The Stink

The poisonous bin-juice of overflowing landfills had leached into the rivers and run down to the sea, as daytrippers chucked their chip wrappers and unwanted coffee cups down on the sand


“What is that smell?”

“God, is that you? Take a wash!”

“Am I going mad, or is there a whiff around here, somewhere?”

It was driving the parents in the playground crazy. The smell wasn’t strong at first, but within hours the first questions were appearing on the news feeds. Surrey Stinks! Strange odour seeps into Sussex, Surrey and Hants. Can you track it down? Call our press office with more info.

It was a smell that started innocuously enough, but had a sting in the tail, an acrid burning whiff, like singed hair that caught in the throat. Over the next few days it worsened, reminding people of bad drains and eggy farts, booze breath and horse manure. It conjured up a taste that was like the dregs of an old-man pub drip tray, mixed with the splodgy fatty jollop that snags in the u-bend of the kitchen sink.

No one knew where it was coming from. As days stretched into weeks people started wearing those white Michael Jackson masks over their noses and mouths. Personnel in hazchem suits appeared in various locations with interesting looking equipment, investigating drains for blockages and poking around in sewage plants. Chemical factories and local businesses were subjected to spot inspections.

As weeks slid into months, people started to forget what life had smelt like before. Fresh bread, red roses, apple pie, baby hair, oily sheds, frying bacon, cold mornings and hot coffee took on mythical proportions. The only smell that remained was The Stink. As no stone remained unturned in the search for the source, finally all eyes turned towards the ocean. If it wasn’t on land, perhaps the culprit was under the ocean.

Naval carriers rallied, the divers on board kitted out in their full frog suits, miniature submarines waited to carry them down. The ocean seemed strangely choppy, eddies jerking the ship up and down. At first the ocean seemed dark, sand churning through the water, the particles making everything blurred. As they neared the bottom of the sea, several hundred metres below, the divers glanced at one another in horror. They were not prepared for what they saw when they went beneath the waves.

A mass of maggoty, clear worms, invisible from above, swirled and writhed, combining and separating. The movement of their bodies disturbed the sediment of the sea bed: the years of dirt and sewage and waste that had sunk to the bottom, dropped by careless humans. These worms, at first smaller than a fingernail had fed and bred on the corpses of animals and birds that had sunk to the bottom, killed by the relentless pumping of filth by successive generations of careless human beings.

The poisonous bin-juice of overflowing landfills had leached into the rivers and run down to the sea, as daytrippers chucked their chip wrappers and unwanted coffee cups down on the sand. The goo from millions of dishwashers and washing machines combined with microbeads from facewashes and formed filthy clumped patties, food for these bottom-feeders, these squirming, metre-long sightless beings which were now churning, growing feeding and working their way towards the land in search of more food.


What’s for you won’t go by you

I didn’t get the job. How did you guess? Was it the title that gave it away? Like a fool I pinned my heart to my Facebook sleeve, inviting comments from the world when I wrote with delirious optimism “Decision delayed until Monday – arghhh!”

I guess I was confident. Wrongly so, obvs.

It was not the most glamorous position in the world, but it would have been good. Interesting, varied, different and above all, a change from the old routine. The old routine that involves permanently being the time-keeper, the umpire, the police officer, the witness and the judge, the cleaner, the chauffeur and the stylist. Not to mention the chef and the ass-wiper as well (unsure of official title for this particularly coveted role). All for zero pay. Zero reward. Zero appreciation.

We talked it through, Lovely Daddy and I. Decided that if I was successful we were ready to bite the ultimate bullet and open the doors of our chaotic house to someone else. We were going to shove the babies in together, three of them in an Orphan Annie row, and hand over Smallest Baby’s room to an au pair. Just imagine, that fresh young thing arriving on her ‘cultural exchange’ where I would be sure to teach her an abundance of amazing things about living in the UK.

But more importantly, that bouncy, enthusiastic, full of-of-life 20-year old would have performed light household duties. She would have prepared children’s meals. No longer would I have had to listen to the squawks about who likes what and who can’t abide which. It would have been Juanita’s problem! Wiping up slime, picking up clothes, cleaning teeth. All such fun for lucky Juanita. I would have swanned in at 6.15, my fingers aching a little from all that lovely typing at my desk, and my children would have been lined up in their PJs like a row of Von Trapps.

But I didn’t get the job. Bastards! They don’t know what they are missing. But I sure as hell do.

Or perhaps they do know. Perhaps despite the fact that we didn’t openly discuss the fact that I have children in my interview, the thought of snotty sick days and school assemblies put them off. Or perhaps it was the fact that when I filled in the application form, before I even set foot in the door, I had to tick an ‘equal opportunities’ box that left me feeling anything but equal.

Military spouse: Yes, No or Would Rather Not Say. Lie, tell the truth, or avoid the truth while making it perfectly obvious that you are doing so. Talk about rock and a hard place. Or maybe my two years out of the game having Smallest Baby are the two years that have broken the camel’s back in terms of making my experience seem just a little too shabby round the edges.

Or maybe I just wasn’t good enough, and that’s all there is to it.

I’ve done the grown up thing. I’ve written and asked for feedback, but to be honest, it’s already too late. I’ve had my teeth-gnashing cry, I’ve eaten some cheese and some chocolate, I’ve thrashed out forty lengths in the pool. Facebook has patted my back as best it can. Now it’s time for me to get my rubber gloves on and get back on with the housework. That toilet’s not going to clean itself, now, is it?




Slime, blood ‘n’ poop

One of the things I’ve noticed a lot of lately is slime. And by that I mean pant slime, not just standard child slime, which can be found approximately mid-way down my thigh or located in the blindspot no man’s land of my shoulder/breast. A quick straw poll among the ageing crone population that makes up my friendship group shows that many of us seem to be struggling with really painful and obvious ovulation post-kids. There’s so much goo in trickling out of me some days I feel like I could just slide my kids into the playground on a sledge. Who knew that this was a thing? No one warned me. It seems I am destined to spend more or less half of every month feeling – well, not terrible – but ‘a bit shit’.

I get my period, which, since having the copper coil fitted, is a slow and creaking process that begins with the dragging heave of my womb lining slipping away, one teensy little marmite teaspoon at a time. After maybe two or three days of pain and yeast-based product, enough to need a titchy towel, but not enough for anything else, I enjoy one to two days of psycho shower scene. Suddenly, on these days, I’m a ‘jumbo’ user and still taking agonising dashes to the stinky loo in Waitrose when I realise that elephant-sized is not enough for me and my vag. After that couple of days, things are more or less fine. But the point is, the period is not the end of it. I’ve also started getting the shits while I’m on, to the point where poop is pouring out of me like water. I can’t eat anything, I’m bleeding, and my tummy hurts….and yet this is a thing we’re just meant to get on with, and not be a moany cow about.

Then, after a week of being more or less zit and pain free, along comes the ovulation part of the month. Fuck me, it’s sore. This time it’s a bit like the egg has got itself a teaspoon, melted it down and created a whopping egg shiv, that it’s using to stab my insides over the course of three or four days. I can only imagine it’s because – as we are constantly reminded – ‘mature’ women (i.e. post -35) start to jettison their eggs. I guess those babies are just rolling out of me like cinema maltesers into my mouth, lemmings over the side of a cliff.

Again, this comes with a side order of the runs. Not as severe, but not ideal. I count myself as a feminist and periods are one of those issues that are becoming easier to mention without the rolling of eyes and PMT jokes ensuing but still leave you feeling like a bit of a whinge. I saw a great sketch by Amy Schumer on becoming president and getting her period the other night, and of course several female athletes have acknowledged not being at the top of their game because they were on the jam rag this summer.

I can’t help thinking that if men had blood coming out of the end of their penis for a week a month, while they simultaneously struggled with moderate to severe diarrhoea, the world would be a very different place.

Sleeping Beauty

First Category -Life and Death  Opening Line – I looked over at Jenny. She had fallen asleep again. It made me wonder what she did at night. I could see old Beaver coming our way. She’d get it in the neck if he caught her snoozing in class again.

“Jen!” I muttered into a cough. “Jen, wake up.” I was too far away to reach her with my hand so I stretched out my toe and just managed to nudge her table with the very tip of my shoe. Beaver strode down the corridor made by our desks, his pointed fox nose leading him instinctively towards us. The impact from my ballet-stretched foot made Jen’s head drop off her hand, her neck snapping sharply like a collapsing puppet. She lifted her face and shook herself slightly; a dog fixing its damp coat. I saw her pick up her pen and start writing, just as Beaver passed her. Phew. He could be a real shit when he thought people were disrespecting him. And I’d got away with it too, he hadn’t seen me warn her. My heart rate  slowed to its normal rhythm as I bent my head over my desk, my arm curled around my book.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure why I cared whether she got in trouble. Jen was new and nothing much to me, we’d barely spoken more than a couple of words to each other. She’d arrived in the middle of the year, which was kind of strange. Most people – by which I mean parents – had the decency to time their life changing events for after the summer holidays – or at the very least after Easter or Christmas – but one day in the middle of term, there she was, being shown around by Tanya, the teachers’  go-to goody goody. She’d stood at the very back, next to Tanya with her plaits and her long white socks, put one hand on her hip and glared, as if to dare anyone to try messing with her.

I liked looking at her. She was a skinny girl, with dirty blond hair that was always dishevelled and sort of curly in places. She had huge blue eyes and long eyelashes and the sort of cutesy turned up nose that idiots on reality TV pay thousands for, but the thing that made her not just normal pretty but freaky pretty were her wicked eyebrows set firmly in her spiky cheek-boned face. We weren’t allowed make up at school but I was pretty sure she was wearing something. The only thing that stopped her from being annoyingly perfect was how tired she looked.

Despite her attitude, she didn’t seem like the sort to be a mad clubber and I hadn’t seen her out hanging about the rec, drinking or getting high. Maybe she was just studying hard, or maybe she was an insomniac. Maybe she had a baby, or a baby brother or sister. Who could tell? I was suddenly desperate to know why she was so knackered. I’d have to find a way to talk to her. My cheeks reddened even thinking about it. If her face gave away that she was tired, with its dark shadows so deep they almost seemed to dent her cheeks, then my face gave away my shyness every time.

I hated it. Even hanging around with my lame pals who were all as dorky as I was, they still managed to make me blush, and Dan in particular would crow with delight as he saw the colour start to spread up my cheeks like a spilled drink on a table cloth.It didn’t help that my skin kept having mental zit storm flare ups as well, I just didn’t want anyone to look at me.

I’d started working out at the gym to try and distract people from looking at my face. I reasoned that if my body looked better, perhaps people might ignore my pizza face, but so far it hadn’t really been working. I wondered if Jen ever went to the gym, perhaps that might be my way in.

As people started to leave the classroom, I hurried just enough to draw level with her desk, but not enough to let any of the top dogs of the class see what I was up to, I didn’t need them ripping the shit out of me.

“Hey Jen,” I managed to speak without stammering – a good start. She looked up from her desk, seemingly surprised. “Yes?” she pushed a curl of blonde hair out of her face. It fell back again almost immediately. “Oh nothing much. Just wondering, er, how you’re getting along, being new and that.”

“Fine, but thanks so much for pointing it out – again, there was me starting to think I was blending in.”

“Oh you could never blend in,” I felt the heat begin in my cheeks, as though someone had lit a fire on my shoulders. “That is, you’re far too gorgeous to blend in.” I couldn’t believe what I’d just said. Incredible! Was I actually chatting a girl up?

“Crikey you’re a bit forward, aren’t you?” She was picking up her bag now, moving off out of the classroom. I fumbled, following her out, trying to keep the conversation flowing. “I was just wondering…”

“Yes?” she was impatient to go now, I was keeping her waiting.

“I was just wondering whether you ever go to the gym, or would want to come some time, I have passes, it’s got a pool and that.”

She paused, slung her bag over her shoulder, threw me a smile, as casually as chucking a dog a biscuit. “Thanks for the thought. Maybe. But I’m a bit busy at the moment, I’ve got a lot going on at home.”

And with that she was gone.


The house was quiet when I got home, no tv or radio on. I let myself in and went straight to the kitchen. It was 3:45pm – mum would need her tablets soon – and she’d want the dinner on soon, too.  Ever since she’d