Wednesday 22 July 2009

This time next year, Rodney…

I’ve always wished I could come up with a corking entrepreneurial idea that would turn me into a millionaire with minimum effort. I’ve often thought about setting up a business writing wedding speeches, for example, having successfully helped out a few best men in their hour of wisecracking need. Then I heard recently about a wish-I’d-thought-of-it-myself service that eBays things on your behalf, saving you that frustrating queue in a piss-fragranced post office. But this weekend I came up with the holy grail – and this one, I reckon, has really got legs.

It was at the Race For Life. (£2,400 raised; 45 minute finish… step aside, Nell McAndrew.) With the event being in aid of Cancer Research UK, each participant was sent a sign to wear on their back, with space to write a dedication for whoever they were racing for life for. Some people raced for their parents, some for their children, some for their patients, some for themselves. In absence of anyone else to race for, my sign stated that my Race For Life was being done for, well, me.

Now, I appreciate that these signs are designed for moving, poignant dedications, often to loved ones lost through cancer. And in no way do I wish to undermine the seriousness of that. (Hell, I’ve seen more than a lifetime’s worth of that kind of seriousness.) But let me just say this. If ever The Bullshit does get the better of me (it won’t, like – I’m just being hypothetical), and you choose to run the Race For Life in my memory… for God’s sake, get your dedication grammatically correct, will you? Let me give you a few examples.

I race for life for…
‘Evry1 whose suffering with cancer’
‘Mum. Your always with me.’
‘Anyone effected by cancer.’
‘Grandad. Evie love’z you.’

I wish I could tell you I was making this up. I swear, you could hear the tuts from heaven.

But there’s a business idea in this, no? Surely, beside the Cancer Research merchandise stall and the portaloos and the burger van, there’s space for a proofreading service? In fact, screw money-making – I’d gladly do it for nowt.

That said, though, I fear it would make for a far less entertaining race. And, believe me, it wasn’t half entertaining. Because it was those signs – as well as the cheering onlookers, the kind pats on my back and the frankly terrifying volume of pink tutus – that got me round. Besides, who am I to change such a terrific event that does so much to assist a hugely important charity? In fact, the Race For Life is so terrific that I’ll be doing it again next year. And, provided there’s been no return of The Bullshit, I’ll be racing with a different dedication on my back. In 2010, I think, I’ll race for life for: ‘Evry1 who helped 2 get me thru da Bullshit. Your the best.’

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Jogger's nipple.

I was hoping to begin this blog post with the sentence: ‘I just ran 5k’, but that, I’m afraid, would be a bit of a fib. Which is a shame because ‘I just shuffled 5k’ doesn’t pack quite the same punch. But however I travelled – be it running, shuffling or being lapped by zimmer frames as I crawled on my hands and knees, I just did 5k. And, as a result, I’m about, ooh, 14% less nervous about doing the Cancer Research Race For Life on Sunday. (Thank you, by the way, to anyone who has sponsored me so far. If you haven’t sponsored me, and you have a few quid to spare, you can buy shares in my exercise-induced embarrassment by clicking here.)

I dare say it’s less the exercise that worries me, actually, and more the thought of 13,000 pink-clothed women descending on Hyde Park in feather boas and cowboy hats like some sort of terrifying giant hen weekend. And so, like the miserable bastard I am, I’ll be doing the Race For Life on my own in head-to-toe black, with Led Zeppelin on my iPod. It’s not that I don’t want to enter into the spirit of things – it’s just that, to me, the spirit is less being part of the Wacky Races, and more a simple case of raising as much as I’m able for a charity that’s close to my heart, while simultaneously using it as an excuse to peel my massive arse off the sofa and into something resembling sportswear.

In the interest of wearing a bra only when it’s absolutely necessary (the sodding things have become bordering on torturous since my mastectomy), I did today’s 5k in a tight-fitting vest rather than a sporty boulder-holder. Even pre-Bullshit, my bust was always thankfully modest enough for me to go bra-less, and the case remains today – even though it does look a bit weird that my right tit bounces about and the left’un stays resolutely fixed in place like a spare tennis ball tucked into the pocket of Rafa Nadal’s tight shorts. I had worried that running in a vest could result in a touch of chafing in the nip-department, but brushed aside my concern when it became clear that my pace was more Tony Christie than Linford Christie, and I only had one nipple left to do any real damage to anyway.

Technically, I guess, you could argue that I’m now symmetrical in the nipple department, having been for the colour-tattooing a few weeks back. Usually, with a cancer-significant moment such as the creation of a nupple, I’d have blogged about it straight away. But given that it’s all been rather non-event-ish – both in terms of the process and result – and that its birth date coincided with my clear mammogram result, the story of my nupple has been pushed to the back. Which, in some ways, rather undersells it. Because, although the reconstructed ‘after’ picture is rather different to the pre-mastectomy ‘before’, the exciting part is the feeling of finally being put back together again like some kind of 3D jigsaw puzzle. And whether or not my nupple is identical to its twin, at least now there’s something to replace the nipple that Smiley Surgeon took from me last June. That may not be the best way of putting it. ‘Took’ makes it sound as though he nicked it while I wasn’t looking, with a ‘hey, what’s that over there?’ and a swipe of his surgeon’s knife before waving my nipple in front of my face in the ner-ner fashion of an embarrassing father who’s just done the ‘I’ve got your nose’ trick. Smiley Surgeon didn’t take my nipple from me; he relieved me of it. I do still wonder where it went, mind. Do they incinerate cancerous nipples? Is it pickled in a laboratory jar somewhere? Or has it skipped off to the great big farmyard in the sky with my childhood rabbit? (Nipple & Nibble: the new Thelma & Louise.)

With appointments slightly behind schedule at the rather swanky-looking Nipple Clinic (how I wish it were really called that), my hospital-buddy Tills and I took our chance to gossip like a pair of teenagers on the first day back at school. So much, in fact, that I almost missed it when a high-pitched voice spoke my name. I looked up to see who’d called out so cheerily, and there stood a bubbly blonde burst of energy, all impressive eyeshadow and bright pink cardigan. Everything about her – her clothes, her make-up, her hair, her shoes – screamed ‘colour is what I do.’ The Pink Lady, as it turns out, is a breast care nurse by trade, but took additional training to become a nipple colour specialist who helps women replace the areolas that were lost as part of their mammograms. I expect ‘colour specialist’ is the wrong title. It’s bound to be something more medically impressive than that. Substitute Areola Consultant, perhaps, or Professor of Nipular Restoration. ‘Colour specialist’ makes her sound like a painter and decorator but, mind you, having seen her skills with shades, I dare say she could turn her hand to that, too.

The Pink Lady leaned over me and inspected my non-nipple against my right one. ‘Hmm,’ she pondered. ‘They’re a lovely pale rose pink, aren’t they?’ I could have kissed her. What a wonderful compliment. It may have been the loveliest I’d ever had, and so I overlooked her use of the plural when I was demonstrably singular in the nipple department. ‘I think we’re going to need a very pale pink with a hint of fawn or brown,’ she continued. As she buzzed away at my breast with exactly the same kind of tattoo-machine that had created the star on my wrist, I tried to think back to my days in interiors magazines, frantically attempting to recall the names of pink paints with a hint of fawn so I could freak her out with my own colour knowledge. ‘Hm yes, I imagine it’s a good match for Farrow & Ball’s Ointment Pink, wouldn’t you say? Or Dulux Strawberries n Cream, perhaps?’ Thankfully, I stopped short of being such a smartarse, which is probably wise given my cheeks’ tendency to turn Cinder Rose.

I can’t pretend that I didn’t check my nipple against a paint colour chart when I got home, mind. Nor that I was rather pleased that it matched up to a matt emulsion called Flawless. (Part of the Crown range, if you’re interested – I’m tempted to start a campaign to get it renamed Tit Pink.) Rather oddly, it’s surprisingly similar to the colour in my living room. Perhaps there’s some psychology in that. Are a person’s colour preferences dictated by their nipple colour, I wonder? Now there’s a question for Mr Marbles. Or Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen.

Another thing I haven’t mentioned is that that my nipple-tattooing experience also saw my debut as a topless model. At the beginning of my appointment, The Pink Lady passed me a photo album that filled my head with more images of boobs than a year’s subscription to Nuts. As I flicked through the pages, I marveled at ‘before’ pictures of one-nipple busts alongside ‘after’ photographs showing proud, completed racks of double-nippled glory. I tried to make all the right noises that suggested applause rather than arousal, but I dare say it was all a bit Kinky Changing Rooms, with tattooed areolas as trompe l’oeil (LLB would be proud), and with my tit as the next candidate for a makeover. And so The Pink Lady took out a Polaroid camera (I assumed she had to use an instant camera – I couldn’t see the Boots processing counter turning a blind eye to a film full of tits) and took a photograph of my ‘before’ boob. During which, of course, I giggled like an idiot.

I’m heading back in for the ‘after’ photo at the end of the month, when The Pink Lady will review the colour that has revealed itself now that my rather fetching scab has fallen off. There’s every chance that she’ll top up the colour a bit, too. (Any good paint job requires a second coat, right?) But, pleased as I am to have an optical illusion of a nupple whose colour finally resembles its mirror image, I can’t help but be a teensy bit disappointed. With my new boob, the replacement silicone implant didn’t just make up for the one that was taken away, but positively pissed on its bonfire with its perky, shapely, A-list roundness. The replacement nipple, however, is – let’s be honest – merely the poor (I’m stopping short of in-bred) cousin to my right nipple. Because, as impressive as The Pink Lady’s tattooing obviously is, it’s not that good. And so I dare say that colouring in the twisted bit of skin that I call a nupple is a bit like putting Mac lipstick on a pig.

Thus my page-three career endeth here. (As a million Sun readers breathe a sigh of relief.) Because, unless The Pink Lady is intending to take the ‘after’ Polaroid from the distance of a Race For Life running track, I can’t imagine that anybody will stop at my page in her photo album and struggle to tell my real nipple from the fake. That’s probably a little hard on my nupple. And in no way do I want to demean the excellent work of The Pink Lady. I guess all I’m saying is that, in the sprint-finish for a spot on the podium, my natural nipple takes the gold medal. Still, it’s about time it had a moment in the spotlight, eh?

Thursday 2 July 2009

The year the music died.

During the Top 40 culmination of the tabloid-fest that was The Battle of Britpop, I was hanging by the scruff of my Fred Perry T-shirt off the railings at the back of my family’s rented beach chalet, trying to get a radio signal to determine whether Blur or Oasis had come in at number one. I fear ‘beach chalet’ paints something of a misleading picture, actually – in truth it was a yellow, wasp-attracting wood-hut protecting the sleepy (nay, comatose) town of Sutton-on-Sea from the bitingly harsh (and, let’s be honest, probably radioactive) Lincolnshire tide. It was where my family spent the same two weeks every summer and, in 1995, the soundtrack to my fortnight was Blur’s Country House.

Fast forward 14 years to last Sunday night, somewhere half-way back in the crowd of Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage and, as a newly reformed Blur played the same song, thoughts of wasp stings, chips with scraps and shaking sand out of my Adidas Sambas immediately filled my head. Country House is by no means a great record, granted (and wasn’t that just the irony of The Battle of Britpop?), but in a couple of bars’ worth of oompah-ing brass, I was back in Sutton-on-Sea.

For a girl with a notoriously rubbish memory, it’s a comfort to know that certain songs can trigger the recollection of long-forgotten nuggets of time. It’s like being regressed to a former life (except in this case with cider and a camping chair replacing hypnosis and a couch). Ask me over a G&T what I did during the summer of 1993, for example, and I’d be hard pushed to even tell you how old I was. But stick Charles & Eddie’s Would I Lie To You on the jukebox (that’s not a request) and I’ll tell you many a teenage tale of lovestruck longing over my then-crush’s delicious thighs in his tight football shorts as I sat transfixed on the sidelines in a shameful crop-top and pink lipstick combo that I’d later come to regret.

Me and my Glasto comrades P, Tills and Si had been talking a lot over the weekend about the memories attached to music, thanks in no small part to our learning of the death of Michael Jackson. My reaction to that news took me as much by surprise as the story itself and, as a child of the 80s, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in finding myself oddly upset. I couldn’t get my head around my response – after all, it was years since I’d bought a Michael Jackson record. Perhaps it was just that I’d maxed out on my life’s quota of shock, and wasn’t prepared for any more of it. (Sodding shock, eh – if only I could remove the element of surprise, I reckon I’d be able to handle it.) But whichever it was, the passing of the loony, legendary Michael Jackson had me mourning in my camper van.

‘Sorry I’m being such a knob,’ I said to Tills after realising I hadn’t spoken for a good 30 minutes after his death had been confirmed. ‘I didn’t think I’d be so upset. I hadn’t realised I was even a Michael Jackson fan.’ Tills sipped her tea, considering a tactful response to my overreaction. ‘I’m not sure you are,’ she said. ‘I think you’re not mourning him so much as you are your memories of his songs.’ (Tills is so much smarter than I am that I often wonder why she’s such good mates with someone who considers The Hills a documentary.) Michael Jackson, to me, was the first single my parents bought to play on some bit of new-fangled kit they called a CD player. It was bragging to everyone at school that I was going to the Dangerous tour at Wembley Stadium, only to look like a prize twonk the following Monday when MJ had cancelled at the last minute. It was watching my Jacko-obsessed kid brother Jamie moonwalk badly across the living-room carpet, and him deciding at the grand old age of six that he, too, wanted to be a songwriter. (I held onto the lyrics of Jamie’s first song, If You Wanna Be A Singer, for the best man at his wedding – I am, like, the best. sister. ever.) So Tills’ comment was, of course, spot on. I was grieving for Billie Jean as much – if not more – as the man who recorded it.

Given the link between pop songs and old memories, then, it’s probably no coincidence that I’ve bought more albums in the last three months than I have in the entirety of the past year. You might consider that an odd decision, given that I’ve had so much time on my hands over the last 12 months that I could have easily reached recognising-songs-backwards familiarity with the combined back catalogues of everyone from Pink Floyd to Elvis Presley. But in truth, I didn’t really pay much attention to music during my Bullshit year. It left an undisputed gap, I’ll admit, but I put my indifference down to a simple lack of anything bordering on interest, energy or drive. I wonder now, though, whether it might have been an unconscious decision not to muddy the soundtrack of 2008/09 with the worst time of my life? The one album I did embrace during that time (The Seldom Seen Kid, obvs), I made a point of only playing in times when I felt more like a human being, careful not to taint it with crappy cancer memories. (Now there’s a question for you – if The Bullshit were a band, which would it be? I’ll start the betting with Toploader.) I kind of hope my music-shunning was done on purpose, actually, because it might just be the smartest thing I ever did.

Getting to Glastonbury (she says, as though it can be equated with reaching the summit of Everest or Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom) wasn’t just a big deal in terms of how far I’ve come in the space of my ‘gap year’, but in recognising that it is possible to fall right back into the comforting arms of the stuff you love (or love listening to), like jumping off a perilous tightrope onto a huge, enveloping cushion. And the simple fact that it all happens on a farm in Somerset only adds to its brilliance. (That’s if you gloss over the full-to-the-brim toilets, mind, and some people’s baffling reluctance to use loo roll after a shit – I felt like sticking a little sign in each exposed turd I laid eyes on: ‘Now wash your hands.’ Or, better still, ‘Now wipe your arse.’) Because, when you’re low on signal, when text messages are taking 48 hours to reach you and when you’re miles away from your laptop and your email and your Twitter account, you’re even further removed from the communication-crammed life you couldn’t do without back at home. And, strangely comforting as it is the rest of the time, you’re not continually having to return hospital questionnaires or order repeat prescriptions or book follow-up appointments or answer questions several times a day about how you’re feeling. And, by heck, it’s glorious.

With a jolt, Si looked up from his pint of cider – or piss, we couldn’t tell which – one afternoon at the festival. ‘Crikey,’ he said out of nowhere. ‘I’d forgotten you’d even been ill.’ And the beauty of it was – for the very first time in a year – I had too. Good old Glastonbury. You might come back bruised and muddy and covered in more germs than a Sunday-night portaloo, but any place that has the ability to make you forget about The Bullshit gets a McCartney-style thumbs-up from me. And so those four days on Worthy Farm marked more than just a brilliant Blur reunion, the return to fashion of Springsteen-like sweatbands and the realisation that Neil Young can make Down By The River last for three weeks. It also marked the moment when I took my finger off the pause button and finally pressed play on my lovely life once more.