Wednesday 25 August 2010

Girls on film.

It’s an enormous understatement to say that my life hasn’t exactly taken me the way in which I’d expected to be led. Even aside from The Bullshit, I could never have imagined that by the time I was 30 I’d have written a book, become an interiors journalist, married a scouser, become a cat owner or given up my Derby County season ticket to move to London. But something I did last week tops even beating breast cancer in the Things I Thought I’d Never Do chart. Because last week, ladies and gentlemen, I made my debut as an underwear model.

There are more reasons than just sheer ludicrousness as to why my being photographed in a multiway sports bra comes first in the most-unlikely list. The fact that my figure is about as far removed from a model’s as Johnny Vegas is from Johnny Depp, for starters. And then, of course, there’s my less-than-ideal lady-lumps, to which Hugh Hefner has doubtless issued a restraining order prohibiting me from going within fifteen miles of the Playboy Mansion for fear of his customer-base permanently losing its hard-on. Add to that a cracking pair of bingo-wings and an arse the size of Lambeth and, I suspect, you’re not just getting the picture but actively deleting it from the hard-drive in your brain.

So why now, then? Why, at my curviest, in the midst of my least-impressive boob-groove and on the bare bones of my confidence have I just whipped off my trusty black top to flash my bra at a photographer? Well, um, I’m not sure I have a decent answer.

Before you have visions of me pouting down the lens in a lacy demi-cup, all soft focus and tousled hair, let me stop you right there (you massive perv). Because this catalogue – for post-mastectomy experts Pink Ribbon Lingerie – isn’t designed for your average thirtysomething lingerie shopper, but instead for women for whom bra shopping is more of a drag than a delight. I should add, too, that the photoshoot wasn’t populated with professional models without a necessary surgical procedure to their name, but a nervous quartet of real, breast-cancer-experienced women of various ages and mastectomy stages. Which, for anyone used to clicking on the post-surgery-bra section of most lingerie websites will know, makes a bloody nice change from seeing lithe, spritely, enviably-busted, professional models showing us how we ought to look in our undercrackers once the contents of our chests have gone for a Burton. And so I suppose that’s one of the main reasons why I said yes: because it’s about time we wonky-titted lasses were represented.

‘The old Paula would never have done this,’ said the most recently-reconstructed of the models (whose shoot, by the way, was the sultry stuff that La Perla catalogues are made of). ‘But the new Paula just figured – why the hell not?’ She’d taken the words right out of my mouth. See, I happen to think that there’s a strange sort of confidence that comes with having gone through a Bullshit time with your tits. A fuck-it kind of confidence; an assured acceptance that, since this is how your boobs are going to stay, there’s nothing else you can do but lump ’em and love ’em. I appreciate how ridiculous that must sound coming from a woman who’s done nothing but bang on about the Bullshit-battering her confidence has taken over the last couple of years. Because, heck, my confidence isn’t by any stretch of the imagination what it once was… but that doesn’t mean that it’s been completely destroyed, either.

All that said, I was shaking like Lindsay Lohan in a courtroom dock when the time came to say ‘cheese’.
‘Ohmygodohmygodohmygod,’ I chanted as I appeared in the room.
‘You all right there, love?’ said the utterly lovely photographer.
‘Just crazy-nervous,’ I said, hiding behind a giant headboard. ‘How about if I just stand here, with my head poking over the top? That’s okay, right?’
‘Hm, I think we might need you out here,’ he coaxed, pointing toward a bay window.
‘Or here? Like this?’ I said, now doing the walking-down-stairs mime you do the other side of a kitchen counter. ‘This is cool, right?’
‘I’ve got to say, you don’t seem nervous,’ he said.
‘Oh, I always act like a dickhead when I’m anxious,’ I admitted, almost relieved to see that my fear-induced idiocy stretches to more locations than just doctors’ consultation rooms.
‘Really?’ he questioned.
‘Yup. See, how’s that for nervous?’ I said, holding out a hand that was shaking like a blancmange in a hurricane.
‘Fair dos,’ he conceded. ‘But really – nothing to worry about. You just tell me what to do and I’ll bear it in mind.’
‘Right. Well, first off, can you please keep my giant arse out of the frame?’
‘Giant?! Bah, lemme see,’ he said, spinning me around and exaggeratedly inspecting my rear end.
‘You don’t need to look that close!’ I squealed. ‘It’s practically the size of Lambeth.’
‘Lambeth! Give over. No – it’s more like, um…’
‘See! You don’t have a comeback! It’s Lambeth. Or maybe Tower Hamlets.’
‘Listen here you,’ he said, slapping Lambeth on its left cheek. ‘You’re perfect. We need confidence! Sass! Come on now, Lisa, make like Madonna.’
‘Madonna?! How old do you think I am, you cheeky get?’
‘Okay, Lady Gaga.’
‘Right, with every click I want you to give me a different pose, okay?’
‘Oh-kaaay,’ I said apprehensively, preparing my best camera-face.
‘Lean forward a bit, hands behind your back.’
‘Head down, looking up at me.’
‘Peering out the door.’
‘Back at me.’
‘Towards the window.’
‘Smile at your mate.’
‘Fiddle with your hair.’
‘What about piss yourself laughing?’ I said, struggling to maintain my model-face through a giggle-fit.
‘This is great!’ he flattered as he snapped. ‘This looks really great.’
‘Meh, you say that to all the girls,’ I growled through a gritted-teeth grin.
‘Come and have a look, then,’ he said, offering me his camera screen.

Now usually, when looking at photos of myself, I'm instantly checking for jowls or flared nostrils or expanses of gum or stray mole-hairs. But not this time. Nope – on this occasion, my eyes shot first to my left tit, then to my left underarm (the site of my lymph-node removal and now the place from which my lymphoedema tends to swell), then to my right tit, before finally looking myself in the eye. And chins. Of course, nodoby ever looks at a photo of themselves and says how great it is (well, nobody except perhaps Kanye West) but, from what I remember, what I saw wasn’t hideous. It wasn’t your usual La Senza fare, granted – lawks, it wasn’t even your usual Bhs fare – but nor was it the piss-taking stuff that readers-wives columns are made of. Yes, my arms looked a bit chubby and yes, my lymph-node scar was visible and yes, my bad lymphoedema day was plain for all to see. But that, I’m reasoning, is just what I look like. It’s just the way I am. And if this catalogue is aimed at cancer-practiced, real women, then that’s what they’ve got.

To my surprise, though, it was actually weirdly nice to see a picture of my girls (my girls encased in satin, mind, but my girls nonetheless) – not least when (a) they’re normally used to being ignored every time I look in the mirror and (b) one of them is mere weeks away from its use-by date. And, in fact, it’s kicked off a bit of unexpected nostalgia for my soon-to-be-deceased right’un. Suddenly, I’m not brusquely seeing my natural tit as a deadly weapon that could kill me and must immediately be removed, but instead as a treasured old mate who’s ‘going away for a while’ (y'know – in the way that dead pets are ‘sent to live on a farm’).

See, in order to get my head around what will be happening in exactly three weeks from this moment, I’ve been treating the demise of my remaining ladybits as a necessary evil; a Brazilian wax that I’d rather not endure but will ultimately be for the best. And it’s been a tactic that’s worked. I mean, hell, there’s just no getting around the fact that, given the BRCA discovery, this is What Must Be Done. But lately – in particular since saying yes to the bra shoot – I’ve found myself readjusting those thoughts, and softening enough to mourn the forthcoming loss of my lady-lumps, both chest- and pelvis-located. I’m finding myself donning tighter tops and low-cut dresses, wearing push-up bras (even despite the discomfort), sticking out my chest, cupping my right boob while I watch TV and staring at it in the bath; forcing myself to spend the kind of quality time with it that you might with a sick relative.

So I suppose, really, finding yourself confident enough to have your photo taken in your bra shortly before you’re about to lose what’s beneath it is sort of like waking up to discover you’re having a really good hair day on the morning you’ve booked in for a re-style, then checking yourself out in the reflection of every shop window along the way. It’s like I said before: it’s the fuck-it confidence of accepting your flaws; of feeling the fear, saying ‘sod it’ and doing it anyway. Which probably explains why I’ve just ordered a bodycasting kit to make a mould of my boobs before I head into hospital. But that, I suspect, is for a whole other post…

Monday 16 August 2010

Nobody does it better.

Very occasionally – perhaps only once or twice a year – me and P find ourselves drunk at exactly the same time, level and pace… and, by gad, it’s brilliant. Better still, though, is that every time it happens, P inebriatedly offers up one of his notoriously endearing stock-phrases: ‘You know what, love?’ he’ll say. ‘Nobody does getting drunk like we do getting drunk.’

This nobody-does-it-better analogy is a favourite observation of P’s at even the most sober of times. In the last week alone, he has – on separate occasions – commented how nobody does holidays, barbecues, in-car arguments, clumsiness, singalongs, getting lost and stupid accents like we do. Probably for fear of him stopping, I’ve never actually pulled him up on this favourite expression of his (which, when you consider how often I take the piss out of my old man for his repetition of the phrases ‘it’ll be reet’, ‘we can do without another family tragedy’ and ‘by ’eck, there’s brave and there’s foolish’, looks rather like favouritism), so I do hope my drawing attention to it here won’t suddenly call a halt to his charming comments.

The above instance of simultaneous-drunkenness happened last week on our emergency holiday in Spain (on which we did little more than rest, read and race lilos – a winning combination, I tells ya) and, as well as making me look forward to the day on which P will eventually say ‘nobody does retirement like we do retirement’, it also served to remind me just how long it had been since I’d last found myself drunk. So long ago, in fact, that I can’t even recall the previous occasion (she says, glossing over the gin-haze that is night of her book launch). Now, I’m not about to dig myself into the hole of implying that frequent drunkenness = a happier life but, for me at least, my tipsiness on a terrace in Andalucia pointed to perhaps the first moment at which I’d felt truly relaxed and contented throughout this turbulent year.

And not just mentally relaxed, either. Examine, if you will, the following at-ease evidence: during the course of the last seven days abroad, I also read four books (and, trust me, I’ve barely read four books IN MY LIFE), wrote 5,000 words, watched no TV, wee’d with the door open, wore not a smidgen of make-up, and didn’t blow-dry my hair once. Still not convinced? Then try this on for size: I also sunbathed topless. Yup, topless. Me and my mismatched tits, nothing between us and the outside world but mountain air and factor 30.

So, okay, P and I were staying in a tiny villa at the top of a hill in remote Andalucia (I’d have never have given the removal of my bikini top even a nanosecond’s thought had I been catching rays beside a communal pool) but, for a girl who’s strongarmed her husband into bra-on sex for the past two years, this is quite the turn up for the books.

Looking down at my lop-sided lady-lumps as I lay back on my Spider-Man lilo, I was reminded of one of my favourite moments in my book, in which P and I headed off for an indulgent weekend away in the Ashdown Forest during the time between my mastectomy and my first round of chemo. I wrote about having spent a happy half hour in my knickers, straightening my hair in front of a window whose curtains remained open – despite angry new scars across my back and under my armpit, a deflated left tit and a circle of back-skin where my nipple should have been. Back then, I didn’t know whether my new-found confidence was down to feeling better than I had since my surgery, or simply because I was enjoying a last hurrah before chemo did its worst. But even this time – with my left’un thankfully as inflated as the lilo on which I floated – I was at a similar loss as to why I’d inexplicably chosen this as my moment to bare all.

Bobbing along on his Dora the Explorer lilo (no gender stereotyping for the Lynches, thank you very much), P caught me gawping at my boobs, flabbergastedly frowning at them as though they’d only that moment appeared on my chest, in much the same way I did when suspiciously staring at the supermarket trolley in which I woke up during my first term at uni.

‘You know, you really have got great baps,’ he said, unnecessarily flatteringly.
‘Ah, but which one is better?’ I asked. (I know, right? Talk about a loaded question. I might as well have asked the poor sod whether my cellulite was visible from the other end of the pool, who out of the two of us he thought was the best looking, or which of my mates he fancied the most.)
‘Well, I’d have to say the left one,’ he said, quick as a charismatic cat.
‘…is the correct answer!’ I chirruped. Because, hell, when you’re on a countdown to the removal of your only god-given nork, hearing from your husband that the natural one is his preferred of the two could result in a severe – and rightful – dunking.

What our weekend in the Ashdown Forest and our week in the Spanish hills had in common was this: a distinct feeling of calm before a storm; of making the most of a lovely time before the next round of Bullshit (or, in this case, Bullshit prevention). And, obviously, when weighed against the chemo that was looming the last time I found myself sans bra, this time’s prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy (jaysus – mouthful, anyone?) is a comparative holiday in the Bahamas.

But not even a tough old bird like me could head into a prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy the loss of her ladybits (much better) without even a relatively teensy, AA-cup-sized bit of worry. And so I’m beginning to wonder whether my new-found chest-confidence in choosing this most ridiculous of moments as my topless-sunbathing debut is simply yet another example of the irrational, brassy, dorky daftness that is my stock response to nervousness; the equivalent of telling The Curly Professor that I think he’s ah-may-zing while my face blushes like a slapped arse, or acting like an overconfident tit with a stalker-crush every time I see Smiley Surgeon. It ain’t your normal route to getting ’em out on the beach, granted – but, then, nobody does absurdity like I do absurdity.

Friday 6 August 2010

For the win.

Shall we have a bit of fun? D’you fancy a bit of fun? Let’s have a bit of fun. It is silly season after all. So let’s have a competition to celebrate, shall we? 

I like a good competition. I’m almost looking forward to old age so I can legitimately spend my life speed-dialling This Morning and sending off Woman’s Own crossword coupons like Mary and Norris from Coronation Street. I started early, too, winning a ‘name the teddy’ competition at school (prize: giant blue Care Bear) and a city-wide colouring-in contest (prize: Postman Pat merchandise and my photo in the Derby Evening Telegraph) before I even hit six (teen).

This one, however, ain’t for me to win. This one’s yours for the taking.

I was inspired to run it by the lovely people on the Alright Tit Facebook page who’ve been posting pictures of themselves or their children or their pets (okay, so that was just me) with copies of The C-Word. Lately, though, the fabulous FC and super-lovely Carol Jarvis (AKA @jarvbone) have gone one better (hell, several better) by sending me these corkers; from FC’s holiday in Rome (Minnie Mouse actually earned money by posing with my tome, the cheeky shyster), and from trombonist and arranger Carol’s recent tour with the rather magnificent Seal (who, I like to assume, didn’t require monetary persuasion).

So now, it’s over to you. You might be taking your copy of The C-Word on holiday. You might be reading it at a festival (and if you are, you’re clearly not having enough fun). Or you might instead like to peruse it while on the loo (photographic evidence not required). But how far away you head with your copy doesn’t necessarily matter… this gig is all about awarding the most unusual place in which The C-Word has been photographed.

I’ll give you until the end of the month to submit your entry (or entries, if you’re feeling particularly Norris Cole) to, after which I’ll post the best of the submissions on here for you to be the judge of. Whoever gets the most votes wins. Simples.

Which leads me onto the prize. Naturally, there’s a signed copy of The C-Word in it. But since you pretty much need to have one of those already to enter (unless, of course, you’re planning to nick one and take the photo in jail – in which case, massive props), I’ll also offer up the original uncorrected draft proof of The C-Word, complete with my horribly anal amendments. Add to that some other signed books by, um, proper authors and, I’m sure you’ll disagree, you’re a mere Blankety Blank cheque book and pen and a Curly Wurly short of a life-changing prize. (Oh sod it, I’ll throw in the Curly Wurly too. Don’t ever say I don’t give you nuffink.)

So, then, while I head off for an emergency holiday in Spain to make up for the last shambles (bubble-wrap sun-dress… check, cotton-wool bikini… check, crash-pad water-wings… check), I’ll leave you to get creative. Remember – it’s about the unusual more than the far away and, provided your entry is in the inbox of by the end of this month, you’ll be in with a shot of walking away with a once-in-a-lifetime, super-cool Compendium of C-Word Crap, you lucky blighter, you. 

Wednesday 4 August 2010

You keep it all… out.

As those who’ve been reading this blog for a long time will attest, there aren’t many things I keep schtum about. When my parents cracked the post-diagnosis tension by revealing to my future sister-in-law that I’d once eaten my own shit as a toddler, I went one better by blogging about it. When my mid-chemo piles got so bad that I forced my husband to concoct an olive-oil-based soothing ointment, I almost immediately pressed publish on the story. When my pubes grew back weirdly straight after treatment, I didn’t search messageboards for similar instances in other people, but told you about it on here instead.

Even outside of blogging, I often wonder whether I have some kind of Truth Tourette’s. I’ve sent many a tweet admitting to post-constipation eagle-landings, confessing that I’ve written a card, wrapped presents and baked muffins for my cat’s birthday, and owning up to eating pick n’ mix for breakfast. And that’s not even nearly the end of it. After getting weirded out by early-menopause vaginal dryness, I chose to have a conversation about lubrication options with not my doctor, but my former MA course tutor. I’ll occasionally buy a frock on the sly that head-of-banking P doesn’t know about, only to ball him out when he doesn’t compliment it on its first outing. And, as a particularly stupid 16-year-old, I told my Mum that I’d lost my virginity the day after it happened. (Yeah, that’s right: Told. My. Mum.)

The thing is, Bullshit stories or otherwise, there’s something exceptionally cathartic – not to mention hugely addictive – about ‘putting it out there’; about being so emotionally transparent that nobody ever has to wonder what you’re doing or how you’re feeling. Heart on my sleeve? Hell, mine’s practically tattooed on my forehead.

But not today. Today, I’m blogging with news that is central to an ongoing story on Alright Tit (and if you haven’t read for a while, it might be best to head here, then here). Namely, the results of the genetic testing my family have been having.

The upshot? My Mum carries the breast cancer gene.

And so, dear reader (ooh, how very Charlotte Brontë of me), I hope that, on this occasion, you will forgive me for saying little more than that. For while I think it’s important for you to know where my BRCA-2 gene was inherited from in the context of my ongoing narrative, the rest of this particular story isn’t mine to tell: it’s Mum’s.

But what I do want to make clear is this: I have inherited many a wonderful gene from my Mum (my impeccable grammar, my mercifully thick hair, my love of Motown, my soft hands, my frightening organisational abilities…) and, yes, there are of course things which I’d rather have inherited from my matriarchal side than this (handiness in the kitchen, an amazing memory, ease in any kind of company, good timekeeping, skinny legs…) but that is just the way it goes. So my Mum – any Mum; any parent – shouldn’t feel any more responsible for the passing on of a completely-out-of-their-control gene than they do about their child’s notoriously sweet tooth, their inability to pack a suitcase without tearing strips off whoever is in the same room, or their propensity to throw up after three glasses of wine. Because, frankly, if having no BRCA-2 gene meant having different parents, then I’d snatch those cancer cells right out of your hand.

So, yes, this is a blow (not to mention a shock, given that this side of the family’s breast-cancer history starts and ends in my left tit) for everyone involved – for Mum, for Dad, for me and P, for my brother Jamie, for my sister-in-law Leanne and for the relatives on Mum’s side of the family who are yet to be tested. But, like we all said after learning of my own gene mutation, it’s better to be aware of this than otherwise. Thus, all you need to know is that my family; my lovely little nuclear family, so perfect in its traditionalism, so celebrated in its togetherness, so firece in its loyalty, so revered in its sense of humour, and so adorable in its inexplicable reliance on greetings cards for even the slightest occasion (‘Congratulations! You’ve taken a dump!’) – my wonderful, virtuous, admired, first-class, incomparable family is just fine, thanks. 

And, in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.