Part 162: Broderie Anglaise

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I used to have this boyfriend who was obsessed with the colour white. More specifically, he was obsessed with women dressed in white – possibly because he’d absorbed lingering cultural tropes about purity, chastity, virginity etc. and tediously allowed them to fuel his fetishes. Or maybe he just liked the clean brightness of bleached cotton; how it reflects the light, so that the wearer appears bathed in an ethereal glow. I can see how that would have turned him on. He was quite pretentious.

Obviously I was a massive disappointment to this particular boyfriend (and all the subsequent ones, but let’s not go there. Too depressing), because within seconds of my donning any white garment it became immediately smeared with bike grease, ketchup, lipstick or some other substance (fag ash, Ribena, coffee and, most often, let’s face it, wine) that I don’t remember spilling, but there it was, memorialised in a faded brown stain (every stain turns brown eventually, no matter its original colour. No one knows why) on the breast-pocket of my linen blazer. And it doesn’t matter how fine you are, a big brown stain is a turn-off, signifying, as it does, filth and lazy hygienic habits and minimal hand-eye-coordination. Not hot. Not erotic. Not the grist for anyone’s sexual mill.

No wonder he dumped me.

(Before we move on, can I just ask: how are you supposed to wash white clothes? Even if I put Daz in, after four or five washes they inevitably become grey and floppy and sad and wearing them in public is just too much like failure. I know it’s possible to keep your whites pristine because I lived with this girl for a while and her whites were always sparkling, though she could never fully explain how she managed it – and we’ve fallen out so I can’t ask again. Help me.)

I’m not sure if it is a result of my ex-boyfriend’s fetish, or a symptom of my escalating mental illness, but for the last decade or so I have been increasingly preoccupied with broderie anglaise. When I’m not worrying about work, men who don’t love me, or the prospect of dying all alone with no babies, I am googling broderie anglaise and imagining myself living some other life. Calmer, more wholesome. A life where I know what cheesecloth is, and how to sew. I’m wealthy and bohemian and I carry my firstborn about in a hemp sling that I bought at a craft market. I accessorise my wardrobe of whiteworked frocks with hooped gold earrings. I drink red wine without spilling it, I spend my weekends at a second home in the country and I can smoke marijuana without triggering an existential crisis. On Sundays I do not sit in my flat main-lining Carpool Karaoke in my pyjamas, eating an out-of-date cheese string and tweeting Deliveroo to discover the whereabouts of my takeaway, I bike to the local market and buy organic chicken for a wholesome family stew.

You might be wondering how all of this would manifest through clothes. And I don’t know how to explain it to you other than to say: Hello? How much better would my life be if I were invited to functions where this was an appropriate outfit:

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Because the tragedy of it is, I don’t own any broderie anglaise, despite it being my favourite fabric, by some margin. (I did used to have a dress and couple of tops, but they pulled taut over my bosom in a most unflattering way and see above with regards my ability washing and wearing whites.) Even though I am 100% sure that a wardrobe of broderie anglaise would improve my life tenfold, I just carry on buying everything in leopard print and accessorising with a black wicker shopper I got free from a winery because I can’t afford the bag I want. It’s sort of like how I can’t be arsed to do online dating, or flirt with anyone, or engage in any serious way with the idea of sperm donation, even though I really want to get pregnant at some point in the not too distant future.

I suppose if it does anything useful, broderie anglaise serves as a reminder that it doesn’t take much to move towards happiness. You can embrace the ideal version of yourself very easily, if you are just brave, drink only clear liquids such as vodka and water and don’t let the internet distract you from your ultimate purpose. That is why I have ordered a cropped linen broderie anglaise polo-neck off net-a-porter, and am about to buy some gold hoop earrings. It’s never too late to have what you want, darlings.

I’ll see you in the autumn, with my baby wrapped in hemp*.

*I’ll actually be back next week with another nonsensical essay on my non-existent love life. But you know what I mean. Also, if you’ve had sex with me recently (yes, you. I know you read this even though you don’t answer my text messages) don’t panic. I’m not pregnant, that I know of. It’s just jokes.

Part 161: Exit Strategy (or, Simone de Beauvoir as a Vessel for my Self-Pity)



‘Your life’s great,’ my brother enthused, unconvincingly, the other night. He was visiting me in my new, provincial hometown, having taken the fast train from London Paddington because I had called on New Year’s Day and told him, between sobs, that there was no way I would survive through January and the way things were going the chances of my making it to the other side of the weekend were also slim.

‘I mean it,’ he said. ‘You’re living Simone de Beauvoir’s dream right now.’

I responded with a puzzled, ‘?’ – but only because ‘fuck off’ seemed overly aggressive after he’d shelled out almost £100 to travel halfway across the country to make sure I didn’t throw myself under a bus.

‘Independent woman,’ he said. ‘Totally self sufficient and successful.’ (Read, also: single and sexless).

I am not 100% sure that my brother has read Simone de Beauvoir, and my memory of her work is patchy due to my only reading it in fervid chunks, under the influence of whisky and heartbreak (dense French feminism is not really my bag when happy and sober, what with Legally Blonde being much more straightforward and easy to digest), but I don’t particularly remember that being her message. And if it was her message then she was a total hypocrite who knew nothing of the pain I am feeling, what with never having had Jean-Paul Sartre shag her on and off for months on end and then just ignore all her text messages, even the funny ones peppered with crying sad face emojis.

Simone de Beauvoir never had to make an Apple Music playlist called ‘Hurty Heart’ to help her cope with rejection and email it to herself because she doesn’t know how to transfer a playlist from her laptop to her iPhone. Simone de Beauvoir never had to watch Bridget Jones’s Diary with her BFF and his family on the night before Christmas Eve and have her life refracted back at her as a dated cultural cliché. Simone de Beauvoir never had her mother tell her that she should research dating websites because if she didn’t meet someone online, how else was it going to happen for her.

Simone de Beauvoir had her novels and memoirs published by other people in books with pages and covers, and did not have to post them online, herself, so people could read them for free and then accuse her of attention seeking, punctuation misuse and immaturity. Simone de Beauvoir probably didn’t date men who told her that they’d been reading her writing and it was quite good but they probably wouldn’t be reading anything she wrote again because she used ‘too many long words.’

Frankly, if the life I am living right now seemed hypothetically attractive to Simone, back in the last century, when she was alive and could think about possible futures, she didn’t know what she was talking about.

If she had known, she might have advised me to work harder on my exit strategy – because she was a clever woman and she would likely have realised (as my brother and I – who almost certainly have a lower collective IQ than the lovely Ms de Beauvoir once did – when we watched Easy A in a failed attempt to lift my spirits on Sunday night) that the exit is my downfall. The exit is the point at which it all starts to crumble away, like stale biscuits, dusty to the touch, except that stale biscuits don’t send desperate, pleading text messages to men they’ve slept with because they are scared of dying all alone and never having any babies.

I have never known how to get out of anything with dignity, in a timely, appropriate fashion. I always want a nightcap after dinner, even if it’s really late and we all have work in the morning. I am the last person to leave any party I am ever invited to, either drunk with my dress tucked into my knickers and mascara smudged all down my face, or the next morning, in a similar state, only with the host irritably cleaning sick I might well be responsible for out of her carpet. It wasn’t cute when I was 16. It definitely is not cute now that I am 32. And in relationships I similarly cling on to the bitter, twisted end, rather than backing away gracefully when his indifference first becomes apparent. I just lose control and hold on and on, and it never has positive results in terms of either my mental health, or the relationships in question.

But what is the best way to exit before it gets out of hand? Ghosting is vile and borderline evil (and the only time I have done it myself it prompted two years of guilt and an eventual apology to the baffled ghostee, who had, by that point, moved on). I will not indulge in such behaviour. As the ghostee you are without power, but surely there is one last sniper move that might leave you with the upper hand? And if you leave it nicely, with one or the other of you saying you had a lovely time but maybe this is not a thing with a future – then what? How do you live with the possibility that you might have closed the door on the last chance you’ll ever have to be loved, even if he is a complete dickhead who just keeps making you cry?

Is this 2016 for me? Will my self-esteem finally dissolve to the point that it evaporates out of my skin, like a vapour?

It’s January and (as everyone keeps reminding me) perhaps not the best time to pose, or, indeed, answer, such questions. But stay tuned, babies, because, as a motivational quote I read on instagram just now reminded me: when God closes a door, He opens a window.

Happy New Year.