Monday, 25 July 2016

A Double Row of Shaving Brushes

He bought fourteen of them: seven for him, seven for his wife.

'What?' he said. 'They were on special offer.'

'The only problem, darling,' his wife pointed out, 'is that they're identical. How will you know whether or not the bristles you're running over your face in the morning were lathering my armpits eleven hours earlier?'

He pondered this, stroking his (smooth, stubble-free) chin. 'I shall label them' he announced, and immediately left the house in search of a stationer.

That afternoon, he lined up the brushes in two neat rows: a mini-platoon of brushes bearing a small red sticker, facing an equal number of green-stickered comrades.

His wife nodded approval. 'Red and green. Like it,' she said. 'Which am I?'

'Whichever you like,' he replied. 'I avoided pink and blue,' he added. 'I know how you feel about pink and blue.'

'Quite right. Thank you.' His wife picked up a green brush. 'I'll take red,' she announced.

Neither the stickers nor the rows lasted long:  wet hands rapidly wore away the coloured dots, and his wife had never been one for keeping things tidy. So he was never quite sure where his morning brush had been. And, despite several furtive Google searches, he never worked out how common it was for women who objected to pink and blue also to shave the many, intimate body parts that his wife did.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Earth addresses the Convocation of Planets

Hello. Yes, Earth here, Sol system. Sorry it's been so long since I attended the Convocation. I've been feeling ill; got some sort of autoimmune condition. Nonsense happening all over my crust.

Oh don’t worry, it's not catching. The pathogens – well, I call them pathogens but they're really part of me, I'm afraid – haven't learned to jump that far. Not yet, anyway.

What's that? Oh yes, quite right, Moon, they have jumped to you. I'm afraid they've got you in their sights too, Mars. Yes, that thing rolling around and tickling you? That's made by them, but it's not one of them. Well yes, I suppose it is entertaining for you, given there's nothing else going on in your part of the system, but believe me, you wouldn't want billions of the creators of that little vehicle swarming all over you. It's a nightmare. Luckily for you, they're a long way from being able to survive on you for any period of time, even if they've managed to land things on you. Well, I say that, but they move very quickly. It only seem like yesterday they climbed down from the trees – my beautiful trees! – and started walking upright. Which was a bad idea; I thought so at the time. Their spines clearly hadn't evolved for that kind of movement. Mind you, them moaning about their back pain is the least of my worries.

I realise this is difficult for most of you to relate to; you're largely lumps of rock or gigantic balls of gas. In fact, has anyone else evolved conscious life forms? Just three of you? And how are you finding it? Yours did what? Oh dear, I am sorry. Yes, I can see the hole from here. And they're gone now, you say? Gone where? Oh, just … gone. That's rather sad but, you know, probably for the best.

Pardon? Right. So yours went through a phase like mine but got past it? So what are they like now? Fewer, but peaceful? That's nice – gives me a bit of hope.

And what about yours? Just started making tools, eh? Oh you are in for fun.

Look, most of them are all right. The ones that don't walk upright – there's loads of them, different kinds – they just get on with their lives, reproduce and die. Well, OK, a lot of them eat each other, but sadly that seems to be part of the system I've developed. I really didn't mean to. 

Even most of the upright ones are decent enough, though they're not very nice to the not-so-upright ones. Arrogant, really. It's just that there are so many of them, and they have a tendency to huddle in tribes and look at other tribes as if the others were a disease and they were the immune system. So they attack each other. 

What's that? Oh, mostly with words, which is unpleasant, but also with laws, which is more unpleasant. But the thing that really worries me is when they attack each other with weapons. That's painful. And they create new, more powerful weapons all the time. Excuse me? Yes, exactly – the sort of weapons that did that to your face. I really am sorry about that, by the way. Does it still hurt? Good lord – right down to your mantle? Blimey. Well, I'm glad it's getting better. My lot appear to have pulled back from that for the time being, but – as I say – they move very quickly and things are changing all the time. So who knows? I can't say I relish the prospect of that kind of pummelling.

But do you have any advice? How do I get them to understand that they're all a part of me? Yes, please, by all means – if yours have moved beyond that phase, tell me what you did. Oh. Right. You let the violent ones evolve out of existence. Lots of casualties along the way. Hmm. And how long did that take?

Ah. I see.

No, no, it's not that I think they're going to destroy me completely, though they probably could. It's just – I'm not sure they'll last that long.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

So what now?

Even being here feels like an admission of defeat. I tell him this, in his Harley Street office, when he asks me what I want. I tell him I've spent half my life trying to accept my fat face, and I've failed. So I'm here to find out about buccal fat removal. I'm not sure whether it's the right procedure for me but I'd like to discuss options.

From what I can tell, Mr [X] is a respected cosmetic surgeon. His CV – with qualifications from both Oxford and Cambridge – is simultaneously intimidating and reassuring. He sits in an armchair at right angles to me, legs crossed, his posture relaxed and confident. He has my registration form in front of him, my extensive list of medication scrawled in tiny letters to fit into the space provided. He knows I'm a transplant patient, on a bucketful of pills that suppress my immune system and interfere with wound healing, together with a supporting cast of other pharmaceutical delights.

He hands me a mirror and asks me to point out the parts that bother me. The familiar feeling of disgust rises as I lift the glass to my face. I'm braced for this: after all these years it's as automatic as a knee-jerk reflex. I draw a circle around my incipient jowls with an index finger.

Mr [X] kneels in front of me and pushes my cheeks upwards with his hands. 'Would having this shape be enough, or do you want less fullness higher up too?'

God I look good. I should hold my face like this all the time. 'I'd be happy with that,' I tell him, 'though it'd be nice to be thinner further up as well.'

He takes the mirror from me, puts it back on the table and resumes his pose in the armchair. He tells me what buccal fat is, describes the procedure for removing it, the results of the operation (variable but subtle) and the risks it entails. The infection risk would be significantly higher for me but, in any event, buccal fat removal won't give me the result I want. That, he explains, would require a combination of a face lift and liposuction. He goes into some detail about this, too, before telling me that he would be unwilling to perform the operation because, with my level of immunosuppression, the risks would be too great.

'Well I guess I'd better grow a pair of ovaries and accept that I'll always have fat cheeks,' I say. 'Or become anorexic,' I add, 'but that doesn't really appeal. I like food.'

Mr [X] smiles warmly and rubs his own (gloriously slender) cheek.

I stand up and thank him for being forthright and professional. We shake hands. As he opens the door, he tells me he won't charge his usual consultation fee. 'We've only had a little chat,' he says. And I suppose we have, though our conversation was far longer and friendlier than my rendering of it suggests. I am touched and surprised by his largesse.

It is raining outside, so I put up my umbrella and start walking back to Charing Cross station. I joked with the surgeon about anorexia. What I didn't tell him is that I was anorexic in my twenties, with a sideline in bulimia on the occasions when I actually had food in my stomach to puke up. My eating disorder was driven in large part by my desire for a thin face, but even when I was a dangerously underweight five stone ten, it was still disproportionately large. Had I bleached my hair and worn black and white stripes, I could have got a job as a belisha beacon.

It is rush hour: the streets of London are filled with people scurrying through the downpour, using umbrellas and hoods to protect themselves. Others improvise: in a doorway, a woman smokes a cigarette, an upturned Prêt-à-Manger bag jammed on her head as a makeshift hat. I weave through the crowds, lifting and lowering my own umbrella to avoid stabbing eyes out with the spokes.

Why can't I accept my face as it is? I wonder.  Am I really that shallow?

It's an unsettling question because, on this issue at least, the evidence points to a resounding 'Yes'. And that's not how I like to think of myself.

I know I'm not monstrously disfigured; I simply have a plump face that time and gravity are beginning to drag earthwards. I hated my cheeks ten years ago, yet I know that if I look at photographs of my 35-year-old self, I think I look okay. Unfortunately, that doesn't help: I was unhappy then, and retrospective approval isn't going to change that. By the same token, knowing that a 55-year-old Rachel may look approvingly at photos from 2016 doesn't make me feel any better now.

How can I learn to accept this? I ask myself. It is not a foot-stamping rhetorical question; it's a request to my subconscious for aid. Our reserve option – the one we'd trigger only if all else failed – we've just been told it isn't viable. So what now? Help me figure it out.

As I reach the Garrick Theatre I hear a loud voice followed by cheers. I glance towards the noise and glimpse a crowd in Trafalgar Square. Probably something to do with Brexit – I hazily recall there was to be a pro-Remain rally in central London this evening. So much turmoil in the world around me and here I am, consumed by a pseudo-drama concocted entirely by my own mind. I am too tired for self-recrimination, but also too tired to join the demonstration. I keep walking.

My train pulls out of the station and stalls halfway across Hungerford Bridge. The driver of the train in front of us is having trouble closing the doors, so we're stuck here until he moves. Meanwhile, in my head a train of thought starts inching forward.

Maybe what I need to accept is not my fat cheeks, but that I will never be happy with them. Perhaps I need to accept that I may always feel a degree of revulsion when I look in a mirror.

It's a depressing prospect, but at least it sounds achievable.

The driver in front of us has solved his door problem and we're rolling again. So is my train of thought.

If I can accept the disgust, then maybe I'll be able to get some distance from it, see it as nothing more than a series of thoughts, emotions and sensations. And perhaps that, in turn, will start to loosen this noxious plant, however deep its roots have grown.

A glimmer of hope lights up. It is dim and my gut tells me not to cling to it, not to snuff it out with expectation. But it's a possibility. Maybe.

The train has picked up speed; raindrops lash against the windows and commuters sway as we lurch around bends in the track. I try not to cry, but a few tears squeeze out and start trickling. I wipe them away with a tissue.

Sadness, disappointment and hope mingle. 

It's still raining, but we're moving.