Chubby – Part 1


She remembers the first time she ever pulled her t-shirt down to cover her stomach…a new outfit, baby blue leggings, matching t-shirt with tiny pink flowers, she was pleased, had twirled to show off the shiny newness to her mother, her baby brother……but later…..at the park………..aware of a new feeling that she had no words for, she looked down in dismay at the rounded swell of her belly and tugged harder and harder to cover herself up and later still, trew the top into the far corner of her wardrobe and pulled out the hand me down hoody, passed on from a far older cousin.

She remembers her first book of calories – a free gift with Jackie or My Guy or Blue Jeans, carefully unpeeled from the front cover, trying not to tear Davids’ perfect smile. The book lived in her school bag, consulted daily, within 6 weeks, she had memorised the calorie value of everything she ate, might eat, could conceivably ever come into contact with. The book outlasted David and Bryan and even Donny.

She remembers the aching of her budding breasts, pads of fat on already padded flesh. She tried to disguise them from classmates, pulled her vest this way and that, learnt to hunch her shoulders, be the last to unpeel her sensible airtex top, undress under other clothes and prayed for a miracle, an over night sea change, back to what she used to be.

She remembers the agonies of saturday mornings, Bust Stop and Snob and Top Shop, she the designated holder of coats, grabber of hangars and all the while hoping against hope that she would find something, anything to fit, so that she too could walk along the high street, swinging the coveted new clothes bag, ready to dissect their purchases in the Wimpy bar, burgers eaten with a knife and fork, trying hard not to finish the food on other girls’ plates.

She remembers the phase “puppy fat”, forever confused in her mind with the Osmonds’ song

“This is not some puppy fat lalalalal”

Her mothers’ casual tone betrayed by tightened lips, a poorly held together sigh when she, starving, always starving, reached for another biscuit, another slice of bread.

She remembers another song

“Hey fatty boom, boom”.

The rough boys at the bus stop, the ones from the estate, the ones who went to the new comprehensive would sing it as she, easy to spot, green gaberdine, brown school bag, waited for the bus that went the other way.

She became expert at hiding in the shelter of the co-op, eyes peeled for the bus, ready for a split second dash across the road.

It didn’t always work – sometimes she got it wrong, missed the bus and then of course, it was far, far worse.

She remembers her mothers’ purse, blue leather, gold metal clasp, which had to be teased apart to avoid a tell-tale click. Then, hand in, grab loose change and jump away as if the purse itself was red-hot. Money hidden in her pencil-case or later still ,the special purse, the curse purse.

And after school, the walk down Bond Street, into the sweet shop.

Aztec bars

Star Bars

Spangles

White and brown jazzies

Pineapple chunks and acid drops.

Bags and wrappers jammed into her school mac pockets, hand, dip, reach, mouth and repeat and repeat and repeat.

Then rubbish dumped in the bin not near their house.

She remembers the family wedding. Her outfit, bought 8 weeks before, smocked top, blue Oxford bags and hessian heeled red wedge sandals….but somehow everything outgrown before the date and the loaned dress, mohair, pea green, a- line. The only thing her 30-year-old cousin had that fitted her and her mother fussing round, pulling the fabric, bright, brittle smile, the offer of a scarf to jazz it up and the overheard/half heard/half denied comment

“Perhaps big pants would help – flatten everything out”

She remembers starting to smoke – leaning against the chain link fence at the back of the tennis courts, she and Claire Allen, whose parents had got divorced and who had to eat 2 Sunday lunches every week.

Claire said that cigarettes killed your appetite, killed it stone dead and so she smoked and coughed and wheezed and walking home, afterwards, wondered if she felt  a little lighter, a little thinner.

She remembers school dinners, so easy in the junior school, dinner ladies who saw her hunger, relished in her appetite, happy to dish up seconds, even thirds, if no-one was looking. But now, in big school, it’s a different landscape, another country.

Girls who eat only yogurt, the rebel who has declared herself a vegetarian, the others, already thin, became masters of the re-arranged plate and she took to eating on her own, hands shielding her food, head down, load and leave.

She remembers the Christmas discos – her girls school bussed out into the Norfolk countryside to provide the female interest at a well-known boys school and how when the coach pulled in and the fuggy comfort of Charlie and Tramp and bubble gum lip gloss were swooped for the cold night air and the boys stood either side of the doors and when she and Claire – 2 dinners Claire – stepped down to a chorus of oinks and piggy noises and she knew they were trapped there until the coach came back and fumbled in her bag, fingers discovering Sobranie Cocktails and sugar mice.


lost week-end – Part 2


And then, there is a pause, a moment of perfect still, complete calm, a sense of rightness.

Nothing to reproach herself about, nothing to make her fall into the abyss of self-hatred which she knows will follow.

At this point, she could, she knows she could, turn it all around, simply pick up the still packed grocery bags and with one decisive, beautiful movement,  dump them straight into the bin. She has done this before and lesson learnt, now knows to spray kitchen bleach onto the packages.

She could still save today, coke zero, peppermint tea, an hour of net surfing, seeking out thinspo – the perfect collar bones, the thigh gap, jutting hips to make a bikini bridge and then the gym.

After all, now she has the whole week-end, no ties, no commitments, she could, really she could make the whole week-end a 48 hr coffee fast.

She stands in the hallway, body twisted around itself, a pretzel of indecision, of contradictory longings and is unable to move.

Time passes

And then, she walks into the kitchen.

First off, there  is housekeeping, minimising the damage that the next few hours  will inevitably  bring.

This is, if she is being honest and honesty plays such a small part in these lost weekends , so much lying, to herself, all to X, Ys, As,Bs and Cs, hell she even lies to women in supermarkets who don’t even care, but this, this is  big lie, the one she doesn’t even admit to herself.

She tries to not even notice what she is actually doing, as she sits here, right here, right now….fingers popping out a pile of tiny yellow pills, 7,8,9,10. It is becoming more difficult to buy laxatives locally. She fears that  the pharmacy staff will start to recognise her, dreads an altercation, even questions, a request to account for her actions.

She has started using unfamiliar pharmacies, choosing the busiest, the most impersonal and squirrels away, hoards away in drawers and cupboards that she generally tries to pretend don’t exist, little boxes and packets. She finds them worryingly comforting, even if she can, almost, pretend that she had nothing to do with their presence there.

Now she is, like a junkie with a bag of fat rocks, edgy, wanting to make a start. The day, less face it, the rhythm of the weekend, this lost weekend, is already set.

All she is doing now is delay, she opens the kitchen door, regards the mountain of food, the just beginning to melt ice-cream, the cakes, pizza box and flanking it all,  the super sized sugar free drinks.

First things first…ice cream in freezer, oven on, cake sliced and resisted. It’s not time yet, there is still some pretence of control, of eating like normal.

She even sets the table, fills a glass, gulps down the first glass of cola, washes  down a handful, two handfuls of diuretics.

She waits for the pizza, the Indian ready meals….mouth salivating , she paces in front of the oven, one ear open for the microwave ping.

And the first 6, 7 minutes of eating is glorious, she has been so hungry for so long , stomach empty, always cold, skin too thin to cover bones.

She knows, tries not to know, that she is making that noise, a keening, moaning of physical pleasure, as she dips naan bread into chicken tikka and crams the bread, chicken combo into her mouth.

And every time, at this moment, she wishes she could stop now or in 2 or 3 or 4 more bites. This would be normal eating, a little greedy, but salvageable. She even tries a pause, wipe the sauce up, licks her fingers.

She could stop now, but smell of warm cheese, hot dough is filling the kitchen.

It’ s all too late now…..she knows how this will play out

Minutes later, the first onslaught is over, she licks her fingers, sucks the spicy, sweet processed food, mops the plastic containers with another piece of naan bread. There is no room for social niceties, for crockery, cutlery.
Not during a lost weekend.

Her stomach feels full, warm, she rests her hands there and then disgusted, punches hard, enough to almost wind herself
“Disgusting, useless, fat bitch”
She needs to wind herself up, get up a stream of hatred, stop feeling comfortable.

Grabbing and chugging the first bottle of coke, she checks her watch…12 minutes…..no damage done yet.
Upstairs, bathroom, do what needs to be done and afterwards, sitting on the bathroom floor, tears, fat tears, well what else would they be?
Experimentally, she tastes one with the tip of her tongue, warm, salty.
She wonders if tears have calories and the irony of that thought, pushes her to her feet.

The pizza will be ready, needs to be eaten, eaten quickly, fast enough to risk a burn to the roof of her mouth.
Real, external pain, a reminder of just how bad she is, how there can be no pleasure in any of this.

Later, much later, she huddles on a kitchen chair, its wooden back pressing into her spine, she presses hard against it, hoping for bruises, more pain.

Her throat hurts, burns, eyes sting and she can feel her stomach churn, waves of discomfort with the threat of more pain, her body, her desires brought down to simple, shaming function.

She is reduced to hunger, shit, puke….and tears.
Almost new-born but with no hint of promise, no hint of salvation.

Just 2 more lost days until Monday morning.

And before that, late, very late on Sunday night, she will creep from the house, face swollen, stomach distended, body hidden in an over-sized sweat shirt and take the bin bag full of empty packages, boxes, tins, wrappers and drive a safe distance from home before shoving the bag into an empty bin and pushing the evidence far away, far from home, far from her.

 


lost weekend – part 1


Lost weekend

She knows, the moment she wakes, tastes dream food on her lips, remembers a sleeping feast, a table piled high, a dream so real that just for a second,she wonders if somehow she has eaten, more than eaten, gorged, at some point  between 200 leg lifts, last weigh in and half a cup of sugar-free hot chocolate.
She rolls back the duvet, cold biting into flesh, checks thighs, hip bones, counts ribs, can see no evidence, no proof that her body has betrayed her.
4am, first weigh in, standing naked in the bathroom, best of 3, a half articulated prayer to the gods of scales, needs to see good numbers, reward, payback.

The scales are implacable, impervious to any prayer, deaf to her needs, her real hunger.
The numbers stare back….blue digital display, a truth that cannot be argued with and so she trails back to bed, already bargaining in her head, looking for a logic when her own body has moved beyond the realms of reality.

But…like an itch, once noted that cannot be ignored, the dream has woken the kraken of hunger, reminded her, yet again, that the body will have its way, will survive.

It’s Friday and she knows that this will be a lost weekend.
There are plans to be made.
Arrangements to be un-arranged
Things to be done.
And while she says this, maybe out loud, maybe not, she is already bargaining, negotiating, the calorie counter in her head, always ready, ever ready has begun to kick in.

The space, time left is enough for something else to happen, some rescue,  some ambush of her desire, it may still be alright.

She emails….tells X that she is seeing Y, Y that she is laid low with a stomach bug ( she rationalizes that this, if nothing else is almost true), informs A,B and C that she is out-of-town until Sunday and then sits back, appalled by the ease of her lying, the weekend, empty, clear.
A lost weekend.

More plans, rehearsed, familiar in their balletic routine and rituals.
Cash point, lost weekends must be paid for in cash….no paper trail, no bank statement to choke her with shame, recriminations, 1, 2 weeks down the line.
And besides, cash, she has learnt, sets a limit, an end point, imposes some control.

Into the car, lost weekends cannot be provisioned too near home, the fear of her and the trolley of shame, bumping along beside her, laden with foods of colours that no food should be, meeting a friend,neighbour, even a colleague, is paralysing.
The very thought makes her limbs twist with shame, she is the girl who never eats, who sits at meals, an apple sliced into tiny, tiny pieces, while she watches the others eat. She is the one that people no longer offer cake to, no longer ask if she wants anything from the drive through.
She is the girl who never eats,whose body is a silent reproach to those who cannot, will not share her iron control.
And so, the supermarket, this one 5 miles from home, safe enough, but near enough to home that the drive will not last forever, will not cause her self-control to snap, car pulled over, face buried in the first, still warm bakery bag.
There is a routine, a rhythm, a ritual to a lost weekend shop.
First stop
Pharmacy aisle ….
Laxatives
Diuretics
Paracetamol.

Next….
Sugar free chewing gum
Coke zero, 2 litre bottles times many

And then,
The food shop
Today, the fruit and vegetable aisles ignored, no careful weighing out of 4oz bags of grapes, bananas chosen based only on size, miniaturised, apples defined as less than medium.
She knows from experience that it is better to pick the ice cream first, fear of defrosting, of spillage sets a time limit, a sense of urgency, keeps her moving, heading towards the check-out.

In her head, the litany of a list
2 tubs of ice cream
Macaroni cheese
Cauliflower cheese
Pepperoni pizza
Chicken tikka masala
Prawn korma
Chocolate cheese cake

And then a pause….finds herself in the biscuit aisle, knows from hard experience that biscuits have too many sharp edges, too many corners, will stick,catch, hold up the smooth movement.

Instead,cakes, chocolate fudge cake, ripples of icing, she can already imagine her finger nails disturbing the perfect layers of sugar, butter, cake.
Her mouth puckers, waters, she grabs the box before the other shoppers can see the naked hunger, over powering desire.

Final aisle
Toilet cleaner
Disinfectant
Facial wipes
Toilet tissue.

Check out, she is nervous, bounces from one foot to the other, jingles car keys, smiles too much.
She starts a complicated story to the bored checkout girl
A family shop, bring and share supper, birthday celebration, a story for someone who has already forgotten the thin woman and her half filled trolley.

 

The drive home is a blur, it’s always a blur on lost weekends – mind, mouth, stomach already lost, full of anticipation, already calculating the guilt, the self loathing and everything that will come with it.

She parks the car neatly on the drive, grabs the carrier bags, doesn’t look inside and once the front door is opened, the shopping dumped in the kitchen, she goes back and carefully locks the front door.

[ to be continued]


The New Amazons


These are the new amazons, warriors for an age when battles are fought over inches and ounces, ground held firm with a will power you cannot understand and they cannot explain.

Every day when the killing fields is the  site of last resistance,  their own bodies. offered up, suicide bombers all

New bones map out a skirmish won, an enemy routed, another stand made.

The scales record betrayal, defeat, the spirit is strong, but the body weakens, turns tail, offers surrender when all that is required is a tactical retreat….a re-grouping….a re-arming with weapons of mass distraction.

The enemy creeps up in the night, pitches camp, lays siege to the body.

Bared, ready for morning inspection with eyes sharper than a sergeant major and a tongue more vicious too.

Everything must be checked, double checked, you’re in this army now.

The front line moves, an inch here, an inch there, movement hides the cost, becomes just a to and fro, meaningless battle lines with no clear winner…..dug in, all over by Christmas

A war of secret attrition, where the scars are buried deep, not displayed on special days for the curious, the non-combatants,  and those who fell at the first hurdle try not to stare, try not to feel a tiny frisson of envy, a sense of missing out on something big

Mummy, what did you do in the war?

There are no victory parades for these ana warriors, no wreaths of Flanders poppies, no awkward silences, praying that your phone won’t go off….not now.

But, just for  a moment, I imagine them, the ranks of girls, for they are legion, arms whipcord thin, collar bones as sharp as the creases in a demob suit, knees buckle under the weight of banners, but these are the ana warriors, spartan in their stoicism, shrugging off the costs of war.

To save the village we had to destroy it.

 


some biggish news……


Regular visitors to rubiesandduels will have noticed the Hunger Writing Project – an exploration of food, eating, hunger, body image and restriction.

Most, although not all of these, have been written with performance in mind and several have been already performed at Open Mike slots in Leicestershire.

But, I’ve felt for some time that I want to do something more formal and larger with them………………….so…………………..

with support from Leicester Writers’ Club and Carol Leeming – local arts promotor, i am working towards a one woman show in summer 2014, with performances in Leicester and hopefully beyond.

There will be more new pieces and re-writes of some of the current work and some supporting visual inputs……I’m very excited, if a little nervous, I’m not a performer by training or even inclination.

watch this space for  updates and more information.


Christmas morning hack


Christmas morning hack

Well, why have a pet if not for occasional ritual humiliation 

The fasting girls


Fasting girls

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

” Fasting girls is a Victorian term for young females, usually pre-adolescent, who, it was claimed, were capable of surviving over indefinitely long periods of time without consuming any food or other nourishment. Fasting girls were girls who not only refused food but who also drew attention to their fast by claiming to have special religious and/or magical powers.

Sarah Jacob

A tragic case was that of Sarah Jacob (May 12, 1857 – December 17, 1869), the “Welsh fasting girl”, who claimed not to have eaten any food at all after the age of ten.[ A local vicar, initially skeptical, became convinced that the case was authentic. She enjoyed a long period of publicity, during which she received numerous gifts and donations from people who believed she was miraculous, but doctors were becoming increasingly skeptical about her claims.

Doctors eventually proposed that she be monitored in a hospital environment to see whether her claims about fasting were true. In 1869, her parents agreed for a test to be conducted under strict supervision by nurses from Guy’s Hospital. The nurses were instructed not to deny Sarah Jacob food if she asked for it, but to see that any she got was observed and recorded. After two weeks, she was showing clear signs of starvation.

The vicar told the parents that she was failing and that the nurses ought to be sent away so that she could get food. The parents refused. They continued to refuse even when informed that the girl was dying, insisting that they had frequently seen her like this before and that lack of food had nothing to do with her symptoms. Sarah Jacob died of starvation a few days later, because she had actually been consuming very little amounts of food secretly, which she could no longer do under medical supervision.  Her parents were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to hard labour”

This is fiction, based on my reading around the fasting girls [ see above for some basic background information].

This is one of the pieces I will be performing in my one woman show “The Hunger Writing”

Watch this space for more info !

She understands that it is her hunger that puts food on the table, bread in the mouths of the others. Her sacrifice is what keeps everyone else alive and besides, what sacrifice is there is this anyhow ?

To turn her face away from food, to close her lips, shake her head, a mute refusal sets her above the rest, the crowds that come to see her, to point and press closer, their fetid food breath on her and around her.

Hunger has always been her companion, her closest friend, sometime confidant, helping her to feel special and as Ma & Da keep pointing out, she is a star now, a good girl, keeping all the babies well fed, fat even.

She takes delight in their chubby arms, rounded bellies, pink and white skin, they are not like the ones they lost, pale, skin yellowed, eyes too large for faces and so silent,still.

Ghost babies even when they were alive.

She can remember the hunger then, before she learnt to embrace the emptiness, when it felt as if her very guts would tear themselves apart and food was eaten fast, arm wrapped protectively around whatever they had found to eat and her mothers’ plaintive cry of

” Leave a mouthful for the babbies……just a mouthful”

Disregarded in their driven desire to fill their own bellies, for that moment, that evening, that few minutes of near warmth, near satisfaction.

So, she knows how quickly hunger can come back, silence these babies, make wild animals of the half-grown boys, she knows that it is only her hunger that provides and she basks, unworthy, in the power that her hunger gives.

She is not stupid, knows that what is happening is trickery, but every day, she prays to someone, some ethereal creature, that today and tomorrow and the next day, there will be no trickery, no sleigh of hand, that finally, she will live on light alone and her family will never go hungry again.

It started in drink, like many of her fathers’ plan, hatched in liquor and desperation and the guilt only a man who looks into the eyes of his starving children, but still chooses to spend the money on cheap Dutch gin, can possibly feel.

“My Sarah doesn’t eat, hasn’t eaten for months, she’s a little miracle”

The other men reflect that in his house, not eating is no miracle, but simple every day occurence. they have watched his starving children, too weak to play or make sound and each has judged him and found themselves to be better, more man, more father, more provider, when set against him.

But he is insistent

” You pay  a small coin and you can see her, our own fasting girl. Any time, night or day, you’ll not see food pass her lips” and he creates a display, his own daughter on display in the stinking courtyard outside the hovel that even he rarely calls home.

She is, unsurprisingly, already very thin and has begun to turn her head away from food, so the performance has a ring of truth and as days go by and become weeks, the whole valley has heard of her and there is a steady stream of the slightly less hungry, who are prepared to sacrifice a tiny coin, a heel of a loaf, a block of cheese, to stare at the grey/ white  skin, the eyes that fill the face, the shoulder blades that protrude like the very start of angel wings.

In a place where everyone is hungry, there is some pleasure in seeing someone embrace this starvation which all the others fight and rail against.

And of course, there are additional services, secret touches, stolen glances. Her father takes charge of this and she lies still, face up to the heavens, mind blank, empty of everything, waiting for weightlessness.

For the first time that she can remember, her father, even her wispy, bend in the wind mother, are pleased with her, pleased with what she brings in, but, her father has plans. Not staving is no longer enough for his family, he has dreams of the gentry, the fine folk visiting his little miracle, the child who doesn’t need to eat.

In some part of his gin soaked mind he has managed to forget the crumbs of bread, the slivers of almost good meat his wife feeds the child when the courtyard is deserted, he has begun to believe that she is actually existing on air and he wants recognition and the fortune he is sure will come when others, not just the miners and the dirt poor farmers, come to look at her translucent skin.

He has managed to ignore exactly how thin and slight she has become and how quietly she lies, eyes to the sky, hour after hour.

The vicar calls, all thin nose, beaky face, seeking a miracle, anything to raise up the souls who struggle in a landscape designed to drag them down. He stands, hands behind his back , trying to emulate the expression of scientific detachment he has seen on the faces of the gentleman botanists.

The girl stares up at him, smiles and extends an arm so thin that every vein is visible, the vicar extends one hesitant be-gloved finger and even through the wool, he can feel the cold that emanates from her bones.

The father is in full spiel, he stands tall, chest puffed out, an angry robin of a man while he tells the tale, how his daughter exists only on sips of water, gains sustenance from light and air, is his little miracle and the vicar believes, needs to believe, wants to believe.

Everything changes then, the big house sends linen sheets, blankets. Her bed becomes a nest, a refuge, where she lies, day after day, staring up at the sky.

More visitors arrive, dresses lifted to avoid the filth of the courtyard, the ever-present spillage from the midden.

The father retains some animal cunning, understands that asking for money would set a jarring tone, instead, he smiles, twists the brin of his filthy hat in muck incrusted fingers and calls out the other children, still, by any standards, thin and allows them to stand, mute witness to his poverty, his desperation.

The visitors understand, bring little and not so little gifts, food, meat that is close to spoiling, but good enough, yesterdays’ white bread, cakes. The children approach these foods cautiously, their ever-present hunger makes them brave and eyes bright, they grab and run into corners, elbows sharp to fight off younger weaker siblings.

The fine ladies bring lace handkerchiefs, tiny bottles of scent. They dab the lavender and lily of the valley water onto the fasting girls’ forehead, sweet smells that almost, but not quite, cover the other ever-present smells.

More and more visitors call, the family begin to forget hunger, the children become louder, more of a presence in the courtyard, they begin to play, to call out and in the centre, a constant silence, is the fasting girl.

Late at night, when the households that share this courtyard sleep, the mother creeps out to the girl, tiny scraps of bread, meat, cheese hidden in her apron. The girl struggles to sit up now, needs the support of her mothers’ arms. She turns her face away as she eats, almost as if she is willing this not to happen, almost as if she has begun to believe her own fathers’ lies.

And then, a coach, painted, imposing, somebody important, arrives to see the famous fasting girl, but this visitor is different, less willing to believe, looking for proof. A man of science, a real doctor and one with a plan, a proposition to make.

He stands, fleshy, hat  jammed firmly  down on his  head against the winds that blow constantly down the valley.

He talks to the father man to man. An experience so foreign, but so seductive, that the father grows in stature, becomes more man, but also looses his valley cunning, his  natural cautiousness and makes a fatal error, perhaps because he has finally, fallen prey to his own deceit, begun to believe his own fantasies.

The child will be taken to a hospital and there it will be proven, by men of science, men of education, that the girl, his daughter is truly a miracle, can live on air, on light itself.

The parents stand at the doorway, the younger children silenced by these unusual occurences, the sudden appearance of so many solemn men into their home.

The girl is lifted, although she weighs so little now, that lifting hardly describes the action needed to move her.

The father smiles, it will be alright, he is sure of it, the miracle will happen, they will be rich and no-one will ever have to be hungry again.


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