borrowed the girl in someone else’s song, which is kind of like attaching a list of qualities to your kid that you wish for them, or that come from yourself, or whatever.

The trouble with having kids is that basically from the minute they exist you really, really wish stuff for them. But the kind of stuff you can’t actually ever give them, so you just sort of have to proceed on the basis that they already have or will be those things and hope you don’t fuck it up too badly. 
But writing a song about someone, or attaching someone else’s song to a person in your head, is kind of like drawing a bit of them they don’t know, because nobody can see themselves the way other people do, not really.
And at some point it’s going to be really difficult when you see the chasm between those two mirrors.
I got older and I knew I wasn’t the kind of girl in the song

I wasn’t the kind of girl my parents wished for me when they gave me a name

There was only ever one person who would put me in a song, and because of that he’s afraid he can’t leave without erasing me completely. 
I consider this, really stand and consider what’s been happening here and examine myfuckingself for a minute, and it is such godawful fucking ugly fury and pain that out of nowhere I am sick into the sink, onto several glasses and a toast plate.
Really should have stayed in tonight.
Inventory of things my mother has suggested might make me less depressed:
Eating red meat

Finishing my degree

Cleaning the house more often

Moving back home (“obviously not into the actual house”)

Paying some sly nonce to pretend to hypnotise me

Having my contraceptive implant taken out (fuck, no. It involves pleasingly little effort. It stays)
There was a time I used to repeat these suggestions to him either furious with her or hoping he’d laugh and we’d be complicit against such shit, because clearly having given birth to someone it’s ridiculous that you’d be prepared to clutch at any straws anyone was offering in order for them to be a half way functional human being. I don’t, now, not so much because I’ve grown out of it but because I’ve started to dread the day I throw one of those out there and I see it in his face that he’d seriously consider it because anything has to be better than living like this.
I am considering this, sitting smoking on the back step, when I hear him come back in. It’s not late. It’s not even properly dark yet. Hopefully this is because he has remembered he’s got work at eleven and not because he was gripped with the need to run home lest I be trying to drown myself in the sink.
-You up?

-Out here, love
He comes through finishing off a thing of McDonald’s chips. -Shit night, that

-Who was out?

-Load of those fucking sex cases Adam and Christian Rachel bring to things. Matty found Manchester Rachel and they’re fucking in a cupboard somewhere. Gave it three quarters of an hour then fucked off. You coming in?
He holds his hand out to pull me off the step, his thumb rubbing back and forth across the scar the way it does when he touches that arm. I wonder if he knows he does that. 

I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit about it being a shit night as well. If he’s come home because of me again-
-Were you with your other girlfriend til now then? Took her for a fucking Maccies and everything. Like that now is it?
And I swear I can see something give behind his eyes because I am up and joking and interested and not curled up on my side in bed looking out the window while he has to bang around getting ready for bed and we both pretend I’m asleep. And it makes me want to punch myself in the face
-Bus got terminated because some little sixth form mong whitey’d on it and he wouldn’t drive the rest of the way with the smell of sick. Walked back through town. Want my last chip? He flicks it at me. I laugh louder than it’s worth.
-Fucking Matty, the cheeky twat, he goes, sliding his finger down the waist of my shorts-sit in a field with a shower of gobshites to see him and he fires into someone the first fucking chance he gets.

-Why was Manchester Rachel out? Thought the Rachels hated each other now

-They always fucking hated each other. Didn’t they bump into each other going for an abortion once and that was why?

-Ha! I forgot about that. Christian Rachel was fucking gutted. That’s what it was, she didn’t want anyone to find out. She told about six people herself, like, but that was her story anyway. 
(Ah yes, back in the day, eh Rach? Don’t think she ever said whose it was either. I suspected the whole thing of being bullshit, to be fair. Then they had a massive bitchfight in Cara’s and Lauren Who Hates Me tried to get off with him while I was refereeing. I’d have chinned her but I obviously had to be careful not to get slut all over my hand.)
-I think she told me about it. Only went round for a smoke as well. Heavy.
That was not long after the night we were Officially Going Out With Sex And Everything and Cara told him I’d been in the nut house for a few months and I couldn’t swear to it, but I think he thought that was A Proper Life Experience that you needed real depth to have had,and it sold me to him, almost, because it made him think he understood the kind of person I was in a way that having involved arguments about the best albums of the post-Britpop end of the nineties didn’t quite get to. 
I don’t think he thought he’d find himself five years later having to pull me out of bed and sit in on doctor’s appointments in case I’m leaving bits out. I don’t think he envisioned kicking the door in because I was sobbing in the bath and couldn’t get my breath to answer him when he shouted through to ask if I was OK. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to get between that girl’s thighs.
That’s what he said, that same night when I told him it was true, that’s where I’d been and I was still taking the tablets. He put his fingers over the scar like he’d end up doing thousands of times.

-Fuck. That’s heavy.
And me, little fucking stupid arrogant me, I just rolled my eyes and laughed.
Not that it wasn’t shite at the time, of course it was, but I didn’t feel doomed then the way I do now.I remember thinking that in ten years when it was something that happened to me when I was nineteen, I’d be able to explain how it happened and how I kept it from happening again. And it would just be one of those stories, like how I thought my cat was dead then one night she just came barrelling back into the house and had kittens on my school coat.
And now? Now I’ve never done anything else,

and it looks as though I never will?

Now I can see him in a few more years

when I’m gone, or still here in this fucking kitchen

and he’s grown up 

and busy and productive

and useful and happy

and living with some bitch with shiny hair and a pointless Chinese tattoo on her back who cooks fucking moussaka and shit, and I can see his face, his lovely face, being backlit with this really intense focus he gets and she’s telling him about this friend she’s got who she’s really worried about, and he’s saying he gets it completely because when he was younger he went out with this girl and she-
Oh God

How did this happen?

It was supposed to go away, my love, it was supposed to get better and be stuff that happened once

I wish I could tell you, so you could understand it

My beautiful, beautiful boy, this isn’t me, and it isn’t you, and I’m scared 

I’m scared and I’m so, so sorry

It creeps through me, this poison, I imagine it-I don’t know if I’ve told you this-but I see these swirls of black liquid wriggling under glass and that’s how it is in me, it turns on itself and it crawls all the way through me and I didn’t want to be this person.

I didn’t want to ruin your life or even mine, I tried

I really did, but it’s just too much sometimes to even lift my head up

and I can’t tell you I am basically made of poison but I think you know

I’m sorry

I’m so fucking sorry

I didn’t choose this

I didn’t






My mum, in one of her attempts to relate to me, gave me far too much information about her friend Maria, the Unluckiest Woman In The World. Maria is actually just some fucking weird liar who took a shine to the mother, who never believed me when I said I hadn’t had a bevvy but falls for all the shit this wench comes out with, and anyway. Maria’s sister had The Cancer. From my mum’s vague hand gesturing we were to divine that this was The Cancer of the Female Organs.

Apparently she was married to this guy and she basically told him that because she couldn’t have sex with him she wasn’t a real wife, and so if he wanted to he could start going to whores. They’d still be married, but while she was off being rent with toxic chemicals, he’d be getting a sneaky nosh off some daft little tart who does blog posts about her trade.
It occurs to me that I could probably hire someone to do like the reverse of that. Like say to him: OK, she’s going to sit and talk to you and look after the house and money and be sociable and wash her hair every day, all the functions of a proper girlfriend bar one, then of a night you come in here to me

This much, I can still do.

It’s not like with everything else where I’m just sleepwalking through it. I’m here for this and my nerve endings scream with it, with the four or five seconds between him coming and him pulling out where I can feel myself holding on to him, trying to keep him inside me as long as possible, like I’m doing now.

He knows this. He waits, now, every time, and pushes his hips right against mine, so the bones press into each other, and he lets me lift my head to listen to his heart hammering away and he leaves me in the quiet with that for as long as I can hold him in. And I do, even with the fastener of my bra jamming into my back because he undid it but didn’t take it off. Until it’s not possible.

He was my first. I wasn’t his.
He isn’t the only. We split up for about six months, after a year, when I got ambulance drunk and he couldn’t find me for a day because I was in Manchester Rachel’s bed vomiting into a box of Lush stuff she got for her birthday and he flipped and said he couldn’t deal with the rest of his life while he was always worrying he’d one day find me collapsed behind a door. 
I’m pretty sure he has no recollection of ever having said that. I’ve thought about it every day since.
He’s out of me now, tracing the profile of my nose with his little finger

That little lopsided smile. I used to worry that we would split up because how many people only sleep with one person for their whole life? Thought the odds had to be against us there.
While I’m watching him I pull the bra off and lash it somewhere in the vague vicinity of the pile of washing on the floor. If you look very closely you can see a little hatch of scars across the top of my left breast. He says he can’t see them at all. They bother me, much more than anything. Of all the shit I’ve pulled, those marks apparently only I can see are the bit that sticks.
(the boy I was fucking to mark the passage of the time he wasn’t there said -what the FUCK is THAT?! I didn’t fuck him again)
Inventory of times I have thought I would love him all my life:

The first time I fucked him, when he realised I’d never done it before and he watched me with this look of utter concentration and I knew he was trying to make it worth remembering.
The day we moved in here when he put the bookshelves up stoned and came up with a theory that there’s a defined canon of literature that academic virgins with artistic pretensions HAVE to read or they don’t get their Sincerity Pass, and listed it with reference to half the books I own, shouting the titles out as he shelved them
When my grandad died and he answered the call from my brother on the landline, then walked right across the town centre in the pissing down rain to come to work so someone would tell me in person
The time he had to get me a pregnancy test and came back with two and a chicken sandwich that was on the yellow sticker table
Just now, with his hand behind my neck, fingers climbing up the bottom of my hairline, his breath thick with the taste of me on my cheek.
This is how I say: I know you didn’t ask for this.

This is how I plead with him: but I didn’t ask for this either

This is how I tell myself: this is who you really are, remember?

This is how I beg him: you remember? you know I’m still here?
It takes a good half an hour, usually, before I stop curling my toes like a cat rolling round on itself and counting dust motes in my head and the black liquid starts writing under the glass again and my skin prickles and I start counting the things that are wrong.
Mercifully by the time the wraith has listed my worst qualities and is calculating the sum total of my physical flaws, he is asleep. 
Inventory of all the ways I have tried to get rid of the writhing black under the glass:
starve it to death

blame it on an incident where someone called me a bitch at school

cut it out

laugh it off

numb it into submission with various interestingly named pills

sleep through it

use it as justification for writing some fucking awful stories

let my family persuade me I just need to refocus

on one particularly unfortunate occasion, batter fuck out of it with everything the bathroom cupboard had to offer

which led me to conclude it cannot be vomited up either

drink til I can’t remember it

spend an hour a week with some maths teacher wench drawing flow charts about it

pretend it’s not there

wear it like eyeliner

and the newest one:
accept that it fucking well owns me
There are hedgehogs fucking in the garden.
The garden opens up at the back into a field and the fence is broken in loads of places so we get wild rabbits and foxes in sometimes sniffing round the bins. Sometimes he leaves bits of raw bacon out for the foxes despite me telling him the landlord will lose his shit if he finds out. Every so often round Christmas we get a field mouse or two that somehow gets into the house and I make him trap them in a box and put them back outside.
And tonight, while I am sitting on the back step with only the security light on perfecting the art of crying and smoking simultaneously in silence, there is just this sex fiend hedgehog smashing the arse off his indifferent looking hedgehog tart. They’re going at this with a stoicism that really casts some cold light on the dreamy little post coital haze I was dragged out of. I’m sorry he’s not here to see it.
I’ve thrown his dirty T shirt on so as not to freeze my tits off or corrupt any insomniac neighbours, and as I’m idly burning a loose thread off the hem the ash drops onto my bare leg
and for a second, there’s the dirty rush of knowing I could. I have more fags. I have the lighter. We have knives, not razors because they’re upstairs in the bathroom and I don’t want to wake him up and have him find me like that
and there’s the hissing wraith of all those things I’ve tried to cheat this, all the things I hid it behind and all the vices I’m not allowed any more.
The thing is, being an anorexic/self harming mess/chronic piss artist/dole mole/therapy head/angsty poser is, those are all things you are. They require some conscious effort. All the effort, in fact, that I have been forcing out of myself since I was seven-fucking-teen to outrun this fucking thing that eats at me. Playing chicken with the death’s head gives you some kind of identity at least, when secretly you know, you fucking know, that you used to be a real person. Then for some reason, this sticky black poison writhed in your chest and slid down your veins and crackled on your tongue and stained your boyfriend’s hands and the world has carried on
while you’ve been down your hole punching your reflection, the people you know are becoming adults/spouses/parents/homeowners/professionals/artists/lovers//professors/wise/brave/happy
and the boy you found with the crooked smile and the darkest, darkest eyes and the rare as fuck Bikini Kill Tshirt is not on this list, because he is shackled to you and your white noise and your ugly and your trapped, and all they can say when you ask them why the fuck this has to be the inside of your head all they can say is: because you’re depressed

They should make a bigger word for it. 

There should be no word in any language that describes it.
The hedgehogs have gone their separate ways. The littler one is sitting under the security light. Fucking hell, girl, did you lend him money for a taxi as well?
The laugh fizzes out of me before I have time to think about it

The red mark from the ash has faded

My leg stretches out, smooth and pale and naked

My fingers twitch around the lighter switch
Upstairs, the bed creaks without me in it

His T shirt smells like sex and fabric softener and sweat and menthols and something that’s just him

There are twenty/thirty/forty years in front of us, and we can’t stop them from coming
I’d best put the fucking kettle on, then.

the infuriating symmetry of fallible hearts

Holly wakes up in the sand dunes, from half a dream she forgets as soon as her eyes are open. There is sick in her throat, but none seems to have made it out.
She sits up slowly, because she can’t be sure if the sick is from the drink or the anaesthetic. She can feel her phone in her pocket, so that’s alright, and she’s lying on Danny’s jacket so him and Grace must still be there. If she’s honest, she didn’t want to come out tonight at all but the alternative was sitting on the unit and she knows without doubt that the staff would have found endless excuses to try and talk to her. Grace had been back to her mum’s and lifted a bottle of cinnamon Smirnoff with gold flakes. No fucking contest. Briefly, she wonders if the sick in her throat has gold flecks. Eugh. No. Why go there?
Danny’s jacket as she puts it on is warm from where she’s been lying on it, which is good because it’s getting cold now. All that thick grass that scratches at her legs is blown flat and when she stands up-slowly, because it still hurts-she can see Grace and Danny down on the beach with whoever Danny’s mates are. Tide will be in soon, she notes, trying to burrow further down into the jacket and wishing, not for the first time this evening, that she’d put some tights on. She knew when she got dressed it would get colder later and went to get tights, but something just seemed so grubby to her about going for an abortion and then putting your tights back on. Tights, she reasoned this morning as she spat the metal taste out of her mouth, are for girls who don’t get fucking pregnant in the first place.o
It’s nice, round here. Boring as fuck but having a beach this close should not be underestimated. The last time she saw Reece and Maisie they thought she was making it up, that she lived by the beach. She told them they could come up in summer and she’d show them where the rabbits make their burrows up in the dunes. She didn’t tell them Grace’s theory that they put children’s homes near cliffs so the scum have nowhere to run away to.
She did tell her mum that, though. She laughed. But fuck her.
She thought her mum might have texted today but at the same time as she thought that she knew she wouldn’t. At least she didn’t offer to take her. She’d specifically asked them to make her appointment on one of the days Lydia was working because she didn’t think she would be able to stand waking up from an abortion and seeing any of the rest of the staff, but in the end it didn’t matter because they didn’t put her to sleep. That was unexpected. Holly considered herself to have seen quite a bit for just fifteen, but she had to admit she’d never thought of being wide awake for that. Anyway whatever it was they gave her, it was nice and dopey for a few hours and she fell asleep in the car on the way back, burning her stomach a little bit on the heat pad thing Lydia brought for her, probably, Holly muses, because she escorts someone for an abortion more often than she goes the dentist. It was good, though. It was a good idea. She was glad nobody else had come with her. Although Holly gets the distinct impression Lydia’s career in residential will not be a long one given that she looks like she’s going to cry every time Grace calls her a fucking goth. Holly has tried several times to explain to Grace that nose studs don’t make someone a goth but you can’t tell Grace anything and anyway, staff are staff, they go home in the morning whether or not someone’s been hanging from the rafters. Especially That Cunt James. Never puts his phone down, him, even that night her and Grace were hiding in the bathroom when Danny’s mum said she didn’t want him back at hers for Christmas and he threw a fucking radge and ran round for two hours with a pool cue and smashed his own bedroom window, the dozy melt. 
Holly makes her way down the dunes, slowly still. She feels less sick now the air’s hit her, just warm and slightly spinny and still with that grim pain in her stomach and her legs that feels like something’s being dragged down out of her.
Which, really, is what happened. Holly does an internal smirk at that one liner then immediately worries that she should be feeling awful for thinking things like that because she should be grief stricken.
She runs another check on herself. She still isn’t sad, or guilty, or anything out of the leaflet. This mildly worries her. She just feels…
Danny and that lad with the froggy eyes and the fucking ridiculous Nike tick shaved into his head are trying to build a bonfire. As Holly gets towards them Grace looks up from drawing patterns in the sand with a stick and waggles the lemonade bottle, which is about one part Aldi’s finest aerated lemon beverage and three parts Smirnoff Gold, towards her. Holly takes it from her, though she doesn’t want any more, and tips it upside down to watch the gold flecks and the bubbles swoosh round.
-Danny’s mate has gone to get some cans, Grace advises, picking her stick up again -I might fuck off in a bit though, he’s a bad fucking knob, him.
Holly loves it when Grace calls someone a knob. Nobody can squeeze as much venom into that word as her. It’s not by any stretch her most creative slur, either. When Holly first moved in she was shit scared of Grace but it’s just mouth. Danny’s just Danny, he’s alright but he’s not that arsed, obviously got his own shit going on. Gave her a hug once when she was crying because her contact with Reece and Maisie was being dropped to twice a year so they could be adopted, other than that he just gets on with it. Only person Holly’s ever met who doesn’t have some proper involved Tale about how they ended up in the reject bin. She only knows he’s Section 20 accommodated because of the time with the pool cue. Grace thinks he’s a sex case on the quiet and that’s why his parents binned him off. But Grace is only in Northumberland because she kept running away from Cornwall to fuck gangsters for whatever bits of shit cocaine they gave her for it. Grace was in private school until about three years ago. She gives it all this, but she hasn’t got a fucking clue to be honest.
-Probably join you, Holly says

-Who’s on tonight? Grace scrabbles around for her bag. 

-Lydia til eleven, Karen’s on the sleep and That Cunt James is on the overnight.

Grace clicks her tongue. -Fucking nonce, she says mildly. 

This morning when Holly was going past the office, they’d updated the whiteboard with which staff were on and saw Grace had written FINGERS BUDGIES next to That Cunt James’s name. Who the fucking hell christened her Grace?

-Thought you’d stay in after the hozzy, Grace says, half hidden in her bag -was it alright then?

Holly isn’t sure how much Grace knows. Cold shoots up her legs and she’s grateful for Danny’s jacket, despite his habit of substituting a full can of Lynx Africa for any form of shower.

-Was what alright?

Holly is suddenly very aware that she is still bleeding. She pulls the jacket tight around her.

-Whatever test you went to have.Did they find any radioactive fanny cancer or anything?

-Nah, nothing like that, just checking because my mum had this operation once.

This is nearly not a lie. Her mum had something uncomfortably gynaecological done after she had Reece and Maisie and loves banging on about how she was twenty nine and she couldn’t have any more kids, as if she hadn’t had the first three taken off her or anything.

-Anyway cancer’s not radioactive, you daft slag. That’s the treatment

-Arsed, Grace says. Danny comes over to grab the drink bottle

-Fuck off! Wait for him to get back with your ale!

-We’re going now anyway, Danny says, idly kicking Grace in the shin-shite trying to get a fire going here.

-It’ll be all that water in the sea, Dan, Holly muses. She shrugs his jacket off and surrenders it in place of the bottle. She can taste metal in her mouth again.

-The water’s not by the wood, though

Grace cackles. -Fucking hell. Can tell which one of you two goes to school.
Holly shuts her eyes briefly and lets the pain drag across her middle. She’s going back to school in three weeks, GCSE year. Lydia reminded her this morning. She’d replied -Be fucking great when they ask me what I did all summer.
Of course Holly has no intention of telling anyone at school what she did all summer. She never tells anyone at school anything. Never has. Sometimes they found out anyway, of course. But this morning she just wanted to be a bitch to Lydia, who was working an extra day just in order to do Holly a favour, and who was the only person she could think of telling, or asking to come, but staff are staff and Lydia with her little stud under her nose and her flicky eyeliner gets paid to look after the reject bin. Miles away. Miles and miles.
Holly jerks back into herself when she hears Grace, who comes into focus in front of her. 
-Holly! Shit, man, are you alright?

-Yeah, sound, just whitey’d a bit
She’s not. She’s warm, alcohol warm, the drink is sitting badly with whatever they gave her at the hospital, and she’s still being dragged from the inside. It occurs to her that she could just have stayed in her room all night with the door shut, and suddenly she wants to cry.
-You look fucked. Do you want to go back?

-In a minute.

-Fucking hell, Holl, you can’t stand up, mate.

-I’ll be sound, just going to sit down a minute.
Danny and his gobshite mate are up in the dunes. Holly can hear them shout to each other. Grace is having none of this.
-I’ll shout those fuckwits and we’ll walk you back, alright?


Grace doesn’t do sensitive but she seems actually worried. Holly imagines saying: I’m not sick, I had an abortion this morning, chill your beans. Dozily she wonders if she will ever tell anyone out loud.
-Nah. Can’t be fucked walking.

-Can’t kip out here.
Holly thinks for a second she could. The tide is coming in now. She focuses on the little waves, in time with the throbbing in the middle of her, in and out, trying to pinpoint the exact spot where it comes in further each time. On the third go, it dawns on her that she’s going to be sick. She just about manages to get close enough to do it in the sea, thinking about the gold flecks again.
When the sun’s out, this water looks really green. No, that’s Brighton. She went there for a contact with Reese and Maisie and their foster twats the other week. Maisie came barrelling out of the car and straight into Holly which is not good when you are eight weeks pregnant and your tits hurt like bastards, but that’s not Maisie’s fault. 
Grace is attempting to bodily haul her back up to the dunes.
-Mate, we’re going.
Go. Yes. Holly wishes Grace would go somewhere else. She can only shake her head because she’s trying not to be sick again. The tide rushes forward and breaks over Holly’s shoes.
Grace is having some trouble deciding how to respond to what she seems to think is Holly not being able to speak. She should just send her to get Danny but she truly, truly cannot be arsed to say anything. Grace waves a hand in front of her face
-Holly? Holly!


-Shit, girl. You’re fucked. You need to go home.
Holly doesn’t have a home. She hasn’t had a home since she was eleven. There isn’t anywhere in the world, ever, that Holly can go back to. She’s never seen her mum’s flat, even, and she doesn’t fucking well want to go back to the house full of strangers that the council pays three grand a week to keep her in, away from all the non-scummy, contraceptive using members of society, with That Cunt James and Grace who really has no idea about anything.
Holly wobbles to the right and bends in the middle, partly against the pain in her middle and partly to reach down and take her shoes off. It’s been hot out until about an hour ago but the sea is freezing and it feels delicious on her feet. She chucks her shoes at Grace
-Fuck are you doing, pisshead? Home’s that way!
It’s not home it’s not home it’s not home, Holly thinks. She’s never stopped to properly think that before, and suddenly that seems like a grave oversight.
-Staying out for a bit, she calls back -Go back the house, I’ll be in in a bit

-Holly! Grace clicks her tongue again -I’m going to tell Karen you’re off your tits on the beach

-Fine, then!
Grace is rapidly losing interest. She swears under her breath for effect, grabs the lemonade bottle and heads up to the dunes to see if Danny and Frog Eyes have anything to add. She may or may not have taken Holly’s shoes with her, Holly isn’t going to turn round to check.
She breathes in, in with the pain in her guts and the water lashing over her feet. The whooshing the water makes reminds her of the noise on the scan they had to do before at the hospital, to make sure it wasn’t too big they said. Holly quite liked the sound. Lydia expected her to be upset, she thinks, and the nurse did as well, but she wasn’t. She isn’t. It’s like-what the fuck is it like?
Holly knows, she knows absolutely, that she does not want a baby. She doesn’t have any hesitation about this. She never did. She’d gone online and done the dates calculator thing before she told her social worker, so she knew how long she had to sort the abortion. Not a second’s hesitation.
But, weirdly (she tastes sick and metal in the back of her throat), she thinks she will miss being pregnant. Not the mouth full of metal and the sore tits and the pissing like a racehorse, those she is counting the minutes til she is rid of, and they’ve told her it might take a bit. Fuck’s sake.
But when she was doing all the adding up and Googling about dates and abortion types and things and printing the stuff off to take to the meeting, she found out that you can’t pick up the heart rate of a foetus at six weeks from those scans because although it only has one of the four chambers, it beats 150 times a minute which is too fast for the machine. Holly loves this. She never, ever felt bad about knowing she would get rid of it, and she doesn’t, and she won’t, but there were a few nights when she couldn’t sleep and she heard the night staff banging down the stairs to make brews because nobody ever sleeps in that house, when she just lay in bed in the dark wiggling her toes and thinking about a microscopic little heart twice as fast as hers running away inside her, and kind of wishing she could just stop time there, in the dark, with nothing to say and nobody to explain to and just these hearts running past each other.
Her mum cried when she heard, which pissed Holly off. Then she said she was glad Holly understood she couldn’t look after a baby, which made Holly nearly laugh in the middle of it because all the soshe knew who looked after Reece and Maisie when they were little. That was why they placed her away from them for fuck’s sake. She had to bite back the urge to ask in front of the soshe who took them to nursery the day she found UncleDad?
Her mum fucking fumes when she calls him UncleDad, which is of course mostly why she still does. (That, and it’s quite funny. Grace nearly pisses herself whenever Holly says it) He isn’t her real dad. Wasn’t. Still got no idea who that is. She was supposed to have called him Uncle Dean when he first moved in and she was little, littler than Reece and Maisie are now, but she doesn’t remember ever calling him anything but Dean. Then the kids called him Daddy of course and sometimes they’d hear her say Dean and be like, what the fuck?
Holly’s heart hurts more at the thought of her little brothers face tilted up at her with that look in his eye than it ever did at the thought that she had made a possibly-baby and fucked it off, and it hurts more at the thought of whether this makes her a terrible person.
But really, it’s having kids you don’t give a fuck about that makes you a terrible person, isn’t it?
It was Maisie, though, on that day. Holly’s alarm hadn’t gone off, it was Maisie shouting that woke her up. Maisie only started kicking off when she was pissed through wet or starving, so she must have been crying for a while by the time Holly woke up
(She steps forward, churning cold, wet sand between her toes. Whoosh. In and out)
and when she went in, she’d been sick on herself and the cot and Reece, and Holly was already going to be late even if she left there and then. She could smell that they’d been smoking the night before and Holly hated the smell of that stuff anyway, it knocked her sick, and between that and Maisie sick and being late when she’d already got a bollocking in front of the whole Science group for going in late the other day she just couldn’t be arsed. When she got Maisie out of the cot the plan was just to take her into their room and dump her on the bed while she sorted Reece out, wait for the screaming and the smell of sick to wake them up to see to their own kid for a change
(She tries to breathe in time with the whoosing and the water bubbling past her ankles, over her shins. With the waves of dragging through the middle of her, pulsing down her legs)
and as soon as she walked in, right, it was like a film with the arm hanging out of the side of the bed, but maybe she’s put that together later, but she walked over and UncleDad, Dean, he had really dark skin, which obviously meant he wasn’t her dad straight away because Holly is ginger of all bastard things, with skin like the surface of the moon. In care, smartarsed and ginger, it’s no wonder she ended up pregnant
(she almost chokes out a laugh at that, but no, because she’s scared to be sick in the sea/on her feet. In. Out. Whoosh. Too fast to hear)
but she could see right away, he just looked wrong. When Maisie saw him she started crying louder and trying to wriggle away from Holly onto her dad, still all hot and damp from crying and sticky with sick, and he just didn’t move and then Holly screamed because his eyes were open and she knew, and even with the crying and the scream and the dead boyfriend her mum just carried on sleeping, and then Holly left Maisie on the bed which she hated doing with UncleDad lying there dead but now Reece was crying as well and she was shouting for her mum to wake up and she just didn’t.
(In. Out. Push your feet right down into the cold. Stomach dragging, in and out like a heart racing)
So there was nothing else to do. She tried ringing 999, but the phone was dead and Reece and Maisie needed sorting so she just got them ready because there was nothing else to do, and the nursery was only down the road so she took them and didn’t tell the woman Maisie had been sick, and when she got into school she’d forgotten her bag so she just went to Barb on Reception who sometimes let her sneak in without a late slip and said that her dad was dead and then she didn’t ever go home again.
The sea in front of Holly lights up as she tries to fill her lungs and stomach with air and blow it all back out again, back into the sea and the sky where you can’t tell where one starts and the other finishes. Car headlights, or Frog Eyes has got a torch, or whatever. The muscles in her stomach clench again, but she’s not going to be sick again now.
She wasn’t sad to leave that school because everyone thought she was a weird scruff anyway. She didn’t think much either way about the foster twats, the first ones, but she felt like someone had cut her arms off without Reece and Maisie. She hates her mum for that. It hasn’t dawned on her yet that this is still the only thing she dares to hate her mum for. Who still hasn’t even texted to make sure she didn’t die on the table, by the way.
Holly’s feet are numb from the cold now. It’s not bad. She wishes the middle of her, the hot, dragging, aching bit, would go cold and numb. She tries to keep her mind on the whooshing and not try and make herself feel guilty when she doesn’t, because that seems like it would make sense, like what a normal person would feel.
(Grace’s voice from the dunes. In. Out. Fuck Grace. This isn’t home. A human heart has four chambers, fully formed) 
Holly finds it very hard to imagine she was ever a one chamber organism inside her mum, going too fast to hear. It’s like when they did biology and all the kids in class were saying they were sick off the thought of their parents shagging to make them. Holly didn’t get that, but she thinks maybe she does now, standing in the sea with her insides dragging and her head still drink-warm and starting to ache.
Holly wonders, with her blood almost turning to ice as she acknowledges the thought, how much better it would have been if her bloody mother had just gone and done what Holly did. Twenty minutes, not even a scalpel, is that too much to fucking ask? How is it a better idea, she thinks suddenly angry at the injustice, to bother having kids for this..this shit?


Holly turns back to face the beach behind her.

In which a man told me to beware of thirty three

I wasn’t sure if I should write this. Or if I should publish it at least. I wasn’t going to and then I was and wasn’t again a few times so it’s now prudent to explain that it is the second of August, and yesterday was my birthday, and I was 34.

I had Feelings about this. I wrote a piece a couple of years ago about the pressure people feel to have their lives together when they turn 30, and how sometimes people are so busy ticking a list they miss the really awesome stuff they did without thinking about it. I explained turning 30 didn’t bother me, because when I was 16 I I invented the Law of Jarvis, which states that it is OK to be a complete and utter mess, an absolute laughing stock, a thorn in your mother’s side until you are 33 because that’s the age that Jarvis Cocker’s twenty years of dicking about with Mellotrons and claiming to be in a band culminated in the glories that are so very rightly his. So I had a pass in that regard.

And I’m actually so weird that when I turned 33 I decided I was going to honour that law, and have something to show for it, and make this Like My Fucking Year Dudes. It didn’t happen. Anyone who knows me and a fair number of people who don’t will be aware that I am, frankly, mental. Always have been. Sabotaged my childhood. Stole my twenties. I’m still waiting for this mythical day when I will magically be cured and spend the rest of my life smugly giving talks about how much better I am than people who are still ill, who are obviously just not spending enough time imposing arbitrary deadlines based on Britpop era chart placings. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve had quite the smorgasbord of diagnoses and treatments and what have you, but when I turned 33 last year it was the anorexia that had got me. Or still, to some extent, is getting me. And let me tell you, anorexia is a young girl’s game. Never in one of those things-to-do-in-your-30s lists was it written that you should sit shivering in a day unit,picking at a Kit Kat while nineteen year old waifs in Disney onesies sob quietly, being absolutely fucking mortified to have got yourself into this situation. So it was that I’d fucked it again. Didn’t get life sorted by thirty. Came up with cunning excuse, then fucked that deadline as well. What a tragic, useless bitch I turned out to be.

Then a few months after my 33rd birthday, and his 30th, my ex boyfriend died, and it really went to shit.

Let me explain. We met in 2004, when we were basically kids, and we had one of those big epic dramatic Epiphany Summers where we were absolutely obsessed with each other, and we stayed together for four years, and played house, and argued about books, and got a rabbit for some reason, and moved back to his beloved home city where eventually my choking insanity and his youthful panic at dealing with it hit critical and we broke up.

It was then, twenty five, broken, homeless, reeling and suicidal that I made the decisions that made me who I am now, and brought me to the point of having a reasonably enjoyable adult life doing things I’d been afraid to. Over the last couple of years we’d become friends again, having conducted a brutally painful post mortem of some of the hardest times in out lives and realised that even under that, in some way, we loved each other.

And he was thirty when he died. Thirty years, three months and nineteen days to be exact. His birthday is the 3rd of August. He’s never going to get his Jarvis moment. And he was clever, and charming and funny and argumentative and stubborn and passionate and he did wonderful work that he was very well respected for. And he was loved, so much, in so many ways by so many people, even me. Especially me. Who owns the shyly cocky eighteen year old version of him in a Sonic Youth T shirt trying to quote Larkin and pass it off as a thought of his to get in my pants. Who was not, in the end and really ever, the love of his life, or anyone’s. And who was angry with him, for a long time, because he hurt me in a way no one ever has.

But then ten years later it didn’t matter because there we were arguing about tuition fees and rating the cast of Casualty in order of attractiveness and buying books we didn’t need just to hang around the bookshop. And I kind of think, if we had known when we were kids that his time to live and succeed and do amazing stuff would be so limited, we probably would have got so hung up on going for the IMMENSELY MEANINGFUL TEACHABLE BUCKET LIST INSPIRATION PORN moments that we would have missed all the glorious nothing that you clock up by the time you’re in your late twenties.

The thing is, I wasn’t in love with him, hadn’t been for a decade. That’s fine. That’s how it goes. But what it is: if I had never known him, if we hadn’t had that beautifully ill advised game of house, if we’d called time on it sooner and parted ways like adults: I wouldn’t be who I am now. I wouldn’t have made the decision to train for a job I love. I wouldn’t have moved back to my adopted home city, where every inch of it is both him and the woman I became after he was gone. I wouldn’t know the people I do. Wouldn’t have gone back to complete my aborted creative writing MA so I could go HA HA HA I DID IT NYEHHH, which I just did, and somewhere along the line picked up accidental journalism credits and wrote two actual fucking plays. It was a doomed relationship. It was a huge mistake. It was a bad idea.

But it’s in every wonderful thing that I have. It’s every time I know I’m not going to fall to pieces for good, that I will be ill and get better and maybe get ill again and survive and go on. And he had less time than me, and I’m chatting shit now, but what I want to say here is that his thirty measly little years where he didn’t get married or become Prime Minister: they were fucking enough. He was enough.

We’re all enough. Even me, even me. Even if we never write Common People or get elected or even spend that much time outside some form of hospital setting-those things aren’t the measure of a life. We’re not afraid, really, that we won’t live our best lives. We’re afraid that when we’re gone, we won’t have left any of ourselves with the people we leave behind.

I had an idea years ago that I would write a play charting a relationship using a playlist he made for me years ago. His music taste came off well in it. His boyfriend credentials, not so much.

When he died I made the playlist again, I added anything that had been dissected between us in the interim. It starts with Dashboard Confessional and it ends with Little Mix and that is weirdly as if he planned it. The play will probably never get made. It doesn’t matter. I may not be a Proper Writer, but I fucking wrote it. I wrote it because I felt it. I felt it because I knew him. Because I didn’t know he was going to up and fucking die on me midweek just before Christmas I never really had the big moment of telling him that. He’d probably have been insufferable if he did.

What I would like, I think, more than to write something that becomes as legendary as Common People (oh yeah we’re back on the Jarvis metaphor) is to know that I wrote or said or did or was something, at some point, that became a part of the best bit of someone else. I want to be what a classic song feels like. I want that more than I want a wedding or a book deal or a law degree. And I want it for you as well, when you think you’re shit. When I look at the people I know, the funny and fierce and brave and talented and loving people who make me want to do things better, and leave a trace of me in them, and I see how many of them behind the scenes are still feeling like they haven’t ticked off the bucket list, like they’re not enough, like they’re wasting time, I start to think maybe wasting time is kind of the point.

In about 1996 Jarvis did an interview about becoming an Amazing Success And Defying All The Odds in which he said something I’ve never forgotten. Admittedly in this interview he also justified shagging around on his long term girlfriend by saying “if your cock points in a certain direction you follow, because at least it’s an imperative.” (deduct three million feminism points, confiscate Mellotron for a week) but still, it’s worth knowing. He’s never let me down again since so here we go.

He said his plan for life was actually a bit unclear now that he was An Unlikely Success, Future National Treasure and Michael Jackson Antagonist, because life becomes boring if there isn’t always something else just out of your reach. He said, in a nutshell, that people who get whatever they want and achieve all their dreams tend to become boring, bored bastards.

He’s right, you know.

So there’s me, anyway. I’m 34, and I’m a lot less anorexic than I was a year ago. At the point now where it’s like an eroded tooth. All the drama and physical danger and frenzied obsession is gone and it’s exposed the godawful pain that made me do it in the first place. And that’s fine. I’ll live with that. I’ll live with myself til I like her at least a little bit. I’ll live with all of you, and you’ll all leave little traces of yourselves with me that make me better, and if I’m lucky I might do the same for you, I hope.

This has long been a lullaby of mine. It’s basically about how sometimes in all the ways that matter, being average is exactly what you most need to be. Remember that next time you fail or you’re ill or somehow make a tit of yourself. For as the Living God sings, aren’t you happy just to be alive?

Fuck it. Yes. Yes I am. You too, OK?

Review: “It’s Better To Lie Than To Tell The Truth And End Up Alone InA Ditch Crying” by Ellen Waddell

I read somewhere once that the average person lies about ten times a day, just in the course of going about their business. I’m not sure if it was a particularly air tight piece of research, mind you. I mean, it seem to me to be a gross underestimate for anyone with parents, small children or a job on the phones selling people broadband upgrades on their mobile phone plan, which is a fair old swathe of the population.

It seems Ellen Waddell agrees with me on this, given the fairly unequivocal title of her second one person show (fuck off, I typed it at the top of the review, I don’t have to fucking spoon feed you people) which purports to deal with the necessity of telling the odd falsehood when, for example, applying for a job you desperately need but would much prefer unnecessary dental surgery, or pretending to be enthralled by the birth story of an over sharing friend when really you wouldn’t mind someone coming along to falcon punch her in her still-raw womb if it would make her shut up. You know the kind of thing.

Now though I very much enjoyed Ellen’s last show, Jean-Luc Picard And Me, it had a slight problem in that while it was actually about how we use popular culture to raise ourselves during the painful parts of our childhoods and the joy of using said pop culture to connect with other people, someone who hadn’t seen it might likely presume it was essentially an hour of jokes about Star Trek, so the long and explicit title is actually a big help in that regard at least. One of the things that struck me most about that show is how sharp an eye Ellen has for the universal weaknesses that bind us all in her own foibles, and how brave she was in using herself as an example to shed some light on them, and I was pretty interested to see if she’d built on this in what sounded like a very different show.

So it turns out: she has, and then some. There’s a very different structure here: where the first show was a PowerPoint lecture overseen by the not-all-that-benevolent paper mâché head of a Starfleet captain, this is more of a straightforward theatre set up interspersed with time travel interludes where Ellen takes us through her “difficult” 2012 largely spent trying to collect Successful Adult merit badges after a major career change left her unemployed, adrift, insecure and living in her mum’s back bedroom. She sets out to do this armed only with a chair and some party poppers. And, it should be noted, some excellent jokes about the dangers of performing sex acts on yourself in the past, because we’ve all wondered about that.

There’s a technique in psychotherapy called “empty chair work” which as you might expect involves the patient resolving difficult issues in their past by addressing an imaginary incarnation of the person involved: their mother, their ex-husband, their slightly weird flute teacher, the idea being that by releasing the emotion and imagining a controlled response in a safe setting, you can lessen the emotional hold that experience has over you. I wondered at points during the show if it was maybe THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THAT, as the chair based scenarios- a disastrous first date, an interview for a tedious menial admin job that is still a hundred furlongs better than the alternative “no job at all”, and a teeth-gritting lunch with a smug, oblivious friend which culminates in Ellen frantically unburdening herself to an invisible newborn- demonstrate how easily she (and all of us) will modify our needs and feelings to secure the approval of others, even if we don’t like them that much. Even if they are in fact the sentient equivalent of one of those sick burps where you get foul burning acidy stuff sliding slooooooowly back down your throat (yeah, the First Date Guy sounds a absolute dickhead), it’s preferable to deceive them to gain approval rather than have them see inside us.

Which is where the adjoining monologue sections come in, and we confront the possibility that maybe we don’t want people to know our real selves because even we don’t like that person. Ellen does a remarkable and incredibly brave job here of managing never to lapse into self pity or self indulgent wallowing whilst being so gut wrenchingly honest that I must admit there were moments I had to look away or I would have done a bit of a cry in a room full of strangers, and I strongly suspect I wasn’t the only one-particularly at the ending, which is so raw it knocks the breath out of you and still somehow reminds you of the kind of warm buggy feeling you get when someone’s trusted you enough to tell you a secret. Because while the story she recounts is achingly personal, she’s also very adeptly identified the pressure points that none of us get through life without hitting at some point and the creeping sense everyone inevitably faces at some stage that they don’t meet expectations, their own or the world’s-that we are never quite enough: as Ellen describes it, the feeling that if you aren’t perfect, you are worthless. For those not so intimately familiar with this dichotomy as the likes of me, she’s also got a nice line in casually filthy jokes, well positioned pop culture references and wry asides that stops it becoming a total emoshe-fest, I mean it’s not Les Miserables up in here. (speaking of trying too hard to be impressive-thought I was clever trying to read that when I was 15 and saw the musical for Drama GCSE. 1000 fucking pages! Just say “the prostitute got TB” and let’s get moving here!)

What it is, though, is a thoroughly entertaining, witty and utterly human performance. I felt a couple of hours after I left when I was still feeling ALL THE FEELINGS, that in a sense this show is a gift to anyone who’s ever felt a bit different, a bit stupid, a bit of a failure, from a genuinely gifted, warm and engaging and seriously courageous performer: really, the only sadness is that Ellen would ever have not recognized herself in that description.

In which Transport for London have little time for the Atkins diet

It’s generally been my experience that you never have to wait too long for the next argument on the internet. Even so, there’s a good number of debates that keep popping back up, like a photo of you in the mid 90s wearing ecru denim that your mum persistently re-tags you in on Facebook.


So I wasn’t entirely unprepared for the wave of protest that followed the announcement that one if Sadiq Khan’s first acts as newly elected Mayor of London was to ban what he called “body shaming” adverts on the Tube. The displeasure on Twitter ran the gamut from “creeping Sharia law” (no, really, that was an actual comment) “try cleaning the carriages first” (well…they might have a point there)  with most occupying the eternally self righteous dreadzone between freedom of speech concerns and “you can’t just ban everything that upsets you. Are you going to stop shampoo adverts because they hair-shame bald people?”


Only it’s not quite that simple.


Before we go any further, I’ll declare an interests. Firstly-I’ve already exhausted most of the above arguments on the “beach body ready” advert with obligatory woman in bikini that started all this last year, when in response to a petition about sexist advertising the Snake Oil Merchants Who Shall Remain Nameless decided to respond by humiliating and terrorising a much loved friend of mine on her Twitter account and unleashed a shitstorm which made the BBC and even made a pass through the rapacious self publicising tentacles of the sentient embodiment of the menstrual cramp, Katie Hopkins.  As I said at the time, the advert itself wouldn’t have induced any emotion in me other than stultifying boredom, but even if it did that wouldn’t be the real problem. The real problem is in the barrage of gleeful egg-account Internet Traffic Wardens who happily piled on to tell a recovering anorexic to “wear a burkha then” “stop being jealous of an attractive model because you’re ugly” and-here being the real rub-”why are you against people being healthy? Just go to the gym, if it upsets you!”


See, it’s that. That right there.


You see, Transport for London haven’t banned pictures of attractive models in bikinis. Attractive models in bikinis will still be there to sell you drinks and holidays and even-guess what-swimwear! The point here isn’t that the mere sight of a pretty person is enough to send the good folk of the capital into an entitlement tantrum, no matter how much the image would stroke your prejudices. The point isn’t that women should be covered up. The point isn’t hiding from anything remotely unpleasant with SAFE SPACES and TRIGGER WARNINGS and OTHER THINGS ARMCHAIR LIBERTARIANS ARE AGAINST WITHOUT ACTUALLY QUITE UNDERSTANDING. The point is very simple: these aren’t health products. They’re diet products. They are not one and the same. Let me explain why.


Now, just so we’re all clear, adverts don’t cause eating disorders. I’ll say it again: adverts do not cause eating disorders. Eating disorders are complicated psychological mechanisms for distress management that creep into the silent spaces where someone feels they’re not happy enough/good enough/worth enough and hides the ever expanding list behind: thin enough. I can vouch for this, because I have one. It may sometimes be more accurate to state that it has me. I didn’t become anorexic because I saw attractive people in bikinis. I never read fashion magazines-well, I tell a lie, I filched them off my cousin to read the filthy bits, teenage me had her priorities right on that score. Couldn’t have given less of a toss about the waistlines of the girls in the Topshop adverts. Still couldn’t.


But you see the thing is: I became anorexic because deep down, when you take away my intelligence and my sarcasm and my degree and my intersectional feminism, right down there in the quiet place: I believe I am worthless, and that I should be punished for this.


No trash TV or perfume billboard did that to me, or to any of the millions of other people (Rethink’s current estimate is that 25% of them are men) with eating disorders. I’ll tell you what though: it made it a hell of a lot easier to go on having one. To find an acceptable lie. To watch the TV host pour gallons of sugar into a tube and feel a little superior thrill at the expense of the fat person on the screen. To waste twenty quid on a useless product in the hope that if I take it like it says on the box or maybe a few more just to be sure, I’ll feel forgiven enough to eat something.


And when I’m writing this I’m not even thinking of me, or my beautiful friend who I mentioned before, and the dark places we’ve been, and the tears and scars and feeding tubes and Section 3 renewals and broken hearted parents and the numbers, the numbers, the ENDLESS FUCKING NUMBERS.  I’m thinking of the others.


The other women I know. The normal women. With no diagnosis, no pscyhiatrists, probably never even been on an SSRI. The ones who get on the Tube, every day. The ones who repost Facebook memes about all the stuff they eat that they know they shouldn’t. The once who announce, confronted with an office birthday cake, that it’s alright because “I’ve been good this week.” The women who get salad when they want pizza and haven’t drunk full fat Coke for years. The ones who still go to the gym with brutal head colds not because the endorphins will make them feel better, but because they need to know the books will balance properly, that they’ve done enough to be forgiven. The ones who prefer Starbucks to Costa because the calorie counts are on the menu.


The women who aren’t vapid sheep consuming media at face value or entitled snowflakes crying that it’s not fair she’s prettier. The ones who are uneasily aware, all the time, of the background hum around us all, that hum of not-good-enough-not-good-enough-never-be-good-enough, though they know better. The beautiful, brave, fierce, funny, clever women who are nurses and mothers and professors and artists and editors, and would never dream of insulting a fat person or telling their daughter to lose weight, but who know, because the culture that surrounds us leaves little germs wriggling through our minds and into our dark places, that when they feel bad, they feel fat.


My littlest niece is just over a year old. She loves food. I mean, she LOVES food. She’s memorised all the little signals that soon it will be time for food, and her utter unparallelled joy when they roll around is nothing short of adorable. And sad. Because I know she won’t keep it. I know one day she’ll be with friends or at a family dinner or on a date and she’ll say no to something that looks delicious, because for all of her life there’s been an industry that packages people’s insecurities in cute pink laxative teabags and sells it back to them as the pursuit of health. Because if you eat what you want you’ll be fat, and then you’ll need to but some carb blockers and fat burners and meal replacement shakes, so you can beat back the fat and be good and worthy and clean and pure and forgiven.


That is what body shaming is. That is why elevating trivia to a value judgement is harmful even to those who haven’t spent a lifetime banjaxing their self destruct button. And that is why, if I’m honest, I couldn’t give a toss that you don’t get to clock that model’s tits at Edgeware.