Thursday, 17 July 2014

And now, for something completely different.

I saw Caitlin Moran live in Brighton on Sunday 13th July, and she blew my mind (I could make a brain tumour joke here, but I won't as I promised myself one reference-free post - oh, damn it...). 
Caitlin (I would call her 'Cat' but we're not quite there yet) is one of my idols, my heroine supreme. Reading her books and columns has made me feel everything on the spectrum, and having the sheer privilege of sitting in a theatre packed with fellow fans of hers and listening to her chat frankly to us was something else - I was nodding non-stop while clapping as she expressed her opinions, then crying with laughter as she shared some truly insane anecdotes. I also danced to all the pop diva interval music. I had to rush to the train station afterwards as there was only one train home and I couldn't miss it, so I didn't get a chance to hang around outside the theatre and attack her with my love/get her to sign one of my books, like so many other inspired individuals did (approximately 963 women and 41 men, according to Caitlin). Which was devastating, but it's fine because we'll be sitting in a pub together someday getting smashed. In fact, I tweeted her from the train to ask about potentially becoming her drinking buddy, only to have her reply with a confirmation that this shall indeed happen. She's perfect, alright? I've also, since the show, adopted her expressions 'YESthefuck' or 'NOthefuck' when something fabulous or something utterly wank happens. For example, when the parents suggest we go to Pizza Night at our local for dinner, it's the former. When I have to unpack all the boxes full of uni paraphernalia that have been sitting in my bedroom for five weeks, it's the latter.
Now, had I met Caitlin post-show, I would have a) told her that she was my 'bit of grit', a delightfully cheesy reference to something she'd said onstage and b) shared this story with her, because I'm sure she'd appreciate it, if only for the fact that I once beat someone in the head with one of her books. Intrigued? Read on! (please, thank you)

WARNING: This post contains naked boobs and no regrets.


Two years ago my family embarked on a week’s trip to Spain; my dad was offered the use of a colleague’s villa, and we arrived there on the day before said colleague and his wife were due to depart, having been there for two weeks already. They were both brown as nuts and all too happy to spend the evening with us pale freaks, drinking San Miguels in the nearby bar and occasionally glancing at the football game being fuzzily broadcast to all the holidaying Brits. Oh yes, we were in the Brits’ Spanish stomping grounds. Every family we walked past exhibited all the telltale signs before we even heard the accent... The mothers were shouting at their toddlers to stand still while they slathered factor 50 sun cream on their bellies; the fathers were clustered together practising their golf swings with invisible clubs while debating the current financial climate; the teenagers sunbathed together reading Sneak or Heat mags, occasionally pausing to examine their tans and check they still fit the bill for the all-important bikini body that had been shown to them on every glossy page for the past few months; the kids were all pulling down their swim shorts and complaining that they were ‘tooo hottttt and sooo boredddddd’.

When we eventually had the villa to ourselves, I decided it was time to bravely broach the controversial subject of sunbathing with my mum – not that she has anything against sunbathing, quite the contrary, no I was about to ask if I would be allowed to sunbathe sans swimsuit.
Nowadays I’m definitely not a prude in the slightest, and nakedness doesn’t offend or unsettle me, just ask my uni housemates. However, at the tender age of ten-ish, I’d walk around the resort we'd frequent in Gran Canaria and be utterly bewildered to see a momentous mass of middle-aged women lying on their backs and letting loose the baps. The ladies would be various shades of fashionable distressed leather, wearing enormous black sunglasses making their face look particularly bug-esque, and even if they were sound asleep it seemed they’d all have the cheekiest smiles on their nude lips. I always found it bizarre that their breasts were the same exact colour as the rest of their obnoxiously tanned skin – when I was young I’d get one big white splodge all the way across my chest and super-pale strap lines on my shoulders, not to mention a resplendent ‘moon bum’ that I’d be proud to wiggle around (in the privacy of our hotel room). Also, my back would always end up browner than my front, and my legs would be merely brushed by the sun while my arms were slapped repeatedly. My tans were always inconsistent. So having one solid tan all over, head to toe, nipples to knees, seemed inexplicable and alien.

However, as I grew older and puberty tried its best to work with the little I had to offer, I suddenly understood the desire to not have these large pale globules highlighting what are arguably my best assets in completely the wrong way. My upper chest would be the most satisfying bronze, my collar bones would shimmer freshly russet, then suddenly ‘nope’. It seemed a shame, as by the end of August I’d be wishing my tan would fade sufficiently so the pastiness wasn’t so overt.
I never minded the panty lines or the moon bum, because a) if I were flawlessly tanned down there, surely I’d be branded a filthy naturist or God forbid, a ‘beach party girl’, and b) a waxen front doesn’t look anywhere near as bizarre and at times comical as two colourless boob blobs. Also, at this time I was in my first year of university and after a few mostly-drunk months spent testing the waters I had found myself a significant other (although that label may be a little too ‘serious relationship’ for us) who took an active interest in my body, and happened to be one of those fellas who would choose the pair over the derrière – if held at gunpoint with his internet history on the line. So I had to bear this in mind, of course.


There I was, around the front of the villa where the sun was at its hottest. I was safely walled in; there was a fair distance between us and the Brits next door and the yellow walls reached approximately seven feet, creating a sweaty suntrap and promising a creep-free sunbathing session. Or, so I thought. *ominous piano music swells*


I was reading my heroine’s latest blockbuster book release at the time, How to be a Woman. I’d finally found the happy place for my inner Feminist – in fact, she was now an outer Feminist, so out that she was walking the streets with her head up high, giving rude gestures when she was serenaded by the van-driving whistlers and making sure there was at least one female face on a DVD cover in the ‘new releases’ section in HMV. I was also just enjoying the fact that I would read this book with a smile on my face, nodding along in agreement to every impassioned rant and then blushing as I related to every gloriously female story (the embarrassment when you find blood where you shouldn’t, the being called 'fatty' and wanting to weep, the last-minute realisation that you're in love with 'that guy')... As I lay there half-naked I balanced the book on my belly and read the part where Caitlin recounts the tale of the winged creature flying into her face through an open window, causing her to spill her red wine everywhere – to say I laughed at this point is putting it lightly, rating my reaction as a U when it was more of a 15. I swore and cackled; I threw my head back and my sunglasses flew off as I struggled to breathe, sounding like a hysterical monkey yet at the same time a perverted caller in a red phone box, and of course my exposed appendages shook like jelly shots. I was still giggling with a hand pressed to my mouth while the other reached blindly for my sunglasses beneath my lounger. The irrepressible sniggering was making me dribble against my palm. I found the sunglasses, put them back on and then resumed my position; just before my eyes sank back down to the pages of the book, I caught sight of a large red blistered lump of skin resting on the top of the wall opposite me... 


A fat sunburned arm, attached to a grubby and equally chubby hand, which held a cigarette stub between its grilled sausage fingers. Daring to look up a little, I saw the tight tinged white vest covering the vast torso; looking up more, the middle-aged face atop the sagging pink neck. I find the face’s eyes, only to realise they haven’t found mine yet. I look down at myself and see the recipient of his gaze – or rather, recipients plural, the poor tanned twins. Not knowing what else to do, I clumsily draw my arms into my chest and cover myself as best I can with my forearms as my hands are still, understandably, gripping the book. I then emit a very panicked and vaguely objecting squeal, trying to wipe the surprised and satisfied smirk off this stranger’s face; the ashen stubble on both cheeks is being pulled apart and his lips are giving way to his uninviting teeth, as he finally meets my eyes.
He tuts with his tongue and I swear he smacks his lips, then nods down to where he’s just been looking, where my book is protecting me now.
How to be a Woman, eh? You studyin’ up, then?’ He chuckles, then pokes his tongue between his teeth. My mouth drops open and without thinking I release my puppies and use one of my free arms to sling my new Bible over the wall at him, as hard as I can. It hits him on the forehead just under the bald patch and he retreats, chuckling, down the creaky steps of what must be a stepladder. Why on earth would he have a ladder? Specifically for peeping purposes? Later on that evening we leave the villa for dinner and I see him back up there, trimming one of the trees he has growing in front of his gate...  So we had a perfectly innocent yet idiotically perverted encounter. 


Luckily my copy of How to be a Woman, which suddenly became an invaluable weapon literally as well as figuratively, had bounced off the old Brit git’s head with a satisfying comic book bubble sound, and fallen to the patio at the end of my lounger, so I'd still be able to read on and laugh once more. I flipped over so my feet were at the head of the bed and wiggled forwards on my stomach to retrieve the book, just in case my new sexist admirer returned for another hilarious assault on my body confidence.
It’s not until I’m playing card games and numerous rounds of Scrabble with my family that evening that I think: ‘does his opinion matter?’ I look down at myself just like a girl in her late teens would in an American noughties smash hit film and have that moment of cliché clarity when she realises whose opinion really matters, and decides not to give a shit about what others think any more – I can almost hear the shrill female singer's voice belting out the latest Number One pop music track 
in the background, that track which is utterly irrelevant to this moment but essentially sells the movie soundtrack on its own… I think about how I'll tell this story one day and giggle. I may even get a chance to tell Caitlin herself - over a few pints, of course. I smile, then spell out the word SVELTE in tiles and win this game of Scrabble.


A little post-op follow-up.

I had a follow-up appointment with my neurosurgeon yesterday, so I spent a good hour or so in the morning putting on my nicest clothes, dousing myself with perfume and applying several inches of makeup. I even put on eyeliner as well as mascara, and a few licks of highlighter under my eyes. Because obviously, the brilliant man who sliced my head open and moved my jaw bone out of the way so he could spend nine and a half hours extracting a beastly tumour will care if I'm properly dolled up or not. As will the nurses who removed the twenty-two staples from my head and attached a tube for me to pee into. I mean, c'mon.

In all seriousness, I do like the idea of one day going back to the ward where I was kept for a week with a swollen face, rashy skin and the inability to walk independently, just for a casual check-up and the staff all marvelling at how well I'm doing - if only because my hair is actually washed now. It's partly a very selfish 'See? This is what I normally look like! Remember me like this!' feeling within me, but also a 'Hey, so I feel like I'm back to normal and it's all because of you!' It's hard to explain.
Another feeling that I couldn't possibly put into words is that one that comes over me as I sit in a fancy office at the local 'private hospital' I've suddenly been sent to, listening to my neurosurgeon (also known as Miracle Man) talk to me about the recovery process while looking me straight in both eyes, and thinking how just six weeks ago he was inside my head working hard to make me better. He actually saw my brain, something nobody has ever done and hopefully will never do again - unless I'm in an episode of CSI being examined by Dr Robbins, which is totally possible. He saved me. He made it so that I am now able to walk without smashing into everything I encounter or simply falling on my face; so that my arms are now stronger than ever and utterly void of the twitching that knocked over so many cups of coffee; so that I can now sleep well at night; so that I can talk out of both sides of my mouth and my eyes don't see double half the time; so that I can write notes in my diary and type this post right now. 
I ask him stupid questions: Can I swim? (Yes, but wear earplugs and no diving), Can I go back on my contraceptive pill? (It's your choice!), Is my scar going to bleed at all or just split open? (No, of course not). He reminds me to be patient as I haven't fully recovered yet, and a few days' hard work and precarious living could set me back a few weeks; 'because remember, it was a... Big op!'
Him saying this almost makes me regret the half bottle of wine, the five double JDs and the two luscious mojitos I had that night I returned to Winchester - almost, but not quite.


Dad asks if he has 'anything else for Grace'. He looks back at me, reaches out to shake my hand, smiles oh-so wide, and says 'I am delighted' one or two times. I feel the tears threatening to spill and squeak back, 'Me too!'
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