Moon cup review

So earlier this year I wrote a pretty frank and graphic post about my post-baby periods – heavy, horrible and combined with never-ending diarrhoea. It got to the point where I was feeling so rank and losing weight so rapidly, that I started charting my own poop on an Excel spreadsheet before heading to the doctors, graph in hand. As a result, I’m back on the pill to even out my hormones, which, on the plus side has sorted out the runs, but on the minus has sent my cycle all over the shop.

Anyway, because I haven’t been quite sure whether I’m coming on or going, I shilly-shallied for a while before trying my newly purchased Mooncup. But today was the big day, so here’s an honest review for anyone thinking about getting one.

To give you a little context, prior to my psycho shower scene copper coil periods, I have always been more of a one-day bleed, four-day marmite kind of girl, so I never felt that guilty about using tampons, as it was possibly eight per month in total. Then things started totting up – to maybe 20 a month. That’s around 200 a year….and over my bleeding lifetime that’s a shedload – or approximately 136kg – of blood-soaked little mousies finding their way into the system.

Combine this with the fact that I recently read a report in the Guardian about the sewer tunnels under London and the people whose job it is to go down into the murky depths and  hack apart fat bergs – giant congealed masses of fat from the hundreds of kitchens across the city. Bad enough in itself you might think, but then imagine that that lump of lard is embedded with wet wipes, faeces, sanitary pads and yes, you guessed it, tampons, a manky, meaty menstrual meatball blocking up the sewers, which has to be manually scraped out by teams of workers. After reading that, I stopped putting my tampons down the toilet, wrapping and binning them instead. To be honest it didn’t take long after I started handling my own sanitary wear instead of just quickly flushing it out of sight out of mind,  that I got to thinking how gross it was – and how wasteful. That’s where the moon cup part came in.

I knew at least two people who used them already, who had previously sung their praises, and so I decided the time had come to dive in. I have to admit it’s taken a bit of working up to. I came on a few days ago, but it was very light to start off with. The thought of shoving a giant silicon egg-cup up my food was not that appealing. I reasoned with myself that I was just using up the sanitary ware that I already had. Then that I didn’t want to risk a leak at my seven-year-old’s swimming party – that really would be embarrassing mum stuff.

Anyway, step one, I had to boil the bugger in a saucepan for 5-7 minutes. Then, fresh from the pan, I took it into the bathroom. I squatted, folded it, shoved it in. What can I say? Not the comfiest of experiences – that slight teeth-squeaking feeling of halloumi cheese ickiness, as the rubbery dome scraped against my insides. But then, just like that, it was in. No better, no worse than when I first used a tampon and could definitely feel it sitting inside me. In contrast, I couldn’t feel the cup internally at all.

The instructions say that you should be able to run your finger around the edge of it and twist it to check that it’s inserted correctly. I had a go at this, just to be sure the cup was in the right place, but I have to say that was a little sore, and yucky, and reminded me of the advice given in the end-days of pregnancy, where perineal massage is considered something you might want to be doing with your time. So I desisted. The next step is that the cap comes with a long nozzle thing that dangles down, that you trim according to the size of your vaginal passage. The stem should not be hanging out of you! The advice is to shorten it bit by bit, which does lead to a bit of hokey cokey pokery as I got the thing out, trimmed off the stem, stuck it back in, got it back out, trimmed a bit more, until finally it is was not possible to feel it when I wipe my frances after going for a wee.

Getting it in and out is…..OK. With the stem on, it was easy enough to grasp and tug, coming out like a bath time plug, but once the stem was gone, it became considerably more tricky. After two hours with it in, I thought I felt the gushy rush that normally precedes a major leak, but when I went to the loo, the paper was clean. Phantom leak! At my heaviest, two hours could be enough to demand a new tampon, but when I took the cup out, by sitting on the loo, breathing in and inserting a finger to break the seal and then breathing out and pushing down quite hard with my pelvic floor, it was only full to the first line. The moon cup holds nearly 30ml of fluid compared to the biggest tampon sizes holding just 18ml. It looked like the last slug of wine in a teeny goblet. Quite fascinating to actually see how much  / little blood comes out of you!

Anyway, I emptied it into the toilet, rinsed it in the sink and stuck it back in. I then wore it in a swimming pool for the next four and a half hours. No leaks, no pain, couldn’t feel it. Just emptied it on my return home after six hours, it was possibly 1/6 full. So, so far so good. I can’t imagine doing it at work is going to be as easy – the guide recommends having a small bottle of water in your bag to rinse your hands and the cup – or perhaps wipes would serve the same purpose, though that brings me back round to the indestructible products in the system guilt again.

Writing this article has also led me to read around the subject a little; from the CNN article about the fact that some tampons and towels have been tested and found to contain carcinogens, to problems encountered by refugees and homeless women coping with periods and the charities that have been set up to try and help them.

So far – being only on day one – I’m going to give the Mooncup a cautious thumbs up, seven out of ten, and definitely spread the word as my crimson tide adventures continue.img_3493

 

 

The Leaving Party

All week I was hopped up. I felt like a grinning dog, tongue-lolling my head out of a speeding car window. People kept asking me what I was up to, what was making me fizz.

“I’m seeing my old school friends,” I said.

“I’ve known them 22 years.” I expanded.

“That’s more than half my life!” I exclaimed.

Barely even pressed for details, I was eager to spill the beans. “I’m going up to London.”

Such a rare occasion in my narrow existence.

“Oooh, fancy,” they replied, and I nodded. I knew my face was wrong to keep smiling, I knew my excitement was misguided, but I couldn’t scare it off. I was like a frightened chimp, bearing my teeth in an angry smirk.

The party I was going to was a get together, it was true. But it was also a summons. We assembled on the pavement as the guest of honour descended the stairs. We crowded around her, twittering and tweeting like a pecking pack of pigeons as she sat heavily in her tinsel-covered chariot. We headed to the park, in a procession. Then she stood, took my arm, and we proceeded to promenade. I was on top form, yabbering and jabbering like my life depended on it.

“No questions.” I’d been told. “No solicitous enquiries.”

“No problem,” I said, “I’m the most self-centred person you’ll ever meet.”

But under pressure I felt my mouth getting gacky, my well running dry.

We got back, we sat down. But not for long. Time to perform again.

“Dance, monkeys!” my friend demanded, “Or I’ll haunt you all forever.”

We did as we were told. Dressed up and boogied to Queen, stone cold sober in her living room. What larks for the camera!

Later, I stood by her bed, as she lay, feet raised, head deep in the pillow. I said to her:

“I was trying to explain our love to my girls, this morning. That you are like a favourite pair of old trousers. Just because I’ve had you 22 years and I may not wear you that often any more, doesn’t mean that you don’t still fit perfectly.”

“Don’t you mean old tights?” she parried. “Slightly stinky in the gusset, laddered at the knee? Evidence of all the years of partying and mischief?” I laughed and agreed.

We cuddled, just a beat longer than we normally would, then said goodbye, neither of us wanting the day to be over, but knowing it was time to go home.

It was a lovely leaving party. But on my way home I cried, and the next morning I sobbed, and when my gorgeous friend abruptly left, beaten down by that bad bastard cancer, I cried once again. But through my tears, I was also sure to smile as I thought of Alice. I smiled and I told my face that, actually, it was right all along.

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For Alice ‘Balders’ Baldwin 24 January 1978 – 3 December 2016

Women’s March on London

Perhaps I’ll be a better person
Many years from now
Genial and loving
Not a narky-faced old cow

Some time in the future
I won’t feel frazzled all the time
I’ll just glide around in loungewear
Completely zen and quite sublime

At the moment I feel worn thin
I’m rat-baggy, low on laughs
I try to reassure myself
That we all take different paths

But I can’t help but feel quite jealous
Wonder where my plan went wrong
Why can’t I afford a holiday
Just one week of family sun?

Why do I go to work each day
Just to pay the childcare bill?
Why bother with child benefit
When half goes to the tax man’s till?

What hope have we of cash galore
As housing prices race
It feels as though we’ll never have
Our own grown-up living space

And what about the part where
Life gets better as we age?
As leaders come to power
Preaching hate and lies and rage

Maybe I’m a hypocrite
Because I’m one angry mother
But I’m angry at division
Don’t split us from each other

I want to teach my girls that
To work together is the best
Not say ‘I’m alright, Jack’
And forget about the rest

And yet I mustn’t grumble
I paste on my grateful grin
I’ve got my health, my children’s health
And then of course there’s him

My other half, my one true love
The man beside my side
Through thick and thin, inextricable
To each other we are tied

I do forget to say my thanks
As I glower at this jam
Managing, we’re just managing
Just keep swimming, if you can

I look at others struggling
And know it could be worse
I don’t need to use a foodbank
Or have an empty purse

But it’s one thing to have gratitude
And another to be cowed
I’m going to raise my voice in protest
And start shouting very loud

I’ll take my girls and head to town
The streets of London will be full
With banners and with placards
Saying ‘Hey! We’re all equal!”

We’ll join the throng, join in the song
Raise our voices, sing together
Because the politics of equality
That start now will last forever.

Cleaning out the under stairs cupboard

I’m just back from the inaugural Women’s Equality Party Party Political Conference, my first ever grown up party. It’s still going on for the rest of this evening and tomorrow, but I have had to call time and come home. This is partly due to family commitments – of course – and partly due to the fact that my brain is brimming with more political input than it has ever previously considered.

I’ve heard about WASPIs and WOW, I’ve contacted my MP to make sure he’ll be in Parliament to vote on the Istanbul Convention to prevent violence against women, after 582 women lost their lives at the hands of their partners or former partners in the UK last year. I’ve considered the way that the major political parties could choose to work with WE, and I’ve had a little weep at the enormity of the fact that, in just 16 months, 65,000 people have joined a party to fight for something that really should just be a given. I’ve had a bigger cry about the fact that I don’t want my three girls to be fighting these same battles in twenty years’ time.

WE wants women to be equal. Eradication of the gender pay gap, equal treatment in the media, equal rights when it comes to safety and health. We are half of the population so surely this stuff is not rocket science? And yet it certainly isn’t happening.

However, thanks to WE, conversations have been started. Seeds have been sown. The hands of friendship have been extended. A cross party panel of Tory, Green, WEP and Lib Dem at conference were all in agreement that they are keen to work together, to consider future coalitions. This is the major thing that strikes me as different about this party – WE does not want to keep its ideas to itself. WE wants to share policies, collaborate, then step out of the way when the work is done. That in itself is refreshing. Instead of a system where one party comes in, sets up a bunch of stuff, crosses its fingers and hopes it’ll work, only to have to have it all taken back down again by the next government, to have something progressive, inclusive and worthwhile….well, that just seems logical, doesn’t it?

This is the part where political involvement gets scary for me. I don’t have the stats, the facts, the figures close to hand and that scares me. I don’t quite understand proportional representation or first past the post. I don’t feel confident enough to speak eloquently on all the subjects covered at conference, but presumably that will grow.

Catherine Mayer fluffed her inaugural speech. Her pages were out of order. She thought about going back, but she didn’t. Instead she swithered and dithered for a minute or two, before making a decision. As a result, her performance didn’t feel polished, or scarily professional, but it did feel funny and warm and her genuine emotional commitment to the cause she represents shone through. Party leader Sophie Walker’s sharing in her headline speech – about her daughter’s autism – contrasted sharply with her clearly thought out policies on creating a tax system that values both paid and unpaid contributions to society. It made her human and approachable, and revealed the fact that she felt the fear and did it anyway. It made me think that maybe I should step up and join in a little more.

I may not be slick or professional, but attending this conference has helped me to come away with new ideas – with the gist of what I ought to be saying when people ask me about my WE membership. Spending on infrastructure over the next four years is promised in its billions – it is needed, granted. It will provide jobs, true. But why is something like universal childcare, which would benefit all of us now, and for many generations to come, not a priority on every politician’s list?

For me, one of the most exciting ideas is the fact that the gap between parental leave ending and children starting nursery would be plugged under WE policy. That black hole between the age of nine months and three years where currently so many women are forced to opt to essentially work for nothing after childcare costs have been paid, or otherwise are forced to throw up their hands and step out of employment altogether, would be avoided.

Fifteen hours of free childcare would be provided to every family, followed by affordable childcare at a rate of £1 an hour. This would mean that instead of doing complicated sums to figure out whether I could afford to go back to work, it would be easy. Instead of it being a question of my job or your job, whose is worth the most, we would both be able to continue contributing and progressing on our chosen career paths. Childcare settings would be invested in, they would become a modern accessible places that we can all be happy to send our children. This, instead of living in a country where childcare is the most expensive in the world and all too often is organised in cramped, inappropriate spaces that resemble nothing more than factory farms.

My brain hurts with the enormity of it all. But writing this blog is my first step. If even one person reads it, and acts – by joining the party or lobbying their MP, then I’ve achieved something. As founder, Sandi Toksvig, so succinctly said:

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“Let’s just get equality done – we’ve all got other shit to do.”

 

 

 

 

Judgey McJudgeface

I used to be quite judgey but I’m not so judgey now. Well, OK, that’s not strictly true. I’m still ridiculously judgemental, but lately I’ve been feeling a little guilty about some of my past snobberies, and as such, here is a virtual apology to all those who have been mentally wronged by me.

The first one goes out to Lovely Daddy’s mum. It’s to do with washing. When LD and I first dated, I went to his family home a few times, and in my early-twenties single gal snobbery, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why his mum chose to dump all of the family’s washing in the corner of the dining room and just leave it lying there. It got churned up, and some of it was still a bit damp, and really no-one ever cleared it, they just took one item, ironed it for themselves and left the rest. It seemed a poor system to me.

I NOW UNDERSTAND HER DESPERATION / PURE APATHY. She had four kids, a husband, and she was working full time. Where was she meant to find an hour or three hundred to sort the stuff, air it, iron it, fold it and then put it away? And why did I consider it to be her job? I genuinely don’t think it crossed my mind that LD’s own dad should do it, or his sisters…..I really did judge her and for that I am sorry.

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This is less than one week’s worth of washing on the bed. We made it, but I have to lie in it. Once I find it, that is. So, Lovely Daddy’s mum, my first big sorry goes out to you. Karma has come and bitten me on my freshly laundered ass, as I while away my hours sorting a million tons of washing. Does LD take his turn in the sorting? No, not very often. These types of tasks still fall to me, though I am training up the kids.

My second Judgey McJudge goes out to all those folks in the world who wear hiking shoes, tight running trousers or ski sunglasses when they are not actually planning on doing a specific sport. My smug little brain used to scoff at those who wore sports-specific gear as day-to-day clothing. Now, not only do I wear a cagoule, with a detachable fleece inner lining, but I have also been known to don my luminous green ski jacket on chillier days. I do not look cool. I am not going swish swishing down the pistes, I am merely hanging in the playground, but now I understand, geeks of the world, why many of you choose the clothes you do. So….sorryyyy about the snidey looks at your mac.

And my third apology goes out to…..anyone who was ever subject to my inner daggers for forgetting my children’s birthdays. Oh me, oh my. When my first born came along,  I was still super at birthdays. I probably still had a diary or a calendar where they were all neatly written down. I bought cards, presents, remembered nights out. Now I can barely remember the name of your child, let alone what age it is. Don’t expect to witness any of my expert wrapping skills any time soon. Soz, all, Facebook is good as you’re gonna get these days.

So now you’ve all borne witness to my mean inner voice, what can I say? Only that I’ll try harder to think first, judge later.

 

 

 

Autumn

Melancholy joy

As the trees disrobe

Coy at first

Then flamboyant, as they strip

Letting their cloaks flutter to the floor

To stand stark against the skyline

 

The birds know too

The clocks have changed

It’s time to go

They swoop, regroup

Then form their arrows, pointing South

I root for the stragglers, left behind

 

The nights draw in

The heat goes on

The dark makes dormice of us all

We wish we too could hibernate

Instead wrap up, dig out our boots

And wish for swirling snow filled skies

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