Part 169: Unsolicited Advice

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One of the reasons I haven’t become a mother yet (putting aside the bad boyfriends, the years of celibacy, and the relentless sexism of the particular career path I have chosen) is because of the onslaught of unsolicited advice that falling pregnant would inevitably encourage. I always feel for new mums, posting snaps of their just-born babes on Facebook, knackered, newly incontinent, stitches stretching from perineum to cervix. All they want, in those days and weeks after having expelled a human from their genitals, are compliments about how precious that human is, and visitors who’ll look after the baby in another room so they can take an uninterrupted three-hour nap (and maybe think about bringing a home-made lasagne or a massive roast chicken while you’re at it). Instead, they are bombarded with advice, from the mawkish (‘cherish every moment because time flies’) to the moral (‘So good to see you breastfeeding hunny. It might get tough but keep going! Breast is best for baby.x’), disguised as congratulation. I have no idea how anyone refrains from writing FUCK OFF in all caps and chucking their baby out the window, just to see what the smug twats will write then.

I’ll say this, and I’ll say it once (at the risk of defying my own rules as I set them): if somebody wants your advice, they’ll ask for it. If nobody asks for your advice, you can safely assume you are living an unenviable existence and continue on your merry way. You know who especially doesn’t want your advice? Single people. I absolutely promise we are not looking at your relationship, wondering how we might recreate a similar bliss in our own lives. We either want to fuck your husband or else we wonder how you manage to fuck him — or if you even do anymore, because since he grew that beard we really can’t see how you’d stomach it. (Remember when you invited us to your wedding without a plus one, even though we’ve known each other for twenty years — even though you knew it would be swimming with our exes? This is divine retribution, and you are just going to have to suck it up, with good grace, cheap wine and cigarettes cadged from your husband’s aunty, like we did).

When we come to you, broken and defeated because we thought the guy we’re seeing was into the idea and then he started cancelling dates and telling us it was because he had to visit the dog he’d left behind when he split with his ex-girlfriend, we are not seeking advice. What we want is one of these three things, which I list in no particular order: for you to set us up with a friend of a friend who turns out to be the love of our life, a story about a time you were similarly defeated, vodka. Whichever of these you decide to offer, it is also important to remind us that men are remorseless cunts (if we’re lesbians this is still an acceptable message) and that we are talented, loved and beautiful. If we are childless, in our mid to late thirties, and you sense we are somewhere around the thirteenth day of our menstrual cycle, you might also want to remind us about Danish sperm donors, and that woman in Lahore who gave birth at 70 (but don’t phrase it so as to suggest we are in any way looking down the barrel of our fertility, because that will really piss us off).

I think I might need to start smoking again.

Hungover

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Oh dear.

Darlings.

I went out on a Wednesday night, stomach empty, and I drank three colours of wine, whisky chasers. Smoked one Marlborough Light.

I ate a steak and some vegetables, all dipped in gloopy cheese fondue.

I can’t remember much about the evening, although I do recall a heated debate re: euthanizing the ‘biologically inefficient’ (infirm children, over 60s, homosexuals, etc.). (You’ll be pleased to hear I was anti).

Headache. Poorly poorly me. Cystitis.

The Cat Story

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Because I promised:

Last summer, my sister and her girlfriend adopted a cat. They hadn’t planned to. Their neighbour arrived at the door with a scared, emaciated kitten and asked if they’d take it in — she couldn’t, she said, because her own cat was funny around other cats and had recently gone AWOL for several nights on end; he might disappear forever if she introduced an interloper to the house. So my sister and her girlfriend reluctantly adopted the stray kitten and fell, quickly, in love.

He was perfect. He had soft pink kitten paws and piercing green eyes almost completely eclipsed by huge pupils that reflected their faces back at them, like tiny black mirrors. He had pointy ears and a little white blob above his top lip — like a Hitler moustache, except slightly askew. They named him Pipas (which is Spanish for ‘marbles’ or something, I wasn’t really listening).

The love, it appeared, was reciprocated. Pipas slept in their bed, curled between them, purring soft kitten purrs and breathing his fragrant kitten breath into their sleeping faces. He suckled at the downy fleece of their dressing gowns as though drawing milk from his mother’s teats. I’ve got no idea how they managed to sustain a sex-life during this period, but I suppose that’s not my business.

As the kitten grew we, the extended family, were bombarded with pictures on social media. Video clips in which Pipas was caught doing things all cats do (sleeping in vessels meant for storage, rubbing himself against my sister’s leg in anticipation of food), only we had to pretend they were remarkable. ‘He’s so clever,’ my sister would text, along with a WhatsApp pic of the cat chewing some old slippers.

I would delete these messages and occasionally ring my mum to ask if we should be concerned for my sister’s mental health.

Months went by, and the winter drew close. I had embarked upon my own doomed love affair by this point and was in no fit state to correspond with my sister about the day-to-day antics of her cat. I resigned from the family WhatsApp group in a fit of rage during a dramatic confrontation over which restaurant we were to book for our early Christmas dinner. I heard through the grapevine that my youngest brother had agreed to stay at my sister’s house and cat-sit over the New Year.

And then, one morning, I woke early to a text message from my mother. ‘Have you heard about Pipas?’ It said, and I thought: Fuck. The cat’s dead.

But it wasn’t. The cat had gone missing. Someone had set off fireworks and Pipas had spooked. There was a desperate internet campaign for her return. Against all the odds, it worked. Rejoyce, for the cat has returned! All was well.

But it wasn’t.

A few days later, my sister and her girlfriend received an email. ‘I think you have my cat,’ it said, ‘he went missing this summer.’ A picture was attached, and it was undeniably baby Pipas, who was someone else’s all along. Quite how he had ended up wandering the streets of Camberwell, some six or seven miles away from his original home, was anybody’s guess.

If I had been my sister, I would, at this point, have said: ‘go fuck yourself’. The cat was settled, everybody was happy. Why complicate things by worrying about other people’s problems? But my sister is a thoroughly moral person, and the original owner had a young family; the children missed their kitten. ‘It was the right thing to do,’ she told me, after they had delivered Pipas back. (It was, by all accounts, a horrid goodbye. My sister’s girlfriend had cried and begged the original owner not to feel the cat dairy; the original owner had agreed and then, baffled by the request, asked whether or not milk was dairy.)

It was sad. But it was a cat. We all moved on. My romance imploded. I rejoined the family WhatsApp group and attended our early Christmas dinner, despite the venue. Real Christmas passed. My sister and her girlfriend spent New Year in Columbia. If the subject of cats was raised we all agreed they had done the right thing. Life continued as normal.

Until last week, when my sister opened her front door one morning to find Pipas waiting on the doorstep. It was almost seven months to the day since they had returned him. The cat had walked six miles; he had used his cat instincts to find his way to Camberwell. He had got back, all by himself, without the aid of a sat nav. He saw my sister and mewed. He ran straight past her, leaping into the house and up the stairs and onto the double bed where my sister’s girlfriend sat reading. She burst immediately into tears, and the cat jumped into her lap, suckled quietly at her fleece dressing gown and fell sound asleep.

It’s almost enough to make you believe in love again.

*The cat in the image (from freedigitalphotos.net) looks absolutely nothing like Pipas.

Sorry. Can’t be arsed

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I know, I know. I said I’d post a blog a day until the end. But it turns out that was an ambition doomed to failure. What was I thinking? I can’t be arsed to post anything considered and well written on a Monday night. I’m spent. I was in back-to-back meetings from 10am until some time after 6pm, and I marked some 16,000 words of student writing during the fleeting breaks in-between. Then I went to yoga where I had to avoid eye contact with this bloke I recently matched on Tinder and unsuccessfully hold in a fart. Then I came home and worked for an hour. And then I sat and stared at Facebook. And then I half-wrote two posts, which I’ll finish tomorrow, God willing. But I want to go now and watch the Great British Sewing Bee, and then sleep a sleep haunted by Claudia Winkleman’s garish face. So I’m going to do that babies and I’ll return tomorrow with the cat story as promised, and continue this blog-a-day challenge, although there will undoubtedly be breaks in service because I’m simply not the woman I want to be. Although I’m getting closer every day.

Part 168: The Bird Woman from Home Alone 2

My friend Tom’s parents invited me to dinner just before Christmas, and I was terrible, terrible company. I sat morosely, my eyes puffy from weeks of tears. I had no jokes to tell, no witty anecdotes with which to entertain my hosts. My nails were unpainted and I wore a sludge-coloured shirt and jeans ripped at the knees. I drank the champagne they offered in long, thirsty gulps and answered questions in tight monosyllables, utterly dispelling their long-held illusion that I am a confident, charismatic young* woman on her way up.

I don’t expect I’ll be invited back.

I was going through a bad patch, as you will remember, if you read this blog or spent any time with me whatsoever during that period. I had just changed jobs, moved to a new town, hooked up with an unreliable cad (but oh! His green eyes and his slow, cunning smile and those cheek bones!) and heard that yet another of my school friends was about to have a baby — a thing which seemed very far away for me, even though an Ouija board once told me (through the spirit of my future daughter) that I would give birth in 2017 (good luck, next person who sleeps with me! You might be the father of my child(ren). Won’t that be a laugh?). The end of last year was bad for me. There was much sobbing by the river, chain-smoking of Marlborough Lights and drunken text message sending, even though I am in my 30s and doing my very best to keep life from descending into Sex and the City cliché.

At the end of the evening, as Tom, his parents and I wound down with brandy and little chocolate mints, Home Alone 2 came on the TV. I had forgotten most everything about the film. I had particularly forgotten about the bird woman, who lives in Central Park (or some kind of warehouse thereabouts), where she wanders aimlessly, wearing a shapeless grey frock, a bulbous hat and an oversized dress-coat, feeling terribly sorry for herself. Her cheeks are ruddy, her hair greying and matted — she has a twinkle in her eye but it is activated only when three hundred pigeons descend, pecking at the hideous dress-coat, vying for spaces on her body where they might perch.

She is, unsurprisingly, absolutely covered in bird shit.

There is this scene where she and Kevin (if you’ve never seen the movie Kevin is the small boy who finds himself implausibly alone in New York City after an unlikely airport mix-up) have a heart-to-heart. He is the first soul she’s spoken to in two years or more, she tells him. She doesn’t trust, these days. She doesn’t love. ‘The man I loved fell out of love with me.’ She explains. ‘That broke my heart. When the chance to be loved came along again, I ran away from it. I stopped trusting people.’

I felt all the eyes in the room dart towards me, and away again.

Oh my God. I was the bird lady.

‘Oh my God,’ Tom said. ‘You’re the bird lady.’

It was my rock bottom. If rock bottom can occur when you’re a pampered guest in a Battersea town house, drinking Courvoisier from a heavy crystal brandy glass.

As is usual (I’ve seen JK Rowling on Oprah), my rock bottom was followed by a swift and decisive life-change and things are better. Look, I’m really trying to not turn this into a motivational post. I am not sufficiently recovered to wish happiness upon you or anyone else. I have no advice to aid you in your recovery (if you read this for recovery rather than Schadenfreude). I just wanted to remind you that sometimes things are shit, and then they get better — because occasionally I want to do sincerity, and you’re just going to have to deal with that.

*go fuck yourself.

Part 167: Sexy

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Oh my God, I looked so sexy yesterday. No idea why. I take no credit for it. I’ve been drinking like a fish all week, house a shit-tip, eating the same egg fried rice out of the same pan with the same fork for dinner every night, even when it started to taste fizzy. I rose late and got dressed mid-morning; sobbing over a podcast about female genital mutilation as I applied my liquid eyeliner, which spurted straight out through my tear ducts, Jackson Pollocking gelatinous black clumps about my face. I spent 30 seconds or fewer blowing my hair dry (I haven’t had a haircut in months and the back bit’s grown into a fetching half-mullet) and there was a big red spot threatening to burst from my chin. But it didn’t matter. I was hot*. Sometimes sexy happens, without effort, in the most unlikely moments. In the same way that, sometimes, you roll up to a wedding looking like a jacket potato that’s been done up in drag — despite spending £400 on a new dress, shoes, professional make-up and eight personal training sessions, because you knew a scatter of your exes would be there, with their pregnant wags.

What yesterday reminded me, as I accepted appreciative honks from white van drivers and seduced myself with a pout and a sideways glance in all available reflective surfaces, was that there is nothing sexier than a sexy single woman. I don’t think it’s possible to dispute that (and neither do I ask you try. The comments section of this blog is exclusively for complimenting me. All other correspondence will be destroyed). You never really see sexy wives, or, if you do — hello there Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, I literally can’t think of any others (you may use the comments section to complete this list, if you really must) — they’re diluting it by banging on about their husbands left, right and centre, until it’s no wonder he released that demented sportswear collection, or fucked Becky with the Good Hair.

Sexy and single is dangerous. It’s powerful. Women’s untamed sexuality is the biggest fear dogging all societies. It’s at the root of the patriarchy — if you can still read that word without vomiting. It is why some cultures cut women’s clitorises off, or sew their vaginas shut with cotton and an unsterilized needle. It’s why there’s so much pressure to settle down and get married; it’s why, when you do, your husband will knock about with prostitutes, or come home late and belligerent, or grow fat and repulsive and tell racist jokes to waiting staff. It’s scary for the world at large, the thought we might posses all this hotness and just keep it to ourselves. Think about that, the next time your Nan asks if you’ve met anyone nice.

Today, I’ve woken up with a double chin, which is alarming, though unsurprising due to the beer and the rice and the pepperoni pizza I bought for £1.49 and posted into my face while FaceTiming my brother at 10.30pm. The sexy didn’t last long (‘Oh. I see you’ve made an effort,’ my friend’s husband laughed, when I rocked up to the pub at lunchtime with my double chin and t-shirt with a stain on the front). But I don’t mind. As fleeting as sexy is, it’s better savoured alone. Unlike sex, which is another thing entirely.

*I really was hot as well. After noticing my sexy, and coming up with the idea for this blog post, I video-called my mate to tell her a story about a cat (which I promise I will tell you another day. It’s just that I have guests arriving in 22 minutes and I don’t have much time right now), she answered the call and said, ‘Wow. You look sexy today!’ And I said: ‘Oh my God! I know right? It’s so weird – it just happened out the blue. I’m gonna post a blog about it tomorrow. Anyway, do you remember when my sister and her girlfriend had that cat?’

**Image is “A Naked Woman In The Bathtub” by njaj at freedigitalphotos.net

Part 166: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

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Have you ever really wanted to break up with someone (because he instigates earnest discussions about the situation in Palestine when you just want to watch Masterchef and paint your toenails in peace, talks over you after three pints, and once questioned your intelligence, when you failed to correctly identify the Russian flag from a list of 10 contenders), but then you fall asleep on the sofa and when you wake up he’s cleaned the kitchen, covered you in a blanket and put the kettle on, and you think: Hmm. You think: maybe I’m being too hasty. You think: can I really be bothered with the rigmarole of Tinder and OKCupid and bad first dates and good first dates followed by bad second dates and that thing where you think you’ve met someone, finally, but then he goes off the idea for no obvious reason and you have to say ‘no’ when all your friends ask ‘has he called yet?’ And so, instead of breaking up, you just carry blindly on, occasionally drafting — though never sending — half-hearted text messages in which you accuse him of ‘not giving a tiny little rabbit shit’ and demand he either sorts his life out or that’s it, you’re done?

Well, I’m currently in a similar dilemma with this blog. I keep wanting to end it. I keep half-composing hilarious final posts. But then I think of an amusing anecdote, or I get fucked over by a witless cad, or I bump into a friend of a friend who tells me how much they love my writing (no! I swear! It happened!) and I chicken out. I don’t want to return to anonymity. This blog has given me a public outlet for my bile and humiliation. It was the only one who was there for me when I couldn’t get over my ex-boyfriend. It helps me to laugh when I accidentally sleep with a bloke on the first date and the hormones turn me into a crazy desperate Glenn-Close-in-Fatal Attraction impersonator, and he never calls again. It won me an award that time and I got 500 new Twitter followers and my face in a glossy magazine. I can’t think of a single other thing that has given me as much pleasure, and I’m including reading, sex and cheese and onion crisps.

How do I finish a thing that has given so much and never asked for anything in return (unless you count the annual request to upgrade to WordPress Premium, which I have so far refused)? I thought I’d do it with a pithy story about the beautiful man who broke my heart earlier this year and an appeal to commissioning editors to just fucking buy the book already (I mean, really, you think there’s much better out there?). But I realised that was desperate, and, like all public displays of desperation, unwise. Then I thought about a final post where I told you how Gregg Wallace (the fat bald one off Masterchef) was probably great in bed (I need someone who is gonna see my boobs and go, ‘Phwoar! Mate! Those are knockout! I’m beside meself here!’ I think it would be good for my confidence). And now I don’t know.

Do I stay, or do I carry this thing on? It’s been four years. I am no longer the woman who started Reasons to be Single in many, many ways. I’m contented now, for example, and I’ve stopped watching re-runs of Sabrina the Teenage Witch on a daily basis (these two states of affairs might not be mutually exclusive). I genuinely no longer care that I’m single (although I am constantly baffled by how this is the case. I mean hello? Babe? Have you seen my boobs?), whereas I used to just pretend I didn’t care, for comic effect — and also, if I’m honest, to get back at my ex-boyfriend, who used to read my posts and send deranged jealous messages that made me zing with spiteful satisfaction.

I want to write about other things now. I’ve got lots of projects and writing this (well, mostly feeling guilty about not writing it) is getting in the way of doing them.

And yet, something is pulling at the threads of my heart: yes, it’s almost over. But not quite. So I’m going to go all out. I’ll end this thing as I started. A post a day. Until I get to 200. Starting next Saturday because I’m running a half-marathon tomorrow (you can sponsor me here, if you feel like offering remuneration for the years of content I’ve provided, free of charge) and I’ve got a lot on next week. And we’ll see where we go from there.

I told you, I’m shit at endings.