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.
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.